Thursday, January 6, 2011

Global food prices rose to RECORD LEVELS in December, driven up by big increases in sugar, cereal and fuel. The Food Price Index went above the previous record of 2008 that saw prices spark riots in several countries, iincluding Cameroon, Haiti and Egypt.
There were further riots over food prices in Mozambique in September last year. "The situation is very tight. If we have more natural disasters, we could have a problem."
However, despite high prices, many of the factors that triggered food riots in 2007 and 2008 - such as weak production in poor countries - were not currently present, reducing the risk of more turmoil. But "unpredictable weather" means that grain prices could go much higher, which is "a concern". The current spike in prices is being caused primarily by increases in the cost of sugar and, more importantly, cereals. The price of wheat in particular has risen sharply. This is because wildfires last year in Russia, which accounts for 11% of global exports, resulted in an export ban. The recent floods in Australia, which also accounts for 11% of global exports, has compounded the problem.
The price of corn has also risen, because of greater support for biofuels in the US and the increased price of oil, which makes biofuels more attractive. Droughts in Argentina, the world's second biggest exporter of corn behind the US, have also pushed the price up. Overall global food prices have risen by an average of more than 80% in the past 10 years. "Rising food prices will have an effect almost all over the world but especially in poor countries where food and energy are the major things people spend their money on. There's a risk, I wouldn't say a huge risk, but some risk of higher energy prices and higher food prices being very destabilising in some countries. We saw that in 2008 and in Mozambique last year and it's something to watch."
The news came amid concerns about inflation in the prices of other key commodities. Copper prices went into 2011 at RECORD HIGHS - in a rally driven by increased demand from the global economic recovery and that fact that most countries are holding low stockpiles. And the International Energy Agency said that the current high price of oil would threaten economic recovery in 2011. Oil import costs for countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had risen 30% in the past year to $790bn (£508bn). If oil returns above $100 a barrel this would be "particularly worrisome". "And higher commodity prices could sap the world's ability to consume because more and more of our income will be going on energy and food."

**The problem with quotes from the internet
is that the sources are hard to verify.**
Abraham Lincoln

This morning -

Yesterday -
1/5/2011 -

IRAN - A 5.3-magnitude earthquake jolted southern Iran on Wednesday, injuring 16 people and destroying as many as 10 villages. The quake struck at 9:25 am (5:55 GMT) in the Ardakan region of Fars province. "Sixteen people have been injured, while 17 villages have been damaged, of which six to 10 are completely destroyed." At least five aftershocks occurred after the main quake, which also rattled the provincial capital of Shiraz.
Iran sits astride several major fault lines in the Earth's crust and is prone to frequent quakes, many of which have been devastating. A quake on December 21 in the southeastern province of Kerman had left seven people dead, wrecked several villages and brought down power lines. The deadliest in recent times was a 6.3-magnitude quake which hit the southern city of Bam in December 2003, killing 31,000 people - about a quarter of its population - and destroying the city's ancient mud-built citadel.


4 of Colombia's volcanoes on yellow alert - Colombia's Mount Machin and the snow-capped volcanoes Galeras, Huila, and Ruiz have been put on yellow alert after elevated activity. Authorities recorded small earthquakes in the Tomila district late last week. The most significant of these was a earthquake that measured 2.3 on the Richter scale and occurred at 5:22 pm on January 1, 2011. The earthquake was felt by residents of Cajamarca, near the Mount Machin. Geologists noted that seismic events of this type are frequent in the area and people should not worry.
When Mount Machin was on yellow alert in 2010, Ingeominas, Colombia's Geological and Mineral institute, said that due to its chemical composition, the magnitude of its eruptions and extensive deposits to feed those eruptions, Machin has a high propensity to affect widespread damage on the Andean nation. A yellow alert is an advisory that the "volcano is exhibiting signs of elevated unrest above known background level or, after a change from a higher level, volcanic activity has decreased significantly but continues to be closely monitored for possible renewed increase." There are four levels of alert, green, yellow, orange, and red.

No current tropical cyclones.


AUSTRALIA - Flood-hit Queensland braced for fresh storms. More heavy rain is forecast for eastern Australia, threatening flash floods for communities where hundreds of homes are already under water. Forecasters predict central and southern Queensland will be worst hit by the latest deluge which will last into the weekend. In the city of Rockhampton about 500 homes were evacuated as the Fitzroy river peaked at 9.2m (30ft). The town of St George is braced for the Balonne river to peak by Sunday.
About 1,200 homes across Queensland have been inundated since heavy rains set in last month, with another 10,700 suffering some damage. The latest rain will fall in the Wide Bay-Burnett region, affecting Rockhampton and the city of Bundaberg, which has also already suffered severe flooding. "We're watching the rain patterns very, very carefully." The latest storm has delayed the return of the 150 residents of the community of Condamine in south-west Queensland, who were airlifted to safety a week ago when the local river flooded.
The town has no electricity or running water, and the schools and churches are also flooded. Even in parts of Queensland which are beginning to dry out, an influx of snakes is making it dangerous for people to return to their flooded homes. Saltwater crocodiles are posing another hazard. Rockhampton's Mayor said it could take a year for the city to recover. The flooding was unprecedented and has now directly affected 40 communities. Floods that have closed dozens of mines, railways and ports will send coal and steel prices soaring. Queensland produces about half the world's coking coal used to make steel. "Seventy-five percent of our mines are currently not operating because of this flood, so that's a massive impact on the international markets and the international manufacture of steel." (map and photos)
The flood-stricken coal industry is facing lengthy disruptions, with one miner saying it could take weeks to drain its pits of water and the biggest coking coal port warning there was a risk its stocks could run out.


It was THE COLDEST DECEMBER IN THE UNITED KINGDOM SINCE NATIONWIDE RECORDS BEGAN 100 YEARS AGO. For central England, it was the second coldest December since 1659. However, the first analysis released of global temperatures shows 2010 was ONE OF THE WARMEST YEARS ON RECORD The UK's harsh weather was caused by ANOMALOUSLY high air pressure that blocked mild westerly winds and brought cold air south from the Arctic.
The UK temperature averaged -1C, a long way below the previous coldest December, in 1981, which registered -0.1C. The December average for the century-long series is 4.2C. It was also the coldest calendar month since February 1986. "It's been an exceptional month, there's no question about that - it will go down in history as one to remember. Our records go back to 1910 and it's certainly the coldest since then, so it's the coldest December in 100 years."
However, the month also turned out unusually sunny and dry. Less than half the expected amount of precipitation (snow and rain) fell, making it the third driest December in the national data series. And the country bathed in sunny conditions for nearly 40% longer than average. As a whole, 2010 was colder in the UK than in recent years - the 12th coldest year in the series, but also among the 10 driest and sunniest.
The sequence of UNUSUALLY COLD UK winter weather has raised the question of whether this is now the norm; but caution was urged in deducing patterns from what could just be natural variability. "Obviously there's something going on given we've now had three in a row - but we've had three wet summers in a row as well, and it's impossible to nail this and say 'that's because of this' - it's all part of variability." It was not yet clear whether the 2010/11 winter would turn out to be unusually cold overall.
Earlier this week the University of Alabama at Huntsville in the US, which collates temperature data gathered by satellites, declared it to be the second warmest year since the satellite record began in 1979.

KOREA - Southeastern Korea saw the MOST SNOW IN 69 YEARS as a severe blizzard hit the region over a two-day period. The city of Pohang saw 28.7 centimeters of snow and some other parts of the region had over 50 centimeters since Monday. The cities of Busan and Ulsan were also hit by snow storms. According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, the heavy snow fall is due to a cold front moving south coupled with ABNORMALLY HIGH OCEAN TEMPERATURES in the region. Due to the blizzard, a number of streets and highways were closed. But, the farming sector in the region appears to have suffered the most damage.
Some one thousand spinach greenhouses collapsed due to the heavy snow fall, ruining the season's harvest. A blizzard along with freezing temperatures stranded some 50-thousand Chinese in Hunan Province. The cause behind the extreme weather is due to the La Nina phenomenon, characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific.


Mysterious BIRD deaths hit SWEDEN - Dozens of dead birds have been found lying in a residential street in Sweden, days after thousands of birds fell to their deaths in the US. Police in the town of Falkoeping have told Swedish media that between 50 and 100 jackdaws had died. Some are said to have been hit by cars but others have no visible injuries. Parallels have been drawn with the mysterious death of about 3,000 red-winged blackbirds in the US state of Arkansas on New Year's Eve. Veterinary officials said that the case in Falkoeping was RARE although they said there could be a number of reasons such as "disease or poisoning". One resident said that as he drove home late on Tuesday night the street in front of him was dotted with "hundreds of dead birds". He had been immediately reminded of the events in the town of Beebe, Arkansas. Scientists have said the blackbirds there may have been affected by fireworks. There have been no reports of fireworks or storms in Falkoeping at the time. (map)

U.S. Scientists don't know what's causing flocks of birds to drop from the sky in the South, even as several hundred more fell dead onto a Louisiana highway. No one is yet connecting the two mass deaths, but the Audubon Society is monitoring the situation. "Mass bird die-offs can be caused by starvation, storms, disease, pesticides, collisions with manmade structures or human disturbance. Scientists are still investigating ... but initial findings indicate that these are isolated incidents." The birds may have hit a power line or vehicles in the dark. A biology professor and co-founder of the Institute for Integrative Bird Behavior Studies said something must have prompted the birds -- whether they were ill or startled -- to hit the power line. "They don't hit a power line for no reason." He was skeptical of the fireworks theory -- that birds startled by New Year's Eve fireworks became so discombobulated that they they crashed into homes, cars and each other before plummeting to their deaths -- unless "somebody blew something into the roost, literally blowing the birds into the sky."
The U.S. Geological Service lists about 90 MASS WILDLIFE DEATHS from June through Dec. 12. Five report deaths of at least 1,000 birds and another 12 show at least 500 dead birds. The largest was near Houston, Minnesota, where about 4,000 water birds died between Sept. 6 and Nov. 26 from various parasites. Minnesota typically sees one or two large bird kills a year, mostly from botulism, toxic algae, West Nile or some other avian disease.
The birds were the second mass wildlife death in Arkansas recently. Last week, about 83,000 dead and dying drum fish washed up along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River, about 100 miles west of Beebe. Officials say the deaths are not related. Test results could take a month.

2010 a RECORD-BREAKING YEAR for manatee deaths in FLORIDA - The freezes that started and finished 2010 added up to a record-breaking deadly year for endangered manatees in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released figures Wednesday that show 767 manatees died from various causes in 2010, beating 2009’s record of 429. That’s a 79 percent increase and more than double the annual average of the past five years.
Some days, 14 dead manatees were lying in the Conservation Commission’s necropsy room only to have rescuers get a report of another manatee in distress.The freezes were especially troubling because they were severe enough to kill adult manatees, including females that are crucial to maintaining reproduction rates.
Manatee monitors will need a couple years of data to measure the die-off’s long-term effect on Florida’s manatee populations. “It definitely was a blow." Of last year’s deaths, 279 were attributed to cold weather - 244 in early 2010 and 35 during last month’s cold snap. A cause could not be determined for another 214 deaths, but many of them likely also were due to the cold. Cold weather also contributed to 21 of the 96 newborn manatees that died in 2010 and are tracked under their own category. Last year started with a stretch of cold weather that put the number of dead manatees in 2010 in the record book even before last month’s chill. Since Dec. 5, biologists recovered two manatees in Collier and seven in Lee that died from cold stress. In January 2010, manatee trackers counted more than 5,000 manatees in Florida’s waters, some 1,200 more manatees than they counted in 2009. The aerial surveys represent a minimum number. The counts can vary widely from one year to the next depending on visibility and weather.