Wednesday, June 13, 2012

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: The Extreme Market Volatility - Oanda, a Major Currency Trader Shuts Down For Days?!

What do you get when you mix counterparty and agency risk, and throw in some currency collapse fear for good measure? This:

From Oanda
Due to the extreme volatility some market analysts foresee could result in the coming days, OANDA fxTrade will not accept any trading activity from 6:00 AM EST until approximately 3:00 PM EST, on Sunday, June 17, 2012. OANDA believes the convergence of a major market event during off-market hours represents a potential trading risk and has taken this rare step to protect traders from excessive rate fluctuations. Please note that during this halt in trading, you can still access your account details but no trading activity will be accepted. For this reason, OANDA strongly recommends that all traders consider minimizing currency exposures prior to the trading halt.

If you do intend to maintain open positions during this period, be aware that OANDA will hold exchange rates steady during the trading halt. However, when trading resumes, rates will immediately adjust to the current market rate and it is possible that the updated rate could result in a margin closeout if the price has moved significantly against your positions. Therefore, it is your responsibility to ensure you have adequate funds in your account to prevent a margin closeout.

OANDA apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause. For more information, please contact a Customer Service representative.

Best regards,

The OANDA team
SOURCE: Zero Hedge.

OANDA Corporation
is a financial services provider of currency conversion, online retail foreign exchange (forex) trading, online foreign currency transfers, and forex information. It is one of the non-bank Futures Commission Merchants (FCMs) specialized in spot forex trading. OANDA is a registered FCM with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and a member of the National Futures Association (NFA).

PLANETARY TREMORS: 4.1 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Near Yorba Linda, Greater Los Angeles Area, California!

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 4.1 struck two miles from Yorba Linda Wednesday night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, but there were no reports of damage or injuries.

The quake hit at 8:17 p.m. and was located at 33.912°N, 117.784°W, according to the USGS. The depth was 5.9 km, nearly four miles below the surface. The epicentre was 7 km (5 miles) northeast (64°) from Placentia; 9 km (6 miles) southwest (218°) from Chino Hills; 13 km (8 miles) northeast (49°) from Anaheim; and 46 km (28 miles) southeast (110°) from Los Angeles Civic Center. According to NOAA's National Weather Service, no tsunami watch or warning is in effect.

According to Wikipedia, the San Andreas Fault is a continental transform fault that runs a length of roughly 810 miles (1,300 km) through California in the United States. The fault's motion is right-lateral strike-slip (horizontal motion). It forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. After the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Lawson also discovered that the San Andreas Fault stretched southward into southern California. Research has shown that the Southern segment, which stretches from Parkfield in Monterey County, California all the way down to the Salton Sea, is capable of a Richter scale 8.1 earthquake. An earthquake of that size on the Southern segment (which, at its closest, is 40 miles away from Los Angeles) would kill thousands of people in Los Angeles, San Bernandino, Riverside, and other areas, and cause hundreds of billions of dollars in property and economic damage.

Click HERE for additional Details, Summary, Maps and Scientific & Technical information from the USGS.

DELUGE & GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Four Dead in Taiwan Torrential Rains and Mudslides - Most Serious Flooding Since 2009!

At least four people died and one was injured when mudslides triggered by torrential rains hit two areas in central Taiwan, rescue officials said Tuesday.

AP Photo.
Schools were suspended in several large cities, as Taiwan faced the most serious flooding since Typhoon Morakot lashed the island in 2009, triggering massive mudslides that killed more than 600 people. Two were killed and one was wounded when a makeshift shelter in a mountainous area of Nantou county was buried by mudslides, said the national fire agency, adding downpours also damaged roads and disrupted electricity.
Two men who worked for the forestry bureau in Taichung city were rushed to a clinic Monday with severe injuries caused when a mudslide crushed their office, but despite efforts to save them they died later in the day, the agency said. In northern Taoyuan county, 20,000 chickens were drowned when a farm was submerged by a flash flood, officials said.
Massive flooding was reported across the island since late Monday, with more than 700 millimetres of rain (27 inches) in some areas while Taiwan’s central weather bureau warned of more heavy rains this week. As of mid-morning Tuesday, Taipei and three other large cities had suspended classes and work in government offices. - Inquirer News.
WATCH: Western Pacific Weather Update - Tropical Storm Guchol and floods in Taiwan.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Freak Snow Storm Hits the Swiss Valley of Engadin - Region Known For its Sunny Climate, Was Blanketed in Snow?!

The freak weather conditions continued in Europe this weekend when residents living in the Swiss Valley of Engadin awoke to discover the entire region blanketed in snow. 

© Austrian Times
As these local webcam pictures show Engadin which is protected by high mountains on all sides and is famous for its sunny climate is usually packed with guests at this time of year enjoying the landscapes and outdoor activities. 

As the rest of the country struggled to cope with massive rainfall totalling in some areas over 60 meters per square metre, over a height of 1,500 metres towns and villages had to tackle snow.  Some high valley roads were closed temporarily because of the snow.

For the rest of the week weather experts in Switzerland predicted similar extremes with more snow predicted and rain at least until Wednesday.  - Austrian Times.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Afghanistan Earthquake Death Zone May Become a Mass Grave - Chances of Survival For Over 70 People Buried Under the Landslide Are "Slim or Non-Existent"!

An Afghan village where more than 70 people are believed to have been buried in a landslide could be declared a mass grave.  Two shallow earthquakes less than half an hour apart on Monday unleashed a deluge of rock and earth that smashed into the remote village of Mullah Jan, in the mountainous Hindu Kush region. 

No hope of survivors: People search for victims of Monday's earthquake in Baghlan, north of Kabul,
amid fears scores of people were entombed under tonnes of rock.
Villagers say 71 people, all women and children, were trapped in the landslide, and a disaster management official has described the chances of anyone surviving as "slim or non-existent".  Mechanical diggers were at the site trying to clear rubble to find bodies or survivors, but Nasir Kohzad, the head of the natural disaster agency of Baghlan province, said the scale of the task made it difficult.  "Part of a mountain has collapsed on a part of Mullah Jan village and there is over 60 metres of dirt to remove," he said.  Pictures from the scene showed earthmovers digging through mounds of brown dirt and rock with no visible signs of buried buildings. 

Only three bodies have been recovered from Mullah Jan, Mr Kohzad said, while a fourth was found in a neighbouring district.  Mullah Jan, the chief of the eponymous village, suggested declaring the site a mass grave and leaving the other victims' bodies to rest, Mr Kohzad said.  The first quake on Monday, with a magnitude of 5.4, struck at 9.32am (3.02pm AEST) at a depth of 15 kilometres with the epicentre around 160 kilometres southwest of the town of Faizabad.  A more powerful tremor, measured at 5.7 magnitude, hit around 25 minutes later in almost exactly the same place, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.  Northern Afghanistan and Pakistan are frequently hit by earthquakes, especially around the Hindu Kush range, which lies near the collision of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.  A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in Pakistan in October 2005 killed 74,000 people and displaced 3.5 million. - News Australia.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC CATASTROPHE: The Euro Zone Crisis - "Terrified" Greeks Are Panic-Buying Food and Pulling $1 Billion Euros a Day Out of Banks!

Greeks pulled their cash out of the banks and stocked up with food ahead of a cliffhanger election on Sunday that many fear will result in the country being forced out of the euro.  Bankers said up to 800 million euros ($1 billion) were leaving major banks daily and retailers said some of the money was being used to buy pasta and canned goods, as fears of returning to the drachma were fanned by rumors that a radical leftist leader may win the election. 

The last published opinion polls showed the conservative New Democracy party, which backs the 130 billion euro ($160 billion) bailout that is keeping Greece afloat, running neck and neck with the leftist SYRIZA party, which wants to cancel the rescue deal.  As the election approaches, publishing polls is now legally banned and in the ensuing information vacuum, party officials have been leaking contradictory "secret polls".  On Tuesday, one rumor making the rounds was that SYRIZA was leading by a wide margin.  "This is nonsense," one reputable Greek pollster said on condition of anonymity. "Our polls show the picture has not changed much since the last polls were published. Parties may be leaking these numbers on purpose to boost their standing."  The pollster said there was some consolidation, with voters turning to New Democracy and SYRIZA from smaller parties but the pool of undecided voters remained unusually large so close to the election and the result was impossible to predict.  Both parties say they want Greece to remain in the single currency but SYRIZA has pledged to scrap the bailout agreement signed in March which has imposed some of the toughest austerity measures seen in Europe in decades.  The European Union and International Monetary Fund have warned that Greece, which has only enough cash to last for a few weeks, must stick to the conditions of the bailout deal or risk seeing funds cut off.  

New Democracy has been telling voters they must choose between the euro or the drachma, while SYRIZA promises to end the austerity measures imposed by Greece's international lenders, such as salary and pension cuts, that have driven many Greeks into abject poverty.  Fears that Greece will collapse financially and leave the euro have slowly drained Greek banks over the last two years. Central bank figures show that deposits shrank by about 17 percent, or 35.4 billion euros ($44.4 billion) in 2011 and stood 165.9 billion euros ($208.1 billion) at end-April.  Bankers said the pace was picking up ahead of the vote, with combined daily deposit outflows from the major banks at 500-800 million euros ($625 million to $1 billion) over the past few days, and 10-30 million euros ($12-36 million) at smaller banks.  "This includes cash withdrawals, wire transfers and investments into money market funds, German Bunds, U.S. Treasuries and EIB bonds," said one banker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.  Retailers said consumers were stocking up on non-perishable food while almost all other goods were seeing a huge drop in sales as cash-strapped Greeks have no money to spare in the country's fifth year of recession.  "People are terrified by the prospect of returning to the drachma and some believe it's good to fill their cupboard with food products," said Vassilis Korkidis, head of the ESEE retail federation.  "It's over the top, we must not panic. Filling the cupboard with food doesn't mean we will escape the crisis," he said. - Business Insider.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Land Subsidence Continues in China - Ground Collapse in Chongqing Stuns Villagers, and Massive Sinkhole in Wenzhou Swallows Car!

Wenzhou Reuters yesterday morning, the bridge in the town, village, Yongjia County, Wenzhou City, a river bank, a car traveling in suddenly confronted with a road collapse, fall into the pit of about three meters deep, the driver with multiple injuries.

According to local villagers, the incident of road outside of the river had been excavation, coupled with the long-term erosion of the river, the road below the sediment loss and appeared empty, leading to the accident.  7 o'clock yesterday morning, the little gold of the bridge in the town, Yongjia County, the village young men drove to work, leave the house only a few meters to the when Jinxi road, the road suddenly collapsed, the car instantly fell into a large pit, the Xiaojin family and local villagers immediately came to the rescue. Can not open the door was stuck, Xiao Jin, vice cab windows to climb out of the car, all work together to be rescued from the pit.  Reporters on the scene saw the incident occurred at the the mushroom River Golden Village, the west side of River, the collapse of the pit about three meters the deepest, 2 meters wide, 5 meters long, a white Volkswagen car bogged down in Tai Hang, Body multiple injury. Tai Hang above the cement pavement, crumbling, the thinnest at less than 5 cm. Collapse down the "rustling" sound issued from time to time in the Tai Hang gravel.  Preliminary inspection of the hospital, the little gold forehead, right leg, etc., skin abrasions, and whether there are injuries or fractures, remains to be further examination. Recall the breathtaking scene, he is still a lingering fear. He said: "I thought the earthquake, scared to close your eyes and opened his eyes and found himself in a massive big pit."  After the incident, the local authorities immediately deployed a number of vehicles, excavators excavation near the river, changing the flow direction, to prevent recurrence of the danger. - SINA [Translated].
Villagers found a big hole in the reservoir upstream of Lingyun in Geleshan town, Chongqing. The hole is about 20 meters long, 10 meters wide, funnel-shaped deep. Yesterday, reporter learned from the town government, they have sent people all day on duty, timely monitoring. The villagers, Geleshan ground settlement on land after another, nearly two years. These holes in the end is how the formation of?

Yesterday, Clarion Village, Geleshan town community villagers on the angle of the bridge to the Daily, said the village collapsed. Reporters rushed to the right angle bridge community Lingyun reservoir near the enthusiastic local villagers under the leadership of, and take about 10 minutes mountain, found the site of the incident.  Villagers told reporters that the occurrence of land subsidence locations previously reservoirs, and the entire reservoir only downstream of a small lake, and the rest have dried up, while the hole is located in the Lingyun Reservoir upstream. The reporter saw the hole were two irregular round shape, the overall length of 20 meters at its widest point about 10 meters, the hole was a funnel-shaped, wider at the top, no bottom. At this time the villagers got bamboo poles, or throw stones down, are impossible to measure its depth. Upstream of the reservoir, there have been a stream flowing into the big hole around cordoned off and warning signs, warning villagers not to come near... Yesterday, Shapingba District Land and Resource Management Branch, geological environmental monitoring stations Yu, Geleshan belongs to the karst topography, the internal structure of complex and changeable, the underground there are many caves, underground rivers, to sew. While land subsidence factors, days of heavy rain may induce one of the reasons. Villagers reflect geological experts to the scene to view, and the terrain to monitor, restrict access to corresponding measures according to the development of the mountain.  Yu also said that they have been trapped surrounding villagers door-payment of disaster prevention in hedge understand card, to inform everyone once the continued abnormal, what direction they should evacuate. Yesterday, town government Geleshan said, all-day monitoring of ground subsidence cases, if the situation does not rule out the emergency evacuation of the villagers. Meanwhile, the town government has organized town, village emergency rescue team to carry out emergency rescue drill... Chongqing 136 geological survey team of geological experts said that Geleshan strata belonging to the beam mountains, limestone karst fissures, its easy to form collapse. The collapse may be three reasons: (1) to trap the hole below, may have been a cave, due to the movement of the earth itself, or cause cave erosion, will appear to collapse. (2) The original water in the cave under the two land subsidence, water loss due to external forces destroyed the groundwater runoff channels, the ground on the formation of pressure difference. This time, if the increase of the endurance on the ground will collapse. (3) The Liangshan a pulse and there were many references to mineral resources, if the landfill is not true, over time are also possible collapse. However, the specific reasons for the need for drilling, exploration, geophysical, geological experts and personnel in order to obtain the final result after investigation and consultation. - CQ News.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Caught on Tape - An Undersea Volcano Erupts Off Oregon's Northwest Coast; Anticipation of an Eruption at Axial Seamount!

For the first time, we’re getting to listen to the eruption of an undersea volcano off the Northwest coast. It’s about 300 miles out to sea from Cannon Beach, Oregon.  Researchers from Oregon State University deployed instruments on the seafloor in anticipation of an eruption at Axial Seamount last year.

Hydrophone deployed at Axial Seamount.
At first, an underwater microphone - called a hydrophone - captured the low-frequency rumblings of small earthquakes. The sped up audio sounds like a loud bump.  Marine geologist Bob Dziak also captured the sound of lava moving beneath the crater.  “We can hear that flowing, like water flowing through a pipe - in this case, magma through a tube,” Dziak says.  Finally, Dziak has the climatic earthquake swarm of the actual eruption. It sounds like a loud and rolling boom. 

Fellow OSU researcher Bill Chadwick says analysis of this volcano yielded recognizable patterns that could be used to predict future eruptions.  “At this place, it’s a simpler system. I think we can learn a lot about what signals we might be able to see that can help us forecast eruptions at other places,” Chadwick says.  Still to be determined is how much of the undersea learning carries over to predicting behavior of volcanoes on dry land.  The scientists detail their findings in three related papers published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience. - Earth FIX.

MYSTERY: The 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.

Montreal, Canada - 6th of June, 2012.

Hertfordshire, East of England, United Kingdom - 9th of June, 2012.

Bogota, Colombia - 10th of June, 2012.

Melbourne, Australia - 31st of May, 2012.

Burbank, Washington, United States - 10th of June, 2012.

Syria - 11th of June, 2012.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Energy Inputs and Adjustments in the Earth's Crust - Mysterious Seismic Tremors Shake Buildings in Mumbai?!

A series of unexplained, low-intensity tremors being felt on a daily basis in two separate pockets in south Mumbai over the last few weeks have forced office-goers to ask for a detailed seismological investigation of the area.  The offices being affected include the higher floors in a row of buildings, particularly Bharat House and Apollo House, at Bombay Samachar Marg in Kala Ghoda, and the Western Railway's headquarters and administrative buildings on both sides of the road at Churchgate.The tremors occur between 4 and 6 pm every day, almost like clockwork, and last about 2-3 seconds.

Western Railway has written a letter to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) asking them to look into the matter, trace the cause of the tremors, and advise if there is any potential danger to the buildings. When contacted, Sharat Chandrayan, the chief public relations officer at WR, confirmed: "Certain employees working on the higher floors of the administrative building were feeling tremors at certain times of the day. We have sent a letter to the IMD to conduct a thorough scientific investigation."  Though Chandrayan declined to give any further details, another WR official, who asked not to be named, said: "The tremors were first experienced in the south-east corner of the heritage (Headquarters) building, where the Chief Operations Manager sits. Now they are also being felt on the top floor of glass-facade Administrative building above the railway station, particularly in the auditing and construction departments."    Over in Kala Ghoda, the daily tremors started about a month ago. "We dismissed them initially, but they've now become a regular phenomenon. Our bosses initially thought it was hoax, but realised it was a serious complaint once they felt the tremors as well," Sachin Rajguru, an employee of Bharat Lines, a shipping company that has an office on fourth floor of Bharat House, told Mumbai Mirror. 

Similarly, Kamlesh Jaiswal, who works at Batliboi, which has an office on fifth floor of the same building, confirmed that the tremors were the talk of his workplace as well. "We experience tremors for a few moments every day. They always happen sometime between 4 pm and 5 pm. It's a scary situation because no one seems to know what's causing them."  BK Vatsaraj, head of Vatsaraj & Co chartered accountants, which has an office on fourth floor of Bharat House said, "We're really concerned about these tremors. I've already asked the landlords of the building, the Kamdars, to take immediate steps to get to the bottom of the issue. The landlords had  appointed a structural engineer, who has been unable to provide any clear answers."  When contacted, Dr More Ramulu, the principal scientist with the Centre of Scientific and Industrial Research, Nagpur, offered a possible explanation. "Due to the proximity to the sea, it is likely that waves accumulate during high-tide," he said. "Continuous input of energy may be causing what we call mini-earthquakes. These are common due to adjustments in the Earth's crust, but tremors are seldom felt. Normally the tremors stop once the adjustment in the crust ends. But it must be investigated to see if these small tremors are an indication of something bigger in the offing."  But V K Rajiv, the director of IMD, Mumbai, said: "There have been no earthquakes recorded in the recent weeks by the seismology department to explain the phenomenon." So the mystery continues, pending a full inquiry by IMD. - Pune Mirror.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: The Euro Zone Crisis - Moody's Slashes Spain's Rating Baa3 From A3, Places it on Review For Further Cut to Junk; Fitch Hikes Estimate of the Country's Banking Losses and Cuts Credit Ratings on 18 Banks!

Moody's just cut Spain's long-term issuer rating from A3 to Baa3. It also placed the country on review for a further downgrade, which—if it happened—would make Spanish debt "junk." This development follows the announcement of a bank bailout plan over the weekend, that has caused significant investor trepidation...

The first key driver underlying Moody's three-notch downgrade of Spain's government bond rating is the government's decision to seek up to EUR100 billion of external funding from the EFSF or ESM. A formal request will be presented shortly, but the euro area finance ministers announced on 10 June their willingness to accede to that request. The sum of EUR100 billion is twice the size of Moody's previous base case estimate, and in line with the rating agency's adverse case estimate. While the details of the support package have yet to be announced, it is clear that the responsibility for supporting Spanish banks rests with the Spanish government. EFSF funds will be lent to the government which will use them to recapitalise Spanish banks. This borrowing will materially worsen the government's debt position: Moody's now expects Spain's public debt ratio to rise to around 90% of GDP this year and to continue rising until the middle of the decade. Stabilising the ratio will be a key challenge for the Spanish authorities, requiring years of continued fiscal consolidation. As a consequence, the government's fiscal and debt position is no longer commensurate with a rating in the A range or even at the top of the Baa range. The second driver of today's rating action is the Spanish government's very limited financial market access, as evidenced both by its reliance on the EFSF or ESM for the recapitalisation funds and its growing dependence on its domestic banks as the primary purchasers of its new bond issues, who in turn require funding from the ECB to purchase these bonds. In Moody's view, this is an unsustainable situation... Moody's action to place the government's rating one notch above speculative grade reflects the rating agency's view that Spain has moved much closer to needing to seek direct support from the EFSF/ESM, and therefore much closer to being positioned within speculative grade. - Business Insider.
Meanwhile, Rating agency Fitch said on Wednesday it estimates the Spanish banks shortfall between €90-100bln in stress scenario while it considers the debt/GDP peaking at 95% in 2015.
The agency said Spain and other sovereigns to be put on negative ratings watch if Greece exits euro. Meanwhile, a WSJ report says French bank Credit Agricole is making contingency plans to abandon its Greek bank or merge it with a group of local banks if Greece leaves the euro. - FX Streets.
This comes one day after Fitch cited the potential of loans at some lenders to deteriorate, cutting its credit ratings on 18 Spanish banks, including Bankia, after its downgrade of Spain last week. 
Bankia's long-term issuer default rating was cut to BBB from BBB+ with a negative outlook, the ratings company said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday. CaixaBank was reduced to BBB from A-, Banco Sabadell to BBB from BBB+ and Banco Popular Espanol to BBB- from BBB, Fitch said.  Spain on June 9 sought a European bailout of as much as 100 billion ($125 billion) to support ailing lenders, the fourth euro member to seek a rescue since the debt crisis started almost three years ago.  Fitch, which estimates the capital needs of Spanish banks at as much as 60 billion under a "base case" scenario, said it had considered its sovereign downgrade for Spain on June 7 and also the potential for loans of certain banks to worsen in taking Tuesday's actions on the lenders. - The Economic Times.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Two Small Earthquakes Rattle Oklahoma Overnight!

Residents in Central Oklahoma were rattled by two earthquakes overnight.
The U.S. Geological Survey has recorded two small earthquakes in Oklahoma. The survey reports a 3.3 magnitude earthquake struck near Jones at 1:21 a.m. Wednesday. The epicenter is about 15 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. The second quake — measured at magnitude 2.8 — was recorded 15 minutes later near Paden in Okfuskee County. Both the Oklahoma County and the Okfuskee County sheriff's offices say there are no reports of injury or damage. Geologists say earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 to 3 are generally the smallest felt by humans. - News Star.

According to the USGS, most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains has infrequent earthquakes. Here and there earthquakes are more numerous, for example in the New Madrid seismic zone centered on southeastern Missouri, in the Charlevoix-Kamouraska seismic zone of eastern Quebec, in New England, in the New York - Philadelphia - Wilmington urban corridor, and elsewhere. However, most of the enormous region from the Rockies to the Atlantic can go years without an earthquake large enough to be felt, and several U.S. states have never reported a damaging earthquake. The earthquakes that do occur strike anywhere at irregular intervals. Earthquakes east of the Rocky Mountains, although less frequent than in the West, are typically felt over a much broader region. East of the Rockies, an earthquake can be felt over an area as much as ten times larger than a similar magnitude earthquake on the west coast. A magnitude 4.0 eastern U.S. earthquake typically can be felt at many places as far as 100 km (60 mi) from where it occurred, and it infrequently causes damage near its source. A magnitude 5.5 eastern U.S. earthquake usually can be felt as far as 500 km (300 mi) from where it occurred, and sometimes causes damage as far away as 40 km (25 mi).

Click HERE for additional Details, Summary, Maps and Scientific & Technical information from the USGS.

MONUMENTAL SOLAR SYSTEM CHANGES: NASA's Fermi Detects the Highest-Energy Light From a Solar Flare - The Sun Briefly Became the Brightest Object in the Gamma-Ray Sky!

During a powerful solar blast on March 7, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected the highest-energy light ever associated with an eruption on the sun. The discovery heralds Fermi's new role as a solar observatory, a powerful new tool for understanding solar outbursts during the sun's maximum period of activity. A solar flare is an explosive blast of light and charged particles. The powerful March 7 flare, which earned a classification of X5.4 based on the peak intensity of its X-rays, is the strongest eruption so far observed by Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT). The flare produced such an outpouring of gamma rays -- a form of light with even greater energy than X-rays -- that the sun briefly became the brightest object in the gamma-ray sky.  "For most of Fermi's four years in orbit, its LAT saw the sun as a faint, steady gamma-ray source thanks to the impacts of high-speed particles called cosmic rays," said Nicola Omodei, an astrophysicist at Stanford University in California. "Now we're beginning to see what the sun itself can do."

Solar flares produce gamma rays by several processes, one of which is illustrated here. The energy released in a
solar flare rapidly accelerates charged particles. When a high-energy proton strikes matter in the sun's atmosphere
and visible surface, the result may be a short-lived particle -- a pion -- that emits gamma rays when it decays.
(Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)
Omodei described Fermi's solar studies to journalists today at the 220th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Anchorage, Alaska.  At the flare's peak, the LAT detected gamma rays with two billion times the energy of visible light, or about four billion electron volts (GeV), easily setting a record for the highest-energy light ever detected during or immediately after a solar flare. The flux of high-energy gamma rays, defined as those with energies beyond 100 million electron volts (MeV), was 1,000 times greater than the sun's steady output.  The March flare also is notable for the persistence of its gamma-ray emission. Fermi's LAT detected high-energy gamma rays for about 20 hours, two and a half times longer than any event on record.  Additionally, the event marks the first time a greater-than-100-MeV gamma-ray source has been localized to the sun's disk, thanks to the LAT's keen angular resolution. Flares and other eruptive solar events produce gamma rays by accelerating charged particles, which then collide with matter in the sun's atmosphere and visible surface. For instance, interactions among protons result in short-lived subatomic particles called pions, which produce high-energy gamma rays when they decay. Nuclei excited by collisions with lower-energy ions give off characteristic gamma rays as they settle down. Accelerated electrons emit gamma rays as they collide with protons and atomic nuclei. Fermi's LAT scans the entire sky every 3 hours, looking for gamma rays with energies ranging from 20 MeV to more than 300 GeV. Its high sensitivity and wide field of view make the LAT an excellent tool for solar monitoring. 

Another Fermi instrument, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), observes the entire sky not blocked by the Earth at any given moment. Designed to detect light at energies from 8,000 eV to 40 MeV, the GBM's complementary capabilities give scientists access to a lower, but overlapping energy range where solar phenomena produce interesting features.  Both instruments observed a strong, but less powerful solar flare on June 12, 2010.  "Seeing the rise and fall of this brief flare in both instruments allowed us to determine that some of these particles were accelerated to two-thirds of the speed of light in as little as 3 seconds," said Michael Briggs, a member of GBM team at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  Solar eruptions are on the rise as the sun progresses toward the peak of its roughly 11-year-long activity cycle, now expected in mid-2013.  "Merged with available theoretical models, Fermi observations will give us the ability to reconstruct the energies and types of particles that interact with the sun during flares, an understanding that will open up whole new avenues in solar research," said Gerald Share, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland in College Park.  NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership. Fermi is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. It was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, with contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States. - NASA.
WATCH: NASA's Fermi detects the highest-energy light from a solar flare.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Researchers Say That Large Volcanic Eruptions Could Eat Away at the Ozone Layer - Injecting Large Quantities of Hazardous Gases Into the Global Flight Corridors; Impact Could Last For Years!

A large eruption in the volcanically active region of Central America could release enough ozone-depleting gases to significantly thin the ozone layer for several years, researchers announced Tuesday.
Such a volcanic eruption could double or triple the current levels of the chemical elements bromine and chlorine in the stratosphere, the upper atmosphere layer where ozone gas protects us from ultraviolet radiation, the researchers calculated, based on the levels of these chemicals released from 14 volcanoes in Nicaragua over the past 70,000 years. 

The Apoyo Caldera in Nicaragua was the site of a major volcanic
eruption 24,500 years ago. New research suggests the eruption,
and others like it, could have released gases that temporarily
depleted the ozone layer.
The researchers presented their work at a scientific conference in Iceland. Bromine and chlorine need an electron to become stable, and can easily rip it off passing molecules, like ozone. They are gases that "love to react — especially with ozone," study researcher Kirstin Krüger, a meteorologist with GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany, explained in a statement. "If they reach the upper levels of the atmosphere, they have a high potential of depleting the ozone layer." To estimate the past release of these chemicals by volcanoes, the researchers measured levels of halogens (the group of highly reactive elements that bromine and chlorine belong to) in rock layers deposited before and after historic eruptions. The average eruption released two to three times the quantity of human-produced bromine and chlorine currently in the stratosphere, they found." As we have bromine and chlorine together, we believe that this can lead to substantial depletion," Krüger said. "And this is from one single eruption." Previous studies have estimated that in large, explosive eruptions — the type that sends mushroom clouds of ash miles high — up to 25 percent of the ejected halogens can reach the stratosphere. Because the effects are in the stratosphere, where the volcanic gases can be carried across the globe, eruptions of tropical volcanoes could lead to ozone depletion over a large area, even having an impact over Antarctica and the Arctic, where seasonal "holes" in the ozone layer already exist. Some volcanic gases can last in the stratosphere up to six years, Krüger said, although the most significant impacts from eruptions like the intense eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 were within the first two years. Pinatubo's eruption reduced global temperatures by about 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) during the following year. - MSNBC.

A modern recurrence of an extraordinary type of volcanic eruption in Iceland could inject large quantities of hazardous gases into North Atlantic and European flight corridors, potentially for months at a time, a new study suggests. Using computer simulations, researchers are investigating the likely atmospheric effects if a "flood lava" eruption took place in Iceland today. Flood lava eruptions, which stand out for the sheer amounts of lava and sulfurous gases they release and the way their lava sprays from cracks like fiery fountains, have occurred in Iceland four times in roughly the past thousand years, records indicate, the most recent being the deadly and remarkable eruption of Iceland's volcano Laki in 1783-84.
Volcanic fire fountains erupt at Mauna Ulu in 1969.
Similar, but much larger eruptions, from some
Icelandic volcanoes could eject sulfur aerosols
into the atmosphere along air travel routes.
(Credit: USGS)
When Laki sprang to life on June 8, 1783, it generated a sulfuric acid haze that dispersed over Iceland, France, England, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, and other countries. It killed a fifth of Iceland's population and three-quarters of the island's livestock. It also destroyed crops, withered vegetation, and sowed human disease and death in several Northern European nations. During the eight months that Laki erupted, the volcano blasted 122 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere -- seven times more than did the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines and approximately 50 to 100 times more per day than Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano released in 2010. Researchers have found evidence in previous studies that a modern Laki-like eruption could disrupt European air traffic. Now, using two computer models that simulate physical and chemical behaviors of volcanic emissions, atmospheric scientist Anja Schmidt of the University of Leeds in the U.K. and her colleagues are refining scientific understanding of the likely concentrations and distributions of hazardous sulfur dioxide gas and sulfuric acid from such an event. If a Laki-like eruption were to begin in late spring or summer, as it did in 1783, the daily average concentrations of sulfur dioxide during that first month would exceed 40 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) in up to a third of the North Atlantic and European airspace, the new simulations show. That concentration falls just under the level of 47 ppbv at which the World Health Organization (WHO) deems chronic exposure to the gas a health hazard, although short-term exposures are considered hazardous only at much higher concentrations. In up to 10 percent of the air space, concentrations would exceed five times the WHO chronic exposure guideline, the researchers found. - Science Daily.

EXTREME WEATHER: Colorado Wildfire Explodes - Charred Land Soars Overnight From 20,000 to Over 43,000 Acres; 118 Structures Burned; One Dead; 0% Contained! UPDATE: New Mexico Fire Expands to 56 Square Miles - Destroys 224 Homes!

Hundreds of firefighters have joined efforts to tackle two of the biggest wildfires ever seen in the US states of Colorado and New Mexico.  The Colorado blaze shrouded the state capital, Denver, 60 miles (100km) away, in smoke, hampering rescue efforts. 

A woman has died in the blaze, which has burned about 43,000 acres (68 sq miles).  Smaller fires also burnt in nine drought-stricken western states, including Utah, California and Arizona.  In Colorado's Larimer County, authorities and family members said Linda Steadman, 62, died inside her mountain cabin.  Sheriff Justin Smith said that her home had received two evacuation warnings that were not answered, AP reports. President Barack Obama called the Colorado governor to offer federal personnel, equipment and emergency grants - but was unable to reach his New Mexico counterpart due to poor reception in the fire zone, the Associated Press reported. According to a national incident information website, a fire in two national parks in Colorado, - dubbed the High Park Fire - has scorched 43,000 acres of forest

About 118 structures have been damaged or destroyed by the blaze in the state - believed to have been started by lightning.  Hundreds of people had to be evacuated and some 600 firefighters were sent to the scene.  Sandy Mullen, whose home was destroyed in the blaze, said she left when it became clear that little would be left of her home.  "The ashes were coming down, the fire was coming down when we left so we knew, and it was burning on three sides," she told AP.  In southern New Mexico, a 145-sq-km (56-sq-mile) fire threatening the village of Ruidoso damaged or destroyed at least 224 homes and cabins, AP reports.  Rescuers said all that was left on the sites of homes destroyed by the Little Bear fire was heaps of scorched metal.  "It's truly heartbreaking to see the damage done to this beautiful part of the country," New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez said after visiting the area. - BBC.
WATCH: Huge wildfires hit Colorado and New Mexico.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Increased Geothermal Activity - Series of Quakes Hit Katla Volcano in South Iceland; 20 in Just Three Hours!

A series of earthquakes began in the sub-glacial volcano Katla in Mýrdalsjökull, south Iceland, shortly before 5 am this morning.

Mýrdalsjökull. Photo by Geir Ólafsson.
Between 5 and 6 am 14 minor quakes were registered there, the strongest of which had the magnitude 1.6 points. Between 6 and 8 am, six other minor quakes were picked up by the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s sensors, but after that the series subsided, reports.  Geographer Sigþrúður Ármannsdóttir at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, said the epicenter of the quakes were in the ice cauldrons that opened up during what probably was a minor eruption in Katla last summer, when the river Múlakvísl flooded, tearing a hole in the Ring Road. 

Sigþrúður believes they were caused by geothermal activity. She added that increased conductivity that has been measured in Múlakvísl lately might indicate that geothermal water is leaking into it.  Approximately one month ago a small glacier outburst occurred in Katla which lasted a few days. Seismic activity in the volcano was picked up by sensors, as well as increased conductivity in Múlakvísl.  The reason was also believed to be increased geothermal activity in one of Katla’s craters. - Iceland Review Online.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: "Unusual Mortality Event" - Mysterious Dolphin Stranding on Texas Coast Prompt Inquiry; 123 Washed up in Texas From November to March?!

The deaths of more than 120 dolphins on the Texas coast have prompted a federal agency to declare the event "unusual" and launch an investigation into whether they were related to a drought-related algae bloom or a more widespread mortality event that has plagued the northern Gulf of Mexico for two years. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has called the stranding of 123 dolphins on Texas shores from November through March an "unusual mortality event," an official federal listing that allows the agency to access additional funds and set up a team of researchers.  All but four of the dolphins that washed up in Texas were dead, and those that turned up alive died a short time later, said Blair Mase, the southeast marine mammal stranding network coordinator for NOAA Fisheries. 

What alarmed scientists, though, was the age of the bottle-nosed dolphins that washed up -- juveniles rather than the very young or elderly that typically would be found -- and the fact that Texas had a year's worth of dead dolphins turn up over five months.  The cause, however, may not be known for months, if at all, Mase said.  "That's what's a little frustrating about this. It's not like you see on TV, on CSI; you don't get the answers quickly," she said.  Further complicating matters are an array of simultaneous events in the Gulf that could all cause dolphin mortality, Mase said.  One during the fall and early winter was a toxic algae bloom called "red tide" that is caused by drought.  This past year, the red tide was more severe and lasted longer than usual because of the historic drought that parched Texas and made the estuaries that flow into the Gulf salty and conducive to the algae bloom. - Star Telegram.