Tuesday, December 13, 2011

MONUMENTAL DISCOVERY: "GOD PARTICLE" Found - CERN's Large Hadron Collider, the Atom Smasher Reveals Higgs Boson, the Key to the Universe!

Researchers working at CERN, world's largest atom smasher in Geneva have found tantalizing hints of the tiny, elemental bit of matter that has been labeled "the brick that built the universe" and "the god particle" -- but stopped short of announcing the discovery of the tiny particle.

The ‘God particle’, hailed as the holy grail of physics, may have been glimpsed for the first time. Excited scientists at the Large Hadron Collider – the world’s biggest atom smasher – are expected to announce today that they have spotted the Higgs boson particle. While they will not claim definitive proof, they are tipped to reveal tantalising evidence of the particle’s existence. Theoretical physicist and blogger Sascha Vongehr said: ‘The anticipation among physics enthusiasts is almost palpable.’ The Higgs boson is regarded – by those who know about such things – as the key to understanding the universe. Its job is, apparently, to give the particles that make up atoms their mass. Without this mass, these particles would zip though the cosmos at the speed of light, unable to bind together to form the atoms that make up everything in the universe, from planets to people.
WATCH: Scientists claim glimpse of 'Higgs' particle.

The Higgs boson’s existence was predicted in 1964 by Edinburgh University physicist Peter Higgs. But it has eluded previous searchers – so much so that not all scientists believe in its existence. Today, two teams of scientists at CERN’s collider, near Geneva, are expected to announce they have glimpsed it for the first time. The collider, housed in an 18-mile tunnel buried deep underground near the French-Swiss border, smashes beams of protons – sub-atomic particles – together at close to the speed of light, recreating the conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. If the physicists’ theory is correct, a few Higgs bosons should be created in every trillion collisions, before rapidly decaying. This decay would leave behind a ‘footprint’ that would show up as a bump in their graphs.
WATCH: Higgs boson 'glimpsed' at Large Hadron Collider.

Now it is thought that two separate teams of scientists, who run independent experiments in secret from each other, have both uncovered evidence of the particle. However, the two groups, CMS and ATLAS, are expected to stop short of confirming its existence. This is because they are not entirely confident that their results cannot be explained by chance. Oliver Buchmueller, of the CMS group, said: ‘I am feeling quite a level of excitement.’ He added that if the ATLAS results mirrored those of his group, then ‘we’re moving very close to a conclusion in the first few months of next year’. Tara Shears, a particle physicist at Liverpool University, said that ‘we need [Higgs boson] to make sense of the universe’. But CMS scientist Bruce Kennedy, of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, said: ‘If the Higgs is found, it will only be the start. ‘We will have to understand its properties and if it fits in correctly with our theoretical explanations.’ - Daily Mail.
WATCH: God particle - why CERN scientists have been using the Large Hadron Collider to look for it.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Massive 150-Foot Sinkhole Swallows Up Car in Manchester, New Hampshire!

A red Kia was swept into a huge sinkhole at the intersection of North and Beech streets Monday morning when a 12-inch, cast iron water main let go.

Water shot 6 feet into the air and dislodged 10-pound boulders, according to Kevin Clancy of 860-862 Beech St. “It was wild,” he said. His wife heard a “boom” and he looked out the window to see a car stuck in a sink hole, water shooting into the air and large rocks being thrown uphill. Initially, he said, the car's front tires were in the hole, but “then the whole street fell in.” The entire car sank a few feet into the hole, which stretched across one lane of North Street for about 150 feet. Police closed a portion of Beech Street and North Street, and about 30 homes on Beech Street were without water until mid-afternoon. Police said the driver thought it was a puddle and drove through it, ending up in the sink hole. “That poor woman,” said Robin Henry of 111 North St. “But they said she went to work.” Police said the driver was not injured. The main broke just before 6 a.m. It wasn't until close to 9:30 a.m. that the car was removed, after firefighters looped large cords around the front and back, and hooked the lines to a tow truck that lifted the vehicle out.
Care had to be taken, officials said, because the car was sitting on top of a gas line. Near Ash Street, about a block west of the sinkhole, city workers used heavy equipment to remove debris washed downhill. Guy Chabot, Water Works district administrator, called the situation with the water main a “catastrophic failure” and one where a “chunk” of the 121-year-old water main blew out, undermining the soil underneath the road. PSNH employees also were working to steady a utility pole loosened after soil washed away from around its base. Water Works Director Tom Bowen said the break was at a cast-iron fitting where the water main makes a change in direction. Workers replaced the ruptured section, about 4 feet, with stronger, ductile iron material, he said. Bowen said water service was restored by 3:30 p.m. He expected Beech and North streets would reopen temporarily. “We're going to have to come back ( today),” he said. Water Works is speaking with the city Highway Department about restoration of the streets, and whether to wait until next spring or proceed this fall, Bowen said. - Union Leader.
WATCH: Sinkhole in Manchester.

TIME TRAVEL: Big Bang Theories, Space-Time and the Expanding Universe - Neutrino Misbehavior Suggested 50 Years Ago, Can Neutrinos Travel Into the Past?!

Can neutrinos travel into the past? That's the title of a New Scientist news article from 1963. It reports on a fascinating paper: "Neutrinos and the Arrow of Time in Cosmology", which suggests an experiment involving a neutrino emitter and detector – unimaginable at the time.

The author of the 1962 paper was Jayant Narlikar, a Cambridge physicist who, along with Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi, believed there was no start to the universe – no "big bang", as Hoyle so memorably (and mockingly) put it. Space-time in an expanding universe changes over time, so the full quantum description of a neutrino in that type of universe is different in the past and the future. The paper analyses how neutrinos would behave in both expanding and unchanging "steady state" universes. Narlikar found that in a universe that is expanding after a big bang event, neutrinos would turn up at a detector before they were emitted. "Only future-going neutrinos were possible in the steady state cosmology while the ever-expanding big bang models gave neutrinos travelling into the past," Narlikar told me. If you see firm evidence of neutrinos arriving at the detector before they are sent, that can't happen in a steady state cosmology, so the big bang has to be right. Or equivalently, no faster-than-light neutrinos, no big bang.

New Scientist declared that the paper, "when stripped of its mathematics, reads like high-class science-fiction". The writer points out that "no practical details are given so now it is presumably up to the experimental physicists." The experimental physicists took half a century, but we can now measure the comings and goings of neutrinos – as shown by all the fuss surrounding the faster-than-light neutrinos supposedly seen in Italy's Gran Sasso lab. In fact, faster-than-light neutrinos can be interpreted as travelling into the past, as this Guardian Q&A describes. According to Narlikar's 1962 paper, the Gran Sasso results could be seen as tentatively offering support for the big bang theory – if we could find a way to test that they are indeed travelling backwards in time. "I have not been able to relate the idea to the 'faster than light' neutrinos since there are no causality checks to decide if they are travelling in the past," Narlikar told me. Narlikar's idea may not solve the mystery of faster-than-light neutrinos, and it may not even shed much light on it – the details of the analysis might be wrong, or be filled with old-fashioned ideas. But I thought it was fascinating that a 50-year-old New Scientist story touched on a topic that is all over the headlines today.

The other interesting thing is that, apart from a few die-hards, no one now doubts the big bang theory is correct anyway. Almost everyone doubts the Gran Sasso results. Welcome to science: it's not about cast-iron, dictatorial results that leave no room for doubt. Instead, we weigh the merits of each piece of evidence. The widespread acceptance of the big bang is due to the cosmic microwave background radiation, discovered not long after Narlikar's paper was published. Science built on the discovery of this radiation, the first light to travel through space after the big bang, has allowed us to reconstruct the entire history of the universe. But Narlikar, Hoyle and others never accepted that these observations consigned the steady state universe to the dustbin of physics. Narlikar still says the widespread acceptance of the big bang is the result of "prejudice". Equally, if the Gran Sasso results are disproved to the satisfaction of most, some will always refuse to accept the consensus. And, paradoxically, that is good news: to keep it on track, to stave off error, science requires well-qualified contrarian challengers. - New Scientist.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: EcoAlert - NASA Monitoring Yellowstone, The Planet's Most Massive Supervolcano!

Yellowstone National Park's caldera, which covers a 25- by 37-mile (40- by 60-kilometer) swath of Wyoming, is an ancient crater formed after the last big blast, some 640,000 years ago. The simmering volcano has produced major eruptions—each a thousand times more powerful than Mount St. Helens's 1980 eruption—three times in the past 2.1 million years. The supervolcano has recently caused miles of ground to rise dramatically, scientists report beginning in 2004, which saw the ground above the caldera rise upward at rates as high as 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) a year. Recent earthquakes on the west side of Yellowstone caldera were part of the intense January/February 2010 earthquake swarm of ~2,350 earthquakes.

Now, anticipated development by energy companies right outside Yellowstone’s borders have some fearing that Old Faithful could be cheated out of its energy. "If that geothermal development outside of the park begins, we need to know whether that's going to cause Old Faithful to suddenly stop spewing," says Rick Lawrence of Montana State University. Geothermal energy development is here to stay, says Yellowstone Park geologist Cheryl Jaworowski, but it has also raised some big questions for the National Park Service, which is tasked by Congress to monitor and protect Yellowstone's unique landscape. Their project is part of a new monitoring plan the park implemented in 2005. The plan uses remote sensing and airborne reconnaissance to observe geothermal changes across all of Yellowstone in a systematic and scientific manner. In the past, scientific studies on the ground tended to focus on individual features, and the only park wide estimate of Yellowstone's heat was derived from a chemical product of geothermal systems that appears in the river system. But with different technology available today, says Jaworowski, the park wants to expand its monitoring options. To understand Yellowstone's geothermal system, "we need to start looking at the forest rather than the individual trees," says Jawrorski. And one way to see Yellowstone's geothermal "forest" is to get a view from space.

Circling Earth from a height of 438 miles, the Landsat satellites have been gathering for decades a huge amount of data about the land surface. A single scene can take in the entirety of Yellowstone National Park, and the data it gathers is much more than a pretty picture. In addition to measuring the visible light in the electromagnetic spectrum -- what we can see -- the Landsat satellites each have an instrument that detects waves in the thermal band -- heat energy. Earth radiates heat all the time because it is warmed by the sun. Like a sponge, the ground absorbs solar energy, and like when you squeeze off excess water, the Earth reemits some of that solar energy at a longer wavelength back into space. But in Yellowstone, the total energy picked up by the satellite includes energy produced by the Earth itself, geothermal energy. The amount of solar energy reemitted depends on air temperature, vegetation cover, and soil moisture among other variables, and geothermal energy is only a small fraction of the total.

Some 600,000 years ago there was a colossal cauldron of magma, a supervolcano, that exploded with such violence that it left an ash layer almost ten feet deep a thousand miles away in eastern Nebraska killing all plant life and covering almost all of the United States west of the Mississippi. Modern geological surveys have shown that this supervolcano erupts catastrophically every 600,000 years, and the land that supervolcano is trapped in was called by Blackfoot Indians 'the land of evil spirits' -what we call today, Yellowstone National Park. A report from scientists at the University of Utah shows that the “supervolcano” underneath Yellowstone has risen at a record rate since mid 2004. Apparently, a “pancake-shaped blob” of molten rock he size of Los Angeles was pressed in to the slumbering volcano, some six miles down.

Yellowstone-magma-bulging-2011_31343_600x450 “There is no evidence of an imminent volcanic eruption or hydrothermal explosion. That’s the bottom line,” says seismologist Robert B. Smith, lead author of the study and professor of geophysics at the University of Utah. “A lot of calderas [giant volcanic craters] worldwide go up and down over decades without erupting.” The journal Science however reported that the caldera floor of the massive volcano has risen 3 inches, per year, for the past three years. This is a rate of growth three times more rapid than ever observed, since records were first kept back in 1923. “Our best evidence is that the crustal magma chamber is filling with molten rock,” Smith says. “But we have no idea how long this process goes on before there either is an eruption or the inflow of molten rock stops and the caldera deflates again,” he adds. If you were traveling Yellowstone's pristine backcountry peaks and alpine valleys, you would never realize that you're traveling atop of the world's most massive active volcano. Only when you got down to the boiling thermals of Firehole River and the Geyser Basin whould you realize that you're a stranger in a strange land.

A brief history lesson on Yellowstone shows us an area that crosses over the Wyoming border in to Montana and Idaho, and holds North America’s record as being the largest volcanic field. Produced by a “hotspot” 400 miles beneath the Earth’s surface, it rises to 30 miles underground, at which point it widens in to an area about 300 miles across. At this point, blobs of magma which have been channeled up from the hotspot – a gigantic plume of hot and molten rock – break off from the top of the plume, and rise in to the magma chamber beneath the Yellowstone caldera. It is this magma – that is believed to exist between 5 and 10 miles beneath the surface of Yellowstone – that heats the geysers and hot springs that have made Yellowstone National Park one of America’s foremost attractions. The problem that the seismologists are facing is that they simply have not enough data to make an educated guess as to what will happen next. We know of three supervolcanic eruptions that happened before our time on Earth, but nothing more. Is Yellowstone nearing an explosion, or is this just part of the supervolcano’s normal processes?

Since the most recent blast 640,000 years ago, about 30 smaller eruptions—including one as recent as 70,000 years ago—have filled the caldera with lava and ash, producing the relatively flat landscape of the Yellowstone plateau we see today. According to the US Geological Survey, the rate slowed between 2007 and 2010 to a centimeter a year or less. However, since the start of the 2004 swelling, ground levels over the volcano have been raised by as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) in places. "It's an extraordinary uplift, because it covers such a large area and the rates are so high," said the University of Utah's Bob Smith, a longtime expert in Yellowstone's volcanism in an interview with National Geographic. Scientists believe a growing magma reservoir four to six miles (seven to ten kilometers) below the surface is the culprit, driving the uplift. The surge doesn't seem to herald an imminent catastrophe, Smith said. "At the beginning we were concerned it could be leading up to an eruption," said Smith, who co-authored a paper on the surge published in the December 3, 2010, edition of Geophysical Research Letters. "But once we saw [the magma] was at a depth of ten kilometers, we weren't so concerned. If it had been at depths of two or three kilometers [one or two miles], we'd have been a lot more concerned."
Studies of the surge, he added, may offer clues about what's going on in the volcano's subterranean activity, which may eventually help scientists predict when Yellowstone's next volcanic eruption will break out. Smith and colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Yellowstone Volcano Observatory have been mapping the caldera's rise and fall using tools such as global positioning systems (GPS) and interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), which gives ground-deformation measurements. Ground deformation can suggest that magma is moving toward the surface before an eruption: The flanks of Mount St. Helens, for example, swelled dramatically in the months before its 1980 explosion. There are also many examples, including the Yellowstone supervolcano, where it appears the ground has risen and fallen for thousands of years without an eruption.

According to current theory, Yellowstone's magma reservoir is fed by a plume of hot rock surging upward from Earth's mantle. As the amount of magma flowing into the chamber increases, the reservoir swells like a lung and the surface above expands upward. Models suggest that during the recent uplift, the reservoir was filling with 0.02 cubic miles (0.1 cubic kilometer) of magma a year. When the rate of increase slows, the theory goes, the magma likely moves off horizontally to solidify and cool, allowing the surface to settle back down. "These calderas tend to go up and down, up and down," he said. "But every once in a while they burp, creating hydrothermal explosions, earthquakes, or—ultimately—they can produce volcanic eruptions." Predicting when an eruption might occur is extremely difficult, in part because the fine details of what's going on under Yellowstone are still undetermined. What's more, continuous records of Yellowstone's activity have been made only since the 1970s—a tiny slice of geologic time—making it hard to draw conclusions.

"Clearly some deep source of magma feeds Yellowstone, and since Yellowstone has erupted in the recent geological past, we know that there is magma at shallower depths too," said Dan Dzurisin, a Yellowstone expert with the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Washington State. "There has to be magma in the crust, or we wouldn't have all the hydrothermal activity that we have," Dzurisin added. "There is so much heat coming out of Yellowstone right now that if it wasn't being reheated by magma, the whole system would have gone stone cold since the time of the last eruption 70,000 years ago." The large hydrothermal system just below Yellowstone's surface, which produces many of the park's top tourist attractions, may also play a role in ground swelling, Dzurisin said, though no one is sure to what extent. "Could it be that some uplift is caused not by new magma coming in but by the hydrothermal system sealing itself up and pressurizing?" he asked. "And then it subsides when it springs a leak and depressurizes? These details are difficult."

The roughly 3,000 earthquakes in Yellowstone each year may offer even more clues about the relationship between ground uplift and the magma chamber. For example, between December 26, 2008, and January 8, 2009, some 900 earthquakes occurred in the area around Yellowstone Lake, which may have helped to release pressure on the magma reservoir by allowing fluids to escape, and this may have slowed the rate of uplift, the University of Utah's Smith said. "Big quakes [can have] a relationship to uplift and deformations caused by the intrusion of magma," he said. "How those intrusions stress the adjacent faults, or how the faults might transmit stress to the magma system, is a really important new area of study." Overall, USGS's Dzurisin added, "the story of Yellowstone deformation has gotten more complex as we've had better and better technologies to study it." Thankfully, our ability to use our planets past to predict its future continues to grow, to a point where, maybe someday, we will be able to predict what Yellowstone is up to. - Daily Galaxy.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: NOAA Warns - Billion-Dollar Disasters Are 'Harbingers' of Future Extreme Weather!

The 12 $1-billion-plus disasters that hit the United States this year are most likely not simply a matter of the stars aligning against us, according to the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who implicated climate change as a contributor.

Climate change, caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases humans have emitted, is expected to increase certain types of extreme weather, leading to more disasters, according to a report being assembled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "The report that was released by the IPCC on extreme events suggests that what we are seeing this year is not just an anomalous year, but a harbinger of things to come for at least a subset of the extreme events we are tallying,"said Jane Lubchenco, NOAA's administrator, during a press conference held here this week at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting. A summary of the report released in November predicts an increase in certain types of extreme weather, including daily high temperatures, heat waves, heavy precipitation and droughts, in some places. 

With this increase in extreme weather there will likely be an associated uptick in costs. Earlier Wednesday (Dec. 7) the agency announced that this year, so far, had broken the record for costly, weather-related disasters,including drought, wildfire, tornados, flooding, a blizzard and a hurricane. She noted that the agency is still tallying costs related to Tropical Storm Lee and the unseasonable snowstorm in the Northeast that occurred over Halloween weekend. "I believe there are probably four reasons why we are seeing an increase," said Lubchenco, referring to the number of costly events. "One is there are more extreme events, period, but it is more complicated than that," Lubchenco said, adding that the country now has more people, who have more stuff to lose in disasters, and more people and their stuff now reside in harm's way, such as along the coasts. More people also have insurance that pays for their losses, magnifying the costs associated with a disaster. 

The previous record, for nine $1-billion-or-more weather-related disasters was set in 2008. Of the types of extremes that battered the country this year, only certain large-scale phenomena among them —such as heat waves, droughts and heavy precipitation —have links to climate change. "We are likely to see more and more of them down the road as climate continues to change," she said. The connection between small-scale extreme events, such as a localized hailstorm or a tornado, and climate change is less understood, she said. Since about 1970, NOAA's Climate Extreme Index —which tracks the percentage of the country affected by climate extremes over time —has shown an upward trend that is notably different than the activity in earlier decades, she told an audience of scientists at a talk earlier in the day.

This trend is driven by daily highs and lows, availability of water and heavy precipitation in a single day. Most notably, since 1970, more of the country is experiencing unusually warm nights, with less of the country experiencing unusually cool nights. This particular shift is significant, she said: "Warm overnight lows are related to heat stress in both people, and plants and animals; they never get a chance to cool off." Likewise, while the country has had periods of severe drought, such as during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, it has never become drier and wetter at the same time, as has happened in the last decade, she said. - Live Science.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 6.0 Earthquake Rocks Minahasa, Sulawesi in Indonesia!

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake has struck Sulawesi, Indonesia at a depth of 160.9 km (100 miles). The quake hit at 07:52:12 UTC, Tuesday 13th December 2011 and was located at 0.010°N, 123.027°E.

The epicentre was 68 km (42 miles) south of Gorontalo, Sulawesi, Indonesia; 260 km (161 miles) southwest of Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia; 978 km (607 miles) northwest of Dili, Timor-Leste; and 1615 km (1003 miles) northwest of Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.

No tsunami warnings was issued and there are currently no reports of any injuries or damage at this time.

The region of Halmahera was earlier hit by a magnitude 5.3 earthquake at a depth of 110.2 km (68.5 miles). The quake hit at 01:20:45 UTC Tuesday 13th December 2011. The epicentre was 261 km (162 miles) northeast of Ternate, Moluccas, in Indonesia.

DELUGE: The Sinking of Indonesia - Dozens of North Village in Padang Lawas Submerged!

Hundreds of houses in 20 villages flooded due to overflowing rivers and Sirumambe Pane in Batang Padang District of North Lawas, North Sumatra, on Monday (12/12). The villages are expected to temporarily isolated due to flooded roads.

Water that reaches a height of one meter makes people anxious. Some of them have decided to evacuate to a safer place. Not only settlements, hundreds of hectares of agricultural land are also submerged. In fact the farmers had just passed the rice planting season.

The smallholders in Alternating Padang District also threatened to crop failure because they were submerged oil palm plantations. Though the harvest will be done in time soon. Floods submerge land that oil can not be avoided because of its location close to the river. (FRI) - Berita [Translated].

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 5.4 Earthquake Rattles South of Panama!

A magnitude 5.4 earthquake has struck south of Panama at a depth of 10.1 km (6.3 miles). The quake hit at 07:28:11 UTC, Tuesday 13th December 2011 and was located at 4.768°N, 82.570°W.

The epicentre was 407 km (252 miles) south of David, Panama; 411 km (255 miles) southwest of Santiago, Panama; 420 km (260 miles) southwest of Las Tablas, Panama; 576 km (357 miles) southwest of Panama City, Panama. The earthquake occurred on the convergent plate boundary where the Cocos tectonic plate is subducting under the North American plate.

No tsunami warnings was issued and there are currently no reports of any injuries or damage at this time.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Duck Plague - Mobs of Thousands of Ducks Descend on Farms of Rice Growers in New South Wales, Australia!

"I've been growing rice for 30 years and I have never seen such a high concentration of ducks."

 Farmers in the New South Wales Riverina have endured drought, as well as plagues of mice and locusts, but this summer will see rice growers ducking for cover.

This year's strong rainfall had finally raised hopes of a more profitable year, but the rainfall also saw a rise in duck numbers. Rice grower Laurie Arthur, from west of Deniliquin, says he has installed $20,000 worth of flashing lights, along with gas guns, to try and deter the ducks. "This year we've got mobs of several thousand. They just sort of come in and land on a bay and just rip out the rice," he said. "I've been growing rice for 30 years and I have never seen such a high concentration of ducks." Mr Arthur says the ducks are destroying later stage crops that have rice shoots about 25 centimetres long. "What the ducks do is they land on the bay and they grab hold of the shoot, pull it out and chew the little rice seed off the bottom and in the process of that they'll sort of denude the whole paddock," he said. Along with the flashing lights and noises, shooters are also patrolling the crops. "We are sort of patrolling it about 20 hours a day and we are spotlighting the crops at night because they don't like a spotlight being shot on them and then they fly off then," he said.

"It has been a fairly exhausting fortnight." Rice Growers Association of Australia president Les Gordon says it is difficult to estimate the magnitude of the damage, but it is definitely significant. "There are certainly anecdotal stories going around of crops and bays being shut off and I know of a number of people who've had to do that," he said. "It is now too late to replant and getting past the stage where the worst of the damage is likely to be done. The plants are getting a little more advanced now but [there is] certainly significant damage." Mr Gordon says a duck plague can do more damage than locusts or mice. "In the case of ducks you go to the expense of planting a crop, which is significant, and then to lose it to ducks is challenging," he said. "Certainly [ducks] do more damage than mice, probably more damage traditionally than hoppers. "It is a significant problem but one that only occurs rarely and this year seems to have been it." - ABC News.

EXTREME WEATHER: High Winds and Sand Storm Engulfs Orewa Streets, Hibiscus Coast Highways, New Zealand - Covering Homes and Gardens up to 200m Inland!

The Hibiscus Coast Highway has looked like a beach track in parts of Orewa as high winds blasted sand dunes, sending clouds of grit to cover homes and gardens up to 200m inland.

Yesterday, along the 3km Orewa Beach, picnic parties huddled behind vehicles to shelter from the sand storm while on the beach, pilots of sand yachts were thrilled at being able to reach speeds of 60 km/h. The lawn at the beach's playground was also clogged with the sand, which had built up to knee-height on the pathways above the beach. At the town's BP service station on Sunday, motorists were pelted with grit whipped up from drifts spread over the highway. "It is unbelievable," said beachfront resident Brett Proctor. "I've seen high winds in my five years here, but nothing as ... continuous as this." His garden, six steps up from the beach, had been buried in sand and he was constantly washing a golden crust off his cars. Mr Proctor said the wind-blown sand came from heaps recently dumped at the foot of the esplanade by Auckland Council to replace a wave barrier of boulders.

"It seems that sand was put there too early in the summer because the north-easterly winds have not finished yet." Leanne Smith, of Destination Orewa Beach, said council works crews cleared away deep drifts of sand from clogged drains and covering bollards at the beach reserve and traffic islands. However, she said the wind had helped to rejuvenate the dunes by piling up the sand which the rain would now bed down. At the Orewa Beach Surf Life Saving Club's rooms, Zane Taylor said the sand storm showed that the traditional redistributing of sand around the beach by machinery did not work. He is the chairman of a trust which is seeking resource consent to form an artificial reef as a sustainable method to stop the sand being washed away. Sand levels needed to be kept in order to give a wider dry section for walking, a buffer from the full force of stormy seas and establish a stable foredune. "If you had a dune system in place with grasses planted on it, they would catch wind-blown sand and it would drop. Redistributing the sand from one part of the beach to the other costs the council up to $70,000 a time. - NZ Herald.