Outspoken hurricane scientist Ivor van Heerden cut loose by LSU

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:38 PM GMT on April 14, 2009

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Louisiana State University (LSU) will not renew the contract of controversial hurricane scientist Ivor van Heerden, according to nola.com . Dr. van Heerden has been stripped of his title as deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center, and will lose his job in May 2010. The Director of the LSU Hurricane Center, engineering professor Marc Levitan, resigned from that post in protest over the firing of van Heerden. LSU has given no reason why it is removing Dr. van Heerden, but said it was not because of his performance. Van Heerden, who holds a Ph.D. degree in marine sciences from LSU, was one of the most outspoken scientists on the vulnerability of New Orleans before Katrina struck in 2005. He worked extensively with FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and political figures at the local, state, and U.S. Congressional levels to try to improve New Orleans' disaster readiness. In the aftermath of the storm, he provided support for the search and rescue efforts and plugging of the levee breaches, then headed one of the teams assigned to figure out what caused the levees to fail. PBS's NOVA did a nice story on him in 2006, featuring interviews before and after Katrina. He was highly critical of the Army Corps of Engineers and politicians at the local, state, and federal level for allowing the Katrina disaster to happen, and for their abysmal response to the storm's aftermath.

It is no surprise that van Heerden has been fired, as he has also been very critical of the LSU administration. His May 2006 book, The Storm: What went wrong and why during Hurricane Katrina--the inside story from one Louisiana scientist, (see my review), tells of a case in November 2005 after Katrina where two LSU assistant chancellors told him to stop talking to the press, because it was "hurting LSU's quest for federal funding across the board." Van Heerden further remarked:

A balanced view on research is lacking at many universities obsessed with competing for the big brownie points, where upper administrators' egos and boasting rights are more important than solving problems to the benefit of society at large. You would think that our work before, during, and after Katrina might have turned some heads at LSU, but not really. Witness the gag order placed on me by the school during the levee investigation a couple of months later (soon rescinded with apologies)

Van Heerden is a big proponent of building a flood protection system that will protect Louisiana from a Category 5 hurricane. He proposes doing this by restoring wetlands, building armored levees, and installing huge flood gates on Lake Pontchartrain, similar to what the Dutch use to protect their country from the North Sea. I especially like his emphasis on the importance of doing good science. He is not a fan of what politicians and business leaders do with good science:

The science is the easy part. The hard part is overcoming the narrow-mindedness and selfishness of politics and business as usual. For decades the two have undermined plan after plan to restore wetlands, build new ones, and thereby protect people and property. They have played hell with improving the existing levee system. We must do better now, or we can kiss it all good-bye for good. I was not exaggerating in the introduction when I said that politics and business as usual in Louisiana will eventually put everything below Interstate 10 underwater. Science and engineering can save the day, but not if they're censored or manipulated. If that's to be the case, just shelve them and start packing. It's over.

According to an article in The Nation, Dr. van Heerden is scheduled to testify in a trial that begins in federal court on April 20. Judge Stanwood Duval will rule on a claim by six homeowners that the Corps failed to heed environmental laws in building and maintaining the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet shipping shortcut, which they claim led to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans during Katrina. A second trial will begin shortly after that--a large class action suit seeking hundreds of millions in damages from the Corps. When Dr. van Heerden was first asked to testify at these trials in spring 2007, LSU's then-president, Sean O'Keefe, told plaintiffs' attorneys that if van Heerden testified against the Corps he would be fired (O'Keefe had served as head of NASA under George W. Bush between 2001 - 2005, and stepped down as LSU chancellor in January 2008). According to van Heerden, the LSU president said "nobody from LSU was going to embarrass the Bush administration or upset the major Republican companies that benefit from Corps of Engineers contracts." LSU has officially blocked Dr. van Heerden from testifying as an "expert witness" in the upcoming trials, but he can still testify as a "fact witness".

Regardless of where he winds up next, I'm sure Van Heerden will continue to voice his valuable views on the science of what is best for Louisiana and New Orleans. In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr. van Heerden said Friday he would appeal the college's decision and was considering legal action. "Before going that route, I hope LSU will recognize the signal they've sent to the world is that academic freedom does not exist at LSU. The folks who are going to lose in this is LSU, not me. I will find a job rather easily. There have already been some offers."

Less politics and better science would go a long ways towards reducing our vulnerability to hurricanes. Ivor van Heerden has been a much-needed critical voice in advocating this, and I applaud his tenacity in calling it as he sees it. Louisiana very much needs Dr. van Heerden's input over the coming decades on how to move ahead to protect the vulnerable coast of the state against the twin threats of hurricanes and rising sea levels. The move by Louisiana's flagship university to silence his voice should concern everyone in the path of the next Katrina.

Jeff Masters

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Hey Cot!!!! Been wondering 'bout you and your weather.. Spring yet?

I am under a cloud and loving it! : )
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Heerden -- so this is what happens when you question authority?
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Thanks for this Post Doc, as an fan of Dr. Van Heerden, I appreciate you getting this out there.

If ignorance is in fact bliss, there are some happy people running LSU...

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Quoting BahaHurican:
Please see added disclaimer above LOL.

But I was thinking mainly in the historical context (go back 200+ years) and thinking more about areas near the city centre like 9th Ward. [i. e. Northside dwellers aren't 'historical' enough lol.] For the record, I wasn't trying to "dis" anybody; more like trying to get at why people would want to stay in an area where a lengthy rain event can to lead to extensive flooding. People have roots there; here we would call it "that's where my navel string is buried".

My point: it's not just enough to consider the scientific / technological aspects. In the end it's PEOPLE who matter. IMHO


OK. (Clearly not talking about the northshore. Anyone living near sea level there is purely by choice.)

Just wanted to point out that there are a bunch of areas around NOLA, including within Orleans, that are fairly wealthy, mostly white folks, 70-year-old + houses, and are well below sea level themselves. They fared no better than the lower 9. Gentilly is well below sea level. Lakeview, too.

(These are the neighborhoods my parents grew up in and where I visited my grandparents)

Demographics did not have anything to do with who lives above or below sea level. Escaping crime and bad schools, based on personal choices, had a lot more to do with it, historically.


(youknowwhat for full size in a new tab)
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


Its actually not that strong of a front, its just the instability from yesterdays huminity and heat in Florida and this is the trigger for it, see those popups in Southern Florida.


Agree; we got lucky in North Florida yesterday with all of the overcast, and intermittent rain, during the day and afternoon, before the actual front came through in the early evneing, which did not allow the atmosphere to recover from excessive heating up here...
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Quoting weathermanwannabe:
That Blob of big convection moving into Western Florida almost looks likes a late-season trof remnant tying to get it's act together but being being sheared away on the NOAA Rainbow Loop........Hope I don't see this again anytime soon during H-Season...


Its actually not that strong of a front, its just the instability from yesterdays huminity and heat in Florida and this is the trigger for it, see those popups in Southern Florida.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23012
196. Skyepony (Mod)
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Quoting Ossqss:


Looks like its comin your way, Marchin in just like tax day. Link


And that rhymed.

Give yourself a cookie. :)
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
That Blob of big convection moving into Western Florida almost looks likes a late-season trof remnant tying to get it's act together but being being sheared away on the NOAA Rainbow Loop........Hope I don't see this again anytime soon during H-Season...
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The position of that wave makes me ask if the waves Coming off of Africa, follow the calendar. They move north with the sun through the season till June 21st ?
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8183
Quoting MisterPerfect:
Gimme some of that about 200 miles more south


Looks like its comin your way, Marchin in just like tax day. Link
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8183
Even with all the storms I got no rain.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Yes, it's too far south... though development certainly isn't expected at this time of year.

It's more 'African wave train starts' is on the hurricane preseason checklist.

On a side note, L'pool and Chelsea played a blinder... 4-4. Was like watching the Indy Colts and the Saints go at it...

Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Quoting Ossqss:
Is that not a bit far south for any developement Ms. Teddy?

Rain over florida is holding together nicely. Many of the counties are getting that slow steady necessary rain to help with the fires and drought. It appears it will carry to the tip and actually looks like it has grown over the last few hours via sat pic.

Link


Heaven...I'm in Heaven -- this rain is a blessing!! Rain Barrels are actually filling!!
Loving the light and sound show
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Afternoon; No rain down at the tip of South Florida but nice to see such a huge swatch of rain over Florida to help water levels and the like........We got hammered up here in Tallahassee/Big Bend yesterday with some big t-storms yesterday but pollen levels have been pretty high up here (and the concurrent green slime on the cars and allergy problems for so many) so I hope the trees will finally take a "break" from all of the pollen release...
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Gimme some of that about 200 miles more south
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Nasty line of Storms moving into South Florida

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Florida must be loving this rain,been a long time.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 862 Comments: 15079
That blob is WAY too far south for any development at any time of the year. It is practically on the equator, which doesn't give enough coroilis (sp?) force to "spin up".

Much ado about nothing.
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182. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
India Meteorological Department
Tropical Cyclone Bulletin Number THREE
DEPRESSION BOB01-2009
23:30 PM IST April 14 2009
===========================================

At 18:00 PM UTC, Depresssion BOB01-2009 over southeast and adjoining central Bay of Bengal remained practically stationary and lays at 12.5N 88.0E, or 550 kms west-northwest of Port Blair, 700 kms southeast of Visakhapatnam, and 800 kms southwest of Pathein, Myanmanr.

Under its influence, rainfall at many places with isolated heavy falls is likely over Andaman & Nicober Islands during next 48 hours.

Squally winds speed reaching 45-55 kmph gusting to 65 kmph are likely over Andaman Islands and adjoining Sea areas
during next 48 hours. Sea condition is rough to very rough along and off Andaman Islands.

Fishermen are advised not to venture into the sea.
Member Since: May 24, 2006 Posts: 48 Comments: 43666
Is that not a bit far south for any developement Ms. Teddy?

Rain over florida is holding together nicely. Many of the counties are getting that slow steady necessary rain to help with the fires and drought. It appears it will carry to the tip and actually looks like it has grown over the last few hours via sat pic.

Link
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8183
SSTs actually are quite warm off the African Coast


Infrared of the first tropical wave of the season.
ITCZ is also acting up pretty good. Dust is below normal for this time of year, but shear's pretty darn high. Decent organization and convection for an April wave, looks like something we would see in Mid June, although it as a 0.1% chance of development


Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23012
Not much expected with this complex in the southeast florida as the cooling of the day as mentioned by the NWS hopefully keeps any severe weather at bay.
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Melbourne NWS:



Convective system in Gulf sinking southeast

Satellite and lightning data show that the mesoscale convective system (MCS) in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is sinking southeastward. Some rainfall was still spreading eastward into the peninsula along with some embedded lightning strikes. Areas of light to occasionally moderate rainfall will affect areas generally south of Orlando and Titusville through the early evening. Most of the lightning strikes will occur over west central Florida, but in cloud lightning is expected over the eastern side of the peninsula and a few cloud to ground lightning strikes cannot be ruled out.


Photobucket


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Quoting CybrTeddy:
OH GOD! This was crazy!
Went out of the office, and a Tornado was forming right over us in Hillsborough around 10 AM!
WOW!



Brag, brag...
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
OH GOD! This was crazy!
Went out of the office, and a Tornado was forming right over us in Hillsborough around 10 AM!
WOW!


Dam that sounds really scary.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting Weather456:
First Possible wave of 2009



Really organized looking wave in Apirl! wow! Could be another early cape verde season.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23012
OH GOD! This was crazy!
Went out of the office, and a Tornado was forming right over us in Hillsborough around 10 AM!
WOW!

Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23012
I think [unfortunately] that politics has traditionally played a role in whether some science was accepted or rejected. Case in point: Galileo etc. vs. say, Newton. Where scientists had the ear of politicians, the science was more likely to be accepted and supported.

Hopefully van Heerden is in a position to continue providing valuable information regarding TCs and LA's response to TCs.
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170. Skyepony (Mod)
Hiexpress~ any whitewater? Tough to find anything above a class one in FL without a good flood.
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153. Weather456 2:12 PM EDT on April 14, 2009
First Possible wave of 2009

Interesting complex pretty far south currently being viewed as a surface trof.No worries currently dominated by cool sst's with high wind shear.Hopeing it stays that way.
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Quoting Weather456:
First Possible wave of 2009

Good to see u on the blog, 456.
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167. Skyepony (Mod)
After the way the PAM exercise was ignored, as well as most his work maybe working elsewhere would actually get his ideas implimented.


94B
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I did not realize the extent of the impacts of high water on the Suwannee River until we visited the area. We were at Ichetucknee Springs State Park Sunday, and due to flooding on the Santa Fe River, and in turn, the Ichetucknee River, the park is closed to tubing TFN. We still had a good time with the short hikes, paddling rafts, & swimming in the head springs.

Some rivers in this area have yet to crest so property is still being impacted, with major flooding forecast. SERFC
Member Since: October 13, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 2155
Quoting atmoaggie:


I guess lakeview, with it's 12 feet below sea level throughout, just got demoted from it's lofty white-flight, suburbia, status.

Katrina quite equally ruined lives of all kinds of people...except purple people.
Please see added disclaimer above LOL.

But I was thinking mainly in the historical context (go back 200+ years) and thinking more about areas near the city centre like 9th Ward. [i. e. Northside dwellers aren't 'historical' enough lol.] For the record, I wasn't trying to "dis" anybody; more like trying to get at why people would want to stay in an area where a lengthy rain event can to lead to extensive flooding. People have roots there; here we would call it "that's where my navel string is buried".

My point: it's not just enough to consider the scientific / technological aspects. In the end it's PEOPLE who matter. IMHO
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Too bad about van Heerden--it's just too bad when politics meddles with science--kind of like the government funding for and media hysteria about global warming. With fools like Al Gore politicizing the issue and the radical left seeking to re-make the world to their liking, the role of science is improperly commandeered or usurped, and the public interest subverted.
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Good news tornado warning has been discontinued.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Looks like the cell moving through Fort Pierce is loosing steam.
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Quoting Weather456:
First Possible wave of 2009



You think? ALready?? Geeeeez
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Ivor looks like Jerry Springer in that picture...

Good luck FLridians, SC is getting a ton of instability as well.
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Quoting vortfix:
The nuke plant looks like the bullseye!



Yes it does
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
The nuke plant looks like the bullseye!

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So far so good for everyone in Port st lucie, Looks like fort pierce is getting most of it.
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BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED TORNADO WARNING NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL 213 PM EDT TUE APR 14 2009 THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MELBOURNE HAS ISSUED A * TORNADO WARNING FOR... EASTERN ST. LUCIE COUNTY IN FLORIDA... THIS INCLUDES THE CITIES OF...WALTON...FORT PIERCE INLET...WHITE CITY...PORT SAINT LUCIE...INDRIO...FORT PIERCE... * UNTIL 245 PM EDT. * AT 212 PM EDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO NEAR SAINT LUCIE WEST...OR 8 MILES WEST OF WHITE CITY...MOVING EAST AT 30 MPH. * THE TORNADO WILL BE NEAR... SAINT LUCIE WEST BY 220 PM EDT... WHITE CITY AND PORT SAINT LUCIE RIVER PARK BY 230 PM EDT... FORT PIERCE AND INDIAN RIVER ESTATES BY 235 PM EDT... FORT PIERCE INLET AND SAINT LUCIE NUCLEAR PLANT BY 240 PM EDT...
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NWS just extended the tornado warning until 245 for us in st lucie
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838

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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.