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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Posts Tagged ‘Kerry Emanuel’

Oil Flood in Hot Water

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

It’s not like we really needed this extra twist of fortune, but the hurricane season that began June 1 and runs through the end of November (or as long as nature wants) is forecast to be “one of the most turbulent ever.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 14 to 23 named storms this year, of which 8 to 14 will become hurricanes and, of those, 3 to 7 will grow into major hurricanes with winds of up to 111 m.p.h. or more. Yes, that is the same NOAA that has just begun to confirm that the “oil plumes” that scientists have been talking about for several weeks now, and whose existence BP continues to deny, do in fact exist.

(Click here for a NOAA “Hurricanes and the Oil Spill” fact sheet, and here for NASA Earth Observatory images of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, some of which are trippy. And click here to see “Visualizing the BP Oil Spill Disaster” at IfItWasMyHome.com. Key in your zip code and check the spread.)

It’s hard to know what effect a storm would have on the oil that has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for 50 days now (since Earth Day, April 20). A hurricane could blow oil all over hundreds of miles of land and make yet another unprecedented mess. It could help disperse the oil that has already spilled. Winds only churn down to several hundred feet of water, scientists say, so it would not roil the waters a mile deep where the leak is gushing (or are there multiple leaks?). Oil on the water’s surface might sap the storm’s energy to some extent, according to some scientists, though NOAA experts seem to discount that likelihood. Kerry Emanuel, M.I.T. professor of atmospheric science and author of Divine Wind, says that by reducing evaporation, oil could be heating the waters in the Gulf of Mexico—precisely the conditions that intensify hurricanes—but he said it is difficult to determine because the oil sheen on the water surface distorts satellite measurements of water temperatures. Click here for an interview with Kerry Emanuel, recorded shortly after Hurricane Katrina, on how warm water intensifies hurricanes.

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