Friday, August 19, 2011

Within decades, solar storms are likely to become more disruptive to planes and spacecraft, say researchers. The work predicts that once the Sun shifts towards an era of lower solar activity, more hazardous radiation will reach Earth. The team says the Sun is currently at a grand solar maximum. This phase began in the 1920s - and has lasted throughout the space age.
"All the evidence suggests that the Sun will shortly exit from a grand solar maximum that has persisted since before the start of the space age. In a grand solar maximum, the peaks of the 11-year sunspot cycle are larger and the average number of solar flares and associated events such as coronal mass ejections are greater. On the other hand, in a grand solar minimum there are almost no sunspots for several decades. The last time this happened was during the Maunder Minimum, between about 1650 and 1700."
The research indicates that most radiation hits the Earth during periods of middling solar activity. Increased radiation is a particular problem for aviation and communications - technology that did not exist the last time the sun cycle ended its grand maximum. The research is based on evidence from ice cores and tree trunks going back 10,000 years. The team measured levels of nitrates and cosmogenic isotopes which enter our atmosphere and are deposited in ice and organic material. "You can tell by the concentration of nitrates in ice sheets that there has been a solar event. What we showed was that they all cropped up at more middling activity than we have been used to. We used this data to say that an unfortunate combination of solar conditions is coming our way in the next few decades. It's just a question of how much worse the radiation gets and how long it lasts."
The most disruptive radiation is from solar energetic particles, which are carried away from the Sun by coronal mass ejections, or solar storms, which explode from the Sun's surface. The evidence seems to indicate that although there are fewer solar storms once the Sun leaves its grand maximum, they are more powerful, faster and therefore carry more particles. A decline in solar activity also allows more radiation from other parts of the galaxy to enter the Solar System.
In a separate study, a team at Stanford University in California, say they have a developed a technique that could give advance warning of the formation of sunspots before they become visible on the Sun's surface. Sunspots are areas of high magnetic activity. They are significant because these are the areas where solar storms or coronal mass ejections erupt. The Stanford team used a novel technique called helioseismology, which is based on analysis of vibrations on the solar surface. The team discovered that these acoustic signals causing the vibrations moved faster in regions where sunspots were forming up to 65,000km (40,000m) deep.
The resulting sunspots appeared on the surface between one and two days after the differences in vibrations were detected. "It's an early warning for emerging sunspots. This is our main finding. We can also predict the size and strength of the sunspot. And if it is a large sunspot then it is more probable to produce some big space weather events like some strong flares."

**It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing
while we are thoroughly alive.
There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good,
and we must hunger after them.**
George Eliot

This morning -

Yesterday -
8/18/11 -

JAPAN - A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 struck off Japan's northeastern coast today, triggering a tsunami advisory that was later lifted.

In the Atlantic -
-Tropical Depression Eight was located about 40 mi / 60 km NNE of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua/Honduras border. A tropical storm watch is in effect for the coast of Honduras and the coast of Guatemala.

In the Pacific -
-Tropical Storm Fernanda was located about 905 mi /1460 km ESE of South Point Hawaii. Beginning to show signs of weakening.

-Category 1 Hurricane Greg was located about 380 mi /610 km SW of the southern tip of Baja California. Weakening is expected.

Vigorous tropical wave emerges off the west coast of Africa - A storm system over the western Caribbean Sea has a high chance of becoming a tropical cyclone before it moves inland over Central America.

Forecasters calling for Atlantic hurricane next weekend. Maybe a big one. Some models have it hitting Florida and moving inland and up the I-95 corridor as a tropical storm. Others have it missing and heading between the coast and Bermuda.


BELGIUM - At least four people were reported killed and dozens injured when a violent storm struck an outdoor rock festival in northern Belgium overnight, collapsing two stages and sending shocked fans running for cover. The destructive weather uprooted trees and caused a tower with technical equipment to fall onto trucks. Video footage from the site showed stage equipment dangling precariously and soaked revelers desperately fleeing the area. The number of injured was reported at anywhere between 40 and 70 people. More than 65,000 fans had reportedly flocked to the site for the popular music festival. Fans took shelter after the sky suddenly turned pitch black. "Then suddenly, there was a downpour. The wind blew violently. There were hailstones bigger than a centimeter falling ... Trees toppled over. It was unbelievable, the end of the world."
"It looked terrible. All the structures collapsed. There was panic. It was crazy." More than 20 ambulances reportedly went to the scene as the concert came to a halt. The stage collapse and deaths followed a similar incident last Sunday in Indianapolis, in the US, where a huge storm caused the collapse of a towering outdoor stage at the Indiana State Fair, killing five and sending at least 40 to hospitals.

CHILE - This has been THE WETTEST WINTER IN DECADES for Chile's arid northern desert, where fractions of an inch of rain have done major damage in some areas and set the stage for spectacular floral displays in the weeks to come. July came and went with major storms that together dumped more than 5 TIMES THE ANNUAL AVERAGE OF RAIN AND SNOW on parts of the world's driest desert.
Early Auugst's precipitation blocked highways, forced the cancellation of a top Chilean football match and damaged the homes of 1,800 people. A similarly wet stretch in early July dumped FOUR YEAR'S WORTH OF RAIN IN ONE DAY on coastal Antofogasta. That was just a quarter of an inch (more than 6.3 millimeters) but it was still enough to cause collapsed or leaking roofs in homes and businesses that usually have no reason to protect themselves against even minimal precipitation. That storm also brought as much as three feet (a meter) of snow to mountains that normally receive zero precipitation during the southern winter. Soldiers helped rescue 400 people including busloads of foreign visitors who were trapped in snow drifts and 50 mph (80 kph) winds. Some copper mines in the region, including the massive Collahuasi operation, temporarily halted production because of snowfall. Further south in Copiapo, dry riverbeds became torrents, trapping people who tried to drive across. The government helped out by delivering plastic sheeting to shantytown residents. In Iquique, a dust storm surprised residents. "The sky was red with dust at sunset, which was SOMETHING NO ONE HAD EVER SEEN BEFORE...Windstorms devastated some roofs and knocked over big trees." Average annual rainfall in the northern city of Arica is so low that it would take 50 years to accumulate an inch. This July, the city was swamped twice by what would be considered mild showers almost anywhere else on the planet. So far this year, Arica has had 0.13 inch (3.4 millimeters) of rain, MORE THAN 6 TIMES ITS YEARLY AVERAGE during 30 years of record keeping. While climate scientists say global warming has made for increasingly extreme weather worldwide, this rain is PARTICULARLY UNUSUAL for the Atacama, where precipitation has declined over the past century and climate change models predict deserts will expand southward and become even drier. This year's rains and snow are caused by high-pressure systems farther south that have disrupted prevailing wind currents.
From central Santiago southward, Chile is having a very dry year, causing drought conditions in places and draining reservoirs needed for hydroelectricity. The Atacama desert ecosystem normally has very little vegetation or insects, and its flowers don't bloom every year. But July's rains should bring an amazing transformation. "We expect to have to have all these seeds and insects that are latent, that will explode. Probably we will find lots of flowers in many places." When the Atacama does bloom, purple and yellow flowers are most common, with spots of red, as an estimated 200 varieties of flowers burst from the sand. July's ABNORMAL rainfall is expected to cause flowers to bloom starting in late August. Usually, the high season is September through November.


Severe low temperatures devastate coral reefs in Florida Keys - Increased seawater temperatures are known to be a leading cause of the decline of coral reefs all over the world. Now, researchers have found that extreme low temperatures affect certain corals in much the same way that high temperatures do, with potentially catastrophic consequences for coral ecosystems. The study was prompted by an ABNORMAL episode of extended cold weather in January and February 2010. Temperatures on inshore reefs in the upper Florida Keys dropped below 12 C (54 F), and remained below 18 C (64 F) for two weeks. The reef, once abundant in hard and soft corals, was essentially dead. "It was the saddest thing I've ever seen. The large, reef-building corals were gone. Some were estimated to be 200 to 300 years old and had survived other catastrophic events, such as the 1998 El NiƱo bleaching event. The severe cold water appeared to kill the corals quite rapidly." Offshore coral reefs were less severely affected by the cold air mass that was pushed by an UNUSUAL WEATHER PATTERN over much of the U.S. during that two-week period. The cold-water temperatures off-shore were likely buffered by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. Corals depend on Symbiodinium, a type of symbiotic algae that lives inside them, for nutrition. Through photosynthesis, the algae produce sugars, which are passed on to the corals. "The cold temperatures inhibited photosynthesis in the algae, leading to a potential net loss of carbon transferred from the algae to the coral." Each coral species has its own unique type of Symbiodinium, some of which were better able to tolerate and recover from cold temperatures than others. Siderastrea siderea was the only coral able to recover.
"Corals and their symbiotic algae have a range of stress tolerance. Some can handle moderate stress, some are highly sensitive, and some are in between. But extreme cold is just one stressor among many." Other threats to coral health include increased seawater temperatures, diseases, ocean acidification, and pollution. "Adding stress from wintertime cold episodes could not only quickly kill corals but also may have long-term effects. For corals found in the Florida Keys, winter is typically a 'non-stressful' time and corals bulk up on tissue reserves that are important for surviving potentially 'stressful' summertime conditions (i.e. coral bleaching)."
Researchers at NOAA attribute the RECORD-BREAKING COLD ANOMALY to a negative trend in the North Atlantic oscillation, an atmospheric pressure pattern that influences the weather in the northern hemisphere. "They speculate that if the trend continues, these kinds of extreme cold events may become more frequent..."The study shows that warming may not be the only climate-related problem for coral reefs in the future." It was not only the corals that were devastated by the cold snap. "The corals provide the framework for the entire reef ecosystem. The lobster, shrimp, clams, fish - all the creatures that depend on the reef - were affected too. The potential consequences for coral ecosystems are extremely alarming."


Mysterious orange goo found to be fungal spores - A mysterious orange goo that collected on shorelines in an Alaska village is made up of fungal spores, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have said. Alaska-based NOAA scientists had initially concluded the material was a conglomeration of microscopic eggs or embryos deposited by some form of crustacean.
Scientists did a follow-up examination on a sample sent from Alaska and determined the material was fungal, not the product of crustaceans. The material is consistent with spores from fungi that cause "rust," a disease that infects plants by causing a rust-like color on them.
"The spores are unlike others we and our network of specialists have examined; however, many rust fungi of the Arctic tundra have yet to be identified." The gooey material first appeared early this month in the water and on coastlines of Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo village of 400 on the Chukchi Sea coast. Residents initially feared the material might be pollution from the nearby Red Dog Mine, the world's largest zinc producer. But early tests showed it was a biological material, not mining waste or a petroleum product. The sticky orange material, which dried into a powder, has washed away from Kivalina. The material was likely harmless. "Rust is a disease that only affects plants, so there's no cause for alarm." Details about its origins remained a mystery. "There just has not been a lot of research done on rust fungi in the Arctic. THIS IS ONE THAT WE'VE NEVER ENCOUNTERED BEFORE that we know of."


Meteor shower may have been 'caused by Earth-threatening comet' - A meteor shower detected in February was likely caused by an undiscovered long-period comet that could pose a threat to the Earth, a US astronomer said on Monday. Astronomers did not know whether the comet "has already passed us by or is still on approach. The meteors are in a very compact cluster, not wider than our measurement uncertainty. They move in essentially the same orbit." He confirmed his earlier prediction of their possible return in 2016 or 2023, and after that not again until 2076. "This comet survived some prior passages through the inner solar system to get in the orbit where it is now, so the comet is likely still there."

The 100-year Starship Study - 11/11/11 is the culmination of a dual NASA-Darpa plan, started last winter. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the guys behind GPS and the Internet, is awarding a $500,000 grant to one organization willing to take on a 100-year research project for humanity's future. This Fall, one lucky organization will be crowned with the responsibility for leading research into interstellar travel over the next hundred years.
DARPA has made it clear that they are passing the baton and not taking it back. Once the winner is announced there will be no babysitting, and the winning organization had better be up to the task as they’ll be shouldering responsibility for a century. The purpose of the 100-year plan isn’t to immediately build a spaceship, as that may take centuries, but to design a business plan for the eventual development of interstellar travel. Nobody can anticipate what will emerge in 100 years, but the point is to get the ball rolling and the buzz spreading. At this point in research, it would take the 38,000 mph traveling Voyager 1 over 70,000 years to reach the nearest star of Alpha Centauri. The ideas to be examined in this 100-year long research project include: time-distance solutions, biology and space medicine, habitats and environmental science, propaganda plans for building public interest and more. DARPA believes that this research will also lead to many unanticipated consequences which will benefit the Department of Defense, as well as the private and commercial sector.