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NOAA

A Rare East Coast Tsunami

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NOAA

The derecho (fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms) that clobbered the Northeast on June 13 was nothing terribly special by National Weather Service standards; meteorologists classified it as “low-end.” But the storm’s aftereffects—kicking up six-foot waves in more than 30 tidal gauges along the East Coast—spurred a more elusive natural phenomenon: a tsunami.

Well, maybe not exactly a tsunami. Paul Whitmore, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center For Tsunami Research, explained that the wave was probably just a “meteotsunami”—caused by meteorological conditions, not seismic activity. The derecho system that moved through the Northeast might have changed the air pressure just enough to “generate waves that act like tsunamis,” Whitmore said.

The tsunami’s cause is still under review: the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center says it could be anything from the strong storm to the continental shelf east of New Jersey slumping. Typically in tsunamis, water moves out to sea and rapidly rushes back in, but water speeds reported in Rhode Island indicated something other than a storm surge.

The tsunami (for now) wave peaked at just under a foot above sea level at a tide gauge in Newport, Rhode Island, and NOAA tracked the tsunami signal from Massachussets down to North Carolina; reports came in from as far as Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. An eyewitness account from a spear fisherman on the Jersey Shore, Brian Coen, noted an approximately 6-foot wave exposing rocks that were typically submerged in three or four feet of water.

True tsunamis, Japanese for “harbor wave,” are generated by sudden shifts in the seafloor, landslides, or volcanic activity. The last significant meteotsunamis to hit the East Coast occurred in 1992 in Daytona Beach, Florida and 2008 in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. There’s dispute whether an East Coast derecho at the end of June in 2012 stirred up a meteotsunami in the Chesapeake Bay—waves reportedly only reached 40 centimeters.

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Google's AI Can Make Its Own AI Now
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iStock

Artificial intelligence is advanced enough to do some pretty complicated things: read lips, mimic sounds, analyze photographs of food, and even design beer. Unfortunately, even people who have plenty of coding knowledge might not know how to create the kind of algorithm that can perform these tasks. Google wants to bring the ability to harness artificial intelligence to more people, though, and according to WIRED, it's doing that by teaching machine-learning software to make more machine-learning software.

The project is called AutoML, and it's designed to come up with better machine-learning software than humans can. As algorithms become more important in scientific research, healthcare, and other fields outside the direct scope of robotics and math, the number of people who could benefit from using AI has outstripped the number of people who actually know how to set up a useful machine-learning program. Though computers can do a lot, according to Google, human experts are still needed to do things like preprocess the data, set parameters, and analyze the results. These are tasks that even developers may not have experience in.

The idea behind AutoML is that people who aren't hyper-specialists in the machine-learning field will be able to use AutoML to create their own machine-learning algorithms, without having to do as much legwork. It can also limit the amount of menial labor developers have to do, since the software can do the work of training the resulting neural networks, which often involves a lot of trial and error, as WIRED writes.

Aside from giving robots the ability to turn around and make new robots—somewhere, a novelist is plotting out a dystopian sci-fi story around that idea—it could make machine learning more accessible for people who don't work at Google, too. Companies and academic researchers are already trying to deploy AI to calculate calories based on food photos, find the best way to teach kids, and identify health risks in medical patients. Making it easier to create sophisticated machine-learning programs could lead to even more uses.

[h/t WIRED]

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Land Cover CCI, ESA
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European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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