Archive for August, 2005

“This ain’t no party…”

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

The gut-wrenching devastation along the Louisiana-Mississippi-Alabama coastline takes me hauntingly back to similar images and impressions on Dec 26, 2004. As video after video paint the grimmest of pictures…as the enormity of the damage and the ongoing deterioriation of nature and society continues…as I sit glued to the television and internet trying to gather as many facts as possible…I am vividly reminded of the days immediately following the Dec. 26 tsunami.

Though completely different forces, the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina share one thing in common: the power to move water and everything in its path. Whereas the Sumatra earthquake generated a mega-wave that raced towards the shore at 100s of miles per hour (slowing once it neared shore), the Katrina storm surge crept up on the shoreline at 10-15 miles per hour. Unlike the tsunami, which struck quickly in waves separated by long intervals, Katrina’s storm surge appeared like a relentless and fast-rising tide…one that moved for miles inland…submerging the land in 25 feet of water or more. The sheer volume of water…its ability to wrench structures free of their “moorings”…its turbulent momentum on the way in…and the way out…wrought a catastrophe never before witnessed in the United States.

Like a horror film unfolding in slow motion, the aftermath of Katrina further underscores the destructive power of this hurricane. The breaching of levees…designed to hold back a Category 3 hurricane, not a Cateogry 4 like Katrina…has made an already desperate situation impossible. Having walked the streets of New Orleans…shouted at folks in the balconies…sipped coffee in the Cafe DuMond…I cannot imagine a scene so completely alien to the spirit and vitality that is New Orleans. It will be hard to dance in the streets…without thinking of those whose lives were taken by the flood.

Like the tsunami, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will be with us for years. The memories of the lives of friends and love ones lost…the cities and neighborhoods destroyed…the ugly face of humanity making itself visible in the form of lotting and violence…will remain with us forever…but hopefully, the hurt and pain will be supplanted by the warmth and generosity of humans with the will to share their strength with others…with the will to pick up the pieces and move forward…and the grace and dignity to respect one another and the forces of nature. In all catastrophes, there are bad sides and good sides…let’s hope we can learn from this one and take measures so that we are prepared…when it happens again.

Click here for today’s podcast and learn more about Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge.

Water, water, everywhere…does life really need water?

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

A group of organic chemists are challenging the notion that water is essential for life, or at least trying, according to the August 25, 2005, issue of Nature. They want to know: can life exist…without water?

Life on Earth depends on water. Indeed, every cell of every living organism contains at least some water. But water makes a poor solvent for some life processes, according to these chemists. It disrupts the chemical bonds of numerous biomolecules, including RNA, a molecule that may have been important in the origins of life. The implication here is that RNA may have originated in a “drier” environment, or at least once in which water was kept busy. Understanding the relationship between RNA and water may provide clues to the nature of RNA-world and when and where it might have fluorished.

Still, the chemists admit that many, many life functions depend and thrive on water. Their work is more directly aimed at discovering exactly which properties of water make it a neccessary ingredient for life and whether there are any alternative solvents in which self-organized, self-perpetuating, life forms might develop. By manipulating the properties of water…and examining other solvents…these scientists are learning more about the conditions under which life thrives…and may have come into being. At the very least, these experiments help us better understand just why water is so important to life on Earth.

As we explore the origins of the world ocean in our first lectures here, consider that the Universe is chock full of water. More than sixty oceans a day are produced in Orion Nebula alone. Yet, as far as we know, Earth is the only planet with an ocean of water on its surface. Were the conditions that spawned Earth’s ocean unique…or will we find ocean-like planets elsewhere in the cosmos? How do our current models of Earth’s formation constrain the origins of water on Earth?

The search for life in the cosmos begins with the search for water. If scientists can better understand the relationship between life and water, perhaps we can discover whether life elsewhere in the cosmos may be a rare thing indeed…or…as I hope, whether life in the cosmos is more abdunant and diverse than life on Earth.

Click here for today’s podcast and learn more about oceanography as a multidisciplinary science, the activity model of the scientific method and models for Earth’s formation.

Welcome to the Remarkable Ocean World!

Monday, August 22nd, 2005

Jumbo squid…red tides…black jellyfish…blue whales gorging on krill…off Long Beach?

The ocean off southern California has indeed been a strange one this summer. We’ve seen one of the longest red tides in ages…some of the most rare and extraordinary animals…and few signs that the ocean will return to normal anytime soon.

Northern California has had their share of wierdness, too. Ill-directed winds failed to pump nutrient-rich waters from the deep. The resultant “desert-like” conditions fell hard on birds, seals and other forms of sea life that depend on a highly productive ocean for food.

Is global warming to blame? Are we experiencing some kind of large-scale shift in ocean currents? Has the Day After Tomorrow already started?

For answers to these questions, you’ll have to stay tuned…and listen to my podcasts. Twice a week I’ll post lectures from my oceanography classes at Fullerton College. We’ll cover the ocean and all that happens in it around the world.

The world ocean is the only one we have. We need to better understand it…and protect it. Educating yourself about the ocean is one of the most important things you can do to insure that future generations witness all there is to experience…in the remarkable ocean world.

Click here for today’s podcast about my oceanography course, what is required of students and how to navigate the course.