Monday, September 19, 2011

Strong 6.9 quake rocks northeastern India and Himalayan states, triggering power cuts and panic as at least 48 people died, including in Tibet and at Britain's embassy in Nepal. Officials in affected countries warned that the death toll could rise as reports filter in from remote areas. Tremors were felt more than 1,000km away in New Delhi to the west, and in Bangladesh to the east.
At least 60 people were injured by mudslides, falling debris and collapsing buildings in Gangtok, the capital of India's Himalayan state of Sikkim. "There is no electricity. Everybody is out on the road. We all ran out our houses, some even jumped out of their windows. You can see some buildings that have developed cracks." Five people have been killed in the city, and another 10 died in building collapses and landslides in neighbouring towns and villages.
The quake was felt across a wide region including the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan after it struck the border of Sikkim and Nepal at about 6:10pm on Sunday (local time). Its epicentre was just over 60km north-west of Gangtok, at a relatively shallow depth of 19.7km. The quake was followed by two strong aftershocks.
Seven people were killed in southern Tibet, near the border with Sikkim. Strong tremors were felt in Guwahati, the main city in India's Assam state, some 600km away, sending people running into the streets. "Our apartment block was literally swaying." In Kathmandu, traffic came to a standstill as hotels and bars were evacuated. Hundreds of anxious tourists and residents waited for news in car parks and on the streets as the seasonal monsoon rain lashed down. In Bhutan, buildings in the capital Thimphu also shook. India's seven northeastern states, joined to the rest of the country by a narrow sliver of land, are located in an area of frequent seismic activity.

**The gem cannot be polished without friction,
nor man perfected without trials.**
Chinese Proverb

This morning -

Yesterday -
9/18/11 -

CALIFORNIA - Earthquake considered among causes in woman's death from fallen tree. An earthquake that rattled Orange County on Thursday is among the potential causes under investigation as officials try to determine why a 10-ton tree fell on a woman's car and killed her while she waited at a stop light. But officials stressed its one of many theories being looked at and that it's far too early to determine a cause. A magnitude 3.5 earthquake that took place off Newport Beach about 2:56 a.m. Thursday may have played a role, though there easily could have been other contributing factors.
Other possible causes include moist soil and trimmed roots. Soil conditions, whether the ground was wet or slanted, and the health of the tree, are all potential factors that could have felled the 50-foot blue gum eucalyptus. The tree showed no signs of illness.


In the Atlantic -
No current tropical storms.

In the Pacific -
-Tropical storm 18w (Roke) was located approximately 140 nm east of Kadena AB, Japan.

-Typhoon 19w (Sonca) was located approximately 230 nm east-southeast of Yokosuka, Japan.

Tropical Storm 18W (Roke) - As of 12:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, Japan time: Yokosuka Naval Base remains in Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness 4. Tropical Storm Roke has slowed down some; closest point of approach to the Kanto now forecast for 7 p.m. Wednesday, 20 miles west of Yokota Air Base, Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Camp Zama and 40 miles west of Yokosuka. It’s a relatively small storm in terms of diameter, but it will still pack a mean wallop, sustained 58-mph winds and 81-mph gusts at its center. Yokosuka’s local forecast calls for winds to pick up starting Tuesday, 18 to 23 mph sustained and 30-mph gusts, increasing to 23-28 and 35 mid-morning Wednesday, 30-35 and 50 by early afternoon and 35-40 and 55 by evening. Roke has long been a case study for the MOST UNUSUAL OF WEATHER SYSTEMS.
Tropical Storm Roke should (finally) make its closest point of approach to Okinawa this morning, some 150 miles east at 9 a.m., after which it’s forecast to start picking up steam and racing toward the Tokyo area. Joint Typhoon Warning Center’s forecast track calls for Roke to plow virtually right over Yokota Air Base, Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Camp Zama. Wednesday. Prior to that, Typhoon Sonca will give the Kanto area a dusting of wind gusting to 30 mph today with some showers from the storm’s outer bands. A small-craft warning remains in effect.

Effects of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in Maryland - Drenching rains from remnants of Tropical Storm Lee produced the second-largest water flows from the Susquehanna River into the Bay since Hurricane Agnes in June 1972. Flows from Agnes were measured at more than 1 million cubic feet per second. A major snow melt in 1996 caused a flow of more than 900,000 cubic feet per second. The peak flow from Lee was more than 750,000 cubic feet per second. This condition required that all of the floodgates on the Conowingo Dam be opened. Sediment, nutrients and bulk trash that had collected behind the dam for years were released into the Susquehanna.
These loadings comprise a direct injection of pollutants into the Bay. To add insult to injury, more than 500 million gallons of diluted sewage washed into bay waters in Maryland alone and an estimated 200 million gallons poured in from Washington D.C. In addition, runoff from farms awash in livestock manure and fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorous, and the flow from city and suburban streets, lawns, and rooftops contributed more nitrogen and phosphorous, as well as garbage. These conditions create a pollution cocktail that produces the summer's annual "dead zone," (this year THE LARGEST ON RECORD.) Dead zones (caused by algae blooms that feed on the excess nutrients) develop every summer and generally end in the early weeks of fall. This year Hurricane Irene caused a premature mixing of the normally stratified oxygen depleted and oxygen rich layers, essentially removing the dead zone at least temporarily.
A major concern, however, is that these recent events could cause a secondary dead zone to form, or perhaps produce one next year that will exceed this year's record breaker. Eventually we will accurately gauge the impact of these storms, but what we must appreciate now and going forward is that our behavior is more to fault than that of Mother Nature. The majority of debris and pollution we see right now is a result of how we use land in Maryland and how our neighbors use it upstream. Another storm with another name will impact the Bay in the future - this is inevitable. We can, however, reduce the impact by working hard to reduce the loadings from every source in the watershed so that the next onslaught will be less damaging to our efforts to bring about a Bay-wide restoration.

VERMONT - Response to flood worsens impact on rivers, fish. The flash floods unleashed by Tropical Storm Irene washed out roads, swept away bridges, and devastated homes and businesses from Waterbury to Wilmington. Irene also ended up taking a hard toll on rivers and the aquatic life they support. One cannot equate fish to people, but what makes this equally tragic is much of the damage was done after the flood waters receded.
For most of the past two weeks, rivers in the mountain valleys of central and southern Vermont have been crawling with excavators and bulldozers. Streams have been dredged and channelized. River beds have been deepened and widened. Banks have been armored and bermed. Sections of some rivers look more like artificial chutes than tumbling freestone streams. You have to see it to believe it. It will be years, if ever, before some river sections come back. Worse, it’s a largely man-made tragedy. “The response to the flood will have more of a long-term impact (on rivers) than the flood itself,” a state fisheries biologist said. "There’s so much work going on, with so little oversight, and it’s happening all over.”
Because the destruction wrought by Irene was so widespread, the state Department of Environmental Conservation — which regulates river alterations — issued special emergency guidelines for in-stream work to help expedite flood recovery. It essentially gave landowners, towns and other agencies a green light to work in rivers with little if any supervision from the state’s four river management engineers, who have been overwhelmed by the scope of the flooding. To be sure, something had to be done and done quickly where rivers jumped their banks and cut new channels through developed areas; where channels were choked with gravel and sediment; where river crossings were destroyed; and where roads, bridges and homes were otherwise threatened.
But it’s also safe to say that much of the work exceeded the intent of the guidelines, which still required state approval for extreme practices like excavating channels deeper and wider than what is required for annual flood discharges; dredging beds beyond what is needed to remove existing threats; and berming and armoring banks where no buildings or roads are at risk. Practices that not only destroy aquatic habitats, they can actually increase the damage from future floods by accelerating stream flows. A prime example can be found on the Middlebury River in East Middlebury, a community that suffered minimal damage compared to towns to the east and south, and a river that in the opinion of a state river scientist “was fine” after Irene. That was before the town of Middlebury sent excavators into the channel. In the process of addressing three legitimate trouble spots, they destroyed some of the best trout habitat on the lower river. “The fish habitat value and biological integrity of this reach of river has been significantly impacted. The stream channel and bottom is now mostly uniform across its width, with very little heterogeneity of bottom structure, and almost zero habitat complexity. Riffles, runs and pools have been converted to one big long chute. In addition to the degraded aquatic environment and loss of fish habitat, it is likely that the work being done may increase the risk of damage and threaten properties downstream in future flood events. The river channelization and bank armoring will increase bed incision and reduce the river’s access to the flood plain. In future floods, this could result in increased water velocity in the river channel, intensifying any resulting property damage downstream.”
Sadly, the same could be said for sections of many other streams. In one respect, however, the Middlebury River was lucky. Local anglers were irate. They packed a Middlebury Selectboard meeting where they got the town to agree to stop instream operations and even restore some habitat features. But according to a river restoration specialist, “They’ll never be able to put it back the way it was.” Many river experts say that the damage wrought by Irene was an inevitable consequence of continued human encroachment into river corridors and a long history of attempting to deny rivers access to their flood plains after previous floods. If so, it would appear we have learned little, and if anything might have made things worse. What is clear is that after the roads and bridges are rebuilt, those of us who view rivers as more than mere conduits of water will be living with the aftereffects of Irene for years, if not decades, to come.


Global warming: ‘Missing’ heat found deep in the ocean - Changes in ocean currents and circulation are capturing some of the sun’s incoming heat deep in the ocean, according to researchers with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who said their latest computer models account for some of the global warming heat that’s “missing” from land and sea surface temperature readings.
The heat is stored at depths below 1,000 feet and could lead to periods as long as 10 years when the rate of heating on the Earth’s surface flattens. The findings also suggest that several more intervals like this can be expected over the next century, even as the trend toward overall warming continues. “We will see global warming go through hiatus periods in the future. However, these periods would likely last only about a decade or so, and warming would then resume. This study illustrates one reason why global temperatures do not simply rise in a straight line.”
The 2000s were Earth’s warmest decade in more than a century of weather records. However, the single-year mark for warmest global temperature, which had been set in 1998, remained unmatched until 2010. Yet emissions of greenhouse gases continued to climb during the 2000s, and satellite measurements showed that the discrepancy between incoming sunshine and outgoing radiation from Earth actually increased. This implied that heat was building up somewhere on Earth. The global warming deniers and skeptics in the science community latched on to the concept of “missing heat,” claiming that it showed that the existing global warming models are flawed. Now, the latest study by the NCAR climate scientists suggests that the oceans might be storing some of the heat that would otherwise go toward other processes, such as warming the atmosphere or land, or melting more ice and snow.
Observations from a global network of buoys showed some warming in the upper ocean, but not enough to account for the global build-up of heat. Simulations, based on projections of future greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, indicated that temperatures would rise by several degrees during this century. But each simulation also showed periods in which temperatures would stabilize for about a decade before climbing again. For example, one simulation showed the global average rising by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit between 2000 and 2100, but with two decade-long hiatus periods during the century. During these hiatus periods, simulations showed that extra energy entered the oceans, with deeper layers absorbing a disproportionate amount of heat due to changes in oceanic circulation. The vast area of ocean below about 1,000 feet (300 meters) warmed by 18 percent to 19 percent more during hiatus periods than at other times. In contrast, the shallower global ocean above 1,000 feet warmed by 60 percent less than during non-hiatus periods in the simulation. “This study suggests the missing energy has indeed been buried in the ocean. The heat has not disappeared, and so it cannot be ignored. It must have consequences.”
The simulations also indicated that the oceanic warming during hiatus periods has a regional signature. During a hiatus, average sea-surface temperatures decrease across the tropical Pacific, while they tend to increase at higher latitudes, especially around 30 degrees south and 30 degrees north in the Pacific and between 35 degrees north and 40 degrees north in the Atlantic, where surface waters converge to push heat into deeper oceanic layers. These patterns are similar to those observed during a La Niña event. El Niño and La Niña events can be overlaid on top of a hiatus-related pattern. Global temperatures tend to drop slightly during La Niña, as cooler waters reach the surface of the tropical Pacific, and they rise slightly during El Niño, when those waters are warmer. “The main hiatus in observed warming has corresponded with La Niña conditions, which is consistent with the simulations."


REENTRY ALERT: NASA reports that UARS, an atmospheric research satellite the size of a small bus, will re-enter Earth's atmosphere on Sept. 23, plus or minus one day. Not all of the spectacularly-disintegrating spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere; debris could be scattered along a ground track some 500 miles long. Because of the rapid evolution of UARS's decaying orbit, the location of the debris zone is not yet known. A NASA risk assessment places the odds of a human casualty at 1 in 3,200.