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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).
Obama declares emergency in flood-hit Rhode Island
The News - Natural Disasters
March 31, 2010
rhode island flooding
Heavy rain in the northeastern United States has left the region at risk from dangerous flooding, with President Barack Obama issuing an emergency declaration for the small state of Rhode Island.

Obama on Tuesday ordered "federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the area struck by severe storms and flooding," a White House statement said.

The emergency declaration authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts in the state.

"Runoff from the very heavy rainfall of the past two days will continue to flow into area rivers," the National Weather Service said in a flood warning.

"Widespread and potentially severe dangerous flooding... will be occurring through much of the morning," the service said.

Ice Sheet Melt Identified as Trigger of 'Big Freeze'
The News - Climate-Environment
March 31, 2010
big freeze

The main cause of a rapid global cooling period, known as the Big Freeze or Younger Dryas -- which occurred nearly 13,000 years ago -- has been identified thanks to the help of an academic at the University of Sheffield.

A new paper, which is published in Nature on April 1, 2010, has identified a mega-flood path across North America which channelled melt-water from a giant ice sheet into the oceans and triggering the Younger Dryas cold snap.

The research team, which included Dr Mark Bateman from the University of Sheffield's Department of Geography, discovered that a mega-flood, caused by the melting of the Laurentide ice sheet, which covered much of North America, was routed up into Canada and into the Arctic Ocean.

This resulted in huge amounts of fresh water mixing with the salt water of the Arctic Ocean. As a result, more sea-ice was created which flowed into the North Atlantic, causing the northward continuation of the Gulf Stream to shut down.

Toads could predict earthquakes? WHAT!?
The News - Weird-Strange
March 30, 2010
toads predict earthquakes
For ages, mankind has craved a tool that can provide early warning of that terrifying moment when the earth begins to shake.

But if a scientific paper published on Wednesday is confirmed, we may at last have found one.

The best hope yet of an earthquake predictor could lie in a small, brown, knobbly amphibian, it suggests.

The male common toad (Bufo bufo) gave five days' warning of the earthquake that ravaged the town of L'Aquila in central Italy on April 6, 2009, killing more than 300 people and displacing 40,000 others, the study says. (BREITBART)

Undersea volcano threatens southern Italy
The News - Natural Disasters
March 29, 2010
volcano italy threat

Europe's largest undersea volcano could disintegrate and unleash a tsunami that would engulf southern Italy "at any time", a prominent vulcanologist warned in an interview published Monday.

The Marsili volcano, which is bursting with magma, has "fragile walls" that could collapse, Enzo Boschi told the leading daily Corriere della Sera.

"It could even happen tomorrow," said Boschi, president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).

"Our latest research shows that the volcano is not structurally solid, its walls are fragile, the magma chamber is of sizeable dimensions," he said. "All that tells us that the volcano is active and could begin erupting at any time."

The event would result in "a strong tsunami that could strike the coasts of Campania, Calabria and Sicily," Boschi said.

Gulf Stream 'is not slowing down'
The News - Climate-Environment
March 29, 2010
gulf stream not slowing

The Gulf Stream does not appear to be slowing down, say US scientists who have used satellites to monitor tell-tale changes in the height of the sea.

Confirming work by other scientists using different methodologies, they found dramatic short-term variability but no longer-term trend.

A slow-down - dramatised in the movie The Day After Tomorrow - is projected by some models of climate change.

The research is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The stream is a key process in the climate of western Europe, bringing heat northwards from the tropics and keeping countries such as the UK 4-6C warmer than they would otherwise be.

It forms part of a larger movement of water, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which is itself one component of the global thermohaline system of currents. Between 2002 and 2009, the team says, there was no trend discernible - just a lot of variability on short timescales.

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