Tuesday, June 8, 2010 (& Monday, June 7)

Blogspot was down Sunday night and all day Monday,
so I could not get Monday's update published -
you'll find it below today's update.

[New feature - I am going to lead with an unexplained item each day, or lacking one of those, I'll feature one of the biggest stories of the day. The Thought for the Day follows that.]
Arizona officials baffled by intense dust storms on I-40. The wind in northern Arizona is older than Meteor Crater, but the blinding dust storms that have crippled nearby Interstate 40 are new. That dust blasts out of the desert in billowing walls, blinding drivers and shutting down about 30 miles of interstate east of Flagstaff for hours, leaving thousands stranded each time. Until last year, Highway Patrol officials had never closed I-40, but they have shut down the east-west artery 10 times this spring, including twice on May 22-23. The full picture of what's causing the dust storms remains a mystery.
There have been more frequent days of winds upward of 45 mph, but state and weather officials say that doesn't explain why it is kicking up so much grit. "That's the million-dollar question: Where is it coming from, and how do you stop it?" Whatever the answer, the effect has been nothing but misery for motorists. From 2000 through 2008, the state Department of Public Safety logged no dust-related collisions between Milepost 215, east of Flagstaff, and Milepost 260, just east of Winslow. Last year, Highway Patrol cars responded to 11 such accidents, and so far this year, five.
Unlike the sudden, short dust storms that strike Interstate 10 south of the Valley, the recent I-40 closures typically last five hours and have dragged on for eight. Northern Arizona's dust storms have become a national concern for the trucking industry. Drivers must sit in 10-mile backups in both directions. Many get frustrated and try to make sometimes dangerous U-turns across the freeway median. Some tourists rely on GPS systems to navigate detours. Often, they get stuck in the same brown cloud, lost on an unfamiliar rural road. Some dust storms can be 20 miles wide. "THIS IS A NEW PHENOMENON. We have never had these conditions. As far as visibility, this is THE WORST I'VE EVER SEEN."

**Man's responsibility increases as that of the gods decreases.**
Andre Gide

This morning -

Yesterday -
6/7/10 -


VANUATU - A group of scientists are travelling to Mount Yasur volcano on Vanuatu to assess the threat it poses to nearby villages. About 6,000 people live below the volcano, which has become more active in recent weeks. Last week Mount Yasur caused a giant plume of volcanic ash to form over the South Pacific, forcing a number of flight cancellations in nearby New Caledonia. "We are currently still at the volcanic threat level three but it seems that the activity is significantly decreasing, so we will go to Yasur volcano early morning to assess again the activity on Mount Yasur. It's a large cloud, it's not a huge cloud....Unfortunately because even if it's a small activity, there is a lot of people living nearby the volcano, because it's a very rich soil, so there's a lot of people making taro, yam and so on, a lot of crops, a lot of banana, you have coffee as well. But then if we have a lot of explosion like this, then you will have a lot of ash falls, and too much ash falls will destroy and spoil the crops and leaves and so on."

RUSSIA - Eurasia's highest volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's Far East has shown again signs of intensified activity throwing clouds of smoke and ash into the air to a height of 2.5 kilometers. The Klyuchevskoy, which lies 220 miles north of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, is one of the largest active volcanoes in the world. It erupts about every 2-3 years.
On Monday there was no immediate threat to the residents or tourists in the area, but there was an ash emission warning for air traffic in the vicinity of the volcano. The Klyuchevskoy started a new active cycle with an eruption in August 2009. There are more than 150 volcanoes on Kamchatka, 29 of them active.
Another volcano in the area, the Bezymyanny, erupted on May 31, sending clouds of ash to the height of 10 kilometers for about 20 minutes. (photo)

GUATEMALA - Thousands of tourists are flocking to Guatemala's Pacaya volcano to see the glowing rivers of lava cascading down its slopes, worrying officials who say they're risking their lives two weeks after a deadly eruption. Pacaya National Park was closed even before the May 27 explosion, which killed a reporter who got too close and was hit by a shower of volcanic rock. But visitors are bypassing the usual route up the mountain and going instead to a private farm in the village of Los Pocitos, where locals will take them to the pyroclastic flows for a $1.25 a head. The lava puts on a particularly incandescent show at night, attracting both foreign and Guatemalan tourists who say they feel safe because hundreds are still living nearby. Emergency officials say the danger is real, and are asking guides not to take people up the mountain. But if Pacaya erupts again it is most likely to do so gradually - a rain of lava and rock is out of character with its usual behavior.
Even in normal times, travel guidebooks warn of the risks of hiking Pacaya, which has been active since 1966. A month before the most recent eruption, a Venezuelan tourist and her Guatemalan guide were killed by a rock slide. Residents say the lava flow has been increasing in Los Pocitos, though only two families have evacuated. "The danger is that it reaches the village. The river keeps getting bigger. ... These lava fields existed before and erupted before, BUT NEVER LIKE THIS." (photos)


WASHINGTON - Tsunami test warnings blared out in North Olympic Peninsula coastal areas Monday just as they're supposed to do in tests every other month. But instead of the expected gentle chimes and short "this is a test" message, the prerecorded voice on all-hazard alert public-address systems in Clallam and Jefferson counties shouted information about a volcano and possible hazardous materials. "The message is supposed to ring Westminster chimes. Different tones came out. It sounded like the movie 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind.' It kind of got everybody spun up to figure out what went wrong." A similar error occurred recently in Orting, where sirens are positioned to warn of mudflows downstream from Mount Rainier, which is a dormant volcano.

No current tropical cyclones.

PAKISTAN - People in Gwadar and Pasni face a shortage of food as heavy torrential rains dashed in on Sindh and its coastal areas after Cyclone Phet hit on Sunday. The land route between Gwadar, Jiwani, Pasni, Pushkan and more than 50 other villages has been cut off, and crops have been destroyed due to dams bursting in the adjoining areas of Gwadar. The Pakistan Meteorological Department had directed fishermen to resume their activities from Monday as Cyclone Phet has turned onto low-pressure areas over Rajhastan in neighbouring India.
Recent rains due to the cyclone have damaged at least 600 small villages in the Karachi, Thatta and Badin districts, and hundreds of residents were still marooned and disconnected from the outside world. There was no transport, and the people were setting up shelters on their own, since the government agencies had done nothing for them.
After dealing with soaring temperatures, Rajasthan is now dealing with another crisis. Rains due to Cyclone Phet have caused a lot of havoc. In fact, two villages in the Jaisalmer district have been completely cut off. The worst affected being Lati village, where more than 300 people are said to be trapped inside their homes. Jaisalmer has now been put on high alert. The Jodhpur and Jaisalmer highway are also blocked due to the rains. Train services have been hit as railway tracks have been flooded in several areas. The army has been called in to assist in rescue operations and at least 100 people have been rescued so far.
In Kerala, the monsoon has picked up again after a lull. The state experienced heavy showers on Tuesday. The monsoon hit the state on May 31, a day ahead of schedule. Heavy rain is expected for the next 48 hours. (video)

Another giant Guatemala sinkhole? Geologists brace for it. As scientists debate whether or not the giant Guatemala sinkhole actually fits the definition of a sinkhole, they agree on one thing: Guatemala City's geology makes it prone to huge sinkholes. Guatemala City is built on loose volcanic pumice, which is easily eroded by water.
The giant Guatemala sinkhole isn’t actually a sinkhole, says one geologist studying the gaping chasm. A true sinkhole is an entirely natural phenomenon. The 60-foot wide, 330-foot deep sinkhole that opened up in Guatemala City May 30 was likely caused by human activity. Though the cause of the sinkhole is not yet known definitively, leading theories suggest that a burst pipe or storm drain likely hollowed out an underground cavity. Then, when Tropical Storm Agatha swept through the city, the water further weakened the ground above this cavity, causing it to collapse.
A geologist with the US Geological Survey, doesn't agree that it's not a sinkhole. The Guatemala hole is "an open hole into which the surface has collapsed," making it a sinkhole, he says. Yet in some ways the Guatemala sinkhole is PECULIAR – and not just because of its potential connection to human activity. Generally, sinkholes form in areas rich in rock that erodes relatively easily in water, such as limestone, dolomite, or gypsum. Circulating groundwater and underwater rivers erode this bedrock, leaving behind underground holes and caves – a geological Swiss cheese. Then, when the soil above becomes heavy and water-saturated, the roof of an underground cavity collapses.
The geology of Guatemala City, however, is different. Most of the city is built on pumice fill – loose, gravel-like particles that were deposited during previous volcanic eruptions. The pumice fill is piled as deep as 600 feet in some areas.
A team of geologists investigated a similar hole that opened after a sewage pipe broke just a few blocks from the current spot, in 2007. "Our recommendation was that this could happen again. It could happen almost anywhere in the city." (photos)
From the air, the giant Guatemala City sinkhole appears so perfectly round and deep that photos of it almost look doctored. Up close on the ground, “the only way to describe is to say it’s huge. It doesn’t seem real.” Estimates are that it is 100 feet deep and 65 feet across.
Rains from Tropical Storm Agatha opened the sinkhole in the residential zone 2 of downtown Guatemala City on Saturday night. The ground collapsed suddenly, taking a three-story house that was used as factory, and a security guard with it. Authorities said they could not confirm the security guard’s death. He’s listed as missing. As the hole opened “it sucked in electricity poles and the neighbors around there were left without electricity."
More than 178 people throughout Central America have been killed by landslides, flooding, and sinkholes since Agatha lashed the region with three feet of rain in some places. In Guatemala alone, nearly 152 people died and scores more are missing. Tens of thousands are still in emergency shelters and entire remote regions are cut off after landslides blocked dozens of roads and bridges.


CHINA - Flooding and landslides caused by heavy rain have killed 53 people in China's southwestern Guangxi region since late May, including three children swept away as they walked home from school. Rescuers found nearly 20 bodies in the aftermath of torrential rains between May 31 and June 2. The three dead children, missing since finishing school on June 1, were aged between 8 and 11. Their parents had left to work in cities, so they were walking unaccompanied to their grandparents' home. The three-day spell of extreme weather destroyed 11,000 homes and forced 200,000 people to evacuate. It also destroyed 15 reservoirs and thousands of irrigation networks. More heavy rain is expected to hit Guangxi again this week. The flooding followed several months of severe drought across the region, the worst in a century, affecting 50 million people.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth - that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.
H.L. Mencken

6/6/10 -


ICELAND - Seismic activity continues at Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Katla quiet. The Icelandic Met Office is trying to determine if the level of seismic activity recorded at the Eyjafjallajökull volcano Saturday indicates that a new eruption might take place or whether the activity is linked to the waning of activity at the site. The Met Office has confirmed that a small explosion of gas and ash occurred at the volcano as small tremors continued to take place at the site. Latest tremor readings from the Southern Iceland volcano indicate that seismic activity in the area around Eyjafjallajökull is at its HIGHEST LEVEL IN OVER TWO WEEKS. “Volcanic tremor is still more than before the eruption and has been rather steady since 22nd May, but small pulses, mostly on the lowest frequency are being detected on the seismic stations around the volcano. Steaming activity in the main crater has diminished since last week, though there is still a considerable amount of steam coming from the crater. Widespread drifting of existing ash in south- and southwest Iceland. The tremor is still higher than before the onset of the eruption, and small tremor pulses have been detected on the lowest frequency."
Meanwhile, seismic activity at the much larger Katla volcano has decreased in recent days. An eruption of the Katla volcano has the potential to be more devastating than the recent eruption of Eyjafjallajokull. An eruption at Kalta “in the short term is a strong possibility...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." (map & graphs)

Cyclone PHET was 21 nmi SE of Karachi, Pakistan.

Cyclone Phet has weakened after reaching two coastal districts of Pakistan's southern Sindh province. The cyclone, which was expected to hit Karachi with maximum winds of 100 kilometres (60 miles) an hour, weakened and went away from the city after hitting Thatta and Badin coastal districts. Heavy rains and winds lashed Karachi, the province's capital, as the cyclone swirled along Pakistan's coast after killing 15 people in Oman. Pakistani authorities have already evacuated 60,000 people from along the 1000-km coastline, including 23,000 on outlying islands. Thousands of large advertising billboards along the city streets have been taken down for fear that the winds could blow them over. Hundreds of relief camps have been established in the affected areas but people have complained about the lack of facilities. 128mm of rain was recorded in the first spell of a cyclone-related downpour late on Saturday and more was expected.
At least 12 people were killed and many others injured in different parts of Karachi during the heavy rains. The cyclone also caused breakage of electric supply lines. More than half of Karachi’s localities plunged into darkness as the Karachi Electric Supply Company’s power system malfunctioned due to the heavy rains and wind. In Haiderabad, around 35 of the 78 feeders installed by the Haiderabad Electricity Supply Company to provide electricity to the district failed to work, suspending power supply to most areas. In Gwadar and Jiwani, more than 10,000 houses were damaged, most of them collapsed after heavy rains and windstorm. The electricity remained suspended for the third consecutive day in Gwadar and there was no hope of its restoration in the next three days. The coastal highway between Ormara and Jiwani covering a distance of more than 250 miles was also inundated.


Deadly tornadoes rip through US Midwest - Tornadoes and thunderstorms have killed at least seven people in the US state of Ohio. At least 50 houses were destroyed and many more damaged in north-western Ohio. Several people were taken to hospitals as the storm left an eight-mile (13km) path of destruction, hitting Lake Township particularly hard. The extreme weather also affected parts of Illinois and Michigan. In Michigan, the Fermi nuclear power plant on the shore of Lake Erie was shut down after high winds tore a side from one of the buildings. An eyewitness in Illinois said the city of Streator had been badly damaged. 17 people have been taken to a local hospital for treatment and 30 buildings have "major structural damage". (video)


Climate change leading to major vegetation shifts around the world - Vegetation around the world is on the move, and climate change is the culprit, according to a new analysis of global vegetation shifts. Over the past century, vegetation has been gradually moving toward the poles and up mountain slopes, where temperatures are cooler, as well as toward the equator, where rainfall is greater. Moreover, an estimated one-tenth to one-half of the land mass on Earth will be highly vulnerable to climate-related vegetation shifts by the end of this century, depending upon how effectively humans are able to curb greenhouse gas emissions, according to the study. (map)


Dying, dead marine wildlife paint dark, morbid picture of Gulf Coast following oil spill - a dead dolphin was rotting in the shore weeds. "When we found this dolphin it was filled with oil. Oil was just pouring out of it. It was the saddest darn thing to look at," said a BP contract worker who took the Daily News on a surreptitious tour of the wildlife disaster unfolding in Louisiana. "There is a lot of coverup for BP. They specifically informed us that they don't want these pictures of the dead animals. They know the ocean will wipe away most of the evidence. It's important to me that people know the truth about what's going on here. The things I've seen: They just aren't right. All the life out here is just full of oil. I'm going to show you what BP never showed the President."
On Queen Bess barrier island, known to the locals as Bird Island, the grasses by the shore were littered with tarred marine life, some dead and others struggling under a thick coating of crude. "When you see some of the things I've seen, it would make you sick. No living creature should endure that kind of suffering." In what had been an important hatchery, hundreds of pelicans - their white heads stained black - stood sentinel. They seemed slow and lethargic.
"Those pelicans are supposed to have white heads. The black is from the oil. Most of them won't survive. They keep trying to clean themselves. They try and they try, but they can't do it." The uninhabited barrier islands are surrounded by yellow floating booms, also stained black, that are supposed to keep the oil out. It's not working. "That grass was green a few weeks ago. Now look. ... This whole island is destroyed. How do you write a check for something like this?"