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Oceanography is a very important discipline for understanding the oceans, which are essential for all life on Earth and cover the majority of the Earth’s surface.

“Oceanography is extremely multidisciplinary, covering the physics, chemistry, geology and biology of the world’s oceans. No understanding of Earth’s climate or the chemical cycles essential to life is complete without the insights of oceanography.”

I started surfing when I was 12 years old and I have been obsessed with ocean waves ever since. Ever since I first started school I wanted to learn the “birth, life, and death of an oceanic swell.” I started with Meteorology so I could understand the birth of the swell; that is, the storms that create the swells. I am now studying Physical Oceanography to understand swell propagation as well as the surf zone dynamics.

Please help me stay at the University of Hawaii. This past semester I wasn’t able to continue with school due to financial concerns. I have used all my student loans allowed, l and currently looking for grants. You can use paypal (my PayPal is barrjohnm@gmail.com) Anything will help, even $1.00!

When I started school I was 30 years old, and I was completely illiterate! It took many years just to get to college status, but I am proud of all my accomplishments as when I first started school 5/1=5 really confused me, and now I understand partial differential equation (PDEs) and in fact my undergraduate degree of Atmospheric Sciences (Meteorology) pretty much including PDEs all thoroughout the degree, below is a common equation in Meteorology:

If you have ever seen warm or cold fronts on a weather map this is the equation for it. Really cool, right?

As, I said above I have been obsessed with ocean waves ever since I started surfing. My first step was to discover how the waves were formed and now I am studying what happens when they leave their original area.  I will finally study what happens when the ocean waves enter the beach zone and become surf, which will no doubt be the most difficult part of my study.

I am very dedicated to going to graduate school for Physical Oceanography at SOEST at the University of Hawaii, Money is the only thing standing in my way. I am studying by myself at home which is challenging since I just finished my undergraduate degree.

Here are my thoughts on my subset of Physical Oceanography:

Physical Oceanographers

Physical oceanographers apply theory and observation to study the circulation of oceans. As heat, salt, and other dissolved chemicals move through the oceans and into lakes and rivers, these scientists are able to track this movement. They also study tides and waves to see how these things affect the atmosphere and nearby ecosystems. Once the data is collected, physical oceanographers may then build computer simulations that mimic the movement of the ocean.

Job responsibilities of a physical oceanographer include:

  • attempting to lessen the impact on ocean life of pollution carried by currents
  • testing water and soil samples for pH balances
  • studying the sea ice and polar ice sheets to understand the distribution of these features and attempt to preserve them
  • ensuring a balance between the human use of ocean resources and conservation

Climate Change in Hawaii

The Aloha state of Hawaii is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, approximately 2,600 miles west of California.

“As the only state in the United States that is an island, Hawaii is unquestionably vulnerable to changes in climate“

Like many islands across the world, Hawaii is susceptible to sea level rises, coastal flooding and a whole host of other impacts caused by climate change. According to the global climate change report on the United States (U.S. climate change report), islands have been experiencing rising air temperatures and sea levels in recent decades. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that these trends are very likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

According to the U.S. climate change report, small islands are considered among the most vulnerable to climate change because extreme events have major impacts on them. Changes in weather patterns and the frequency and intensity of extreme events, sea-level rise, coastal erosion, coral reef bleaching, ocean acidification, and contamination of freshwater resources by salt water are among the impacts small islands face. In addition, the availability of freshwater is likely to be reduced, with significant implications for island communities, economies, and resources.

Climate change and global warming are likely to have adverse potential impacts on Hawaii’s environment, health, economy and natural resources. Sea-level rise explains the disappearance of Whale Skate Island, a small island formerly located in Hawaii’s northwest region. Its disappearance wiped out habitats for birds, turtles and other fish and wildlife. In general, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which are low-lying and therefore at great risk from increasing sea levels, have a high concentration of endangered and threatened species, some of which exist nowhere else. The loss of nesting and nursing habitats is expected to threaten the survival of already vulnerable species, and unusually high temperatures and increased frequency of heat waves could very likely lead to a rise in heat-related deaths, particularly among the elderly, in a situation similar to what befell Europe in 2003, when several thousands more died above normal death rates.

The scientific evidence for sea-level rise is strong and unequivocal. As the U.S. climate change report indicates, “Recent global sea-level rise has been caused by the warming-induced expansion of the oceans, accelerated melting of most of the world’s glaciers, and loss of ice on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. A warming global climate will cause further sea-level rise over this century and beyond.” Based upon data furnished at a presentation given at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) meeting in San Francisco, sea levels are projected to rise three feet along the coast of Oahu during the rest of this century due to global warming. Clearly, islands and other low-lying coastal areas will face increased risk from coastal inundation due to sea-level rise and storm surge, with major consequences for coastal communities, infrastructure, natural habitats, and resources.

Generally, Hawaii’s beaches are not subject to any significant erosion thanks to coral reefs, which act as barriers to incoming waves. With documented warming of the seas, coral reefs will be subject to adverse environmental conditions which are harming their ecosystems, growth and sustainability. Without the protective quality of these coral reefs, which are the source of the island’s white, sandy beaches, Hawaii’s coastline will very likely undergo erosion over time.

According to Next Generation Earth, a group associated with the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the cost of replenishing these beaches to prevent sea-level rise will range anywhere from $350 million to $6 billion. Based upon a study issued by NOAA along with several other government and research agencies, ocean water temperature increases are expected to amplify the frequency and severity of coral-bleaching events. Most of Hawaii’s coral reefs are in fair to good condition, but this status will change for the worse if effective ecosystem management measures are not taken.

According to a United States Geological Survey report, warmer temperatures in Hawaii are having adverse affects on native bird species. Warmer temperatures expand the range of mosquitoes into higher mountain elevations. For birds such as the honeycreeper that live in higher, cooler mountain refuges, this will introduce new stresses and disease vectors into their environment. Without resistance to malaria, honeycreeper birds in their current habitats may face extinction as a result of the spread of mosquitoes and mosquito bites. As ecosystems move and change, other diseases are likely to migrate into regions of warmer temperature. Saving the honeycreepers and other bird species will require active environmental management of those areas they currently inhabit and the elimination or containment of mosquito populations.

Climate change impacts in Hawaii have an economic dimension with effects felt in the tourism industry and fisheries trade. As the U.S. climate change report notes, “coral reefs sustain fisheries and tourism, have biodiversity value, scientific and educational value, and form natural protection against wave erosion. For Hawaii alone, net benefits of reefs to the economy are estimated at $360 million annually, and the overall asset value is conservatively estimated to be nearly $10 billion.” Although further evidence is necessary, warmer seas may also promote toxic algae, leading to harmful algae blooms known as red tides. These blooms are toxic to habitat and shellfish nurseries as well as humans. In addition, clean-up costs must be taken into consideration.

Any environmental problems or disasters may have a net negative effect on Hawaii’s tourism industry, as tourists will be dissuaded from visiting an unstable, environmentally risky destination. In 2008, over 6.8 million visitors came to Hawaii and spent $11.4 billion, which accounted for 18% of Hawaii’s gross domestic product. Sea-level rises and flooding contribute to submergence of beaches, and that will be a factor Hawaii policymakers must grapple with in planning the future of Hawaiian tourism. In recent decades, as sea levels have risen and more beaches have overflowed with seawater, more sea walls have been built along the famous Waikiki beachfront to stem the rise in ocean levels. As a possible consequence, many affected parts of the islands may experience declines in real estate values.

Unlike many small, developing island nations, as part of the United States, Hawaii has the capacity and resources to mount a credible defense against environmental impacts caused by climate change. Hawaii has exhibited foresight in anticipating climate change impacts. In 1998, the state issued a lengthy report on the effects of climate change on the islands. Recommendations and action plans to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions over a broad range of industries were included in the report. Hawaii is proactive and has positioned itself to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2007, Hawaii enacted “A Global Warming Solutions Act 234″ to cap greenhouse gas emissions to the 1990 level by 2020. In 2008, Hawaii launched a Clean Energy Initiative with the goal of creating a 70 percent clean-energy economy within a generation. As a result of its location and lack of fossil fuel resources, Hawaii is the most oil-dependent state in the nation, getting 90 percent of its energy needs from imported oil. In a memorandum of understanding signed in 2008, the Department of Energy (DOE) will assist Hawaii to achieve the goal of reducing its dependence on oil for electricity generation.

Hawaii has at its disposal a plethora of renewable energy options to transition to a renewable energy economy including biomass, hydro, wind, geothermal, ocean waves and, of course, solar. In its favor, Hawaii emits only 0.4 percent of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore one of the lowest state emitters in the country. Hawaii is also part of the EPA’s Clean Energy State Partnership Initiative to support the introduction and use of clean, renewable energy. The Sierra Club reports that Hawaii also recently imposed a $1 surcharge on each barrel of oil imported into the state. Funds collected here will be earmarked for the development of clean, renewable energy. Last but not least, the Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, recently signed an energy bill into law mandating that 25 percent of Hawaii’s electricity must come from renewable energy sources by 2020 and 40 percent by 2030.

The scientific evidence for climate change in Hawaii is strong. Rising sea levels and temperatures are increasingly affecting coastal areas, natural habitats, and will potentially have harmful effects on human health and the economy. To spotlight the severity of the problem with climate change and rising sea levels, the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheen, recently conducted an underwater cabinet meeting to point out one possible future scenario for island nations if little or no action is taken to deal with climate change. With foresight and planning, Hawaii is taking appropriate steps to adapt to changing conditions, strengthen its natural defenses and mitigate future climate troubles. It is highly unlikely that Hawaii would have to take the astonishing step of performing an instance of official government business underwater like the Maldives to bring awareness of the issue to a wider global audience. Given its global impact, the warming of the oceans and other climate changes are obviously beyond the sole control of the state and will present continuous challenges well into the foreseeable future. In this sense, Hawaii shares vulnerability with other small island nations in that its environmental resilience and destiny is as much determined by its own actions as it is dependent upon the actions of others in other parts of the world.

The Jet Stream

What It Is and How It Affects Our Weather

You’ve probably heard the words “jet stream” many times while watching weather forecasts on TV. That’s because the jet stream and its location is key to forecasting where weather systems will travel. Without it, there would be nothing to help “steer” our daily weather from location to location.

Rivers of Rapidly Moving Air 

Named for their similarity to fast-moving jets of water, jet streams are bands of strong winds in the upper levels of the atmosphere. Jet streams form at the boundaries of contrasting air masses. When warm and cold air meet, the difference in their air pressures as a result of their temperature differences (recall that warm air is less dense, and cold air, more dense) causes air to flow from higher pressure (the warm air mass) to lower pressure (the cold air mass), thereby creating high winds. Because the differences in temperature, and therefore, pressure, are very large, so too is the strength of the resulting winds.

Jet Stream Location, Speed, Direction 

Jet streams “live” at the tropopause (about 6 to 9 miles off the ground) and are several thousand miles long. Jet stream winds range in speed from 120 to 250 mph but can reach more than 275 mph. Oftentimes, the jet houses pockets of winds that move faster than the surrounding jet stream winds. These “jet streaks” play an important role in precipitation and storm formation. (If a jet streak is visually divided into fourths, like a pie, its left front, and right rear quadrants are the most favorable for precipitation and storm development. If a weak low-pressure area passes through either of these locations, it will quickly strengthen into a dangerous storm.)

Jet winds blow from west to east, but also meander north to south in a wave-shaped pattern. These waves and large ripples (known as planetary, or Rossby waves) form U-shaped troughs of low pressure that allow cold air to spill southwards and upside-down U-shaped ridges of high pressure that bring warm air northwards.

Discovered by Weather Balloons 

One of the first names associated with the jet stream is Wasaburo Oishi. A Japanese meteorologist, Oishi discovered the jet stream in the 1920s while using weather balloons to track upper-level winds near Mount Fuji. However, his work went unnoticed outside of Japan. In 1933, knowledge of the jet stream increased when American aviator Wiley Post began exploring long-distance, high-altitude flight. Despite these discoveries, the term “jet stream” was not coined until 1939 by German meteorologist Heinrich Seilkopf.

Meet the Polar and Subtropical Jets 

While we typically talk about the jet stream as if there was only one, there are actually two: a polar jet stream and a subtropical jet stream. The Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere each have both a polar and a subtropical branch of the jet.

  • The Polar Jet: In North America, the polar jet is more commonly known as “the jet” or the “mid-latitude jet” (so-called because it occurs over the mid-latitudes).
  • The Subtropical Jet: The subtropical jet is named for its existence at 30°N and 30°S latitude—a climate zone known as the subtropics. It forms at the boundary temperature difference between air at mid-latitudes and warmer air near the equator. Unlike the polar jet, the subtropical jet is only present in the wintertime—the only time of year when temperature contrasts in the subtropics are strong enough to form jet winds.

The subtropical jet is generally weaker than the polar jet. It is most pronounced over the western Pacific.

Jet Position Changes With the Seasons 

Jet streams change position, location, and strength depending on the season.

In the winter, areas in the Northern Hemisphere may get colder than normal periods as the jet stream dips “lower” bringing cold air in from the polar regions. Although the height of the jet stream is typically 20,000 feet or more, the influences on weather patterns can be substantial as well. High wind speeds can drive and direct storms creating devastating droughts and floods. A shift in the jet stream is a suspect in the causes of the Dust Bowl.

In spring, the polar jet starts to journey north from its winter position along the lower third of the U.S., back to its “permanent” home at 50-60°N latitude (over Canada). As the jet gradually lifts northward, highs and lows are “steered” along its path and across the regions where it’s currently positioned. Why does the jet stream move? Well, jet streams “follow” the Sun, Earth’s primary source of heat energy. Recall that in spring in the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun’s vertical rays go from striking the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5° south latitude) to striking more northerly latitudes (until it reaches the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5° north latitude, on the summer solstice). As these northerly latitudes warm, the jet stream, which occurs near boundaries of cold and warm air masses, must also shift northward to remain at the opposing edge of warm and cool air.

Locating Jets on Weather Maps 

On surface maps: Many news and media that broadcast weather forecasts show the jet stream as a moving band of arrows across the U.S., but the jet stream isn’t a standard feature of surface analysis maps.

Here’s an easy way to eyeball the jet position: since it steers high and low-pressure systems, simply note where these are located and draw a continuous curved line in-between them, taking care to arch your line over highs and underneath lows.

On upper-level maps: The jet stream “lives” at heights of 30,000 to 40,000 feet above Earth’s surface. At these altitudes, atmospheric pressure equals around 200 to 300 mb; this is why the 200 and 300 mb level upper air charts are typically used for jet stream forecasting.

When looking at other upper-level maps, the jet position can be guessed by noting where pressure or wind contours are spaced close together.

Quantum Physics and Surf Forecasting

At the moment the wave charts are not looking too epic. However, in about a week’s time things are due to improve as the general situation over the North Pacific  changes.

“That’s all I can say. Why? Because the best way to look at the long-term charts is to just get a general picture and not try to be too specific; otherwise you’ll be frustrated when the forecast keeps changing.”

Forecasting is a trade-off between three parameters: precision, accuracy and length. If we want a really detailed forecast it needs to be short-term; otherwise it won’t be accurate. Likewise, if we want an accurate long-term forecast we mustn’t specify too many details.

As our understanding of the atmosphere and ocean improves, and computing power increases, forecasts will, of course, get better. But there are several reasons why they will never be perfect: the most fundamental of which has to do with their dependence on initial conditions.

Atmospheric and oceanic prediction models rely on initial measured values of parameters such as pressure, windspeed and temperature. The more accurate these measurements are, the better the prediction will be.

The ocean-atmosphere system is highly complex and behaves in a non-linear way, with feedback loops, tipping points and snowball effects. Any slight errors in the initial measurements will not only feed through to the end result, but will be amplified. As the forecast length increases, so does the amplification of errors, so that the forecasts end up diverging uncontrollably.

So, all we need to do to get that perfect forecast is to measure those initial conditions perfectly. In fact, this is what the great French physicist Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827) had in mind. He postulated that, if we could somehow measure the exact position and velocity of every particle in a system, we could use Newton’s laws of motion to predict their next position and velocity, and the next, and so on. As long as we knew the present, we could predict the future

Laplace’s hypothesis – called determinism – was proved wrong about a century later. Scientists like Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) started discovering the paradoxes of quantum mechanics, one of which is that you cannot measure the position and velocity of a particle at the same time.

This means you can never describe the present state of anything with 100 per cent accuracy. And if you can’t describe the present state with total accuracy, you’ll never be able to make an error-free prediction of the future.

So, bearing in mind that there are inevitably going to be errors, the best thing we can do is to know how precise to be, and when. The MSW ‘probability’ parameter helps us do that by giving us an idea of how confident we can be of a particular forecast. You’ll notice that it doesn’t just change with forecast length – but I’ll talk more about that in a future article.