Sunday, July 31, 2016

How Much Rain Did Elliot City (Maryland) Really Receive?

Scrolling down twitter, I found a link to the following video from ABC News regarding last night's torrential rain in Elliot City, Maryland -- shown below:

Based on the past blog post topics regarding "floods" and large volumes of water, I could not help but wonder how much water really fell on Elliot City.  Elliott City is located within Howard County (Maryland).  Below are the results of reported statistics of rainfall.

How Much Rain Is In 12-Inches Of Rain?

According to an article on the news website "" titled "Flash Flooding, Storms Cause Havoc in Parts of Maryland and New Jersey" between 10-12 inches of rain has fallen over Howard County:

Video captured on Instagram showed cars on at least one street in Ellicott City being carried away in what looked like a tide. A state of emergency was declared for Howard County, and local ABC affiliate WJLA-TV reported "10 to 12 inches of flowing water" along with damages that would take "days to weeks of clean up."

The flash flooding caused a tremendous amount of rain to fall.  In New Jersey, the situation is not better.  Here is another excerpt from the article above:

 In Princeton, New Jersey, water reached waist-deep levels, and in Plainsboro, New Jersey, WABC-TV, an ABC station in New York, reported that cars were rendered immobile by floods, and that there were power outages around that region. Six inches of rain hit parts of the state.

These descriptions along with other articles and video on the internet show an unprecedented amount of rain falling on the region.  In order to fully grasp the content being shown on various websites, a few calculations need to be done to cast the volume of rain into perspective.   Through dimensional analysis, we can figure out the volume of the rain that has been dropped on the entire county (by approximation) and then use a metric to cast that volume into perspective.  Lets start.

To start the calculation, we need to know the area of Howard County (in Maryland).  How might we find that value?  Why not ask ""?  Here are the results of my search below as shown:

The total area of Howard County is 253 square miles. Next, according to the news account above, the area received around a foot of rain (reported 10-12 inches).  Remember, the calculations are approximations to inspire readers to think about the relative volumes of rain that come with such natural disasters.

In order to calculate a volume, we need to have an equation for volume -- which is expressed as follows:

Since we know an area (expressed in units) in square miles, a conversion will be necessary given that the reported height in rainfall is expressed in units of "feet."  The conversion factor from square miles to square feet needs to be obtained.  Again, why not ask ""?  Here are the results:

For ever square mile, there are 27,880,000-feet.   Roughly, Twenty-Eight million square feet per square mile!   With the conversion factor known between units in hand, the calculation can be accomplished as follows:

The number 7.05 billion square feet is the area of Howard County expressed in units of square feet.  First, notice that the number is significantly greater than 253 square miles (which is good) -- signifying that the units are correct.  Next, the area is one part needed to carry out the calculation of the total volume of rain in the equation above.

With the height of the rainfall reported to be around a foot (12 inches), the volume expression shown above can be solved as shown below to calculate the total volume of rain:

That is an extremely large number of cubic feet of rain.  I like to view a numerical value for volume in units of gallons.  I can easily open the refrigerator up in my house and look at a gallon of milk to get a rough idea of the basic unit - the gallon.

The conversion factor between cubic feet and gallons can be obtained from a previous blog (written about the recent torrential rainfall in China).  In every cubic foot of water, there are 7.48052 gallons of water.  With this in mind, the calculation of converting units from cubic feet to gallons is straightforward and shown below:

All together, the total rainfall that Howard County (in Maryland) received was an astounding (an incomprehensible) 53 billion gallons.  How can we get our heads around the value of 52.7 billion gallons of rain?  Lets try using a metric below to visualize .  Read on to find out!

How Many Empire State Buildings Could be filled?

To really understand the magnitude of that volume of rain, a proper metric is needed.  How about using the Empire State Building?  Here is a picture taken from the "Wikipedia" page shown below:

Source: Wikipedia

How many Empire State Buildings would be filled with 7.05 billion cubic feet of water?

In order to carry out the calculation, the volume of the Empire State Building (shown in the picture above) must be known.  If you do a search in "" you will find the answer to be located on a website "" with a stated value shown below:

Bullet statement #6 states that the total volume of the Empire State Building is 37 million cubic feet.  Wow.  That is large.  How does 37 million cubic feet of space compare with the total volume of rainfall across Howard County of 7.05 billion cubic feet?  Obviously, the answer will entail a multiplication factor between the two.  The calculation of the number of Empire State Buildings that would be filled is shown below:

Wow, Wow, Wow!  The result really drives home the point of using dimensional analysis to cast a metric to put the volume into perspective.  Although, as with other large volume analyses on this website (click on the tag Large Volume Analysis to access all), the number of structures that could be filled are truly incomprehensible.  Although, the utility of performing dimensional analysis is to give the reader an idea of the scale of the problem (or natural disaster).

What do I mean by the last sentence?

Upon calculating the number of Empire State Buildings that could be filled to be 190 buildings, one can try to visualize the following:  Imagine spreading the volume of 190 Buildings stacked together over an area of 253 square miles.  The volume would obviously shrink as the area increases to eventually cover 12 inches.

After spreading the volume contained in the Empire State Buildings out to an area of 253 square miles, the picture would look like the following taken from "Twitter" shown below:

In the picture above, the cars are being carried down the street by the rainfall which resulted in extreme flooding.  Regardless of the analysis that we try to perform here on this site, any loss of life is incomprehensible as well.  Natural disasters cause a person to take a step back and appreciate what life we have.  I hope that you do the same too as watching this one unfold on social media.


Any loss of life due to natural disasters is a terrible thing to have to consider.  The amount of rainfall that fell over the weekend on Elliot City and broader -- Howard County inflicted great damage.  The analyses here showed the volume to be around 190 Empire State Buildings worth of water.  Yes, that is correct.  The amount of rainfall could fill 190 buildings -- Wow.

For a homework assignment, figure out the amount of Mercedes Benz Superdome (pictured below) that could be filled with the equivalent volume of water.

Source: Wikipedia

Before you carry out the calculation, take a guess whether the amount of Superdomes would be greater or lesser than the amount of Empire State Buildings.  Provide your answer in the comments sections below.  Until next time, have a great day!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

'Wayfinding' Signs Are For Everyone Not Just Tourists!

The concept of a 'wayfinding' sign is typically thought of to assist tourists in a city or a region to get around.  Why do we restrict our thinking to such narrow benefits for a select population?  According to a recent news article, the typical thinking was reported on and struck me as dull -- not really exciting.  Why?  Read on below to find out why.

Wayfinding Signage?

What is 'wayfinding' signage?  What is the utility of such signage?  What does that signage look like?  All of these questions are acceptable in this day and age.  Especially as different urban areas try to transition toward designing downtown regions which motivate residents and tourists to engage in greater active modes of transportation -- when moving around.

Here is an example of a 'wayfinding' sign in Glendale (California, USA) shown below:

Source: Roger Wilson/LA Times

Upon inspection of the sign in the picture above, there is a time printed on the sign and a destination.  In this case, the time that a person would have to walk (7 minutes) from this point to the shops on Brand Blvd.  Here is an image of a map taken from GoogleMaps outlining the distance stated on the sign below:

The sign shown in the picture above was taken from an article in the Sunday 'LA Times' titled "New 'wayfinding signs' encourage pedestrians to take a stroll around Glendale."   Among the paragraphs in the story, three stood out in particular.  The first excerpt highlights the reason for the signs as shown below:

Dubbed "wayfinding signs," the signage along local sidewalks serves two purposes: they contain health tips and point in the direction of local landmarks such as the Glendale Galleria and the Americana at Brand.

"We're thinking they'd be helpful for visitors, people who may not necessarily be familiar with all the sights and attractions here in town, and residents may find a hidden jewel in their neighborhood," said Juan Gonzalez, neighborhood services supervisor for the city.

The City of Glendale has the correct intentions for tourists.  Although, tourists should not be the only audience that transportation experts are targeting.  The overall mission of transportation authorities should be to target everyone living within walking/biking distance (<3 miles) of the downtown area.  Especially, as this mission is aligned with the mission of Measure R2 and with Governor Jerry Brown's vision of engaging a greater population in using active modes of transportation (i.e., motivating active transportation).  For those who are unfamiliar with Measure R2, the measure is a huge transportation bill to be added to November's ballot -- which will supply billions of dollars over the next few decades (read more here).

These distances can easily be traveled safely and quickly by bicycle - but remain unknown to the average resident who mainly relies on their vehicle to travel short distances (which is astounding).  Additionally, the city should be emphasizing the relative distances associated with traveling within the "downtown area" of Glendale.  Here is a map of South Glendale (that is below the 134 Fwy) shown below:

The scale is  located at the bottom right.  As the reader can see, the entire "downtown" area (including residential areas surrounding downtown) spans may 2 miles wide by 3 miles in length (running North to South).  Residents could easily walk and bike around the area where all of the major business is conducted if they had a better grasp of the relative dimensions of the city.

One of the main motivations of writing for this blog site is to demystify reported statistics in the popular news using dimensional analysis.  Viewing a map in context to scale and relative distances, should motivate residents of the area -- not just tourists to walk and bike rather than drive.

In the first map shown above, the time that a person needs to travel from City Hall to Brand Blvd is only 8 minutes.  I wonder how many of the public employees who work at City Hall (Council members and Mayor) walk to Brand Blvd for lunch?  Furthermore, how many of the politicians walk the city rather than drive?  Maybe that is a question that needs to asked of the city in the near future.

The lack of participation in active transportation seems to be mainly centered around awareness.  Residents in the city have not the awareness of the relative times that is required of them to travel the relative distances.  As usual, I try not to bring any subject up if I am unwilling to help in increasing the awareness -- which I have in the past.

How Long Does It Take To Walk Downtown?

Understanding the relative times that is required to travel a certain distance is critical in motivating the use of active modes of transportation.  I have written on this site previously about eliminating the separation of commuting and leisurely trips when it comes to active transportation.   Every trip should be an active transportation trip!

What is our part in the process?

We started the nonprofit organization 'Bikecar101' -- with a mission of the following: to advocate for and educate the public about bicycle on public transit trains.  How does this correlate to the subject at hand -- wayfinding?

and the other video:

In each video, we started the experiments from the West side of town.  From our house, we traveled to the center (to the Americana) and to the East side (to the fountain - second video).  Which means that if residents are willing to walk around a mile each way, there is no need to use a car.

Of course, if the purpose of the trip is to buy groceries (in large quantities) or heavy objects from the mall, that is an exception to the rule.  Think about how much healthier the residents of Glendale would be if there was a higher participation in active transportation.  In the article above, the distance highlighted by the 8 minute walk drove home the point that anyone living in the vicinity of City Hall does not need to drive (every time) to get to Brand.  Plus, here is an excerpt from the article highlighting the health benefits:

As for health tips, one of the signs states that doctors recommend walking 6,000 steps a day to improve one's health and 10,000 a day to lose weight.
There's also a social-media campaign as part of the program. Pedestrians are encouraged to snap selfies of themselves with a wayfinding sign in the shot and share the pictures on social media with the hashtag #GlendaleWalks.

Any person can easily achieve 10,000 steps by traveling using active transportation in a given day.  There is no excuse.  The information is present in the article.  You might ask then the following question:

What is wrong with the article?


Again, the 'wayfinding' signs are a wonderful addition to the City of Glendale.  I hope that as the transportation experts around the Southern California area move forward in motivating voters to go out and support Measure R2 this November, we remember the overall mission.  It is imperative that the all active modes of transportation be emphasized.  Walking, biking, along with the use of light rail, bus rapid transit affords the opportunity to travel over a wide range of distances here in Southern California.  In order to drive home the concept, each of us advocates need to demystify the distances that are available to walk/bike in our respective cities.

'Wayfinding' signs contribute greatly to this effort.  Although, if each of us do not contribute and explain to our fellow citizen the purpose of these additions (signage), then they will go unnoticed.  Walking/biking is demystified by various exercise groups on the weekends along with local bicycle coalitions (the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition hosts a Sunday "Fun day" ride each month).  Working together, come November, Measure R2 will become a reality.  Then the real work continues to be our duty -- spread the word by education to produce a better society.  Each City needs to work together to become a region promoting healthy and sustainable transportation.  Infrastructure and tourism is just one part of a larger solution.

To stay informed on transportation, infrastructure, and advocacy issues in the region read the vast coverage (while up to date) at

Monday, July 25, 2016

Can A Broken Sewer Line 20 Miles Away Close The Beach?

Can a broken sewer line 20 miles away cause a beach to close down for a couple of days?  Actually, yes.  Surprisingly enough, when 2.4 million gallons of sewage is spilled onto the street near downtown Los Angeles, a beach that is 20 miles away could be impacted.  In fact, especially if there is a direct route to the beach like the Los Angeles River.  A large amount of press was devoted to the story earlier this week.  There was question to the degree of harm possible and the impact on the tourist visiting the beach.  After reading this, I could not help but ask the following question:

How much sewage is in 2.4 million gallons? 

In the paragraphs below, we explore through dimensional analysis the volume reported in the news.

How Large Is 2.4 Million Gallons?

In order to understand the magnitude of the disaster and the threat to the surrounding community, we need to understand how large of a volume is 2.4 million gallons of sewage.  More generally speaking, how does one visualize 2.4 million gallons of a liquid (say water for example)?  

In order to visualize the volume, another volume must be used as a metric.  That is how dimensional analysis is carried out for other blog posts on this blog and in science, engineering, math, etc.  A metric is used to cast the volume in question into for a comparison.  For a volume of this magnitude, an Olympic Swimming Pool is a convenient choice.  

How do I know this to be a suitable metric to use for dimensional analysis of the sewage spill?  

Based on previous blog posts in which we entertain a range of volumes (smallmediumlarge) of a liquid (water, oil, etc.), the volume of the swimming pool will be a suitable metric.  If you are a reader of this blog, you would agree.

How large is an Olympic Swimming Pool?

A picture of an Olympic Swimming pool is shown below:

The volume of an Olympic Swimming pool can be taken from an earlier post that I wrote on this site: the introductory post!  The volume is around 660,000 gallons of water.  With this value in hand, the comparison to the volume in question (2.4 million gallons of sewage) is straightforward as shown below:

This means that 3.6 Olympic Swimming pools could be filled with the total amount of sewage spilled.  When the volume is cast into that light (or dimension), the amount spilled does not seem excessive.  Why were the beaches closed?

Beach Closure Due To Sewage Spill

The news reported a disaster in the form of a broken sewage pipe that spilled 2.4 million gallons of sewage into the streets of Los Angeles.  Here is a video of the news report from the YouTube channel for "CBS news" shown below:

Source: CBS News

After watching the video above, the one question dominating my mind was the following:

How did toxic levels accumulate in the ocean after spreading out down the LA River bed?

Here is a map showing the distance to the LA River:

On the lower right hand corner of the map, a scale is provided to give context to the distance from the spill to the river.  Furthermore, if we zoom out and look at the distance to the ocean, we can barely see the LA River as shown in the map below:

Why is this relevant?

The river bed is not full of water at any given time as portrayed in the GoogleMap above (the first map).  In the video above, the river is shown filled side to side (near the ocean).  That portion is closer to where the river dumps into the ocean.  This is due to the ocean creeping back up into the river bed with a back pressure.  Further up a few miles, the water is narrower.  According to the news report, the spill occurred 20 miles up the river from the ocean.  This time of year, the river is around 10 feet wide and about 2 feet deep.

The question that should stand out in everyone's mind is how much sewage is required to reach the ocean?

The reasoning behind the thought is the following.  Upon the pipe breaking, sewage starts to spill and eventually runs into the river.  By the time the initial sewage reaches the ocean, there should be a dilution due to mixing with the existing water.

How much water is flowing from the spill site to the ocean?

Below is a map illustrating the distance from the spill site to the ocean:

The path along the river to the ocean is denoted by the "blue line" in the map above.  A scale is shown on the lower right hand side of the map.  In total, the distance is 22 miles to the ocean.

If we want to determine the volume of water in the river, a volume needs to be calculated.  The equation for volume is shown below:

In the equation above, there are three parameters that need to be known in order to determine the volume of sewage.  First, the length is known to be 20 miles from the spill site to the ocean.  Second, the width is approximated to be 10 feet.  And last is the height of the water which was approximated to be 2 feet.  The volume can be determined using the values listed as follows:

The volume can now be determined using the equation above for volume as follows:

The volume calculated above is expressed in units of 'cubic feet' which is not useful to compare against 2.4 million gallons.  In order to convert units from 'cubic feet' to 'gallons' the conversion factor needs to be known.  For every 'cubic feet' there are 7.4805 gallons.  I took this conversion factor from a previous blog post.

With conversion factor between units known, the number of gallons can now be determined as follows:

The volume is now expressed in units of gallons -- which will allow us to perform a direct comparison to the volume of the spill shown below:

What does the result of 6.7 mean from the calculation above?

As the sewage spilled into the LA River, the sewage was 'diluted' into a large volume of water.  I would like to know when the concentration of sewage was near zero in the river.  I would speculate that the river and beaches were open before that was the case.

In an article in the 'LA Times' titled "Sewage spill in L.A. grows to 2.4 million gallons, prompting bans on swimming in Seal Beach and Long Beach", there was an excerpt detailing of a large sewage spill that occurred during the storm 'El Nino' in 1998.   Here is the excerpt shown below detailing the extent of the beach closure:

Although the leak was large, it pales in comparison with Los Angeles’ largest spill.
In 1998, more than 30 million gallons of sewage spilled during El NiƱo storms, Hagekhalil said.
“We haven't had a large overflow in over 15 years,” he said.

If there was no storm to push the sewage down the river, how long does the sewage take to disperse?

Solid sediments inside the sewage flowing over a distance of 20 miles will invariably settle on the bottom of the river bed.  Additionally, this would cause the overall concentration of harmful bacteria to drop in a short period of time.  Although, as more water flows down the river, the sediment that settled would get kicked up and redistributed -- down the river.  This question begs a couple of other questions regarding the homeless population that live along the river bed:

How were the homeless people who live along the LA River impacted by the sewage spill?

Why was there no reporting of the impact on the residents along the river bed?

If you have bicycled down the LA River trail to Long Beach, you have inevitably seen the unusually large homeless population.  Each time that a storm hits, the 'LA Times' will run a story documenting the concern for the homeless living along the river (news from Mayor).

Were these people not impacted by the sewage spill?

Regardless, the sewage spill is a major problem and typically under reported.  Although, the same type of reporting is done regarding oil spills in the past locally.  These are just a few initial thoughts on the matter.  Stay tuned as more spills emerge.


There are many remaining questions that have not been answered by the popular news over this disaster. What actions have been taken to reduce a future occurrence like this? In the LA region, there seems to be a large number of water and sewage pipes that are outdated and need to be fixed. How does the City plan to fix these potential problems? What about the homeless population living in the LA River? How were they impacted during this event?

More information needs to be disseminated about the acceptable level of bacteria or toxins that the City uses to decide upon when to re-open the beaches and Rivers. There are tourists and residents that would like to know this information. What procedures are used to determine safety of the water? I would like to know the methods as an instrument manager at a University chemistry department. Additionally, I am sure that the chemistry students who are interested in pursuing careers in the environmental testing sector would be interested in knowing too.

Monday, July 18, 2016

How Much Rain Did China Really Receive?

A recent news story broke about flooding in China due to a torrential rainstorm recently.  This rain has caused considerable damage and destruction both to buildings and structures along with the loss of life.  In order to truly understand the meaning of the picture below, I thought that a short blog post using dimensional analysis to compare to recent water stories hitting the news this year would be appropriate.  Here is the picture of a stadium in China taken from a news story:

Source: Quartz

How does this picture compare with others describing disasters earlier in 2016 thus far?

The following will be a series of calculations illustrating the numbers relative to earlier numbers reported in earlier blog posts on the site.

Torrential Flooding In China

In a recent video displayed on the website of the 'New York Times,' titled "Flood Ravages Southern China" -- the extent of the flooding is clearly visible.  The video is short (less than a minute) and worth watching:

Where did all of this water come from?  Obviously the sky, but why in periodic downpours?

At first, I thought that China along with the rest of the world needs the water that is possible due to nature.  There is a limit to the need, where, need turns into excess with improper construction that ends in disaster.  This is extremely unfortunate.  From a viewer's standpoint -- thousands of miles away, the amount of water contain in one or two feet of water seems inconsequential.

Although, according to the news site 'InsuranceJournal' in an article titled 'China Floods Kill 173, Cut Transportation Links; Hit to Economy Expected,' the total amount of water was distributed over a large land mass area.  Here is an excerpt describing the rain and destruction:

The Ministry of Civil Affairs said flooding and rain associated with the typhoon affected more than 31 million people in 12 provinces, submerged more than 2.7 million hectares (6.7 million acres) of cropland and caused 67.1 billion yuan ($10 billion) in damages.

That is a large amount of water to drop from the sky.  The damages are enormous at least in number along with the huge number of people adversely affected (31 million over 12 provinces).  Descriptions of events differ greatly depending on the sources.  Coming from a journal whose audience is mainly from the insurance sector, crop damage would be of great importance.  At the same time, reporting on the effect on the GDP would be appropriate out of a journal of this sector.  Here is a description taken from the article describing the negative impact on the GDP as a function of flooding below:

China’s National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement Sunday that fruit and vegetable prices had “risen significantly” in some flooded regions. It asked local authorities to “closely monitor prices” and implement price controls if needed.

Flooding will boost consumer prices in July and August by about 0.2 percentage point to levels above 2 percent, Zhou Jingtong, director of macroeconomic research at Bank of China Ltd. in Beijing, wrote in a note. The CPI rose 1.9 percent from a year earlier in June, less than a 2 percent gain in May, the National Bureau of Statistics said Sunday.

Economists said the floods would have both short- and long-term implications for the world’s second-largest economy. Food and product shortages could materialize soon from supply interruptions as transport hubs were paralyzed and factories and offices closed in some of China’s most industrialized provinces.

Economists suggest that the effect is unknown and will show itself in later quarters the year in terms of GDP.  For the purposes of this blog site, I am concerned with understanding the dimensions of the reported statistics.  Therefore, after reading about the enormous amount of rain,  I wondered how much water was in that reported volume?

I decided to carryout a few calculations below.  I will walk you through my calculations of the water below.  In order decided to compute the amount of water in the volume described above -- 2.7 million hectares and 2 foot deep, the conversion of how many hectares are in a square mile has to be obtained.  Typically, the volumes of water that are reported in the popular news are cast in units of "cubic feet" -- therefore, to get to cubic feet, we will have to go through square miles.  First, the conversion from hectares to square miles is shown below:

With the conversion factor known, the dimensional analysis of hectares to square miles is possible as shown below:

The first line of the calculations above is the conversion of hectares into square feet.  Since the objective was to eventually calculate a volume for a meaningful comparison, the calculation includes the conversion from square miles into square feet.  In the second line of the calculation, the area of the water is expressed in square feet is multiplied by the value "2 ft" (which represents the height of the rainfall).  The calculated value is in units of cubic feet which is a volume.  What does the number above represent?

The calculated number -- 580 billion cubic feet represents the total rainfall (a volume) that fell on 2.7 million hectares of land in China -- WOW!!!!

How Large Is 580 Billion Cubic Feet?

In order to put that volume into context, we need to return to an old post (back in January) titled "How Much Water Is In A Few Inches Of Rain?" where I verified a statistic (volume of rain) that was reported by the popular news.  Through researching where the 'error' propagated from, I determined that the weather forecasting service center made a "late night" calculation error.  At least, that was the response from the service that I received.  Read that blog to find out more about that fiasco.

The result from the calculations in that blog post resulted in our understanding that over the range of the Lake, 1.92 inches of rain equated to around 6.3 billion gallons of water.  Therefore, we should not be too surprised with the result above.  Still, the amount of damage is terrible and should not be minimized in any manner.  Remember, on this site, we are dealing strictly with the numbers (or facts) that are reported in the popular news.

How many hectares encompass the Lake Tahoe area?

Great question.  According to 'Wikipedia' -- the Lake Tahoe Watershed -- which consists of the mountain area surrounding Lake Tahoe and which drains into the lake is around 505 square miles.

How many 'hectares' are in 505 square miles?

To start the calculation, we need to know the conversion factor between the two areas.  The conversion is shown as an image below:

Next, how many are in 505 square miles?  Easy, just multiply 505 square miles by 258.999 hectares/square-miles as shown below:

How does 130,000 hectares compare with the reported 2.7 million above?  Here is the image of the conversion online shown below:

The Lake Tahoe watershed basin is 1/20th of the size of the 12 provinces in China that were submerged in water.  Plus, the amount of rain fall differed in the two storms by nearly 22 inches of rain -- which is a considerable (enormous) amount water.

In order to compare the amount of rain that poured down in the two regions -- Lake Tahoe and China, the volume needs to be expressed in units of "gallons."  The conversion of the volume in units is shown below:

With the volume expressed in units of gallons, a direct comparison to the volume of rain discussed in my previous blog about the rainfall in Lake Tahoe is now possible.  Dividing the two numbers yields 676 as shown below:

Below is a picture of the Lake Tahoe basin:

What does the ratio -- 676 mean?  The question can be restated to the following:

What is the equivalent volume per area for Lake Tahoe?

Equivalent Volume Per Area For Lake Tahoe?

At the end of the last section the question of equivalent volume per area was in question.  Which is to say, the amount of the rain that fell over 12 provinces in China over 2.7 million hectares is 2 feet.  Now the question is:

How many feet of rain in the Lake Tahoe region would compare to the volume in China?

To start with, a statement of equivalent ratio of feet to volume needs to be stated as shown below:

On the left hand side, there is a variable "y" in the numerator which represents the volume (yet to be determined) of the equivalent rain covering Lake Tahoe to that of China.  In the denominator, the area of the Lake Tahoe region (Lake and surrounding mountains) is expressed in hectares.

On the right hand side, in the denominator, the volume of rain (580 billion cubic feet) that fell on China is shown divided by the area -- which is 2.7 million hectares.  After rearranging the equation to solve for "y", the result is shown:

In order to compare the volume of water that fell as rainfall to the volume reported for Lake Tahoe last winter, the units of volume need to be the same -- gallons.  Shown below is the conversion from cubic feet to gallons:

Next, dividing the two volumes (China and Lake Tahoe) of rain fall will yield the multiplication factor.  The ratio can be determined below as shown:

The ratio of the two volumes of rainfall is 33.  Which means that the volume of the initial rainfall from last winter in Lake Tahoe can be used to determine the equivalent rainfall that occurred in China.  First, take the multiplication factor and determine the amount of inches as shown below:

One final conversion from inches to feet will yield the equivalent amount of rainfall in the Lake Tahoe basin as shown below:

That is an enormous amount of rain.  Clearly, one can look at the picture of Lake Tahoe above and imagine 25 feet high of rainfall as incomprehensible.  Further, to imagine that the calculated volume was spread over 12 provinces in China.  No wonder there was such a large loss in crops and infrastructure.  What a terrible disaster?  Volumes of water like this make me wonder just how much water is in the sky?  Must be a truly incomprehensible amount.

Conclusion and Homework

The point has been driven home regarding the natural disaster experienced by China over the last couple of weeks.  An enormous amount of torrential rainfall has poured down and disrupted not one city but multiple provinces.  The damage for which has yet to be truly determined and might take a while seeing the scale on which the disaster occurred.

The calculations revealed an astounding volume of 25 feet pouring into the Lake Tahoe region to be compared to the entire storm in China.  Unimaginable to say the least.  For the reader (you), I have a couple of problems for a "homework assignment" listed below based on former blogs on this site:

1) How does the volume of rainfall compare to the volume of water stored in the Mosul Dam in Iraq?

2) How does the volume of rainfall compare to the flood in Brazil late last year from a mine?

3) How many Deep Water Horizon Oil Spills is the volume of rainfall equivalent to?

4) How many of the "World's largest pool" could be filled up with the volume of rainfall?

I think that the assignment will span the full range of volumes and give you an idea of the enormity of this natural disaster.  I hope that you will view disasters like this in a completely different light after working through the problems on the blog and the site.  Have a great day!

Monday, July 11, 2016

How Much Weight Can 54 Billion Cubic Feet Of Helium Lift?

If you were to release a balloon filled with helium outside, what would happen?  The balloon would rise up until the pressure in the atmosphere caused the balloon to burst releasing the helium inside (which would rise until escaping the atmosphere -- the subject of a previous blog).  The blimps that fly high above us are in part operated by helium (lift provided by the gas).  What is the point right?

Recently, a large helium deposit was found off of Tanzania in Africa that holds an estimated 54 billion cubic feet.  WOW!  Thinking of helium from the perspective of providing "lift" in a balloon, how much weight could the amount contained in the reserve (in Africa) lift?  Read on to find out the answer.

How Much Volume Does 54 Billion Cubic Feet Of Helium Occupy?

As readers of this blog site know, one of the many goals is to demystify science along with the large numbers and concepts that come with the field.  Recently, an article titled "Scientists Make Huge Helium Discovery (On Planet Earth)"  appeared on the website "ChemInfo" that unveiled a new helium deposit that has been found in Africa.  Here is an excerpt detailing the new discovery and the importance from the article:

The scientific community has been abuzz for years that the earth is running out of helium. Though it is one of the most abundant resources in the universe, helium is in limited supply on earth. And once it’s extracted and used, it’s gone forever.

Helium is a rare and vital commodity with many uses including industrial leak detection and deep sea diving equipment. Liquid helium is also used as a coolant for rocket fuel and as a superconductor for magnets in MRI machines. Plus, kids love it at parties.

Because our stockpile of helium has been dwindling at the National Helium Reserve in Texas, with no known new helium gas fields to extract it from, concerns have mounted that the days of floaty party balloons could soon be ending. Recently, scientists made a major discovery that could change that.

For the first time, researchers have pinpointed a giant helium gas field. Usually, helium is discovered accidentally when extracting oil and gas. Up until this point, scientists had never intentionally located a helium field. But the discovery was made after a team from the University of Oxford and Durham University collaborated with a Norwegian helium exploration company, Helium One, and set out to see if it could be done.

If you are wondering whether the world is getting desperate for helium, you are correct.  As the world consumes helium through the avenues listed above, including the semiconducting industry (the largest user), reserves are becoming more precious.

This is why researchers are becoming "proactive" in their search as described above.  Just think about the prospect of not being able to get an MRI at the hospital after sustaining an injury -- due to the lack of a magnetic field which is dependent upon metal windings being immersed in a bath of liquid helium.  Once charged, the metal windings hold the current circulating at zero resistance (superconductivity) until the wires become room temperature again (helium boils off).

How much helium was discovered?

Here is another excerpt regarding the discovery amount shown below:

The researchers estimate that the field could be holding as much as 54 billion cubic feet of helium, which is more than twice the amount being currently held in the U.S. If correct, the field could help supply the world’s helium for generations to come.

Assuming the detection methods are accurate, the team says the next step will be finding the best place to extract the gas. They also hope that the discovery could potentially lead to scientists uncovering more helium fields.

Sticking with the past blog posts on this site, how does a person comprehend such a volume of helium?  First, I should point out that the amount is in question due to the measurement device.  That is an important bit of information.  Why?  The amount detected is only as accurate as the measurement device.  Furthermore, just because the amount is assumed to be that large, the actually amount extracted could be different.

How different?

Probably no more than an order of magnitude.

In order to visualize the enormous amount of helium that has recently been discovered in Africa, lets return to an old post.  As you will recall, there was an enormous amount of gas leaked from a storage facility in Southern California -- the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility -- starting the end of last year.  The leak was massive enough that the total amount of gas leaked turned out to be around 5 billion cubic feet leaked.

The underground storage reservoir was estimated to hold around 184 cubic feet of gas.  A reader sent in a comment to correct me and said that the gas was under extreme pressure, therefore, the total space of the reservoir was less (but how much less) -- not too much less.  The fact remains that the amount of helium discovered in Africa is within a range of volume that has been put into perspective.

Specifically, how many Mercedez Benz Super Domes would have to be filled to hold 54 billion cubic feet of helium gas?

In order to carry out the calculation, the volume of the Super Dome needs to be known -- which is around 125 million cubic feet interior volume.  A picture of the exterior of the Super Dome is shown below:

                                              Source: Photo by David Grunfeld (

With the interior volume of the Super Dome known to be 125 million cubic feet, the amount of Super Domes that could be filled is calculated by dividing the two numbers as shown below:

Wow!  The amount of gas that was discovered underground is enough to fill 432 Mercedez Benz SuperDomes?  My goodness, that is a large amount of gas.  I am constantly amazed at the volumes that are listed in these news stories.  Like most readers, I read the same statistic -- 54 billion cubic feet -- of helium and think the following:  That must be an enormous amount?

By performing dimensional analysis, I am one step closer by comparing the amount to other statistics in the news, such as the Porter Ranch Gas Leak I mentioned above.  Dimensional analysis allows me to place the number in a better place -- a place in my mind of perspective.  Store that number next to Porter Ranch under the mental file -- excessive amounts of gas -- really incomprehensible.

The question that was intended to be answered in the blog post was the following:

How much weight can 54 billion cubic feet of gas lift?

This requires us to think like blimp designers.  Lets do some math below to find out.

How Much Weight Can 54 Billion Cubic Feet Of Gas Lift?

To tackle the question of the blog post, we must think like a blimp designer to a small extent.  In theory, a blimp is filled with helium and can provide a large amount of lift to accomplish a task.  The blimp in question could look like the following -- only much larger:

Source: ABC News

Shown above is the 'Goodyear' Blimp.  According to the website ',' the average blimp holds a volume of gas in the range of  67,000 -- 250,000 cubic feet of helium.  Since the volume of gas that is contained in the ground in Africa is enormous -- nearly 5 orders of magnitude larger, our imagination will have to suffice.  Just think of the blimp above just many orders of magnitude larger -- use creativity.

In order to calculate the amount of weight that 54 billion cubic feet of gas can lift, a ratio of volume to weight needs to be determined for a balloon.  I found the answer on '' in a post titled "How Many Balloons Would It Take to Lift You Off The Ground, Answered" for the amount of balloons required to lift a person off of the ground.  Lets start by learning from 'frames' taken in the video to determine how many balloons are required to lift a person off of the ground.  From there, the volume can be changed to the volume in question and then determine the weight!

Here are the slides with the relevant information to answer the following question:

How many balloons does it take to lift a person off of the ground?

First, the amount of helium needs to be known for a single balloon along with the weight that can be lifted as shown below:

Next, the volume in a typical balloon needs to be known as shown below:

Next, the logic amounts to the following:

1) If 1 Liter of helium can lift 1 gram, then 14 Liters of helium will lift 14 grams.

2) If a person weighs 50 Kg = 110 pounds, then 3500 balloons should lift them off of the ground?

The last statement is shown with no calculations -- which is bothersome if you are the author of this blog site -- right?  In light of this stretch, I calculated the amount of balloons needed to lift 50 Kg as shown below using the video producers logic:

Therefore, 50,000 grams of weight will require 50,000 Liters of helium.  If each balloon holds 14 Liters, then dividing 50,000 Liters by 14 Liters will yield the number of balloons.  In this case, the number calculated revealed just over 3500 balloons would be needed.  The number coincided with the number stated in the video above.

Therefore, I felt comfortable with the ability to reproduce the number reported in the video with the values (parameter values) listed in the video.  This is important for reproducing results.  Reproducing results is increasingly important in science today more than ever with the exponentially growing number of studies being published hourly.

Next, using the values in the video -- I calculated the weight (number of tons).

Wow.  As expected, that is a large amount of weight that can be lifted by 54 billion cubic feet of helium.  How can that number be put into perspective?  In a previous post, the weights of two large objects (Airplane: Spruce Goose and Ship: Queen Mary) were compared and contrasted.

How about using  the weight of the Queen Mary -- which was 96,000-tons?

How many Queen Mary Ships can 54 billion cubic feet of helium lift?

Before the calculation are shown, a picture of the Queen Mary ship might assist you in putting the enormous weight into perspective.   Here is a picture of the Queen Mary below taken from 'Wikipedia':

Source: By RMS_Queen_Mary_Long_Beach_January_2011 -- David Jones 

The calculation is shown below:

According to the calculation, 54 billion cubic feet of helium contained in a 'Goodyear Blimp' could lift the equivalent weight to 18 Queen Mary ships.  WOW.  That is a large amount of helium.  I guess now I understand the enormous enthusiasm behind the discovery off of the tip of Africa.

Just for fun, I thought that I would calculate the number of balloons that could be filled (for celebrations: birthday parties, anniversaries, graduations, etc.).  I show the calculation of the number of balloons that could be filled with 54 billion cubic feet of helium below:

That is an incomprehensible number -- 109 billion balloons.  That would be an enormous number of celebrations.  More than during the span of our lifetime.

Have I made the point yet?

What point?


The discovery of an underground reserve of helium off of Africa has the potential to supply the world with helium for a few decades.  This is reassuring, especially, since just a couple of years ago, the government started discussing the possibility of "rationing" helium to the world.  The current discover is a relief to say the least.  How big is the discovery?  I hope that I have put the enormous number into perspective for you in the paragraphs above.

In a future post, I will explain further why the discovery is important to the field of science.  I now have a few more useful statistics to compare large numbers too -- and so do you.  The next time that someone asks you how to visualize 54 billion cubic feet of a gas (such as helium), you will be able to quickly answer them with the handy statistics:

1) The equivalent of 432 Mercedez Benz SuperDomes!!!

2) If the volume was contained in a blimp, the blimp could lift 18 Queen Mary ships!!!

3) If the volume was in party balloons, 109 billion balloons could be filled for celebrations!!!

Until next time, have a great day!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What Is Holding You Back From Achieving Your Potential?

The question is relatively straight forward and has been asked of people for generations.  Unfortunately, each of us do not always have the answer to achieve the success that we would like to or envision.  Why is this the case?  I believe the answer lies in looking within ourselves to work on "inner obstacles" that prevent us from moving toward the next level.  Why do I believe this to be the case?  I give you the example of a Paralympian Lex Gillette below as an example.

Identify The Obstacle!

Recently, I was in awe after watching a commercial of a ParaOlympian for the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.  Why?  These athletes are amazing to say the least.  Especially, since each have achieved an obstacle and moved forward to compete in the sport of their interest.

The example that I use is of Lex Gillette.  Here is the short (less and 1.5 minutes long) video of the a day of training titled "Lex Gillette Is Jumping Toward Rio" shown below:

Wow!  I cried the first time that I watched this commercial.  You might be thinking that I have over dramatized the video.  But each of us can learn from Lex's evolution.  Think about the video that is shown below in frames to illustrate my point of potential:

Here is a child who was bound to lose his eyesight as explained by his saddened mother.  Although, determined to support his interests, she pushes him to remain in a public high school and graduate as shown below:

During which, he showed an interest in the "long jump" and chooses to try out.  His mother describes with emotion the feeling of watching him go "off course" during his first jump and land on the "side of the pit" rather than in the sand.

I could only imagine the pain that is felt by a parent watching their child hit the side (of the sand box) and fail to achieve their goal.  Further, a majority of people would give up at this point in pursuing an interest (in the face of adversity).  Instead, Lex listened to great advice from his mother.  A powerful statement that had an immeasurable impact on his success:

"Lexis, it does not matter what anybody tells decide what you can do and no one else."

Wow!  What I do know is that the body is resilient and can adapt to a wide range of difficult situations if the mind chooses to train the body.  How do I know this?

I was born "club footed" and had to wear casts on my legs for the first couple of years of my life.  I can still remember the feeling of trying to walk as the casts were "straightening" out my legs over time.  I remarked on this to my mother a few years ago and her response was: "Mike, you can still remember that.  Amazing since you were so young."

She remembers having to watch me learn how to get up and go on my own -- despite her yearnings to help me.  Similarly, Lex Gillette needed to learn how to work with his blindness to achieve the "long jump" and to go onto compete in the Paralympics -- and win.

How has he done in competing over the years?

Here is a description of the competitions from his 'Wikipedia' page shown below:

He competed in the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens, where he won silver in the men's long jump F11 event. At the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, he won a silver medal in the men's long jump F11 event and finished fifth in the men's triple jump F11. He competed in 100m and 200m T11 events but did not advance to the finals. At the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, he won a third consecutive silver medal in the men's long jump F11 event. He also finished fourth in the triple jump event.
At the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France, he won gold in the men's long jump F11 event and he also won silver in the triple jump event. Gillette is apart of the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships 4 × 100 m relay team that won a silver medal and set a new American record in the process. Gillette broke his own long jump world record for F11 classified athletes of 6.73m (22 ft. 1in.) with a leap of 6.77m (22 ft. 2in.) on April 23, 2015 at a high performance meet held at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center.[1][2]

This is a brief summary.  Below on the 'Wikipedia' page is a long list of his amazing accomplishments.  He is a true athlete and inspiration for anyone struggling to achieve their potential.  If you need motivation, do not look any further than him.

Ready To Explore Within Yourself?

This is just one of many stories meant to inspire anyone to find their potential within themselves.  There are a wide range of success stories all around us available to motivate a change toward achieving a goal.  Why don't we look for inspiration and action?

I guess that sitting on the 'pitty potty' ("poor me") is easier than the actual work toward achieving whatever goal the you desire.  The next time that you find yourself wondering why failure is knocking on your door, think of Lex Gillette.  Furthermore, get up and start working to achieve your desired goal.  Until next time, best of luck in your adventure!