In the News - September 2006

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Rita, Katrina lessons in new forecast model

The forecasting model developed by University of Rhode Island and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists has been improved for this year’s hurricane season to incorporate the phenomenon responsible for intensifying hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year.

The northward extension of the Loop Current, which separates the waters of the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea, was the most likely reason Katrina and Rita intensified to Category 5 hurricanes, according to URI oceanography professor Isaac Ginis.

“The most important factor in forecasting hurricanes is water temperature. At the surface, the water temperatures in the Gulf and Caribbean are quite similar,” says Ginis, “but the warm surface layer extends much deeper in the Caribbean than in the Gulf, which is why Category 5 hurricanes are much more common in the Caribbean.”

When the Loop Current extends north into the Gulf of Mexico, which occurs in a regular cycle about every nine months, the deep, warm waters of the Caribbean go with it, says Ginis. If a hurricane tracks along that northward extension — as Katrina and Rita did — it can intensify considerably.

“Katrina and Rita were the perfect storms because they occurred during this coincidence of atmospheric and oceanic phenomenon,” Ginis says. “And they also intensified to Category 5 storms at the same place in the Gulf. That’s more than just a coincidence.”

The model for 2006 is the first to incorporate the position of the Loop Current when forecasting hurricane intensity and is coupled with an atmospheric model created by the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

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Hawaii marine preserve bigger than New Mexico

The recently established Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument is the world’s largest marine conservation area, encompassing nearly 140,000 square miles of U.S. waters. President George W. Bush used his authority June 15 under the Antiquities Act to designate the area a national monument.

The monumentincludes 4,500 square miles of relatively undisturbed coral reef that NOAA says is home to more than 7,000 species. It will be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA in coordination with the state of Hawaii. It is located in waters off the Hawaiian Islands Reservation established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, site of the key World War II sea battle and the Battle of Midway National Memorial.

“This is a landmark achievement for conservation, protection and enhancement of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands,” says Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. “Approximately one-quarter of the species here are found nowhere else in the world, and a marine national monument will provide comprehensive, permanent protection to this region.”

Permits will be required for activities related to research, education, conservation and management; native Hawaiian practices; and non-extractive special ocean uses. The commercial and recreational harvest of coral, crustaceans and coral reef species will be prohibited in monument waters, and commercial fishing will be phased out over a five-year period. Oil, gas and mineral exploration and extraction won’t be allowed in the area.

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Unexploded bomb stops river traffic

A German bomb dropped during World War II was discovered in the Mersey River off Liverpool, England, during a routine survey by Royal Navy warships and underwater search teams.

The bomb, found May 16, was estimated by navy divers to weigh 1,000 pounds, and reportedly was near a ferry terminal.

A 1,000-foot exclusion zone was imposed around the bomb, and some 250 passengers and crew aboard two ferries were stranded for six hours while navy divers attached a lift bag, raised it and towed it offshore, according to BBC News.

“The water is full of sediment and visibility is zero,” said Chris Davies, the Royal Navy commander coordinating the operation, in a release. “The bomb, which is over 50 years old, has been identified by our divers working by touch alone.”

The 7-foot German penetration bomb was designed to embed itself into a target before exploding. It was towed into the Irish Sea and detonated, sending a plume of water 30 feet into the air, the BBC reported.