Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Windier Inland, a Florida Weather Paradox

The general wisdom among weather-watching sailors, windsurfers and kiteboarders is that seabreezes occur where there is hot land next to cold ocean. Hot air rises over the land, then cooler ocean air flows in to take its place, hence, breeze. It's also generally believed that the seabreeze is strongest right at the beach, where the temperature difference is greatest and the wind has an unobstructed path over the water.

I stole this seabreeze diagram from the noaa weather website.

Sometimes, though, the general wisdom just doesn't hold up.

For example, this week the coastal waters along East Central Florida have been unusually cold, the land has been very hot, and the overall wind flow has been from the Southeast- a seemingly perfect set-up for seabreeze. Yet, the beaches have experienced nothing but light and unsteady breezes while, strangely enough, the protected lagoons inland from the beaches have been bathed in strong, steady wind. Thanks to the iWindsurf weather website I can prove that what I'm talking about is not just my imagination. Compare these two graphs of the wind from today:

1. This is from a wind sensor right near the beach at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant. Notice how the average wind speed hardly gets over 10 mph, and the wind is very unsteady, full of gusts and lulls. The light blue dashed line is the forecast model's predicted wind strength, and you can see that the reality is a lot less than the prediction.

2. This is from a wind sensor about 4 miles inland from the beach at the St. Lucie County Airport. The wind was much stronger here, averaging 15-20 mph all day!

I asked the local windsurfers if any of them knew what might be the root of this counterintuitive phenomenon, and I got a variety of answers. Here's a summary of the main explanations that were put forth, with my thoughts in italics.

1. In East Central Florida the barrier islands are relatively narrow and the lagoon behind them is fairly wide, so the land-sea temperature interaction that causes the seabreeze is focused where the mainland meets the lagoon, not where the barrier islands meet the ocean. In other words, the barrier islands are less windy because they're too far offshore from where the main seabreeze is generated. I think this is a plausible idea that might explain some patterns in the strength of some seabreezes. But I don't think it explains what's going on this particular week in East Central Florida, because while poking around the barrier island where I live I've noticed that the breeze kicks in somewhere mid-island, and the lagoon is pretty windy all the way out to the inshore edge of the island. Also, the lagoon is much warmer than the ocean, so it's not like the span from the island through the lagoon is just an extension of the ocean.

2. There's a "funnel effect," aka a "venturi effect", wherein the geographic shape of the lagoon, which lines up roughly with South / Southeast seabreezes, accelerates the wind flowing through it. I think this might give a little boost to the seabreeze in certain parts of the lagoon, but I don't think it explains the whole thing. One potential problem with the funnel idea is that the land around the lagoon is very flat. This is Florida; there aren't any elevated landforms that could strongly channel the wind.

3. Cold water can have a layer of cold, dense air on top of it that prevents wind from mixing down to the level of the water surface. I think this is the main culprit behind the beach / lagoon wind difference occurring now in Florida. The cold water off the beaches comes from localized upwelling of deep water (see blue and purple in the picture below), so it's a lot colder along the beach than it is in the open ocean beyond the effects of the upwelling. Anyway, I think the seabreeze is composed of moderate temperature air from further out in the ocean, and it slides OVER the layer of really cool, non-moving air associated with the nearshore cold water upwelling. Then when it gets over the island and the warmer lagoon water it re-attaches to the surface.


The solution for windsurfers confronted with this situation is to temporarily give up on ocean sailing, and gear up with booties and shallow-water weed-shedding fins for blasting in the lagoon. Another solution that can sort-of work is to kiteboard on the ocean, because the kite gets up high enough to be in the good wind above the cold layer on the water. I had decent success with that a couple times this week, but also had long swims with a soggy kite a couple times when I dropped it into the dead wind zone where it was impossible to relaunch. Here's a video my buddy Russ took of one of the successful times.

Light wind kiting, Filmed from the beach from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sunset for my Bladders, Moonrise for my Foil

We've had consistently mediocre wind lately in Fort Pierce, peaking around 10 knots most evenings. I've mainly been riding my early-planing directional kiteboard with 12 and 14 meters squared kites, since there's just not enough wind to get going with my biggest windsurfing gear. Choosing between the 12 and the 14 kites has been dictated less by wind strength and more by which kite is not leaking air or otherwise in need of repair at the time. Florida heat is hard on leading-edge inflatable kites, aka "lei's", which have notoriously chintzy valves and internal bladders. I got so frustrated when the main bladder on my 12 leaked the other day that I decided to go out on a limb and buy a bladder-free "foil kite".

Foil is short for parafoil. Foil kites are built like parachutes, with a double-layered, many-segmented canopy. The ones for kiteboarding have most of the segments in the canopy closed off, and one-way vents on the open segments so the kite will stay full of air enough to float and relaunch off the water, even though it's not totally rigid and airtight like a lei kite. (See video below of a "Flysurfer" brand foil kite in action.)

Flysurfer Speed2 in Soma Bay, Egypt from Flysurfer Kiteboarding on Vimeo.

Anyway, when I came home from work today the UPS guy was just dropping off the new foil kite, which is a 12 meters squared Flysurfer Speed 2 like the one in the video. The breeze was doing its usual 10 knot thing, so I headed straight to the beach to join my watersports buddies already there. My first impression when I unrolled the kite was, "Wow, this thing is complicated". Since it doesn't have a skeleton of rigid inflated bladders, it has to have lots of bridle lines to give it shape and distribute the load. The lines are like a tree, with a few main trunks coming up from the control bar and branching into ever finer and more numerous twigs as they approach the canopy. Even though it looked like a mess, everything straightened itself out when I put some tension on the lines and launched the kite. It flew similarly to my inflatable kites, but was maybe a little slower to turn and accelerate, meaning I had to build up some speed on the board before the power really kicked in. The power was definitely there, though- at least as much as on my 12 meter lei, and maybe more. The kite also went upwind and jumped really well, and because of its light weight it stayed in the sky happily even during lulls of 8 knots or so. I'll need some more experience on it to decide for sure, but I think it might allow me to get rid of both my 12 and 14 lei kites, which would be nice.

After the session I took some pictures of the sunset / moonrise. Check out the "anticrepuscular rays" in the moon picture. Woo hoo!



This is a picture of my 14 meter squared inflatable kite (in its bag) next to the new foil kite. I like how much smaller the foil kite packs.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Heart Soars Like An Eagle Again, Sort Of

Windsurfing Magazine is going to buy me a new GoPro camera so that I can continue my multimedia blogging for their website. I promised the editor I would try real hard not to lose it this time. :)

BTW, if anyone needs GoPro USB cables, extra housings, battery packs, av cables, etc., I have buckets and buckets of them from all the cameras that I've lost, had stolen, and / or broken this year. Just let me know.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Well, DUH: Environmental lessons from Gulf of Mexico disasters

Something that I think both tree huggers and tea partiers agree on is that Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill were serious bummers. But it's harder to find agreement about why these disasters occurred and what we should do to prevent similar bummers in the future. Here I will present what I think are the most obvious lessons to take from the Gulf of Mexico tragedies. Since I'm a scientist who studies environmental processes, I'm mainly going to focus on the scientific and environmental angles, but at the end I'll segue into a diatribe against corporate rule.

Lessons from Hurricane Katrina


*In sketchy places, don't build more than you can afford to lose.
If you want something to last a long time, you shouldn't build it in a sketchy place where the land is changing rapidly or natural disasters are frequent and severe. For example, you shouldn't put a big city below sea level in a sinking swamp in the middle of a hurricane zone. If it's too late- you or your predecessors already built in a dumb place -you should think seriously about the cost:benefit ratio of protecting what you built versus cutting your losses and moving on.

*Beaches, barrier islands, and river deltas are sketchy places.
The land of a delta is made up of mud and sand deposited by the river when it floods or changes course. The land is constantly sinking as the underlying mud and sand settle and pack down. The only thing that keeps the land surface above sea level is that new mud and sand are periodically piled on top by floods. Of course, if you channelize the river to stop it from flooding, like they've done with most of the Mississippi, then the sinking land never gets replenished. It just sinks lower and lower, and the ocean creeps closer and closer, requiring ever more expensive and complex dikes, pumping, and dirt-moving projects to protect human settlements. It's a similar principle with beaches and barrier islands. Sand is constantly being added and subtracted by wind, waves, and tides, so the beaches and islands are constantly growing and shrinking, appearing and disappearing. If you build a jetty or bulkhead or something to try hold one part of the beach in place, chances are you'll be making things worse for another part of the beach by cutting off its supply of sand. You can't win! If I had a chance to re-do how beaches and barrier islands are developed I'd leave most of them as low population-density natural areas sprinkled with parks, campgrounds, boat and windsurf access areas, and occasional little fishing and vacation towns with dirt roads and rental houses and hostels set back behind the dunes. More like Hatteras Island and Ocracoke and less like Miami Beach.

*If something is in a hurricane zone, it WILL get hit by a hurricane.
Over a lifetime of a city located in a hurricane zone, it's inevitable that the city will be struck by multiple hurricanes, including some really bad ones. So structures and dwellings in the city should be built tough enough to last, cheap enough to replace, or mobile enough to relocate in a hurry. Or not built at all. It's unwise to let hurricane-zone cities expand beyond the size and level of complexity that's easy to organize and evacuate.

Lessons from the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster-


*Don't take big, unnecessary risks where the result of failure will be an unstoppable mega disaster.
Accidents are inevitable. You shouldn't be allowed to do something if you're not prepared to deal with an accident.

*Some of the oil underground is best left underground.
The fossil fuel industry and their political allies would like you believe that it's a travesty to leave any oil deposits untapped. They say we're headed for a terrible crisis if we DON'T drill like crazy, which is a lie. The truth is that worse crises come when we DO drill like crazy, as evidenced now in the Gulf of Mexico and in the skyrocketing atmospheric CO2 concentration. Folks talk about capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and burying it underground to reduce the atmospheric concentration. Wouldn't it make more sense just to leave CO2-producing fossil fuel in the ground in the first place? Yes, yes it would.

*Increasing our SUPPLY of energy is not the only way to deal with our nation's increasing DEMAND for energy.
The industry would like you to think it is, but increasing supply is definitely not our only option. I mean, hello, what about REDUCING demand? Which is crazier, 1) rushing to consume every drop of a non-renewable resource as fast as possible without consideration of the environmental risks or what the hell you're going to do when you run out, or 2) reducing your incredibly wasteful consumption until your energy needs are small enough to be met by safe, renewable sources. Two, the answer is two.

Segue into a rant against corporate rule-

Obama made a speech the other night about how he was going to hold BP accountable for the spill cleanup, work towards a sustainable energy future, blah blah blah, yeah yeah yeah. But the upcoming energy bill he alluded to (being overseen by Lieberman, ugh) will likely be similar to every other bill introduced in the past few decades in that it's written largely by corporate lobbyists to cater to corporate interests, with toothless regulations and lots of tax breaks and stuff. It will have the same kind of corruption by corporate interests that is obvious in the healthcare bill, farm bills, wallstreet bailouts, military contracts, tax laws, etc. (Unless we demand better.)

Yeah, it's a very uncool situation we're getting into, where any popular initiative to do something good and sensible, like reduce pollution or increase the health and well-being of average folks, gets shot down by the ma$$ive influence of the corporate lobby. Scary. It even happened in the horrendous recent supreme court decision to allow UNLIMITED political campaign contributions by corporations, the last thing we need. In addition to the lobbying and campaign contributions problems there's the "revolving door" situation, where government regulators at the highest level, like the EPA and the FDA, get high paying jobs at the corporations before and after their political stints, and of course, earn their pay by giving the corporations the laws they want; deregulation, tax breaks, subsidies, etc. That kind of thing is what allowed the rampant, reckless offshore drilling that lead to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. No one besides the government has the power to regulate corporations, so if the government and corporations side together, we're pretty much screwed.

The root problem with corporations, the thing that makes them evil, or amoral at best, is that their legal structure drives them only to generate short term profit. They have a disincentive to do anything moral or ethical or sensible in the long term because those kind of things usually interfere with short term profit. What they do have an incentive to do is crush the competition, crush their own employees with terrible wages, crush their customers with ripoff prices and bad service, and change the laws that govern how they do business so that they can crush even more.

I'm not against free market competition and all that. But the situation we have now is like a game where we let the players with the highest scores make the rules. Of course they're not going to penalize themselves. Folks need to step up and demand strong regulation of corporations based on sound ethical and scientific principles, and to demand much stronger measures to get rid of the corrupting influence of corporate money on politics.

End of rant, for now.

Last gopro video for an indefinite period

Waterproof camera falls off while kiteboarding.

(My heart sinks.)

I ride back and forth where I think I lost it, searching to no avail.

(My heart sinks deeper.)

Cell phone rings and it's a good samaritan who found camera down the beach.

(My heart soars!)

I exchange 12 pack of Heineken for camera, but camera has some water droplets in it.

(My heart sinks again.)

Camera is dead, corrosion, but at least I extract video from SD card.

(My heart sinks less.)

Here is the video. The song is "Woman" by Wolfmother.

Losing Camera Video from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Slalom Slideshow

**UPDATE** Posted the video on my windsurfing magazine blog.

Got some good Northeast wind this evening for riding my new slalom windsurf board. Lit to overpowered on an 8.4 sail.

I'll post the video later on my windsurfing magazine blog.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Testing the Gebi Board

Stoke! I got a nice little session in on my new raceboard-inspired kiteboard Saturday. It started with a 6-8 knot breeze, which was barely enough to keep my 14 meter squared kite aloft. I got some brief, shakey rides in those conditions, but it was a real struggle and I couldn't stay upwind. Fortunately the breeze perked up to 8-10 knots as a storm developed inland, which turned out to be plenty of wind for the board.

Because of the board's float and its streamlined shape, it would get planing and accelerate rapidly, boosting the apparent wind in the kite. Then you could load up some pressure on the board's asymmetrically-foiled fins and generate a surprising amount of lift for speed or upwind drive. I imagine I'm missing a lot of the subtleties of how to ride the board, but I'm excited about getting some more time on the water to dial it in. For now here's the video of my first attempt.

Gebi Board Test from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gebi's "Freeride Raceboard From Hell"

I am a gearhead about windsurfing and kiting, no doubt. I always want to have the right gear to squeeze the maximum amount of joy out of whatever conditions nature provides. Summer in Florida you have to squeeze pretty hard, because the conditions nature provides suck. You're lucky if there's a couple times a week that the wind cracks 10 knots, and truly blessed if it happens during a gap in the thunderstorms and your work schedule. Oh well.

Last summer, formula windsurfing gear was my solution for getting a planing fix in 9-12 knots, and I kited on the great days that it blew 12-15. This year I'm going to try to reverse that; kiting in 9-12 knots and slalom windsurfing in 12-15 knots. Part of the plan is a 14 meters squared kite I bought a few months ago, and the other part is a custom directional kiteboard designed to perform exceptionally well in light winds. It was originally built by and for Olympic windsurfing medalist Mike Gebhardt. He sold me on it by describing it as "Da Freeride Raceboard From Hell". It has a wide shape and quad-fin setup similar to a course-racing kiteboard (the equivalent of a formula board in windsurfing), but with a stronger layup and tail and rail shapes more suitable for jumping and carving. Check it out in these pictures. For size comparison, the top board is my small waveboard for windsurfing.



It has been nothing but thunderstorms and fickle wind for the last few days here, but I'm hoping to get the thing on the water some time this weekend so I can do a full report.