Sunday, December 25, 2011

Updates will be erratic this week as I deal with an illness in my family.

Spectacular Christmas Comet Amazes Skywatchers in Chile - A stunning comet that survived a recent brush with the sun is amazing astronomers again, this time in dazzling new photos captured just before sunrise over Chile. The comet Lovejoy may not be the famed Star of Bethlehem, but it still provided a jaw-dropping sight when photographed rising ahead of the sun on Dec. 22 at Paranal Observatory in Chile's high Atacama Desert. Time-lapse photos of comet Lovejoy show it rising ahead of the sun as the Paranal astronomers fire a laser beam, which serves as a guide star, into the sky. The Milky Way galaxy and the moon are also visible in the images. "The tail of the comet was easily visible with the naked eye, and the combination of the crescent moon, comet, Milky Way and the laser guide star was nearly as impressive to the naked eye as it appears in the long-exposure photos."

**Faith is the strength by which a shattered world
shall emerge into the light.**
Helen Keller


This morning -
None 5.0 or higher.

Yesterday -
12/24/11 -

12/23/11 -

NEW ZEALAND - Aftershocks continue to rock Christchurch. Christmas is off to a shaky start for Christchurch residents, with no sign of aftershocks easing up. Ten quakes measuring between 2.9 and 3.7 which rocked the New Zealand city this morning were among almost 60 aftershocks since it was jolted by two quakes measuring 5.8 and 6.0 on Friday. The quakes cut power to about 26,000 homes and caused issues with water supply and wastewater.
It has been a "hellish" year for the city and its residents. The bill forecast for the prior quake damage is expected to be between $NZ20 billion ($15.3 billion) and $NZ30 billion ($23 billion). The new quakes will result in a reassessment of whether some areas should revert to the red zone, where damage is such that building repair is judged uneconomical. Reassessment has been welcomed by many Parklands residents, who spent much of yesterday cleaning up silt brought to the surface by liquefaction.
Quake renders parts of Christchurch liquid - A number of Christchurch residents want their neighbourhood to be condemned, as liquefaction following yesterday's earthquake forced another clean-up. Aftershocks continued to rock Christchurch today after quakes measuring 5.8 and 6.0 shook the nerves of many residents on Friday. The quakes cut power to about 26,000 homes and caused issues with water supply and wastewater, though most of those services were back to normal by late Saturday.
But cleaning up huge amounts of silt caused by liquefaction was the biggest problem for many residents in the suburb of Parklands, who have already faced this issue twice before. Soil liquefaction describes a phenomenon whereby a saturated soil substantially loses strength and stiffness in response to applied stress, usually earthquake shaking or other sudden change in stress condition, causing it to behave like a liquid.
“We've had enough. We can't keep doing this. This will happen again and again." The area was zoned orange at one point but later switched back to green, or inhabitable. But with further liquefaction, they called for it to be hoarsened red, or uninhabitable. A reassessment may be necessary. “It's possible that some of those boundaries might change and go into red, but wall need to take a closer look at that when we can properly assess it, which will probably be early in the new year." (photo)

In the Indian Ocean -
Tropical cyclone 03s (Grant) was located approximately 150 nm northeast of Darwin, Australia.

AUSTRALIA - Tropical Cyclone Grant is bringing winds up to 110 km/h to the Cobourg Peninsula in the Northern Territory and residents are being warned of dangerous storm tides when it crosses the coast. The weather bureau says the cyclone, which formed early on Christmas morning, is expected to cross the Cobourg peninsula on Christmas night and move into the Van Diemen Gulf on Boxing Day. Darwin is expected to escape its full force, but could still be hit by damaging winds.
Coastal residents on the north side of the Cobourg peninsula are warned to expect a dangerous storm tide as the cyclone centre crosses the coast, as well as damaging waves and dangerous flooding. Cyclone Grant tracked easterly in the early hours of Sunday. Remote McCluer Island in the Arafura Sea received gale force winds gusting up to 76km/h, he said. "It has been pretty wet and wild in that part of the world. It is reasonably good news for Darwin because it is tracking eastwards and the likelihood of gales (in Darwin) is diminished." Forecasters were considering the possibility that Cyclone Grant might continue to drift eastwards without crossing back over water. Under that scenario the cyclone could weaken considerably. However, the Bureau of Meteorology said it was possible it could intensify, in which case destructive winds with gusts to 130km/h might develop on Sunday night.
Authorities have warned people in the Northern Territory's Top End not to travel around after 6pm (CST) on Christmas Day, and to have cyclone kits ready in case of emergency but not to move to public emergency shelters until they are advised to do so. However, residents west of Goulburn Island as far as Snake Bay on Melville Island have been urged to take shelter immediately.


AUSTRALIA - Mini-tornadoes are accompanying severe thunderstorms and hail that have hit many parts of Melbourne today. HAILSTONES THE SIZE OF LEMONS have caused widespread damage across the city. a tornado has been reported near Fiskville, west of Melbourne, associated with the thunderstorms.
The worst of the city storms had passed by 8.15pm (AEDT), when a severe weather warning was cancelled. However, much of regional Victoria remained at risk, with severe thunderstorm warnings for a number of areas. And storm warnings have also been issued for southern New South Wales and the ACT. On Twitter, residents reported their suburbs had been pelted with hailstones, including one man who said a hailstone smashed through his car window on the Hume Highway. 90 per cent of the emergency calls concerned smashed windows and skylights, while the damage to cars from hailstones will be widespread and severe. "And anyone who doesn't need to be driving should stay off the road." Parts of Melbourne also faced the threat of flash-flooding.

Friday, December 23, 2011

There will be just a short update on Sunday, December 25.
Have a very Merry Christmas!

**The spirit of man is more important than mere physical strength,
and the spiritual fiber of a nation is more than its wealth.**
Dwight D. Eisenhower

This morning -

Yesterday -
12/22/11 -

NEW ZEALAND - The earthquake-devastated city of Christchurch has been rocked by two powerful 5.8 magnitude tremors, sending terrified residents onto the streets and forcing the airport to close. The first quake struck at 1.58 pm (11.58am AEDT) as stores were packed with Christmas shoppers, turning their festive mood into panic as stock fell from shelves. Local news media reported people fleeing in fear as the quake and a series of strong aftershocks rattled the city.
The second 5.8 quake came 70 minutes later as inner-city streets were gridlocked by people desperate to get home. "You can't underestimate the ongoing stress this has created for people." The city continues to recover from a 6.3-magnitude quake in February that killed 181 people and destroyed much of the downtown. One person was rushed to hospital after being injured in a shopping mall and the National Crisis Management Centre was activated. Telephone services were cut in many areas and electricity supplies disrupted, but police said there were no reports of other injuries or widespread damage. The international airport and shopping malls were evacuated and closed after the earthquake as a precautionary measure. People were urged to stay away from hill suburbs because of the risk of rockfalls. Two vacant properties were reported to have collapsed and liquefaction appeared in some of the suburbs worst hit in previous earthquakes. Scientists had warned last month of an increased probability that another powerful earthquake would hit Christchurch. "We knew to expect aftershocks and one in the range around about 6.0 was expected over the next 12 months and that appears to have arrived."
"It was violent, some are long and slow. This one was violent and then three or four aftershocks." "I was terrified, I guess just because it's been so long since we've had a decent one. We've had a TV and glasses fall over but no repeat of liquefaction (when earth becomes fluid) like in June, so I guess it's not so bad.'' The local power company confirmed there were power outages and phone lines were jammed. Twitter reports said household items were smashed as the quake was felt as far south as Dunedin. Government seismologists said both 5.8 quakes were shallow. The series of shakes are the largest to hit the region in about three months. New Zealand sits on the so-called "Ring of Fire'', the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, and experiences up to 15,000 tremors a year.


New Study: Eyjafjallajökull Eruption Health Hazard - The preliminary results of an extensive scientific study on the effects of the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull in south Iceland in April-June 2010 published earlier this month indicate that the eruption caused both physical complications and mental strain for local inhabitants.
While the eruption was still ongoing, authorities decided to carry out research on its impact on the health of south Iceland’s residents. A questionnaire was sent to all inhabitants of the region between Hvolsvöllur in the west to Öræfi in the east in the autumn of 2010. The response ratio was 71 percent. “The first conclusions show that there is a definite difference in symptoms from the respiratory organs: cough and mucus expectoration, discomfort, heaviness in the chest and other such symptoms, along with significant stress. You can sense that these people were under serious strain." Many of those who aren’t feeling well have already sought help. “One of the things the research showed was that those who feel worst are those who obtain the most assistance. We checked that and people are generally very satisfied with the support they have received.”

No current tropical storms.

Philippines floods: More than 1,000 remain missing - 1,079 people are still missing in the wake of the devastating Typhoon Washi. More than 1,000 others are known to have died in the storm, which struck Mindanao island on Saturday. Entire neighbourhoods in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities were swept away. The previous estimate for the missing was just 51 but officials say the new figure includes city migrant workers whose rural relatives did not immediately realise they were missing. The authorities acknowledge that the new number may still not be accurate. Entire families who were killed may still not be accounted for and some of the missing may also be counted among the unidentified dead. But it is clear that the scale of this disaster is far greater than the authorities originally thought.
The death toll from the disaster now stands at 1,080, the government says. Some 338,000 people have been affected and more than 10,000 homes damaged. Tens of thousands of people are now living in evacuation centres. Many of those who died were sleeping as Typhoon Washi caused rivers to burst their banks, leading to landslides.

Weather forecasters say a low pressure system off Australia's northern coast is expected to become a cyclone early on Christmas Day. A vast expanse of coast that includes Darwin and Arnham Land is on cyclone watch. It's a strange feeling waiting for a cyclone to arrive, a mix of adrenalin, anxiety, a little bit of excitement and a decent dose of fear.
Ex-tropical cyclone Fina may blow away plans for a Christmas on the beach, with strong winds and heavy swells set to hit the Fraser Coast at the weekend. It isexpected to whip up some dangerous surf conditions for the Sunshine Coast this Christmas. Swimmers and surfers are being urged to take care this weekend with rip-riddled eastern swell predicted to reach four metres. It has already brought big swells, strong winds to Illawarra coast. Ex-Tropical Cyclone Fina formed off the Queensland coast earlier this week.


Mystery of 6kg ball that fell from the sky - A handout photo provided by the National Forensic Science Institute shows a giant metallic ball of 1.1 metre in diameter weighing some 6 kilograms that fell out of the sky on a remote grassland in Namibia, prompting baffled authorities to contact NASA and the European space agency (ESA). It left locals baffled when it fell from the sky without explanation. Now police have notified Nasa and the European Space Agency of this mysterious metal ball, which landed in northern Namibia.
It weighs around 6 kilograms and has a circumference of 1.1metres. It left a hole 30cm deep and nearly 4 metres wide when it hit the ground. Locals claimed to have heard several explosions in the days before it was discovered by a farmer on his land. The noise could have been a sonic boom or just the sound of the object hitting the ground. The find sparked speculation on the internet that it could be proof of extra terrestrial life. However, a more likely theory is that it is a hydrazine tank, used on satellites to store the flammable chemical.
More tests needed to be done before any conclusions about its origins can be reached. The ball was discovered a month ago but it had only now been made public. It was said to be made from a “sophisticated material”, which appeared to be a “metallic compound normally used in space vehicles”. Police deputy inspector general said that the ball, which landed 480 miles from the Namibian capital Windhoek, did not pose any danger. "It is not an explosive device, but rather hollow, but we had to investigate all this first.” (photo)


A rush is on to determine if infant formula triggered a bacterial infection that killed one newborn and sickened another baby who were both treated at Missouri hospitals.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Russia's troubled Phobos-Grunt probe, stuck in the wrong orbit for more than a month, appears to be headed for a fiery and uncontrolled fall back to Earth early next month. Tracking experts are predicting that Phobos-Grunt will re-enter Earth's atmosphere on Jan. 9, 2012, but at present, the forecast includes an uncertainty of plus or minus 5 1/2 days. Some analysts are even suggesting that the spacecraft could see its demise as early as Jan. 1 or 2.
Meanwhile, the uncontrolled tumble of Phobos-Grunt into Earth's atmosphere is being eyed as a possible way to sharpen computer tools to more accurately calculate re-entry predictions. Since 1998, the IADC has performed re-entry prediction tests. Data-sharing between countries has helped hone skills to more precisely calculate the re-entries of spacecraft, rocket stages and even discarded hardware from the International Space Station. If Phobos-Grunt is a new target, it will be the third tracking campaign in 12 months — a record for the IADC. This year the agency monitored the uncontrolled re-entry of NASA’s defunct Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite on Sept. 24, followed by the downfall of Germany’s dead Roentgen Satellite (ROSAT) on Oct. 23. The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft tips the scale at nearly 14 tons. The probe is full of several tons of propellant — a hefty load of toxic hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide fuel. This propellant, which would have sent Phobos-Grunt toward Mars, was left unused after a malfunction with the probe's engines stranded it in Earth orbit instead. Debris analysts in the U.S. point to Russian statements that the propellant tanks onboard Phobos-Grunt are made of aluminum, not heat-resistant titanium. As such, any propellant — frozen or unfrozen — should "burn up" or dissipate during the re-entry process. But components of the spacecraft are expected to reach the Earth’s surface — including the probe’s sample-return capsule. The nose cone-shaped hardware was designed to transport specimens of Phobos to Earth, and it was built to speed through Earth’s atmosphere and make a crash- landing at a recovery site, without a parachute.
Still to be seen is how Russian space officials plan to advise the public regarding the death throes of Phobos-Grunt and what leftovers might reach Earth’s surface. "After ROSAT came down over the Indian Ocean … there was widespread relief." ROSAT carried an X-ray telescope with heat-resistant components. This encouraged the view that larger parts could survive re-entry, and might pose a risk to people and objects on the ground. "It seems unlikely that Phobos-Grunt will somehow be rescued at this point. The last efforts were tied to a period where the orbit [of Phobos-Grunt] would have the spacecraft in sunlight throughout its orbit, raising hopes that it might have the power necessary to establish communications. But given the large dishes they've used in this effort and the lack of communications, we're left to await yet another re-entry. I hate to say it, but we're already working the 'death' watch here. The bottom line is that there is very little chance of anything reaching the ground and even if it did, it would likely do so over some ocean."
So, with the prospect of a third large spacecraft falling to Earth within the span of about four months, should the public be concerned? "People should not panic. Space debris is re-entering all the time, including fairly large rocket bodies. However, the public should not be completely dismissive of the threat that space debris poses, either." ROSAT, for example, fell just short of the Asian continent and landed in the Bay of Bengal. An incident in 1978 involving the former Soviet Union's nuclear-energized Cosmos 954 hurtled into a wilderness area of Canada. The clean-up operation from that fall was a coordinated event between the United States and Canada, with an estimated recovery of about 0.1 percent of Cosmos 954's power source. "If that spacecraft had completed just a couple of more orbits it may have landed in the continental United States. There was also the incident with [NASA’s] Skylab where debris from the falling space station fell onto the Australian town of Esperance."
"One of the uncertainties surrounding Phobos-Grunt is the lack of hard technical information about the spacecraft. If Roscosmos provided hard data about the construction of the spacecraft, including the construction of the propellant tanks, it might allay concerns about the danger the spacecraft poses." There is some question about the Chinese orbiter Yinghou 1 — a hitchhiking payload attached to Phobos-Grunt. There is little, if any, technical data about its construction and composition, including any potentially hazardous materials that might survive re-entry. "There is a lot of talk about international cooperation, and, in fact, the U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center is providing Roscosmos with orbital information via a transparency and confidence-building measure signed by the United States and the Russian federation specifically for the purpose of providing such information for space situational awareness." The signed measure was a result of discussions that arose following the collision of a U.S. satellite and Russian satellite in February 2009.

**I love those who can smile in trouble,
who can gather strength from distress,
and grow brave by reflection.
'Tis the business of little minds to shrink,
but they whose heart is firm,
and whose conscience approves their conduct,
will pursue their principles unto death.**
Leonardo da Vinci

This morning -
None 5.0 or higher.

Yesterday -
12/21/11 -


First debris from Japanese earthquake/tsunami reaches Olympic Peninsula in Washington - The first piece of debris that could be identified as washing up on the West Coast from the March 11 tsunami in Japan — a large black float — was found on a Neah Bay beach two weeks ago. Since then, the two researchers, known as DriftBusters Inc. — who have used flotsam to track wind and water currents in the Pacific since 1970 — have learned that the black, 55-gallon drum-sized floats also have been found on Vancouver Island.
Tons of debris washed out to sea when a tsunami struck northern Japan after the massive magnitude-9.0 earthquake March 11. About a quarter of the 100 million tons of debris from Japan is expected to make landfall on beaches from southern Alaska to California, possibly in volumes large enough to clog ports. Debris will be snagged by currents leading into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and that a large portion of it will end up on beaches from the mouth of the Elwha River to Port Townsend. Many ocean models have shown that the massive congregation of flotsam that washed away from devastated Japanese coastal cities is in the middle of the Pacific and won’t make landfall in the U.S. for another year or two. Most of it is exactly where those models predicted, but those models don’t take into account wind and flotsam with large areas exposed to the wind.
Flotsam in a current travels an average of seven miles per hour, but it can move as much as 20 mph if it has a large area exposed to the wind.
The black floats are seen in the middle of the Pacific by the hundreds, and are not something that has been seen on Eastern Pacific beaches before. The floats are included in masses of black blobs supporting huge rafts of debris that include fishing boats, houses and possibly human bodies. Many of those bodies and parts of bodies will likely begin washing up in about a year, some simply as feet in athletic shoes, similar to those found in Puget Sound over the last decade. Athletic shoes make the perfect floats to preserve parts of bodies, and there are still thousands of people missing from tsunami-stricken areas of Japan. If the debris has any kind of identifiable marking, such as numbers or Japanese writing, it may be traceable. “All debris should be treated with a great reverence and respect." Families in Japan are waiting to hear of any items that may have been associated with their loved ones and may travel to the U.S. to meet those who found these mementos. Items that wash up may include portions of houses, boats, ships, furniture, portions of cars and just about anything else that floats. The rafts of debris include whole houses which may still contain many personal items, and the Japanese are known for storing important personal mementos in walls. Even the smallest of traceable items may be the only thing associated with one of those people who were lost during the disaster.
Some shipping lanes have already been rerouted to avoid the worst of the debris. People should also be aware of the possibility of radiation contamination. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant leaked a large amount of radiation into the water in the wake of the tsunami, and no one knows what levels of contamination there are in the currents, and the items being carried in those currents. The event was unprecedented, and no one knows yet what levels of radiation, if any, items have picked up.

No current tropical storms.

Two cyclones expected to form off Australia this week - Two tropical lows off northern Australia could develop into cyclones in coming days, but pose no immediate threat to mining and crop regions devastated by cyclones and flooding in early 2011. The two lows off the coast of Queensland state and the Northern Territory were travelling east and north respectively and were not forecast to touch land, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology warned on Wednesday. The low in the Coral Sea, about 1,100 kms (680 miles)off north Queensland, was expected to develop into a cyclone in the next 12 to 18 hours. "At this stage we do not expect to have any direct impact on the Queensland coast." Far north Queensland is home to some of the world's biggest deposits of bauxite, as well as alumina, aluminium, copper and nickel making facilities. If the storm maintained its predicted course southeast of Australia it could potentially pose a threat to the French territory of New Caledonia later in the week. In the sparsely-populated Northern Territory, a monsoon trough 250 kms (155 miles) off the coast of Darwin will develop into a tropical low, and there is a 50 to 100 percent chance of a cyclone developing by Friday.
Australia is bracing for a higher than normal number of cyclones over its November-April tropical storm season due to the presence of a La Nina weather pattern. The first cyclone of the season, named Alenga, developed earlier this month in the Indian Ocean off the west coast but dissipated before nearing land. A barrage of cyclones and tropical storms during the last storm season flooded collieries and halted iron ore mining while ripping apart sugar and wheat crops, driving up commodities prices around the world.


U.S. - A family has been rescued from a car that had been buried in a snowdrift for almost two days on a rural highway in the US state of New Mexico. Rescuers had to dig through 1.2 metres of ice and snow to free the family, whose four-wheel drive got stuck on a highway when a blizzard moved through the area on Tuesday. The parents and their five-year-old daughter were clinging to each other and lethargic when they were found at 2.45am local time Wednesday. State police say they got a distress call and launched a search for the family yesterday. They were among 32 vehicles state police and guardsmen rescued from the storm, but they were the only ones who police say needed medical attention. The family, from Texas, was recovering in hospital today.


AUSTRALIA - HOTTEST DECEMBER DAY ON RECORD. Pilbara residents in Western Australia are bracing for another searing day after Roebourne Airport recorded a sizzling 49C - the hottest December day on record in WA. Mardie shared the scorching 49C top with Roebourne Airport, with the overnight temperature dipping to just 28.4C at 5.37am in Mardie. The temperature dropped to just 27.4C at Roebourne Airport at 5.32am. Pilbara residents can expect another scorcher today after sweltering through yesterday's stifling near 50C heat. By 10am, at least two centres, Mardie and Onslow Airport, had topped 46C. A Severe fire danger warning has been issued for the Gascoyne and coastal parts of the Pilbara, with extreme temperatures and hot dry winds forecast. By 8am today, temperatures had already soared towards 40C across much of the region, with Mardie recording a staggering 42.6C at 8.03am. By 9am it was 44C. Onslow was also baking with the temperature hitting 45.2C just after 9.30am at the airport, a few kilometres inland from the town. Marble Bar, Australia's hottest town, officially recorded a high of 48.4C yesterday and can expect 47C today. After an overnight minimum of 30.5C at 4.20am, the temperature had risen to 39.8C at 10.25am. Roebourne is tipped to get another scorcher today of 45C.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Philippines - The official death toll from last week's massive flash flooding in two southern Philippine cities topped 1000 on Wednesday as authorities said they lost count of how many more were missing. The latest tally showed a total of 1,002 have been confirmed dead, including 650 in Cagayan de Oro and an additional 283 in nearby Iligan city. The rest came from several other southern and central provinces. A tropical storm swept through the area Friday night and unleashed flash floods in the middle of the night that caught most of the victims in their sleep. "There were many lessons learned by the people who did not listen to national and local governments, but this is not the time to put the blame on them."

**Mastering others is strength.
Mastering yourself is true power.**
Lao Tzu

This morning -
None 5.0 or higher.

Yesterday -
12/20/11 -


Volcanic Eruption in the Red Sea (Yemen) reported - According to local news, a volcano erupted near Saba Island in the Red Sea on Monday, December 19. The report comes from fishermen from Salif, a port city in western Yemen. They reported seeing lava fountains rising 20-30 meter which could be seen from "3 hours" (sailing time) away. The likely source of the eruption, if the reports are true, could be one of the islands Zubair islands: Jebel Zubair, Centre Peak, Saba, or Haycock island, which form a small archipelago 30 miles (50 km) west of Salif. The islands belong to a mostly submerged, active shield volcano located on the Red Sea rift axis.
The fishermen are said that "this was the first volcano they ever seen in the region", which is not surprising as the last activity of the volcano was an eruption in 1824. At the moment, the report remains a bit questionable: no thermal anomaly or ash clouds are visible on satellite data. This could indicate that either the eruption was extremely short and small, or (more likely) that there something else happened (military action, fire etc) which was mistaken by untrained distant observers for lava fountains. On the other hand, volcanic eruptions on the Red Sea rift are nothing unusual, although the remoteness of the area often prevents observation.
[In 2007, a volcanic eruption off the Red Sea coast of Yemen spewed lava hundreds of metres into the air on October 1 and at least nine people were missing at sea. The eruption occurred on Jazirt Mount al-Tair, an island about 140 kilometres from Yemen. Several earthquakes were felt on the island, triggering the eruption. The entire three-kilometre-long island was aglow with lava as it poured into the sea.]

No current tropical storms.

Two cyclones are brewing off the Australian coast and one is less than 300 kilometres from Darwin. A cyclone over the Coral Sea is unlikely to cause any major problems, but a tropical low forming off the Northern Territory coast, 250km from Darwin, is unpredictable. The tropical low DOES NOT FIT ANY WEATHER MODELS and it is a case of waiting to see if it became more aggressive and in which direction it will travel. It will move in a northerly direction over the few days but after that "where it heads and how intense it becomes is unpredictable. None of the models, which help us forecast the movement and intensity of weather systems, agree where it's going to be or what intensity. The one thing the models do agree on is it is going to intensify over the next few days. There is a chance it will form a cyclone ... and if it does, we don't know where it's going to move."
Up to 16 cyclones are expected this summer. The one forming over the Coral Sea will be the second in recent weeks and will track south between Australia and New Caledonia. "It's 1000 kilometres off the coast. There's already been one in the Indian Ocean so this one will be the second, and a third tropical low (off the Northern Territory coast) may be number three." The northern part of Australia typically experiences cyclones each season, which lasts until April. On Christmas Eve in 1974, Cyclone Tracy devastated much of Darwin and killed 71 people.

The authorities in the southern Philippines are struggling to deal with the aftermath of devastating flooding brought by Typhoon Washi. More than 1,000 people are dead or missing after the weekend's disaster - many people were washed out to sea. Mass burials have been carried out in some areas, while there is anger than some bodies have been stored at dumps. There are concerns that disease could begin spreading in the shelters where thousands of survivors are now living. The President said officials have an obligation to find out why so many people died and why no proper disaster plans were in place. "If we want this tragedy to be the last of its kind, we need to learn from our mistakes." Although there are detailed disaster-preparedness plans in other parts of the Philippines, there is a sense that this was lacking in the region where the storms hit.
Officials say the final death toll is likely to pass 1,000, with bodies still being recovered at sea. Some 338,000 were affected and more than 10,000 homes damaged. About 40,000 people on Mindanao, many of whom were already desperately poor, are now living in evacuation centres after losing their homes and possessions. The centres have become severely overcrowded, with signs of disease beginning to appear. "It's really a struggle to manage those evacuation centres, there's a shortage of water and a shortage of food." Questions are also being asked about whether illegal logging on the coastal hillsides worsened the scale of the disaster. The UN Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction said the disaster showed that more must be done "to ensure early warning systems are effective in an age when climate change is intensifying the impact of typhoons". (map)


The death toll in a cold wave sweeping through northern India has risen to 39. The majority of deaths were in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Punjab and Haryana are among the other northern states badly hit. Most deaths take place among the homeless and the elderly. Last week, the country's Supreme Court ordered states to provide adequate night shelters for the homeless during the winter. "You should not allow even a single person to die this winter from the freezing cold." Heavy fog and a cold wind have disrupted life across northern India with sub-zero temperatures in Indian-administered Kashmir. The capital, Delhi, is also in the throes of a cold snap, with temperatures dipping to 2.3C and fog disrupting flight schedules. The cold wave has forced schools to shut in the state of Bihar until 25 December. An official from the meteorological department said the cold weather would continue for a number of days.

U.S. - A massive winter storm blamed for at least six deaths made travel nearly impossible in parts of the central United States. "Blizzard conditions that caused fatal accidents and rendered highways impassable in five states crawled deeper into the Great Plains early Tuesday (local time). Hotels filled up quickly along major roadways from eastern New Mexico to Kansas, and nearly 100 rescue calls came in from motorists in the Texas Panhandle." Snow drifts reached three metres in parts of Colorado after strong winds whipped at the 38 centimetres of snow had fallen since the storm began on Monday. Parts of New Mexico were blanketed by 61 centimetres of snow while Kansas got up to 30 centimetres by overnight. While the heaviest snowfall had mostly ended by midday on Tuesday (local time), blizzard conditions continued in many areas as strong winds of up to 80km/h whipped up heavy white flakes.


Hong Kong has raised its bird flu alert level to "serious" and announced it is to cull 17,000 chickens after three birds, including a dead chicken from a marketplace, tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus. Officials banned all live poultry imports. The other two birds that tested positive for H5N1 were an Oriental magpie robin and a black-headed gull. The "serious" response level covers two scenarios, the less serious of which involves a highly pathogenic avian flu outbreak in the environment of or among poultry, as is the case today. (The second scenario involves a human case with no evidence of person-to-person transmission.) Hong Kong was the site of the first known outbreak of H5N1 in people in 1997, when 18 were infected and six died.

Hospital bath basins commonly contaminated with drug-resistant pathogens - Hospital bath basins — those portable, rectangular plastic bins used in hospital rooms — are often contaminated with common pathogens, many of which are drug-resistant. Researchers swabbed 1,103 basins from 88 US and Canadian hospitals during a 44-month study. The basins were from regular wards, medical-surgical wards, and intensive care units. They were rinsed with tap water and soap between uses, per infection-control guidelines, were not disinfected, but no basins were shared between patients. Of the basins tested, 686 (62%) were contaminated with at least one of the three pathogen tested for: 39% with one, 22% with two, and 2% with all three. All hospitals had contaminated bath basins. The authors conclude, "The use of basins should be limited to the extent possible, to eliminate a potentially hazardous environmental reservoir for serious nosocomial pathogens...Medical equipment and supplies should not be stored in basins."

Unused restroom paper towels may also harbor harmful bacteria - Canadian researchers found that unused paper towels in restrooms can harbor potentially harmful bacteria and that bacteria can be passed on to hands or hospital gloves after hand washing. The scientists tested six brands of restroom-quality paper towels and found bacteria of the Bacillus genus to be the most abundant microorganisms detected, on 83% of towels, followed by Paenibacillus (16%), Exiguobacterium (1.6%), and Clostridium (0.01%). They also found that paper towels made from recycled fibers harbored 100- to 1,000-fold more bacteria than those made from virgin wood. In addition, they found the bacteria were "easily transferred" to nitrile gloves after hand washing but not through airborne routes. "This study demonstrates that a diverse community of culturable bacteria contaminates unused paper towels and that some of these bacterial strains may be toxin producers."

New England seal deaths caused by H3N8 - Scientists studying a string of deaths in 162 seals since September off the New England coast have confirmed H3N8 influenza in five of the dead seals. "This H3N8 virus is usually associated with wild birds, and a separate group of H3N8 infects horses and dogs. This is the FIRST TIME that a virus which is similar to the H3N8 avian influenza virus has been associated with a large-scale mortality in marine mammals...We are now conducting tests on additional animals to learn more about the role this virus may have played in the die-off and to better understand the virus itself." In the meantime, the agency warned people to stay away from seals in distress, keep pets away, and call an NOAA hotline.

Two more sickened in ground beef Salmonella outbreak - Two more patients have been sickened in a Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak linked to a grocery store chain's ground beef, raising the total to 16. On Dec 15, Hannaford, a Maine-based chain, recalled an undetermined amount of its fresh, in-store ground beef after epidemiologic investigations into 14 illnesses with the same genetic fingerprint found a link to the products. The CDC said the patients are from seven different states: four each from Maine, New Hampshire, and New York, and one each from Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Initial tests suggest the outbreak strain is resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics, which could increase the risk of hospitalization or treatment failure. Among 13 cases with available information, 7 patients were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Eleven of the 16 patients said they ate ground beef the week before they got sick, and all but one reported buying ground beef from Hannaford stores. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said the company's sparse records were making it difficult to identify the companies that supplied the beef.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'Fountains' of methane bubbling to surface in Arctic - Russian research team shocked and astonished as retreat of Arctic sea ice releases deadly greenhouse gas. Dramatic and UNPRECEDENTED plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.
The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years. He said that he HAS NEVER BEFORE WITNESSED THE SCALE AND FORCE OF THE METHANE BEING RELEASED from beneath the Arctic seabed. "Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing. I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them."
Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.
The team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were about eight million tonnes a year, but the latest expedition suggests this is a significant underestimate of the phenomenon. "In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed. We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal."

**Because your own strength is unequal to the task,
do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man;
but if anything is within the powers and province of man,
believe that it is within your own also.**
Marcus Aurelius

This morning -

Yesterday -
12/19/11 -


El Hierro volcano (Canary Islands, Spain) - The submarine eruption south of El Hierro is still going on, but there are signs that the magma supply has dropped significantly. Most likely, the eruption which now has lasted over 2 months is approaching its end. Volcanic tremor has decreased a lot.

In the Western Pacific -
Tropical depression 27w (Washi) was located approximately 235 nm east of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The final warning on this system has been issued.

As the death toll from flash floods produced by Tropical Storm Washi rose Monday to 927, officials in the southern Philippines turned their attention to survivors and the threat of disease in crowded evacuation centers. Tropical storm Washi MAY BE THE DEADLIEST STORM TO STRIKE THE GLOBE IN 2011. With funeral parlors overwhelmed, authorities in a flood-stricken southern Philippine city organized the first mass burial of unidentified victims who were swept to their deaths in ONE OF THE WORST CALAMITIES TO STRIKE THE REGION IN DECADES.
On Friday night, the compact but deadly tropical storm Washi swept across the central and southern Philippines killing hundreds. Scores of people are unaccounted for and thousands homeless. Although Washi was not an especially intense storm with peak winds of just 45-55 mph, the torrential rains and resulting mudslides caught the especially vulnerable region offguard. "Since the rains fell on regions where the natural forest had been illegally logged or converted to pineapple plantations, the heavy rains were able to run off quickly on the relatively barren soils and create devastating flash floods. Since the storm hit in the middle of the night, and affected an unprepared population that had no flood warning system in place, the death toll was tragically high."
The storm struck a region unaccustomed to tropical storms and rain of that intensity. "The areas hit hardest in the Philippines HAD NEVER SEEN SUCH WIDESPREAD DAMAGE OR HEAVY RAIN IN THEIR LIFETIME. Thousands of people had to climb up on the roofs of their houses as flood waters rose nearly three feet in one hour. People were swept out to sea while others were buried alive in mudslides due to the higher elevation in the area. The mayor of Iligan said, “It’s THE WORST FLOOD IN THE HISTORY OF OUR CITY. It happened so fast.” The region received 7-8 inches of rain from the quick-hitting storm, compared to an average of about 2” for the entire month of December. In addition to the lives lost, 7,000 houses were swept away, destroyed or damaged. About 40,000 people on the island of Mindanao (in the southern Philippines) are living in evacuation centres.
Washi, known in the Philippines as Sendong, may be the deadliest storm to strike any place in the world in 2011. Until Washi, the deadliest global weather disaster had been Brazil’s flash flood in January, which claimed 902 lives.

Monday, December 19, 2011

This past week, U.S. federal weather forecasters announced their predictions for the beginning of 2012. - They say the first three months of 2012 will see warmer than normal temperatures in the eastern U.S. and the opposite out west. The weather predictions are based on the continued effects of the La Nina weather phenomenon.
The effects of Texas' prolonged drought on the state's cattle industry were apparent this week. The state's cattle population has dropped by 12 percent since the beginning of 2011, totaling a loss of 600,000 cows. Heavy winds continued in the United Kingdom this week, with gusts of up to 70 miles per hour hitting some coastal areas of Southern England. Hurricane Irene recovery in Vermont and New Hampshire continues. ( pictures of extreme weather from around the world in the past week)

**You have power over your mind - not outside events.
Realize this, and you will find strength.**
Marcus Aurelius

This morning -

Yesterday -
12/18/11 -

In the Western Pacific -
Tropical Storm 27w (Washi) was located approximately 360 nm east-southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

PHILIPPINES - Tropical Storm Washi blew away devastated a wide swath of the southern Philippines with flash floods that turned two coastal cities into a muddy wasteland filled with overturned cars and uprooted trees. A mass burial has been organised for scores of people killed by the flash floods on the southern island of Mindanao. Coastal communities were devastated early on Saturday in flash floods triggered by the tropical storm that coincided with high tides. 652 people were killed and another 808 people are still missing. As rivers burst their banks, many were trapped in their homes while in other areas entire villages are reported to have been swept away. Authorities are facing criticism for not giving enough warning of the storm's severity.
Damaged roads are hampering efforts to reach survivors in remote villages. The ports of Iligan and nearby Cagayan de Oro bore the brunt of the flooding. Funeral parlours have been overwhelmed by the catastrophe.
Officials in Cagayan de Oro said corpses were piling up unclaimed at mortuaries and overworked staff had run out of coffins. About 35,000 people are sheltering in evacuation centres. The government says survivors are in desperate need of fresh water, shelter and medicine. Although the Philippines is struck by several typhoons and tropical storms every year, the south of the country usually escapes the worst damage. (map)

MALAYSIA - Tropical storm Washi, that battered southern Philippines over the weekend, is moving towards Sabah and Sarawak and is expected to cause thunderstorms, rough seas and strong winds.
The rough weather is expected to last till Thursday. The storm was moving westwards from Palawan, Philippines towards the waters of Labuan and Kudat, Sabah, the west coast and interior districts as well as parts of Sarawak. Waves of more than 5.5 metres high were also forecast for peninsular Malaysia's east coast, leaving it vulnerable to rising sea levels until Saturday.

THAILAND - Tropical storm Washi is expected to wreak havoc in southern Thailand. The storm was forecast to move through the lower South China Sea and weaken before hitting the coast of Malaysia by Wednesday. This would result in more torrential rains in the South, particularly in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Songkhla, and Phatthalung provinces, with rough seas expected in the Gulf of Thailand until Thursday.
A weather front that was causing cold spells in upper Thailand had brought about heavy rains in the lower South for days which had triggered floods and landslides in several areas. At least two major incidents of landslides were reported in Songkhla on Sunday, one in Rattaphum and the other in Krasae Sin districts.
No injuries were reported in the latest landslides. About 200 families in Phatthalung's Khuan Khanun district had been affected by flooding for five days, while fresh flash floods were reported in Trang's Muang district.
Authorities warn that worse may be on the way. The impact of the high weather pressure combined with the influence of a low pressure zone in the South China Sea will result in heavier rains in certain areas. Small boats were advised to stay ashore for a few days. The Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office, meanwhile, has declared 8,724 villages in 11 provinces in the North and the Northeast as areas stricken by the cold weather. The high weather pressure coming from China will continue to cause temperature drops of between 2C and 3C and strong winds in these provinces


U.S. Southwest, plains face blizzard warnings in big storm - The panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma were placed under a blizzard warning on Sunday as the Southwest and plains states braced for two days of bitter cold, heavy snow, rain and high winds. The storm is expected to produce up to 16 inches of snow and wind gusting to 50 mph in the first major snowstorm of the winter for Texas and Oklahoma. A blizzard watch was also in effect until Tuesday for parts of Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas, with high winds and up to a more than a foot of snow expected across the region. The storm was expected to edge into the mountains of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado before heading east on Sunday night or this morning. By tonight, conditions further east in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles are expected to have deteriorated so much that officials warned motorists to stay off the roads. The mix of rain and snow will move into the Chicago and Detroit areas on Tuesday, forecasters said. In Guymon, in the Oklahoma Panhandle, emergency management officials met on Sunday to go over storm preparations. With wind gusts up to 50 mph predicted, blowing snow could cause problems. "It's unbelievable. Right now it's 65 degrees. Tomorrow we're expecting to have our snow boots on."

Alaska's storm listed among most significant events for November - The massive “extratropical cyclone” that walloped Bering Sea and Northwestern Alaska communities with high winds and blizzard conditions last month was named one of the eight significant climate events to strike the United States in November. Winds gusted to over 80 mph and the storm surge topped 8 feet, marking THE STRONGEST STORM TO IMPACT THE REGION IN DECADES." Other startling U.S. weather developments that month included a tornado that struck Oklahoma, RECORD WARMTH in some New England states and the third most active hurricane season on record.
Alaska's storm began as an intense low pressure system that formed southeast of Japan on Nov. 7 and grew stronger and more intense as it rolled across the North Pacific toward Alaska’s Aleutian frontier. As this cyclone whirled into position, the storm’s interior pressure dropped 50 millibars in 24 hours to a minimum of 944 millibars — comparable to a Category 1 hurricane. “Waves to 35 feet and 100 mph winds were recorded offshore as the storm approached. Hurricane force winds and blizzard conditions affected coastal Alaska. Storm surges of up to 10 feet affected communities along Alaska’s west coast - causing flooding, some structural damage and property loss...An ice zone connected to land had not yet developed to lessen the impact of large waves striking the coast.” NOAA reported the state saw the sixth coolest temperatures since 1918. Overall, 2011 has delivered almost exactly average temperatures to the Far North state — the 43rd coldest of the past 94 years. Despite lots of snow in southern Alaska, November was the 41st driest in the record, with 2011 giving the state the 41st driest January-November since 1918.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

**A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.
Forests are the lungs of our land,
purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.**
Franklin D. Roosevelt

This morning -
None 5.0 or higher.

Yesterday -
12/17/11 -

12/16/11 -

12/15/11 -

PUERTO RICO - Two strong earthquakes struck Puerto Rico within minutes of each other. The quakes, with magnitudes of 5.1 and 5.2 respectively, occurred three minutes apart just after 2am local time early Saturday in the Mona Passage, just to the west of the island. A smaller aftershock was reported a few minutes later, and all were felt in the capital, San Juan. The 5.1 quake was recorded at a depth of 14 kilometres, while the 5.3 quake occurred at a depth of 17 kilometres. No tsunami alert was issued.
Some residents in the island's southwest region reported power outages as well as broken items around the house. No injuries have been reported. There were no immediate reports of damage in the neighbouring Dominican Republic.


INDONESIA - Villagers Facing Cold Lava Flood in Gamalama. Mount Gamalama in Ternate, Maluku Province, is still erupting. Residents around the area are now worried about cold lava flood. “The chance of cold lava flooding is increased because of rising rainfalls." Residents were warned to stay away from Disaster-prone Area III and II due to the possible hot clouds. Cold lava flood threatens Disaster-prone Area I.
“Currently, there are 646 households or 2,731 people evacuated in nine evacuation posts." There are no fatalities from the eruption. Mount Gamalama erupted on December 4 around 10.25 a.m. It was raining in North Maluku and the power was out when the eruption took place. However, there were no material losses from the eruption. The eruption had disturbed flights between Manado and Ternate. However, on Sunday, Dec 11, Manado-Ternate flights were reopened.

In the Western Pacific -
Tropical Storm 27w (Washi) was located approximately 630 nm east of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

600 dead as flooding ravages Philippines - Tropical storm Washi has unleashed widespread floods across southern Philippines. whipped the southern Philippines, unleashing mammoth floods across vast areas of the country. The cities of Cagayan de Oro and nearby Iligan on Mindanao island were worst hit when Typhoon Wasi slammed ashore while people slept late on Friday and early Saturday, sending torrents of water and mud through villages and stripping mountainsides bare. Relief workers said that 440 people had died and nearly 200 left missing after the storm wreaked havoc, destroying whole neighbourhoods.
About 20,000 soldiers had been mobilised in a huge rescue and relief operation across the stricken north coast of the island of Mindanao. Iligan's mayor described rampaging floodwaters from swollen rivers that swamped up to a quarter of the land area of the city of 100,000. "It's the worst flood in the history of our city. It happened so fast, at a time when people were fast asleep." The TV station showed dramatic pictures of a family escaping out of the window of their home in the town as the floods rose, and rescue workers in orange vests shepherding survivors to safety above chest-deep waters.
The President expressed concern at the extent of the tragedy and ordered government agencies to map out areas in the country most vulnerable to future flash floods. "These areas will be at risk every year... The first (step in) mitigation has to be relocation from these areas." The head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said Mindanao residents were warned about the dangers posed by the storm days earlier but elected not to move to safer areas. Mindanao was rarely visited by storms, even as 20 major storms strike the Philippines annually, with most hitting Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Southeast Asian archipelago. "We expect huge damage, especially on agriculture." An Iligan resident recounted how she and her children watched in terror from their rooftop as the floodwaters swallowed up the neighbourhood. "All the small houses behind ours were destroyed, and many of my neighbours are missing."
Waters began rising shortly before midnight (1600 GMT Friday) as people slept, sweeping houses made of light materials and their inhabitants along the riverbanks. "Many of them told me they sought refuge on their rooftops." Two of the three rivers that flow into the port of Iligan had overflowed, and a popular radio commentator was among those killed. Most of the dead were asleep Friday night when raging floodwaters tore through their homes from swollen rivers and cascaded from mountain slopes following 12 hours of pounding rain in the southern Mindanao region. Many of the bodies in parlours were unclaimed, indicating that entire families had perished. More than 4000 people in flooded areas were moved to evacuation centres. Two typhoons, Nesat and Nalgae, hit the country within days of each other from late September, leaving more than 100 people dead, while tropical storm Banyan killed another eight people in October.


A storm has battered north-western France, leaving hundreds of thousands without power, disrupting rail traffic and grounding a ship that spilled oil off the coast of Brittany. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or significant damage as storm Joachim moved further inland to Switzerland and Germany. France had escaped largely unscathed. "It seems there have been no victims. A certain number" of people living in low-lying areas in Brittany had been evacuated because of the storm."
Officials said 400,000 homes had lost electricity, mainly in the west of the country. By mid-day, the number of homes without electricity had fallen to 330,000 as workers scrambled to restore electricity infrastructure.
The storm had been battering the area since Thursday night, with gusts of wind of up to 133km/h and waves up to 7m high. The storm caused a cargo ship to run aground and spill some oil into the sea off Brittany. Train traffic was disrupted, with more than 15 trains cancelled in central France and significant delays. The storm was moving its way inland, with Swiss authorities reporting it caused a train to derail in Switzerland, lightly injuring three people.

NEW ZEALAND - Residents of a New Zealand town will be evacuated as floods inundate the area following THE WORST RAINFALL IN 40 YEARS. Supplies are being delivered to residents in Cable Bay, near Nelson at the top of the South Island, who are expected to be isolated by road for weeks, while others in the area are unable to return to their homes as waters rise. Civil Defence says it will take two to three weeks to clear roads to Cable Bay, where power is still out, affecting 45 residents. The state of emergency is expected to remain in place until next week.
"A top priority is to clear arterial routes and to reach isolated communities." An aerial inspection of the Maitai pipeline, which supplies water to the city of Nelson, revealed eight slips but they are not disrupting supply and are being monitored. There have been 230 slips in Nelson. An aerial inspection has revealed extensive damage to homes in Ligar Bay, Wainui Bay and Pohara Valley. Access will be restored to Tata Bay on Saturday but there is still no access from Tata Bay to Wainui Bay and beyond to Totaranui. About 90 residents and Department of Conservation staff are stranded in Totaranui but they have water and supplies and access to water taxis. Building inspectors are visiting homes and are putting red stickers on unsafe houses, as they did after the Christchurch earthquakes.


Melting Permafrost Could Release Greenhouse Gases - Long trapped inside permafrost, stores of methane and carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gases, have been held in thrall for millennia. As temperatures rise globally, the organic matter that is trapped in the frozen soil is at risk of thawing, decaying and releasing these gases. Although the frozen carbon isn’t a surprise, the volume of organic debris is. “A recent estimate suggests that the perennially frozen ground known as permafrost, which underlies nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, contains TWICE AS MUCH CARBON AS THE ENTIRE ATMOSPHERE."
Even if the permafrost has not thawed, at least some of the still-frozen carbon could be losing its stability. The fear is that accelerating the entry of carbon into the atmosphere could compound the warming process. And, although it would not happen overnight, it could be unstoppable once it began. In 2009 a Canadian scientist and his team estimated that there were about 1.7 trillion tons of carbon in those permafrost regions and that 88 percent of it was frozen. Researchers at the Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) studied the effect that a thawed-out Arctic would have on overall climate health and found that one- to two-thirds of that permafrost will be gone by 2200. Indigenous populations worldwide are of course already seeing the effects of climate change, be it the Inuit trying to live their daily lives, or island nations struggling with rising sea levels.
As the recent COP17 climate change talks in Durban can attest, agreement is hard to come by on the subject of carbon emissions, and Canada’s pullout from the Kyoto Protocols on greenhouse gas emissions targets, along with the U.S. Congress’s support of the Keystone XL pipeline, do not bode well for a reduction of dependence on fossil fuels. “If we want to hit a target carbon concentration, then we have to reduce fossil fuel emissions that much lower than previously calculated to account for this additional carbon from the permafrost. Otherwise we will end up with a warmer Earth than we want.”


COMET LOVEJOY SURVIVES - Incredibly, sungrazing Comet Lovejoy survived its close encounter with the sun Friday. Lovejoy flew only 140,000 km over the stellar surface during the early hours of Dec. 16th. Experts expected the icy sundiver to be destroyed. Instead, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory caught the comet emerging from perihelion (closest approach) apparently intact. Comet Lovejoy began the week as a chunk of dusty, rocky ice more than 200 meters in diameter. No one can say how much of the comet's core remains intact or how long it will hang together after the searing heat of perihelion. "There is still a possibility that Comet Lovejoy will start to fragment. It’s been through a tremendously traumatic event; structurally, it could be extremely weak." The scorched core of sungrazing Comet Lovejoy is still intact as it recedes from the sun. Even the comet's flamboyant tail, temporarily lost in transit through the solar corona, has regrown.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

No update on Friday, December 16 - due to holiday obligations.

Adapting to Climate Change the Right Way - Faced with more frequent natural disasters caused largely by climate change, global and local decision-makers need to have greater foresight in their efforts to prevent and recover from future crises. Tropical Storm Irene brought that need home brutally to Vermont, where authorities reacted earnestly but in ways which may worsen damage from future severe weather events. The storm caused little harm in urban areas of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, so few expected the once-in-a-century flooding in rural upstate New York and Vermont that caused 56 deaths an estimated $10 billion to $15 billion in damage.
Although the damage was surprising, the causes behind it were not. For decades, scientists have warned that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and the climate change they induce would result in weather extremes that grow more numerous and more intense. Climate change adaptation - adjustments in natural or human systems in response to the impacts of climate change - has thus become an international priority. Such investments in adaptation make sense. Adaptation is necessary if communities and countries are to survive drastic changes in climate once environmental tipping points - such as acidification of ocean, alteration of the Gulf Stream, or thawing permafrost - are crossed.
In many developing countries, climate change adaptation efforts are being integrated into strategies to reduce poverty. The Asian Development Bank has estimated, for instance, that every $1 invested in adaptation now could yield as much as $40 in economic benefits by 2030. Global efforts are therefore underway to adapt in the face of droughts, rising sea levels, storms, and floods. The city of Perth in Western Australia, for example, is building a desalination plant to offset losses in water from declining precipitation. Planners in the Netherlands are constructing dikes, dams, and floating houses to cope with increased flooding and rises in sea level. Londoners are investing in a Thames River barrier system to better respond to floods.
Yet some of these interventions can have unintended, and dangerous, consequences. In Vermont, after Tropical Storm Irene, local and state officials allowed an unusual amount of dredging by heavy equipment in stream and riverbeds to collect gravel to help quickly repair roads. These actions, however, reduced the ability for ecosystems to lessen future flood surges, thus making those roads even more susceptible to storms and undermining the repair work itself. Vermont is not alone in pursuing adaptation methods with unexpected consequences. In the Maldives, nicknamed the "flattest country on earth," poor coastal protection measures such as dredging to create sandbars and erecting seawalls have unintentionally reduced the flow of nutrients to coral reefs, weakening a natural shield against storm swells and surges. Coastal communities there have also removed vegetation to expand settlements and resorts and have mined sand for use in construction. These activities have increased the exposure of the Maldives to rising sea levels and floods. In Uganda, national leaders have planted thousands of hectares of fast-growing eucalyptus and pine trees to "sink" large amounts of carbon and create a buffer against strong winds. Such efforts, however, have inadvertently eroded the vitality of native forest ecosystems and displaced hundreds of communities from their livelihoods and land, lowering overall social resilience.
These examples - and dozens more like them - illustrate that sometimes the best intentioned adaptation efforts can increase environmental, economic, or social vulnerability. Part of the explanation may be the ad hoc and frenetic way local, state, and national officials sometimes respond to disasters. Following Tropical Storm Irene, some Vermont state policymakers were so overwhelmed that one local senator publicly announced that "the state became lawless for several weeks." He argued that Vermont's emergency policy amounted to a de facto "Do what you have to do and we'll sort it out later." Economic incentives, some very understandable, can also play a role in the rush to action. The Ugandan tree planters mentioned above will receive millions of dollars for the carbon credits generated from their project. Vermont businesses, especially those involved in tourism, were anxious to see rapid road, bridge and other repairs completed before the fall foliage and winter ski seasons.
Good intentions, however, aren't enough. Climate change adaption efforts must meet the needs of the localities they intend to serve. The fact that such interventions are often done hastily should make us all the more diligent that they do not accelerate, rather than reduce, risk. Decisions made today on adaptation will greatly determine how vulnerable we are to future climate-induced events. Tropical Storm Irene was a powerful lesson that today's weather-related disaster can become tomorrow's humanitarian crisis. The challenge now is to ensure that crisis recovery efforts rebuild for long-term resilience. After all, poorly designed and implemented investments in adaptation are worse than none at all.

**Unity is strength... when there is teamwork and collaboration,
wonderful things can be achieved.**
Mattie Stepanek

This morning -
None 5.0 or higher.

Yesterday -
12/14/11 -


Kolumbos submarine volcano (Santorini, Greece) - 3.2 magnitude earthquake. At 19h22 GMT (21h22 local time), a 3.2 earthquake occurred at the little-known submarine volcano Kolumbos ca. 8 km NE of Santorini, Island, Greece. This marks one of the largest events in recent months. The submarine volcano whose peak rises to just 18 m below sea level, is located on the tectonically active SW-NE fault system across Santorini which confines most volcanic vents of the Santorini volcanic complex in the past 500,000 years.
Kolumbus volcano last erupted in September 1650 following a year of frequent earthquakes. The eruption produced a large explosive pumice eruption, with ash fall recorded as far as Turkey, and built a temporary island. The main phase of the eruption triggered a devastating tsunami. Toxic gasses killed more than 25 people and hundreds of livestock on Santorini by suffocation. There is no reason to state that new activity from Santorini or Kolumbus is likely in a foreseeable future but on the other hand, there are very few data available, unfortunately, to judge the situation. We regret that the Greek monitoring institutes are not publishing more details about the ongoing activity. Access to important earthquake details such as as their depth, are not published (they are available for earthquakes in all the other regions in Greece, raising some suspect why not for Santorini.)

Is Hawaii's "gentle giant" volcano, Kilauea, a killer in waiting? - A new assessment of Kilauea's activity suggests that this "quietly erupting" volcano, on Hawaii's Big Island, may simply be in a lull between violent eruptions. "In fact, the volcano has erupted explosively about as often as Mount St. Helens," the report says, without specifying how often Mount St. Helens erupts. Carbon dating of the old eruptions is cited as an indication that "the volcano was explosive for 60 percent of the past 2,500 years. It just happens to be in one of its more peaceful, lava-flow stages at the moment." So peaceful, it seems, that Hawaiian authorities feel confident enough to allow the volcano's thousands of visitors each year to walk up close to the rivers of lava oozing down the volcano’s slopes, and often into the sea. There’s even a visitor center at the summit.
A geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has referred to Kilauea as a high-risk area. “Though the explosions may be smaller, there are a lot more people in the area, so the risk is very high. So we have to be very concerned." An eruption in 1790 that killed several hundred people makes Kilauea the deadliest volcano active in the United States today. When Mount St. Helens, in Washington State, erupted May 18, 1980, 57 people died and nearly 150 square miles of forest was blown over or left dead and standing."
For Kilauea, "the most dangerous part of the explosions is something that is probably least known to people, and that is fact that they can produce clouds that are a mixture of hot ash and gases that can move horizontally across the ground surface at very rapid speeds — hurricane velocity.” They are certain that this kind of surge will happen again, though it may likely be "preceded by a dramatic sinking of the crater at the volcano’s summit, which would unfold over the course of several days - providing time to evacuate. Only there could be no going back to the area for centuries.

In the Western Pacific -
Tropical Storm 27 was located approximately 100 nm east of Palau. As it moves closer to the Philippines, an improving upper level environment will allow it to intensify to weak typhoon strength.

Tropical storm Twentyseven is forecast to strike the Philippines as a typhoon at about 18:00 GMT on 16 December. The Provincial Disaster Management Division warned residents, especially those living along the river banks and waterways, to prepare for incoming Tropical Storm 'Sendong', which, unless it changes course, is expected to hit Negros Friday. 'Sendong' is gathering stronger winds in the next 24 hours and threatens not only Eastern Visayas but the entire Visayas region if it will not slow down or change direction. They are closely monitoring the movement of the tropical storm to issue a warning as soon as possible. Even if Sendong changes its course and hit Bicol Region instead, Negros will still be affected because of its wide diameter.


Supermassive Milky Way black hole will 'eat' gas cloud - Simulations suggest that the cloud will be ripped to bits and partially swallowed by the black hole. Researchers have spotted a giant gas cloud spiralling into the supermassive black hole at our galaxy's centre. Though it is known that black holes draw in everything nearby, it will be the first chance to see one consume such a cloud. As it is torn apart, the turbulent area around the black hole will become unusually bright, giving astronomers a chance to learn more about it. The cloud should meet its end in 2013.
Researchers estimate that despite its size, the cloud has a total mass of only about three times that of Earth. They have plotted the cloud's squashed, oval-shaped path and estimate it has doubled its speed in the last seven years - to 2,350km per second. It should spiral in to within about 40 billion kilometres of the black hole in the middle of 2013. Reviews of existing pictures from the VLT show the cloud speeding up in recent years Our local supermassive black hole, dubbed Sagittarius A*, lies about 27,000 light-years away, and has a mass about four million times that of our Sun. As the name implies, beyond a certain threshold point - the event horizon - nothing can escape its pull, not even light itself. But outside that regime is a swirling mass of material, not unlike water circling a drain. In astronomical terms, is a relatively quiet zone about which little is known.
That looks set to change, though, as the gas cloud approaches.
It does not comprise enough matter to hold itself together under its own gravity, as a star might, so the cloud will begin to elongate as it meets its doom. "The idea of an astronaut close to a black hole being stretched out to resemble spaghetti is familiar from science fiction. But we can now see this happening for real to the newly discovered cloud. It is not going to survive the experience." It is likely that about half of the cloud will be swallowed up, with the remainder flung back out into space. But this violent process will literally shed light on the closest example we have of an enigmatic celestial object. The acceleration of the cloud's constituent material will create a shower of X-rays that will help astronomers learn more about our local black hole. (illustration)


Thousands of birds make US crash landing - Thousands of migratory birds died on impact after apparently mistaking a Wal-Mart car park and other areas of southern Utah for bodies of water and plummeting to the ground in what one wildlife expert has called the worst downing she's ever seen. Crews went to work cleaning up the dead birds and rescuing the survivors after the creatures crash-landed in the St George area on Tuesday. By Wednesday, volunteers had rescued more than 2000 birds, releasing them into nearby bodies of water. "They're just everywhere. It's been non-stop. All our employees are driving around picking them up, and we've got so many people coming to our office and dropping them off."
Officials say stormy conditions probably confused the flock of grebes, a duck-like aquatic bird likely making its way to Mexico for the winter. The birds tried to land in a Cedar City Wal-Mart car park and elsewhere. "The storm clouds over the top of the city lights made it look like a nice, flat body of water. All the conditions were right. So the birds landed to rest but ended up slamming into the pavement." No human injuries or property damage have been reported.
Most downings are localised "but this was very widespread. I've been here 15 years and this was the worst downing I've seen." Officials said they were continuing the rescue effort. The surviving grebes were released into bodies of water in southern Utah's Washington County, including a pond near Hurricane. "If we can put them on a body of water that's not frozen over, they'll have a better chance of survival."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

US sees MOST SEVERE PRECIPITATION EXTREMES ON RECORD - is it linked to “superjets”? Through November, 2011 has experienced THE MOST EXTENSIVE COVERAGE OF SEVERE DROUGHT AND ABNORMALLY WET CONDITIONS ON RECORD. This follows news that a record number of billion dollar weather disasters have occurred this year in the U.S.. NOAA’s Climate Extreme Index reveals that (for the period covering January through November) 56% of the U.S. is experiencing either severe drought or extremely wet conditions, way above the historical average of 22%. 1934, due almost exclusively to pervasive drought, is the only year which even comes close to 2011 in terms of the area affected by precipitation extremes. More than 50% of the country was afflicted by drought conditions in that Dust Bowl year.
2011 is somewhat unique in the historical record in that it ranks in the top 10 for both drought AND heavy precipitation coverage. In many of the other extreme years, it was either usually wet or unusually dry, not both.
The prevailing La Nina pattern has supported the presence of a powerful jet stream slicing through the middle of the country, bringing bout after bout of stormy weather. But to the south and southwest of that jet stream, the moisture abruptly shut off leading to historic drought. Global warming may have something to do with the contrasts in this pattern. Added heat to the atmosphere juices up the wet extremes by making more water vapor available, while speeding up evaporation and drying in drought areas.
And in a new twist, researchers have identified the development of “superjets” in the Pacific ocean that may have fueled some of this year’s severe weather and heavy rains. These superjets form in the western Pacific when the subtropical jet stream lifts north and combines with polar jet stream. These superjets can bring powerful storms to the Nation’s mid-section and Southeast 7-10 days after they form. “If the subtropical jet stream is rearranged and superposed on top of the polar jet stream, it might be the mechanism that allows for this very long delay, a disturbance that can have discernible effect on severe weather thousands of miles downstream, and a week or more later." UNUSUALLY strong jet stream winds were linked to some of the spring’s historic, deadly tornado outbreaks. An analysis of the frequency of these superjets has not been published, so it’s not clear if they were more common in 2011 or if there’s a global warming link. “Historic weather data should tell us whether there has been a change in the frequency of these overlapping events, and whether that might be linked to a change in high impact-weather events." (graphs)

**As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult,
but in fighting the difficulties
the inmost strength of the heart is developed.**
Vincent Van Gogh

This morning -

Yesterday -
12/13/11 -

A violent 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea today, shaking buildings and swaying powerlines, but no immediate tsunami warning was issued.
The quake, initially rated at 7.3, struck at 3:04 pm (0504 GMT) at a depth of 121 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of the coastal city of Lae and 221 kilometres from the capital Port Moresby. Witnesses in Port Moresby said people came running out of buildings and parked cars rocked. "It was pretty strong, everybody felt it. I was siting in my car when it hit and it was rocking, rocking, rocking." Geoscience Australia said it was not expected to create a tsunami. "It's not tsunamigenic. That's the assessment on the basis that it's about 20 kilometres inshore and also it's about 120 kilometres deep and that's too deep really to cause any tsunami problems."
But the quake could cause other problems for the nearest largest town, Wau, about 20 kilometres from the epicentre, and Lae. "It's in a mountainous area so there may be issues of landslides and things like that, that's what's the main problem in that particular part of Papua New Guinea." Papua New Guinea is regularly hit by earthquakes due to its proximity to the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire".

Small earthquakes shake up central Maine - Four minor earthquakes jostled the earth under central Maine on Sunday. One quake, which measured 1.0 on the Richter scale, occurred at 4:42 p.m.; the second happened at 11:46 p.m. and measured 1.4. The quakes were detected near the small towns of Millinocket, Lincoln, and Howland. Two other weaker quakes of less than 1.0-magnitude were also recorded in the area. “If you were standing right over the epicenter, you might hear a low rumbling noise."
There is debate among scientists about what causes earthquakes of this size in the region, but it may be a result of movement in the Mid-Atlantic ridge, the area where two tectonic plates meet in the middle of the ocean. The earthquakes are “way too small to cause any sort of damage." The earthquakes were located in an extensive forest area in the Central Penobscot region.


IRELAND - The HIGHEST WAVE EVER RECORDED IN IRISH WATERS hit off the Donegal coast, measuring 20.4 metres in height. As it turned out, the most northerly tip of the country, Malin Head, experienced winds gusting at 140km/h (87mph). The result was a historic wave off the Donegal cast that came from a force ten storm. The wave itself was measured from a special buoy and was sent from 60 miles from the Irish coast. Amazingly, the buoy's recording, which was positioned 16km west of Rossan Point, trumped the previous wave record which was set just three hours earlier at 11am. “There was a record wave of 20.2 metres earlier but it didn’t last very long. The previous record was something like 16 metres so it’s a significant jump in magnitude.”
"The combination of tides, forecasted gale warnings for the next day or so, high sea conditions and swollen rivers may result in very dangerous conditions. I would ask each and every road user to use the roads safely over the coming week. With bad weather forecast, we need to be prepared for these severe weather conditions of stormy winds, patches of ice and snow showers." Although conditions are expected to ease up in the coming days, there is a possibility that a second storm, currently raging over the Atlantic, may hit the south and midlands of Ireland.

In the Western Pacific -
-Tropical depression 26w was located approximately 270 nm southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Final warning notice was issued.

-Tropical depression 27w was located approximately 365 nm east-southeast of Palau.

Australia weather bureau says above average cyclone risk through December - Australia's weather bureau warned on Tuesday that the country faced an above average risk of tropical cyclones through December due to weather conditions in the Indian Ocean. "The current MJO (Madden-Julian Oscillation) event spawned the first tropical cyclone for the Australian cyclone season, Severe Tropical Cyclone Alenga, which formed in the Indian Ocean last week," the bureau said in a regular climate note. "The risk of tropical cyclone formation in the Australian region is likely to remain above average for most of December, with increased rainfall across northern Australia during this period."

Tropical depression hitting central Vietnam - For the past few days, the tropical depression moving in the East Sea has been causing high tides and destroying many houses in central Vietnam. The depression, which was about 220 km from Truong Sa (Spratly) islands, was moving at 10 km with winds of 63-75 kph and can be upgraded into a storm. In the past few days, the depression has caused bad weather to many central provinces, including Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai and Phu Yen. The sea of Binh Dinh Province has been violently rough while its coastal areas have been suffering a northwest wind of 45-62 kph with gusts of 75 kph. Vessels of more than 447 fishing households in Nhon Chau Island Commune have failed to land on or leave Qui Nhon City for the last four days, causing a standstill of fishing activities in the area.
In Quang Ngai Province, violent sea waves have destroyed at least 48 houses in coastal areas and high tides have caused serious landslides in An Cuong Hamlet in Binh Son District. 17 families have been evacuated to safe places and 170 others might be evacuated in days to come. In Phu Yen Province, high tides have been threatening residents in Tuy Hoa City’s An Phu Commune and Tuy An District’s An Ninh Dong Commune for the past few days. Especially, sea waves of 2 to 3 m have submerged An Phu Commune’s Ro Hamlet yesterday. Authorities evacuated more than 40 families to safe places but a number of houses were destroyed. About 270 soldiers have also been mobilized to help locals set up embankments with bags of sand to prevent high tides.
In a separate development, northern Vietnam will suffer another cold snap as of December 15. The temperature will drop to 11 to 14 Celsius degree in daytime and 15 to 18 Celsius degree at night. In high mountainous areas like Mau Son, Sap, Sin Ho and O Quy Ho Pass, the temperature will plunge to 3-5 Celsius degree or lower.


ALASKA - Anchorage blown away by extreme weather. On the edge of what other city in North America can you get knocked flat by hurricane-force winds in a blizzard roaring up the suburban neighborhood street you've boldly started down in an effort to find out what caused the power outage? And where else in the country would they knock on the door of a neighbor to tell him the high-voltage lines carrying power across the valley have been torn completely off the pole next to his house, leading him to look at you and ask, "You'll do anything for a cheap thrill, won't you?'' And then laugh as another gust hit, and his house shook, and the adjacent power line whipped around like it was going to crack? But then they've been through this a few times before. Only a week earlier, the hurricane-force winds that rolled across the Anchorage Hillside tore a separate insulator loose from the same power pole and left the line bouncing and swaying in the wind. It was a different line from the one that tore an insulator out of the cross bar this time. That line then hit another, caused a whole lot of sparks, and kicked out a breaker.
Everyone in Anchorage should own a Coleman lantern or some equivalent, as this is a city vulnerable to power outages either by wind or earthquake. The semi-official report from the National Weather Service, recorded at a home in the neighborhood, was 97 mph. T)he interim director of Alaska Climate Science Center wondered if the big blows might be linked to the warming off the ocean. Storms generate significantly more energy over warm water than cold. .The warm water in the North Pacific was thought to be a significant player in what some called the "Arctic hurricane'' that ripped into the Bering Sea and Western Alaska last month. The storm pounded the coast with winds up to 90 mph and left widespread damage. The Governor later declared the region a disaster area. This year has produced more than its share of blasts (odd for a La Nina winter). The latest storm is still too fresh for anyone to get a full damage assessment. It began to die on Sunday night, sometime after the power came back on around supper time.

Snow and strong winds disrupt travel in Scotland - Snow and high winds have disrupted road and rail travel across Scotland. Gusts of up to 70mph swept across the central belt and forecasters warned of heavy snow on high ground. In the Highlands, seven vehicles were involved in a collision which closed the A9 at Dalwhinnie for almost seven hours. Rail services were severely disrupted, with one passenger being injured after a train travelling from Wick struck a fallen tree at Inverness. The Met Office upgraded its weather alert from yellow to amber for heavy snow across some parts of the country. Amber warnings cover Central, Tayside, Fife, Strathclyde, the south-west of Scotland, Lothian and Borders, Highlands and Western Isles. The Grampian area is on yellow, while southern and western Scotland could also experience very strong winds at times. The A83 at Rest And Be Thankful was closed for emergency repairs because of the severe weather and remained closed overnight. In the Shawlands area on the south side of Glasgow, the A77 Kilmarnock Road was closed in both directions because of an unsafe building. The fire service were dealing with a satellite dish which was hanging from a tenement.


A mysterious epidemic is sweeping Central America - it's the second biggest cause of death among men in El Salvador, and in Nicaragua it's a bigger killer of men than HIV and diabetes combined. It's unexplained but the latest theory is that the victims are literally working themselves to death. In the western lowlands of Nicaragua, in a region of vast sugar cane fields, sits the tiny community of La Isla. A pale man, his cheekbones protrude from his face, hunches over like an old man - but he is only 19 years old. "The way this sickness is - you see me now, but in a month I could be gone. It can take you down all of a sudden." His kidneys are failing. They do not perform the essential function of filtering waste from his body - he's being poisoned from the inside. When he got ill two years ago, he was already familiar with this disease and how it might end. "I thought about my father and grandfather." Both died of the same condition. Three of his brothers have it too. All of them worked in the sugar cane fields.
Kidney disease has killed so many men here that locals now call their community not simply La Isla - which means "The Island" - but La Isla de las Viudas - "The Island of the Widows." The epidemic extends far beyond Nicaragua. It's prevalent along the Pacific coast of Central America - across six countries. "It is important that the chronic kidney disease (CKD) afflicting thousands of rural workers in Central America be recognised as what it is - a major epidemic with a tremendous population impact." El Salvador's health minister recently called on the international community for help. She said the epidemic is "wasting away our populations".
At a health clinic in El Salvador, in the farming region of Bajo Lempa, a doctor recently found that a quarter of the men in his area suffered from it.
Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, is permanent or long-lasting kidney damage. CKD is often without any symptoms in the early stages, so many people don't know they have it until the later stages, when symptoms include anaemia (with weakness/breathlessness), bone disease, nausea and vomiting. Final-stage CKD patients may die without dialysis or a kidney transplant. In the developed world, the primary causes of CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure, which are becoming more common as a result of increasing obesity, lack of exercise, and high salt intake. In the developing world, the main causes are chronic infections like HIV, viral hepatitis, malaria, and tuberculosis. What's more, most of the men who are ill show no signs of high blood pressure or diabetes - the most common causes of CKD elsewhere in the world. "Most of the men we studied have CKD from unknown causes." What the men in his area have in common is they all work in farming. So the doctor thinks a major cause of their kidney damage is the toxic chemicals - pesticides and herbicides - that are routinely used here in agriculture. "These chemicals are banned in the United States, Europe and Canada, and they're used here, without any protection, and in large amounts that are very concerning." But he's not ready to rule out other possible causes. For instance, the overuse of painkillers can damage the kidneys, and so can drinking too much alcohol. Both are major problems here.
In Nicaragua, the disease has become a political issue. In 2006, the World Bank gave a loan to Nicaragua's largest sugar company to build an ethanol plant. Plantation workers filed a complaint, saying the company's working conditions and use of chemicals were fuelling the epidemic. They said the loan violated the bank's own standards for worker safety and environmental practices. In response, the bank agreed to fund a study to try to identify the cause of the epidemic. "The evidence points us most strongly to a hypothesis that heat stress might be a cause of this disease." A team has found it's not just sugar cane workers who are falling ill. Miners and port workers also suffer high rates of kidney disease, yet they're not exposed to farm chemicals. What these men have in common, is they all work long hours in extreme heat. "Day after day of hard manual labour in hot conditions - without sufficient replacement of fluids - could lead to effects on the kidney that are not obvious at first but over time accumulate to the point that it enters into a diseased state. This has never been so far shown to cause chronic kidney disease, so we would be talking about a new mechanism that has not so far been described in the scientific literature." But a new preliminary study bolsters this hypothesis. His team tested blood and urine from sugar cane workers who perform different jobs. The scientists found more evidence of kidney damage in the workers who have more strenuous jobs outside. This explanation makes sense. It's been long suspected that part of the problem is the way sugar cane workers are paid - receiving more money the more sugar cane they cut. "This way of working forces people to do more than they are able to do, and this is not good for their health."
"Working in the field made us feel dizzy and nauseous. We often had fevers." A worker who now has kidney disease heads an organisation of sugar cane workers in Nicaragua who are ill. He's convinced that something on the sugar plantations is causing the sickness. Whatever it is, he says, those who are ill need treatment with dialysis - which can keep them alive when their kidneys fail. But few can get it because dialysis is extremely expensive and rarely available. For their part, the sugar cane companies say they're not convinced that farm chemicals or working conditions on their plantations are to blame for the epidemic.