Tuesday, April 2, 2013

FIRE IN THE SKY: 2013, The Year Of The Comet - NASA's Swift Sizes Up Comet ISON!

April 02, 2013 - SPACE - Astronomers from the University of Maryland at College Park (UMCP) and Lowell Observatory have used NASA's Swift satellite to check out comet C/2012 S1 (ISON), which may become one of the most dazzling in decades when it rounds the sun later this year.

Using images acquired over the last two months from Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT), the team has made initial estimates of the comet's water and dust production and used them to infer the size of its icy nucleus.

Comet ISON is now approaching the inner solar system. Discovered last year, the comet remains unusually active for its distance from the sun. If current trends continue, ISON could rank as one of the brightest comets in decades when it makes its close approach to the sun in late November. This animation shows the comet's approach and departure from the inner solar system from various perspectives.
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

"Comet ISON has the potential to be among the brightest comets of the last 50 years, which gives us a rare opportunity to observe its changes in great detail and over an extended period," said Lead Investigator Dennis Bodewits, an astronomer at UMCP.

Additional factors, including an encounter with Mars followed by a scorching close approach to the sun, make comet ISON an object of special interest. In late February, at NASA's request, a team of comet experts initiated the Comet ISON Observing Campaign (CIOC) to assist ground- and space-based facilities in obtaining the most scientifically useful data.

Like all comets, ISON is a clump of frozen gases mixed with dust. Often described as "dirty snowballs," comets emit gas and dust whenever they venture near enough to the sun that the icy material transforms from a solid to gas, a process called sublimation. Jets powered by sublimating ice also release dust, which reflects sunlight and brightens the comet.

Typically, a comet's water content remains frozen until it comes within about three times Earth's distance to the sun. While Swift's UVOT cannot detect water directly, the molecule quickly breaks into hydrogen atoms and hydroxyl (OH) molecules when exposed to ultraviolet sunlight. The UVOT detects light emitted by hydroxyl and other important molecular fragments as well as sunlight reflected from dust.

The Jan. 30 UVOT observations reveal that ISON was shedding about 112,000 pounds (51,000 kg) of dust, or about two-thirds the mass of an unfueled space shuttle, every minute. By contrast, the comet was producing only about 130 pounds (60 kg) of water every minute, or about four times the amount flowing out of a residential sprinkler system.

"The mismatch we detect between the amount of dust and water produced tells us that ISON's water sublimation is not yet powering its jets because the comet is still too far from the sun," Bodewits said. "Other more volatile materials, such as carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide ice, evaporate at greater distances and are now fueling ISON's activity."

At the time, the comet was 375 million miles (604 million km) from Earth and 460 million miles (740 million km) from the sun. ISON was at magnitude 15.7 on the astronomical brightness scale, or about 5,000 times fainter that the threshold of human vision.

Similar levels of activity were observed in February, and the team plans additional UVOT observations.

While the water and dust production rates are relatively uncertain because of the comet's faintness, they can be used to estimate the size of ISON's icy body. Comparing the amount of gas needed for a normal comet to blow off dust at the rate observed for ISON, the scientists estimate that the nucleus is roughly 3 miles (5 km) across, a typical size for a comet. This assumes that only the fraction of the surface most directly exposed to the sun, about 10 percent of the total, is actively producing jets.

The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope aboard NASA's Swift imaged comet ISON (center) on Jan. 30, when it was located about 3.3 degrees from the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini. At the time of this 5.5-minute optical exposure, ISON was about 5,000 times fainter than the limit of human vision.
Credit: NASA/Swift/D. Bodewits, UMCP

An important question is whether ISON will continue to brighten at the same pace once water evaporation becomes the dominant source for its jets. Will the comet sizzle or fizzle?

"It looks promising, but that's all we can say for sure now," said Matthew Knight, an astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., and a member of the Swift and CIOC teams. "Past comets have failed to live up to expectations once they reached the inner solar system, and only observations over the next few months will improve our knowledge of how ISON will perform."

Based on ISON's orbit, astronomers think the comet is making its first-ever trip through the inner solar system. Before beginning its long fall toward the sun, the comet resided in the Oort comet cloud, a vast shell of perhaps a trillion icy bodies that extends from the outer reaches of the planetary system to about a third of the distance to the star nearest the sun.

Formally designated C/2012 S1 (ISON), the comet was discovered on Sept. 21, 2012, by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok using a telescope of the International Scientific Optical Network located near Kislovodsk.

The first of several intriguing observing opportunities occurs on Oct. 1, when the inbound comet passes about 6.7 million miles (10.8 million km) from Mars.

"During this close encounter, comet ISON may be observable to NASA and ESA spacecraft now working at Mars," said Michael Kelley, an astronomer at UMCP and also a Swift and CIOC team member. "Personally, I'm hoping we'll see a dramatic postcard image taken by NASA's latest Mars explorer, the Curiosity rover."

From now through October, comet ISON tracks through the constellations Gemini, Cancer and Leo as it falls toward the sun.
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Axel Mellinger

Fifty-eight days later, on Nov. 28, ISON will make a sweltering passage around the sun. The comet will approach within about 730,000 miles (1.2 million km) of its visible surface, which classifies ISON as a sungrazing comet. In late November, its icy material will furiously sublimate and release torrents of dust as the surface erodes under the sun's fierce heat, all as sun-monitoring satellites look on. Around this time, the comet may become bright enough to glimpse just by holding up a hand to block the sun's glare.

Sungrazing comets often shed large fragments or even completely disrupt following close encounters with the sun, but for ISON neither fate is a forgone conclusion.

"We estimate that as much as 10 percent of the comet's diameter may erode away, but this probably won't devastate it," explained Knight. Nearly all of the energy reaching the comet acts to sublimate its ice, an evaporative process that cools the comet's surface and keeps it from reaching extreme temperatures despite its proximity to the sun.

Following ISON's solar encounter, the comet will depart the sun and move toward Earth, appearing in evening twilight through December. It will swing past Earth on Dec. 26, approaching within 39.9 million miles (64.2 million km) or about 167 times farther than the moon.

Whether we'll look back on ISON as a "comet of the century" or as an overhyped cosmic dud remains to be seen, but astronomers are planning to learn the most they can about this unusual visitor no matter what happens. - NASA.

WATCH: NASA's Swift Sizes Up Comet ISON.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Major Solar System Disturbance - Comet 2013 A1 On A Collision Course For Mars In Late 2014!

April 02, 2013 - MARS - Over the years, the spacefaring nations of Earth have sent dozens of probes and rovers to explore Mars. Today there are three active satellites circling the red planet while two rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity, wheel across the red sands below. Mars is dry, barren, and apparently lifeless.

Soon, those assets could find themselves exploring a very different kind of world.

"There is a small but non-negligible chance that Comet 2013 A1 will strike Mars next year in October of 2014," says Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at JPL. "Current solutions put the odds of impact at 1 in 2000."

The nucleus of the comet is probably 1 to 3 km in diameter, and it is coming in fast, around 56 km/s (125,000 mph). "It if does hit Mars, it would deliver as much energy as 35 million megatons of TNT," estimates Yeomans.

For comparison, the asteroid strike that ended the dinosaurs on Earth 65 million years ago was about three times as powerful, 100 million megatons. Another point of comparison is the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February of 2013, damaging buildings and knocking people down. The Mars comet is packing 80 million times more energy than that relatively puny asteroid.

An impact wouldn't necessarily mean the end of NASA's Mars program. But it would transform the program-- along with Mars itself.

Opportunity might have trouble observing the aftermath of a comet impact if dust in the air cuts sunlight to the rover's solar panels. More

"I think of it as a giant climate experiment," says Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA headquarters. "An impact would loft a lot of stuff into the Martian atmosphere--dust, sand, water and other debris. The result could be a warmer, wetter Mars than we're accustomed to today."

Meyer worries that solar-powered Opportunity might have a hard time surviving if the atmosphere became opaque. Nuclear-powered Curiosity, though, would carry on just fine. He also notes that Mars orbiters might have trouble seeing the surface, for a while at least, until the debris begins to clear.

A direct impact remains unlikely. Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program stresses that a 1 in 2000 chance of impact means there's a 1999 in 2000 chance of no impact. "A near-miss is far more likely," he points out.

Even a near miss is a potentially big event. The latest orbit solutions put the comet somewhere within 300,000 km of the red planet at closest approach. That means Mars could find itself inside the comet's gassy, dusty atmosphere or "coma." Visually, the comet would reach 0th magnitude, that is, a few times brighter than a 1st magnitude star, as seen from the Red Planet.

"Cameras on ALL of NASA's spacecraft currently operating at Mars should be able to take photographs of Comet 2013 A1," says Jim Bell, a planetary scientist and Mars imaging specialist at Arizona State University. "The issue with Mars Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will be the ability to point them in the right direction; they are used to looking down, not up. Mission designers will have to figure out if that is possible."

"The issue with the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers will be power for imaging at night," he continues. "Opportunity is solar powered and so would need to dip into reserve battery power to operate the cameras at night. Whether or not we will be able to do this will depend on how much power the rover is getting from dusty solar panels in the daytime. On the other hand, Curiosity is nuclear powered, so it could have better odds at night-time imaging."

Researchers will be keenly interested to see how the comet's atmosphere interacts with the atmosphere of Mars. For one thing, there could be a meteor shower. "Analyzing the spectrum of disintegrating meteors could tell us something interesting about the chemistry of the upper atmosphere," notes Meyer.

Another possibility is Martian auroras. Unlike Earth, which has a global magnetic field that wraps around our entire planet, Mars is only magnetized in patches. Here and there, magnetic umbrellas sprout out of the ground, creating a crazy-quilt of magnetic poles concentrated mainly in the southern hemisphere. Ionized gases hitting the top of the Martian atmosphere could spark auroras in the canopies of the magnetic umbrellas.

Even before the comet flyby was known, NASA had already decided to send a spacecraft to Mars to study the dynamics of the Martian atmosphere. If the probe, named MAVEN (short for "Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution"), is launched on time in November 2013, it would reach Mars just a few weeks before the comet in 2014.

However, notes MAVEN's principal investigator Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, the spacecraft won't be ready to observe the comet when it reaches Mars. "It takes a while to get into our science mapping orbit, deploy the booms, turn on and test the science instruments--and so on," he explains. "MAVEN won't be fully operational until perhaps two weeks after the comet passes. There are some effects that I would expect to linger for a relatively long period--especially if the comet hits Mars--and we will be able to observe those changes."

Astronomers around the world are monitoring 2013 A1. Every day, new data arrive to refine the comet's orbit. As the error bars shrink, Yeomans expects a direct hit to be ruled out. "The odds favor a flyby, not a collision," he says.

Either way, this is going to be good. Stay tuned for updates as the comet approaches. - NASA.

WATCH: Collision Course - A Comet Heads for Mars.

EUROPEAN VAMPIRISM: The Pervasively Savage War Raged Against Nature - Major ExxonMobil Oil Spill In United States; River Of Crude Oil 40 Miles From Arkansas Nuclear Plant At "Emergency Level 4"; Nearly 500,000 Gallons Spilled; Many Residents Unaware Pipeline Ran Under Their Homes; Ducks Near Arkansas Oil Spill Found Dead After Pipeline Rupture!

April 02, 2013 - UNITED STATES - ExxonMobil is continuing cleanup operations after an oil pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of Canadian crude in Arkansas. The spill has led many to speak out against oil sands exploitation and the construction of Keystone XL pipeline.

Spilled crude oil is seen in a drainage ditch near evacuated homes near Starlite Road in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013 (Reuters / Jacob Slaton)

Exxon's Pegasus pipeline – which can carry more than 90,000 barrels of Canadian Heavy crude oil per day from Patoka, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas – was shut down after the leak was discovered on Friday in a suburban area near the town of Mayflower, Arkansas.

Residents are shocked, frustrated and discouraged after the oil pipeline - which many were unaware existed - burst, devastating the small town by flooding its streets with thousands of barrels of Canadian crude. "The smell is quite horrendous both outside and inside our home. There is a strong smell of oil in our vehicles, as well," resident Chris Harrell told RT.

Twenty-two homes have been evacuated so far, and more are expected. "Excavation is necessary as part of an investigation to determine the cause of the incident," Exxon spokesperson Alan Jeffers told Reuters.

Spilled crude oil is seen running between houses in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013
(Reuters / Jacob Slaton)

The accident has left evacuated residents seeking shelter elsewhere. "Basically if it doesn't fit in our car we don't have it right now," local resident Ryan Senia said. He had previously listed his home for sale, but said the spill has forced him to take it off the market.  The spill totaled upwards of 10,000 barrels [420,000 gallons], according to an ExxonMobil press release. So far, about 12,000 barrels of oil and water have reportedly been recovered. The company has deployed 15 vacuum trucks, 33 storage tanks and 120 workers to the cleanup site."There are literally hundreds of cleanup crew people in our area...no one has a definite time frame on how long they will be here, but some people are saying months," Harrell said.

Emergency crews work to clean up an oil spill near Interstate 40 in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013
(Reuters / Jacob Slaton)

A 3,600-foot boom was also installed near Lake Conway, and an approximately 51-centimeter pipeline was shut down to prevent the spilled oil from reaching the water. So far, no oil has reached the lake. The cause of the spill is being investigated, and cleanup operations are being coordinated with the Department of Emergency Management and other local authorities. The Heavy Crude that the Pegasus Pipeline was carrying at the time needs to be blended with lighter oils or natural gas liquids in order to flow through, and some environmentalists suspect that this type of oil sand crude is more corrosive to pipelines. Exxon was fined in 2010 for not inspecting another portion of the Pegasus line with sufficient frequency.

Emergency crews work to clean up an oil spill near Interstate 40 in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013
(Reuters / Jacob Slaton)

Meanwhile, the community is anxious to see how the oil giant plans to handle the situation: "The major concern for many people in our neighborhood is the long-term impact, both environmentally and financially. For example, what is this going to do to our property values?" Harrell said. He added that many local residents are angry, and were not aware that the pipeline ran through the area. Richard Steiner, an environmental consultant for Oasis Earth, spoke with RT Monday to describe the ecological and possible political ramifications of the Arkansas oil spill. He blamed a lack of responsibility among US safety regulators who allowed the Pegasus pipeline to remain in operation for over 50 years.

"There’s no excuse whatsoever for oil pipelines to be anything over 30 years old,” he said. “Their general design life is maybe 20-30 years old. The federal administration within the Department of Transportation in the US – the pipeline and hazardous material safety administration – isn’t doing its job. Nor is industry. There’s a general complacency within industry and government that says, ‘Look, don’t worry we’ve got this. You should just be happy. We know how to do this work. Stay out of our business.’ But this happens time and time and time and again. It just goes to show you people make mistakes." Local media reported that journalists were barred from entering the site for over 30 hours following the disaster.

Mark McCaw @bigpicguy (via Twitter)
Keystone Pipeline
The leak comes amid growing opposition to the controversial Keystone XL project, which would see an oil pipeline run across the US Midwest. TransCanada Corp.'s plan to pipe Alberta oil sands to the US Gulf Coast has been met with criticism over the possible environmental impact. The project has been embroiled in ongoing controversy. Project supporters have worked to persuade the US to approve the $7-billion project, arguing that the Keystone XL would create thousands of new jobs and free the country from energy dependence on South American exporters such as Venezuela.

Though, according to Christopher Williams, an environmental activist and professor at Pace University who spoke with RT on Monday , Keystone has "nothing to do with reducing gasoline costs in the United States -- most of that oil is to be exported, it's not for US consumption. So, this is very much a bonanza for the oil companies, and a disaster for North Americans." Environmentalists have expressed concerns over the pollution risks inherent to the controversial tar sands method of oil production. Even the US State Department admits the Keystone project will create "numerous" and "substantial" impacts on the environment.

chris harrell @shiftymcfive01 (via Twitter)

Spilled crude oil is seen in a drainage ditch near Starlite Road in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013
(Reuters / Jacob Slaton)

In a March draft environmental impact statement, the US said that the Canadian synthetic crude oil the pipeline is slated to transport into the US produces 17 per cent more greenhouse gases than natural crude oil already refined there. It also said that the construction phase of the project would result in carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to about 626,000 passenger vehicles operating for one year.

The report also said the pipeline could disturb highly erodible soil, degrade streams, encroach on habitats of federally protected species, and be susceptible to potentially disastrous leaks and spills. But despite its environmental toll, the US says the Keystone pipeline it is still a better option than proposed alternatives which are “not reasonable.” President Barack Obama will have the final say on the project, which has been pending for more than four years, as environmental activists battle to kill it. - RT.

WATCH: Oil rivers flow through Arkansas after Exxon pipeline spill.

One Killed After Arkansas Nuclear One Accident.
THE COURIER / Joshua Mashon.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, the nuclear reactor at Arkansas Nuclear One was not affected by the Sunday morning accident at the plant. The agency stated there is no immediate threat to the public in Pope, Johnson and Yell counties.  Entergy officials confirmed Sunday that one person was killed, and three others injured in an accident at Arkansas Nuclear One in Russellville, and that no nuclear material was released during the incident.  The release states the accident occurred around 7:45 a.m. when a generator stator fell while being moved out of a turbine building.  The injured workers were transported to a local hospital, officials said.  Entergy officials say both units are in a "stable shutdown condition" and there is no danger to the public.  At an early afternoon press conference, Arkansas Nuclear One and Arkansas Department of Health officials told the media there was no release of nuclear materials following the industrial accident at the plant. 

The area surrounding ANO was placed at emergency Level 4 because of the potential for local impact, but no call to evacuate was issued by the Arkansas Department of Health. Some evacuation signs were posted throughout the community today showing emergency evacuation routes.  Entergy officials said the reactor in Unit 2 is in a stable configuration.  An Arkansas Department of Health official categorized it has an industrial accident that did not involve any radiation or affect to the reactor.  Jeff Forbes, Executive VP and Chief Nuclear Officer, said, "We are deeply saddened by what has happened today. Out greatest sympathy is with the family and friends of the employee who lost his life and with those who sustained injuries. I also want to express my sorrow and support to all those who work at ANO. I know this is especially hard on them."  Read more: The Courier - Your Messenger for the River Valley - Officals No release of nuclear materials after ANO accident - Courier News.

Ducks Near Arkansas Oil Spill Found Dead After ExxonMobil Pipeline Rupture.
The environmental impacts of an oil spill in central Arkansas began to come into focus Monday as officials said a couple of dead ducks and 10 live oily birds were found after an ExxonMobil Corp. pipeline ruptured last week. "I'm an animal lover, a wildlife lover, as probably most of the people here are," Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson told reporters. "We don't like to see that. No one does." Officials are urging people in Mayflower, a small city about 20 miles northwest of Little Rock, not to touch any injured or oiled animals as crews clean up Friday's spill.

An “oiled” duck recovered near the Bell Slough State Wildlife Management Area in Mayflower, Ark., is rescued Monday, April 1, 2013 and prepared to be taken to HAWK Center, a wildlife rehabilitation group assisting ExxonMobil after a pipeline ruptured and dumped several thousands of barrels of oil Friday. Cleanup of streams, wildlife and residential yards continues this week.
(AP Photo/Log Cabin Democrat, Courtney Spradlin)

About 12,000 barrels of oil and water have been recovered since ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline sprung a leak, spewing oil onto lawns and roadways and nearly fouling a nearby lake. Dodson said he expects a few more oily birds to turn up in the coming days. "I don't expect a great number of them," he said. "I'll be thoroughly disappointed if there are." Investigators are still working to determine what caused the spill, which led authorities to evacuate nearly two dozen homes in a subdivision.

It's not clear when residents will be able to return to their homes, but Dodson said it could be within days for some people.  "Our focus is to protect the community," said Karen Tyrone, vice president of operations for ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. "We have air monitoring going on seven days a week, 24 hours a day ... and to date, we have no indication that there's a health impact on the community."

Still, the air smells like oil, and area residents say it has for days.  "We live five miles out in the country and we've had the smell out there," Karen Lewis, 54, said outside a local grocery store. Its parking lot, like much of this small city, is teeming with cleanup crews and their trucks.  Meanwhile, in the neighborhood where the pipeline burst, workers in yellow suits waded in an oil-soaked lawn Monday as they tried to clean up part of the area where the spill began.  The pipeline that ruptured dates back to the 1940s, according to ExxonMobil, and is part of the Pegasus pipeline that carries crude oil from the Midwest to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.  Exxon spokesman Charlie Engelmann said the oil is conventionally produced Canadian heavy crude.  "Crude oil is crude oil," Dodson said. "None of it is real good to touch." - Huffington Post.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Volcano Discovery Report For April 02, 2013 - Updates On El Hierro, Stromboli, Sakurajima, Etna, Tjörnes Fracture Zone, Kizimen, Shiveluch, Tolbachik, Batu Tara, Popocatépetl, Santa María, Santiaguito, Pacaya, Fuego, Telica, Reventador, Tungurahua And Nyiragongo!

April 02, 2013 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing reports of volcanoes across the globe.

Current seismic signal (IGN).

El Hierro (Canary Islands, Spain): So far, it has been one of the calmest days during the now two-weeks-long seismic crisis. Tremor has been more or less absent today, while earthquakes (so far today: 34 quakes between magnitudes 1.6-3.2) have continued at reduced intensity. Given the past experience, it is certainly too early to draw a good conclusion whether we are near the end of the crisis (or the suspected magma intrusion) or just in a pause, while magma is potentially building up new pressure.

Depth vs time of recent earthquakes under El Hierro.

The seismic swarm has continued to decrease and activity is currently low. So far, IGN lists about 10 quakes above magnitude 1.5 for today, the largest a magnitude 3.3 at 02:32 GMT at 20 km depth.
Yesterday: 82 earthquakes between M 1.7 - 3.8.... [read more]

Current seismic signal from Stromboli (ST8 station, INGV).

Stromboli (Eolian Islands, Italy): Tremor and explosion signals have further increased today, but no significant new lava overflows have occurred.

Etna (Sicily, Italy): Closer inspection of the "white lava" reported in yesterday's news revealed that these were so-called xenoliths, i.e. no lava at all, but pieces of sedimentary rock from strata underlying the volcano brought up by the rising magma. In this case, they are pieces of barely compacted beach sandstone, similar to the xenoliths ejected during the flank eruptions in 2011 and 2012, which are believed to have trapped a different (so-called eccentric) shallow magma chamber beneath the volcano. To find such xenoliths as produces of eruptions from the SUMMIT craters is highly unusual and could (*speculation*) indicate that the latest, violent, eruptive episode has actually involved a different magma reservoir as well.
Fresh snow has now covered much of the bombs from the recent eruption.

Depth vs time of quakes under the Tjörnes Fracture Zone.

Tjörnes Fracture Zone (North of Iceland): A strong earthquake swarm including a widely felt magnitude 5.4 earthquake at 15 km depth this morning and hundreds of pre- and aftershocks is occurring in the Tjörnes Fracture Zone in a N-S elongated area about 15 km east of the island of Grimsey.

Kizimen (Kamchatka): Lava dome growth, accompanied by moderate seismic activity, strong degassing and avalanches on the western and eastern flank of the volcano continues.

Shiveluch (Kamchatka): No changes in activity occurred. Moderate seismic activity accompanies ongoing lava dome growth, KVERT mentions.

Thermal hot spots corresponding to Tolbachik's recent lava flows.

Tolbachik (Kamchatka): KVERT reports no significant changes in the ongoing basaltic flank eruption: fluid lava flows are erupted from the southern fissure and feed two major flow fields to the west and east. Tremor levels are still relatively high.

Sakurajima (Kyushu, Japan): A relatively strong explosion occurred 2 hours ago (18:17 Japan time), sending an ash plume to 12,000 ft (3.7 km) altitude, VAAC Tokyo reported.

Batu Tara (Sunda Islands, Indonesia): A plume of volcanic ash was spotted on satellite data last night, reaching 7,0000 ft (2.1 km) altitude and drifting 15 nautical miles to the NE.

SO2 plume from Popocatépetl (NOAA).

Popocatépetl (Central Mexico): Activity has again been a bit elevated during the past two days and corresponds to increased SO2 emissions and frequent small quakes and/or tremor signals on the seismogram.

CENAPRED reports that during 31 Mar-1 April, Popocatépetl produced small explosions at a rate of about 2 per hour, which merged into a continuous gas and ash emission yesterday morning at 5:16 am (local time) that lasted an hour. Explosions at 8:22, 8:39 an 9:55 am produced ash plumes rising more than 2 km and drifted east, where probably light ash fall occurred... [read more]

Santa María / Santiaguito (Guatemala): Explosive activity has been weak, but INSIVUMEH reports that the lava flows are producing constant avalanches, or in other words are well alimented at the moment.
A strong steam plume rises about 800 m above the lava dome.

Pacaya (Guatemala): Strombolian activity has continued and seems to be becoming slowly stronger. Incandescent material can now be seen ejected at night and lands mainly on the western flank of Mackenney crater, where INSIVUMEH advises tourists not to go.

Fuego (Guatemala): Explosive activity is on the increase again. During 31 Mar - yesterday, the observatory reported 12 small to moderate explosions with ash plumes rising up to 1100 m above the crater, accompanied by shock waves felt in up to 15 km and plenty of incandescent bombs ejected to all over the summit cone.

Current seismogram from Telica volcano (TELN station INETER).

Telica (Nicaragua): Seismicity has remained high. INETER has not (yet) published anything about unusual activity at the volcano, which suggests that they don't expect any eruption anytime soon.

Reventador (Ecuador): IG reports surface and internal (seismic) activity at stable, moderate levels. A steam plume rising 700 m above the crater, where a lava dome continues to grow, was observed.

Current seismic signal from Tungurahua (RETU station, IG).

Tungurahua (Ecuador): Seismic activity continues to increase, mainly dominated by signals corresponding to internal fluid movements. A small earthquake of magnitude 2.5 occurred in the evening of 31 Mar NW of the volcano and was felt in the sectors of Cusúa, Baños, Pondoa and Juive.

SO2 plume from Nyiragongo (NOAA).

Nyiragongo (DRCongo): Strong SO2 emissions visible on NOAA satellite data suggest that the famous lava lake continues to be active inside the crater.

Complete Earthquake list (worldwide) for April 1, 2013.

Photo of the Day:

Erupting Pu'u 'O'o vent, Kilauea volcano, Big Island, Hawaii
Published: (Photo: Janka)

- Volcano Discovery.

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: Very Rare Tornado In Northeastern Serbia Causes "Enormous" And Widespread Havoc - Devastates Village, Damaging Over 100 Structures!

April 02, 2013 - SERBIA - A tornado struck the village of Torda in Serbia and caused damage to more than 100 buildings, authorities said.

The storm, which hit Sunday, ripped off roofs, turned over vehicles and pulled trees from the ground, B92 said, but no casualties were reported.

Authorities said residents have reported damage at 80 houses. Damage is estimated in the millions of dollars.

Police, firefighters and electric grid maintenance workers were working to assist local residents, B92 said. - UPI.

Belgrade-based daily Blic is writing that there have been no casualties, but that the material damage is "enormous". The storm ripped off roofs from houses, turned over vehicles, and ripped out trees.

Police, firefighters, electric grid maintenance workers, and those from utilities companies of the municipality of Žitište, where the village is located, were all at the scene.

Janoš Dobai, head of the Local Community Office (MZ), told reporters that 80 households so far reported damage, while some 100 structures in all were affected. According to him, the village suffered damages worth "millions".

Žitište Municipality President Dušan Mićev said that the local authorities were organizing assistance to the village, but appealed on the provincial and state authorities to help.

Torda is an ethnic Hungarian village that has some 1,400 residents who were celebrating Easter when the storm struck on Sunday. - B92.

WATCH: Scenes from the aftermath of a destructive tornadoes passage in Torda.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: The Euro-Zone Crisis - Eurozone Unemployment Reaches "Staggering" Record High Of 12 Percent As Cyprus Contagion Spreads!

April 02, 2013 - EUROPE - While the euro zone has been transfixed lately by the Cyprus meltdown, another and potentially bigger European crisis has continued to simmer: record-high unemployment. Spending cuts and tax increases aimed at trimming debt and addressing the financial crises in bailed-out euro zone countries, and the rising rate of joblessness in much of the currency bloc, “are feeding off of each other,” said Mark Cliffe, chief economist at ING Group.“It’s a bit of a vicious circle,” he said. “Europe is pursuing a policy that is self-evidently failing.”

The euro zone jobless rate rose to 12.0 percent in the first two months of the year, the latest in a series of record highs tracing to late 2011, Eurostat, the statistical agency of the European Union, reported Tuesday.

The agency revised upward the January jobless rate for the euro zone from the previously reported 11.9 percent, itself a record. For the overall European Union, Eurostat said the February jobless rate rose to 10.9 percent from 10.8 percent in January, with more than 26 million people without work across the 27-nation bloc.

Both the jobless rates and the number of unemployed are the highest Eurostat has recorded in data that reach back to 1995, before the creation of the euro.

Europe’s rising unemployment is in increasingly stark contrast to the jobs recovery in the United States, where unemployment in February declined to 7.7 percent, the lowest level since late 2008. The consensus among economists surveyed by Reuters is for the U.S. economy to show a gain of 200,000 jobs in March, after a gain of 236,000 in February. The labor data will be released Friday.

With most European economies either contracting or barely growing, any hiring that is being done by Europe’s companies tends to be taking place elsewhere. Volkswagen, aspiring to become the world’s largest automaker within a few years, is planning to hire 50,000 workers by 2018, raising its total work force to 600,000 employees, according to Bernd Osterloh, the chairman of the German carmaker’s workers council.

But the company wants to add production where the demand is.

“Volkswagen is growing, and is therefore continuing to hire in production,” Mr. Osterloh said in an article that appeared Tuesday in the German daily Handelsblatt. More of the new employees will be added in China than in Europe, he told the newspaper.

The European car market, meanwhile, is at its lowest level in nearly two decades — a side effect of the weak regional economy and the growing number of people without paychecks to spend.

After Greece’s staggering debt problems became apparent in 2009, political leaders and the European Central Bank began demanding that member nations cut government spending and raise taxes to bring their budgets in line with European rules. Those efforts, along with a commitment from the E.C.B. to do whatever is necessary to defend the euro, have helped to ease the near-panic that has gripped the euro zone as recently as last year.

But lower government spending also reduces overall demand for goods and services, weakening the overall economy and the labor market.

In the absence of new measures to stimulate growth at the European and national levels, all attention will be focused Thursday on the governing council of the European Central Bank, which meets in Frankfurt to consider whether to maintain interest rates at their current record low or cut even further. Economists said that the data Tuesday would give the E.C.B. greater scope to cut its main interest rate target from the current 0.75 percent, but that the bank would probably hold its fire for now.

The jobless crisis is hitting hardest in the south of Europe. Eurostat said Greece, with its economy in free fall, had the euro zone’s highest unemployment rate ,at 26.4 percent in December, the latest month for which data are available. Among Greek youth, the jobless rate has hit a staggering level, 58.4 percent.

Spain, where the economy has contracted sharply after the collapse of the global credit bubble, posted the second-highest unemployment rate in the euro zone in February, at 26.3 percent.

Cyprus’s jobless rate, at 14.0 percent, is almost certain to rise because the country’s recently negotiated bailout deal will crimp the economy for years to come, said Mr. Cliffe, of ING. “We’ve already seen how this story plays out in Greece,” he said. “We’re about to see it play out again in Cyprus.”

Austria had the euro zone's lowest jobless rate, at 4.8 percent. Britain, the largest E.U. economy outside the single currency bloc, had an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent in December, the latest available month.

The European labor market has now declined for 22 straight months, making this the worst downturn since the early 1990s, Jennifer McKeown, an economist in London with Capital Economics, wrote in a research note Tuesday. “With fiscal tightening still putting downward pressure on disposable incomes and consumer confidence at very low levels, household spending is likely to fall further in the coming months,” Ms. McKeown said.

Ms. McKeown also noted that the France’s February jobless rate at 10.8 percent — double the German rate of 5.4 percent — “looks very worrying.”

Philippe d’Arvisenet, global chief economist of BNP Paribas, said France had lost competitiveness relative to Germany over recent years, as Berlin overhauled the labor market to hold costs down while Paris had stood by as wages outgrew productivity.

President François Hollande’s government is taking positive steps, he said, including labor market reforms and budget consolidation, but it will take time.

“Labor reform and fiscal consolidation are done in Germany,” Mr. d’Arvisenet said. “But we still have a lot to do in France.”

One company bucking the unemployment trend is the aircraft maker Airbus, with an order backlog of seven years and the bulk of its sales outside Europe. Anne Galabert, a spokeswoman, said about 90 percent of the company’s 3,000 new hires this year will be in Europe, about the same percentage as the more than 10,000 people Airbus hired in the two years spanning 2011 and 2012.

But the company, a unit of European Aeronautic Defense and Space, which is partly owned by the French, German and Spanish governments, may feel pressure to maintain employment in its home markets.

European officials continue to hold out hope that the economy, which continued to shrink in the first quarter of 2013, will begin turning around in the second half of the year. Many private-sector forecasters are more pessimistic, expecting a contraction of as much as 2 percent in the euro zone’s gross domestic product this year, after a 0.9 percent contraction last year.

Mr. Cliffe said it was unlikely that European officials would consider any change of course before Germany's national elections, in September, as a combination of bailout fatigue and German electoral politics had halted any discussion of action on the labor market, banking union or the possibility of jointly issued euro bonds.

“The only other hope is that the global economy turns up,” he said. “But so far that seems unlikely.” - NY Times.

WATCH: Record Euro-Zone unemployment figures are 'staggering'.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: More Sinkholes Keep Popping Up In North America - Massive Sinkhole Swallows Up Two Cars In Parking Lot Near Montreal Airport?!

April 02, 2013 - CANADA - Two cars fell into a sinkhole that opened up Friday in a parking lot near Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. The cars didn't completely disappear - the nose of one of the cars slipped into the hole while the side of the other car was partially submerged.

A man looks inside a sinkhole that opened up at a parking lot at Montreal Airport on Friday, March 29, 2013, after two partially-submerged cars were pulled from the hole. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

A spokesman for Montreal's airport authority says the hole is just under a metre deep and covers an area of about five metres long and three metres wide.

Francois Asselin says it's located in an outdoor employee parking lot and stressed it won't disrupt business at the airport.

Montreal Airport employees look into a sinkhole that opened up at a parking lot at Montreal Airport, Friday, March 29, 2013, after two partially-submerged cars were pulled from the hole. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

No one has been injured and the cars were pulled out by mid-afternoon.

Police and firefighters have cordoned off the area in case the hole widens. - Windsor Star.

ICE AGE NOW: Global Cooling Across The World - 2013 Easter Sunday Coldest On UK Record; Blizzard Grips Poland, Leaves 100,000 Without Power; Austria's Ice-Cold Weather Paralyzes Agriculture; Welsh Hill Farmers Reel As Melting Snow Reveals Carcasses Of Ewes And Lambs!

April 02, 2013 - EUROPE - The UK has recorded its coldest Easter Sunday for more than 50 years, with overnight temperatures dipping to below -12C in Scotland. The Met Office confirmed it had registered a temperature of -12.5 in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, in the Scottish Highlands. With modern records dating back to 1960, Sunday's freezing weather beat the previous record of -9.8, set in 1986.

Easter Sunday Coldest On UK Record.
The weather on Easter Sunday was in sharp contrast to last year, when a temperature of 22.9C was recorded in Aberdeenshire. Photograph: Richard Bowler/Rex Features
The freezing temperatures, deep snowdrifts and bitter easterly winds stand in stark contrast to last year's mini-heatwave, when the mercury in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, reached 22.9C on 26 March.

The Met Office said the month of March still looked set to be the coldest since 1962 and the fourth coldest since 1910.

From 1-26 March the UK mean temperature was 2.5C, three degrees below the long-term average.

March is likely to be the fourth coldest on record for England, joint third coldest for Wales, joint eighth coldest for Scotland and sixth coldest for Northern Ireland.

The week ahead is likely to remain extremely cold but snow is likely to hold off in most places.

Greg Dewhurst from the Met Office said: "We've got high pressure remaining in charge throughout this week so most places will be dry with sunny spells. But we stay on the cold side, especially for this time of year."

In most places maximum temperatures would be between 6C and 8C with a blustery easterly wind in southern and eastern areas to be expected, he said. Wintry showers are expected to be "few and far between". - Guardian.

Blizzard Grips Poland, Leaves 100,000 Without Power.
Over 100,000 people in Poland have been left without power as the country battles with a paralysing blanket of snow that also brought chaos to its transport system.© Getty Images.
Heavy snow falls dumped as much as 10 inches across the country on Sunday, and more is forecast for Monday as an unusually prolonged winter maintains a severe grip over the Central European country.

In an Easter address to Poland Bronislaw Komorowski, the Polish president, described the weather as a bad "April Fool's Day joke".

Engineers from electricity companies struggled to restore power to towns and homes after the weight of snow brought power lines down and caused tree branches to snap and bring more lines down. The worst affected regions were to the east and south of Warsaw where as many as 80,000 people were left without power.

Dorota Gajewska, a spokeswoman for the PGE Dystrybucja, the local power company, described the situation as "serious" and said that many homes will remain without electricity at least until Monday night.

The weather also took its toll on Poland's airports with hundreds of flights either cancelled or delayed.

Poland's roads authority reported that driving conditions across the country remained difficult despite the deployment of over 1,100 snow ploughs. Sixteen people were killed in traffic accidents over the Easter weekend and 232 left injured.

Local authorities in Poland warned that the continuing battle with winter weather was putting an intolerable strain on budgets, with the mayor of the southern town of Bytom proposing that they might have to follow the "Scandinavian example" and leave some roads covered in snow.

The blizzard conditions stretched into the neighbouring Czech and Slovak republics where snow falls up to 15 inches deep in mountain regions blocked roads and cast an icy blanket over attempts to celebrate Easter.

Further south in Hungary melting snow coupled with rain made rivers in the west of the country burst their banks. The Hungarian armed forces helped evacuate 20,000 people as over 296,000 acres of land near Lake Balaton disappeared under flood waters.

Local farmers reported that the combination of snow, frost and floods will result in "huge losses". - The Telegraph.

Austria's Ice-Cold Weather Paralyzes Agriculture.
© Wikipedia.
Farmers and drivers are worried about winter returning to Austria. As fields are covered in snow, farmers cannot plough the fields. This will lead to problems with summer crops. A Siberian cold front is sweeping over many parts of Europe. Heavy snow is falling in Moscow, there are winter storms in the Ukraine and the ice-cold weather has paralysed the agriculture in Styria.

The long winter is stopping farmers from working on the fields. Summer crops are especially affected by this. According to Karl Mayer of the Styrian Chamber of Agriculture, the harvest could thus be severely affected. Under normal weather conditions, the summer crops are sowed at the end of February. The latest possible time in the South is the first week of April and the second week of April in North Styria. But even these dates will not be possible this year.

The wet and cold weather also leads to the fact that fields cannot be driven on by tractors at the moment. This is why not only the sowing has to wait but also the fertilisation.

The farmers are also worried about the early potatoes, which have to be in the ground by the beginning of April but cannot be planted when there is frost.

The current negative affects of the weather have not had a big effect of the wine industry in Styria. It could even have a positive effect as the wine will grow fast if it is warm in April. Many diseases could thus be prevented, said Anton Kremser of the Chamber of Agriculture. - Austria Times.

Welsh Hill Farmers Reel As Melting Snow Reveals Carcasses Of Ewes And Lambs.
A heat lamp keeps a one-day-old lamb warm on a farm in Wales. Others though have not fared as well. The frozen carcasses of thousands of heavily pregnant ewes and new-born lambs have been found as the snow melts. © Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Hill farmers in Wales face one of their worst crises in 60 years as the melting snow reveals the carcasses of thousands of heavily pregnant ewes and new-born lambs. Many animals remain buried under snow drifts, farmers have been unable to get food to starving survivors and the bitter weather forecast to continue for at least a fortnight.

"It's the worst we've known at this time of year since 1966 when I left school," said Emyr Jones, president of the Farmers Union of Wales, who keeps 1,000 ewes on la nd near Lake Bala on the edge of Snowdonia in north Wales."We won't know exactly how bad the situation is until the snow goes finally, but we know losses will be high. The lambs are being frozen to death before they can even stand. It's impossible for farmers to find some sheep in the mountainous areas," he said.

Farmers who were digging sheep out of 20ft snowdrifts across north and mid Wales throughout the holiday weekend predicted higher prices for Welsh lamb and said many hill farmers could be forced to give up because of the extra costs.

Gareth Wyn Jones and his family, who farm 2,000 acres in the Carnedd range, have so far dug out 70 ewes but fear they have lost many hundreds. "Some sheep are trapped in catacombs under the snow, so can be pulled out. We found two ewes that had lambed, but their lambs had frozen to death. We found another eight heavily pregnant ewes and managed to save them and they were able to lamb."

He and other hill farmers called for the Welsh government to suspend EU rules to allow them to bury dead animals where they fall, instead of having to pay up to £20 to have each dead animal collected and disposed of by knackers' yards.

Welsh food and natural resources minister Alun Davies said: "I [have ] asked my chief veterinary officer, Christianne Glossop, to look urgently at what the Welsh government can do to alleviate the burden on farmers. I will respond early next week."

Ten days after one of the worst snowstorms in 50 years to hit north and mid Wales, farmers reported that they were taken by surprise by its intensity which saw three feet of snow fall in some places in under 24 hours.

Glyn Roberts, who keeps sheep on the Arunweg mountains south of Bettws y Coed in Snowdonia, said he was one of the lucky few who managed to get most of his sheep into the farmyard before the storm hit. His sheep mostly survived because he managed to build a temporary shelter for them. "We have been flat out. Every shed is packed out and we cannot get any back on the mountain. I have lost some but there must still be thousands still there. Its impossible to find them.

"There are still 20ft high drifts. Lambs are being frozen to death before they can even walk. Ewes are walking away from their lambs. The snow is just beginning to melt and we are starting to see the full extent of the disaster. But the drifts are so bad we don't know what's under them. Its a case of hoping for the best."

Many farmers are now desperate for animal feed but costs are spiralling, said Helen Davies, manager of the Welsh region of the national sheep association.

"The hill farmers have had it bad. It's going to have serious knock-on effects. The cold weather came right at the height of the lambing season. The shock of the cold made some of the ewes lamb earlier. The animals caught in the storm sheltered below walls but were quickly buried by snow," she said.

As the drifts begin to melt in the lower areas and farmers get access to their fields, they are being met by the horrific sight of animals who survived the snow and ice but have had their eyes pecked out by crows and been half eaten by foxes, she said. "It's not unheard of to have snow drifts at this time of year but usually it lasts for only two days or so. It's now 10 days, roads are still shut and it is still freezing," said Nick Fenwick, policy director of the Farmers' union of Wales.

"It comes on the back of the collapse of lamb prices last year, torrential rains that have reduced harvests, very little grass on the sodden hillsides. Hill farmers are always on the edge. Something like this could push people over," he said.

"There must be a fall in the lamb crop and an increase in prices. Whether the higher prices will be enough to cover the costs of providing extra feed we don't know," he said.

"Wales is now the only country in the EU that no longer gives extra payments for 'less favoured' areas. The ending of the upland grant last year means that for the first time in 60 years the cheque that people used to rely on to pay winter fodder bills is not there."

"It's been catastrophic. It's survival of the fittest now," said David Pittendreigh, chair of the Sheep Association of Wales. - Guardian.

MASS MAMMAL DIE-OFF: "Catastrophic Mortality" - Manatees Dying Mysteriously In Droves On Both Coasts Of Florida; 213 So Far This Year?!

April 02, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Two manatees found dead in Bonita Springs on Thursday afternoon brought the number of the creatures believed to be killed by red tide in Southwest Florida to 213. That smashes the record set in 1996 when 151 deaths were blamed on red tide.

Katie Therriault of FWC hauls the dead manatees onto her trailer to be taken for a necropsy.
Andrea Stetson/news-press.com.

Omar Botano, owner of Bay Water Boat Club, was test running one of his boats when he spotted a dead manatee by marker number 99 in Fish Trap Bay. A short time later he found another dead manatee by marker number 83, just north of Intrepid Waters.

Two manatees found dead in the Indian River Lagoon.
Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“We found both of them just doing the test run on the boat,” Botana said.

Bob Wasno, Vester Field Station education and resource coordinator for FGCU, towed the two dead manatees to a ramp by Bay Water.

Anyone who sees a distressed manatee should call the FWC wildlife alert hotline at 888-404-3922.
For the first time in six months, biologists detected no presence of red tide along the Southwest Florida coast after a test Wednesday. Karenia brevis is the micro-organism that causes red tides in this region and can cause fish kills and respiratory illnesses in mammals, including humans, once levels reach 10,000 cells per liter or higher. Counts over this dry season have ranged from zero to several million. Karenia brevis occurs naturally off the Southwest Florida coast, although scientists think the events are more frequent and/or larger in scope due to polluting nutrients flowing from Lake Okeechobee and urban areas.

“This is the sixth and seventh in the last month between here and Big Hickory Pass,” Wasno said.Wasno said he did not see any external injuries, so that leads him to believe that red tide is the culprit.

“The toxins are absorbed by the sea grass,” Wasno said. “The manatees eat it and it affects their nervous system.”

Rescuers attend to a manatee affected by red tide near Fort Myers, Florida.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Manatees can die from eating seagrass that has absorbed the red tide toxin and from inhaling the toxin that becomes like an aerosol on the water’s surface. The first dead manatee found Thursday was a male about 7 to 12 years old. The second was a 4- to 7-year-old female.

Katie Therriault of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hauled the dead manatees onto a trailer to be taken for a necropsy. She said four other manatees were also hauled out of the water Thursday in Fort Myers. FWC usually does necropsies at its lab in St. Petersburg, but FWC now has a makeshift lab in Southwest Florida because of all the carcasses.

One of the red tide patients at the Lowry Park Zoo.
Photo courtesy of Lowry Park Zoo.

Kevin Baxter, an FWC spokesman, said as of Wednesday there were 207 confirmed red tide manatee deaths. The six found in Southwest Florida on Thursday would bring the total to 213.“It would be 213 if they all end up falling under that cause,” Baxter said. “They have to get listed through our lab.” - News Press.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Increase Seismicity And Volcanism - Earthquakes And Magma Movement At El Hierro Push The Canary Islands Up Eleven Centimetres!

April 02, 2013 - CANARY ISLANDS - Multiple earthquakes over the Easter weekend around El Hierro Island, one of the Canary Islands, have raised some parts of the island by as much as 11 centimetres (4.3 inches). This includes a 4.9 magnitude earthquake Sunday, following 129 quakes below 1.3 magnitude through Saturday.

A submarine volcano explosion near El Hierro Island in 2011
Image: NASA's Earth Observatory.

Quakes Push Canary Islands Up Eleven Centimetres.
The majority of quakes making up this seismic event occurred at depths between 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) and 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), and ranged between 2.0 and 4.5 on the Richter Scale.

VolcanoDiscovery reports this may be a sign magma is rising to the surface, but stuck around 20km deep where the 4.9 quake took place; these are signals there may be a volcanic eruption in the near future.

The 4.9 magnitude quake occurred roughly 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) off shore of El Hierro Island, the southern-most of the Canary Islands chain. It was felt by around 10,000 residents of the island. In response, local authorities closed western roads on the island, and other steps, after raising the alert level on the island to the second-highest civil level.

El Hierro, itself, was likely created as a result of volcanic activity taking place over a million years ago. - WIKI News.

Magma Moves Canary Island Of El Hierro.
Today, March 31, saw the small island of El Hierro suffer its biggest earthquake yet, 4.9 on the Richter scale, since this latest bout of seismic activity started earlier this week.

The earthquake, which occurred just before 11 a.m. local time, was just one of more than 230 tremors that have shaken the island today, the majority of which have not been felt by the population. The epicentre of the activity is under the sea around 12 kilometres off the west coast of the island.This was in fact the largest quake the island has had since the start of the volcanic disturbances two years ago.

The island remains on yellow alert with the authorities in a state of preparation should there be a worsening of the situation, according to El Pais. Authorities say there is an increase in CO2 emissions but say they are within normal limits.

At this time, the scientists studying the phenomena believe that there is currently not enough power in the movement of magma to lead to an actual eruption. Earthquake Report reports that some damage has occurred to property and that rockfalls are happening in various parts of the island.

Some roads remain closed and the population is prepared for any eventuality, having been through this kind of scare before. INVOLCAN (the Canary Islands Volcano Institute) has reported that the entire island has shifted slightly to the east due to the build up of magma underneath it with the western end of the island, around Punta de Orchilla, having been pushed up 11 centimetres. It seems that the seismic activity around the island is set to continue for some time yet.  - Digital Journal.

WATCH: Rockfall at El Hierro after M4.9 Earthquake - 31st March 2013.