Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Each forward step we take we leave some phantom of ourselves behind.
John Lancaster Spalding

This morning -

Yesterday -
3/29/10 -

JAPAN - A strong 5.8 magnitude quake has struck off northern Japan, but no tsunami warning was issued. The quake hit at 10.02 am in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), just east of Hokkaido island. Its depth was estimated at 35 kilometres (almost 22 miles).

OREGON - 3/28/10 - Authorities still don't know the cause of a Southeast Portland boom. It was the second mysterious
explosion-like sound to hit the area in two weeks.
Portland authorities have no idea what caused the Sunday night boom that shook a number of residents' homes in Southeast Portland about 8:05 p.m. Many calls came in from the Sellwood neighborhood, but residents from Happy Valley to the Hillsdale area also reported hearing the ruckus. Portland Fire and Rescue sent several crews out, but "nobody could find anything." Portland Fire contacted the airport, but no causes were found there. Police were similarly stumped. There were no reports to confirm that a sonic boom occurred, which some Portland authorities guessed to be the cause. Residents reported a similar incident March 15, and no authorities ended up pinpointing the cause. Some pointed to fireworks as an explanation, but it was never confirmed. The latest one was much louder, and it was "very sudden, very quick." The mystery had the Portland area Twitterverse abuzz, as tweet after tweet referenced the "pdxboom."


Undersea volcano could destroy Italy 'as soon as tomorrow' - expert warns. Europe's largest undersea volcano could disintegrate and unleash a tsunami that would engulf southern Italy "at any time". The Marsili volcano, which is bursting with magma, has "fragile walls" that could collapse.
"It could even happen tomorrow. Our latest research shows that the volcano is not structurally solid, its walls are fragile, the magma chamber is of sizeable dimensions. 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." The undersea Marsili, 3000m tall and located some 150km south-west of Naples, has not erupted since the start of recorded history. It is 70km long and 30km wide, and its crater is some 450m 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. While the indications that have been collected are precise, it is impossible to make predictions. The risk is real but hard to evaluate."

Cyclone PAUL was 623 nmi WNW of Cairns, Australia.

Heavy rain and destructive winds from cyclone Paul have battered Arnhem Land for 24 hours, bringing down trees and causing flooding. Cyclone Paul crossed the east coast of the Northern Territory yesterday morning and remains a category two storm, with winds of up to 130km/h. More than 300mm of rain has fallen in the past 48 hours at Groote Eylandt, where schools and a BHP mine remain closed. The cyclone has also caused stream flooding in parts of Arnhem Land, while trees have been brought down across roads in some areas. The Bureau of Meteorology expects the cyclone to weaken below cyclone strength today, but warns it could strengthen again later in the week. "It's not necessarily all over ... if it does get back over waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria it could reintensify fairly quickly. There are no clear indications for the longer term, some models have it heading east across the gulf, other models have it heading toward Western Australia."


NEW YORK on pace for WETTEST MARCH EVER - Rain falling through Wednesday may push New York City to a record for the wettest March, while warmer weather arriving this weekend threatens temperature marks in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. New York and the Northeast are forecast to get 5.5 inches (13.9 centimeters) of rainfall from the storm that started late Sunday, pushing swollen rivers from New Jersey to Massachusetts back into flood stage. Manhattan’s Central Park received 10.54 inches of rain in March 1983, the current record. The overnight rainfall pushed this month’s unofficial total to about 7.7 inches. “They are going to get soaked, it will be 2 to 4 inches easy across the Northeast. I am concerned about widespread flooding from New Jersey up into eastern Massachusetts, and that includes New York City.” An unbroken string of flood watches and warnings stretches from Maine to Virginia. The storm is another in a series that can be blamed, at least in part, on El Nino. Storms driven by El Nino have dropped record-breaking snow and soaking rains that have swollen rivers, washed out roads and railroad tracks and flooded basements across the Northeast this year. “It has been a pretty wild season. Every storm we have had since February has been a big snow producer or a big rain producer.” A coast flood advisory has been issued for New York and southern Connecticut because tides are expected to be 1 to 1.5 feet above normal.
When the rain ends, temperatures are forecast to rise to the mid- to upper-70s. Readings may be in the 80s for Washington and Baltimore and as far north as Philadelphia. “There will be record- or near record-breaking heat into a good portion of the mid-Atlantic and into the Northeast as well. This warmth is a definite lock, it is going to be unusually warm.” The highest temperature recorded in Central Park on April 1 was 83. Philadelphia’s record for the date is 81, while the Washington and Baltimore record is 88. Temperatures from the Rocky Mountains east should be about 10 to 20 degrees above normal.
California and the West will have below-normal temperatures. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center calls for below-average temperatures from the Pacific Coast to parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico from April 3 to April 7.


The Gulf Stream does not appear to be slowing down, say US scientists. Confirming work by other scientists, they found dramatic short-term variability but no longer-term trend. A slow-down is projected by some models of climate change. The stream is a key process in the climate of western Europe, bringing heat northwards from the tropics and keeping countries such as the UK 4-6C warmer than they would otherwise be. It forms part of a larger movement of water, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which is itself one component of the global thermohaline system of currents. Between 2002 and 2009, there was no trend discernible - just a lot of variability on short timescales.The satellite record going back to 1993 did suggest a small increase in flow, although the researchers cannot be sure it is significant. "The changes we're seeing in overturning strength are probably part of a natural cycle. The slight increase in overturning since 1993 coincides with a decades-long natural pattern of Atlantic heating and cooling." The first observations suggesting the circulation was slowing down emerged in 2005. Using an array of detectors across the Atlantic and comparing its readings against historical records, scientists suggested the volume of cold water returning southwards could have fallen by as much as 30% in half a century - a significant decline. The surface water sinks in the Arctic and flows back southwards at the bottom of the ocean, driving the circulation. However, later observations by the same team showed that the strength of the flow varied hugely on short timescales - from one season to the next, or even shorter. But they have not found any clear trend since 2004. The quantities of water involved are huge, varying between four million and 35 million tonnes of water per second.
Driven by Hollywood, a popular image of a Gulf Stream slowdown shows a sudden catastrophic event driving snowstorms across the temperate lands of western Europe and eastern North America. That has always been fantasy - as is the idea that a slow-down would trigger another ice age. "But the Atlantic overturning circulation is still an important player in today's climate. Some have suggested cyclic changes in the overturning may be warming and cooling the whole North Atlantic over the course of several decades and affecting rainfall patterns across the US and Africa, and even the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic." (map)


Colony Collapse Disorder continued in 2009 as bees disappear from US. The decline in the US bee population, first observed in 2006, is continuing, a phenomenon that still baffles researchers and beekeepers. Data from the US Department of Agriculture showed a 29 per cent drop in beehives in 2009, following a 36 per cent decline in 2008 and a 32 per cent fall in 2007. This affected not only honey production but around $15 billion worth of crops that depended on bees for pollination. Scientists call the phenomenon "colony collapse disorder", and it has led to the disappearance of millions of adult bees and beehives and occurred elsewhere in the world, including in Europe. Researchers have looked at viruses, parasites, insecticides, malnutrition and other environmental factors but have been unable to pinpoint a specific cause for the population decline.
The rough winter in many parts of the United States will likely accentuate the problem. But preliminary estimates already indicated losses of 30 to 50 per cent. "There are a lot of beekeepers who are in trouble. Under normal condition you have 10 per cent winter losses ... this year there are 30, 40 to 50 per cent losses." The phenomenon probably resulted from a combination of factors but the increased use of pesticides appears to be a major cause.
"I don't put my bees in Florida because the last couple of years there has been tremendous increase in pesticide use in the orange crop to fight a disease. It's a bacterium and the only way to control this disease is to use pesticide ... a few years ago they did not use any pesticide at all." Research conducted in 23 US states and Canada found 121 different pesticides in 887 samples of bees, wax, pollen and other elements of hives, lending credence to the notion of pesticides as a key problem.


Georgia's rise in serious H1N1 cases worries CDC - Public health officials are so concerned by an uptick of serious cases of H1N1 flu in the southeastern United States that they called a short-notice press briefing yesterday to urge Americans to be vaccinated against the pandemic strain. They said they are particularly concerned about the "worrisome trend" in Georgia, where "more than 40" people were hospitalized in the past week for lab-confirmed flu. Since mid-February, Georgia has had more flu-related hospitalizations than any other state, as well as more than Georgia has seen since its flu peak in October. Last week, the CDC said that Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina were experiencing regional activity, the second-highest level of flu activity. The new cases are occurring in adults with chronic medical conditions, a group that health officials have consistently urged to take the H1N1 shot. The new victims were not vaccinated - Georgia had one of the lowest rates of flu-vaccine acceptance last fall. The CDC is sufficiently concerned about the Georgia cases that it has loaned a team of its disease detectives to the state. "Seeing an increase in cases again in Georgia is UNUSUAL. Does that mean we're going to see that in other states? I really don't know."
Asked whether the Georgia cases might be the first blip in a feared third wave of flu: "I can't say whether we'll have another wave of infection, but I'm worried about a different possibility. I'm worried that additional cases will be happening day in and day out in people who thought there was no risk anymore." Since the beginning of the pandemic almost a year ago, 265,000 Americans have been hospitalized for H1N1 infections and 12,000 have died, according to CDC estimates. "Ninety percent of those people, about 11,000, are people under 65," in contrast to a normal season in which most victims are elderly. "We estimate that the rate of death in young people is probably five times higher than what we would typically see with seasonal influenza." In an average year, 36,000 Americans die of flu.

China drought threatens key Tamiflu ingredient - A severe drought in four of China's southwestern provinces is threatening production of star anise, a major source of shikimic acid, a key ingredient of oseltamivir (Tamiflu). A forestry expert said Roche, the maker of Tamiflu, gets two thirds of its star anise from China. A Roche official said it's not clear if the drought will affect Tamiflu production and that the company could substitute another ingredient for star anise.