Blue Marble

Hurricane Sandy: Elderly People Trapped, Gas Shortages, and Gridlock

| Thu Oct. 25, 2012 7:29 PM EDT
Two bodies are taken away by the NYC Medical Examiners from a driveway in Ditmas Park in New York City on Tuesday, October 30.

This explainer has been regularly updated; click here for the most recent post.

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.

The Climate Desk was on the scene in Brooklyn earlier today:

UPDATE 20, 11:55 a.m. EDT, Thursday, November 1: The Climate Desk team visited one historic high-rise apartment in Manhattan where residents were running perilously low on water, food, and patience:

UPDATE 19, 2:15 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, October 31:

The Climate Desk team headed over to Breezy Point, Queens, to survey the damage from the neighborhood's massive fire and flooding:

Sandy's strength will continue to weaken throughout the next 24 hours, but the storm's impact continues to linger. The US death toll has risen to 59, with 26 in New York City, including a young couple killed by falling trees in Ditmas Park Monday night. At an afternoon press briefing, Gov. Cuomo reiterated his belief climate change is responsible for the power of this storm saying, "I think part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality." The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has a good round up of weather related stats from Sandy.

More than 8 million people remain without power, and utility companies say it might be a week before power is fully restored in New York. City buses resumed full service this morning, and limited subway service is expected to resume on Thursday. JFK and Newark Liberty International airports re-opened with limited service this morning (LaGuardia remains closed), and Mayor Bloomberg rang the bell to reopen trading this morning at the NYSE. IHS Global Insight's latest estimate of the cost of damages from Sandy is $20 billion in property damages and $10 to $30 billion in lost business.

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:

UPDATE 18, 10:15 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, October 30:

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.

The superstorm dumped three feet of snow in parts of West Virginia.

For the first time since 1888, the New York Stock Exchange was closed for two consecutive days.

The storm made landfall along the Jersey shore.

The WSJ's Eric Holthaus has been a steady hand from the build up to the storm and through its aftermath, though he cites Wikipedia in this tweet.

UPDATE 17, 1:45 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, October 30:

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."

The Associated Press is reporting that Sandy's US death toll is up to 33 and there are at least 7.4 million without power. Check out this interactive from the New York Times to see where damage was done to the city. More than 80 homes were destroyed in a fire in Breezy Point in Queens on Monday night, and there were reports of fires in Long Island as well.

Flooding continues throughout New Jersey and New York, as well as property damage from fallen trees.

UPDATE 16, 10:56 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, October 30:

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 AtlanticThe AtlanticUPDATE 15, 10:15 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, October 30:

In television appearances Tuesday morning, New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie praised the federal government's response:

"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 Times reported 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.

UPDATE 11, 7:15 p.m. EDT, Monday, October 29:

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in southern New Jersey just after 6 p.m. EST, and is quickly moving towards New York City. Approximately 3,000 people have not yet evacuated Atlantic City and according to Politico, Governor Christie has said, "They're going to have to ride out the storm there until at least 7 o'clock tomorrow morning. I cannot in good conscience send rescuers in as the storm is about to hit, nor can I send them in the dark given all the various hazards that would potentially occur for them."  Sandy is expected to hit New York at 8 p.m. Governor Cuomo ordered the closure of NYC bridges at 7 p.m. and warned that, "the worst is still coming." 

There is record breaking storm surge flooding in Battery Park, in lower Manhattan:

And some NYC media outlets are down:

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.

Even before making landfall, the storm caused power outages for 1 million people, and the National Grid expects that 60 million more could ultimately be affected. This ConEd map shows where power outages have occurred in New York.

Some are predicting that overall, Sandy could cause an economic loss of $20 billion.

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 WestIn 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.

UPDATE 9, 3 p.m. EDT, Monday, October 29:

Coastal communities up and down the Mid-Atlantic coast and in the Northeast are already experiencing heavy flooding, but Hurricane Sandy hasn't even made landfall yet. A crane in midtown Manhattan collapsed due to high winds.

"The last time we saw this threat was never," Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said during a press conference today.

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.

UPDATE 8, 11:30 a.m. EDT, Monday, October 29:

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:

Mike Ryan


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.

The New Jersey National Weather Service station sent out a particularly disturbing emergency bulletin to residents who would avoid evacuation warnings, telling them to think of the emergency responders who will "recover your remains if you do not survive."

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.

While just a few days ago, weathermen and journalists were coming up with playful monikers for the storm, the descriptions have gotten notably more ominous. Meteorologists are calling Sandy extraordinary, historic, and potentially the worst storm on record. Indeed, Sandy is now the largest storm in recorded Atlantic basin history, with a diameter of gale force winds over 1000 miles.

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 5, 8:00 p.m. EDT, Saturday, October 27: While tropical storm warnings regarding Sandy have been discontinued for the Bahamas, the death toll throughout the Caribbean has risen to 59, with 44 in Haiti. High wind warnings and watches are now in effect for southeastern Virginia, the Mid-Atlantic, and southern New England, and near hurricane force winds could reach the Mid-Atlantic, as well as Long Island, by late Monday, according to NOAA's latest report. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for Fire Island in Suffolk County, as well as Delaware's coastal communities, and Governor Christie has ordered Atlantic City's 12 casinos to shut down at 4 pm on Sunday. Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency and has mobilized 200 members of the National Guard.

According to the Guardian, there is a major threat of coastal flooding, especially in low-lying areas like Alexandria, Virginia and New York City. Dr. Jeff Masters from predicts that there is a 30% chance that the New York City subway system will be flooded and the New York Times reported in September that flooding resulting from storm surges can cost $55 billion in economic damage. expects that Sandy "will be more like a Nor'eastern on steroids", with 60 million people in its path and storm surge levels that could range from five to ten feet. 

To continue to track the storm's path, check out the New York Times' interactive tracker, and make sure to follow @capitalweather, @twc_hurricane, and @wunderground for updates.

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 3, 5:45 p.m. EDT, Friday, October 26: As the storm leaves the northern Bahamas, death tolls from its path through the Caribbean continue to rise. The Associated Press is reporting that 40 have been killed, with 26 in Haiti. Throughout the Caribbean there are reports of power outages, heavy crop damage, blocked roads, and collapsed houses. In Jamaica, where the hurricane first hit, officials are saying it is still too early to estimate the cost of damages.

Meanwhile, several states in the US—North Carolina, Virginia/D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York—have declared a state of emergency. Officials in New York City are considering shutting down mass transit before the storm hits. has a good round-up of how various states are preparing for Sandy.

Folks are sounding off on Twitter:

And with the Romney campaign cancelling their planned rally in Virginia Beach due to the storm and potential disruptions to early voting, many are speculating that the hurricane could ultimately impact the election.


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.

Read on for a primer:

Where's Sandy headed?

Hurricane Sandy's predicted path NOAAHurricane Sandy's predicted path NOAA

The hurricane first hit just south of Kingston, Jamaica, on the morning of October 24 and blew through Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas. The storm is expected to make landfall in the Mid-Atlantic on Monday evening as a Category 1 storm with winds up to 95 mph. Forecasters predict that it will lose some steam as it bears due north toward the greater New York City area on Tuesday, likely becoming a tropical storm. However it could collide with an early winter storm out of the west and a blast of Arctic air from the north to potentially wreak more havoc than an ordinary hurricane.

To see for yourself where the hurricane is headed, check out this live map, as well as this interactive hurricane tracker.

The storm has already caused flooding in Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti and the Bahamas. Folks in those places have taken to Twitter to share videos, pictures, and updates about the damage. 

Have there been any casualties?

65 are dead across the Caribbean, according to the Huffington Post.

Could Sandy impact early voting/the elections?

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?

No. Hurricane season in the Atlantic begins June 1 and ends November 30. However, 2012 has seen an extremely active hurricane season filled with oddities.

Is climate change to blame for the active season?

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.

How has Obama reacted?

President Obama has been briefed on the hurricane, and the White House is encouraging those along the Eastern seaboard to monitor weather reports and listen to local officials.

How can I stay on top of the latest news?

We'll be updating this post with the latest.'s Hurricane Central has continuous updates about Sandy’s course, as does The Washington Post's blog has identified various scenarios and potential impacts for the DC area.

Eric Holstaus, the weather guy for the Wall Street Journal, is tweeting up a storm.

AccuWeather's Henry Margusity, NOAA, and FEMA are also tweeting continuous updates.

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The Little Glider That Could: Arctic Ocean Diaries No. 10

| Thu Oct. 25, 2012 6:13 AM EDT

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.]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 WhittyDonglai 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.]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.

Frontline: Did the Climate Deniers Win?

| Wed Oct. 24, 2012 2:14 PM EDT

On Tuesday Night, PBS's Frontline aired an hour-long special on the climate saga over the past four years—focused centrally on the skeptics themselves, whom PBS's John Hockenberry depicts as victorious in stopping any policy action. Touring Heartland Institute conferences, hearing plentiful sound bites from the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell, we learn that these folks are basically high-fiving right now as the presidential campaigns studiously ignore the climate issue. And yes, they really do think the science is on their side, and that they're winning on the intellectual merits.

Not that Hockenberry agrees—one of the gems of "Climate of Doubt" is a deft explanation of how climate skeptics come up with the bizarre assertion that the planet hasn't been warming lately. As NASA's Gavin Schmidt nicely explains to Hockenberry, all you have to do is go back over the noisy temperature record and "pick the endpoints" of your analysis—and you can promptly uncover numerous temporary cooling periods. "But actually, the whole thing has been moving up," Schmidt explains—warming over the course of many decades.

Hockenberry then steps in with a wonderful analogy: Skeptics, he explains, are "going down the up escalator."  Yup, that's right: The "very factual" arguments of climate deniers—as one North Carolina state legislator captured in the program puts it—really are that weak.

Did BP Oil Kill This Whale?

| Wed Oct. 24, 2012 6:03 AM EDT

Two and a half years have passed since the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but there are still open questions about the extent of the damage the gusher caused. BP and the federal government are discussing a settlement, though the exact amount of money BP will have to pay up is still unclear.

But take, for example, some information that Greenpeace recently received in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed more than two years ago seeking evidence of the spill's impact on endangered species. The latest batch of photos and documents the group received focuses on a dead sperm whale that researchers on the ship Pisces found about 77 miles from the site of the Deepwater Horizon on June 2010. (The group had previously received a batch of photos of oiled sea turtles.)

The dead whale was documented in a press release on June 16, 2010, but the Greenpeace FOIA also turned up a number of photos of the bloated, burnt whale that appeared to have been floating in the water for at least a few days before it was found.


The photos are pretty grim; it's hard to even tell it's a whale until you notice the protruding jaw bone. It doesn't appear that photos of it were widely circulated at the time, though at least one National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) photo did appear online, and a school teacher aboard the research ship also posted some of her own photos of the body. Several of the emails released in the FOIA response state that people aboard the ship were told not to post photos. "I just spoke to the command center in Houma and they have asked that you all not post the photos to anyone as they are part of an official investigation," says one email sent from a NOAA staffer to others on the ship, asking that they refrain from posting until they get permission from the Joint Information Center.

What's unclear is whether they ever determined what killed the whale, which was described as "sub-adult." It was already pretty decomposed when they found it. The press release noted that it was "impossible to confirm whether exposure to oil was the cause of death," but said that they collected skin swabs, blubber, and skin samples for analysis.

But there weren't any follow-up reports on what those tests found. The official tally of animals affected by the spill on the NOAA website says that there were two dead sperm whales found in the months after the spill; it's unclear whether the whale in the photographs is included in that figure. [NOAA had not responded to questions by the time this went to press, but I have added an update below.)

Greenpeace wants to know what happened to the whale. "They never published them or made an explanation," said Kert Davies, the group's research director. "They took samples, swabs, but we never saw the lab results … What happened to it? How many times does a whale just die?"


Hal Whitehead, a biologist and sperm whale expert at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, told Mother Jones that most whales live a long time—as long as 80 years—and typically die of natural causes. The population of the endangered sperm whales was dense in the Gulf at last tally, but still relatively small—between 1,400 and 1,660. "They appeared to be doing well before the spill," said Whitehead.

But the sperm whale population was still vulnerable, and there was a lot of fear at the time that even a few deaths could severely impact the their long-term survival. Biologists also note that only some of the dead bodies are actually found and tallied; there are likely more that are never found.

While this is a photo of just one dead whale, it does speak to the larger questions of just how much the Gulf spill cost—in dollars, but also in things that are hard to measure, like the loss of endangered species.

UPDATE: NOAA spokesman Ben Sherman said Wednesday morning that the agency did conduct tests on the whale samples, but "because the animal was so badly decomposed the cause of death could not be determined." The whale was, however, included in the tally of bodies collected after the oil spill. He also said that in telling people on the boat not to publish photos, they were following the protocol for the federal response team on reporting new findings "so that the information could be cataloged and verified as part of the the investigation against BP."

Are California's Pot Farms Bad for the Planet?

| Wed Oct. 24, 2012 6:03 AM EDT
Medicinal weed farms as seen from a helicopter over Humboldt County, California.

It's been dubbed the California Green Rush, but the explosive proliferation of pot farms to meet the sky-rocketing demand for medical marijuana is having some repercussions that are far from green. Local government officials and researchers in Humboldt and Mendocino counties say farmers are engaging in reckless forest clearing, illegal diversion of streams, and use of pesticides and fertilizers that are polluting the waterways and killing wildlife.

But county officials and local regulatory agencies are caught in a catch-22: The farming of marijuana—for medicinal use or otherwise—remains illegal under federal law. Any regulation instituted by these agencies is, in effect, legitimizing the cultivation of a federally controlled substance, and the US Department of Justice has warned local officials that they could face individual prosecution if they continue to validate the farms.

Mark Lovelace, a Humboldt County supervisor, says the DOJ's policy is actually abetting the weed farmers, allowing them to get away with unchecked land development.

"This is not about marijuana, good or bad. This is just about the reality that this one industry, due to prohibition, has been essentially granted immunity from regulation," Lovelace says. "That's the unintended consequence of federal prohibition."

Road building, land grading, filling and diversion of streams, the use of herbicides, pesticides, and rodenticides—things that would normally be regulated in any other legal industry—are going unmonitored because the DOJ says the regulations aren't allowed, Lovelace explains.

Climate Scientist Sues Over Blog Posts Comparing Him to a Child Molester

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 6:37 PM EDT

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann announced on Tuesday that he has filed suit against the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute over blog posts that compared him to a convicted child molester.

The suit accuses the blogs of making "false and defamatory statements" about Mann and his research, which have long been the subject of attacks from climate deniers (see our previous coverage here, here, and here, just to get started). Mann was the lead author on the paper that included the "hockey stick" chart that showed the spike in global temperatures in the industrial age. He was also one of the scientists whose emails were stolen and released on the internet in the "Climategate" incident, and despite numerous exonerations, continues to be the No. 1 target of deniers.  In July, NRO and CEI published posts calling Mann "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science."

From a posting announcing the suit on Mann's Facebook page:

Despite their knowledge of the results of these many investigations, the defendants have nevertheless accused Dr. Mann of academic fraud and have maliciously attacked his personal reputation with the knowingly false comparison to a child molester. The conduct of the defendants is outrageous, and Dr. Mann will be seeking judgment for both compensatory and punitive damages.

In an email to Mother Jones, Mann said that the suit is his way of "fighting back against the dishonest efforts by industry front groups and their hired guns to smear and discredit me and other climate scientists simply because of the inconvenient nature of our conclusions."

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Antibiotic-Resistant Bug Shows Up in Wild Animals

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 2:54 PM EDT
Two wild cottontail rabbits tested positive for MRSA.

A deadly, antibiotic-resistant species of bacteria, once seen only among hospital patients but now spreading widely outside healthcare settings, has been detected among wild animals with little or no human contact, according to a new study. The findings raise the ominous prospect that people could face the risk of exposure not only from fellow humans but also from animals they encounter on hikes or other outdoor excursions.

MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, can cause deep skin ulcers. In recent years, it has become something of a poster-bacterium for the alarming problem of antibiotic resistance. The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that 18,000 people die annually from MRSA infections, although improved hospital infection control measures in recent years appear to have helped to reduce transmission rates. (A good thing, since a recent study found that drug-resistant infections resulted were significantly more costly to treat than those that respond to antibiotics.) 

Climate Deniers To Release Rip-Off Report

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 2:36 PM EDT

Back in June 2009, the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released a detailed 188-page report, "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States," showing how climate change would affect different regions of the country. The USGCRP is at work on its next assessment right now, which is due out in 2013. But this week a climate-change-denying think tank is trying to muddy the water by releasing what it calls an "addendum" to the USGCRP report.

The Cato Institute, a "free-market" minded think-tank based in DC, plans to release its own "Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" report. In addition to the title, the report's cover looks like the USGCRP report:

The Daily ClimateThe Daily Climate

The Daily Climate flagged the fake report on Monday, noting that the addendum "matches the layout and design of the original, published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program: Cover art, 'key message' sections, table of contents are all virtually identical, down to the chapter heads, fonts and footnotes."

While the real USGCRP report had grim predictions for many regions of the US, the Cato report claims that "observed impacts of climate change have little national significance." A draft version of the Cato report is posted online. It lists noted climate contrarian and Cato senior fellow Pat Michaels as the editor in chief.

Rick Piltz, who was a senior associate with the USGCRP for ten years before leaving amid Bush-era censorship in 2005, also covered the Cato draft on his blog, Climate Science Watch:

Because of its misleading design and layout throughout, the Cato report can be characterized as a counterfeit, having nothing to do with the USGCRP or the authors of the original report. It was not subjected to the extensive review process that characterized the 2009 report, and its key findings are neither consistent with the original assessment nor with the analysis developed by the great majority of qualified scientists.

UPDATE: Eleven members of the Federal Advisory Committee that wrote the 2009 USGCRP report have released a statement condemning the Cato report as "deceptive and misleading."

So Much for That "War on Coal"

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 12:05 PM EDT

In September, news broke that the Buchanan Mine in southwestern Virginia, owned by Consol Energy, was temporarily laying off most of the its 620 employees. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and the rest of the GOP were quick to capitalize on the layoffs as evidence of the Obama administration's "ongoing war on coal." Pat Mullins, the chairman of the Virginia GOP, issued a statement a few days after the layoffs were announced citing the mine shut-downs as the result of the Obama administration's "failed leadership and destructive policies." The Republican National Committee has also cited the Buchanan layoffs as more evidence of Obama's coal-killing agenda.

But last week, Pittsburgh-based Consol issued a press release indicating that it is reopening the Buchanan mine. The mine will reopen during the week of the election.

The announcement has gotten little coverage outside of this story in the local newspaper. Consol's own press release says the temporary shut-down of the mine was in response to "weak markets" for metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel, and that the company was "voluntarily curtailing production." Despite the idling of this mine as well as another in West Virginia, Consol still expects to produce 13.4 to 13.8 million tons of coal in the third quarter. So much for the "war on coal."

Meanwhile, Consol has long been a big backer of Republicans and a few coal-friendly Democrats. The company was a major donor to Rick Santorum when he was in the Senate, and then paid him handsomely for his work a "consultant" after leaving Congress. Consol's political action committee has donated $62,500 to Mitt Romney's campaign this year, according to Open Secrets. The PAC has also given $15,000 to Griffith, the congressman who was quoted last month blaming the Buchanan layoffs on President Obama. 

UPDATE: Consol spokeswoman Lynn Seay notes that while the Buchanan mine will restart, it will be operating at full capacity:

One hundred ninety production and maintenance employees will not return to Buchanan Mine and the company is currently working to reassign those employees, as well as some salaried employees, to other CONSOL Energy mines. Buchanan Mine typically produces approximately 400,000 tons per month on a seven day week schedule; the company anticipates that monthly production will be approximately 293,000 tons per month on the reduced schedule.

Will the Candidates End the "Climate Silence" Tonight?

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 3:56 PM EDT

The final debate before the presidential election will take place tonight in Boca Raton, Florida. Since it's focused on foreign policy, might the candidates finally be asked directly about climate change—arguably the biggest foreign policy challenge issue for the future?

A lot of people are hoping so. After last week's debate, moderator Candy Crowley said she had a question "for all you climate people," but she didn't get to it before the debate wrapped up. So far, all the talk has been about "energy independence," while "climate change" is the issue that shall not be named.

Maybe Florida will be different. It is, after all, a state surrounded by water and highly vulnerable to sea level rise. The state includes eight of the ten cities most likely to be affected by rising seas and increased storm surges, putting 2.4 million people and 1.3 million homes at risk, according to a report from Climate Central earlier this year.

This is why more than 120 scientists and public officials in Florida have signed a letter asking President Obama and Governor Romney to address sea level rise at this week's debate. The letter asks the candidates to discuss three questions that are of great importance for Florida and other states facing similar challenges:

- What will be the federal government's planning and policy priorities in order to reduce the risks of future sea level rise?
- What will be the polices for adaptive measures to respond to current and future impacts of sea level rise?
- How would you work with the rest of the world to address rising sea levels and other effects of climate change?

Meanwhile, Forecast the Facts and Friends of the Earth Action have started an online petition and campaign asking the candidates to stop the "climate silence." " "National elections should be a time when our nation considers the great challenges and opportunities the next President will face," the groups write. "But the climate conversation of 2012 has been defined by a deafening silence."