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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.

 
Death of world's coral reefs could wreak global chaos
The News - Climate-Environment
March 28, 2010
coral reefs dying
Coral reefs are dying, and scientists and governments around the world are contemplating what will happen if they disappear altogether.

The idea positively scares them.

Coral reefs are part of the foundation of the ocean food chain. Nearly half the fish the world eats make their homes around them. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide — by some estimates, 1 billion across Asia alone — depend on them for their food and their livelihoods.

If the reefs vanished, experts say, hunger, poverty and political instability could ensue.

 
Dozens of asteroids found daily by spacecraft
The News - Science-Astronomy
March 28, 2010
asteroids in our solar system
Dozens of asteroids that have been lurking undetected in our solar system are being discovered every day by NASA's newest space telescope, scientists say.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope was designed to search for "dark" objects in space, such as brown dwarf stars, vast dust clouds, and yes, asteroids.

Many of the asteroids WISE is spotting are darker asteroids that were likely missed by past surveys conducted by visible light telescopes.

Finding these lurking asteroids could be important if any of them are on an orbit that sends them close to Earth. Most of the asteroids seen by WISE are in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but a fraction of them are Earth-approaching asteroids — the kind that could wipe out much of life on the planet if they collided with it, as is thought to have happened to the dinosaurs. 

 
Why Natural Disasters Are More Expensive - But Less Deadly
The News - Natural Disasters
March 26, 2010

The recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile come at the end of what may be history's most expensive decade for natural disasters. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that the Haitian earthquake dealt about $14 billion in damage. As large as that figure is, it's relatively small compared with the costliest disaster of the past decade: Hurricane Katrina, which caused an estimated $125 billion in damage. According to Munich Re, one of the largest companies in the world that reinsures disaster risks for insurance companies, disasters' costs to insurers have doubled in the past decade compared with the 1990s.

"The past decade has been the costliest for natural disasters ever," writes Howard Kunreuther and Erwann Michel-Kerjan of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in their 2009 book, At War With the Weather. This decade follows a trend of massive increases in overall losses from disasters: Costs jumped from $93.3 billion in the 1960s to $778.3 billion in the 1990s.

The number of observed disasters is also rising--by about 5 percent per year since 1960. According to David Stromberg, associate professor at the Institute for International Economic Studies at Stockholm University, population growth (meaning more people come in contact with disasters) explains only about half of this increase. A more important factor behind the increase might be better reporting--better seismographs for earthquakes and more-responsive aid organizations.

While the economic cost of disasters has been rising, a perhaps more important value--the death toll--has been falling. From 1900 to 2003, 62 millions deaths resulted from natural disasters throughout the world. But 85 percent of those deaths occurred between 1900 and 1950. (Yahoo)

 
History's Most Destructive Volcanoes
The News - Natural Disasters
March 23, 2010
worlds worst volcanoes

The eruption of a volcano on the island nation of Iceland on Saturday is a result of the tectonic processes that have continuously shaped and re-shaped the Earth's surface for billions of years. These processes are responsible for some of the biggest, deadliest eruptions in history.

The Eyjafjallajokull (AYA-feeyapla-yurkul) volcano - part of the volcanic complex that originally formed Iceland - erupted on March 20 for the first time in nearly 200 years. While the eruption has not been a major one so far, it did cause residents in the surrounding areas to evacuate, as they wait to see if the volcano will continue to spew lava and ash or quiet back down.

Other residents of volcanically active areas, whether prehistoric creatures or modern humans, haven't always had enough warning to escape before a nearby volcano blew its top, sometimes virtually destroying everything for many miles around.

 
Iceland volcano could have world consequences
The News - Natural Disasters
March 23, 2010
iceland volcano effects world
Blasts of lava and ash shot out of a volcano in southern Iceland on Monday and small tremors rocked the ground, a surge in activity that raised fears of a larger explosion at the nearby Katla volcano.

Scientists say history has proven that when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupts, Katla follows — the only question is how soon. And Katla, located under the massive Myrdalsjokull icecap, threatens disastrous flooding and explosive blasts when it blows.

Saturday's eruption at Eyjafjallajokull (AYA-feeyapla-yurkul) — dormant for nearly 200 years — forced at least 500 people to evacuate. Most have returned to their homes, but authorities were waiting for scientific assessments to determine whether they were safe to stay. Residents of 14 farms nearest to the eruption site were told to stay away.

 
Midwest : predicting big floods after fierce winter
The News - Natural Disasters
March 16, 2010
A huge snowpack from a harsh winter will cause extensive flooding this spring in the upper Midwest and in the major corn-growing state of Iowa, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said on Tuesday.

"We are looking at potentially historic flooding in some parts of the country this spring," NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco told reporters in a briefing while presenting the government's spring flood risk outlook.

The snowpack in the Midwest is "more extensive than in 2009," with precipitation in December up to four times above average, NOAA said.

"It's a terrible case of deja vu, but this time the flooding will likely be more widespread," Lubchenco said. "As the spring thaw melts the snowpack, saturated and frozen ground in the Midwest will exacerbate the flooding of the flat terrain and feed rising rivers and streams."

Of particular risk is the Red River Valley in Minnesota, with NOAA officials saying it was unusual that the area would face the threat of severe floods for the second year running.

The Red River runs north, dividing North Dakota and Minnesota, before running through the flat southern plains of the Canadian province of Manitoba.

 
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