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A moon “wobble” will contribute to an increase in severe flooding in the mid-2030s, NASA has warned.

The moon’s orbit, which affects the Earth’s tides, has a natural “wobble” every 18.6 years that causes extremely high and low tides.

In a new study, published by Nature Climate Change, NASA’s Sea Level Change Science Team calculated that the next wobble in the mid-2030s will amplify rising sea levels caused by climate change.

People walk on a local street as water from Neuse River starts flooding houses in New Bern, North Carolina
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People walk on a local street as water from Neuse River starts flooding houses in New Bern, North Carolina

Almost all of US mainland coastlines, as well as Hawaii and Guam, are likely to see high-tide flood numbers surge as they come under pressure from the higher seas.

But northern coastlines, including Alaska’s, will be spared for another decade or longer because these land areas are rising due to long-term geological processes, researchers found.

The study is the first to take into account all known oceanic and astronomical causes for floods, NASA said.

High-tide floods, also known as nuisance floods or sunny day floods, occur not because of storm surges from extreme weather or excessive precipitation, but instead when the tide rises into populated areas.

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The floods can overwhelm storm drains, close roads and compromise infrastructure over time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said: “Low-lying areas near sea level are increasingly at risk and suffering due to the increased flooding, and it will only get worse.

“The combination of the moon’s gravitational pull, rising sea levels, and climate change will continue to exacerbate coastal flooding on our coastlines and across the world.”

“It’s the accumulated effect over time that will have an impact,” added Phil Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii and the lead author of the new study.

April's supermoon over London
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The lunar wobble will amplify rising sea levels

High tide floods are less dramatic and involve less water than hurricane storm surges, so they are often seen as a less pressing problem.

“But if it floods 10 or 15 times a month, a business can’t keep operating with its parking lot underwater,” Mr Thompson said.

“People lose their jobs because they can’t get to work. Seeping cesspools become a public health issue.”

The floods will also occur in clusters, which could last a month or longer at a time depending on the position of the moon, sun, and Earth, NASA said.

As the moon and Earth line up with each other and the sun in specific ways, some city dwellers could see flooding every day or two.

Ben Hamlington, who leads NASA’s Sea Level Change Team, said the study is vital for coastal urban planners, who may tend to focus on preparing for extreme weather events over chronic flooding.

“From a planning perspective, it’s important to know when we’ll see an increase,” Mr Hamlington said.

TUCKERTON, NJ - OCTOBER 30:  In this handout image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, homes are flooded after Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the southern New Jersey coastline October 30, 2012 in Tuckerton, New Jersey. The storm has claimed many lives in the United States and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. U.S. President Barack Obama has declared the situation a "major disaster" for large areas of the U.S. east coast, including New York City, with widespread power outages and significant flooding in parts of the city.  (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images)
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Homes are flooded after Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the southern New Jersey coastline

“Understanding that all your events are clustered in a particular month, or you might have more severe flooding in the second half of a year than the first – that’s useful information.”

The moon is currently in the tide-amplifying part of its 18.6-year wobble, but most US coastlines are yet to see enough sea-level rise to notice the flooding effects.

By the mid-2030s, the next time the wobble enters its tide-amplifying phase, global sea levels will have had another decade to rise due to climate change.

The study projected results out to 2080 by mapping “NOAA’s widely used sea level rise scenarios and flooding thresholds, the number of times those thresholds have been exceeded annually, astronomical cycles, and statistical representations of other processes, such as El Niño events, that are known to affect tides.”

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Diplomatic row between China and US escalates as Pentagon says second ‘spy balloon’ being tracked

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Chinese spy balloon: US sec of state Blinken speaks with senior Chinese official over cancelled visit

China has claimed the flight of an “airship” over the US was an accident and accused politicians and the media of taking advantage of the situation.

The US claims the craft is a suspected spy balloon and said it had committed a “clear violation” of US sovereignty.

China insisted it is used for meteorological and other scientific research.

“China has always strictly abided by international law and respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

US officials said earlier that it had postponed a visit to China by Secretary of State Antony Blinken following the sighting.

However, a Chinese spokesperson said Beijing and Washington had not announced any visit and that “the US announcements are their own matter and we respect that”.

Watch:
Future Wars: Could there ever be a conflict between the US and China?

The foreign ministry said in a separate statement that Wang Yi, director of China’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, had spoken to Mr Blinken on Friday evening and discussed how to deal with accidental incidents in a calm and professional manner.

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A suspected spy balloon – not the moon

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder confirmed a second “spy balloon” was being tracked.

He added: “We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon.”

US authorities confirmed the initial balloon tracked across the US in recent days was a Chinese surveillance device.

In a news conference on Friday, the US defence department said the balloon is heading eastwards but poses “no physical or military threat” to civilians.

The Pentagon’s press secretary would not confirm the current location of the balloon, which is operating at around 60,000ft.

A map showing where the balloon was spotted and the US's Malmstrom Air Force Base
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A map showing where the balloon was spotted and the US’s Malmstrom Air Force Base

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What are spy balloons?

Biden’s response is measured but anchored in reality

There is also no evidence of any nuclear or radioactive material on board but it has the ability to be manoeuvred, according to Brig Gen Ryder.

The object is believed to have flown over the Aleutian Islands, off the coast of Alaska, and through Canada before entering the US.

Military and defence leaders had considered shooting the balloon out of the sky but decided against it due to the safety risk from falling debris.

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What are spy balloons and why could they play a key role in the future of aerial reconnaissance?

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What are spy balloons and why could they play a key role in the future of aerial reconnaissance?

In an era of orbital satellites so advanced that they are able to make out objects half the size of cars from space, a spy balloon might seem like a bit of a relic.

They were a prominent tool for reconnaissance during the Cold War and were even used in a more basic form for intelligence gathering in the Napoleonic Wars more than 200 years ago.

But security experts say the balloons are just the “tip of a revolution” in the development and use of new high-altitude surveillance craft, with the UK even investing millions in a project to develop spy balloons last year.

It comes as the US military on Friday said it was tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon, described as being the size of three buses, that has been flying over northwestern America in recent days.

A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings in Montana but the Pentagon would not confirm whether it was the surveillance balloon
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A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings in Montana

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Chinese spy balloon flying over US airspace, says Pentagon
Spy balloon over US is actually a ‘civilian airship’, says China

A senior defence official said the US has “very high confidence” it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon and was flying over sensitive sites to collect information, while China has not immediately denied the balloon belonged to them.

Beijing admitted that the balloon had come from China, but insisted it was a “civilian airship” that had strayed into American airspace and that it was for meteorological and other scientific research.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is postponing a high-profile visit to China which had been due to begin on Sunday.

What are spy balloons?

The devices are lightweight balloons, filled with gas, usually helium, and attached to a piece of spying equipment such as a long-range camera.

They can be launched from the ground and are sent up into the air where they can reach heights of between 60,000ft (18,000m) and 150,000ft (45,000m), above the flight paths of commercial aircraft in an area known as “near space”.

Once in the air, they travel using a mixture of air currents and pressurised air pockets, which can act as a form of steering.

Why are they still useful in the satellite era?

According to defence and security analyst Professor Michael Clarke, the biggest advantage of spy balloons over satellites are that they can study an area over a longer period of time.

Sky News' Defence Analyst Prof Michael Clarke
Image:
Professor Michael Clarke

“The advantage is they can stay in one place for a long time,” he told Sky News.

“Because of the way the Earth rotates, unless a satellite is over the Equator, you need three to five satellites going all the time to track the same spot.

“These balloons are also relatively cheap, and much easier to launch than a satellite.”

Will balloons continue to be used in future for spying?

Very much so, according to Professor Clarke.

Despite the wide use of satellite technology, countries including the UK are also focusing on the development and use of spycraft to operate in the upper atmosphere.

In August, it was announced the Ministry of Defence had agreed a £100m deal with US defence company Sierra Nevada to provide high-altitude unmanned balloons to be used for surveillance and reconnaissance.

Professor Clarke said: “(These balloons) are the very tip of the revolution for passive upper atmosphere aircraft.”

He said other defence firms, such as BAE, were working on ultralight solar-powered drones which are able to operate in the upper atmosphere and stay in place for up to 20 months.

Why have China used them now?

According to Professor Clarke, the use of these balloons, if indeed they were launched by China, will likely have been a message to the US following its decision to open new military bases in the Philippines.

“I think it’s a challenge,” he said.

“They (China) are signalling that if the US is going to come closer to them then they will be more aggressive with their surveillance.

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Could there be a US-China war?

Watch: Future Wars: Could there ever be a conflict between the US and China?

“It is also caused a political issue in the US now, because it will be seen as a sign of weakness not to shoot it down.

“This causes some embarrassment, but the US doesn’t need to respond.”

The balloon was spotted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday – close to one of the US’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

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Mao Ning, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, says that those involved should be ‘cool-headed’

Military and defence leaders said they considered shooting the balloon out of the sky but decided against it due to the safety risk from falling debris.

Professor Clarke added: “I think the debris issue is a bit of an excuse. It was over one of the least densely populated areas of the US and if they needed to they could have asked everyone to stay inside.

“I don’t think they wanted to make it a bigger issue, because China are daring them to shoot it down and make it an international issue.”

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What are spy balloons and why could they play a key role in the future of aerial reconnaissance?

Published

on

By

What are spy balloons and why could they play a key role in the future of aerial reconnaissance?

In an era of orbital satellites so advanced that they are able to make out objects half the size of cars from space, a spy balloon might seem like a bit of a relic.

They were a prominent tool for reconnaissance during the Cold War and were even used in a more basic form for intelligence gathering in the Napoleonic Wars more than 200 years ago.

But security experts say the balloons are just the “tip of a revolution” in the development and use of new high-altitude surveillance craft, with the UK even investing millions in a project to develop spy balloons last year.

It comes as the US military on Friday said it was tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon, described as being the size of three buses, that has been flying over northwestern America in recent days.

A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings in Montana but the Pentagon would not confirm whether it was the surveillance balloon
Image:
A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings in Montana

Read more:
Chinese spy balloon flying over US airspace, says Pentagon
Spy balloon over US is actually a ‘civilian airship’, says China

A senior defence official said the US has “very high confidence” it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon and was flying over sensitive sites to collect information, while China has not immediately denied the balloon belonged to them.

Beijing admitted that the balloon had come from China, but insisted it was a “civilian airship” that had strayed into American airspace and that it was for meteorological and other scientific research.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is postponing a high-profile visit to China which had been due to begin on Sunday.

What are spy balloons?

The devices are lightweight balloons, filled with gas, usually helium, and attached to a piece of spying equipment such as a long-range camera.

They can be launched from the ground and are sent up into the air where they can reach heights of between 60,000ft (18,000m) and 150,000ft (45,000m), above the flight paths of commercial aircraft in an area known as “near space”.

Once in the air, they travel using a mixture of air currents and pressurised air pockets, which can act as a form of steering.

Why are they still useful in the satellite era?

According to defence and security analyst Professor Michael Clarke, the biggest advantage of spy balloons over satellites are that they can study an area over a longer period of time.

Sky News' Defence Analyst Prof Michael Clarke
Image:
Professor Michael Clarke

“The advantage is they can stay in one place for a long time,” he told Sky News.

“Because of the way the Earth rotates, unless a satellite is over the Equator, you need three to five satellites going all the time to track the same spot.

“These balloons are also relatively cheap, and much easier to launch than a satellite.”

Will balloons continue to be used in future for spying?

Very much so, according to Professor Clarke.

Despite the wide use of satellite technology, countries including the UK are also focusing on the development and use of spycraft to operate in the upper atmosphere.

In August, it was announced the Ministry of Defence had agreed a £100m deal with US defence company Sierra Nevada to provide high-altitude unmanned balloons to be used for surveillance and reconnaissance.

Professor Clarke said: “(These balloons) are the very tip of the revolution for passive upper atmosphere aircraft.”

He said other defence firms, such as BAE, were working on ultralight solar-powered drones which are able to operate in the upper atmosphere and stay in place for up to 20 months.

Why have China used them now?

According to Professor Clarke, the use of these balloons, if indeed they were launched by China, will likely have been a message to the US following its decision to open new military bases in the Philippines.

“I think it’s a challenge,” he said.

“They (China) are signalling that if the US is going to come closer to them then they will be more aggressive with their surveillance.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Could there be a US-China war?

Watch: Future Wars: Could there ever be a conflict between the US and China?

“It is also caused a political issue in the US now, because it will be seen as a sign of weakness not to shoot it down.

“This causes some embarrassment, but the US doesn’t need to respond.”

The balloon was spotted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday – close to one of the US’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Mao Ning, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, says that those involved should be ‘cool-headed’

Military and defence leaders said they considered shooting the balloon out of the sky but decided against it due to the safety risk from falling debris.

Professor Clarke added: “I think the debris issue is a bit of an excuse. It was over one of the least densely populated areas of the US and if they needed to they could have asked everyone to stay inside.

“I don’t think they wanted to make it a bigger issue, because China are daring them to shoot it down and make it an international issue.”

Continue Reading

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