Strongest Ever Southern Cyclone Crashes Into Fiji
Cyclone Winston struck Fiji Saturday, leaving a trail of destruction. At least 10 people have been reported killed, although the extent of the damage is still being revealed as contact is made with more remote, northern islands.
We’re still keeping our fingers crossed as we wait for reports from the outlying islands in Fiji, so we just have to hope for the best for those locations at present.
Winston was a Category 5 cyclone (the strongest rating) with reported wind speeds of almost 300 km per hour. This would make it among the strongest cyclones ever to make landfall globally and the strongest recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.
Cyclones form over warm water, typically above 26 C. This largely confines them to forming in tropical latitudes, although once formed they can then move outside the tropics.
In the South Pacific, typically around nine tropical cyclones are recorded on average each year, but there’s a lot of variability year to year. They are most common in January through to March, but can occur as early as November or as late as May.
In the past 30 years or so, several severe tropical cyclones have affected Fiji, so it’s not unusual for Fiji to experience severe cyclones.
The figure for Cyclone Winston of wind speeds of up to 300 km per hour refers to sustained wind speed, averaged over 10 minutes. Sustained wind is typically used for measuring cyclone intensity, but damage is also related to wind gusts, which are measured over much shorter periods. Cyclone Winston reportedly produced gusts up to 325 km per hour.
Cyclone observers measure wind speeds in two ways. First, they can estimate the speed from satellite images. Very intense tropical cyclones have a very pronounced eye and are very symmetrical and there are graphical relationships between those images and direct wind measurements. In the Atlantic Ocean wind speeds in severe cyclones (known there as hurricanes) are measured using planes. The other method is to use wind observations on the ground.
Cyclone Winston took a very unusual track towards Fiji, performing a “loop-the-loop.” It started west of Fiji before moving south, then back to the north and finally approaching Fiji from the east.
The strongest winds for Southern Hemisphere tropical cyclones are on the left of the cyclone, because that’s where the winds are adding to the forward motion of the storm. To figure out which side of a cyclone is which, stand facing the direction in which the cyclone is moving. The cyclone’s left is then your left. So for Cyclone Winston approaching Fiji from the east, the left-hand side of the storm was to the south.
This is also the region where the storm surge is highest. A storm surge is a dome of water pushed ahead of the storm. In some locations in Fiji there is also the potential for storm surge as well as strong winds.
Typically, cyclones are pushed around by a combination of factors. Often they are pushed around by winds averaged through the depth of the atmosphere (from the surface to 10,000 metres or so). So if the wind direction is unusual here, then the cyclone may track in an unusual direction. Other factors related to the rotation of the earth may also cause a cyclone to track in weird directions.
Is Climate Change Affecting Cyclones?
It’s difficult to say what the trends are in cyclone intensity in the South Pacific, as only limited data are available since the 1980s. Trend analyses in this region have given ambiguous results. Frequency of cyclones in the Australian region has been decreasing in recent decades. In the South Pacific region as a whole, trends appear weak.
We have just seen the peak of one of the strongest El Niño events on record. El Niño is related to the movement of warm water in the Pacific Ocean, so it’s not surprising that it has an influence on cyclones.
Typically, during El Niño events, cyclones form and track further east in the South Pacific. So places that don’t typically see cyclones, such as Tahiti, sometimes experience them during El Niño.
In the South Pacific, if you’re west of the longitude 170 east—just west of Fiji—you get more tropical cyclones during La Niña and fewer during El Niño. East of that line it’s the opposite: you get more cyclones during El Nino and fewer during La Niña. Fiji is between those zones, so gets a bit of both.
We also don’t know how climate change is affecting cyclones in the South Pacific. Some analyses suggest cyclones are tracking further south. But it’s too early to say how climate change may have already affected cyclone intensity in our region.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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