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Discovered: what's to be learned from a Frankenstorm; U.N. warns of amplified infections in a warming world; life in coal towns is deadlier; U.S. coal emissions are down but worldwide coal use heats up.

Researchers probe Hurricane Sandy. As BoingBoing's Maggie Koerth-Baker noted today, it's too soon for scientists to be certain about the extent to which climate change is responsible for Hurricane Sandy. Scientists know that climate change has made extreme weather more common, but no one can point to the specific causes of this still-developing storm yet. But scientists hope to have answers in the future, so they're gearing up to study the storm. On the government research front, scientists with the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory have been piloting into the storm in order to gather data that will build better forecasts. Their Twitter stream often features cool shots of radar screens and such:


                                                                                                                         HRD/AOML/NOAA

The Hurricane Research Team from the Texas Tech University have traveled to the Northeast to collect data, using StickNet towers to collect information about the storm's "temperature, relative humidity, pressure, wind speed and wind direction." Their focus is on learning how to minimize damage to life and property. 

You can even help contribute to hurricane-related research. A team from Purdue University and the University of Utah want to study water isotopes collected from the storm, and they're calling on citizens on the Eastern seaboard—and especially those further inland in states like Kentucky and West Virginia—to gather samples while riding out the storm. This information will help them understand where the water originated, how it got to the Eastern seaboard, and basic insight into the molecular diversity of different samples.

In times like these, everyone wants instant answers from scientists about what's going on. But for now, we'll have to be patient. Real science insight takes time to arrive at, and for the moment we'll have to take comfort in knowing that the experts are working on it. [BoingBoing]

U.N. reports on link between climate change and infectious disease. While storms are reminding us how global warming effects extreme weather, the U.N. is also reminding us that changing climates often lead to flare-ups of infectious disease. The World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization today jointly released their Atlas of Health and Climate. The document is meant to help world leaders prepare for the kinds of disease outbreaks that accompany bad weather. It draws on years of epidemiological research, presenting information on how meningitis has spread through sub-Saharan Africa during dry spells while dengue fever goes on the rise during heavy rainfall. Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the U.N. health agency, says, "Many diseases including malaria, dengue, meningitis ... are what we call climate-sensitive diseases, because such climate dimensions for rainfall, humidity and temperature would influence the epidemics, the outbreaks, either directly influencing the parasites or the mosquitoes that carry them." [Bloomberg]

Domestic U.S. emissions down, but trigger rise in coal use elsewhere. The United States has been increasingly relying on energy derived from shale gas, which has caused CO2 emissions within our borders to decline 8.6 percent since 2005. But that only looks like an improvement to those wearing domestic blinders. Massive amounts of unused American coal are being exported, which cuts the reductions in half when taking into account global emissions. Those are the findings detailed in a new paper from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research's Dr. John Broderick, titled Has US Shale Gas Reduced CO2 Emissions? "It is the total quantity of CO2 from the energy system that matters to the climate," Broderick writes. "Despite lower-carbon rhetoric, shale gas is still a carbon intensive energy source. We must seriously consider whether a so-called 'golden age' would be little more than a gilded cage, locking us into a high-carbon future.' [The University of Manchester]

Coal town mortality rates outstrip other communities. In coal-mining communities across the world, residents have higher rates of death, disease, and birth defects compared with their non-mining town peers, according to research led by the University of Sydney's Ruth Colagiuri. She and her colleagues analyzed 50 different studies taken from 10 nations, including China, the U.S., and the U.K. They found that mine collapses and black lung disease weren't the only things taking a toll on those who live near coal mining operations. Cancer, heart, lung and kidney disease were all elevated in the regions studied. "Excess deaths, respiratory problems, heart problems, bladder and kidney cancer in some cases, a number of different cancers, skin cancer," Colagiuri says, listing all the ills found in the scientific literature on coal mining and health. "I think it is of concern ... We need to really find out, we need local studies that can tell us whether we need to be concerned about it and that can help weigh up the balance of benefits and harms of coal mining." [ABC Newcastle]