Archive for the ‘New Research’ Category

10 Most Destructive Weather-Related Disasters (With Caveats)

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Tornado aftermathDetermining the most destructive weather-related disasters in history is deceptively hard.

What constitutes destruction?

You can count lives lost, but that skews heavily toward the late 19th and early 20th centuries when urban populations grew much faster than the ability for populations to be warned or evacuated. You can count property damage, but that skews to the last 50 years when expensive, extensive and aging infrastructure has collapsed like sand castles.

Do you include events like famines, which by definition involve short-sighted, grotesque or just plain murderous government decisions? Whole civilizations have again and again obliterated themselves this way.

But determine we must, so here’s my list of 10, with caveats. I’m not counting famines, given the bloody thumbs resting on the scale of horror. And I’m counting the only factors that will always matter — lives lost. In all cases, death tolls are estimates.

10.  1991 Bangladesh Cyclone; 138,000 dead

vast flooding after the 1991 bangladesh cyclone

In lands so close to sea level, the misery and death of a cyclone can go on for weeks.

Many shelters built after the 1970 Bhola cyclone (see No. 5) sat all but empty as this particularly fast storm ran ashore.

Residents either forgot where the shelters were, forgot how powerful major cyclones can be or both. The result was massive drownings.



9. China’s 1935 Yangtze river flood; 145,000 dead

The Yangtze is one of China’s storied rivers (the other being the Yellow, which we’ll hear about in a minute). The 1930s were a particularly deadly period for the Yangtze, with catastrophic floods in 1931 and 1935. The latter disaster was akin to removing the population of a major U.S. suburb from the planet.

8. Super Typhoon Nina, 1975, China; 231,000 dead

Super typhoon Nina destroyed this dam and killed 231,000.

Nina took out the Banqiao Dam, unleashing more floods that, in turn, took out more dams....

Nina was one of the first modern monsters to attack Asia.

It would have killed tens of thousands all by itself, but it was able to destroy the Banqiao Dam thereby setting in motion a regional game of death-dominoes. Dam after dam fell, each loosing another wall of racing water.



7.   1881 Haiphong Cyclone, Vietnam; 300,000 dead

flooded viet nam

A scene that would have looked all to familiar, even back in 1881.

Just as the U.S. has its Tornado Alley, Southeast Asia has a cyclone corridor, which runs right over Haiphong.





6. India Cyclone, 1839; at least 300,000 dead

india flood drawing

Even major floods are as much a part of India's culture as henna art.

The harbor city of Coringa was so devastated by this cyclone’s 40-foot storm surge that it was never completely rebuilt.

Fully 20,000 boats were destroyed, and with them, the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands.

It’s not like this tragedy was unheralded. Just 50 years earlier, another cyclone took 20,000 lives in the same region.

5.  1970 Bhola Cyclone, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh); 500,000-1 million dead

bhola damage

The stakes for low-lying Southeast Asia got higher with Bhola.

Some areas of East Pakistan saw mortality rates of almost 50% in the wake of this storm. The mean death rate throughout the impacted region neared one in five.

Out at sea, a 5,500-ton freighter was sunk by the storm, now estimated to have been the equivalent of a category-3 hurricane.


4. China’s 1887 Yellow River flood; 900,000-2 million dead

Yellow River

The Yellow begins innocently enough, but can be a raging tyrant as it moves.

The Yellow, or Hwang He, River could only be a disaster waiting to happen.

One of the world’s longest rivers, it empties a vast portion of China’s watershed area. And it carries a particular sediment, which is yellow, that can make up to 60% of the river’s entire volume.

As the river slows crossing vast plains, the silt settles, broadening the river. When ice dams in Mongolia break loose in the spring, the stage is set for massive flooding. The 1887 flood was one of China’s worst, and that’s saying a lot for a flood-prone nation.


3.  The 1931 Yellow River flood; 1,000,000-3,700,000 dead

victims of the 1931 yellow river floods

The water-weary Chinese likely didn't know if they were coming or going in 1931.

This wasn’t really one flood. There wasn’t even one cause.

A two- or three-year drought ended in 1930 with mountainous snows which, of course, melted. Then seven cyclones raked the region.

The Yellow became less of a river than an aorta, pulsing with flood water for a year.


2.  1941 China Drought; 3 million dead

Droughts often are lumped in with famines, but not this one. The nationalist Chinese government was apparently too busy ousting the brutal, invading Japanese army to tinker with agriculture.

A severe drought brought much of the nation’s interior to its knees before wiping out a population greater than modern-day Chicago.


1. 1918-1919 El Nino; complicit in 20 million-100 million deaths

scores of flu victims on cots

Did El Nino give the Great Flu Pandemic a boost?

This is a shocker. New research indicates that along with troop movements during World War I, the peculiar Pacific weather pattern known as El Nino could have played a significant role in the Great Flu Pandemic.

Scientists say that El Nino was abnormally strong as the pandemic grew, and they don’t think it was a coincidence. El Nino altered weather patterns over the U.S., now believed to have been that flu’s incubator, creating good conditions for transmission. It also caused a historically severe drought in India, weakening that population’s collective immunity to disease.

How To Put Climate Deniers in Their Place

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Note: This post first ran on True/Slant in 2010. Assuming that its archives will be deleted at some point, I’m moving some of my True/Slant articles here.

Climate scientists themselves figured out that disastrous claims about Himalaya glaciers were seriously wrong. It’s a matter of public record.

Climate deniers want you to believe that predictions of a glacier-free range by 2035 were deliberate lies, and that those lies were uncovered by right-thinking people.

That’s why deniers are calling this Glaciergate, thereby implying a coverup like the original Watergate scandal.

The whole back-and-forth is like an ax manufacture who chops the base of an enormous oak to prove that clouds hold trees upright.

THOK! See? The clouds won’t let the tree fall. THOK!

Another man runs from his home to the tree and back with math showing  how clouds are too high and can’t pull trees up. More math: Leaf movement is due to wind. More math: Wind is part of atmospheric pressure differences that are related to the creation of clouds. More math: Clouds can create wind, which blows leafs, but only after atmospheric conditions have created the clouds.

THOK! I’ve been chopping this tree for 20 minutes, folks, and the tree is still standing, because the clouds are holding it up. THOK!

So, how do you compete with the jerk with the ax?

One school of thought is to fight fire with fire. Challenge everything the opposition says.

Can they demonstrate – with the same confidence and transparency employed by scientists working for the IPCC – that the danger of doing nothing is negligible and that greenhouse gases pose no risk to the planet? Could their arguments withstand the same rigorous examination that took place during Glaciergate?

via Glaciergate was a blunder, but it’s the sceptics who dissemble | Robin McKie | Comment is free | The Observer.

Won’t work. The class brain can’t face down bullies by asking them to prove scientifically that he’s a gaywad.

Sorry. I’m analogy-happy today.

The answer is what it’s always been.

1. Put out your peer-reviewed findings as fast as you like and transparently as you can. Openly state probabilities, alternatives and doubts.

2. Have a phalanx of communicators who make the findings real to non-scientists. These people liaise between the public and the experts, so they better know almost as much as the front-line researchers. (How are the efforts to clone Carl Sagan going?)

3. Have a core of eminent experts who are always connecting the dots and solidifying the science foundation. Problems they spot are transparently fed back to the researchers. Loan these people and the communicators to media, schools, Meetups and the like.

4. Feed contradicting information into the communications assembly line.

5. Always, always be feeding the assembly line so there’s never a gap in solid, relatable information with which to make the case.

6. Build this system now as the present process is phased out. There’s no committee for changing leaf matter into fertile dirt, and that seems to work pretty well.

If climate change is a important to humanity as it seems to be, it’s worth expanding the scientific process to include simple but rigorous communications principles.

Your Soul Is Genetic And It’s Making You Crazy

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Note: This post originally ran in 2010 on True/Slant. Assuming they will delete their archive at some point, I’m moving some articles here.

Don’t freak out, but the voices you hear in your head are real.

A video stuffed with more pseudo-science than a Sedona, Arizona, crystal shop makes the case that your genes have a brain that’s filled with the ongoing thoughts of your ancestors.

It’s that or your soul has a brain, and your soul is passed down cumulatively from your ancestors. I can’t be sure even after repeatedly watching Dattatreya Siva Baba describe his new science, “soul genetics.”

Either way, your deceased family is standing between you and happiness by trying to make sense of your world with their experiences.

“The thoughts you are thinking may not even be your own thoughts,” according to Baba. Keep that in mind should someone trace the awful smell in the neighborhood to your basement.

The good news is that 2012 is close, says Baba. Far from being the end of time, he says, the end of the Maya calendar is the dawn of a new era, when new sciences like soul genetics will come to fruition.

We’ll be better able to tell our cranky ancestors to pipe down so we can concentrate on driving, for crissakes.

We’re Levitating Flies To Be Sure They Can Go To Mars With Us

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012
micrograph of fruit fly

Because it’s exhausting to buzz your face until you move.

Even Marvel Comics’ Magneto had to start somewhere, first moving small coins, for instance. On an even humbler scale, British scientists say they’ve used powerful magnets to levitate fruit flies.

Three questions:

Fruit flies can, of course, fly, taking some of the cool factor out of the feat. Why fruit flies? Just thinking about levitating similarly tiny insects that can’t fly — spiders, fire ants, the Olsen twins —  results in psychosis-inducing nightmares.

The Olsens: Twice the tragedy

We’re not emaciated husks. We’re just small-boned.

Why levitate bugs at all?

Far as I’m concerned, I was sold on the critical nature of this research while trying to read a Space Travel article about it through a squadron of the jagoffs. I’d love to be able to move them outside, Magneto-like, with a wave of my hand (albeit via some kind of controller).

As it turns out, there are better reasons. From the Space Travel story:

 …in our future endeavours to explore space, setting up permanent bases on our Moon, or Mars for example, or other planets, it will be crucial to understand the effects of weightlessness on all living organisms: our long-term survival will of course require us to take with us many different biological organisms.

Last question: Who’s getting paid to make a list of Earth pests we are taking to Mars?

Oh. Right.


Subscribe to RSS feed