Articles tagged as: geosciences
Q: We keep hearing about a “nor’easter” that might hit New England. What is it?
A: A nor’easter, or sometimes called a Northeaster, is an intense low pressure storm that occurs along the East Coast of the United States between October and April, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “The storms generally form off the coast of Florida or the Carolinas, and the system moves up the East Coast and gathers strength and moisture as it intensifies,” McRoberts explains. “As the system builds up along the East Coast, it collides with an arctic air mass coming down from Canada. When the two systems meet, a very intense storm can form and bring heavy snows and gusty winds all along the East Coast.”
Q: How strong does a nor’easter become?
A: They can shut down much of the Eastern part of the U.S. for days, McRoberts adds. “The movie, ‘The Perfect Storm,’ was based on a nor’easter that hit in 1991,” he points out. “Other notable nor’easters hit the East Coast in March of 1993 that stretched from Maine as far south as Alabama, and another big one occurred in October of 1979 and it shut down Washington, D.C, for five days. The storms are named for the winds that blow in from the northeast, which are often accompanied by severe blizzards and heavy beach erosion when they occur.”
Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.
Ping Yang, professor and department head in Texas A&M University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences in the College of Geosciences, has been named a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society. The election recognizes Yang’s outstanding and sustained contributions to the atmospheric sciences over a substantial period of years.
Only two-tenths of one percent of the AMS membership is elected fellow. Yang and other new fellows will be recognized at a banquet in their honor at the AMS 93rdannual meeting Jan. 6, in Austin.
Yang, who has a joint appointment in physics and astronomy in the College of Science, also holds the David Bullock Harris Chair in Geosciences. He was named a Fellow of the Optical Society of America in 2010.
Yang researches the radiative budget of the atmosphere, including the scattering and absorption of cloud and aerosol particles, the transfer of solar radiation and terrestrial thermal emission and remote sensing of cloud properties.
Yang has also received recognition for his research from the National Science Foundation, NASA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
In addition to nearly 200 peer-reviewed articles, he is co-author of Theory of Atmospheric Radiative Transfer, and he is currently writing books on light scattering by ice crystals and an introduction to satellite meteorology and atmospheric remote sensing.
Media contact: Karen Riedel, College of Geosciences, at (979) 845-0910
Q: How many livestock are killed each year by lightning strikes?
A: No one knows for sure because record keeping tends to be very sketchy in many parts of the country, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. But there is no doubt that hundreds of cattle, horses and sheep are killed every year by lightning in the United States. “The Department of Agriculture says lightning causes about 80 percent of all accidental livestock deaths,” McRoberts explains. “What usually happens is that livestock often huddle together under a large tree during a thunderstorm, which we know is one of the worst places to be. There are numerous cases of ranchers finding two or more cows or horses dead under a tree after a thunderstorm.”
Q: How often does lightning hit livestock?
A: At least as often as it strikes people and perhaps more often, McRoberts adds. “Unless there is a barn nearby, livestock are out in the open during thunderstorms, so their chances of being hit are greater,” he says. “And the types of injuries are about the same. One study shows that while about 70 percent of humans struck by lightning still survive, the fatality rate of horses and cattle is much higher. This is because no one is around to treat the injured animal, plus the body mass of the animal is larger than a human, meaning more tissue damage can occur. Often, a rancher will see a dead animal on his property and not see any apparent cause. A necropsy (animal autopsy) often reveals that the animal died from a lightning strike.”
Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.
Michael E. Mann, a Penn State University meterologist and one of the scientists at the forefront of the climate-change discourse, will give a public lecture at Texas A&M University at 7:30 p.m., Thursday (Oct. 4) in room 1105 of the Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building.
Mann’s lecture, which is free and open to the public, will tell the story behind the “hockey-stick graph,” a symbol of global temperature increases and the rallying point for the debate over climate change.
The “hockey stick,” a graph that depicts changes in Earth’s temperature over time, has become a central figure in the controversy over human-caused climate change. Mann has been at the forefront of the “climate-change wars” for more than a decade.
The graph shows globally averaged surface temperatures going back to the year 1000. A relatively flat line — the handle of the hockey stick — prevailed until the 1950s when the shape changed dramatically. The steep increase in temperatures that has occurred over the last 50 years created the hockey-stick shape.
The graph came to international attention with its inclusion in the high-profile 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and it quickly became the icon in the debate over human-caused (anthropogenic) increases in global temperatures.
“I will use the hockey stick as a vehicle to explore broader issues regarding the role of skepticism in science, the uneasy relationship between science and politics and the dangers that arise when those with special economic interests attempt to skew the discourse over policy-relevant areas of science,” Mann explains.
Mann says he uses the hockey stick to cut through the fog of disinformation used to deny the reality of climate change. “It is my intent to reveal the real threat to our future,” he adds.
Mann’s presentation is sponsored by the Texas Center for Climate Studies and the College of Geosciences. Parking is available in the Central Parking Garage.
A reception follows, sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as part of the Blue Bell Lecture Series. Mann will also sign copies of his newest book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.”
Millions of pounds of unexploded bombs and other military ordnance that were dumped decades ago in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as off the coasts of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, could now pose serious threats to shipping lanes and the 4,000 oil and gas rigs in the Gulf, warns two Texas A&M University oceanographers.
William Bryant and Neil Slowey, professors of oceanography who have more than 90 years of combined research experience in all of the Earth’s oceans, along with fellow researcher Mike Kemp of Washington, D.C., say millions of pounds of bombs are scattered over the Gulf of Mexico and also off the coasts of at least 16 states, from New Jersey to Hawaii.
Bryant says the discarded bombs are hardly a secret. “This has been well known for decades by many people in marine science and oceanography,” he explains.
He will give a presentation in San Juan, Puerto Rico Monday (Oct. 1) about the bombs to a group of oceanographers and marine scientists in a conference titled “International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions.”
“This subject has been very well documented through the years,” Bryant explains. “My first thought when I saw the news reports of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf two years ago were, ‘Oh my gosh, I wonder if some of the bombs down there are to blame.’”
Military dumping of unused bombs into the Gulf and other sites started in 1946 and continued until 1970, when it was finally banned.
Millions of pounds – no one, including the military, knows how many – were sent to the ocean floor as numerous bases tried to lessen the amount of ordnance at their respective locations.
“The best guess is that at least 31 million pounds of bombs were dumped, but that could be a very conservative estimate,” Bryant notes.
“And these were all kinds of bombs, from land mines to the standard military bombs, also several types of chemical weapons. Our military also dumped bombs offshore that they got from Nazi Germany right after World War II. No one seems to know where all of them are and what condition they are in today.”
Photos show that some of the chemical weapons canisters, such as those that carried mustard gas, appear to be leaking materials and are damaged.
“Is there an environmental risk? We don’t know, and that in itself is reason to worry,” explains Bryant. “We just don’t know much at all about these bombs, and it’s been 40 to 60 years that they’ve been down there.”
With the ship traffic needed to support the 4,000 energy rigs, not to mention commercial fishing, cruise lines and other activities, the Gulf can be a sort of marine interstate highway system of its own. There are an estimated 30,000 workers on the oil and gas rigs at any given moment.
The bombs are no stranger to Bryant and Slowey, who have come across them numerous times while conducting various research projects in the Gulf, and they have photographed many of them sitting on the Gulf floor like so many bowling pins, some in areas cleared for oil and gas platform installation.
“We surveyed some of them on trips to the Gulf within the past few years,” he notes. “Ten are about 60 miles out and others are about 100 miles out. The next closest dump site to Texas is in Louisiana, not far from where the Mississippi River delta area is in the Gulf. Some shrimpers have recovered bombs and drums of mustard gas in their fishing nets.”
Bombs used in the military in the 1940s through the 1970s ranged from 250- to 500- and even 1,000-pound explosives, some of them the size of file cabinets. The military has a term for such unused bombs: UXO, or unexploded ordnance.
“Record keeping of these dump sites seems to be sketchy and incomplete at best. Even the military people don’t know where all of them are, and if they don’t know, that means no one really knows,” Bryant adds. He believes that some munitions were “short dumped,” meaning they were discarded outside designated dumping areas.
The subject of the disposal of munitions at sea has been discussed at several offshore technology conferences in recent years, and it was a topic at an international conference several years ago in Poland, Bryant says.
“The bottom line is that these bombs are a threat today and no one knows how to deal with the situation,” Bryant says. “If chemical agents are leaking from some of them, that’s a real problem. If many of them are still capable of exploding, that’s another big problem.
“There is a real need to research the locations of these bombs and to determine if any are leaking materials that could be harmful to marine life and humans,” Bryant says.