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Solar cycle may go into 'hibernation'
The News - Science-Astronomy
June 16, 2011
solar cycle hibernation sun

The next solar cycle - the 11-year pattern when dark spots appear on the sun's surface - may be delayed or even go into "hibernation" for a while, according to US scientists.

But this does not mean a new ice age is coming, said astronomer Frank Hill of the US National Solar Observatory. "We have not predicted a 'little ice age'," Hill said, speaking from an astronomical meeting in New Mexico. "We have predicted something going on with the sun."

Hill and other scientists cited a missing jet stream, fading spots and slower activity near the sun's poles as signs that our nearest star is heading into a rest period.

"This is highly unusual and unexpected," he said. "But the fact that three completely different views of the sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation." [guardian ]

Arizona blaze part of new era - more big wildfires
The News - Climate-Environment
June 15, 2011
man vs flooding nature
The fires searing parts of the West are an eerie echo of the past, a frightening reminder of a once terrible danger that had been held largely at bay for decades.

The number of large wildfires has been rising for roughly the past 25 years, and they are lasting longer amid fire seasons that also last longer.

Is it global warming? Experts won't say that, pointing instead to a variety of factors ranging from local weather to insect infestations to more people living and camping out in the woods. The Arizona fire, with almost half a million acres destroyed, makes it one of the largest since statehood in 1912. A related blaze is under way in New Mexico, another fire has forced people to evacuate parts of Colorado, and the National Weather Service has issued "red flag" warnings - indicating conditions favorable to wildfires - for parts of Texas, Florida and Alabama.

Pinatubo - Why the Biggest Volcanic Eruption Wasn't the Deadliest
The News - Natural Disasters
June 15, 2011
pinatubo volcano eruption

If you'd been on the Philippines island of Luzon on June 15, 1991, you'd have been forgiven for thinking that the world was ending.

Typhoon Yunya was screaming across the island, but the angry skies were nothing compared with the angry Earth. Mount Pinatubo, an unassuming volcano that no one had even realized was active until a few years prior, was blowing its top. A column of ash spewed 21 miles (34 kilometers) into the atmosphere, opening like an umbrella to form a cloud 249 miles (400 km) across.

On the way back down, Pinatubo's ash mixed with Yunya's rain, creating a concretelike mud that collapsed roofs more than 9 miles (15 km) away. The streets were choked with evacuees, including the scientists in charge of monitoring the volcano, who were reduced to rinsing their ash-streaked windshield with a six-pack of cherry soda. [ livescience ]

How Do Solar Minimums Affect Earth
The News - Science-Astronomy
June 14, 2011
solar minimum earth
Since 1611, humans have recorded the comings and goings of black spots on the sun. The number of these sunspots grows and declines over approximately an 11-year cycle,  more sunspots generally mean more activity and eruptions on the sun and vice versa. The number of sunspots can change from cycle to cycle, and 2008 saw the longest and weakest solar minimum since scientists have been monitoring the sun with space-based instruments.

Observations have shown, however, that magnetic effects on Earth due to the sun, effects that cause the aurora to appear, did not go down in synch with the cycle of low magnetism on the sun. Now, a paper in Annales Geophysicae that appeared on May 16, 2011 reports that these effects on Earth did in fact reach a minimum -- indeed they attained their lowest levels of the century -- but some eight months later. The scientists believe that factors in the speed of the solar wind, and the strength and direction of the magnetic fields embedded within it, helped produce this anomalous low. [ SciDay ]

2011 - A Terrible Tornado Year
The News - Natural Disasters
June 14, 2011

2011 horrible tornado year
Unless you live under a rock, as the saying goes (as featured in a current commercial), you must be aware of what a horrific year it has been for tornadoes. Only the pictures of the death and destruction can give the full picture of just how awful it has been. But I thought I'd present a little data to tell the story in a less traumatic way.

The table below gives the preliminary tornado counts for the spring and year-to-date (through June 12). April was the huge anomaly. Its 762 preliminary tornadoes are over 200 more than the previous record for any month (542 in May 2003). The 1282 tornadoes through June 12 are as many as the United States had in all of 2010! Only six years on record have had more tornadoes for a full year. Thanks to April, we're on a record yearly pace. Fortunately, the pace in June has slowed down to well below average thus far. Springfield and other Massachusetts communities, unfortunately, weren't spared on June 1.

The pace in May was barely above average number-wise, but it featured the ultra-deadly EF5 tornado in Joplin Missouri on May 22 and another EF5 tornado in Arkansas on May 24. This brings the number of EF5 tornadoes for 2011 to 5. Only 1974 had more. The Joplin tornado is the deadliest tornado in the United States since 1947.

More flights halted by ash from Chilean volcano
The News - Current Events
June 14, 2011
chile volcano eruption
The cloud of ash spewing from Chile's erupting volcano has grounded more flights in countries from Uruguay to Australia and is threatening to delay next month's start of the Copa America football tournament in Argentina.

Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona says the July 1 start of the Copa America could be pushed back due to cancelations of flights caused by the volcano.

Grondona tells the Argentine broadcaster Radio 10 that "from no point of view are all the countries prepared to come to Buenos Aires" in time. The main international airports in Argentina and Uruguay were closed on Tuesday, and across the Pacific more Australian flights were canceled because of ash from Chile's Cordon Caulle volcano.

Sun's Fading Spots Signal Big Drop in Solar Activity
The News - Science-Astronomy
June 14, 2011
solar activity fading sun spots
Some unusual solar readings, including fading sunspots and weakening magnetic activity near the poles, could be indications that our sun is preparing to be less active in the coming years.

The results of three separate studies seem to show that even as the current sunspot cycle swells toward the solar maximum, the sun could be heading into a more-dormant period, with activity during the next 11-year sunspot cycle greatly reduced or even eliminated.

The results of the new studies were announced today (June 14) at the annual meeting of the solar physics division of the American Astronomical Society, which is being held this week at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. [ space ]

A photo of a sunspot taken in May 2010, with Earth shown to scale. The image has been colorized for aesthetic reasons. This image with 0.1 arcsecond resolution from the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope represents the limit of what is currently possible in terms of spatial resolution.

Warning: extreme weather ahead
The News - Climate-Environment
June 14, 2011
extreme weather tornadoes wildfires droughts floods

Tornados, wildfires, droughts and floods were once seen as freak conditions. But the environmental disasters now striking the world are shocking signs of 'global weirding'.

Drought zones have been declared across much of England and Wales, yet Scotland has just registered its wettest-ever May. The warmest British spring in 100 years followed one of the coldest UK winters in 300 years. June in London has been colder than March. February was warm enough to strip on Snowdon, but last Saturday it snowed there.

Welcome to the climate rollercoaster, or what is being coined the "new normal" of weather. What was, until quite recently, predictable, temperate, mild and equable British weather, guaranteed to be warmish and wettish, ensuring green lawns in August, now sees the seasons reversed and temperature and rainfall records broken almost every year. When Kent receives as much rain (4mm) in May as Timbuktu, Manchester has more sunshine than Marbella, and soils in southern England are drier than those in Egypt, something is happening.

Mississippi Floods May Cause Record-Breaking Dead Zone in Gulf
The News - Climate-Environment
June 14, 2011
gulf dead zone

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be larger than average this year  - possibly rivaling the state of New Hampshire in size - due to this spring's massive Mississippi River floods.

Scientists at Louisiana State University, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and the University of Michigan predict that the low-oxygen dead zone could measure between 8,500 and 9,421 square miles. The largest Gulf dead zone on record was in 2002, encompassing more than 8,400 square miles.

Dead zones happen when excessive nutrients (usually nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer and other farming run-off) cause marine algae blooms. These blooms and their subsequent die-offs deplete the oxygen in the water column, leading to hypoxic, or low-oxygen, zones where life can't thrive.

Moon to turn blood red this Wednesday as UK experiences total lunar eclipse
The News - Science-Astronomy
June 14, 2011
blood red moon

Sky watchers in the UK will be hoping for a cloudless sky on Wednesday evening so they can get the best view of the longest total lunar eclipse since 2000.

The dramatic event will turn the moon blood red for 100 minutes during the period of totality.

But Nasa warned Europeans will miss the early stages of the eclipse 'because they occur before moonrise.'

The eclipse beings at 6.24pm (BST) and ends at midnight but sunset doesn't occur in the UK until 9.19pm.

People in the eastern half of Africa, the Middle East, central Asia and western Australia will be able to enjoy the entire event. However, those in the U.S will miss out as the eclipse will occur during daylight hours. [ dailymail ]

Asteroid Vesta comes into focus
The News - Science-Astronomy
June 13, 2011
asteroid vesta mission

The Dawn spacecraft is starting to get an eye-full of the Vesta asteroid.The probe expects to reach the 530km-wide body in late July, whereupon it will go into orbit around the rock.

Vesta is what scientists term a protoplanet - a body that never acquired the proportions of "grown-up" planets such as Earth and Mars.

It is nonetheless an impressive object - the second most massive asteroid in the belt of rocky debris that orbits between Mars and Jupiter.

Nasa's (US space agency) Dawn satellite will be spending about 12 months at Vesta before moving on to Ceres which, at 950km in diameter, is by far the largest and most massive body in the asteroid belt.

Is All the Wild Weather Connected?
The News - Climate-Environment
June 11, 2011

This has been a wild year, weather-wise.

In the winter, there was the record snowfall across the Northeast. Record rainfall and floods in Ohio Valley followed in April and May. The Southwest has been plagued by drought for months, while tornadoes have devastated the Midwest and South. Record heat is scorching most of the country this week — just days after snow fell in Hawaii. Meteorologists predict a harrowing hurricane season.

Is some underlying climactic condition driving these extreme weather events? There are two potential candidates: The first is La Niña, trade winds that blow through every five years, cooling the water of the equatorial Pacific Ocean and shifting the jet stream northwest. The second is global warming, the average worldwide temperature increase of 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century that has resulted from the dramatic rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

La Niña and global warming are both partly responsible for some of the episodes of wild weather, experts say. However, natural atmospheric variability has also come into play this year; to some extent, the pile-on of wild weather is random chance.

Huge AZ wildfire spreads, health conditions worsen
The News - Climate-Environment
June 11, 2011
huge arizona wildfire

An eye-stinging haze of smoke spewing from a gigantic wildfire in eastern Arizona added a potentially serious public health threat to the conflagration on Saturday as firefighters moved to counter spot fires erupting across the state line in New Mexico.

The 640-square-mile blaze remained largely uncontained and firefighters worried that a predicted return of gusty southwesterly winds in the afternoon would cause it to grow even larger.

"We expect the winds to be testing a lot of our lines out there," fire spokeswoman Karen Takai said.

The fire began spotting across the state line Friday night and 150 additional firefighters and several fire engines were sent to bolster forces already waiting in New Mexico, officials said.

Concern about hazardous levels of air pollution spread beyond northeastern Arizona.

Yellowstone's supervolcano - Updates and Information
The News - Current Events
June 08, 2011
yellowstone supervolcano caldera eruption

It's no mere doomsday pseudoscience -  The Yellowstone supervolcano really could be the end of us all. When the Yellowstone Caldera - the name of the national park's geographic structure, which roughly translates as "caldron" - blows its lid, much of the continental United States will get covered in a layerof ash. That ash will clog the atmosphere enough to block out the sun, disrupting the global climate enough to cause mass extinctions.

The last full-scale eruption of that kind occurred 640,000 years ago, and the ones prior to that occurred 1.3 million years and 2.1 million years ago. Interspersed with the big ones have been smaller-scale but still major eruptions, most recently 70,000 years ago.

At the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), an outpost run by the U.S. Geological Survey in conjunction with Yellowstone National Park and the University of Utah, a team of volcanologists continuously monitors the sleeping giant's tectonic activity. They listen to its rumblings (which are streamed online in real time) for clues as to what's brewing below the surface. Jacob Lowenstern, scientist-in-charge at YVO, told us what they're listening for and what they know so far about the next "big one."

Expected Effects of the June 7 Solar Flare
The News - Science-Astronomy
June 08, 2011
massive cme solar flare predictions effects

A massive solar flare which erupted from the surface of the sun on Tuesday is nothing to worry about, says NASA. Although the flare's coronal mass ejection or CME was spectacular, in NASA's words, the accompanying radiation storm fell at the lower end of the scale, with an S1 or minor rating on the five point scale with five being the strongest rating. Indeed the flare itself managed only an M2 or medium rating.

The CME was not directed right at Earth, but should still have an effect on our planet's magnetic field. The CME consists of a magnetic field and plasma. To ground-based observers, that's you and me, the only observable effect is likely to be a brighter aurora borealis in the north and aurora australis in the southern hemisphere, if we happen to be at a high latitude. The increase in solar energetic particles funneled along the lines of the Earth's magnetic field toward the magnetic North and South Poles cause the northern and southern skies to light up as the charged solar wind particles pushed ahead of the CME itself strike atoms in our atmosphere. [ yahoo ]

Killer heat wave enters third day
The News - Climate-Environment
June 08, 2011
The heat wave baking the country's mid-section entered its third day on Wednesday with high temperatures taking a deadly toll from Milwaukee to Memphis.

The hot, humid air, which the National Weather Service warned could create triple-digit heat index readings in many places, also began to spread into the northeast, where temperatures across Southern New England were expected to climb into the 90s on Wednesday and inch higher toward potentially historic numbers on Thursday, meteorologists said.

In Wisconsin, a 69-year-old resident of a Milwaukee nursing home was found dead Tuesday evening after being left unattended outside for three hours in the afternoon heat, which reached a record 97 degrees on Wednesday and hit 90 by early Wednesday afternoon. [ yahoo ]

Solar Storm : Sun Unleashes 'Spectacular' & Powerful Eruption
The News - Science-Astronomy
June 07, 2011
massive solar storm june 2011

The sun unleashed a massive solar storm today (June 7) in a dazzling eruption that kicked up a vast cloud of magnetic plasma that appeared to rain back down over half of the sun's entire surface, NASA scientists say.

The solar storm hit its peak at about 2:41 a.m. EDT (0641 GMT), but the actual flare extended over a three-hour period, said C. Alex Young, a solar astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center who runs a website called The Sun Today, in a video describing the event.

"The sun produced a quite spectacular prominence eruption that had a solar flare and high-energy particles associated with it, but I've just never seen material released like this before," Young said. "It looks like somebody just kicked a giant clod of dirt into the air and then it fell back down." [ Video: See the sun's June 7 solar flare and eruption ]

Chilean volcano sends plumes of ash showering down
The News - Natural Disasters
June 06, 2011
chile volcano ash eruption

The Chilean volcano which erupted on Monday has sent a towering plume of ash across South America, forcing thousands from their homes, grounding airline flights in southern Argentina and coating ski resorts with a gritty layer of dust instead of snow.

Booming explosions echoed across the Andes as toxic gases belched up from a three-mile-long fissure in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex - a ridge between two craters just west of the Chilean-Argentine border that began erupting Saturday.

Winds blew a six-mile high cloud of ash all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and even into southern Buenos Aires province, hundreds of miles to the northeast.

Death toll from Joplin tornado rises to 141
The News - Natural Disasters
June 06, 2011
joplin tornado death toll
The death toll from the May 22 Joplin, Missouri tornado has risen to 141, city officials said on Sunday. Lynn Iliff Onstot, public information officer for Joplin, said the city had identified three new victims who died from injuries sustained as a result of the twister.

The massive F-5 tornado cut a six-mile swath through the southwest Missouri city just as residents were sitting down to Sunday dinner. It was the deadliest single tornado in the United States since 1947.

Tornadoes have battered the country this spring, killing more than 500 people, mostly in the south. A twister even struck Massachusetts, where tornadoes are rare, last week, killing four people.

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