Sandy prompts renewed interest and concern in climate change

Nov 07, 2012 by Edward Mason
Professor Daniel P. Schrag told his Radcliffe audience that warm water played a big part in Sandy’s track, noting that the cool mid-Atlantic water typically would have sapped the hurricane’s energy. But water warmed by 4 degrees Fahrenheit gave it energy. Schrag’s lecture, “Wetter Weather: Water on a Changing Planet,” was the latest in the ongoing Water Lecture Series at Radcliffe. Credit: Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Superstorm Sandy's hurricane winds and torrential downpours killed at least 106 people, left millions without power, and caused billions of dollars in damage. It also got people—including the mayor of New York—talking again about climate change.

While many analysts focused on the storm's intensity, Daniel P. Schrag, Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, found Hurricane Sandy's path rather than its power most intriguing.

Hurricanes generally go out to sea. Schrag, who is also a professor of environmental science and engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, pointed out that as Sandy moved north over the Atlantic, two unusual things happened that defy how people view climate change.

The storm built up steam over the mid-Atlantic's water, and then it turned west and drove inland.

"Sometimes, people say climate change makes the average storm stronger," said Schrag. "If we have storms making landfall, that's more important than increasing the average intensity of storms."

Water and its role in climate change was the subject of Schrag's Monday evening lecture, "Wetter Weather: Water on a Changing Planet." It was the latest in the ongoing Water Lecture Series at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study's Fay House. The moderator was Joan Ruderman, Nelson Professor of at Harvard Medical School and director of the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole.

As it turns out, warm water played a big part in Sandy's track. Schrag said cool mid- typically would have sapped the hurricane's energy. But water warmed by 4 gave it energy. Also, Schrag speculated, the jet stream, perhaps intensified as the result of a dramatic loss of since 2007, steered Sandy over the United States and away from its usual eastern course.

Water has a role in climate change, Schrag said. Last July, flooding in Duluth, Minn., swept polar bears and seals from the zoo and half-submerged cars. Some zoo animals drowned. As air gets warmer, Schrag said, it holds more water, so storms become more intense. There isn't more total rain, but when it does shower, the storms are harsher or last longer.

Climate change also produces so much water that there is no place to put it, he said. Mountains reserve water in snow packs that melt in the summer. However, snowmelts are occurring 60 days earlier in some locations, Schrag said. There already has been flooding in the Sacramento delta because snow packs in the Sierra Nevada mountains are melting earlier than usual.

The , Schrag pointed out, needs somewhere to go, and countries don't have the wherewithal to build dams to pick up the slack.

One theory for warming involves a lack of soil moisture, Schrag said. Moisture is deposited in the soil by rain and given back into the atmosphere by transpiration, which cools the Earth. Schrag said recent droughts have prevented that cooling—a chicken-and-egg theory, he acknowledges, but an intriguing one.

He pointed out that since 2007, melted Arctic ice opened the Northwest Passage, a development that he believes could have a dramatic effect on weather patterns. Last spring's unseasonable warmth caused places like Rochester, Minn., to set record daytime highs.

"By midcentury, this will be the new normal," Schrag predicted. "How do you deal with extreme heat in the summer? It's going to be a challenge, but humans are adaptable. It's not going to be easy, just like a 13-foot storm surge will be the new norm on the Eastern seaboard."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Barack Obama for re-election last week in part because he accepts climate-change theories. Schrag, a member of Obama's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, said talking to politicians about can be challenging. But he said he's hopeful Sandy is "potentially a wake-up moment."

"There's a lot of traumatic weather events that could do the same thing," Schrag said. "Maybe Sandy will be one. If not, there will be another one. I promise."

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Bitflux
4.6 / 5 (10) Nov 07, 2012
How fascinating, cant wait for the next chapter. I wonder how much evidence has to be piled up before the army of bigots, for them to accept that we influence weather with our way of life and its spinning out of control.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (11) Nov 07, 2012
I wonder how much evidence has to be piled up before the army of bigots, for them to accept that we influence weather with our way of life and its spinning out of control.

If the mountain of evidence that has piled up until now doesn't convince them then no additional evidence will.

The most effective strategy is probably to just ask their local shamans to preach to them that climate change is real and that their gods want them to mend their ways. That's the only thing that will convince them at this point.
runrig
5 / 5 (4) Nov 07, 2012
"Also, Schrag speculated, the jet stream, perhaps intensified as the result of a dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice since 2007, steered Sandy over the United States and away from its usual eastern course."

I hope this got mixed up in translation because of course it is the opposite - arctic ice loss is weakening the jet stream. In Sandy's case it was a distortion of the jet stream that altered it's path. The extending upper trough over the eastern states was pulled under the storm to disrupt to the south of it. This backed ( anticlockwise ) winds aloft from what were S to SW'lies on the 27th at 12Z to E'ly on 30th at 00Z as the cold pool moved west. Hence the storm moved inland.
VendicarD
5 / 5 (5) Nov 07, 2012
Most will go to their graves without exiting the ConservaTard land of denial.

"piled up before the army of bigots" - BitFlux

Some will be dispatched to their non-existent maker sooner than they would like for crimes against humanity and nature.

Have your list ready. The time is growing near.
VendicarD
5 / 5 (2) Nov 10, 2012
Friday, November 09, 2012

While there was little talk of climate change during the presidential campaign, the number of U.S. voters who see global warming as a serious problem is at an all-time high.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 68% of Likely U.S. Voters now say global warming is at least a somewhat serious problem, including 38% who think it's Very Serious. Thirty percent (30%) don't see global warming as a serious problem, with 12% who think it's Not At All Serious.
Howhot
5 / 5 (2) Nov 10, 2012
Thirty percent (30%) don't see global warming as a serious problem, with 12% who think it's Not At All Serious.

That is just the US. If that was laid out by state, I would bet that the majority of that falls in the RED states where tax payer money goes towards investments like tax free zones for creationist museums or Noa's Arch parks.

Brain washing and propaganda seem to be a major problem in middle USA. That is where the focus needs to happen next.

TOYNBEE IDEA
IN MOViE `2001
RESURRECT DEAD
ON PLANET JUPITER.