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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Quoting Tazmanian:
yes its time for the party whats get this season going


Aren't you a anxious one lol.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
yes its time for the party whats get this season going
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
Quoting Tazmanian:
am forcasting 3 name storms in may


That seems like quite a few for May.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
KoritheMan do you have yahoo IM??
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
1st TD for the

Indian Ocean


now have TD 1B

01B.ONE
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
Quoting Tazmanian:
am forcasting 3 name storms in may


I'm looking for at least a tropical disturbance in May, but likely not a named storm -- May is right around the corner, and vertical shear is still very prohibitive across the entire Atlantic basin.

The jet stream typically doesn't retreat far enough northward to reduce the shear in the basin until around July.

Still, I foresee the possibility of a named storm in June, but I think it likely that this season will start off slow, like 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2004, and then subsequent activity will be significant.

In terms of numbers, I'm going with 14/8/3. I don't think we'll see an El Nino event this season, at least not in time to have a detrimental effect on the season. That said, I do feel confident that we will be on the warm side of neutral conditions.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
starting may i think that will we will have a hand full of 90Ls
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
thanks pat
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
Quoting Patrap:
Ok..will do.

Im working on Taxes on another Tab.

Will try tomorrow.

I bookmarked your yahoo IM handle too.


Ha, I'm lucky i finished mine earlier today at work. Wasn't easy though.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Ok..will do.

Im working on Taxes on another Tab.

Will try tomorrow.

I bookmarked your yahoo IM handle too.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722
295. beell
Steady as she goes, Cap'n
Member Since: September 11, 2007 Posts: 137 Comments: 15356
oh pat here my yahoo IM david_thomas4000
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
am forcasting 3 name storms in may
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
yeah..I think I need better glasses Taz..
Thanx for the info..!

I did say Sonoma I see..

LOL
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722
well its that time of year too start looking at the modes like for wind shear so on and so on so any thing in the mode runs for a name storm???
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
thanks pat that snow you see in that photo is from sonora CA
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
There is No wave..

The "Pre-season" sometimes has a Strong influence on the young padawans.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722
We are getting some tropical storm force gusts. Worst wind now then we had with Fay.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
287. beell
Where is this wave?
GFS 700mb
Valid 12Z Tuesday,04/14
Member Since: September 11, 2007 Posts: 137 Comments: 15356
Hey taz,..thats a Pretty winter pic of The Snow in Sonoma,Ca. on ya avatar.
Really nice one.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722
nop they do it on the 20th
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
is this a little too soon to be seeing are 1st wave??? and where olny on the 14th



Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114075
Be sure to watch the Colbert Report tonight as a NASA astronaut will announce the official NASA name selected for the ISS node.

Here's a Sneak peek on the skinny about dat..


Associated Press
NASA names treadmill after Colbert.



Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722
Every drop that falls helps in a Severe or Extreme Drought.
Lotsa stress on the water shed without it.
Good to see a System make it down that far finally.




Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722
277. JRRP
Quoting Vortex95:
259. so it has, but it is being protected as drak says.

yeah,...is too early to think about torpical waves
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5085
they release the retired hurricane names of 08 on the 24th right
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On the feature off of Africa..its interesting.

But I usually look to the Southern or Sw GOM..and the Caribbean for early Development.

Hard for a Wave to Transit the Atlantic with the Westerlies still a cruising along.

Just my take..and climatology too.

Atlantic Ocean View (Updated ~3 hours)



GOES-12 Atmospheric Imagery

These images are primarily for use in tropical storm monitoring. There are several areas to choose from providing a large-scale view of the Atlantic, down to the Gulf of Mexico. During hurricane season, the hurricanes page provides a variety of GOES atmospheric products to help monitor the active storms.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722
260 - Good point - LSU is obviously a big outfit with lots of good people. That said, we've all heard the phrase "business as usual" in connection with business & government big and small, and recognnize its inherent pervasiveness. ithinkyourehot!
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South Fla getting some welcomed relief this evening from Ma nature.

TDWR High Definition Radar
Miami, Base Reflectivity 0.60 Degree Elevation Range 225 NMI

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722

GOM 60 Hour Wave Forecast (using WW3)



Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722
All of my garbage cans flew all over the place spent 30mins trying to find them. We had a gust to 43mph , the power flickered 5 times and across the street there was a hit and run accident , what a weird night.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting Vortex95:
what i'm worried about if this drought continues in S Fla if theres a big rainfall of lets say 6+ in, in one day then there could be a lot of flooding, due to the hard soil.
hard soil means lots of standing water as the hard packed surface takes longer to allow the water in
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Welcome to the LSU Earth Scan Lab.

The ESL is a satellite data receiving station and image processing facility for environmental data from six unique earth observing sensor systems. We specialize in real-time access to satellite imagery and measurements of the atmosphere, oceans and coastal areas within the Gulf of Mexico / Caribbean Sea region, data which we obtain directly from satellite transmissions to three antennas on LSU rooftops. These data have many applications for research, education, and state emergency response.


LSU ESL Lab is a Great Tool and site for the Tropics.
I use it all the time here..during Cane season.

Also the wunderground tropical page is on the
ESL WAVCIS Page here, under tropical weather on the left.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722
yep thanks

hello to u i think
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Quoting PresidentialElection:


Good evening, Dark. Welcome on-board!
P E R U J F V

its been nagging at me to ask
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greetings, all!

just a word or 3 about the van heerden situation: may i ask for your grace before criticizing the *entire* lsu and baton rouge communities? i am from baton rouge, i hold a bachelor's of science from lsu, and am earning a master's of science from lsu currently. i don't have an opinion about van heerden's situation, as i don't have all the facts, and likely never will.

i can say that passion and science don't go well together. a passionate scientist will always have enemies and detractors... as many of you well know.

please don't judge the entire lsu community over this. the hurricane center is a *tiny* part of the university. there are several departments devoted to wetland ecology and restoration, post-katrina recovery, risk mitigation and loss prevention.

i invite you to visit www.lsu.edu and browse the schools of renewable natural resources, oceanography and coastal sciences, environmental sciences, biological sciences, and LUMCON, just to name a very few of the colleges devoted to this cause that is so very near and dear to our hearts. lsu's earth scan lab in the coastal studies institute is also a really good site to review the research being conducted by lsu folks.

thanks to all who have helped and supported louisianians before, during and post katrina. we are forever indebted to you.

very sincerely yours.
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259. JRRP
Quoting Drakoen:
According to the NHC: "TROPICAL WAVE-LIKE FEATURE...ANALYZED AS A SFC TROUGH IS ALONG
13W FROM 6N TO THE EQUATOR."

Trough like this is being supported by an expansive upper level ridge.

it has begun
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5085


from Google, "Omega Block"

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125722
What is an Omega block??
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.