Tag Archives: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Strongest Solar Storm Since 2003, Flights Rerouted

The strongest solar storm since 2003 started last Monday – a wave of charged particles from an intense solar flare eruption is now raising alerts about airline flights and satellite operations. The solar flares did not make a direct hit on the Earth, but several flights were rerouted last week and scientists are not sure if there will be more to come.

“The chance for re-intensification is still possible because this active spot on the sun that created the initial havoc could go off again.”

Harlan Spence

The storm began when a powerful solar flare erupted on the sun Monday, blasting a stream of charged particles toward our planet. This electromagnetic burst — called a coronal mass ejection, or CME — started hitting Earth somewhere around 10 a.m. ET Tuesday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Experts at the center says that solar radiation levels were at their highest point since the Halloween storms of 2003.

Earlier estimates ranked the storm as the strongest since 2005 in terms of solar radiation, but Terry Onsager, a physicist at the Space Weather Prediction Center, said that when the wave of charged particles arrived, “that took it from below the 2005 event to above the 2005 event,” msnbc.com reports.

Bill Murtagh, the center’s program coordinator, said that the outburst was forcing airlines to change routes for some of their scheduled flights. “Most of the major airlines flying polar [routes], or even some non-polar, high-altitude routes, have taken action to mitigate the effect of this storm,” he says.

Airline Alert

Delta Air Lines reported that it altered routes for “a handful” of flights, and that the changes added about 15 minutes to travel times.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black told Reuters that solar activity “can impact your ability to communicate … so basically, the polar routes are being flown further south than normal.”

United Airlines says one flight was diverted on Monday, while American Airlines says it has seen no operational impact from the storm so far but was monitoring the situation.

As powerful as it is, the storm should have no effect on daily life for most people, msnbc.com writes.

No Direct Hit

When a coronal mass ejection hits Earth, it can trigger potentially harmful geomagnetic storms as the charged particles shower down the planet’s magnetic field lines.

This can amp up normal displays of Earth’s auroras (also known as the northern and southern lights), but a strong CME aimed directly at Earth can also cause disruptions to satellites in orbit, as well as power grids and communications infrastructures on the ground.

Monday’s solar flare set off an extremely fast-moving CME, but the ejected cloud of plasma and charged particles was not directly aimed at Earth and hit the planet at an angle instead.

This glancing blow would likely lessen any impacts on Earth,

Earth’s magnetic field served as a shield, and pretty much shielded the radiation so that it doesn’t penetrate that deep,” Yihua Zheng, a lead researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center says.

“It’s like a car collision: head-on or off to the side. A CME is like that too. For this one, if it was a direct hit, Earth would receive a much stronger impact. This one was on an angle — toward higher latitudes and a little off the ecliptic — otherwise it would be a much stronger impact.”

Several NASA satellites, including the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Solar Heliospheric Observatory and the STEREO spacecraft, observed the massive sun storm.

Data from these spacecraft were combined to help scientists create models to calculate when and where the CME was going to hit Earth.

“A CME is kind of like a space hurricane,” Zheng says. “You have to predict how it will form and evolve. From the models, we can see which spacecraft will be in its path, and what will be impacted.”

At the Space Weather Center, scientists reported that the CME began interacting with Earth’s magnetic field at 9:31 a.m. ET. “We predicted it would arrive at 9:18 a.m., and in reality, it arrived at 9:31 a.m., so ours has a 13-minute error,” Zheng adds. “Usually for this kind of model, the average error is seven hours, so this is the best case.”

Subside or Intensify?

At NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center they say the level of solar radiation should gradually subside — unless the sun unleashes another big coronal mass ejection. “The expectation is that it will weaken and that it will decay over the next couple of days,” NOAA representatives told msnbc.com.

The University of New Hampshire’s astrophysicist Harlan Spence says “the chance for re-intensification is still possible because this active spot on the sun that created the initial havoc could go off again.”

The solar flare associated with this week’s storm was estimated to be an M9-class eruption, which placed it teetering on the edge of being an X-class flare, the most powerful type of solar storm. M-class sun storms are powerful but midrange, while C-class flares are weaker.

The flare erupted from sunspot 1402, a region near the meridian of the sun that has been active for a while now, according to NASA.

The powerful solar storm could be signaling that the sun is waking up after an extended period of relative dormancy.

The sun’s activity waxes and wanes on an 11-year cycle.

The star is currently in the midst of Solar Cycle 24, and activity is expected to continue ramping up toward the solar maximum in 2013.

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Online Resources for Japan Earthquake Information

Early today, an 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit the coast of northern Japan, spawning aftershocks and a tsunami that swept across the region. That’s the same strength as the Earthquake that hit Chile last year and was powerful enough to knock the whole planet out of its original orbit, something that in turn may have altered the time of night and day on Earth. We do not know the full consequences of this severe Earthquake yet, but below you’ll find som serious – and continuously updated – information sites on the Japanese catastrophe.

Tracking the Tsunami

CNN Live Blog: CNN is tracking all the events surrounding the earthquake and tsunami with a live blog. It’s currently providing up-to-date information on all the news coming out of Japan as the country tries to address the impact of the natural disaster.

Reuters Live Coverage: Reuters is providing a live, minute-by-minute resource for people to get all the latest news on the Japan earthquake. It’s tracking events in Japan, as well as those elsewhere around the Pacific as the tsunami continues to travel toward shore.

BBC Live Blog: The BBC is also offering a live blog to give people the latest information on the tsunami. In addition, the publication is offering a “wave map” for people to track its progress.

Japan Meteorological Agency: Those with loved ones in Japan will want to go to the Japan Meteorological Agency Web site. It has up-to-date information on warnings, forecasts, and other key information on current conditions around the country.

NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Page is being updated often with information on the latest warnings and information on where the tsunami is headed.

Hawaii Red Cross Twitter Page: The Hawaii Red Cross is using its Twitter page to detail information on the impact the tsunami is having on the state. It’s also linking to local news stations that have live feeds covering the impact around Hawaii.

Map Visage Google Map: A Google Map has been created to provide a visual depiction of where the tsunami is headed. Each marker on the map provides the estimated arrival time for the tsunami, based on NOAA estimates.

U.S. Geological Survey: The U.S. Geological Survey is providing constant updates on earthquakes and aftershocks erupting in the Pacific. It’s providing exact locations for the earthquakes, a map for users to see where they are, and more.

Twitter: As with previous natural disasters, Twitter is becoming a top resource for people to find out what’s going on around the world. The tsunami hash tag is proving to be one of the best ways to cull information about the event.

The Weather Channel: As one might expect, The Weather Channel is all over the tsunami coverage, providing information on when it might hit the United States, maps showing arrival times, and the latest news surrounding the earthquakes.

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For friends and Families

Google Person Finder: Google has launched its Person Finder for the Japan Earthquake. People can input information about someone or search the service to see if any information is available about someone who might have been impacted by the tsunami. The resource currently has 7,200 records, but it’s growing quite rapidly.

NTT Docomo Safety Response: One of Japan’s mobile-phone providers is allowing people to input a loved one’s mobile phone number into a search to confirm the safety of that person. Think of it as a “message board” of sorts.

KDDI Disaster Message Board: Similar to NTT Docomo’s service, the KDDI Disaster Message Board lets people place messages on its service to find out about a loved one’s condition. That person’s safety can then be confirmed via mobile phone or on a PC.

Softbank Message Board: Softbank’s Message Board mimics KDDI’s service, allowing people to post a message to loved ones, which can then be viewed on the person’s mobile phone. They can respond from that device to confirm they’re safe.

Japan Shelter Map: A Google Map has been created, listing lodging places for people who have been affected by the tsunami to stay the night.

Hawaii State Civil Defense: Hawaii’s State Civil Defense released a list of evacuation centers and refuge sites for citizens. In addition, the page features other information that might be of use to those trying to find loved ones.

Red Cross Shelters: The American Red Cross has a Google Maps application on its Web site, allowing users to find its shelters around the U.S. According to its Twitter page, evacuation shelters are currently open in Washington, Oregon, and California. This map will help folks find those locations.

American Red Cross Donation Page: The American Red Cross has launched a donation page for victims of the tsunami and earthquakes. The Web page lets users donate as much as they’d like from the secure form.

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General Information

Google Crisis Response: Google is providing an outstanding resource on its Crisis Response page, listing organizations tracking the earthquakes and tsunami, as well as maps and the latest news surrounding the horrific event.

Red Cross Tsunami Checklist: The Red Cross Tsunami Checklist has been updated to provide information on preparedness and tips on what to do after a tsunami has hit.

Prime Minster of Japan and Cabinet Page: This page delivers several outstanding links and informational guides on the country’s response to the tsunami and earthquake.

Red Cross Twitter Page: The Red Cross’ Twitter account is providing resources for people to learn more about the tsunami and earthquakes. It also lists a number that people can call to find information about loved ones who might have been affected by the event.

Red Cross Newsroom: The American Red Cross’ Newsroom page is providing updated information on the tsunami. It also has basic data about the earthquakes.

NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory: NOAA has offered up several visual depictions of the tsunami and its impact around the Pacific. It includes a wave-height model, a view of the Pacific Ocean floor, and much more.

NOAA Center for Tsunami Research: NOAA has also added an event page to its site for the impact the Honshu tsunami had. The page includes a graphical display forecast, hazard assessments, and research services for those that want to learn more about the event.

NOAA Tsunami Informational Page” Those looking to learn more about tsunamis, including how they originate, the history of tsunamis around the world, and how people can prepare for them, can check out the NOAA Tsunami Informational Page. It’s a fine resource for all-things tsunami.

NOAA Tsunami Fact Sheet (PDF): Aside from an online resources, NOAA also has a PDF document offering insight into tsunamis and the impact they’ve had around the world. It also discusses the tsunami warning system, Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis stations, and much more.

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Low-Oxygen Zones In Oceans Worry Scientists

Another environmental warning sign is about to be raised; lower levels of oxygen in the Earth‘s oceans, particularly off the United StatesPacific Northwest coast, could be another fundamental change linked to global climate, scientists say.

“The real surprise is how this has become the new norm. We are seeing it year after year.”

Jack Barth


In some spots off Washington state and Oregon , the almost complete absence of oxygen has left piles of Dungeness crab carcasses littering the ocean floor, killed off 25-year-old sea stars, crippled colonies of sea anemones and produced mats of potentially noxious bacteria that thrive in such conditions, according to scientists.

Lower levels of oxygen in the Earth’s oceans, particularly off the United States’ Pacific Northwest coast, could be another sign of fundamental changes linked to global climate change, scientists say.

They warn that the oceans’ complex undersea ecosystems and fragile food chains could be disrupted.

Areas of hypoxia, or low oxygen, have long existed in the deep ocean. These areas — in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans — appear to be spreading, however, covering more square miles, creeping toward the surface and in some places, such as the Pacific Northwest , encroaching on the continental shelf within sight of the coastline.

“The depletion of oxygen levels in all three oceans is striking,” said Gregory Johnson , an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle .

In some spots, such as off the Southern California coast, oxygen levels have dropped roughly 20 percent over the past 25 years. Elsewhere, scientists say, oxygen levels might have declined by one-third over 50 years.

“The real surprise is how this has become the new norm,” said Jack Barth , an oceanography professor at Oregon State University . “We are seeing it year after year.”

Barth and others say the changes are consistent with current climate-change models. Previous studies have found that the oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“If the Earth continues to warm, the expectation is we will have lower and lower oxygen levels,” said Francis Chan , a marine researcher at Oregon State .

As ocean temperatures rise, the warmer water on the surface acts as a cap, which interferes with the natural circulation that normally allows deeper waters that are already oxygen-depleted to reach the surface. It’s on the surface where ocean waters are recharged with oxygen from the air.

Commonly, ocean “dead zones” have been linked to agricultural runoff and other pollution coming down major rivers such as the Mississippi or the Columbia . One of the largest of the 400 or so ocean dead zones is in the Gulf of Mexico , near the mouth of the Mississippi .

However, scientists now say that some of these areas, including those off the Northwest, apparently are linked to broader changes in ocean oxygen levels.

The Pacific waters off Washington and Oregon face a double whammy as a result of ocean circulation.

Scientists have long known of a natural low-oxygen zone perched in the deeper water off the Northwest’s continental shelf.

During the summer, northerly winds aided by the Earth’s rotation drive surface water away from the shore. This action sucks oxygen-poor water to the surface in a process called upwelling.

Though the water that’s pulled up from the depths is poor in oxygen, it’s rich in nutrients, which fertilize phytoplankton. These microscopic organisms form the bottom of one of the richest ocean food chains in the world. As they die, however, they sink and start to decay. The decaying process uses oxygen, which depletes the oxygen levels even more.

Southerly winds reverse the process in what’s known as down-welling.

Changes in the wind and ocean circulation since 2002 have disrupted what had been a delicate balance between upwelling and down-welling. Scientists now are discovering expanding low-oxygen zones near shore.

“It is consistent with models of global warming, but the time frame is too short to know whether it is a trend or a weather phenomenon,” Johnson said.

Others were slightly more definitive, quicker to link the lower oxygen levels to global warming rather than to such weather phenomena as El Nino or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a shift in the weather that occurs every 20 to 30 years in the northern oceans.

“It’s a large disturbance in the ecosystem that could have huge biological changes,” said Steve Bograd , an oceanographer at NOAA‘s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Southern California .

Bograd has been studying oxygen levels in the California Current, which runs along the West Coast from the Canadian border to Baja California and, some scientists think, eventually could be affected by climate change.

So far, the worst hypoxic zone off the Northwest coast was found in 2006. It covered nearly 1,200 square miles off Newport, Ore. , and according to Barth it was so close to shore you could hit it with a baseball. The zone covered 80 percent of the water column and lasted for an abnormally long four months.

Because of upwelling, some of the most fertile ocean areas in the world are found off Washington and Oregon . Similar upwelling occurs in only three other places, off the coast of Peru and Chile , in an area stretching from northern Africa to Portugal and along the Atlantic coast of South Africa and Namibia .

Scientists are unsure how low oxygen levels will affect the ocean ecosystem. Bottom-dwelling species could be at the greatest risk because they move slowly and might not be able to escape the lower oxygen levels. Most fish can swim out of danger. Some species, however, such as chinook salmon, may have to start swimming at shallower depths than they’re used to. Whether the low oxygen zones will change salmon migration routes is unclear.

Some species, such as jellyfish, will like the lower-oxygen water. Jumbo squid, usually found off Mexico and Central America , can survive as oxygen levels decrease and now are found as far north as Alaska .

“It’s like an experiment,” Chan said. “We are pulling some things out of the food web and we will have to see what happens. But if you pull enough things out, it could have a real impact.”

Source:  McClatchy’s Planet Washington

Related:

As oceans fall ill, Washington bureaucrats squabble

Asia -produced ozone making its way to U.S., study finds

An El Nino winter has consequences

The Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Oregon State University’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences

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