Hurricane Ike: top U.S. weather story of 2008

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 7:09 PM GMT on February 18, 2009

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The top U.S. weather story of 2008 was undoubtedly Hurricane Ike. The National Hurricane Center has released its summary of Ike, and here are some of the highlights:

Ike did $19.3 billion in damage to the U.S.--fourth costliest hurricane on record, behind Katrina, Andrew, and Wilma.

Ike did an additional $4.7 billion in damage after it became extratropical. Hurricane-force wind gusts were reported in Cincinnati, and 2.6 million people lost power in Ohio. The $2.2 billion in damage to Ohio rivaled the 1974 Xenia tornado as that state's costliest natural disaster ever. Ike's remnants also caused Kentucky's most widespread power outage in history (600,000 customers). (However, the 2009 ice storm in Kentucky surpassed this total!)


Figure 1. Ike's tremendous storm surge wiped most of the Bolivar Peninsula north of Galveston clean. Image credit: National Weather Service, Houston/Galveston Office.

Figure 2. Standard 20 foot high utility pole on the Bolivar Peninsula, with debris caught about 18 feet high. The pole stands near the intersection of Highways 87 and 124, near High Island, and is about 2 feet above sea level. The combined action of the storm surge and waves on top of the surge (wave run-up) deposited the debris at the top of this pole. Image credit: Ted Eubanks.

Ike produced a 15-20 foot high storm surge along the east side of Galveston Bay and along the Bolivar Peninsula just to the north of Galveston. This was the second highest storm surge recorded in Texas, behind the 22.1 foot surge of Hurricane Carla in 1961. It is likely that the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and and the 1915 Galveston hurricane had higher storm surges, though, since they were both Category 4 storms. Although Ike was a strong Category 2 hurricane at landfall, its storm surge was characteristic of a strong Category 3 hurricane.

Ike's 10-13 foot storm surge pushed 30 miles inland in Southwest Louisiana, reaching the town of Lake Charles. Isolated areas in Jefferson County, Texas, and Cameron Parish, Louisiana, had surge heights up to 17 ft. Ike's storm surge was 11 feet at Port Arthur, Texas,

Ike killed 20 people in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Another 34 people from Galveston and the hard-hit Bolivar Peninsula remain missing, according to the Laura Recovery Center, putting Ike's presumed U.S. death toll at 54. This makes Ike the 30th deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. An additional 64 indirect deaths occurred in Texas as a result of electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning, and pre-existing medical complications. At least 28 direct and indirect deaths were reported in Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania from Ike's remnants. This makes the total death toll from Ike 146, due to direct and indirect deaths, with those people missing presumed dead.

Ike disrupted power to 7.5 million people--the highest ever for a hurricane (Hurricane Frances of 2004 and Hurricane Isabel of 2003 are in second place, with 6 million people affected). The "Superstorm" Blizzard of 1993 (10 million people affected) was the only weather-related disaster to knock out power to more people than Ike in the U.S. Texas and Louisiana had 2.6 million affected, Ohio 2.6 million, and Kentucky 600,000. Power outage figures are difficult to verify and collect, so if anyone has a better list of power outage figures from major weather disasters, I'd like to hear them: jmasters@wunderground.com.

The oil industry was hit hard, with ten offshore rigs destroyed, two large pipelines damaged, and fourteen refineries forced to close. Damage to the Ports of Galveston and Houston, as well as debris in Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel, kept those ports closed after the storm for several days, leaving almost 150 tankers, cargo vessels, and container ships waiting offshore.

Ike damaged Galveston's 14-17 foot high protective sea wall, exposing wooden pilings that support its older sections. The storm also washed away the 70-foot wide beach that helped protect the seawall. As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is undertaking the seawall's first major repair job in its 105-year history. About $10 million will be spent repairing the seawall, and an additional $10 million will be spent dumping 400,000 cubic yards of sand to replenish the lost beach.

Outside the U.S.
Cuba suffered $3-$4 billion in damage, and 2.6 million people were forced to evacuate (23% of the population).

The Southeast Bahamas suffered $50-200 million in damage. Additional heavy damage occurred on the nearby Turks and Caicos Islands.

Haiti probably suffered the most from Ike, with 74 deaths and ruinous flooding.

Jeff Masters

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585. washingtonian115
5:10 AM GMT on February 13, 2011
People in Savannah think they are still safe from hurricanes.But that's not true.AT ALL.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17810
584. Skyepony (Mod)
2:43 PM GMT on February 23, 2009
Hina begins the trek through cooler & cooler water. Shear seems to be increasing as well.

Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 225 Comments: 39373
583. stillwaiting
2:34 PM GMT on February 23, 2009
that looks like a FAKE camera attached to the converter's TRANSFORMER...completely FAKE...who ever made the video probably has alot of hits and who ever believe's that crap,should probably think about taking a few less hits!!!,lol
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
581. conchygirl
1:47 PM GMT on February 23, 2009
Morning all: Very quiet in here this am. Reminders of how many days until you know what and we need the rain dance in Florida.
Member Since: June 11, 2008 Posts: 24 Comments: 5910
578. surfmom
12:00 PM GMT on February 23, 2009
Cyber -- couldn't do with out your morning announcement 97 - days till cane -- I feel so much better with that knowledge.....
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
577. surfmom
11:57 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Early birds of WU Good Morning to you -SWFL is looking at 55 degrees this morning. I like these temps..... now lets get some rain --
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
575. CybrTeddy
10:39 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
97 Days folks, 97 days.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24574
574. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
8:43 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
AXIO20 FIMP 230600
MAURITIUS METEOROLOGICAL SERVICES
SATELLITE TROPICAL CYLONE ANALYSIS .
1 . A SATELLITE : METEOSAT 07
2. A ORBIT NUMBER : GEOSTATIONARY
3. A ORBIT DATE/TIME : 23.02.09 @ 0600 UTC
0. B CYCLONE SERIAL NUMBER : 11
1. B CYCLONE NAME : Hina
2. B LATITUDE : 19.0 SOUTH
3. B LONGITUDE : 78.0 EAST
4. B DEGREE OF CONFIDENCE : FAIR
5. B T. NUMBER / C.I NUMBER : 3.0/3.5+/W0.5/ 12 HRS
6. B MOVEMENT : SOUTH 08 KT.
7. B OTHER INFORMATION : HINA IS SHOWING SINS OF WEAKENING
AS IT MOVES INTO COOLER SEA.
T.O.O. : 23/02/09 @ 0645 UTC=

--
LOL
END=
Member Since: May 24, 2006 Posts: 52 Comments: 46909
573. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
8:39 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Tropical Cyclone Warning #9
===============================

At 6:00 AM UTC, Severe Tropical Storm Hina (982 hPa) located at 18.7S 77.7E has 10 minute sustained winds of 50 knots with gusts of 70 knots. The storm is reported as moving southwest at 7 knots.

Dvorak Intensity: T3.0/3.5

Storm-Force Winds
================
20 NM from the center

Gale-Force Winds
================
40 NM radius of the center, extending up to 150 NM in the southwestern quadrant

Near-Gale Force Winds
======================
70 NM radius of the center, extending up to 220 NM in the southern sector

Forecast and Intensity
========================
12 HRS: 19.2S 76.7E - 50 knots (Forte Tempête Tropicale)
24 HRS: 19.7S 75.6E - 50 knots (Forte Tempête Tropicale)
48 HRS: 21.1S 73.0E - 40 knots (Tempête Tropicale Modereé)
72 HRS: 23.6S 68.9E - 30 knots (DEPRESSION Tropicale)

Additional Information
===========================
Northeasterly wind shear is increasing due to an upper level trough located to the southwest of the system. The southeastward outflow is efficient. At low levels, inflows are established. Under the persistency influence of shear and the arrival over area of lower oceanic heat context at the end of the forecast period, some slow weakening is forecast after tomorrow morning. Steering flow seems to be a mid-level ridge located to the southeast of Hina. Consequently, track is toward the southwest, this forecast is based on the consensus of all available NWP models.
Member Since: May 24, 2006 Posts: 52 Comments: 46909
572. Cotillion
8:27 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting KEHCharleston:

Hush your mouth!
I have been trying to compare El Nino/Neutral/La Nina with South Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, I am getting conflicting information regarding which prevailed in any particular year. Any suggestions?


Not sure if there's any direct correlation between impacts and ENSO. La Nina and/or neutral will give you more 'canes, but I think El Nino will weaken the high perhaps giving more impacts....

I think there are other cycles which determine a roundabout trend of where hurricanes go. (I can't remember offhand but a vague bell in my head says we're in a cycle that favours Gulf Coast hits than East Coast... but I can't remember if that's true, and if it is, what the cycle is called.)
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
571. SevereHurricane
8:14 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Digital Converter Box Conspiracy Dicovered!

Member Since: September 7, 2008 Posts: 17 Comments: 1604
570. LillySue
4:56 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting melwerle:
oh regarding canes hitting here - everyone here thinks (and INSISTS) that the jet stream will always keep us safe here - that things just don't hit here and many don't even watch what is going on as far as canes go. Apparently Savannah is magic and we will never get hit - I am told that ALL THE TIME when i talk about hurricanes - that we don't get them here and never will. Last year, I was the only one making reservations when a few were looking like they might come our way - we had our things packed, documented and we were ready to go. It didn't happen but we weren't waiting for the magic to kick in...



People used to think the same thing here in the Golden Triangle area of Southeast Texas....but then we met Rita in '05 & Ike in '08. Now I promise you that there are a lot more who pay attention to warnings, watches & voluntary evacuation orders.
569. Beachfoxx
4:17 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Hey Skye...

Yes, Hina is odd looking.... Thanks for posting.

Geez! Eglin just dropped a bomb, whole house shook!
Quoting Skyepony:
Hina is an odd looking storm..
Member Since: July 10, 2005 Posts: 157 Comments: 29385
568. Skyepony (Mod)
4:11 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Hina is an odd looking storm..
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 225 Comments: 39373
567. hahaguy
3:35 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting SevereHurricane:


No, you got it right,thats what I meant
lol


O ok then lol
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
566. SevereHurricane
3:33 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting hahaguy:
I thought SevereHurricane meant a major hurricane woops lol


No, you got it right,thats what I meant
lol
Member Since: September 7, 2008 Posts: 17 Comments: 1604
565. surfmom
2:32 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting presslord:



Excellent!!!! You're the navigator!!!!

I, on the other hand, have been trying to schedule Lenten Confession...but I can't find a priest who can take that kinda time off.....

No worries -- you can tell me everything
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
564. futuremet
2:29 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
lol it seems my video will be longer than I thought. I will divided in to three parts

1) Planetary Scale Baroclinity

2) Synoptic Scale Baroclinity

3) Mesoscale Baroclinity

The first video will be uploaded monday night....stay tunded
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
563. MissNadia
2:03 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
562

Good one! I'm off to bed... long day tomorrow
Nite!
Member Since: July 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3003
562. presslord
2:01 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting MissNadia:
559
I'm sooo good I can walk on water!!!!LOL



Excellent!!!! You're the navigator!!!!

I, on the other hand, have been trying to schedule Lenten Confession...but I can't find a priest who can take that kinda time off.....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
561. MissNadia
1:58 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
559
I'm sooo good I can walk on water!!!!LOL
Member Since: July 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3003
560. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
1:55 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Tropical Cyclone Warning #8
===============================

At 0:00 AM UTC, Severe Tropical Storm Hina (980 hPa) located at 18.5S 78.6E has 10 minute sustained winds of 55 knots with gusts of 80 knots. The storm is reported as moving south at 8 knots.

Dvorak Intensity: T4.0

Storm-Force Winds
================
20NM from the center

Gale-Force Winds
================
40 NM radius of the center, extending up to 80 NM in the southwestern quadrant

Near-Gale Force Winds
======================
70 NM radius of the center, extending up to 160 NM in the southern sector

Forecast and Intensity
========================
12 HRS: 19.1S 77.9E - 55 knots (Forte Tempête Tropicale)
24 HRS: 19.9S 76.9E - 50 knots (Forte Tempête Tropicale)
48 HRS: 21.8S 74.2E - 45 knots (Tempête Tropicale Modereé)
72 HRS: 24.1S 70.8E - 35 knots (Tempête Tropicale Modereé)

Additional Information
===========================
However northeasterly wind shear is going to increase a little bit due to an upper level trough located to the southwest but more limited over the northern sector. At low levels, inflow are established. Under the persistency influence of shear and the arrival over area of lower oceanic heat content at the end of the forecast period, some weakening is forecasted after tomorrow. Steering flow seems to be a mid-level ridge located to the east of Hina. Consequently, track is toward the south then this ridge should extend to the southwest of the system and give a more southwestward compenent to the track. This forecast is based on the consensus of all NWP models.
Member Since: May 24, 2006 Posts: 52 Comments: 46909
559. presslord
1:52 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Tell ya what Nadia...when I try it, we'll meet up and you can join me....a couple of good Catholic boys oughta be able to pull it off....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
558. MissNadia
1:50 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
556
I haven't been on the outer banks but friends that have, say the inlets can be tough to navigate even with lots of power!
Member Since: July 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3003
557. melwerle
1:47 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
554. KEH - I am the FIRST one screaming if I see it heading anywhere NEAR here. Send out emails and phone calls but I really think many folks won't evacuate. They don't think that things will be bad. Everything misses here even if it's at the last minute...
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 12 Comments: 1837
556. presslord
1:45 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Nadia....Ever been to Ocracoke? It's on my 'Must see" cruising list....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
555. MissNadia
1:35 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
554
The "Old North State" is not a bad place to live!!!
Member Since: July 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3003
554. KEHCharleston
1:31 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting melwerle:
oh regarding canes hitting here - everyone here thinks (and INSISTS) that the jet stream will always keep us safe here - that things just don't hit here and many don't even watch what is going on as far as canes go. Apparently Savannah is magic and we will never get hit - I am told that ALL THE TIME when i talk about hurricanes - that we don't get them here and never will. Last year, I was the only one making reservations when a few were looking like they might come our way - we had our things packed, documented and we were ready to go. It didn't happen but we weren't waiting for the magic to kick in...

In the last few years we have seen too many people not evacuating when it is obvious to the rest of us that catastrophe is bearing down on them. Beware of false safety, Savannah.

Press, I agree. Would not want to live else where.
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 2490
553. melwerle
1:20 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
oh regarding canes hitting here - everyone here thinks (and INSISTS) that the jet stream will always keep us safe here - that things just don't hit here and many don't even watch what is going on as far as canes go. Apparently Savannah is magic and we will never get hit - I am told that ALL THE TIME when i talk about hurricanes - that we don't get them here and never will. Last year, I was the only one making reservations when a few were looking like they might come our way - we had our things packed, documented and we were ready to go. It didn't happen but we weren't waiting for the magic to kick in...

Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 12 Comments: 1837
552. melwerle
1:16 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Savannah does have a good St. Patrick's Day but gotta say - after living here for 4+ years, I have still found not a lot to do here - lovely squares, crappy food and VERY quiet. We are OUTTA here hopefullly before the season starts...I don't even want to think about this area getting hit by a cane - everyone says we will flood in a huge way if we get a direct strike. No way - I'll deal with whatever we get on the west coast if we can get back there. Love the sailing here, the warm water and such but I do NOT like those friggin teeth with wings or the weather when it's a 180 degrees!

Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 12 Comments: 1837
551. hydrus
1:14 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
I remember tracking Hugo into that area in 89.What a monster storm that was.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22617
550. presslord
1:09 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
I'm partial to Charleston....except ya can't beat the party in Savannah on St. Patrick's Day...
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
549. KEHCharleston
1:08 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting SevereHurricane:


Well on El Nino years you typically see a weaker Bernuda High which means you will be more likley to be hit by a Cape Verde Hurricane on an El Nino years.

Just a question pondering through my head...

When was the last time The Geogia Coast was directly striked by a Significant Hurricane?
From NOAA Revisits Historic Hurricanes
Georgia major hurricanes: During the 20th Century, Georgia did not have even a single major hurricane make a landfall along its coast. However, such absence did not continue back to the 19th Century. In contrast, Georgia experienced three major hurricanes in the later half of the 19th Century: a Category 3 in 1854 near Savannah, the Category 3 "Sea Islands Hurricane" in 1893 that killed 1000-2000 people near Savannah and a Category 4 in 1898 near Brunswick. Knowledge that such strong hurricanes have impacted this portion of the coast (and will undoubtedly hit again) is important for residents of Georgia to plan for the future.(See new NOAA Technical Memorandum by Sandrik and Landsea(2003).
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 2490
548. hahaguy
1:08 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
I thought SevereHurricane meant a major hurricane woops lol
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
547. SevereHurricane
1:08 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting hahaguy:


I wanna say 1898 but i'm probably wrong


I found 1!
You were close hahaguy,

"In 1893, a severe storm killed two thousand people near Savannah and Hilton Head Island. It seems favorable storm tracks may have spared Georgia in recent decades." from geocities.com

But dang Georgia has not been hit directly by a Major Hurricane in about 116 years!!!!!
Member Since: September 7, 2008 Posts: 17 Comments: 1604
546. hydrus
1:07 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting presslord:
Sever....when I was at UGA (77-81) I had a room mate from Savannah....and I remember a hurricane hit Savannah during that time...tho I don't think it did a lot of damage...I just remember him being concerned, calling home, etc...I don't recall the name of the 'cane....
I like savannah alot,We were working for the Navy in those days,what a blast.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22617
545. hydrus
1:03 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
I remember it well,I was in Florida when it came ashore on the east coast.It was a cat 5 when it struck the island of Hispanola.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22617
544. presslord
12:59 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
hydrus...BINGO! That was it....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
543. presslord
12:59 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Sever....when I was at UGA (77-81) I had a room mate from Savannah....and I remember a hurricane hit Savannah during that time...tho I don't think it did a lot of damage...I just remember him being concerned, calling home, etc...I don't recall the name of the 'cane....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
542. hydrus
12:58 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting hahaguy:


I wanna say 1898 but i'm probably wrong
Maybe David in 1979.It was only a cat 1.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22617
541. presslord
12:57 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
KEH and Nadia....actually, this is a question I bet Stormjunkie can answer....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
540. hahaguy
12:57 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting SevereHurricane:


Well on El Nino years you typically see a weaker Bernuda High which means you will be more likley to be hit by a Cape Verde Hurricane on an El Nino years.

Just a question pondering through my head...

When was the last time The Geogia Coast was directly striked by a Significant Hurricane?


I wanna say 1898 but i'm probably wrong
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
539. SevereHurricane
12:52 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting KEHCharleston:

Hush your mouth!
I have been trying to compare El Nino/Neutral/La Nina with South Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, I am getting conflicting information regarding which prevailed in any particular year. Any suggestions?


Well on El Nino years you typically see a weaker Bernuda High which means you will be more likley to be hit by a Cape Verde Hurricane on an El Nino years.

Just a question pondering through my head...

When was the last time The Georgia Coast was directly striked by a Significant Hurricane?

It seems like Georgia's coast is immune to a Major Strike but they had to have been hit before Badly, I mean I know nobodys coast is safe...
Member Since: September 7, 2008 Posts: 17 Comments: 1604
538. GeoffreyWPB
12:50 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Bubbles of warming, beneath the ice
As permafrost thaws in the Arctic, huge pockets of methane -- a potent greenhouse gas -- could be released into the atmosphere. Experts are only beginning to understand how disastrous that could be.
By Margot Roosevelt

February 22, 2009

Reporting from Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Alaska -- Four miles south of the Arctic Circle, the morning sky is streaked with apricot. Frozen rivers split the tundra of the Seward Peninsula, coiling into vast lakes. And on a silent, wind-whipped pond, a lone figure, sweating and panting, shovels snow off the ice.

The young woman with curly reddish hair stops, scribbles data, snaps a photo, grabs a heavy metal pick and stabs at white orbs in the thick black ice.

"Every time I see bubbles, I have the same feeling," says Katey Walter, a University of Alaska researcher. "They are amazing and beautiful."

Beautiful, yes. But ominous. When her pick breaks through the surface, the orbs burst with a low gurgle, spewing methane, a potent greenhouse gas that could accelerate the pace of climate change across the globe.

International experts are alarmed. "Methane release due to thawing permafrost in the Arctic is a global warming wild card," warned a report by the United Nations Environment Program last year. Large amounts entering the atmosphere, it concluded, could lead to "abrupt changes in the climate that would likely be irreversible."

Methane (CH4) has at least 20 times the heat-trapping effect of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). As warmer air thaws Arctic soils, as much as 55 billion tons of methane could be released from beneath Siberian lakes alone, according to Walter’s research. That would amount to 10 times the amount currently in the atmosphere.

At 32, Walter, an aquatic ecologist, is a rising star among the thousands of scientists who are struggling to map, measure and predict climate change. Parts of her doctoral dissertation on Siberian lakes were published in three prestigious journals in 2007: Science, Nature and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

According to one of her studies, methane emissions from Arctic lakes were a major contributor to a period of global warming more than 11,000 years ago.

"It happened on a large scale in the past, and it could happen on a large scale in the future," says Walter, who refers to potential methane emissions as "a time bomb."

Methane levels in the atmosphere have tripled since preindustrial times. Human activities, including rice cultivation, cattle raising and coal mining, account for about 70% of releases, according to recent studies. Natural sources, like tropical wetlands and termites, make up the rest. But those estimates had not incorporated the bubbles Walter was probing on an autumn morning on the Seward Peninsula.

That gurgling gas could change the entire model for predicting global warming. And lakes are not the only methane source: Newly discovered seeps -- places where methane leaks to the surface -- from the shallow waters of Siberia's vast continental shelf are also likely to upset previous assumptions.

Walter's work "has gotten a lot of attention," said John E. Walsh, chief scientist of the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks. "She found direct evidence of methane releases in high-latitude lakes. That was not fully realized before."

In a field where the science often seems opaque, Walter's research has a flashy side. She enjoys igniting methane seeps with a cigarette lighter, leaping away as the gas flares as high as 20 feet.

"It's fun," she says. "And it is informative."

Videos of the stunts have swept through the Internet, rare visual evidence of possible danger ahead. At a recent Senate hearing, Al Gore played a clip of her lighting a methane seep. The BBC, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel have featured her in documentaries.

But the complex science of Arctic methane is only beginning to be understood. In the desolate wilderness of the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, a sense of urgency is palpable among Walter and three fellow researchers, hunkered down in neon-orange tents.

An occasional helicopter ferries supplies from Nome, the closest town, soaring over scattered herds of caribou. A red fox scampers through the brush. Across a snowfield, bear tracks recede into the distance, a reminder that field science isn't for sissies.

"Can you shoot a gun?" Walter asks a visitor, as she heads out to one of 20 lakes she is surveying. When the answer is noncommittal, she hands over bear spray and instructs: "Don't use it until the bear is right up close, facing you."

Nowhere is the evidence of a heating planet more dramatic than in the polar regions. Over the last 50 years, the Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Last summer, for the first time in recorded history, the North Pole could be circumnavigated. Ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica are melting rapidly. Polar bears and emperor penguins are threatened with extinction.

Even as glaciers and sea ice have captured the most headlines, growing concern is now focused on the transformation of permafrost, soils that are frozen year-round.

Today, 20% of Earth's land surface is locked up in a deep freeze. But scientists predict that air temperature in the Arctic is likely to rise as much as 6 degrees Celsius, or 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of the century. That is expected to boost the emission of carbon compounds from soils.

The upper 3 meters -- about 10 feet -- of permafrost stores 1.9 trillion tons of carbon, more than double the amount in the atmosphere today, according to a recent study in the journal Bioscience.

"We are seeing thawing down to 5 meters," says geophysicist Vladimir Romanovsky of the University of Alaska. "A third to a half of permafrost is already within a degree to a degree and a half [Celsius] of thawing."

If only 1% of permafrost carbon were to be released each year, that could double the globe's annual carbon emissions, Romanovsky notes. "We are at a tipping point for positive feedback," he warns, referring to a process in which warming spurs emissions, which in turn generate more heat, in an uncontrollable cycle.

Walter's work is crucial, according to Romanovsky and others, because global warming hinges partly on the ratio of how much carbon is released as CO2 versus how much as methane, a molecule that contains both carbon and hydrogen. Methane, although a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, breaks down more quickly. But when it does, it oxidizes into a carbon dioxide molecule, which can last more than a century in the atmosphere.

Out on the lake, Walter explains: When organic matter (dead plants and animals) rots in the ground, it gives off carbon dioxide. Much of the organic material of thawed permafrost is expected to release carbon dioxide.

But as ice inside permafrost melts, small sinkholes open in the ground and fill with water, joining together to form millions of ponds and lakes. Organic matter slips from eroding shorelines to lake bottoms, where microbes feed on it. Because lake bottoms are oxygen-free, the microbes generate methane in addition to carbon dioxide -- as in the burping La Brea tar pits.

"These lakes are getting bigger -- in some places by a meter a year," Walter says, scooping out slush from the hole she has punched through 6 inches of ice. Into the seep, she inserts a plastic umbrella-like contraption fitted with a bottle to collect gas and a suspended brick to hold it straight.

Before Walter perfected the methane trap, when she was a graduate student in Siberia, she would swim in near-freezing water, dodging leeches and muskrats. Once she caught pneumonia. Another time, her hair caught on fire as she ignited a methane seep.

On the Seward Peninsula trip, she hikes up to 8 miles a day from lake to lake through snowdrifts. Her hip is black and blue from a fall through the ice. "Methane is hard work," she says with a smile.

At each seep, Walter places a small red flag so her colleagues can find the bubbles. Lawrence Plug, a geophysicist from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada; Guido Grosse, a German geologist; and Benjamin M. Jones, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher, help shovel off the ice in straight-line paths, take notes on the size of each bubble group, record the location with global positioning system devices, and measure the depth of the lakes.

In the evening, in a cramped cook tent, jars of peanut butter and Nutella sit amid satellite data maps and a textbook on "Applied Linear Statistical Models." Frosted hats and mittens drip from a clothesline. Jones cooks up a batch of hamburger as Walter labels methane bottles with a marker and enters data into her laptop.

Over the next two years, the researchers, funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA, will move between Siberia and Alaska. They will drill permafrost cores, map seeps and analyze data to produce a model of how methane from Arctic lakes might affect Earth's future climate.

"By figuring out how quickly permafrost thawed in the past, we can test our models to predict how fast it could thaw in the next 100 years," says Plug, who will make the complex calculations. "If the temperature warms a couple of degrees Celsius, the lakes could expand at two or three times their current rate."

Elsewhere, scientists cast a wary eye toward clouds of methane bubbles roiling the waters of the Siberian continental shelf. Those emissions, possibly from subsurface permafrost, are even harder to measure than lake emissions.

Meanwhile, researchers are debating the possibility of eventual seeps from methane hydrates -- icy formations beneath the continental shelves and the ocean bottom, and far below land-based permafrost.

Walsh, at the International Arctic Research Center, emphasizes the "huge range of uncertainty" as to how much climate change methane emissions could trigger. "The potential is there for large releases. But there is also a risk of alarmism."

To many Alaskans, it is hardly news that permafrost is thawing: Across the state, houses have been collapsing and trees tipping over. Researchers estimate that repairing affected schools, roads and bridges will cost up to $6 billion over the next two decades.

But the global implications have yet to sink in.

Out on the wild frontier of climate research, far from the legislatures and the diplomatic gatherings where climate policy is debated, Katey Walter and her colleagues focus on what they call "ground truthing."

And beyond that laborious data-gathering, Walter has a mission: to spread the word about what is happening. At the beginning of her field trip, she stops in Nome and leads a group of fifth-graders, many from Alaska Native tribes, out to poke holes in the ice of a nearby lake and light methane flares.

She talks to them about people who live in faraway cities, driving automobiles and working in industries that emit carbon dioxide. And how that causes warming that is felt in the Arctic. And why, even though there are so few people in Alaska, the ice around them is melting.
"That's what we're studying," she explains. "It's all related."

Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11540
537. Hierge
12:46 AM GMT on February 23, 2009

Arctic Sea Ice Underestimated for Weeks Due to Faulty Sensor

By Alex Morales

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- A glitch in satellite sensors caused scientists to underestimate the extent of Arctic sea ice by 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles), a California- size area, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center said.

The error, due to a problem called “sensor drift,” began in early January and caused a slowly growing underestimation of sea ice extent until mid-February. That’s when “puzzled readers” alerted the NSIDC about data showing ice-covered areas as stretches of open ocean, the Boulder, Colorado-based group said on its Web site.

“Sensor drift, although infrequent, does occasionally occur and it is one of the things that we account for during quality- control measures prior to archiving the data,” the center said. “Although we believe that data prior to early January are reliable, we will conduct a full quality check.’’

The extent of Arctic sea ice is seen as a key measure of how rising temperatures are affecting the Earth. The cap retreated in 2007 to its lowest extent ever and last year posted its second- lowest annual minimum at the end of the yearly melt season. The recent error doesn’t change findings that Arctic ice is retreating, the NSIDC said.

The center said real-time data on sea ice is always less reliable than archived numbers because full checks haven’t yet been carried out. Historical data is checked across other sources, it said.

The NSIDC uses Department of Defense satellites to obtain its Arctic sea ice data rather than more accurate National Aeronautics and Space Administration equipment. That’s because the defense satellites have a longer period of historical data, enabling scientists to draw conclusions about long-term ice melt, the center said.

“There is a balance between being as accurate as possible at any given moment and being as consistent as possible through long time-periods,” NSIDC said. “Our main scientific focus is on the long-term changes in Arctic sea ice.”

536. MissNadia
12:41 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
535
Hi
Press is the man with the necessary connections on this one!!!! LOL
Member Since: July 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3003
535. KEHCharleston
12:39 AM GMT on February 23, 2009
Quoting SevereHurricane:


hmmm...

Just for that reason im going to stick my neck out and say the Carolias will see a major impact this season...

Hush your mouth!
I have been trying to compare El Nino/Neutral/La Nina with South Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, I am getting conflicting information regarding which prevailed in any particular year. Any suggestions?
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 2490

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