Category Archives: Education

Amusing Monday: Wearing data to show changes in climate

Ed Hawkins, a professor of climate science who brought us climate spirals (see Water Ways, May 28, 2016) has inspired a line of products with his “warming stripes” that connect global temperature to a straight-line visual pattern.

Climate change tie and related items: Zazzle

Neckties, pendants, coffee mugs and more are based on Hawkins’ striped design that helps people visualize how the Earth has warmed since the late 1800s. Each stripe represents a range of temperatures, from shades of blue in cooler years to shades of red in warmer years.

The tie on the model (shown here on Zazzle) presents the average temperatures for the entire globe, while the second image is Hawkins’ graphic for the contiguous United States. Hawkins, a professor at the University of Reading in England, is always looking for new ways to convey climate change to average people.

On the first day of summer in June, many television meteorologists across the country wore neckties bearing the warming stripes, according to a story by Jason Samenow in the Washington Post’s blog Capital Weather Gang.

Lines show annual temperatures for the contiguous U.S. // Graphic: Ed Hawkins

“It struck me as an opportunity to communicate climate change in the simplest way possible,” said Jeff Berardelli, a meteorologist at the CBS affiliate in Palm Beach, Fla., who organized the event. Check out #MetsUnite on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Climate Museum, an organization based in New York, is using the design on a black T-shirt to celebrate its third year of existence and to raise money to create a permanent home for the museum. The museum will “cultivate a shared identity for a new and inspiring climate citizenship,” according to its vision statement.

The creative approach of using weather data and observations to create works of art apparently goes back many years. One of my favorite ideas comes from Lea Redmond of Leafcutter Designs, who knitted a scarf by observing the color of the sky each day and adding a row using that color. The result is a beautiful work of art with a natural connection to the real world. Check out the video above and another video by Lea that provides more details.

One can also use the daily temperature to create rows in an afghan or blanket. Sharon MacDermaid of Grand Rapids, Mich., said it took her between 30 and 45 minutes a day to crochet one row. That’s around 200 hours or more to complete the entire blanket showing daily temperatures for an entire year. The second video shows the blanket during a television interview with Sharon. Instructions and video tutorials on creating these kinds of afghans are available on The Crochet Crowd.

Another example is a “globally warm scarf” as described by Joan Sheldon of Sheldon Fiber Designs. Joan is a marine scientist who infuses her discussions about yarn and crochet techniques with references to scientific data. As she describes on her webpage:

“One of the things I learned during this project was that, even though I was already familiar with this dataset scientifically, I experienced it in a new and more personal way while creating my scarf: putting a yarn color away because I wouldn’t need it again, or getting out a new color that I hadn’t needed before, really drove home the changes as I worked through the timeline.

“I enjoyed sharing this more emotional connection to the science when I exhibited my scarf in November 2015 at the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation meeting during an experimental session called ‘Artistic Pathways to Scientific Understanding.’ We had a wonderful time learning about how other researchers integrate their scientific and artistic interests, and it was interesting to see how many different ways a scientific study could be presented without losing its core messages.”

Amusing Monday: Words cannot dampen the essence of rain and snow

After I woke up one morning last week, I noticed that there was a thin layer of water coating the outdoor furniture and concrete around our house. I stepped outside and felt a fine mist in the air. I wondered, could this be the “scattered showers” that weather forecasters had talked about?

Surely, a “mist” is different from “showers,” which is also different from “rain.” But where does one end and another begin according to the experts? A little help from the glossary of the American Meteorological Society revealed that the proper term for a very light precipitation is “drizzle.”

My curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself going deeper and deeper into the terminology for precipitation, both official and unofficial, first in English and then in other languages.

Starting with the lightest precipitation, we have fog, which is not really precipitation, because the condensed water vapor is not falling. The same goes for mist, which consists of water droplets too fine to fall, so they drift about suspended in the air. To qualify as mist, the visibility must be greater than 1 kilometer, or 5/8 mile. Less than that is fog.

With drizzle, the water droplets are small — less than 0.5 millimeters (0.02 inches) — and they may appear to float on air currents, but they eventually fall to the ground. Mizzle, also known as Scotch mist, is a “combination of thick mist and heavy drizzle occurring frequently in Scotland and in parts of England,” according to the AMS glossary. Scotland also gives us Haar, a “cold mist coming from the ocean to the east of Scotland or England.”

Rain comes into play when the droplets are larger than 0.5 millimeter. The intensity of rain is defined as light rainfall when accumulation is no more than 0.10 inch per hour and never more than 0.01 inch in six minutes. Moderate rainfall is between 0.11 and 0.30 inch per hour and never more than 0.03 inch in six minutes. Heavy rainfall is more than 0.30 inch per hour or 0.30 inch in six minutes.

Showers, which have always had me confused, are derived from a cumuliform (vertical-forming) cloud and characterized by sudden onset and ending, usually with large droplets and accompanied by a rapid change in sky conditions. We can have rain showers, snow showers and sleet showers. There are also sprinkles, when the showers are light.

That brings us to the category of frozen precipitation. Freezing drizzle consists of tiny droplets that fall as liquid but freeze upon impact to form a frozen glaze. Freezing rain is basically the same with larger drops, while freezing fog forms the glaze when it comes into contact with exposed objects. The temperature of the water droplets for all three types is generally below freezing, so ice forms the instant they hit a surface. Again, fog is not really precipitation, but there is such a thing as ice fog, which occurs when the condensation freezes and hangs in midair.

When objects on the ground are cooler than the air but not below freezing, we get dew. When objects on the ground are cooler than the air and below freezing, we get frost. Like fog, these are not precipitation.

A snowflake forms when a multitude of ice crystals come together. When snowflakes grow heavy enough, they fall to the ground as snow. If they melt on the way down, we get rain. Sleet, which is frozen rain, forms when snow refreezes or when rain freezes on its way down. Graupel, an official term in the glossary, consists of snow particles surrounded by ice. Often called snow pellets, graupel is smaller than hail.

Hail is basically ice balls between 5 and 50 millimeters (0.2 to 2 inches) across, usually forming when the wind keeps the ice balls aloft to take on more and more moisture.

Besides all the types of precipitation, meteorologists have definitions for precipitation events. Besides showers, we have storms, in which winds rise to between 56 and 63 knots (64 to 72 mph). Snow flurries are technically snow showers, especially when snows are light and brief. Blizzards are at the opposite end of the spectrum, with heavy snow, low temperatures and strong winds.

Some events don’t fall within the standard definitions. “Cloudburst” and “downpour” are unofficial terms for heavy rain. A deluge generally refers to flooding, but it can mean an extended downpour. “Virga” is an official term, meaning precipitation that falls from a cloud, often in streaks, but evaporating before reaching the ground. A squall is a strong and sudden onset of wind, so a rain squall includes the element of rain.

A monsoon is a seasonal wind persisting in one direction. I thought it had something to do with rain, but that is only a recent interpretation. “Monsoon” is from the Arabic word “mausim,” meaning season. It was first applied to the winds over the Arabian Sea, blowing six months from the northeast and six months from the southwest. The word has become popular throughout the world, and monsoons in India are well known for their heavy rains.

I was amused by the ongoing debate over the word “thundershower.” For example, one TV viewer in Cleveland took local meteorologist Mark Johnson to task for using the term while talking about the weather on TV station WEWS, the local ABC affiliate.

“What meteorology school did Mark Johnson go to?” the viewer demanded to know. “The one in the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box???? WHAT in the world is a THUNDERSHOWER…? Is he insane, because he certainly is not funny. Annoying would be a more fitting description…. Time to teach the ole man some new, technically-correct terminology or just replace him altogether with someone who knows how to speak properly. Thank you.”

Mark Johnson took the comment in stride, saying he rarely uses the term — which does not officially exist — but he tries to connect with viewers who may invision “thunderstorm” as something severe.

“Technically,” he said, “every rumble of thunder is logged as a TRW, a thunderstorm. But who am I forecasting for? Other scientists or the general public? Is a light rain shower with a brief rumble of thunder really a storm to you? Probably not.

“Broadcast meteorology is about taking information that can be very technical, and changing it into language and images that viewers can more readily understand and, more importantly, use to plan their daily lives,” he added.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with thundershower, which conveys thoughts of a smattering of lighting and thunder amidst a moderate downpour. Officially, a thunderstorm is a local storm from a cumulonimbus cloud with lightning and thunder, usually with strong winds and heavy rain or hail. After all, the AMS glossary recognizes thundersnow, which is simply snow at the surface accompanied by lightning and thunder in the sky. It seems that the glossary simply needs a new definition for thundershower.

By the way, there is a great article in Grist magazine about new words coming about from the increasing number of extreme weather events. We now have “heat dome,” a huge high-pressure system that traps hot air; “rain bombs,” which are extreme downpours officially called wet microbursts (first video on this page); and “corn sweat,” a humid condition caused by planting lots of corn.

The Dutch have some interesting words for different kinds of weather, as described in “Dutch Review” magazine. Rory, a self-described “Irish guy,” provides us an interesting perspective on Irish weather in the second video on this page.

The third video provides an interesting perspective on the weather from Quark, the extra-terrestrial Ferengi character from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

The final video is from a list of 119 songs about rain posted by Flourish Anyway, with videos for most of those high on the list.

Amusing Monday: Get out and enjoy the cool rivers in our region

Given the heat wave of the past few days, I realize that I should have been floating down a river. I’m envisioning cool water splashing people on a boat as the sun beats down from above. I recall feelings of calm while traveling across flat water, followed by the invigoration of roiling rapids.

To get you started, Seattle Magazine offers a few suggestions, and there are numerous rafting companies advertising online to help you tackle more challenging waters.

This year happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and I’ve been watching some videos that I would like to share. The law was designed to preserve the free-flowing nature of rivers that contain outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values.

“The act is notable for safeguarding the special character of these rivers, while also recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development,” states an introduction on the federal government’s Wild and Scenic Rivers website. “It encourages river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection.”

The 1968 legislation came at a time that dams were being proposed all over the country. Sen. Frank Church, a Democrat from Idaho, was among the first to push for a bill to block dam construction on designated rivers. Conservation groups wanted a bill that would protect environmental values, and sports groups wanted support for recreational areas. Republican lawmakers, however, were not too keen on locking up natural resources.

Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall, who had served as a U.S. representative from Arizona, had been a supporter of dam projects, but he came to understand the value of protecting the natural environment. Udall proposed a bill on behalf of President Lyndon Johnson to bring balance to the issue.

Republicans and Democrats worked together on a compromise by limiting the number of rivers designated “wild and scenic” within the legislation itself. Eight rivers were listed, while more than two dozen others were moved into a study mode with criteria spelled out in the law to guide designation of future rivers.

It’s worth pointing out that this was a time in history when Democrats and Republicans were able to work together on difficult issues, something that rarely happens today. The vote for approval was unanimous in the Senate, with only seven representatives voting in opposition in the House.

Today, nearly 13,000 miles on 208 rivers are designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. While many people see that as a great accomplishment, groups like American Rivers point out that this is less than one-fourth of 1 percent of all the streams in the U.S. (See the federal government’s website or American Rivers website and check out the interactive map on the National Park Service website.)

To qualify as a Wild and Scenic River, a stream must have one of these three qualities:

  • Wild Rivers: Designated river sections must be free of impoundments with clean water in an essentially primitive watershed with no road access.
  • Scenic Rivers: Designated river sections must be free of impoundments with shorelines or watersheds mostly primitive, but they may be accessible by roads.
  • Recreational Rivers: Designated river sections are readily accessible by road or railroad with some shoreline development and/or impoundment or diversion.

In Washington state, the Wild Olympics campaign is an effort to designate new wilderness areas along with portions of 19 rivers as Wild and Scenic. (Check out the map of proposed rivers on the Olympic Peninsula or read the news release that accompanied the latest introduction of a bill in Congress called the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.)

Starfish continue to baffle researchers with mysterious disease

Five years after a mysterious disease began killing millions of starfish and turning their tissues to mush, the decimated population has yet to recover. Meanwhile, researchers continue to struggle to identify a cause for the disease, which appears to have uncertain ties to viruses and possibly environmental conditions.

In Puget Sound, it’s not as easy as it once was to find a diseased sea star, which seems to be a promising sign until you consider how many have died. As I learned last week during an outing to Lofall in North Kitsap, the total number of starfish remains low compared to four years ago, and recovery has been minimal, if at all.

Under the Lofall dock, volunteers have observed that the number of sea stars is still low, but sick ones are no longer common.
Photo: Christopher Dunagan

Local volunteers have been observing sea stars at Lofall since the beginning of 2014. I first visited the site the following summer with three retired women who lead the monitoring effort there. (See Water Ways , June 17, 2014.) They are still making regular trips at low tide, counting and measuring the starfish and looking for signs of disease.

“The numbers are way down,” noted volunteer Barb Erickson as we stood beneath the Lofall dock last Friday, “but we haven’t seen many sick ones. We also aren’t seeing the little ones.”

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Is there any hope for coming together on climate change?

Not long ago, I was having dinner at a restaurant with some friends. We were talking about environmental concerns when someone mentioned climate change.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” said the man seated to my right. “We are actually going into the next ice age, and the weather is getting colder.”

Stunned, all I could say was, “I don’t even know how to respond to that.” I was not in the mood to give a scientific lecture, nor did it seem like the time to engage in an angry debate — so I changed the subject.

Ever since, I’ve been wondering what I should have said. I’m sure I could have discussed whether humans are to blame for the fact that temperatures are becoming more extreme. For example, the average annual temperature has exceeded the 138-year average every year since 1976. (See NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.) The evidence of human influence is pretty compelling, but even if you find fault with the data or want to blame natural causes, the warming trend is clear.

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Amusing Monday: Vancouver, B.C., youth takes three photo awards

Liron Gertsman, 17, of Vancouver, British Columbia, surprised even the judges in Audubon’s annual photo contest. Liron submitted the best photo among youth entries, according to the judges. But beyond that, he was awarded the only two honorable mentions given in his division. The judges themselves were unaware of the trifecta until the winners were tallied.

Grand prize winner: Great gray owl by Steve Mattheis, 2018 Audubon Photography Awards

“Judging is anonymous, so we had no idea that Liron swept the entire youth category, not only the winning image but also two honorable mentions,” Sabine Meyer, one of six judges in the contest, said in an email. “His photos exhibit quite a sophisticated and mature eye, and he is very deliberate in his image making – blurs, extreme close up, monochromatic palette with a backlit bird.

“He is not afraid to push the conventions of classical bird photography aside and invent his own visual vocabulary,” she said. “It’s rare, at any age! I look forward to seeing what he produces in the years to come and hope that other young photographers get inspired and pick up an interest in birds and bird conservation.”

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The lives of salmon are complex, leading to threats but also hope

Salmon have a tough life. Not only must they escape predators and find enough food to eat — as do all wild animals — but they must also make the physiologically taxing transition from freshwater to saltwater and then back again to start a new generation.

In a four-part series being published in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, I explain some of the latest research findings about how chinook, coho and steelhead are struggling to survive in the waters of Puget Sound.

Chinook salmon // Photo: Zureks, Wikimedia commons

The first part is called “Opening the black box: What’s killing Puget Sound’s salmon and steelhead?” It describes the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, a major research effort involving more than 200 scientists in the U.S. and Canada. The effort is coordinated by Long Live the Kings in the U.S. and by the Pacific Salmon Foundation in Canada.

The second part, titled “Size means survival for salmon,” takes a look at salmon and steelhead’s place in the food web from the “bottom up,” as they say. Specifically, what are the fish eating and what is limiting their access to a healthy food supply?

Still to come are discussions about predation (“top down”) in Part 3, and other factors that affect survival, such as disease and chemical exposure, in Part 4.

Our goal for this project has been to describe the important research findings in careful detail without getting lost in complex scientific analysis. I also describe, at the end of Part 1, some new findings regarding potential competition among salmon for food in the Pacific Ocean.

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Amusing Monday: Value of water featured in art contest for students

More than 1,300 students entered this year’s Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest, sponsored by New York City’s water utility, known as the Department of Environmental Protection. Some 60 winners were named as “Water Champions” by a panel of judges.

Art by Lily H., grades 6–7.
Photo: New York City DEQ Art and Poetry Contest

“For more than three decades, DEP’s annual Art and Poetry Contest has given young New Yorkers a wonderful opportunity to use their artistic abilities to learn about and express the importance of protecting our environment and water resources,” DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said in a press release announcing the contest winners. “Nearly half the State of New York relies on the city’s water supply system, so this is a terrific way for students in both New York City and beyond to celebrate our shared natural resources.”

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Amusing Monday: Tying gentrification to climate change with humor

“The North Pole,” a seven-part online political comedy, provides some amusing social connections between climate change and the gentrification of aging neighborhoods.

Set in North Oakland, Calif., the story revolves around close friends who have grown up in the area and find themselves struggling against landlords, corporate greed and ultimately their own social consciences. The setting could just as easily have been Seattle or any other city in which low-income housing is being displaced by condos and cute corner malls.

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New state parks guide, picnic suggestions, and ‘beach-friendly’ Fourth

Photos and descriptions of more than 120 Washington state parks are part of the first-ever “Washington State Parks Guide” now on sale now at many state parks as well as online.

The 364-page guide, which costs $6 (online $13.80), describes which parks offer popular activities, such as hiking, biking and boating, and also activities that fewer people relish, such as paragliding, geocaching and metal detecting, according to a news release about the guide.

The guide is published by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

Special sections highlight:

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