ESSAY

COINCIDENCE STINKS
By Tom Slattery

     In a long-ago episode of "Kojak" in which a series of coincidences point to a suspect as the perpetrator of a crime, Kojak turns to a fellow NYPD detective and says, "Coincidence stinks." He means, of course, that these are no coincidences and would only seem so to less brilliant detectives. 

     Take a look at this "coincidence" of Los Angeles rainfall in 1883-84 and Los Angeles rainfall for the present "water year" of 2004-05. 

     Los Angeles is about to break its rainfall record (July to July) of 38 inches set in the 1883-84 rainfall year. Unlike the late 19th century we have television. You saw the houses sliding down the hillsides and the people being rescued from raging torrents in the second half of February. By the end of that storm there had been a 2004-05 accumulation of about 34.5 inches. And with several months to go, there will likely be a new rainfall record.

     Enter the "coincidence." The island volcano of Krakatoa at the southern end of Sumatra violently exploded on August 26, 1883, and tsunamis were noted. The undersea Banda Aceh earthquake of December 26, 2004 was at the northern end of Sumatra.

    In other words, both of these gigantic and grim seismic events were roughly in the same place on our spinning globe. And their soliton waves, precursors to terrible tsunamis that are now history, probably traveled similar routes.

     Tsunamis are caused by soliton waves generated from giant seismic events. Unlike a normal wave, a soliton wave has equal pressure throughout its column from surface to bottom.

     This feature of the wave reaching from surface to bottom is what creates a tsunami. As the soliton wave encounters the increasingly shallower water of a coastline its wave energy has only one direction to go: up. That is what makes the tsunami.

     Enter the main culprit in this "coincidence," methane hydrate. Methane hydrate is a fragile substance created by several water molecules surrounding a methane gas molecule. This creates a pretty pink crystal that can be photographed. But as a structure of gas molecules surrounded by water molecules, it is extremely unstable.

     In a known but fairly wide range of pressure and temperature on ocean bottom areas throughout the world there exist a huge quantity of methane gas trapped inside these delicate methane hydrate crystals. Conditions on the Indian Ocean floor over which the Banda Aceh quake waves traveled are ripe for the existence of an enormous undersea surface of methane hydrate crystals. See the U.S. geological survey map at http://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/globalhydrate.pdf.

     So here's a guess. The soliton wave from Banda Aceh was only about two feet high. This would not represent much of a pressure difference at the bottom of the ocean. But it traveled across the Indian Ocean from Sumatra to Sri Lanka and India and was clocked at about 400 mph (c 700 kph).

     This velocity would seem to have been adequate to disintegrate a meaningful quantity of these very fragile methane hydrate crystals at the bottom of the Indian Ocean and thus release a considerable, and localized, amount of methane gas. You could liken this to the high speed of tornado winds driving straws into telephone poles. Speed has its own effects.

    Let me venture a guess that begins to touch on this "coincidence."

    After this large localized quantity of methane had been released from these disintegrated methane hydrate crystals, it began to bubble to the surface, probably at different rates and may still be doing so. When this methane reached the surface it began to do its greenhouse gas thing.

     Methane is about twenty times as effective a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. So a sudden localized infusion of a greenhouse gas that is twenty times more effective than carbon dioxide would certainly heat and expand the air mass into which bubbled.

     This heating and expansion of the air mass over the Indian Ocean and south Asia could have pushed the cold Siberian air mass northward over the North Pole.

     This, in turn, might have, in mid-February, pushed the Gulf of Alaska air mass south. And that could possibly be what happened and why the Gulf of Alaska low hovered off the southern California coast and kept bombarding Los Angeles with rain for a couple weeks.

     This is, of course, an educated guess to explain the "coincidence" of two rainfall accumulations in the Los Angeles area, one a record, the other a near-record that will probably break the record. And it may be only one mechanism. Another may have something yet unknown to do with the prevailing westerly winds that constantly flow north of the Equator.

    If there is anything to this speculation, we might have to worry about weather exaggerations for the next year or two. It would be a real worry because wild weather is not good for agriculture, let alone wild weather on such a global scale that something over south Asia could directly affect southern California.

     Marginal areas of the planet could see increased hunger. The present world economy could experience a precipitous downturn, global weather affecting the global economy. History books point to a relationship between the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression in the United States.

     Or, it could all just be another amazing coincidence. But the words of Kojak may be echoing along the ocean bottom.

END

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