Friday, April 6, 2012

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Strange Volcanic Developments in Iceland - Unexplained Melting at the Askja Crater Lake?!

If you ever frequent Jon Frímann’s blog, you know that he tends to find all the news about potential Icelandic rumblings before pretty much everyone. Well, he seems to have found something interesting going on up in Iceland – a few news reports (in Icelandic) have been talking about the crater lake on Askja caldera having mysteriously become ice-free over the last month while lakes around it (that aren’t on volcanoes) and at lower elevations are still ice-covered – not to mention that normally the lake isn’t ice-free until June or July. This has lead to a lot of speculation about what exactly is going on at Askja, but thanks to its remote location almost in the middle of Iceland, few people have been out there to see what is going on.

The crater lake at Askja in Iceland. The lake is normally covered in ice during this time of the spring. The "ash"
marked on the image is unconfirmed and could be dust or material from fumaroles.  The Askja crater lakes seen
on February 26, 2012. Viti is marked by "1" and a small shelf on the edge of Oskjuvatn is marked by "2". The
western side of the Askja crater lake seen on March 6, 2012. The shelf used for reference with the previous
image is marked as "2".
A little background on the volcano. Askja is a very complex volcano made up of three calderas. The volcano has mostly erupted basaltic material over its recent history, but it has also had a rhyolitic eruption over 10,000 years ago. Now, usually at a basaltic volcano, the calderas are formed by passive sinking of the land surface, much like we see in Hawai’i. However, at Askja, it appears that the calderas are formed more violently due to explosive eruptions out of the ring fractures bounding the calderas. The youngest caldera formed only 137 years ago (in 1875) and the ~4.5 km diameter feature is home to two crater lakes, Öskjuvatn and Víti. The former is the larger lake, over 200 meters deep, while the latter is a very small, warm crater lake (marked in the photo above near the word “ash?”). The most recent activity at Askja was in 1961 that produced lava flows near Öskjuvatn – a pattern of eruption that was seen in numerous times since the VEI 5 eruption in 1875. That caldera-forming eruption in 1875 was large enough that ash and tephra fell as far away as Norway and Sweden. Much like the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption, the explosivity of the eruption was likely aided by the meltwater that is readily available at Askja. If you go back to the rhyolite eruption in ~8910 B.C., that ash from that caldera-forming event is found over much of Europe.
After hearing about the melting ice on Askja, I asked Robert Simmon from the NASA Earth Observatory is they had any imagery of the Askja are to see if I could see the melting for myself. Well, as you might guess, trying to image the middle of Iceland in winter from space is, ahem, problematic. However, Robert did find three image that show the lake becoming more-and-more ice-free between February 23 and March 23. The most recent image is at the top and shows Öskjuvatn nearly ice-free. It also shows Víti on the top right of Öskjuvatn and a coating of something on the snow surrounding Víti. {SPECULATION ALERT} Now, it is marked as ash on the image, but there is no confirmation. However, it is hard to come up with any other explanation – some idea might be windblown dust from inside the small warm crater lake or staining from fumaroles that can occur inside Víti. If it were ash, it could be from steam explosions inside Víti that blasted little material out as the water got hot enough to form steam. This discoloration is not visible on the March 6 image (see below), so something new has happened {SPECULATION END}.

In the sequence of three images I tried to mark at least one feature that can be seen in all the images as a reference, but it does seem that the ice had melted on the western side of the lake (starting before February 26) and progressed eastward across Öskjuvatn. Now, why is it melting? What I’ve read suggests that it could be volcanic or meteorologic. The volcano rationale is easy – hot springs and fumaroles at the bottom of the lake are heating the water, causing the ice to melt. The meteorologic involves specific wind patterns that have happened this winter, along with the abnormally warm winter in Iceland. I’m not going to say that either has to be the answer, however, seismicity around Askja has been increasing over the last few years, suggesting magma rising under the volcano, but right now, seismicity is relatively quiet. Scientists from the Icelandic Meteorological Office and the University of Iceland will be trekking to Askja (Icelandic) this weekend to take measurements and set up instruments to help solve this mystery of the melting ice. In the meantime, the Icelandic government has declared the volcano “off-limits” to tourists on concerns of “the possibility of toxic gases”. Until we have more information, we can only guess what might be going on at Askja right now.
- Erik Klemetti / WIRED.

EXTREMELY WEATHER: Severe Drought Hits 10 Million Acres of China's Crops - Affecting 13 Provinces, 7.8 Million People and 4.6 Million Livestock!

About 4 million hectares of crops are suffering from a severe drought in China that has hit 13 provinces including the major farming province of Sichuan in southwest China, state news agency Xinhua said.

The drought has left 7.8 million people and 4.6 million livestock without adequate drinking water in provinces including Yunnan, Hebei, Shanxi and Gansu as of Thursday, Xinhua said.  The dry spell has dried reservoirs and threatens spring planting, the agency said, citing the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.  The province of Yunnan in southwest China, which borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, is so far the worst hit, Xinhua said, without giving details. 

China, which has just 6 percent of the world's fresh water resources but a fifth of its population, is frequently gripped by drought.  Last year parts of the country suffered their worst drought in 50 years, officials said, with rainfall 40 to 60 percent less than normal, damaging crops and cutting power from hydroelectric dams.  A drought in the top sugar-producing province of Guangxi last year also led to a surge in imports as China tried to ease tight sugar supply. - Reuters.


DOOMSDAY 2030: Peak Civilization - MIT Research Team Predicts Global Economic Collapse and Precipitous Population Decline?!

Researchers at one of the world’s leading think tanks have developed a computing model that predicts serious implications for our way of life as a result of our incessant need to consume resources like oil, food, and fresh water. According to a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the breaking point will come no later than 2030, and when it does, we can expect a paradigm shift unlike any we have seen before in human history – one that will not only collapse the economies of the world, but will cause food and energy production to decrease so significantly that it will lead to the deaths of  hundreds of millions of people in the process.

The recent study, completed on behalf of The Club of Rome, an organization which issued it’s own findings on ‘peak everything’ back in the 1970′s in a controversial environmental report dubbed The Limits to Growth (video), takes into account the relations between various global developments and produces computer simulations for alternative scenarios.
Recent research supports the conclusions of a controversial environmental study released 40 years ago: The world is on track for disaster. So says Australian physicist Graham Turner, who revisited perhaps the most groundbreaking academic work of the 1970s, The Limits to Growth. Written by MIT researchers for an international think tank, the Club of Rome, the study used computers to model several possible future scenarios. The business-as-usual scenario estimated that if human beings continued to consume more than nature was capable of providing, global economic collapse and precipitous population decline could occur by 2030... Turner compared real-world data from 1970 to 2000 with the business-as-usual scenario. He found the predictions nearly matched the facts. “There is a very clear warning bell being rung here,” he says. “We are not on a sustainable trajectory.”
There is no doubt that the study carries with it its own agenda, as the Club of Rome includes members of the upper echelons of government and business from around the world. Many have suspected that the organization exists as a mechanism to move forward with environmental, and thus social, governance of the world’s resources and population through U.N. initiatives like Agenda 21 and the carbon credit system of taxation, both of which do nothing but shift the wealth of the world into the hands of the elite few at the top of the literal food chain. But, despite the ulterior motives of those involved in The Club of Rome, they’re not the only ones who have warned of catastrophe stemming from high population levels and unsustainable consumption. In the History Channel’s Prophets Of Doom, Collapsenet’s Michael Ruppert warned of a similar scenario and one which suggests that, while oil may still be available in the future, the costs will be so prohibitive that it will be impossible for human civilization to maintain its current levels of consumption. According to Ruppert, the last great bubble to pop will be the human population bubble.
Other resource issues that have come to light in recent years include the availability of fresh water, as well as the productive capacity of our current agricultural system. Since all of our natural resources are interdependent, a break down in one, like for example the globe’s oil production system, would make it impossible for farmers to grow food, or for trucks to transport it. The same holds true for fresh water, which is essential not only to human life, but for oil exploration, refining operations, food production and a host of other industries essential to human civilization. By all accounts, we have developed a system of consumption that truly is unsustainable in the long-term. While the Club of Rome and similar organizations purport to act in the best interests of humanity, nearly fifty years of solutions have yielded nothing but more problems and have brought us ever closer to the ultimate breaking point, one which promises to wipe out potentially billions of people in its wake. An additional consideration which the MIT research study may have touched on but does not look to as a direct potential cause for global calamity is the breakdown of society as a result of unsustainable political, financial, and monetary machinations – something which benevolent members of organizations like The Club of Rome may have been complicit in creating. - SHTF Plan.


ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: USGS Technical Announcement - Polar Bears in Alaska Observed with Mysterious Patchy Hair Loss and other Skin Lesions?!

In the past two weeks, 9 polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea region near Barrow were observed with alopecia, or loss of fur, and other skin lesions. The animals were otherwise healthy in appearance and behavior. The cause and significance of the observed lesions are unknown. Alopecia has been reported in both wild and captive animals in the past. U.S. Geological Survey scientists have collected blood and tissues samples from afflicted polar bears to investigate the cause of the symptoms and determine whether there is any relationship between the symptoms observed in polar bears and those reported for arctic pinnipeds from the same geographical region earlier this year. 

Evidence of alopecia and other skin lesions may be difficult to see unless the bear can be observed closely.
In the polar bears that USGS has observed to date, the most common areas affected include the muzzle and
face, eyes, ears and neck. The bear in the photo has hair loss and oozing sores on the left side of its neck.
The bear was captured by USGS scientists using the immobilizing drug Telazol.
Research scientists with the USGS made the observations at the start of their 2012 field-work season. USGS observes polar bears annually in the southern Beaufort Sea region as part of a long-term research program. This bear population ranges from Barrow in Alaska east to the Tuktoyuktuk region of Canada. Observations last summer of unusual numbers of ringed seals hauled out on beaches along the Arctic coast of Alaska, and later on, of dead and dying seals with hair loss and skin sores, led to declaration of an Unusual Mortality Event by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on December 20, 2011. Based on observations of Pacific walruses with similar skin lesions at a coastal haulout in the same region during fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined the UME investigation. Most walruses exhibiting skin lesions appeared to be otherwise healthy, and whether the symptoms observed in the seals and walruses are related is unknown. Since the initial reports from northern Alaska, ice seals with similar symptoms have also been reported in adjacent regions of Canada and Russia and from the Bering Strait region.

Despite extensive testing for a wide variety of well known infectious agents, the cause(s) of the observed condition in walruses and ice seals remains unknown. Advanced testing techniques for unidentified infectious agents is continuing as well as further testing for potential causes including man-made and natural biotoxins, radiation, contaminants, auto-immune diseases, nutritional, hormonal and environmental factors. Upon last week's discovery, USGS immediately informed the wildlife veterinarian and biologists in the North Slope Borough who are responsible for onsite coordination of the Northern Pinniped UME, the USFWS, Alaska Nanuuq Commission and NOAA. The USGS is coordinating closely with the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, and with the Northern Pinniped UME in developing sampling protocols that will provide information about the cause of alopecia in polar bears, and any possible relationship with the disease observed in seals.   USGS scientists have been operating in the vicinity of Barrow and recently moved eastward to Kaktovik, to continue their studies. They will complete their field-work in early May working from Prudhoe Bay. - USGS.


MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Extreme Weather - Texas Drought Destroys Half A Billion Trees!

Up to half a billion dead or dying trees have been tagged as victims of last year's Texas drought, which severely scorched wide-open farmland and took a toll on the state's cities, particularly Houston. 

The statistical yardstick is staggering, with Texas agriculture officials estimating now that the drought caused record-breaking crop and livestock losses of $7.62 billion and counting. The Texas Forest Service estimates 100 million to 500 million forest trees may have succumbed.  In urban areas, another 5.6 million trees were killed. And experts say cities probably will feel the environmental and economic effects for years.  The Texas Forest Service projects it will cost about $560 million to remove the 5.6 million dead trees - a conservative figure based on the estimated cost of $100 to remove a tree that's eight inches in diameter. 

Texas cities stand to lose another $280 million a year in economic and environmental benefits.  "When you lose that many trees, you're losing all the benefits, which include how those trees clean our air, water and soil to begin with," said Steve Houser, a master gardener with the Texas Agriculture Extension Service.  Houser said native Texas trees, such as the post oak, tend to stand a better chance of survival, but that non-native trees, such as the silver maple, don't fare as well in extreme heat.  "That's one of the reasons it's native; if it's going to survive the Texas heat, it has to be one tough dude."  - SF Gate.


EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: Red Cross - 1,100 Homes Struck by 13 Texas Twisters; 349 Destroyed!

Nearly 1,100 homes were hit by the tornadoes that struck the Dallas-Fort Worth area Tuesday, including 349 homes that were destroyed, a Red Cross spokeswoman said Thursday.  Anita Foster of the Red Cross said updated tallies show another 750 homes were damaged.

An estimated 13 tornadoes may have touched down in north Texas on Tuesday.
Many families are still in shelters, unable to return to their homes, Foster said.  "We're dealing with a lot of emotional recovery, which will be just as challenging as the physical recovery," she said. Big rigs sucked into storm Dad records tornado approaching family Sights and sounds of Texas tornadoes CNN Explains: Tornadoes  With the potential for more severe storms Sunday, she said, the agency is focusing on preparation and advising people what to have in their disaster supply kits.  "We want people to think those things through while the sky is blue," she said. "Things like a working flashlight, a first aid kit, a supply of water, and how to look after pets. We wanted to push those messages with more weather coming in, even if we just get one lightning bolt, that will be frightening for people who just went through this." 

An estimated 13 tornadoes touched down in Dallas, Arlington and the surrounding area Tuesday, the National Weather Service in Dallas-Fort Worth said Thursday. There have been no reports of deaths from the storms.  At least one of the twisters rated up to EF-3, the weather service said. That tornado, in the town of Forney, east of Dallas, had a wind speed as high as 150 mph, it said.  Tornadoes can rate up to an EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which uses damage to calculate the storm's rating. Other tornadoes that touched down in the area Tuesday rated EF-1 and EF-2, according to the weather service.  Belinda Price, who with her husband runs a day care at her home in Forney, protected 15 children in the closet of her home as the tornado approached. Her husband filmed the tan-colored funnel cloud as it approached their neighborhood.  "My first thought was, I have to keep these children safe," Price told HLN on Thursday. "I gave them instructions: When I tell you to run, you run, and you run where I tell you to run."  Some of the children cried, but for the most part, she said, they kept cool.  Price knelt in the closet covering a 4-month-old and said there was barely room for herself.  "There is no doubt in my mind that God covered us," she told CNN affiliate KTVT.
- CNN.


GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia On "Orange" Alert - Elevated Seismicity; May Erupt Soon!

Colombia's snowcapped Nevado del Ruiz volcano has lately shown signs pointing towards an immanent eruption.  An "Orange" alert has been posted, meaning that the volcano could erupt within days to weeks, the Smithsonian/USGS Weekly Volcanic Activity Report web page said on Thursday. 

The small steam plume from Nevado del Ruiz, seen on March 27, 2012. Image from INGEOMINAS, Colombia.
The Andean volcano's last important eruptions happened in 1985 and 1989, the 1985 eruption having led to Colombia's worst natural disaster.  During the last week of March, tremors shook the volcano with increasing, according to the Colombian government agency, INGEOMINAS. Volcanologists interpreted the quakes as telltales for "rock fracturing" and "fluid movement" within the volcano.  Seismicity remained "elevated" during the first days of April, the report said.
According to the Smithsonian website, Nevado del Ruiz is spread over more than 200 square km (about 80 square miles) in central Colombia.  Standing more than 17,000 feet above sea level, the highest reaches of the volcano are clad in permanent snow and ice, the near-equatorial location notwithstanding.  The conflict between hot lava and ice on Nevado del Ruiz has proven deadly in the past.  During the November 1985 eruption, melting of the ice cap generated lahars, volcanic mudflows, which swept down the mountain's six main river valleys, the Wikipedia Nevado del Ruiz web page said.  A lahar following the Lagunilla Valley swept through the town of Armero, killing three-fourths of its 28,700 residents. In all, more than 23,000 people were killed and about 5,000 more were injured, according to Wikipedia. - Accu Weather.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 6.2 Earthquake Hits New Ireland Region, Papua New Guinea!

An earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale jolted New Ireland region, Papua New Guinea at 16:15: 55 GMT on Friday, the U.S. Geological Survey said.


The depth was 85.40 km (53.1 miles), and was initially determined to be at 4.5339 degrees south latitude and 153.4970 degrees east longitude.


The tremor had an epicentre at a distance of 52 km (32 miles) east of Taron, New Ireland, PNG; 150 km (93 miles) southeast of Rabaul, New Britain, PNG; 884 km (549 miles) northeast of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; and 2543 km (1580 miles) north of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Monsterrat's Soufriere Hills Volcano Showing Increasing Seismicity - Raises Ash With Sequence of Tremors!

Montserrat’s Soufriere Hills volcano has produced its first significant activity in two years.

The Soufriere Hills volcano is showing signs of life again, with increased seismic activity and ash fall.
The Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) said the mountain produced a sequence of tremors, which were accompanied by some ash falling from the sky.  “There is nothing to worry about now but it is just a reminder that this volcano is potentially active,” acting MVO director Roderick Stuart said in a statement.

“After two years of nothing happening people may get a sense that the eruption is over, but it is not.”  Soufriere Hills roared back to life in 1997 for the first time in recorded history, killing 19 people, burying much of the island in ash and forcing half of the British territory’s 12,000 inhabitants to leave. - Earth Week.


SOLAR SYSTEM DISTURBANCE: Another Failed Satellite - Defunct Russia's Molnia to Ram Into Earth in the Coming Days!

Molnia (Lightning) satellite, which Russia launched into space during the 1990s to control missiles, may crash on Earth during the upcoming several days. 

The location of Molnia's crash has not been determined yet. The satellite may cause considerable destruction during the fall. It weighs 1.6 tons. However, the spacecraft may partially burn in the atmosphere when falling.  The satellite may fall down on the planet before April 9th. Most likely, it will crash somewhere in the center of the Arab Peninsula. 

Russian specialists monitor the spacecraft. The service time of the satellite is two years, the Fifth Channel reports.  Molnia-1T satellites were replaced with Meridian military spacecraft during the 2000s.  Two spacecraft went off Earth's orbit last week. They were the first Soviet satellite Meteor-1 and one of the first US research satellites Explorer-8. - PRAVDA.


EXTREME WEATHER: The Season of the Winds - Strong Winds and "Inferno"-Like Storms Wreck Havoc in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Killing 14 People!

At least 14 people have been killed in severe storms in Argentina.  Most of the victims died in the province of Buenos Aires, where winds reached speeds of more than 100km (60 miles) an hour, toppling trees and causing roofs to cave in. 

People look at damage caused by the collapse of a building's roof in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
A teenager was electrocuted in the city of Santa Fe, in the north-east, when he stepped on a downed power cable.  Many neighbourhoods in the capital, Buenos Aires, were left without power as cables snapped in the strong winds.  Residents said unseasonably hot and humid weather gave way to the violent storm.  Some local media reported squalls of up to 120km (75 miles) an hour. 

City streets were blocked by fallen trees and masonry blown off roofs.  Ten people were injured when the roof of a church was lifted by the strong winds and fell onto passengers waiting for a bus some 40m (40 yards) along the road.  Most of the casualties were crushed by fallen trees and masonry, while others were electrocuted by downed power cables.  Buenos Aires city official Diego Santilli said the storm felt like a tornado and described it as "an inferno".  He said clean-up crews were clearing the streets of the debris and restoring power to cut-off areas. - BBC.


MONUMENTAL WEATHER ANOMALIES: Extreme Weather USA - 2012 Kicks Off with Record Heat, Tornadoes & Drought?!

Yesterday, a dozen tornadoes ripped through Dallas, spurring panic in a highly populated, 6 million-strong metropolitan area. The footage captured by news helicopters was dramatic—semi trucks and trees were hurled into the air like newspapers tossed from a malevolent paperboy. But the fleet of Texan tornadoes only marks the latest in a year that has already been packed with extreme weather—we've had record-hot winter months, unusually early tornadoes in the Midwest, and states wracked with drought.

Tornadoes: There was nothing tremendously out of the ordinary about the tornadoes that hit Dallas, but climatologists were concerned about the spate of twisters that swept through Kentucky, Indiana, and three other states in early March. Those tornadoes killed 39 people and exacted untold property damage to homes and buildings across the region. And tornado season doesn't usually begin until April, leading climate scientists to link the warmer weather to earlier (and potentially longer) seasons. Here's Joe Romm:
The unexpectedly fierce and fast tornado outbreak so early in the season has folks asking again about a possible link to climate change. Climatologist Dr. Kevin Trenberth emailed me that, because of climate change, “there is every expectation that the [tornado] season will move up in time. The warm winter in the US is perhaps an indicator of the nature of the changes to be expected.”
Trenberth also elaborates on the link between tornadoes and climate change in a recently published paper, which notes that "Global warming does not contribute directly to tornadoes themselves, but it does contribute to the vigor of the thunderstorms that host them through the increased warmth and moisture content (moist static energy) of the low level air flow." Meaning: there's no evidence tornadoes themselves are more powerful, but the storms from which they come will be. Which is one reason climatologists speculate that the 2011 tornado season broke records in terms of casualties—539 were killed by 1070+ tornadoes.

Record-Breaking Heat: The 2011-12 winter has become the "winter that wasn't" in common parlance, and for good reason. Climatologists have confirmed that it was the fourth warmest winter season on record. Furthermore, for much of the nation, March was the hottest ever—25 cities and regions broke heat records last month. Reuters reported that "Last month was the warmest March on record across half of the United States with summer-like temperatures." And "Accuweather.com said cities in more than 25 states, as well Washington, D.C., broke records for average daily temperatures last month, including Chicago, Oklahoma City, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Detroit." Statisticians and meteorologists point out that we're breaking many more heat records than cold ones—which is useful evidence that global warming is continuing an ascendent trajectory.
Drought: Drought was a major story in 2011, especially in Texas, where the majority of the state was parched for most of the year. Well, that drought stretched on into 2012, too. And though the state was met with a brief reprieve with some scattered rainfall in late February, drought conditions stretched on through March. 70% of the state was listed as experiencing "severe drought", and 14% suffered from "exceptional" drought. But it's not just Texas. Colorado too has entered an unusual drought—according to the Denver Post, a startling "98 percent of the state is experiencing varying levels of drought." Wendy Ryan, a research associate at the Colorado Climate Center, told the Post that "In Fort Collins, we had the hottest and driest March on record ... This is the first time we've ever had only a trace of precipitation for March. No years have had zero." - Tree Hugger.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Small, Short Explosions Rock Cleveland Volcano in the Aleutian Islands!

The Alaska Volcano Observatory says a small explosion at Cleveland Volcano in the Aleutian Islands may have sent up a small ash cloud.

Clouds prevented satellite observation of an ash cloud. The observatory says the explosion at 1:12 p.m. Wednesday was of short duration and similar to small events in December. Those explosions created ash clouds that dissipated quickly and did not affect air traffic.

Cleveland Volcano is a 5,675-foot peak on an uninhabited island 940 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Scientists detected the explosion on distant infrasound seismic networks. Infrasound refers to frequencies below what can be heard by the human ear. Scientists say that if a larger explosion occurs that sends ash more than 20,000 feet high, the eruption should be detected by seismic, infrasound or lightning networks. - The News Tribune.

RATTLE & HUM: "The Sounds of the Apocalypse" - Mysterious Big Bang in Pijnacker North, in the Netherlands?!

From all sides, our editorial highlighted a huge bang this morning has been observed, particularly in North Pijnacker.

Around six hours was the thud heard and felt almost everywhere in Pijnacker.  "I was instantly awake and I will see if there might be something going rushed police," reported fellow villager Danny to our editors.

Also, the Brown family from Pijnacker heard the blow: "Five six, really bizarre thud, then felt a pressure wave. Came from the direction of North. "Edith Musch wrote on Twitter:"

Does anyone know what the loud bang was early this morning? "  There is still no clarity about the origin of the mysterious big bang. Our editors are looking for tips that might explain the thump. Via email may redactie@telstar-uitgeverij.nl. - Telstar Online [Translated].


GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Tracking Activities at the Canary Islands - Submarine Eruption of the El Hierro Island!

Some earthquake activity (about 1-2 small quakes per day) continues at El Hierro and a zone of degassing ("jacuzzi") has been observed in a different spot today, west of the location of the principal vent.


The volcanic tremor signal has disappeared.  IGN has published a video that shows degassing activity at the the submerged volcanic edifice at depths between 100 and 150 m. According to Prof. Ramon Ortiz, lava emission from the submarine vent ended in late February, judging from seismic data. In his opinion, the continuous seismicity in the last week with again increased magnitudes suggests that the eruptive process is not finished yet and he would not be surprised if a new eruption. - Volcano Discovery.
WATCH: Scenes of the submarine eruption at El Hierro.

 

MASS FISH DIE-OFF: Hundreds of Dead Catfish Mysteriously Found Dead at Boyne River Mouth, Boyne Island?!

Mystery surrounds the appearance of more than a hundred dead catfish washed up at the Boyne River Mouth.  Residents have been finding the fish since Monday. Along the high tide line on Boyne Island, dead catfish were strewn every few metres along the high tide line from the morning before.

More than 100 dead catfish have been found at the Boyne River Mouth in recent days.
A spokesperson from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) confirmed staff had inspected a section of the Boyne River on Monday and yesterday following reports of dead fish.  "Departmental staff have found over 100 dead catfish between the mouth of the Boyne River and the Bruce Highway bridge, approximately 20 kilometres south of Gladstone.  "The cause of death is currently unknown. Departmental staff are investigating and have conducted water quality monitoring and sampling.  "The water quality monitoring undertaken on 4 April 2012 identified reduced salinity levels due to freshwater inflow. All other monitoring results have found water quality is consistent with those of a healthy waterway."  Without any water quality issues being identified so far, the search for other explanations is on. One resident at the river mouth suggested the fish might have spilled over Awonga Dam since the January rains. 

That theory was rejected yesterday by the Gladstone Area Water Board (GAWB), which said no significant number of fish, catfish or otherwise, had spilled over the dam wall this year.  Last year, tens of thousands of barramundi flowed over the Awoonga Dam wall when it spilled over for the first time.  However, GAWB corporate services manager Gary Larsen yesterday told The Observer there had been almost no fish spill over the wall this year.  Mr Larsen said none of GAWB's monitoring could shed any light on where the dead fish had come from.  However, he said that since the dam spilled over on January 28, large numbers of catfish had been observed swimming upstream in the Boyne River.  He said GAWB had informed DEHP shortly after the spill about the catfish movements.  Mr Larsen said a large number of those catfish had swum upstream to the bottom of Awoonga Dam wall.  He said they had schooled there for some time, but GAWB's hatchery manager had regularly monitored the health of the fish and found no signs of poor health.  Mr Larsen emphasised no explanation was known for the dead catfish washed up recently, but one hypothetical possibility was that they had run out of food where they were schooling upstream.  The Awoonga Dam is still spilling over. It is currently at a level of 40.30 metres, which is 30 centimetres over the wall's spillway. - The Gladstone Observer.


MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: Bat-Killing Fungus Continues Deadly Spread - Death Toll Now at 7 Million?!

Things keep getting worse for North American bats. Nearly seven million from various species have now fallen victim to the deadly but little-understood disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) since it was first observed in February 2006. The fungus that causes WNS, Geomyces destructans, has quickly spread from cave to cave and state to state, and the disease itself was confirmed for the first time west of the Mississippi River this week. This makes 19 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces where the disease can now be found. WNS has a 70 to 100 percent mortality rate; it has no cure or treatment, nor is it entirely clear how it kills bats.

White-nose syndrome on a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) taken March 30, 2012, in Missouri.
Map of white-nose syndrome by county/district as of March 30, 2012.
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) confirmed April 2 that WNS had been found on three bats in two caves, exactly two years after the fungus was first observed there. "White-nose syndrome in Missouri is following the deadly pattern it has exhibited elsewhere," Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said in a prepared statement. "First the fungus shows up on a few healthy bats. A couple of years later, the disease strikes. And if the pattern continues, we can expect that in another few years, the majority of Missouri's hibernating bats will be dead." The names and locations of the Missouri caves, which are closed to the public, were not disclosed in order to limit the chance of humans accidentally stressing the remaining bats. "Disturbing bats in caves while they roost or hibernate can increase their stress and further weaken their health," MDC bat biologist Tony Elliott said in a prepared statement. WNS has, in just the past few weeks, been confirmed in Delaware, Alabama, Maine's Acadia National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. The disease has also spread to new locations in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. The fungus appears to be transmitted from bat to bat, or by humans visiting bat caves. The disease has affected at least four endangered species: the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), the gray bat (Myotis grisescens), the Virginia big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus) and the Ozark big-eared bat (Plecotus townsendii ingens).

As the WNS name suggests, the fungus first manifests as white fuzz on the faces of infected hibernating bats, but according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Fort Collins Science Center, the real damage may come when it spreads to bats' wings: "Wing membranes represent about 85 percent of a bat's total surface area and play a critical role in balancing complex physiological processes. Healthy wing membranes are vital to bats, as they help regulate body temperature, blood pressure, water balance and gas exchange-not to mention the ability to fly and to feed." According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), bats with WNS behave uncharacteristically, such as flying outdoors during the cold winter months or gathering at cave mouths when they should be hibernating. Such behavior could cause bats to burn off their winter fat reserves, leaving them susceptible to freezing or starvation. Although WNS and the Geomyces destructans fungus appear to have no effect on humans, their potential impact on human health is troubling. As the bats disappear, growing insect populations could spread disease or devastate agricultural crops. Citing just the most recently afflicted state as an example, Missouri's 775,000 gray bats eat more than 223 billion bugs each year, according to the CBD. Although the potential effect on U.S. agriculture has not yet been felt, a recent study found that the loss of North American bats could lead to agricultural losses of more than $3.7 billion per year. Research into WNS is ongoing, and there are a few small rays of hope. Some European bat populations that have come in contact with the G. destructans fungus appear to be resistant to it, and in fact some scientists theorize the fungus may have originated in Europe and recently been carried to the New World by humans. In addition, a few small populations of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) in Pennsylvania and Vermont also appear to have remained healthy despite three years of contact with the fungus, for as-yet-unknown reasons. For more information on WNS, visit the FWS resource page about white-nose syndrome, including their safety guide for cavers, or follow FWS's White-Nose Syndrome in Bats page on Facebook. The CBD's Save Our Bats campaign offers several actions people can take to encourage government efforts to help slow the spread of the disease. - Accu Weather.

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: 800 Homes Hit in Dallas Area During 'Very Unusual' Tornado Season - 223 Twisters in March Alone?!

Tornado season is only just beginning, but already this year has seen dozens of destructive twisters from Illinois to Texas, where up to 18 might have touched town on Tuesday alone in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

"We're at just the beginning of a very unusual" tornado season, NBC weather anchor Al Roker said on TODAY.   The numbers show just how unusual: March saw 223 twisters, up from an average of 80 from 1991-2010, according to the National Weather Service. February saw 63, compared to an average of 29; and January saw 97, compared to an average of 35.    So what's behind the outbreak?  "We've had record heat," weather.com meteorologist Greg Forbes told TODAY, and "that warmth is a big ingredient that provides the instability for the storms."    Last year started off slowly but then saw a record 758 tornadoes in April 2011, noted Roker. "Hopefully we're not on track for that this year."

U.S. forecasters have predicted a warmer than normal spring in the central part of the country, which could increase tornado threats. But countering that is the fact the cyclical La Nina weather pattern, which can help fuel twisters, is waning.  Before Tuesday, the last big twister outbreak was on March 23, when tornadoes touched down in six states -- Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri -- killing one person, injuring dozens and damaging hundreds of structures.   So far this year, tornadoes have caused 55 deaths, most on Feb. 29 and March 2 during outbreaks across the Midwest and the South. Through March of 2011, only 2 deaths were attributed to tornadoes.  The peak months for tornadoes are usually April, May and June, so this season is really just beginning.  Tuesday's outbreak suggests "we're on pace to be above normal," the Associated Press quoted National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Bishop as saying.  Some climate scientists expect more extreme weather if global temperatures continue to rise, while others say the science is not strong enough to make that conclusion about single events or even a single season. - MSNBC.
WATCH: Unusual tornado season.



MASS MAMMAL DIE-OFF: 615 New Cases of Dolphins Mysteriously Found Dead in Peru?!

Conservationists counted 615 dead dolphins along a 90-mile stretch of beaches in Peru, a wildlife group said Wednesday, and the leading suspect is acoustic testing offshore by oil companies. "If you can count 615 dead dolphins, you can be sure there are a great many more out at sea and the total will reach into the thousands,” Hardy Jones, head of the conservation group BlueVoice.org, said in a statement after he and an expert with ORCA Peru walked the beaches.

Carlos Yaipen Llanos of ORCA Peru examines a dead dolphin on Feb. 11 in Lambayeque, Peru.
Indeed, the head of a local fishermen's association told Peru21.pe that he estimated more than 3,000 dolphins had died so far this year, based on what he saw in the water and on beaches. BlueVoice.org stated that "initial tests ... show evidence of acoustical impact from sonic blasts used in exploration for oil." The ORCA Peru expert, veterinarian Carlos Yaipen Llanos, said that while "we have no definitive evidence," he suspects acoustic testing created a "marine bubble" -- in essence a sonic blast that led to internal bleeding, loss of equilibrium and disorientation. Another possibility is that the dolphins suffered from a disease outbreak, Yaipen Llanos said.
"It is a horrifying thought that these dolphins would die in agony over a prolonged period if they were impacted by sonic blast," said Jones. Numerous dolphins first started washing ashore in January, with the largest amount coming in early February. Thousands of dead anchovies were also seen. BlueVoice.org noted that the U.S. has suspended similar testing in the Gulf of Mexico due to recent sightings of dead and sick dolphins. The ban was set to last through the dolphins' calving season, which ends in May. - MSNBC.
WATCH: Dolphin die-off in Peru.


GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Mount Etna Explodes With Another Spectacular Eruption - Fifth Paroxysm of 2012!

Italy’s Etna kept up its frenetic pace of eruptions that started in January 2011 with yet another paroxysm, its fifth of 2012.

The April 1 eruption of Etna in Italy, seen at ~2:10 AM local time by Dr. Boris Behncke.
The fire fountain and lava flow from the eruption are clearly visible.
This one had inkling that might be happen soon with signs on Friday, but the real show occurred overnight on Sunday (April 1) with an early morning eruption. This eruption followed 14 days since the last eruptive spell and lasted about 1.5 hours, producing the sorts of volcanic events we’ve come to expect from Etna: fire fountains, ash fall and lava flows. Dr. Boris Behncke posted some great images of the activity (see above) and Etna Walk also posted some great images and video as well. Eruptions readers caught a lot of the action via the webcams around Etna. You can watch some of the timelapse of the activity put together by Eruptions reader Georaving that show the opening phases of strombolian explosions that give way to fire fountains and lava flows. Spectacular action all around! - WIRED.
WATCH: Etna's spectacular eruption.


EXTREME WEATHER: Record-Breaking Drought Grips the United Kingdom - Over 20 Million Affected; Draconian Water Restrictions Implemented!


Twenty million people in the South and East of England awoke to the first day of a hosepipe ban this morning, as emergency drought measures imposed by seven water companies came into effect. From midnight, people in the South and East risk fines of up to £1,000 for using a hose for all but a few exempted activities. Two consecutive dry winters have taken their toll on the South's reservoirs and groundwater levels, leading to severe drought conditions that are expected to last all of spring and summer. It may be many months before gardeners can turn the sprinklers back on.

Although rain is now falling across much of the South-east – and other parts of the country have even seen heavy snow – the Environment Agency has warned that it is now unlikely that groundwater levels can be replenished in time to avoid a long-lasting drought that will impact on both people and the environment.  For two years in some parts of the country, reservoirs and the underground water sources that supply the country's water have not been replenishing fast enough to keep up with demand. In Bewl in Kent and Ardingly in West Sussex reservoirs have had to be refilled from already-depleted rivers. Water levels are below normal at most of the UK's reservoirs and some are reported to be at half-capacity.  Thames Water, Anglian Water, South East Water, Veolia Water Central and South East – which service London and much of the South-east – and Sutton and East Surrey Water, are all imposing "temporary-use" bans on hosepipes. The ban applies only to domestic activity, meaning that hoses used for farming, commercial cleaning and watering sports grounds for national and international events will not be subject to restrictions.  Water companies insist that the ban will be "self-policing", but penalties can still be enforced under law and neighbours will be able to report violations to their water company.  In some areas, "yellow-card" letters will be sent out to people known to be defying the ban, followed by a visit from officials before a prosecution will be sought. A third of people responding to a survey on HosepipeBan.org.uk, a web forum, said they would report a neighbour using a hose. In another survey on the site, another third of people said they would defy the ban altogether.


Richard Aylard, Thames Water's sustainability director, said that a ban now would limit the likelihood of further restrictions in the future and urged customers to co-operate. "After two such dry years we have to prioritise the most important uses of water. That means keeping everyone's kitchen and bathroom taps supplied has to take precedence over manicured lawns," he said.  Gardeners are already investing in equipment to help them through what may be a long dry summer. B and Q reported that sales of water butts were up 196 per cent compared with this time last year. Garden centres are expecting increased interest in drought-resistant plants such as lavender and bergenia.  The ban could be adopted by other water areas if the drought continues. This week, drought conditions spread to parts of Yorkshire, and Wales, the South-west and the Midlands are also under threat. The last time a widespread hosepipe ban came into force, in 2006, it lasted until January of the following year in some areas. It has been this dry only four times in the past 101 years. This year's drought has been exacerbated by the sunniest March since 1929, but it is still unclear how bad this year will be.  While the impact on domestic water supplies is likely to be limited to the hosepipe ban, the impact on the agriculture and the environment could be much more severe. Fruit, vegetable and salad crops in the South of England could be severely affected if drought restrictions on irrigation are enforced.  In rivers, ponds and lakes, levels are becoming so low that a number of wetland species may die or be unable to breed, while many water sources may have dried up before aquatic insects, a key part of wetland ecosystems, have fully formed. - Independent.
WATCH: Record-breaking drought in the UK.


ENVIRONMENTAL & DISASTER ALERT: Potentially Catastrophic Consequences - China Builds Scores of Dams in Earthquake Hazard Zones?!

More than 130 large dams built, under construction, or proposed in western China's seismic hazard zones could trigger disastrous environmental consequences such as earthquakes and giant waves, finds a new report from the Canadian watchdog group Probe International.

Zipingpu Dam, upriver from the town of Dujiangyan, Sichuan, western China.
The report shows that 98.6 percent of the dams being constructed in western China are located in high to moderate seismic hazard zones.  The location of large dams near clusters of recorded earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 4.9, and especially when the earthquake focal points are also close to the surface, "is cause for grave concern," said the report's author geologist "John Jackson."  John Jackson is a pseudonym for a geologist with detailed knowledge of western China who wishes to remain anonymous to protect his sources.  In a worst-case scenario, Jackson reports, dams could collapse, creating a giant wave that would inundate everything in its path, including downstream dams, causing great loss of life and property.  Should a dam suffer catastrophic collapse, says Probe International Executive Director Patricia Adams, Chinese citizens could direct their anger to the hydropower industry for threatening their lives with dangerous dams.  To pierce the Chinese government's secrecy over its dam building, the Probe report overlays a Chinese map of dam locations with U.S. Geological Survey earthquake data and a United Nations' seismic hazard map.  The map was prepared by HydroChina prior to 2004, with data confirmed by more recent surveys, and Google Earth satellite images. "Based on this review, it appears that about half of these dams have not yet been built, but that the pace of construction is rapid," writes Jackson.  A comparison of large dam locations and seismic hazard zones for dams that are built, under construction, or proposed for the Tsangpo, Po, Salween (known as Nu in China), Mekong (Lancang in China), Yangtze, Yalong, Dadu, Min, and Yellow river headwaters in western China, indicates that 48.2 percent are located in zones of high to very high seismic hazard.  The remaining 50.4 percent are located in zones of moderate seismic hazard, and only 1.4 percent are located in zones of low seismic hazard.  Earthquakes greater than magnitude 4.9 have been known to damage dams and other structures. Shallow earthquakes, less than 10 kilometers (six miles) deep, indicate active faults that could be reactivated by routine practices, such as the filling of a reservoir to accommodate flood waters and its drawdown to generate power, Jackson says.  "In addition to the hazard of high natural seismicity in western China, reservoir-induced seismicity is likely to increase the frequency and perhaps the magnitude of earthquakes in this area," he warns.

The Zipingpu Dam on the Minjiang River in southwest China, for example, is thought to have triggered the magnitude 7.9 Sichuan earthquake in 2008. The country's worst natural disaster in three decades, the earthquake claimed more than 69,000 lives and left five million people homeless.  The force of that quake cracked the dam and shook it so severely that it sank one metre and moved 60 centimetres downstream, Jackson says.  Chinese, Japanese and American scientists argue that what happened to the 156-meter-high Zipingpu Dam is evidence of reservoir-induced seismic activity, while some Chinese scientists challenge the claim.  Western China is known to be a large regional stress field because of the northward motion of the Indian subcontinent into western China. In geological terms, the movement is considered rapid.  This "continental collision" has lifted seafloor sediments to the top of Mt. Everest and created the Tibetan Plateau.  Since detailed recordkeeping began in 1973, an average of nine earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.9 or greater have occurred in western China each year.  Especially worrying in this environment, said Jackson, is the cascade-like positioning of the dams which follow one another so closely there is no terrain between them for energy to dissipate in the event of catastrophic dam failure.  "If one dam fails, the full force of its ensuing tsunami will be transmitted to the next dam downstream, and so on, potentially creating a deadly domino effect of collapsing dams," he says.  China is the world's largest hydropower producer with some 87,000 dams and reservoirs, of which nearly half are considered to be dangerous and at risk of collapse. About about one-third of those are hydropower dams.  In the interest of public safety and a sound power sector, the Probe International report urges the Chinese government to disclose the details of its current slate of dam construction, and to ensure that a thorough and independent regional seismic risk assessment is done without delay and publicly disclosed. - Environmental News Service.