Wednesday, August 31, 2005

All Katrina, all the time:

One item I have not heard yet on the news.

The insurance industry is caught in an interesting situation. They are well aware that one of the largest consequences of climate change is an increased frequency of more intense storms. This has a very direct consequence for their projected losses in any given season. Most of them have realized that their actuarial models based on historical storm frequencies are not the state-of-the-art anymore, and they have spent a great deal of money on computer models that match storm predictions to real estate and infrastructure inventories in order to understand what the consequences of a storm season might be.

However, the law constrains them to base their premium rates on historical records. They will therefore always be behind the curve, and they know that there will be little goodwill from a public that perceives them with suspicion. After all, who has the money to put up the largest building in just about every city?

$25 billion of damage and counting.

An interesting simulation of flooding done by NASA using Shuttle Radar Topography data: Quicktime, 6Mb. Current flooding is between the 3 and 4 meter marks.

 Friday, August 26, 2005

Jumpy little fella:

Back in April I posted a note about the preparation for the Shuttle launch, and how two WB-57 chase planes were being modified to do HDTV footage of the launch. Here is the HDTV turret assembly mounted on the WB:



Here is the video from the STS-114 WAVE mission (WMV format). You be the judge - did it turn out well? Can you see why the NASA PR office has not used this as I thought they might?

Here is a photo taken with a hand-held camera from the cockpit of the WB-57 taken during a launch (not STS-114). You can barely see the plume from the SRBs (click on the image to get a much larger version, 1200x1600) :

 Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Nice day for a touch of cocolitzli, eh?:

At a recent meeting about drilling to look at long-term records of climate change, one of the participants brought up Bill Ruddiman's theory about the onset of recent climate change, and that made me think of some interesting connections.

Bill observed that CO2 and methane in the atmosphere regularly follow cycles that are driven by orbital changes, but that in the recent past, they deviated, rising in concentration when they should have fallen. The CO2 begins to rise about 8,000 years ago, and methane begins to rise about 5,000 years ago (New Scientist article, graphs). That is a lot sooner than can be attributed to industrialization (post 1700's), and Bill proposed that this was due to a major change in the land cover - the rise of human agriculture and the removal of forests.

A piece of this article also deals with the "Little Ice Age," a period during the Middle Ages when temperatures were lower than normal, and the winters were particularly hard in Europe. Rather than having the Little Ice Age exacerbate the effects of the Black Plague as is usually taught, Bill turned this on its head, and wondered whether in fact the arrival of the plague that killed off about 50% of the human population meant that all that land that went fallow in fact began absorbing CO2 as the forests regrew, and that this drop in CO2 caused the low temperatures.

So I immediately began to wonder whether in fact this was linked to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, and the great changes in population that occurred here with the spread of disease. In Mexico, probably the most populous and highly organized society, the outbreaks of cocolitzli in 1545 wiped out about 90% of the population, and the 1576 episode then wiped out 50% of those remaining. This had to have had a large effect on the amount of land under agriculture, and thereby on the land cover.

I then went forward in time, and wondered if the cure for all this global warming that is going on would be a pandemic of H5N1 avian flu. If the published survival rate of 45% for this strain is combined with a global outbreak, it would have an enormous impact on humans, and therefore on land cover, and from there, on climate. (Avian flu timeline)

Mind you, there was a fair bit of criticism of the idea of the plague causing the LIA in the paleoclimate community. For one, when we look at marine records preserving many hundreds of thousands of years of sediments, there are fairly regular millenial cycles in the sediments that are probably caused by variations in temperature. Bill's theory does not explain this cyclicity - no evidence has been found for a parallel cyclicity for land cover, much less disease.

Could it happen this time? Of course. Is disease among humans what caused the Little Ice Age? Not clear. Is disease among humans and animals what usually causes these changes in climate? Probably not.

 Tuesday, August 23, 2005

OS XS:

OK, I admit it, it was just a bit of "can it be done?"

There's a bit of a cheat here - the NeXT and its embedded emulations are not actually running at the same time as the OSX and the WinXP, but I thought it would look interesting. Now to get some BeOS and other X-flavor screen shots in there as well...

 Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Falcon web-cam:

I spotted this little fellow today on the Panama Canal web-cam at the Miraflores Locks.


Peregrine web-cam! Posted by Picasa

Looks like a peregrine falcon to me...

I happened to spot it by using the SlothCam widget on my desktop, which cycles through a set of web-cams. The list supplied by default with the widget and on the website is pretty limited - I would like to eventually find a better set...

 Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Down:

Discovery is puffing away on the runway out at Edwards AFB.

Here's a shot of the shuttle aproaching through an infra-red spotting scope:

From the brightness in the image, you can clearly see that the nose bears the brunt of the re-entry heating.

Good thing they didn't have to go to the White Sands landing strip - the gypsum out there really gummed up the brakes on STS-3 in 1982, the last time that site was used.

It will of course have to be flown back to Florida aboard the specially modified 747, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, shown here being mated with the Shuttle at White Sands after the STS-3 mission:


Columbia being mated to the SCA (NASA photo) Posted by Picasa

and yes, those are American Airlines' colors - not sure why they are still on there, but I remember hearing this from the pilot's son, Doug Trott, with whom I went to school in the late 1970's.

- posted using a Widget!