Friday, February 24, 2012

DELUGE: Widespread Flooding Across South America - La Nina Phenomenon Causes Another Month of Misery For Many Latin American Countries!

It’s been very wet in many parts of South America recently. Flooding has been reported in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile.

In Colombia, the rains have continued long after they would normally be expected to dry up, and in Chile, the world’s driest desert was hit by flooding. On Monday, the Acre River burst its banks, forcing Bolivia to declare a state of emergency. The overflowing river badly flooded the town of Cobija, which lies in the northern province of Pando. 630 families are estimated to have been driven from their homes by the flood water. Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana visited the flood zone on Monday and expressed concern about the stability of the houses, “The houses are practically coming apart. These are precarious wood homes that right now are submerged in water."

It's said to be the worst situation in the flood-prone area in 30 years, and there are now concerns that the water will wash out the border bridge linking Bolivia to Brazil. March is the end of the rainy season in the region, when the ground is most saturated, so floods are fairly common at this time of year. However, over the past two years the flooding has been more severe than usual, and this is largely thanks to the La Nina phenomenon.

La Nina is the slight cooling of the surface water of the Pacific Ocean. Despite sounding inconsequential, it has a dramatic effect on the weather around the world. One of the impacts that is usually seen in a La Nina year is the excessive amount of rain in the western parts of South America. The La Nina conditions are expected to subside between March and May, so for the next few weeks at least, the flooding is likely to continue. - Al Jazeera.
WATCH: Heavy Rains lash Andean countries

TERMINATOR NOW: Rise of the Machines - Starting March 1st, a Red License Plate in Nevada Means the Driver is a ROBOT!

An extended campaign in Nevada by Google has led to a new host of provisions which will allow automated cars to legally drive in the state. Starting March 1st, 2012 innovators like Google can officially apply for a new kind of robot driver’s license that will give them permission to openly test their cars on the road.

Governor Sandoval of Nevada exits one of
Google's robot cars last summer. The bill
he signed into law is now allowing
automated cars on Nevada roads.
Automated vehicles will be able to travel the same streets and highways as human drivers, with only a red license plate marking them as robots. Once research on those automated cars is complete (which may take years), the Nevada Department of Motorized Vehicles will issue them a neon green license plate – an indication that the robot drivers are good to go. Google, whose robotic Prius cars have already driven 200,000+ miles in California quasi-legally, will undoubtedly take full advantage of Nevada’s openness and further develop their technology for general use. Just as important, other states like Hawaii, Florida, and Oklahoma may follow Nevada’s example, paving the way for robot cars to operate all across the United States.

Last June Governor Sandoval signed AB511 into law, making it explicitly legal for cars to drive themselves. That same bill, however, required the Nevada DMV to establish rules and regulations as to how companies would apply for permission to get their robotic vehicles on the road. As of February 15, those guidelines are now in place, and Nevada is ready to hand out red license plates to Google and other robotic car developers. Each vehicle will require a $1-3 million bond to insure against damages and will have to give the Nevada DMV a detailed report on what they are testing with each car. Whether or not those provisions will prove adequate has yet to be seen, but actually having concrete rules on the use of robotic vehicles goes a long way towards legitimizing them. In the eyes of Google and other automated car researchers, Nevada’s become a paradise.

There is some concern however, that the new automated car law could actually stifle innovation. Under some interpretations of the bill, cars with computers that automatically engage brakes may constitute a robotic car and thus need to go through further red tape before the general public can drive them. Such systems, already developed by companies like Volvo, represent a stepping stone towards fully automated cars and it would be a shame if Nevada squashed their use just as the state was opening up further research into robotic vehicles. Nevada’s new bill will undoubtedly come with complications, but overall it is a very hopeful sign for the future of automated cars. Previously I had been very pessimistic about the legal and social hurdles these vehicles would have to clear before they could be accepted by the general public. Now, however, it seems that at least a few states are trying to prove me wrong, clearing the way for robot cars to take their rightful place on our roads. Along with Nevada, the Hawaii, Oklahoma, and Florida legistlatures are all considering bills to allow automated vehicles on their roads for research purposes (or more). The Florida bills (HB 1207 in the House and SB 1768 in the Senate) seem to have considerable support. It seems possible, perhaps even likely, that robot cars from companies like Google will be able to take over driving for humans much sooner than anyone had anticipated. - Singularity Hub.

EXTREME WEATHER: Scientific Forecast - North America Could be Hit With Decades-Long "Mega-Drought!

When a drought hit North America in the 1930s, creating a giant dust bowl and crippling agriculture from Saskatchewan to Oklahoma, it entered history as the Dirty Thirties. But University of Regina paleoclimatologist Jeannine-Marie St. Jacques says that decade-long drought is nowhere near as bad as it can get.

St. Jacques and her colleagues have been studying tree ring data and, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver over the weekend, she explained the reality of droughts."What we're seeing in the climate records is these megadroughts, and they don't last a decade — they last 20 years, 30 years, maybe 60 years, and they'll be semi-continental in expanse," she told the Regina Leader-Post by phone from Vancouver. "So it's like what we saw in the Dirty Thirties, but imagine the Dirty Thirties going on for 30 years. That's what scares those of us who are in the community studying this data pool." Tree rings provide the perfect historical record for researchers like St. Jacques, because trees are so sensitive to rain fall. "If it's a good, wet year then trees have a thick growth band, but if it's a bad year, then there's only a thin band," she said. "By taking core samples we can get a record in parts of North America going back 2,000 years. "Everyone was aware of droughts that hit very hard in their area, but it wasn't until recently when thousands of people pooled their data . . . and we all looked around at each other and said, 'Oh my God.'"
The big concern, she said, is that there's no reason a megadrought won't hit the continent again. "When Europeans settled North America . . . we know from tree ring records that it was a very wet period, and so people's sense of what's normal is probably not correct," St. Jacques said. "We're certainly very scared in the community, because there's no reason why these things shouldn't come back." Two human cultures decimated by megadroughts were the Four Corner region — the area where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet — and Cahokia, in the central Mississippi Valley. It was one of the first and certainly one of the largest centres in the area, with more than 20,000 people at its peak in 1075. "(Cahokia) rose, flourished, it was growing and had major cultural impacts throughout the Mississippi Valley and Midwest, but then they got caught by one of these megadroughts," St. Jacques said. "Agriculture collapsed. You just can't go on when something like this hits." - Vancouver Sun.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: "Rocky", Maine's Largest Lobster Ever - Has Claws "Tough Enough to Snap a Man's Arms"!

The biggest lobster ever caught in Maine, a 27-pounder nicknamed "Rocky" with claws tough enough to snap a man's arm, was released on Thursday after being trapped in a shrimp net last week, marine officials said.

Maine State Aquarium Manager Aimee Hayden-Roderiques is pictured holding
"Rocky", the 27-lb lobster donated by a shrimp dragger to the Aquarium.
The 40-inch male crustacean, about the size of a 3-year-old child, was freed in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, said Elaine Jones, education director for the state's Department of Marine Resources. "All the weight is in the claws," Jones said. "It would break your arm." The lobster was caught near the seaside village of Cushing and brought to the Maine State Aquarium in West Boothbay. The state restricts fishermen from keeping lobsters that measure more than 5 inches from the eye to the start of the tail.

Because he became acclimated to the water near the aquarium, the lobster was released in West Boothbay rather than where he was caught. Scientists are unable to accurately estimate the age of lobsters of this size, said Jones. The marine lab has no record of a larger lobster being caught in the state, she said. The world's largest recorded lobster was a 44-pounder caught off Nova Scotia in 1977, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Maine lobstermen hauled in a record 100 million pounds of lobster last year, due in part to overfishing of predators such as haddock, cod and monkfish. - MSNBC.
WATCH: Monster lobster.

EXTREME WEATHER: Dozens of Homes Damaged in Georgia Tornado!

Dozens of homes were damaged in a tornado near Rome, Georgia, Wednesday night, knocking out power and forcing schools to close, local media reported, citing authorities.

Floyd County Emergency Management Agency director Scotty Hancock said up to 100 homes suffered damage, NBC station reported. The storm uprooted trees and knocked down power lines across the county. The National Weather Service confirmed that the storm was an EF1 tornado. Hancock said a NWS team was conducting a damage survey, the station reported.

Police said a woman in her 70s was believed to have suffered a heart attack when her home was damaged, the Atlanta Constitution Journal reported. The woman's cousins told that as trees began falling around her home, she began having chest pains. She called 911, but the ambulance had trouble getting to her house in the storm. She was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Thousands of northwest Georgia residents were without power early Thursday, but Georgia Power said service would be restored later in the day, said. The National Weather Service forecast warns of isolated severe thunderstorms in the region overnight. - MSNBC.
WATCH: Twister has touched down in northwest Georgia, damaging up to 100 homes.

HIGH STRANGENESS: Space Ball - UFO Metal Sphere Shocks Brazilians!

An unidentified metal sphere has plunged from the sky on unsuspecting villagers in northern Brazil, causing an uproar. According to eyewitnesses, the UFO weighs about 50 kilograms and measures roughly one meter in diameter.

The sphere fell on Wednesday in a village of Riacho dos Poços in Brazilian Maranhão state. No casualties were reported apart from an unfortunate cashew tree that was severed by the object as it plunged to the ground, according to MR NOTÍCIAS, a Mata Roma news site. Valdir José Mendes, 46, told police the sphere landed several meters from his house leaving a one-meter-deep hole in the yard. "I heard the noise and I went out to see what caused it. I thought it was a plane that had fallen, or an earthquake," he said. The noise was such that Mendes was too scared to go outside. However, curiosity got the better of him and he headed outside to find the cashew tree’s trunk snapped in half by a mysterious metal sphere lying in a hole nearby.

Some 20 villagers joined Mendes to help him extract the object from the ground and examine it. Mendes says the sphere is hollow and if shaken some sort of liquid can be felt swishing inside. Locals quickly spread the news, as they reached the town of Mata Roma over 2,000 people flocked to see the “UFO”. "It was a huge uproar here. Some feared it was the beginning of the 2012 end of the world, others said it was ‘alien’, but I think it is a piece of satellite," said Max Garreto Mauro, 25, a resident of Mata Roma. Peter Costa, the meteorologist at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), agrees with Garetto, saying the object would probably be part of a satellite. "I'm sure this is not a weather balloon or part of it," he said as quoted by O Imparcia. Military police confiscated the sphere and took it to the barracks in the nearby Mata Roma. They have not specified what the UFO’s possible future will be. In a statement the Air Force Command said it "does not have specialized structures to perform scientific research on this type of aerial phenomena, which prevents the institution to submit an opinion on these events."

In December 2011, a similar incident happened in Namibia, where a metal “Teletubby head” weighing 5.9 kilograms and measuring 35 centimeters in diameter hit the ground in the village of Omanatunga. Some Russian specialists believe the “head” was part of the third stage of the Soyuz-U rocket, launched on October 30. Space debris stories made the headlines throughout 2011. In January, media chased the infamous Russian mars probe Phobos-Grunt across five oceans to keep up with Russia’s space agency, constantly changing the possible impact location. Earlier in October, the German Roentgen satellite split into 30 chunks, one of which weighed 400 kilograms, but those globs eventually made their way in to the Indian Ocean. In September 2011, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite made headlines when it threatened to fall right onto Britain but eventually collapsed into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. - RT.
WATCH: Space ball in northern Brazil.

DWARF STAR/SECOND SUN & EXTRATERRESTRIAL MEMES: Red Dwarf Stars May Be Best Chance for Habitable Alien Planets!

Stars known as red dwarfs might have larger habitable zones friendly to ‘life as we know it’ than once thought, researchers say. Red dwarfs, also known as M stars, are dim compared to stars like our sun and are just 10 to 20 percent as massive. They make up roughly three-quarters of the stars in the galaxy, and recently scientists found red dwarfs are far more common than before thought, making up at least 80 percent of the total number of stars.

The fact that red dwarfs are so very common has made astrobiologists wonder if they might be the best chance for discovering planets habitable to life as we know it. More and more planets are getting discovered around red dwarfs — for instance, a potentially habitable "super-Earth" at least 4.5 times the mass of Earth, GJ 667Cb, was recently found orbiting the red dwarf GJ 667C. "More of these planets are being found, so research is moving from being theoretical and predictive to using actual data from extrasolar planets," said researcher Manoj Joshi, an atmospheric physicist at the University of East Anglia in England. The habitable zone of a star is defined by whether liquid water can survive on its surface, given that life exists virtually wherever there is liquid water on Earth. Too far from a star, and a world is too cold, freezing all its water; too close to a star, and a world is too hot, boiling all of its water off. [Vote Now! Strangest Recent Alien Planet Finds]

Since red dwarfs are so cold compared to our sun, planets would have to be very close in to be habitable to any life as we know it —  in many cases, less than the distance between Mercury and our sun. This closeness actually makes them appealing to hunters of alien worlds — planets near their stars eclipse them more often, making them easier to detect than planets that orbit farther away. However, being too close to a star can have its disadvantages. For instance, the gravitational pull of the star would cause tides that could wreak havoc on such a world, perhaps leading to a so-called "tidal Venus" scenario where it loses all of its surface water. Also, young red dwarfs less than 3 billion years old may be very active, firing off flares several times per day, causing ultraviolet radiation to jump by 100 to 10,000 times normal levels and potentially sterilizing the surface of a nearby planet or even helping to strip off its atmosphere. Now scientists find that planets may remain habitable farther away from a red dwarf than once thought. This in turn could mean there is a chance there are far more habitable worlds around red dwarfs than previously suspected. The habitability of a star depends on how warm or cold it is, which in turn rests in large part on how much starlight it absorbs and reflects. Frozen water such as ice and snow reflects light, which means it helps cool planets, including Earth. "If a rocky planet forms around an M-star and it has water on it, if it gets cold enough, that'll turn to ice or snow," Joshi said. "As for the odds of rocky planets forming around M-stars, Neptune- and sub-Neptune-sized objects have been found, so chances could be good."

The researchers modeled how reflective ice and snow would be on simulated planets orbiting two real-life red dwarfs. Ice and snow are less reflective against longer, redder wavelengths, while red dwarfs obviously have fairly red light to begin with. The scientists found that any such planets encircling red dwarf stars would absorb more of their light than previously thought, leading to significantly warmer surfaces. This means the outer edge of the habitable zone around red dwarfs might be 10 to 30 percent farther away from its parent zone than once suggested. "I was surprised that the effect was as large as it was," Joshi told Astrobiology Magazine. "The zone where liquid water is stable on a planet's surface is farther away from such stars than previously thought." Joshi cautioned they only looked at the effects of water ice and snow, when other kinds might be important when considering how much energy a planet absorbs and reflects, such as frozen carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Also, "we didn't look at the effects of atmospheric absorption of radiation by gases such as water vapor or carbon dioxide," he added. "That should be done in future." Joshi and Robert Haberle detailed their findings in the Jan. 23 issue of the journal Astrobiology. - SPACE.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Earthquake "Swarm" Hits the Big Island in Hawaii, Near Kilauea Volcano! UPDATE: "Sounds of the Apocalypse" - Puna Area on Hawaii Island Shaken by a Mysterious Force!

The U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) says it recorded an earthquake swarm that began around 1:17 a.m. on Wednesday.

The earthquakes are located about three miles north-northwest of Kilauea volcano's summit, near Namakanipaio in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.   The seismic swarm has included more than 60 earthquakes, 14 of which were greater than magnitude-2.  The largest was a 3.2 earthquake at 6:55 a.m. The earthquakes are located along the Ka'oiki Pali, a southeast-dipping normal fault near the boundary between Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes.  This area has experienced episodic seismic activity since the 6.6 Ka'oiki earthquake in 1983.  

Previous earthquake swarms have occurred along the Ka'oiki seismic zone in 1990, 1993, 1997, and, most recently, in February-March 2006.  These swarms lasted anywhere from 1 day to several weeks, rarely exceeding magnitude-4. Seismic swarms in the Ka'oiki area have sometimes resulted in changes in Kilauea's ongoing east rift zone eruption, but so far HVO monitoring networks have not detected any apparent changes in Kilauea's summit or on Mauna Loa from today's swarm. For more information on recent earthquakes in Hawai'i and eruption updates, visit the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory website. - Hawaii News Now.
UPDATE: "Sounds of the Apocalypse" - Puna Area on Hawaii Island Shaken by a Mysterious Force!

A noisy, unexplained shaking in the Puna area of Hawaii Island remains a mystery at this time, but it certainly has the area talking. A number of people in a triangular area between Seaview Estates, Leilani Estates, and Black Sand Beach Subdivision  report hearing a thunder-like sound, or an explosion, and feeling the ground shake around 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Folks leaving comments on the popular Punaweb forum are saying it happened around 8:42 a.m.

John Drummond, the acting administrator of the Hawaii County Civil Defense, says that the incident cannot be explained at this point in time. Drummond says that he spoke to operators of Puna Geothermal Venture, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, and personnel on the ground… no one has an explanation. One theory being considered is some sort of sonic boom, although who or what could have produced such an effect is presently unknown. News videographer Daryl Lee, who says he felt the shaking in Hawaiian Paradise Park, immediately hit the road in search of the source of the rumble. What he found were many folks around Puna makai who felt the same thing… but no answers. Drummond says luckily, there are no reports of damage as of 2 p.m. - Big Island Video News.
WATCH: Residents relate the mysterious sound heard around the Puna area.

PLANET X MEMES: ROGUE PLANETS - Nomad Alien Planets May Fill Our Milky Way Galaxy!

Our Milky Way galaxy may be teeming with rogue planets that ramble through space instead of being locked in orbit around a star, a new study suggests. These "nomad planets" could be surprisingly common in our bustling galaxy, according to researchers at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), a joint institute of Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The study predicts that there may be 100,000 times more of these wandering, homeless planets than stars in the Milky Way. 

If this is the case, these intriguing cosmic bodies would belong to a whole new class of alien worlds, shaking up existing theories of planet formation. These free-flying planets may also raise new and tantalizing questions in the search for life beyond Earth. "If any of these nomad planets are big enough to have a thick atmosphere, they could have trapped enough heat for bacterial life to exist," study leader Louis Strigari said in a statement. And while nomad planets cannot benefit from the heat given off from their parent stars, these worlds could generate heat from tectonic activity or internal radioactive decay, the researchers said. For now, characteristics of these foreign objects are still unknown; they could be icy bodies, similar to other objects found in the outer solar system, rocky like asteroids, or gas giants similar to the most massive planets in our solar system. [Gallery: First Earth-Size Alien Planets Found] Over the past several decades, astronomers have keenly hunted for planets outside our solar system. So far, the search has turned up more than 700 of these exoplanets. Almost all of these newfound worlds orbit stars, but last year, scientists found about a dozen planets with no discernible host star.

The researchers used a technique called gravitational microlensing to detect these homeless planets. This method examines the effects of a massive object passing in front of a star. From Earth, the nearby object bends and magnifies the light from the distant star like a lens, making the faraway star's light appear to brighten and fade over time. The resulting "light curve" helps astronomers distinguish characteristics of the foreground object. Based on initial estimates, approximately two free-flying planets exist for every "normal" star in our galaxy, but the results of the new study produced even more staggering findings: nomad planets may be up to 50,000 times more common than that. "To paraphrase Dorothy from 'The Wizard of Oz,' if correct, this extrapolation implies that we are not in Kansas anymore, and in fact we never were in Kansas," Alan Boss, of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "The universe is riddled with unseen planetary-mass objects that we are just now able to detect." The KIPAC researchers made their prediction by calculating the known gravitational pull of the Milky Way, the amount of matter available in the galaxy to make such celestial objects, and how that matter might be distributed to make up objects that range from as small as Pluto to as large as Jupiter.

These measurements were challenging since astronomers are unsure where these wandering planets came from, the researchers said. Some of these rogue worlds were likely ejected from other star systems, but there is evidence that not all of them could have been formed this way, Strigari said. The researchers are hopeful that follow-up observations using next generation telescopes, particularly of the smaller objects, will yield more detailed results. The planned space-based Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope on the ground, are both set to begin operations in the early 2020s. If the estimated number of these nomad planets is correct, the results could lead to exciting prospects about the origin and abundance of life in our Milky Way galaxy. For instance, as these homeless planets mosey through space, collisions could break apart pieces of these rogue worlds and fling bacterial life onto other celestial bodies, the researchers said. "Few areas of science have excited as much popular and professional interest in recent times as the prevalence of life in the universe," study co-author Roger Blandford, director of KIPAC, said in a statement. "What is wonderful is that we can now start to address this question quantitatively by seeking more of these erstwhile planets and asteroids wandering through interstellar space, and then speculate about hitchhiking bugs." Details of the study are published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: Mystery Continues As More Livestock Dies In Maury County?!

Horses are dying and now cattle as well and detectives in Maury County have been at a loss to explain how or why it is happening.

First, seven seemingly healthy horses turned up dead last week at a Hampshire farm in Maury County.  The state performed a necropsy and released the results. They ruled that it's undetermined. The cause of death cannot be determined at this time. It is a mystery. We don't know what happened," said Detective Terry Chandler with the Maury County Sheriff's Department.

Now Detective Chandler is investigating more deaths: Two dead cows at a farm across from the one where the seven horses were found. And he's consulting with police looking into more mysterious horse deaths in Dickson and Giles county. Chandler said there is no evidence anyone is intentionally harming the animals. He said they have not ruled out the possibility the livestock died from eating contaminated hay or a poison plant.  It's possible the toxins were not detected by the state testing. - News Channel 5.
WATCH: Mysterious livestock deaths in Maury County.

THE PULSE: "Sounds of the Apocalypse" - Earth's "Rhythmic Throbbing" Every 60 Million Years May Have Lead to Mysterious Mass Extinctions?!

A mysterious cycle of booms and busts in marine biodiversity over the past 500 million years could be tied to a ‘pulse of the Earth’ – a periodic uplifting of continents that results in the seas being too shallow for species to survive in, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Kansas believe evidence for these uplifts lie in the increased amounts of an element found in the continental crust that they’ve subsequently detected in marine fossils whenever mass extinctions have occurred. The fact that the element, strontium-87, is suddenly appearing in the oceans means that there must have been sudden huge tectonic movements that the researchers believe played havoc with marine life. ‘So, when a lot of this type of rock erodes, a lot more Sr-87 is dumped into the ocean, and its fraction rises compared with another strontium isotope, Sr-86.’

An uplifting of the continents, Melott explains, is the most likely explanation for this type of massive erosion event. ‘Continental uplift increases erosion in several ways,’ he said. ‘First, it pushes the continental basement rocks containing rubidium up to where they are exposed to erosive forces. Uplift also creates highlands and mountains where glaciers and freeze-thaw cycles erode rock. ‘The steep slopes cause faster water flow in streams and sheet-wash from rains, which strips off the soil and exposes bedrock. Uplift also elevates the deeper-seated igneous rocks where the Sr-87 is sequestered, permitting it to be exposed, eroded, and put into the ocean.’ The massive continental uplift suggested by the strontium data would also reduce sea depth along the continental shelf where most sea animals live.

That loss of habitat due to shallow water, Melott and collaborators say, could be the reason for the periodic mass extinctions and periodic decline in diversity found in the marine fossil record. ‘What we're seeing could be evidence of a “pulse of the earth” phenomenon,’ Melott said. ‘There are some theoretical works which suggest that convection of mantle plumes, rather like a lava lamp, should be coordinated in periodic waves.’ The result of this convection deep inside the Earth could be a rhythmic throbbing - almost like a cartoon thumb smacked with a hammer - that pushes the continents up and down. Melott's data suggest that such pulses likely affected the North American continent. The same phenomenon may have affected other continents as well, but more research would be needed to show that, he says. Results of the study will be published in the March issue of The Journal of Geology. - Daily Mail.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Mount Sakurajima Continues Its Record-Breaking Activity - Produces Explosive Plumes up to Altitudes of 8,000 Feet!

According to the Weekly Volcanic Activity Report from the Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program and the US Geological Survey's Volcano Hazards Program,  Mount Sakurajima's explosive release of gas, ash or rock continues unabated.

Zoom-in image of the latest eruption from Mount Sakurajima.
Based on information from JMA, the Tokyo VAAC reported that during 15-16 and 18-21 February explosions from Sakurajima produced plumes that rose to altitudes of 1.8-2.4 km (6,000-8,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted NE, E, and SE.

Geologic Summary:
Sakurajima, one of Japan's most active volcanoes, is a post-caldera cone of the Aira caldera at the northern half of Kagoshima Bay. Eruption of the voluminous Ito pyroclastic flow was associated with the formation of the 17 x 23-km-wide Aira caldera about 22,000 years ago. The construction of Sakurajima began about 13,000 years ago and built an island that was finally joined to the Osumi Peninsula during the major explosive and effusive eruption of 1914. Activity at the Kita-dake summit cone ended about 4,850 years ago, after which eruptions took place at Minami-dake. Frequent historical eruptions, recorded since the 8th century, have deposited ash on Kagoshima, one of Kyushu's largest cities, located across Kagoshima Bay only 8 km from the summit. The largest historical eruption took place during 1471-76.
WATCH: Live Sakurajima camera.

EARTH CHANGES: Madagascar Eyes Possible Tropical Cyclone Threat as Killer Cyclone Giovanna Dumps Sediment Into Indian Ocean!

The southwestern Indian Ocean could see a new tropical cyclone by the end of the week.

Were a cyclone to form in the area, it could pose a threat to Madagascar, which was dealt a destructive blow by Severe Tropical Cyclone Giovanna at mid-February. Likewise, the Mascarene Islands, Mauritius and Reunion, could also feel the effects of any cyclone in the area. The area favorable for development of a tropical cyclone will be a broad swatch of warm tropical ocean well east of northern Madagascar. Once formed, steering winds would then guide the weather system to the west and southwest. Destructive landfall by Giovanna happened shortly after midnight on Feb. 14 near Toamasina, on the east coast of Madagascar. The storm swept inland, unleashing torrential rain and damaging winds in the capital, Antananarivo. - Accu Weather.

Throw a 145-mph tropical cyclone accompanied by 10 inches of rain against a low-lying coastline, and you get flooding that New Orleanians can easily understand.

Thick sediment clogs Madagascar's Onibe River after Tropical Cyclone Giovanna.
The most recent such incident, outlined in NASA's Earth Observatory science feature, is the horseshoe-shaped path of the Indian Ocean Tropical Cyclone Giovanna, which made landfall on the narrow east coast plain of Madagascar as a Category 4 storm on Feb. 9. Giovanna cut across the island’s mountainous plateau center before entering the channel separating it from Mozambique, and then curved south and back east around the island’s southern tip, churning back into the Indian Ocean, where it’s still producing 30-mph winds today. Giovanna has killed at least 23 people in Madagascar and left about 190,000 homeless in the last week, according to news sources. The sediment-choked Onibe River on Saturday was delivering a thick plume of sediment to the Indian Ocean, similar to the sediment delivered to the Gulf of Mexico by the rain-swollen Mississippi River last fall. But Madagascar’s narrow range of topography, dropping from 9,436 feet to sea level over just 75 miles, results in fast-moving water picking up huge amounts of mud and debris as Giovanna exited the area. - NOLA.