Monday, April 30, 2012

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Disaster Precursors - Early Whale Migration in North Queensland Baffles Experts?!

Marine authorities in north Queensland say they are at a loss to explain why the annual northern whale migration has started a month early.

Humpback whales traditionally migrate to the warmer waters of the Great Barrier Reef to give birth before returning south to feed.  The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) says whales are not usually spotted until late May or early June but are already being seen off the Queensland coast.  GBRMPA spokesman Mark Read says scientists are unsure why the animals have arrived early.  He says boaties need to be mindful the whales are around early. 

"What it heralds we don't really know, but it's certainly timely to get the messages out to the key users of the marine park to look out for whales," he said.  "We just need to bear in mind that an adult humpback whale can get to 15 metres and approximately 40 tonnes in weight.  "If you're a person using the marine park and you're out there bobbing around in a little tinny, you really need to be mindful of how big these animals can be.  "Just make sure that you're acting safely in terms of minimizing the risk." - ABC Australia.

EXTREME WEATHER: 3 Die, 500 Houses Collapse in Indian Rain and Hail Storm! UPDATE: Lightning Claims 26 Lives in India's West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh States!

At least three persons including a 76-year-old man was killed and 500 houses collapsed when rain storms swept different parts of Tripura, official sources said on Sunday.

A 76-year-old farmer died in Dharmanagar town area and a 30-year-old man died in Panisagar in northern Tripura district when lightning struck them on Saturday, police said.  A nine-year-old boy died of electrocution when he came in contact of live wire at Sonamura in Sipahijala district, police said. 

The pre-monsoon rain accompanied by hailstorm swept different parts of the state collapsing at least 500 houses, uprooting many trees and electric posts.  Security forces and civil defence volunteers were engaged in distribution of relief and immediate relieves were given to the next of keens of the deceased, official sources said.  At least 12 persons had died within this month due to lightning and electrocution. - Hindustan Times.
UPDATE: Lightning Claims 26 Lives in India's West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh States!

Twenty six people were killed and 16 others injured Sunday after being struck by lightning in Howrah in West Bengal and various districts of Andhra Pradesh state.
Nine persons including two women of Santoshchak village, who took shelter under a tree after immersing an idol at Uttar Harishpur as it began to rain, were struck by lightning and died on the spot , PTI news agency quoted police as saying. They said 16 others were injured.  West Bengal Agriculture Marketing Minister Arup Roy, who visited the bereaved families, said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has declared Rs 2 lakh as compensation to the family of each of the victims.  In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, as many as 17 people died in different districts after being struck by lightning.  The highest number of 10 deaths were reported from Guntur district and two deaths each in Khammam, Warangal and Prakasam, state Disaster Management Commissioner T Radha said. One more person died due to lightning elsewhere.  Different parts of Andhra Pradesh have experienced squalls and rains since yesterday. - IRNA.
WATCH: Extreme weather in India.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Land Subsidence Continues in China - Six Dead After Landslide in Fujian Province!

Six people have been confirmed dead after a landslide buried a work shed in southeast China's Fujian province last week, local authorities said Monday.

The disaster occurred at 3:30 p.m. on April 24 in Longdeyang village of Daqiao township, Gutian county, burying six people, according to the county government.  Rescuers have retrieved five bodies, and have claimed there is no chance that the missing person has survived. 

An investigation blamed illegal rare earth mining, recent rains and landslide-prone geological conditions for the disaster.  Local police authorities have launched an investigation into the illegal mining activities.  Two suspects have been apprehended by police. - Shanghai Daily.

WORLD WAR III: Countdown to Armageddon - Iran's First Nuclear Power Plant Sends 940MW of Electricity to the National Power Grid!

Iran's first nuclear power plant in the Southern port city of Bushehr is generating and sending 940 megawatts of electricity to the national power grid, Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Fereidoun Abbasi announced on Monday, April 30.

"940MW of nuclear-generated electricity has been sent to the national grid," Abbasi said, adding that the Bushehr nuclear power plant had produced 730MW of electricity since February and Iranian experts succeeded in boosting its capacity to 940MW now.

He reiterated that the progress was made after Iranian experts and engineers managed to conduct numerous experimental tests based on the power plants' standards, according to Fars News Agency.

In 2011 Iran started using 500MW of nuclear-generated electricity, half the nominal capacity of the Bushehr power plant. Earlier, an Iranian Energy Ministry official had announced that Bushehr power plant would reach its nominal power generation capacity after the operation of the second phase of the plant in early summer. - Panarmenian.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Malaysia Told to be Prepared For Tsunami - Resulting From the Unstable Tectonic Plates in Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands!

Malaysian Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Dr Yap Kok Seng said yesterday the public should brace themselves for the worst in a calm and orderly manner if and when a tsunami strikes. 

A member of the Malaysian Civil Defence Department giving aid to a ‘victim’ who ‘drowned’ during
a session at a tsunami preparedness training exercise in Batu Ferringhi yesterday.
"With the unstable tectonic plates in Sumatra and Nicobar islands, our level of preparedness should be at its highest so rescue efforts can be carried out smoothly. Those in Penang, Perlis, Kedah and Perak must be extra careful."  He said the public must follow orders given by disaster rescue teams and stay away from the shores when warned of an impending tsunami.  "One of the warnings we use for an impending tsunami is the fixed line alert system. It will automatically call all fixed line telephones within 3km from the sea shores," he said. 

The public would also be informed by phone of the assembly points in their respective areas.  Yap said this after presenting certificates to participants at a tsunami preparedness training in Batu Ferringhi here yesterday.  More than 300 people from the security forces, government agencies and students took part in a five-hour mock disaster rescue mission that included learning emergency first aid, evacuation assembly and crowd dispersal management.  Penang is the first state to conduct the training, jointly organised by the department and the state National Security Council.  The council's secretary Zakaria Ibrahim said similar training would soon be held in other states. - New Strait Times.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: UNESCO Urges the People of the Caribbean Islands to Prepare For a Tsunami - Triggered by Earthquakes and Volcanism?!

A leading expert at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is urging the Caribbean's 40 million people to be prepared for a tsunami, two years ahead of a planned early warning system for the region.  Wendy Watson-Wright, assistant director-general and executive secretary of the UNESCO-Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, has agreed with other leading tsunami experts that it is a case of "when, not if" the region would be struck by the giant waves triggered by earthquakes and volcanic activity, Watson-Wright noted.

"Lurking beneath the azure waters that wash up on countless coastal and island beaches and vacation spots is the potential for a devastating tsunami," she said.  In addition to the 40 million people living in the region, she said 22 million people visit the Caribbean annually, making the region "extremely vulnerable to the impacts of tsunamis".  Since 1498 there have been at least 94 tsunamis with run-ups reported in the Caribbean region, causing 4,652 deaths, Watson-Wright said.  She said most of these tsunamis were associated with underwater, or what are called submarine earthquakes, although the Caribbean Sea region has all of the potential tsunami-generating sources, such as submarine earthquakes, sub-aerial or submarine landslides and volcano activity.  Scientists and disaster management officials have said that models predict a tsunami wiping out vast areas in several island nations where most people live in around capitals and low-lying coastal areas.  "Sound science-based tsunami inundation modelling has been performed for all of Puerto Rico and several localities in the French Antilles and Venezuela, which demonstrates real tsunami threats for this region," the UNESCO expert said.  She said the Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning System -- coordinated through UNESCO-IOC -- saved lives in that region following an 8.6-magnitude earthquake off northern Indonesia.  "Largely due to education programmes, Indonesians living in coastal communities were able to mobilise and safely move to higher ground. As soon as the threat of a tsunami had passed, the all clear was sounded," Watson-Wright said in a statement here. 

Despite the withdrawal of the United States from the UN body, which threatened to delay the introduction of an early warning system for the Caribbean, "emergency funds" were diverted to the project which is expected to be completed by 2014.  "We expect the system to be in place by 2014, with the US having adopted a phased approach to establish a Caribbean Tsunami Warning Centre located in Puerto Rico," she said.  Watson-Wright said that the installation of the Tsunami Early Warning System for the Caribbean was largely supported by the United States, among other countries, but lamented that following the vote of the General Conference to admit Palestine as a full member to UNESCO, "all funds were cut in adherence to US law.  "The loss would have seriously delayed this important project," she said.  Realising this, Watson-Wright said UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova assigned emergency funds to the Tsunami Early Warning System for the Caribbean earlier this year, "keeping us on track for our work."  But the UNESCO official said the absence of the Caribbean early warning system does not mean the region is unprotected, as it is covered on an interim basis by the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre.  Once implemented, she said the system in the Caribbean will enhance "our ability to evaluate data and ensure that timely information is passed on to authorities and most importantly the public, for the safety and security of all in the region".  The Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004 was one of the deadliest natural disasters in history, killing 230,000 people in 14 countries, mostly in Indonesia. Several coastal communities were inundated with waves as high as 30 metres (98 feet). - Jamaica Observer.

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: Unseasonably High Temperatures Hits Moscow - Record for April, Highest Since 1950!

Moscow sweltered in unseasonable heat on Sunday, with temperatures of nearly 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 Fahrenheit), a record for April since data collection began 130 years ago, authorities said.

"At 4:00 p.m. (1200 GMT), the temperature reached 28.6 degrees Celsius, an absolute record for the month of April," an official from the Russian capital's weather service told the Interfax news agency.   "The previous record for the month goes back to April 24, 1950, with 28 degrees," he added.  

The mercury had already climbed to 26.3 degrees on Saturday.   Several central and eastern European countries recorded unseasonably high temperatures on Saturday, with a record 32 degrees recorded in northern Austria. - Hurriyet Daily News.

EARTH CHANGES: Tornado Filmed Coming in Off the Irish Sea in Bray, Ireland!

An over water tornado has been reported off the coast of Bray,Co Wicklow, this morning. 

The weather phenomena, also known as a seaspout, occurs over a body of water and is connected to a cumuliform cloud formation.  They do not suck up water and the funnel cloud is water droplets formed by condensation.  Seaspout are often associated with active weather fronts and can appear at during thunder, lightening or strong winds.  Met Éireann said while it had no record of a tornado, the right conditions existed for one. - Irish Times.
WATCH: Waterspout Hits Bray Head.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Rare and Spectacular Tornado Touches Down in Southern France!

A tornado touched down in the countryside of southern France on Sunday, presenting a spectacular opportunity for camera-wielding witnesses.

Only minor damage was reported, the EarthSky website said on Monday. A French website, Meteorologic, called the tornado an F-1, implying highest winds of 73-112 mph (about 115 to 180 km/h).    The dust-laden funnel played beneath a thunderstorm near Toulouse, EarthSky said. This was confirmed by uploads of numerous videos posted Sunday to 

Weather observations from Toulouse available to showed thunderstorms in the area on late Sunday afternoon, local time.  Weather maps showed that, at the time, a strong storm was centered off northwest France and southwest England, with cold front trailing south over southern France near Toulouse.  Violent tornadoes are rare in France, EarthSky said. However, an Aug. 3, 2008, a twister tore through the town of Hautmont and several other towns, killing four people. - AccuWeather.
WATCH: Tornadoes in Southern France.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: The Wettest April Ever in the United Kingdom Since 1914 - 139 Flood Alerts; 35 New Flood Warnings; More Rains in the Forecast!

It is the wettest April on record, the Met Office says - and the rain is set to continue.  Despite the drought and the hosepipe ban, much of England and Wales was braced for flooding today as further heavy rain continued to wreak havoc across the country.  And, as if Britons needed confirmation of just how wet it has been, newly-released figures show the month so far has seen 'well above' average rainfall across the UK, with 97mm recorded - 140 per cent of the long-term monthly average.

Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, which was devastated by flooding in July 2007, was on alert with the Environment Agency setting up an incident room there along with two others in the Midlands and another in the Wessex area.  Stretches of the Severn were at risk of bursting their banks following weather which will be an unwelcome reminder of Tewkesbury's flash floods in 2007, which claimed the lives of three people and left 350,000 people in the county without a supply of clean drinking water.  The Environment Agency also warned of localised flooding across parts of southern and eastern England, the Midlands and Wales, with a total of 32 flood warnings and 160 flood alerts in place on its website today.  And while residents of the south east could bask in temperatures of up to 19 degrees today, more heavy outbreaks of rain will be moving up from France.  Met Office forecaster Tom Morgan said that so far April was the wettest since records officially began in 1914.  He said: 'So far it is the wettest April in our records. We are seeing well above average rainfall, 97mm in the UK on average which is 140 per cent of the long term average.  ''At the moment there is about 20 to 30mm and there is more rain to come. The wettest areas are in parts of the West Midlands, eastern Wales and south-west England.

''In 12 hours over the weekend we have seen 24mm in Liscombe in Somerset and 30mm in Hampstead in north London.  ''There is a strong north-eastern wind which is quite an unusual direction for this time of year.  ''It has led to some branches coming off trees and we have been some reports of disruption to roads from trees blocking them.  ''We have a yellow warning out for the east and west, which warns the public to be aware of the risks and disruption. ''Winds have been around 50 to 60mph. We have already seen gusts of 50mph in quite a few places in South West England and South West Cornwall has seen around 60mph while London is a high 40mph.  ''But overnight the winds eased across the South East and temperatures could reach 18 or 19 degrees. It will also dry up in London.  ''But into this evening thundery rain will push up from France into the South and Tuesday will again see heavy outbreaks of rain which will get to 20 or 30mm in most areas.  ''The rest of the week will more of a North and South divide, with the South remaining unsettled with some rain at times.  ''It will definitely be a week to take an umbrella out. It is typical for this month but it has been exceptionally unsettled.' - Daily Mail.

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.

Cape Town, South Africa - April, 2012.

Fife, Scotland - 25th of April, 2012.

Vitória, Espírito Santo, Brazil - 20th of April, 2012.

Tijuana, Mexico - 24th of April, 2012.

Rome, Italy - 28th of April, 2012.

London, England - 26th of April, 2012. 

Bogota, Colombia - 19th of April, 2012.

Pinebush, New York, United States - 25th of April, 2012.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The WIRED Eruption Update - Volcanoes Seen From Space for April 27, 2012!

Rounding up some volcano-related news from around the world, courtesy of Erik Klemetti and WIRED:

Popocatépetl, Mexico:
Much of the volcano news over the past week has been the rumblings at Popocatépetl outside of Mexico city. The NASA Earth Observatory has have a recent calvacade of images of the volcano, including the two seen above along with a newer, high resolution image of the volcano and a nighttime thermal image of the volcano that shows the hot, new material at the summit. Mexican authorities continue to prepare for evacuations if and when the activity at the volcano becomes more significant (along with dispelling rumors of catastrophe at Popo), but the volcano is already producing an impressive plume that has dusted the surrounding communities with ash and a new dome was spotted at the summit of the Popocatépetl.

Villarrica and Quetrupillan, Chile: It is always nice to get a two-for-the-price-of-one and in this false-color February 2003 shot, both Villarrica and nearby Quetrupillan show up prominently. Villarrica is a much more active volcano than Quetrupillan and in this image, the lava lake at the summit appears in red. The lava lake at Villarrica is still there, 9 years later - in fact, the volcano has been more active over the last few months, with small ash plumes and spattering from the lava lake. Quetrupillan, on the other hand, hasn't had an eruption since 1872 (which is also the only known historical eruption from the volcano).

Puyehue-Cordón Caulle, Chile: After nearly a year of activity, the eruption at Puyehue-Cordón Caulle seems to be over. No ash emissions have been spotted over the past few weeks and SERNAGEOMIN has lowered the alert status at the yellow after the ash ended and seismicity continues its downward trend, although the crater area has some noticeable incandescence at night. The lack of ash-and-steam plumes means we can get a view of the area around the volcano and where the deposits from the eruption has affected. Once you see the image (see above), you realize that it isn't even the zone adjacent to the volcano, but rather the ash spreads hundreds of kilometers to the east across Argentina. Some of this ash might make its way into the geologic record, but much of it is so thin that the ash will be washed away by surface processes. It just shows that even what seems like a large eruption might not leave a long-lasting widespread geologic legacy.

Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia: The elevated signs of activity continue at Colombia's Nevado del Ruiz with plumes reaching 900 meters above the crater and increased sulfur dioxide continues from the volcano. This image of Ruiz from 2010 shows the real threat from the volcano - the abundant snow and ice around the Arenas crater (the center of current activity) means lahars are likely the #1 volcanic hazard. El Tiempo has a report about farmers who live in the area around the volcano and they express concerns that sound familiar to many who see these volcanic crises unfold: "who will make sure my property and animals are safe without me?" These concerns could cause residents to lose valuable time when they need to evacuate.

Valley of 10,000 Smokes, Alaska: 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the largest eruption of the 20th century - the June 1912 eruption Novarupta in Alaska. The eruption actually involved multiple volcanoes, with eruption from Novarupta, a new volcano vent formed during the 1912 eruption that prompted the collapse of nearby Katmai. The eruption formed the famous Valley of 10,000 Smokes, where the pyroclastic flow deposit spilled to the northwest and southeast. The name comes from the abundant plumes of steam that came from the deposits years after the material was deposit as the heat and gases in the deposit escaped. The image above was taken in 1994, over 82 years after the eruption, and it is remarkable how much volcanic debris is still moving through the rivers in the area - look for more on the Valley of 10,000 Smokes anniversary later this spring.

Shiveluch and Kliuchevskoi, Russia: The Kamchatka peninsula is as busy as ever, especially its northernmost active volcano, Shiveluch. This week, the volcano produced a ~11 km / 36,000 foot ash plume - impressive to say the least - and is currently under Orange Alert status according to KVERT. An image taken on April 15, 2012 doesn't show anything close to the activity seen this week, but it does capture another nearby volcano, Kliuchevskoi.

Tambora, Indonesia: This International Space Station (ISS) image of the Tambora caldera in Indonesia just shows how impressive of a volcanic feature it is. The caldera is 6 kilometers across and the product of the 1815 eruption of Tambora. The volcano was rumbling towards the end of 2011, prompting an elevation of the alert status, but recently the alert status was lowered back to Green, meaning the activity was at background levels. This doesn't mean there isn't activity across Indonesia as this week saw activity at Lokon-Empung and Lamongan.

View all the images for each volcano HERE.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL MEMES: Breakthrough in the Search For Alien Life - Scientists Manufacture DNA-Like Molecule Which Can Transmit Genetic Material!

A new discovery from scientists has advanced the cause of those searching for extraterrestrial life. On Earth, all life is made up of DNA and RNA, molecules which can store and transmit genetic information.

Life: DNA is the major building block of life, but it is not the only possibility for organic material on other planets
But now biologists have confirmed that at least six other types of molecule can also support life, dramatically increasing the likelihood of life on other planets. A team from the University of Cambridge managed to manufacture synthetic XNAs (xeno-nucleic acids) which mimic some of the properties of DNA and RNA. It is crucial for organisms to be able to grow and reproduce in order for life to be sustainable, so they must have a way to transfer genetic material from one molecule to another. Although DNA and RNA are the only naturally occurring structures on Earth to have this ability, the new research proves that they are not the only possible paths to life. 'This unique ability of DNA and RNA to encode information can be implemented in other backbones,' Philipp Holliger, who led the research, told the Daily Galaxy.

The manufacture of the new XNAs was done by replacing the sugars which make up DNA with different varieties of sugars. A major breakthrough was the ability to transfer genetic material from DNA to synthetic XNA, then to a different strand of XNA via DNA again. It is in this transferral of material that there is the potential for genetic mutation, the process which sets off evolution. In principle, therefore, XNA could end up producing lifeforms as complex as those found here on Earth. The new discovery means that it is not necessary for DNA to be present on another planet for there to be a chance of life, a factor Mr Holliger believes makes that chance much more likely. 'I would be surprised if we find truly extraterrestrial life that was based on DNA and RNA,' he said. 'There might have been an XNA-world on a different planet.'
- Daily Mail.

MONUMENTAL SOLAR SYSTEM CHANGES: Scientists Stumped By Sun's Asymmetrically Reversing Magnetic Field?!

The Sun's magnetic field is reversing, South becoming North, as it does approximately every 11 years on a cycle, but this time, something even stranger is going on: The North is moving much faster than the South, and space scientists aren't sure why.

"Right now, there's an imbalance between the north and the south poles," Jonathan Cirtain, NASA's project scientist for a Japanese solar mission called Hinode, in a recent article on NASA's website. "The north is already in transition, well ahead of the south pole, and we don't understand why." Further, the asymmetrically reversing solar magnetic field could have an effect on Earth, resulting in increased solar flares and the accompanying bursts of radioactive particles called "coronal mass ejections," or CMEs, that can hit Earth and cause brilliant Northern Lights displays and problematic geomagnetic solar storms, according to NASA scientists. "This usually leads to a double peak in the sunspot number and CME rate as a function of time," Nat Gopalswamy, a solar scientist NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in an email to TPM.

Gopalswamy and his team studied the Sun's shifting magnetic field from microwave signatures obtained by Japanese radio telescopes and reported their findings in a paper in the Astrophysical Journal on April 9. Gopalswamy explained that while the Sun's shifting magnetic poles were first discovered in 1955, the rate at which the North and South wasn't found to be mismatched until the last few solar cycles. To be clear, the magnetic field doesn't just flip, but rather, the Sun essentially sheds its current magnetic field and regrows a new one every 11 years. Currently, the Northern portion of the Sun is further along on this process than its Southern counterpart. Further, the Sun's oddly shifting magnetic field affects the Solar System, though it isn't yet known just how. "Whether the north pole of the Sun has north or south polarity decides the entry point of galactic cosmic rays into the heliosphere," Gopalswamy told TPM. The heliosphere is an enormous magnetic bubble made up of the continual regular ejection of charged particles from the Sun. It stretches beyond Pluto. - Talking Points Memo.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: New Strombolian Activity at the Mount Etna Volcano - Possibly, the 26th Paroxysm Since 2011!

Since last night (28 April), new strombolian activity has been observed from Etna's New SE crater. With all likelihood, this announces another paroxysm to occur in the next few days. This would then be the 26th since 2011 when the series of eruptions began, or the 7th in 2012. - Volcano Discovery.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Giant Foot Long Cannibal Shrimp Invades Waters off the Gulf Coast - Federal Biologists Are Extremely Worried!

A big increase in reports of Asian tiger shrimp along the U.S. Southeast coast and in the Gulf of Mexico has federal biologists worried the species is encroaching on native species' territory. The shrimp are known to eat their smaller cousins, and sightings of the massive crustaceans have gone up tenfold in the last year, biologists say.

Behemoth: This black tiger shrimp was caught in 210 feet of water off the coast of Louisiana; an
invasion of giant cannibal shrimp into America's coastal waters appears to be getting worse
The black-and-white-striped shrimp can grow 13 inches long and weigh a quarter-pound, compared to eight inches and a bit over an ounce for domestic white, brown and pink shrimp. Scientists fear the tigers will bring disease and competition for native shrimp. Both, however, can be eaten by humans. ‘They’re supposed to be very good,’ Pam Fuller, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey told CNN. ‘But they can get very large, sorta like lobsters.’  The last U.S. tiger shrimp farm closed in Florida in 2004, without ever raising a successful crop, according to a USGS fact sheet about the species. Reports of tiger shrimp in U.S. waters rose from a few dozen a year - 21 in 2008, 47 in 2009 and 32 in 2010 - to 331 last year, from North Carolina to Texas. 'That's a big jump,' Ms Fuller told the Associated Press. And those are just the numbers reported to the government. 'I've had fishermen tell me they have quit bringing them in.

'They are seeing large numbers in their catch - multiples per night,' said Morris, who works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Centre for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort, North Carolina. The increase 'is the first indication that we may be undergoing a true invasion of Asian tiger shrimp,' he said. 'Nobody knows what happened to their stock. But they have not been commonly caught in the area where that fish farm was,' she said. She said hundreds were caught along South Carolina, Georgia and Florida after a storm hit a South Carolina shrimp farm in 1988, but none was reported in U.S. waters for the next 18 years. Six were reported in 2006, and four in 2007. To find out whether last year's increase was a one-time spike or the vanguard of an invasion, the agencies are asking people to keep a wide eye for tiger shrimp, to report where and when they find them, and bring back frozen tiger shrimp to help learn where they're coming from.
- Daily Mail.

EXTREME WEATHER: Drought Creating Severely Dry Conditions Across Florida - Driest Winter in 16 Counties Since 1915!

How dry we are.  The entire state of Florida was classified as suffering from drought conditions, as of last week. The rain that fell over the weekend did little to help, according to Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service.

Severe drought ground cracks northern Everglades.
What's needed is more — a lot more.  "A tropical storm without the wind that gives us a nice 10 inches of rain around the state would do wonders," Karels said.  The drought now plaguing Florida has been growing since July 2010, said Karels, whose agency keeps tabs on the state's wildfire potential. Some parts of the state have fallen so far below their normal average rainfall that the deficit has hit 30 inches, he said.  Normally Florida's dry season runs from October to May, said state meteorologist Amy Godsey. But without any heavy rainfall from tropical storms last year, the dry season started earlier, she said, and even the winter rainfall was below average, thanks to the phenomenon known as La Niña, which is driven by colder than usual Pacific Ocean temperatures. 

In the 16 counties covered by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, this has been the 11th driest winter since records started being kept in 1915.  As a result of all that dry weather, Karels said, "you can hardly find a swamp around the state that's wet, and a lot of the lakes have gone dry." His agency has been tracking fires in Polk and Brevard counties and in the Panhandle, he said, and some counties have already banned all burning.  Swiftmud's board has imposed once-a-week watering restrictions on Hernando and Citrus counties and other areas north of Tampa Bay, and will likely extend those same restrictions to Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties soon.  No relief is likely in the next month, according to Godsey. But La Niña has weakened, she said, and once June begins — bringing with it the traditional start of Florida's hurricane season — the rains are likely to return. - Tampa Bay Times.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Thar She Blows - Amateurs Photograph Incoming Comet!

Astronomy is one of the few sciences that allows amateur practitioners to actively take part in real research projects -- be it monitoring planetary atmospheres or studying distant galaxies. Over recent years, the advance in technology has led to the availability of research-grade telescopes across the Internet such as the Faulkes telescopes in Hawaii and Siding Spring (Australia). It was with these instruments that a team of amateur astronomers have been the first to re-image Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it makes its latest dive toward the inner solar system.

The comet, originally discovered in 1969 by Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko, orbits the sun once every six and a half years. The European Rosetta mission is currently en route to the comet and, in 2014, the spacecraft will have a close encounter with the "dirty snowball," dropping a small lander onto its icy surface. At a recent conference for the Rosetta mission with both professional and amateur astronomers, Faulkes Telescope Pro-Am Program Manager Nick Howes put forward a detailed plan for long-term observations of the comet, using the 2-meter Faulkes telescopes. "After attending a hugely successful meeting with representative of many major professional telescopes and the European Space Agency (ESA), our proposal to provide ground support for the ESA Rosetta mission was very well received," Howes told Discovery News. "We'd heard that the VLT and other large professional observatories had not been able to image the comet, but we'd already put forward a detailed proposal which included attempting to image it from April 2012, when the magnitude was estimated between 23-24."

Despite some uncertainty, Howes' reputation for pushing the Faulkes telescopes to their limits convinced the professionals that it was possible and it wasn't long before British Astronomical Association member Richard Miles managed to capture the comet on April 19, 2012. Following the initial discovery, Howes' team in Italy, Giovanni Sostero and Ernesto Guido managed to get the confirmation image of the comet on April 25.
The team now plan to work with schools and other amateur astronomers to obtain follow-up observations in order to refine the comet's orbit, helping ESA to calculate orbits and trajectories for the Rosetta mission. Sarah Roberts, Education Director for Faulkes Telescopes, explains: "We're now hoping to work with the wider amateur community over the coming years, and at this time, get schools and students imaging the comet as much as possible, as the data is scientifically valuable, and will probably lead to some research papers from the pro-am community. It's a remarkable achievement from our 'amateur' teams," said Paul Roche, Faulkes Telescope Director. "We held back on any announcement of the first capture, as the minor planet center usually like to have more than one observation before they confirm a comet recovery, but to find that the images taken by our telescopes have proved yet again what amateurs can do, is quite remarkable. 'Amateurs' is such a misnomer in these instances as was evidenced from the reception and comments made by the professional community at the Rosetta conference." - Discovery News.