Thursday, May 17, 2012

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 6.2 Earthquake Strikes Off the Coast of Aisen, Chile!

A strong 6.2-magnitude earthquake has struck off Chile's southern coast, but the authorities say it wasn't felt on land and discounted the possibility of a tsunami.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake's epicenter was 336 miles (542 kilometers) west-southwest of Castro, Los Lagos. It struck Thursday evening local time off the coast of the Aysen region and at depth of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers).
Aysen Gov. Pilar Cuevas said that the quake "was not felt in Coyhaique or Puerto Aysen and the population remains calm." The Interior Ministry Emergency Office said no damages to infrastructure were reported.
Chile's Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service said the characteristics of the quake would not generate the conditions for a tsunami off the coasts of Chile. - USA Today.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL MEMES: "Men in Black" Moment - Will Smith's Son Ask President Obama About Aliens?!

“Barack Obama as a person is a fantastic individual, but Barack Obama as an idea marks an evolutionary flash point for humanity.”  - Will Smith.

The actor/rapper Will Smith and his son Jaden recently had a close encounter of the presidential kind.

While the Smiths were visiting President Barack Obama as part of Easter celebrations in April, Jaden, now 13, could not withhold a pressing question he had for the leader of the free world. Will Smith, who stars in "Men in Black 3" (in theaters May 25), explained during a recent interview with BBC Radio 1: "I was at the White House with my family and we were getting a tour and, you know, Barack and Michelle and Sasha and Malia... And it's me, Jada and the kids and we're walking through the White House. And the night before Jaden had said to me, 'Dad, I got to ask the president about the aliens.' I was like, 'Dude, no.' It's not cool. It's not cool. It's embarrassing."

The Obamas led the Smiths to the Situation Room -- the White House's "nerve center" where Obama and his senior security team famously observed real-time updates during the U.S. mission that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Apparently the room inspired Jaden to strike out against his father's wishes: "...Jaden gets the look in his eyes and he leans over and says, 'Dad, what's my punishment?' And I was like, 'Jaden, do not.' And you know, Barack is talking about the Situation Room and Jaden says, 'Excuse me, Mr. President.' I was like, 'Hey, Barack, man…' And Barack said, 'Don't tell me.' And in perfect form, and this is why he's the president, and he stopped and looked at Jaden said, 'The aliens, right?'" The president went on, according to Smith, saying: "'I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of extraterrestrials, but I can tell you if there had been a top-secret meeting and if there would have had to have been a discussion about it, it would have taken place in this room.'" - Yahoo.
WATCH: Will Smith speaks to BBC Radio 1's Chris Moyles.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Escalating Seismic Activity in Iran - Magnitude 5.1 Earthquake Rocks Southern Region!

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake has struck southern Iran on Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 21:40:41 UTC.

The tremor was located at 27.078°N, 53.957°E, with a depth of 9.9 km (6.2 miles). The epicentre was 76 km (47 miles) southwest of Lar, Iran; 108 km (67 miles) northwest of Bandar-e Lengeh, Iran; 161 km (100 miles) southeast of Jahrom, Iran; and 983 km (610 miles) southeast of Tehran, Iran.

As I reported earlier this week, seismic activity seems to be escalating in Iran, as one week ago, a magnitude 5.5 earthquake rocked the country's western provinces of Ilam and Kermanshah, damaging homes and buildings in over 50 villages. According to the Iranian Red Crescent Society's Relief and Rescue Organization, the tremor affected more than 3,500 persons and injured 18 people in the region.

On Monday, a magnitude 5.0 earthquake also hit the southern region of the country, 142 km (88 miles) southwest of Bam, Iran.

Iran sits astride several major faults in the earth's crust, and is prone to frequent earthquakes, many of which have been devastating.  The worst in recent times hit Bam in southeastern Kerman province in December 2003, killing 31,000 people - about a quarter of its population - and destroying the city's ancient mud-built citadel.  The deadliest quake in the country was in June 1990 and measured 7.7 on the Richter scale. About 37,000 people were killed and more than 100,000 injured in the northwestern provinces of Gilan and Zanjan. It devastated 27 towns and about 1,870 villages.  Tehran alone sits on two major fault lines, and the capital's 14 million residents fear a major quake.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Mount Sakurajima in Japan, Erupts 9 Times in 5 Days - Producing Plumes to Altitudes of 9,000 Feet!

JMA reported that during 11-15 May explosive eruptions from Sakurajima's Showa Crater occurred nine times and ejected tephra as far as 1.3 km from the crater.

Based on information from JMA, the Tokyo VAAC reported that during 9 and 11-15 May explosions produced plumes that rose to altitudes of 1.8-2.7 km (6,000-9,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted SW, S, SE, E, and N. A pilot observed an ash plume on 12 May that rose to an altitude of 2.1 (7,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted E.

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

WATCH: Sakurajima's explosive eruptions.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC CONTAGION: The Euro Zone Crisis - Moody's Downgrades 16 Spanish Bank Ratings; Including the Two Largest Banks!

Rating agency Moody's downgraded 16 Spanish banks on Thursday, the latest sign of distress in Europe.
Among those downgraded were giants Banco Santander and BBVA, the country's two largest banks. Moody's cited concerns about the banks' exposure to Spain's faltering economy and the "reduced" ability of the Spanish government to support them in a crisis.

"The Spanish economy has fallen back into recession in first-quarter 2012, and Moody's does not expect conditions to improve during 2012," the agency said. "Moreover, the real-estate crisis that began in 2008 is ongoing, and unemployment has risen to very high levels, with rising risks to white-collar employment (in addition to extremely-high youth unemployment) affecting the outlook for banks' household lending." The downgrades come amid mounting concern about a potential Greek exit from the euro, and the implications this could have for other fiscally troubled nations like Spain and Italy. Greece, currently operating with a caretaker government, could leave the euro should anti-austerity parties triumph in elections next month.
Earlier Thursday, Moody's downgraded Spanish regional governments in Catalunya, Murcia, Andalucia and Extremadura because they are using massive amounts of debt to fund their operations and are unlikely to meet the financial target set by Spain's central government. Overall, Spain has pledged to cut its national deficit to 5.3% of GDP, but last week, the European Commission forecasted that the country would fail to meet that goal, instead hitting 6.4% of GDP. Spain announced roughly $35 billion in budget cuts earlier this year. Credit downgrades are a worrisome sign to investors and can often cause a country's borrowing costs to rise. The yield on Spain's 10-year bond has spiked in the last two weeks, and now sits around 6.3%, its highest level since November. - CNN.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Solar System Disturbance - NASA Estimates 4,700 "Potentially Hazardous" Asteroids are Close Enough and Big Enough to Pose a Risk to Earth?!

About 4,700 asteroids are close enough and big enough to pose a risk to Earth, NASA estimated Wednesday after studying data beamed back from an orbiting telescope. The figure -- give or take 1,500 -- is how many space rocks bigger than 100 meters (330 feet) across are believed to come within 5 million miles (8 million km) of Earth, or about 20 times farther away than the moon.

"It's not something that people should panic about," said Amy Mainzer, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. "However, we are paying attention to the issue." NASA defines a potentially hazardous asteroid as one large enough to survive the intense heat generated by entry into the atmosphere and cause damage on a regional scale or worse. The figure released Wednesday is lower than a previous rough estimate had projected, but more are now thought to be in orbits inclined like Earth's, making them more likely to cross its path. Mainzer said asteroids in orbits pitched at a similar angle offer not only a hazard, but also an opportunity. They would be easier for spacecraft to reach.  "They're a population of interest, and we want to keep an eye on them," she said. 

NASA says a 40-meter asteroid would strike the Earth with an impact comparable to a 3-megaton nuclear bomb. A 2-km asteroid striking Earth "would produce severe environmental damage on a global scale," the space agency estimates, but an impact of that magnitude isn't likely to occur more than twice per million years. The estimate comes from infrared scans of the cosmos by the 16-inch WISE telescope, which was launched in December 2009. The instruments aboard the satellite allowed scientists to spot close-in asteroids by picking up the heat they emit, Mainzer said. "It allows us to find the very dark asteroids, the ones that are more like a piece of coal and than shiny pavement," she said. "We can also tell the difference between an asteroid that's very large and very dark and a small one that's very shiny."  Mainzer said between 20% and 30% of the estimated 4,700 potentially hazardous objects have been discovered so far. - CNN.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Weekly Volcanic Activity Report - New Activities and Unrest From May 09th - 15th, For Ijen, Karangetang, Karthala, Sirung and Popocatepetl!

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.

The Ijen volcano.

IJEN Eastern Java (Indonesia) 8.058°S, 114.242°E; summit elev. 2799 m
CVGHM reported that during 1-30 April white plumes from Ijen rose 100-200 m above the crater; during 1-11 May diffuse white plumes rose 50-100 m. From the beginning of April until 13 May the amplitude and number of earthquakes gradually decreased and the crater lake water temperature decreased by eight degrees Celsius. The Alert Level was lowered to 2 (on a scale of 1-4) on 13 May. Map

KARANGETANG [API SIAU] Siau I 2.78°N, 125.40°E; summit elev. 1784 m
Based on analyses of satellite imagery, the Darwin VAAC reported that on 14 May an ash plume from Karangetang rose to an altitude of 3.7 km (12,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted 130 km SE. On 16 May an ash plume again rose to an altitude of 3.7 km (12,000 ft) a.s.l. then drifted about 110 km SE. Karangetang (also known as Api Siau) lies at the northern end of the island of Siau, N of Sulawesi, and contains five summit craters strung along a N-S line. One of Indonesia's most active volcanoes, Karangetang has had more than 40 recorded eruptions since 1675. Twentieth-century eruptions have included frequent explosions, sometimes accompanied by pyroclastic flows and lahars. Map

KARTHALA Grand Comore Island 11.75°S, 43.38°E; summit elev. 2361 m
Observers in the villages of Mde and Mkazi, on the W flank of Karthala, reported increased incandescence from the summit during the night of 9-10 May. The southernmost and largest of the two shield volcanoes forming Grand Comore Island (also known as Ngazidja), Karthala contains a 3 x 4 km summit caldera generated by repeated collapse. Elongated rift zones extend to the NNW and SE from the summit of the Hawaiian-style shield, which has an asymmetrical profile that is steeper to the S. Historical eruptions have modified the morphology of the compound, irregular summit caldera. More than twenty eruptions have been recorded since the 19th century from both summit and flank vents. Many lava flows have reached the sea on both sides of the island, including during many 19th-century eruptions from the summit caldera and vents on the northern and southern flanks. Map

POPOCATEPETL México 19.023°N, 98.622°W; summit elev. 5426 m
CENAPRED reported that during 8-10 May multiple gas-and-ash plumes rose 1.5 km above Popocatépetl's crater and drifted NE. Incandescent fragments ejected from the crater landed on the N and E flanks as far as 500 m away. According to a news article an airport in Puebla was closed due to ash plumes on 8 and 10 May. Seismicity increased on 11 May. Ash plumes rose 3 km above the crater and drifted NE and incandescent fragments ejected from the crater rolled 1 km down the flanks. Gas-and-ash plumes rose 2.5 km and drifted ENE. On 12 May gas-and-ash plumes rose 4 km above the crater. Incandescent tephra was ejected 2 km above the crater and again rolled 1 km down the flanks. Ashfall was reported in most municipalities within the state of Tlaxcala (50 km NE of the volcano), in addition to smaller towns nearer to the volcano such as Santiago Xalitzintla (15 km NE) and San Nicolás de los Ranchos (16 km ENE). An airport in Puebla was again closed due to ash. During 13-15 May gas-and-ash plumes rose from the crater and drifted NE, and incandescent tephra was ejected from the crater. The Alert Level remained at Yellow Phase Three. Map

SIRUNG Pantar Island (Indonesia) 8.508°S, 124.13°E; summit elev. 862 m
CVGHM reported that on 8 May a three-hour long ash eruption from Sirung was accompanied by loud sounds and incandescence that reached 10 m above the crater. An ash plume rose 3.5 km above the crater and drifted N, producing ashfall up to 4 mm thick near the crater. During 9-12 May white plumes rose 30-50 m above the crater. A sulfur odor was reported in areas up to 3 km away on 12 May. That same day CVGHM raised the Alert Level to 3 (on a scale of 1-4) and recommended that visitors not approach the volcano within a 2.5 km radius. Based on a report from a ground-based observer and analyses of satellite imagery, the Darwin VAAC noted that on 12 May an ash plume rose to an altitude of 3 km (10,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted about 95 km SW. 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:  Cleveland, Chuginadak Island | Karymsky, Eastern Kamchatka (Russia) | Kilauea, Hawaii (USA) | Pagan, Mariana Islands | Sakura-jima, Kyushu | Santa María, Guatemala | Shiveluch, Central Kamchatka (Russia) | Soufrière Hills, Montserrat | Tungurahua, Ecuador

WORLD WAR III: The Countdown to Armageddon - NDAA Authorizes War Against Iran!

This week, Congress is considering two pieces of legislation relating to Iran. The first undermines a diplomatic solution with Iran and lowers the bar for war. The second authorizes a war of choice against Iran and begins military preparations for it.

H.Res.568: Eliminating the Most Viable Alternative to War
The House is expected to vote on H.Res. 568. Read the resolution. Section (6) rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. Section (7) urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and opposition to any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to Iranian enrichment. This language represents a significant shift in U.S. policy and would guarantee that talks with Iran, currently scheduled for May 23, would fail. Current U.S. policy is that Iran cannot acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, H. Res. 568 draws the "redline" for military action at Iran achieving a nuclear weapons "capability," a nebulous and undefined term that could include a civilian nuclear program. Indeed, it is likely that a negotiated deal to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and to prevent war would provide for Iranian enrichment for peaceful purposes under the framework of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty with strict safeguards and inspections. This language makes such a negotiated solution impossible. At the same time, the language lowers the threshold for attacking Iran. Countries with nuclear weapons "capability" could include many other countries like Japan or Brazil. It is an unrealistic threshold. The Former Chief of Staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell has stated that this resolution "reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war."

H.R. 4310: Authorizing War Against Iran and Preparing the Military for it

While H. Res. 568 undermines our diplomatic efforts and lowers the bar for war, H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 begins military preparations for war. Section 1221 makes military action against Iran a U.S. policy. Section 1222 directs our armed forces to prepare for war.

(a) Findings- Congress makes the following findings: (2) At the same time, Iran may soon attain a nuclear weapons capability, a development that would threaten United States interests, destabilize the region, encourage regional nuclear proliferation, further empower and embolden Iran, the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provide it the tools to threaten its neighbors, including Israel. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as U.S. and Israeli intelligence, have all agreed that Iran does not currently have a nuclear bomb, is not building a nuclear weapon and does not have plans to do so. Both U.S. and Israeli officials also agree that a strike on Iran would only delay their nuclear program and actually encourage them to pursue a nuclear weapon. Sustained, diplomatic engagement with Iran is the only way to ensure transparency and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Rejecting or thwarting any inspections-based deal we are currently seeking with Iran, even when analysts are expressing guarded optimism that a near term deal is achievable, makes pre-emptive military action against Iran more likely. (7) In order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the United States, in cooperation with its allies, must utilize all elements of national power including diplomacy, robust economic sanctions, and credible, visible preparations for a military option. Pursuing these non-diplomatic options, contrary to popular myth, does not help negotiations. U.S. policy toward Iran for the last three decades has primarily taken the form of economic sanctions, threats and isolation. None of these things has created meaningful change in the behavior of the Iranian government or achieved the transparency we seek. In fact, history has demonstrated that sanctions often preclude war; they do not prevent it. Sanctions hurt the same ordinary Iranians that we claim to support, and undermine their efforts to encourage democratic change in their country. Threatening military action against Iran can only undermine sensitive and critical diplomatic negotiations that could be our last chance to achieve the transparency and cooperation we seek from the Iranian government. (8) Nevertheless, to date, diplomatic overtures, sanctions, and other non-kinetic actions toward Iran have not caused the Government of Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The United States, IAEA and Israel have all publically recognized that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. In a January 2012 interview on CBS' Face the Nation, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated unequivocally that Iran is not trying to build a nuclear weapon. This clause further ignores that the U.S. and Iran have barely engaged in direct negotiations. Prior to last month's negotiations, the U.S. and Iran had only engaged in 45 minutes of direct talks since 2009. (b) Declaration of Policy- It shall be the policy of the United States to take all necessary measures, including military action if required, to prevent Iran from threatening the United States, its allies, or Iran's neighbors with a nuclear weapon. This is an authorization for the use of military force against Iran. It ignores the warnings of both current and former U.S. top military brass who have spoken in opposition to the use of military force against Iran, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. A February 2012 poll demonstrated that less than 20% of the Israeli public supports an Israeli strike on Iran if approved by the United States. Congress must avoid the same mistakes it made in the Iraq war and reject any language that can be construed as authorizing war against Iran.

Section 2 (A) pre-positioning sufficient supplies of aircraft, munitions, fuel, and other materials for both air- and sea-based missions at key forward locations in the Middle East and Indian Ocean; (B) maintaining sufficient naval assets in the region necessary to signal United States resolve and to bolster United States capabilities to launch a sustained sea and air campaign against a range of Iranian nuclear and military targets, to protect seaborne shipping, and to deny Iranian retaliation against United States interests in the region; (D) conducting naval fleet exercises similar to the United States Fifth Fleet's major exercise in the region in March 2007 to demonstrate ability to keep the Strait of Hormuz open and to counter the use of anti-ship missiles and swarming high-speed boats.
A plain reading of these provisions in H.R. 4310 taken together with H.R. 568 makes it clear: Congress is setting the stage for war with Iran. - Huffington Post.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Solar System Disturbance - Asteroid 2012 KA to Buzz Planet Earth Today, May 17th!

On the heels of a bus-sized asteroid that passed harmlessly between Earth and the orbit of the Moon on May 13, another asteroid between 4.5 and 10 meters (14-33 feet) wide will buzz by at about the same distance today, May 17, 2012.

Orbit diagram of asteroid 2012 KA from JPL's Small Body Database website.
Asteroid 2012 KA was discovered just today (May 16), and is projected to make its closest approach about 0.0015 AU, or 224,397 kilometers (134,933 miles, .6 lunar distances) from ’s surface at 19:43 UTC on Thursday.

The asteroid was discovered by the Mt. Lemmon Observatory, and at the time of this writing, is the only observatory that has made any observations. Therefore JPL lists the uncertainty of the as fairly high (9 out of a 1 to 10 scale) but orbital projections from JPL’s Small Body Database website confirms there is no chance this asteroid would hit Earth.

However, most stony meteoroids up to a diameter of about 10-meters are destroyed in thermal explosions by plummeting through Earth’s atmosphere.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Acute Respiratory Diseases and Infections Due to Popocatepetl's Volcanic Activity!

Acute respiratory infections increased by three percent among the inhabitants of the southeastern area of the State of Mexico, who are exposed to ash thrown by the Popocatepetl volcano, said the Ministry of Health.

The head of the Department of Epidemiological Surveillance of the Mexico State Health Institute, Hector Resendiz, said the increase in these diseases has occurred in children under eight years old and adults over 60.

According to the state agency, residents of Amecameca, Ozumba, Tepetlixpa, Ecatzingo and Atlautla are those who mostly received medical attention after April 21 when volcanic dust began to fall in those municipalities that are closest to Popocatépetl on the Mexico State's side.

Resendiz added that cases of conjunctivitis have also risen, "so far we have counted 348 cases of people who have been in contact with volcanic dust".

On Tuesday, the National Center for Disaster Prevention reported the new increased activity of the volcano, which now is on yellow alert phase three. - Prensa Latina.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC CONTAGION: The Euro Zone Crisis - Spain's Bankia Shares Plunge, Amid Reports of Massive Withdrawals!

The Spanish government denied a newspaper report on Thursday that customers had withdrawn more than €1-billion ($1.3-billion U.S.) from the partly nationalized lender Bankia over the past week. Bankia itself said that deposit activity was normal but the government’s denial helped its shares to recoup some of their heavy losses which had accelerated on Thursday.

Economy Secretary Fernando Jimenez Latorre denied a deposit flight was underway. “It’s not true that there is an exit of deposits at this moment from Bankia,” Mr. Latorre, a senior official who reports to the economy minister, told a news conference.  Concerns about the general state of Spanish banks, many of which have suffered heavy loan losses since a property market crash began in 2008 and may have to write off more bad loans, have upset financial markets. Some market watchers believe a large injection of public funds to recapitalize the banking system and flush out the real estate losses may force Spain to seek an international bailout.  Bankia tried to reassure its customers. “Bankia’s operations have been within their usual parameters at the branch network over the past few weeks,” it said in a statement. “The trend in activity shows deposit balances will not register substantial changes in the next few days.”

“Bankia depositors can be absolutely certain about the security of their savings that they have entrusted with the bank,” it quoted newly-appointed Chairman Jose Ignacio Goirigolzarri as saying in an internal note.  Shares in Bankia slumped as much as 30 per cent on Thursday, compounding a week of falls, as small investors who had participated in a July stock market listing sold their holdings which have lost nearly two-thirds their value since the flotation.  After Mr. Latorre’s comment the shares recovered some ground to trade down 13.3 per cent at €1.44.  El Mundo newspaper reported that Mr. Goirigolzarri had told a board meeting on Wednesday about the flow of funds from the bank. Citing information from the meeting, it said that the €1-billion were equivalent to about 1 per cent of retail and corporate deposits at the bank.  The government took over Spain’s fourth largest bank last week in an attempt to dispel fears that Bankia could not handle huge losses caused by a property crash which began in 2008.  There was no sign of any abnormal activity at Bankia branches in Madrid on Thursday. A few clients told Reuters that they had checked in with their branch manager regarding their deposits, but most said they were not moving them.  “I’ve got two accounts in Bankia and up to now I haven’t shut them. I’m not even considering it,” said Jose Ignacio Gonzalez, 42. “It has to be safer with state backing. It’s got a guarantee.”  A government spokeswoman said the bidding process to select an external auditor to value real estate assets across the banking sector was still open and denied that Oliver Wyman and BlackRock had been chosen, as sources previously had told Reuters. “We are at the stage of receiving pitches,” she said on Thursday. - The Globe and Mail.

BIG BROTHER NOW: The Emerging Interconnected Global Surveillance Police State - Electric Imp Will Connect Everything to the Internet!

In my future house, I want a refrigerator that will tell me its contents via Wi-Fi, so I’ll be able to check whether I need extra butter when I’m at the market. I want a lamp that will turn on when it senses sunset, so I won’t have to adjust my automatic timers; I want a garden-watering system that will gauge whether my tomato plants are thirsty; and I want an outdoor rain/hail/snow sensor so I can make better weather spotter reports.

The Logo for Electric Imp and the Hannah Board. This board contains a rotary knob; two pushbuttons;
an RGB light sensor; a temperature sensor; a 3-axis accelerometer; a hall sensor; an RGB LED; two servo
outputs; 5 spare GPIOs; and an accessible I2C bus. So it could do a whole lot of things.
Electric Imp
The Internet of Things promises to bring me this world, and now there’s a cheap, customizable platform that could make it happen. Electric Imp came out today, promising to connect any electronic device to the Internet and help you customize your life. The cards can be installed in almost any device, using circuit boards Imp sells, and apparently the company is also working with device manufacturers to start adding native Imp slots. We’ve seen other prototypes connecting the Internet of Things, notably IBM’s Mote Runner, which can connect any hardware enabled with wireless sensors.

But this one is unique because, as Gizmodo points out, it’s a universal system — connect anything you want, no back-end hardware or software required. The software is pretty simple, using drag-and-drop graphics to set up commands, but it is also easily programmed, and users will be able to visit a hub where they can share tasks they’ve come up with. Within a couple minutes, the Electric Imp team set up a system that monitors a Christmas tree’s water supply and dims the lights when the water is getting low, meaning a dry tree. A developer bundle is expected to be available late next month. Cards will cost $25 and circuit boards are between $10 and $25, depending on how many bells and whistles you want. Read more about the company here. - POPSCI.
WATCH: Electric Imp wants to bring Wi-Fi to everything.

GREAT WARMING: The Australian Weather Anomalies - "Highly Unusual" Rise in Temperatures in and Around Australia Since 1950 Has Been Unprecedented?!

The rise in temperatures in and around Australia since 1950 has been unprecedented, a new study shows.

A team led by scientists at the University of Melbourne has found no period during the past 1000 years matches the warming experienced in Australasia in the past 60 years.  It's believed to be the first study of its type in the region.  Lead researcher Joelle Gergis says a reconstruction of regional temperatures provided a "climate picture" of the past.  "Our study revealed that recent warming in a 1000-year context is highly unusual and cannot be explained by natural factors alone, suggesting a strong influence of human-caused climate change in the Australasian region," Dr Gergis said in a statement today. 

The researchers examined natural indicators, such as tree rings, corals and ice cores to look at temperatures over time. Dr Gergis said they were fundamental in evaluating global climate variability before 1910 when direct temperature records started.  The team compared the data with climate model simulations.  To ensure the results were accurate, the team's reconstruction used 27 natural climate records which were calculated in 3000 different ways.  Dr Gergis said the study would help scientists better understand future climate variability too.  The study is part of an international collaboration which aims to reconstruct the past 2000 years of climate in every part of the world.  The research has been published in the Journal of Climate. - The Australian.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 4.3 Quake Shakes up East Texas - "Loud Rumbling Noise, Lot of Crashing" Leaves One Building Damaged, Third-Strongest in East Texas History!

A 4.3-magnitude earthquake rattled eastern Texas early Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.  The quake, at a depth of three miles, was centered near Timpson, about 155 miles east-southeast of Dallas, according to the USGS.  It struck at 3:12 a.m. (4:13 a.m. ET). 

At least one building in Timpson showed damage, with a number of bricks falling to the street below, CNN affiliate KLTV in Tyler, Texas, reported.  Ollie Barrett told KLTV that bricks from her chimney came crashing through her roof.  "There was a loud rumbling noise and then there was a lot of crashing," she said. Her 52-inch, wall-mounted TV was crushed.  One woman was injured when she fell out of bed and cut her arm, CNN affiliate KSLA in nearby Shreveport, Louisiana, reported.  And the Shelby County sheriff's office had reports of broken windows from the temblor, dispatcher Karen Shield told CNN. 

The quake was the second to hit the area in a week.  A 3.9 quake shook Timpson May 10.  Thursday morning's earthquake was the third-strongest in East Texas history, KLTV reported, surpassed only by quakes in 1957 and 1964.  Cliff Frohlich, a University of Texas scientist, said it's possible the most recent quakes are related to energy production activity in the area.  "There are some injection wells in the part of the country where these earthquakes occurred," Frolich told CNN. "If they were very close to an injection well, that would suggest they were."  Injection wells are used in the disposal of dirty water from energy production, Frohlich said.  Frohlich said injection wells should not be confused with fracking, a process which involves injecting water, sand and some chemicals deep into the earth to crack shale rock, which frees oil and gas.  "Fracking almost never causes quakes," Frohlich said. - CNN.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Scientists Document Volcanic History of Turbulent Sumatra Region - Six Major Eruptions Over the Past 35,000; Residents Are at Risk From an Imminent and Catastrophic Eruption!

The early April earthquake of magnitude 8.7 that shook Sumatra was a grim reminder of the devastating earthquakes and tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people in 2004 and 2005.  Now a new study, funded by the National Science Foundation, shows that the residents of that region are at risk from yet another potentially deadly natural phenomenon – major volcanic eruptions.  Researchers from Oregon State University working with colleagues in Indonesia have documented six major volcanic eruptions in Sumatra over the past 35,000 years – most equaling or surpassing in explosive intensity the eruption of Washington’s Mount St. Helens in 1980.

Results of the research have just been published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.  “Sumatra has a number of active and potentially explosive volcanoes and many show evidence of recent activity,” said Morgan Salisbury, lead author on the study, who recently completed his doctoral studies in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Most of the eruptions are small, so little attention has been paid to the potential for a catastrophic eruption.  “But our study found some of the first evidence that the region has a much more explosive history than perhaps has been appreciated,” he added.  Until this study, little was known about Sumatra’s volcanic history – in part because few western scientists have been allowed access to the region. The most visible evidence of recent volcanic activity among the estimated 33-35 potentially active volcanoes are their steep-sided cones and lack of vegetation, indicating at least some minor eruptive processes.  But in 2007, an expedition led by OSU’s Chris Goldfinger was permitted into the region and the Oregon State researchers and their Indonesian colleagues set out to explore the earthquake history of the region by studying sediment cores from the Indian Ocean. Funded by the National Science Foundation, it was the first research ship from the United States allowed into Indonesia/Sumatran waters in nearly 30 years. 

While searching the deep-sea sediment cores for “turbidites” – coarse gravel deposits that can act as a signature for earthquakes – they noticed unmistakable evidence of volcanic ash and began conducting a parallel investigation into the region’s volcanic history.  “The ash was located only in certain cores, so the activity was localized,” said Adam Kent, a professor of geosciences at OSU and an author on the study. “Yet the eruptions still were capable of spreading the ash for 300 kilometers or more, which gave us an indication of how powerful the explosive activity might have been.”  Salisbury and his colleagues found evidence of six major eruptions and estimated them to be at least from 3.0 to 5.0 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. Mount St. Helens, by comparison, was 5.0.  The Indian Ocean region is certainly known to have a violent volcanic history. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa between Sumatra and Java is perhaps the most violent volcanic explosion in recorded history, measuring 6.0 on the VEI and generating what many scientists believe to have been one of the loudest noises ever heard on Earth.

Sumatra’s own Toba volcano exploded about 74,000 years ago, generating a major lake – not unlike Oregon’s own Crater Lake, but much larger. “It looks like a giant doughnut in the middle of Sumatra,” said Jason “Jay” Patton, another OSU doctoral student and author on the study.  Sumatra’s volcanoes occasionally belch some ash and smoke, and provide comparatively minor eruptions, but residents there may not be fully aware of the potential catastrophic nature of some of its resident volcanoes, Goldfinger said.  “Prior to 2004, the risk from a major earthquake were not widely appreciated except, perhaps, in some of the more rural areas,” Goldfinger said. “And earthquakes happen more frequently than major volcanic eruptions. If it hasn’t happened in recent memory…”  Kent said the next step in the research is to work with scientists from the region to collect ash and volcanic rock from the island’s volcanoes, and then match their chemical signature to the ash they discovered in the sediment cores.  “Each volcano has a subtly different fingerprint,” Kent said, “so if we can get the terrestrial data, we should be able to link the six major eruptions to individual volcanoes to determine the ones that provide the greatest risk factors.”  In addition to the Oregon State University scientists, two Indonesian researchers were authors on the journal article: Yusuf Djadjadihardja and Udrekh Hanif, of the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology in Jakarta. - OSU.

GREAT DELUGE: The Australian Weather Anomalies - Abnormally High Ocean Temperatures Made Queensland Floods Worse?!

Abnormally high ocean temperatures off the coast of northern Australia contributed to the extreme rainfall that flooded three-quarters of Queensland over the summer of 2010-11, scientists report.  A Sydney researcher, Jason Evans, ran a series of climate models and found above average sea surface temperatures throughout December 2010 increased the amount of rainfall across the state by 25 per cent on average.  While the study did not look at the cause of ocean warming in the region, a physical oceanographer, Matthew England, said climate change could not be excluded as a possible driver of this extreme rainfall event.

Abnormally high ocean temperatures off the coast of northern Australia contributed to the extreme rainfall that flooded three-quarters of Queensland over the summer of 2010-11, scientists report.  A Sydney researcher, Jason Evans, ran a series of climate models and found above average sea surface temperatures throughout December 2010 increased the amount of rainfall across the state by 25 per cent on average.  While the study did not look at the cause of ocean warming in the region, a physical oceanographer, Matthew England, said climate change could not be excluded as a possible driver of this extreme rainfall event. Advertisement: Story continues below  Between December 23 and 28 many places experienced up to 400 millimetres of rain in a few days. "That [means] 100 millimetres of rain was attributable to sea surface temperatures," said Dr Evans, a future fellow at the University of NSW's Climate Change Research Centre.  While the flooding occurred during one of the strongest La Nina events on record it was insufficient to produce the extreme rainfall recorded, he said.  The effect of the high sea surface temperatures coupled with the impact of a La Nina, both of which are associated with above average rainfall over eastern Australia, plus tropical cyclone Tasha, combined to create an extreme weather event, he said.  The resulting floods stretched across 1.3 million square kilometres all the way to Brisbane, caused billions of dollars in damage and killed 35 people. 

Matthew England, who was not involved in the study, said ocean temperatures off northern Australia were the highest on record at the time of the Queensland floods.  "While the La Nina event played a big role in this record ocean warmth, so too did the long-term warming trend over the past 50 years," Professor England, the co-director of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, said.  To measure the extent high sea surface temperature contributed to the rainfall, Dr Evans used a regional climate model to compare the effect of the 2010 December sea surface temperatures with the sea surface temperatures from previous La Nina events.  "All the simulations produced high rainfall, but only the simulations with the high sea surface temperatures [from December 2010] were able to produce extreme precipitation," said Dr Evans, whose findings are published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.  Warmer sea surface temperatures increase the amount of moisture transferred from the ocean to the atmosphere.  "If you've got the right winds they carry this moisture to land, and [because] land is hotter than the ocean during the day it will cause convection and rain," Dr Evans said.  While both simulations underestimated the amount of rain that fell in Queensland in December 2010, the model that used the higher sea surface temperatures came closest to the rainfall recorded in the region.  "The model doesn't replicate the observations perfectly but it clearly shows what we saw, which was from Cairns to south-east QLD all [regions] received abnormally high precipitation," he said.  If increases in sea surface temperatures can be attributed to global warming, the probability of La Nina events producing extreme rainfall in the future would also rise, he said. - The Age.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: The Streptococcus and Staphylococcus Aureus - New South Carolina Woman is the Latest Victim of "Flesh-Eating Bacteria"?!

A South Carolina woman who gave birth to twins days ago is the latest victim of "flesh-eating bacteria."
WLTX-TV in Columbia reports that Lana Kuykendall is being treated at Greenville Memorial Hospital.

"Right now, just very worried, very upset," Krissy Davison, a friend of Kuykendall, told the station from the hospital. "Still in disbelief that here is my friend, who just had these two beautiful babies, and now she is incubated upstairs and not able to enjoy the bonding experience and enjoy the babies." The news of the latest attack of the disease comes days after reports that Aimee Copeland, 24, a grad student in Georgia, lost her leg and part of her abdomen battling the bacteria. Darren Kuykendall told WYFF-TV in Spartanburg, S.C., that his wife's vitals and blood work are good and physicians remain positive. "It's devastating, very devastating, very overwhelming, probably the worst thing I've ever done in my entire life," Darren Kuykendall told WYFF from the hospital.  Lana Kuykendall gave birth to twins Ian and Abigail on May 7 at an Atlanta hospital but felt pain in her leg after the couple brought their newborns home to Piedmont. 

Physicians don't know how Kuykendall contracted the disease, less commonly known as necrotizing fascitis, but it's commonly spread through a cut or open wound.  Experts say the bacteria that causes the disease is more common than most people realize.  "These are 'people bacteria' that live on us," state epidemiologist Jerry Gibson told WLTX. "It's really spread on fingers from person to person. We rub our nose ... it spreads all over.  "It's a rare but really scary infection," Gibson said. "It's caused by two usually common bacteria, streptococcus and staphylococcus aureus, and we all have them on our body. Then every once in a while they invade and cause a very serious disease. These bacteria have got all these powerful ways of attacking us, and every now and then something turns that on and they go full blast. And the problem is we just don't know how to predict that and prevent it.  Although there are two recent cases in the Southeast, Gibson says the bacteria doesn't normally infect people in clusters.  "It's just chance, it doesn't mean we're going to see another one any sooner. Please don't panic. It's very uncommon here."  Gibson says if you get a cut or wound there are some signs to pay attention to: "If it gets red, it gets painful, it gets swollen up, it's not just an everyday local infection, and then you get care fast." - USA Today.
WATCH: New S.C. mom is latest victim of 'flesh-eating bacteria'.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: High Lava Level Reported at Kilauea Volcano Summit!

Scientists with the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory are reporting a  relatively high lava lake level at the Halema`uma`u crater vent over the past two days, following a summit inflation at Kilauea.

According to Tuesday’s Kilauea activity report:
The summit tiltmeter network recorded another DI deflation around 5 pm last night when the lava lake level started to drop; a laser rangefinder measurement yesterday placed the lava lake surface about 67 m (220 ft) below the Halema`uma`u Crater floor – a pretty high level.
The lava has been close to the level of the deep inner ledge. A photo released by HVO (above) shows continuous spattering at the southern lake margin tossing spatter onto the crusted lake surface as well as onto the rim of the ledge, building a steep spatter rampart (left side of image). HVO says the summit lava lake is deep within a 520 foot diameter cylindrical vent with nearly vertical sides inset within the east wall and floor of Halema`uma`u Crater. The lava level level fluctuates from about 200 feet to a level that puts it out of sight below the floor of Halema`uma`u Crater. The vent has been mostly active since opening with a small explosive event on March 19, 2008. Most recently, the lava level of the lake has remained below an inner ledge (200 ft below the floor of Halema`uma`u Crater on May 9, 2012) and responded to summit tilt changes with the lake receding during deflation and rising during inflation. - Big Island News.