Tag Archives: Climate

A Lesson in Meteorology: Windward and Leeward

There are two sides to a coin. Heads or Tails. One coin, two different sides. Now shift your thoughts from a coin to a mountain or an island. Perhaps even a mountainous island. Think of the coin. Think of the island. In meteorology, the study of earth’s atmosphere, there are two sides to any island—the windward side and the leeward side.

The Windward Side

This is the colder, wetter side of an island. It is subject to consistent winds that blow cool, moist air upward. As this air is lifted, due to a decrease in atmospheric pressure, it begins to cool (scientifically called adiabatic cooling). Cooler air is not able to hold as much water vapor as warm air, so at some point the moisture in the air begins to condense and clouds form. Rain.

The Leeward Side

As condensation occurs, it releases heat into the surrounding air. This effect is called latent heat of condensation. By the time the air descends down the other side of an island (or mountain), most of its moisture has been condensed out. As the air continues to descend towards sea level, atmospheric pressure increases which causes a temperature increase. Because of all of this (scientifically called adiabatic warming), the leeward side is generally warmer and drier.

Why Does This Matter?

Climate is a significant driving factor in the creation and sustainability of ecosystems and habitats. The prevalence of rain on windward sides of islands promotes the growth of vegetation whereas the leeward side flora is acclimated to a drier climate. Catalina island is no exception to this rule. The backside of Catalina, which faces open ocean is considered the windward side. The side that faces the mainland is the leeward. Studies are being done to better understand the effect that orographic effect has on micro-habitats. The iconic kelp forest, for one.

For more reading: https://www.climate.gov/

Image Sources: https://www.britannica.com/science/rain-shadow

 

Happy International Polar Bear Day!

 

Everyone loves those cute cuddly polar bears that we see on TV commercials that look like the most harmless white puffballs. Well unfortunately, that portrayal is far from the truth. Polar bears are the largest terrestrial carnivores alive today and have some extreme adaptations to their extreme environment. Unfortunately, this extreme environment, the arctic, is losing much of its ice that is the polar bears prime hunting ground and habitat. Luckily polar bear international has installed International Polar Bear Day on February 27th so that we can all save our furry friends. 

The Basics

Like stated before Ursus maritimus, the polar bear, is the largest land carnivore alive today, males can weigh up to 1,760 pounds! These ferocious predators live all around the arctic on the annual ice near the mainland during the winter months then during summer months head to the land where they rest and wait for the ice to reform (Figure1). Polar bears mate from late March to late May and give birth from November to January about every three years. Polar bears are mostly solitary except for females with their cubs. They are almost strictly carnivorous feeding on ringed and bearded seals.

The Hunting

  1. maritimus is one of the most radical hunters on the entire planet. These extreme predators rely on the sea ice to catch their prey. Ringed seals, their preferred prey, carve breathing holes through the ice so they can catch a breathe after diving for their own hunting treks. The polar bears have adapted to recognizing these breathing holes by sniffing them out with their powerful sense of smell and waiting for the unsuspecting seal to pop up. They have to be incredibly patient and wait for hours to days before they get their meal. Another tactic is the sneak-up approach. Polar bears rely on their white coat to sneak up on the seal, freezing in place whenever the seal raises its head. Then once they are close enough, about 20 feet away, they use their explosive speed and suction cup like paws to skate on the ice and pounce on their blubbery feast.

Interesting Adaptations

Believe it or not polar bears fur is not actually white. Their fur coat is incredibly dense and each hair is pigment-free and transparent with a hollow core that reflects visible light similar to the white snow or ice. Their fur is actually so dense that adult males can quickly overheat when running on land. Under their pigment-free fur they have black skin covering a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm in water. Their paws they have suction cup like holes that prevent slippage on the ice. Their front paws are also very large and paddle like so they can swim very well! (Figure 2)

Dangers to Polar Bears

Polar bears heavily rely on sea ice to hunt during the winter months and struggle when there isn’t any ice to find and catch prey. With global climate change warming the earth more and more sea ice is disappearing creating huge difficulties to polar bears survival. This forces polar bears to swim long distances to find food essentially exhausting them and making their lives a whole lot harder

What Can You Do?!

International Polar Bear Day is designed to build awareness to our incredible furry friends. Polar Bear International is urging you to lower your thermostat to lower your carbon emissions and make less of an impact that day and into the future. To spread the word post a picture of you lowering your thermostat or cuddling up under some blankets with #PolarBearDay #ThermostatChallenge and #Hygge the Danish word for coziness! So embrace your inner polar bear and put on a dense fur coat while your lowering your thermostat to help save our wonderfully beautiful bear friends.

 

RUN, RUN, RUN! It’s Godzilla…El Nino

Anticipated as the most intense El Niño since 1997, this winter is forecasted to be cold, immensely wet, and mushy along the southwest coast, including Catalina.

So what exactly is an El Niño?

ninoEl Niño, or more formally called ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation), is a climatological phenomenon that naturally occurs every few years, altering climate patterns globally. Atmospheric and oceanic circulations become disrupted as easterly trade winds along the equatorial pacific weaken. As a result, upwelling off the coasts of Ecuador and Peru diminish leading to an inc
rease in sea surface temperature and rainfall around the eastern Pacific, and more drought conditions along the western side. During a normal non-El Niño year, the opposite occurs. Trade winds are strong, cold, nutrient-rich water from the ocean floor upwells along the eastern equatorial pacific, productivity is high, and conditions are relatively more dry.

What does this mean for the southwest and Catalina?

With an El Niño, California and the majority of the southwest typically experience cooler temperatures and more stormy conditions. Since this year has been overwhelmingly dry, the forecast for large quantities of rainfall will provide some relief towards the current drought situation.

Well if it’s not actually Godzilla, then why are we concerned?

BlobAs this years El Niño is anticipated to be the strongest on record, in conjunction with California’s current drought situation, the excessive quantity of rain is feared to cause a reaction of natural disaster events bringing devastation to the land and its surrounding environments. Increased susceptibility of flooding, along with land- and mudslides are expected, posing concerns of heightened structural damage, losses in property, and alterations within terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Looking into the life aquatic, higher than average water temperatures are, and will continue to chase away some of our natural residents and attract more of a warm-water-thriving variety of species.

As fall beings to age and winter quickly approaches, batten down the hatches, grab what you can, and run for the hills Southern California! Godzilla is coming!…. Or maybe call the Justice League???

For more recent information visit: 7 News

Written by John Cornett

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We would like to thank you for visiting our blog. Catalina Island Marine Institute is a hands-on marine science program with an emphasis on ocean exploration. Our classes and activities are designed to inspire students toward future success in their academic and personal pursuits. This blog is intended to provide you with up-to-date news and information about our camp programs, as well as current science and ocean happenings. This blog has been created by our staff who have at least a Bachelors Degree usually in marine science or related subjects. We encourage you to also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Twitter, and Vine to see even more of our interesting science and ocean information. Feel free to leave comments, questions, or share our blog with others. Please visit www.cimi.org for additional information. Happy Reading!

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