Monday, February 20, 2012

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Huge Sinkhole in Southwest Austin, Texas - Scientist Raises Concerns About Effects on the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone!

From the playground to the duck-filled pond, it's the park Sharon Coudert visits almost every day. "Lately it's been dry as a bone," explained Coudert. "I mean, you could probably walk across it two weeks ago." Then came the heavy rains of late January, bringing plenty of water and a not-so-little something extra to the Shops at the Arbor off Mopac and William Cannon.

 "After that big rain storm we had a week or two ago "it" started slowly," said Coudert. "A small one, and then it just kept growing." A little hole soon turned into a sinkhole nearly 20 feet deep -- more than big enough to swallow a few cars. "You just unplugged the bathtub, so water drained down into the aquifer," explained environmental scientist David Johns with Austin's Watershed Protection Department. Johns says since the hole opened up Jan. 25, several million gallons poured in -- mostly water runoff from nearby parking lots. Retention ponds that once helped purify runoff now sit halfway full.

"I think it does highlight the sensitivity of that area for development, for buildings, ponds, roads, things of that nature," added Johns. Even more sensitive is its location. The shopping center sinkhole sits over the delicate Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. To track the water's path, scientists have conducted dye tests to watch where it flows and discover what springs could be affected. "We do want to get it fixed," said Johns. "It is something that could be a chronic problem for sure, an acute problem, if there's some hazardous material that washes into it." Engineers with Christopher Communications Inc., the company that owns the land, says water is being diverted from the hole to nearby ponds. Scientists expect the results from those dye tests should be complete in a couple weeks. That information can also be used in the future to help handle potentially dangerous spills. - KVUE.
WATCH: Massive sinkhole in Austin.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: The Sinking of the Philippines - Massive & Growing Sinkhole in Barangay Cambuang Causing Widespread Alarm Among Residents; Land Cracks and Sinkholes Reported in Agusan Mining Town! UPDATE: Philippines Government Warns Public Not To Go Near Sinkhole Site!

Residents of a village here expressed alarm over a sinkhole that formed after an explosion, reviving tension in a community that is still nervous following an intensity 6.9 earthquake recently.

Residents of Barangay Cambuang in Dumanjug, Cebu view a sinkhole that appeared in a farm lot just a few
meters away from the national road. They said the sinkhole, which swallowed an electric post and a
mango tree, seems to be growing bigger.
The hole was first discovered by a farm caretaker in Barangay Cambuang on Friday. It was initially the size of a frying pan, said Walter Pesablon, 36, who was watching over a 3-hectare farm in the village. Pesablon said he didn’t pay much attention to the hole at first, but when he returned to look at it after having breakfast, he noticed the soil moving and cracks forming around the hole. An hour later, an explosion shattered the early morning silence of the village. Pesablon said he checked again and saw a hole with a diameter of about 10 meters. By noon, it grew to 12 meters, the farm caretaker said. The next day, the hole had grown to about 20 meters in diameter and it appeared to be further increasing in size.

Residents, according to Pesablon, expressed alarm at the hole and speculated on how deep it was. Jojo Quirante, the village chair, said some residents threw a coconut into the hole to check how deep it was judging from the sound of the coconut hitting bottom. They heard no sound. Its depth could be estimated by a 14-foot wooden electric post that the hole swallowed, said Quirante. “All my life, this is the first time I encountered this kind of unusual event,” said Quirante. The area has been cordoned off while two policemen and two village watchmen tried to prevent people from getting near as the hole continued to expand. Eddie Llamedo, spokesperson of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Central Visayas, said the occurrence was not unusual, saying sinkholes could also be found in Alcoy town and other parts of Cebu because of limestone formation.

“It is just part of the natural depression of surface topography,” said Llamedo. He said the intensity 6.9 quake last Feb. 6 caused ground tension cracks. Prolonged rains made the cracks bigger. Llamedo said MGB would send geologists to the area on Monday to check. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), sinkholes are common where the earth underneath is made of limestone, carbonate rock, salt beds or rocks that can be dissolved by ground water circulating through them. In its website, USGS said spaces and caverns develop underground when the rock dissolves. If there is not enough support for the earth above the spaces, a sudden collapse of the land surface can occur, the USGS said. - Inquirer News.

Meanwhile, huge land cracks and sinkholes have been found in hinterland areas in this mining town, particularly in a declared “Minahan ng Bayan” in a barangay, authorities said yesterday.
This prompted Agusan Del Sur Gov. Adolph Edward Plaza to order the immediate and forced evacuation of all residents of Barangay Bayugan 3 whose center is located along the national highway. Experts of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Mines and Geosciences Bureau, who had conducted two ocular inspections in the area, recommended the forced evacuation of all residents of Barangay Bayugan 3 and adjoining areas. In its initial report, the DENR-MGB team said the land cracks originated from neighboring Pantukan town in Compostela Valley. Last year, scores of people, mostly small-scale miners, were killed in landslides in Pantukan. The team said the land cracks here are three to five meters wide and spans 350 meters to as long as one kilometer. The team, however, said they lacked equipment to determine how deep the cracks and sinkholes are. Land cracks and sinkholes were also found in mountainside areas in the coastal town of Tago in Surigao Del Sur. - PhilSTAR.
UPDATE: Philippines Government Warns Public Not To Go Near Sinkhole Site!
People should stay away from the new sinkhole in a farm in Dumanjug town because the soil may "cave in" anytime. Geologist Maria Elena Lupo gave this warning yesterday as curious onlookers gathered at the site in barangay Cambuang. "There's no way of knowing how big it will grow and when it will stop. It could suddenly collapse into an unexpected gap," said Lupo, senior geologist of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Central Visayas (DENR-MGB-7). When Cebu Daily News visited the area yesterday, the ground continued to move. Lupo, however, said the agency lacks the equipment to check the extent of "cavities" formed underground. She said these empty gaps on the subsurfaceof the land are often found in volcanic or limestone areas.

A MGB team will visit the area on Monday. She said local officials should act if they see the need to evacuate nearby houses. Soil in limestone areas can easily weaken in water during heavy rains. Once the soil dissolves underground, it creates a gap that would eventually connect with other "cavities," she said. "When there are ground movements, it would create the sinkhole," Lupo said. She warned that the ground movement would continue and the sinkhole could expand. Lupo said that the sinkhole could have been triggered by the 6.9 magnitude earthquake which hit Negros Oriental and Cebu last February 6. She said geologists would need a geo-physical instrument that uses soundwaves to check which part of the ground is still solid but the machine is only available at the Water Resource Center of the University of San Carlos in Talamban. On Monday, government geologists will gather information on the diameter of the sinkhold and map its depth. DENR-MGB 7 previously observed the presence of sinkholes in 14 barangays in Cebu province. Eleven of these barangays are in Tuburan town in northwestern Cebu, 1 each in Argao town, Ronda town and in Dumanjug town. - Inquirer News.

ICE AGE NOW: Europe's Deep Freeze Continues - Boats Sink in Belgrade as Thaw Causes Danube Ice Chaos; Swedish Man Rescued After Two Months Trapped in Car by Snow; as Cold Snap Claims More Victims!

A rapid thaw has brought chaos to the River Danube in the Serbian capital Belgrade, where ice damaged boats, pontoons and floating restaurants.

The thick ice covered one of Europe's busiest waterways during the recent freeze, but began to break up on Sunday as temperatures rose. In Belgrade, boats crashed into each other but there were no immediate reports of casualties. One boat owner said the ice had moved so fast, boats could not be saved. "The damage will be hundreds of thousands of euros for sure," Dragan Jovanovic was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. Another boat owner, Mihailo Svilaric, told Reuters only a "handful" of boats remained intact out of about 100 moored in a marina in the Serbian capital. Debris was scattered among the breaking ice for hundreds of metres along the river, and several floating restaurants, barges and boats were beached on river banks after the ice snapped anchor lines. - BBC.
Bitterly cold weather sweeping across Europe claimed more victims and brought widespread disruption to transport services, with warnings that the chilling temperatures would remain into next week.
Hundreds have lost their lives in eastern Europe as freezing weather sweeps across the continent westwards, while major airports warned that services would be delayed or cancelled. Steven Keates, a weather forecaster at Britain's Met Office, said the severe wintry conditions were expected to last, and spread to other areas. "It will still be very cold, maybe not quite the exceptional temperatures we've seen this last week, but still very cold," he told Reuters, saying the current front which brought snow and ice to Britain overnight was now heading to Belgium and Germany. "(It will be) perhaps turning increasingly unsettled across southern and eastern Europe, so that will probably bring a risk of snow for Italy across to Greece and up round the Balkan countries." Nine more deaths from cold were registered in Ukraine overnight, emergencies services said on Sunday, taking the death toll to 131 from a nine-day cold spell which has brought freezing temperatures to the ex-Soviet republic.
A statement from the Emergencies Ministry said 1,800 people were receiving hospital treatment for cold-related ailments. The cold spell - the most severe for Ukraine in six years with night temperatures down as low as minus 33 Celsius (minus 27 Fahrenheit) in parts - has tested the country's social network to its limits. Many of the dead were homeless people with bodies being found in the streets under snow, in rivers and in doorways. Metro stations in the capital Kiev have become sanctuaries overnight for the homeless to find warmth. More than 3,000 heated tents have been set up around the country to provide makeshift accommodation and dispense food and drinks to homeless people. Eight more people had frozen to death over the past 24 hours in Poland, bringing the death toll there to 53 since the cold snap began, PAP news agency reported National Police Headquarters as saying. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has now asked local authorities to waive the ban on admitting inebriated individuals to homeless shelters. The extreme cold had also caused the death of at least three people in Hungary, ambulance spokesman Pal Gyorfi was quoted as saying by the national news agency MTI. The demand for ambulances was up 20 percent on a usual day with 3,000 calls, Gyorfi said in a statement. - Buenos Aires Herald.

A Swedish man has been rescued after two months trapped in his car. He survived by eating ice and snow.

WATCH: Mark Harris of ITN reports.

BIG BROTHER NOW: The Emerging Global Police State - British Government Spy Programme Will Monitor Every Phone Call, Text and Email; and Details Will Be Kept For up to a Year?!

Details about text messages, phone calls, emails and every website visited by members of the public will be kept on record in a bid to combat terrorism.

The Government will order broadband providers, landline and mobile phone companies to save the information for up to a year under a new security scheme. What is said in the texts, emails or phone calls will not be kept but information on the senders, recipients and their geographical whereabouts will be saved. Direct messages to users of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter will also be saved and so will information exchanged between players in online video games. The information will be stored by individual companies rather than the government. The news has sparked huge concerns about the risk of hacking and fears that the sensitive information could be used to send spam emails and texts. Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: 'Britain is already one of the most spied on countries off-line and this is a shameful attempt to watch everything we do online in the same way. 'The vast quantities of data that would be collected would arguably make it harder for the security services to find threats before a crime is committed, and involve a wholesale invasion of all our privacy online that is hugely disproportionate and wholly unnecessary.

'The data would be a honey pot for hackers and foreign governments, not to mention at huge risk of abuse by those responsible for maintaining the databases.It would be the end of privacy online. 'The Home Secretary may have changed but it seems the Home Office’s desire to spy on every citizen’s web use and phone calls remains the same as it was under Labour. 'At a time when the internet is empowering people across the world to embrace democracy, it is shameful for one of the world’s oldest democracies to be pursuing the kind same kind of monitoring that has a stranglehold on civil society in China and Iran.' It is believed the Home Office started talks with communication companies a few months ago and could officially be announced in May. The plans have been drawn up by home security service MI5, MI6 which operates abroad, and the GCHQ, the governments communication headquarters which looks after the country's Signal Intelligence. Security services would then be able to request information on people they have under surveillance and could piece together their movements with information provided. Mobile phone records are able to show within yards where a call was made from and emails will be tracked using a computer's IP address. Security services are said to be concerned about the ability of terrorists to avoid tracking through modern technology and are believed to have lobbied Home Secretary Theresa May to introduce the scheme.  According to The Sunday Times ministers are planning to include the spy initiative called the Communications Capabilities Development Programme in the Queen's speech in May. Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said: 'This would be a systematic effort to spy on all of our digital communications. 'No state in history has been able to gather the level of information proposed,' he said to The Sunday Times. - Daily Mail.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Earth Crust Displacement - 10,000 Aftershocks Rattles Canterbury in New Zealand Since September 2010; Seismic Sequence Will Last For 30 Years!

Five thousand earthquakes after the devastating February 22 tremor, Canterbury's aftershock sequence has a recognisable personality. Seismologists looking at 12 months of data have found that the frequency and size of the aftershocks is similar to the seismic aftermath observed in eastern Californian and Tasmanian events, where the tremors lasted decades but were increasingly smaller in scale.

Residents try to free a car stuck in a liquefaction sink hole in
Christchurch after a series of quakes hit the city.
Since the original rumble in September 2010, 10,000 quakes have rattled Canterbury. More than 5500 of these have occurred since the deadly February quake re-energised the sequence, and 214 of these tremors were magnitude 4 or larger. Natural hazards research platform manager Kelvin Berryman said the Darfield aftershock sequence was expected to last for 30 years, with tremors tailing off gradually until they were unnoticeable. Cantabrians repeatedly asked whether they were experiencing a particularly vicious sequence, in particular when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake occurred two days before Christmas. Seismologists say the Darfield sequence was not violent compared with historical records. In contrast, Sumatra is still experiencing moderate-size quakes eight years after the magnitude 9.1 quake which caused the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.

But unlike the Sumatran sequence, the Canterbury quakes were limited to a smaller geographic area, and have been particularly hard on Christchurch's central city.  "We had the misfortune of the quakes migrating into the city and staying in the city for a while. But now we're seeing them migrating away," said Dr Berryman. GNS Science's latest computer modelling shows there is an 8 per cent chance of a 5.5 to 5.9 magnitude tremor in the next month and 2 per cent chance of a magnitude 6 to 6.4 quake. Earthquake scientists the Herald spoke to felt they had regained the high ground after a difficult year in which their expertise was challenged by a public that was desperate for hard answers on the city's seismic future. Seismologists, geologists and engineers relished the public thirst for their knowledge after the original Darfield quake in September, 2010.

But the huge death toll in the February tremor meant some frazzled residents vented their frustration at the scientific community, and asked why the huge quake had not been forecast. A paper released last month said a week before the magnitude 6.3 tremor, computer modelling had shown a 25 per cent chance of "a magnitude 6 or greater earthquake occurring in the general aftershock zone of the Darfield earthquake in the next year". GNS Science stood by its decision not to publicly announce this figure, because the projected earthquake could have occurred in six or seven different places, and an announcement could have needlessly alarmed residents. University of Canterbury geologist Mark Quigley said scientists should always be challenged on their findings, but a lot of the criticism they faced after February was based purely on emotion. "It got to this stage: 'Why couldn't you predict that one?' or 'What could you have done better?'. But I felt that we had done a very good job as a scientific community." On the anniversary of the tragic quake, the public frustration surrounding quake prediction has dissipated, said Dr Berryman. "There's still some tough questions, and there needs to be. But there's also some appreciation of the challenges of forecasting rare events. Many, many people in Christchurch are pretty tuned up on earthquake science these days."

Why city suffered so badly: • 60km to 80km of the earth's crust has experienced a stress change, meaning the aftershock sequence will last about 30 years. • Horizontal ground motions 1.7 times the force of gravity were larger than expected. • One reason for this could be the way the fault ruptured towards Christchurch (it had strong "directivity"). • Upper and lower layers of the earth separated during the quake, then "slapped" back together, producing very high impacts (known as the trampoline effect). • The hard rock under Banks Peninsula may have compounded the effect of the quake by reflecting seismic activity back towards the city.
• There were "remarkably high" levels of stress built up under Canterbury's soil. • High water tables trapped energy in the top layers of soil in some areas, boosting liquefaction. • Liquefaction caused the worst damage to land and buildings, including many CBD high-rises. • Deep-seated landslides caused the most damage in the southern Port Hills. • Critical structural elements in buildings built between 1976 and 1992 failed. - NZ Herald.

MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: An Incurable Virus is Killing Off Thousands of Lambs in the UK - Virus Causes Deformities So Severe That Animals Die Within Seconds?!

A new virus is causing lambs to be born with deformities so severe that they die within seconds. It is thought midges brought the Schmallenberg virus to Britain from continental Europe last autumn.

The foetuses of newly-pregnant ewes bitten by the insects often fail to develop properly. At Mayfield Farm near Mildenhall in Suffolk, 75 of the 1,700 lambs born so far this year were affected. "In a ewe that was carrying twins, she would have a job lambing it. You would have to pull it out," said farmer Clive Sleightholme. "The legs were fused together and tucked underneath, its head was angular, not formed properly. "They had undershot jaws and they weren't fleshed out properly but nearly every one was alive when it was pulled out but only lived seconds up to a minute."

The Schmallenberg virus, which is not thought to cause risk to humans, was first identified in Germany in November. There have also been cases in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Vet Toby Kemble has already seen deformed lambs at eight out of 10 sheep farms he has been to in north Norfolk this year. "It's concerning for the farmer, from their point of view they are losing lambs and losing productivity but it's very upsetting seeing the lambs," he said. So far the majority of confirmed cases have been in Suffolk and Norfolk. But farms in Kent, East Sussex, Essex and Hertfordshire have also been affected. And in West Sussex the virus has been found not just in sheep but also cattle. Most lambs and calves are born in the spring so for many farmers it is a waiting game.

"It's a new virus so we just don't know what's going to happen," said Mr Kemble. "It may be we have seen the peak already but what we may be seeing is the tip of the iceberg and it's just going to get worse and worse." Farmers do not even have to tell the authorities although they are advised to provide samples. At one farm, a quarter of all lambs were affected. With healthy animals selling for £100 each it means a serious financial impact. - Yahoo.

APOTHEOSIS, POST-HUMANITY: The MinION, Another Step Towards the Creation of New Humans - DNA Machine Can Sequence Human Genomes in Hours?!

A UK firm spun out from Oxford University has come up with a DNA sequencing machine the size of a USB memory stick, a move that is set to revolutionise the industry.

Privately owned Oxford Nanopore, which was spun out of Oxford University in 2005, on Friday presented at a conference in Florida two new generation machines that can do the same job as current mainframe-sized devices, and can decode the building blocks of life within hours rather than days. The technology could be used in the field to do on-the-spot tests and sequencing of rapidly mutating infectious diseases like HIV and malaria to work out how to treat them, as well as prenatal screening for genetic defects and screening for genetic mutations of plants. The firm expects major agricultural companies like BASF and Monsanto to be interested. Oxford Nanopore has spent the last three years developing the machines in secrecy in collaboration with scientists at Harvard and University of California Santa Cruz. The devices are based on DNA "strand sequencing", and could be launched as soon as the second half of the year. One of the machines, known as GridION, is the size of a DVD player. They can be stacked and plugged into each other to increase the speed. The other sequencer - the "MinION" which is expected to cost less than $900 (£569) - is as small as a USB memory stick. Dr Gordon Sanghera, chief executive of Oxford Nanopore, said: "The exquisite science behind nanopore sensing has taken nearly two decades to reach this point; a truly disruptive single molecule analysis technique, designed alongside new electronics to be a universal sequencing system. GridION and MinION are poised to deliver a completely new range of benefits to researchers and clinicians."

The DNA sequencing machines currently on the market, made by Illumina and Life Technologies, both based in California, are much bigger and take far longer. Life Tech is now taking orders for a $149,000 benchtop machine which can transcribe a person's DNA in a day for around $1,000. Five years ago, it cost $10m to sequence a human genome. Oxford Nanopore's technology claims to do the job within hours - viruses can be decoded within seconds - and is "truly disruptive and game-changing," said Alan Aubrey, chief executive of IP Group, which owns 21.5% of Oxford Nanopore. "The significance of this technology introduction is, in computing terms, analogous to moving from the mainframe to the laptop." Strand sequencing is thought to be superior to a previous technology, exonuclease sequencing, as the DNA is read directly. In strand sequencing, an entire string of DNA passes intact through a tiny hole created by an engineered protein, or nanopore, in a cell membrane. "It's like sucking spaghetti really fast," said Sanghera. In exonuclease sequencing, the DNA building blocks are separated by an enzyme and drop through the hole one at a time. The main challenges were to slow the process down from 1m bases of DNA sequence a second to 300 bases a second, so the DNA can be read, and to solve the problem of reading many bases. Oxford Nanopore has a deal with Illumina for exonuclease sequencing but wants to commercialise its new machines itself. - Guardian.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Alert Level Raised For Remote Alaska Volcano - New Unrest, Explosive Activity and Ash Exceeding 20,000 Feet at the Kanaga Volcano!

The Alaska Volcano Observatory has raised the alert level for Kanaga Volcano in the remote Aleutian Islands.

Scientists on Saturday said possible explosive activity and a likely ash cloud indicate new unrest at the volcano, leading it to raise the volcano alert level from normal to advisory. The observatory says volcanic tremor was detected at about 6:23 a.m. Saturday. The unrest indicates a possibility for sudden explosions of ash to occur at any time, and ash clouds exceeding 20,000 feet above sea level may develop. Ash clouds above 20,000 feet from Alaska volcanoes are a threat to trans-Pacific air carriers.Kanaga Volcano is located about 1,215 miles southwest of Anchorage in the western Aleutian Islands. - The News Tribune.
The remote Kanaga stratovolcano in the Aleutian Islands might have begun erupting, the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) reports. A possible ash cloud about 39 km (24 mi) NE of the volcano, likely from weak explosive activity, was detected on satellite imagery, and volcanic tremor was detected under the volcano from 15:23-15:27 UTC (6:23 AM AKST) on 18 February, followed by numerous small events for about an hour at Kanaga Volcano. AVO has placed the volcano at Aviation Color Code YELLOW. "This new unrest indicates a possibility for sudden explosions of ash to occur at any time, and ash clouds exceeding 20,000 feet above sea level may develop. If a large, explosive, ash-producing event occurs, the local seismic network, satellite ash alarms, infrasound, and volcanic lightning will alert AVO to the new activity."

Kanaga Volcano occupies the northern corner of Kanaga Island, one of the most southerly members of the central Aleutian chain. It is a symmetric composite cone 1307 m high and 4.8 km in diameter at sea level, built of interbedded basaltic and andesitic lava flows, scoria layers, and pyroclastic rocks. Kanaga Volcano last erupted 1994-1995 when observed eruptive plumes were relatively dilute, rising to altitudes of less than 3 km (9,840 ft) and dropping ash onto the flanks of the volcano. At least two significant ash plumes were recorded over the course of this eruption: the first, to ~7.5 km (24,600 ft) occurred on February 21, 1995 and the second on August 18,1995, when an eruption cloud reached ~4.5 km (14,760 ft). A light dusting of ash fell on the community of Adak and air traffic was disrupted due to continuing low-level activity and cloudy conditions which prevented visual approaches to the Adak air field. - Volcano Discovery.

SOLAR WATCH: The Electric Universe - Solar Wind Stream Results in Stunning Auroras Over the USA! UPDATE: Volcano / Earthquake Watch Feb 20-25, 2012!

According to Space Weather, a new sunspot AR1422 is rapidly growing rapidly and could soon pose a threat for M-class solar flares and Earth is currently inside a solar wind stream that is producing stunning auroras across America.

AURORAS OVER THE USA: A solar wind stream hit Earth's magnetic field during the waning hours of Saturday, February 18th. Although the stream was expected, the bright auroras it produced were not. Northern Lights spilled across the Canadian border into US states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota.

Travis Novitsky took this picture from Grand Portage, MN. "My girlfriend and I were just settling in to watch a movie when the auroras made a surprise appearance," he says. "A quick look out the back door of my house revealed that, yes indeed, the lights were out! For the next hour and a half we were treated to a green glow peppered with dancing curtains of green, purple and red."

In Nebraska--yes, Nebraska--"I saw auroras on and off for approximately 2 hours from around 9pm to 11pm local time," reports Chris Allington of Crofton, NE. "There was a brief spell where color was visible to the eye with rays and bands." Allington stitched together a series of 20s exposures to create this movie.
At the height of the display, researchers at the Poker Flats Research Range outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, launched a suborbital rocket to investigate how auroras affect GPS systems. Several photographers in the area caught the rocket flying into the Northern Lights.

This episode might have been amplified by the action of a co-rotating interaction region or "CIR." CIRs are transition zones between fast and slow solar wind streams. Solar wind plasma piles up in these regions, producing density gradients and shock waves that do a good job of sparking auroras. Local solar wind data suggest that Earth moved through a CIR around 1500 UT on February 18th.
WATCH: SOLAR ACTIVITY UPDATE - Return to C-Class Flares.

UPDATE: Volcano / Earthquake Watch Feb 20-25, 2012.
Targeting Coronal Hole (CH501). With associated solar disturbance and significant Pc3 spike indicate a strong seismic event in the coming days. After analysis I have isolated (1-9°N Latitude). Solar symmetry to earth indicates best fit regions for a possible 6.5-6.8 Magnitude Earthquake are: Nicobar Islands-India Region, Northern Sumatra-Indonesia, Molucca Sea, Moro Gulf-Philippines, Mindanao-Philippines, Costa Rica, Panama or Colombia . Likely Time Frame Feb 20-22

Targeting Coronal Hole (CH502) indicates a strong seismic event for the end of this watch period Feb 24-25. After analysis I have isolated (22-27°S Latitude). Solar symmetry to earth indicates best fit regions for a possible 6.8 Magnitude Earthquake are: Loyalty Islands, South Of Fiji, South Of Tonga or the Kermadec Islands Region. Realtime Ionospheric Anomalies this week are: Fiji, Tonga, Samoa in the Pacific Islands, Hawaii, South West Indonesia and the Ryukyu Islands Japan. - Solar Watcher.
WATCH: Volcano / Earthquake Watch Feb 20-25, 2012.

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
















EXTREME WEATHER: Winter Storm Dumps Snow on Parts of American South - Triggering Many Accidents and Power Outages to Tens of Thousands!

A winter storm on Sunday dumped several inches of snow on a band of southern states, triggering accidents on slippery roads and knocking out power to tens of thousands.

The storm brought wet snow to parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. In northern Tennessee, about 20 vehicles were involved in crashes along a three-mile stretch of Interstate 75 near the Kentucky border on Sunday afternoon. Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Stacy Heatherly said the crashes were reported shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday in near "white-out" conditions caused by heavy snowfall and fog. Police said a juvenile was seriously injured. All lanes of Interstate 75 had reopened by early evening. Dozens of wrecks were also reported in North Carolina as snow, sleet and rain fell with little accumulation, according to The Winston-Salem Journal. In Virginia, the northbound lanes of Interstate 95 were shut down following a two-vehicle crash that critically injured one man, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The accident was reported at about 6:20 p.m. on I-95 near the interchange with Interstate 295 in Prince George County. The male driver of one vehicle suffered life-threatening injuries, and an adult male passenger in his vehicle was hospitalized. Snow began sticking in the Richmond area after dark, and Virginia State Police had responded to about 350 crashes by early evening.

Appalachian Power was reporting that 52,000 customers were without power Sunday night in central and southern Virginia, as well as West Virginia. Light snow was also falling on some parts of the Washington, D.C., area. National Weather Service meteorologist Nick Fillo in Blacksburg, Va., said 5 to 8 inches of snow had fallen in the Blue Ridge Mountains while about 3 to 6 inches had fallen on Virginia's Piedmont region. "This was our first real winter storm," Fillo said. The weather service said late Sunday that the snowfall was "diminishing in both intensity and coverage" and would come to an end early Monday. Temperatures were in the mid to upper 20s. The storm system was expected to move off the Mid-Atlantic coast on Sunday night, sparing the rest of the Mid-Atlantic as well as the Northeast. "It's moving out to sea," Fillo said. He said a low-pressure system would be coming out of the Rockies this week, bringing snow to the Great Lakes area but not significantly affecting the South. - The Washington Post.

WATCH: Storm Dumps Snow on South.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Unusually Cold Winter Kills at Least 40 in Afghanistan - Worst Cold Snap and Heaviest Snowfall in Kabul in 15 Years!

More than 40 people, most of them children, have frozen to death in what has been Afghanistan's coldest winter in years, an Afghan health official said Monday.

An Afghan man, his head covered with his scarf, walks down the street
during a snowstorm in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012.
The government has recorded 41 deaths from freezing in three provinces - Kabul, Ghor and Badakhshan, said Health Ministry spokesman Ghulam Sakhi Kargar. All but three or four of those deaths were children, he said. Twenty-four of the deaths were in the capital of Kabul, mostly in camps for people who have fled fighting elsewhere in the country.

Kabul has been experiencing its worst cold snap and heaviest snowfall in 15 years, according to the National Weather Center.  The hardest-hit have been people living in tents in a number of camps around the capital. The deaths in these camps, so close to the offices of international organizations overseeing billions of dollars in aid to the country, have shocked many in Kabul.

The U.N. and the U.S. aid agency have started distributing extra blankets, tarps and fuel to people living in 40 camps throughout the city, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement last week. Most of those in the camps have fled from Helmand and Kunduz provinces, though some are Afghans who have returned from years living in Iran and Pakistan to find themselves homeless, the statement said. Kargar says the ministry is establishing mobile clinics to try to get help out to people suffering in the cold. The cold has also caused a spike in the price of gas and wood. Heavy snows also damaged high tension wires coming into the capital, causing blackouts in large swaths parts of Kabul. - Associated Press.

WATCH: Deaths as Kabul freezes over.

EXTREME WEATHER: Avalanches Kill 4 at Washington Ski Resorts!

Avalanches just minutes apart killed four people at two resorts Sunday - one burying three skiers at Stevens Pass ski resort in the Cascade Mountains and another sweeping a snowboarder off a cliff in Snoqualmie.

King County Sheriff's officers and other emergency officials work along Highway 2 near Stevens
Pass ski resort in Skykomish, Wash., near where four skiers were killed in an avalanche.
All four were in out-of-bounds areas of the resorts. Just before noon, a snowboarder at Alpental, one of four areas at the Summit at Snoqualmie resort, was with two friends when he triggered an avalanche that caused him to fall about 500 feet over a cliff, authorities said. Minutes later, 12 skiers in an un-groomed, out-of-bounds area at Stevens Pass resort were caught in an avalanche. Three of them did not respond to CPR and died, said Katie Larson, a spokeswoman with the King County Sheriff's Office.

The bodies of the three skiers, all men in their 30s or 40s, were being removed from the area Sunday afternoon. All were experienced skiers, she said. "It's nature," Larson said. "I don't want to make it seem trite, but sometimes nature is bigger than we are." The men skied past a sign warning them that the area was out-of-bounds and that skiing was at their own risk, Larson said.

Earlier Sunday, the Sheriff's Office said as many as eight others were missing in the Stevens Pass avalanche, but authorities later said they were accounted for. The snowboarder's friends safely returned to the mountain's base and called for help, but rescue workers were unable to find him until an hour and a half later. By the time they reached him, the snowboarder could not be revived. - San Francisco Chronicle.