The Top 10 Science Stories of 2012

A devastating storm, a new phase of Mars exploration, a recipe for a pandemic flu--these and other events highlight the year in science and technology

The Top 10 Science Stories of 2012
Image courtesy of NASA

Sandy Devastates the U.S. Northeastern Coast

Like a bad horror movie sequel, Hurricane Sandy churned up the U.S. east coast this fall, making landfall on the New Jersey shore just before Halloween and a little more than a year after Hurricane Irene took a similar path. Unlike Hurricane Irene, which devastated inland communities with torrential rains, Sandy's wrath came in the form of hurricane-force winds and a storm surge exceeding four meters—enough to reshape the New Jersey and Long Island shorelines as well as inundate critical New York City infrastructure, such as subway tunnels and power stations, among other ill effects.

Meteorologists dubbed Sandy a “frankenstorm” for its meteorologic mash-up of a hurricane moving up from the south, a winter storm moving in from the west and a ridge of high pressure forcing the systems to merge and move inland. Add in the fact that the tropical cyclone alone stretched more than 1,500 kilometers across and boasted the lowest pressure of any storm ever recorded north of North Carolina—943 millibars—and Sandy certainly merited the designation “superstorm.”

Climate change seems to have intensified the event. A record summer sea ice melt in the Arctic likely helped create the weather conditions that forced Hurricane Sandy along its ill-fated track. The storm also gained "a little bit of extra kick from the slightly warmer than normal waters it will be tracking over," noted James Franklin, the branch chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center.

The disaster, which inflicted at least $50-billion worth of damage and claimed at least 250 lives, 131 in the U.S. alone, showed the vulnerability of our cities and coastal communities.  Sandy's legacy demands new thinking as to how best to prepare for future punishing storms, likely to be even stronger in our ever-warmer world. —David Biello

» In-Depth Report: Hurricane Sandy: An Unprecedented Disaster
» In-Depth Report: Extreme Weather and Climate Change

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