Though the subway rats may have been able to escape the flooded tunnels during Hurricane Sandy, lab rats in basement cages weren’t so lucky. New York University lost around 10,000 research rodents from a flooded animal facility in the basement of the Smilow Research Center in Manhattan, according to The New York Times. These lab animals are genetically engineered and/or specially bred with traits that make them good models for human disorders, like cancer, heart disease, and schizophrenia. Creating such research strains can take years. Gordon Fishell, associate director of the NYU Neuroscience Institute, told the Times that he lost 10 years of work in the flood. A basement animal facility also flooded at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, but staff members rescued many of the animals, ScienceInsider reported.
The flooding created by enormous downpours near Brisbane in eastern Australia shows no signs of abating, and that region is now bracing for things to go from bad to worse.
Heavy rains pounded Brisbane’s region, called Queensland, in December. And things really started to get bad yesterday, when flooding caused by the constant rain sent a wall of water—evocatively being called an “inland tsunami”—crashing through the nearby town of Toowoomba. Brisbane, which is Australia’s third-largest city at about two million people, in next in the crosshairs.
Normally it is protected from periodic flooding of the Brisbane river by the Wivenhoe dam, 80 kilometres [50 miles] away. But Wivenhoe is already 81 per cent over capacity after last month’s heavy rains saturated Queensland. To save Brisbane from flooding, officials began releasing water from Wivenhoe last month. But because of the inland tsunami now hurtling towards the city, officials have increased the amount of water released from 140 million tonnes yesterday to 344 million tonnes today. [New Scientist]
But there’s only so much they can do. As of this morning, the Christian Science Monitor reports at least 30 deaths and 78 missing, with the number expected to grow as flooding threatens Brisbane.
[Brisbane] Mayor Campbell Newman warned 6,500 homes, businesses and other properties were likely to be flooded by Thursday. “Today is very significant, tomorrow is bad, and Thursday is going to be devastating for the residents and businesses affected,” he said. [BBC News]
It’s beginning to look a lot like… self-inflicted doom.
This week Associated Press reporters tallied the toll of the year in natural disasters, and it added up to some depressing results. Around the world—in Haiti and Chile earthquakes, in Pakistani floods, in Russian heat waves—nature unleashed its fury in extreme fashion in 2010, the AP says, and humans made it worse through our own actions.
“It just seemed like it was back-to-back and it came in waves,” said Craig Fugate, who heads the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. It handled a record number of disasters in 2010. “The term ‘100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year.” [AP]
At least 250,000 people died in natural disasters this year, up from just 15,000 last year. But, the AP’s Seth Bornstein argues, this isn’t just natural variability.
For one thing, there are the avoidable problems of not doing enough to prepare for the inevitable appearance of disaster. The 2010 death toll is skewed so high this year because of the Haiti earthquake in January that killed most of the people in that quarter-million group. There’s nothing to be done about the shifts of tectonic plates, but the death toll skyrocketed because so many poor Haitians were living in such poorly built dwellings. The more powerful Chilean earthquake, by contrast, occurred in a place with better-built structures and killed fewer than a thousand. While in Pakistan, having so many homes in the flood zone exacerbated the damage when the monsoons came in July.
The fires in western Russia continue to burn. Though the overall area now ablaze has shrunk, the number of individual fires has actually risen today. The death rate in Moscow has doubled, and Russia is racing to stop the flames from spreading to areas still affected by radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster a quarter-century ago.
While firefighting goes on, attention turns to the “why?” Russia‘s fire explosion has people wondering if there’s a bigger reason behind it. The topic seems particularly urgent because another major natural disaster is happening not so far away: in northern Pakistan, where exceptionally heavy monsoon rains have caused crushing floods. The big question–whether global warming is responsible–is still unanswered, but scientists do agree that a large weather pattern links the events.
According to meteorologists monitoring the atmosphere above the northern hemisphere, unusual holding patterns in the jet stream are to blame. As a result, weather systems sat still. Temperatures rocketed and rainfall reached extremes [New Scientist].
You’ve probably seen diagrams of the jet stream on weather charts, where a thick band represents its air currents that surge from west to east. However, New Scientist reports, a “blocking event” caused by west-pushing Rossby waves has slowed the jet stream’s flow. This happens from time to time, and it sets the stage for extreme conditions when weather systems hover over the same area.