Friday, July 25, 2008

Hurricanes & Global Connectedness

Many tropical cyclones that threaten the Atlantic coast of the U.S. originate off West Africa near the Cape Verde Islands. This year's Hurricane Bertha was a storm of this type. Once the initiating conditions are met, surface winds begins to circulate counterclockwise around a low pressure center while the system travels westward across the Atlantic. When the surface water temperature is high and the vertical sheer is low, the system develops a core with an eye, an inner wall and an outer wall. Moist hot air rises spiraling ever faster in the inner wall. The circulating winds wrap progressively tighter around the eye and intensify in strength. A hurricane is born. The hurricane's direction and the speed of its forward motion depend on large-scale steering air currents that do not affect the anatomy of the storm directly. Hence, the intrinsic properties of the water molecules suspended in the air determine the storm's anatomy and force lending it the power of self-organization, whereas extrinsic factors govern its path. This deterministic combination of intrinsic, self-organizing properties and extrinsic factors is not unique to cyclones. The networks of nerve cells in the brain are shaped similarly by a combination of the intrinsic properties of the nerve cells and experience-dependent input. I have written about the similarities in my post dated April 29, 2008.

Intriguingly, the precise conditions that trigger the formation of the Cape Verde storms are not yet understood. We only know the seed is somewhere in Africa. Hence, these storms constitute befitting examples of distant events of which we are ignorant that eventually affect us in great ways. The connectedness of seemingly unrelated happenings half a world apart can be found in numerous incidents natural and man-made. The universality of global relationships led to this poem. The poem is written in magic ink. It takes time to fully develop. Start the animation and bear with the ink.

  • National Public Radio's All Things Considered covered research examining African climate factors crucial to the evolution of Atlantic cyclones today. Listen to the podcast by Jon Hamilton entitled "African Dust Linked To Hurricane Strength" (09/05/08).

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