Tony wrote an interesting blog entry yesterday about the National Weather Service and future government funding, and it goes with a theme I was developing yesterday for the blog, but didn’t post because of technical trouble. It is the theme of technological progress which I have written about on more than a few occasions (these are very good: The Meaning of Watson and Information as Cheap Commodity).
As this relates to the National Weather Service (NWS), first of all they will probably be one of the last government agencies to get cut because of their critical role in helping society, economy, and military keep rolling along but also because they are one of the most highly rated government agencies. Nobody likes the DMV or the IRS but nearly everyone likes the NWS.
Secondly, the NWS is probably overstaffed at the current time. Sensible funding changes would probably not diminish the service recieved from the NWS. As I have mentioned here (Information as Cheap Commmodity), weather data gathering and forecasting has become highly automated. Right now, each weather service office produces a local forecast. As a possible change, this could probably be handled by one team of meteorologists per state in one central location. Right now in Wisconsin we have local forecasts generated in La Crosse, Duluth, Minneapolis, Green Bay, and Milwaukee NWS offices. If the forecasting duties were centralized, it could save 2 or 3 positions positions per state. Since labor is the highest cost of any “business”, this could make a big impact. The local forecasters are experts in their area, but this knowledge is now highly transmissable. I would suggest that the NWS get ahead of the inevitable and dramatic future funding cuts (The U.S. government is terribly insolvent already) by studying and getting ready to implement such a plan. They could make the reductions gradually through attrittion, instead of layoffs.
As far as severe weather goes, that would still most effectively be handled locally, IMO. However, even severe weather detection and dissemination is becoming faster and more automated. During many severe thunderstorm and tornadic situations, the radar and computer that analyzes the radar data essentially make the “decision” first. There are algorythms that “alarm” when certain thresholds are reached (for hail, wind, tornadic air motions, etc..). Meteorologists then evaluate that “alarm” with other data they are armed with from spotters and knowledge of the currrent atmospheric conditions. If it all adds up, then a warning is issued. Sending the warning information out to the public is getting closer to just a single click of the computer mouse.
Technological progress and innovation cuts both ways. It certainly helps to maintain our current standard of living but it also encroaches upon and sometimes eleminates our professions.
Below are some of the positive aspects of technological progress an energy revolution (the blog entry I began working on yesterday):
It is times like these that I like to remind everyone that perception is not always reality and that things are probably not as bad they seem (Except with Fukushima, where it IS MUCH worse than it seems). With the market meltdown occurring now and numerous apocalyptic AGW warnings, you might get a bit depressed about the future. Fear not, because even though there are some negative trends, progress continues.
The economy and AGW are intertiwned and both are flashing warning signs right now. Many commentators rightly highlight the fact that most governments and big banks of the world are literally and functionally insolvent and their debt is dragging down the economy. Many climatologists would point to the recent record heat wave and become even more worried about AGW in the future (although many of the records are being assisted by the urban heat island effect). While these trends might be true, let us not forget that everyday, industrious people around the world are working hard to create a better future. New inventions allow us to squeeze more GDP out of every ounce of oil (or other fossil fuels). Workplace innovations and information technology increase worker productivity every year. More efficiency meanes more profits (even during a difficult macro environment) and a lesser effect of theoretical future warming.
So what are the latest technological breaktroughs that have flown under the radar?
How about the increasing use oof solar energy, in particular, solar thermal energy. California-based Brightsource, is developing a new solar thermal power plant design which will store heat with molten salts, allowing the power plant to produce electricity even after the sun goes down. This is not a new idea but commercialization has thus far alluded the alternative energy market.
In related solar thermal news MIT has come up with a new solar thermal design that combines the heating and storage of molten salts in one tank. This should result in more economical operation.
Also from MIT, the new flow battery they designed (that I bloged about last year) is getting closer to reality. A compact commercial version is expected within a year or two. This particular battery design could double the current range of many electric vehicles.
There have been many other battery breakthroughs and dramatic technological advancements that relate to AGW in the past week but I will have wait until tomorrow to get through them all.
Posted under Alternative Energy, Technology, Weather NEws
This post was written by jloew on August 10, 2011