Science through the lens
A long time ago in a land far, far away…
The climate suddenly changes. It’s May, and a “Great Fog” appears in the sky. During the day it blocks out the sun and acts like a blanket trapping heat near the ground. A ten-year old boy notices that temperatures spike and sunsets are a spectacular display of colors. He doesn’t know that volcanoes in the “Ring of Fire” are spewing ash into the atmosphere creating massive clouds and causing the strange weather. All he knows is that he can’t take his eyes off the sky. The boy’s name is Luke Howard. The year is 1783, and his location is the English countryside. Luke records his observations in a journal. Although he doesn’t know it yet, he is on his way to becoming the “Father of Meteorology.”
Flash forward twenty years. It’s 1803, and Luke Howard is a successful businessman. But in his spare time, ever since the summer of 1873, he’s been watching the clouds and thinking up new ideas about the weather. He writes and publishes a scientific paper and presents his ideas to a group of fellow amateur scientists. His article, “On the modification of clouds, and on the principles of their production, suspension and destruction,” classifies clouds into groups using Latin words: heaped (cumulus), layered (stratus), fibrous (cirrus), and rain (nimbus). By combining terms into names such as Cirro-cumulus, which he describes as "small, well-defined roundish masses, in close horizontal arrangement," Luke identifies many kinds of clouds.
Luke’s passion for clouds inspires him to make watercolor sketches and write a book called The Climate of London, which introduces new ideas about lightening and the causes of rain. In 1864, Luke Howard dies at the age of ninety-two, leaving behind a cloud naming system that is still used today.
A long time ago in a land far, far away, Luke Howard names the clouds—and in our imagination we see him turning to a friend and saying, “May the clouds be with you.”
To see photos of many kinds of clouds go to NOAA Sky Watcher Chart
Spidermania: Friends on the Web debunks myths about spiders and takes an extremely close look at creatures that have both fascinated and terrified humans. An introduction explains what makes spiders unique. Then ten species are highlighted with incredible electron micro-graph images and surprising facts. From diving bell spiders that live in bubbles underwater, to spitting spiders that shoot sticky streams of spit at their prey, to black widows and wolf spiders, this unusual book will intrigue readers and help cure arachnophobia. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Siy, Alexandra. "Luke Skywatcher." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Apr.
Earth has a problem. The sun creates hot spots over land, in the air and in the water. That’s why there are winds, weather, and currents in the ocean as Earth tries to even out the heat, moving warmer masses of air and water to cooler areas.
During hurricane season ( from June 1-November 30), only 10 or 11 of the 80 tropical disturbances off the west coast of Africa (where most of our hurricanes originate) become large enough storms to be given a name. Only two or three of them hit the United States. They are not frequent but they are massive wind storms that can destroy life and property.
Do they do anything good at all? As far as the Earth is concerned, these largest of all storms are a safety valve to rapidly move heat that has been accumulating in the oceans up to the stratosphere (from 7 to 31 miles above the Earth’s surface). From there it will be transported through the air to over the North Pole. It’s the way Earth stops a fever.
Once a hurricane forms, it must have an ocean surface that is at least 80°F to keep moving and to grow. Under the storm, huge amounts of warm water become water vapor. Warm moist air rapidly rises through the spinning winds of the hurricane, up to the stratosphere. When moist air reaches the frigid (-70°F) stratosphere the water vapor quickly condenses to liquid water (rain) releasing its heat. This heat makes surrounding air molecules move faster forming winds.
How do hurricanes cool off the oceans? How do they move the heat? Here’s a clue: Wet your finger and wave it in the air. How does it feel? Pretty cool, I bet! That’s because the heat from your finger changes liquid water into water vapor (a gas) as your finger dries. Water vapor molecules store this extra heat. They rise because they are lighter than other air molecules.
So, a hurricane is a heat engine that moves water vapor from the ocean’s surface high enough to condense back into liquid water and release heat safely to the stratosphere forming rivers of wind that move it to the poles.
Scientists predict that global warming will increase the number and the power of the hurricanes as the ocean surfaces become increasingly warmer during our summers.
This diagram of the anatomy of a hurricane shows the direction of the winds. The blue represents cold air descending while the pink shows warm moist air rising. The outflow surface clouds form as water condenses into a "table-top" cloud, releasing heat that becomes wind. Kelvinsong via Wikimedia
Hurricane Isabel (2003) as seen from orbit during Expedition 7 of the International Space Station. The eye, eyewall, and surrounding rainbands, all characteristics of hurricanes, are clearly visible in this view from space. Image courtesy of Mike Trenchard, Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center
Vicki Cobb's How Could We Harness a Hurricane? offers questions and provides new points of view that may just change peoples' thinking by showing young readers the work scientists and engineers are doing to avoid future disasters. The book includes hands-on experiments that make science fun, be it at home or in the classroom. Here's a link to the book' s Trailer.
How Could We Harness a Hurricane was named a 2018 Best STEM Book K-12 by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council.
Vicki is a member of iNK's Authors on Call so you can invite her to your classroom via iNK's videoconferening Zoom Room. Click here to find out more:
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "Earth's Emergency Heat Valve: The Hurricane." Nonfiction Minute,
iNK Think Tank, 24 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
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