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Will the Iceland Volcano Change the Climate?
The News - Climate-Environment
April 17, 2010
iceland volcano climate change
The vast plume of material spewing from this week's eruption of an Icelandic volcano is reddening sunsets and clouding skies across Europe. If the eruptions continue and get bigger — a possibility given the explosive history of Iceland's volcanoes — even the global climate could be affected. But the current eruption is too wimpy to have any significant impact, scientists say.

The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano may be treating European sky watchers to spectacular sunsets and hampering air travel due to the ash and gas it has spewed into the atmosphere. But "there will be no effect on climate," said Alan Robock of Rutgers University, who studies the effects of volcanic eruptions on climate.

The potential for Eyjafjallajökull to impact the Earth's climate is still there, however, if it begins to erupt more violently.

"If it has another eruption in the future, it could have an impact," Robock said.(LIVE SCIENCE)

 
China earthquake toll rises to 1,144
The News - Natural Disasters
April 16, 2010
china earthquake death toll
Tibetan monks prayed Friday over hundreds of bodies at a makeshift morgue next to their monastery after powerful earthquakes destroyed the remote mountain town of Jiegu in western China and left at least 1,144 people dead.

State media on Friday reported that another 417 people remain missing -- as rescuers neared the end of the 72-hour period viewed as best for finding people alive. They continued to dig for survivors in the rubble, often by hand.

The official toll was likely to climb further. Gerlai Tenzing, a red-robed monk from the Jiegu Monastery, estimated that about 1,000 bodies had been brought to a hillside clearing in the shadow of the monastery. He said a precise count was difficult because bodies continued to trickle in and some had already been taken away by family members. (DailyHearald)

 
Huge ash plume blanketing Europe may last four more days
The News - Current Events
April 16, 2010

The unprecedented closure of airspace across Britain and large parts of Northern Europe is set to continue into the weekend, after the volcanic eruption in Iceland that sent a massive plume of ash into the atmosphere.

As debris continued to spew from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, airlines were last night preparing to ground flights for at least four more days.

Hundreds of thousands of stranded passengers, already experiencing the worst travel chaos in living memory, faced trying to make alternative arrangements by rail, road or sea — or cancelling their trips.

The National Air Traffic Service denied that it had overreacted by closing UK airspace. It said: “Safety is our main priority and volcanic ash is a serious threat to aircraft.” Safety experts said that if the ash is sucked into jet engines it can cause them to fail catastrophically. (TIMES ONLINE)

 
Icelandic volcano still spewing huge ash plume
The News - Current Events
April 16, 2010
iceland volcano eruption spewing
An Icelandic volcano is still spewing ash into the air in a massive plume that has disrupted air traffic across Europe and shows little sign of letting up, officials said on Friday.

One expert said the eruption could abate in the coming days, but a government spokesman said ash would keep drifting into the skies of Europe.

The thick, dark brown ash cloud has shut down air traffic across northern Europe and restrictions remained in place in many areas. However, Norway said it had resumed some limited flights in the north of the country.

"It is more or less the same situation as yesterday, it is still erupting, still exploding, still producing gas," University of Iceland professor Armann Hoskuldsson told Reuters.

"We expect it to last for two days or more or something. It cannot continue at this rate for many days. There is a limited amount of magma that can spew out," he added, saying it was the magma, or molten rock beneath the Earth's surface, coming out of the volcano that turned into ash.

 
Europe flights could be grounded into weekend by ash
The News - Climate-Environment
April 16, 2010

Flights across much of Europe are being cancelled on a second day of massive disruption caused by drifting ash ejected from a volcano in Iceland.

Hundreds of thousands of passengers are affected and severe disruption could extend into the weekend, including on flights to North America and Asia.

Some 5,000 flights were cancelled on Thursday as airspace from the Republic of Ireland to Finland was closed.

The ash is not thought to pose a serious health risk to people however. ( BBC NEWS )

 
Icelandic volcano eruption intensifies
The News - Natural Disasters
April 15, 2010
iceland volcano
A volcanic eruption in Iceland, which has thrown up a 6-km (3.7 mile) high plume of ash and disrupted air traffic across northern Europe, has grown more intense, an expert said on Thursday.

The eruption under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier continued to spew large amounts of ash and smoke into the air and showed no signs of abating after 40 hours of activity, said Pall Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland.

"The seismographs are showing that since this morning the intensity of the eruption seems to be growing," he said.

Hot fumes had melted up to a third of the glacial ice covering the crater, causing a nearby river to burst its banks, and frequent explosions on the floor of the crater sounded like bombs going off, he said. ( YAHOO NEWS )

 
Massive fireball reported across Midwestern sky
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 15, 2010
Authorities in several Midwestern states were flooded Wednesday night with reports of a gigantic fireball lighting up the sky, the National Weather Service said.

The fireball was visible for about 15 minutes beginning about 10 p.m., said the National Weather Service in Sullivan, Wisconsin, just west of Milwaukee.

"The fireball was seen over the northern sky, moving from west to east," said the NWS in the Quad Cities area, which includes parts of Iowa and Illinois.

"Well before it reached the horizon, it broke up into smaller pieces and was lost from sight," the service said. "Several reports of a prolonged sonic boom were received from areas north of Highway 20, along with shaking of homes, trees and various other objects including wind chimes," it said. ( CNN NEWS )

 
Space storms could not knock out National Grid and Sat Navs
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 14, 2010

The solar flares and sunspots throw massive clouds of electrically charged gas at the Earth which cause power surges and throw compasses into disarray.

The weather in space has been through an unprecedented calm period in the last century but the researchers believe we could be entering a more volatile period.

The reason is that the Sun has dimmed to its lowest activity level in nearly 150 years – a phenomenon that usually precedes huge space storms.

The last really big solar "super flare" – in 1859 – knocked out telegrams and ship's compasses and covered two-thirds of the Earth in a blood red aurora. (TELEGRAPH UK)

 
Western China Earthquake kills more than 400
The News - Natural Disasters
April 14, 2010
A series of strong earthquakes struck a mountainous Tibetan area of western China on Wednesday, killing at least 400 people and injuring more than 10,000 as houses made of mud and wood collapsed, officials said. Many more people were trapped, and the toll was expected to rise.

The largest quake was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey as magnitude 6.9. In the aftermath, panicked people, many bleeding from their wounds, flooded the streets of a Qinghai province township where most of the homes had been flattened. Students were reportedly buried inside several damaged schools.

Paramilitary police used shovels to dig through the rubble in the town, footage on state television showed. Officials said excavators were not available. Crews worked to repair the damaged road to the nearest airport and clear the way for equipment and rescue teams. Hospitals were overwhelmed, many lacking even the most basic supplies, and doctors were in short supply.

By nightfall, the airport was operating with emergency power and receiving relief flights carrying medical workers and supplies, state media reported. (YAHOO NEWS)

 
Powerful 6.8-magnitude quake strikes Solomon Islands
The News - Natural Disasters
April 12, 2010
powerful earthquake salomon islands
A powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck near the Solomon Islands in the western Pacific on Sunday, the US Geological Survey said, but there was no tsunami alert or reports of damage.

The quake struck at a depth of about 60 kilometres (37 miles) with an epicentre 102 kilometres southwest of Kira Kira on Makira Island at 8:40 pm (0940 GMT) the USGS said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no destructive widespread tsunami threat but added in a bulletin: "Earthquakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis that can be destructive along coasts located within 100 kilometres of the earthquake epicentre. (Yahoo News)

 
NASA's SOHO watches sun gobble up comet
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 12, 2010
nasa soho sun eats comet
The destruction of a comet as it approached the sun was caught on camera Saturday by a long-lived space observatory. The comet, a stranger to astronomers, is now doomed to anonymous obscurity.

The comet's death plunge was recorded by the sun-watching Solar and Heliospheric Observatory as the previously unknown icy wanderer barreled down on the sun from cosmic parts unknown, according to Spaceweather.com, a Web site dedicated to monitoring space weather.

The comet appeared in SOHO images on Friday but by early this morning it had disappeared entirely, Spaceweather.com reported.

This above image, taken early April 10, 2010, shows a newfound comet just before it is annihilated by the sun. Here, the comet is extremely bright as seen by SOHO. Shortly afterward, it dims noticeably and later disappears entirely.  (MSNBC)

 
Ancient Supervolcano Created Giant Underwater Mountain Chain
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 12, 2010

A supervolcano on the ocean floor might have spewed massive amounts of lava in a rapid amount of time, new findings that could help reveal the mysterious origin of some of these ancient goliaths, which may have triggered mass extinctions through Earth's history.

Roughly a dozen supervolcanoes currently exist. Some are on land, while others lie at the bottom of the ocean. Each has produced several million cubic miles of lava — about three hundred times the volume of all the Great Lakes combined — dwarfing the amount of lava produced by the Hawaiian volcanoes or the Icelandic volcano that erupted recently.

These eruptions have dramatically shaped life on Earth, pumping huge amounts of ash, dust and gas into the atmosphere that have killed off species and altered global climate. Despite their global impact, the cause of the massive eruptions from supervolcanoes at times remains unknown. (LiveScience)

 
Rio's worst rains in history kill at least 95
The News - Natural Disasters
April 07, 2010
rio flooding
The heaviest rains in Rio de Janeiro's history triggered landslides Tuesday that killed at least 95 people as rising water turned roads into rivers and paralyzed Brazil's second-largest city.

The ground gave way in steep hillside slums, cutting red-brown paths of destruction through shantytowns. Concrete and wooden homes were crushed and hurtled downhill, only to bury other structures.

The future host city of the Olympics and football World Cup ground to a near halt as Mayor Eduardo Paes urged workers to stay home and closed all schools. Most businesses were shuttered.

Eleven inches (29 centimeters) of frain fell in less than 24 hours, and more rain was expected. Officials said potential mudslides threatened at least 10,000 homes in the city of 6 million people.

Paes urged people in endangered areas to take refuge with family or friends and he said no one should venture out.

 
7.8 quake shakes Indonesia's Sumatra
The News - Natural Disasters
April 07, 2010

A major earthquake of 7.8 magnitude struck off the coast of Aceh on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Wednesday, but there were no immediate reports of a tsunami or casualties.

A Reuters photographer on Simeulue island, south of Aceh, said there was panic and electricity was cut off after the quake. Metro TV reported that people rushed to higher ground in some areas.

The quake was centred 204 km (127 miles) west-northwest of the coastal town of Sibolga and was at a depth of 46 km (28.6 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. It had initially reported the quake's magnitude at 7.6.

The Reuters witness said there were at least threee aftershocks.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat of a destructive widespread tsunami. However, it added: "There is the possibility of a local tsunami that could affect coasts" no more than 100 km (62 miles) from the epicentre of the quake.

In December 2004, a magnitude 9.15 quake off the coast of Sumatra's Aceh province triggered an Indian Ocean tsunami that killed about 226,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other countries.

 
Massive Earthquakes Barely Disturb Earth's Natural Rhythms
The News - Natural Disasters
April 05, 2010
Yesterday's magnitude-7.2 earthquake that rocked northern Mexico and parts of Southern California was barely worth noting compared to the ongoing, major forces that shape planet Earth. In a geologic sense, there are greater forces at work, from the coming and going of ice ages to an ongoing imbalance in the planet's rotation that make it wobble like a spinning top that's winding down.

Even the monstrous 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile in February, and which might have changed Earth's rotation and shortened days by a fraction, hardly had an impact on the planet in the long run. In fact, scientists have a hard time spotting the effect of even bigger quakes on something such as the Earth's rotation, said Richard Gross, a geophysicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"These large earthquakes are rare, catastrophic events," Gross explained. "What's normally causing the Earth's rotation to change is the surface mass movement of the oceans and atmosphere."

Those larger normal effects drown out the impact of earthquakes on the Earth's rotation, Gross told LiveScience. And that's not even considering all the other ways that the misshapen Earth wobbles and flexes over the grand geological timescale. 

 
Magnitude-7.2 Mexicali Quake Shakes SoCal
The News - Natural Disasters
April 04, 2010
earthquake easter 2010

Aftershocks in the 5.0 to 6.0 range are possible during the next few days

More aftershocks - some in the 5.0- to 6.0-magnitude range -- are expected to shake Southern California in the wake of Sunday's magnitude-7.2 earthquake near Mexicali. The quake was felt throughout Southern California.

Initial reports said the quake was magnitude-6.9, but officials with the USGS later changed the figure to 7.2. The USGS timeline shows a swarm of aftershocks and other earthquakes.

"If you felt the first earthquake strongly, it's likely you will feel the aftershocks," said Dr. Lucy Jones, of Caltech. "It's likely they will happen over the next few days. The chance of a magnitude-5.0 to 6.0 aftershock is pretty good. 

 
Giant Comet Responsible for a North American Catastrophe in 11,000 BC?
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 01, 2010
comet catastrophe

Some 13,000 years ago the Earth was struck by thousands of Tunguska-sized cometary fragments over the course of an hour, leading to a dramatic cooling of the planet, according to astronomer Professor Bill Napier of the Cardiff University Astrobiology Centre.

The cooling, by as much as 8°C, interrupted the warming which was occurring at the end of the last ice age and caused glaciers to readvance. Evidence has been found that this catastrophic change was associated with some extraordinary extraterrestrial event. The boundary is marked by the occurrence of a "black mat" layer a few centimetres thick found at many sites throughout the United States containing high levels of soot indicative of continental-scale wildfires, as well as microscopic hexagonal diamonds (nanodiamonds) which are produced by shocks and are only found in meteorites or impact craters . These findings led to the suggestion that the catastrophic changes of that time were caused by the impact of an asteroid or comet 4 km across on the Laurentide ice sheet, which at that time covered what would become Canada and the northern part of the United States.

The cooling lasted over a thousand years, and its onset coincides with the rapid extinction of 35 genera of North American mammals, as well as the disruption of the Palaeoindian culture. The chief objection to the idea of a big impact is that the odds against the Earth being struck by an asteroid this large only 13,000 years ago are a thousand to one against. And the heat generated by the rising fireball would be limited by the curvature of the horizon and could not explain the continent-wide occurrence of wildfires.

 
Historical Supernova from a New Angle
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 01, 2010
supernova cassiopeia

Since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the sky 400 years ago, a myriad of technological advances have allowed astronomers to look at very faint objects, very distant objects, and even light that's invisible to the human eye. Yet, one aspect usually remains out of reach -- the benefit of a 3-D perspective.

Our telescopes show the Milky Way galaxy only as it appears from one vantage point: our solar system. Now, using a simple but powerful technique, a group of astronomers led by Armin Rest of Harvard University has seen an exploding star or supernova from several angles.

"The same event looks different from different places in the Milky Way," said Rest. "For the first time, we can see a supernova from an alien perspective."

The supernova left behind the gaseous remnant Cassiopeia A. The supernova's light washed over the Earth about 330 years ago. But light that took a longer path, reflecting off clouds of interstellar dust, is just now reaching us. This faint, reflected light is what the astronomers have detected.

 
Competing Catastrophes - Asteroid Impact or Climate Change?
The News - Current Events
March 31, 2010
asteroid impact climate change
If you ask the average person whether in the long run it is climate change or an asteroid/comet impact that's expected to kill more people annually, you'll undoubtedly get some confused replies. Those asteroid movies are scary, but there are no verified instances of an asteroid strike killing any humans, are there? Meanwhile, the science of climate change is currently being overshadowed by a media-driven public debate, mainly in the U.S.

In fact, the expected annual fatality rate due to climate change is estimated to be far higher than that due to an asteroid or comet impact—150,000 versus 91, per the World Health Organization (WHO) and Alan Harris of the Space Science Institute, respectively. You won't, however, see that 150,000 figure in the main body of the Washington, D.C.–based National Research Council report on near-Earth object (NEO) surveys and mitigation strategies. (The report was written by a total of 42 scientists.)

Instead, in a chart on page 26 of the report on "expected fatalities per year, worldwide, from a variety of causes," asteroids are compared with shark attacks (three to seven deaths), firearms accidents (2,500), earthquakes (36,000), malaria (one million), traffic accidents (1.2 million), air pollution (two million), HIV/AIDS (2.1 million) and tobacco (five million).
 
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