Monday, April 15, 2013

Joshua trees in RECORD BLOOM bloom in Western U.S. - The fragrant flower explosion likely was triggered by two years of drought, experts say.
The trees are having EXTRAORDINARY blossoms this year throughout the American Southwest. The trees have been blossoming profusely throughout their range from Joshua Tree National Park to Tonopah, Nevada, and Wickenburg, Arizona, sprouting abundant cream-colored flowers from the tips of their branches. Researchers say that while more study is needed to pinpoint causes, they suspect the UNUSUAL bloom could be linked to emerging climate changes and that two years of drought may be triggering a stronger reproductive effort as a sort of a collective survival mechanism.
By producing more flowers and fruit, the trees are sending out more seeds even as they are struggling to successfully reproduce in some southern and low-elevation portions of their range. Other theories about factors that could help set off bigger blooms include a cold snap in the winter or summer thunderstorms. But those theories seem less likely in this case because drought is the common factor seen throughout the range of the Joshua trees lately.
"All of the study sites are showing Joshua trees with record numbers of flower clusters." Joshua trees are blooming all over the desert in abundance, as are related yucca plants. In the southernmost areas where Joshua trees grow, including parts of the national park, their numbers are declining and there is "almost no replacement of old individuals by younger trees." Such trees appear to be under stress from the drought and are struggling to survive.
"We haven't had a new, young Joshua tree emerge on our Wickenburg study site in almost 30 years, and there have been a number of trees that have died. They're just not getting the kind of environmental conditions that they require to survive. If you're a Joshua tree and you're going to die in a year or two, the best thing you can do … is use what little energy you have left to reproduce. If a Joshua tree is going to die, one last Hail Mary: Produce lots of blossoms and hopefully lots of seeds, and maybe a few of those seeds will survive to carry on the genetic legacy of the parent plant."
The bloom is an UNPRECEDENTED PHENOMENON with more flowers than anyone has seen in decades of study. Researchers have studied potential impacts of climate change on Joshua trees, projecting possible scenarios of how much their distribution might shrink within the national park based on varying temperature increases. "What we know is that their current area of successful reproduction has been reduced by about 30 percent within the national park, and it's concentrated at the mid- to higher elevations, and the low elevations, which are hotter and drier, are no longer reproducing or haven't reproduced, probably in the last 30 to 40 years."
Given those troubles, "even if the Joshua trees are throwing out tons of seeds, it's only going to be at perhaps the higher, moister, cooler elevations that those seeds would have the opportunity to not only germinate but for the seedlings to survive … (and grow) large enough to have the water storage capacity to withstand the next drought cycle."
Joshua trees typically bloom each year from late February and through April. Pollination is aided by yucca moths, which are attracted to the flowers' penetrating scent at night and lay eggs in the fruits, producing caterpillars that eat some of the seeds. Birds and insects also thrive among the flowers. "They've got these candelabras of flowers that extend from the tips of their branches out anywhere from a foot to sometimes two feet or more, it seems anyway — just solid, packed flowers. It's just quite amazing."
For those seeds that germinate and become seedlings, growth is slow. A seedling that is 25 to 30 years old can reach about a yard in height depending on conditions. For people interested in seeing the spectacle of blossoming trees, now is the time before the flowers are gone. The peak of the bloom has already passed in many areas. (photo)

**The hardest thing in the world to understand is income taxes.**
Albert Einstein


Live Seismograms - Worldwide (update every 30 minutes)

This morning -
None 5.0 or higher, so far.

Yesterday -
4/14/13 -

A strong 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck off Papua New Guinea Sunday, but a tsunami warning was not issued and no major damage was expected. The quake hit 105 kilometres west of Panguna. A 7.9 magnitude quake struck the neighboring Solomon Islands archipelago in early February, triggering a tsunami that killed at least five people and prompting evacuations across the South Pacific.

A 5.2-magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific coast of Japan's Fukushima prefecture and the surrounding area, Sunday, causing powerful tremors felt as far away as Tokyo. The quake struck at 1:25pm (UTC), about 70 km from the city of Iwaki.

Volcano Webcams

Popocatepetl volcano spews ash over central Mexico state - Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano rumbled Saturday with explosions and expulsions of ash and gas, prompting authorities to bar people from getting close to a crater that is within sight of Mexico City and many of its 19 million residents. The Popocatepetl volcano spewed a dense cloud of ash over the central Mexico state of Puebla, with ash falling to the ground in several towns.
In April of last year, "El Popo", as the volcano is affectionately called by locals, showed significant signs of reawakening and the alert levels were raised to Yellow Phase 3, the third-highest warning.

Nicaragua - Saturday morning, a high level of volcano-seismicity continued at Telica volcano and the tempo of volcanic earthquakes picked-up at nearby San Cristobal volcano.

Icelandic volcanic eruption had a "significant but short-lived" impact - A new research, published last month, shows that the 2010 volcano eruption, in Iceland, "resulted in a significant perturbation to the biogeochemistry of the Iceland Basin."


In the South Indian Ocean -
Tropical Cyclone Imelda was located approximately 340 nm east-northeast of La Reunion.


U.S. National Weather Service confirms nearly 70-mile-long damage path from killer Mississippi tornado - The large and violent tornado tore a destructive path across two counties in east-central Mississippi on Thursday, leaving one person dead and several others injured.
The National Weather Service reported the killer EF-3 tornado with 145 mph winds, tracked 68.4 miles from Kemper County across Noxubee County, before lifting as it moved over the Alabama state line into western Pickens County. The tornado was on the ground for over a hour and a half from 11:31 a.m. to 1:06 p.m. Thursday with a track of 56 miles in Mississippi and 12.37 miles in Alabama.
Along the tornado's extensive damage path that reached up to three quarters of a mile wide, a several story steel frame commercial building was devastated just north of the town of Moscow, with multiple homes destroyed or with major damage west of De Kalb and west and northwest of Shuqualak. High tension power poles were also bent along Highway 45 just north of Shuqualak with a tower bent to the ground and crumpled west of the town of Prairie Point.
As the tornado crossed into Alabama's Pickens County, several outbuildings were destroyed with significant damage to homes. Along the entire track, thousands of trees were snapped and uprooted with dozens of power poles downed. Emergency management officials confirmed one person was killed and five others were injured as the tornado crossed Kemper County with four people injured in Noxubee County.
The long-tracked supercell thunderstorm that produced this tornado formed out ahead of a squall line of storms that was moving across Mississippi along a cold front on Thursday. The month of April is historically the most active and dangerous month of the year for tornadoes in Mississippi. The primary severe weather season in the state runs from March through early May. (map)


Ice-Free Arctic Possibly Within The Next Decade Or Two, New NOAA Report Says. The Arctic Ocean may be free of summer sea-ice as soon as sometime this decade, according to a new report from NOAA. As the report notes, it isn't a question of 'if' the Arctic will have ice-free summers, it's simply 'when'.


H7N9 spreads to central China as asymptomatic case reported - In quickly evolving H7N9 influenza developments, the virus has spread to a new part of China - as two illnesses were reported Sunday in Henan province - and Beijing officials have reported the outbreak's first asymptomatic case.