Sunday, May 15, 2011

**We adore chaos because we love to produce order.**
M. C. Escher

This morning -

Yesterday -
5/14/11 -

5/13/11 -

JAPAN - Mountains of debris. Two months after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the task of clearing up the wreckage has barely begun. Towns along the coast have been left clogged with vast amounts of debris and local authorities are struggling to find places to put it. So great is the destruction in Ishinomaki that it is difficult to know where to start. Houses that survived the tsunami were left damaged or full of sea water and mud and fish. "I couldn't say anything when I first came and saw the scene. That's the feeling I felt." The task ahead is enormous.
Many neighbourhoods were completely destroyed - in Ishinomaki 28,000 houses have been lost according to local officials - but there are also thousands of homes clogged with filth but perhaps salvageable. Up and down the coast clearing up is now their biggest challenge. The earthquake and tsunami smashed once pretty seaside towns. Everything which was brought into them for generations now lies in pieces across the ground, tangled in mud. According to the environment ministry there are 20 million tons of debris, although some estimates have put the figure higher. In Miyagi prefecture about 146,000 vehicles have been damaged or destroyed - one in 10 of the total.
The government in Tokyo will shoulder the cost in the end. In the first emergency supplementary budget, 352bn yen ($4.3bn, £2.6bn) is set aside for the task although more is likely to be needed. The aim is to remove all the waste that is getting in the way of daily life by August - clearing roads and so forth - but huge amounts are left on private property too. In Ishinomaki, diggers have been used to begin to gather the wreckage into huge piles. The centre of the city is now dominated by a gigantic stinking mound of splintered wood, clothes and metal, the same height as a three or four-storey building and several hundred metres long. But it is only a temporary measure, no-one wants to live with a mountain of waste blighting their town. A permanent way of disposing of it will have to be found. There is the equivalent of an entire century's worth of household waste.
A dump has been set up outside Ishinomaki, in a valley in the mountains, overlooking the sea. The debris is slowly being transferred there from the piles in town, and trucks arrive every few minutes. Bulldozers are being used to compact it as much as possible, but it will not last long.
"We thought that was enough for one year. But we started a month and a half ago and now it is full...It must be a national effort. They've sent the army and heavy machinery, but we need to recycle and get rid of this stuff now and the government has not come up with a detailed plan yet. We just don't know what to do, where do we go from here?"
One particular problem is all the boats and ships that were washed inland and are now stranded, some on the tops of buildings. More than 20,000 vessels were damaged or destroyed by the tsunami in all. Specialist equipment is needed to dispose of some of the debris Those made of fibreglass can be cut up easily enough, or even moved with cranes back into the sea. Bigger steel boats and ships may have to be dealt with where they lie. Specialist ship-breaking firms in Japan are not used to doing their work in the street, they carry out precision dismantling in dry docks. Their association says members are still working out how to begin.
Dealing with the wreckage left behind by the disaster is likely to take a very long time - Japan's government is yet to estimate how long. After the Kobe earthquake in 1995, which was on a smaller scale, the clean-up operation lasted for three years. People are desperate to get back to their old neighbourhoods, but until they can be cleared there is no hope of starting to rebuild.

No current tropical storms.


U.S. - Key Mississippi floodgates opened. US army engineers open floodgates in Louisiana that will inundate up to 3,000 sq miles to try to protect major cities from Mississippi river floodwater.

MAMMATUS OVER MINNESOTA - On May 10th, a severe storm captured national attention when it dumped golf-ball-sized hail on a Minnesota Twins baseball game. Mammatus clouds were visible after the storm passed. Named for their resemblance to a cow's underbelly, they sometimes appear at the end of severe thunderstorms when the thundercloud is breaking up. Researchers have called them an "intriguing enigma," because no one knows exactly how and why they form. The clouds are fairly common but often go unnoticed because potential observers have been chased indoors by the rain. If you are one of them, dash outside when the downpour stops; you could witness a beautiful mystery in the sky. (photo) [Oh yes, I saw them and I have a freezer full of bigger-than-golf-ball sized hail!]


Extreme Weather Strikes Blow to Monarchs - Monarch butterflies flying on their annual migration made an UNEXPECTED EARLY ENTRANCE in many parts of the United States this year. "I was surprised they're here already!" wrote one butterfly watcher in Fairborn, Ohio, on April 14.
Not everyone views the colorful surprise with glee. The early trickle may signal dark times ahead for this already beleaguered species. Monarch populations have faced declines in recent years, hit hard by extreme weather and habitat loss at their overwintering sites in Mexico, and a steep reduction in milkweed across North America, the only plant upon which the butterflies lay their eggs.
The RECORD-BREAKING SPRING DROUGHTS AND RAINS on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico are adding to their woes. "The scenario is not good. The butterflies moved too far north too fast. We've got two strikes against us right now" - hot, dry weather in Texas and cold, wet weather everywhere else.
The problem lies in the time it takes monarchs to hatch. In ideal conditions — those of a dry Texas spring — a monarch goes from egg to adulthood in about 26 days. With the butterflies wandering so far north, because of the extreme Texas weather, to an area in the grip of the WETTEST APRIL ON RECORD — one that has been responsible for much of the Mississippi flooding now devastating many parts of the United States — it could take as long as 40 or 45 days for monarchs to reach maturity. "If it's wet, it tends to be cooler, and that tends to slow things down," which will, in effect, strike a blow to the overall monarch population.
The dire turn of events comes on the heels of a boom year for butterflies. Thanks to favorable monarch breeding conditions in 2010, the population that returned to Mexico last fall was twice as large as the generation that left in the spring. However, a scorching drought and strong winds in Texas meant the butterflies just kept on moving north this year, and in UNPRECEDENTED numbers.
"If I had my druthers and I was a monarch butterfly, I'd lay all my eggs in Texas. But they can't do that if conditions in Texas are terrible."
North of 36 degrees latitude this April, MORE MONARCHS APPEARED THAN ANY YEAR SINCE RECORD-KEEPING BEGAN. "There's very little prospect at this point that the population will increase over last year's numbers." In fact, the butterflies could be on track for their worst year ever, rivaling 2009 for a new low. Monarchs retire to a pine forest in Mexico for the winter months, and during the 2009-2010 season, the butterflies covered a mere 206,670 square feet (19,200 square meters) of trees — an area only about one-eighth larger than the average Walmart Supercenter store.

Mining to blame for islands sinking beneath waves - Two small islands in South Asia's first marine biosphere reserve have sunk into the sea primarily as a result of coral reef mining. Rising sea level as a result of global warming is also a factor behind the islands' submergence an expert says. But this was questioned by another expert who said observations showed that the sea level in the region had been rising slower than the global average. "I think that global sea level rise had little impact on the disappearance of these islands and it must be due to other reasons, possibly the mining of coral reefs."
The islets were in a group in the Gulf of Mannar, between India and Sri Lanka. The Indo-Pacific region is considered to contain some of the world's richest marine biological resources. The group's 21 islands and islets are protected as part of the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, covering an area of nearly 560 sq km (216 sq miles). Fishermen had indiscriminately and illegally mined invaluable coral reefs around the islets of Poomarichan and Villanguchalli for many decades.
"The absence of any regulations prior to 2002 led to illegal mining of the coral reefs, which came to an end when environmental protection laws were enacted." Though these islets were only 3-5m (10-15 ft) above sea level, their submergence sounded an alarm bell about the danger many more small islands faced in the long run. The biosphere reserve is a storehouse of about 3,600 species of marine flora and fauna. Many more wait to be studied. "It is a nursery for shell and fin fishes, which means the entire breeding and juvenile raising takes places in these three ecosystems."
More than 300,000 fishermen depend on the Gulf of Mannar for their livelihood. It is also the dwelling place for many endemic species, notably the dugong or "sea cow". The area has also been famous for pearl harvesting for over 2,000 years.
According to marine biologists, a quarter of the 2,000-plus fin fish species in Indian waters are in this gulf, making it one of the region's most diverse fish habitats. Most of the islands are uninhabited, and rise just a few metres above sea level. The loss of these two islands should be a "wake-up call" for all those in the entire Asia-Pacific region. Though the lost islets were small, a similar fate may happen to larger islands in the long run as a result of global warming coupled with large scale mining. Losing the reefs may result in migration of fish populations to other regions, which would result in loss of the gulf's biodiversity. "Lost islets are indicators, and can even be considered as a warning." With the threat of climate change in years to come, factors such as coral mining will have an accelerating effects on the submergence of many islands.
People in the area have gone on record many times as saying that the coral reefs in the Gulf of Mannar saved them from destruction when the devastating tsunami struck in December 2004.
Experts also point out the need to keep the remaining 19 islands and Islets "pristine" in order to offer them some protection them from processes such as climate change. The Indian National Oceanographic Institute point out that very few of the islands and islets in the gulf are in good shape. Collection of coral by students for research over many decades, and heavy industrial pollution caused by onshore industries, have inflicted an irreversible damage to the coral reefs in this unique marine biosphere. (photo & map)

AUSTRALIA - Queensland disaster college. Queensland's deputy police commissioner wants a college established to train people in disaster management and coded text messages to warn people of coming disasters. He was the state disaster coordinator when floods hit 70 per cent of the state in January. He's fronting the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry, which is looking at how to better prepare the state for any flooding next summer. He supports the three-tiered Disaster Management Act in which information is sent from local government level groups to district and state based groups who send resources back down the chain. But he wants people at all levels and in state agencies who respond to disasters to be better trained. The inquiry has heard many complaints from people about their council's response to the floods and the suggestion of a "fly-in" team of experts to help in the aftermath is worth considering.