Monday, December 12, 2011

SPACE: The Final Frontier - Space X Mission Officially Launches the Commercial Space Era!

If you think America's space effort is in a state of flux now, you ain't seen nothing yet: Just wait until billionaires Richard Branson and Robert Bigelow are vying to offer orbital hotels, or until there are as many brands of spaceships built in the United States as commercial jets.

Or not. That's the curious thing about Space Race 2.0: It's definitely a marathon, not a sprint, and the field of contestants have had dropouts (like the bankrupt Rocketplane Kistler) as well as drop-ins (like the Boeing Co.). If any of the racers make it to the finish line, NASA will once again be able to send U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station on U.S.-built spacecraft, ending the post-shuttle spaceship gap. There may also be opportunities for businesses and foreign governments to purchase their own presence in space, in the form of private-sector space stations. Regular folks may be able to buy vacation packages that include a quick up-and-down on a suborbital spacecraft, or even a stay on one of those space stations. There'll be new opportunities for space research and manufacturing as well. Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institution as well as an adviser to the Blue Origin space venture, has called low-cost space research the "killer app" for the space travel industry — right up there with space tourism and space station resupply.

But what steps lie ahead for private space ventures, and what's the time frame for taking those steps? For the companies seeking NASA's business, the next six months to a year will be crucial: Four companies — Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX — are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from NASA to develop spaceships capable of ferrying astronauts to the space station and back. SpaceX and yet another company, Orbital Sciences Corp., have already been receiving NASA funding to support the development of unmanned cargo spaceships. In February, SpaceX is due to launch a test cargo shipment to the space station and bring the capsule back to Earth. Orbital Sciences, meanwhile, is gearing up for its first test flight of its Taurus 2 launch vehicle in the same time frame. By 2013, both companies should be cleared for orbital cargo deliveries as part of a $3.5 billion combined deal with NASA. The development effort for crew vehicles is more complex, due to the higher safety requirements. Last month, Congress settled on an allocation of $406 million for the next phase of the commercial crew development program, or CCDev. That's less than half of the $850 million requested by the Obama administration, and NASA hasn't yet laid out a revised plan for the next development round. - MSNBC.

MYSTERY: Symbol of an Alien Sky, Man-Made or Natural Phenomena - Russian Protestors Film UFO Over Moscow!

A video footage has surfaced, showing an unidentified flying object (UFO) hovering above protesters in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.

Witnessed by hundreds of pro-democracy protestors in the Russian capital's Bolotnaya Square on Saturday, the unidentified craft drew confused stares. Clearly not a helicopter, the silent UFO pulsated coloured lights and had five extended tendrils or pylons emanating from the body of the vehicle. Onlookers, protesting against election results, climbed trees to grab a closer look at the mysterious craft which seemed to be observing the 25,000 people who had made their way down to Bolotnaya Square to protest. Russia has been rocked by mass protests against elections in early December which pro-democracy organisers say were rigged in favour of Vladimir Putin and his party. - Telegraph.
WATCH: Russian protesters film UFO over Moscow.

RATTLE & HUM: Mysterious Noise Phenomena and Fire in the Sky - Loud Explosion and Fireball Puzzles Residents in Kentucky, Source Unknown?!

There are still no answers as to what caused an apparent explosion in Perry County, Kentucky on Sunday night.

Crews spent hours searching Sunday night after initial reports of a possible plane crash, but they gave up the search around 1:00 a.m. and said it was probably an explosion at an abandoned mine. Now officials with the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands are saying there is no evidence at the mine that would support an explosion. Some say they felt their homes shaking, others say they saw a fireball, but as of now no one can say for sure what happened in Perry County Sunday night. Preliminary reports of possible plane crash were ruled out after searching for hours and finding no crash scene, that led officials to this explanation. "There is a mine break up there. It happens in eastern Kentucky with a lot with old abandoned mines. They catch fire, smoke real bad, and sometimes they flame up. It does kill the trees around and that is possibly what could be seen from the air," said Lotts Creek Fire Chief Chris Engle.

Officials from the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands were called Monday to investigate and found that there is a coal seam fire that is causing the smoke and the burned trees, but that's all they are able to confirm. "My investigators found no evidence of an explosion or a fire ball. There was no crater no debris that they could ascertain," said the Director of the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands Steve Hohmann. So until more information can be found, that leaves no explanation for the shaking houses and what appeared to be a fireball in the sky, but some in the area have their own explanation for what happened. "If there is no plane missing I think it probably could be a U.F.O. If there is no debris, it probably burned before it hit the ground," said Perry County resident Kathy Collins. For now, it remains a mystery. Officials with the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands say they are planning to go back up to the mine site on Wednesday. - WYMT.
WATCH: Explosions and Fireball in Kentucky?

MASS BIRD DIE-OFF: Mysterious Epidemic - 350 Crow Deaths in Two Days in India, 1,000 Have Died in Jamshedpur Alone in the Past One and a Half Month!

The mysterious epidemic that has claimed hundreds of crows in Jharkhand has now spread to Hazaribagh, with 350-odd scavengers perishing in Vishnugarh and Katkamsandi over the weekend, triggering panic among residents who have been advised by experts not to touch the carcasses.

More than 1,000 crows have died in Jamshedpur alone in the past one and a half months, besides a number of deaths in Ghatshila and Giridih. According to villagers, the carcasses of around 250 crows have been spotted in the last two days on the premises of Ram Mandir in Vishnugarh. Mukhiya of Vishnugarh panchayat Arun Rajak said he had informed forest officials about the deaths. Forester Shiv Shankar Prasad suspected that the crows fell prey to avian flu. In a report sent to the Union agriculture ministry on Thursday, the Indian Veterinary Research Institute’s (IVRI) Bhopal centre had held the avian influenza virus, H5N1, responsible for the crow deaths in Jharkhand. Prasad said that avian flu had been detected in chickens earlier. He added, “I have informed forest higher-ups and we plan to distribute medicines to check the deaths in the reported areas.”

He said they would send carcasses to the IVRI centre in Bareilly as well as National Institute of Virology, Pune, to identify the exact reasons behind the crow deaths here. At Bachra village under Dhotwa panchayat in Katkamsandi block, crows deaths were reported since yesterday. Sher Mohammad, a resident, feared it was an indication of something worse. “Villagers are in panic, seeing crows drop dead on the ground suddenly. We have spotted around 100 carcasses in various places so far,” he added. Satya Prakash, an expert who runs the wildlife protection NGO, Neo Human Foundation, said villagers should exercise caution and avoid touching the carcasses. “The virus could infect human beings and other birds as well. People should bury the carcasses first,” he said, adding that he had received calls from alarmed villagers in Katkamsandi and Pelawal this morning. He met district animal husbandry officer Yamuna Prasad later today and demanded protective equipment, including masks, for residents of Hazaribagh to help the dispose of the carcasses safely. Sources said that around 50 crows also died at Harli village in Barkagaon block today. - Telegraph India.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL MEMES: Mars Odyssey - Life Could Thrive on 'Large Regions' of Mars, but Habitable Mostly Underground, Say Scientists!

Australian scientists who modelled conditions on Mars to examine how much of the red planet was habitable said Monday that "large regions" could sustain terrestrial life.

Charley Lineweaver's team, from the Australian National University, compared models of temperature and pressure conditions on Earth with those on Mars to estimate how much of the distant planet was liveable for Earth-like organisms. While just one percent of Earth's volume - from core to upper atmosphere - was occupied by life, Linewaver said their world-first modelling showed three percent of Mars was habitable, though most of it was underground. "What we tried to do, simply, was take almost all of the information we could and put it together and say 'is the big picture consistent with there being life on Mars?'," the astrobiologist told AFP. "And the simple answer is yes... There are large regions of Mars that are compatible with terrestrial life." Where previous studies had taken a "piecemeal" approach by examining particular sites on Mars for signs of life, Lineweaver said his research was a "comprehensive compilation" of the entire planet using decades of data.

Frozen water has been found at the poles on Mars and the ANU study examined how much of the planet could sustain water "that could be habitable by Earth-like standards by Earth-like microbes". The low-pressure environment of Mars means water cannot exist as a liquid and will vaporise on the surface, but Lineweaver said the conditions are right underground, where the weight of the soil gives the added pressure required. It would also be warm enough, at certain depths, for bacteria and other micro-organisms to thrive due to heat from the planet's core. The average surface temperature on Mars is minus 63 degrees Celsius (minus 81 Fahrenheit). Lineweaver said his study was "the best estimate yet published of how habitable Mars is to terrestrial microbes" and a significant finding given mankind had evolved from microbial life. "It's not important if you want to figure out what the laws of physics are and you want to talk to some intelligent aliens who could build spaceships," he said. "If you're interested in the origin of life and how likely life is to get started on other planets, that's what relevant here." Lineweaver's paper was published on Monday in the scientific journal Astrobiology. - Telegraph.

CELESTIAL CONVERGENCE: Fire in the Sky - Comet Lovejoy, the Size of Two Football Fields (200m) is Plunging Towards the Sun, a Spectacular Light Show is Expected!

According to Space Weather, as a minor solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field, a massive comet is currently diving towards the sun.

SIGNIFICANT COMET PLUNGES TOWARD THE SUN: A comet nearly as wide as two football fields (200m) is plunging toward the sun where it will most likely be destroyed in a spectacular light show on Dec. 15/16. Although Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) could become as bright as Jupiter or Venus when it "flames out," the glare of the sun will hide the event from human eyes. Solar observatories in space, however, will have a grand view. Yesterday the brightening comet entered the field of view of NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft. "You can clearly see the comet heading diagonally through the images," says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab who prepared the animation. "During the 16-hour sequence, the comet brightens from magnitude +7.5 to +6, approximately."

It will soon grow much brighter. "This comet is a true sungrazer, and will skim approximately 140,000 km (1.2 solar radii) above the solar surface on Dec. 15/16," notes Battams. At such close range, solar heating will almost certainly destroy the icy interloper,creating a cloud of vapor and comet dust that will reflect lots of sunlight. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) will have a particularly good view. Discovered on Dec. 2nd by amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy of Australia, the comet is an unusually large member of the Kreutz family. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments of a single giant comet (probably the Great Comet of 1106) that broke apart back in the 12th century. SOHO sees one plunging into the sun every few days, but most are small, no more than 10 meters wide. Comet Lovejoy is at least ten times larger than usual. Stay tuned for updates!
WATCH: Comet Lovejoy plunges toward the sun.

WORLD WAR III: Countdown to Armageddon - Iran To Practice Closing the Strait Of Hormuz As Hundreds of US-NATO Soldiers Arrive & Begin Operations on the Jordan-Syria Border, Syria Arms Missiles With Chemical Warheads, And Pakistan Turns Against America!

According to a Reuters report, a member of the Iranian parliament's National Security Committee said on Monday that the military was set to practise its ability to close the Gulf to shipping at the narrow Strait of Hormuz, the most important oil transit channel in the world, but there was no official confirmation.

The Iranian Army has refused to comment after a member of the country’s National Security Committee said today that Iran was to practice closing the Strait of Hormuz, the most important choke point for oil shipments in the world. “The legislator, Parviz Sarvari, told the student news agency ISNA: “Soon we will hold a military manoeuvre on how to close the Strait of Hormuz. If the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure,” reports Reuters. The Straight of Hormuz, just 34 miles wide at its narrowest point, is a key transport passage for petroleum exporting countries from the Persian Gulf, with the 15.5 million barrels of oil that pass through it each day representing 33% of the world’s total oil shipments.

The Iranian military refused to comment on the report, but Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the shipping channel in the event of a US or Israeli-led attack, a potential action the United States has characterized as an act of war. Following speculation that sanctions would be placed on Iranian oil exports, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned last week that oil prices would soar above $250 dollars barrel. In response , US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated, “Any disruption of the free flow of commerce through the Persian Gulf is a very grave threat to all of us and a red line for the US.” Experts have forecast that a 30 day closure of the Strait of Hormuz would send oil prices skyrocketing to between $300-$500 dollars a barrel, a level that would trigger global economic instability and cost the U.S. nearly $75 billion in GDP. As we reported last week, the United States has deployed a total of three warships to the Middle East, along with several other attack boats, as tensions in the region escalate. With the USS John C. Stennis already stationed just outside Iranian territorial waters, the the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Carl Vinson are on their way to join her. The United States now has a total of five major aircraft carriers deployed around the world, the same number of warships that were in action shortly before the invasion of Iraq in early 2003. - Info Wars.
WATCH: US angered as Tehran blocks 'virtual embassy'.

An Iranian Member of Parliament said that they will pound every American military base in the world if a U.S. jet fighter violates Iran's air space again.
If the United States' spy drone that was recently downed by the Iranian Armed Forces in the Eastern parts of the country had been a jet fighter, we would have hit all the US military bases throughout the world, a senior Iranian lawmaker warned on Friday. "If this had been a fighter jet, the conditions would have been different now as we would have pounded all the US military bases on the planet," Vice-Chairman of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Esmayeel Kowsari told FNA. "We have repeatedly said and we caution again that in case our country's borders are violated, we will not confine our response to geographical borders," he added. Iran has repeatedly warned that it would target Israel and its worldwide interests in case it comes under attack by the Tel Aviv. It has also warned that in case of an attack by either the US or Israel, it will target 32 American bases in the Middle East and close the strategic Strait of Hormoz. The MP further said that Iran proved to the world that the US is not an invincible power after it downed the highly sophisticated drone through hacking its systems. The legislator rapped the international bodies for their silence on the case, and warned, "If another US spy plane violates the Iranian airspace, we will give a frightening response to the Americans." - FARS News Agency.
The statement came swifty after Israel called for "paralyzing" sanctions against Iran.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak says in Vienna that steps should be taken to target Iranian oil trade and central bank. Iran's ruling clerics could use nuclear weapons to strengthen their grip on power and the world must urgently impose crippling sanctions to prevent them from building such arms, Israel's defense minister said on Sunday. Ehud Barak also predicted that Syria's ruling Assad family could fall within weeks and that this would be a "blessing" for the Middle East. "Something is wrong with this family, the way they suppress the will of the Syrian people, killing them, slaughtering their own people," he told a conference in Vienna. Asked about prospects for an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites, Barak said he still believed that it was "time for urgent, coherent, paralyzing" punitive steps targeting Iranian oil trade and its central bank. "Nothing short of this kind of sanctions will work," Barak said, adding there was a need for a "direct attack, isolation, by the whole world" of the Iranian central bank. Speculation that Israel, which sees Iran's nuclear program as an existential threat, could launch preemptive strikes against Iran was fuelled by a UN report last month which said Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a nuclear weapon. - Haaretz.
Pakistan, is now employing a similar stance to that of Iran, empowering their military to hit American drones.
The Pakistani military will shoot down any US drone that intrudes the country's airspace under a new defence policy in which troops have been given greater liberty to respond to incursions by Nato and allied forces in Afghanistan, according to a media report. "Any object entering into our airspace, including US drones, will be treated as hostile and be shot down," a senior unnamed Pakistani military official was quoted as saying by NBC News. The defence policy was changed after a Nato air strike on two military border posts killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26. Following the air strike, army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani issued a communique that gave troops in the field full liberty to respond to any future attacks without consulting their superiors. Kayani issued multiple directives since the November 26 attack, including orders to shoot down US drones, senior military officials said. Pakistan also shut down all Nato supply routes and asked the US to vacate the Shamsi airfield in Balochistan province by December 11. - Times of India.
WATCH: Pakistan-US relationship - 'We do not trust each other'.

Meanwhile, a recent report from sources in the Middle East region, indicates that hundreds of United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops are currently performing war exercise and military operations on the Jordan-Syria border.
During the last few hours foreign military groups, estimated at hundreds of individuals, began to spread near the villages of the north-Jordan city of “Al-Mafraq”, which is adjacent to the Jordanian and Syrian border. According to one Jordanian military officer who asked to remain anonymous, hundreds of soldiers who speak languages ​other than Arabic were seen during the past two days in those areas moving back and forth in military vehicles between the King Hussein Air Base of al-Mafraq (10 km from the Syrian border), and the vicinity of Jordanian villages adjacent to the Syrian border, such as village Albaej (5 km from the border), the area around the dam of Sarhan, the villages of Zubaydiah and al-Nahdah adjacent to the Syrian border. Another report received from our source in Amman identified an additional US-NATO Command Center in “al-Houshah,’ a village near Mafraq. Our Iraqi journalist source in London provided us with the following related information: “Some of the US forces that left the Ain al-Assad Air base in Iraq last Thursday, did not come back to the USA or its base in Germany, but were transferred to Jordan during the evening hours.”

The above information was further corroborated by our correspondent and advisor Nizar Nayouf who interviewed an employee in the London-based office of Royal Jordanian Airlines: “At least one US aircraft carrying military personnel landed in the Prince Hassan Air base located about 100 km to the east of the city of Al-Mafraq.” Earlier last week, Jordanian news websites disclosed that “Western officials have requested the King to allow establishing an electronic spy station in the north of Jordan (near the Syrian border) in order to access the Syrian army and contact Syrian high-rank officers for convincing them to make a military coup or (at least) rebel against the regime”. Nizar Nayouf, BFP advisor and correspondent on Syria in London, had the following statement on Al-Mafraq: “The al-Mafraq air base, which now includes Air Force Academy, was a starting point for “conspiratorial activities” by Jordan, The UK and Israel against Syria in the past, particularly in the 1960s. In September 1968, a Syrian commando Major, Salim Hatoom, who fled to Jordan with a number of officers after a failed coup attempt, established a camp from which he started a rebel military against the then left-wing government of Syria under president Nureddin al-Atassi and Salah Jadid. By the end of 1970s and early 1980s, the Syrian Islamic Brotherhood and their military wing “At-Taleeah al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah” (the Islamic Militant Vanguard) used the same base for its military struggle against president Hafez a-Assad regime, in which they were being trained by the Jordanian and Israeli intelligence agents, and cars were being bombed before they were sent to the streets of Syrian cities for the killing of innocents and undermining state facilities.”

Mr. Nayouf went on to emphasize the irony of the situation: “I guess history repeats itself but as farce…Last spring, that tens of Syrian soldiers, who fled to Jordan, were transferred to a camp west of the Jordanian city of “Salt”, in which officers from Israeli military intelligence (AMAN) began the investigation with them under the supervision of the Jordanian military intelligence. This was to extract information from them on issues related to the development of the Syrian army, weapons and training, especially after 2006.” We contacted our expert sources on US media and intelligence-military and were told that the US media has been told not to report on this latest development until Tuesday, December 13.  - BFP.
WATCH: US Troops Deploying on Jordan-Syria Border.

Speaking of Syria, another report states that the Assad regime is now arming the country's missiles with chemical warheads.
The Syrian regime, which has endured nine months of civil unrest spurred by the Arab Spring as it swept across the Middle East, has armed its medium-range missile arsenal with chemical warheads. According to a report published by the Sabah daily Sunday, Damascus armed 600 one-ton chemical warheads to use in the event of a foreign military intervention. Furthermore, President Bashar al-Assad ordered the deployment of 21 missile launchers along its border with Turkey. Syria’s medium-range missiles that can be equipped with chemical warheads have a range of up to 1,300 kilometers and would include the southern and central provinces of Turkey. According to the daily, the Syrian military keeps its stockpile of chemical warheads in secret facilities in and around the capital city of Damascus. In mid-November, President Assad held a special meeting with top commanders of the Syrian army and argued over how to respond to a possible military intervention by the international community. Additionally, Russia, which stood by the Assad regime’s defiance of international pressure on Damascus, sent 3 million gas masks to the troubled country. Most of those masks will be distributed to the regime’s loyalists, the families of soldiers and Baath supporters. The distribution of the masks is set to be completed by the end of December, according to the daily. Syria is believed to have had a chemical weapons arsenal for more than three decades. Following heavy defeats against Israel in conventional warfare, international defense sources believe that following the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Hafez al-Assad, the former general of the Syrian Air Force, decided to bolster Syria’s strategic position through the development of ballistic missiles to counter Israel’s superiority in conventional warfare. The unchallenged superiority Israeli air forces led Syrian generals to push for other means to protect the regime. From then on, Syria has launched clandestine efforts to develop chemical warheads with ballistic missile delivery systems. - Today's Zaman.
It seems like it is only a matter of time, before we have all out war in the Middle East and across the globe.

THE EUROZONE CRISIS: THE DEADLY WOUND - Eurozone Banking System on the Edge of Collapse, Markets Decide They Don't Like European Deal After All; EU Debt Summit Fails to Satisfy Ratings Agencies; UBS' Advice On What To Buy In Case Of Eurozone Breakup: "Precious Metals, Tinned Goods And Small Calibre Weapons"; Back-Door Bank Runs in Europe Have Started!

The Eurozone banking system is on the edge of collapse as major lenders begin to run out of the assets they need to keep vital funding lines open.

Eurozone banking system on the edge of collapse.
Senior analysts and traders warned of impending bank failures as a summit intended to solve the European crisis failed to deliver a solution that eased concerns over bank funding. The European Central Bank admitted it had held meetings about providing emergency funding to the region's struggling banks, however City figures said a "collateral crunch" was looming. "If anyone thinks things are getting better then they simply don't understand how severe the problems are. I think a major bank could fail within weeks," said one London-based executive at a major global bank. Many banks, including some French, Italian and Spanish lenders, have already run out of many of the acceptable forms of collateral such as US Treasuries and other liquid securities used to finance short-term loans and have been forced to resort to lending out their gold reserves to maintain access to dollar funding. "The system is creaking. There is a large amount of stress," said Anthony Peters, a strategist at Swissinvest, pointing to soaring interbank lending rates.

CreditSights' weekly funding report said the ECB had effectively become the central clearer for the region's banks as lenders are increasingly distrustful about funding one another. Bank deposits with the ECB now stand at their highest level since June 2010 at €905bn (£772bn) as lenders withdraw deposits held with their peers and put them into the central bank. At the same time, banks in major eurozone countries such as France and Italy have become increasingly reliant on central bank funding. This follows the trend seen in smaller countries like Ireland where lenders have effectively becomes taxpayer-funded "zombie" banks. Alastair Ryan, a banks analyst at UBS, said there would be "no Lehman moment" – or single catastrophic event – for the European banking sytem, but added that without a full backstop of bank liabilities by governments the system would "struggle to finance itself in the next year in a durable way". "The system at the moment hasn't got funding of a duration that allows it to function, so it's failing," he said. Others think the eurozone banks are heading for a catastrophe and the worry is growing that a major bank could collapse within weeks.

The results of the fourth round of European Banking Authority (EBA) stress tests conducted in just under 18 months pointed to a €115bn capital shortfall in the eurozone financial system, with German banks showing the most notable deterioration in their core capital ratios. Moody's on Friday downgraded France's three largest banks, BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole and Societe Generale in light of what the US rating agency said were "liquidity and funding constraints". The banks' downgrade came despite Moody's acknowledging the three lenders could depend on a higher level of French taxpayer support in future. Two weeks ago, rumours abounded that it was the near failure of a major French lender that had been the trigger for a massive co-ordinated intervention by the world's largest central banks to shore up the banking system. The fear is the European authorities do not have the financial firepower to deal with the banks' problems. Analysts at BarCap say that even if the European rescue funds were able to raise €1 trillion of funding this would only meet the needs of the Italian and Spanish government and banks. The European banking sector's problems are being exacerbated by a wave of asset sales as lenders look to dramatically shrink their balance sheets. UBS estimates eurozone banks could sell off between €3.7 trillion and €4.5 trillion of assets in the next three years. - Telegraph.
WATCH: Europe's '27 minus 1' agreement.

UBS' Advice On What To Buy In Case Of Eurozone Breakup: "Precious Metals, Tinned Goods And Small Calibre Weapons".
And here comes UBS to remind everyone that anything but a "fix" to a system that was broken from the very beginning, would be a catastrophe, captured probably the best in Hatheway's recommendations of assets to be bought as a hedge to a Euro collapse: "I suppose there might be some assets worthy of consideration—precious metals, for example. But other metals would make wise investments, too. Among them tinned goods and small calibre weapons." But even that is nothing compared to the kicker: "Break-up runs the risk of becoming one wretched scenario. Sadly, however, it can’t be ruled out, just as it would have been improper to rule out the horrors of the first half of the 20th century before they happened." And there you have it: a reversion by Europe to the perfectly stable system from a decade ago, is now somehow supposed to result in World War. And with that the global banking cartel has official jumped the shark, just like the FT's latest rumor earlier today did the same by indicating that the well of European "bailout" ideas has officially run dry. Here is how Hatheway frames the end of the world: The unfolding Eurozone crisis is not something to be taken lightly. The consequences of policy action are material, not just for the 330-odd million residents of the Euro area, but assuredly for the world economy and financial system as well. - Zerohedge.
Euro banks on brink in funding crisis as collateral crunch threatens system.

But the picture for European banks remains particularly bleak, with their funding cost in US dollars rising on Friday to 1.22 percentage points below the euro interbank offered rate. Bank deposits with the ECB now stand at their highest level since June last year as lenders move deposits from their peers to the central bank. "If anyone thinks things are getting better, they simply don't understand how severe the problems are," a London executive at a global bank said. "A major bank could fail within weeks." Others said many continental banks, including French, Italian and Spanish lenders, were close to running out of the acceptable forms of collateral, such as US Treasury bonds, that could be used to finance short-term loans. Some have been forced to lend out their gold reserves to maintain access to US dollar funding. Bank of America Merrill Lynch chief economist Saul Eslake said the problems at European banks would have a ripple effect in Australia that could not only put pressure on mortgage rates but push up the cost of borrowing for firms using the syndicated loan market. "It's well known that the cost of offshore wholesale funding for Australian banks has gone up, but there's another element that hasn't yet played out," he said.

European banks had the choice of either raising new capital or reducing their loan books, or so-called risk-weighted assets, to satisfy regulators and conform to Basel III capital requirements. "It appears they're doing the latter, and the least politically painful thing for them to do is to reduce overseas exposures," Mr Eslake said. "In Australia they have been active in the syndicated loan market and in previous years they've rolled loans over as they mature, but they may choose now to drop out." While local banks were well capitalised and looking to grow credit by making new loans, he warned there was a risk that borrowers would be hit by steeper loan conditions. "The Australian banks may be willing to step in, but at a price," he said, indicating that terms would probably be renegotiated upwards on loan maturity. Most of the measures agreed in Brussels to limit fiscal looseness were "a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted", he said. The banking concerns come after ratings agency Standard & Poor's placed 15 of the 17 members of the eurozone single currency union on negative watch. Experts have warned that France could lose its AAA credit rating this week, which would create new funding issues for banks using French government bonds as collateral. - The Australian.
Why Europe has investors running scared.
The search for a silver bullet to fix Europe’s debt mess again has come up empty. Like so many proposals that came before it, the tentative agreement crafted from Friday’s European summit generated a day of euphoria followed by careful reflection and, then, more pain. Global equity markets slumped Monday, bringing an abrupt end to the sharp rally that began Nov. 28 on the perpetual hopes that policymakers are nearing the end of their long journey toward figuring out the continent’s sovereign debt mess. There seemed to be two issues at the heart of the matter: 1) The UK’s refusal to go along with proposals that would have tied it more closely to the euro zone, of which it is not a member. 2) A delayed reaction from European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi’s comments Thursday that there will be no ECB bond-buying of the toxic southern European debt. Britain vetoed provisions that would have required it to follow the same rules as the nations in the European Union that use the euro as its currency. Without the UK's cooperation, some fear it could threaten the very existence of the EU. - CNBC.
EU debt summit fails to satisfy ratings agencies.
Investors were bracing for a possible mass downgrade of euro zone countries as soon as this week after EU leaders failed to come up with decisive measures to tackle the region's debt crisis. Moody's Investors Service said on Monday it intends to review the ratings of all 27 members of the European Union in the first quarter of 2012 after EU leaders offered "few new measures" to resolve the crisis in a summit on Friday. Fitch Ratings said the summit, in which leaders agreed to draft a new treaty for deeper economic integration, failed to provide a "comprehensive" solution to the crisis — thus increasing short-term pressure on euro zone sovereign debt [cnbc explains] ratings. Standard & Poor's, which warned last week of a possible downgrade of 15 euro zone countries shortly after the summit, still has to announce its decision. S&P last week placed the ratings of 15 euro zone countries on credit watch negative — which signals a possible imminent downgrade — saying that "systemic stresses" were building up as credit conditions tightened in the 17-nation region.
The agency, which in August stripped the U.S. of its AAA rating, said it would focus its decision on political dynamics that "appear to be limiting the effectiveness of efforts to resolve the market confidence crisis." For one thing, the assessment of the summit's success by rival ratings agencies does not bode well for S&P's upcoming decision. Moody's said the outcome of the EU summit did not change its view that risks to the cohesion of the euro area continue to rise. "As we announced in November, unless credit market conditions stabilize in the near future, our ratings of all EU sovereigns will need to be revisited," it said in a weekly report. "We continue to expect to complete such a repositioning during the first quarter of 2012." Fitch also said the summit did little to ease the pressure on euro zone sovereign debt, as leaders agreed on a gradualist approach that "imposes additional economic and financial costs compared with an immediate comprehensive solution. It means the crisis will continue at varying levels of intensity throughout 2012 and probably beyond, until the region is able to sustain a broad economic recovery," Fitch said in a statement. - CNBC.
Markets decide they don't like European deal after all.
After rallying on Friday, markets in the US and Europe tumbled Monday as investors judged that last week's pact to bind EU economies closer together would fail to quell its financial crisis. Markets are chiefly concerned by a perceived failure of leaders to break the deadlock over more decisive involvement of the European Central Bank, which many analysts say is the only way to put an end to the crisis. They also worry that Friday's deal shows Europe's only answer to the crisis is scything budget cuts which will result in years of poor growth and potentially derail the overall effort to put public finances back on track. "The austerity measures will have a profoundly negative impact on economic growth and will make 2012 a very challenging year in economic terms," said Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets. Wall Street traded sharply lower, while European stocks also plunged. - CNBC.
WATCH: Eurozone pact fails to restore confidence.

Back-door bank runs in Europe have started.

In his interview at King World News, James Turk, founder of GoldMoney and author of The Coming Collapse of the Dollar, noted in his travels around Europe that “there is one common trait, regardless of which country I am in: people are really frightened about the possibility of the collapse of the euro. Money continues to move out of the European banking system, which explains why central banks stepped in with some money printing last week.” He then went on to explain that there are only three sources of funding available to a bank: its customers lending it capital through checking and savings accounts, the issuing of long-term bonds which it sells to bond investors, and short-term financing provided mostly through money market funds. If any of these sources dries up, it puts the bank almost immediately into a precarious financial position. He said that the day before the world’s central banks stepped in to make short-term money more available was “frightening:” Even though I’ve been saying this has been coming, last week was truly frightening with the banking system about to fall into the abyss. Had the central banks not stepped in it would have been a Lehman moment. Sadly, they haven’t solved the problem. They have bought time and whether that time is one or two weeks or maybe a month, we will soon find out.
Belgium’s largest bank, Dexia, with some 35,000 employees and nearly $25 billion of “core shareholders’ equity” at the end of last year appeared to have recovered from its near-death experience in 2008 when it required a $10 billion bailout. On July 15, 2011 the European Banking Authority applied a “stress test” to the bank’s finances, and it passed with flying colors. The authority reported that its safest asset — Tier 1 Capital — was 12.1 percent, and would fall to 10.4 percent only under the test’s “adverse scenario,” making it one of Europe’s safest banks. On October 10 the bank failed, and had to be purchased by the Belgian government. Dexia was the trigger event that started the run on the European banks. Paul Krugman of the New York Times answered a hypothetical question in his column on November 1: The question I’m trying to answer right now is how the final act will be played. At this point I’d guess soaring rates on Italian debt leading to a gigantic bank run.... This then leads to emergency bank closing(s)... On November 21, the Fixed Income Research Unit of Credit Suisse had this to say: We seem to have entered the last days of the euro as we currently know it.... Some extraordinary things will almost certainly need to happen … to prevent the progressive closure of all the euro zone sovereign bond markets, potentially accompanied by escalating runs on even the strongest banks.

David Rosenberg, senior economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff, wrote that same day that “banks are shedding their assets. Investors are increasingly reluctant to lend to either sovereigns or financial institutions.... Lenders are finding it difficult to finance their day-to-day operations with short-term funding. This is a lot like 2008…” Two days later, The Economist wrote that a back-door run on European banks had begun in earnest. This is not the typical visible bank run with depositors lined up at the front doors waiting to withdraw their funds. Instead, as The Economist noted, “billions of euros are flooding out of Europe’s banking system through [the back door of] bond and money markets.” It started just after Dexia failed. In the third quarter bonds issued by European banks were just 15 percent of the amount they sold over the same period in the last two years. Short-term financing started drying up too. American money market fund managers became aware of the increasing risks and began pulling their investors’ money out. According to The Economist, those funds have pulled almost two-thirds of their money out of French banks, and more than 40 percent of their funds from all European banks. Interbank borrowing costs are reflecting the increasing need for day-to-day funds as three-month rates are now the highest since 2009.

An analyst for Citi Group wrote that corporations also have started withdrawing excess balances from banks in Spain, Italy, France, and Belgium. This is forcing banks to begin to act like pawn brokers, putting up real assets as collateral for loans. The president of UniCredit, an Italian bank, for instance, has asked the European Central Bank to broaden its range of “acceptable assets” against which it will lend. And an increasing number of banks are now engaging in “liquidity swaps” where banks borrow an asset that the ECB will accept as collateral in exchange for one that it won’t accept, and paying a hefty premium for the privilege. Banks are reducing their lending to finance trade and fund aircraft leases as well in order to preserve cash. But that only slows down the bleeding and buys the banks precious little time. The blogger at the Economic Collapse Blog has confirmed that the back-door runs on European banks have begun: Right now we are seeing the beginning of a credit crunch that is shaping up to be very reminiscent of what we saw back in 2008. Investors and big corporations are pulling huge amounts of money out of European banks.... Nobody wants to lend to these banks. We could potentially see dozens of “Lehman Brothers moments” in Europe… All of which is entirely predictable. The banks loaned money to credit-challenged sovereign states, hoping that at least they would be able to service the debt by making interest payments. Now, as credit is drying up and interest rates are soaring, the European economies are slowing down. This so-called “death spiral” can only end badly with the back door runs continuing until bank failures ultimately stop the bleeding. - The New American.

DELUGE: Heavy Storms Lash Australia's New South Wales - Floods Swamp Properties, Causing Widespread Havoc!

Heavy storms and localised flooding in Australia's New South Wales state cut off roads and caused havoc on Monday, local media reported.

One of the worst-hit areas was Coffs Harbour in the state's north where the State Emergency Service laid about 200 sandbags to protect threatened properties. The storms and slippery roads were also blamed for an accident involving three cars, injuring five people, local media reported. Heavy rain also lashed Sydney's metropolitan areas and the bureau of meteorology is forecasting more rain and lower than normal temperature throughout December. "We are expecting wetter than normal conditions, which is also expected to suppress temperatures through the summer," said Josh Fisher, Weatherzone Meteorologist. Last month (November) heavy rain inundated several townships in northern New South Wales state, trapping motorists in their cars and leaving rural properties swamped. - 3 News.
A Couple has spent a frightening 12 hours trapped in their car stranded between two flooded causeways as much of New South Wales was hit by heavy storms and localised flash-flooding. The couple and their dog were forced to stay put in their car all night at Bingara, on the Gwyder River in New England, as worsening weather delayed rescue efforts. "Although they spent a fairly uncomfortable night between two causeways (they) are safe and well," a State Emergency Services (SES) spokesman told AAP this morning. A woman on the Central Coast was also rescued about 7am on Monday after rising floodwaters trapped her in her car at Narara, near Gosford. "We have around 65mm of rain in the last hour up there that has caused some flash flooding," the spokesman said. "The female (was) trapped in her vehicle with water up to her doors."

Coffs Harbour, on the north coast, was the worst-affected area overnight, with the SES laying about 200 sandbags to protect properties. "We had some localised flash-flooding up there ... but no major damage was reported," the SES spokesman said. Heavy rain is expected to continue to fall in the Sydney metropolitan area, the Hunter and mid north coast, with conditions expected to ease slightly on Monday afternoon. "That may result in some localised flash-flooding," the SES spokesman said. "We are urging motorists to drive with care and stay out of flood water." The SES have already received 120 calls for assistance this morning, mainly in Gosford and northern Sydney suburbs including Hornsby. "The jobs are mainly leaking rooves, and minor property damage from trees and branches coming down," SES spokesman Phil Campbell said.

Up to 100mm of rain has been forecast to hit Sydney and the Hunter region today and this could cause some localised flash flooding, Mr Campbell said. A Bureau of Meteorology thunderstorm warning stayed in place last night for the state's Northern Rivers, Snowy Mountains, North Coast, Hunter and Riverina regions, along with the ACT. "A regional warning for severe thunderstorms with large hailstones, very heavy rainfall and flash flooding covering the ACT and a large part of NSW is still in effect," it said. Motorists are being urged to reduce speed, drive with their headlights on and allow extra room between their car and the car in front on flood-affected roads in Sydney and the NSW Central Coast.

Flood affected roads in Sydney include: Oxford Falls - Oxford Falls Road at the Causeway is closed in both directions. Oxford Falls - Wakehurst Parkway closed in both directions. (Pittwater Road and Warringah Road can be used as an alternative.) Strathfield - Leicester Avenue at Cooper Street. All southbound lanes closed. A contra flow in the northbound lanes is allow traffic to pass in both directions, however delays are being experienced. On the Central Coast: West Gosford - Central Coast Highway near Racecourse Road - both directions affected with water over the road. The Central Coast Highway remains open. Kariong - Central Coast Highway at Wisemans Ferry Road. Eastbound lanes are affected, however traffic can continue to pass with caution. Wadalba (North of Wyong) - Southbound lanes of the Pacific Highway are closed. Local diversions are in place. Northbound lanes remain open. Motorists should avoid the area. Significant delays are being experienced on the Central Coast Highway due to localised flooding. - Herald Sun.
WATCH: Rain pounds the state.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Giant Sinkhole in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania - 10 Feet Wide, Threatening the Houses of Residents!

In one Lehigh Valley neighborhood, some homeowners are still hoping that crews can close a giant sinkhole that's threatening their homes.

Many of them are afraid they may not be home for Christmas. Residents of three homes in the 2200 block of Irma Drive stood outside and watched as crews filled in a giant sinkhole in what had been their front yards. They had to stand outside, because they were not allowed inside their houses. Engineers still aren't sure if they are safe, after water from an apparent water main break washed the dirt out from under their foundations Monday. Michael Smith noticed a problem when he stepped out his front door Monday morning. "I heard the water first, and then as I am looking down towards the water, I'm seeing this hole opening up five feet aware from my front door," described Michael Smith. Wendy Almanzar, who lives next door, was at home with her 18-month-old son. She and her fiancé had just bought the house and moved in March.

"They were knocking at the back door and front door, and then I opened the front door and I saw the hole, and the water guy was yelling at me to get out of the house," explained Wendy Almanzar. Wendy called her fiancé, who rushed home from work in time to watch the sinkhole grow and grow. "At first, I would say it was about 6 feet wide, and then a couple hours later, we were looking at about 10 feet wide, and then eventually it worked its way towards my property," said Christian Diaz. In a phone interview, David Brong, Director of the Bethlehem Water Department, said the main had been checked for leaks just one week ago. And when it was removed, it wasn't corroded. His theory: "There may be something going on under the earth's surface that compromised the line." For now, the plan is to continue to fill the giant sinkhole with dirt, rocks and cement to try and stabilize the houses. The hope is that residents would be able to move back into their homes by Christmas. - 6ABC.
WATCH: ABC report on the giant sinkhole.

FIRE IN THE SKY: The Geminid Meteor Shower - 'Best' Annual Meteor Shower of Shooting Stars, Peaks on Tuesday!

The Geminid meteor shower, billed by NASA as the best of the year, begins Monday and is expected to peak on Tuesday night.

Shooting stars appearing to originate from the constellation Gemini are expected to streak across the skies between Dec. 12 and 16, peaking between Dec. 13 and 14, the U.S. space agency says. Between 80 and 120 shooting stars per hour are regularly seen during the peak of the annual celestial show. Unfortunately, this year the sky will be lit brightly with a nearly full waning gibbous moon, making some of the meteors hard to see. Even so, sky watchers may be able to see up to 40 shooting stars per hour during the peak if skies are clear, NASA predicts.

The Geminid meteor shower takes place in mid-December each year as the Earth passes through a stream of debris from an object called 3200 Phaetheon. Astronomers aren't sure whether it is a comet or an asteroid, since it has an asteroid-like orbit, but brightens like a comet as it approaches the sun. This annual meteor shower was first reported in the 1830s, and since then has increased from a peak intensity of 20 meteors per hour to up to 120. "It is now the best annual meteor shower," NASA said on its website. NASA is holding a public online chat with three meteor experts at its Marshall Space Flight Center from 11 p.m. ET Tuesday to 5 a.m. ET Wednesday. - CBC.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Abrupt Permafrost Thaw Increases Climate Threat - Study Shows That Greenhouse Gases Will be Released at Significantly Higher Levels Than Previous Estimates!

As the Arctic warms, greenhouse gases will be released from thawing permafrost faster and at significantly higher levels than previous estimates, according to survey results from 41 international scientists published in the Nov. 30 issue of the journal Nature.

Ben Abbott, graduate student, right, and Jay Jones, professor of biology, both of the Institute of Arctic
Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks collect soil cores and gas flux measurements from a
landscape north of the IAB Toolik Field Station on the North Slope where permafrost has thawed
and the ground has collapsed - called a thermokarst. Abbott and Jones are part of the National
Science Foundation funded thermokarst project #08-0341.
Permafrost thaw will release approximately the same amount of carbon as deforestation, say the authors, but the effect on climate will be 2.5 times bigger because emissions include methane, which has a greater effect on warming than carbon dioxide. The survey, led by University of Florida researcher Edward Schuur and University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student Benjamin Abbott, asked climate experts what percentage of the surface permafrost is likely to thaw, how much carbon will be released and how much of that carbon will be methane. The authors estimate that the amount of carbon released by 2100 will be 1.7 to 5.2 times larger than reported in recent modeling studies, which used a similar warming scenario. "The larger estimate is due to the inclusion of processes missing from current models and new estimates of the amount of organic carbon stored deep in frozen soils," Abbott said. "There's more organic carbon in northern soils than there is in all living things combined; it's kind of mind boggling." Northern soils hold around 1,700 billion gigatons of organic carbon, around four times more than all the carbon ever emitted by modern human activity and twice as much as is now in the atmosphere, according to the latest estimate.

When permafrost thaws, organic material in the soil decomposes and releases gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. "In most ecosystems organic matter is concentrated only in the top meter of soils, but when arctic soils freeze and thaw the carbon can work its way many meters down, said Abbott, who studies how carbon is released from collapsed landscapes called thermokarsts – a process not accounted for in current models. Until recently that deep carbon was not included in soil inventories and it still is not accounted for in most climate models. "We know about a lot of processes that will affect the fate of arctic carbon, but we don't yet know how to incorporate them into climate models," Abbott said. "We're hoping to identify some of those processes and help the models catch up." Most large-scale models assume that permafrost warming depends on how much the air above the permafrost is warming. Missing from the models, say the authors, are processes such as the effects of abrupt thawing that can melt an ice wedge, result in collapsed ground and accelerate additional thawing. "This survey is part of the scientific process, what we think is going to happen in the future, and how we come up with testable hypotheses for future research," Schurr said. "Our survey outlines the additional risk to society caused by thawing of the frozen North and the need to reduce fossil fuel use and deforestation." By integrating data from previous models with expert predictions the authors hope to provide a frame of reference for scientists studying all aspects of climate change. "Permafrost carbon release is not going to overshadow fossil fuel emissions as the main driver of climate change" said Schuur, "but it is an important amplifier of climate change." - Eureka Alert.

EXTREME WEATHER: ALERT - The United Kingdom's Met Office Issues a 30-Hour Severe Weather Warning for England and Wales!

Storms will batter England and Wales from tonight, with forecasters warning that we are about to endure the windiest week of the year.

The Met Office has issued a 30-hour weather warning beginning at 6pm this evening, with the high winds that hammered Scotland and the north of England last week about to be repeated further south. A band of heavy rain is also forecast to move eastwards from Wales overnight, raising the risk of flooding. The south-east and north-west of England are likely to take the brunt of the expected 70mph winds and heavy rain over the next 48 hours, but experts said stormy conditions may be seen in many places in between.

The weather warning is expected to be upgraded from a yellow or ‘be aware’ notice to amber, meaning ‘be prepared’, this morning. Met Office forecaster Alex Fox said snow or sleet could fall on higher ground as far south as Devon tomorrow. Temperatures will hover at about 5C (41F) through tomorrow and Wednesday – but many places will feel colder due to wind chill. Mr Fox said: ‘It looks like being one of, if not the, windiest week this year. ‘It is an outstanding week in terms of the strength of winds, their persistence and having forecast gales or stronger winds in inland areas, which is exceptional.’ He said winds of up to 70mph are expected on the south coast from tonight, with ‘isolated, exposed places’ possibly seeing even stronger gales. Blustery showers are expected to continue until Wednesday. After a brief respite, strong winds will whip up again on Thursday evening. Mr Fox said: ‘Thursday evening into Friday is certainly looking like a potentially extremely windy spell, with wind speeds stronger than Monday and Tuesday, at  70-80mph gusts.’

Wind speeds of up to 165mph were recorded during the worst of the storm that hit Scotland and northern England last week, bringing down trees and power lines, causing disruption to roads and closing schools. A two-year-old sleeping at her grandmother’s house in Sunderland had a lucky escape after a tree crashed into the side of the property after being uprooted by winds on Thursday. And on Saturday a dozen men aged between 18 and 20 were taken to hospital after the minibus they were travelling in careered off an icy road near Gosforth, Cumbria. A spokesman for Cumbria Police said they had been taken to the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, with some suffering from serious injuries. Thankfully none was considered life-threatening. Yet more dire weather could be a disaster for crisis-hit retailers, many of which have already launched Christmas sales early to entice shoppers. Britain’s tills normally ring up £1billion a day this week in the run-up to Christmas, but retail analysts Synovate said the number of shoppers could fall by up to 20 per cent in areas suffering from severe weather. - Daily Mail.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Japan's Mega-Disaster Event - March 11th Mega-Quake & Tsunami Shook Satellites out of Their Orbits and Recasted the Planet's Undersea Terrain!

The Tōhoku earthquake that rattled Japan on 11 March changed Earth's gravitational field enough to affect the orbits of satellites. The satellites' altered courses suggest that the earthquake was stronger and deeper than instruments on Earth indicated.

These weren't just any satellites: they are the twin spacecraft of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), which fly 220 kilometres apart in a polar orbit about 500 kilometres above Earth. GRACE's job is to map the Earth's gravity field, and it does this by monitoring the effect of minute variations in the field on the trajectories of the satellites and the changing distance between them. Earth's gravity field changes whenever there is a redistribution of mass on its surface. This may be a result of snowfall, flood, melting of ice caps – or earthquakes. "That perturbed gravitational field affects the satellite orbits," explains Shin-Chan Han of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Han and colleagues have already studied the effects of two previous megaquakes – the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake in 2004 and last year's earthquake in Chile. After GRACE was launched in 2002, these were the only earthquakes that had had a measurable effect on the satellites' orbits – until the Tōhoku earthquake. Now Han's team has used that most recent megaquake to show that the disturbances of satellite orbits can be used to independently estimate the magnitude and location of earthquakes, along with estimates based on surface seismographs and GPS measurements. The researchers calculated how the relative velocity of the two satellites changed as they passed over the affected region. GRACE records variations in the gravity field due to other processes too, but these background signals change over larger timescales than that of the quake, and so could be identified and subtracted.

The leftover signal showed that the rate at which the distance between the two GRACE satellites changed – the so-called range rate – was twice as high in the month after the earthquake as in the month prior to the event. The researchers then built models of the earthquake using data from seismographs and surface GPS instruments, and estimated what the satellites' range rate would be in these models. They found that a model in which the earthquake was of magnitude 9.1 and occurred in Earth's lower crust came closest to the true range rate. By contrast, conventional estimates have put the Tōhoku earthquake's strength at 9.0 and located it in the upper crust. NASA and DLR, the German space agency, which are joint partners in GRACE, are planning a new mission to measure with greater precision how Earth's gravity field changes. This would allow the satellites to monitor earthquakes with magnitudes as low as 7.5, which occur nearly every month somewhere on Earth. Han presented the results at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco this week. - New Scientist.
Undersea views reveal that Japan's colossal earthquake ripped deep fissures in the seafloor and raised undersea cliffs hundreds of feet, while spawning waves that destroyed billion-dollar seawalls, scientists reported here Tuesday. In a series of reports on the March 11 earthquake, among the strongest ever recorded at magnitude 9.0, researchers here at the American Geophysical Union meeting described a shattered world on the Japanese seafloor that birthed a killer tsunami responsible for the deaths of at least 20,000 people. "They were doomed to start with," says tsunami expert Costas Synolakis of the University of Southern California. A $1.6 billion undersea breakwall outside the town of Kamaishi, for example, "didn't protect the town," he says, taking perhaps 6 feet off of a 40-foot tsunami wave. Funneled by narrow sea canyons, waves as high as 130 feet hit some towns, powered by the seafloor's abrupt piston-like bucking during the quake. "In some places, we cannot see to the bottom of the fissures," says geophysicist Takeshi Tsuji of Japan's Kyoto University. Before-and-after robot submarine visits to three sites about 70 miles off Japan's coasts confirm that the seafloor shifted more than 70 feet eastward and dropped more than 30 feet in some locales, along the fault between the Pacific Ocean and the Japanese crustal plate.

Fissures stretch the length of football fields and a cliff several hundred feet tall looks freshly exposed at one spot, more than 2 miles deep. "It was a peaceful seafloor, but after the earthquake everything moved," Tsuji says. The seafloor study, and satellite images reported Monday, help further explain the tsunami's severity. • Parts of the seafloor on the eastern side of the fault dropped, while the far side popped upward and westward, delivering a double-barreled tsunami. • The NASA Jason-1 oceanographic satellite revealed waves merging offshore to heights far exceeding expectations, channeled by undersea ridges. "We call them fingers of God," Synolakis says. • Preventive measures such as planting stands of pine trees on coasts proved useless for stemming waves. Japanese researchers such as Kazuhisa Goto of Japan's Tohoku University reported that they now realize that a tremendous tsunami that struck Japan in 869 A.D. should have served as a warning to the island nation.

The earthquake struck with such force, the fourth-largest one ever measured in the world by seismologists, that it dealt Japan two waves of shaking: one originating at the fault itself and one emanating from a displaced reflection of the quaking, which shook the seafloor closer to the coast, says geologist Keith Koper of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. "It was like an orchestra, with the tubas playing on one side," he says, and the flutes playing on the other. The quake lasted for three minutes, "an enormous amount of time for an earthquake," Koper says, precisely because of the undersea orchestration of the quake shaking the seafloor. "The more we understand the physics of earthquakes and tsunamis, the better we can warn people the next time," says Dapeng Zhao of Japan's Tohoku University. "That is why we study this." - USA Today.

RATTLE & HUM: Mysterious Noise Phenomena - Something Shook New Jersey on Saturday, but Seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey Detected Nothing?!

Floors shook, bottles rattled, bells jingled, and scores of New Jersey residents up and down the state cried "earthquake!" yesterday morning. Was this the state’s second rattler in four months?

People stand on the corner of Broad and Green streets in Newark after Newark City Hall
and other area building were evacuated after the 5.9-magnitude earthquake in August.
Despite more than 60 residents who claimed to have felt shaking yesterday morning, a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey said none of the seismometers stationed around the state picked up even a hint of trembling. "It’s not an earthquake," said geophysicist John Bellini, speaking from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Colorado office. "My guess would be it’s more likely thunder or sonic boom." New Jersey has been rocked this year by half a dozen extreme weather and geological events, including a 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia that shook buildings across the Garden State in August. This time, the first-hand reports began streaming in around 10 a.m. yesterday from Egg Harbor, Cranbury, East Brunswick, North Brunswick, Trenton, Somerset, Edison, Plainfield, Piscataway, Iselin, South Plainfield and others, Bellini said.

At 11 a.m., Anthony Camaioni tweeted from his family’s dry cleaning shop in North Brunswick, "Yea I think it definitely happened again. #earthquake in #NJ The bells jingled in the store." Others posted on Twitter around the same time that they felt their homes sway and heard glass bottles clinking for between 10 and 30 seconds. Bellini pointed to a band of thunderstorms off the state’s coastline or covert activities at Fort Dix or McGuire Air Force Base in southern Jersey as possible explanations for what residents might have felt. A spokesman for the National Weather Service said its unlikely that even severe thunderstorms could make the ground feel as through it’s shaking.

Fighter jets used in drills near Virginia and North Carolina have caused sonic booms — the noise and vibration associated with traveling faster than the speed of sound — which can be mistaken for earthquakes, Bellini said. A spokesman for Fort Dix did not return calls for comment. Salvatore Saieva of Woodcliff Lake in Bergen County initially took to Twitter to report the earthquake to friends, but later said the military could be responsible for what he felt. "My experience could be explained by a sonic boom," Saieva wrote on Twitter. "Bottles rattled, but I didn’t feel anything shaking beneath me." - NJ.

It wasn’t an earthquake. But what was it? U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Paul Caruso isn’t sure. “We received a number of reports that people felt something,” Caruso said from the National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado. “We don’t know what it was.” Local residents took to Facebook and Twitter to describe what they thought was an earthquake. “I felt it in Margate, thought i was having a stroke!” wrote Patti Fiore. “I think it was everyone’s imagination!” wrote Juanita Rivera. “Maybe it was God Bowling and he a gotta 7-10 Split?!” wrote Ocean City resident Kevin DeCosta.

Caruso has some theories as to what caused the shaking sensation, but at this point it’s merely speculation. “It could have possibly been a thunderstorm off the coast,” Caruso said. “A sonic boom, that’s another possibility.” Caruso said this sort of thing happens several times a year, usually off the coast of Florida. New Jersey has become more earthquake-conscious since August, when a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the East Coast. There would be no repeat Saturday — just some concern and speculation, as New Jersey residents struggled to figure out what made the ground shake. - Press of Atlantic City.