The August numbers are in and NOAA has officially confirmed what we’ve been feeling all summer – it’ been hot, really hot. Overall, the U.S. experienced the fourth hottest summer on record, according to the State of the Climate report released yesterday. The average temperature in August was 75.0ºF – that’s 2.2ºF above the long-term (1901-2000) average. The heat didn’t affect all regions equally. Here in New England, we mirrored the national results with the fourth hottest summer on record. But the southeast saw the warmest summer on record, and the central U.S. it’s third warmest.
Other highlights of the report include
- Every state in New England – EXCEPT MASSACHUSETTS (what’s up with that?) – had their warmest year-to-date period (January-August). Massachusetts still ranked in the top 10% of warmest periods on record.
- The Climate Extremes Index (CEI) for summer 2010 was about 1.5 times its historical average, in part due to a very large area with nighttime low temperatures six times warmer than average (the warmest since 1910) and more than the usual number of days with average to heavy precipitation.
With that last fact fresh in my brain, an article on Miller-McCune about a new air-conditioning technology really caught my eye. It’s called DEVap (for “desiccant-enhanced evaporative”) cooling. As the name suggests, it’s based on combining evaporative cooling, as in ‘swamp coolers’ that are popular in the hot-dry Southwest, with the use of dessicants – highly water-absorbant substances, like those found in the little “DO NOT EAT” packets you find in some electronics or freeze-dried foods. The result, according to the developers, is an air conditioner that would work equally well in New Mexico’s desert heat or Cape Cod’s balmy humidity … all while using 50-90% less energy than traditional compressor/refridgeration-based systems.
By the time I finished reading the article, I was ready to go buy one of these miraculous-sounding devices (I have no air-conditioning and have regretted that all summer – particularly on those too-hot-to-sleep nights). Unfortunately, they’re still in the prototype stage. It’s likely to be at least two years before they’re available commercially. I’ll be waiting.
A shot of Hurricane Earl's eye from 60,000ft, captured by Global Hawk - an unmanned aircraft that completed its first successful flight through a hurricane on Thursday.
As planned, NASA’s new unmanned hurricane tracking aircraft – Global Hawk – made its first flight into a full-fledged hurricane … and it was a success. The drone spent several hours inside Hurricane Earl yesterday, making at least seven passes through the eye of the storm.
“It was a great flight,” said Scott Braun, a scientist with NASA’s Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes experiment, the goal of which is a better understanding of the development of hurricanes. Referring to Earl, he told OurAmazingPlanet “not only did we catch it intensifying at the early stages, we caught the onset of the weakening, … so we really have described the full evolution of the storm, which is really fantastic.”
In researching an upcoming post on so-called oceanic garbage patches – large areas where circular water currents have trapped and concentrated plastic debris – I came across this passage on the website of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program:
Based on research to date, most commonly used plastics do not ever fully “go away,”** but rather break down into smaller and smaller pieces (A. Andrady, pers. comm.). Also keep in mind that many of the bio-based and truly biodegradable plastics break down in a compost pile or landfill, but not necessarily in the ocean.
The fact that plastic never really goes away is becoming common knowledge. It was the second sentence that caused me to do a double-take. I’m used to hearing about how inefficient landfills are for allowing biodegradable items to, well, biodegrade … like the stories of hot dogs still perfectly intact decades after disposal. So I was surprised to learn that biodegradable plastics might actually break down faster in landfills than in the ocean. The site seems to base its argument on the fact that the recommended location for biodegradation is in the soil, as this label suggests:
NOAA Marine Debris Program
On the Marine Debris website, this photo is accompanied by the following caption:
Example text from a bio-based plastic bag. Note the location for decomposition–not in the ocean!
Point taken – plastic trash doesn’t belong in the ocean. But note something else. The label also says ‘with need of oxygen and inducement.’ I can’t comment on the inducement bit, but oxygen is something I know landfills are desperately short on. Maybe landfills aren’t the best place for plastics, either.
Credit: Tom Kleindinst/WHOI
WHOI Senior Scientist Scott Doney has been nominated by President Obama to fill the post of Chief Scientist for NOAA.
Yet another Woods Hole denizen is headed for Washington. On Friday, blogs published by the top-tier journals Science and Nature announced that President Obama has nominated Scott Doney, currently a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, to fill the post of Chief Scientist for NOAA. The Chief Scientist is tasked with guiding the direction of policy and research within the agency. The post has been vacant since the mid-nineties. Soon after taking up her position as head of NOAA last year, Jane Lubchenco pushed to have the position not just filled but reinvigorated and elevated to the level of a presidential appointee. Lubchenco has also been vocal about increasing efforts devoted to climate change research. Doney seems to fill that bill. He is an expert on climate change and ocean acidification, in which the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and becomes increasingly acidic. It is a process which Lubchenco has dubbed the ‘equally evil twin’ of global warming. Doney has testified before Congress several times on the issue.
Although the news has spread to blogs and news sites across the web, I have yet to see any official word from WHOI regarding the nomination. While Doney’s move will undoubtedly be considered a loss for the Institution, both WHOI and the broader Woods Hole research community benefit from honor by association. In heading to Washington, Doney will follow another Woods Hole climate change expert – John Holdren of Harvard and the Woods Hole Research Center, whom Obama selected to be his chief science advisor.