Thursday, May 10, 2012

WORLD WAR III: Most Massive Show of Force in the Countdown to Armageddon - Over 12,000 Soldiers and 17 Nations to Join US-led Military Drill Near Syria Border!

12000 soldiers from 17 countries carry out a US-led joint military exercise in Jordan amid the ongoing the crisis in Syria. ‘It has nothing to do with Syria. [The timing] is just a coincidence,’ a top US official says.

The United States military said yesterday that 12,000 soldiers from 17 countries would be taking part in this month’s military exercises in Jordan, designed to enhance their ability to meet “security challenges.”  Special action troops, naval and air force units from countries including Turkey, France and Saudi Arabia will carry out the joint training operations, according to the Voice of Russia. “The tactical execution of the Eager Lion 2012 exercises will officially start on May 15,” Major Robert Bockholt, public affairs officer at Special Operations Command Central, told Agence France-Presse.  “Eager Lion is an annual, multi-national exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships through a joint, entire-government, multinational approach, integrating all instruments of national power to meet current and future complex national security challenges. … We acknowledge the right of each participating country to announce their participation in the exercise on their own terms,”

Bockholt said. In April, the U.S. Department of Defense said the exercise would be held from May 7 to May 28. Bockholt said participants had been gathering in Jordan from May 7, to prepare for the land, sea and air exercises, which will be held in “various training locations.” “In all, there are more than 12,000 service members participating in the exercise,” he said. Some local media reports have speculated that the war games are linked to the unrest in neighboring Syria, saying the troops were seeking to secure Jordan’s border. “The execution of Eager Lion 2012 is not connected to any real-world event. It has nothing to do with Syria. It is just a coincidence,”  Bockholt said. The Saudi Defense Ministry also insists that the joint large-scale military maneuvers of the U.S.-Arab allies are in no way linked to the situation in Syria or Iran.  The war games come as Jordan’s Special Operations Forces Exhibition is under way, displaying new technologies by defense manufacturers around the world.  Jordan is a major beneficiary of U.S. military and economic aid, with Washington granting Amman $2.4 billion in the past five years, according to official figures. - Hurriyet Daily News.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Weekly Volcanic Activity Report - New Activities and Unrest From May 02nd - 08th, For Batu Tara, Cleveland, Pago, Popocatepetl and Semeru!

The following constitutes the new activity and unrest report from the Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, a cooperative project between the Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program and the US Geological Survey's Volcano Hazards Program.

Batu Tara.
BATU TARA Komba Island (Indonesia) 7.792°S, 123.579°E; summit elev. 748 m
Based on analyses of satellite imagery, the Darwin VAAC reported that during 2-4 May ash plumes from Batu Tara rose to an altitude of 2.4 km (8,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted 37 km NW. The small isolated island of Batu Tara in the Flores Sea about 50 km north of Lembata (formerly Lomblen) Island contains a scarp on the eastern side similar to the Sciara del Fuoco of Italy's Stromboli volcano. Vegetation covers the flanks of Batu Tara to within 50 m of the 748-m-high summit. Batu Tara lies north of the main volcanic arc and is noted for its potassic leucite-bearing basanitic and tephritic rocks. The first historical eruption from Batu Tara, during 1847-52, produced explosions and a lava flow. Map

CLEVELAND Chuginadak Island 52.825°N, 169.944°W; summit elev. 1730 m
Based on analyses of satellite images, AVO reported on 4 May that the small lava dome recently emplaced in Cleveland's summit crater had been destroyed late in the previous week, but the explosion was too small to be detected by distant infrasound and seismic networks. A small new dome was extruded following the explosion and was the fifth dome to be observed in this eruptive episode which began in July 2011. During 4-5 May two small explosions were detected. No ash was observed with the mostly-cloudy conditions. Satellite observations were obscured by clouds during 6-8 May. Map

PAGO New Britain 5.58°S, 150.52°E; summit elev. 742 m
Based on analyses of satellite imagery, the Darwin VAAC reported that ash-and-steam plumes from Pago rose to an altitude of 13.7 km (45,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted 75 km NE. Pago is a young post-caldera cone that was constructed within the 5.5 x 7.5 km Witori caldera. Extensive pyroclastic-flow deposits are associated with formation of the caldera about 3,300 years ago. The gently sloping outer flanks of Witori volcano consist primarily of dacitic pyroclastic-flow and airfall deposits produced during a series of five major explosive eruptions from about 5,600 to 1,200 years ago. The Buru caldera, which may have formed around the same time, cuts the SW flank of Witori volcano. The post-caldera cone of Witori, Mount Pago, may have formed less than 350 years ago and has grown to a height above that of the Witori caldera rim. A series of nine dacitic lava flows from Pago covers much of the caldera floor. The youngest of these was erupted during the 20th century and banks against the eastern caldera wall. Map

POPOCATEPETL México 19.023°N, 98.622°W; summit elev. 5426 m
CENAPRED reported that during 2-3 May activity at Popocatépetl increased significantly. Spasmodic tremor was detected along with a dense and continuous plume of gas and ash that drifted W, NW, and NNE. Ash fell in multiple areas, including Amecameca (20 km NW), Atlautla, Ozumba (18 km W), Ecatzingo (15 km SW), Chalco (35 km NW), and some parts of SE México City (70 km NW). On 3 May gas-and-ash plumes rose 1.5 km above the crater and drifted W and NE. Incandescent fragments ejected from the crater landed on the flanks as far as 800 m away. Explosion-generated gas-and-ash plumes the next day rose 2.5 km above the crater and drifted NW. Spasmodic tremor was detected along with a dense and continuous plume of gas and ash that drifted WNW. Later that day gas-and-ash plumes rose 1 km. During 5-6 May gas-and-ash plumes rose 1.5 km above the crater and drifted N, NE, and E. Light ashfall was reported in Atlixco (25 km SE), San Juan Tianguismanalco (22 km SE), Tochimilco (16 km SSE), San Pedro Benito Juárez (10 km SE), and San Nicolás de los Ranchos (16 km ENE). During 5-7 May incandescent fragments ejected from the crater landed on the flanks as far as 500 m away. A gas-and-ash plume drifted ESE on 7 May. The next day activity remained high; seismic events were accompanied by dense and continuous plumes of steam, gas, and ash that drifted mainly ESE. The Alert Level remained at Yellow Phase Three. Map

SEMERU Eastern Java (Indonesia) 8.108°S, 112.92°E; summit elev. 3676 m
CVGHM reported that during 1-29 February multiple pyroclastic flows from Semeru traveled 500 and 2,500 m into the Besuk Kembar and Besuk Kobokan rivers (on the S flank), respectively. During 1 February-30 April dense gray-to-white plumes rose 100-500 m above Jongring Seloko crater and drifted W and N. Incandescence was visible up to 50 m above the crater during 1 February-31 March. Seismicity decreased from March to April. Observations indicated that the lava dome grew in April. On 2 May CVGHM lowered the Alert Level to 2 (on a scale of 1-4) and reminded the public not to approach the crater within a 4-km radius. Map

For the complete list of ongoing volcanic activity and additional geological summary, click HERE or select the specific volcano name below for additional details:

ONGOING ACTIVITY:  Dukono, Halmahera | Karymsky, Eastern Kamchatka (Russia) | Kilauea, Hawaii (USA) | Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia | Sakura-jima, Kyushu | Shiveluch, Central Kamchatka (Russia) | Soufrière Hills, Montserrat | Tungurahua, Ecuador

TERMINATOR NOW: The Rise of the Machines - U.S. Army Wants to Give War Robots More Power to "Make Their Own Decisions"?!

Armies of robots including dog-like creatures walking on four legs and huge lumbering trucks are the stuff of science fiction - specifically, bleak films such as The Terminator series.  But the U.S. military not only wants more robots - it wants more 'autonomous' robots, robots free to make their own decisions on the battlefield. 

A new robot is described as 'like a dog' that follows troops on the battlefield - and future models will use technologies such as laser imaging to build their own picture of the world.  Ten years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq have put a spotlight on the growing use of unmanned systems in the skies over the battlefield, from the high-flying Global Hawk to the lethal Predator aircraft and the hand-launched Raven.  But on the ground, thousands of small, remotely operated robots also have proven their value in dealing with roadside bombs, a lethal threat to U.S. troops in both wars.  Of more than 6,000 robots deployed, about 750 have been destroyed in action  This has saved at least that many human lives, the Pentagon's Robotics Systems Joint Program Office estimates.  Only now is robotics research nearing the stage that the military may soon be able to deploy large ground vehicles capable of performing tasks on their own with little human involvement.  Robotics scientists  The results, among other things, could be more saved lives, less wear and tear on the troops, and reduced fuel consumption.  Full autonomy, engineers say, is still years away. 

Oshkosh  The unattended steering wheel on the 15-ton military truck jerked sharply back and forth as the vehicle's huge tires bounced down a rain-scarred ravine through mounds of mine rubble on a rugged hillside near Pittsburgh.  Oshkosh Corp engineer Noah Zych, perched in the driver's seat, kept his hands in his lap and away from the gyrating wheel as the vehicle reached the bottom of the slope and slammed into a puddle, coating the windshield in a blinding sheet of mud.  As the truck growled up another rise and started back down again, Zych reached up and flicked a wiper switch to brush away the slurry, then put his hands back in his lap.  ‘We haven't automated those yet,’ he explained, referring to the windshield wipers, as the robotic truck reached the bottom of the hill and executed a perfect hairpin turn.  ‘The ground domain is much, much tougher than the air domain because it's so dynamic,’ said Myron Mills, who has worked on both aerial and ground robotic systems and now manages an autonomous vehicle program for Maryland-headquartered Lockheed Martin Corp.  Mills said autonomous ground systems face a series of challenges such as dust, fog and debris - as well as avoiding civilians and troops.  A path may be passable one moment and littered with obstacles a half hour later due to battle damage.  ‘It's just a very, very tough and chaotic environment,’ Mills said. ‘The hardest thing to deal with has been figuring out how to make the system usable for the soldiers and be able to cope with the chaotic environment.’ 

Enough progress has been made that Lockheed's Squad Mission Support System, a 5,000-pound (2,268 kg) vehicle designed to carry backpacks and other gear for overloaded foot soldiers, is now being tested in Afghanistan.  Wisconsin-based Oshkosh's unmanned vehicle system, which would allow one person to control several heavy cargo trucks, has been assessed by U.S. Marine Corps drivers in the United States and is in the final stages of concept development.  A four-legged walking robot designed to carry loads for combat foot patrols - the Legged Squad Support System, or LS3 - is due to undergo testing and assessment with troops toward the end of the year, developers at Massachusetts-based Boston Dynamics said.  The potential payoffs could be huge.  Robotic systems could ‘radically alter the balance’ among the variables that are driving the high cost of combat vehicles, according to a report for the Pentagon last year by the nonprofit Rand Corporation.  Taking drivers out of the trucks would reduce the need for thick armor plating that increases weight, boosts the need for ever more powerful engines and ratchets up fuel consumption in places like Afghanistan, where the cost of delivering petroleum can run as high as $400 per gallon, the Rand report said. - Daily Mail.

WATCH: Petman - The Humanoid Robot.

WATCH: The "Cheetah" robot.

WORLD WAR III & THE GATHERING OF ARMIES: South China Sea Dispute Escalates - Chinese Media Warns of War With the Philippines!

Territorial rivalry has escalated throughout the seas around China as regional and international navies seek to establish rights of passage against an expanding Chinese presence. 

Chinese and Philippine vessels have been locked in a high seas stand-off since the PLA Navy prevented a Philippine warship from arresting crews of Chinese fishing boats near the Scarborough Shoal on April 8.  Both countries claim the fish rich shoal as their own and protests by Philippine fishermen over their loss of livelihood have drawn mass support in the south-east Asian country.  China International Travel Service, the state-owned tourism operator, yesterday suspended ties with the Philippines after organisers announced plans to demonstrate outside Chinese embassy buildings and property today.  Beijing also issued a travel advisory warning its citizens to keep a low profile. "Avoid going out at all if possible, and if not, to avoid going out alone," it said. "If you come across any demonstrations, leave the area, do not stay to watch."  Reports in Japan said five Chinese warships – including two guided missile destroyers, two frigates and a amphibious landing ship – had passed through waters close to Okinawa moving to Philippine reefs. 

As the dispute escalated, Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, met senators in a push to ratify a treaty that would bolster legal backing for US naval patrols in dispute regions such as the South China Sea.  Seizing on warnings of the dangers of escalating "gunboat diplomacy" Mr Panetta called on the senate to ratify the Laws of the Sea, a UN treaty that has been hindered by procedural disputes.  "By moving off the sidelines and leading the discussion, we would be able to influence those treaty bodies that develop and interpret the Law of the Sea," he said. "In that way, we would ensure that our rights are not whittled away by the excessive claims and erroneous interpretations of others."  American officials also announced the deployment of Littoral Combat Ships, a new generation of vessels that would allow the US much more extensive coverage of Asian sea lanes including the Strait of Malacca, as well as areas disputed by China.  The first of the shallow-draft ships, Freedom would be deployed to operate from Singapore for 10 months. - Telegraph.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 3.7 Earthquake Rattles East Texas!

Residents in Shelby County and Nacogdoches County got a shaking surprise Thursday morning when a 3.7 earthquake hit southwest of Timpson.

Kyle Adkison shows the brick damage the earthquake caused on his house.
The U.S. Geological Society reports the earthquake hit around 10:15 a.m. at a depth of 3.1 miles below the Earth's surface.  According to Jason Hansford, senior meteorologist at the National Weather Center in Shreveport, no damage has been reported in the area.  Hansford said he did not know how an earthquake could have hit the area, as there are no significant fault lines.  "It could be fracking issues," he said. "It's just a theory, but we don't have any significant fault lines."  Hansford said numerous reports have come from residents in the counties of Nacogdoches, Panola and Shelby County. The USGS is fielding reports of residents feeling the temblor in Garrison, Timpson, Center, Nacogdoches and Tenaha.  Garrison resident said the earthquake caused damage to bricks at his house on Fern Street.  Nacogdoches County resident Fran Rosenberger said she was sitting at her table on County Road 816 when the earthquake hit. She said her house moved from north to south and lasted about 10 seconds. Nothing fell off of her wall, she said.  USGS reports the earthquake was centered about one mile west of Timpson. 

According to Nacogdoches Police spokesman Sgt. Greg Sowell, various crews are checking the structural integrity of bridges on state, federal and county roads. Officials with Union Pacific Railroad are checking railroad tracks and bridges in the area. The National Resource Conservation is sending officials from Waco to check the dam at Lake Naconiche.  The Texas State Historical Association cites a 80-kilometer segment of the Mount Enterprise fault system which caused earthquakes in 1891 and 1981, in Rusk and Center and Jacksonville, respectively.  Another series of moderate earthquakes hit Sabine County on April 23, 1964. According to the USGS, Hemphill was near the epicenter of the 4.4 magnitude earthquake. Aftershocks were reported in Pineland, Hemphill, and Milam. Cracked wallpaper and plaster were the only damage reported. More tremors, reaching 4.2 in magnitude, were reported in May, June, and August of that year.  In 1957, several shocks were reported at 4.7 in magnitude in the Gladewater area in Northeast Texas. - KSLA.

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: United States Sees Warmest 12 Months on Record - 15,000 Records Broken in March; 3 Degrees Above Average From April to May!

The previous 12 months were the warmest in the U.S. since record keeping began in 1895, government scientists reported Tuesday, with the period averaging 55.7 degrees Fahrenheit — nearly three degrees warmer than the average May-April.

"We were expecting the 12-month period to be warm, but I was somewhat surprised to see it record warm," lead researcher Jake Crouch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told What's more, that 12-month record could be broken soon if this month posts above average warmth. That's because May 2011 was abnormally cool, so it actually weighed down the earlier 12-month average, Crouch said. "Depending on how May 2012 turns out, the June 2011-May 2012 period will likely surpass the 12-month record that we just broke," added Crouch, who authored the monthly State of the Climate Report for NOAA. "The big story moving forward," he said, could be "lack of precipitation and the development of drought going into summer and the agricultural growing season. Some of the regions we are keeping an eye on: the Southeast, the Southern Rockies and Southern Plains, and the Northeast."
Highlights from the report:
  • 12-month temps: Between May 2011 and April 2012 temperatures were 2.8 degrees above average, topping the earlier record of 2.7 degrees warmer set in November 1999 to October 2000. All 10 warmest consecutive 12 months have been since 1999. 
  • Cities with record warmth in January-April include: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Philadelphia, Tampa and Washington.
  • April temps: Last month was the third warmest April on record at 55 degrees — 3.6 degrees above average.
The monthly report follows one issued for March that found 15,000 records were broken in what became the warmest March on record. NOAA does not attribute the warmer temperatures solely to man-made global warming since other, natural factors influence weather as well. Instead, it notes that that the warmth is indicative of what one would expect with climate change. - MSNBC.
WATCH: 12-month stretch ending in April is warmest on record, NOAA says.

WORLD WAR III: The Countdown to Armageddon - Netanyahu's Alliance With Mofaz is Seen as the Formation of a "War Government" Against Iran!

Newspapers across the Arab world could not ignore Israel's political drama and the declaration of a unity government on Tuesday. Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz were described as conniving war mongers and corrupt politicians as editorials declared war was looming. 

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (l.) and Kadima party leader Shaul Mofaz shake hands before
holding a joint press conference announcing the new coalition government in Jerusalem, Tuesday, May 8.
"Netanyahu is forming a war government," al-Quds al-Arabi's headline cried. "No one knows what goes on through the mind of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on many regional issues these days. One can predict that this man is scheming and planning wars after murdering the peace process with the settlement policy in the occupied Arab territories," the London-based paper said. The UAE paper al-Bayan printed an editorial titled "A government challenges peace." The headline in Saudi Arabia's al-Madina paper read: "Israel prepares for war."

The paper analyzed Netanyahu as a statesman and ruled he was "concerned about his status in Israeli history and wants to be remembered as the leader who destroyed the Iranian nuclear program and solidified Israel's nuclear monopoly in the region." Lebanon's popular as-Safir newspaper chose to address the political drama from a different perspective. Titled "Israeli recklessness," its editorial explained that the "news (of early elections) turned out to be random fraud but it captured the attention of the entire world and became the focus of analyses and estimates that war is looming."     "The country once described as the only democracy in the Middle East is slowly emerging to be nothing more than a yard-sale, not just because some of its Arab neighbors are trying to establish true democratic models but because its current statesmen are behaving like crime bosses."
- YNET News.
WATCH: Benjamin Netanyahu's political coup.

EXTREME WEATHER: Huge Dust Storm/Tornado Swallows Iowa College Campus?!

Watch the following video of a huge dust cloud that approaches and eventually covers an Iowa college campus on Friday. This video was captured on the campus of Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and posted on YouTube. The video's caption said the cloud was caused by an almost fully formed tornado, and caused a scare on campus. - KMBC.
WATCH: Strange Iowa dust storm.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Earliest Thunderstorm in 28 Years in Fairbanks, Alaska?!

Thunderstorms fired off ahead of schedule in the immediate Fairbanks area over this past weekend.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Fairbanks, Alaska, a thunderstorm, lasting about 20 minutes or so, occurred in the Fairbanks Basin Saturday evening, May 5, 2012.

While not the earliest thunderstorm on record for the observation site at the airport, it is more common for thunderstorms to form over the mountains which rim the area to the northwest, north and northeast this early in the season. The last time there was a thunderstorm so early in the basin was May 3, 1984. According to Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews, "Thunderstorms, which become more common later in May, reach their peak in June into early July in the region." Sometimes the storms bring little or no rain but can cause frequent lightning strikes, which in turn can start wildfires. "Wetter conditions, mostly higher humidity levels, usually follow during the balance of July and August lowering the risk of wildfires somewhat," Andrews said.

Despite the early thunderstorm activity, temperatures averaged close to normal over the weekend in the Fairbanks area with highs in the middle 50s and lows in the lower 30s. Bitter cold affected much of Alaska during January, when temperatures averaged 10 to 20 degrees below average values. The month-by-month temperature averages have flip-flopped from extreme warm to extreme cold since November 2011. "Big temperature swings are not uncommon for the Fairbanks area," Andrews said. "The swings have to do with the oscillating flow of air from the frigid Arctic, the relatively mild Pacific Ocean and the tricks mountain ranges play on the atmosphere around the region," he added. - Accu Weather.

MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: Peru Marine Animal Die-Offs A Herald of El Nino?

Hundreds of birds and dolphins have been washing up dead along the Peru coast, and this has government officials looking for causes.  The mass deaths have taken place against the backdrop of oceanic warming in the region.  At least 1,200 birds, mostly pelicans, have been found dead in recent weeks along a stretch of Pacific coast in northern Peru, the Reuters website said on Sunday. 

Anomalously warm sea-surface temperatures are shown over the eastern Pacific Ocean on May 7, 2012.
Recent months have also seen an estimated 800 dolphins die in the same area, Reuters said.  Officials have recommended that people keep away from the beaches.  According to the agricultural ministry, preliminary tests on some dead pelicans indicate malnourishment may be a factor.  "We're starting from the hypothesis that it's because the birds are young and unable to find enough food for themselves, and also because the sea temperature has risen and anchovies have moved elsewhere," Reuters quoted Deputy Agriculture Minister Juan Rheineck as saying.  A mass die off of pelicans happened along the northern Peru coast in 1997 at a time when the "El Nino" warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean was under way. This mass death was attributed to the lack of anchovies, a key link in the region's marine food chain. 

Although "El Nino" has not happened officially since early 2010, significant changes to sea-surface temperatures have been happening since the start of 2012.  After months of "La Nina", El Nino's opposite, the equatorial Pacific Ocean has returned to "neutral" status, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) website said on Monday. The CPC report also cited current above-average sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean, which borders Peru and northern South America.  A NOAA analysis of sea-surface temperatures, posted on May 3, showed readings about 2 to 6 degrees F above normal off the northern half of Peru, along with Ecuador and the Galapagos, Colombia and Panama.  NOAA/CPC statistical forecasts have called for "neutral" status through the Northern Hemisphere summer followed by nearly equal odds of "El Nino" versus neutral conditions during the fall and winter.  Long-range forecasters at expect a shift to El Nino status by the end of summer. - Accu Weather.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Popocatepetl Volcano Shuts Down Mexico's Puebla International Airport!

An ash cloud from the Popocatepetl volcano on Thursday forced the suspension of flights to and from the international airport of Puebla, a major city southeast of Mexico City. 

Popocatepetl volcano spews clouds of ash and steam high into the air.
The government of Puebla state, of which the city is the capital, said local authorities had ordered the airport to close and would review the situation again around midday.  Mexico last month raised the alert level for the volcano Popocatepetl, which lies some 50 miles (80 km) southeast of the capital, after it began pumping out red-hot fragments of rock and ash.

The country has been closely monitoring the 5,450 meter (17,900 foot) volcano, which has prompted school classes in nearby villages to be suspended on days of higher activity.  The airport in Puebla also closed for several hours late on Tuesday due to the concentration of ash billowing out of Popocatepetl. German carmaker Volkswagen's Mexican operations are based in Puebla. - Reuters.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Scientists Discover New Site of Potential Instability in West Antarctic Ice Sheet - Region at Risk of Collapse is Nearly the Size of New Jersey!

Using ice-penetrating radar instruments flown on aircraft, a team of scientists from the U.S. and U.K. have uncovered a previously unknown sub-glacial basin nearly the size of New Jersey beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) near the Weddell Sea. The location, shape and texture of the mile-deep basin suggest that this region of the ice sheet is at a greater risk of collapse than previously thought.

Left Image: This radar image of bedrock elevation reveals the new sub-glacial basin (purple and blue regions).
The basin is divided into two components (A and B) and lies just inland of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet's
grounding line (black line), where streams of ice flowing toward the Weddell Sea begin to float.
Right Image
: White box indicates location of left image. Pine Island Glacier (PIG) and Thwaites Glacier
- two parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet previously studied by the U.S. and U.K. researchers
- drain into the Amundsen Sea.
Team members at The University of Texas at Austin compared data about the newly discovered basin to data they previously collected from other parts of the WAIS that also appear highly vulnerable, including Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier. Although the amount of ice stored in the new basin is less than the ice stored in previously studied areas, it might be closer to a tipping point. "If we were to invent a set of conditions conducive to retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, this would be it," said Don Blankenship, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics and co-author on the new paper. "With its smooth bed that slopes steeply toward the interior, we could find no other region in West Antarctica more poised for change than this newly discovered basin at the head of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf. The only saving grace is that losing the ice over this new basin would only raise sea level by a small percentage of the several meters that would result if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet destabilized."

The study's co-authors also included Duncan Young, research scientist associate at the Institute for Geophysics. The study, published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, was carried out in a collaboration led by the University of Edinburgh with the British Antarctic Survey and the Universities of Aberdeen, Exeter and York, as well as The University of Texas at Austin. "This is a significant discovery in a region of Antarctica that at present we know little about," said Professor Martin Siegert of the University of Edinburgh, who led the project. "The area is on the brink of change, but it is impossible to predict what the impact of this change might be without further work enabling better understanding of how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet behaves."  The seaward edge of the newly discovered basin lies just inland of the ice sheet's grounding line, where streams of ice flowing toward the sea begin to float.

Two features of the basin, which is entirely below sea level, are particularly worrisome to scientists: First, like a cereal bowl, its edges slope down steeply. If the grounding line begins to retreat upstream, seawater will replace it and more ice will begin to float. The study's authors predict that this positive feedback mechanism would sustain retreat of the ice sheet until eventually all of the ice filling the basin goes afloat. Second, the bed of the basin on which the ice rests is smooth. There are few big bumps, or "pinning points," to hold back sliding ice. The newly discovered basin covers 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles), nearly the size of New Jersey, and is well below sea level, nearly 2 kilometers (about 1.2 miles) deep in places. In a related paper published simultaneously in the journal Nature, computer models reveal that the Weddell Sea region may experience warmer ocean conditions at the end of the 21st century, which could provide the trigger for ice sheet change. - University of Texas.

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: The Japan Monster Tornado - Temperature Differences and Unstable Spawned Supercell Storm?!

The deadly tornado that hit a residential area in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Sunday is believed to have been triggered by a temperature difference of more than 40 C between a high-altitude cold air mass and warm moist air near the ground, which developed a cumulonimbus cloud and a rotating ascending air current.

Japan Meteorological Agency radars detected a cumulonimbus cloud 10 to 20 kilometers in diameter, suggesting that a so-called supercell thundercloud developed around the time of the incident. Supercell clouds, cumulonimbus clouds several times bigger than usual, tend to trigger powerful tornadoes. According to the agency, a cold air mass with temperatures lower than minus 21 C moved over Japan on Sunday at an altitude of about 5,500 meters, while warm humid air moved from the south toward a low-pressure area over the Sea of Japan. At about 1pm, when the tornado hit Tsukuba, the surface temperature of the city was 25.6 C, higher than the average high of 21.3 C in the area. Since about a month ago, an upper polar front jet stream has been meandering around the Japanese archipelago.  As a result, unstable conditions that invite cold air are repeatedly created every seven to 10 days.

The "bomb low pressure" that brought heavy rains and winds in early April also was caused by these unstable conditions. The intensity of tornadoes is rated by the internationally adapted Fujita-Pearson Tornado Scale, or F-Scale. The six-level scale ranges from F0 tornadoes of 61 kph to 115 kph to F5 tornadoes of 421 kph to 511 kph. The most powerful tornado recorded in Japan was an F3 tornado, in which houses were blown down and train cars were turned over. Prof. Fumiaki Kobayashi of the National Defense Academy of Japan's Earth and Ocean Sciences Department said: "In general, Sunday's tornado can be categorized as an F2 twister with winds of more than 50 meters per second [180 kph]. But in places, winds may have been as powerful as an F3 [252 to 331 kph]." - Asia One.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Rare Twin Waterspouts Seen Over Louisiana Waters - Twisters Damaged Homes and Cut Power Across Grand Isle!

A scientist caught the birth of rare twin waterspouts on camera as the twisters churned to life over Louisiana waters yesterday (May 9). One of the powerful and unusually long-lived twisters damaged homes and cut power as it barreled across Grand Isle, a long, narrow island along the southeastern leg of the state's Gulf coastline.

The tornadoes formed at the front edge of a powerful storm system that moved across the region yesterday afternoon. Tim Osborn, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coast Survey was just finishing up a meeting on Grand Isle when he spied a man out the window do a double-take and point to the skies. "He came running in and said, 'There's a waterspout out there!'" Osborn told OurAmazingPlanet. So Osborn grabbed his camera and started snapping, catching the birth of not one, but two waterspouts as they spun up over waters just north of the island. "You could clearly see them forming in the sky," he said, "and I was able to get them on the camera as they were starting to drop." Two spinning vortexes formed in the clouds and dropped lower and lower, until they reached the waters below, kicking up spray as they moved in formation toward the island. Osborn said he immediately called colleagues at the National Weather Service, who told him they'd been tracking the storm system. Less than 30 seconds later, tornado sirens began to wail. Osborn said that, in comparison to waterspouts he's seen in the past, these twisters were "really surprising. They not only grew in size, they traveled in tandem, and lasted longer than most - about 10 or 15 minutes."

The most common type of waterspout, called a fair-weather waterspout, is a short-lived affair that forms in the water itself and climbs skyward. They're typically far smaller and less dangerous than the waterspouts pictured above, known as tornadic waterspouts. These twisters can stay intact as they move over land, as Osborn observed, and sometimes wreak havoc as they do. "The one on the right was actually coming right at us," he said. "As it got closer, you could see that eye wall rotating, and rotating fast, and you could hear it ripping across the water." Osborn - and the Grand Isle residents who let him stand on their deck to take his pictures - were ready to head to the reinforced storeroom that was just a stairwell away at a moment's notice. One of the twisters plowed across the island, cutting power lines, ripping the roof from one home and battering seven others, and then continued out to the Gulf of Mexico. It left a swath of damage a quarter-mile long and 400 feet (122 meters) across, according to the National Weather Service. Power was restored about two hours after the storm hit, according to local media, and there are no reports of injuries. "The early detection, the sounding of the alarm, and police being out there with sirens was a very important effort that alerted people we had severe weather," Osborn said. "I believe that really was helpful in making sure people were aware, and that nobody got hurt." - Our Amazing Planet.