Sunday, March 23, 2014

Koyal Group Info Mag - Science, fiction and fact

A week or so ago, I watched an old sci-fi movie, circa 1958, with my wife. It featured horrible special effects and an unrealistic story line about manned missions to Mars. Of course, it was made 55 years ago, so it should come as no surprise that the science was outdated, but we also noted that on the flight back to earth, from Mars, all the meals were served by the female scientists. The women were clearly treated as equals, scientifically, but still expected to clean up after dinner and serve the men coffee.
I also recently read a Smithsonian article about Carl Sagan, in anticipation of the new Cosmos series.
It dawned on me, that Sagan spent a considerable amount of his time in an attempt to bring the study of space, as well as an understanding of the vastness of the universe to the common man, especially the children of the 70′s and 80′s.
Additionally, I recently watched the HBO special called Questioning Darwin which included interviews from scientists defending evolution, as well as discussions with people who believe in the bible as scientific fact.
The 50′s science fiction movie made me think about how far our technology has come. While we have not landed a man on Mars, we did make it to the moon. More importantly, the advances in communication, whether it be via cell phones, the internet, twitter or the other various social media, have changed our world in ways we are still coping with and understanding. The Carl Sagan piece made me think how upset Sagan would be at the state of science in America today. From climate change deniers to bible-as-science-fact supporters there seems to be an attack on the research and accomplishments of science. The HBO series about Darwin made me wonder if those who would take us back to the 1800′s as regards to evolution, are as willing to do the same in the area of communication and medicine. Do those who believe the bible is a science book, eschew cell phones and computers because they are not in the bible? Do they seek cures for cancer and heart disease in Genesis as well or seek out the best medical advice of the day?
Fortunately, I watched the second part of the new Cosmos series last night. The new host, a man with a clear and personal memory of Carl Sagan’s passion for science, presented a wonderful defense of evolution as fact. The episode made me think that Sagan would have been proud of this episode, and that I was wrong it my initial thought that Carl would be demoralized at the attacks of science. He would have doubled his efforts! And perhaps he wouldn’t have waited so long to do it.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

NASA Builds GPS-Based System For Detecting Natural Disasters, The Koyal Group InfoMag

Existing GPS technologies have been enhanced by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego to develop new systems for California and elsewhere to provide warning of hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis and extreme weather events.

Forecasters at NOAA National Weather Service offices in Oxnard and San Diego, California demonstrated the new technology in July, using it to track a summer monsoon rain affecting Southern California and issue more accurate and timely flash flood warnings. The new technology uses real-time information from GPS stations that have been upgraded with small, inexpensive seismic and meteorological sensors.

Other real-world systems are integrating the new technology as well. For example, it is being used to make damage assessments for hospitals, bridges and other critical infrastructure that can be used in real time by emergency personnel, decision makers and first responders to help mitigate threats to public safety.

The primary goal for hospitals is to shut down elevators automatically and send alerts to operating room personnel in the event of, for example, an earthquake early warning. The earthquake early warning system is particularly effective during large events. The system could be used to detect changes in the structure of bridges due to earthquakes, wind shear and traffic loads, as well.

The implications and possible applications of the new technology were discussed by scientists from JPL and Scripps at the American Geophysical Union meeting this past week.

“These advancements in monitoring are being applied to public safety threats, from tall buildings and bridges to hospitals in regions of risk for natural hazards,” said Yehuda Bock of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Meaningful warnings can save lives when issued within one to two minutes of a destructive earthquake, several tens of minutes for tsunamis, possibly an hour or more for flash floods, and several days or more for extreme winter storms.”

An optimal combination of GPS, accelerometer, pressure and temperature data is the basis for the new technology. This data is collected in real time at many locations throughout Southern California and on large engineered structures—like tall buildings, hospitals and bridges—for focused studies of health and damage. The technology returns data products such as accurate measurements of permanent motions (displacements) of ground stations and instruments deployed on structures, which form the basis for early detection of sustained damage; and measurements of precipitable water in the lower atmosphere, a determining factor in short-term weather forecasting. The combination of sensors significantly improves current seismic and meteorological practices.

NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory used a regional collaborative network of GPS stations—newly expanded to provide dense coverage in Southern California—to provide atmospheric moisture measurements to forecasters in the case of the first successful Southern California monsoon forecast and more accurate flash flood warnings in July.

Hundreds of scientific-grade GPS stations throughout Southern California are constantly receiving signals from GPS satellites to determine their precise positions. GPS ground stations are simultaneously measuring water vapor as well as position because water vapor in the atmosphere distorts GPS satellite signals.

“These water vapor measurements are currently being used to help forecasters better monitor developing weather during periods between satellite overpasses and weather balloon launches,” said research scientist Angelyn Moore of JPL. “Our project is upgrading GPS ground stations to get these data to forecasters in minutes to seconds to help them better understand whether summer monsoonal moisture is likely to cause harmful flash flooding.”

“This GPS network provides forecasters with timely and critical information on the availability of atmospheric moisture, allowing us to more accurately forecast and warn for potentially deadly flash flooding and wintertime heavy precipitation events in Southern California,” said Mark Jackson, meteorologist in charge at NOAA’s National Weather Service office in Oxnard.

“Having such detailed and timely information on how much moisture is available helps us better understand and forecast our extreme winter storms fueled by what are known as atmospheric rivers. It can also help us better pinpoint and anticipate thunderstorms capable of producing flash flooding.” Weather forecasters in Southern California are moving from periodic updates of moisture content once every 30 minutes to continuous updates. Balloon launches, from four locations, occur only twice a day.

According to Bock, the technology improves earthquake early warning by analyzing the very first moments of an earthquake in real time to characterize the more violent shaking that will follow. It is possible to predict the arrival of slower-traveling seismic “S” (secondary) waves that cause the most intense shaking by detecting the initial arrival of seismic ‘P’ (primary) waves, which travel through Earth the fastest, at the upgraded GPS stations.

Depending on distance from the earthquake’s epicenter, the warning time can range between several seconds to as long as two minutes. Critical fault parameters, such as earthquake magnitude, can be rapidly and accurately determined to generate ground intensity maps throughout the affected region, and form the basis of tsunami warnings.

The scientists are planning to integrate the technology into earthquake and tsunami early warnings and structural monitoring for the San Diego County Office of Emergency Service. Other institutions are examining the applications of the technology as well, such as hospital monitoring and early warnings for UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest; monitoring of the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Long Beach for Caltrans; and forecasts of storms and flooding for NOAA’s weather forecasting offices in San Diego and Los Angeles.