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Killer germ: First outbreak of 'rare' microbe
The News - Current Events
June 02, 2011

The strain of a lethal bacteria that has killed 18 people in Europe is "very rare" and had never been seen in an outbreak form before, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

"This strain isolated from cases in the infection outbreak in Germany has never been seen in an outbreak before," Gregory Hartl, the WHO spokesman, said.

"It has been seen in sporadic cases and is very rare," he added.

 
Horror for US Economy as Data Falls off Cliff
The News - Economy
June 01, 2011
us economy horror great depression

The last month has been a horror show for the U.S. economy, with economic data falling off a cliff, according to Mike Riddell, a fund manager at M&G Investments in London.

"It seems that almost every bit of data about the health of the US economy has disappointed expectations recently," said Riddell, in a note sent to CNBC on Wednesday.

"US house prices have fallen by more than 5 percent year on year, pending home sales have collapsed and existing home sales disappointed, the trend of improving jobless claims has arrested, first quarter GDP wasn’t revised upwards by the 0.4 percent forecast, durables goods orders shrank, manufacturing surveys from Philadelphia Fed, Richmond Fed and Chicago Fed were all very disappointing." [ cnbc ]

 
Japanese Nuclear Disaster - Forgotten but Not Gone
The News - Current Events
June 01, 2011
super typhoon songda

Few in the United States have heard of Typhoon Songda. That is a very good sign. Typhoon Songda approached the Philippines as a super typhoon, the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. Its projected track would have taken it near to the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan, the site of at least three reactor meltdowns in the wake of a tsunami.

The typhoon lost all its energy, however, and just brought heavy rain the Japanese home islands. The difference, winds of over 150 mph vs. winds of less than 40 mph. The heavily damaged reactors at Fukushima were unprepared for a super typhoon.

The six reactors at the Fukushima site have faded from the news since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. The site has not become any less dangerous and the fix appears months if not years away. The site is unprepared for another earthquake or tsunami, and unprepared for any typhoon activity. In the 53 years from 1951 to 2004 Japan averaged 2.6 typhoons making landfall each year. [ yahoo ]

 
Could a cyber war turn into a real one for the U.S.?
The News - War-Draft
June 01, 2011
cyber war cyber warfare

The United States is warning that a cyber attack - presumably if it is devastating enough - could result in real-world military retaliation... Easier said than done.

In the wake of a significant new hacking attempt against Lockheed Martin Corp, experts say it could be extremely difficult to know fast enough with any certainty where an attack came from. Sophisticated hackers can mask their tracks and make it look like a cyber strike came from somewhere else.

There are also hard questions about the legality of such reprisals and the fact that other responses, like financial sanctions or cyber countermeasures, may be more appropriate than military action, analysts say. [ yahoo ]

 
European food outbreak soars, mystery deepens
The News - Current Events
June 01, 2011
european food outbreak scare

The number of people hit by a massive European outbreak of foodborne bacterial infections is a third bigger than previously known and a stunningly high number of patients suffer from a potentially deadly complication than can shut down their kidneys, officials said Wednesday.

The death toll rose to 17, with German authorities reporting that an 84-year-old woman with the complication had died on Sunday.

Medical authorities appeared no closer to discovering either the source of the infection or the mystery at the heart of the outbreak: why the unusual strain of the E. coli bacteria appears to be causing so many cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, which attacks the kidneys and can cause seizures, strokes and comas.

 
Striking view of 'Milky Way twin'
The News - Science-Astronomy
June 01, 2011
milky way galaxy has twin

Astronomers have released what they say is the best-yet picture of NGC 6744, a spiral galaxy described as a "sibling" of our own Milky Way.

The image was snapped by the European Southern Observatory's MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope in Chile. The galaxy lies 30 million light-years away, in the constellation Pavo.

While it is almost twice as large as the Milky Way, it exhibits the same sharply-defined spiral arms and stretched central region. There is even a small companion galaxy, visible at the lower right of the image, which is analogous to our own galactic neighbours the Magellanic Clouds. [ bbc ]

 
Food Prices, Global Hunger to Skyrocket by 2030
The News - Climate-Environment
May 31, 2011
food prices global hunger 2030

Left unchecked, climate change combined with population explosion and low agricultural yields will drastically increase global poverty and hunger over the next two decades.

The prices of staple foods such as corn and rice will speed up their ascent, Oxfam predicts, and will climb by 180 percent and 130 percent, respectively, by the year 2030.

In a world where the poorest people now spend as much as 80 percent of their incomes on food - the average Filipino spends proportionally four times more on sustenance than the average British person, for example - drastic food scarcities and price hikes will likely push many struggling populations into hunger and, potentially, starvation. [ yahoo ]

 
Haiti earthquake death toll lower than previously thought?
The News - Natural Disasters
May 31, 2011
haiti earthquake deathtoll
Far fewer people died or were left homeless by last year's devastating earthquake than claimed by Haitian leaders, a report commissioned by the U.S. government has concluded - challenging a central premise behind a multibillion-dollar aid and reconstruction effort.

The report, a copy of which was obtained Monday by The Associated Press, estimates that the death toll was between 46,000 and 85,000, far below the Haitian government's official figure of 316,000. The report was prepared for the U.S. Agency for International Development but has not yet been publicly released.

Haitian authorities stood by the figures they released last year. [ yahoo ]

 
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 ]

 
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