Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Magnitude-4.2 Earthquake hits North of Oklahoma City

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A magnitude-4.2 earthquake hit north of Oklahoma City early Friday, the latest in a series of quakes that have rattled the state at an increasing rate in the past few years.

There was no immediate word of injuries or damage after the quake hit around 5:40 a.m. Friday near Edmond, Okla. The quake was centered about 16 miles north of Oklahoma City.

The increase in quakes in the state has been linked to oil and gas production, according to state and federal scientists.

In 2012, the state experienced just a few dozen magnitude-3.0 or greater earthquakes. That number skyrocketed to more than 800 in 2015, according to the Associated Press.

Many of the quakes have occurred in swarms near areas where deep well injection operations — which pump wastewater from oil and gas production into the earth — are taking place.

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Solar activity data for this time period – courtesy of http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/

Solar Activity Could Cause Lightning Storms On Earth

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A link has been found between storms in the atmosphere of the sun and those here on Earth, but not in the direction expected. The discovery could improve weather forecasting and save the lives of people who might otherwise be trapped in the open during electrical events.
The sun spits out charged particles that hit our atmosphere two to four days later at 1.5-.2.7million kph, but it does not do so evenly. “The solar wind is not continuous, it has slow and fast streams. Because the Sun rotates, these streams can be sent out behind each other – so if you have a fast solar wind catching up with a slow solar wind, it causes a concentration to occur,” says Dr Christ Scott of the University of Reading. The slow phase is composed similarly to the solar corona while fast particles have a composition close to that of the photosphere, the outer layer of the sun that produces the light.
The arrival of bursts of particles trigger the aurora borealis and australis, but Scott has found a correlation with lightning strikes as well, revealed in Environmental Research Letters. The connection may not been spotted before because electrical activity can last for more than a month after the arrival of a large dose of particles.
Scott found a 31% increase in average lightning strikes over central England (422 to 321) in the 40 days after major solar wind events compared to the days beforehand. Lightning peaked 12-18 days after the wind’s arrival. A matching increase in thundery days provided supporting evidence. Since satellite observations can pick up the conditions for such events weeks beforehand there is potential for long term forecasting of when the danger of lightning is highest.
“It’s unexpected,” Scott told the BBC. “Because these streams of particles bring with them an enhanced magnetic field – and this shields Earth from the very high-energy cosmic rays from outside of the Solar System.” The reduction in cosmic rays is only around 1%, but still noticeable. Cosmic rays emitted by supernovae are thought to trigger lighting strikes, and it was expected that the shielding effect of the solar wind would cause a reduction in lightning, rather than an increase. The solar wind particles, while more numerous, are also lower energy than those from cosmic rays, and therefore not as likely to have trigger the cascade of runaway electrons thought to link cosmic rays to lightning.  Moreover, past studies have found sunspot numbers negatively correlate with thunder days in other parts of the world.
If the relationship can be settled the implications are significant. Lightning is estimated to cause 24,000 deaths and ten times as many injuries each year worldwide. Even a small improvement in our capacity to predict it could save lives.
High speed streams were found to occur after periods when the sun was putting out less light, but sunspot numbers increased. Scott and his fellow authors attribute this to the streams coming from an active region appearing on the eastern side of the sun.
In addition to these puzzles Scott says we have plenty to learn about how solar energetic protons (SEPs) interact with the atmosphere. “We propose that these particles, while not having sufficient energies to reach the ground and be detected there, nevertheless electrify the atmosphere as they collide with it, altering the electrical properties of the air and thus influencing the rate or intensity at which lightning occurs,” Scott said.

Inevitably those who deny human involvement in climate change will seize on the findings as evidence that warming is driven by changes in the sun. However, such claims have been comprehensively refuted on numerous occasions. Sun spots and solar flares experience a strong 11 year cycle. If these, or anything correlating with them, were the major drivers of planet-wide temperature changes we would see a much stronger pattern over this cycle than we do.

Sun Blamed for Warming of Earth and Other Worlds

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Earth is heating up lately, but so are Mars, Pluto and other worlds in our solar system, leading some scientists to speculate that a change in the sun’s activity is the common thread linking all these baking events.

Others argue that such claims are misleading and create the false impression that rapid global warming, as Earth is experiencing, is a natural phenomenon.

While evidence suggests fluctuations in solar activity can affect climate on Earth, and that it has done so in the past, the majority of climate scientists and astrophysicists agree that the sun is not to blame for the current and historically sudden uptick in global temperatures on Earth, which seems to be mostly a mess created by our own species.

Wobbly Mars

Habibullo Abdussamatov, the head of space research at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, recently linked the attenuation of ice caps on Mars to fluctuations in the sun’s output. Abdussamatov also blamed solar fluctuations for Earth’s current global warming trend. His initial comments were published online by National Geographic News.

“Man-made greenhouse warming has [made a] small contribution [to] the warming on Earth in recent years, but [it] cannot compete with the increase in solar irradiance,” Abdussamatov told LiveScience in an email interview last week. “The considerable heating and cooling on the Earth and on Mars always will be practically parallel.”

But Abdussamatov’s critics say the Red Planet’s recent thawing is more likely due to natural variations in the planet’s orbit and tilt. On Earth, these wobbles, known as Milankovitch cycles, are thought to contribute to the onset and disappearance ice ages.

“It’s believed that what drives climate change on Mars are orbital variations,” said Jeffrey Plaut, a project scientist for NASA’s Mars Odyssey mission. “The Earth also goes through orbital variations similar to that of Mars.”

As for Abdussamatov’s claim that solar fluctuations are causing Earth’s current global warming, Charles Long, a climate physicist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories in Washington, says the idea is nonsense.

“That’s nuts,” Long said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t make physical sense that that’s the case.”

In 2005, Long’s team published a study in the journal Science showing that Earth experienced a period of “solar global dimming” from 1960 to 1990, during which time solar radiation hitting our planet’s surface decreased. Then from the mid-1990’s onward, the trend reversed and Earth experienced a “solar brightening.”

These changes were not likely driven by fluctuations in the output of the Sun, Long explained, but rather increases in atmospheric clouds or aerosols that reflected solar radiation back into space.

Other warming worlds

Others have pointed out anomalous warming on other worlds in our solar system.

Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University who monitors studies and news reports of asteroids, global warming and other potentially apocalyptic topics, recently quoted in his daily electronic newsletter the following from a blog called Strata-Sphere:

“Global warming on Neptune’s moon Triton as well as Jupiter and Pluto, and now Mars has some [scientists] scratching their heads over what could possibly be in common with the warming of all these planets … Could there be something in common with all the planets in our solar system that might cause them all to warm at the same time?”

Peiser included quotes from recent news articles that take up other aspects of the idea.

“I think it is an intriguing coincidence that warming trends have been observed on a number of very diverse planetary bodies in our solar system,” Peiser said in an email interview. “Perhaps this is just a fluke.”

In fact, scientists have alternative explanations for the anomalous warming on each of these other planetary bodies.

The warming on Triton, for example, could be the result of an extreme southern summer on the moon, a season that occurs every few hundred years, as well as possible changes in the makeup of surface ice that caused it to absorb more of the Sun’s heat.

Researchers credited Pluto’s warming to possible eruptive activity and a delayed thawing from its last close approach to the Sun in 1989.

And the recent storm activity on Jupiter is being blamed on a recurring climatic cycle that churns up material from the gas giant’s interior and lofts it to the surface, where it is heated by the Sun.

Sun does vary

The radiation output of the Sun does fluctuate over the course of its 11-year solar cycle. But the change is only about one-tenth of 1 percent—not substantial enough to affect Earth’s climate in dramatic ways, and certainly not enough to be the sole culprit of our planet’s current warming trend, scientists say.

“The small measured changes in solar output and variations from one decade to the next are only on the order of a fraction of a percent, and if you do the calculations not even large enough to really provide a detectable signal in the surface temperature record,” said Penn State meteorologist Michael Mann.

The link between solar activity and global warming is just another scapegoat for human-caused warming,  Mann told LiveScience.

“Solar activity continues to be one of the last bastions of contrarians,” Mann said. “People who don’t accept the existence of anthropogenic climate change still try to point to solar activity.”

The Maunder Minimum

This is not to say that solar fluctuations never influence Earth’s climate in substantial ways. During a 75-year period beginning in 1645, astronomers detected almost no sunspot activity on the Sun. Called the “Maunder Minimum,” this event coincided with the coldest part of the Little Ice Age, a 350-year cold spell that gripped much of Europe and North America.

Recent studies have cast doubt on this relationship, however. New estimates of the total change in the brightness of the Sun during the Maunder Minimum suggest it was only fractions of a percent, and perhaps not enough to create the global cooling commonly attributed to it.

“The situation is pretty ambiguous,” said David Rind, a senior climate researcher at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who has modeled the Maunder Minimum.

Based on current estimates, even if another Maunder Minimum were to occur, it might result in an average temperature decrease of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, Rind said.

This would still not be enough to counteract warming of between 2 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit from greenhouse gases by 2100, as predicted by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

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