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Photo: Patrik Jonsson/Christian Science Monitor
At Swan Quarter, North Carolina, shrimp boats cluster on the shore ahead of hurricane Florence in September. The town’s protective dike represents cooperation among practical people, who put aside politics to solve a serious problem.

Even when people believe global warming is only a cyclical blip, they can find common cause with others to solve a problem that affects everyone. Residents of a small town in North Carolina did just that after years of dangerous floods.

From the Christian Science Monitor: “As staff writer Patrik Jonsson began traveling the Carolinas after hurricane Florence, he came across a town that put aside its differences over politics and global warming to find a solution to chronic flooding. …

“Neighbors J.W. Raburn and Henry Williams are political polar opposites. … But the two lifelong friends – along with about 300 or so other North Carolinians who call Swan Quarter home – stood united [in September] against hurricane Florence.

“Nearby Oriental, New Bern, and large parts of central North Carolina were devastated when up to 40 inches of rain fell. … Tens of thousands of residents were displaced, and at least 23 people died.

” ‘There is no doubt that dike has saved us. It gives us a little bit of hope,’ says Raburn. His friend nods.

“The dike, completed in 2010, is a piece of political pragmatism that has gained stature as it held up well against during hurricanes Irene and Matthew, superstorm Sandy. …

“There is also growing evidence that mounting property losses, declines in property values, and threatened historical landmarks are wearing away resistance to preparedness. That common purpose might sometimes be hard to see on the national stage. But locally, people are putting aside politics in favor of practical solutions.

” ‘Working in Swan Quarter, flooding is not an ideological issue there. It is a way of life. Same with sea level rise. People have watched it happen within that lived environment. If you watch forests turn to marshland and the roads flood, the politics fade away,’ says Jason Evans, an environmentalist from Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., who worked on the dike project.

“Raburn and Williams, former bandmates, show the human side of the debate. Raburn believes that finding solutions to manmade climate change is vital. Williams, a farmer and volunteer firefighter, does not believe that humans are altering the temperature of the planet, calling it ‘a phase we are going through.’ But he is the one who cares for and maintains the dike – a job he takes very seriously. …

“In Swan Quarter, local taxes are likely to go up. The county needs to purchase pumps to help clear water that seeps through the dike. Across the sound on Ocracoke Island, county leaders are working on bolstering dunes. …

“At the same time, the dike played a role in the county investing millions in a new courthouse and fire station. The state credit union has felt confident enough in the dike to build a new branch. A critical ferry service runs from the docks to the Ocracoke Island. Inside the local gas station, a line drawn at head level shows the height of Isabel’s surge. Thus far, Florence has left no mark at all.

“The size of the town and the lean budgets mean, ‘the kind of interventions that can be done there and how we think about it is much different than thinking about New York City or Miami,’ says Evans. ‘Hyde County is a hardscrabble place trying to build a dike. Nothing solves anything forever. … But it clearly has helped with certain floods. I wouldn’t want to be in Swan Quarter during a big hurricane event without that dike being there. …

‘Whatever legislators want to do, whatever presidents want to do, it’s in the end not relevant in terms of trying to work through the facts. We have scientific understanding that can apply to all these places,’ says Evans. ‘But I have also seen over and over again – whether in the Florida Keys or in Swan Quarter – that within areas facing substantial problems, all the political stuff that we all get drawn into fades away.’ ”

Speaking of political stuff fading away, I want to do a post sometime on the fact that the divisions among us may make lively and urgent headlines but aren’t always replicated on the ground. Don’t we all interact regularly with people whose politics we know differ from ours? Would love to hear your examples to add to my own.

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Bobby Bascomb
The Grupo Vidas crew taking a break from their coral restoration work in Puerto Rico.

Perhaps inadvertently, media stories lead one to believe that all Puerto Ricans are passively waiting for the Mounties to rescue them from the destruction of Hurricane Maria. The Mounties surely better get their act together, but residents of the island are not counting on them. They’re taking matters into their own hands. I plan to post soon about the women who are rebuilding the island’s farming industry, but today the topic is restoring damaged coral reefs.

The National Public Radio (NPR) show Living on Earth has the story.

“Roughly 10 percent of Puerto Rico’s corals were broken and damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Corals are a first line of defense against storm surges and a critical habitat for juvenile fish but face an uphill battle against warming seas, ocean acidification and ship groundings. As Host Bobby Bascomb reports, Puerto Ricans are finding ways to give corals a fighting chance by reattaching healthy fragments. …

“BASCOMB: Chunks of coral were broken off by rough seas and ocean swells. But on a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I discovered there’s still hope for thousands of battered bits of coral lying around the sea floor.

“I’m standing on a tall dune near Vega Baja on Puerto Rico’s north coast. The ocean stretches out in shades of dark blue, turquoise, and pale aquamarine. But interspersed among the usual colors of a tropical ocean are patches of brownish orange – elkhorn coral.

“Salvador Loreano is a worker with the environmental NGO Grupo V.I.D.A.S. Their main task is coral restoration.

“S. LOREANO: Our goal right now is to plant coral fragments here because you know that Maria, Hurricane Maria, came here and devastated the island. This caused great damage to the coral reef because the first time we went to there after Maria, the reef was like destroyed, like we see big coral colonies upside down and a lot of dead coral.

“BASCOMB: As long as they remain submerged under water, these coral, which are colonies of tiny invertebrate animals, have a 20 percent chance of survival. But that increases to more than 90 percent if they are attached to a larger structure, not getting banged around by the surf or smothered with sand.

If a piece of coral is at least 2 inches long and 80 percent healthy, it can actually be reattached to an existing reef. …

“MARIOLA LOREANO: [Here’s] a slate where we write our tallies, basically, which is all of the fragments that we’ve successfully planted, a bag for any trash that we find inside the ocean, and a buoy so it floats. …

“BASCOMB: We put on our mask, snorkel, and fins and walk backwards into the bath-warm water, stepping over the sharp black sea urchins. … A rainbow of fish greets us – green fish with florescent blue heads, black fish with yellow stripes, green fish with pink stripes. They’re all juvenile fish, and the reef is a critical habitat for them. …

“A worker named Ernesto is already hard at work. He uses a wire brush to scrape algae off a piece of coral the size of a ping pong paddle and does the same to a suitable spot on the reef. Just like gluing two objects together, you need to start with a clean surface on both sides. Then he pulls a plastic zip tie out of his sleeve and uses it to attach the coral in place.

“He uses pliers with a florescent pink handle to pull the zip tie tight and cut off the excess plastic, which he sticks in his other sleeve. This piece of coral is now one of hundreds just like it pinned to the reef with zip ties. And in two to three weeks, it will grow onto the reef enough to stay put on its own. …

“BASCOMB: If hurricane damage was the only issue, this work wouldn’t be necessary. But much like the world’s coral reefs in general, this reef has a lot of challenges. Grupo V.I.D.A.S. worker Ernesto says one of the biggest problems is algae blooms from sewage runoff. In many places the coral is essentially smothered, leaving it a ghostly gray color. …

“E. VÉLEZ GANDÍA: It’s like Day of the Dead but under the water.

“BASCOMB: There is a very large dead coral at the entrance to the reef in the shallowest, warmest water. Ernesto believes that one died not from algae blooms but from stress of a warming ocean. … Ernesto talks about the death of that coral as one might talk about a member of the family passing away.

“VÉLEZ GANDÍA: And we got a lot of love for him. We saw him alive, very alive. He is one of the oldest in our reef, but he start dying. We saw the process of his death. So, we just admire him and remember him. It’s very sentimental, I don’t know, but it’s deep in the heart.”

More at Living on Earth, here. And you can read another article about ways to save reefs at Earther, here.

Photo: Sean Nash
Elk horn coral are part of a vital reef ecosystem that provide habitat for fish. In Puerto Rico, many were damaged after Hurricane Maria.

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vvzodywnvei6rlikbya67or4yePhoto: Charlotte Kesl/For The Washington Post
Leroy Wilson outside his home in Marianna, Florida, a day after Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle.

I believe that when a hurricane is coming and you’re told to evacuate, you should evacuate. But this story about a homeowner who refused to leave is pretty great anyway.

Like the wolf in the “Three Little Pigs,” Hurricane Michael huffed and puffed, but the homeowner’s brick house not only stood strong, it welcomed neighbors whose houses were not so strong.

Read what Patricia Sullivan and Frances Stead Sellers wrote at the Washington Post about why the Marianna, Florida, native couldn’t bear to leave his house. It adds a whole other level to the story.

“The modest one-story brick house on Old U.S. Road,” they report, “meant more to Leroy Wilson and his family than a roof over their heads.

“Their ancestors lived on this land as slaves before Wilson’s grandfather acquired five acres here in 1874, right after emancipation. … So as Hurricane Michael ripped the top off a 50-year-old dwelling next door, brought a tree down on Leroy’s daughter’s home and snapped nearby pine trees like pencils, the Wilsons stayed put in their brick house on Wednesday, opening the doors to neighbors whose homes were succumbing under Michael’s powerful winds.

“ ‘I wasn’t going anywhere,’ said Wilson, 74. …

“Sixty miles from the coast in Jackson County, this city of about 10,000 rarely suffers through hurricanes. Known as ‘The City of Southern Charm,’ Marianna has experienced storms that have taken down trees and power lines, but it has been largely spared the devastation regularly wrought in coastal towns. Hurricane Michael was different.

“ ‘It hit everybody hard,’ said Annell Wilson, Leroy’s wife. ‘We prayed a lot.’

“[Leroy’s son] Lamar, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said he dismissed class around 5 p.m. Wednesday after getting a text from his sister describing the devastation in his hometown and he began making frantic telephone calls to his relatives. He knew they would not leave their land.

“ ‘To be able to own several homes you built with your hands, to protect the home your mother built, that your grandfather toiled for, it’s noble,’ Lamar said.

“And in this case, dangerously noble. His sister lost her home; his brother’s house is barely habitable.

“But the little brick house protected the Wilsons and the people they took in. It lost its water pump and its shutters, and the wind drove water in under the window panes. But the structure stayed intact — and by the end of the evening, more than a dozen members of five families were seeking shelter there.

“ ‘That’s what we do. We all help each other,’ said Annell Wilson, 73, Lamar’s mother, describing how she settled her unexpected visitors and got them fed, and then stuffed towels along the windows to mop up the water that seeped in.”

More at the Washington Post, here. No word on a wolf coming down the chimney or the canny homeowner setting a boiling pot in the fireplace to welcome him, but I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Don’t you love it when life imitates art? (Having said that, I still urge you, “Don’t sit out a hurricane when told to evacuate.”)

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Photo: AP
Hurricane Marie, as seen from the International Space Station last year.

To understand more about how tropical storms evolve and become hurricanes, two Penn State professors from very different fields are joining forces.

Mark Ballora, professor of music technology, and Jenni Evans, professor of meteorology, report on their research at the Conversation.

“During the 2017 hurricane season, major storms in the North Atlantic devastated communities in and around Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and the wider Caribbean. The destruction shows how important it is to understand and communicate the serious threats that these storms pose. …

“Since 2014, we have been working together to sonify the dynamics of tropical storms. In other words, we turn environmental data into music. …

“Most of us are familiar with data visualization: charts, graphs, maps and animations that represent complex series of numbers. Sonification is an emerging field that creates graphs with sound.

“As a simple example, a sonified graph might consist of a rising and falling melody, instead of a rising and falling line on a page.

“Sonification offers a few benefits over traditional data visualization. One is accessibility: People with visual or cognitive disabilities may be better able to engage with sound-based media.

“Sonification is also good for discovery. Our eyes are good at detecting static properties, like color, size and texture. But our ears are better at sensing properties that change and fluctuate. Qualities such as pitch or rhythm may change very subtly, but still be sensed quite easily. The ears are also better than the eyes at following multiple patterns simultaneously, which is what we do when we appreciate the interlocking parts in a complex piece of music. …

“We distilled the changing characteristics of a hurricane into four features measured every six hours: air pressure, latitude, longitude and asymmetry, a measure of the pattern of the winds blowing around the storm’s center. …

“In our recordings, air pressure is conveyed by a swirling, windy sound reflecting pressure changes. More intense hurricanes have lower values of air pressure at sea level. The winds near the ground are also stronger in intense storms.

“As pressure lowers, the speed of the swirling in our sonic recordings increases, the volume increases and the windy sound becomes brighter.

“The longitude of the storm center is reflected in stereo pan, the position of a sound source between the left and right speaker channels.

“Latitude is reflected in the pitch of the swirling sound, as well as in a higher, pulsing sound. As a storm moves away from the equator toward one of the poles, the pitch drops to reflect the drop in temperatures outside the tropics.

“A more circular storm is typically more intense. Symmetry values are reflected in the brightness of a low, underlying sound. When the storm has an oblong or oval shape, the sound is brighter.

“So far, we have sonified 11 storms, as well as mapped global storm activity from the year 2005. …

“Even for experts in meteorology, it can be easier to get a sense of interrelated storm dynamics by hearing them as simultaneous musical parts than by relying on graphics alone. For example, while a storm’s shape is typically tied to air pressure, there are times when storms change shape without changing in air pressure. While this difference can be difficult to see in a visual graph, it’s easily heard in the sonified data.”

More here.

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Did you see the Kenneth Chang story about Hawaii’s wild chickens? Tourists love them. Scientists study them. And the guy in the picture below has the job of rehabilitating the ones that are injured or orphaned. (I need to remember Orphaned-Chicken Rehabilitator next time I make a list of unusual jobs.)

“On the island of Kauai, chickens have not just crossed the road,” writes Chang. “They are also crowing in parking lots, hanging out at beaches and flocking in forests.

“ ‘They’re absolutely everywhere,’ said Eben J. Gering, an evolutionary biologist at Michigan State University who has been studying these truly free-range birds. …

“In a paper published last month in the journal Molecular Ecology, Dr. Gering and his colleagues tried to untangle the genetic history of the Kauai feral chickens, which turn out to be not only a curiosity for tourists, but also a window into how humans domesticated wild animals. …

“Local lore is that many of the Kauai chickens are descendants of birds that escaped when Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and then Hurricane Iniki in 1992 blew open coops. (Feral chickens are found on other Hawaiian islands, but not in overwhelming numbers. Some speculate that Kauai is overrun because mongooses, which like to eat eggs, were never released there. Dr. Gering said another reason could be that the two hurricanes only sideswiped the other islands.) …

“In follow-up research, the scientists would like to observe more of the characteristics of the feral chickens — How many eggs do they lay? How often? Do they grow quickly like the farm breeds? — and then try to connect the genes responsible for the evolution of the hybrids. Dr. Wright is mating chickens and red junglefowl to precisely study how traits and behaviors are passed on.

“Dr. Gering speculated that until recent decades, the Kauai chickens were largely like the ones that the Polynesians brought long ago, living in small parts of the island and modest in number. Then they began mating with the escaped farm chickens or their descendants, with greater fecundity and a wider range of habitats.

“ ‘We think that’s why we’re seeing them now at Walmart and all over the place,’ Dr. Gering said.”

More at the NY Times.

Photo: Hob Osterlund for The New York Times
Stuart Hollinger, right, rehabilitates injured and orphaned wild chickens on Kauai. 

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Last year my Wisconsin brother told me how he makes ice lanterns. (See post.) I really wanted to try my hand at this, but my first two attempts failed. Finally, yesterday, after 52 hours in the cold, my balloon produced a successful lantern. Psyched!

Among today’s other pictures is the Japanese Maple at my workplace, glorious in every season. The reflection photo was taken at Fort Point Channel in Boston. That ice is made of saltwater. If you live inland, you may not know that for saltwater to freeze, it has to be extra cold for an extra long time.

The construction scene is from the nearby Seaport area, which as everybody knows, is being recklessly overbuilt, given that it’s low-lying area exposed to hurricanes.

The gingerbread houses were at the Boston Society of Architects and featured Boston buildings, including the state house with its gold dome. The giant geometric snowballs in Dewey Square are courtesy of New American Public Art, about which, more anon.

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

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I remember my mother’s story about driving home to Boston with a friend and trying to cross the Connecticut River on September 21, 1938. I wish I remembered the details: where they were coming from, who was driving, whether they got across or the bridge was closed, where they spent the night.

But I will never forget the awe with which people of a previous generation spoke about the Hurricane of ’38, its unexpectedness, its devastation — and little Edrie Dodge crawling on hands and knee across her yard as the winds destroyed the farming and fishing industries of her island.

That hurricane has always held a kind of fascination for me. I was riveted reading A Wind to Shake the World, an excellent book describing places I knew and emphasizing that lack of good communication in 1938. While people in Long Island were fighting the storm, people in Rhode Island had no idea they were next.

Nevertheless, good things came of tragedy, lessons were learned. Forecasting and communication improved exponentially.

The Globe had a retrospective on the 75th anniversary.

Jeremy C. Fox wrote, “On that September afternoon 75 years ago today, the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 tore into New York’s Long Island and then Milford, Conn., and raged through Massachusetts and Vermont, leaving a path of flooded towns, flattened homes, and fires caused by downed power lines. …

“Coming before televisions, computers, or weather satellites, the storm’s speed and fury took both meteorologists and residents by surprise, according to forecasters.

“Meteorology professor Lourdes B. Avilés said the storm remains “the one to which all other New England hurricanes are sooner or later compared.”

More here.

Photo: The Boston Globe
”This enormous tree in our backyard came completely uprooted and came crashing down,” said Irene Goodwin Kane, who was 14 when the storm hit. “That was when I realized that this was really bad.”

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