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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Groundhog Day 2016

CNN reports Punxsutawney Phil did not cast a shadow this morning, forecasting a short winter. In my nook of the woods the sky was solidly overcast. No chance for Phil’s comrades to see their shadow here either.

Keep in mind that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Phil’s forecast has been worse than chance for the past three decades data was analyzed. Phil would have predicted the season's end more often correctly, had he flipped a coin.

In retrospect, average global temperature broke the record again last year. Phil may even act more erratically this year under El Niño conditions as Jonah Bromwich reported in his article with the title “A Fitting End for the Hottest Year on Record” published in The New York Times Dec. 23, 2015.

CNN provided some historical background on Phil yesterday under the headline “Punxsutawney Phil: Friend or foe? A Groundhog Day investigation”.

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Addendum

This year Phil's prediction seems on the mark. We appear to enjoy an early spring. A week ago, The Washington Post divined, "We predict cherry blossoms to peak five days early in 2016; Park Service moves up forecast." In accord, our plum tree began to bloom two days ago (03/15/2016).


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fukushima Anniversary 2015

The 2011 Fukushima reactor accidents are entering their fourth anniversary today. Vast amounts of radioactivity - by some estimates greater than those released during the 1986 Tchernobyl reactor accident - have been dispersed into the environment. Hot spots of contamination keep developing in ever changing configuration.

We will keep finding concentrations of radionuclides above limits of consumption in some food samples. Almost thirty years after the Tchernobyl accident wild mushrooms, wild berries, venison and wild boar meat continue to show contamination above limits in Southern Germany where they are considered a delicatessen.

Despite continued great efforts of the government of Japan to collect hundreds of thousands of tons contaminated soil in mountains of plastic bags, about 70,000 former residents of the exclusion zone cannot return home permanently and live in temporary housing elsewhere (see Toru Hanai’s photo report with the title “Radioactive Fukushima” published on Reuters yesterday).

Real-time radiation detectors are installed in public spaces everywhere. You would not want your kids to play out in the woods or near culverts. People don't trust Fukushima food, because the health effects of the long-term exposure to low-level ionizing radiation, particularly when accumulating in the body, are ill-understood.

Meanwhile the operator of the stricken nuclear power station, TEPCO, accomplished to transfer the fuel assemblies from the spent fuel pool of one of the six damaged reactors to temporary onsite storage.

The map shows the present and planned storage of various contaminated wastes on the premises of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nucelar Power Station. It can be enlarged in a separate window (courtesy Japan Space Imaging Corp. & Digital Globe).
There has been virtually no progress in the investigation of what actually happened inside the primary containments of the three reactors that incurred fuel meltdowns. We don't know whether molten fuel exited the containments and contaminates ground water. Despite extensive onsite clean-up and storage, hundreds of tons of contaminated water are released into the ocean every day.

Aerial view of the contaminated water storage tank farm at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in 2015 (courtesy NHK WORLD).
The events at Fukushima should give us a warning. Roughly two dozen reactors of the Fukushima type are in operation in the US. Only two weeks ago, components important to safety failed at Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station near Boston, during winter storm Juno, and the station may have been only one step away from a serious accident (see Cape Downwinders’ post with the title “Coalition groups request NRC to prevent Pilgrim restart“ published online Feb. 2, 2015).

Keep in mind, the Fukushima disaster is projected to cost Japan the equivalent of two Superstorm Sandies at this time, and the molten reactors in Japan are not within 50 miles of a major metropolitan area.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Groundhog Day 2015

The media report that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning (e.g. Angela Fritz's report with the title "Groundhog Day 2015: Punxsutawney Phil sees shadow, predicts six more weeks of winter" published in the Washington Post today).

Last year, one of Phil's cousins moved into our neighborhood. I was anxious to run my own study with our resident Phil.

Alas, that low-country marmoset did not show for his appointment. So I had to plant a substitute for Phil near his burrow entrance. Had he shown, he would have clearly cast a shadow at the moment I took the photograph below.


However, our cloud cover has been mixed this morning, and the sun was breaking through when I took the picture.


Minutes earlier or later, Phil may not have seen his shadow at all.


Even seemingly simple behavioral field observations may be wrought with fundamental confounds. Phil's timing represents a critical variable which must be controlled. Regardless, I will continue this tradition, because I am curious whether Phil's predictions will approach the odds of a coin toss over the years.
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