Saturday, August 30, 2014

Yellowstone Supervolcano

The Yellowstone caldera shows no signs of imminent volcanic eruption, however three giant eruptions occurred in Yellowstone in the distant past:
  • 600 cubic miles of ash (2 million years ago);
  • 240 cubic miles of ash (630,000 million years ago); and
  • 67 cubic miles of ash (1.3 million million years ago).

Comparative Eruption Volumes
USGS Yellowstone Volcano Observatory

A volcano that ejects a volume greater than 240 cubic miles is a supervolcano.
"The lava floods and intriguing volcanoes tell us of the plasticity, mobility, of the deep interior of the globe."
Reginald Aldworth Daly
Conditions for supervolcanoes arise when magma in a hotspot rises from the mantle into the crust but is constrained by the crust, thus allowing great pressure to build. As the magma pool grows, eventually the crust is unable to contain the pressure causing a massive explosion (e.g., Yellowstone Caldera). Supervolcanoes can also form at converging plate boundaries (e.g., Lake Toba).
"Our solid earth, apparently so stable, inert, and finished, is changing, mobile, and still evolving."
Reginald Aldworth Daly
The USGS has studied a hypothetical Yellowstone supereruption using a model called Ash3D. Ash3D uses historical wind velocity data and estimated eruption volume to calculate the distribution and thickness of ash fall.

Ash Distribution Following a Hypothetical Month-long Yellowstone Supereruption

A distribution of ash from a hypothetical month-long Yellowstone supereruption (shown above) was modeled using January 2001 wind data.
And many a fire there burns beneath the ground.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Asterisks of Eternity

Celestial objects are the asterisks of eternity. Stargazers observe objects like stars, planets, asteroids, comets and novae in the night sky.

In the last half of August, the brilliantly shining planets Venus and Jupiter, and fainter planets Saturn and Mars, streak past each other.

"Venus & Jupiter Conjunction" by Marek Nikodem, 19 August 2014

We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

"Jupiter & Venus from Earth", by Marek Nikodem, 18 March 2012.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Blue-Green Algae Blooms

Lake Erie algae
Warmer summer temperatures and ongoing phosphorus loading from agricultural nutrient runoff has led to a disruptive frequency of blue-green algae blooms in freshwater lakes.

This summer a cyanobacterial bloom in Lake Erie left 400,000 people without drinking water for two days.

America the Beautiful

Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,
For strip-mined mountain's majesty above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.
George Carlin

Water near Toledo intake
Photograph: Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP
Toxic Algae

The dominant organisms of the summer season algal blooms occurring in Lake Erie are microcystins.

Microcystis causes skin rashes. If ingested it causes vomiting and liver damage. Microcystis can be fatal if ingested by dogs or other animals.

Freshwater algae blooms create adverse conditions because they:
  • deplete the dissolved oxygen content of water;
  • contaminate drinking water making it impotable;
  • threaten commercial and recreational fisheries; and
  • degrade recreational swimming and fishing.

Algae bloom in the west end of Lake Erie
NASA’s Aqua satellite, 8/1/14.

We assume that everything's becoming more efficient, and in an immediate sense that's true; our lives are better in many ways. But that improvement has been gained through a massively inefficient use of natural resources.
Paul Hawken


Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Tonic of Wildness

Thoreau wrote that humans need the tonic of wildness.

Few natural events are wilder than a series of tropical storms bearing down on the Hawaiian Islands.

Floating in the midst of the first tropical storm to hit Hawaii in 22 years is a low-riding, autonomous ocean robot broadcasting data.

Holoholo is an robot that autonomously sends pictures and weather data while at sea.

Holoholo is called a wave glider. It is a robot powered by waves and solar panels. It has sensors that measure water temperature, wind speed, water pressure, and wind direction. Using an onboard internet connection, Holoholo sends data to the world.
"The Wave Glider SV3 is the world’s first hybrid wave and solar propelled unmanned ocean robot."
Liquid Robotics
“My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea.”
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

If not a tonic, the autonomous data from Holoholo affords the vicarious sensations of wildness.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Typhoon Development

Typhoons are intense tropical cyclones that occur in the western part of the North Pacific Ocean known as the northwest Pacific Basin. Tropical cyclones develop throughout the year in the northwest Pacific Basin with peak months in August through October.

The Edge of Typhoon Halong from the International Space Station
by Alexander Gerst (ESA/NASA), July 31, 2014

A third of all tropical storms occur in the northwest Pacific Basin.

Tropical storm intensity is categorized by sustained wind speed ranges by the Regional Specialized Meteorological Center. Typhoons have wind speeds ranging from 73 to 97 miles per hour.

Three tropical cyclones
over the Pacific Ocean
Tropical Cyclone Intensity Scale
Category Sustained Winds
Typhoon 64–84 knots
73–97 miles/h
Severe Tropical Storm 48–63 knots
55–73 miles/h
Tropical Storm 34–47 knots
39–55 miles/h
Tropical Depression ≤ 33 knots
≤ 38 miles/h

Conditions for typhoon development are:
  • Warm ocean surface temperatures;
  • Atmospheric instability;
  • High humidity in the lower to middle level of the troposphere;
  • Sufficient Coriolis force to develop a low pressure center;
  • Pre-existing low level disturbance; and
  • Low vertical wind shear.
The Japanese characters 台風 are pronounced taifū which might be the derivation of the word typhoon. It might also originate from:
  • the Cantonese t'ai fung meaning great wind;
  • the Arabic tufan meaning smoke; or
  • the Greek typhon meaning monster.
Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle used the word typhon to mean wind-containing cloud.