May 3, 2005

Nature Imitates Life!

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

If you just looked at the cover of April 21 issue of Nature magazine you’d see a hurricane apocalypse, as four major storms surround Florida.

They are in physically impossible proximity. Hurricanes require an “outflow” of winds aloft to continue upward motion in their tight and deadly vortices. In the picture, the outflows of three storms are on top of each other. They would mutually squash each other within hours.

However, if you go to Page ix, the “This Issue” section, you’ll get an explanation:

The 2004 US hurricane season was one of the worst on record. Four hurricanes struck Florida in August and September…On the cover (Courtesy Univ. Wisconsin-Madison, Space Science and Engineering Center) is a composite satellite image of hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne ‘approaching’ Florida in August and September 2004.

“Approaching,” indeed! I called my doctoral alma mater in Madison to find out what was going on, and they replied that they had initially provided another image with the dates superimposed over each storm—a much less provocative representation, which Nature declined as “too cluttered.”

Fine. Nature has built quite a reputation in recent years on climate hype (perhaps only equaled by its American counterpart, Science) and this is just another example.

Ironically, immediately below the description of the cover is a reference to a “News Feature” article on page 952, in the April 21 issue:

Picture Imperfect

The magic of digital photography and Photoshop means that scientists can manipulate images so that key features are visible. But there is a grey area between image enhancement and misrepresentation. Helen Pearson reports. [News Feature, p. 952]

Why bother separating these two paragraphs? Nature itself provided a fine example.

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