Having lived in southern Louisiana for several years during the last decade, I have watched the recent flooding with particular sadness and concern as people, neighborhoods, and towns that I know have been devastated. It’s not the first time for some of them – many were also impacted in the last few years by Hurricanes Rita, Katrina, and Gustav. When these hurricanes crashed into the coast, the damage to human lives and property was instantaneous and catastrophic. When a combination of tropical moisture and low pressure created an “inland tropical depression” in Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi a few weeks ago, most people didn’t realize that its impacts would be equally as catastrophic. Some areas recorded more than 24 inches of rain in 48 hours — more than 31 inches fell in Watson, Louisiana. The storms killed 13 people; the Coast Guard, National Guard, local emergency responders, and neighbors helped rescue more than 20,000 residents and 1,000 pets; 60,000 homes were damaged; and the Red Cross estimates that the relief effort will cost at least $30 million. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this tragedy, and I hope that the state and its people are able to recover quickly.
One thing that’s clear from this “1,000-year rainfall event” is the importance of weather predictions and earth science (or “geoscience,” as it is often referred to in congressional language). A key point that we must continue to emphasize is that we can’t improve our ability to predict weather and climate without continuing to grow in our understanding of ocean science. Energy exchanges and other physical interactions between the ocean and atmosphere are well recognized but not as well understood or modelled – they are terribly complex. As we seek to improve weather and climate prediction, ranging from daily to seasonal to decadal time scales, the importance of ocean research and ocean observations remain paramount. Good ocean data and good ocean physics are critical for accurate earth system models that will advance our understanding and our predictive capability. This, in turn, will increase our foreknowledge and preparedness regarding future catastrophic events and periods of heightened risk. To not increase ocean observations and analysis, and derivative earth system modelling, would keep us in a precarious position in the coming years in light of the changing climate. I am proud and impressed by the work toward this end by COL member institutions, as well our involvement with the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). Our changing ocean will play an ever-increasing role in our world’s future, and only through ever-increasing knowledge can we respond and adapt to those changes successfully.
I salute the many people who are helping with recovery from this horrible flooding event – they have and are continuing to work tirelessly and selflessly. We who seek to better our understanding of the ocean and earth systems that produce such events, who seek to better our ability to predict them and thus mitigate the impact, must work just as hard. We know how important it is.
RADM Jonathan W. White, USN (ret.); M.S.
President and CEO
Consortium for Ocean Leadership
In a matchup of animal superpowers, a clever form of camouflage might beat super sight—at least in the ocean. The silvery skin of fish like herring, sardines, mackerel and tuna act like mirrors, reflecting their watery surroundings to better blend in. Researchers have long assumed that some animals could see through this silvery disguise, thanks to a superpower of their own: the ability to detect a property of light—called polarization—that humans can’t see. “It’s kind of like wearing polarized sunglasses,” said Sonke Johnsen, biology professor at Duke University and the first author on a new study of how well animals see reflective camouflage in the ocean.