Scientific American on predicting tornadoes and hurricanes 2011 was a natural disatser heavy year for the U.S., wasn't it? What with Hurricane Irene rattling the East Coast and, a bit more significantly, the record 750 tornadoes blowing through the country's interior. Which is perhaps why the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration is making a technological push at predicting when dangerous weather occurs. Scientific American's Jane Lubchenco and Jack Hayes run down the various investments being made in prediction technology: advanced radar better able to pick up on tornadoes' wind signatures, more satellites in the sky to watch brewing hurricanes over the ocean, and supercomputers to crunch the data coming in from them. The goal is get out warnings for disaster events as early as possible. "Severe weather outlooks will extend beyond five days, hurricane forecasts beyond seven days, and the threat of spring floods will be known weeks in advance." For tornadoes, issuing a warning even a few minutes earlier will save lives. NOAA discusses their techniques itself int he video below.
Time on the link between climate change and natural disasters If there is an unusual glut of natural disasters, what's causing it? Thankfully, Time is also on the disaster beat today. "As it happens, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published an assessment on the science of extreme weather and global warming just last month — but the answers are cloudy," writes Bryan Walsh. Heat waves were confidently linked to global warming; flooding and storms, less so. The problem, unfortunately, is lack of data on hurricanes and tornadoes that occurred in decades past, preventing meaningful links between global warming and natural disasters from being made. However: "The fact that it's impossible to draw a straight line between climate change and the seemingly more turbulent weather doesn't mean we should act as if the two aren't linked," he writes. "There's no doubt that warming raises at least the risk of extreme-weather events."
The New York Times on Hawaii's species-saving fence Something we learned today: Hawaii was once wild, bird-filled paradise... before, yep, humans and the predatory mammals they brought along as pets drove away the species that could fly -- and killed the ones that couldn't. Hawaiians today, though, built a fence as penance last year. The New York Times reports on the Kaena Point, a nature preserve, and the fancy fence separating this mammal-less slice of Oahu from the rest of the island. "It is fitted with an overhang that lets rats climb out but not in," Christopher Pala writes. "People enter through a two-door chamber, in which one door won’t open unless the other is closed." The result: the
nearly flightless Laysan albatrosses are flourishing there, and in the also-protected Midway Atoll, knocking out reporters left and right. "This correspondent, standing atop of a low hill, was knocked down when a Laysan flew into his forehead." So the assignment was an albatross in more than one way. Update: The Times' Christopher Pala kindly sent The Atlantic Wire a picture of the offending bird milliseconds before it hit him. He reports that the albatross didn't hurt him, he was "just surprised." Thank goodness.
Tara Parker-Pope on the pitfalls of veganism For those who can stomach it, one of the most straightforward ways of helping the environment is to stop buying animal products (curbing carbon emissions associated with them). But going vegan isn't easy. "As countless aspiring vegans are discovering, the switch from omnivore to herbivore is fraught with physical, social and economic challenges — at least, for those who don’t have a personal chef," writes Tara Park-Pope, who blogs for The New York Times' Well blog. Among the pitfalls are the higher price points on animal-less foodstuffs, the learned taste preferences of a lifetime of eating, and the strange shame that friends and family lay on vegans for their dietary choices. Nevertheless, there's a persistent cohort of green eaters. "Three percent of American adults, 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian diet, and one million of them are vegans, who eat no animal products at all." Another 23 million say they rarely eat meat.
Mother Jones on BP oil seeping into your skin Writing for the magazine's website, Julia Whitty found a study that will make your skin crawl— especially if you've gone swimming in the Gulf of Mexico recently. The Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group, has found that an ugly mixture of Corexit, a solvent used to break up oil slick, and Deepwater Horizon crude still persists on and under the Gulf's beaches in the form of tar. The worst part: "the toxins in this unholy mix of Corexit and crude actually penetrate wet skin faster than dry skin." Yes, that's photo of tar-stained shins to the right, revealed by ultraviolet light. Apparently, the mixture is absorbed into the skin and can't be wiped off.
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