Thursday, October 20, 2011

Billion-dollar U.S. weather disasters: 12 and counting - The billion-dollar weather disasters keep piling up, with the USA now at a RECORD-SHATTERING 12 for the year. Economic losses from Tropical Storm Lee — which drenched the East Coast in September but was never a hurricane — has reached $1 billion, with most of the damage due to flooding along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. The National Climatic Data Center, which tracks these disasters, will likely need to add another billion-dollar tally to a severe weather event that occurred in mid-June., as "many locations in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are still in the midst of trying to separate out flood losses between Irene and Lee." So far, damage from Hurricane Irene has reached at least $7 billion. The previous single-year record for billion-dollar disasters was nine, set in 2008.

**Hide not your talents, they for use were made.
What's a sun-dial in the shade?**
Benjamin Franklin

This morning -

Yesterday -
10/19/11 -

Series of earthquakes strike Hawaii - A 4.5-magnitude earthquake struck the north part of the Big Island on Wednesday, and the shaking was followed by a series of smaller temblors. The first quake struck 13 miles southeast of Waimea at about 2 p.m. It was centered at a depth of 11.7 miles. About two dozen smaller quakes ranging in magnitude from 1.7 to 3.6 followed within two hours. No tsunami alert was issued and there were no immediate reports of damage. Residents across the island reported feeling light to moderate shaking. "When you feel a four-and-a-half at close range, it feels like a truck crashed into a building."
The smaller quakes were normal sizes for an aftershock sequence. They can continue at low levels for several days. The latest earthquakes caused no detectable changes in the continuing eruption of Kilauea volcano, according to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Over the past 25 years, the north flank of Mauna Kea has experienced 10 earthquakes greater than magnitude 4.0, including Wednesday's event, at depths of 6 to 25 miles. Deep earthquakes in the region are most likely caused by structural adjustments within the Earth's crust due to the heavy load of Mauna Kea. Adjustments beneath Mauna Kea during past similar events, such as in March 2010, have produced a flurry of earthquakes, with many small aftershocks occurring for days after the main quake. A 6.7-magnitude earthquake that struck the Big Island on Oct. 15, 2006, damaged buildings and roads, but there were no serious injuries or deaths. [So far - 3.7, 2.5, 2.7, 2.5, 2.7, 3.3, 2.6, 2.8, 2.5, 3.1, 3.6, 4.5]

More quakes in Oklahoma - There have been more earthquakes in Oklahoma, but not quite strong enough to be felt in Tulsa. The closest was centered in Prague, about 45 miles east of Oklahoma City, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The other was near Midwest City. Both occurred about 1 a.m. Tuesday and both were magnitude 2.9. Last week was the one-year anniversary of one of the state's larger earthquakes, a magnitude 4.7 in Norman.
The Tuesday quake was part of a significant increase in the number of quakes in the past year or so. The quakes have been large enough to be felt, but not to cause significant, or even minor damage. "Something significant here in the mid-continent will be above 5.5 or so and you start getting damage at a magnitude 5, but we're talking minor." The central part of Oklahoma has always been a hotbed for small-scale seismic activity.
"Over the past two years it's been especially active, but not alarmingly so. We've had more than ten times as many earthquakes but they've all been magnitude 3 or less." One exception was the Norman quake. The U.S. Geological Survey confirms 18 quakes in the area in the past six months on their website. The largest quake ever recorded in the state was a 5.5 in 1952.


CANARY ISLANDS - Residents of the village of La Restinga on the island of el Hierro have been allowed to make a brief return to their homes Wednesday. The inhabitants were evacuated last Thursday at the start of a volcanic eruption off the shore of the most westerly of the Spanish controlled Canary Islands. While they are not allowed to stay in their homes, the residents have been allowed to go back in order to collect any necessary items and carry out necessary tasks around their residences.
The eruption off the coast of el Hierro has caused a huge stain of sulphur to color the sea a bright green and pieces of pumice stone have also been seen floating in the water after being expelled from an underwater crater off the shore of the island. Residents had hoped to return home earlier, but were not allowed to do so because of the strong smell of sulphur in the air, which although not a threat to health, was likely to cause discomfort. Recent seismic activity has been stable and any tremors that had been detected were at a depth of 10 km.
Still, authorities refused to make any long term predictions over the possible progression of the eruption, saying it was impossible to rule out any possible scenario. The sulphur in the region of the port of La Restinga was strong enough to make people's eyes water on Wednesday, but that the smell had disappeared today and there were even fish swimming in the water. On Sunday a Spanish government scientist who is the co-ordinator of the scientific team gave the first conclusions of the study, saying there would be four stages, which could eventually see "the creation of a small island from which a flow of lava could spread."

Rapidly Inflating Bolivian Volcano Creates Growing Mystery - Researchers from several universities are essentially working as geological detectives, using a suite of tools to piece together a restive South American volcano peak's past in order to understand what it is doing now, and better diagnose what may lie ahead. It's a mystery they've yet to solve. Uturuncu is a nearly 20,000-foot-high (6,000 meters) volcano in southwest Bolivia. Scientists recently discovered the volcano is inflating with astonishing speed.
Researchers realized about five years ago that the area below and around Uturuncu is steadily rising — blowing up like a giant balloon under a wide disc of land some 43 miles (70 kilometers) across. Satellite data revealed the region was inflating by 1 to 2 centimeters (less than an inch) per year and had been doing so for at least 20 years, when satellite observations began. "It's ONE OF THE FASTEST UPLIFTING VOLCANIC AREAS ON EARTH. What we're trying to do is understand why there is this rapid inflation, and from there we'll try to understand what it's going to lead to."
The peak is perched like a party hat at the center of the inflating area. "It's very circular. It's like a big bull's-eye." Scientists figured out from the inflation rate that the pocket of magma beneath the volcano was growing by about 27 cubic feet (1 cubic meter) per second. "That's about 10 TIMES FASTER THAN THE STANDARD RATE of magma chamber growth you see for large volcanic systems." However, no need to flee just yet, the scientists said. "It's not a volcano that we think is going to erupt at any moment, but it certainly is interesting, because the area was thought to be essentially dead."
Uturuncu is surrounded by one of the most dense concentrations of supervolcanoes on the planet, all of which fell silent some 1 million years ago. Supervolcanoes get their name because they erupt with such power that they typically spew out 1,000 times more material, in sheer volume, than a volcano like Mount St. Helens. Modern human civilization has never witnessed such an event. The planet's most recent supervolcanic eruption happened about 74,000 years ago in Indonesia. "These eruptions are thought to have not only a local and regional impact, but potentially a global impact." It appears that local volcanoes hoard magma for about 300,000 years before they blow — and Uturuncu last erupted about 300,000 years ago. "So that's why it's important to know how long this has been going on." Uturuncu itself is in the same class as Mount St. Helens in Washington state, but its aggressive rise could indicate that a new supervolcano is on the way. Or not.

Did Life Originate in Mud Volcanoes? Ancient deep-sea mud volcanoes may have been ideal settings for early life on Earth, researchers suggest. Life may have first developed on Earth nearly 4 billion years ago, but much remains mysterious about its beginnings. To learn more about life's origins, scientists investigated some of the oldest remnants of crust on Earth — rocks 3.7 billion to 3.8 billion years old from Isua on the southwestern coast of Greenland.
The researchers found these ancient rocks once were permeated with lukewarm alkaline fluids rich in carbonates. These liquids resemble those seen today in so-called serpentine mud volcanoes located in the deep sea near the Mariana Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean formed by the summits of volcanoes; the conditions would have made the area off the coast of Greenland an especially friendly place for amino acids, helping keep them stable in the distant past. Amino acids are key ingredients of life, serving as the building blocks of proteins. "These serpentine mud volcanoes would have been the best environment for sustaining life. These findings mean that you could have sparked life at those places and also have it survive there."
Scientists have long thought that life might have begun at deep-sea hydrothermal vents typically found near volcanically active locales. These are rich in chemical and thermal energy, often helping sustain vibrant ecosystems. However, the vast majority of hydrothermal vent fields seen now are too hot and too acidic for a soup of free-floating amino acids to have survived. "It'd be like trying to make life evolve from hot Coca-Cola." In contrast, serpentine mud volcanoes are relatively lukewarm, and alkaline instead of acidic. Although these serpentine mud volcanoes are relatively uncommon now, they would have been more prevalent when the seas more thoroughly dominated the world. They seem to prefer to form at oceanic subduction zones — that is, areas where oceanic plates dive under one another. Nowadays, subduction zones are mostly located at the borders of continental plates instead. As to why serpentine mud volcanoes prefer to form at oceanic subduction zones, "that's an issue people haven't figured out yet."

In the Indian Ocean -
Tropical cyclone 02b was located approximately 60 nm south-southeast of Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Clustered cyclones reduce impact on ecosystems - New research has found that cyclone activity is clustered instead of random, as was previously thought, which has important long-term implications for coastal ecosystems and human population. Cyclones have major economic, social and ecological impacts, and models using their occurrence influence a number of planning activities from setting insurance premiums to conservation planning. “Understanding how the frequency of cyclones varies is important for both the people that experience them and the ecosystems that they impact."
The findings map the variability in cyclones throughout the Americas using a 100-year historical record of cyclone tracks. The study showed that short, intense periods of cyclones followed by relatively long quiet periods, were found around the Caribbean Sea and the clustering was particularly strong in Florida, the Bahamas, Belize, Honduras, Haiti and Jamaica. Modelling of corals reefs of the Caribbean found that clustered cyclones are less damaging to coral reef health than random cyclone events because the following prolonged period without cyclones allows the corals to recover and then remain in a reasonable state prior to being hit by the next series of storms. “In the case of coral reefs, forecasts of habitat collapse were historically overly pessimistic and have been predicted at least 10 years too early because cyclones were assumed to occur randomly over time. If we are to predict the future of coral reefs, it's really important to consider the clustering of cyclone events. For a given long-term rate of cyclones, for example once per decade, clustered events are less damaging. Cyclones have always been a natural part of coral reef lifecycles, however, with the additional stresses people have placed upon ecosystems like fishing, pollution and climate change, the impacts of cyclones linger a lot longer than they did in the past."
The clustering of storms is a global phenomenon that needs to be better quantified statistically in risk assessments. “We didn't at first expect clustering to have advantages, but this study has clearly shown that clustering can help by giving ecosystems more time to recover from natural catastrophes. The research also has wider implications for other systems such as the dynamics and viability of insurance companies and the provision of reinsurance protection. Reinsurance companies are a bit like ecosystems and so need time to recover after major losses - so clustering of cyclones allows the industry to build profits before the next cluster of storm losses."

Cyclones likely to develop in Pacific's south-west - A senior climatologist predicts cyclones will develop in areas of the south-west Pacific months earlier than has been the case in past years. La Nina is likely to cause an increase in cyclones in the south-west Pacific over December or early January. "What it typically means is that the region that favours more tropical cyclones shifts further west. Areas such as the Solomon Islands, PNG and New Caledonia, even parts of Vanuatu and so on, they have an increased chance of more tropical cyclones than normal." The western part of the south-west Pacific is likely to have a 65 per cent increase in cyclone development. "The jury is still out with respect to climate change, whether that might actually be the cause. But we think that cyclones may become severe, a little bit more rainfall associated with each event."

2011 North West Australia cyclone outlook - The 2011 cyclone season is forecast to produce an above average number of cyclones due to an expected weak La Nina event. There is a significant risk of one severe tropical cyclone impacting on the North
West coast. Cyclone season runs from November 1st through until April 30th. An average of five cyclones occur off the North West coast each season. The weak La Nina event is expected to produce around six cyclones this season. Most of these will not impact on the North West coast. The forecast is for two cyclones to impact the coast, one of these is likely to be a severe tropical cyclone.
Strong winds are not the only threat posed by cyclones. Storm surge and flooding can also result. Flooding can even be caused by a tropical low pressure system that hasn't developed cyclone intensity. Storm surge can raise the sea level by many metres. If a cyclone impacts the coastline during a large high tide, residents may need to be prepared for inundation. Cyclones usually travel at under 30 kilometres per hour with varying degree of predictability.


FDA links packing facility flaws to Listeria in cantaloupe.