With confirmation that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead Saturday morning with a pillow over his head and his clothes unwrinkled, nationally syndicated talk-radio host Michael Savage called for an investigation on the level of the presidentially appointed probe into President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
“Was [Scalia] murdered?” Savage asked his listeners.
“We need a Warren Commission-like federal investigation,” he said. “This is serious business.”
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Savage said an immediate autopsy of the body is needed.
“There was no medical examiner present. There was no one who declared the death who was there. It was done by telephone from a U.S. Marshal appointed by Obama himself,” he said.
"Timewave zero" is a numerological formula that purports to calculate the ebb and flow of "novelty", defined as increase over time in the universe's interconnectedness, or organized complexity. According to Terence McKenna, the universe has a teleological attractor at the end of time that increases interconnectedness, eventually reaching a singularity of infinite complexity in 2012, at which point anything and everything imaginable will occur simultaneously. He conceived this idea over several years in the early to mid-1970s while using psilocybin mushrooms and DMT.
McKenna expressed "novelty" in a computer program which purportedly produces a waveform known as "timewave zero" or the "timewave". Based on McKenna's interpretation of the King Wen sequence of the I Ching, the graph appears to show great periods of novelty corresponding with major shifts in humanity's biological and sociocultural evolution. He believed that the events of any given time are resonantly related to the events of other times, and chose the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as the basis for calculating his end date of November 2012. When he later discovered this date's proximity to the end of the 13th b'ak'tun of the Maya calendar, he revised his hypothesis so that the two dates matched.
The 1975 first edition of The Invisible Landscape refers to 2012 (but no specific day during the year) only twice. In the 1993 second edition, McKenna employed Sharer's date of 21 December 2012 throughout.
The oracle book I Ching, the Chinese ‘book of change,’ has been in use for more than 3,000 years. Today it’s used much like a horoscope but, as with astrology, it once was a tool of politics and governed decisions of state. The underlying premise of the oracle is a unifying resonance between heaven, earth and humans. The basic unit of the oracle is the line, which may be solid or broken. Three lines make a trigram, and one trigram sitting upon another is a hexagram, or six lines. The trigram for wood sitting on that of water may portend a good sea voyage, but it gets a lot more complicated.
Combinations of lines, solid or broken, make a total of 64 possible hexagrams. In these are read the circumstances of a human at a particular time, a specific place in space-time, and the book claims to contain ‘the categories of all that is.’ Anthropologist F.C. Wallace, working among Native Americans, determined that ‘irrespective of race, culture or evolutionary level, culturally institutionalized folk taxonomies (classifications of local, social knowledge) will not contain more’ than 64 entities.
Brothers Terence and Dennis McKenna, in their book the INViSiBLE landSCAPE, look at the I Ching in a totally new way. That their insights were aided by combinations of rainforest heat and psychedelic mushrooms in no way diminishes them. They began by extrapolating the patters of 6 and 64 in the ancient book. 6x64 is 384 days, one lunar year, and the length of a year in neolithic Chinese lunar calendars. 64x384 is 67 solar years, and 6 sunspot cycles of 11.2 years each. 67x64 is 4306 solar years, the length of a zodiac age, and 4306x6 is 25,836, and the approximate length of one complete precession of the solar equinoxes as the earth makes one slow wobble about its axis.
The reality with the ‘book of change’ is that it is dynamic, not static. The brothers found that the patterns within the hexagrams were deliberate, reflected in the degree of change from one to the other. Non-random patters emerged, and when they graphed the changes they found a boundary singularity, with the patterns of change beginning and ending in the same place. What they then did was remarkable. Using a computer program called Timewave Zero, they fit such a curve to the events of this world, a model of time itself. This was called a novelty map, with the curve increasing as ‘habitual’ human activity dominated, and decreasing as ‘novelty’ rules the day, periods of connectedness and innovation with historical advance.
They found waves of decreasing periodicity leading to an end date in the year 2012. ‘The end date is the point of maximized novelty in the wave and is the only point in the entire wave that has a quantified value of zero.’ Other novelty peaks included the emergence of Homo sapiens, 275,000 years ago, the beginning of historical time, 4,300 years ago, and the onset of the nuclear age in 1945. It is the nature of the wave that resonating ‘wavelets’ occur at greater frequency as the end approaches, and this continues through the 67 years, and 6 sunspot cycles, between 1945 and 2012.
‘We (the McKenna brothers) arrived at this particular end date without knowledge of the Mayan Calendar, and it was only after… that we were informed that the end date we had deduced was in fact the end of the Mayan Calendar.’
Is this evidence that this ancient divining tool predicts an approaching transition in time? The reader can come to his or her own conclusion.
December 2012 marks the conclusion of a b'ak'tun—a time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which was used in Central America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Though the Long Count was most likely invented by the Olmec, it has become closely associated with the Maya civilization, whose classic period lasted from 250 to 900 AD. The writing system of the classic Maya has been substantially deciphered, meaning that a corpus of their written and inscribed material has survived from before the European conquest.
Unlike the 52-year Calendar Round still used today among the Maya, the Long Count was linear rather than cyclical, and kept time roughly in units of 20: 20 days made a uinal, 18 uinals (360 days) made a tun, 20 tuns made a k'atun, and 20 k'atuns (144,000 days or roughly 394 years) made up a b'ak'tun. Thus, the Mayan date of 184.108.40.206.15 represents 8 b'ak'tuns, 3 k'atuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 15 days.
Apocalypse or Rebirth?
There is a strong tradition of "world ages" in Mayan literature, but the record has been distorted, leaving several possibilities open to interpretation. According to the Popol Vuh, a compilation of the creation accounts of the K'iche' Maya of the Colonial-era highlands, we are living in the fourth world. The Popol Vuh describes the gods first creating three failed worlds, followed by a successful fourth world in which humanity was placed. In the Maya Long Count, the previous world ended after 13 b'ak'tuns, or roughly 5,125 years. The Long Count's "zero date" was set at a point in the past marking the end of the third world and the beginning of the current one, which corresponds to 11 August 3114 BC in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. This means that the fourth world will also have reached the end of its 13th b'ak'tun, or Mayan date 220.127.116.11.0, on December 21, 2012. In 1957, Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that "the completion of a Great Period of 13 b'ak'tuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya". In 1966, Michael D. Coe wrote in The Maya that "there is a suggestion ... that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [b'ak'tun]. Thus ... our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion."
In the early 1900s, German scholar Ernst Förstemann interpreted the last page of the Dresden Codex as a representation of the end of the world in a cataclysmic flood. He made reference to “destruction of the world,” “apocalypse,” and “the end of the world”, though he made no reference to the 13th baktun or 2012 and it was not clear that he was referring to a future event. His ideas were repeated by archaeologist Sylvanus Morley, who directly paraphrased Förstemann and added his own embellishments, writing "Finally, on the last page of the manuscript, is depicted the Destruction of the World… Here, indeed, is portrayed with a graphic touch the final all-engulfing cataclysm" in the form of a Great Flood. These comments were later repeated in Morley's book The Ancient Maya, the first edition of which was published in 1946.
Mayan references to b'ak'tun 13
It is not certain what significance the classic Maya give to the 13th b'ak'tun. Most classic Maya inscriptions are strictly historical and do not make any prophetic declarations. One item in the Mayan classical corpus, however, does mention the end of the 13th b'ak'tun: Tortuguero Monument 6.
The Tortuguero Slab
The Tortuguero site, which lies in southernmost Tabasco, Mexico, dates from the 7th century AD and consists of a series of inscriptions mostly in honor of the contemporary ruler Bahlam Ajaw. One inscription, known as Tortuguero Monument 6, was previously thought to be the only inscription known to refer to b'ak'tun 13. It has been partially defaced; Sven Gronemeyer and Barbara MacLeod have given this translation:
tzuhtzjo:m uy-u:xlaju:n pik It will be completed the 13th b'ak'tun. chan ajaw u:x uni:w It is 4 Ajaw 3 K'ank'in uhto:m il[?] and it will happen a 'seeing'[?]. ye'ni/ye:n bolon yokte' It is the display of B'olon-Yokte' ta chak joyaj in a great "investiture".
Very little is known about the god Bolon Yokte'. According to an article by Mayanists Markus Eberl and Christian Prager in British Anthropological Reports, his name is composed of the elements "nine", 'OK-te' (the meaning of which is unknown), and "god". Confusion in classical period inscriptions suggests that the name was already ancient and unfamiliar to contemporary scribes. He also appears in inscriptions from Palenque, Usumacinta, and La Mar as a god of war, conflict, and the underworld. In one stele he is portrayed with a rope tied around his neck, and in another with an incense bag, together signifying a sacrifice to end a cycle of years.
Based on observations of modern Mayan rituals, Gronemeyer and MacLeod claim that the stele refers to a celebration in which a person portraying Bolon Yokte' K'uh was wrapped in ceremonial garments and paraded around the site. They note that the association of Bolon Yokte' K'uh with b'ak'tun 13 appears to be so important on this inscription that it supersedes more typical celebrations, such as "erection of stelae, scattering of incense" and so forth. They furthermore assert that this event was indeed planned for 2012, and not the 7th century. However, Mayanist scholar Stephen Houston contests this view, arguing that future dates on Mayan inscriptions were simply meant to draw parallels with contemporary events, and that the words on the stela describe a contemporary rather than a future scene
The Mystery of Comalcalco
The Comalcalco Brick contains an inscription carved or molded on the face of the brick which marks the end of the 13th Baktun, which is also the period the Mayan Long Count calendar ends, and which will be completed on December the 21st, of 2012, a day which many believe will signify humanity’s birth into a new age of our collective experience.
The Olmec-Mayan ruins at Comalcalco, near the modern city of Villahermosa in Tabasco State, are more than a small mystery to archeologists and other researchers who are studying the unique architectural style of the ancient city. For one, other Meso-American ruins of the region, indeed all the ancient world of the Maya, were built using hand carved limestone blocks -- not bricks.
But the mystery deepened when researchers discovered that when an oyster-base mortar used to bind the bricks was removed, it revealed various odd markings on the back of the bricks, including what is believed to be the brick makers fingerprints.
Archeologists are still trying to determine why this Olmec-Mayan site was built with kiln-fired bricks similar to those used in building Rome...
But it is the strange figures carved into the bricks that are most perplexing to archeologists. Pictured at the right is a comparative illustration that captured the attention, and imagination, of researchers. The symbols in the first six columns (from left to right) in the illustration are mason symbols from Roman bricks. The symbols in the six columns on the right were discovered behind the bricks excavated at Comalcalco. They appear to be almost identical.
Further complicating the issue, whether by design or coincidence, the bricks have Roman-like architectural measurements and the building structures sport Roman-like architectural features. Further deepening the mystery is the discovery of what may well be a Roman figurine, leading some to speculate that there may have been a Roman-Christian presence in the Americas a thousand years before the arrival of Columbus.
Excavation and research at Comalcalco indicates the Maya, if not the Olmec before them, employed a similar fired brick technology, and Indic motifs seem to have been inscribed on some of the bricks. Proponents of theory believe that Brahmi script may have once existed at Comalcalco. Roman-like measurements and Roman architectural features also seem to have been employed at the site. And urn-burials, virtually contemporary with those in India and Southeast Asia, were also discovered at Comalcalco.
Other Dates Beyond b'ak'tun 13
Mayan inscriptions occasionally mention predicted future events or commemorations that would occur on dates far beyond the completion of the 13th b'ak'tun. Most of these are in the form of "distance dates": Long Count dates given together with an additional number, known as a Distance Number, which when added together make a future date. On the west panel at the Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque, a section of text projects forward to the 80th 52-year Calendar Round from the coronation of the ruler K'inich Janaab' Pakal. Pakal's accession occurred on 18.104.22.168.8, equivalent to 27 July 615 AD in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. The inscription begins with Pakal's birthdate of 22.214.171.124.0 (March 24, 603 AD Gregorian) and then adds the Distance Number 10.11.10.5.8 to it, arriving at a date of October 21, 4772 AD, more than 4,000 years after Pakal's time.
Another example is Stele 1 at Coba, which gives a date of 126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168.0.0.0.0, or twenty units above the b'ak'tun, placing it either 4.134105 × 1028 (41 octillion) years in the future, or an equal distance in the past. This date is 3 quintillion times the age of the universe as determined by cosmologists.
The Galactic alignment
There is no significant astronomical event tied to the Long Count's start date. However, its supposed end date has been tied to astronomical phenomena by esoteric, fringe, and New Age literature that places great significance on astrology. Chief among these is the concept of the "galactic alignment."
The Precession And Earth's Wobble
In the Solar System, the planets and the Sun lie roughly within the same flat plane, known as the plane of the ecliptic. From our perspective on Earth, the ecliptic is the path taken by the Sun across the sky over the course of the year. The twelve constellations that line the ecliptic are known as the zodiac and, annually, the Sun passes through all of them in turn. Additionally, over time, the Sun's annual cycle appears to recede very slowly backward by one degree every 72 years, or by one constellation every 2,160 years. This backward movement, called "precession", is due to a slight wobble in the Earth's axis as it spins, and can be compared to the way a spinning top wobbles as it slows down. Over the course of 25,800 years, a period often called a Great Year, the Sun completes a full, 360-degree backward circuit through the zodiac. In Western astrological traditions, precession is measured from the northern hemisphere's spring equinox, or the point at which the Sun is exactly halfway between its lowest and highest points in the sky. Presently, the Sun's spring equinox position is in the constellation Pisces and is moving back into Aquarius. This signals the end of one astrological age (the Age of Pisces) and the beginning of another (the Age of Aquarius).
Similarly, the Sun's winter solstice position, its lowest point, is currently in the constellation of Sagittarius, one of two constellations in which the zodiac intersects with the Milky Way. Every year, on the winter solstice, the Sun and the Milky Way, from the surface of the Earth, appear to come into alignment, and every year, precession causes a slight shift in the Sun's position in the Milky Way. Given that the Milky Way is between 10° and 20° wide, it takes between 700 and 1400 years for the Sun's winter solstice position to precess through it. It is currently about halfway through the Milky Way, crossing the galactic equator.
What are the living Maya saying about 2012?
2012 is the completion of the ancient Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar Cycle - but the Maya of today no longer track the Long Count Cycle. Conservative estimates say its been at least 500 years since they have, since at least the time of the Spanish Invasion. The last Long Count Calendar inscription recorded in stone is from 909 AD, more than a thousand years ago.
Currently, there are at least 7 million Maya living today. The largest populations of contemporary Maya inhabit the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Chiapas, and in the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador.
Depending on who you talk to, one can find evidence that some living Maya endorse the 2012 date as being of critical importance, while some may not be aware of it, or do not necessarily agree with its projected significance. Some think it is a matter for the shamans and priests, and do not relate to the westernized apocalyptic themes we've married the 2012 date to.
To share one example, take Gerardo Barrios who began a quest over 20 years ago of travelling to different villages in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras, eventually interviewing nearly 600 Maya Timekeepers.
Sharing his reflections, Gerardo Barrios states:
"We are now in a transition period called the 'Cycle of the merge of the dark and the light.'...The cycle of the light will come in full force on 12/21/2012...Mother Earth as a living entity will transcend to another level or frequency of consciousness and a new and special era will begin...This era will be very positive. 'Let all beings rise. Let not one or two stay behind.'...The times are here for total brotherhood...The spirit beings, different philosophies, different races must begin to weave together all knowledge to create the tapestry of harmony and balance..."
From a different perspective, author Kenneth Johnson writes "...most contemporary Maya continue to view these cycles of World Emergence purely in terms of 'cycles within cycles...' Many are aware that the 2012 end date was supposed to signify such a transition, but they are not altogether convinced that this date is as meaningful as we Westerners think it is."
Along these lines, Grandfather Don Alejandro Cirilo Perez Oxlaj, 13th Generation Quiche Maya Priest and Head of The National Mayan Council of Indigenous Elders in Guatemala representing 440 Maya tribes, is hesitant to pinpoint 2012 as the certain date of destiny. He is weary of putting false claims on the exact timing of a process he knows is in motion. However, according to Drunvalo Melchizadek whom he authorized to speak to the world on his behalf, he has recently declared that we are now in the Window of the End of Time, meaning the closing of the Great cycle is upon us. He has said that due to the fulfillment of the Hopi Blue Star prophecy on October 24, 2007, brought by Comet Holmes, it is likely that the transformation to a New Cycle of the Sun will occur sometime between now and 2016.
"Both the Hopis and Mayans recognize that we are approaching the end of a World Age... In both cases, however, the Hopi and Mayan elders do not prophesy that everything will come to an end. Rather, this is a time of transition from one World Age into another. The message they give concerns our making a choice of how we enter the future ahead. Our moving through with either resistance or acceptance will determine whether the transition will happen with cataclysmic changes or gradual peace and tranquility. The same theme can be found reflected in the prophecies of many other Native American visionaries from Black Elk to Sun Bear." — Joseph Robert Jochmans
A new survey finds that most Americans are unprepared for major disasters and that they maintain a false sense of security with regard to what will happen if a major disaster or a terrorist attack took place; contrary to reality, almost one-third of respondents believed that during a major disaster, calling 911 would bring help within an hour, while 30 percent said they believed help would come within several hours.
The poll, conducted by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, indicated that more than half of the families surveyed had no emergency plan in place for a major hurricane or earthquake. Even those with plans in place were lacking essential items like a flashlight, two days of food and water, key phone numbers, and extra batteries.
In addition, contrary to reality, almost one-third of respondents believed that in a major disaster calling 911 would bring help within an hour, while 30 percent said they believed help would come within several hours. 19 percent believed that it could take more than a day.
In actuality, major disasters quickly overwhelm emergency responders and residents are often left to fend for themselves for several days before help can arrive.
Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, said the survey revealed that people’s faith in emergency response is unrealistic.
Following the 9/11 attacks and more recently the massive earthquake and tsunami that decimated Japan in March, phones did not work and first responders were immediately overwhelmed.
Redlener was careful to note that even in minor disasters, like the blizzard that shut down New York City last December, dramatically hampered police and paramedic response times. In the event that Hurricane Irene had hit New York with devastating force, “EMS and every other emergency service would have been totally overwhelmed. You wouldn’t have been able to make a phone call,” he said.
Still, “many, many people believe that within an hour or two, you will have someone knocking on your door,” Redlener said. “There has been a strange delusion that, even after all we have been through, the rescue response will occur rather rapidly.”
In the event of a disaster, emergency responders encourage individuals to have enough supplies to take care of themselves for several days including medicine for those with chronic illnesses. In addition, families should have a designated family meeting spot in the event that they are separated and communication is lost.
“Preparing can actually make a difference,” Redlener said.
A lengthy, blistering heat wave that is blanketing the eastern half of the United States is putting significant stress on the nation's power grid as homeowners and businesses crank up their air conditioners.
Utilities say they're ready for high power demand and widespread electricity shortages or outages are unlikely. Lines and equipment are not fully taxed and there is more generating and transmission capacity available than usual because of the weak economy. Also, not many major storms are in the forecast, meaning fewer downed power lines.
The heat wave began a week ago in the Plains states and is expected to spread east through the weekend. It is lasting longer than most heat waves and is spread over an unusually wide area, according to Travis Hartman, the Energy Weather Manager at MDA Earthstat, which proves forecasts for utilities and other weather-dependent businesses.
Hartman predicts 90- to 100-degree weather from Chicago to Boston from Wednesday through the weekend. The Midwest is expected to see peak heat on Thursday while thermometers in eastern states will top out on Friday and Saturday. Philadelphia may break a 1957 record of 100 degrees on Friday, while Washington, D.C., is expected to reach 103, tying a record from 1926.
Texas and the southern Plains states will extend a long streak of hot weather. On Wednesday Oklahoma was expected to suffer its 30th day of triple-digit temperatures this year.
Nationwide, Thursday and Friday will be hotter than any time since 1950, says Hartman. "It's going to mean elevated power demand for an extended period of time for a lot of people," he says.
To meet demand, utilities are firing up special power plants used only a few days a year, delaying scheduled maintenance in order to keep all equipment on line and testing heat-sensitive switches and other equipment with high-tech devices like thermographers that can gauge temperatures to one-tenth of a degree.
"These are the days everyone wants to have their ACs on, their computers going while they watch TV," says Jon Jipping, Chief Operating Officer of ITC Holdings Corp., a transmission grid operator that owns grids in Iowa, Michigan and four other Midwest states. "These are the days we get ready for."
Peak demand for most utilities usually happens on a late weekday afternoon in mid-summer. That's when businesses are still open but people return home, turn on their air conditioners, lights and televisions and they start cooking dinner.
Problems can arise when the grid comes under maximum strain. Equipment can't cool off, and it can't handle as much power as usual. Lines, transformers and switches are working at full capacity and can be overwhelmed by power surges that can result from a blown piece of equipment or downed power line.
Sadly, the coverage by the mainstream media has been so sparse that the majority of Americans don't even know that there are problems at Los Alamos and Ft. Calhoun. Most Americans also don't understand how serious the Fukushima disaster really is.
Let's take a closer look at what has been happening at Los Alamos, Ft. Calhoun and Fukushima lately....
A 93 square mile wildfire has approached the perimeter of the Los Alamos nuclear lab in New Mexico. Authorities are warning that this wildfire could soon double or triple in size and an all-out effort is being made to fight it.
Right now the major concern is that the raging wildfire could threaten a dump site where an estimated 20,000 55-gallon drums of nuclear waste are being stored.
Instead of being stored securely, these 20,000 drums of nuclear waste are being stored in above-ground tents.
Authorities are telling the public that the wildfire has gotten to within a few miles of the dump site.
However, it has also been reported that the wildfire is now within 50 feet of the Los Alamos facility itself, and there was even one report that flames were "just across the road" from the southern edge of the famous lab where the very first nuclear bomb was developed during World War II.
Authorities at Los Alamos continue to insist that there is nothing to be concerned about.
But that is also what they said about Fukushima at first.
As you read this, the Ft. Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska is completely surrounded by water, and there has been some minor leakage into some of the buildings.
On Sunday, the swelling Missouri River surged past a 2000 foot inflatable berm. Approximately 2 feet of water rapidly surrounded all of the buildings at the facility.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission insists that there is nothing to worry about, but it is also being reported that flood waters are literally "at the door" of the primary buildings.
Yes, this is not going to be another Fukushima, but it is a very, very serious situation. The American people deserve to be told about what is happening.
Of course the ongoing saga at Fukushima is one of the biggest news stories of this century. Most analysts are finally acknowledging that this is the worst nuclear disaster in history. The disaster at Fukushima will be seriously affecting our environment and the health of millions of people for decades to come.
More bad news is continually pouring out of the region. For example, did you know that large numbers of people living in northern Japan now have radioactive urine?
More than 3 millisieverts of radiation has been measured in the urine of people living 30 to 40 kilometers away from Fukushima.
How would you feel if that happened to you?
Radiation meters are now being handed out to approximately 34,000 children that live near Fukushima.
Shouldn't this have been done about 3 months ago?
The way that the Japanese authorities have handled Fukushima has been a complete and total nightmare. We may never know the full truth about what has been going on.
But what we do know is that Fukushima is now the worst nuclear disaster in history.
This morning around 0641 UT, magnetic fields above sunspot complex 1226-1227 became unstable and erupted. The blast produced an M2-class solar flare, an S1-class radiation storm, and a massive CME.
Here's a recording of the blast and CME from earlier today:
Coronagraphs onboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) are still monitoring the CME as it billows away from the sun. The speckles are caused by energetic charged particles hitting the camera's CCD array. This is what we mean by a "radiation storm"; the particles were accelerated by the explosion and are now peppering Earth-orbiting satellites and spacecraft like SOHO.
Although the blast was not squarely Earth-directed, it will affect our planet. The CME should deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field during the late hours of June 8th or June 9th. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras when the CME arrives.
In the same way that the 20th century was the century of world wars, genocide, and grinding ideological conflict, the 21st will be the century of natural disasters and technological crises and unholy combinations of the two. It'll be the century when the things that we count on to go right will, for whatever reason, go wrong.
Late last month, as the Mississippi River rose in what is destined to be the worst flood in decades, and as the residents of Alabama and other states rummaged through the debris of a historic tornado outbreak, physicists at a meeting in Anaheim, Calif., had a discussion about the dangers posed by the sun.
Solar flares, scientists believe, are a disaster waiting to happen. Thus one of the sessions at the American Physical Society's annual meeting was devoted to discussing the hazard of electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) caused by solar flares or terrorist attacks. Such pulses could fry transformers and knock out the electrical grid over much of the nation. Last year the Oak Ridge National Laboratory released a study saying the damage might take years to fix and cost trillions of dollars.
But maybe even that's not the disaster people should be worrying about. Maybe they should worry instead about the ARkStorm. That's the name the U.S. Geological Survey's Multihazards Demonstration Project gave to a hypothetical storm that would essentially turn much of California's Central Valley into a bathtub. It has happened before, in 1861-62, when it rained for 45 straight days. The USGS explains: "The ARkStorm draws heat and moisture from the tropical Pacific, forming a series of Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) that approach the ferocity of hurricanes and then slam into the U.S. West Coast over several weeks." The result, the USGS determined, could be a flood that would cost $725 billion in direct property losses and economic impact.
While pondering this, don't forget the Cascadia subduction zone. That's the plate boundary off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, one that could generate a tsunami much like the one that devastated Japan in March. The Cascadia subduction zone runs from Vancouver Island to northern California, and last ruptured in a major tsunami-spawning earthquake on January 26, 1700. It could break at any moment, with catastrophic consequences.
All of these things have the common feature of low probability and high consequence. They're "black swan" events. They're unpredictable in any practical sense. They're also things that ordinary people probably should not worry about on a daily basis. You can't fear the sun. You can't worry that a rock will fall out of the sky and smash the earth, or that the ground will open up and swallow you like a vitamin. A key element of maintaining one's sanity is knowing how to ignore risks that are highly improbable at any given point in time.
And yet in the coming century, these or other black swans will seem to occur with surprising frequency. There are several reasons for this. We have chosen to engineer the planet. We have built vast networks of technology. We have created systems that, in general, work very well, but are still vulnerable to catastrophic failures. It is harder and harder for any one person, institution, or agency to perceive all the interconnected elements of the technological society. Failures can cascade. There are unseen weak points in the network. Small failures can have broad consequences.
Most importantly: We have more people, and more stuff, standing in the way of calamity. We're not suddenly having more earthquakes, but there are now 7 billion of us, a majority living in cities. In 1800, only Beijing could count a million inhabitants, but at last count there were 381 cities with at least 1 million people. Many are "megacities" in seismically hazardous places—Mexico City, Caracas, Tehran, and Kathmandu being among those with a lethal combination of weak infrastructure (unreinforced masonry buildings) and a shaky foundation.
Natural disasters will increasingly be accompanied by technological crises—and the other way around. In March, the Japan earthquake triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown. Last year, a technological failure on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico led to the environmental crisis of the oil spill.
Workers at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Plant in Port Gibson, Miss., last Thursday released a large amount of radioactive tritium directly into the Mississippi River, according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and experts are currently trying to sort out the situation. An investigation is currently underway to determine why the tritium was even present in standing water found in an abandoned unit of the plant, as well as how much of this dangerous nuclear byproduct ended up getting dumped into the river. Many also want to know why workers released the toxic tritium before conducting proper tests.
The Mississippi Natchez Democrat reports that crews first discovered the radioactive water in the plant's Unit 2 turbine building after heavy rains began hitting the area last week. Unit 2 was a partially-constructed, abandoned structure that should not have contained any radioactive materials, let alone tritium, which is commonly used to manufacture nuclear weapons and test atomic bombs.
According to reports, alarms began to go off as workers were releasing the radioactive storm water into the river, which engaged the stop flow on the release pump. Neither NRC nor plant officials know how much tritium was released into the river during this release.
"Although concentrations of tritium exceeded EPA drinking water limits, the release should not represent a hazard to public health because of its dilution in the river," insisted Lara Uselding, public affairs officer at NRC Region IV, to reporters.
Such a statement, of course, is a health concern because precise levels of released tritium are unknown. Just because the radioactive substance has been diluted does not necessarily mean it is harmless, nor does it verify the substance's source or whether or not it is still being unknowingly released. Without this crucial information, there is no telling where else tritium might be lurking around the plant and river.
A beta radioactive substance, tritium bombards cells and damages DNA when inhaled or swallowed, and can persist in the body for more than ten years upon exposure. Its perpetual effect on cells can lead to all sorts of serious diseases, including, but not limited to, gene mutations, birth defects, and cancer.
Australia’s pistachio farmers expected a bumper crop this year. Instead they had a harvest of horrors, with nuts blackened by a fungus that had never before caused an outbreak in pistachios.
The culprit was anthracnose, a fungal disease best known for infecting mangoes. It raced through the industry, resulting in a harvest some 50 percent smaller than expected — and half of that was inedible.
What the disease means for the future of Australia’s pistachio farmers remains to be seen, but for the rest of the world it’s yet another cautionary example of fragility in modern agriculture.
“The wide cultivation of genetically uniform plant populations fosters rapid evolution among the pathogens,” said Scot Nelson, a plant pathologist at the University of Hawaii. “Because of this greed, new pathogens or newly reported host-pathogen combinations arise almost daily around the world.”
Anthracnose, usually caused by the fungus Colletotrichum gloeosporiodes, is the most important and destructive of all known mango diseases. Affected plants develop blackened lesions on flowers, leaves and fruit, the skins of which become crusty and split.
Until recently, anthracnose was considered to be mango-specific, showing little inclination to infect other members of the mango family, including cashews and pistachios. In 2001, when Australian researchers noted a case of anthracnose in pistachios in New South Wales, it was the first report of its kind.
A year later, Themis Michailides, a plant pathologist at the University of California, Davis, Kearney Agricultural Center, also noticed anthracnose in a commercial pistachio orchard. Like the Australian case, it was caused by a Colletotrichum species closely related to C. gloeosporiodes, but neither of those infections led to outbreaks, and the disease seemed consigned to background levels of harm.
However, in December 2010 and January of this year — Australia’s summertime — the country experienced torrential rainfalls unprecedented in the nation’s modern record-keeping history. Conditions were prime for an outbreak of moisture-loving pests, and anthracnose grows best in precisely those conditions.
Seemingly out of nowhere, it exploded. Farmer losses ranged from 40 to 100 percent.
The combination of rising gasoline prices and the steepest increase in the cost of food in a generation is threatening to push the US economy into a recession, according to Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners.
Johnson looks at the percentage of income consumers are spending on gasoline and food as a way of gauging how consumers will fare when energy prices spike.
With gas prices now standing at about $3.90 a gallon, energy costs have now passed 6 percent of spending—a level that Johnson says is a "tipping point" for consumers.
"Energy is not quite as essential as food and water, but is a necessity in today's economy, and when gasoline costs more than bottled water—like now—then it takes a huge bite out of disposable spending," he said, in a research note.
Of the six US recessions since 1970, all but the "9-11 year 2001 recession" have been linked to—of not triggered by—energy prices that crossed the 6 percent of personal consumption expenditures, he said. (During the shallow 2001 recession, energy prices had risen to about 5 percent of spending, which is higher than the long-term 4 percent share.)
What may make matters worse this time around, is there has been a steep increase in food prices that occurred as well. In other recent recessions food costs were benign, at between 7.5 percent and 7.8 percent of spending.
This year food prices have climbed 6.5 percent since the beginning of early January, according to Consumer Growth Partners.
"The combined increase in the necessities of food and energy creates a harsh double whammy for already stressed consumers," Johnson said. The last time this happened was in the recession that lasted from 1973 to 1975.
Johnson estimates that food and energy eat up about 15 percent of consumer spending at today's prices, compared with about 12.7 percent two years ago.
Of course, at lower income levels, these percentages are much higher. One sign of the stress some consumers are already feeling is that some AAA offices have already seen an increase in out-of-gas service calls, as motorists try to put off filling their tanks or drive around trying to seek out the gas station with the least expensive price.
Also some regions are being hit harder than others. Gas prices in Hawaii continue to set new highs, according to AAA data. The average price on Wednesday was $4.51, topping the prior record of $4.50 for a gallon of regular unleaded set in July 2008.
If you've ever stood in front of a hot stove, watching a pot of water and waiting impatiently for it to boil, you know what it feels like to be a solar physicist.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded this X1.5-class solar flare on March 9, 2011. Back in 2008, the solar cycle plunged into the deepest minimum in nearly a century. Sunspots all but vanished, solar flares subsided, and the sun was eerily quiet.
"Ever since, we've been waiting for solar activity to pick up," says Richard Fisher, head of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. "It's been three long years."
Quiet spells on the sun are nothing new. They come along every 11 years or so—it's a natural part of the solar cycle. This particular solar minimum, however, was lasting longer than usual, prompting some researchers to wonder if it would ever end.
News flash: The pot is starting to boil. "Finally," says Fisher, "we are beginning to see some action."
As 2011 unfolds, sunspots have returned and they are crackling with activity. On February 15th and again on March 9th, Earth orbiting satellites detected a pair of "X-class" solar flares--the most powerful kind of x-ray flare. The last such eruption occurred back in December 2006.
Another eruption on March 7th hurled a billion-ton cloud of plasma away from the sun at five million mph (2200 km/s). The rapidly expanding cloud wasn't aimed directly at Earth, but it did deliver a glancing blow to our planet's magnetic field. The off-center impact on March 10th was enough to send Northern Lights spilling over the Canadian border into US states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.
"That was the fastest coronal mass ejection in almost six years," says Angelos Vourlidas of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. "It reminds me of a similar series of events back in Nov. 1997 that kicked off Solar Cycle 23, the solar cycle before this one."
"To me," says Vourlidas, "this marks the beginning of Solar Cycle 24."
The slow build-up to this moment is more than just "the watched pot failing to boil," says Ron Turner, a space weather analyst at Analytic Services, Inc. "It really has been historically slow."
There have been 24 numbered solar cycles since researchers started keeping track of them in the mid-18th century. In an article just accepted for publication by the Space Weather Journal, Turner shows that, in all that time, only four cycles have started more slowly than this one. "Three of them were in the Dalton Minimum, a period of depressed solar activity in the early 19th century. The fourth was Cycle #1 itself, around 1755, also a relatively low solar cycle," he says.
In his study, Turner used sunspots as the key metric of solar activity. Folding in the recent spate of sunspots does not substantially alter his conclusion: "Solar Cycle 24 is a slow starter," he says.
Tokyo's iconic electronic billboards have been switched off. Trash is piling up in many northern cities because garbage trucks don't have gasoline. Public buildings go unheated. Factories are closed, in large part because of rolling blackouts and because employees can't drive to work with empty tanks.
This is what happens when a 21st-century, technologically sophisticated country runs critically low on energy. The March 11 earthquake and tsunami have thrust much of Japan into an unaccustomed dark age that could drag on for up to a year.
Japan's energy crisis is taking place on two fronts: The explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear compound and the shutdown of other nuclear plants owned by Tokyo Electric Power have reduced the supply of electricity to the capital by nearly 30 percent.
Nine oil refineries also were damaged, including one in Chiba, near Tokyo, which burned spectacularly, creating shortages of gasoline and heating oil. Gasoline lines in the northern part of Honshu, Japan's main island, extend for miles. About 30 percent of gas stations in the Tokyo area are closed because they have nothing to sell.
Tokyo's Asahi Shimbun newspaper on Tuesday quoted an unnamed senior official of Tokyo Electric, which serves 28 million customers, as saying rolling blackouts could last a year.
Electricity is the talk of the town. Newspaper readers pore over detailed schedules of rolling blackouts. Many movie theaters are closed, companies have switched off unnecessary lights and advertising, restricted use of elevators and shortened working hours.
For now, gasoline shortages are disrupting both daily life and relief efforts.
In Akita, 280 miles north of Tokyo, the few gas stations that are open have lines extending as long as a mile and limit purchases to 4 gallons. It would hardly be worth the wait, except that people want gas for emergencies — for example, if they need to flee radiation from the crippled nuclear plant.
The lack of gasoline for delivery trucks has aggravated shortages of key products, especially milk, bread, batteries, toilet paper and mineral water.
Some left homeless by the quake and tsunami have cars but can't use them, while relatives who otherwise would rescue them don't have the gas to reach coastal areas. People trying to flee the dangerous spewing nuclear plant in Fukushima were unable to do so because their gas tanks were empty.
To see it on the Internet, the so-called supermoon could cause a climatological reign of terror on the entire planet. Although it’s more than a week away, some people say the devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Japan today could be the latest natural disaster caused by it.
The 2005 Indonesian tsunami hit two weeks before the supermoon and for the 2011 supermoon, which is suppose to occur March 19, the moon won’t just be at its closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit, enthusiasts say, it will be closer to Earth than it has been in 18 years.
The powerful tsunami that today slammed into Japan’s eastern coast comes just two days after warnings that the movement of the moon could trigger unpredictable events on Earth.
Astrologers predicted that on March 19 – a week tomorrow – the so-called ‘supermoon’ will be closer to Earth than at any time since 1992, just 221,567 miles away, and that its gravitational pull will bring chaos to Earth.
Approximately 90 percent of the earthquakes in the world occur along the Ring of Fire. About 75 percent of the world's volcanoes lie along the Ring of Fire.
Do you remember the December 26, 2004 Indonesian tsunami? That happened along the Ring of Fire. Also, the 8.8 earthquake that struck central Chile last February was on the Ring of Fire as well.
But this earthquake in Japan was the most dramatic event that we have had along the Ring of Fire in ages....
If you have been thinking that it sure seems like there have been more natural disasters recently you are not imagining things.
The truth is that the number of earthquakes and the number of volcano eruptions have definitely been increasing.
Of course there are some "naysayers" in the scientific community that are still trying to insist that all of this is perfectly "normal" and that the reason why more quakes and more eruptions are being reported is because we have gotten so much better at detecting them.
So are you buying that?
To most of the rest of us it is very clear that the earth is waking up.
A forecast by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization shows how weather patterns this week might disperse radiation from a continuous source in Fukushima, Japan.
The forecast does not show actual levels of radiation, but it does allow the organization to estimate when different monitoring stations, marked with small dots, might be able to detect extremely low levels of radiation.
Health and nuclear experts emphasize that any plume will be diluted as it travels and, at worst, would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States.
Based on modeling of the wind, weather and surface conditions, the radioactive plume should reach Alaska and california by Friday, March 18th.
More than 150 are feared dead after a major earthquake hit Christchurch, one of New Zealand's biggest cities, in what the prime minister described "New Zealand's darkest day".
A state of emergency was declared following the quake, which struck at 12.51pm on Tuesday local time (2351GMT Monday), when office blocks and shopping centres in the city centre were bustling with people.
Rescue workers scrambled to free scores of people trapped in buildings, some crews arriving by helicopter because streets were blocked by rubble and jammed traffic.
Officials fear the death toll could double amid reports that more than 200 were trapped in collapsed buildings and wreckage of homes. Bodies were seen lying in the streets, untended until emergency services were able to reach them.
Office workers trapped under their collapsed buildings sent messages to the outside as rescuers with dogs scrambled to save them and dozens of others following a powerful earthquake that killed at least 65 in one of New Zealand's largest cities.
At least 100 people were reportedly missing and believed buried. Search teams assisted by floodlights and earth movers worked through dawn Wednesday, trying to dig through crumbled concrete, twisted metal and huge mounds of brick.
Medical workers brought the injured to a triage center set up in a park in central Christchurch, while military units patrolled near-empty streets disfigured by the huge cracks and canyons created in Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude quake, the second powerful temblor to hit Christchurch in five months.
The sun is waking up from a long quiet spell. Last week it sent out the strongest flare for four years – and scientists are warning that earth should prepare for an intense electromagnetic storm that, in the worst case, could be a “global Katrina” costing the world economy $2,000bn.
Senior officials responsible for policy on solar storms – also known as space weather – in the US, UK and Sweden urged more preparedness at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
“We have to take the issue of space weather seriously,” said Sir John Beddington, UK chief scientist. “The sun is coming out of a quiet period, and our vulnerability has increased since the last solar maximum [around 2000].”
“Predict and prepare should be the watchwords,” agreed Jane Lubchenco, head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “So much more of our technology is vulnerable than it was 10 years ago.”
A solar storm starts with an eruption of super-hot gas travelling out from the sun at speeds of up to 5m miles an hour. Electrically charged particles hit earth’s atmosphere 20 to 30 hours later, causing electromagnetic havoc.
The Estimated 3-hour Planetary Kp-index plot shows . The estimated Kp index is derived at the U.S. Air Force Space Forecast Center using data from ground-based magnetometers: Meanook, Canada; Sitka, Alaska; Glenlea, Canada; Saint Johns, Canada; Ottawa, Canada; Newport, Washington; Fredericksburg, Virginia; Boulder, Colorado; and Fresno, California. These data are made available through the cooperation of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) and the US Geological Survey.
Kp-indices of 5 or greater indicate storm-level geomagnetic activity. Geomagnetic storms have been associated with satellite surface charging and increased atmospheric drag.
Earth and space are about to come into contact in a way that's new to human history. To make preparations, authorities in Washington DC are holding a meeting: The Space Weather Enterprise Forum at the National Press Club on June 8th.
Richard Fisher, head of NASA's Heliophysics Division, explains what it's all about:
"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we're getting together to discuss."
The National Academy of Sciences framed the problem two years ago in a landmark report entitled "Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts." It noted how people of the 21st-century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity. A century-class solar storm, the Academy warned, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.
Here's an image illustrating space weather/solar storm effects on technological infrastructure such as pipelines, GPS, communication systems, space station, power grid, satellites, and air transporation as well as other planets in the solar system:
Much of the damage can be mitigated if managers know a storm is coming. Putting satellites in 'safe mode' and disconnecting transformers can protect these assets from damaging electrical surges. Preventative action, however, requires accurate forecasting—a job that has been assigned to NOAA.
"Space weather forecasting is still in its infancy, but we're making rapid progress," says Thomas Bogdan, director of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.
Bogdan sees the collaboration between NASA and NOAA as key. "NASA's fleet of heliophysics research spacecraft provides us with up-to-the-minute information about what's happening on the sun. They are an important complement to our own GOES and POES satellites, which focus more on the near-Earth environment."
A magnetic filament on the sun erupted yesterday, May 24th, and the blast hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) in the general direction of Earth. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the action around the blast site in 10xHDTV resolution:
Shortly after the eruption, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spotted a billion-ton CME racing away from the sun: movie. NOAA forecasters say there is a 35% chance of geomagnetic activity on May 27th when the cloud delivers a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.
A solar storm semi-nuked the Intelsat's Galaxy 15 satellite last month, enough so that it's not talking to Earth but it also isn't completely dead. So now it's wandering around the geostationary arc still broadcasting and about to mess up other satellites in its way:
"In what industry officials called an unprecedented event, Intelsat's Galaxy 15 communications satellite has remained fully "on," with its C-band telecommunications payload still functioning even as it has left its assigned orbital slot of 133 degrees west longitude 36,000 kilometers over the equator.
The first satellite likely to face signal interference problems from the adrift Galaxy 15 is the AMC-11 C-band satellite owned by SES of Luxembourg and stationed at 131 degrees west, just two degrees away from Galaxy 15's starting position."
If nothing can be done to stop it, Galaxy 15 will continue beyond AMC-11 and go on to torture other nearby satellites until it stops pointing at Earth...eventually. No one knows when that will happen, so Galaxy 15 could be causing havoc for quite awhile.
When it does finally die it will join about 160 other so-called "zombiesats" that are dead but still shuffle around the planet aimlessly searching for brains.
A blast of solar wind is pummeling Earth's magnetosphere, sparking the strongest geomagnetic storm so far this year.
Though it registered a "7" on the 0-to-9 K-index scale of magnetic disturbances, the storm is expected to pass quickly. The silver lining, for those at high-latitudes anyway, is a beautiful show of auroras -- the result of high-energy particles from the sun smashing into oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere. As the molecules return to normal, they give off energy in the form of photons. The colors in the aurora depend on which atmospheric gas is being revved up by the invading electrons and how much energy is being exchanged. Oxygen emits greenish yellow or red light; Nitrogen generally produces blue.
The solar storm prompted NOAA to issue a Space Weather Advisory on Monday and gave astronauts aboard the International Space Station something to write home about.
Power grids, satellite systems and radio transmissions could all be disrupted by inclement solar weather.
- Solar sound waves can double the accuracy of sunflare predictions.
- Sunflares can scramble signals from GPS and other equipment.
- Curls of magnetized liquids inside the sun speed up, then stop just before a flare occurs.
A new tool for forecasting flares may soon be available to scientists, one that promises to be twice as accurate as current models. The new technique analyzes sound waves generated by magnetized fluids swirling inside the sun.
Forecasting a solar flare is a bit like predicting the path of a tornado: It's a lot easier once it makes an appearance.
Yet early warning is crucial. Solar flares can trigger disruptions and errors in GPS signals and other equipment receiving radio waves that bounce off or travel through the ionosphere -- the layer of charged particles surrounding Earth's atmosphere that gets kicked up by solar activity.
That's a concern for activities requiring precision navigation, such as landing planes. Solar flares can even affect power grids on Earth.
A strong earthquake has occurred, but a tsunami IS NOT expected along the California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, or Alaska coast. NO tsunami warning, watch or advisory is in effect for these areas.
This week, there were two asteroids, one on the 6th and one on the 9th, that passed as close to the earth as 1/10th and 1/4 the distance to the moon, respectively. What is most alarming is that these asteriods were only discovered the day before they whizzed by the earth!
Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.
The effects of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake striking the San Andreas fault, modeled here, could cause 1,800 deaths and $213 billion of economic losses, the USGS said. Warmer colors representing areas of greater damage.
Gigantic, devastating earthquakes have happened more frequently at the San Andreas fault than previously thought -- and we're overdue for the next one, according to a new study.
Geologists from the University of California Irvine and Arizona State University concluded that the largest quakes strike San Andreas every 45 to 144 years -- and the last big one was in 1857, over 150 years ago. While it’s possible the fault is experiencing a natural lull, the scientists think it’s more likely a major quake could happen soon.
“If you’re waiting for somebody to tell you when we’re close to the next San Andreas earthquake, just look at the data,” said UCI seismologist Lisa Grant Ludwig, principal investigator on the study.
The researchers based their analyses on the study of centuries-old charcoal samples in the Carrizo Plain portion of the fault, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The charcoal fragments during earthquakes, and radiocarbon dating pinpointed the exact time of the fragment, and therefore of the quake. Their findings were published Friday in the journal Geology.
The field data confirmed what Ludwig had long suspected: The widely accepted belief that a major earthquake happened on the fault every 250 to 400 years was inaccurate. Not all quakes were as strong as originally thought, either, but they all packed a wallop -- ranging between magnitude 6.5 and 7.9.
"People used to think you always had earthquakes similar to the 8.5 magnitude quake that struck" California in 1857, Morgan Page, a geophysicist with the United States Geological Society, told FoxNews.com. They can't all be tremendous quakes, she agreed.
Though smaller than the 1857 quake, a 7.8 magnitude quake would still cause a major disaster -- enough that California's Emergency Management agency has been planning and prepping for just such a situation.
The Great California Shakeout recently assessed the effects of such a temblor striking the southern tip of the San Andreas fault -- the Los Angeles region.
"You would see buildings collapse, you'd see people trapped, you'd see roadways collapse. You'd see widespread destruction," said Kelly Huston, assistant agency secretary for public and crisis communication at CEMA.
Still, the new data in Geology magazine is hardly conclusive, Page explained.
"Paleoseismic evidence isn't always cut and dried," she told FoxNews.com. And more evidence is needed before these theories about the frequency and strength of San Andreas quakes become accepted as fact.
"It's rather controversial. Some people support the work, and some people think there may be problems with it," she told FoxNews.com.
Sinan Akciz, the other UCI researcher on the study, remained focused on the conclusions.
“What we know is for the last 700 years, earthquakes on the southern San Andreas fault have been much more frequent than everyone thought,” said Akciz. “Data presented here contradict previously published reports.”
Recent weeks have produced a series of grim and related headlines: Russia has declared a state of emergency because of drought in 12 regions, while in major wheat exporter Ukraine, severe flooding may depress crop yields. Dry conditions threaten Vietnamese rice production. The USDA has projected a disappointingly low Midwest harvest, and China has raised questions on the demand side by doubling its imports from Canada.
Fortunately, this run of unfavorable farming news follows strong harvests that for now should keep grain prices in check, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. But to see the effects of a bad year for food -- and what the world could be in for if the present trend persists -- one only has to look to 2008.
Two years ago, a confluence of environmental causes compounded by rising fuel costs and a global credit crunch caused food prices to skyrocket an average of 43 percent worldwide, leading to starvation and riots from Mexico to Bangladesh.
Some are worried that was just a warning.
In a new book, "Empires of Food," journalist Andrew Rimas and Leeds University agricultural researcher Evan Fraser examine civilizations from Mesopotamia to Rome to Great Britain. They argue that every empire was made possible by agriculture, and that when those agricultural systems failed, the empires they supported failed with them.
Fraser and Rimas worry that the food system in place today is built around nitrogen-based fertilizers that require petroleum to create, as well as good weather that's graced the world since the dust bowl. If fuel prices go up again, or if the weather gets worse, they say, we could see our food empire unravel as well.
"Global food supplies must increase by an estimated 50 percent to meet expected demand in the next 20 years," reads the Global Food Security page on the State Department website.
As they queue to fill water jugs from a rusty communal tap, the women of Njoro can’t help but gawk at the odd scene across the road. In a wheat field ringed by barbed wire, a dozen men wearing white polyethylene jumpsuits stand in a tight huddle, eyes fixed on the green-and-amber stalks that graze their knees. They chat in foreign tongues — Urdu, Farsi, Chinese — that are rarely heard here amid the acacia trees and donkey carts of Kenya’s Rift Valley. The men’s hazmat-style safety gear suggests they might be hunting down one of the infamous viruses that flourish in this part of the world — Ebola, perhaps, or Marburg.
Then the leader of the huddle, Harbans Bariana, a rotund Australian in an undersize safari hat, begins reading aloud from his clipboard: “Wylah?” he asks.
His colleagues bend down to examine some flaccid plants flecked with red splotches. A lanky Pakistani with a salt-and-pepper beard rakes a finger along one of the mottled stalks; an iodine-like residue rubs off on his skin. “40 S,” he calls out.
The men move three steps right to a slightly more robust clump of wheat. The Australian asks: “Yandanooka?”
“25 MR?” comes the tentative reply from a mustachioed Nepali in a green baseball cap. They slide over to inspect another stalk, and then another.
To the women at the tap, faces scrunched in puzzlement, the call-and-response sounds like gibberish — and to most of the world, it is. But to the jumpsuited strangers in East Africa — a group of elite plant pathologists — these codenames and numbers are a lingua franca, describing just how badly a crop has been ravaged by disease. These specialists have come to Njoro on this autumn afternoon to study a scourge that is destroying acres of Kenyan fields. The enemy is Ug99, a fungus that causes stem rust, a calamitous disease of wheat. Its spores alight on a wheat leaf, then work their way into the flesh of the plant and hijack its metabolism, siphoning off nutrients that would otherwise fatten the grains. The pathogen makes its presence known to humans through crimson pustules on the plant’s stems and leaves. When those pustules burst, millions of spores flare out in search of fresh hosts. The ravaged plant then withers and dies, its grains shriveled into useless pebbles.
Stem rust is the polio of agriculture, a plague that was brought under control nearly half a century ago as part of the celebrated Green Revolution. After years of trial and error, scientists managed to breed wheat that contained genes capable of repelling the assaults of Puccinia graminis, the formal name of the fungus.
But now it’s clear: The triumph didn’t last. While languishing in the Ugandan highlands, a small population of P. graminis evolved the means to overcome mankind’s most ingenious genetic defenses. This distinct new race of P. graminis, dubbed Ug99 after its country of origin (Uganda) and year of christening (1999), is storming east, working its way through Africa and the Middle East and threatening India and China. More than a billion lives are at stake. “It’s an absolute game-changer,” says Brian Steffenson, a cereal-disease expert at the University of Minnesota who travels to Njoro regularly to observe the enemy in the wild. “The pathogen takes out pretty much everything we have.”
Indeed, 90 percent of the world’s wheat has little or no protection against the Ug99 race of P. graminis. If nothing is done to slow the pathogen, famines could soon become the norm — from the Red Sea to the Mongolian steppe — as Ug99 annihilates a crop that provides a third of our calories. China and India, the world’s biggest wheat consumers, will once again face the threat of mass starvation, especially among their rural poor. The situation will be particularly grim in Pakistan and Afghanistan, two nations that rely heavily on wheat for sustenance and are in no position to bear added woe. Their fragile governments may not be able to survive the onslaught of Ug99 and its attendant turmoil.
The pathogen has already been detected in Iran and may now be headed for South Asia’s most important breadbasket, the Punjab, which nourishes hundreds of millions of Indians and Pakistanis. What’s more, Ug99 could easily make the transoceanic leap to the United States. All it would take is for a single spore, barely bigger than a red blood cell, to latch onto the shirt of an oblivious traveler. The toll from that would be ruinous; the US Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 40 million acres of wheat would be at serious risk if Ug99 came to these shores, where the grain is the third most valuable crop, trailing only corn and soybeans. The economic loss might easily exceed $10 billion; a simple loaf of bread could become a luxury. “If this stuff gets into the Western Hemisphere,” Steffenson says, “God help us.”
He and his fellow scientists around the world are scrambling to halt the pathogen. To do so, they must figure out a way to reach deep within the wheat genome and create genetic barriers that Ug99 cannot overcome. And they must do so quickly, before the pestilence moves on to the next continent, and then the one after that — wreaking havoc on the world’s food supply.
A new and less well known asymmetric threat has surfaced in the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher. Methane or CH4 gas is being released in vast quantities in the Gulf waters. Seismic data shows huge pools of methane gas at the location immediately below and around the damaged "Macondo" oil well. Methane is a colourless, odourless and highly flammable substance which forms a major component in natural gas. This is the same gas that blew the top off Deepwater Horizon and killed 11 people. The "flow team" of the US Geological Survey estimates that 2,900 cubic feet of natural gas, which primarily contains methane, is being released into the Gulf waters with every barrel of oil. The constant flow of over 50,000 barrels of crude oil places the total daily amount of natural gas at over 145 million cubic feet. So far, over 8 billion cubic feet may have been released, making it one of the most vigorous methane eruptions in modern human history. If the estimates of 100,000 barrels a day -- that have emerged from a BP internal document -- are true, then the estimates for methane gas release might have to be doubled.
Older documents indicate that the subterranean geological formation below the "Macondo" well in the Gulf of Mexico may contain the presence of a huge methane deposit. It has been a well known fact that the methane in that oil deposit was problematic. As a result, there was a much higher risk of a blow out. Macondo shares its name with the cursed town in the novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by the Nobel-prize winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
By some geologists' estimates, the methane could be a massive bubble trapped for thousands of years under the Gulf of Mexico sea floor. More than a year ago, geologists expressed alarm in regard to BP and Transocean putting their exploratory rig directly over this massive underground reservoir of methane. Warnings were raised before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe that the area of seabed chosen might be unstable and inherently dangerous.
The intractable problem is that this methane, located deep in the bowels of the earth, is under tremendous pressure. Experts agree that the pressure that blows the oil into the Gulf waters is estimated to be between 30,000 and 70,000 pounds per square inch (psi). Some speculate that the pressure of the methane at the base of the well head, deep under the ocean floor, may be as high as 100,000 psi -- far too much for current technology to contain. The shutoff valves and safety measures were only built for thousands of psi at best. There is no known device to cap a well with such an ultra high pressure.
According to geologists, the first signs that the methane may burst its way through the bottom of the ocean would be manifest via fissures or cracks appearing on the ocean floor near the path of least resistance, ie, the damaged well head. Evidence of fissures opening up on the seabed have been captured by the robotic midget submarines working to repair and contain the ruptured well. Smaller, independent plumes have also appeared outside the nearby radius of the bore hole. When reviewing video tapes of the live BP feeds, one can see in the tapes of mid-June that there is oil spewing up from visible fissions. Geologists are pointing to new fissures and cracks that are appearing on the ocean floor.
The stretching and compression of the earth's crust causes minor cracking, called faults, and the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico has many such fault areas. Fault areas run along the Gulf of Mexico and well inland in Mexico, South and East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the extreme western Florida Panhandle. The close coupling of new fissures and cracks with natural fault areas could prove to be lethal.
The deadly Deepwater Horizon blowout was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers. "A small bubble becomes a really big bubble," says an expert privy to the interview transcripts. "So the expanding bubble becomes like a cannon shooting the gas into your face."
As the rig was being converted from an exploration well to a production well, workers set and tested a cement seal at the bottom of the well. Then they attempted to set a second seal. A chemical reaction caused by the setting cement created a gas bubble that destroyed the seal. Up on the rig, the first thing workers noticed was the sea water in the drill column suddenly shooting back at them, rocketing 240 feet in the air. Then, gas surfaced. Then oil. A gas cloud covered the rig, causing giant engines on the drill floor to run too fast and explode. The engines blew off the rig and set "everything on fire," the account said. Another explosion below blew more equipment overboard.
It's been predicted for years, and now it's happening. Deep in the Arctic Ocean, water warmed by climate change is forcing the release of methane from beneath the sea floor.
Over 250 plumes of gas have been discovered bubbling up from the sea floor to the west of the Svalbard archipelago, which lies north of Norway. The bubbles are mostly methane, which is a greenhouse gas much more powerful than carbon dioxide.
The methane is probably coming from reserves of methane hydrate beneath the sea bed. These hydrates, also known as clathrates, are water ice with methane molecules embedded in them.
The region where the team found the plumes is being warmed by the West Spitsbergen current, which has warmed by 1 °C over the past 30 years.
"Hydrates are stable only within a particular range of temperatures," says Minshull. "So if the ocean warms, some of the hydrates will break down and release their methane."
Vast stores of methane are released in plums of gas seeping up from cracks on the ocean floor. One of the largest of these cracks is Coal Oil Point along the northern edge of the Santa Barbara Channel off Southern California coast, where 2 million cubic feet per day of methane is released (along with around 100 barrels of oil to boot).
Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If all the methane made it from a crack in the ocean floor all the way up into the atmosphere, to the tune of any significant percentage of that 2 million cubic feet from only one seep of an ocean floor littered with them, it would be a far worse scenario for climate stability than what we appear to already have.
QUITO - Ecuadorean villagers fled their homes after the Andean nation's "Throat of Fire" volcano erupted on Friday, spewing columns of ash that could affect flights, authorities said.
In the second eruption in Latin America on Friday, loud explosions shook the ground and rattled windows near the volcano known as Tungurahua in the indigenous Quechua language, 130 km (81 miles) southeast of Quito, officials said.
Residents close to the 5,020 metre (16,500 feet) volcano were evacuated from Cusua and Juive Grande villages, the president's office said in a statement, without saying how many people were affected.
"The eruptive column is some 10 km (33,000 feet) high with pyroclastic flows," Hugo Yepes, director of Ecuador's Geophysical Institute, told reporters.
Tungurahua has been classed as active since 1999 and had a strong eruption in 2008. It is one of eight active volcanoes in the country.
Yepes said that ash plumes could "easily" reach 35,000 to 40,000 feet in altitude at which long-distance flights operate. "As such there should be at least a diversion for international routes," he said.
LONDON - A second, much larger volcano in Iceland is showing signs that it may be about to erupt, scientists have warned.
Since the start of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, which caused cancellations of thousands of flights in Europe because of a giant ash cloud, there has been much speculation about neighboring Katla.
An initial research paper by the University College of London Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction said: "Analysis of the seismic energy released around Katla over the last decade or so is interpreted as providing evidence of a rising ... intrusive magma body on the western flank of the volcano."
"Earlier seismic energy release at Katla is associated with the inflation of the volcano, which indicates it is close to failure, although this does not appear to be linked to seismicity around Eyjafjallajökull," it added.
"We conclude that given the high frequency of Katla activity, an eruption in the short term is a strong possibility," the report said. "It is likely to be preceded by new earthquake activity. Presently there is no unusual seismicity under Katla."
Icelandic President Ólafur Grímsson has warned governments around Europe that a significant eruption at the volcano is close. "We [Iceland] have prepared ... it is high time for European governments and airline authorities all over Europe and the world to start planning for the eventual Katla eruption," he said.
Authorities closed air space over Britain, Ireland and the Nordic countries. Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded as flights were canceled and it was unclear when it would be safe to fly again.
LONDON -- An ash cloud from Iceland's spewing volcano halted air traffic across a wide swath of Europe on Thursday, grounding planes on a scale unseen since the 2001 terror attacks as authorities stopped all flights over Britain, Ireland and the Nordic countries.
Thousands of flights were canceled, stranding tens of thousands of passengers, and officials said it was not clear when it would be safe enough to fly again.
An aviation expert said it was the first time in living memory that an ash cloud had affected some of the most congested airspace in the world, while a scientist in Iceland said the ejection of volcanic ash -- and therefore disruptions in air travel -- could continue for days or even weeks.
"At the present time it is impossible to say when we will resume flying," said Henrik Peter Joergensen, the spokesman for Copenhagen's airport in Denmark, where some 25,000 passengers were affected.
The ash plume, which rose to between 20,000 feet and 36,000 feet (6,000 meters and 11,000 meters), lies above the Atlantic Ocean close to the flight paths for most routes from the U.S. east coast to Europe.
With the cloud drifting south and east across Britain, the country's air traffic service banned all non-emergency flights until at least 7 a.m. (0600GMT, 2 a.m. EDT) Friday. Irish authorities closed their air space for at least eight hours, and aviation authorities in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Belgium took similar precautions.
The move shut down London's five major airports including Heathrow, a major trans-Atlantic hub that handles over 1,200 flights and 180,000 passengers per day. Airport shutdowns and flight cancellations spread eastward across Europe -- to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland -- and the effects reverberated worldwide.
French officials shut down all flights to Paris and 23 other airports.
Airlines in the United States canceling some flights to Europe and delayed others. In Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration said it was working with airlines to try to reroute some flights around the massive ash cloud.
Flights from Asia, Africa and the Middle East to Heathrow and other top European hubs were also put on hold.
The highly abrasive, microscopic particles that make up volcanic ash pose a threat to aircraft because they can affect visibility and get sucked into airplane engines, causing them to shut down. The ash can also block pitot tubes, which supply vital instruments such as air speed indicators, or latch onto engine blades, forming a glassy substance that may cause engines to surge or stall.
Ash will also damage all forward-facing surfaces on an aircraft, such as the cockpit windshields, the wings' leading edges, the landing lights and air filters for the passenger cabin.
Iceland, a nation of 320,000 people, sits on a large volcanic hot spot in the Atlantic's mid-oceanic ridge, and has a history of devastating eruptions.
The worst was the 1783 eruption of the Laki volcano, which spewed a toxic cloud over Europe with devastating consequences. At least 9,000 people, a quarter of the population of Iceland, died, many from the famine caused by the eruption, and many more emigrated. The cloud may have killed more than 20,000 people in eastern England and an estimated 16,000 in France.
GULF OIL SPILL UPDATE - Efforts to stop the spread have failed and the East coast is now at risk!
May 2, 2010
Efforts to stem the flow from the ruptured well on the sea floor and remove oil from the surface by skimming it, burning it or by dispersing it with chemicals continued with little success. Adding to the gloomy outlook were warnings from experts that an uncontrolled gusher could create a nightmare scenario if the Gulf Stream current carries it toward the Atlantic.
There is growing criticism that the government and oil company BP PLC should have done more to stave off the disaster, which cast a pall over the fragile environment and the region's economy, still recovering from the devastation of 2005's Hurricane Katrina.
The Coast Guard conceded Saturday that it's nearly impossible to know how much oil has gushed since the April 20 rig explosion, after saying earlier it was at least 1.6 million gallons -- equivalent to about 2 1/2 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The blast killed 11 workers and threatened beaches, fragile marshes and marine mammals, along with fishing grounds that are among the world's most productive.
Fishermen and boaters want to help contain the oil. But on Saturday, they were again hampered by high winds and rough waves that splashed over the miles of orange and yellow inflatable booms strung along the coast, rendering them largely ineffective. Some coastal Louisiana residents complained that BP, which owns the rig, was hampering mitigation efforts.
It's now looking like the oil slick could reach Key West and then the Atlantic within days. Once it gets caught up in the Gulf Stream, the impact on the East Coast would be devastating.
GULF OIL SPILL UPDATE - Food shortages and price increases likely!
May 1, 2010
( Multiple Sources)
With continuous high winds, the oil slick has breach the booms and reached deep into the marshlands and up stream of many fresh water ways. Expect to see pictures of oil soaked birds and beached dead fish over the next couple days.
Once the marshes and wetlands, which extend many miles inland, are contaminated with oil, it could take up to 100 years to fully recover. The fish, birds and other wildlife that in many cases only existed in this ecosystem will be effectively exterminated.
But in the nearterm, you can expect food availability and prices to be affected by early next week. One of the main downsides to just in time food supply, is that the stores do not store on-site any more inventory than what is needed to fully stock the shelves. Expect the food supply and soon to be fuel shortages to interrupt the food supply logistics nation-wide.
The 130-mile by 70-mile slick now threatens hundreds of species of wildlife, including birds, dolphins and the fish, shrimp, oysters and crabs that make the Gulf Coast one of the nation's most abundant sources of seafood. Louisiana closed some fishing grounds and oyster beds because of the risk of oil contamination.
Seafood Suppliers gets much of the shrimp bought by Bay Area restaurants from Louisiana fisheries, said President Bill Dawson. He’s been warned of potential price spikes.
“Looks to me like it’s going to be a real tight supply situation, without any doubt.”
A spokesman for the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board said 23 percent of the state’s shell fish production is in the potential path of a spill whose magnitude could eclipse the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
Jeff Howard, 43, fishes for shrimp and crab in the waters off Delacroix, La., in St. Bernard Parish on Friday ahead of an impending oil slick. "Today might be the last day you can go," he said. "You might not be able to go for another year. Who knows?"
As the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continued to spread Friday, Louisiana's $2.5-billion commercial fishing industry, which provides much of the country's domestic shrimp and oysters, is bracing for a virtual shutdown that could trigger shortages and price hikes for consumers nationwide.
As an armada of fishing vessels was dodging the oil-covered waters, seafood distributors, restaurants and grocery stores across the nation were on edge as well.
In Southern California, supermarket chains such as Albertsons and Ralphs said they were closely monitoring the situation and were concerned about how serious the problem might become. A spokeswoman for Whole Foods Market said it was prepared to find alternatives — just in case.
Already battered by imports of shrimp and other seafood – 80 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported – the Gulf of Mexico seafood industry is eager to avoid a panic about the safety of their catch. And for good reason.
So far, the seafood is safe. Gulf oysters are never exposed to surface waters, so unless the oil sinks, the oysters could well survive, as could shrimp and stocks of redfish and other species who can swim away from the spill.
But in the longer term, the spill could pose a significant danger to the industry if it damages fragile nursery grounds or drips down into oyster beds.
Louisiana's commercial fish industry sells $1.8 billion of product each year, rivaled only by Alaska. The Gulf of Mexico accounts for 40 percent of the seafood that is caught in the lower 48 states and consumed domestically.
Meanwhile, sport fishing produces $1 billion in sales a year, according to Business Week. The impact from the oil spill is already being felt by charter boat captains in places like Venice, La.
“Depending on what happens in the next few days, this could have a relatively small impact on coastal Louisiana or significant long-term effects, including closed fishing areas, oiled wildlife, and worse,” Mark Schexnayder, regional coastal adviser for Louisiana State University, tells Business Week.
Gulf Oil Spill Five Times Larger Than Previous Estimate
“It’s premature to say this is catastrophic,” said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, ” I will say that this is very serious,” quoted the Washington Post, as more oil leaked from the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated Wednesday night that up to 5,000 barrels a day, not 1,000 as first stated, are spewing out of the well. That is five times BP’s previous estimate, according to various news outlets. Attempts to trigger a shutoff valve with robotic submarines proved unsuccessful Wednesday. Various environmental groups and scientists are predicting the spill could be one of the worst-ever environmental disasters in the Gulf.
As winds shifted to the southeast Wednesday, for the first time the forecast indicated that the outer bands of the amber colored oil slick will reach the southern edges of Louisiana’s coast by late Friday, according to nola.com.
If the spill reaches the coast, it could be both environmentally and economically debilitating for the affected states. According to a Bloomberg report, the Louisiana coast has 3 million acres of wetlands that serve as a nursery for game fish such as red drum and speckled trout, and are presently nurturing brown shrimp to be harvested by the state’s fishing fleet.
Louisiana’s seafood industry garners annual retail sales of about $1.8 billion, while its sports fishing operation pulls in about $1 billion each year for the state. The oil spill could cause long-term damage to the state’s marshes, seriously hurting both industries and the marshes house 5 million migratory birds, alligators, turtles and other species, said Bloomberg. Also, once pristine beaches would no longer lure tourists when covered in oily muck.
Environmentalists are fearing the slick could match the 11 million gallons that spilled during the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. At the current rate of spillage, it would take about 260 days for this incident to exceed the worst oil spill devastation in U.S. history.
MIAMI -- The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season will produce an above-average eight hurricanes, four of them major, posing a heightened threat to the U.S. coastline, the Colorado State University hurricane forecasting team predicted on Wednesday.
In its second forecast in four months for the 2010 season, the leading storm research team founded by hurricane forecast pioneer William Gray said the six-month season beginning on June 1 would likely see 15 named tropical storms.
The team forecast a 69 percent chance of at least one major hurricane making landfall on the U.S. coastline in 2010, compared with a long-term average probability of 52 percent.
Major hurricanes pack powerful sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour (178 km per hour).
For the Gulf Coast, from the Florida Panhandle west to Brownsville, Texas, including the Gulf of Mexico oil patch, the probability of a major hurricane making landfall was seen at 44 percent versus a long-term average of 30 percent, the Colorado State University team said.
"While patterns may change before the start of the hurricane season, we believe current conditions warrant concern for an above-average season," Gray said in a statement.
An average Atlantic season has about 10 tropical storms, of which six become hurricanes.
The Colorado State University team also predicted a 58 percent chance of a major hurricane tracking into the Caribbean, where Haiti is vulnerable after a devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that left more than a million people homeless.
The earlier forecast in December by Gray's team had already predicted an "above-average" season producing 11 to 16 tropical storms, including six to eight hurricanes. It had said three to five of next year's storms would become "major" hurricanes of Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale.
Another forecaster, AccuWeather.com, last month also forecast a potentially "extreme" hurricane season this year, with "above-normal threats" to the U.S. coastline.
Europe's largest undersea volcano could disintegrate and unleash a tsunami that would engulf southern Italy "at any time", a prominent vulcanologist warned in an interview published Monday.
The Marsili volcano, which is bursting with magma, has "fragile walls" that could collapse, Enzo Boschi told the leading daily Corriere della Sera.
"It could even happen tomorrow," said Boschi, president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).
"Our latest research shows that the volcano is not structurally solid, its walls are fragile, the magma chamber is of sizeable dimensions," he said. "All that tells us that the volcano is active and could begin erupting at any time."
The event would result in "a strong tsunami that could strike the coasts of Campania, Calabria and Sicily," Boschi said.
The undersea Marsili, 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) tall and located some 150 kilometres (90 miles) southwest of Naples, has not erupted since the start of recorded history.
It is 70 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide, and its crater is some 450 metres below the surface of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
"A rupture of the walls would let loose millions of cubic metres of material capable of generating a very powerful wave," Boschi said.
"While the indications that have been collected are precise, it is impossible to make predictions. The risk is real but hard to evaluate."
NEW YORK — Earth's days may have gotten a little bit shorter since the massive earthquake in Chile, but don't feel bad if you haven't noticed.
The difference would be only about one-millionth of a second.
Richard Gross, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and colleagues calculated that Saturday's quake shortened the day by 1.26 microseconds. A microsecond is one-millionth of a second.
The length of a day is the time it takes for the planet to complete one rotation – 86,400 seconds or 24 hours.
An earthquake can make Earth rotate faster by nudging some of its mass closer to the planet's axis, just as ice skaters can speed up their spins by pulling in their arms. Conversely, a quake can slow the rotation and lengthen the day if it redistributes mass away from that axis, Gross said Tuesday.
Gross said the calculated changes in length of the day are permanent. So a bunch of big quakes could add up to make the day shorter, "but these changes are very, very small."
So small, in fact, that scientists can't record them directly. Gross said actual observations of the length of the day are accurate to five-millionths of a second. His estimate of the effect of the Chile quake is only a quarter of that span.
"I'll certainly look at the observations when they come in," Gross said, but "I doubt I'll see anything."
CONCEPCION, Chile — Rescuers found signs of life in the wreckage of a 15-story building Monday as the world offered aid to victims of an earthquake that killed more than 700 people. Troops and police arrested dozens of people for violating a curfew designed to prevent looting.
The toll of dead rose to 723, with 19 others missing, the National Emergency Office announced, in a magnitude-8.8 quake that President Michelle Bachelet called "an emergency without parallel in Chile's history."
Some coastal towns were almost obliterated — first shaken by the quake, then slammed by a tsunami that carried whole houses inland and crushed others into piles of sticks. Shocked survivors were left without power, water or food.
In Concepcion, the biggest city near the epicenter, rescuers heard the knock of trapped victims inside a toppled 70-unit apartment building and began to drill through thick walls to reach them, said fire department Commander Juan Carlos Subercaseux.
Only the chop of military helicopters flying overhead broke the silence demanded by rescuers straining to hear signs of life inside the building. Firefighters had already pulled 25 survivors and eight bodies from the structure.
Mayor Jacqueline van Rysselberghe told Radio Cooperativa that some food aid was arriving in the city of 200,000 Monday for distribution to the hungry. Electricity was still out, however, and water was scarce.
Concepcion police chief Eliecer Soler said officers arrested 55 people for violating a curfew imposed after looters sacked nearly every market in town. Troops ordered into the city by Bachelet patrolled to enforce security. A few looters re-emerged to rob a market on Monday.
"I feel abandoned" by authorities, he said. "We believe the government didn't take the necessary measures in time, and now supplies of food and water are going to be much more complicated."
WASHINGTON (AP) - Top researchers now agree that the world is likely to get stronger but fewer hurricanes in the future because of global warming, seeming to settle a scientific debate on the subject. But they say there's not enough evidence yet to tell whether that effect has already begun.
Since just before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, dueling scientific papers have clashed about whether global warming is worsening hurricanes and will do so in the future. The new study seems to split the difference. A special World Meteorological Organization panel of 10 experts in both hurricanes and climate change—including leading scientists from both sides—came up with a consensus, which is published online Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.
"We've really come a long way in the last two years about our knowledge of the hurricane and climate issue," said study co-author Chris Landsea, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration top hurricane researcher. The technical term for these storms are tropical cyclones; in the Atlantic they get called hurricanes, elsewhere typhoons.
The study offers projections for tropical cyclones worldwide by the end of this century, and some experts said the bad news outweighs the good. Overall strength of storms as measured in wind speed would rise by 2 to 11 percent, but there would be between 6 and 34 percent fewer storms in number. Essentially, there would be fewer weak and moderate storms and more of the big damaging ones, which also are projected to be stronger due to warming.
An 11 percent increase in wind speed translates to roughly a 60 percent increase in damage, said study co-author Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.
The storms also would carry more rain, another indicator of damage, said lead author Tom Knutson, a research meteorologist at NOAA.
Knutson said the new study, which looks at worldwide projections, doesn't make clear whether global warming will lead to more or less hurricane damage on balance. But he pointed to a study he co-authored last month that looked at just the Atlantic hurricane basin and predicted that global warming would trigger a 28 percent increase in damage near the U.S. despite fewer storms.
That study suggests category 4 and 5 Atlantic hurricanes—those with winds more than 130 mph—would nearly double by the end of the century. On average, a category 4 or stronger hurricane hits the United States about once every seven years, mostly in Florida or Texas. Recent category 4 or 5 storms include 2004's Charley and 1992's Andrew, but not Katrina which made landfall as a strong category 3.
Africa-Gate? U.N. Fears of Food Shortages Questioned
Monday, February 08, 2010
The U.N.'s controversial climate report is coming under fire -- again -- this time by one of its own scientists, who admits he can't find any evidence to support a warning about a climate-caused North African food shortage.
The statement comes from a key 2007 report to the U.N., and asserts that by 2020 yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% in some African countries thanks to climate change.
But this weekend, a key author of the team behind that report told The Sunday Times that he could find no evidence to support his own group's claim. The revelation follows the retraction by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of a claim that the Himalayan glaciers might all melt by 2035, dubbed 'Glaciergate' by commentators.
The newest controversial claim could become a very important error in the IPCC's reporting, because it comes not only from the IPCC's report on climate change impacts -- called Assessment Report 4, or AR4 -- but is also repeated in its "Synthesis Report." That report is the IPCC's most politically sensitive publication, distilling its most important science into a form accessible to politicians and policy makers.
Its lead authors include IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri himself, who has quoted it in speeches, as has U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.
Speaking at the 2008 global climate talks in Poznan, Poland, Pachauri said: "In some countries of Africa, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by 50% by 2020." In a speech last July, Ban said: "Yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall by half in some African countries over the next 10 years."
Speaking this weekend, Professor Chris Field, the new lead author of the IPCC's climate impacts team, said: "I was not an author on the 'Synthesis Report,' but on reading it I cannot find support for the statement about African crop yield declines."
This sort of claim should be based on hard evidence, said Robert Watson, chief scientist at Defra, the U.K.'s department for environment food and rural affairs, who chaired the IPCC from 1997 to 2002.
"Any such projection should be based on peer-reviewed literature from computer modelling of how agricultural yields would respond to climate change. I can see no such data supporting the IPCC report," he said.
WASHINGTON -- Sales of new U.S. homes unexpectedly fell 7.6 percent last month, capping the industry's weakest year on record.
The Commerce Department says December sales fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 342,000 from an upwardly revised November pace of 370,000. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had forecast a pace of 370,000 for December.
The results were the weakest since March and indicated demand remains sluggish despite newly expanded tax incentives to spur sales.
Only 374,000 homes were sold last year, down 23 percent from a year earlier and the weakest year on records dating back to 1963.
The median sales price of $221,300 was down nearly 4 percent from $229,600 a year earlier, but up about 5 percent from November's median of $210,300.
original article Homes Toppled, Bodies Piled in Streets After Devastating Haiti Quake
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
(Source: Associated Press)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Dazed survivors wandered past dead bodies in rubble-strewn streets Wednesday, crying for loved ones, and rescuers desperately searched collapsed buildings as fear rose that the death toll from Haiti's devastating earthquake could reach into the tens of thousands.
"It's incredible," Preval told CNN. "A lot of houses destroyed, hospitals, schools, personal homes. A lot of people in the street dead. ... I'm still looking to understand the magnitude of the event and how to manage."
Preval said thousands of people were probably killed. Leading Sen. Youri Latortue told The Associated Press that 500,000 could be dead, but conceded that nobody really knows.
"Let's say that it's too early to give a number," Preval said.
Looting began immediately after the quake, with people seen carrying food from collapsed buildings. Many lugged what they could salvage and stacked it around them as they slept in streets and parks.
The survivors likely will face an increased risk of dengue fever, malaria and measles — problems that plagued the impoverished country before, said Kimberley Shoaf, associate director of the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters.
Some of the biggest immediate health threats include respiratory disease from inhaling dust from collapsed buildings and diarrhea from drinking contaminated water.
The international Red Cross said a third of the country's 9 million people may need emergency aid, a burden that would test any nation and a crushing catastrophe for impoverished Haiti.