Polar bear diorama at Anchorage airport: Julia WhittyI'm home from my cruise aboard the US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy and its science mission to study the effects of a changing climate on the Arctic Ocean. When I set out a month ago I never imagined that we'd never encounter any sea ice (I wrote more on that here). And that the only polar bears I'd see were these stuffed specimens on display at the Anchorage airport. Naturally I'm disappointed.
But for the bears who couldn't find any sea ice within 500 miles of Alaska, and for the seals who need sea ice to haul out onto for pupping, and for the Arctic foxes who make a living following polar bears across the ice, and for the ivory gulls who do the same, and for the people of the Western Arctic who rely on subsistence hunting, the situation may well have been desperate this year.
As Jeremy Mathis, chemical oceanographer at University of Alaska Fairbanks and one of the principle investigators aboard my Healy cruise, told me: "We fell off a cliff in 2007 when Arctic sea ice extent hit a record low. And we fell of another this year."
The 2012 Arctic sea ice minimum (top) compared to the 1984 Arctic sea ice minimum (bottom): NASA Earth ObservatoryThings are changing so rapidly in the Arctic. Yet we have few baseline data with which to understand these changes. Aboard Healy I watched every scientist working as hard as humanly possible just to try and catch up with events racing away from us.
It reminds me of another monumental story I covered: disastrous change, few data, poor understanding, and the need to learn faster than we've ever learned before. That was BP's Deepwater Horizon oil debacle in the Gulf of Mexico.
Science and Coast Guard crew work to deploy a mooring buoy from USCG icebreaker Healy in the Arctic Ocean, October 2012: Julia WhittyWhat I found most hopeful aboard USCGC Healy was the impressive cooperation between US military personnel—the hardworking Coast Guard crew—and scientists from around the world. They worked different aspects of this science mission. But it was clear they were working the same mission and shared many of the same concerns.
I'll be writing more about this cruise in the coming months, what the data are revealing, and what that might mean for our collective future as Earth's climate continues to warm.
Jeremy Mathis' research aboard Healy is supported by the National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs. My personal thanks go out to Jeremy Mathis, to Bob Pickart at WHOI, Principle Investigator aboard, to Captain Beverly Havlik, Commanding Officer of Healy, and to all the science and Coast Guard crew who worked the Healy 1203 mission.
Any doubt about where Mitt Romney stands on climate change was infamously laid to rest at his GOP convention speech in August, when he drew guffaws from the audience with a gibe at President Obama for wanting to "slow the rise of the oceans" and to "heal the planet," while, in contrast, Romney would "help you and your family."
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, that rhetoric makes less sense than ever, as families reel from devastation wrought by "the rise of the oceans." So on Tuesday in Minneapolis, as East Coasters were just assessing the damage, Bill Clinton found an opportunity to call Romney's bluff: "In my part of America we would have liked it if someone could have done that yesterday."
Mother Jones multimedia producer Brett Brownell and senior editor Michael Mechanic paid a visit to the home of science journalist and best-selling author Gary Taubes to talk about his newarticle "Big Sugar's Sweet Little Lies." In the piece, Taubes and coauthor Cristen Kearns Couzens use a trove of internal documents to show how the sugar industry set out to counter scientific evidence suggesting that their product may play a role in deadly chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The documents also reveal how the industry influenced agencies such as the FDA and the USDA—whose advisory panels included industry-friendly scientists, and whose conclusions about the safety of sugar leaned heavily on industry-funded studies. Click on the screen prompts in the video to view key documents and read the piece, which is featured in our November/December print issue. (A quick footnote: One question in the video about sugar consumption references the USDA's speculative new figures, while the chart you'll see shows the older "availability" figures, hence the difference.)
"I think we all can agree we're seeing complete and utter devastation," Brendan Gallagher says, standing in front of the charred remains of his childhood home.
Just a short drive from New York City's famous Rockaway beaches, Breezy Point, Queens, is a quaint seaside hamlet where many cops and firefighters come to retire. It's a place known for charming historic bungalows and sweeping ocean views, but on Monday night it quickly became the setting for some of Hurricane Sandy's most terrifying damage.
As a massive storm surge swept in with the gale-force winds, an as-yet-unknown source sparked a fire that, according to New York City Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, ultimately leveled more than 100 homes—luckily, most residents heeded early evacuation warnings and no one was killed. Today, locals waded back in through still-receding flood waters to assess the damage while firefighters—some off-duty, picking through the wreckage of friends' and neighbors' homes—tamped down the smoldering ruins.
Big storms always raise the spectre of damage to nuclear reactors and other important energy infrastructure. But with wind speeds predicted to gust up to 90 mph today, how are the East Coast's wind turbines holding up to Hurricane Sandy?
"Wind turbines are designed specifically to harness the wind, but they are also designed to withstand it," Ellen Carey of the American Wind Energy Association said in an email. Most turbines are designed to stand up to winds up to 135 mph, she said, well beyond what's expected from this storm. And there are a host of techniques turbines operators can make use of to protect the infrastructure, starting with rotating the blades laterally so that wind slips through them.
My browser crashed three times to bring you this gale-force roundup of Hurricane Sandy visualizations. She looks rather lovely from here in unruffled San Francisco, but hey, unholy devastation rains down on our heads soon enough. Gaze deep into the mesmerizing belly of the beast, and stay safe out there!
NOAA's animated gif: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was gif'ing when gif'ing wasn't cool. This one shows Sandy's path today from 8:15 AM to 3:15PM EST.
Wind Map, by data-viz artists Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg. This real-time map of hourly wind speeds across America existed before Sandy reared her election-skewering head. On most days, the map shows a cute white fur gently rippling across the country. During hurricanes, the brutal convergence of high-speed winds is downright hair-raising, as in images captured during Isaac (scroll down). See the live map here.
Hurricane Irene vs. Hurricane Sandy: Via Gothamist, which points out that Irene, which ranked among the top-ten priciest disasters in American history, "looks like a stuffed animal tea party compared to Sandy." Cheers!
(Deep breath)The Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies' map of SSMI/SSMIS/TMI-derived Total Precipitable Water - North Atlantic: Or as I like to call it: "Ooooooooh prettttty."
WNYC's Hurricane Sandy tracker: Which they've thoughtfully allowed you to steal and display all its terrifying glory on your own website, perhaps next to an inevitable photo of short-sleeved presidential disaster abatement?
Looking for form and function in your Sandy maps? Google's mapping active shelters. Way to be prepared just in case, Greyhound Station of Indianapolis, Indiana.
Got more scary-beautiful Sandy maps to share? Drop links below!
In Red Hook, a neighborhood along New York Harbor featuring low-lying land and industrial piers, sandbags weren't enough to prevent flooding, not just of seawater but also curious tourists, locals and television vans. A storm surge of between 6 to 11 feet tonight and into Tuesday morning is expected for areas like Red Hook. Dr. Alan Blumberg, an oceanographer with the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, has been keeping tabs on the storm surge with 200 sensors around the New York harbor. "We've been making measurements for 80 years," he says. "This is the worst we've ever recorded."
Winds became increasingly strong across the afternoon, narrowing the window for locals of "Zone A" to evacuate safely from the area. Officials are making final, strenuous arguments for locals to heed evacuation warnings.
Bill Johnson and Yolanda Dlamo (not pictured) were taking a break from preparing their Park Slope home ahead of Hurricane Sandy. "We're at the bottom of the street," said Johnson, "so if this floods we’re concerned about how much water we’re going to get in our area." In the meantime, like a lot of New Yorkers, they were greeting the storm with caution and curiosity.
Ulf Agger, above, from Brooklyn Heights, felt safe in his apartment. "I’m not scared, but I'm concerned. I think mostly about people who live in the lower areas, and all the flooding that will come," he said. "It still looks pretty calm, but you can see the water is much higher than it usually is. But I expect it to be here where we stand in a few hours' time."
Carol Serrano (right) and Nayda Ortiz decided to stay in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, despite mandatory evacuations, recalling what they thought were over-hyped precautions during last year's Hurricane Irene disaster.
"It’s beautiful and scary," Ortiz said, laughing with wonderment at the rising seas.
"This is exciting, this is cleansing," Serrano said. "I just don’t want to go anywhere this time. I want to be home. Home is cool: I have food; I have TV; if we don’t have lights, we have games."
"It’s scary, but I'm not scared, I think it’s more exciting than scary!" Ortiz said. "Isn't it fun? You guys are out here too!"
By now you've already heard about Hurricane Sandy. Or Frankenstorm. Or the Snowincane, if you prefer. As I write this, the storm is barreling toward the continental United States, promising to wreck havoc on the coastal Mid-Atlantic and New England.
It's supposed to hit coastal Virginia, where I've spent quite a bit of time in the past few months reporting about sea level rise, storm surges, and efforts to make communities safer. You'll have to wait a bit longer for that piece, but in the mean time, Sandy is a good reminder of what some regions of the country are up against.
Sure, this region does get big storms. There was Hurricane Isabel in 2003, a Nor'easter named Ernesto in 2006, Nor'Ida in 2009. In August 2011 they got Hurricane Irene. But sea level rise makes everything worse. Higher sea levels mean bigger storm surges and more damage to coastal regions.
Tide measurements have found that the sea level on Virginia's Middle Peninsula has risen 14.5 inches in the past 100 years, and scientists expect the seas here to rise another 27.2 inches by the end of the century. Overall, sea level is rising four times faster along the east coast of the US than the global average. The area along the Chesapeake Bay is particularly at risk, because the ground is sinking as the seas are rising.
In the US, we have 4,514 miles of shoreline—20 percent our total miles of coastline—that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says is highly vulnerable to sea level rise. That includes 82 percent of Virginia's coast. You can see what that means for storm surges with this great map that Climate Central created. Jeff Masters, the director of meteorology at Weather Underground, says we can expect 3 to 6 foot storm surges where Sandy makes landfall.
Climate change is already speeding up sea-level rise. But it's also making mega storms more likely. A warmer climate and more moisture in the atmosphere makes for more extreme storms, as Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research explains. As Masters put it, "I call it being on steroids kind of for the atmosphere."
"This is going to be bad, but if we continue along this path of carbon pollution, it's just going to be a lot worse," says Amanda Staudt, a senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation based in Reston, Va.—which is also expected to be hit by the storm. "Every time one of these disasters starts unfolding that clearly has a signature of a climate change impact, I begin to think that maybe this will be the time people will get it, that is what climate change means for us."
Some are calling it a "Snoreastercane." Others have dubbed it a "Frankenstorm." Whatever its nickname, Hurricane Sandy is bringing gale-force winds, flooding, heavy rains, and possibly even snow to the Eastern seaboard.
UPDATE 21, 5:30 p.m. EDT, Thursday, November 1: Limited bus and subway service returned to New York City Thursday morning, but cars remained one of the only options for moving between boroughs. As a result, the streets of Brooklyn—which normally depends heavily on public transit—were overwhelmed with drivers, and they were all looking for one thing: gas. But the city's main artery for this staple, the Port of New York, was closed during Hurricane Sandy and only just re-opened, leading to massive shortages, closed stations, and excruciating—and tense—lines for the pump.
In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Rick Ostfield of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY expressed concern about how the historic flooding has likely displaced hundreds or possibly thousands of rats, which could lead to the spread of rat-borne diseases: "You get infected individuals mixing with uninfected individuals and that's a recipe for an outbreak."
People continue to take to Twitter to document the aftermath of the storm:
The US death toll from Hurricane Sandy has now climbed to at least 50, including numerous victims killed by falling trees. Millions are still without power up and down the Eastern seaboard, including 684,000 in Manhattan. Con Ed officials called Sandy the worst storm in the company's history. An explosion at a substation on the east side of Manhattan on Monday night led to the outages in Manhattan south of midtown. John Miksad, Con Ed's senior vice president of electric operations, told the Wall Street Journal that the equipment is under several feet of water and operators are in rowboats working to pump it out, and that it could take up to a week to restore power to parts of Manhattan. Con Ed customers outside the city who lost power due to downed lines and trees may be without power for up to two weeks.
The industry forecasting firm IHS Global Insight is estimating that the superstorm could cost up to $50 billion in damages and lost business.
In Brooklyn, pedestrians are steering clear of standing water for fear of toxic sludge that could contain heavy metals and human waste. An apiary at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was destroyed, and 1 million honeybees were lost. A representative of the Brooklyn Grange, which managed 25 of the hives each containing about 40,000 bees, called the loss catastrophic.
Around Manhattan, people were gathering around power outlets.
During a press conference this morning, Gov. Cuomo directly linked Hurricane Sandy to climate change, saying, "There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement, that is a factual statement. Anyone who says there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality."
There are many crazy storm photos popping up online–some legit, some fakes. They seem to be confusing many people; a friend working abroad says her colleagues keep asking her if there are really sharks swimming in the NYC subway system. In service to the public, both Buzzfeed's Katie Notopoulos and The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal have posted great real-time fact-checking on some of the most unbelievable photos. Please check these out before tweeting any wild photos:
"The federal government’s response has been great. I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the President, personally, he has expedited the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster area," Christie, a top surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said on NBC’s "Today."
He added, "The President has been outstanding in this and so have the folks at FEMA."
On MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," Christie was equally laudatory, saying “the President has been all over this and he deserves great credit.” Obama, he said, "told me to call him if I needed anything and he absolutely means it, and it’s been very good working with the President and his administration."
UPDATE 14, 6:58 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, October 30:
President Obama has issued a disaster declaration for New York and surrounding counties, USA Today reports, making federal aid available for those areas. In Bergen County, New Jersey, emergency responders are battling a levee breach that has reportedly sent several feet of water into three towns, and in Breezy Point, Queens, a six-alarm fire has destroyed nearly 60 homes. Up to 7 million are now without power; you can check which areas are blacked out on the Google Maps team's Sandy map. The storm is expected to keep battering the East Coast all the way into Ontario, but winds are predicted to weaken through the day.
UPDATE 13, 1:45 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, October 30:
CNN tallies at least 13 US deaths so far; the New York Times reports "once-in-a-generation flooding." Several sources say that a New York City ConEd plant exploded earlier this evening, causing massive power outages in lower Manhattan. Outlets are also reporting a large fire in the Breezy Point section of Brooklyn.
In a statement early Tuesday morning, MTA chairman Joe Lhota said, "The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night."
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service predicts continuing high winds in New York and New England, more heavy rain in the mid-Atlantic, and 2-3 feet of snow in the mountains of West Virginia.
UPDATE 12, 8:30 p.m. EDT, Monday, October 29:
The water is starting to recede at New York City's Battery Park, but the worst dangers of the storm may still be ahead. New York University Hospital lost power and has had to begin evacuating patients. Since many patients at the hospital are in poor health and some are on ventilators, the evacuation is very dangerous. (WYNC's Fred Mogul reported that the hospital's backup generator failed.) The New York Fire Department has tweeted that firefighters are on the scene at Coney Island hospital and there is no fire, despite earlier reports. There are unconfirmed reports of trouble at other area hospitals.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority has confirmed that there is water in the subway tunnels under the East River—an event that the New York Timesreported in September could be a $55 billion disaster. Charles Seaton, a spokesman for the MTA, told the Weather Channel on Monday night that it would take a "significant amount of time" to get subways running again. And Long Island is now completely cut off from the mainland: all bridges and tunnels are closed.
Check out this time lapse video from the Climate Desk of the Manhattan skyline awaiting Sandy:
Climate Desk's James West took to his Brooklyn rooftop to talk with his home country's national breakfast radio show to describe what he was seeing across the city, and how he was preparing for something that might last days and days. Listen here.
People continue to take to Twitter and Instagram to document the storm. According to Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, "There are now 10 pictures per second being posted with the #sandy - most are images of people prepping for the storm and images of scenes outdoors."
Reporting from Brooklyn, Climate Desk Producer James West and Climate Desk Fellow Tim McDonnell spoke with people who were planning on staying in areas like Red Hook that have mandatory evacuations, "recalling what they thought were over-hyped precautions during last year's Hurricane Irene disaster."In Red Hook, a neighborhood along New York Harbor featuring low-lying land and industrial piers, sandbags weren't enough to prevent flooding, not just of seawater but also curious tourists, locals and television vans. James West
UPDATE 10, 4:15 P.M. EDT, Monday, October 29:
The Coast Guard today posted this video of the harrowing rescue of 14 people from life rafts from the sunken HMS Bounty, 90 miles off the coast of Hatteras, N.C. Two people remain missing. The HMS Bounty sent out a distress beacon early this morning. The 14 people were flown to Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., where they were met by awaiting emergency medical services personnel with no life threatening injuries. Coast Guard helicopters continue to search for the two missing crewmembers.
Below is video of the Hudson River overflowing on the west bank.
A girl with "snazzy new rainboots" on the East River at 18th Street in Manhattan posted a video shot at 11 a.m. EST of the East River overflowing its bank as an NYPD officer announces over a bullhorn that the area is a mandatory evacuation zone.
An ominous NASA video shows the storm gathering steam as it approaches New York City, displaying the massive scale of the storm which has already broken the record for being the largest storm in recorded Atlantic basin history.
People all up and down the East Coast have been posting their photos (real and, uh, less real, like the one above) to Twitter of the flooding and storm surge encroaching upon the landscape.
According to the National Weather Service, "Sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph are expected by 8 am this morning, then increasing around noon to 35 to 45 mph with hurricane force wind gusts 60 to 70 mph lasting into early Tuesday morning."
The New York Times has created an interactive map to help New Yorkers figure out whether or not they need to evacuate.
Mother Jones' Adam Serwer analyzes how Hurricane Sandy could swing the 2012 election, concluding that if it "turns out to be as bad as the meteorologists fear, it could have a real impact."
Mike Ryan, senior writer at Huffington Post Entertainment, tweets out a photo of FDR Drive in New York underwater:
UPDATE 7, 10:00 p.m. EDT, Sunday, October 28: Cities from Washington to Boston were ordering mass evacuations on Sunday night and public school was cancelled for all of New York City, Boston, Washington, Baltimore, and many of their suburbs. Airlines canceled more than 5,000 flights, and Amtrak began suspending train service across the Northeast.
President Obama today reviewed emergency response plans with FEMA administrator Craig Fugate in advance of what the president has called a "serious and big storm." He urged residents in the path of the storm to heed the warnings and directions of their local emergency officials and to leave their homes if evacuation is deemed necessary.
A high-wind warning will go into effect Monday at 6 a.m. (EDT) for New York City, with gusts expected to reach 80 mph. People living in the strike zone, especially those in high rise buildings above the 10th floor, are warned to stay away from windows as flying debris could pose a threat.
The National Guard has called upon 61,000 troops to prepare for storm response.
UPDATE 6, 3:00 p.m. EDT, Sunday, October 28: Sandy is threatening to bring significant storm surge flooding to Long Island Sound and New York Harbor with winds near hurricane force at landfall, according to the Sunday afternoon bulletin from NOAA which was tracking the hurricane about 270 miles off the coat of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. Heavy snow is also forecast in the Appalachian Mountains. The death toll in the Caribbean is up to 65.
Already hundreds of flights have been canceled and mass transit systems are shutting down all along the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast in advance of the storm which is supposed to make landfall in Southern New Jersey by late Monday or early Tuesday.
With just over a week before the election, President Obama has scrapped campaign plans for Monday and Tuesday to focus on storm response, and Republican challenger Mitt Romney has been scrambling his schedule, canceling events in Virginia and joining running mate Paul Ryan in Ohio.
For those in the path of the hurricane looking for infomation, the Red Cross has a Hurricane App which will allow users to monitor conditions in their area or throughout the storm track, prepare their family and home, find help and let others know they are safe even if the power is out.
UPDATE 4, 1:00 p.m. EDT, Saturday, October 27: Early Saturday morning, Sandy was briefly downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, but hurricane strength winds were observed a few hours later. According to an update from NOAA at 11 am EST, tropical storm watches and warnings for the east coast of Florida have been discontinued, but they are in effect for areas in South and North Carolina, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Maximum sustained winds are near 75 mph and the storm is expected to move parallel to the southeastern coast of the US throughout the weekend. Gale force winds, storm surge, and rainfall from four to eight inches are likely to reach the Mid-Atlantic coast by Sunday evening. Some are predicting that Sandy will make landfall in Delaware on Tuesday, and Maine, New Jersey, and Connecticut have joined North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, D.C., Pennsylvania and New York in declaring a state of emergency. According to the NY Daily News, city officials are considering evacuating 375,000 New Yorkers and three to six feet of water could be seen in subways in a worst cast scenario. AccuWeather senior meteorologist Henry Margusity warned MarketWatch, "There will be school closures, travel will be messed up for days and major airports will be closed. This could be a disaster of biblical proportions - a multi-billion dollar disaster."
Some have taken to Twitter to share how they are preparing:
UPDATE 2, 2:45 p.m. EDT, Friday, October 26: The latest weather models show Sandy on a collision course with the mid-Atlantic and Northeast with 50 million people in its projected path. The Capitol Weather Gang at the Washington Post is predicting a one-in-three chance of a direct hit on New York City, in which case city officials may call for evacuations as a storm surge could flood parts of Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Many are freaking out about this storm. On his blog, Accuweather meterologist Mike Smith quoted a "prominent National Weather Service meteorologist" as saying: I've never seen anything like this and I'm at a loss for expletives to describe what this storm could do.
The National Hurricane Center says Sandy is moving slowly due north at about six mph with wind speeds of up to 80 mph and are calling the storm a hybrid with tropical characteristics. Eric Holthaus, contributing meteorologist at the Wall Street Journal, said a midwestern snow storm is currently generating over the Great Lakes and will pull the hurricane inland. The full moon on Monday could play a role in coastal flooding, bringing higher tides. He said a direct strike on New York City might actually be a better scenario than if the storm hits in Southern Jersey as it is currently forecasted to do. Coastal flooding could bring a storm surge between six to 10 feet in the city in a worst-case scenario, he said.
The financial markets, utilities, and the tourism industry are also bracing for impact with storm damage estimates already predicted at upwards of $1 billion.
UPDATE 1, 1:10 p.m. EDT Friday, October 26: During a teleconference call on Friday morning, James Franklin, branch chief of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, predicted that the coastline from Florida up through through North Carolina will experience peripheral impacts from Sandy through Sunday, and that the storm will move north to Virginia through New England Monday through Wednesday. The expectation is that the storm will move slowly and there will be two or three days of impacts for many people. According to Dr. Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the West Virginia and Appalachian area could potentially get one to two feet of snow, and there is likely a risk of river flooding in Delaware and Pennsylvania. New York City may experience tropical storm force winds as well as flash flooding. "Someone is going to get a significant surge event out of this, much broader than Irene," said Franklin.
It's possible, according to AccuWeather. They suspect that as the storm batters the east coast at the end of this week and into next week, early voting may seem less appealing to those planning on heading to the polls. Several of the states that might be hit by the storm, such as Florida, Maryland, D.C., Vermont, and Maine, allow for in-person early voting. According to AccuWeather meteorologist Bernie Rayno, "The worst case scenario is that if this storm does go up into New England...we could see lots of power outages, we could see flooding. That could have an impact even a week later, depending on how bad the storm is." A recent survey conducted by the Weather Channel showed that 35 percent of undecided likely voters would be less inclined to head to the polls if there is bad weather on Election Day.
Isn't it a little late in the year for a hurricane?
Possibly. NOAA scientists have shied away from blaming human activities and climate change outright on the more active hurricane seasons in recent years. However, they do say that anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause hurricanes globally to be more intense on average.Forecasters have also said warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures and wind patterns that favor storm formation mean chances are higher for an above-normal season.
Donglai Gong with the Slocum glider on the flight deck of USCG icebreaker Healy.
Editor's note: Julia Whitty is on a three-week-long journey aboard the the US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, following a team of scientists who are investigating how a changing climate might be affecting the chemistry of ocean and atmosphere in the Arctic.
One of the more engaging stories on the ship has been that of Donglai Gong, an assistant professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and his Slocum glider, named after the legendary 19th-century sailor Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail single-handedly around the world.
This Slocum is an unmanned robot that can fly underwater for 20 to 30 kilometers a day for weeks to months collecting high-resolution data on temperature, salinity, pressure, and other water qualities.
Plan A was to deploy the glider in the region of Barrow Canyon, a dynamic pathway of Pacific Ocean water into the Arctic Ocean. But due to the bowhead whaling season underway, Plan B in the Chukchi Sea was launched.
Donglai Gong watches the glider launch from the Healy Bridge. Julia Whitty.
But before Plan B could get started, Donglai needed to perform a buoyancy test on the glider. That was conducted 70 kilometers away from the Plan B launch site. Unfortunately, the glider never surfaced from this test and when the crew on the small boat pulled in the buoy attached to the glider to see what was up, the glider was gone.
Donglai was watching from the Healy Bridge. His excitement—I thought he looked like an expectant father—gave way to shock at the realization that the glider might be lost and his experiment abruptly ended. Worse, the glider wasn't even his own, but on loan to him from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). Ooops.
Donglai with email from the glider. Julia Whitty
But the story wasn't over. An hour and half later Donglai got an email on his iPhone. It was a message from the glider, which had kicked into emergency mode and surfaced to uplink its location to a satellite.
By then night had fallen and recovery wouldn't be possible until the following morning. Donglai made the risky but scientifically rewarding decision to leave the glider where it was and to ask it to its start its mission right there, 70 km away from the Plan B starting point.
Map of the glider's flight from 12 to 20 October 2012 in the Arctic Ocean. Steve Roberts / National Center for Atmospheric Research.]
So the little glider that could jumped the starting pistol and took off towards the Beaufort Sea on Amended Plan B.
In the map above you can see the eventual flight path of the glider, here named we04. For eight days it flew roughly 200 nautical miles along the outer edge of the Beaufort shelf where shallower water drops off to deeper water. A current flowing in the same direction helped the glider on its way. Each green point on the map marks where the glider surfaced every ~2.5 hours to upload its data collected roughly every 1 kilometer of distance travelled.
From unintended launch to successful retrieval, Donglai, with assistance from colleagues at WHOI and Rutgers University, kept the glider on its track, flying towards its eventual rendezvous location with Healy last Saturday.
Last night Donglai let me listen in on some of the recordings the glider had captured from its travels across the Beaufort Sea, including calls that sounded to me like bearded seals. Part 2 of his project will be to test using acoustics as a way to communicate with a glider or gliders deployed under the Arctic ice pack. Maybe next year.
Donglai's glider research was conceived on last year's Healy cruise with his (then) postdoc mentor Bob Pickart at WHOI, Principle Investigator on that cruise and on this one too.