Archive | August, 2011

Hurricanes – Want To Know More?

28 Aug

As it’s 2011 Atlantic hurricane season until November, I have resurrected this article which explains what hurricanes are, how they form, and their relevance to global warming. Hurricane and typhoon are names given to a strong tropical cyclone. A ‘tropical cyclone’ is a generic term for a low-pressure system that has a definitive cyclonic surface-wind circulation.

Before considering the effects global warming may have on these weather systems, we will look at a few hurricane facts and figures. Depending where a cyclone occurs will determine whether it’s called a hurricane, typhoon or tropical cyclone. Hurricanes form in the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific Oceans. Typhoons form in the Northwest Pacific area to the east of 160° longitude. Cyclones form in the Southwest Pacific Ocean, and the North and Southwest Indian Ocean. The Atlantic hurricane season, now underway, officially begins on 1st June and continues to the end of November each year. However, hurricanes do of course occur outside this time period. The seasons are different for Pacific and Indian Ocean areas, particularly the Northwest Pacific basin, where cyclones can occur all year round.

According to NOAA, hurricanes rotate in a counter-clockwise direction around a central ‘eye’, and a tropical storm will be classed as a hurricane only when wind speeds reach 74 mph (119 km/h) or more. Hurricanes can of course cause immense damage, especially if they hit land, where heavy rain, strong winds and especially strong waves – called the storm surge – can wreak destruction, as the unfortunate people of New Orleans found out during August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit with devastating consequences.

Hurricane strength is measured using the Saffir-Simpson scale, named after two engineers from the US National Hurricane Center, who developed it in 1969. The scale is used only to describe hurricanes that form in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific basins. The scale has five intensities depending on wind speed. For example, a category one hurricane has a wind speed of 74 mph (118 km/h) and a category five hurricane 156+ mph (251 km/h). Hurricane Katrina, mentioned above, was probably the most devastating storm in US history, causing an estimated $100,000,000,000-worth of damage. Katrina was a category five storm, but dropped to a three when it hit land on the eastern seaboard of the USA, in August 2005.

For hurricanes to develop, certain environmental conditions must be present, such as warm ocean water, high humidity and favourable atmospheric and upward spiralling wind patterns off the ocean surface. Atlantic hurricanes usually start off as a weak tropical disturbance off the West African coast, and intensify into rotating storms with weak winds called tropical depressions. It’s only when wind speeds reach at least 74 mph (118 km/h) that they are classified as hurricanes. NASA scientists and NOAA have been studying how winds and dust conditions from Africa influence the birth of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, using an armoury of NASA’s Earth observing satellites. It seems that NASA is on course to establish whether or not global warming is indeed influencing the weather. NASA’s AIRS instrument on board the Aqua satellite, which is short for Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, can measure very subtle changes in the Earth’s climate. Scientists from NASA and NOAA, as well as other scientists, have already demonstrated that AIRS data can lead to better forecasts about the location and intensity of ‘extratropical cyclones’, which are mid-latitude storms, often striking the east coast of the USA. This may enable the team to test the climate-weather hypothesis once more data is available. AIRS will also have the ability to test the hypothesis that climate change may be causing the water (hydrological) cycle to accelerate, by measuring the humidity distribution within the atmosphere.This will show with sufficient accuracy whether the water cycle is indeed speeding up. If so, as is suspected in a warmer world, there will be more water vapour and clouds in the atmosphere resulting in more rainfall. If so, AIRS will be able to establish a link between global warming and the weather, as a faster water cycle causes greater rainfall as a result of an accelerated hydrological cycle.

2005 was the most active hurricane season since reliable records began, with fifteen hurricanes, seven of which were major ones.

This article was taken from my book, THE A-Z OF GLOBAL WARMING. Download the book from Amazon USA or Amazon UK on Kindle for further information like this. Alternatively, for a fast-paced action-adventure thriller with an eco theme, try TIPPING POINT. US readers can go to Amazon USA, and UK readers Amazon UK.

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Tipping Point – Facts Behind The Fiction.

23 Aug

Without giving away too many book spoilers, I thought I’d write a brief blog for anyone who may be wondering if there is any truth behind the themes in my action-adventure thrillerTIPPING POINT.

The Tipping Point of the title refers to the point at which an irreversible melting of the Arctic’s ice pack occurs. Other themes explored in the novel are geoengineering, peak oil, the ocean thermohaline circulation and the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet! Whilst Robert Spire is left to solve the deaths of the climatologists in the book, we look at whether these themes have any basis in science fact. Let’s have a look in more detail.

The Arctic

Tipping Point explores the underlying theme that the Arctic is melting from global warming. Each year the ice pack covering the Arctic melts and retreats during the summer and freezes over again in the winter, with its maximum melt each year in September. Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre reveals that Arctic ice cover is on a downward trend. 2007 was the lowest recorded level, but 2011 looks likely to set a new record low. Scientists predict the Arctic may be ice free during the summer between 2013 and 2019, a startling and worrying fact. This would mean the opening of the fabled Northwest Passage – a route between the Atlantic and the Pacific – and give more opportunities for countries and companies to plunder the riches the Arctic has to offer.

Geoengineering

In the book, French climatologist Francois Trimaud has developed a specialised form of iron sulphate to fertilise the Arctic Ocean, in order to slow down and reverse the Arctic’s melting ice by increasing Arctic albedo (reflectivity) levels. The experimental substance contains a whitening pigment called Blankoplankton.
Scientists are indeed looking at ways to geoengineer the Earth’s climate to solve, or reduce the effects of global warming. Iron fertilisation of the oceans is one method.

Peak Oil

A theme explored in Tipping Point is the possibility that the World’s oil resources are running out, that supplies have reached a peak and are now on a downward curve. This theory was proposed by M King Hubbert, and he successfully predicted that the USA would reach its peak oil production in the early 1970s. Has this now happened with Saudi Arabia’s oil supplies?

Ocean Thermohaline Circulation

In Tipping Point, the book opens with UK climatologist Dr Dale Stanton’s untimely death, preventing him delivering a talk on the Atlantic Ocean’s thermohaline circulation. The OTC or great ocean conveyor as it is known, is an important ocean current which brings warm water up from the Equator to the east coast of the USA and Europe in the form of the North Atlantic Drift and Gulf Stream. The film ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ is based on the premise of the current suddenly failing, heralding in a new ice-age.
The UKs RAPID-WATCH project measures the rate or flow of the ocean current to assess whether its strength is changing. This project runs until 2014.

During a period called the Younger Dryas, a significant shutdown of the current is thought to have caused a rapid decline from relatively warmer conditions back to ice-age conditions in a blink of an eye in climactic terms. A huge influx of fresh water from Lake Agassiz is thought to have been the possible cause. The fresh water flowing into the Atlantic would have disrupted the ocean flow by interfering with its thermohaline conveyor system. 
Scientists are concerned that an increase in fresh water flowing into the Atlantic from Greenland’s melting ice sheets could once again disrupt the Thermo (heat) and haline (salt) engine that drives this essential current. 

Greenland Melting?

A back story in Tipping Point is the fact that a huge glacier on Greenland is melting, which causes isotactic adjustment of the Greenland continent underneath. Research does indeed show that Greenland glacier ice-melt is accelerating.

These are the facts. Now if you fancy a thrilling action-adventure, why don’t YOU read TIPPING POINT?

Saving Planet Earth

23 Aug

My new business cards arrived last week – the ones which have “Tipping Point, A Robert Spire Thriller,” printed on them. I put a few in my wallet, thinking, you never know, they might come in handy.

Coming to the end of another weekend in the middle of July, I’m looking out of the window and I ask myself, where is our summer? It’s the middle of July, but the weather is lousy. Mind you, in the UK it’s supposed to be a scorching 27 degrees Celsius today…wow! Not bad for the middle of summer. Mid-summer’s day was like mid-winter. So what’s going on I wondered?

Are we just having another bad summer? Have we already had our summer? The weather in April and May was fantastic, but now it’s lousy. Could something more sinister be going on? Could it be the dreaded G.W word, I’m talking about global warming, you know, climate change.

I recall years ago…I’m thinking back to the 1970s and early 1980s when we used to have long hot summers and cold, snowy winters here in the UK, but no more. Summer is usually wet, what we have of it usually appears in April and May, and at Christmas time, well now you can wear a T-shirt and not catch a chill – apart from last year, snow did actually fall…in October!

Not only that, but there’s not a day that goes by without a story in the news about global warming causing melting ice caps, rising sea levels, Arctic methane release, melting the Arctic, ocean acidification, increasing Co2 levels – yes they measure these from Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, and deforestation. These are just some of the consequences. 

The planet appears to be doomed. Not only that, but today I found out that a NEO or Near Earth Object – an asteroid in this case passed within 7500 miles of the Earth on Monday 27th June! This thing was only discovered recently, and passed within Earth’s geosynchronous satellite population before accelerating back out to space, pretty close eh? And that’s not the only one. These things are zipping by all the time. What about all the others that haven’t been discovered yet?

So, with this all in mind, I decided I needed a drink. I went out to a local bar and was enjoying a few drinks when an attractive red-head came up to me. She asked, “Have you got a light please?”

I looked into her green eyes and thought, damn, would have been a good time to have a pack of cigarettes, or at least a lighter with me, even though I don’t smoke. I said, “sorry, no,” but quickly remembered an old booklet of matches I had in my pocket. “Actually, I have,” I said, handing her the booklet. “But you shouldn’t smoke you know, It’s bad for you, and bad for the planet.”

“What do you mean?” She asked, looking amused.

“Global warming,” I joked.

“I used to think that was rubbish,” she said, “but now I really do think something is going on, I mean look at the weather, middle of summer and it’s terrible!”

I couldn’t help joining her for a cigarette, wanting to chat more about the topic, so followed her outside. After two cigarettes – which I felt a little guilty about – and a depressing chat about saving planet Earth from the perils of global warming and asteroid collision, she said to me;

“So, if the is Earth doomed, who can save us? The X-Men, The Green Lantern, Transformers?”

I said, “They are all comic book heroes, but Robert Spire would certainly have a go.”

“Robert  Spire?” She said. “Who’s he?”

I pulled out my wallet and handed her my card.