Friday, May 31, 2013

Digging for Ducks

Thursday, May 30, 3013
9:56 P.M.

Hey folks, it's been awhile. Busy would be an understatement. But I have a bit of free time tonight before my next midterm, and I wouldn't want to be skimping on my duty to provide you with safe* forecasts to plan your days around.

But seeing as watching the models right now is about as exciting as watching a sliced apple oxidize, I'm not going to provide you with any forecasts today. Remember how I said I was going to go geoducking over Memorial Day weekend? Well, on Sunday, geoducking I went, and with the help of my brother, my parents, two friends, and the geoducks, we were unearth some from the deep.

First, let me introduce my 'primary' crew. My kid brother, Henry Phillips, is in the yellow, my personal 70's transplant Mikko Johnson is in the red, and my favorite internationally-known soccer star Jannel Banks is in the blue. I am a mix of yellow, red, and blue; my shorts are yellow with navy blue flowers, and my body is in the process of getting sunburnt. More about that later.

First, let me describe the typical process through which a recreational geoduck team gets their clams. First, a person on the team finds a geoduck siphon sticking above the sand. I've already dug up most of the geoducks on beaches around the sound, so they usually make a circle around the geoduck to remember where it is and immediately call the rest of their team over.

After this, they center a massive tube around the hole and start unearthing the sand inside the tube while gradually pushing the tube down. This tube is used to prevent the sides of the hole they did from collapsing inward, as geoducks bury themselves anywhere from 2 to as much as 5 1/2 feet (I know this from personal experience) under the sand. When I say massive, I mean massive, these tubes generally range from 3-5 feet in length and 1-2 feet in diameter. They are not available in stores - they are welded from scratch and are usually constructed of aluminum.

As the team continues to remove sand from the inside of the tube, they gradually push the tube down into the sand to continue their excavation process. The problem is that there is a massive amount of friction that prevents the tube from easily further penetrating the sand (not to mention that there are often stray clam shells embedded in it). It's here where the "team" part really comes into play.

Teams will adopt certain strategies to push the tube further downward into the sand. The most common one is to simply have a person jump on a piece of wood that is laid over the top of the tube. I've seen some pretty creative ways though... with one particularly large tube that had handles embedded in it, the people placed a long, long board through it and jumped periodically on either end so that the tube was oscillating upward and downward in a sinusoidal motion. This method was actually pretty effective and impressive, but it obviously required a lot of people, a lot of materials, and a lot of work to get one clam.

Now, for the Phillips - approved method of getting geoducks.

When we first got interested in geoducking, we did not have a giant tube. So we went down to the local hardware store (Sebo's, for those of you who frequent Whidbey Island) and bought a 24-inch-long stovepipe. There were different sizes, but we ended up getting ones that were 6 and 8 inches in diameter; this was our first attempt at getting geoducks, and we wanted to see which diameter would work best. This stovepipe was thin and flimsy, but it was all we had, so we thought we'd give geoducking a shot.

Since our pipe was so small, we could just use our hands to did out the sand. However, as time went on, we discovered that we could use a 'clam gun,' which is a tube with a handle and a hole for air that uses suction to pull sand out of the ground. These tubes are commonly used for razor clams but are never used for any other clams... at least outside of the Phillips family. The diameter of the clam gun is smaller than the diameter of the tube, so it fits right in.

Just like the 'veterans' who are supposedly better than us, we'd find the geoduck siphon and center the tube over it. Since our tube has such a small diameter, it is important to get the tube directly over the clam and perpendicular to the surface of the sand. As Mikko would say, you want to visualize the tube as a vector that is orthogonal to the x-y tidal plane such that the dot product of this vector and any vector on the plane would be zero. Mikko's an aeronautical engineering major, so he knows his stuff. At least I hope he does... I don't want to crash in an aircraft that he engineered.

Pushing this tube down is relatively easy compared to pushing down those big tubes that the others use. You can usually do it with just your hands. Since this tube/stovepipe is so thin, it has very sharp edges, so I usually place my sandals on top of the tube and push down on my sandals. There is much less friction here, so the tube can go down pretty easily provided there are not clamshells that are blocking its path. There usually are, so it's pretty common to take the tube out, remove the shell, and then put the tube back in before any sand falls into the hole.

You keep pushing and pushing the tube downward until you feel the neck of the clam, and then you go further until you can feel the body of the clam. You can't just pull these clams out by only grabbing their neck... they have a much 'foot' that tends to keep the clam anchored in the sand. It's unlawful to possess just the neck of a geoduck, so if you accidentally rip off the neck doing this, you may encounter consequences. I've done this a couple times, and although I avoided the penitentiary, I felt horrible. It's a common mistake, but an avoidable one if you just use your brain.

Pushing the tube down below the ground. The older man is my father.
Our tube is not perfect... far from it. It is bent at the ends due to hitting clam shells in the sand (although this can be straightened out with pliers). The bigger issue is that the tube is nowhere near long enough... nearly all geoducks bury themselves deeper than 24 inches. This means that we have to push the tube beneath the sand and dig on the outside of the tube in order to get the geoduck. I usually have to push the tube 8-12 inches under the sand, but there have been times when I've pushed it deeper. In fact, I've pushed it so deep that I've unintentionally buried the tube on two occasions. It's incredibly frustrating. Thankfully, these tubes are cheap... ten bucks.

Here, the tube is buried a good 18 inches under the sand, and we were not able to recover it as water and sand started to fill in the hole. I'm using the clam gun to try and remove sand from the inside of the tube to lessen the friction that holds it in place, but I was unable to. My brother is pulling on my arm because I was in an awkward position that made it hard for me to apply that much energy into pulling the clam gun out of the sand.
Even with all its flaws, this method has proven to be much more expedient at getting geoducks than the method others use with giant cylinders and wooden rectangles. I'm able to get geoducks solo without too much of a problem. People see me with the clam gun and assume I don't know what I'm doing, but after I pull geoducks from the sand like I'm trick-or-treating in the middle of the summer, some other geoduckers come and talk to me and ask me to teach them my method.

Why don't I have my shirt on? Well, I always start with my shirt on, but it often very quickly gets soaking wet, so I take it off. I haven't put sunscreen on beforehand during these occasions when I take it off, and I've gotten sunburnt. I didn't think it would be that bad this time because of the cloudy sky and rain showers, but I was wrong. I didn't peel, but it's five days later and still sensitive to the touch.

We ended up getting four geoducks and several horse clams that Jannel dug up with her bare hands (very, very impressive!). I wanted to get more and fulfill our limit, but my mom stopped me... and for good reason. Four geoducks is plenty. We made some delicious clam chowder, gave some away, and froze some to eat another day. We had an absolute blast. If you need any advice on any sort of clamming, contact me, and if you'd like to tag along to our next trip, let me know. I'd love to have you.

*In no respect shall Mr. Phillips incur any liability for any damages, including, but limited to, direct, indirect, special, or consequential damages arising out of, resulting from, or any way connected to the use of his forecasts. Taking these posts too seriously could result in serious injury or death, so it's generally best to not read them at all.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Change for the Cooler

Monday, May 20, 2013
~11:00 A.M.

A developing frontal system offshore will move into western Washington late tonight and a broad trough of low pressure will take up residence over the area through the week ahead. This will lead to cooler temperatures, showers, and low snow levels for late May. - Retrieved from The Seattle Office of the National Weather Service

It's no surprise that the first half of May has been extraordinarily warm. I came across a funny picture and caption circulating around the internet; it is in the same format as a meme you'd find on Reddit, but the picture used has not widely been used. At least not yet. In fact, on May 6, Sea-Tac reached an astounding 87 degrees, crushing the previous record by 8 degrees. That day, Seattle was tied for the highest temperature for a major city in the United States. Phoenix also reached 87. Places in Eastern Washington got even hotter; Yakima hit 90 degrees.

Credit: The Weather Channel
Now, things are much different. Today, highs will likely hit either side of 70 in much of the Puget Sound area, which is a few degrees above our average of 66, but things will take a turn for the 'terrible' (this is subjective... I love cool weather) on Tuesday. As the very first picture shows, we currently have a moderately strong frontal system developing off our coast, and this system will roll in late tonight into Tuesday. 

This storm won't cause massive flooding on area rivers or down trees and cut power to millions, but it will usher in a pattern change. There is a large pool of cold, unstable air originating from the Gulf of Alaska behind this system, and this air will be directed right into our area. With cool, unstable air and high sun angles due to this time of year comes the potential for thundershowers. The National Weather Service and KOMO (my favorite news station for weather... Scott Sistek writes excellent forecasts and does a great job of explaining the justifications for a particular weather forecast) were pretty gang-ho with a chance of thunderstorms on Wednesday as the unstable post-frontal air streams into the region, but they have backed off of of this forecast as of this morning due to lower forecast of CAPE (Convective Potential Potential Energy), which is a statistic that aggregates a whole bunch of individual model forecasts to get an overall view of how unstable the atmosphere is. Higher CAPE generally infers that there is a higher chance of thunderstorms over the area, as the cumulonimbus clouds responsible for these thunderstorms are formed be convection whereas more stratiform clouds are created by warm advection, radiational cooling (especially in the case of fog on the coast), and a variety of other factors.

Ostensibly record-setting geoduck clam (Panopea abrupta or Panopea generosa), Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, Seattle, Washington. Retrieved from Wikipedia Commons. Photo Credit: Joe Mabel

After this system comes through, highs in Seattle will be a good 5-10 degrees below average for the remainder of the week. 'Thankfully', (again, this is subjective, I'm indifferent to warm weather) highs will rebound all the way into the mid 60s by Memorial Day Weekend. I'm personally planning to go clamming up on Whidbey Island for some geoducks, which are giant, delicious clams that look like elephant trunks or penises (your choice). They sure taste good though. The geoduck above is the largest one ever caught, although there are certainly many much larger that have yet to be excavated. The last time I saw it was while I was exploring Seattle 'round midnight with a friend... she was flabbergasted, and even I was taken aback. You should see it too!

If you are looking to go clamming, hit me up and I can give you some information on which beaches to go to. One thing's for sure though. Stay off my territory. I've already decimated the local geoduck population enough. I don't know if it can withstand another beating.

Have a great day everybody! Thanks for reading/supporting/doing all you do to support my dream, you mean the world to me.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Progress in Numerical Weather Prediction

Thursday, May 16, 2013
8:38 P.M.

Cliff Mass - Retrieved from UW Atmospheric Sciences Website
Many of you are familiar with Cliff Mass, an atmospheric sciences professor at the UW who has a weather blog ( and a weekly weather discussion slot on KPLU. He is very active in the public scope and gives many talks and lectures around the area, particularly ones that relate to math education, the need for a coastal radar (although not so much anymore since we now have one), severe weather of the Pacific Northwest (especially the Columbus Day Storm), and different types of modeling, with an emphasis on probabilistic ensemble forecasting where many models with slightly different initial conditions are run and the output from each ensemble "member" is analyzed. This probabilistic approach is, in my opinion, the future of forecasting, as it allows the forecasters to get an idea of the uncertainty in the forecast, the likelihood of certain specific outcomes, and an ensemble "mean" that is usually more accurate than one from a certain operational model initialized at 00z or 12z (Greenwich Mean Time).

This past year, he talked a lot about the superiority of European forecasting models over U.S. ones. This was especially apparent with Hurricane Sandy, where the European models predicted a catastrophic storm well before the American ones, which initially took the storm harmlessly eastward out to the Atlantic.

I read his blog often (and you should too), and his most recent post was a particularly noteworthy post. I'm not going to give you all the details of his post, as I don't want to take any credit for something he put in the time to wrote. Rather, I'll give you a brief summary and a link to the post.

After Hurricane Sandy, there was a lot of news in the mainstream media about how much better the European models had handled the storm than the American ones. As a result, the National Weather Service put a priority on increasing the accuracy of its medium range weather models buy obtaining more computational power. The National Weather Service expects to expand its computing power 37-fold from 70 teraflops now to 2600 teraflops by 2015. A teraflop is a trillion calculations per second... it sounds like it should be a trillion failures per second though. With this many teraflops, we'll be ahead of the European Center in terms of computational power, and hopefully behind them in number of forecast failures.

In other words, we'll have less of this...

IBM PC 5150 with keyboard and green monochrome monitor (5151), running MS-DOS 5.0 - Retrieved from Wikipedia - Photo Credit: Boffy b
... and more of this...

The IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer installation at the Argonne Leadership Angela Yang Computing Facility located in the Argonne National Laboratory, in Lemont, Illinois, USA - Retrieved from Wikipedia - Photo Credit: Argonne National Laboratory
Here is the link to his blog: Please read it. Thanks.

Towelie is still stuck in the tree.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Tuesday, May 14, 2013
~2:10 P.M.

It is important to make the distinction between being dumb and stupid. Have you ever heard someone say "I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid"? Well, it turns out that this is not a dumb or stupid statement at all; being dumb and being stupid are two different things. Being dumb is to lack basic cognitive thinking skills, particularly in an academic setting.. Being stupid is to lack basic common sense. When it comes to physics, I'm dumb. When it comes to everything else, I'm just stupid.

I wouldn't say that I've gotten more stupid as I've gotten older; I've simply just come to a better realization of how stupid I am. After the heavy burst of rain yesterday afternoon, I decided to go to the IMA at the UW to pump some iron. After squats/rows/pullups and all those other compound exercises, I was absolutely drenched in sweat, but as I hobbled back to the dorm, I dried off relatively quickly due to the wind speeding up the evaporation of sweat from my body and t-shirt. When I got back to the dorm, I went outside on our McMahon cluster balcony and slipped my t-shirt over a chair to see how quickly it would dry in the wind. I came back about twenty minutes later, and the shirt was completely dry. You could tell that there were a fair number of electrolytes embedded in the cotton, but the shirt still worked.

I was proud of my shirt-drying technique, and I wanted to test it out on some other fabrics. I went ahead and took a shower (and yes, I still take those "sailor showers" that I talk about in this post), and when I was done drying myself off, I loosely wrapped my towel around the same chair that I had used to wrap my shirt around. I was a little apprehensive about the possibility of the towel flying off because whereas I could fit the t-shirt snugly over the chair like a sock, I was only able to drape it over the chair. Still, I wanted to see how long it would take for this towel to dry, so I draped it across in the most strategic way I could think of to maximize evaporation while still keeping the risk of the towel flying off below a certain threshold, and went to grab some dinner.

When I came back up to my cluster after grabbing some grub, it became apparent that the unthinkable happened. My towel was nowhere to be seen. I rushed outside to see if I could locate it. The good news is that I was able to find it. The bad news? It's stuck in a tree.

My towel is currently ~100 feet down, 30 feet west, and ~50 feet to the north of my cluster, snagged in the uppermost reaches of a maple tree. This towel has a lot of sentimental value to me, and I do not want to lose it. As of now, I see two primary options.

First, I could go to somebody else's cluster that is closer to the towel and try and throw a rope with a weight attached or some sort of chain to knock the towel off the tree. The problem is that this is illegal. You aren't allowed to throw anything off the balconies.

And for good reason too. Although the area under the towel's location is not easily accessible, has lots of undergrowth, and is, as far as I know, not frequented by people, an object like the anvil above falling 50 feet to the ground could easily kill someone. I'm not going to risk my dining plan OR somebody's life to get this towel. So this option is, as of now, not really an option.

Second, I could wait for a strong gust of wind to try to knock the towel off. The problem is that the strongest winds we'll see for quite some time rolled through the area yesterday, and these winds didn't knock the towel off. Is there any hope? Let's look at the ole' WRF-GFS model to find out!

Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Tue 14 May 2013 - 12hr Fcst: UW 12 WRF-GFS: 36km 500mb Absolute Vorticity, Heights

Our current flow pattern is pretty mundane. We've got weak zonal flow coming off the Pacific that is directing a few weak systems into our area. A setup like this is fairly typical for May and often gives us seasonably cool and showery conditions. Highs this time of year average in the mid 60s, and the highs that we will see with this setup will be a few degrees below that.

Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Wed 15 May 2013 - 36hr Fcst: UW 12z WRF-GFS: 36km 500mb Absolute Vorticity, Heights

This pattern will remain locked over us for Wednesday and beyond. If anything, the flow will become weaker and so will the systems coming into our area. The only thing that will really be producing rain is the upward diurnal convection caused by solar heating during the day, but because this air is flowing directly off the Pacific, it is pretty moderate with respect to temperature and there is not a large change in temperature with height. Without this large change in temperature in height, it is hard to get those strong showers like the ones we saw yesterday to form.

The National Weather Service forecast discussion from this afternoon is pretty pessimistic with regards to any convection causing the blustery conditions necessary to dethrone my towel from the tree. They said: "WEAK WESTERLY FLOW ALOFT WILL PREVAIL THURSDAY AND FRIDAY AS A COUPLE OF REALLY WEAK UPPER LEVEL SHORTWAVE TROUGHS MUSH ACROSS W WA." "Mush?" I haven't heard that one before. Makes me think of mashed potatoes, which aren't exactly very intimidating.

So, it remains to be seen how I will get Towelie back. I could use a Nifty Nabber like the one above, but those only come in lengths of 48 inches, and I'm gonna need 48 feet to get this bad boy out of the tree.



Monday, May 13, 2013

A Welcome Change

Monday, May 13, 2013
12:18 P.M.

I'm a huge fan of streaks, particularly of sports and weather streaks. Whether it's Brett Favre's streak of 321 consecutive games started or Seattle's recent streak of 48 dry days this past summer. Speaking of that dry streak we had, I was super frustrated when I learned that 0.01 inches of rain put an end to it, and that we could have had a 60+ day dry streak if that one pesky little rain shower missed Sea-Tac. Sometimes, I get stuck in a predicament between wanting interesting weather and wanting a streak to continue. Inversions are exceptionally boring, but if we had an inversion in Seattle for 30 straight days, you might as well keep the streak going as long as possible. It's almost like you get bragging rights for being in a certain place when a record streak, no matter how pathetic, was broken.

The beginning of May was exceptionally warm and dry. The previous record for the most number of days to start May with zero rainfall and highs above 65 was 8. This May, the first 10 days were dry and had highs over 65. Now, normally I'm not a fan of that warm, dry weather that everybody loves so much, but when that record was going, I was hoping to extend it for as long as possible.

But I'd end any warm/dry streak for a day like today.

Here's our brief synopsis. We have a small trough swinging through our area as we speak, but there is a lot of convection associated with this trough. There's this thing called CAPE, which stands for Convective Available Potential Energy, and we are going to have a lot of it over our area today. CAPE is complicated and the amount of CAPE corresponds to a variety of factors, but the main thing to know is that the higher the CAPE, the higher the potential for convective activity and thunderstorms. Here is the CAPE forecast for 2 P.M. today from last nights 00z WRF-GFS run. I retrieved this picture from the National Weather Service's graphical area forecast discussion here.

As you can see, there is relatively high CAPE over the Puget Sound lowlands. Midwesterners may scoff at this CAPE, but it's pretty good for the Puget Sound area. We'll take what we can get.

The picture I posted at the top of this blog was the radar picture an hour before the present. Let's take a look at what the radar looks like now.

Zounds! Look at that squall line developing! By the time many of you read this post, it will be over the Seattle area.

Stay dry, and take some pictures/video of the squall line coming through! I don't know when the next time we will see one of these is, so savor the moment.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Dreadfully Hot

Friday, May 10, 2013
1:42 A.M.

Good morning everybody! The weather outside today is wonderful… much better than that dreadful weather we had Monday. “Dreadful?,” you might ask?

Dreadful. At least for me.

At some time during autumn 2012, I decided that I was no longer going to wear shorts (excepting formal occasions, like weddings and stuff). It worked out wonderfully… I wore a sweatshirt, so I did not get cold, and I just felt so free with my shorts. There was no need to wear constricting jeans that prevented me from having any spontaneous long-jump contests.

As I wore shorts daily throughout the winter, I adapted to the cool Seattle days. Even if I was chilly, I was so used to the feeling that I didn’t pay attention to it and it didn’t interfere with any of my activities. I simply just set any discomfort aside and went along enjoying my life. After a couple months, however, I had become so used to the sensation of wearing shorts in 40 degree weather that wearing anything long seemed to be akin to microwaving my legs. When I was required to wear long pants for jazz gigs, my legs suffocated under the heat that was being trapped by my pants.

Then came Monday.

Monday was hot. Extremely hot. For one day, Seattle tied Phoenix as the hottest major city in the United States. I don’t know the statistics, but I can’t ever remember that happening. The previous record high of 79 degrees at Sea-Tac was absolutely crushed by a high of 87 that day. Yet, I still saw a fair number of people walking around campus in long pants. How they managed this, I will never know, but they deserve some props. That’s impressive stuff right there.

Now, we are thankfully in a much cooler regime, as it is very apparent that I still need some time to readjust to the sunny Seattle summers. Let’s take a look at what we have in store for us next week.

Valid 02:00 am PDT Fri, 10 May 2013 - 9hr Fcst: UW 00z WRF-GFS: 36km 500mb absolute vorticity, heights

I hope you don't like upper-level winds, because it is dead calm in the upper atmosphere above us. Thankfully, most of us don't feel too strongly one way or the other. You can see a large trough over the central Pacific and a ridge over us, but as is evidenced by the lack of significant height lines over area, the upper atmosphere is essentially stagnant over our area.

Things get a little more exciting later in the week. We'll have a system come in on Sunday, and this system will be followed by another one on Monday and yet another one on Wednesday. These systems will not be strong, but the rain will certainly be felt across the area. Many of my friends (including my roommate!) have been suffering through some horrible allergies, and the precipitation and onshore flow of marine air should alleviate the suffering for those unfortunate enough to have hay fever. I have dreadful hay fever, but it peaks far earlier in the spring and coincides with the blooming of the cherry blossoms. Those who have been suffering as of late will surely welcome this break from their constant sniffling.

Thanks for reading! Time for me to go to bed. I'll write some higher-quality posts when I have less stuff on my plate.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Snow in Plain Sight

Friday, May 3, 2013
8:24 A.M.

The last couple days have been pretty darn nice around the Pacific Northwest, but if you are a fan of the weather now, just wait until the weekend. Highs are expected to top 80 Sunday and Monday here in Seattle, and it will be even hotter near the Cascades. The average high for this time of year is 62.

Photo taken from Barbara Robertson (my aunt) from Belton, Missouri on May 2, 2013
But while we’ve been simmering in summerland, my mom’s side of the family two time zones to the east has been seeing some extremely rare early-May snowfall. The last time Kansas City saw this much snowfall this late in May was back in 1907, when Teddy Roosevelt was president and people were driving the Ford Model N, which made the Model T look like a Bugatti Veyron in comparison. As you can see from the picture above, it didn’t take a whole hell of a lot of snow to break a 100 year old record… I believe 1.7 inches fell on Kansas City in 1907. By now, 2-3 inches have fallen in most of the city and suburbs, with another possible inch in spots before the snow is over and done with.

What’s causing all this snow? Well, we’ve got an extraordinarily cold pool of air for this time of year that is plunging southward across the plains, and when you sprinkle some precipitation over that air mass due to an upper-level trough over the area, you get snow. There have been some pretty hefty storm totals from this trough, with some portions of the Upper Midwest receiving over 18 inches of snow from this storm. Had this occurred in the winter, it would likely be regarded as a fairly run-of-the-mill storm. For this time of year, however, a storm like this is unprecedented.

Ford Model N - 1906: Photo retrieved from Wikipedia Commons. Uploader - Harz4

The snow is starting to wind down over much of the area now, but it is being replaced with a likely greater threat: the risk of flash flooding. The same frontal boundary responsible for all this snow will continue to crawl eastward, but a surface low will develop due to the aforementioned upper low closing off over the Lower Mississippi Valley. This low will not be particularly strong pressure-wise, but it will be fed by ample subtropical moisture from the Gulf and Atlantic, and, most importantly, will be slow to make eastern progress through the states. The combination of ample, subtropical moisture and the lack of upper-level winds to carry the storm eastward is very conducive to flooding events because certain regions have the potential to get soaked with tons of rain for long periods of time.

As you can see, there are a bunch of flood warnings currently up along the Mississippi River. Just by looking at this radar, you can tell that the Mississippi and points east are getting absolutely drenched. As of 12:44 A.M. PDT Saturday, Alabama and central Tennessee look to be taking the brunt of the rainfall.

The good thing is that we will not see much in the way of severe thunderstorm activity from this system. Powerful, long-lasting supercells need wind shear to keep the updraft and downdraft separated and the storm structure intact, and this wind shear can lead to a rotating updraft if the conditions are right. Because the winds aloft are weak and there is very little shear going on, tornadoes/hail/high winds are not a major threat from this system.

Enjoy the weekend here! I'm definitely planning on going swimming in Lake Washington. Water temperatures are still in the mid 50s, but with our first heat wave of the year upon us, you shouldn't have any problem staying warm.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Divesting in Fossil Fuels

Saturday, April 27, 2013
12:48 A.M.

Seattle Mayor, Mike Mcginn stands in solidarity with students from University of Washington, and Seattle University for divestment! This photo was taken with permission from the "Divest University of Washington" Facebook group.
On Thursday night, I was cordially invited by a wonderful wonderful friend to come to a talk on climate change that was hosted in Bagley Hall on the Seattle UW campus. The talk was hosted by SAGE, which stands for the "Student Association for Green Environments."

There were three principal presenters: Thomas Ackerman, Nick Bond, and Stephen Gardiner. I'll give you a brief background on each of them and talk about their respective presentations.

Tom Ackerman
Tom Ackerman is the director for the Joint Institute for the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) and professor of atmospheric sciences at the UW who has done research related to clouds, radiation, remote sensing, and aerosols. For this presentation, he talked about climate change basics, such as the science behind the greenhouse effect, and also forayed into ocean acidification. I was already familiar with most of the diagrams he presented and phenomena he described, but it was a very interesting and well-laid-out talk nonetheless. One thing that stood out about his presentation is that he stressed that while certain meteorological events will become more or less frequent as the Earth warms, you cannot blame any single event on global warming. As an example, he explained how models currently predict there will be a slight decrease in the number of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic but an increase in their intensity, but reiterated that Hurricane Sandy was just a single storm and that you cannot base your future predictions off one event. I forget who came up with this metaphor, but somebody compared global warming and extreme weather events to steroids in baseball. A baseball player on the juice might hit a higher number of home runs, but you can't blame any single home run on steroids. After the lecture, I introduced myself to him and learned that I will probably be taking one of his classes next year, so I'm excited for that.

Nick Bond
Nick Bond is the head honcho Washington State Climatologist and is also both a scientist working with JISAO and an affiliate associate atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington. His research covers a broad range of meteorological and climatological topics in the Pacific Northwest, and he also does some research relating the health of the marine ecosystems in the North Pacific to changes in global climate and ocean acidity. For his presentation, he posted PowerPoint slides containing two statements, and we were supposed to choose the one that was most correct. Some of them were trick questions in that both choices were correct. Mr. Bond was a great speaker and seemed like an awesome dude. I hope I get to spend more time with him in the future.

Stephen Gardiner
Stephen Gardiner is actually a professor for the Department of Philosophy at the UW and specializes in environmental ethics, particularly those related to climate change. He also holds the Ben Rabinowitz Endowed Professor in Human Dimensions of the Environment in the College of the Environment at the UW, so he is a very multidisciplinary man. His talk was on "The Ethics of Climate Change," and he discussed the morality of emitting fossil fuels such as carbon dioxide to sustain our lifestyles as human beings. He believed that completely cutting off all fossil fuel emissions with no forewarning would be highly unethical, as we need fossil fuels to sustain our economy, grow food for the population, and keep the human race afloat. On the other hand, he stressed that continuing on the path we are going on right now is unethical as well because we are  not being good stewards of the Earth for future generations of not only humans but cheetahs/blue whales/cyanobacteria as well. One of the most thought-provoking things Gardiner said was that future generations will look back upon this one with disdain for not taking more action to mitigate climate change. I can't remember if he gave any specific examples or not, but one example that immediately jumped into my mind was that of slavery. Two hundred years ago, we thought it was perfectly ok to own a person like they were a piece of property. Now, we look shamefully upon those who pushed for slavery, and anybody who still supports slavery today is nearly universally denounced as a racist and bigot. In two hundred years, will humans look shamefully upon the people who didn't take steps to reduce their carbon emissions? Maybe not as strongly as those who supported slavery. Maybe more strongly. It's an interesting topic to think about.

These three guys gave some very interesting talks, but honestly, the highlight of the evening was not their talks, nor was it an extended, intimate question-and-answer session with a panel consisting of the three guys above and three others: Michelle Koutnik (Ice and Glaciers), Jeffery Arnold (Army Corp of Engineers, Climate Change Adaptation, and Guillaume Mauger (Climate Imapcts Group: Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest).

The highlight was a brief presentation by some UW students about a new organization called Divest UW. Divest UW aims to reduce the economical power that oil companies have by calling upon universities' endowments to divest from these companies and reinvest in funds that are more environmentally and socially responsible. More specifically, Divest UW calls upon the University of Washington to divest from the top 200 publicly-traded companies that own the majority of carbon reserves.

Divest UW has a Facebook page here. Much more about the organization can be found on the page. There's not much point in just moaning and groaning about all the horrors of climate change (they may not be horrors now, but tell that to Bangladesh in 150 years); we have to do something. And Divest UW looks like a great opportunity to get involved in some sort of activism prompting a change in the way our society and economy work. I still have yet to go to a meeting, so that's something that I need to do. I'd encourage anybody who goes to the UW and has any interest in divesting in these companies to come with me.

I hope to hear from some of you! Thanks for reading, and have a nice rest of the day/night/applicable time for your reading of this post.