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After Oil Spills, Hidden Damage Can Last for Years
The News - Climate-Environment
July 18, 2010
gulf oil spill after effects

On the rocky beaches of Alaska, scientists plunged shovels and picks into the ground and dug 6,775 holes, repeatedly striking oil — still pungent and dangerous a dozen years after the Exxon Valdez infamously spilled its cargo.

More than an ocean away, on the Breton coast of France, scientists surveying the damage after another huge oil spill found that disturbances in the food chain persisted for more than a decade.

And on the southern gulf coast in Mexico, an American researcher peering into a mangrove swamp spotted lingering damage 30 years after that shore was struck by an enormous spill.

These far-flung shorelines hit by oil in the past offer clues to what people living along the Gulf Coast can expect now that the great oil calamity of 2010 may be nearing an end. [ NYTIMES.com ]

 
Top 5 Hurricane Vulnerable & Overdue Cities
The News - Natural Disasters
July 17, 2010
top 5 cities at risk for hurricane
Every community along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts of the United States is at risk for the direct impacts of a hurricane.  Some areas have experienced hurricanes at greater frequency than others, and are more prone to experiencing stronger hurricane impacts. 

Since a disastrous hurricane in any one metropolitan area is a fairly rare event, some residents can live in an area for a long period of time, perhaps even most or all of their lives, without experiencing one, despite living in a vulnerable location. 

People in other areas have not been so fortunate in recent years, with devastation fresh in their minds while still recovering, but remaining as much at risk as ever. 

So, it seems instructive to highlight examples of locations that are both vulnerable and overdue for a very significant hurricane impact.  Doing so can help remind residents of any area that has escaped a hurricane disaster for quite some time that what has happened to others could happen to them too.  (New Orleans, Gulfport-Biloxi, Galveston and Houston are examples of locations not on this list because they've recently been severely hit.)

While certainly not an exhaustive list, the following five metropolitan areas have been selected based on a combination of the amount of people and property at high risk, and how long it has been since the area has been directly affected by a very strong hurricane.  It is a matter of when, not if, these areas are struck next. [ WEATHER.com ]
 
How Will a Hurricane Affect the Oil Spill?
The News - Natural Disasters
July 15, 2010
hurricane effect on oil spill
Hurricane Alex rumbled through the Gulf of Mexico recently, disrupting efforts to capture or clean up the oil gushing from BP's Macondo well and giving a preview of what a powerful tropical cyclone might do at the ongoing environmental disaster. With everyone from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to Columbia University scientists predicting that this year’s hurricane season will be more active than normal, Alex is likely to foreshadow disruptions to come.

So what does a storm with the energy potential of 10,000 nuclear bombs do to an oil spill covering roughly 6,500 square kilometers?

"The oil is not going to be up in the clouds and raining down on people," says oceanographer Christopher Zappa of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. Or as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put it in a June 23 statement, "EPA has no data, information or scientific basis that suggests that oil mixed with dispersant could possibly evaporate from the Gulf into the water cycle."
 
China faces worst floods in 12 years
The News - Natural Disasters
July 15, 2010
china flooding worst 12 years
China could be facing the worst floods in more than a decade if rains continue to drench the Yangtze river region, an official said Thursday, as a major tropical storm threatens the southern coast.

The situation along the nation's longest waterway was at a "critical point", Wang Jingquan, head of the flood control office at the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission, told AFP.

"If heavy rain hits the upper reaches of the river, the Yangtze River basin could suffer from flooding similar to 1998," he said. "And if you add the (imminent) landfall of Typhoon Conson, the situation along the Yangtze River basin is even less optimistic."

China experienced massive deadly floods in 1998 in parts of the Yangtze River basin, which acts as an unofficial dividing line between the north and south of the country. The disaster killed 4,150 people and forced over 18 million more out of their homes, causing economic losses of 255 billion yuan (38 billion dollars), according to state media reports. [ YAHOO NEWS ]

 
Life on Earth wiped out every 27 million years
The News - Science-Astronomy
July 13, 2010
asteroid impact extinction

Life on Earth is wiped out every 27 million years - and we have about 16 million years left until the next extinction, according to scientists.

Research into so-called ‘extinction events ’ for our planet over the past 500 million years  - twice as long as any previous studies  - has proved that they crop up with metronomic regularity.

Scientists from the University of Kansas and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC are 99 per cent confident that there are extinctions every 27 million years.

In the 1980s scientists believed that Earth’s regular extinctions could be the result of a distant dark twin of the Sun, called Nemesis.

The theory was that Nemesis crashed through the Oort cloud every 27 million years and sent a shower of comets in our direction.

The Oort cloud is a vast  belt of dust and ice that is believed to lie around one light year from the Sun and is the origin of many of the comets that pass through our solar system.

But now scientists claim that the regularity of the mass extinctions actually disproves the Nemesis theory because its orbit would have changed over time as it interacted with other stars.

 
17 dead, 44 missing in southwest China after rain triggers landslides
The News - Natural Disasters
July 13, 2010
china landslides 17 dead

Rain-triggered landslides left 17 people dead and 44 missing in southwest China's Yunnan and Sichuan provinces Tuesday, local authorities said.

In Yunnan, four people were killed and 42 others went missing after landslides and floods hit Xiaohe Township, Qiaojia County, Zhaotong City, early Tuesday.

As of noon, 53 people had been injured in the disaster.

The provincial government has sent a relief team and relief supplies to Zhaotong. [ Xinhuanet ]

 
Population explosion scrutinized as scientists urge politicians to act
The News - Current Events
July 13, 2010
population explosion overpopulation

Britain's premier scientific organisation has launched a two-year study into global population levels. A growing body of scientists believe the time has come for politicians to confront the problems posed by the future increase in human numbers.

The Royal Society has established a working group of leading experts to draw up a comprehensive set of recommendations on human population that could set the agenda for tackling the environmental stress caused by billions of extra people on the planet.

Sir John Sulston, the Nobel laureate who took a leading role in decoding the human genome, will lead the study. A failure to be open about the problems caused by the global population explosion would set back human development, he warned.

 
Kern Canyon Fault : Inactive fault may trigger big earthquake after all
The News - Natural Disasters
July 12, 2010
seismic fault sierra nevada

A seismic fault in the Sierra Nevada, believed to have been quiet for more than 3 million years, is active after all and capable of triggering strong quakes with magnitudes of 6 or even 7, scientists say.

The Kern Canyon Fault, stretching for nearly 90 miles from north to south above the San Joaquin Valley east of Bakersfield, cuts beneath a major flood control dam on the Kern River.

For a half-dozen years those who oversee the 57-year-old Isabella flood control dam above Bakersfield, as well as California Institute of Technology geologists, have been studying the fault closely.

"It came as a surprise to see that a long-inactive fault can produce significant quakes," said geologist Elisabeth Nadin of Caltech, who has hiked the sparsely populated rugged terrain and mapped where evidence showed the fault ruptured violently at least 3,300 years ago.

Geologists working for the Army Corps of Engineers have also studied the fault's potential for rupturing and are surveying the dam to determine whether it needs strengthening against future large quakes.

The fault emerged some 86 million years ago when the immense granite mass of the Sierra was uplifting, said Nadin, who has found the evidence of past violence in the rocks around it.

 
Magnetic loops shown erupting from the sun
The News - Science-Astronomy
July 12, 2010
magnetic loops sun solar

A powerful NASA spacecraft has caught a cluster of glowing magnetic loops bursting from the sun while watching a particularly active solar hotspot.

The new views of the sun were recorded by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in the extreme ultraviolet range of the light spectrum over several days, beginning July 6. A video still of the arcing magnetic loops was recently released by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The arcing solar material is blazing-white at the sun's surface, then fades to dull, hot orange near the apex. Smoky wisps blur the outlines of larger loops, while smaller ones appear to vanish among the bright, crowded others. The arcs are the routes taken by solar particles following the whipping loops ever-changing magnetic field lines on the surface of the sun. Small solar flares, hidden from SDO's view, also emerged from the sun in this area of intense activity. [ MSNBC NEWS ]

 
Technology's disasters share long trail of hubris
The News - Natural Disasters
July 11, 2010
It's all so familiar. A technological disaster, then a presidential commission examining what went wrong. And ultimately a discovery that while technology marches on, concern for safety lags. Technology isn't as foolproof as it seemed.

Space shuttles shatter. Bridges buckle. Hotel walkways collapse. Levees fail. An offshore oil rig explodes, creating the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The common thread — which the new presidential oil spill commission will be looking for — often is technological arrogance and hubris. It's the belief by those in charge that they're the experts, that they know what they're doing is safe. Add to that the human weaknesses of avoidance, greed and sloppiness, say academics who study disasters. [ YAHOO NEWS ]

 
Katla : 14 earthquakes in 48 hours!
The News - Current Events
July 11, 2010
Fourteen earthquakes have occurred below Iceland's Mýrdalsjökull glacier during the past 48 hours - one within the last 4 hours. Katla Volcano lies beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier.

Katla Volcano usually erupts every century, says Iceland's President Olafur Grimsson. and the last eruption was in 1918. "The time for Katla to erupt is coming close."

"I don't say if, but I say when Katla will erupt," Grimsson says. "We have been waiting for that eruption for several years."

"It can create, for a long period, extraordinary damage to modern advanced society." [ ICE AGE NOW ]

 
Hurricane Season 2010 - On pace for another 2005?
The News - Natural Disasters
July 10, 2010
hurricane season 2010

Just over a month into the 2010 Hurricane Season, we've already had an intense hurricane roam the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Alex became the first Atlantic Basin June hurricane in 15 years.  It didn't stop there.  Alex became one of the most intense June hurricanes since the 1950s and 1960s. 

Given the ominous seasonal forecasts submitted by NOAA, Colorado State University, and WSI, you may wonder based on Alex, if we're headed for another destructive season like 2005. 

Let's shed some light on this by first comparing the '10 and '05 seasons-to-date.

 
Heat islands: Cities heat quickly, cool slowly
The News - Climate-Environment
July 09, 2010

Hot town, summer in the city? No kidding.

The high temperatures blanketing the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the country are making many people miserable, but those in New York City, Philadelphia and other dense, built-up areas are getting hit with the heat in a way their counterparts in suburbs and rural areas aren't.

Cities absorb more solar energy during the day and are slower to release it after the sun sets, making for uncomfortable nights and no real relief from the heat. And because they haven't cooled down as much overnight, mornings are warmer and the thermometer goes right back up when the sun starts beating down the next day.

Scientists have known for years about so-called heat islands, urban areas that are hotter than the less-developed areas around them. Cities are just "not well designed to release that summertime heat," said William Solecki, geography professor at Hunter College and director of the City University of New York's Institute for Sustainable Cities. [ ASSOCIATED PRESS ]

 
Scientists Hunt for Signs of Earliest Life on Earth
The News - Science-Astronomy
July 09, 2010
earlierst life on earth

No one knows when the very first life on Earth appeared – though what little evidence scientists have indicates that life was present not very long after our planet formed.

Fossil hunters are continually scouring the globe for rocks betraying signs of even more ancient life forms, and controversy reigns over claims of the earliest evidence for life.

One such fossil hunter is Nora Noffke, a trace fossil sedimentologist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. Noffke and team recently found rocks in South Africa with evidence of cyanobacteria dating from 2.9 billion years ago, which is the oldest confirmed evidence of these life forms. Cyanobacteria is a type of single-celled bacteria – still thriving on the Earth today – that gains its energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis.

The Earth itself is thought to be about 4.5 billion years old. [ LIVE SCIENCE ]

 
UFO over China closes airports
The News - Weird-Strange
July 09, 2010
china ufo closes aitports

A Chinese airport was closed after this mysterious object was spotted in the sky.

Arcing over Zhejiang's provincial capital Hangzhou, the UFO appeared to glow with an eerie white light and left a bright trail in its wake.

Xiaoshan Airport was closed after the UFO was detected at around 9 pm and dozens of flights had to be diverted.

Stunned witnesses reported seeing a comet-like fireball in the sky and a number of local residents took photos of the strange ball of light.

A local bus driver, giving his name only as Yu, said he had seen a strange glowing object in the sky late on Wednesday afternoon. 'The thing suddenly ran westwards fast, like it was escaping from something,' he said.

 
A "Tame" Year in U.S., So Far, but Catastrophes Rising Worldwide
The News - Natural Disasters
July 08, 2010
natural disasters rising 2010

Earthquakes are rattling the globe this year, but the number of atmospheric catastrophes, like floods, is multiplying faster as the world warms, according to the lead climate researcher at a global insurance corporation.

Haiti, Chile and China suffered jarring quakes in the first half of 2010, resulting in more than 225,000 deaths. Nearly all of those occurred in Haiti during a January shake, marking a global spree of tectonic rumblings that caused $38 billion in total losses, according to catastrophe data collected by insurance giant Munich Re.

But while the number of earthquakes that affect people is rising, it is eclipsed by a faster increase in the frequency of floods, storms and heat waves over the last 30 years, said Peter Höppe, who heads Munich Re's climate research center.

"There is a pronounced larger trend in the weather related events, compared to the geophysical events," he told reporters yesterday in a review of this year's damages.

 
Why Sumatra Quake Unleashed Giant Tsunami, Others Don't
The News - Natural Disasters
July 08, 2010

In late 2004 and early 2005, disastrous earthquakes shook Sumatra, an island in western Indonesia. The two earthquakes, both among the biggest on record, struck just months apart along the same fault, yet the first quake produced the deadliest tsunami in modern history, while the second quake's tsunami was far less dramatic. A new study reveals why.

On Dec. 26, 2004 a 9.1-magnitude undersea earthquake rumbled near Sumatra and stretched 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) to the north. The resulting tsunami devastated coastlines along the Indian Ocean, with tsunami waves up to 100 feet (30 meters) high. More than 230,000 people died and millions were left homeless.

Three months later in 2005, an 8.7-magnitude earthquake hit immediately to the south and triggered a smaller tsunami that killed 1,300 people. Scientists were unsure why the quakes produced tsunamis that were so different since the ruptures were on adjacent segments of the same fault - a fracture in the Earth's crust.

 
Did an Ancient Supernova Trigger the Solar System's Birth?
The News - Science-Astronomy
July 07, 2010
supernova solar system
One star dies, another is born. The remains of the old are gathered up, at least in some small measure, to become part of the new. That is the astronomical circle of life, the reason that stars have evolved through the eons, each generation incorporating new elements synthesized in the stars that came before. Unlike the earliest stars of hydrogen and helium, stars nowadays contain heavier elements passed down to them by their predecessors, such as carbon, iron and oxygen.

Aside from producing many of the elements that make up our planet and our bodies, the stellar cycle of birth and death appears to have spurred the formation of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago. According to a new model outlined in a study in the July 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, a shock wave from an exploding massive star several light-years away probably triggered the collapse of the molecular cloud that would become our sun and planets.
 
Summer heat expands
The News - Climate-Environment
July 07, 2010

The region will see one last day of extreme heat with high temperatures in the 95 to 105 degree range from southeastern New York south through Virginia. For many of these same areas this will be the fourth consecutive day with high temperatures 95 degrees or higher. Over two dozen high temperature records were broken Tuesday and more are expected to fall.

The remainder of the Northeast will also be hot with high temperatures in the 80s and lower 90s. Coastal New England should have the coolest readings due to an increasing easterly wind blowing off the cooler ocean during the afternoon. [ WEATHER.com ]

 
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