3 Incredible Videos of Hurricanes Behaving Badly

And now for a sampling of nature’s finest hurricane videos. Batten down the hatches, because it’s only in the bedroom that it’s fun getting banged like a screen door in a hurricane!

#1: “Hurricane Wilma Hits Southern Florida”

In this awesome science video, watch palm trees head-banging in the wind like a gathering of gangly punk rock kids as hurricane Wilma flattens South Florida in 2005.

#2: “Hurricane Sandy: Timelapse of the Storm from the New York Times Building”

Appreciate a far better vantage point than most New Yorkers had of the storm that caused the Big Apple a serious headache in 2012! Watch Hurricane Sandy roll in and over NYC  from the safety of the Times Building. It’s terrifyingly beautiful from this ivory tower.

#3: “Hurricane Katrina Satellite Timelapse”

Katrina’s fender bender with the southern states (2005): This is a must-see for a lesson in hurricane formation, from hazy blip over the Bahamas to a monstrous storm system that swarms and spins like your head after a night of tequila swilling!

The Lion Whisperer: Do NOT Try This on Safari!

This CBS documentary short is about animal behaviourist and “lion whisperer” Kevin Richardson who has managed to integrate himself into a pride of beautiful lions, including majestic full-grown males. He hugs their massive heads, scratches their chins and rough-and-tumbles with them like he is one of them and yet, displays no more fear than if he were playing with his own pet dogs.

It’s absolutely fascinating to watch and inspires feelings of “awww, I wish I could do that, too.” However, the pride’s aggressive reaction to the presence of the CBS film-makers serves as a precious reminder that these are wild animals and that Kevin’s affinity with the beasts is a very rare and hard-earned gift. Do NOT try this on safari!

Video Source: “Lion Whisperer” uploaded by Englishdomcom on YouTube channel www.youtube.com/watch?v=O82Ak1bBZuU.

Shocking Video of Lighting in Slow Motion

This clip from Discovery Channel’s “Raging Planet” shows lightning in super slow motion leave the cloud and connect with the ground. Capturing and watching this footage is helping atmospheric scientists develop a much better understanding of how lightning works. For the rest of us lay folk, it makes for some super interesting visual entertainment!

Video Source: Discovery Channel “Raging Planet” – Lightning. Uploaded by ONE Interpreting on YouTube channel www.youtube.com/watch?v=64WMsNRJvDo

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Enlightening! How Lightning is Made

Lightning thunderstorm picture 

What’s more than ten kilometres (6 miles) long, five times hotter than the surface of an average star and packs in more strokes per second than an over-zealous teenage boy who’s just discovered the joy of internet porn?

Yeah, I know. The picture kind of gives it away doesn’t it?

I have had a complete love affair with thunderstorms for as long as I can remember. I think they are the most awe-inspiring and yet paradoxical demonstration of nature’s prodigious temper and seductive grace. In the space of an hour, the sky can go from an azure blue to the colour of dark slate as giant cumulonimbus clouds broil and swell with latent energy.

Thunderstorms generate all kinds of severe weather: torrential downpours, vicious winds, hail, microbursts and even tornadoes. But they indirectly owe their very name to the one weather feature that claims the lives of, on average, 55 people every year in the United States: lightning!

Shocking Statistics

NASA_Lightning_Climatology

Source: Global distribution of lightning April 1995 – February 2003 from the combined observations of the NASA OTD (4/95-3/00) and LIS (1/98-2/03) instruments.

Approximately 8 million bolts of lightning strike the Earth every single day, starting 10,000 forest fires annually. In the United States, over 300,000 insurance claims are made against lightning damage every year and the bill for this damage is a staggering $400,000,000.

Yes. Thunderstorms are seriously dangerous systems. I shouldn’t have to tell you that and yet countless golfers are killed by lightning every year. Could there be anything less intelligent than standing in the middle of a wide open space during a thunderstorm with a metal rod in your hand pointed at the sky? With five billion joules of energy surging through a single lightning bolt – enough energy to illuminate a 100 watt bulb for three months – you are picking a fight you simply cannot win.

Against all logic, according to the U.S. National Weather Service, lightning STILL kills more people than tornadoes AND hurricanes combined. What is this madness?

It’s Electricity! 

Lightning thunderstorm picture 2

Thunderstorms are extremely busy weather systems. Within a storm cell, legions of water vapour particles are whipped, flung and tumbled around by complex air circulations. Storms themselves are powered by strong updrafts of hot, moist air. This air cools and condenses as it rises through the heights of the lower atmosphere, becoming dense. It consequently loses its upward momentum and sinks and spills out of the rear of the thunderstorm (check out the diagram below).

thunderstorm diagram

Photo Credit: “Thunderstorm formation” by NOAA T-storm-mature-stage.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Together, these motions form a continuous cycle of updrafts and downdrafts, which provides the storm system the energy it needs to electrocute golfers, whip cows into the air and blow Dorothy and her dog, Toto, into a parallel reality.

How does this explain what lightning is? Well, it brings us a lot closer to understanding cloud polarization. OMG. What does that mean?

Clouds Can be Bi-Polar Too

Just like batteries, molecules and certain members of your family, clouds too can become bi-polar. Within a thunderstorm, legions of water vapour particles get swirled around violently by the turbulent air circulations. But there are two predominant movements of air in a single cell storm system: hot moist air going up and colder drier air going down.

The water vapour particles being swept up into the cloud smash into those going down and these collisions, while totally invisible to us, are violent enough to cause the descending water particles to literally tear electrons off of the ascending water particles. Electrons are negative. So you see there is a gradual separation of charge within a thundercloud as the descending water particles become negatively charged and the rising water particles (having had an electron or two pilfered from their orbitals) become positively charged.

cloud polarisation thunderstorm

Credit: Earth Science Australia

As a result of particle motions within a thunderstorm, the lower cloud regions become negatively charged and the upper cloud regions positively charged. A positive charge is induced in the ground immediately below the thunderstorm in response to storm’s electric field.

The story doesn’t end here: the polarization of the thundercloud has an effect on its environment, namely, the surface of the Earth and the various objects on it. An electrical field swells outwards from the cloud, caressing the electrons belonging to Earth’s atoms, seducing them into moving. Those who studied physics will remember, electron movement = charge.

The presence of such a massive reservoir of negative charge immediately above the Earth’s surface repels its negatively charged electrons (like repels like), causing an opposing positive charge to build up. In other words, trees, poles, buildings and your head actually develop a static positive charge in the seconds prior to lightning strike. This is probably why people who have been struck by lightning and have lived to tell the tale say that they felt their hair stand on end just before they become a living conductor for 1,000,000,000 volts of electricity.

Zap!

Lightning thunderstorm picture 4

At some critical juncture, nature notices the thunderstorm’s complete disregard for her love of equilibrium and so a raging streak of electricity discharges between the negative and positively-charged cloud regions. Or the negatively charged lower cloud regions and the positively charged ground immediately below it. And ZAP! You get lightning!

I can feel the cogs of your mind over-heating. So, if you aren’t quite happy with this explanation, then watch the movie Thor. While it doesn’t provide any scientific explanation on lightning genesis whatsoever, Chris Hemsworth is so beautiful you will forget your intellectual torment immediately *swoon*

Guys… you can enjoy watching Natalie Portman at her career low. In a lab coat.

I know I did.

sexy natalie-portman-celebrity

Thunder, Contrary to Kindergarten Mythology, is Not God’s Fart

In spite of my illuminating explanations above – coupled with your homework to watch Thor – the exact physics of lightning generation are not entirely understood. Thunder, on the other hand, is and its explanation makes for a very interesting story. You may want to remember this so you can impress a future date with it…

When lightning tears out of a cloud, the air in the discharge channel heats up from ambient air temperature to a toasty 28,000°C or 50,000°F. That’s approximately five times hotter than the surface of our Sun. And all of this happens in as little as 90 microseconds. I know, right? A yawning chasm of a time denomination.

The problem is, you can’t heat anything up from 10°C to 28,000°C in this short amount of time without some kind of catastrophic consequence. So when lightning shows the ill social etiquette of doing so, the air expands violently, generating a shockwave that explodes outwards from the discharge channel. This shockwave travels faster than the speed of sound – it’s supersonic – so we can’t actually hear it. Dogs probably could, but you’ll have to ask one to be certain.

With distance from the discharge channel, this shockwave slows down and as it does it falls within our audio range. That’s when we hear thunder. I have heard that if you stand close enough to lightning you won’t actually hear it, because the shockwave is supersonic. While this makes sense in theory, human trials are pending. It also explains why, when a storm is very close, the lightning makes a sharp cracking explosive sound while, when further away, you hear the thunder as a low sexy rumble.

Lightning thunderstorm picture 5

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

More people die of lightning injuries in Florida than anywhere else in America and perhaps even the world. While I’m aware that they have an amazing water world playground at their feet, they also have the highest lightning strike density in the entirety of the United States. Perhaps y’all should bear that in mind the next time you go wind surfing in an electrical storm.

Regardless of where you live, however, if you value your life then don’t swim, don’t bath, don’t chat on a land line, don’t play golf, don’t stand under a tree and don’t go running around like Julie Andrews in a thunderstorm. Otherwise, it won’t just be music the hills are alive with.

Oh, and enjoy the show! Isn’t nature spectacular?

Lightning thunderstorm picture 3

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Today’s Sciencey LOL

funny_and_clever_science_jokes_640_08

Diamonds are forged deep in the Earth’s mantle, where conditions of immense temperature and pressure exist. This forces Carbon atoms to arrange into a different crystal lattice and the result is a girl’s best friend!

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Beards are Sexy. This is Science. Sort Of.

funny-sexy-beard-guy

Beards have been popular since our conception as a species, when our entire body was one big beard. As we evolved and became “civilised”, the amount of hair it was “cool” to have on one’s body became less and less. That is, until the 70’s when it became popular for both men AND women to sport a beard (no prizes for guessing where the women hid theirs.) Today, there is a massive resurgence in the appreciation of beards. And not pathetic attempts at sculpting a goatee, but rather big, bushy, manly beards, like King Leonidas from the movie “300” or Khal Drogo from the series “A Game of Thrones”…

Khal Drogo Game of Thrones

Source: Glamour Magazine UK 

I mean, can you actually deal? *swoon*

Today, beards are cool again and I’m kind of happy about that, because some men really do look sexy with a beard and I’m glad we’re embracing our natural state a little more. So, in honour of the beard, here’s your Daily Dose of Funny Science!

Funny beard facts

Can You Speak Whale? The Science of Whale Song

Can you speak whale

There isn’t a person on the planet that wouldn’t be able to recognize the iconic sound of the male humpback whale warbling, fluting and booming its sexy message to all the single ladies halfway across the Atlantic Ocean basin.

Whale song is unmistakable. If you haven’t been lucky enough to have heard it for yourself while scuba diving, on board a boat or doing something in the ocean, then you most certainly would have heard it played on those obnoxious commercial CD’s titled “sounds of the ocean”: the ones played on a loop in massage parlours, beauty spas and dentists’ offices. Whale song has also received its fair share of airtime in one of the best creative endeavours to have come out of Pixar Animation Studios: Finding Nemo.

Whale song has piqued the curiosity of humans for decades and for some strange reason, we seem to find it incredibly soothing, if not completely enchanting. Is it because some distant kernel of our consciousness understands or identifies with whale song? After all, whales are mammals and closer in relation to us than most of the creatures we share terra firma with. Or is it because we are simply fascinated with how effectively and beautifully they are able to communicate with each other through a great variety of distinct melodies?

Whatever the reason, we are not the only creatures on the planet to communicate by song, so remember that the next time you think you’re being original by sending your crush a mixed tape.

Why Do Whales Sing?

Beautiful humpback whale

The answer is multi-faceted, the biggest of these facets being communication and for the location of food. The ocean is a dark, murky place and while sharp eyesight may help you to better examine the various bits of krill carapace and ocean algae that float past your grapefruit-sized eyeball, it wouldn’t really serve you beyond idle intrigue. It would be a waste of biological energy for whales to have good eyesight and Mother Nature deplores waste. It’s why subterranean cave-dwelling fish don’t have eyes at all.

The book would be called 50 Shades of Black.

Smell is also not very useful, since molecules diffuse really slowly in water – way more slowly than they do in air. So, even if you could smell underwater, it would take much longer for you to realize that your brother has let rip in the pool, which can only be a good thing I suppose. Sharks, on the other hand, do have a good sense of smell, but this blog is about whales. Too bad.

And so, whales have developed a keen sense of hearing, as well as a fantastic set of pipes with which they pour their cetacean hearts out in an effort to communicate with other whales and to locate ill-fated morsels. Sound travels faster and more efficiently under water, which explains why knocking on the side of the bath with your head submerged under the water sounds like the approaching Tyrannosaurus Rex on Jurassic Park rather than a polite rapping on porcelain.

Toothed Whale and Baleen Whale Song

Beluga whale song

Whales belong to the order cetaceans, just like elephants are pachyderms, dogs are canines, cows are bovid and humans are idiots. There are two major sub-orders of whales and the two produce different kinds of sounds. They are:

  1. The odontoceti: the toothed whales, such as Sperm whales and dolphins.
  2. The mysticeti: the baleen whales, such as the Blue, Southern Right and Humpback whale.

Let’s take a closer look at these two sub-orders and the varying sound tracks they produce.

The Odontoceti or “Toothed” Whales

The odontoceti could be said to be the tone-deaf rappers of the ocean; the terrestrial equivalents of which would be Kanye West or Snoop Dogg and all those other idiots who rely on Autotune to knock out a decent melody. Instead of singing, they make a series of fast clicking sounds and high squeaks, squeals and yelps. Just like your wife does when you try to sneak it in the backdoor.

I did NOT just say that.

The high frequency clicks are used primarily for echolocation. The sound waves produced by a dolphin travel through the water at great speed – approximately four times faster than in air. They then bounce off of objects, such as the ocean floor (boring), physical obstacles (avoid), fish (food) and other dolphins (hey girl) and return to the noise-making dolphin. The keen perceptions of this dolphin will tell it vital bits of information about its quarry, such as where it is, how fast it’s traveling, how big it is and in what direction it’s trying to escape.

Echolocation diagram

“Animal echolocation” by Petteri Aimonen – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Echolocation is a fundamental tool for many creatures, including dolphins and bats, as you will see in the diagram provided above. And it’s exactly the same thing as sonar: you will be familiar with this if you’ve ever seen those action movies set on board a ship or submarine. The scene involves a sweating crew gathered around a console that glows an eerie green colour and makes a “ping-ping” sound that signifies the rapid approaching of some form of impending doom – like a giant sea creature or nuclear missile.

The odontoceti don’t only “sing” for food. They’re also fond of whistling and this is believed to be more for identification and communication with other whales or dolphins. Scrap that. It’s crucial for identification and communication. At the tender age of four or five months old, every odontoceti develops its own unique whistle – it’s very own business card – that will serve to distinguish itself from friends and family in the same pod.

This can become very important in dolphin societies, which are notorious for their sexual exploits. Sometimes, dolphins even mimic each other’s whistles as a way of acknowledging each other, kind of like a signature handshake. How absolutely adorable!

Friendly funny dolphins

The How…

Odontoceti have a structure in their heads that can be said to function very similarly to the human sinus cavity. This structure is known as “phonic lips” and toothed whales and dolphins use it to create sound by passing air through it. Just as the pitch of the sound produced by our larynx is controlled by vibrations (high frequency being high-pitched and low frequency being low-pitched), so too do the odontoceti produce sounds via vibration. These vibrations can also be controlled quite explicitly by the noise-making whale or dolphin, which explains how it is they’re able to produce distinctive patterns. Interestingly, with the exception of Sperm Whales, all odontoceti are able to produce two completely different sounds at the same time and this is because they have two sets of phonic lips.

I’ll leave the lewd joke making up to your filthy imaginations.

The Mysticeti or Baleen Whales

Whale song Humpback whale

The mysticeti, on the other hand, are the Mariah Carey’s and Celine Dion’s of the aquatic universe and while you may pretend to hate Mariah Carey and Celine Dion in company, we all know: DAMN those girls can SING! Also, “Sweet Lover” is one hell of a tune and “All I Want for Christmas” is the best Christmas song, like, ever.

The mysticeti, known also as the Baleen whales, possess the same biological instruments as us humans do, which may account for their prettier songs than the odontoceti rappers of the ocean. They have a larynx, minus the vocal chords. They also don’t have to breathe out in order to produce sound like we do. Instead, the Baleen whales recycle the same breath of air again and again in order to produce a continuous fluid song.

Friendly funny dolphins

The interesting thing about all of this is that, beyond what I have explained, we appear to understand very little about how these whales physically produce sound. All we do know is what we have observed and that is that are certain repetitions and patterns present in whale song that makes it diagnostic of certain species and even individuals. You see whale song is used very much like language and like human language and human music, whale song has different dialects, themes, phrases, verses and choruses:

“Like musical notes or words in a human song, whales use about twenty syllables which include cries, chirps and yups, uttered in patterns called ‘motifs’. Two or three motifs make up a phrase, or line, and in turn, several of these make up a theme or verse. The songs are composed of several different themes and while the basic song is continuously repeated, the individual phrases can vary considerably in length, which means that each song can last nearly an hour. It was thought that each population of humpbacks had its own song, which remained constant but recent findings suggest that the whales appreciate a catchy tune and quickly adopt any new songs they hear.

– Talking with Animals, Charlotte Uhlenbroek (British zoologist and BBC presenter)

So it would seem that the primary function of whale song in the baleen whales is communication, especially around that special time of year when the males get frisky. Whether this is to woo potential mates or tell rival males to bugger off is the subject of ongoing research. I could tell you right now that it’s probably a combination of the two. Any hot-blooded male will know that where there’s an attractive girl, there are many other dudes you’ll need to dispatch of.

Whale Song Top 40 Global Hits

dory speaking whale2

What is really cool about whale song is that all the individuals within a certain area will practically sing the same song. Like teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert, you will be hard pressed to find anyone singing a Tracy Chapman song.

Over time, however, this song slowly evolves to include new themes and these changes are picked up by all the whales in that area almost simultaneously. It’s like one long conversation and everyone is eavesdropping. How rapidly this change occurs is governed by absolutely no discernible constant. Some years, hydrophones record a fair amount of variation in whale song, while other years, one song will remain at the top of the charts for weeks and weeks on end.

Do whales sing for pleasure? While it isn’t really possible to scientifically test this notion, it is a charming thought. And wouldn’t we be arrogant to assume that we’re the only creatures that sing for aesthetic reasons? I’d like to think so. So just as we might enjoy our Top 40 global hits, so too do the Baleen whales and even the odontoceti with their constant rapping, yapping, squeaking and fin-flapping.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Whale song Grey whale

To put it eloquently, yet concisely, whale song is “probably the most complex [of all communications] in the animal kingdom,” according to Marine biologist, Philip Clapham.

Even more complex than human communication?

Considering how little we have been able to figure out about whale song, it is entirely possible. And to be honest, I absolutely love the fact that nature finds all sorts of ways to remind human beings that while we are one of the most successful species on the planet, we are not necessarily the smartest, nor are we the coolest.

Thhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeend!!

Terrifying Footage of 2011 Tsunami in Japan

On March 11th, 2011, a record-breaking 8.9-magnitude earthquake shook the very foundations of the Earth off the east coast of Japan. Only hours after the earthquake struck, a wall of water 23-feet high slammed into Japan totally devastating much of its low-lying coastal areas – urban and rural alike. Cars, homes, ships, debris, vegetation and people were violently swept away as the tsunami pounded ashore.

The Pacific rim was put on high alert, but thankfully only Hawaii seemed to feel the effects of the 2011 tsunami and even then, the damage was not major. The tsunami that hit Japan on this fateful day was recorded as being more than 7-meters high. It claimed the lives of hundreds of people and injured countless more.

Video Source: “Incredible HD Footage of Japan Tsunami” uploaded by FinalCutKing on YouTube channel https://youtu.be/J2hUwFo6Vpc

What was so spectacular to see in the aftermath of the 2011 tragedy was Japan’s incredibly swift recovery from the disaster. Authorities wasted no time in repairing the roads and infrastructure that was damaged by the tsunami and the electrical fires it caused. The rest of the world can certainly learn from Japan’s efficiency and alacrity in responding to disaster management and mitigation.