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April 24, 2018

Forde Minutes: Which teams still have something to prove?

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (glass slippers sold separately at a mid-major conference tournament near you):

INTRODUCTIONS ARE IN ORDER

Welcome, North Florida Ospreys (1), to this thing we call the Big Dance. It’s your first visit, and we hope you have the time of your life. Even if it only lasts 40 minutes. That should be long enough for us all to figure out what an Osprey is.North Florida fans storm the court after the Ospreys' Atlantic Sun tourney win. (Credit: Twitter/@Behoff21)North Florida fans storm the court after the Ospreys’ Atlantic Sun tourney win. (Credit: Twitter/@Behoff21)

Who is next on the newcomer list? Possibly St. Francis (2) – the New York Northeast Conference member, not the St. Francis Pennsylvania Northeast Conference member – which plays in the final of that league Tuesday. The Terriers are part of the Forgotten Five – the five programs that have been part of NCAA basketball for all 76 years in which the tournament has been in existence, without ever participating.

Heading into Monday there was a chance that the Forgotten Five would be downsized to four – until, alas, William & Mary (3) was walloped by Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic Association final. The wait continues for William. And Mary.

Odds are not good for Forgotten Five member Northwestern (4), which enters the Big Ten tournament as a No. 10 seed. Historic futility seems likely to continue for at least one more year.

Forgotten Fivers Army (5), already eliminated in the Patriot League, and The Citadel (6), eliminated in the Southern Conference, definitely have to wait until next year. And probably well past that.

Just once, across 76 Marches, you’d think they would have lucked into a magic run. Even Springfield College (7), no longer a Division I school, had its shot in 1940. Springfield was nipped 48-24 by eventual champion Indiana, but at least it isn’t on the forgotten list.

LITTLE DANCE, PART II

Last week, The Minutes started previewing the conference tournaments that will help fill the bracket for the NCAA tournament. This week, we finish the job:

American Athletic (8). When: March 12-15. Where: Hartford, Conn.

Top seed: SMU.

Dark horse: Connecticut. Shabazz Napier isn’t walking through that door, but the memory of last year’s NCAA tournament is hard to shake. And there are players who had key roles on that team still in uniform. The Huskies haven’t won four straight all season, which is what it would take to win this tourney. But they have won three in a row four times, and each of those streaks featured one big win: Dayton in the first, Cincinnati in the second, Tulsa in the third and SMU in the fourth. Don’t count out the champs yet.

Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Temple. Owls are right on the brink, still trying to ride that 25-point victory over Kansas in December into the Big Dance. Two victories here may put them on the right side of the bubble – but the second one likely would have to be over regular-season champion SMU, and the Mustangs have handled Temple twice already.

Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Memphis (9). There has rarely been anything for Tigers fans to get excited about this season – 13 losses, a No. 5 seed and no shot at an NCAA at-large bid certainly don’t move the needle. It would take a lot to spin this year into a positive, but this is the last chance to do it.

Team most likely to bring fans: UConn. Tournament is in the Huskies’ backyard of Hartford, and they have a large and vocal following.

Team least likely to bring fans: Houston. Cougars can’t get many to come to their home gym, much less make the 1,700-mile trip to the northeast.Do Kevin Ollie and Ryan Boatright have another March Madness run in them? (AP)Do Kevin Ollie and Ryan Boatright have another March Madness run in them? (AP)

Coach who wins tournaments: Kevin Ollie, UConn. Has won his last six postseason games.

Coach who doesn’t: Jeff Lebo, East Carolina. This is his 17th season as a college head coach. Zero NCAA tournament bids.

Minutes pick: UConn. Huskies are the No. 6 seed, but they’ve done more improbable things within the last year, right? They’ll have a homecourt advantage and a player capable of dominating games in point guard Ryan Boatright. In a tournament that looks fairly wide open, those are reasons enough to go with the Huskies.

Atlantic-10 (10). When: March 11-15. Where: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Top seed: Davidson.

Dark horse: Rhode Island. Young Rams won 10 of their last 13 to secure a No. 3 seed and a bye into the quarterfinals. There they could meet a George Washington team going the wrong way. If they get some help from St. Bonaventure vs. Dayton in a potential quarterfinal matchup, Rhode Island could find itself in the final.

Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Richmond (11). The fourth-seeded Spiders have won their last six games to edge into contention for an at-large bid, but work remains to be done. First game in this tournament could be another battle with VCU – last one went double OT a couple weeks ago. If the Spiders can make the tourney final that may be enough, depending what happens elsewhere.

Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: VCU. The injury to defensive mix master Briante Weber has taken the steam out of the Rams, as they’ve faded from first to a tie for fourth in the league. With so much of VCU’s game predicated on pressure defense, can it still make a run – here and in the next tourney?

Team most likely to bring fans: Dayton. Flyers had an impressive turnout in Memphis last year for the NCAA South Regional, and they regularly have strong home crowds. They’ll travel to support an overachieving team that’s capable of winning this tourney.

Team least likely to bring fans: Fordham. It’s not a terribly difficult commute from the Bronx to Brooklyn, but the 9-20 Rams may not be worth the subway fare.

Coach who wins tournaments: Bob McKillop, Davidson. Won seven Southern Conference tourneys; now we’ll see if his March magic translates to the A-10.

Coach who doesn’t: John Giannini, La Salle. Nineteen seasons as a Division I head coach and he’s never won a conference tourney. That includes a 4-8 record at La Salle, with never more than one postseason win in a given season.

Minutes pick: Davidson. Wildcats are red hot, having won nine straight games – the last two by 27 and 29 points. They’re playing with great precision offensively, thriving with guard Jack Gibbs back in the lineup. Good McKillop teams are a joy to watch, and this is a good one.

Atlantic Coast (12). When: March 11-14. Where: Greensboro, N.C.

Top seed: Virginia.

Dark horse: North Carolina State. The Wolfpack have plenty of pieces, and Mark Gottfried has worked some postseason mojo in the past. But are they consistent enough to string together multiple big wins?

Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Miami. The Hurricanes are teetering right on the bubble, which makes their Wednesday game against either Wake Forest or Virginia Tech a must-win affair – and they’ve already lost to the Demon Deacons once this year. They may need another victory after that, against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.Roy Williams' Tar Heels have lost six of their last 10 games. (Getty)Roy Williams’ Tar Heels have lost six of their last 10 games. (Getty)

Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: North Carolina. Tar Heels have lost 31 games the last three seasons, and their seven ACC losses are the most since the 2010 rebuilding year after the last national championship. Being swept by Duke and under NCAA investigation adds to the unrest. This hasn’t been a happy time at Carolina.

Team most likely to bring fans: North Carolina. Greensboro is Carolina country, and the Heels need all the fan support they can get in this tourney.

Team least likely to bring fans: Syracuse (13).

Coach who wins tournaments: Rick Pitino, Louisville. Won the American tourney last year. Won the Big East tourney the two years before that. Brings a 10-game conference tournament winning streak into another new league.

Coach who doesn’t: Roy Williams, North Carolina. Last time he won this was 2008. Ol’ Roy has rarely cared about this tourney in the past, but this seems like a good time to put some effort into it.

Minutes pick: Duke. Blue Devils are 5-1 against the prime competition: Virginia, Notre Dame, Louisville and North Carolina. They haven’t lost since late January. They’re playing at a high level and have the best player in Greensboro in Jahlil Okafor. Write it down.

Big 12 (14). When: March 11-14. Where: Kansas City, Mo.

Top seed: Kansas.

Dark horse: Baylor. Fourth-seeded Bears have swept quarterfinal opponent West Virginia, and could flex their offensive rebounding muscles against a depleted Kansas in the semifinals. Wouldn’t be a shock to see them in the final.

Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Texas. Longhorns’ opening-round game against Texas Tech is non-negotiable – a win is mandatory to remain in the hunt for a bid. Depending what’s happening elsewhere, they may need to knock off Iowa State in the quarterfinals, too.

Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Kansas. With Cliff Alexander in NCAA limbo and Perry Ellis’ return from a knee sprain still uncertain, do the Jayhawks have enough interior players to win this tournament?

Team most likely to bring fans: Kansas (15). Proximity plus passion leads to a pro-Jayhawk venue.

Team least likely to bring fans: TCU. A lot of fans unplugged from the team when it moved to an off-campus arena this year while the home gym is being renovated. They’re not going to plug back in now.

Minutes pick: Iowa State. This tourney may be the biggest crapshoot in the nation, especially with Kansas’ roster in flux. Cyclones have superior firepower to anyone else, and if they can get enough stops they can repeat as champions.

Big East (16). When: March 11-14. Where: New York.

Top seed: Villanova.

Dark horse: Xavier. Musketeers split with quarterfinal opponent Butler and swept potential semifinal opponent Georgetown. Not a stretch to envision them playing Saturday night.Villanova hasn't lost since Jan. 19. (Getty)Villanova hasn’t lost since Jan. 19. (Getty)

Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: No true white-knuckle bubble teams in this league, so The Minutes will say Villanova has the most to prove in making its point for a No. 1 seed.

Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Georgetown. Actually, next week is when the Hoyas need to prove it, when they’re usually being upset in horrific fashion.

Team most likely to bring fans: Villanova. The businessmen who come to the Garden will jump on the St. John’s bandwagon if the Red Storm gets on a run, but mostly they’re just there for the beer. The Wildcats will have an actual fan following.

Team least likely to bring fans: DePaul (17). Would you pay to make that trip to see that team? No, you would not.

Coach who wins tournaments: There aren’t many. Ed Cooley of Providence won this tourney last year, and Greg McDermott won the Missouri Valley in 2012 and ’13. Prior to that, you have to go back to John Thompson III at Georgetown in 2007.

Coach who doesn’t: Jay Wright, Villanova. The last time Wright’s team played in a conference tournament final was 2001, at Hofstra. Villanova hasn’t been to the Big East final since 1997.

Minutes pick: Butler. Villanova is the top-heavy favorite for good reason, but as the above shows they don’t have a great conference tournament history. On the off chance ‘Nova gets knocked out before the final, it could open the way for the Bulldogs.

Big Sky (18). When: March 12-14. Where: Campus sites.

Top seed: Montana.

Dark horse: Northern Arizona. Lumberjacks come in having won six of their last seven games.

Minutes pick: Eastern Washington. The Eagles won in Assembly Hall early. They also won 10 of their last 13 games, with the three losses by a combined seven points. Efficient offensive team that can blister an opponent from the 3-point line.

Big Ten (19). When: March 11-15. Where: Chicago.

Top seed: Wisconsin.

Dark horse: Michigan State. The Spartans should get Branden Dawson back from a concussion by the time they play Friday. They were swept this year by potential semifinal opponent Maryland, but it’s hard to see Michigan State losing three times to the Terrapins.

Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Indiana (20). Hoosiers have four quality wins: SMU, Butler, Maryland and Ohio State. They also have just four victories in their last 12 games, and half of those are against Rutgers. With losses to Eastern Washington and Northwestern, Indiana is in a must-win situation in its first game.

Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Indiana. Hoosiers need to do something to stop the howling about their head coach. Beating Northwestern would be a start. Losing to Northwestern (again) might spark a mutiny.

Team most likely to bring fans: Wisconsin. Plenty of Badgers backers live in Chicago, and plenty more can make the short drive south.

Team least likely to bring fans: Rutgers. When the Scarlet Knights take the court Wednesday, it will be exactly two months since their last victory. The losing streak will carry over into 2015-16.Will Thad Matta's Buckeyes take the Big Ten tournament by storm again this season? (USAT)Will Thad Matta’s Buckeyes take the Big Ten tournament by storm again this season? (USAT)

Coach who wins tournaments: Thad Matta, Ohio State. He’s won four of these things, and three of the last five. Matta and Tom Izzo have divvied up the last five.

Coach who doesn’t: Mark Turgeon, Maryland. Not only has he never won a conference tourney in 15 previous seasons as a head coach, he’s never been to the finals.

Minutes pick: Wisconsin. Badgers looked locked in to end the regular season at Ohio State, and if that carries over to Chicago this tournament could be a walkover.

Big West (21). When: March 12-14. Where: Anaheim, Calif.

Top seed: UC-Davis.

Dark horse: Hawaii. Rainbow Warriors beat Pittsburgh, Colorado and Nebraska early – all on the island, of course – but it shows they can compete with quality opponents.

Minutes pick: UC-Santa Barbara. Gauchos have won eight of their last nine and earned a split with UC-Davis. Coach Bob Williams has won this league tourney a few times.

Conference USA (22). When: March 11-14. Where: Birmingham, Ala.

Top seed: Louisiana Tech.

Dark horse: UAB. Blazers didn’t finish regular season well but get the tournament in their hometown. Should catch Louisiana Tech in the semifinals, and UAB beat the Bulldogs by 20 in Birmingham last month.

Minutes pick: Old Dominion. Jeff Jones took Virginia and American to the NCAA tournament; time to add a third school to that list. Monarchs play the best defense in the league and finished the season well.

Mid-American (23). When: March 9-14. Where: Cleveland.

Top seed: Central Michigan.

Dark horse: Kent State. Eight of the Golden Flashes’ last 10 games have been decided by six points or less, and they’re 5-3 in those games. If the ball bounces right, maybe they win a few more nailbiters.

Minutes pick: Buffalo. Bobby Hurley’s team takes a six-game winning streak into this tourney and it should be eight coming out. Double-bye doesn’t hurt.

Mid-Eastern Athletic (24). When: March 9-14. Where: Norfolk, Va.

Top seed: North Carolina Central.

Dark horse: Delaware State. The last MEAC team to seriously threaten to beat the Eagles was the Hornets, who went down by a point in a wild game on the road in late January.

Minutes pick: North Carolina Central. Thirty-four straight MEAC victories and counting for LeVelle Moton’s program. One of the great runs in league history.

Mountain West (25). When: March 11-14. Where: Las Vegas.

Top seed: Boise State.

Dark horse: Colorado State. Efficient offensive team that could (and has) beat anyone in the league. Getting stops will be the challenge.

Minutes pick: Boise State (26). Broncos are an improved defensive team this season, and correspondingly could be the best team in school history. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 and swept San Diego State, both wins by double digits.

Pac-12 (27). When: March 11-14. Where: Las Vegas.

Top seed: Arizona.Sean Miller's Wildcats only lost to UNLV, Oregon State and Arizona State this season. (USAT)Sean Miller’s Wildcats only lost to UNLV, Oregon State and Arizona State this season. (USAT)

Dark horse: Arizona State. It’s been a while since the Sun Devils have done anything in this tournament, but they beat first-round opponent USC and potential quarterfinal opponent UCLA in their only meetings this year, and split with potential semifinal opponent Arizona.

Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: UCLA. Bruins have won seven of their last 10 to improve their bubble standing, but may need multiple wins in Vegas to secure a bid. A potential semifinal matchup with Arizona could be huge. Bruins have beaten the Wildcats each of the last two Pac-12 tourneys.

Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Washington (28). Huskies showed a glimmer of promise in upsetting Utah to end the regular season, but their 5-13 Pac-12 record, and 1-3 mark in the last three league tourneys, doesn’t inspire confidence.

Team most likely to bring fans: Arizona. Good basketball fans backing the best team. They’ll paint the Strip red and blue.

Team least likely to bring fans: USC. Not many basketball fans even when the team is good. And at 11-19, this team is not good.

Coach who wins tournaments: Dana Altman, Oregon. Won six Missouri Valley Conference tournaments at Creighton, and a Pac-12 title in 2013 as a No. 3 seed.

Coach who doesn’t: Herb Sendek, Arizona State, and Sean Miller, Arizona. Sendek is 3-8 in the Pac-12 tourney and has lost five of his last six. Miller, despite having the best program in the league for years, has never won the tourney title.

Minutes pick: Arizona. Wildcats somehow have avoided winning this thing since 2002. That mystifying drought will end this week.

Southeastern (29). When: March 11-15. Where: Nashville.

Top seed: Kentucky.

Dark horse: Vanderbilt. Young team with some firepower has pieced it together over the last month, winning eight of its last 10.

Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Texas A&M. Losses in the last week to Florida and Alabama have put the Aggies in jeopardy of missing the tournament.

Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Arkansas. Razorbacks have lost their first SEC tournament game each of the last six years.

Team most likely to bring fans: Kentucky (30). They’ll have 80 percent of the fans in Nashville. At least.

Team least likely to bring fans: Missouri. They don’t go to the home games, so don’t expect many to show up in Nashville to watch the school’s worst team in nearly half a century play out the string.

Coach who wins tournaments: Billy Donovan, Florida. Has won this four times overall, but only once (last year) since 2007. John Calipari hasn’t won it since 2011.The big question: Will Kentucky stay perfect? (AP)The big question: Will Kentucky stay perfect? (AP)

Coach who doesn’t: Anybody at Tennessee. Volunteers last won the SEC tourney in 1979.

Minutes pick: Um, Kentucky?

Southland (31). When: March 11-14. Where: Katy, Texas.

Top seed: Stephen F. Austin.

Dark horse: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Islanders are 1-1 this year against the two teams that have dominated the league, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State.

Minutes pick: Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks are 86-12 over the past three seasons, dominating the league. Last year they were 20-0 through the conference tournament, and this year would be 19-1 with two wins in Katy this week. SFA won a game in the NCAAs last year and is capable of doing it again.

Southwestern Athletic (32). When: March 10-14. Where: Houston.

Top seed: Texas Southern.

Dark horse: Prairie View. The Panthers have won eight of their last nine, and split the season series with Texas Southern in a pair of close games.

Minutes pick: Prairie View. Last year Texas Southern won the rubber match in the SWAC tournament to earn the league’s bid. This year the rubber match goes the other way.

Sun Belt (33). When: March 12-15. Where: New Orleans.

Top seed: Georgia State.

Dark horse: Louisiana Lafayette. Closed regular season on a six-game winning streak, and if the basketball team performs in the Big Easy as well as the football team does each New Orleans Bowl, there could be another Ragin’ Cajuns party in the French Quarter.

Minutes pick: Georgia State. Last year the Panthers dominated the league but were shocked by one point by Louisiana Lafayette in the tourney. This year the separation from the rest of the league is smaller, but Georgia State once again is a solid favorite.

Western Athletic (34). When: March 11-14. Where: Las Vegas.

Top seed: New Mexico State.

Dark horse: Seattle. The only WAC team to beat New Mexico State this season.

Minutes pick: New Mexico State. The Aggies are No. 93 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. Nobody else in the league is in the top 250. In other words, it would be a colossal shock if anyone else won this tourney.

AND THE LEAGUE THAT HAS NO TOURNAMENT …

… But does have a one-game playoff Saturday at the storied Palestra to decide its NCAA representative: the Ivy League (35). This should be good: Yale vs. Harvard, a pair of No. 1 seeds academically who split their two meetings during the regular season. The Bulldogs all but had their first NCAA bid since 1962 locked up before Dartmouth’s Gabas Maldunas beat the buzzer Saturday. Now Yale has to beat preseason favorite and defending Ivy champion Harvard for the second time in eight days to advance to the Dance.

UNDER THE RADAR LOVE

Demarcus Daniels (36), North Florida. He’s a junior who has started just one of the 93 games he’s played in college. Sunday he picked an ideal time to score a career-high 22 points – 35 percent of his team’s total – in leading the Ospreys past USC Upstate and into the NCAA tournament for the first time.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Rick Byrd (37), Belmont. Earlier this year, Byrd won his 700th career game. Saturday, Byrd guided the Bruins to their seventh NCAA appearance, shocking heavy favorite Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference championship game by a point on a late 3-pointer by Taylor Barnette. The night before, Belmont beat Eastern Kentucky by a point. With only one senior starter, this Belmont team is a year (or two) ahead of schedule.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORKIs it time for Jim Boeheim to part ways with Syracuse? (AP)Is it time for Jim Boeheim to part ways with Syracuse? (AP)

Jim Boeheim (38), Syracuse. No-showing the postgame press conference at North Carolina State the day after his program was hit with major NCAA sanctions made this a rather easy call.

BUZZER BEATER

When hungry and thirsty in Columbus – as many college basketball fans will be next week, when that city plays host as one of the NCAA sites – The Minutes heartily recommends a visit to Tip Top Kitchen & Cocktails (39). The pot roast sandwich – with swiss and mustard on a pretzel roll – is so good that Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton assuredly would approve (and eat six). Accompany it with a Bell’s Hopslam (40) – in a 10-ounce glass, because the ABV is serious – and thank The Minutes later. (Special commendation to the heroic Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated for the original tip.)

Continue at source:  

Forde Minutes: Which teams still have something to prove?

Greenland's Ice-Melt Models May Be Too Sunny

The vast ice sheet covering Greenland could melt more quickly in the future than existing models predict, new research suggests.

Scientists looked at satellite data collected by NASA’s ICESat spacecraft and Operation IceBridge and plotted the elevation of 100,000 sites on Greenland from 1993 to 2012.

The researchers were able to create new, more precise estimates for how much ice had melted in the past. They also found that the ice melts in a rather complex pattern, which should be of interest to scientists trying to predict how much ice will disappear in the future. [Images: Greenland’s Gorgeous Glaciers]

More than a mile thick in most areas, the Greenland Ice Sheet covers nearly all of interior Greenland, an Arctic island about three times the size of Texas. If the entire ice sheet melted, sea levels around the world would rise about 20 feet (6 meters), according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Though such a catastrophic scenario isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, smaller increases in sea level could still boost the power of coastal storms, threaten to flood major cities and displace millions of people. During the 20th century, sea levels rose by about 6.7 inches (17 centimeters). According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the current scientific consensus is that sea levels could creep up by 11 inches to 38 inches (28 to 98 cm) by 2100, in part because of melting in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. 

The new research found that an average of 243 gigatons (or 66.5 cubic miles) of the Greenland Ice Sheet melted each year from 2003 to 2009. (The scientists had the most comprehensive data for this period.) That’s enough meltwater to raise oceans by about 0.027 inches (0.68 millimeters) per year, the researchers said.

The study didn’t make any exact predictions for how much of Greenland’s ice may melt in the future, but the authors think that current models underestimate the extent of the problem.  

“My personal opinion is that most of the predictions of this as far as Greenland is concerned are too low,” study author Beata Csatho, an associate professor of geology at the University at Buffalo, said in a video statement.

Existing models for predicting changes in ice-sheet melt and sea-level rise are typically extrapolated from data on just four of Greenland’s 242 glaciers: Jakobshavn, Helheim, Kangerlussuaq and Petermann. That’s a problem, according to the study’s authors, because glaciers — even ones right next to each other — can behave quite differently in any given year. Today’s models also tend to ignore southeast Greenland’s ice cover, which is experiencing heavy losses, the researchers found. In 2005, melting in this region accounted for more than half of the losses to the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Csatho and her colleagues say it’s not easy to predict how glaciers will respond to global warming, because they don’t always melt as the temperature rises. Their data showed that sometimes the glaciers covering Greenland thickened when the temperature rose, while some areas both thinned and thickened, with abrupt reversals.

To help other researchers create better prediction models, the scientists put all of Greenland’s glaciers into seven groups, based on the characteristics of their melting behavior from 2003 to 2009.

“Understanding the groupings will help us pick out examples of glaciers that are representative of the whole,” Csatho said in a statement. “We can then use data from these representative glaciers in models to provide a more complete picture of what is happening.”

The findings were published Monday (Dec. 15) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter. Follow us @livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Greenland's Ice-Melt Models May Be Too Sunny

Special Report: Why metro Houston fears the next big storm

By Duff Wilson, Ryan McNeill and Deborah J. Nelson

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) – When Hurricane Ike hit this city on the Gulf of Mexico, William Merrell found himself trapped in a second-floor apartment as storm waters coursed eight feet deep through the floor below. “I had time to think,” said the professor and chair of marine sciences at Texas A&M University Galveston.

One thing he thought about was the Dutch Delta Works, a vast coastal protection system he had seen several years earlier on a trip to the Netherlands.

That led to his big idea: build a 60-mile-long, 17-foot-tall dike that would guard against the next hurricane that hits the long, thin barrier island on which Galveston sits. Like its Dutch inspiration, his idea included massive gates that would swing shut as a storm approached, blocking the 1.7-mile-wide entrance to Galveston Bay. The gate would protect low-lying parts of metro Houston, home to hundreds of thousands of people and an oil and petrochemicals complex essential to the U.S. economy.

Ike hammered Galveston and its 57,000 inhabitants, funneling a surge of water around an existing seawall and into the bay. Eighty percent of Galveston’s homes were damaged or destroyed, including Merrell’s apartment building. The hurricane killed 112 people in the U.S., including 36 in the Houston-Galveston area alone, and caused nearly $30 billion in damage.

The toll left little doubt that something was needed to defend residents and the U.S. economy against the next big storm. “It’s a national security issue,” said Bob Mitchell, president of the nonprofit Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.

Six years on, Galveston and Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, are as vulnerable as when Ike hit. No major projects are under way to fend off surging seas.

Instead, Merrell’s “Ike dike” remains the leading proposal for coastal defense. Nineteen cities and towns lining Galveston Bay back it, but with an estimated cost of $6 billion, the Ike dike is far from a done deal. It has no big money behind it.

For the Ike Dike to evolve beyond wishful thinking, Texas would have to get funding from Congress and support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the go-to federal agency for coastal protection.

But the corps has been sidelined by new spending limits, and Texas’s advocates in Congress have been silent. Major local powers – the city of Houston and the oil and petrochemicals industries – have yet to weigh in on Merrell’s plan or a competing idea pushed by Rice University.

“It’s absurd it’s been so slow,” Merrell said.

POLICY VACUUM

The paralysis in Texas reflects a troubling truth: The United States lacks a unified national response to the threat posed by rising sea levels. The policy vacuum leaves vulnerable communities to come up with their own self-defense plans and then hope to snag federal dollars before the next big storm.

“Without some sort of national perspective on this, it pits parts of the country against each other … And Houston is stuck right in the middle of it,” said Richard Luettich Jr, a marine scientist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and chairman of a National Research Council panel on coastal risk. The panel in July said U.S. government agencies have “no central leadership or unified vision” on reducing coastal risk – a failure that extends even to towns that are literally washing into the sea.

As previous articles in this series showed, the threat of rising seas is not an alarmist prediction. It is already a reality, resulting in increased tidal flooding and worsening storm damage along much of the U.S. coast. And even as the water has risen, subsidies for flood insurance, utilities and disaster bailouts are encouraging development along some the nation’s most at-risk shores.

For places like the Texas Gulf coast, which on average gets slammed with a major hurricane every 15 years, higher waters mean a storm today will tend to be much more dangerous than one of equivalent strength several decades ago.

“Sea level is not going to kill you today,” said Larry Atkinson, a professor at the Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. “It’s the storm surge that comes on top of the sea level rise.”

The probability of a flood in New York like the one that accompanied Hurricane Sandy in 2012, while still low, has increased about 50 percent since 1950, and tripled for parts of the New Jersey shoreline, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a September 2013 report.

That adds up to a lot of people and property at increasing risk.

At least $1.4 trillion worth of property – homes and businesses – sits within about one-eighth of a mile of the U.S. coastline. That number comes from a Reuters analysis of data provided by RealtyTrac. Incomplete data for some areas means the actual total is probably much higher.

More than 40 counties have coastal property worth $10 billion or more, the analysis found. In Miami-Dade County alone, about $94 billion worth of property lies along tidal waters.

Despite so much at stake, Washington shies away from large-scale action to defend the coast. Instead, it focuses on holding the line with smaller, temporary measures – dumping sand on eroded beaches, or building seawalls, breakwaters and berms to protect scattered sections of populated shoreline.

The price of these piecemeal measures is high: New seawalls average $36 million per mile, and a new levee is $10 million per mile, according to a 2010 study by Old Dominion. That doesn’t include maintenance.

But failure to act carries a high cost, too. In Galveston County, nearly 70 percent of businesses and 75 percent of jobs are in hurricane flood zones, according to a Reuters analysis of data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The picture is similar in other parts of the country: In Norfolk, 76 percent of jobs are in hurricane flood zones. In Charleston, South Carolina, it’s a little more than half.

The federal government has typically waited to take major preventive action until after a disaster, when public awareness provides political impetus.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, emergency congressional action gave Louisiana $14.5 billion to build a comprehensive system of levees, dikes and floodwalls to safeguard the New Orleans area. This year, the levee system was accredited as safe enough to allow residents to get cheaper flood insurance.

Similar moves after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 provided much of the $20 billion New York City needs over the next decade to build 250 projects to protect against storm surges.

Many other cities with tens of billions of dollars in assets at risk have no recent storm to point to. They remain vulnerable. Norfolk’s mayor says his city needs a billion dollars for flood gates, raised roads and storm water improvements to protect its shoreline.

THAT OTHER DISASTER

Ike was the third most destructive storm in U.S. history after Katrina and Sandy. It would seem to have justified action on behalf of metro Houston.

But two days after Ike hit, investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, triggering a global financial crisis that quickly overshadowed Texas’s natural disaster. The state didn’t ask for any money for prevention, just for relief to clean up the mess. Galveston was represented in Congress at the time by libertarian Republican Ron Paul, who voted against any Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster aid anywhere. Paul declined to comment.

“All the coverage Katrina got and Sandy got, Ike just didn’t get,” Merrell said. Now, years later, “it’s hard to get someone’s attention when there’s not a hurricane.”

Most of the post-Ike disaster relief FEMA gave Texas has been spent to rebuild in the same places, as required by federal law. The agency is also offering subsidized flood insurance, another incentive to rebuild in harm’s way. Last year, Houston and Galveston officials and homeowners joined a nationwide rally to prod Congress to maintain below-market rates on flood insurance.

Galveston, like many cities along the nation’s imperiled shores, continues to encourage development. Over the past two years, the Galveston planning commission approved 81 of 85 applications to build even closer to the beach than normally permitted by state law, records show. New development is rising along the disappearing shore. Many of the expensive homes are perched on stilts.

Galveston and hurricanes have long shared a singular notoriety. On Sept. 8, 1900, an unnamed hurricane nearly wiped the city off the map, killing more than 6,000 people. To this day, it remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Within a couple of years, construction was under way on a seawall to protect the city at the northeastern end of the island. It now stands 17 feet high. Originally about three miles long, it was extended over the ensuing decades to its current 10-mile length.

But Galveston Island is nearly three times longer than that. Most of its Gulf-facing shore remains exposed. Ike’s storm surge didn’t top the existing seawall, but it did go around it. A 20-foot-high surge shot into the bay, wreaking havoc.

Even without storms, rising seas are chewing away at the island’s unprotected beaches at a rate of two to 11 feet a year. The tide gauge at the city’s Pier 21 has shown a rise in relative sea level of 25 inches since 1908 – the largest increase over the past century at any of the scores of gauges monitored by NOAA.

About one-third of that rise was from oceans rising globally as water warms and polar ice melts. The remaining two-thirds resulted from land sinking due to subsidence, which happens when the removal of underground water, oil and gas causes the land to pancake.

Galveston Island is far from the only thing at stake. Between it and the mainland is Galveston Bay, connected to Houston by the 50-mile Houston Ship Channel, home to one of the world’s busiest ports. The entire area, once marshy wetlands, is lined with suburbs and at least $100 billion in oil refineries, chemical plants and related infrastructure. Metro Houston accounts for about 26 percent of U.S. gasoline production, 42 percent of base chemicals production, and 60 percent of jet fuel output.

A 25-foot storm surge pushing into the bay and up the ship channel would cause “economic catastrophe” to the nation and poison the bay in “the worst environmental disaster in United States history,” according to Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters Center. The Ike surge was just shy of that scenario.

“We do think we have a strong case for [protecting] a national strategic asset,” said Robert Eckels, a Houston lawyer, businessman and former chief executive of the Harris County government. Eckels was appointed a month after Ike to chair the Governor’s Commission for Disaster Recovery and Renewal.

A RIVAL APPEARS

The commission first heard Merrell’s pitch four months after Ike. Members liked what they heard and recommended a feasibility study. In early 2010, the commission created a six-county “recovery district,” a non-profit also headed by Eckels, to look at ways to protect metro Houston. It promptly ran out of money: The $4 million for the study got tangled in a legal dispute over funding for rebuilding public housing in Galveston.

For the next three years, the recovery district was dormant.

Meanwhile, Rice University’s Sspeed Center in Houston had come up with a rival plan – and it didn’t include a wall along the gulf.

Instead, the Rice team proposed building what it called the Centennial Gate farther inland, at the entrance to the Houston Ship Channel. The gate’s two metal walls would swing shut to block any storm surge threatening the area. The cost, about $1.5 billion, could be at least partly covered by bond issues backed by taxpayers or industry, the Rice team said.

Merrell rejected the Rice plan as “a waste of money.” Any effective protection for the entire area would, like the Dutch Delta Works, have to armor the outermost shore, not the inner bay, he said.

Jim Blackburn, a professor of environmental law at Rice’s engineering school, helped develop the Sspeed Center’s plan. He criticized the Ike dike for protecting shoreline that should be left in its natural state. “Perhaps the coast should just be a place to visit,” Blackburn told reporters in 2009.

Galveston Bay has lost a third of its wetlands to development since the 1950s, removing a natural buffer against flooding and storm surge. The Rice plan would set aside about 225,000 acres of low-lying land and undeveloped coast around the bay to reduce storm risk. This proposed national recreation area would also draw in birdwatchers, kayakers and other tourists. “A no-brainer,” Blackburn said.

But communities around Galveston Bay hit hard at the Rice plan for leaving them unprotected outside the Centennial Gate.

“Collateral damage,” is how a LaPorte City Council resolution described their city’s fate under the plan. A blogger complained: “They have already drawn us off the damn maps.”

Past attempts to protect vulnerable shores have run into the same problem.

The new levees around New Orleans don’t protect towns just to the north, south and west. Residents of LaPlace, a town of 32,000 people northwest of New Orleans, blamed the improved levees protecting their neighbors for their own unprecedented flooding by Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

A centerpiece of New York’s plan – 10 miles of berms and floodwalls forming a “Big U” around lower Manhattan – would safeguard Wall Street. But some people complain it would push more water onto New Jersey, Brooklyn and Queens shores.

Merrell’s Ike dike plan elicited similar complaints. Initially, he suggested that the dike simply trace a path from the end of the existing seawall along a highway that weaves beside the shoreline to the southwestern tip of the island. The highway would be raised atop the new wall.

But the strip of land that would lie between highway and beach contains $810 million in real estate, 11.2 percent of the island’s total, according to the county appraisal office. And if it were left outside the Ike dike, it could be washed away.

“If it’s on the highway side, it’s going to leave us underwater,” said Tom Booth, a retiree who lives with his wife in a condominium between the highway and the breezy shore where pelicans patrol the sky.

PLUGGING AWAY

As a solution, Merrell would build the wall right along the beach and cover it with sand and salt-resistant plants to emulate a dune line. That revision still raised issues of cost, lost views and restricted beach access, among other things.

Merrell continued to refine and tout the Ike dike plan. He talked frequently with engineers he met through connections at Delft University of Technology, which helped design the Dutch Delta Works. In September 2012, he helped lead a group of two dozen Texas business people, academics and engineers on a tour of the Netherlands’ flood and erosion projects. Many of these were started after the North Sea flood of 1953 killed nearly 2,000 people.

For now, his Ike dike idea and the competing Rice concept are staying alive on local grants – $4 million here, $3 million there. Area politicians have been pressing the two camps to unite. And recently, the Rice team modified its plan so that it resembles something very close to the Ike dike: In addition to the gate on the Houston Ship Channel, it now has sea gates and raised highways along the Gulf shore, eliminating the major objection that it left too many communities exposed.

But with no agreed-upon proposal to evaluate, the all-important Army Corps of Engineers has remained out of the picture. Sharon Tirpak, the corps’ project manager for a Texas coastal flooding study, stopped looking at Galveston Bay earlier this year after Congress imposed a three-year, $3 million limit on feasibility studies. Those caps are too strict to allow for the large studies required for the type of big fix metro Houston needs.

Only a congressional waiver can get around those limits, and as Tirpak told the Galveston City Council in April: “The political support, you don’t have it in Texas.”

She had a point.

Governor Rick Perry hasn’t commented publicly on the Ike Dike or any other storm protection plan. The state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, are noncommittal, as is the U.S. congressman who replaced Ron Paul.

The oil and petrochemical industries, whose multibillion-dollar facilities would be protected by both competing plans, is in a delicate position: Texas leads the nation in emitting greenhouse gases, which are at the heart of the debate over human-induced climate change and thus rising sea levels. The industry’s powerful lobby said it is still evaluating the rival proposals.

(Edited by John Blanton)

Continue reading:  

Special Report: Why metro Houston fears the next big storm

Asteroid Science: How 'Armageddon' Got It Wrong

WAIMEA, Hawaii — In the 1998 movie “Armageddon,” an asteroid the size of Texas threatens to collide with Earth in 18 days. To save the planet from destruction, a ragtag team of deep-sea oil drillers volunteers to divert the massive space rock by burying a nuclear bomb beneath its surface and blasting it into two pieces that will fly past Earth.

But despite its entertainment value, the film is fantastically inaccurate, said astronomer Phil Plait, who writes the “Bad Astronomy” blog on Slate.com.

“Don’t go to Hollywood for advice on how to deal with an asteroid,” Plait told a small but packed audience here Saturday (Sept. 13) at HawaiiCon, a science, sci-fi and fantasy convention on the Island of Hawaii. The three-day convention featured talks and events with celebrities from popular sci-fi TV series, as well as experts on space and astronomy. [Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth]

During his talk, Plait showed a clip from “Armageddon” in which Bruce Willis’ character struggles to detonate the bomb, by hand, before the asteroid smacks into Earth and destroys all life.

“There are more mistakes in that clip than video frames,” Plait said. In order to blow up an asteroid the size of the one in the film, the bomb would have to explode with the same amount of energy as that produced by the sun, he said.

Even if you could make such a weapon, “it would be way more dangerous than the asteroid itself.” What’s more, now you don’t just have an asteroid — you have a radioactive asteroid, he said.

But while real-life science in “Armageddon” fails miserably, you can find much more accurate science in the similarly plotted film “Deep Impact,” also released in 1998, Plait said. In that movie, a teenage amateur astronomer discovers a 7-mile-wide (11 kilometers) comet on a path that will smash into Earth in two years.

As in “Armageddon,” humanity sends a team of people to the space rock to destroy it with a nuclear weapon, but this time, the blast needed is much smaller, and the fragments produced by the explosion still end up heading for Earth. One of the pieces plunges into the Atlantic Ocean, generating a mega tsunami that floods Manhattan and many major coastlines, a scenario that is actually pretty accurate, Plait said.

But even “Deep Impact” gets some things wrong. The asteroid mission sends a spaceship to blow up the other comet chunk, producing fragments that burn up harmlessly in Earth’s atmosphere instead of causing deadly impacts — not a very likely scenario, Plait said.

In real life, asteroids and comets that could hit Earth — so-called “near-Earth objects” — do pose a threat to life on the planet.

Fortunately, NASA and other organizations, such as the B612 Foundation based in Menlo Park, California, monitor the skies for these threats. Unfortunately, not all of the dangers are detectable. In fact, scientists sometimes only discover some of these nearby space rocks after the objects have already swung by and missed the planet.

Bigger telescopes are needed to detect more of these unwelcome visitors, and the earlier they can be detected, the easier it will be to deflect them, Plait said.

Editor’s Note: This story was generated during a trip paid for by the Hawaii Tourism Bureau.

Follow Tanya Lewis on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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Asteroid Science: How 'Armageddon' Got It Wrong