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Japan Earthquake seems to Increase Quake Risk Elsewhere in the Country
The News - Natural Disasters
May 31, 2011
japan future earthquake risk natural disasters

Japan's recent magnitude 9.0 earthquake, which triggered a devastating tsunami, relieved stress along part of the quake fault but also has contributed to the build up of stress in other areas, putting some of the country at risk for up to years of sizeable aftershocks and perhaps new main shocks, scientists say.

After studying data from Japan's extensive seismic network, researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Kyoto University and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have identified several areas at risk from the quake, Japan's largest ever, which already has triggered a large number of aftershocks.

Data from the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake on March 11 has brought scientists a small but perceptible step closer to a better assessment of future seismic risk in specific regions, said Shinji Toda of Kyoto University, a lead author of the study. "Even though we cannot forecast precisely, we can explain the mechanisms involved in such quakes to the public," he said. Still, he added, the findings do bring scientists "a little bit closer" to being able to forecast aftershocks. [ scidaily ]

 
Missouri twister: 29 still missing, 'miracle needed'
The News - Natural Disasters
May 31, 2011
missouri tornado natural disaster miracle needed
The number of people still missing from a killer tornado has dropped to 29, but officials said finding any of them alive eight days after the twister struck would require "a miracle."

The massive May 22 tornado killed 142 people in Joplin, Missouri, in what was one of the deadliest twisters ever in the United States.

"Realistically, the chance of finding someone is diminishing with each passing day, but we will proceed with the hope of a miracle occurring," Joplin city manager Mark Rohr said in a statement Monday. [ yahoo ]

 
Environmental hazards remain after Joplin tornado
The News - Natural Disasters
May 31, 2011
joplin tornado hazards remain
As residents confront a gigantic cleanup following the tornado that savaged Joplin, experts say environmental dangers could lurk amid the mountains of debris in the southwestern Missouri city and even in the water and air.

Damage from tornadoes, like floods and hurricanes, often goes beyond what is readily visible. Liquid fuels and chemicals can leak from ruptured containers and contaminate groundwater. Ruined buildings may contain asbestos. Fires can generate smoke containing soot, dioxins and other pollutants. Household, industrial and medical wastes are strewn about.

In the initial hours after the April 24 twister, the odor of gasoline was evident around several flattened service stations. A large fire burned for hours near the devastated St. John's Regional Medical Center. Heavy rains caused flash flooding, possibly fouling local waterways. [ yahoo ]

 
Fukushima Debacle Risks Chernobyl ‘Dead Zone’ as Radiation in Soil Soars
The News - Current Events
May 31, 2011
fukushima radiation danger dead zone

Radioactive soil in pockets of areas near Japan’s crippled nuclear plant have reached the same level as Chernobyl, where a “dead zone” remains 25 years after the reactor in the former Soviet Union exploded.

Soil samples in areas outside the 20-kilometer (12 miles) exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant measured more than 1.48 million becquerels a square meter, the standard used for evacuating residents after the Chernobyl accident, Tomio Kawata, a fellow at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, said in a research report published May 24 and given to the government. [ bloom ]

 
Increasingly acidic oceans leave coral reefs on brink of extinction
The News - Climate-Environment
May 31, 2011
coral reef extinction

Coral reefs around the world could be teetering on the brink of extinction by the end of the century as the oceans become more acidic, scientists have warned.

New evidence from volcanic seeps - fissures in the ocean floor that leak gases and minerals - suggests a bleak future for the reefs that harbour the world's richest marine ecosystems.

Three natural carbon dioxide seeps in Papua New Guinea have given scientists a snapshot of how coral reefs may look in 100 years. [ dailymail ]

 
2011 now deadliest year for tornadoes since 1950
The News - Natural Disasters
May 28, 2011
2011 deadly tornado season outbreak
The death toll from the monster tornado last week in Missouri has risen by seven to at least 139, city spokeswoman Lynn Onstot said Saturday. That makes this the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1950, based on an assessment of figures from the National Weather Service.

The tornado death toll for 2011 is now 520. Until now, the highest recorded death toll in a single year was 519 in 1953. There were deadlier storms before 1950, but those counts were based on estimates and not on precise figures.

Missouri says the number of people still unaccounted for since the Joplin tornado is now at 105. State Department of Public Safety deputy director Andrea Spillars said Saturday that within that number, nine people have been reported dead by their families, but state officials are working to confirm. She said that the temporary morgue has 142 human remains, but that includes partial remains. [ yahoo ]

 
Science can't design away tornadoes' deadly threat
The News - Natural Disasters
May 28, 2011
tornado threat prediction natural disasters

Storm science has greatly improved tornado warnings in recent years. But if that's led anyone into a sense of security, that feeling has taken a beating in recent weeks.

Super Outbreak 2011, on April 25-28, killed more than 300 people in the South and Midwest. Less than a month later, a devastating tornado took more than 130 lives around Joplin, Mo. This is now the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1950, based on an assessment of National Weather Service figures.

This despite warnings of as much as 20 minutes, thanks to improved weather radar installed across the country in the 1990s. Before that, tornado warnings often weren't issued until a twister was sighted on the ground.

 
Typhoon Rains Expected To Cause More Fukushima Leaks
The News - Current Events
May 28, 2011
fukushima typhoon radiation damage
The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it is closely monitoring contaminated water levels in the facility as heavy rain is forecast next week.

Tokyo Electric Power Company is continuing to inject water to cool reactors. As a result, the level of highly radioactive water around reactor buildings is rising.

The company is concerned that contaminated water in the basement of reactor buildings and nearby tunnels may overflow and seep into the ground and the sea. Rain is forecast on Sunday and Monday because of an approaching typhoon. [ nhk ]
 
Why NASA Chose Potentially Threatening Asteroid for New Mission
The News - Science-Astronomy
May 28, 2011

When it comes to visiting asteroids, NASA doesn't pick run-of-the-mill space rocks. The target of NASA's latest asteroid mission is not only thought to be rich in the building blocks of life, it also has a chance - although a remote one - of threatening Earth in the year 2182.

The asteroid 1999 RQ36 is the target of a new unmanned spacecraft, which NASA plans to launch in 2016 to collect a sample from the space rock and return it to Earth by 2023.

The mission's leaders spent a long time surveying possible destinations for the mission, and finally settled on 1999 RQ36. NASA calls the mission OSIRIS-Rex, which is short for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer.

"We went through a whole series of selection criteria," OSIRIS-Rex's deputy principal investigator Dante Lauretta, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, told SPACE.com. "There are over 500,000 asteroids known. [1999 RQ36] looks really optimum." [ yahoo ]
 
Seismologists Tried for Manslaughter for Not Predicting Earthquake
The News - Natural Disasters
May 27, 2011

Earthquake prediction can be a grave, and faulty science, and in the case of Italian seismologists who are being tried for the manslaughter of the people who died in the 2009 L'Aquila quake, it can have legal consequences.

The group of seven, including six seismologists and a government official, reportedly didn't alert the public ahead of time of the risk of the L'Aquila earthquake, which occurred on April 6 of that year, killing around 300 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

But most scientists would agree it's not their fault they couldn't predict the wrath of Mother Nature.

 
Death toll rises to 132 after Joplin, Mo., tornado
The News - Natural Disasters
May 27, 2011
joplin tornado damage natural disaster

The death toll from the massive tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo., reached 132 Friday, a city spokeswoman said, while the state worked to pare down the list of people missing and unaccounted for since the storm.

Joplin city spokeswoman Lynn Onstot confirmed the new death toll to The Associated Press shortly before state officials announced that the missing list had been trimmed to 156 people.

Officials were working around the clock to account for everyone on the list, Missouri Department of Public Safety deputy director Andrea Spillars told a morning news conference.

Spillars said at least 90 people on the original list had been located alive. But at least six were identified as among the dead, and some new names had been added to the scroll of the missing. [ ap ]

 
Will 10 Billion People Use Up the Planet's Resources?
The News - Climate-Environment
May 26, 2011
planet rosources population demand

The human enterprise now consumes nearly 60 billion metric tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and plant materials, such as crop plants and trees for timber or paper.

Meanwhile, the seven billionth person on the planet is expected to be born this year - and the human population may reach 10 billion by this century's end, according to the latest United Nations analysis. Hundreds of millions of people in Europe, North America and Asia live a modern life, which largely means consuming more than 16 metric tons of such natural resources - or more - per person per year.

If the billions of poor people living today or born tomorrow consume anything approaching this figure, the world will have to find more than 140 billion metric tons of such materials each year by mid-century, according to a new report from the U.N. Enviromental Programme. [ sciam ]

 
2011 Tornado Season - Science Behind This Terrible Tornado Season
The News - Natural Disasters
May 26, 2011
2011 tornado season natural disaster

So far, 2011 has proved a year destined for the tornado record books. Nearly 1,200 tornadoes have swarmed the United States this year, according to preliminary numbers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Four of these storms have been rated at the highest tornado strength, an EF-5. The death toll from these tornadoes has likely topped 500, a number not seen since 1953.

But why has this year seen so many and such devastating twisters? Scientists point to several large-scale climate factors, some of which have been at work behind the scenes since winter. And at least some of the mind-boggling tornado numbers, believe it or not, can be chalked up to humans — there are more of us around to see them. [ livescience ]

 
NASA mission aims to bring back pieces of asteroid
The News - Science-Astronomy
May 26, 2011
NASA mission to bring back asteroid

NASA will launch a sample-return mission to an asteroid in 2016, agency officials announced Wednesday.

The mission, called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex) will reach an asteroid called 1999 RQ36 in 2020. The unmanned spacecraft will use a robotic arm to snag some samples.

According to the plan, the probe will return these bits of space rock to Earth in 2023 so scientists can study them for clues about the solar system's origin — and possibly, how life may have begun on our planet. [ msnbc ]
 
Extensive map of universe that extends to 380 million light years away
The News - Science-Astronomy
May 26, 2011
universe map 380 million light years

The most complete 3D map of the local universe has been unveiled by British astronomers.

The 2MASS Redshift Survey (2MRS) from the University of Portsmouth extends to a distance of 380 million light years and has taken 10 years to complete.

It extends closer than previous surveys to the galactic plane - a region that is generally obscured by dust. [ dailymail ]

 
Storms killed 4th in Ark.; toll at 14
The News - Religion
May 25, 2011
storm damage tornado hail natural disaster

A violent storm system rumbled through the central U.S. on Wednesday, spawning tornadoes that turned homes into splintered wreckage, killing at least 14 people and hampering rescue efforts in a city slammed by a massive twister days earlier.

The new system, which followed closely behind the one that spawned the massive twister that struck Joplin, Mo., and killed more than 120 people, moved into the Oklahoma City area Tuesday evening as worried commuters rushed home from work.

Several tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma City and its suburbs, killing at least eight people and injuring at least 70 others, authorities said. Among those killed was a 15-month-old boy, and searchers were looking for his missing 3-year-old brother. [ yahoo ]

 
Unusual Earthquake Gave Japan Tsunami Extra Punch
The News - Natural Disasters
May 25, 2011
japan tsunami earthquake suduction zone
This diagram shows the March 11 fault motion sequence. 1. Rupture of the fault plane begins at the epicenter. 2. Rupture travels westward, down the fault plane towards Honshu. The island suffers violent shaking for 40 seconds. 3. The upward sloping east side of the fault plane begins to rupture, continuing for 30 to 35 seconds. The sediments overlying the east side expand up the fault plane in response to the force of the rupture. 4. The water above the sediments is pushed into an unstable dome that then flows out in all directions as a tsunami.

The magnitude 9 earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 were like a one-two punch -- first violently shaking, then swamping the islands -- causing tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. Now Stanford researchers have discovered the catastrophe was caused by a sequence of unusual geologic events never before seen so clearly.

"It was not appreciated before this earthquake that this size of earthquake was possible on this plate boundary," said Stanford geophysicist Greg Beroza. "It was thought that typical earthquakes were much smaller."

The earthquake occurred in a subduction zone, where one great tectonic plate is being forced down under another tectonic plate and into Earth's interior along an active fault. The fault on which the Tohoku-Oki earthquake took place slopes down from the ocean floor toward the west. It first ruptured mainly westward from its epicenter -- 32 kilometers (about 20 miles) below the seafloor -- toward Japan, shaking the island of Honshu violently for 40 seconds. [ sciday ]

 
Japan's TEPCO admits further reactor meltdowns
The News - Current Events
May 24, 2011
tepco japan nucler meltdown disaster
The operator of Japan's tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant on Tuesday said it believed fuel had partially melted inside three reactors, as long suspected by experts.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said new readings on water gauges indicated that the fuel had dropped to the bottom of the containment vessels of units two and three, matching its earlier assessment of unit one.

In all three reactors, relatively low temperatures indicated that the fuel was now mostly covered by water that has been pumped into the vessels, meaning there was no immediate threat of an uncontrolled full meltdown. [ yahoo ]

 
2011 Tornado Death Toll Is Worst Since 1953
The News - Natural Disasters
May 24, 2011
2011 tornado death toll natural diasasters

2011 has a grim new place in the record books: the deadliest year for tornadoes in more than five decades, with 481 people killed by the storms as of this writing.

It's the highest number of fatalities from tornadoes since 1953, when twisters killed 519 people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the home agency of the National Weather Service.

As of Monday evening, the death toll from the devastating tornado that smashed through Joplin, Mo. on Sunday (May 22) had risen to 116, and could continue to rise as officials sort through the wreckage of the town, home to almost 50,000 people. [ live science ]

 
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