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6 Elaborate Plots to Prevent Tornadoes 

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Each year, the central part of America known as Tornado Alley is at the mercy of Mother Nature. Powerful twisters tear across the landscape, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. In 2013, more than 800 tornadoes were reported in the U.S., and at least 50 people were killed.

What if we could prevent tornadoes from forming altogether? Temple University physicist Rongjia Tao thinks we can. His plan comes in the form of three 1000-foot tall “great walls” built at strategic points through Tornado Alley. In a paper published in the International Journal of Modern Physics B, Tao explains that tornadoes spawn when northbound warm air meets southbound cold air to form supercells. These storms turn into tornadoes roughly 30 percent of the time. The walls, which would run east to west and be about as thick as a football field is wide, would “weaken or block such air mass clashes and therefore diminish the major tornado threat in the Tornado Alley forever,” Tao says.

Weather experts were quick to debunk the idea, but it’s not our first harebrained attempt at preventing tornadoes.

1. Giant walls around cities, 1896

A man named David Wechsler suggested that, since steel-framed buildings seem to survive tornado-strength winds, giant steel walls could be built to the west of big cities to serve as “windbreakers” that would offer “protection against the weather as old-time towns were walled against human foes."

2. Metal towers packed with explosives, 1897

For a long time, we were fascinated by the idea that we could blow tornadoes up. A French inventor called Turpin suggested the construction of a series of 120-foot tall towers topped with 200 pounds of explosives and a windmill device to measure wind strength. When the wind picked up to tornado-like speeds, the tower tops would explode and “destroy the tornado at once.”

3. Missiles, 1953

Col. Rollin H. Mayer with the American Meteorological Society suggested we build a tornado-detecting network that used radar and tracking data to warn us of an approaching storm. Reasonable enough. Then when the network spotted a tornado, “jet planes with tornado-destruction missiles would be standing by to destroy tornadoes before they destroy us.”

4. Cloud-seeding, 1958

One idea was to seed storm areas with “condensation nuclei,” or cloud seeds. These are tiny particles (usually silver iodide, potassium iodide, or dry ice) that facilitate rain and other forms of precipitation by letting water cling to them and go from vapor to liquid. Morris Tepper, a tornado expert, wrote in Scientific American that using cloud-seeding could “soften the fury” of a tornado by weakening the updrafts that feed them.

Actually, it can’t do much to prevent tornadoes, but the U.S. has attempted to use cloud-seeding to reduce the size of hailstones produced in storms. People also use it to reduce fog surrounding airports and to encourage snow near ski resorts.

5. Jet engines, 1972

An article appeared in MIT's Technology Review in 1972 suggesting we create "hot spots" to weaken tornadoes by affixing jet engines to the ground that would blow a bunch of hot air upwards. The theory was that the updraft could create clouds and maybe rain to suck energy from the storm. Minor downside: The jet engines could also accidentally create their own tornadoes.

6. Microwave-blasting satellites, 2000

A physicist in California named Bernard Eastlund has proposed launching massive solar-powered satellites into space that would spot thunderstorms and then blast them with microwaves. This would heat the storms and prevent funnel clouds from forming. “I want to snip off the energy that is feeding the formation of the tornado,” Eastlund says.

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Drought Reveals Ancient Sites in Scotland That Can Only Be Spotted From the Air
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Typically rainy Scotland is in the middle of an unusually dry summer—and local archaeologists are taking advantage of it. As the BBC reports, the drought has revealed ancient sites, including Roman camps and Iron Age graves, that have been hidden by farm soil for years.

Historic Environment Scotland has been conducting aerial surveys of the country's landscape since the 1930s, but it's in seasons like this, when the crops recede during dry weather, that the buried remains of ancient structures are easiest to spot. Conditions this summer have been the best since 1976 for documenting archaeological sites from the sky.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

The crescent-shaped crop mark in the photo above indicates a souterrain, or underground passageway, that was built in the Scottish Borders during the Iron Age. The surveyors also found remains of a Roman temporary camp, marked by straight lines in the landscape, built in modern-day Lyne—an area south of Edinburgh already known to have housed a complex of Roman camps and forts.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

In the image below you'll see four small ditches—three circles and one square—that were likely used as burial sites during the Iron Age. When crops are planted over an ancient ditch, they have more water and nutrients to feed on, which helps them grow taller and greener. Such crops are especially visible during a drought when the surrounding vegetation is sparse and brown.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

Historic Environment Scotland has a team of aerial surveyors trained to spot the clues: To date, they've discovered more than 9000 archaeological sites from the air. HSE plans to continue scoping out new areas of interest as long as the dry spell lasts.

It's not just in Scotland that long-hidden settlements are coming to light: similar aerial surveys in Wales are finding them too.

[h/t BBC]

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Heatwaves Can Affect Your Ability to Think Clearly and Make Decisions
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Dehydration and body odor aren't the only things to hate about oppressive heat. According to new research reported by The Guardian, living through a heatwave without relief hampers your ability to think quickly and clearly.

For their study, published recently in PLOS Medicine, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health tested the mental performance of 44 students during a heatwave in Boston in 2016. Roughly half the students were living in newer dorm buildings with central AC, with the other half living in older dorms without it.

Over 12 days, researchers had participants take cognition tests on their phones immediately after waking up. The students living without AC took about 13 percent longer to respond to the questions and their answers were about 13 percent less accurate.

The results indicate that even if high temperatures don't pose an immediate threat to someone's health, they can impair them in other ways. “Most of the research on the health effects of heat has been done in vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, creating the perception that the general population is not at risk from heat waves,” Jose Guillermo Cedeño-Laurent, research fellow at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Knowing what the risks are across different populations is critical considering that in many cities, such as Boston, the number of heat waves is projected to increase due to climate change.”

Summers are gradually becoming hotter and longer in Boston—a trend that can be observed throughout most of the rest of the world thanks to the rising temperatures caused by human activity. In regions with historically cold winters, like New England, many buildings, including Harvard's oldest dorms, are built to retain heat, which can extend the negative effects of a heat wave even as the weather outside starts to cool. If temperatures continue to rise, we'll have to make a greater effort to keep people cool indoors, where American adults spend 90 percent of their time.

Our thinking isn't the only thing that suffers in the stifling heat. A study published last year found that hot weather does indeed make you crankier—which may not be as bad as bombing a test, but it's not exactly not fun for the people around you.

[h/t The Guardian]

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