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Sunday, September 21, 2014

ISS-RapidScat? Finding the hidden cycles of wind from space

In attempt to take my mind off current events, I'm going to geek out and talk about something exciting to me, RapidScat.  First off, RapidScat isn't something an animal does on the run.  It refers to scatterometry where radio waves are scattered on the surface of something then the result is measured.  In this case, scattering microwaves on the ocean reveals the wind direction and strength at the surface.

Back in 2009 the old QuickScat satellite antennas stopped rotating.  This means that it stopped sending data consistently back to Earth.  Well, most of the ocean is not monitored with surface instruments and QuickScat was absolutely the best space based tool for measuring the winds in critical places where dangerous winds can form (think hurricanes or Tehuantepec).

So in 2009 the ocean wind forecast accuracy took a punch to the gut and NASA scrambled to find a way to fix it.  In just too years they cobbled together a great idea.  They took QuickScat gear and found a way to mount it to the ISS and the ISS-RapidScat was born.

The RapidScat system launched today, 9/21/14 (along with the much hyped 3-d printer).  Soon this instrument, the first pointed at the Earth from the ISS, will be spewing data to help calibrate and measure winds in all those remote parts of the world that are critical to sailors and people who model world-wide weather (NOAA).

We can expect to finally get highly accurate data on katabatic, thermal and storm generated winds.  With this new accuracy NOAA is going to start a new study of the diurnal and semi-diurnal winds in the open ocean.  Something many sailors experience but hard to believe.  Thermal winds in the middle of the ocean?!  Where's the land to heat it up?

It is well know from buoy observations that winds in the tropics can exhibit strong diurnal and semi-diurnal cycles, forced by solar heating or tidal effects respectively (Deser and Smith, 1998; Dai and Deser, 1999; Ueyama and Deser, 2008). In the tropical Pacific, semi-diurnal variations account for 68% of the mean daily variance of the zonal wind component, while diurnal variations account for 82% of the mean daily variance of the meridional wind component (Deser and Smith, 1998). These cyclic processes are known to be important in influencing the diurnal cycle of cloud formation and precipitation in the tropics, a key component of the Earth's water and energy cycles.

RapidScat will collect data over the course of years and this will be used to look at daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly wind patterns.  Surprisingly this has never been done before and sailors rely on "Pilot Charts" which are averages from ships traveling the ocean averaged over decades.  RapidScat will measure the entire planet every 2 days instead of just a point.  It will reveal many hidden patterns of weather and winds.

This will be a revolution in understanding wind patterns and hopefully we can all through out those old Pilot Charts and update them with a much more accurate understanding of surface winds.

Further reading:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Oahu, Sunsets, Life

Overdue for updates...I know.  Now that Sherrell has fully recovered from her broken knee we've been doing more hiking and biking.  I've started playing some basketball, which I haven't done in probably 20 years and it makes me feel old and very sore.  But hopefully it will get easier.

One of our family members is succumbing to cancer after a long battle and Sherrell traveled back to the mainland to be there.  Unfortunately, we can't both go because someone has to tend the boat and watch our kitty.  During my alone time here I took some photos of where the boat is.

I've also been working on some of the little projects that require a lot of plumbing and electrical stuff.  It's a lot easier to make big messes if there is one less person tripping over everything.  She'll be back next week just in time to see how clean everything is.

I'm sad I can't be there to help out, but it's good Sherrell was able to make it.  I find it hard not to second guess the treatments or the options.  That is the thing. You never got used to it, the idea of someone being gone. Just when you think it's reconciled, accepted, someone points it out to you, and it just hits you all over again.

Hurricanes Suck -- Odile included

Here in Hawaii we were pretty lucky.  Normally these tropical revolving storms weaken before they hit the islands, assuming the rare case happens when they make it all the way out here.  However, Mexico is often not so lucky.

September was always the month that made us most nervous in Mexico.  Hurricanes forming in the Gulf of Mexico tend to follow a retrograde path back into Mexico.  And with the warm waters they rarely weaken.

It seems that Baja tends to play the role of a barrier island for much of northern Mexico.  This year Baja took a pounding.  I've been surprised at the lack of news coverage.  We know many people on boats in these areas and there's been a lot of damage including severe power outages.

 (© 2015

(La Paz Airport.  © 2014 Merry Colins)

I don't know what the death toll will be once they fully restore communications and power, but we've already heard of several deaths from boaters who went down with their sinking boats.

There was widespread damage to the marina areas of Cabo, La Paz, Puerto Escondido and even San Carlos had some damage.

(© 2014 Jim Cochran)

During an El Nino year there are more storms and they tend to be more powerful.  In fact a followup storm Polo is headed just to the west of Baja right now.  Hopefully this keeps going west.

We hear ther are around 50 boats that have been damaged in various areas and they have our sympathies.  Hopefully they're able to get their lives back on track along with all the locals who've had their homes damaged.