Tuesday, February 7, 2012

THE GREAT DELUGE: Australia Flooded New South Wales Towns Face Weeks of Isolation - Thousands Stranded!

Thousands of people in northern New South Wales are facing weeks of isolation, as record floodwaters from Queensland cross the border into already swollen waterways.

Stranded vehicles are seen submerged in floodwaters.
The State Emergency Services says about 7,000 people are currently isolated around the state, including 2,000 at Wee Waa.  Around 1,700 people in Walgett could be stranded for up to a fortnight, while several hundred people living in Goodooga may be cut off for as long as eight weeks. The towns of Lightning Ridge, Mundindi, Collarenebri and Bourke are also likely to be affected, along with many farms. SES spokesman Phil Campbell says communities are stocking up and there will be helicopter support to fly in more supplies to the thousands who are stranded. "That number's going to increase in coming weeks, as we have further towns and villages that are going to become isolated by these floodwaters as they move down the Gwydir and the Namoi and also from the other rivers coming in from Queensland," he said.

The SES is urging people needing resupply to contact it rather than the supermarkets. "We have to make sure that we do supply people with essential items, so you can't ring up your local supermarket and order a whole lot of beer or something like that," Mr Campbell said. Governor-General Quentin Bryce and her husband, Michael Bryce, flew from Canberra before visiting Moree's recovery centre. She was also in Wee Waa meeting isolated landowners and members of the Namoi SES. Ms Bryce says the flood has taken a terrible toll on the Moree community. "This flood has very big implications for the economy here, this town depends so much on tourism," she said. "It's missed out on the tourists coming back from the north, back to start the school year."

Receding danger

As the floodwaters recede in many communities, exhausted residents have been warned to protect themselves against infections during the long and arduous clean-up. Doctor David Durheim, from Hunter New England Health, says floodwaters contain dead animals, rotten food, chemicals and faeces. He says it is a recipe for gastro-intestinal illness and other diseases, particularly when people are tired, dehydrated and under emotional strain. "Many flood waters have got either human faeces in them, animal faeces or chemical contaminants," Dr Durheim said. "Anything that's been in contact with it, including toys, including food, including other items, may well have been contaminated, so it's very important that people practice personal hygiene, that they look after their personal health. "We're very fortunate in that our town water supplies have not been affected and that water is safe to use. "People who are on properties and have been relying on surface water, which is dam water or streams or rivers, that water's likely contaminated and they need to make sure that they use an alternate source."

Flood of rubbish

Moree Plains Shire Council says it is struggling to deal with the amount of flood debris being taken to the town's tip. The council's waste manager, David Wolfenden, says the tip has itself been flooded with mattresses, white goods, furniture and other items. "By the close of business we estimate 250 vehicles will come through the gate and a total of 200 tonnes. A lot of those vehicles are large trucks, semi trailers and the like," he said. "To give you some sort of comparison, on a weekend we might get 100 vehicles and on a normal weekday we might get around 30 vehicles per day, so it's a significant number of vehicles and waste coming in." He says the council is also offering free collections to get damaged items off the town's streets. "On about Wednesday we'll have a contractor coming and doing a kerbside collection. That will bring a lot in," Mr Wolfenden said. "What's not collected on the kerbside, we'll make some skip bins available, so i think there'll be some large volumes coming out in the next week or so."  - Weather Zone.

WATCH: Floods Continue in Eastern Australia.

WATCH: Flood fears not over for Queensland .

ICE AGE NOW: Cold Spell Affects Over 40,000 in North China - 51.9 Minus Degrees Celsius in Inner Mongolia!

A month-long cold front has persisted in north China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region and caused havoc for more than 40,000 people, said local authorities Tuesday.

A resident watches ice cascade outside a building in Yakeshi city of Hulunbuir, North China's Inner
Mongolia autonomous region, Feb 5, 2012. Temperatures in Hulunbuir plummeted to minus 50.7 Celsius
after a cold front hit the city last Friday. The National Meteorological Center issued a blue alert on
Monday, the lowest level in the country's four-scale alert system.
Over 1,600 heads of livestock were killed and cracks appeared on walls in over 8,000 homes due to the freezing weather in the city of Hulunbuir, located in the region's northeast, according to a spokesman with the regional civil affairs department. The extreme weather has inflicted direct economic losses and apartment renovation costs of 13 million yuan (2.1 million U.S. dollars), said the spokesman, adding that no casualties have been reported.

The cold front began to plague Hulunbuir in late December last year and has tightened its grip on the area since the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday in late January. Chenbaerhu Banner, administered by Hulunbuir, registered the lowest temperature to date this winter in Inner Mongolia, 51.9 minus degrees Celsius, said the spokesman. In addition, five banners and cities administered by Hulunbuir have seen their new record low temperatures during the past month and a half, compared with the same period of previous years, he said.

The regional weather authorities have forecast the region will soon experience a new temperature drop of eight to 10 degrees Celsius. Nationwide, a cold front has swept across the country since Sunday, and the cold weather is expected to persist in the country's central and eastern areas, according to a statement from the National Meteorological Center. By Tuesday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Finance had jointly distributed 6.3 billion yuan in winter relief funds to provide food and clothing for people in weather-stricken areas. - Xinhuanet.

PLANETARY TREMORS: PHIVOLCS - "Unmapped" Fault Caused Philippine Earthquake?!

An "unmapped" fault line caused the magnitude-6.9 quake that shook Dumaguete and its neighboring regions on the afternoon of February 6, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

The earthquake was caused by the sudden shifting of two tectonic plates in the Visayas area. The shift was from a "blind fault" some 20kms below the earth between Negros and Cebu. Dr. Ishmael Narag, chief of Phivolcs' Seismological Observation and Earthquake Prediction Division, said that the February 6 earthquake was not traced to any known existing faults in the area, suggesting the presence of a previously unmapped fault.

"Isang clue na kasi pag lumindol sa lugar, meron talagang earthquake-generator diyan, so i-pigeonhole na natin kung ano nga talaga yung gumalaw dito. Pag hindi natin ma-pigeonhole sa existing na fault map, titignan kagad natin na posible bang may isang fault diyan na hindi pa natin namamapa," he explained.(If we can't pigeonhole the cause of the earthquake to an existing fault, we look at the possibility that there's an unmapped fault in the area.)

Also, according to Phivolcs deputy director Bart Bautista, the fault that caused the February 6 earthquake was uncommon in that its movement was vertical, whereas most faults in the Philippines move horizontally. The Philippines, due to its location in the Pacific Ring of Fire naturally has at least dozens of fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. But "many fault lines are yet to be mapped," Bautista said, blaming the lack of trained geologists in the country.

He also lamented the lack in the first place of high-resolution base maps of the country's fault lines. Narag cautioned that residents near the epicenter of the quake might experience several aftershocks for several weeks, although these are not expected to be as strong as Monday's quake. - GMA Network.

ICE AGE NOW: Heavy Snowfall to Return as Freezing Temperatures Split Britain - Could Fall to as Low as -13C!

Forecasters warned that travelling conditions would remain "difficult" across much of Britain as many parts still recover from the weekend's snowfalls. Snow is set to return to much of southern Britain by Thursday as the country battles with freezing weather and transport chaos.

Forecasters warned that travelling conditions would remain "difficult" across much of
Britain as many parts still recover from the weekend's snowfalls.
On Thursday much of the south, including Heathrow airport, which was ground to a halt at the weekend, will be hit by a mixture of potentially treacherous snow, sleet and rain. Temperatures throughout southern areas expected to remain close to freezing. The north will remain significantly warmer with temperatures as high as 8C. The Met Office said overnight temperatures in some areas could fall to as low as -13C. It remains unclear how much snow will fall, as an Atlantic weather system pushes across the country from the west. The lowest overnight temperature on Monday was -9.7°C in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire.

Forecasters warned travelling conditions would remain "difficult" across much of Britain as many parts still recover from the weekend's snowfalls. "Ice will continue to be a problem overnight in parts where there has been snowfall," said Helen Chivers, a Met Office forecaster. "On Thursday and Friday much of the country will experience a mixture of rain, sleet and snow." It comes as forecasters reported that Heathrow airport is set for a light dusting of snow, with no more than half an inch predicted. Other forecasters suggested that some light snow could also fall on Friday, which could create problems for departures that evening.

With temperatures likely to hover around freezing for much of the week, airports will also have to allow extra time to de-ice aircraft. This alone can add around 30 minutes to the time needed to prepare a plane for departure, which in turn will present a fresh challenge for the airport on one of the busiest weekends of the year with 90,000 passengers expected to fly away on Saturday. Other airports further north, such as East Midlands, Birmingham and Manchester may see around just under and inch with Leeds, Manchester and Edinburgh facing the prospect of slightly more.

While Heathrow said it was confident that it will be able to cope with the next batch of snow, its performance over the weekend which saw half the flights cancelled as a result of three inches of snow falling triggered fears of a tricky weekend. Given that Heathrow is effectively full, operating at more than 99 per cent capacity, any weather disruption poses at the very least a threat of significant delays. Heathrow, which is owned by Spanish owned Ferrovial, will be watching the weather forecast closely. Should the weather forecast worsen, Heathrow will have to decide whether to implement its "snow timetable".

This would entail cancelling a percentage of flights to give the airport breathing space to enable it to contain the disruption to as short a time as possible. Last weekend, Heathrow scrapped 30 per cent of services before a snowflake fell. A further per cent of flights were cancelled on the day, as fog settled on the airport as well. "We are watching the weather closely," a Heathrow spokesman said. "We are working with our forecast providers to get an accurate picture as possible over this week over how much snow, if any, we should expect. "Passengers should check their flight status with their airline before travelling to the airport." A Met Office spokesman said: "Heathrow could see some slight flurries, if it does fall it is likely we would settle. But there is little chance that it will be enough to cause major disruption." Meanwhile the Weather Channel was more pessimistic, predicting light snow over Heathrow on Friday and further showers on Saturday. - The Telegraph.

SHAKEOUT AMERICA - Massive Earthquake Drill of 2.3 Million People in Central U.S. - Heightened Fears and Concerns Rising About New Madrid, California's Death Valley and Tremors in Washington?!

Today, February 7, 2012, at 10:15 a.m. CST, more than 2.3 million people across nine states participated in the 2012 Great Central U.S. ShakeOut! According to the organizers of the drill, The ShakeOut is an opportunity to practice protection during an earthquakes, and to get prepared, along with family, community, co-workers, state, and and region.

Agencies that focus on emergency management and disaster recovery are sponsoring the event, which will consist of widespread drills and informational presentations for some communities. The event coincides with the 200th anniversary of the final earthquake in the 1811-1812 series of quakes in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. - Southeast Missourian.
This winter is the bicentennial (200th) anniversary of the New Madrid, Missouri earthquakes, a series of the most powerful earthquakes to strike the eastern U.S. in recorded history. Three of the quakes in the series are estimated to have reached a magnitude between 7.0 and 8.0. The first earthquake occurred on December 16, 1811, the second on January 23, 1812, and the third on February 7, 1812 - exactly 200 years ago to date. Can it happen again?

The New Madrid seismic zone remains the most seismically active region and, hence, the highest earthquake risk within the continental U.S. outside California. Damaging tremors are not as frequent as in California, but when they occur, the destruction can affect a much larger area. A major earthquake, 7.5 or greater in the region, is projected to occur every 200- 300 years (the last one in 1812). USGS estimates there is a 20% chance of such an occurrence by 2040. (Note: these odds are acknowledged to be extremely uncertain given state of knowledge). Quakes comparable to those during the 1811 to 1812 winter would affect just about half the U.S. with sizable damage and potential for significant loss of life spread through 20 states or more. Given the orders of magnitude increases in population, buildings of all kinds, and societal dependent infrastructure (e.g., communications, power, pipe lines, etc) since 1812, the level of damage, number of casualties, and degree of hardships are virtually beyond comprehension. - Washington Post.
Bad news, Californians. A long-dormant volcano in Death Valley National Park might be due for an eruption far sooner than originally anticipated, according to researchers from Columbia University. Is the Golden State really in danger of blowing its lid? Here's what you should know:

Which volcano is it? It's the Ubehebe Crater, which sits in the northern region of Death Valley. The mile-and-a-half-wide, 600-foot-deep crater was thought to have come "explosively into being" some 10,000 years ago when rising magma came into contact with sea water, says Richard A. Lovett at National Geographic. "The bomb-like steam eruption produced a mushroom cloud that, as it collapsed, sent rocky debris flowing out sideways at 200 miles an hour." But new research suggests the volcano is much younger than that. How old is it then? The last explosion happened just 800 years ago, says Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo — a far cry from original estimates. A team of scientists, including study co-authors Peri Sasnett and Brent Goehring, used "the same method used to date moon rocks" to get a reading on the crater's real age after seeing it firsthand and questioning the time since its last eruption. "It looks very young," said Goehring. Why does the volcano's age matter? "According to the new data, the eruption was recent enough to suggest that the area might become volcanically active again," says Lovett, meaning "the conditions are still ripe for an eruption." For the crater to blow, it would require a pressurized combination of magma and water, much like the conditions that originally set it off. This combination "produces steam," says Diaz, "which in turn results in a pressure build-up until it reaches a point that will cause a violent explosion." - The Week.

In Washington, state geology officials say that an earthquake on Mt. Hood provides a more significant risk to the region than a volcanic eruption.
Geologists say they used state-of-the-art LIDAR data to map what's happening underground on Mt. Hood -- and what it could mean for people in the area. The study found that a significant volcanic eruption would cause up to a billion and a half dollars worth of damage and affect close to four-thousand people. That pales next to the damage from a 500-year earthquake: $9 billion in damage, affecting more than 60,000 people. The agency's chief scientist, Ian Madin, explains that volcanic debris would likely stick to the local river drainages. Madin said, "Those valleys – the Sandy, Hood River – are really kind of down in deep canyons, and that's where the mud flow goes, and nobody lives down there, whereas the earthquake sort of affects this entire area." The study also looked at risks posed by major floods, shifting river channels, and landslides. - OPB.

HIGH STRANGENESS: "Frankenstein-Style Mutant Spider" - Bizarre White Cobweb Found on Nuclear Waste!

Scientists are investigating a bizarre white cobweb found on nuclear waste - amid fears it could have been made by a 'mutant' spider.
The top of the uranium fuel assembly where a white
cobweb like material has been found.
In a freakish echo of the Spider-Man comic strip, workers at a U.S nuclear waste facility discovered the growth on uranium last month.  The white 'string-like' material - never seen before on nuclear waste - was found among thousands of spent fuel assemblies submerged in deep pools. Experts from Savannah River National Laboratory collected a small sample of the mystery material to run tests. A report filed by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board - a federal oversight panel - concluded: 'The growth, which resembles a spider web, has yet to be characterised, but may be biological in nature.'

The report said the initial sample of the growth was too small to characterise, and that 'further evaluation still needs to be completed'. But the bizarre growth will stoke fears that nuclear fuel can cause Frankenstein-style mutations.  It echoes the plot of Spider-Man, where Peter Parker becomes a superhero after being bitten by a mutant spider at a nuclear waste laboratory. The webs were found at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, a 300-square-mile nuclear clean-up facility owned by the U.S Department of Energy.

Experts say that any creature inside in the pools of water - which are intended to protect workers - would have been exposed to the nuclear fuel. Inside the Savannah River Site nuclear facility where the strange webs have been found. This raises the prospect of a creature having morphed into a new species of 'extremophile' after being exposed to uranium. Organisms with a natural resistance to radiation are said to be 'radioresistant,' and do exist. Deinococcus radiodurans is one of the most naturally radioresistant organisms on Earth and has been genetically engineered so that that it can be used in the treatment of radioactive waste.
Osman Kemal Kadirolu, a former professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Istanbul, said: 'As we know life evolves in most unusual places. Volcanoes at the mid-Atlantic are thriving with life where the water temperature is below 0C and pressure is more than 300atm. Or in hot salt water pools around geysers. 'The water in the spent fuel pools is maintained at a certain pH and temperature. If micro organisms enter into the pool they may have a chance to live. 'The radiation field near a spent fuel assembly is very large and will definitely disturb the normal life cycle of the micro-organisms.
Inside the Savannah River Site nuclear facility
where the strange webs have been found.

'Though I am sure you would not get monsters like the ones that come out of the Sea of Japan in cheap Japanese horror movies.' The growth was found on fuel stored in a compound with three-foot-thick concrete walls and pools that ranged from 17 to 30ft deep. Racks of nuclear waste are submerged in the water - some containing highly enriched uranium - from foreign and domestic research reactors. Will Callicott, a spokesman for Savannah River National Laboratory, said in an e-mail that officials hope to collect a larger sample for analysis. He added: 'Whatever it is, it doesn't appear to be causing any damage.' Nobody from U.S. Department of Energy or Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board was available for comment. - Daily Mail.

WATCH: The Amazing Spider-Man.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: 2011 Shark Attacks Remain Steady - Deaths Highest Since 1993!

Shark attacks in the U.S. declined in 2011, but worldwide fatalities reached a two-decade high, according to the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File report released today. While the U.S. and Florida saw a five-year downturn in the number of reported unprovoked attacks, the 12 fatalities - which all occurred outside the U.S. - may show tourists are venturing to more remote places, said ichthyologist George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

"We had a number of fatalities in essentially out-of the way places, where there's not the same quantity and quality of medical attention readily available," Burgess said. "They also don't have histories of shark attacks in these regions, so there are not contingency plans in effect like there are in places such as Florida." Seventy-five attacks occurred worldwide, close to the decade average, but the number of fatalities doubled compared with 2010. Fatalities occurred in Australia (3), Reunion (2), the Seychelles (2) and South Africa (2), with one each in Costa Rica, Kenya and New Caledonia. The average global fatality rate for the last decade was just under 7 percent, and it rose to 16 percent last year. Excluding the U.S., which had 29 shark attacks but no deaths, the international fatality rate averaged 25 percent in 2011, Burgess said.

"We've had a decade-long decline in the number of attacks and a continued decline in the fatality rate in the U.S.," Burgess said. "But last year's slight increase in non-U.S. attacks resulted in a higher death rate. One in four people who were attacked outside the U.S. died." Florida led the U.S. with 11 of its 29 attacks. Other countries with multiple attacks include Australia (11), South Africa (5), Reunion (4), Indonesia (3) Mexico (3), Russia (3), Seychelles (2) and Brazil (2). While the higher number of fatalities worldwide came as a surprise, the drop in the number of U.S. attacks follows a 10-year decline, Burgess said. "It's more than coincidence that we've had this drop over this last decade," Burgess said. "The fact is, that's a downward trend, and there has to be a cause for that. People might argue there's less sharks, but since the late 1990s, populations have begun a slow recovery. By contrast, the number of attacks in the United States and Florida suggests there's been a reduced use of these waters."
Florida's attacks historically lead the U.S., and as a high aquatic recreation area, especially for surfers, Volusia County leads the state. In 2011, Volusia County again led the state with six attacks, but it was the lowest since 2004 (3). "It's a good news/bad news situation," Burgess said. "From the U.S. perspective, things have never been better, our attack and fatality rates continue to decline. But if it's a reflection of the downturn in the economy, it might suggest that other areas have made a real push to get into the tourism market." The next step to reducing the number of fatalities is creating emergency plans for these alternative areas in the future, said Burgess, who has been invited to work on developing a response plan in Reunion Island this spring. "Ironically, in this very foreign environment that has animals and plants that can do us harm, we often don't seem to exhibit any concern at all, we just jump in,"

Burgess said. Surfers were the most affected group, accounting for about 60 percent of unprovoked attacks, largely due to the provocative nature of the activity. Swimmers experienced 35 percent of attacks, followed by divers, with about 5 percent. "When you're inside the water, there's much less chance of sharks making a mistake because both parties can see each other," Burgess said. "Surfing involves a lot of swimming, kicking and splashing." Despite the number of deaths being higher than other years, people should remember how much of a threat humans are to sharks, Burgess said. With worldwide over-fishing, especially to meet demands for flesh and fins used in shark fin soup, an expensive Asian delicacy, humans pose a greater threat to elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays) than sharks do to humans. "We're killing 30 to 70 million sharks per year in fisheries - who's killing who?" Burgess said. "The reality is that the sea is actually a pretty benign environment, or else we'd be measuring injuries in the thousands or millions per year." The 2011 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary may be viewed online here.  - University of Florida.
WATCH: 2011 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary.

PLANETARY TREMORS: State of Shock - Monumental Seismic Swarm in the Philippines; 1,000 Aftershocks Rattles the Region in the Last 36 Hours!

Rescue workers searched on Tuesday for residents of a mountainside community in Negros Oriental who are feared dead after a landslide triggered by the magnitude 6.9 earthquake engulfed their homes. Soil and rocks buried homes in a neighborhood in Guihulngan City near the quake's epicenter, which had also seen heavy rain in the days before the earthquake, disaster officials said.

Rescuers move dead body from landslide.
"It looks like there is no more hope of finding the 29 missing alive," said Benito Ramos, head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). The state disaster agency said it was checking reports that 40 people were missing in another landslide in La Libertad town, also in Negros Oriental province. Ramos said based on their records, the quake has killed 22 people in Guihulngan, Jimalalud, Tayasan, Majuyod, and Bindoy. At least 52 were hurt while 71 are missing, he added.

The toll now tallies with figures from the Army, which previously reported the number of fatalities at 48. "Previous reports on the number of dead which is higher in number were based on unverified reports from other sources," said Capt. Anacito Naz, civil military operations officer of the Army's 302nd Brigade, in a text message to ANC.


Aftershocks have rattled the region, with more than 1,000 of them in the 36 hours after the quake struck, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said. Officials warned residents to have their houses checked if they had been damaged. "They should not panic and make sure they secure all items that may fall. Structures with minor damage should be first inspected if safe to use," government seismologist Winchell Sevilla said in a radio interview.

Huge cracks have appeared on main roads and concrete structures in Ayungon town adjacent to Tayasan, where mausoleums in cemeteries had also caved in. Local officials in Guihulngan town said many residents refuse to go home for fear of more aftershocks and a tsunami. Town Mayor Ernesto Reyes himself experienced a strong aftershock while being interviewed over ANC on Tuesday.

"Lumilindol dito ngayon. 'Di pa tapos 'yung lindol. Nag-crack 'yung tinatayuan ko," he said during his interview that was aired live. "Sa tennis court, ang nangyayari lumilindol, lahat takbuhan. Tennis court nabibiyak na," he added. "Mga tao nag-panic. Marami kaming tao na namatay, I have 29 dead," Reyes said. "Sa Planas, 29 natabunan ng lupa at 'di pa na-rescue, may 50 rescue teams na tutulong." He said the aftershocks are hampering efforts to rescue possible survivors of the quake and find the remains of those who perished.

In another part of Guihulngan, the body of a Chinese businessman was recovered from a destroyed building. An aftershock struck while it was being carried to a vehicle. The aftershock measured magnitude 6.2. Outside the Guihulngan Hospital, patients spent the night on the streets for fear of staying indoors. Darkness has covered the town because of a power outage. Local officials are unsure when electricity can be restored. Several residents of Guihulngan are still in a state of shock, according to Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo. Degamo said the residents expressed fear over the tsunami threat following the strong quake. - ABS-CBN News.
WATCH: Dozens feared dead in Philippines quake.

THE COMING SINGULARITY AND THE NEW HUMANITY: Mind-Blowing Technologies to Merge the Human Brain With Computers - DARPA Wants New 'Soldier Enhancing' Body Sensors Implanted Under Their Skin, and Scientist Plans to Add Spider Genes to Human Genome to Create Bulletproof Skin, Hitler Would Have Loved it?!

Of all the tall tales in the science-fiction TV series Star Trek, what impressed me most when I was a  little boy was the Vulcan mind meld. Laying his hands on the head of a human (or, in one of the films, a humpback whale), Mr Spock could, for a moment, dissolve the distance between two living things. Each experienced everything the other felt, thought, knew and saw. Now it seems scientists are about to make the Vulcan mind meld a reality – and go far beyond it. Ten years ago, the US National Science Foundation predicted ‘network-enhanced telepathy’ – sending thoughts over the internet – would be practical by the 2020s. And thanks to neuroscientists at the University of California, we seem to be on schedule.

Last September, they asked volunteers to watch Hollywood film trailers and then reconstructed the clips by scanning their subjects’ brain activity. ‘We’re opening a window into the movies in our minds,’ Professor Jack Gallant announced. Last week, the scientists boldly went further still. They charted the electrical activity in the brains of volunteers who were listening to human speech and then they fed the results into computers which translated the signals back into language. The technique remains crude, and has so far made out only five distinct words, but humanity has crossed a threshold. We can now read people’s minds. On Star Trek, the Vulcan mind meld had medical benefits, curing a nasty imaginary infection called Pa’nar syndrome. But the new breakthroughs promise to deliver much greater – and real – benefits. No longer need strokes and neurodegenerative diseases rob people of speech because we can turn their brainwaves directly into words. But this is only the beginning. Neuroscientists are going to make the mind meld look like child’s play. Mankind is merging with its machines. The process began centuries ago with simple devices such as eyeglasses and ear trumpets that could dramatically improve human lives. Then came better machines, such as hearing aids; and then machines that could save lives, including pacemakers and dialysis machines. By the second decade of the 21st Century, we have become used to organs grown in laboratories, genetic surgery and designer babies.
In 2002, medical researchers used enzymes and DNA to build the first molecular computers, and in 2004 improved versions were being injected into people’s veins to fight cancer. By 2020 we may be able to put even cleverer nanocomputers into our brains to speed up  synaptic links, give ourselves perfect memory and perhaps cure dementia. But inserting technology into human brains is not the only thing going on. Some scientists also want to insert human brains into technology. Since the Sixties, computer chips have been doubling their speed and halving their cost every 18 months or so. If the trend continues, the inventor and predictor Ray Kurzweil has pointed out that by 2029 we will have computers powerful enough to run programs  reproducing the 10,000 trillion electrical signals that flash around your skull every second. They will also have enough memory to store the ten trillion recollections that make you  who you are. And they will also be powerful enough to scan, neuron by neuron, every contour and wrinkle of your brain. What this means is that if the trends of the past 50 years continue, in 17 years’ time we will be able to upload an electronic replica of your mind on to a machine.

There will be two  of you – one a flesh-and-blood animal, the other inside a computer’s circuits. And if the trends hold fast beyond that, Kurzweil adds, by 2045 we will have a computer that is powerful enough to host every one of the eight billion minds on Earth. Carbon and  silicon-based intelligence will merge to form a single global consciousness. Kurzweil calls this ‘The Singularity’, a moment when ‘the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep... that technology appears to be expanding at infinite speed’. At that point, we will have  left the Vulcan mind meld far behind. But even this may not be the end of the story. Much of the research behind last week’s breakthrough in brain science was funded not by universities but by DARPA, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. It was DARPA that brought us the internet (then called the Arpanet) in the Seventies, and DARPA’s Brain Interface Project was a pioneer in molecular computing. More recently, DARPA’s Silent Talk programme has been exploring mind-reading technology with devices that can pick up the electrical signals inside soldiers’ brains and send them over the internet. With these implants, entire armies will be able to talk without radios. Orders will leap instantly into soldiers’ heads and commanders’ wishes will become the wishes of their men. Hitler would have loved it.
- Daily Mail.

But that is not the only that DARPA wants to. The following report indicate plans for "soldier-enhancing" body sensors implanted under the skin.
We live in an extremely stressful society these days, as everything needs to be instant, and to deliver less than expected is deemed by some to be a major failure. Well, the Department of Defense’s research agency is looking out for a new kind of body sensors, that when implanted into their soldiers, such sensors are capable of checking out the stress level of that particular person at all times. I can just imagine how the future would be like if this goes through – all soldiers might end up having a longer lifespan if these sensors are smart enough to catch different diseases at their earliest (and hence, most treatable) stage.

Such sensors are inserted under a soldier’s skin, and DARPA wants them to be efficient enough to deliver real-time, accurate measurements of “DoD-relevant biomarkers” such as stress hormones, like cortisol, and compounds that signal inflammation – histamine, for example. At least military doctors will have a better idea on how each individual soldier’s health is like, and the top brass in the military can better modify their training sessions to maximize performance. Hopefully such sensors will remain in the military – what if it ends up commercialized, and our bosses keep track of our stress levels only to have sadistic ones fire us because he/she thinks that we are too stressed to handle that big case well? - Ubergizmo.

Meanwhile, Dutch scientists plans to add spider genes to the human genome to create "bulletproof skin".

Scientists are now discussing the possibility of adding silk-producing spider genes into the human genome to produce ‘bulletproof’ skin. The news comes after testing was done on bioengineered human skin that was grown in a laboratory and mixed with ‘milk’ created from a genetically engineered ‘spider goat‘. This is a goat that has been genetically tweaked to produce the same protein found in spider silk. Spider goats are transgenic creations that have two key spider genes embedded into their genetic code that enable them to weave extremely strong silk.

Spider silk is much stronger than Kevlar (the material used in traditional bulletproof vests), and scientists are now saying that it could actually be used to create an internal bulletproof skin vest. The silk is actually 5 times stronger than steel, and is one of the strongest fibers known to man. While the fibers involved with the creation of the bulletproof skin are not as strong, they are still extremely powerful. It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but Dutch scientist Jalila Essaidi says it will soon be a reality. While she performed tests involving the silk-embedded bulletproof skin vest created in the lab, she discussed the very real possibility of actually replacing human skin proteins with that of a spider. She said:
    “Why bother with a vest: imagine replacing keratin, the protein responsible for the toughness of the human skin, with this spidersilk protein. This is possible by adding the silk producing genes of a spider to the gnome of a human: creating a bulletproof human.”
The lab-grown skin fused with the ‘silk’ is currently capable of withstanding a direct impact from a bullet fired below full speed. Researchers say that the ‘transhumanistic’ idea of the silk vest could make science fiction a reality. - Natural Society.
WATCH: Video of the testing.

DELUGE: Deadly Floods Follow in Iced-Over Europe - Homes Now Submerged Under Water!

Much of Europe is still covered in snow and ice, but some areas are already seeing deadly flooding amid concerns that it will get worse before it gets better. Next two weeks will be very difficult' due to snow melt, European official says.

Flooding from a burst dam in Bisser, Bulgaria, destroyed much of the town and killed at least eight people.
Swollen rivers in Greece and Bulgaria burst their banks Tuesday, leaving dozens of homes underwater, as Bulgarian officials declared a day of mourning for eight people confirmed killed after a dam collapse nearly washed away their village. Bulgaria's civil defense agency warned that two other, bigger dams were also on the brink of spilling over and residents were urged to prepare for an evacuation. Authorities have started a controlled release of water from the dams to prevent overflow. Europeans across the continent have been battling more than a week of extreme weather. Thousands are still trapped by snow in remote, mountain villages in the Balkans. Hundreds - most of them homeless - have died after temperatures hit as low as minus 33 Fahrenheit; and authorities now face flooding caused by melting snow.

A day after the dam burst, the Bulgarian government declared a day of mourning, and streets in the village of Bisser were covered with sticky mud as people returned to their water-logged homes. At least a dozen houses had collapsed, uprooted trees blocked roads and smashed cars sat abandoned along deserted streets. Veterinary officials were collecting the bodies of dead animals from streets still covered in snow. Bisser Mayor Zlatka Valkova said she received a phone call about the dam and tried to get out of her office in time to alert people of the eight-foot-high torrent. "I rushed out on the street, but then I saw the wave," she said. "It was terrible, it came with such speed that I couldn't do anything."

"It was terrifying," Iliyan Todorov told the Trud newspaper. "We were warned that the tsunami was coming only five minutes before the wave came ... We survived by a miracle". The village's 800 residents have been provided with food, water and medicine while the recovery operations continue. District Gov. Irena Uzunova said eight people have been confirmed dead, and the whereabouts of an elderly couple remain unknown. Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev and the European Union commissioner for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva, arrived Tuesday to assess the damage. "The next two weeks will be very difficult and the melting snow could make the situation very complex," Georgieva told reporters in Bisser.

Georgieva voiced sympathy over the loss of lives and of property of people "who had not been wealthy even before the disaster." Farther south, the heavy rain caused the Maritsa River to overflow its banks, leaving dozens of homes under water in the city of Svilengrad near the Greek border. Rescue crews helped transport nearly 100 residents to temporary shelters. Electricity was also cut off to 300 towns and villages in Bulgaria, roads were closed and several border checkpoints with Romania and Turkey were shut, the Interior Ministry said. The ministry said more heavy snowfall was expected.

The Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday that an incursion of cold polar air from northern Russia brought extremely low temperatures over large parts of Europe. The cold air was fed with strong moisture from the central Mediterranean Sea, causing heavy snowfall over parts of southeastern Europe.

Developments elsewhere in Europe:

 •   Ukraine: 135 people were confirmed dead through Monday and forecasters said bitter temperatures, as low as minus 22 Fahrenheit, would continue until at least Feb. 15.

 •   Greece: Rescuers had to help five elderly people escape from their flooded homes after the river Evros burst its banks near the country's northeastern border with Bulgaria. Several elderly residents were also evacuated overnight from another three villages in the area. Greek civil protection authorities said a 40-year-old woman drowned in a flash flood on the eastern Aegean Sea island of Symi late Monday. Heavy snowfall was reported across northern Greece, hampering road traffic and causing some power cuts in remote areas.

 •  Serbia: Emergency officials said the army will use explosives to break up ice on the Danube and Ibar rivers to try to prevent flooding. A 30-year-old woman died when large pieces of ice and snow collapsed on her in a suburb of the capital, Belgrade.

 •   Poland: The big freeze killed another six people in the last 24 hours, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. Ministry spokeswoman Malgorzata Wozniak said Tuesday that three other people died of asphyxiation with carbon monoxide from heaters they were using to heat their homes.

 •   Lithuania: Officials said 23 people have died so far this year due to sub-freezing temperatures in the tiny Baltic republic of 3 million.

 •   Montenegro: The capital of Podgorica was hit by strong winds that blew off roofs from houses, pulled out trees and traffic signs, turned over garbage containers and left parts of the city without electricity.

 •   Croatia: In Split, on the Adriatic coast, authorities said the local hospital is overcrowded with people who sought help for injuries sustained in falls because of ice and snow. Split is unused to snow and usually has mild winters.

 •   Romania: Around 146 towns and villages were isolated with no road or train connections because of blizzards. Up to 174 villages had no electricity. - MSNBC.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR & MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: Disaster Precursors - Massachusetts Stranded-Dolphin Death Toll up to 92; the Largest Single-Specie Stranding in the Northeast!

The unexplained beachings of scores of dolphins over the past month along Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is the largest "single-species event" of its kind on record in the northeastern United States, a marine mammal specialist said Monday.

A total of 129 common dolphins have been found since the animals began stranding themselves in early January, said Katie Moore, marine mammal rescue and research manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Team members have been able to successfully release 37 of the 54 they were able to recover alive, but 75 others were dead or had to be euthanized on the spot, for a total of 92 dead, Moore told reporters in a conference call. Specially equipped trailers have been used to treat and transport the living dolphins. The ones that are healthy enough are taken to the outer Cape Cod coast to be released.

Nine of the dolphins have been tagged with satellite tracking devices, Moore said, and most of the six that are still transmitting are north of Cape Cod, "where dolphins should be." While dolphin strandings are not uncommon on the cape, Moore said this event is extraordinary in its "protracted" nature as well as the number of dolphins involved. "We've seen see an (annual) average of 228 strandings of dolphins and seals over the past 12 years" in the International Fund's Northeast region, which spans from Virginia to Maine, Moore said. "There is a large variability year to year," she said, but this event represents "more than half my annual average in a month." Moore said the International Fund staffs a 24-hour hotline, and when they get reports "from beach-goers or anyone who finds an animal," they alert one of their 300 trained volunteers and dispatch them to the scene. These responders are able to relay information about the dolphin's species, sex and condition.

Once beached, a dolphin is vulnerable to predators and susceptible to organ damage and sunburn. If a dolphin is still alive, the responders get it onto its stomach, if it is not already, for easier breathing, keep away seagulls that would otherwise peck at it, and warm it with blankets or cool it with water as necessary, Moore said. Necropsies have been performed on nine of the dolphins, and blood and microbial swab samples have been taken from some that were found alive, Moore said, but so far no pattern of disease or trauma has been found that would point to a cause. Although the winter and early spring are the normal time of year for dolphin strandings to occur, the weather this season has been unusually warm, leading to speculation about climate change and subsequent "distribution of prey" as a possible causes.- CNN.

Read more HERE.

WATCH: ABC News report from two days ago.

TERMINATOR NOW: Rise of the Machines - Honed Neuroscience Could Mean Soldiers Controlling Weapons With Their Minds, Brain-Machine Interfaces Could be Harnessed by the Military and Law Enforcers!

Soldiers could have their minds plugged directly into weapons systems, undergo brain scans during recruitment and take courses of neural stimulation to boost their learning, if the armed forces embrace the latest developments in neuroscience to hone the performance of their troops.

These scenarios are described in a report into the military and law enforcement uses of neuroscience, published on Tuesday, which also highlights a raft of legal and ethical concerns that innovations in the field may bring. The report by the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, says that while the rapid advance of neuroscience is expected to benefit society and improve treatments for brain disease and mental illness, it also has substantial security applications that should be carefully analysed. The report's authors also anticipate new designer drugs that boost performance, make captives more talkative and make enemy troops fall asleep.

"Neuroscience will have more of an impact in the future," said Rod Flower, chair of the report's working group. "People can see a lot of possibilities, but so far very few have made their way through to actual use. "All leaps forward start out this way. You have a groundswell of ideas and suddenly you get a step change." The authors argue that while hostile uses of neuroscience and related technologies are ever more likely, scientists remain almost oblivious to the dual uses of their research. The report calls for a fresh effort to educate neuroscientists about such uses of the work early in their careers. Some techniques used widely in neuroscience are on the brink of being adopted by the military to improve the training of soldiers, pilots and other personnel.

A growing body of research suggests that passing weak electrical signals through the skull, using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), can improve people's performance in some tasks. One study cited by the report described how US neuroscientists employed tDCS to improve people's ability to spot roadside bombs, snipers and other hidden threats in a virtual reality training programme used by US troops bound for the Middle East. "Those who had tDCS learned to spot the targets much quicker," said Vince Clark, a cognitive neuroscientist and lead author on the study at the University of New Mexico. "Their accuracy increased twice as fast as those who had minimal brain stimulation. I was shocked that the effect was so large."

Clark, whose wider research on tDCS could lead to radical therapies for those with dementia, psychiatric disorders and learning difficulties, admits to a tension in knowing that neuroscience will be used by the military. "As a scientist I dislike that someone might be hurt by my work. I want to reduce suffering, to make the world a better place, but there are people in the world with different intentions, and I don't know how to deal with that. "If I stop my work, the people who might be helped won't be helped. Almost any technology has a defence application." Research with tDCS is in its infancy, but work so far suggests it might help people by boosting their attention and memory. According to the Royal Society report, when used with brain imaging systems, tDCS "may prove to be the much sought-after tool to enhance learning in a military context".

One of the report's most striking scenarios involves the use of devices called brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) to connect people's brains directly to military technology, including drones and other weapons systems. The work builds on research that has enabled people to control cursors and artificial limbs through BMIs that read their brain signals. "Since the human brain can process images, such as targets, much faster than the subject is consciously aware of, a neurally interfaced weapons system could provide significant advantages over other system control methods in terms of speed and accuracy," the report states. The authors go on to stress the ethical and legal concerns that surround the use of BMIs by the military. Flower, a professor of pharmacology at the William Harvey Research Institute at Barts and the London hospital, said: "If you are controlling a drone and you shoot the wrong target or bomb a wedding party, who is responsible for that action? Is it you or the BMI?

"There's a blurring of the line between individual responsibility and the functioning of the machine. Where do you stop and the machine begin?" Another tool expected to enter military use is the EEG (electroencephalogram), which uses a hairnet of electrodes to record brainwaves through the skull. Used with a system called "neurofeedback", people can learn to control their brainwaves and improve their skills. According to the report, the technique has been shown to improve training in golfers and archers.

The US military research organisation, Darpa, has already used EEG to help spot targets in satellite images that were missed by the person screening them. The EEG traces revealed that the brain sometimes noticed targets but failed to make them conscious thoughts. Staff used the EEG traces to select a group of images for closer inspection and improved their target detection threefold, the report notes. Work on brain connectivity has already raised the prospect of using scans to select fast learners during recruitment drives.

Research last year by Scott Grafton at the University of California, Santa Barbara, drew on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to measure the flexibility of brain networks. They found that a person's flexibility helped predict how quickly they would learn a new task. Other studies suggest neuroscience could help distinguish risk-takers from more conservative decision-makers, and so help with assessments of whether they are better suited to peacekeeping missions or special forces, the report states. "Informal assessment occurs routinely throughout the military community. The issue is whether adopting more formal techniques based on the results of research in neuroeconomics, neuropsychology and other neuroscience disciplines confers an advantage in decision-making." - Guardian.

MASS BIRD DIE-OFF: Large Number of Dead Sea Birds Washing up on the First Coast in Northern Florida?!

Beachgoers may notice a high number of dead sea birds washing ashore on the First Coast lately.

Gary Anderson, a member of the Jacksonville Waterways Commission, just happened to be on the beach for a stroll on Friday and found about 10 dead sea birds in the area of First Street in Atlantic Beach. Concerned, Anderson began to investigate and found that there were well over a dozen dead sea birds, including gannets and pelicans, that were dead and washed ashore between Atlantic Beach and Guana Preserve in north St. Johns County.

Anderson was worried that there might be some unnatural factor at work. But officials both with the Bird Emergency And Kare Sanctuary on Big Talbot Island and the Florida Fish and Fresh and Wildlife Conservation Commission advise beachgoers not to worry. The increase in dead sea birds is simply a result of the migration of those birds right now. Many of the birds simply become exhausted and die over open water and wash ashore.

FWC spokesman Kevin Baxter did advise any beachgoers to contact the FWC on the Internet to report any discoveries of bird remains, though. - The St. Augustine Record.

ICE AGE NOW: The Big Freeze - Europe's Weather Brings Continent to a Halt!

The frigid temperatures and snowfall that began in Eastern Europe last week have reached Western Europe, snarling airport traffic in Britain and turning Rome white.

Snow covers typical Dutch scenery in the center of Amsterdam.
It finally got really cold in Europe. Rome and the Netherlands recorded the lowest temperatures in 27 years and kids were making snowmen outside the Vatican. But the sudden arctic freezing last week in Ukraine, Hungary, and the Balkan states that steadily crept up the continent also took a toll, with 131 reported dead in Ukraine alone. Winter usually arrives earlier in Europe than the United States, accompanied by piles of snow and ice, wind, and low temperatures. But "winter" as a story this season had been delayed here for lack of an appearance. Recent bits of snow - one inch in Berlin, two in Copenhagen, and three in London - seem remarkable since during November, December, and January, the continent was an advertisement for mildness. After Christmas carols at London's St. James Cathedral a few days before the holiday, patrons left to eat dinner outside. Berlin was bucolic. The ski industry was slightly panicked by the lack of snow.

Now Heathrow has been partially shut, emergency helicopter teams are rescuing people in Bosnia, lying under epic snow drifts, and residents of Rome are making a run on supermarkets. The sudden drop in centigrade happened so dramatically that Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland, where 53 have died from exposure, has changed policy and called on homeless shelters to allow in inebriated persons. In the Czech Republic, temperatures registered at -39.4 degrees Celsius (roughly equivalent in Fahrenheit), and a small town in The Netherlands, Lelystad, reached -21.8 degrees C (-7.2 degrees F), the lowest since the mid-1980s.

As temperatures have fallen, gas prices from Russia, the main pipeline, have risen - to the highest levels since 2006, according to Reuters. Wheat and electricity costs are expected to rise after the arctic snap, which has disrupted travel mainly in the United Kingdom. British meteorologists said the cold may abate temporarily before continuing for another month. The scope of the frigid blast has been immense: Moscow recorded temperatures at -28 C (-18 F), the lowest in 60 years, according to RT.com, and snow fell in parts of rural Algeria in northern Africa. - Christian Science Monitor.
WATCH: Snow Causes Disruptions in Much of Europe.

LIFE ON MARS: ESA's Mars Express Radar Gives Strong Evidence For Ancient Oceans on the Red Planet - Did Mars' 600-Million -Year Drought Drive Life Underground?!

ESA's Mars Express has returned strong evidence for an ocean once covering part of Mars. Using radar, it has detected sediments reminiscent of an ocean floor within the boundaries of previously identified, ancient shorelines on Mars.

The MARSIS radar was deployed in 2005 and has been collecting data ever since. Jérémie Mouginot, Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG) and the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues have analysed more than two years of data and found that the northern plains are covered in low-density material. "We interpret these as sedimentary deposits, maybe ice-rich," says Dr Mouginot. "It is a strong new indication that there was once an ocean here." The existence of oceans on ancient Mars has been suspected before and features reminiscent of shorelines have been tentatively identified in images from various spacecraft. But it remains a controversial issue. Two oceans have been proposed: 4 billion years ago, when warmer conditions prevailed, and also 3 billion years ago when subsurface ice melted following a large impact, creating outflow channels that drained the water into areas of low elevation.   
Mars Express radar investigation.   

"MARSIS penetrates deep into the ground, revealing the first 60–80 metres of the planet's subsurface," says Wlodek Kofman, leader of the radar team at IPAG. "Throughout all of this depth, we see the evidence for sedimentary material and ice." The sediments revealed by MARSIS are areas of low radar reflectivity. Such sediments are typically low-density granular materials that have been eroded away by water and carried to their final destination. This later ocean would however have been temporary. Within a million years or less, Dr Mouginot estimates, the water would have either frozen back in place and been preserved underground again, or turned into vapour and lifted gradually into the atmosphere. "I don't think it could have stayed as an ocean long enough for life to form." In order to find evidence of life, astrobiologists will have to look even further back in Mars' history when liquid water existed for much longer periods.

Nevertheless, this work provides some of the best evidence yet that there were once large bodies of liquid water on Mars and is further proof of the role of liquid water in the martian geological history. "Previous Mars Express results about water on Mars came from the study of images and mineralogical data, as well as atmospheric measurements. Now we have the view from the subsurface radar," says Olivier Witasse, ESA's Mars Express Project Scientist. "This adds new pieces of information to the puzzle but the question remains: where did all the water go?" Mars Express continues its investigation. - ESA.

Mars may have been arid for more than 600 million years, making it too hostile for any life to survive on the planet’s surface, according to researchers who have been carrying out the painstaking task of analysing individual particles of Martian soil. The team also estimated that the soil on Mars had been exposed to liquid water --critical for life--for at most 5,000 years since its formation billions of years ago. The researchers, led by Dr Tom Pike, from Imperial College London, have spent three years analysing data on Martian soil that was collected during the 2008 NASA Phoenix mission to Mars. Phoenix touched down in the northern arctic region of the planet to search for signs that it was habitable and to analyze ice and soil on the surface.

"We found that even though there is an abundance of ice, Mars has been experiencing a super-drought that may well have lasted hundreds of millions of years," said Pike. "We think the Mars we know today contrasts sharply with its earlier history, which had warmer and wetter periods and which may have been more suited to life. Future NASA and ESA missions that are planned for Mars will have to dig deeper to search for evidence of life, which may still be taking refuge underground.” The results of the soil analysis at the Phoenix site suggest the surface of Mars has been arid for hundreds of millions of years, despite the presence of ice and the fact that previous research has shown that Mars may have had a warmer and wetter period in its earlier history more than three billion years ago.

Satellite images and previous studies have proven that the soil on Mars is uniform across the planet, which suggests that the results from the team’s analysis could be applied to all of Mars. This implies that liquid water has been on the surface of Mars for far too short a time for life to maintain a foothold on the surface. During the Phoenix mission, Dr Pike and his research group formed one of 24 teams based at mission control in the University of Arizona in the USA, operating part of the spacecraft’s onboard laboratories. They analysed soil samples dug up by a robot arm, using an optical microscope to produce images of larger sand-sized particles, and an atomic-force microscope to produce 3D images of the surface of particles as small as 100 microns across. Since the end of the mission, the team has been cataloguing individual particle sizes to understand more about the history of the Martian soil.

In the study, the researchers looked for the microscopic clay particles that are formed when rock is broken down by water. Such particles are an important marker of contact between liquid water and the soil, forming a distinct population in the soil. The team found no such marker. They calculated that even if the few particles they saw in this size range were in fact clay, they made up less than 0.1 percent of the total proportion of the soil in the samples. On Earth, clays can make up to 50 percent or more of the soil content, so such a small proportion in the Martian samples suggests that the soil has had a very arid history. They estimated that the soil they were analysing had only been exposed to liquid water for a maximum of 5,000 years by comparing their data with the slowest rate that clays could form on Earth.

The team found further evidence to support the idea that Martian soil has been largely dry throughout its history by comparing soil data from Mars, Earth and the Moon. The researchers deduced that the soil was being formed in a similar way on Mars and the Moon because they were able to match the distribution of soil particle sizes. On Mars, the team inferred that physical weathering by the wind as well as meteorites breaks down the soil into smaller particles. On the Moon, meteorite impacts break down rocks into soil, as there is no liquid water or atmosphere to wear down the particles. Image at the top of the page shows that Martian landscape may have contained lakes some 3.7 to 3 billion years ago. - The Daily Galaxy.

ICE AGE NOW: Somewhere Over The Rainbow - The Fantastical Scenes of Chinese Waterfall Entombed in Ice! UPDATE: Blue Alert as Mercury Hits Minus 50 Celsius!

These magnificent pictures beautifully capture the fast flowing waters of the Hukou Waterfalls in China slowly being enveloped by ice.

Over the rainbow: Hukou Waterfalls in Xijie County have frozen after continuous cold
weather saw temperatures plummeted to lower than -10C.

Full flow: This is how the waterfall in looks during the warm temperatures of summer.
A long winter in which the mercury rarely rose above freezing has tamed the usually roaring rapids of the largest waterfall on China's Yellow River. Temperatures this week were a bone-chilling -10C across the Xijie County region, helping the steady march of the ice. But there was still enough force in the river to send a mist into the air and create a magical rainbow.

The width of the waterfall changes with the fluctuating temperatures and rainfall. But it is usually nearly 100ft wide, increasing to more than 160ft during flood season. During the deep winter can be reduced to a fraction of that scale. Hukou, literally means 'flask mouth' because the water hit a narrow section just before plunging over the 35ft edge, creating the appearance of being poured from a huge tea pot. - Daily Mail.

UPDATE: Blue Alert as Mercury Hits Minus 50 Celsius!

A resident watches ice cascade outside a building in Yakeshi city of Hulunbuir, North China's Inner
Mongolia autonomous region, Feb 5, 2012. Temperatures in Hulunbuir plummeted to minus 50.7 Celsius
after a cold front hit the city last Friday. The National Meteorological Center issued a blue alert on
Monday, the lowest level in the country's four-scale alert system.

The wall of a bathing center is covered in ice in Yakeshi city, North
China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Feb 5, 2012.

The railings outside a shop are frozen in thick frost in Yakeshi city, North
China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Feb 5, 2012.

A resident looks out from a frosted window in Yakeshi city, North
China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Feb 5, 2012.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Rare and Deadly Snows in North Africa - Highest Amount of Snowfall in Seven Years!

The cold snap has spread across the Mediterranean and into North Africa with heavy snowfall in Algeria.

Snow made a rare appearance in Algiers, the capital city of Algeria. Cold air associated with a storm system diving into northern Africa provided for some decent accumulations of snow in the north African country. According to Accuweather Meteorologist Eric Wanenchak, most reports say the last time Algiers saw this kind of accumulation was at least seven years ago in 2005.

He said Algiers must fight a combination of limiting factors in order to see snowfall. First, the city is near the Mediterranean Sea, which is still quite warm, currently in the low 50s. Second, they are at sea level, and lower elevations generally are warmer and mean more atmosphere that snow has to fall through.

Lastly, they are rather far south. By comparison, they are at a similar latitude as Virginia Beach. While snow in Algiers is rare, snow to the south in the Atlas Mountains is not as rare. This event should bring more accumulating snow to these mountains to close out the weekend. However, for Algiers, not too much more in the way of snow can be expected as temperatures have warmed well above freezing.  - Accu Weather.

WATCH: Algeria turned white by rare snowfall.

WATCH: Eye-witness reports.

SOLAR WATCH: The Sun is Back to Work - Huge Filament Eruption and Launches Bright Coronal Mass Ejection Into Space! UPDATE: M1-Class Solar Flare Eruption!

A huge magnetic filament has lifted off the solar corona, This disturbance has an associated solar tsunami (Hyder Flare). Shortly after a significant halo coronal mass ejection (CME) was observed and it appears will have components heading our way as the filament was in an Earth facing position with the majority of the mass heading slightly above or northerly, however this still may deliver a glancing blow to the planet on February 9th.

BACK TO WORK: After a quiet weekend with no flares of any significance, the sun went back to work on Monday morning and launched a bright coronal mass ejection (CME) into space. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory recorded the expanding cloud during the early hours of February 6th. The source of the explosion is not yet clear. It appears to be a farside event, but first-look beacon data from NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft have not yet pinpointed the blast site. One thing seems sure: The cloud is not heading for Earth. Its northern trajectory is carrying it mainly out of the plane of the solar system and away from the planets. - Space Weather.
SOLAR UPDATE: Solar activity remains at very low levels. Sunspot 1410 is now showing signs of growth in the trailing region early on Monday morning. Sunspot 1413 remains stable. Both groups are heading for the northwest limb. A small new sunspot looks to be forming to the east of 1410. - Solar Ham.
WATCH: Huge Filament Eruption / CME February 6th, 2012.

UPDATE: M-Class Solar Flare.

M-CLASS SOLAR FLARE: Departing sunspot AR1410 is growing in size and magnetic complexity as it approaches the sun's northwestern limb. The region is now crackling with solar flares, highlighted by this M1-class eruption on February 6th at 20:01 UT. NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% chance of more M-flares during the next 24 hours. Any eruptions from AR1410 are unlikely to be Earth-directed as the active region continues to turn away from our planet. AURORA WATCH: Earth passed through a minor solar wind stream on February 4-5. The weak impact of the solar wind was just enough to spark auroras around parts of the Arctic Circle. - Space Weather.

WATCH: SOLAR ACTIVITY UPDATE - Filament Eruption/CME and an M1.0-Class Solar Flare.

Keep up-to-date on the latest information at the following links: