Understanding how often devastating tropical storms like Superstorm Sandy occur, and how humans may play a role in their frequency, is a major goal among climate scientists. Now, a new study indicates that aerosols may suppress storm formation over the Atlantic. Thus, researchers say, more frequent storms at the end of the last century might have been an unintended side effect of cleaning up the air.
Written records of natural phenomena come from personal journals and diaries, newspaper accounts, ship logs and government documents, among other sources. Such accounts often offer descriptive details and context that cannot be matched by other methods, and they can prove extremely useful in broadening records both temporally and geographically. Given that they predate the sort of widespread instrumental readings that scientists have come to depend on, sometimes there is simply — and literally — no substitute for historical data. Despite their advantages, historical records are used infrequently in modern physical sciences. That may be changing, however.
July 2012 was the hottest month by far for the lower 48 states. Much of the nation faced drought conditions that grew steadily worse throughout the summer, and there were major repercussions for crop yields and food prices. Wildfires were also rampant. The record low snowpack in May 2012 in the Colorado Rockies set the stage for major wildfires in June, with more than 600 homes lost in Colorado alone. Wildfires developed in other regions in July as well, as tremendous record-breaking heat developed in Oklahoma and surrounding areas. Considered individually, the record temperatures, droughts, fires and diminished snowpack are not necessarily alarming and may not signal anything beyond the natural occurrence of a hotter-than-average year. But combined, these indicators are much more significant from a climate standpoint. They highlight that there is more than just natural variability playing a role: Global warming has reared its head in a way that can only be a major warning for the future. So, what can we expect?
When measured in terms of annual Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, the United States is the richest country in the world, followed at a distance by China and Japan, and then several European countries, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The GDP — the value of all final goods and services produced in a country during a given year — is a simple computation that allows a direct comparison of wealth between countries.
The U.S. and much of the Western world have a dirty secret.
While we claim to be working diligently to decrease our emissions and switch to cleaner, non-fossil fuel energies, we are actually just exporting emissions to other countries, most notably China. We don’t talk about it. We get on our soapboxes at international meetings and claim to be making great progress to halt ever-increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. And we complain vociferously about developing countries — again, most notably China — not doing the same.
We live in a litigious society. Engineering and environmental geologists are no strangers to the legal system. They frequently deal with issues relating to geologic hazards such as active faults and unstable ground, the release of contaminants into the environment and numerous other circumstances. But for the most part, geoscientists tend to avoid legal battles. Is that changing?
SAN FRANCISCO: In November, hackers broke into the e-mail server of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit and stole thousands of e-mails dating back to 1996 written by and to climate scientists. The e-mails, which were then leaked to the public, contained the typical stuff of science (and of e-mails, for that matter): amid discussions of data and theory, there was debate, confusion, flippancy, dark humor and questioning.
Move over, James Cameron. Researchers have created the first 3-D subsurface pictures of Mars’ northern icecap — and they’re using these images to solve a 40-year-old Martian puzzle.
The puzzle centered around Chasma Boreale, an ice canyon in the northern icecap that is comparable in size to the Grand Canyon, and the spiral troughs that extend in a pinwheel-fashion from the icecap’s center. How each of these features formed has long mystified researchers.