Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Wind


Wind turbines continuously remove kinetic energy from the lower troposphere, thereby reducing the wind speed near hub height. The rate of electricity generation in large wind farms containing multiple wind arrays is, therefore, constrained by the rate of kinetic energy replenishment from the atmosphere above. In recent years, a growing body of research argues that the rate of generated power is limited to around 1.5 W m(-2) within large wind farms. However, in this study, we show that considerably higher power generation rates may be sustainable over some open ocean areas. In particular, the North Atlantic is identified as a region where the downward transport of kinetic energy may sustain extraction rates of 6 W m(-2) and above over large areas in the annual mean. Furthermore, our results indicate that the surface heat flux from the oceans to the atmosphere may play an important role in creating regions where sustained high rates of downward transport of kinetic energy and thus, high rates of kinetic energy extraction may be geophysical possible. While no commercial-scale deep water wind farms yet exist, our results suggest that such technologies, if they became technically and economically feasible, could potentially provide civilization-scale power.

Concepts: Energy, Water, Atlantic Ocean, Ocean, Wind, Wind power, Wind farm, Wind turbine


We present a systematic and quantitative model of huddling penguins. In this mathematical model, each individual penguin in the huddle seeks only to reduce its own heat loss. Consequently, penguins on the boundary of the huddle that are most exposed to the wind move downwind to more sheltered locations along the boundary. In contrast, penguins in the interior of the huddle neither have the space to move nor experience a significant heat loss, and they therefore remain stationary. Through these individual movements, the entire huddle experiences a robust cumulative effect that we identify, describe, and quantify. This mathematical model requires a calculation of the wind flowing around the huddle and of the resulting temperature distribution. Both of these must be recomputed each time an individual penguin moves since the huddle shape changes. Using our simulation results, we find that the key parameters affecting the huddle dynamics are the number of penguins in the huddle, the wind strength, and the amount of uncertainty in the movement of the penguins. Moreover, we find that the lone assumption of individual penguins minimizing their own heat loss results in all penguins having approximately equal access to the warmth of the huddle.

Concepts: Mathematics, Physics, Temperature, Thermodynamics, Heat, Heat transfer, Penguin, Wind


Several studies have analyzed the effects of weather on factors associated with weight loss. In this study, we directly analyzed the effect of weather on intentional weight loss using global-scale data provided by smartphone applications. Through Weather Underground API and the Noom Coach application, we extracted information on weather and body weight for each user located in each of several geographic areas on all login days. We identified meteorological information (pressure, precipitation, wind speed, dew point, and temperature) and self-monitored body weight data simultaneously. A linear mixed-effects model was performed analyzing 3274 subjects. Subjects in North America had higher initial BMIs than those of subjects in Eastern Asia. During the study period, most subjects who used the smartphone application experienced weight loss in a significant way (80.39%, p-value < 0.001). Subjects who infrequently recorded information about dinner had smaller variations than those of other subjects (βfreq.users dinner*time = 0.007, p-value < 0.001). Colder temperature, lower dew point, and higher values for wind speed and precipitation were significantly associated with weight loss. In conclusion, we found a direct and independent impact of meteorological conditions on intentional weight loss efforts on a global scale (not only on a local level).

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Humidity, Meteorology, North America, Wind, Monsoon, Fog


The engraved trails of rocks on the nearly flat, dry mud surface of Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, have excited speculation about the movement mechanism since the 1940s. Rock movement has been variously attributed to high winds, liquid water, ice, or ice flotation, but has not been previously observed in action. We recorded the first direct scientific observation of rock movements using GPS-instrumented rocks and photography, in conjunction with a weather station and time-lapse cameras. The largest observed rock movement involved >60 rocks on December 20, 2013 and some instrumented rocks moved up to 224 m between December 2013 and January 2014 in multiple move events. In contrast with previous hypotheses of powerful winds or thick ice floating rocks off the playa surface, the process of rock movement that we have observed occurs when the thin, 3 to 6 mm, “windowpane” ice sheet covering the playa pool begins to melt in late morning sun and breaks up under light winds of ∼4-5 m/s. Floating ice panels 10 s of meters in size push multiple rocks at low speeds of 2-5 m/min. along trajectories determined by the direction and velocity of the wind as well as that of the water flowing under the ice.

Concepts: Scientific method, Water, Weather, Observation, Wind, Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, Racetrack Playa


Prevailing abiotic conditions may positively or negatively impact insects at both the individual and population levels. For example while moderate rainfall and wind velocity may provide conditions that favour development, as well as movement within and between habitats, high winds and heavy rains can significantly decrease life expectancy. There is some evidence that insects adjust their behaviours associated with flight, mating and foraging in response to changes in barometric pressure. We studied changes in different mating behaviours of three taxonomically unrelated insects, the curcurbit beetle, Diabrotica speciosa (Coleoptera), the true armyworm moth, Pseudaletia unipuncta (Lepidoptera) and the potato aphid, Macrosiphum euphorbiae (Hemiptera), when subjected to natural or experimentally manipulated changes in atmospheric pressure. In response to decreasing barometric pressure, male beetles exhibited decreased locomotory activity in a Y-tube olfactometer with female pheromone extracts. However, when placed in close proximity to females, they exhibited reduced courtship sequences and the precopulatory period. Under the same situations, females of the true armyworm and the potato aphid exhibited significantly reduced calling behaviour. Neither the movement of male beetles nor the calling of armyworm females differed between stable and increasing atmospheric pressure conditions. However, in the case of the armyworm there was a significant decrease in the incidence of mating under rising atmospheric conditions, suggesting an effect on male behaviour. When atmospheric pressure rose, very few M. euphorbiae oviparae called. This was similar to the situation observed under decreasing conditions, and consequently very little mating was observed in this species except under stable conditions. All species exhibited behavioural modifications, but there were interspecific differences related to size-related flight ability and the diel periodicity of mating activity. We postulate that the observed behavioral modifications, especially under decreasing barometric pressure would reduce the probability of injury or death under adverse weather conditions.

Concepts: Psychology, Insect, Weather, Atmospheric pressure, Behavior, Human behavior, Tropical cyclone, Wind


The British Isles benefits from dense meteorological observation networks, enabling insights into the still-unresolved effects of solar eclipse events on the near-surface wind field. The near-surface effects of the solar eclipse of 20 March 2015 are derived through comparison of output from the Met Office’s operational weather forecast model (which is ignorant of the eclipse) with data from two meteorological networks: the Met Office’s land surface station (MIDAS) network and a roadside measurement network operated by Vaisala. Synoptic-evolution relative calculations reveal the cooling and increase in relative humidity almost universally attributed to eclipse events. In addition, a slackening of wind speeds by up to about 2 knots in already weak winds and backing in wind direction of about 20° under clear skies across middle England are attributed to the eclipse event. The slackening of wind speed is consistent with the previously reported boundary layer stabilization during eclipse events. Wind direction changes have previously been attributed to a large-scale ‘eclipse-induced cold-cored cyclone’, mountain slope flows, and changes in the strength of sea breezes. A new explanation is proposed here by analogy with nocturnal wind changes at sunset and shown to predict direction changes consistent with those observed.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Wind, Wind power, British Isles, Weather forecasting, Eclipse, Solar eclipse


Wind turbines remove kinetic energy from the atmospheric flow, which reduces wind speeds and limits generation rates of large wind farms. These interactions can be approximated using a vertical kinetic energy (VKE) flux method, which predicts that the maximum power generation potential is 26% of the instantaneous downward transport of kinetic energy using the preturbine climatology. We compare the energy flux method to the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) regional atmospheric model equipped with a wind turbine parameterization over a 10(5) km(2) region in the central United States. The WRF simulations yield a maximum generation of 1.1 We⋅m(-2), whereas the VKE method predicts the time series while underestimating the maximum generation rate by about 50%. Because VKE derives the generation limit from the preturbine climatology, potential changes in the vertical kinetic energy flux from the free atmosphere are not considered. Such changes are important at night when WRF estimates are about twice the VKE value because wind turbines interact with the decoupled nocturnal low-level jet in this region. Daytime estimates agree better to 20% because the wind turbines induce comparatively small changes to the downward kinetic energy flux. This combination of downward transport limits and wind speed reductions explains why large-scale wind power generation in windy regions is limited to about 1 We⋅m(-2), with VKE capturing this combination in a comparatively simple way.

Concepts: Energy, Kinetic energy, Wind, Wind power, Wind farm, Floating wind turbine, Wind turbine, Windmill


The National Eclipse Weather Experiment (NEWEx) was a citizen science project designed to assess the effects of the 20 March 2015 partial solar eclipse on the weather over the United Kingdom (UK). NEWEx had two principal objectives: to provide a spatial network of meteorological observations across the UK to aid the investigation of eclipse-induced weather changes, and to develop a nationwide public engagement activity-based participation of citizen scientists. In total, NEWEx collected 15 606 observations of air temperature, cloudiness and wind speed and direction from 309 locations across the UK, over a 3 h window spanning the eclipse period. The headline results were processed in near real time, immediately published online, and featured in UK national press articles on the day of the eclipse. Here, we describe the technical development of NEWEx and how the observations provided by the citizen scientists were analysed. By comparing the results of the NEWEx analyses with results from other investigations of the same eclipse using different observational networks, including measurements from the University of Reading’s Atmospheric Observatory, we demonstrate that NEWEx provided a fair representation of the change in the UK meteorological conditions throughout the eclipse. Despite the simplicity of the approach adopted, robust reductions in both temperature and wind speed during the eclipse were observed.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, United Kingdom, Lunar eclipse, Meteorology, Wind, Eclipse, Solar eclipse


Temporally inconsistent and potentially unreliable global historical data hinder the detection of trends in tropical cyclone activity. This limits our confidence in evaluating proposed linkages between observed trends in tropical cyclones and in the environment. Here we mitigate this difficulty by focusing on a metric that is comparatively insensitive to past data uncertainty, and identify a pronounced poleward migration in the average latitude at which tropical cyclones have achieved their lifetime-maximum intensity over the past 30 years. The poleward trends are evident in the global historical data in both the Northern and the Southern hemispheres, with rates of 53 and 62 kilometres per decade, respectively, and are statistically significant. When considered together, the trends in each hemisphere depict a global-average migration of tropical cyclone activity away from the tropics at a rate of about one degree of latitude per decade, which lies within the range of estimates of the observed expansion of the tropics over the same period. The global migration remains evident and statistically significant under a formal data homogenization procedure, and is unlikely to be a data artefact. The migration away from the tropics is apparently linked to marked changes in the mean meridional structure of environmental vertical wind shear and potential intensity, and can plausibly be linked to tropical expansion, which is thought to have anthropogenic contributions.

Concepts: Tropic of Cancer, Thunderstorm, Tropical cyclone, Tornado, Cyclone, Wind, Equator, Wind shear


Observation of terrestrial mammals suggests that they can follow the wind (anemotaxis), but the sensory cues underlying this ability have not been studied. We identify a significant contribution to anemotaxis mediated by whiskers (vibrissae), a modality previously studied only in the context of direct tactile contact. Five rats trained on a five-alternative forced-choice airflow localization task exhibited significant performance decrements after vibrissal removal. In contrast, vibrissal removal did not disrupt the performance of control animals trained to localize a light source. The performance decrement of individual rats was related to their airspeed threshold for successful localization: animals that found the task more challenging relied more on the vibrissae for localization cues. Following vibrissal removal, the rats deviated more from the straight-line path to the air source, choosing sources farther from the correct location. Our results indicate that rats can perform anemotaxis and that whiskers greatly facilitate this ability. Because air currents carry information about both odor content and location, these findings are discussed in terms of the adaptive significance of the interaction between sniffing and whisking in rodents.

Concepts: Mammal, Sensory system, Performance, Rodent, Wind, Source, Localization