Wednesday, December 21, 2011

WORLD WAR III: Countdown to Armageddon - United States Military 'Ready to Engage in a Conflict With Iran', Awaiting President Obama's Signal!

America's most senior military official has indicated that the country is ready to engage in a conflict with Iran, if President Barack Obama were to give the signal.

Tensions have been growing in the region following international condemnation over Tehran's growing nuclear ambitions. Last month, Britain's ambassador to Iran was expelled from the country following attacks on the British Embassy. The US is also involved in a standoff over a downed spy drone, which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has refused to return despite America's requests. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said that the US military had reached a point where they were ready to execute force against Iran if necessary. In an interview with US media in Afghanistan he said: "We are examining a range of options. I'm satisfied that the options that we are developing are evolving to a point that they would be executable if necessary." His comments come just days after Leon Panetta, US secretary of defence, said "no options were off the table" in stopping Iran develop a nuclear weapon.

Gen Dempsey said he had been quietly leading behind the scenes preparations for an attack against Tehran but said a war with the nation would be a "tragedy". "My biggest worry is that it may miscalculate our resolve. Any miscalculation could mean that we are drawn into conflict and that would be a tragedy for the region and the world," he said. Asked whether the US military is collecting information on the Middle Eastern nation via spy drones, Gen Dempsey said it would be "imprudent" for them not to attempt to find out what they were doing but stopped short of saying they had used unmanned aircraft. "If you are asking are we gathering intelligence against Iran in a variety of means, the answer is of course," he said. "It would be imprudent of us not to understand what a nation which has declared itself an adversary of the United States is doing." Gen Dempsey said the US is collaborating with Israel in its intelligence gathering but reiterated that there are no guarantees the Israelis would inform the US before launching an attack. "We are trying to establish some confidence on the part of the Israelis that we recognise their concerns and are collaborating with them on addressing them," he said.

Leon Panetta, the secretary of defence, said this week that the US was prepared to step in to prevent Tehran realising its nuclear ambitions. He estimated that the country was only a year away from reaching its goal. "The United States does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon," he said. "That is a red line for us and that is a red line for the Israelis. If we have to do it we will do it. If they proceed and we get intelligence that they are proceeding in developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps necessary to stop them. There are no options that are off the table." If Iran were to gain a nuclear weapon, it could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East with officials in Saudi Arabia already saying they will look towards developing nuclear capabilities if the Iranians arm themselves. Further evidence of US reconnaissance missions in the region include the indictment of several alleged CIA spies. In May this year, Iran's intelligence ministry announced the arrest of 30 CIA "spies" it claimed were conducting sabotage missions. Another 15 alleged US-Israeli spies were indicted earlier this month and this week Iranian state television showed clips of ex-US Marine Amir Hekmati allegedly confessing to espionage. Earlier this month, the EU agreed to impose new sanctions against 180 officials in Tehran in an attempt to curtail the nation's nuclear programme. EU foreign ministers also said they were looking at additional measures to impose on Tehran's energy sector. - Telegraph.

DOOMSDAY 2012: The Countdown to the Apocalypse is on - The 2012 End-of-the-World Countdown Based on Mayan Long Count Calendar Starts Today?!

The countdown to the apocalypse is on. We're one year away from Dec. 21, 2012, the date that the ancient Mayan Long Count calendar allegedly marked as the end of an era that would reset the date to zero and signal the end of humanity. But will it?

There have been many end of times predictions over the years. Christian radio host Harold Camping faced widespread ridicule when his predictions that the world would end twice this year - on May 21, and then on Oct. 21 - failed to materialize. But in the flurry of doomsday predictions - there have been similar dire warnings about the world coming to an end from various cultures, including Native Americans, the Chinese, Egyptians and even the Irish - the supposed Mayan prophecy seems to have held the most sway with believers. The Mayan civilization, which reached its height from 300 A.D. to 900 A.D., had a talent for astronomy. Advanced mathematics and primitive astronomy flourished, creating what many have called the most accurate calendar in the world. The Mayans predicted a final event that included a solar shift, a Venus transit and violent earthquakes. Their Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 B.C., marking time in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas, and they wrote that the 13th Baktun ends on Dec. 21, 2012. The doomsday theories stem from a stone tablet discovered in the 1960s at the archaeological site of Tortuguero in the Gulf of Mexico state of Tabasco that describes the return of a Mayan god at the end of a 13th period. "The Maya are viewed by many westerners as exotic folks that were supposed to have had some special, secret knowledge," said Mayan scholar Sven Gronemeyer. "What happens is that our expectations and fears get projected on the Maya calendar."

Gronemeyer, of La Trobe University in Australia, compares the supposed Mayan prophecies to the "Y2K" hype, when people feared all computer systems would crash when the new millennium began on Jan. 1, 2000. For some reason, Gronemeyer says, people have ignored evidence that dates beyond 2012 were recorded. The blogosphere exploded with more speculation when Mexico's archaeology institute acknowledged on Nov. 24 a second reference to Dec. 21, 2012, on a brick found at other ruins. "Human beings seem to be attracted by apocalyptic ideas and always assume the worst," Gronemeyer said. Believers have taken the end-of-the world fears to the Internet with hundreds of thousands of websites and blogs. Yet others are capitalizing on the heightened interest. Films depicting the end of the world - including the 2009 movie, "2012? - are contributing to the mounting hype as well as to misinformation, experts say. In southern Mexico, the heart of Maya territory, a yearlong celebration is planned.

Mexico's tourism agency expects to draw 52 million visitors by next year only to the regions of Chiapas, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Campeche. All of Mexico usually lures about 22 million foreigners in a year. It's selling the date, the Winter Solstice in the coming year, as a time of renewal. Many archeologists argue that the 2012 reference on a 1,300-year-old stone tablet only marks the end of a cycle in the Mayan calendar. "The world will not end. It is an era," said Yeanet Zaldo, a tourism spokeswoman for the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancun. "For us, it is a message of hope." For those who are thinking about how to spend what could be their last year on earth, here's another message of hope: According to recent research, the mythological date of the "end of days" may be off by 50 to 100 years. To convert the ancient Mayan calendar to the Gregorian (or modern) calendar, scholars use a numerical value (called the GMT). But Gerardo Aldana, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has said the data supporting the widely-adopted conversion factor may be invalid.

Aldana isn't the only detractor. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration - yes, that's NASA - has also weighed in on the issue. The agency's scientists posted answers to the most popular questions about the end-of-times theory associated with the prophecy. "Remember the Y2K scare? It came and went without much of a whimper because of adequate planning and analysis of the situation. Impressive movie special effects aside, Dec. 21, 2012, won't be the end of the world as we know," the 2009 web page post says. The answers addressed questions about whether there were any known threats to the Earth and the truth about the calendar. One of answers posted was to the question of the possible approach of Nibiru (or Planet X or Eris), a supposed wayward planet that is said could pose a threat to Earth. The answer was a definitive rejection of the idea. "Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an Internet hoax," scientists wrote. "There is no factual basis for these claims. If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist. Eris is real, but it is a dwarf planet similar to Pluto that will remain in the outer solar system; the closest it can come to Earth is about 4 billion miles." - Yahoo/ABC.
WATCH: Countdown to end of Mayan calendar in Honduras.

MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: Mysterious Deaths of Ringed Seals in Alaska - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Declares the Incidents as an Unusual Mortality Event?!

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today declared the recent deaths of ringed seals in the Arctic and Bering Strait regions of Alaska an unusual mortality event, triggering a focused, expert investigation into the cause of these deaths.

Since mid-July, more than 60 dead and 75 diseased seals, most of them ringed seals, have been reported in Alaska, with reports continuing to come in. During their fall survey, scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also identified diseased and dead walruses at the annual mass haul-out at Point Lay. A decision by the Service on making an an unusual mortality declaration for Pacific walrus in Alaska is pending. Seals and walruses suffering from this disease have skin sores, usually on the hind flippers or face, and patchy hair loss. Some of the diseased animals have exhibited labored breathing and appear lethargic and do not flee from humans as they usually do. Scientists have not yet identified a single cause for this disease, though tests indicate a virus is not the cause. Dr. Stephen Raverty, veterinary pathologist with the Provincial Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in British Columbia, told reporters on a conference call today that the lesions on these animals are much more severe than the patchy hair loss usually seen. "These appear to be ulcerated lesions with secondary infections," he said. "Opportunistic yeast and fungi and bacteria have invaded."

But Dr. Raverty said scientists still have not determined the cause or causes of these deaths. "Our analysis is not completed," he said. "It could be an environmental factor or more than one disease. We have forwarded the sampled tissues to labs - bacteria, mycology, virology," he said. "We are screening for 18 recognized pathogens, but all the lab results have come back negative. We think defects in the skin are allowing pathogens to migrate into the animals," Dr. Raverty said. "Bacteria are becoming blood borne and localizing to the liver, causing white spots on the liver, hepatitis and fluid in the lungs." Necropsies have found abnormal growths in the brain. Some seals and walruses have undersized lymph nodes, which may indicate compromised immune systems. Testing continues for a wide range of possible factors that may be responsible for the animals' condition, including immune system-related diseases, fungi, man-made and bio-toxins, radiation exposure, contaminants, and stressors related to sea ice change. Hunters continue to see numerous healthy animals, and despite considerable contact with seals by hunters and field research personnel throughout this event, no similar illnesses in humans have been reported.

Still, it is not known whether the disease can be transmitted to humans, pets, or other animals. Polar bears are one of the main predators on ringed seals, but scientists have not observed any health issues in polar bears, said Dr. Raphaela Stimmelmayr, a wildlife veterinarian and research biologist with the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management in Alaska. Walruses and ringed seals in Russia, and ringed seals in Canada, have reportedly suffered similar symptoms. While it is not clear if the disease events are related, the timing and location of the disease suggests the possibility of transmission between the populations, or shared exposure to an environmental cause. Since early November, federal agencies and partners have been consulting with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events, a group of experts from scientific and academic institutions, conservation organizations, and state and federal agencies, to consider if the seal and walrus deaths met the criteria for an unusual mortality event. Late last week, the Working Group recommended NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service declare an unusual mortality event.

The collaborative investigation into these deaths has and will continue to involve the North Slope Borough, numerous organizations, local communities, tribal entities, and members of the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network, including the Alaska SeaLife Center, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game. These investigations may require months or even years of data collection and analysis, said NOAA. Native subsistence hunters are advised to use traditional and customary safe handling practices, and the Alaska Division of Public Health recommends fully cooking all meat and thoroughly washing hands and equipment with a water-bleach solution. Anyone who encounters a seal or walrus that looks sick or behaves unusually should avoid approaching or making contact with the animal. - ENS.

MASS BIRD DIE-OFF: Piles of Crows, Possibly Hundreds, Mysteriously Dies in Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, New Mexico - Cause is Unknown!

Piles of dead crows, possibly hundreds of them, have been found at Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park.

Members of the Mesilla Valley Audubon Society reported Tuesday the stack of dead birds discovered during their annual "Christmas Bird Count." The birds were found dead in the park's river and along the west side of the river.

It is unclear why the birds died but agricultural extension agent Jeff Anderson said the birds might have been killed by a slow-acting, water-soluble avicide called DRC-1339 that was applied recently in Vado and Anthony, N.M.

Birdwatcher Ken Stinnett said most of the birds found dead were American crows, although he said he also saw a Chihuahuan raven and Brewer's blackbird.

The USDA later picked up the carcasses to perform necropsies. - The Republic.

EXTREME WEATHER: Tornado Touches Down in DeQuincy, Damaging Hospital's Roof - Weather System Pounds Southwest Louisiana!

A view of the damage caused by a late morning tornado in DeQuincy. Reports are the
patients of DeQuincy Memorial Hospital had to be evacuated after damage to the roof.
Roger Erikson of the National Weather Service confirmed to the Southwest Daily News that a tornado touched down in DeQuincy late Tuesday morning.

"We had a storm, and we saw it on the radar, Erikson said. "It is confirmed, and it was about three quarters of a mile long," he continued. DeQuincy Police officials said that there was some damage due to high winds in the area.

The tornado has been confirmed as an EF-1 tornado, which is the next to lowest on the Enhance Fujita Scale. EF-1 tornados typically have wind speeds of 86 to 110 miles per hour. - Sulphur Daily News.

Radar from the National Weather Service shows DeQuincy at
the time that a tornado touched down Tuesday morning.

WEATHER ANOMALIES & EXTREME WEATHER: Massive and Intensive Hail Storm Pounds Ladysmith in South Africa - Damaging Vehicles Under Treacherous Conditions!

An intense hail storm in the Ladysmith area has damaged vehicles and made for treacherous driving conditions along the N3.

Motorist Roger Ramseier, who was en route to Bethlehem when the storm hit yesterday afternoon, says he took the video and photo below about eight kilometres from the toll plaza just before Van Reenen's pass.

"It was still raining and the hail had just stopped when I came upon stationery vehicles, as the storm made it impossible to drive," he said.

"All the hail seemed to be small, pea-sized hail - but the quantity made the ice at least 10 cm thick."

Meanwhile, Shunturi Govender, who got stuck in the hail storm close to Ladysmith, snapped the photo below. She says her car was damaged in the onslaught.

"The bonnet and boot are covered in dents," she said. Her car lights and mirrors were also cracked. - East Coast Radio.
WATCH: Roger Ramseier took this video of the aftermath of a severe hail storm close to Van Reenen's pass on December 19, 2011.

EXTREME WEATHER: Stormy Weather in Indonesia - Wooden Ferry Sinks off Eastern Indonesia, Four Dead, One Hundred Rescued!

A wooden ferry carrying people home for the Christmas holidays sank Wednesday in stormy weather in eastern Indonesia, officials said. Most of the 100 passengers were rescued, they said.

Four bodies were recovered from waters off the Maluku islands, including those of an 11-year-old boy and a baby, said Nus Sileti, a transportation official. Earlier reports had said at least seven people had died.

He said he did not expect the toll would climb much higher.

The ship sank close to shore after running into bad weather and rescuers were quickly on the scene, pulling survivors from the choppy waters, he said.

Indonesia, a secular nation of 240 million people, is predominantly Muslim. But there are large Christian populations, mostly in the east.

It was the second boat sinking in less than a week. Boats are a popular form of transportation in Indonesia, which has more than 17,000 islands. They are often overcrowded and safety regulations are poorly enforced.

On Saturday, a boat packed with asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran capsized off Java island, hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the west, leaving as many as 200 dead.

Forty-three bloated bodies were pulled from the water on Wednesday. - Washington Post.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: NASA - Climate Change May Bring Big Ecosystem Changes, Increase Disruption of Ecological Balance and Stress on the Earth's Biosphere!

By 2100, global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth's land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type - such as forest, grassland or tundra - toward another, according to a new NASA and university computer modeling study.

Predicted percentage of ecological landscape being driven toward changes in
plant species as a result of projected human-induced climate change by 2100. 
Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., investigated how Earth's plant life is likely to react over the next three centuries as Earth's climate changes in response to rising levels of human-produced greenhouse gases. Study results are published in the journal Climatic Change. The model projections paint a portrait of increasing ecological change and stress in Earth's biosphere, with many plant and animal species facing increasing competition for survival, as well as significant species turnover, as some species invade areas occupied by other species. Most of Earth's land that is not covered by ice or desert is projected to undergo at least a 30 percent change in plant cover - changes that will require humans and animals to adapt and often relocate. In addition to altering plant communities, the study predicts climate change will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth's water, energy, carbon and other element cycles.

"For more than 25 years, scientists have warned of the dangers of human-induced climate change," said Jon Bergengren, a scientist who led the study while a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech. "Our study introduces a new view of climate change, exploring the ecological implications of a few degrees of global warming. While warnings of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and other environmental changes are illustrative and important, ultimately, it's the ecological consequences that matter most." When faced with climate change, plant species often must "migrate" over multiple generations, as they can only survive, compete and reproduce within the range of climates to which they are evolutionarily and physiologically adapted. While Earth's plants and animals have evolved to migrate in response to seasonal environmental changes and to even larger transitions, such as the end of the last ice age, they often are not equipped to keep up with the rapidity of modern climate changes that are currently taking place. Human activities, such as agriculture and urbanization, are increasingly destroying Earth's natural habitats, and frequently block plants and animals from successfully migrating.

To study the sensitivity of Earth's ecological systems to climate change, the scientists used a computer model that predicts the type of plant community that is uniquely adapted to any climate on Earth. This model was used to simulate the future state of Earth's natural vegetation in harmony with climate projections from 10 different global climate simulations. These simulations are based on the intermediate greenhouse gas scenario in the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. That scenario assumes greenhouse gas levels will double by 2100 and then level off. The U.N. report's climate simulations predict a warmer and wetter Earth, with global temperature increases of 3.6 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 4 degrees Celsius) by 2100, about the same warming that occurred following the Last Glacial Maximum almost 20,000 years ago, except about 100 times faster. Under the scenario, some regions become wetter because of enhanced evaporation, while others become drier due to changes in atmospheric circulation.

The researchers found a shift of biomes, or major ecological community types, toward Earth's poles - most dramatically in temperate grasslands and boreal forests - and toward higher elevations. Ecologically sensitive "hotspots" - areas projected to undergo the greatest degree of species turnover - that were identified by the study include regions in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, eastern equatorial Africa, Madagascar, the Mediterranean region, southern South America, and North America's Great Lakes and Great Plains areas. The largest areas of ecological sensitivity and biome changes predicted for this century are, not surprisingly, found in areas with the most dramatic climate change: in the Northern Hemisphere high latitudes, particularly along the northern and southern boundaries of boreal forests.

"Our study developed a simple, consistent and quantitative way to characterize the impacts of climate change on ecosystems, while assessing and comparing the implications of climate model projections," said JPL co-author Duane Waliser. "This new tool enables scientists to explore and understand interrelationships between Earth's ecosystems and climate and to identify regions projected to have the greatest degree of ecological sensitivity." "In this study, we have developed and applied two new ecological sensitivity metrics - analogs of climate sensitivity - to investigate the potential degree of plant community changes over the next three centuries," said Bergengren. "The surprising degree of ecological sensitivity of Earth's ecosystems predicted by our research highlights the global imperative to accelerate progress toward preserving biodiversity by stabilizing Earth's climate." JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. - JPL.

EARTH CHANGES: Cyclone Alert - Two Cyclones Are Brewing off the Australian Coast - Less Than 300 Kilometres from Darwin, Meteorologists Expects it to Intensify in the Coming Days!

Two cyclones are brewing off the Australian coast and one is less than 300 kilometres from Darwin.

Senior meteorologist for the Weather Channel Tom Saunders said a cyclone over the Coral Sea was unlikely to cause any major problems. But a tropical low forming off the Northern Territory coast, 250km from Darwin, was unpredictable. Mr Saunders told AAP the tropical low did not fit any weather models and it was a case of waiting to see if it became more aggressive and in which direction it would travel. He said it would move in a northerly direction over the few days but after that "where it heads and how intense it becomes is unpredictable". "None of the models, which help us forecast the movement and intensity of weather systems, agree where it's going to be or what intensity," Mr Saunders told AAP.

"The one thing the models do agree on is it is going to intensify over the next few days. "There is a chance it will form a cyclone ... and if it does, we don't know where it's going to move." Mr Saunders said up to 16 cyclones were expected this summer. He said the one forming over the Coral Sea would be the second in recent weeks and would track south between Australia and New Caledonia. "It's 1000 kilometres off the coast," Mr Saunders said. "There's already been one in the Indian Ocean so this one will be the second, and a third tropical low (off the Northern Territory coast) may be number three." The northern part of Australia typically experiences cyclones each season, which lasts until April. On Christmas Eve in 1974, Cyclone Tracy devastated much of Darwin and killed 71 people. - Herald Sun.
WATCH: Tropical Cyclone Watch.

WATCH: Cyclone in the Coral Sea and near Darwin.

For updated weather information please visit:







GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Volcano Erupts Near the Saba Island in the Red Sea - The First Volcanic Eruption Ever Seen in the Region!

According to local news, a volcano erupted near Saba Island in the Red Sea on Monday, December 19.

Small plume potentially from a new eruption at Jebel Zubair. MODIS image taken on December 20, 2011.
The report comes from fishermen from Salif, a port city in western Yemen. They reported seeing lava fountains rising 20-30 meter which could be seen from "3 hours" (sailing time) away. The likely source of the eruption, if the reports are true, could be one of the islands Zubair islands: Jebel Zubair, Centre Peak, Saba, or Haycock island, which form a small archipelago 30 miles (50 km) west of Salif. The islands belong to a mostly submerged, active shield volcano located on the Red Sea rift axis.

The fishermen are said that "this was the first volcano they ever seen in the region", which is not surprising as the last activity of the volcano was an eruption in 1824. At the moment, the report remains a bit questionable: no thermal anomaly or ash clouds are visible on satellite data. This could indicate that either the eruption was extremely short and small, or (more likely) that there something else happened (military action, fire etc) which was mistaken by untrained distant observers for lava fountains. On the other hand, volcanic eruptions on the Red Sea rift are nothing unusual, although the remoteness of the area often prevents observation.
The sulfur dioxide plume (blue-green) from a potential eruption at
Jebel at Tair off Yemen, seen on December 19, 2011.
[In 2007, a volcanic eruption off the Red Sea coast of Yemen spewed lava hundreds of metres into the air on October 1 and at least nine people were missing at sea. The eruption occurred on Jazirt Mount al-Tair, an island about 140 kilometres from Yemen. Several earthquakes were felt on the island, triggering the eruption. The entire three-kilometre-long island was aglow with lava as it poured into the sea.] - Volcano Discovery.

EXTREME WEATHER: Cold Wave and Heavy Fog Sweeps Across Northern India - Death Toll Rises to 39, Life Disrupted With Sub-Zero Temperatures!

The death toll in a cold wave sweeping through northern India has risen to 39, media reports say.

Over 100,000 people sleep rough in Delhi.
The majority of deaths were in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Punjab and Haryana are among the other northern states badly hit. Most deaths take place among the homeless and the elderly. Last week, the country's Supreme Court ordered states to provide adequate night shelters for the homeless during the winter. "You should not allow even a single person to die this winter from the freezing cold," the judges said. 

Heavy fog and a cold wind have disrupted life across northern India with sub-zero temperatures in Indian-administered Kashmir. Reports say nine people have died in Punjab and two in Uttar Pradesh since Sunday evening. The capital, Delhi, is also in the throes of a cold snap, with temperatures dipping to 2.3C and fog disrupting flight schedules. The cold wave has forced schools to shut in the state of Bihar until 25 December, reports said. An official from the meteorological department said the cold weather would continue for a number of days. - BBC.