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Scientist: Don’t blame Harvey on global warming

There’s no evidence hurricanes happen more frequently now than 100 years ago

A flooded neighborhood in Houston Associated Press/Photo by Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle

Scientist: Don’t blame Harvey on global warming

Some progressives are using the fury of Hurricane Harvey to promote their man-made climate change beliefs.

“It’s a fact: climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly,” The Guardian reported. And Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research told The Atlantic, “The human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm.”

But Roy Spencer, a meteorologist at the University of Alabama, disagrees. “The flood disaster unfolding in Houston is certainly very unusual. But so are other natural weather disasters, which have always occurred and always will occur,” he wrote on his blog.

Many flood disasters have ravaged the Gulf Coast even as far back as the mid-1800s. In 1900, a Category 4 hurricane struck Galveston, Texas, and left more than 6,000 people dead in its wake. During a 1935 storm, the water level in a particular section of Houston reached more than 54 feet. At the same location, as of Monday morning, the water level was 38 feet. In 1979, tropical storm Claudette produced 43 inches of rainfall in 24 hours in Houston.

Harvey caused such severe flooding because it stalled after it hit land, concentrating all of the rainfall in one area of Texas instead of spreading it out as it moves hundreds of miles inland, the way most tropical storms do. No evidence suggests global warming makes rain systems move slower, Spencer said.

Nor does science indicate hurricanes are becoming more frequent. In the last 47 years, four Category 4 or stronger hurricanes have struck the United States, but in the 47 years prior to that there were 14, more than three times as many. The United States has just enjoyed nearly 12 years without a major hurricane. Lake sediment along the coast of Florida shows evidence that catastrophic hurricanes struck more than 1,000 years ago and became less frequent in the most recent 1,000 years.

“Weather disasters happen, with or without the help of humans,“ Spencer wrote.

See “Harvey Relief” for information on organizations assisting victims affected by the storm.


A world in the clouds

Researchers have discovered an entire world of complex microbe communities living in the clouds. Scientists knew cloud water contained microorganisms, but this is the first time they realized clouds provide a habitat for intricate systems of more than 30,000 different microbe species.

The microorganisms most likely originated on the ground and hitchhiked rides on tiny particles of soil, vegetation, insects, animals, and humans, as air currents swept them into the clouds. That means the microbes carry a vast amount of genetic information from thousands of organisms.

The clouds likely enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with the microbial cities that flourish within them. The clouds provide water and nutrients for the microbes, which in turn influence the physical and chemical functions of the clouds. “Some microorganisms can physically impact clouds by acting as embryos for the formation of water droplets and ice crystals,” the researchers wrote in the study, published in PLOS One.

Eventually, the clouds transport some of the microbes back to land via raindrops and snowflakes. Although a few of the microbes might pose potential health hazards to humans, animals, and plants, the scientists believe the majority benefit earth’s ecosystems.

The discovery is fascinating, but the researchers admit they have no definite idea about what these microbial communities do in the clouds.

Intelligent design advocates should see if these cloud communities regulate climate or are in some way necessary for the habitability of our planet, Discovery Institute experts wrote on the blog Evolution News & Science Today. If so, the discovery could mean many of those potentially habitable planets out there, harboring no microbial communities in their clouds, are not so habitable, underscoring the uniqueness of Earth. And, they might find that all that genetic information floating in the clouds is there for a purpose. —J.B.


Just chill

Beneath the geothermal wonders that have drawn tourists to Yellowstone National Park for nearly 150 years lurks a rumbling supervolcano. A swarm of earthquakes that began June 12 has made some people fear the volcano is ready to erupt. Scientists say it erupts about every 600 million years, and it has been about that long since it last blew.

Experts warn an eruption could spread ash across both American continents and cause a prolonged volcanic winter that would diminish global food supplies and precipitate a famine, but likely it will be thousands of years before such a disaster takes place. Even so, NASA wants to rush in and save the world now with a $3.46 billion solution that could backfire and actually trigger the eruption they want to avoid.

Brian Wilcox of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology told the BBC the agency is hatching a plan to cool the volcano by drilling into it and then pumping in water under high pressure. The circulating water would extract heat from the volcano, and geothermal engineers could use the scalding water to generate electricity and offset the cost of cooling the volcanic giant, Wilcox said.

NASA plans to reduce the danger of triggering an eruption by drilling into the lower sides of the volcano rather than the top, which could make the cap over the molten magma chamber more brittle and more likely to fracture.

The procedure could take hundreds of years to sufficiently cool the volcano, National Geographic reported. —J.B.

Wisdom of the ancients

Scientists in Sydney have discovered that a 3,700-year-old Babylonian clay tablet is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometry table, according to a study in Historia Mathematica.

Researchers believe ancient Babylonians used the table to construct palaces, temples, and canals. Edgar Banks, the man on whom the fictional character of Indiana Jones was based, originally discovered the tablet in the early 1900s in modern southern Iraq. The artifact applies a unique type of trigonometry that uses ratios rather than angles and circles to calculate the shapes of right triangles. According to Norman Wildberger, study collaborator, the tablet offers a more accurate trigonometry that has clear advantages over modern-day calculations.

“It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius,” said Daniel Mansfield, one of the researchers. —J.B.

Too much B can lead to the big C

When it comes to vitamin supplements, more is not necessarily better. A new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, shows that taking too much vitamin B6 or B12 over an extended period increases the risk of lung cancer by 30 to 40 percent in men, especially for those who are smokers. The risk is associated with individual supplements, not with multivitamins. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

Beginnings alone is worth the price of a WORLD subscription. —Ike

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