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Sandy, Scientifically Speaking

An exploration of the science behind Sandy, and the resultant human condition

Over a warm patch of the tranquil Caribbean Sea, ordinary oceanic cycles become unsettled.  Water molecules change phase and escape the clutch of the briny liquid below. Relative humidity spikes at the air water interface.  Convection currents form, invoked by the cooler and more unstable air aloft.  The upper and lower atmospheres become entwined and begin an aerial waltz of the grandest of scales.  Atmospheric pressure drops, significantly.  The disturbance, feasting on nearly unlimited oceanic nourishment, bulges at the belly.   

At the same time, the Earth continues to spin on its axis just as it has for billions of solar revolutions.  The weather disturbance is young, but the spinning is old hat.  Heeding its elder, the storm falls in step and begins spinning in counterclockwise motion as the planet rotates below.  Winds and clouds swirl around a central eye of low pressure.  The Coriolis Effect rules the day.       

The spinning behemoth, a white, billowy cyclops, roars along the North American tectonic plate towards a land mass rising from the sea.  The exposed planetary crust, a solid mass of oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron and other atoms molecularly joined by covalent and ionic bonds stands in the way.  The ancient terrain and the atmospheric terror are on a collision course.  The gap between the two, recently spanning several degrees of latitude, narrows rapidly.      

At last, they meet.  Seawater, rising from the reduced atmospheric pressure, is pushed along the ocean surface like dirt in front of a construction site bulldozer.  Air currents, travelling at speeds more befitting the Autobahn, send invisible molecules hurling across the land with the force and mass of a wrecking ball.  The air mass, long ago supersaturated, drops liquid water in torrents from the sky.  Hurricane, meet land.  Land, meet hurricane.

On land’s edge, coastal quartz sand is whisked away to be deposited in great inland piles.  Where hydraulic resistance is overcome, the land is breached and the bay meets the ocean.  Wind-induced perpendicular shear force produces shear strain - structures collapse.  In the presence of fuel, oxygen, and spark, combustibles combust.  In the absence of conditions necessary for life, the living die.         

Elsewhere, trees violently snap, severing trunks and exposing rings that announce their age.  The falling trees topple strands of ductile copper wire carrying the flow of electrons generated from the conversion of organic relics.  Electric current is interrupted.  Circuit boards cease, motors spin no more, filaments go dark.    

In the distance, an emergency siren wails.  Maybe a fire truck on the way to douse flames before the family photos are forever lost.  Possibly an ambulance speeding along with the gear necessary to stabilize a broken femur.  Or, could be a police cruiser carrying the jaws of life required to extract the occupants in a crumpled sedan.  To you, the stationary observer, the siren sounds high-pitched at first as the sound waves compress from your vantage point.  The Doppler effect.  Soon, the blaring siren passes and the pitch lowers as the sound waves lengthen.  You are relieved, knowing the vehicle is not stopping at your immediate location.  But, you are still concerned about the siren’s ultimate destination.   

The hurricane with the anthropomorphic name Sandy lands a solid, deadly blow.

But later, the atmospheric commotion moves on and eventually dissipates of energy.  Pressure restored, the ocean recedes to its customary equilibrium level.  The sky, which preferentially absorbs and scatters light in the visible wavelength of blue, looks familiar again. Warm and bright solar radiation reaches the ground, interrupted only by an occasional cloud of water vapor casting a shadow on the landscape.   

At this point along the fourth dimension that is time and space unified, carbonaceous life forms begin to stir through the aftermath.  Trillions of mitochondria-fueled cells patched together into a humanoid framework, multiplied by millions of frameworks, begin to use levers, inclined planes, and other simple machines to restore order to the entropy.  Water is pumped, sand is moved, dysfunctional building materials are carted away.

These human life forms, with a brain uniquely adapted for complex language, exchange stories about the storm - an abode damaged, a favorite childhood memory about a place destroyed, lamentations for lives lost.  A short time later, the language turns to ideas.  Plans are made to build anew, to restore a sense of place to the sand, silt, and bedrock below our feet   Later still, ideas and plans turn to action, and energy is spent in an effort to reverse recent time.   

Energy cannot be created or destroyed - we know that.  The energy that was Sandy was transferred to the destruction along its path.  The energy of humankind, however, powers on.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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