Friday, March 23, 2012

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: The Earth's Crust is Slowly Being Destroyed - New Research Shows That the Crust is Now Undergoing High Rates of Destruction!

The growth rate of the Earth’s continental was high during the first 1.5 billion years of the planet’s history then decreased markedly for the next three billion years to the present day, according to Dr. Craig Storey, of the University of Portsmouth, and colleagues whose research is published in the journal Science.

The researchers say the Earth regulates the net amount of new crust produced by destroying and recycling existing crust. This was achieved as tectonic plates moved and collided against each other and one plate was forced below the other and deep into the Earth. This process is known as subduction, which also generates new crust in the form of large volumes of magma above the subduction zone and results in chains of volcanoes such as in the present day Andes. This process also destroys existing crust by eroding and transporting older crust back down to within the Earth’s mantle. Dr. Storey, of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, worked with academics from the University of Bristol and St Andrew’s University to produce the collaborative paper. Their research shows the sharp decrease in the growth of the continental crust indicates a dramatic change in the way it was generated and preserved.

The conclusions drawn by the researchers are that up to three billion years ago the formed new crust in a different way to today, with larger net volumes of new crust created. The researchers modelled the crustal production rates using a mineral called zircon in sedimentary samples from across the globe to give them a glimpse of the historical behavior of magma. The variations were used to calculate the balance between the generation of new crust and the reworking of old crust with time throughout Earth's history. The results suggest that around 65 per cent of the present-day volume of the was already established by three billion years ago, which suggests that about three cubic kilometres of crust was added to the continental mass each year during the first 1.5 billion years of Earth's history.  This high growth rate then fell sharply during the next three billion years up to the present day ago with just 0.8 cubic kilometres of new crust added each year. Dr. Storey said: “What's becoming apparent is there are various lines of evidence pointing to the same conclusion: That some early form of plate tectonics began around three billion years ago. The challenge now is to determine the nature of that form of plate tectonics, how similar was it to what we can observe today?”

THE ELECTRIC UNIVERSE: Recent Solar Storm Dumps Gigawatts Into Earth's Upper Atmosphere - "Biggest Dose of Solar Heat Since 2005"!

A recent flurry of eruptions on the sun did more than spark pretty auroras around the poles.  NASA-funded researchers say the solar storms of March 8th through 10th dumped enough energy in Earth’s upper atmosphere to power every residence in New York City for two years. “This was the biggest dose of heat we’ve received from a solar storm since 2005,” says Martin Mlynczak of NASA Langley Research Center.  “It was a big event, and shows how solar activity can directly affect our planet.”

A surge of infrared radiation from nitric oxide molecules on March 8-10, 2012, signals the biggest
upper-atmospheric heating event in seven years. Credit: SABER/TIMED. See also the CO2 data.
Mlynczak is the associate principal investigator for the SABER instrument onboard NASA’s TIMED satellite.  SABER monitors infrared emissions from Earth’s upper atmosphere, in particular from carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO), two substances that play a key role in the energy balance of air hundreds of km above our planet’s surface. “Carbon dioxide and nitric oxide are natural thermostats,” explains James Russell of Hampton University, SABER’s principal investigator.  “When the upper atmosphere (or ‘thermosphere’) heats up, these molecules try as hard as they can to shed that heat back into space.” That’s what happened on March 8th when a coronal mass ejection (CME) propelled in our direction by an X5-class solar flare hit Earth’s magnetic field.  (On the “Richter Scale of Solar Flares,” X-class flares are the most powerful kind.)  Energetic particles rained down on the upper atmosphere, depositing their energy where they hit.  The action produced spectacular auroras around the poles and significant1 upper atmospheric heating all around the globe. “The thermosphere lit up like a Christmas tree,” says Russell.  “It began to glow intensely at infrared wavelengths as the thermostat effect kicked in.” For the three day period, March 8th through 10th, the thermosphere absorbed 26 billion kWh of energy.  Infrared radiation from CO2 and NO, the two most efficient coolants in the thermosphere, re-radiated 95% of that total back into space.
In human terms, this is a lot of energy.  According to the New York City mayor’s office, an average NY household consumes just under 4700 kWh annually. This means the geomagnetic storm dumped enough energy into the atmosphere to power every home in the Big Apple for two years. “Unfortunately, there’s no practical way to harness this kind of energy,” says Mlynczak.  “It’s so diffuse and out of reach high above Earth’s surface.  Plus, the majority of it has been sent back into space by the action of CO2 and NO.” During the heating impulse, the thermosphere puffed up like a marshmallow held over a campfire, temporarily increasing the drag on low-orbiting satellites.  This is both good and bad.  On the one hand, extra drag helps clear space junk out of Earth orbit.  On the other hand, it decreases the lifetime of useful satellites by bringing them closer to the day of re-entry. The storm is over now, but Russell and Mlynczak expect more to come. “We’re just emerging from a deep solar minimum,” says Russell.  “The solar cycle is gaining strength with a maximum expected in 2013.”More sunspots flinging more CMEs toward Earth adds up to more opportunities for SABER to study the heating effect of solar storms. “This is a new frontier in the sun-Earth connection,” says Mlynczak, and the data we’re collecting are unprecedented.” - NASA.
WATCH: The Surprising Power of a Solar Storm.

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: Soaring Into the 80s - Warm Weather in the United States Breaks Thousands of Records!

In a typical March, reports, you may be teased with one, maybe two nice days before being hit with the cold reality of winter. But in the eastern part of the country, March 2012 has broken thousands of daily high records. In International Falls, Minn., supposedly the coldest city in the nation, highs have reached 79 degrees.

Cherry blossom trees on the National Mall in Washington, DC, are blooming
earlier than usual as the city records one of its warmest winters.
Chicago, Ill. tied or set daily records nine days in a row. Eight of those were in the 80s; Wednesday reached 87, reported. The list goes on – Atlanta, Ga. had seven days straight of 80-degree highs. Caribou, ME surpassed its normal high of 36 degrees by seasons and on Thursday reached a record-breaking 75 degrees. (The original record, set in 1946, was 57 degrees.) Researchers worry the heat wave may be a symptom of global warming, Climate Central reported.  The researchers specialize in a field known as “extreme event attribution,” Climate Central reported, and said that global warming made it more likely for March’s extreme temperatures to occur.

Climate Central points to studies of the European heat wave of 2003 and the Russian heat wave of 2010, which found that changes in greenhouse gases can increase the odds of excessively warm weather. Researcher David Barriopedro of the University of Lisbon in Portugal found that 2003 and 2010 were the warmest summers since 1500. But he cautioned against blaming the heat waves on climate change. "It's very difficult, if not impossible, to attribute a given extreme event, like the 2003 mega heat wave, to climate change," he told LiveScience. "What we can do is estimate what has been the contribution of humans to increase or decrease the likelihood of an analogue, an event like that."

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: "Noticeable" Increase in Seismic Activity at Montserrat Volcano - Forces Zone C Closure as Phreatic Activity Continues at Soufriere Hills!

An “noticeable” increase in seismic activity at the Soufriere Hills Volcano has resulted in the closure of the Zone C area near the volcano, which had been reopened for daytime entry in December.

Activity at the Soufriere Hills volcano
Dr Paul Cole, director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, told a radio station Friday that it was a precautionary measure as authorities continue to monitor the volcano.  “Following two volcano-tectonic swarms on the March 22 and 23, 2012 involving 49 and 54 events respectively, mild ash venting began at Soufriere Hills Volcano at around 8:00am local time on March 23,” the MVO said in a statement. “The venting was sourced from the floor of the Feb. 11, 2010 collapse scar, immediately south of the old English’s crater wall and to the west of the long-lived hottest fumarole previously identified.”  The Zone C area, which is comprised of Cork Hill, Weekes, Foxes Bay, Richmond Hill, Delvins and extends 500 metres out to sea is part of the island’s exclusion zone.  It reopened in December 2011, after the hazard level in the area was lowered.

The level will likely not be lowered, however, despite the area’s closure.  According to the statement, the ash venting was “clearly pulsatory,” and sent ash 6,000 feet above sea level. It sent black jets of ash rising a few hundred metres above the floor of the collapse scar.  The activity was described as “phreatic,” meaning activity formed when superheated rock meets groundwater, causing the rocks to fragment and generate ash.  “[Volcano-tectonic] earthquakes are related to fracturing rocks probably as a result of increases in pressure,” the statement said. “It is likely that these increases and the resulting earthquakes are related to uprising magma below the volcano.”  Similar types of activity have apparently occurred at the volcano up to several months prior to magma extrusion, both in 2005 and 2008. - Caribbean Journal.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Mexico Quake Kills 2 People and Damaged More Than 30,000 Homes!

Officials acknowledge two deaths as a result of Tuesday's 7.4-magnitude earthquake which shook southern Mexico.

Firefighters work to remove a cement beam that fell from a bridge onto a public
bus after an earthquake was felt in Mexico City Tuesday March 20, 2012.
Two people died when a powerful earthquake rocked Mexico earlier this week, officials said, acknowledging the first fatalities from the disaster. Angel Aguirre, governor of the southern Guerrero state, told reporters late Thursday that one man died of cardiac arrest linked to Tuesday's 7.4-magnitude earthquake and another perished when a wall collapsed on him. Another 13 people were wounded in the earthquake, officials said. The earthquake – with its epicentre south of the Pacific resort of Acapulco – was the most powerful to hit the country since one in 1985, which destroyed entire neighborhoods of the capital and killed thousands. More than 40 aftershocks, some of up to 5.0 magnitude, shook the Mexican capital and southern areas in the aftermath of Tuesday's earthquake, according to the National Seismological Service. - AHRAM Online.

Mexican officials said a 7.4- magnitude earthquake that struck March 20 damaged 30,000 homes in the southern state of Guerrero and 2,000 in Oaxaca, El Universal reported today. Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre said that near the epicenter of the quake, 800 houses were damaged beyond repair, the Mexico City-based newspaper reported.
- Bloomberg.

EXTREME WEATHER: Raging Forest Fires Destroys Thousands of Acres of Indigenous Trees on Mount Kenya - Threat to Wildlife and Water Supplies!

Helicopters have been scrambled to fight the raging fires on Mt Kenya which continued for the ninth day running yesterday. The KWS chopper been joined by another one offered by a volunteer, Lady Lori, and are now spraying the forest with water in a bid to contain the fires which have destroyed thousands of acres of indigenous tree.

KWS rangers helplessly watch the raging fire.
British Army has provided one chopper which is helping survey the areas affected and airlifting the firefighters at the regions affected. Mt Kenya National Park deputy warden Simon Gitau said hundreds of acreages of indigenous and bamboo forest and moorland were being destroyed despite the efforts by KWS, KFS and over 500 members of the local community to fight the fires. The fire was still burning at the Upper Burguret and some parts of Gathiuru forest, Narumoru River valley, Chogoria side, along Nairobi River and South Moorland at Sirmon area which is above 11,000 feet above sea level. The whole of western part of Mt Kenya forest between Kabaru and Ontilili areas were all still on fire yesterday. The Kenya and British armies joined in the fight yesterday with Mt Kenya Tourism Circuit providing sleeping bags while Highlands Company providing water for the fire fighters. However, strong winds continued fuelling the fires with harsh weather also hampering the efforts. The fires which have engufed the tropical rain forest belt has destroyed most of the indigenous trees, thousands of acres of dry grasslands at moorlands and endangered thousands of wild animals in the area. Thousands of indigenous trees and bamboos which are over 100 years old were reduced to ashes and millions of micro-organisms killed as the KWS, KFS and local community tried in vain to put out the fire using choppers, bumper buckets and twigs.

KFS Nyeri zonal manager Muchiri Mathinji said they are forced to mobilise more resources to put out the fires saying strong wind blowing over the area were hampering their efforts. “The fire fighters are now spending the night in the forest. More others are joining them is shifts. Strong winds and heavy terrain are major challenges in fighting the fire. Flames of fire would still be sighted from Narumoru side,” he added.

He added: “Some fires are also burning on top of trees. We urge anybody who can offer any kind of help to come on board to save our forest.”The cause of the fires has not been established but many people suspect it might have been started either by honey gatherers or poachers doing illegal businesses inside the forest. Gitau said fighting fires is a costly adding that more than Sh1 million is needed daily for the exercise. Mathinji lamented that fire engines could not access the scenes of fires because of the rugged and bushy terrain. Gitau, however, said tourists visiting the mountain for mounteering are welcome because not all areas are affected. He said a Wild Suppression Management Authority should be established to fight the fire whenever it erupts. Mathinji said it is difficult to know exactly how many acres of forest has been destroyed because the wild fires are still raging in different parts. He, however, said hundreds of hectares of forest has been burnt since the fire started last week. He said the most affected areas include Kabaru, Ontilili, Chogoria, Gathiuru, Nairobi River Valley and Narumoru River Valley among other areas burning indigenous forest trees, grasslands and moorland. “The whole of Kabaru and Ontilili is covered by fire. Police have since joined in to help put out the fire,” said Mathinji. The exercise got a major boost on Saturday when Kenya Police, Kenya Army and British Army joined in the effort to fight the fire off. - The STAR.
WATCH: Fire devours Kenya's ancient forests.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Sinkhole Keeps Growing at Bryan Condominium Complex!

Recent rain has been a blessing for most residents of parched Brazos County.  But for Mada Tyer and her neighbors, it has just brought stress. The shared backyard of Tyer's condominium complex has a sinkhole that grows with every shower. 

Mada Tyer and Katherine Smith look into
a deep sinkhole near their residences.
The hole first appeared in January 2011, when it was about one foot wide and two feet deep. But recent rain has exacerbated the problem, and a little bit more of the yard is sucked down with each shower.  On Wednesday, the hole had grown to about seven feet wide and eight feet deep. The brim is now only about two feet from the condominiums' foundation, which worries some residents. An air conditioner unit, which is attached to a small concrete slab, is already hanging over the edge.  "It is going to fall in before long," Tyer said.  No experts have extensively studied the hole, which is off Kazmeier Plaza near Bryan High School. But the cause seems clear. There is a large stormwater sewer pipe at the bottom with a large hole rusted into it. Each time it rains, water leaks out and loosens and shifts the soil above it.  "It keeps getting bigger and bigger," Tyer said. 

One of Tyer's neighbors reported the hole last year to the homeowners association, which manages the common area. But she said she saw no response.  In April, a worker from the city of Bryan came to the site and wrapped yellow caution tape around it. Eventually, the city placed a heavy metal slab over the hole in hopes that it would stop the expansion. It didn't, but no one told the city.  Bryan Water Services Director Jayson Barfknecht said the city occasionally discovers sinkholes in areas where old underground pipes have sprung leaks. When notified of the holes, a city worker will conduct tests and try to find the source, he said. The city will fix it if the leaky pipe is a sewer main or a public storm line, he said.  Barfknecht requested that The Eagle pass along that information and on Wednesday a neighbor called the city. Within an hour, a Bryan worker responded and said he would work to find a solution.  Tyer hopes that one will come soon.  "Something needs to be done," she said.
- The Eagle.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 6.1 Earthquake Rattles Far North South, Australia - Biggest Tremor in the Country For 15 Years!

A magnitude 6.1 earthquake, the biggest in the country for 15 years, has rattled Far North South Australia.

The earthquake's epicentre was recorded at shallow depth near Ernabella, 415km north west of Coober Pedy and about 320km south west of Alice Springs, just before 8pm. Geoscience Australia reported the quake could have been felt by people up to 500km away and damage experienced within a 40km radius of the epicentre. Geoscience Australia seismologist David Jepsen said the quake was the biggest in Australia in 15 years. ''There are a number of Aboriginal communities near the epicentre and they would have felt the earthquake strongly,'' he said. ''It is possible there could be some minor damage up there. One of these in a major city would be a different story.

''People as far north as Alice Springs and as far south as Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta could have felt this.'' An SA Police spokesman said there had been no reports of damage or injuries. Dr Jepsen said a 4.3 magnitude earthquake struck near the same location about a week ago. The earthquake was the most powerful in Australia since a 6.3 magnitude quake off Collier Bay, on Western Australia's north coast, on August 10, 1997. It is the second largest quake to be recorded in South Australia. The biggest was a 6.5 magnitude jolt near Beachport in the South East in 1897, which caused chaos at the nearby town of Kingston and was felt in Adelaide. A magnitude 3.3 quake rumbled through Adelaide on October 19 last year.
- Herald Sun.

MYSTERY: Symbols of an Alien Sky, Man-Made or Natural Phenomena - The Latest UFO Sightings And Aerial Anomalies Around the World?!

Here are several of the latest unidentified flying objects (UFOs) seen recently across the globe.

Kings Lynn, UK - 21st of March, 2012.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama -18th of March, 2012.

Reading, Pennsylvania - 18th of March, 2012.

San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico - 19th of March, 2012.

South Midlothian, Scotland - 22nd of March, 2012.

Bangkok, Thailand - 21st of March, 2012.

RATTLE & HUM: "The Sounds of the Apocalypse" - USGS Offers Ludicrous Explanation; Blames 6 Months of Loud Booms on 1.5 Magnitude Earthquake?!

After three days of strange things that go bump in the night in Clintonville, residents may finally have their answer. "We are glad that after approximately 86 hours, the community can rest knowing that you have an answer. The mystery is solved. We have experienced an earthquake here in Clintonville," Clintonville City Administrator Lisa Kuss said.

At a community meeting, Clintonville's city administrator tried to reassure some nervous residents. "Because this is so far under the earth's surface, there's no reason to believe that anything's going to happen that would make something like a sinkhole or some sort of what you, again, would see in the movies as a fault, and things would open up in the earth, and people falling in. It's very much a movie sensationalism, so I do believe you're safe," Kuss said. The mystery got the attention of the U.S. Geological Survey, which took a hard look at its readings of the earth's movements and found a 1.5 magnitude quake centered on Main Street. Representative said, without jest, it may be the smallest recorded earthquake that anybody has noticed.

"This is a very, very, very, extremely small quake. It's a microquake," USGS geophysicist Rafael Abreu said. It may be a microquake by definition, but Todd Bossert, who lives at the epicenter, said it was noticed. "We experienced a loud boom. The floor shook. The ceiling, the whole house shook, and the windows rattled," Bossert said. The USGS speculated the soil in Clintonville could account for the perceptible shake and booms, despite the relatively small reading in magnitude. "I'm glad to know of it. (I) kind of wish it was some other news, to be honest with you. I would rather hear it was sewer gas or something rather than an earthquake, because my next question is, 'When is the next one coming?'" Bossert asked. - WISN.
WATCH: USGS Cover-up.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Mexican Earthquake Might Have Triggered Seismic Swarm at San Salvador Volcano, El Salvador!

The Mexican 7.4 magnitude earthquake near Acapulco on Tuesday might have affected the currently dormant San Salvador volcano in 1000 km distance and triggered an earthquake swarm under the volcano.

San Salvador volcano is an active stratovolcano immediately northwest of the capital San Salvador City and last erupted in 1917. The National Service of Territorial Studies (SNET) reported that as of yesterday 21 March 05:30 pm local time, the swarm consisted of 25 quakes, including 8 felt quakes between magnitude 2.2 and 3.3. The quakes were located at shallow depths between 0.5 and 5.8 km under the volcano.

The Red Cross is reported to have sent some members to the volcano area as a precautionary measure, although there were no reports of casualties or damage. It is possible that the strong Mexican earthquake was the trigger for this swarm as a result of tectonic disturbance of the magma chamber beneath the volcano. Relationships between large earthquakes and volcanic eruptions with effects occurring up to a year after the quake have long been suggested, but are difficult to proof. - Volcano Discovery.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Stink Bug Invasion - Tens of Thousands Migrating to the Deep South!

On the front line of the brown marmorated stink bug invasion, Doug Inkley was overrun. Over nine months last year, he counted, bug by bug, 56,205 in his house and garden. They were everywhere. “I literally have made homemade chili and had to throw it out because there were stink bugs in it,” said Inkley, who lives in Knoxville, Md., near the West Virginia border. “I have had people refuse to come over for dinner because they knew about my stink bug problem.”

Inkley holds a brown marmorated stink bug on his finger.
Maybe now, they’ll come over. Entomologists say the population of this invasive species from Asia appears to have cratered in the Mid-Atlantic. Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee caused flooding, drowning stink bugs and snuffing out nymphs before they could develop. But there is also bad news. The bugs have marched to the Deep South. Recently they were detected in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, where farmers grow juicy vegetable and citrus crops the bugs are known to destroy. It gets worse. Another type of Asian stink bug has established itself in Georgia. It eats invasive Asian kudzu, a good thing. But the kudzu bug also eats soybeans and other lucrative Georgia legumes. On a working trip to Atlanta last week, Inkley, a senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation, saw them flying about, attaching to walls by the hundreds. “Here we go again,” he said. Stink bugs come in a wide variety. Many are native to the United States, where prey insects keep them in check. Brown marmorated stink bugs native to China were first discovered in Allentown, Pa., in 1998, likely after crawling out of a cargo ship. Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland, especially where Inkley lives, were particularly hard hit, for reasons entomologists have not figured out.
So far, the pest has been detected or established in the District and 36 states, a dozen more than last year. Detected means that they’ve been observed and confirmed through lab testing, as opposed to established, which means that they have slipped into homes by the hundreds and ravaged food crops by the thousands. In the Mid-Atlantic region, where brown marmorated stink bugs are well established, they caused an estimated $37 million in damage in apple crops alone in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available. Some farmers in Maryland said they ruined a third of their peach crop and half of their raspberries last year. That’s nothing compared with what the warmth-loving bug might do in the Sunshine State, said Douglas G. Luster, research leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. “It could be like the atomic bomb going off,” he said in an interview last year, implying that the population might explode. “There is great fear that if the brown marmorated stink bug gets established in Florida, it will do a lot of damage,” Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said Thursday. - Washington Post.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Strange Seizures - The Mysterious Nodding Disease Debilitates Children in Africa?!

Pauline Oto still wears her faded yellow and green school dress, but she hasn't been to school for years and she can't comprehend what to do with the pen the community nurse has just given her. "Write on my hand," says the nurse. Pauline just sits on the reed mat, her legs pulled to one side, and stares. She has just had an attack and can't speak. She struggles to comprehend her surroundings.

Thomas often gnaws at the cloth to try to escape. Scientists from the World Health Organization and
U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are trying to find the cause and the cure.
Pauline, 13, has been struck by the dreaded nodding disease. Her mother, Grace Lagat, says it will take her at least four hours to recover from the seizures, and after each attack she seems less like the daughter she remembers. "Her personality has changed greatly from before. She was normal when they were born. Now she just moves around and serves no purpose," Lagat says. Pauline, like more than 3,000 other children in Northern Uganda, has been struck by the mysterious syndrome that has doctors and scientists puzzled and has shattered lives in this rural community. Nodding disease gets its name from the strange nodding-like symptoms that children display in the first stages of a seizure. But doctors on the ground and at the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that is the least profound effect. Severe epilepsy-like seizures grip the children, they struggle to eat, and they become shells of their former selves. It is a progressive and debilitating syndrome that robs children of their future.

The seizures are triggered in strange ways, say community members, such as when unfamiliar food is brought to the children or when the weather changes. There are other bizarre symptoms. Often the children will wander off by themselves and get lost in the bush. And other children will start fires, according to parents and medics in the field. Others appear confused and traumatized. We were told that several houses in areas we visited had been burnt down by children suffering from nodding disease. More than 200 deaths have been reported from these 'secondary' incidents. Once, Pauline vanished for five days. Now, to protect her children Lagat ties them up when she leaves. She pulls Pauline and her brother, Thomas, who also suffers from nodding disease, inside her hut and ties them with a colorful, local fabric. First, she ties their legs to a wooden pole and then their hands together like handcuffs. Thomas tears at them with his teeth. "When I am going to the garden, I tie them with cloth. If I don't tie them I come back and find that they have disappeared," she says. Liberia, Sudan, and Tanzania have all suffered outbreaks of nodding disease over the years, but it first came to the attention of Ugandan authorities in 2009.
- CNN.

MASS INSECT DIE-OFF: Monarch Butterflies Decline Continues - Down 25 to 30 Percent This Year?!

Unlike their colorful wings, the future of Monarch butterflies may not be too bright and their numbers are expected to be alarmingly down again this year, says a Texas A&M University researcher.

Unlike their colorful wings, the future of monarch butterflies may not be too bright.
Craig Wilson, a senior research associate in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education and a long-time butterfly enthusiast, says reports by the World Wildlife Fund, private donors and Mexico's Michoacan state show that Monarch numbers will be down almost 30 percent in 2012 as they make their annual trek from their breeding grounds in Mexico and move across Texas. The figures show an alarming decades-long decline in their numbers, Wilson says, adding that it is best "that we take the long view rather than yearly cycles. "The latest information shows that Monarchs will be down from 25 to 30 percent this year, and that has been part of a disturbing trend the last few years," Wilson notes.
"Last year's severe drought and fires in the region no doubt played a part, resulting in less nectar for the Monarchs as they migrated south. But estimates show that each year, millions of acres of land are being lost that would support Monarchs, either by farmers converting dormant land for crop use -- mainly to herbicide tolerant corn and soybeans -- or the overuse of herbicides and mowing. Milkweed is the key plant because it's the only plant where the female will lay her eggs." The loss of such lands is a critical factor in the Monarchs' survival, Wilson explains. "Chip Taylor, who is the director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, estimates that 100 million acres of land have already been lost that previously supported Monarchs," Wilson notes. - Science Daily.

EXTREME WEATHER: Texas' 2011 Drought - Costliest in State History!

Texas agriculture producers lost $7.62 billion to the state's 2011 drought, which experts said makes it the costliest drought in the state's history and possibly the most expensive drought ever suffered by any state. "No one alive has seen single-year drought damage to this extent," said Travis Miller, an agricultural economist at Texas A and M University.

A dock that once floated in Medina Lake hangs on the side of the rocky bank by wires on Jan. 19.
The lake was 52 feet below its normal level -- the lowest in more than two decades.
"Texas farmers and ranchers are not strangers to drought, but the intensity of the drought, reflected in record high temperatures, record low precipitation, unprecedented winds coupled with duration, all came together to devastate production agriculture," he said. The new figures released Wednesday by the university's AgriLife Extension Service go beyond estimates of $5.2 billion in losses released last fall, which counted only losses through the end of August. Hardest hit were the state's livestock ranchers, followed by the state's cotton producers. Texas is by far the largest producer of both commodities in the United States, producing roughly 15 percent of the beef cattle and 25 percent of the nation's cotton, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. Livestock producers lost $3.23 billion, and cotton growers lost $2.2 billion. The impact of the losses on Texas farm families is enormous, said Gene Hall of the Texas Farm Bureau. Many ranchers tried buying hay from as far away as Montana, but when that became too expensive, they were forced to sell their herds, including the young heifers which are the basis for the future of their ranches, Hall said.
But Hall added that most farmers plan to "ride it out," and hope for better days, and more rain. State Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said the "pain and the damage" caused by the drought cannot be overstated. "Our state's farmers and ranchers are determined in their commitment and fierce in their resolve," Staples said. Miller said millions of acres of Texas crops never got off the ground. "Even irrigated farmers experienced huge losses as water supplies that they could deliver were not adequate to produce crops under these conditions with no rain," Miller said. "The drought started in the fall of 2010, resulting in very little winter grazing. Many of our pastures and hay meadows never greened up after the winter." Hall said the impact will be higher prices for consumers nationwide for everything from steak to shirts. Miller said that while the figures confirm it was the costliest drought ever for Texas, he said it was likely the worst drought ever in the United States in terms of agriculture losses, but that is difficult to confirm because states use different metrics in determining drought losses. The loss figures of $7.62 billion do not include losses in the state's lucrative commercial timber industry. "The commercial timber forested area of East Texas was among the hardest hit," said Burl Carroway of the Texas Forest Service, adding that an estimated $558 million of standing trees that could have been sold for timber, succumbed to the drought. As the 2012 planting season begins, there is room for a certain amount of optimism. The U.S. Drought Monitor says the urban areas of east and central Texas are emerging from the drought, and drenching rains that fell earlier this week in the eastern two-thirds of the state will help the recovery process. But across the wide expanses of West Texas, which is home to much of the state's cattle population, the drought lingers as the state moves into the traditionally hot and dry summer months. - MSNBC.