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Tropical storm warning for site of BP oil spill
The News - Current Events
July 22, 2010
gulf spill tropical storm

BP workers in the Gulf of Mexico have stopped drilling a relief well and are preparing to evacuate the oil spill site as a tropical depression nears.

There is a 20-30% chance of tropical storm force winds (39mph/63kph or more) at the spill site by Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center says.

Because of the slow-moving vessels at the spill site, evacuation plans are already well under way. Work on the relief well could be suspended for up to two weeks.

A "packer" - a plug used during storms - has been placed in the relief well to stabilise it. The government's incident commander, Thad Allen, along with BP, must decide whether to leave the well shut during any storm, or to open it and allow oil to gush out into the sea.

The tropical depression is over the Bahamas but is travelling west-northwest at 15mph. It could become a tropical storm later day. Storm warnings are in force in the Bahamas and on much of the Florida coastline. [ BBC NEWS ]

Largest ever tornado study ends
The News - Natural Disasters
July 21, 2010
largest tornado study ends

Storm-chasing scientists have wrapped up the most dangerous stage of the largest-ever study on why some storms become tornadoes and others don't.

While their mission didn't produce any "Aha!" moments, the storm hunters were able to study more than 20 tornadoes and gather more information on these storms than ever before, said team member Joshua Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colo. The findings are leading to a greater understanding of tornadoes, and scientists expect they will ultimately improve tornado warnings and short-term severe weather forecast.
Large China oil spill threatens sea life, water
The News - Climate-Environment
July 21, 2010
china oil spill
China's largest reported oil spill emptied beaches along the Yellow Sea as its size doubled Wednesday, while cleanup efforts included straw mats and frazzled workers with little more than rubber gloves.

An official warned the spill posed a "severe threat" to sea life and water quality as China's latest environmental crisis spread off the shores of Dalian, once named China's most livable city. One cleanup worker has drowned, his body coated in crude.

"I've been to a few bays today and discovered they were almost entirely covered with dark oil," said Zhong Yu with environmental group Greenpeace China, who spent the day on a boat inspecting the spill.

"The oil is half-solid and half liquid and is as sticky as asphalt," she told The Associated Press by telephone.

The oil had spread over 165 square miles (430 square kilometers) of water five days since a pipeline at the busy northeastern port exploded, hurting oil shipments from part of China's strategic oil reserves to the rest of the country. Shipments remained reduced Wednesday. [ YAHOO NEWS ]

Avoidable Disasters - Major (and Deadly) Human Screw-ups
The News - Current Events
July 21, 2010

While BP seems to have gotten the flow of oil in the Gulf of Mexico under control for now, investigations suggest corners were cut for the sake of profit and expediency, leading to the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and fire that killed 11 workers and started the oil leak.

Taking shortcuts is one thing; purposely shutting down existing safety systems is a very different matter, and according to new information, serious safety violations may have led to the worst mine disaster in the last 25 years, the West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 workers in April.[ LIVE SCIENCE ]

2010 U.S. hurricane forecast now 19 named storms
The News - Natural Disasters
July 21, 2010
Private weather forecaster WSI Corp cut its forecast for named storms in the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season on Tuesday, but still sees an active season with water temperatures and wind conditions conducive to violent storms.

In its latest tropical storm update, WSI called for 19 named storms, down from 20 in its June forecast, but maintained its outlook for 11 hurricanes and 5 intense hurricanes of category three or higher. The 2010 forecast is well above the 1950-2009 averages of 10 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 intense hurricanes.

"Record warm tropical Atlantic Ocean temperatures and an enabling wind shear environment should result in a very active tropical season this year," said Dr. Todd Crawford, WSI's chief meteorologist. The disappearance of the El Nino event and a decrease in vertical wind shear both point to the potential for more Atlantic storms, WSI said.

Earth at risk as Solar flare activity rises
The News - Science-Astronomy
July 20, 2010
solar flare activity increase

Scientists say the sun's volative behavior could cause widespread problems on Earth.

The sun's erratic and sometimes volatile behavior has the potential to cause real problems here on Earth, and protecting our planet will require an international effort - according to scientists who gathered recently for a meeting about the effects of solar activity.

Streams of charged particles that fly off the sun can interfere with electronics on Earth and satellites orbiting our planet. For example, during a particularly intense solar storm in 1989, power to an entire Canadian province was knocked out. Since then, other storms have knocked a handful of satellites out of service.

With Earth becoming more and more dependent on technology, the risk from solar flares is only going up, according to experts.

Supernova - Hunt for ticking time bomb stars
The News - Science-Astronomy
July 20, 2010
supernova exploding star

In this negative image of the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101), red squares mark the positions of "super-soft" X-ray sources. The Pinwheel should contain hundreds of accreting white dwarfs on which nuclear fusion is occurring, which should produce prodigious X-rays. Yet detected are only a few dozen super-soft X-ray sources.

Why certain stars explode in supernovas is a mystery to scientists, and a new study finds the situation is even murkier than thought because some of the light from these stars may be blocked.

To understand more about these cosmic explosions, astronomers are hunting for ticking time bombs stars that are on the track toward becoming supernovas. Yet the missing light could make the search even harder.

Death of a star

Supernovas mark the death of a star, when it stops shining light created through nuclear fusion and instead collapses into an extremely dense black hole.

A subset of supernovas called Type Ia supernovas are the gold standard in astronomy. They are thought to erupt when a dense, dim star called a white dwarf hits a certain upper limit in mass and explodes.

Thus, each white dwarf erupting in a Type Ia supernova will shine at roughly the same brightness. This allows astronomers to spot them across the universe and tell how far away they are by how bright they appear, compared to their known intrinsic luminosity. (They are called "standard candles," for this special distance measuring feature.)

But astronomers are still confused by just what cases white dwarfs to hit that mass limit and explode. MSNBC

Can Humans Survive?
The News - Current Events
July 19, 2010
can humans survive

Humans have survived ice ages and deadly pandemics to become the dominant species on Earth, even if our reign over the planet barely represents a blip in a geological record that has seen countless living organisms come and go. We have adapted to live almost anywhere, and have harnessed the power of nature by splitting atoms and splicing DNA to reshape the world. Yet those same technologies could also doom humanity to extinction if misused.

Can humans survive? 

A few doom prophets say no. More experts say yes, but caution that humans must learn to wield technology more wisely to fend off natural threats such as asteroids . Wisdom can also teach humans to avoid destroying themselves with biotechnology or nanotechnology run amok. 

25,000 new asteroids in just six months... and 95 are close to Earth
The News - Science-Astronomy
July 19, 2010

More than 25,000 new asteroids have been discovered in just six months by Nasa’s newest space telescope.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has discovered 95 of these asteroids are classified as ‘near-Earth' objects , meaning roughly 30 million miles from the planet. WISE completed its first survey of the entire sky on Saturday and has generated more than one million images so far, of everything from asteroids to distant galaxies.

near earth asteroids nasa
Oil Spill Threatened by Possible Tropical System this Weekend
The News - Climate-Environment
July 19, 2010
tropical storm gulf oil spill

A well-developed tropical wave currently bringing strong winds and rough seas north of Puerto Rico could develop into a tropical system by the weekend.

According to AccuWeather.com hurricane meteorologist Dan Kottlowski, there is high potential for this tropical wave to evolve into a tropical depression later on this week.

Wind shear is currently hindering any tropical storm organization of this system. However, as the wave moves swiftly west, this shear will diminish over the next few days.

If the wave were to develop into a tropical storm, models predict the system moving into the eastern Gulf of Mexico by the weekend.

Experts fear long oil effect on marine life, food chain
The News - Climate-Environment
July 18, 2010
gulf oil spill disaster
Scientists studying the massive BP oil spill fear a decades-long, "cascading" effect on marine life that could lead to a shift in the overall biological network in the Gulf of Mexico.

With some 400 species estimated to be at risk -- from the tiniest oil-eating bacteria to shrimp and crabs, endangered sea turtles, brown pelicans and sperm whales -- experts say the impact of oil and chemical dispersants on the food chain has already begun, and could grow exponentially.

"A major environmental experiment is underway," Ron Kendall, director of the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University, told AFP.

"We are already impacting the base of the food chain," he said, including plankton, which provide crucial food for fish, and juvenile shrimp in intertidal marshes along the Gulf Coast.


[ Seep found near BP's blown out oil well ]

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.

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