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Uploaded:2013-11-24
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Michael Aranda sits in for Hank to talk about the forces of nature that conspired to form Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone ever measured. Plus, what's neutrino astronomy? You're about to find out, because it's a thing now, and it's pretty freakin' fascinating.

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Sources:
http://www.eurekalert.org/emb_releases/2013-11/uom-eo111513.php
http://icecube.wisc.edu/
http://www.eurekalert.org/emb_releases/2013-11/uoc-sim111813.php
http://www.nature.com/news/did-climate-change-cause-typhoon-haiyan-1.14139
(Intro)

I'm Michael Aranda in for Hank Green, but you're in the right place, because this is SciShow News. Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines last week with winds as high as 310 km/hr was the strongest tropical cyclone ever measured, and it was the third typhoon to hit the Philippines in just the last twelve months, leading many to speculate about the role that our changing climate played in the formation of these storms. Well, science is here to help, and like most interesting things, the science of superstorms like Haiyan is complicated.

Let's start with a little glossary. Typhoons, cyclones, and hurricanes are all different names for the same thing: tropical cyclones, powerful rotating storms that form over tropical water. It's the location that determines what they're called. In the Atlantic, they're called hurricanes, in the South Pacific, cyclones, and in the North Pacific, typhoons. They form under a special set of conditions, perhaps the most important of which is warm ocean water. 

Now, meteorological data shows that Haiyan traveled over Pacific waters that had higher than average temperatures at its surface, but maybe more importantly, according to a global temperature monitoring project called Argo, waters off the Philippines a hundred meters below the surface were also unusually warm, a whole three degrees Celsius above average.

This is an important clue, because tropical cyclones get their energy from the evaporation of water from the ocean's surface, that's why they form over warm water in the first place, but as a cyclone stirs cooler, deeper water to the surface, that evaporation slows and helps cut the storm off. But when that deep water is unusually warm, the storm loses that off switch and just gets stronger. So, warmer waters do enable stronger cyclones, but climate change is also expected to amplify another force of nature: wind shear.

That's when wind blows in a different direction at different altitudes, which helps break up a storm before it can become too large. In addition to being warm, this year has also seen more wind shear, which actually served to delay the hurricane and typhoon season by about a month. In the case of Haiyan, the shear happened to taper off at a time when a storm system was sweeping over those warm, deep waters. This is one of those things they call "perfect storms".

Farther south in the Southern Hemisphere, physicist Greg Sullivan proclaimed this week, "The era of neutrino astronomy has begun." Which sounds exciting and would sound even more exciting if I knew what it meant. Turns out, Sullivan and his colleagues operate a new kind of futuristic looking observatory in Antarctica called IceCube, and they reported this week that it has detected, for the first time, exactly 28 particles that they say are solid evidence of high energy cosmic neutrinos hitting Earth. I know, I know, don't get too excited.

So neutrinos are elementary particles like electrons, but with no charge and almost no mass, so they can pass through and remain basically unaffected by everything, including you. We're all constantly being bombarded by them. Most of them around here form either in the sun or in our own atmosphere. But the source of these super high energy cosmic neutrinos that come from billions of light-years away is more of a mystery.

IceCube went online in 2011 with the express purpose of studying them, by watching for the only trace they leave: blue flashes known as Cherenkov Light. But neutrinos only give off this light when they pass at incredible speeds through certain substances that they can polarize, like water. So, the scientists built a light detector around more than a cubic km of Antarctic ice and called it IceCube. The team says that their observations of the 28 neutrinos can be combined with future observations to try to trace the cosmic events that created them, giving us all a better sense of the energy filled universe that we all live in.

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