Friday, April 17, 2015

Global Disaster Watch - daily natural disaster updates.

**Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.**
Ernest Hemingway

LARGEST QUAKES so far today -

Yesterday, 4/16/15 -

4/15/15 -

Earthquakes strike parts of northern China - An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 has struck in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. An earlier earthquake with a magnitude of 4.5 hit the north-western Gansu Province, killing at least one person. The China Earthquake Networks Centre believes the two tremors could be connected. (Video footage from China's CCTV shows people fleeing buildings during one of the earthquakes.)
The two earthquakes have toppled scores of houses. A 4.5-magnitude quake hit Lintao County of the northwestern province of Gansu around 3 pm, killing one person in Yaogou Village, about 20 km from the epicenter. About 30 houses were flattened, and 200 were damaged.
Half an hour later, a 5.8-magnitude quake hit Alashan Left Banner, in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at half past 3 pm. The quake was followed by a 4.0-magnitude aftershock five minutes later. No casualties or property damage have been reported, as the area is remote and sparsely populated. Local authorities are still checking for possible damage. The quake was felt in the nearby cities in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Wuwei in Gansu Province.

6.1 magnitude quake strikes off Greek island of Crete - The earthquake struck under the Mediterranean seabed east of the Greek island of Crete on Thursday, but local authorities said there were no immediate reports of injuries or serious damage. The quakes epicentre was 20 kilometers below sea level, 50 km east of Crete on the Cretan-Rhodes ridge where the African tectonic plate meets the Eurasian plate.
In Greece, the Athens Observatory said the tremor, which happened at 1821 GMT, struck some 14 km off the small island of Kassos and was strongly felt on nearby Crete. "I jumped up from my chair, the ground shook for at least five minutes. I did not see any material damage but it is nighttime and it's difficult to see what has happened." Greece is one of Europe's most earthquake-prone countries. In January 2014, several thousand people found themselves homeless on the holiday island of Cephalonia in the Ionian Islands after a 5.8 magnitude quake.

Peru - Ubinas volcano erupts again this morning. Today marks the third eruption of Ubinas in two days. It erupted this morning around 8:00 a.m. and lasted for about 6 minutes, with the extent of damages resulting from the spread of ash. The IGP recommends that local communities wear masks and goggles for the time being to protect from the ash layer.
The South Volcano Observatory of the Geophysical Institute of Peru recorded two loud explosions from the volcano yesterday, causing a yellow alert to be raised for the communities near-by. The first explosion occurred in the morning with ashes reaching 3,800 meters and the second one in the afternoon which resulted in a column of ashes reaching 1,500 meters high.
Today ashes reached 1,800 meters high above the crater and spreading at least 15 kilometers outwards from the volcano. The ashes were primarily directed southeast toward the communities of Ubinas, Escacha and Anascapa. After today’s explosion, Ubinas has erupted four times in the last 8 days. Three days ago snowmelt and another eruption causes a massive mudslide. A video was captured by the IGP monitoring team who happened to be recording data at the time.
Video footage of the mudslide.

Mexico's Colima volcano has spewed a giant 3.5-kilometre-high column of ash that rained down on a nearby city. The Jalisco state civil protection agency said a "moderate" quantity of ash fell on Ciudad Guzman, a town near the western state of Colima, where the volcano is located.
A civil protection official said there were no reports of damage or injuries in the city of 100,000 people. Officials urged the population to use masks if they venture out of their homes, remove excess ash from rooftops so they do not collapse and cover water drains. The 3,860-metre mountain, also known as the Volcano of Fire, is among the most active in the country. (video at link)

New volcano discoverd in Columbia - In the Andes Mountains, in Colombia, hides Escondido, a potentially active volcano. The discovery was made by the researchers of the Institute for the Dynamics of Environmental Processes of the Italian National Research Council (IDPA-CNR) and of the Servicio Geológico Colombiano.
Escondido was identified by the research team during an exploration campaign in the Andes Mountains. It lies in an area in which volcanic activity had been previously considered as practically absent. “Although it is believed that the planet has been fully explored, the discovery of pyroclastic deposits perfectly preserved with a thickness of eight metres suggests the presence of intensive explosive activity originated from a volcanic structure that had not been identified before. This find shows that discoveries of this type are still possible and bring about implications regarding the proper assessment of natural risks and the possible use of geothermal energy associated with magma ascent through the Earth’s crust”.
“Our study shows that Escondido had its last activity about 30,000 years ago, and that its identification substantially changes the perception of the distribution of recent volcanism in the central Cordillera of the Northern Andes. It also reveals that magmas ascent through the crust and the activity of the tectonic processes are more pervasive than previously thought”.

No current tropical storms.


A rare suspected tornado in Oregon swept across a parking lot at a community college in the city of Eugene, lifting up a Jeep with two people inside and damaging three other vehicles, officials said on Wednesday.
Oregon gets only a handful of tornadoes each year, and they are usually weak, said a National Weather Service meteorologist. Meteorologists believe this was a small tornado and are working to confirm that determination. No one was injured from the suspected tornado on Tuesday afternoon at Lane Community College in Eugene, about 100 miles (161 km) south of Portland.
The Jeep with the two people sitting inside was lifted about 5 feet (1.5 meters) off the ground before dropping back down. A car was flipped around in the air and landed on another vehicle, and a fourth vehicle was flipped over and landed on its roof. The Oregonian newspaper on its website posted photos submitted by a student at the college showing a sedan lying on its roof on a grassy space in the parking lot and another vehicle with part of its roof and windshield caved in.

India - Record rain in Chennai. The city that was bracing for the hottest part of the year had a sudden swing in weather on Wednesday, a RARITY for April. For the FIRST TIME IN 70 YEARS, Meenambakkam received 103.2 mm rainfall on Wednesday.
Residents woke up to a pleasant monsoon-like day as an upper air cyclonic circulation over Lakshadweep area had brought good rains over many parts of the State since Tuesday night. However, the weather observatory in Nungambakkam recorded only 2.6 mm of rainfall between 8.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. The prevailing weather system had brought down the Wednesday temperature to 29.3 degree Celsius, which is five degrees less than the average temperature experienced in April.
Several areas, particularly in south Chennai, had a heavy downpour during morning hours, something more like a cloud burst. Rains lashed several places like Taramani, Velachery, Guindy, and Adyar and in just an hour, some places recorded nearly 100 mm of rainfall, which is RARE for the season.
Moisture was being drawn from the Bay of Bengal across the State and this brought rains over many parts of the State. While northern districts, including Chennai, would have rains till Thursday, wet spell would continue in southern region of Tamil Nadu for a few more days. Summer rains are usually preceded by an intense period of heat. But this was not one of the typical weather systems that occur during noon.
“This type of organised weather activity is rare and May is more likely to get rains than in April. In summer, areas away from the coast get more rains." Weather bloggers point out that the interaction of the cyclonic circulation with another system over Bay of Bengal and constant moisture incursion had brought heavy downpour over the city in April. In the last 15 years, rainfall over the city crossed 20 mm only twice in April. In, 2001 and 2005, Nungambakkam recorded 83 mm and 60 mm in April.


Ice jams, possible rain raises flooding concerns for parts of Maine - State and local officials are keeping a close eye on a massive ice jam on the St. John River in Allagash that could affect towns downriver if it lets go over the next 24 hours.
The St. John River rose about 15 feet in 90 minutes behind the jam in Allagash at about 4 a.m. Thursday. This was considered a historically rapid rise and ranked among the top five fastest river level increases since records have been kept over the last 70 years. “We expect it to let go sometime today. People along the St. John River really want to pay attention.”
Downriver, municipal officials were heeding that advice. Ice jams can cause water to rise rapidly upriver from their location, creating flooding conditions. When the ice jam breaks up, all that backed up water is released and can cause more flooding problems in low-lying areas as it rushes downriver. “We estimate it takes about two hours and 45 minutes for the ice to get from [Allagash] to Fort Kent, assuming it does not jam up somewhere in between.” If the ice jam in Allagash does let go and the water dammed up behind it flows down the river to Fort Kent, the town is ready.
“We have our game plan in place. It is a concern with everything all jammed up.” Officials with the county’s emergency management services also were on the ground in the St. John Valley Thursday. “I am not pushing the panic button at this point. I think we have a good handle on things, and we are not in ‘emergency’ mode by any means yet.”
Officials also are keeping an eye on an ice jam on the Aroostook River near the Fort Fairfield and Caribou town line that caused flooding Wednesday night and prompted the Maine Department of Transportation to close a section of Grimes Road, also known as North Caribou Road. A flood warning was issued for all of northern Maine as ice jams and melting snow will cause some river levels to rise in Aroostook County through Friday evening.
The weather service also is tracking a series of storms expected to bring up to 3 inches of rain to parts of the state on Monday and create flooding conditions in areas Down East that were hit with record snowfall this past winter. “Those rains will be taking the snowpack with it, and that could produce [the equivalent to] a 3- to 5-inch rainstorm. It sounds like Down East will be in the bullseye of that rain event.”
In central Maine, both the Penobscot and Piscatiquis rivers have peaked and their levels are falling. “How much rain we do get remains a big question. But it won’t be super warm over the next couple of days, so the remainder of the snowpack will be a slow, controlled runoff from now into next week.” In the Augusta area, the Kennebec peaked Wednesday and levels were falling. Heavy rains do have the potential to bring river levels up around the state and the potential for flooding is above normal next week.


An oil slick, a band of rainbow sheen that stretches for miles off the coast of Louisiana, marks the spot where an oil platform toppled during a 2004 hurricane, triggering what might be the longest-running commercial oil spill ever to pollute the Gulf of Mexico. Yet more than a decade after crude started leaking at the site formerly operated by Taylor Energy Company, few people even know of its existence. The company has downplayed the leak's extent and environmental impact, likening it to scores of minor spills and natural seeps the Gulf routinely absorbs.
An Associated Press investigation has revealed evidence that the spill is far worse than what Taylor — or the government — have publicly reported during their secretive, and costly, effort to halt the leak. Presented with AP's findings, that the sheen recently averaged about 91 gallons of oil per day across eight square miles, the Coast Guard provided a new leak estimate that is about 20 times greater than one recently touted by the company. Outside experts say the spill could be even worse — possibly one of the largest ever in the Gulf.
Taylor's oil was befouling the Gulf for years in obscurity before BP's massive spill in mile-deep water outraged the nation in 2010. Even industry experts haven't heard of Taylor's slow-motion spill, which has been leaking like a steady trickle from a faucet, compared to the fire hose that was BP's gusher. Taylor has kept documents secret that would shed light on what it has done to stop the leak and eliminate the persistent sheen.
The Coast Guard said in 2008 the leak posed a "significant threat" to the environment, though there is no evidence oil from the site has reached shore. The sheen "presents a substantial threat to the environment" and is capable of harming birds, fish and other marine life.
Using satellite images and pollution reports, the watchdog group SkyTruth estimates between 300,000 and 1.4 million gallons of oil has spilled from the site since 2004, with an annual average daily leak rate between 37 and 900 gallons. If SkyTruth's high-end estimate of 1.4 million gallons is accurate, Taylor's spill would be about 1 percent the size of BP's, which a judge ruled amounted to 134 million gallons. That would still make the Taylor spill the 8th largest in the Gulf since 1970.
"The Taylor leak is just a great example of what I call a dirty little secret in plain sight." Taylor has spent tens of millions of dollars to contain and stop its leak, but it says nothing can be done to completely halt the chronic slicks. The New Orleans based company presented federal regulators last year with a proposed "final resolution" at the site, but the details remain under wraps. For years, the government has allowed the company to shield other spill-related information from public scrutiny — all in the name of protecting trade secrets.
Industry experts and environmental advocates are baffled by Taylor's inability to stop the leak and its demands for confidentiality. "It's not normal to have a spill like this," said an industry consultant and former engineering manager for Shell Oil Company. "The whole thing surprises me. Normally, we fix things much more quickly than this."
Five years ago, it took 87 days for BP to cap its blown-out Gulf well and halt the worst offshore oil spill in the nation's history. The disaster, which killed 11 rig workers, exposed weaknesses in the industry's safety culture and gaps in its spill response capabilities. Taylor's leak provided earlier evidence of how difficult it can be for the industry to prevent or stop a spill in an unforgiving environment. But the company has balked at sharing information that could help other offshore operators prepare for a similar incident, saying it's a valuable asset.
Whether it can profit from any industry innovations is debatable. The company sold all its offshore leases and oil and gas interests in 2008, four years after founder Patrick Taylor died. Down to just one full-time employee, Taylor Energy exists only to continue fighting a spill that has no end in sight.
Hurricane Ivan whipped into the Gulf of Mexico in 2004, churning up waves that triggered an underwater mudslide and toppled Taylor's platform. The platform stood roughly 10 miles off Louisiana's coast in approximately 475 feet of water. The mudslide buried the cluster of 28 wells under mounds of sediment. Taylor tried to remove the unstable sediment covering the damaged wells, but determined it was too dangerous for divers.
Without access to the buried wells, traditional "plug and abandon" efforts wouldn't work. In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted the company's response efforts for several months. In 2007, slick sightings became more frequent near the wreckage. In 2008, the Coast Guard, concerned about the environmental threat of the leak, ordered additional work, including daily monitoring flights over the site.
A year ago, federal officials convened a workshop on the leak. Months later, the company presented regulators its proposal for a final resolution at the site. That plan remains confidential, but Taylor Energy President has said experts and government officials agree that the "best course of action ... is to not take any affirmative action" due to the possible risks of additional drilling.
Long before Taylor's leak, the industry learned of the risks of drilling in the Gulf's mudslide-prone areas. In 1969, Hurricane Camille caused a mudslide that destroyed a platform and damaged another. The company's last remaining full-time employee said Taylor didn't do anything to assess the risk of mudslides at its platform besides verifying that the previous leaseholder's permits and designs met regulatory requirements.
Even people whose job it is to know about such leaks didn't know about this one. Plaquemines Parish's coastal restoration director only found out about it in December 2012 when he spotted one of Taylor's slicks during a flight to BP's Deepwater Horizon site. He was stunned when a Coast Guard official informed him oil had been leaking there for years. "That's right off of our coast. It's really close. I would have thought somebody would have shared it with us."
In a recent court filing, Taylor said experts concluded in March 2014 that the sheens contained an average volume of less than 4 gallons per day. But AP's review of more than 2,300 pollution reports since 2008 found they didn't match official accounts of a diminishing leak. In fact, the reports show a dramatic SPIKE in sheen sizes and oil volumes since Sept. 1, 2014. That came just after federal regulators held a workshop to improve the accuracy of Taylor's slick estimates and started sending government observers on the contractor's daily flights over the site.
From April 2008 through August 2014, the average sheen size reported to the Coast Guard was 2 square miles with an average volume of 11 gallons of oil, according to AP's analysis. Since then, the daily average sheen size ballooned to 8 square miles with an average volume of 91 gallons. When confronted by AP with evidence of the spike, the Coast Guard attributed it to an improved method for estimating the slicks from the air — with the clear implication that far more oil had been spilling for years than had been reported.
After initially providing AP with an outdated, lower estimate, the Coast Guard then disclosed a new estimate — that approximately 16,000 gallons of oil have been spotted in slicks over the past seven months. That is roughly six times higher than its 2013 estimate, of about 4,500 gallons a year, and 20 times higher than the figure cited by Taylor in a Feb. 19 court filing. The company hasn't disclosed the much larger leak estimate in any publicly accessible court filings.
In many reports over the years, there are glaring inconsistencies between the estimated size of the sheen and the corresponding volume calculation. While Taylor insists it has acted "responsibly" throughout its spill response, the pattern of dubious pollution reports makes it difficult to assess the company's reports of progress in controlling the leak. The response to Taylor's leak also reinforces how the government, lacking the industry's expertise and resources, often must rely on companies and their contractors to assess and contain offshore spills. A presidential commission that investigated BP's spill identified that as a weakness.
A Taylor spokesman declined to comment on AP's findings, but the company's lawyers have dismissed the Waterkeeper Alliance's lawsuit as a "sham" that shouldn't tarnish Patrick Taylor's legacy. Taylor, who died less than two months after Hurricane Ivan, is renowned in Louisiana for championing a program that has provided free state-paid college tuition to thousands of students. The company says oil released from the site now comes from the sediment around the wells, not the wells themselves; the Coast Guard statement says the source of the slicks is unknown.
Taking into account the reported change in estimation methods, AP's analysis doesn't show any statistically valid drop in sheen sizes or oil amounts over time. Sky Truth said the slick sizes should be steadily shrinking if the wells really are sealed and the recent sheens are residual oil oozing from the sediment. "The persistent size of the oil slicks we're seeing just don't jibe with those low leak-rate estimates we've seen from those officials." Gaps and complex variables in the data make it impossible to pinpoint how much oil has actually spilled. The operations coordinator for NOAA's Emergency Response Division, said estimating the volume of slicks is hindered by the difficulty of determining the thickness of the oil. Oil slicks from both natural and man-made sources are common in the Gulf of Mexico. Every year, millions of gallons of crude seep naturally from cracks in the seabed. Massive spills like BP's are rare, but offshore accidents often pollute the Gulf with smaller quantities of oil.
The Interior Department also says small leaks have been detected from abandoned wells that may have been unsuccessfully sealed by the companies that drilled them. A 2010 AP investigation revealed federal regulators weren't routinely inspecting more than 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf. Fumes sickened researchers during a boat trip to the site, even though they were wearing respirators. The slick stretches for several miles. "It's just amazing how much oil is there."


Middle Age Now Lasts Until ... 74 - Researchers from Vienna's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis contend that being considered elderly shouldn't rely on one's actual age, but on how long people are expected to live after retirement. The UK's Office for National Statistics estimates the average retiree may enjoy her golden years for up to 24 years after the standard UK retirement age of 65 (compared to just 15 years after retirement in the 1950s. Using a definition of old age that means someone has 15 or fewer years left to live, IIASA scientists then pegged that magic transitional age at 74.
And this trend is only expected to continue. "Older people in the future will have many characteristics exhibited by younger people today...There is a massive nine-year difference in average life expectancy between the poor and the affluent and a shocking 19-year difference in healthy life expectancy." These findings of extended longevity are relevant because they'll affect certain societal needs, such as collecting pensions and other senior perks, and help people design financial plans that work. Meanwhile, a Cardiff University professor advocates not focusing on age, but on living well. "It is important not just to live longer, but to live healthier."
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