Monday, April 15, 2013

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Disaster Precursors - Giant African Land, Rat-Sized Snails Invade Miami, Florida; 117,000 Caught So Far; They Can Gnaw Through Stucco And Plastic!

April 15, 2013 - UNITED STATES - South Florida is fighting a growing infestation of one of the world's most destructive invasive species: the giant African land snail, which can grow as big as a rat and gnaw through stucco and plaster.

More than 1,000 of the mollusks are being caught each week in Miami-Dade and 117,000 in total since the first snail was spotted by a homeowner in September 2011, said Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Residents will soon likely begin encountering them more often, crunching them underfoot as the snails emerge from underground hibernation at the start of the state's rainy season in just seven weeks, Feiber said.

Getty Images

The snails attack "over 500 known species of plants ... pretty much anything that's in their path and green," Feiber said.

In some Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, which are overrun with the creatures, the snails' shells blow out tires on the highway and turn into hurling projectiles from lawnmower blades, while their slime and excrement coat walls and pavement.

"It becomes a slick mess," Feiber said.

A typical snail can produce about 1,200 eggs a year and the creatures are a particular pest in homes because of their fondness for stucco, devoured for the calcium content they need for their shells.

The snails also carry a parasitic rat lungworm that can cause illness in humans, including a form of meningitis, Feiber said, although no such cases have yet been identified in the United States.

Florida Division of Plant Industry.

Florida Division of Plant Industry.

Getty Images.

The snails' saga is something of a sequel to the Florida horror show of exotic species invasions, including the well-known infestation of giant Burmese pythons, which became established in the Everglades in 2000. There is a long list of destructive non-native species that thrive in the state's moist, subtropical climate.

Experts gathered last week in Gainesville, Florida, for a Giant African Land Snail Science Symposium, to seek the best ways to eradicate the mollusks, including use of a stronger bait approved recently by the federal government.

WATCH: Giant Snails Invade Miami.

Feiber said investigators were trying to trace the snail infestation source. One possibility being examined is a Miami Santeria group, a religion with West African and Caribbean roots, which was found in 2010 to be using the large snails in its rituals, she said. But many exotic species come into the United States unintentionally in freight or tourists' baggage.

"If you got a ham sandwich in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic, or an orange, and you didn't eat it all and you bring it back into the States and then you discard it, at some point, things can emerge from those products," Feiber said.

Florida Division of Plant Industry.

Florida Division of Plant Industry.

Florida Division of Plant Industry.

Authorities are expanding a series of announcements on buses, billboards and in movie theaters urging the public to be on the lookout.

The last known Florida invasion of the giant mollusks occurred in 1966, when a boy returning to Miami from a vacation in Hawaii brought back three of them, possibly in his jacket pockets. His grandmother eventually released the snails into her garden where the population grew in seven years to 17,000 snails. The state spent $1 million and 10 years eradicating them.

Feiber said many people unfamiliar with the danger viewed the snails as cute pets.

"They're huge, they move around, they look like they're looking at you ... communicating with you, and people enjoy them for that," Feiber said. "But they don't realize the devastation they can create if they are released into the environment where they don't have any natural enemies and they thrive." - Huffington Post.

WATCH: Giant Snails Invade Miami.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: Is A Complete Financial Collapse Imminent - Gold Plunges To Its Biggest One-Day Percentage Drop In 30 Years; U.S. Stock Market Suffers Its Worst Drop Of The Year On China, Commodities Concerns; First Historical Triple-Digit Loss IN US HISTORY!

April 15, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Gold posted its biggest one-day percentage drop in 30 years Monday as new signs of a global economic slowdown emerged and fears diminished that central banks' easy-money policies would stoke inflation. Gold futures for April delivery fell $140.40, or 9.4%, Monday to a two-year low at $1,360.60 an ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. That extended their bear-market descent of more than 20% from their 2011 all-time high. Since Thursday, gold prices have declined by more than $203 an ounce, a record skid since the futures began trading in the U.S. in 1974.

The reversal comes as investors are grappling with signs the global economic expansion that began in 2009 is slowing. The prices of industrial commodities ranging from copper to crude oil tumbled Monday, following news of softer-than-expected economic growth and industrial output in China. Adding to the gloom, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York issued a report showing manufacturing in the region barely expanding.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average marked its worst one-day point decline since Nov. 7, 2012, dropping 265.86 points, or 1.8%, to 14599.20. Declines in commodity-linked sectors such as mining and energy led the selloff, with Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. FCX -8.30% dropping 8.3%.

The market selloff continued in early trading Tuesday in Asia, with Japan down 1.3%, Korea down 0.5% and Australia down 0.8%. Gold also traded lower on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange, triggering circuit breakers because of steep price drops. After posting 12 consecutive annual price rises, gaining more than 500% over that span, gold is suddenly being shunned by investors who once saw it as a way to generate outsize returns without the volatility and uneven performance in the stock, bond and real-estate markets.
"The trade is over," said Jason Tamayo, a 24-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who bought about $50,000 in gold—around 30 ounces—in October on the view the metal would continue to march higher amid worries about U.S. debt and the stability of the global economy. Mr. Tamayo said he sold his gold Friday, at a loss of $7,200.

The Japanese yen—which has lost almost a quarter of its value against the dollar since October, amid expectations the Bank of Japan would buy more assets in a bid to reverse years of falling prices—rose 1.6% in its sharpest advance since Feb. 25. The gold rout stemmed partly from worries Cyprus and perhaps other nations may become sellers of the precious metal. Other price drags cited by traders included a sale recommendation on gold last week from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., GS -1.78% and a growing view that stocks are better investments, due to continuing low inflation. "Forced selling" by investors holding gold was also among the reasons stock and commodity markets tumbled Monday, said John Brynjolfsson, who runs the $1 billion hedge fund Armored Wolf LLC. Investors who borrowed to buy gold at higher prices could be forced to sell other assets to raise cash to meet margin calls—demands from brokers that they produce cash to cover the reduced market value of their positions.

After markets closed Monday, CME Group Inc., CME -2.71% which operates the Comex gold market, increased the sums investors must pledge in order to trade gold futures. Exchange operators often raise so-called margin requirements at times of large market swings. Gold exchange-traded funds such as the SPDR Gold Trust GLD -8.78% and the iShares Gold Trust, IAU -8.85% which purchase and store gold on behalf of investors, have seen a surge in activity. More than $1 billion alone flowed out of the SPDR fund Friday, the third-highest withdrawal on record, according to research firm IndexUniverse. Flows out of the fund are likely to have been even higher Monday, traders said, after volume in the SPDR fund surged to an all-time high. Gold-backed ETFs can accelerate price declines in the metal as investors cash out, releasing physical gold into the market. "I think what's happened is that gold, in the way it's traded, has transitioned," said Edward Lashinski, director of strategy and trading for the futures group at RBC Capital Markets. "It transitioned from a store of value into what now appears to be a bubble based on expectations of central-bank liquidity measures."

Gold's capitulation has been months in the making. The price hit a recent high in October and has been in decline since. Over the past six years, central banks in the U.S. and Europe have printed extraordinary amounts of their currencies in an effort to resuscitate the world economy. Every new round of "quantitative easing," as it has been dubbed, was accompanied by loud warnings that the inevitable result of this easy money would be a surge of inflation. That in turn, helped fuel a 116% increase since 2007 in the price of gold, the classic hedge against inflation, because its value tends to increase as the dollar weakens. Gold's performance stood out against sharp drops over that period in the value of U.S. stocks and houses. Gold bugs proliferated. Steve Forbes, the onetime Republican president candidate, predicted in 2011 that loss of confidence in paper currency would force the U.S. to return to the gold standard after the 2012 election. Peter Hambro, chairman of London-listed Petropvlovsk POG.LN -24.01% PLC, which mines gold in Russia, was cited in a British newspaper as saying that a big U.S. bank sent a text message to him in the summer of 2011 saying that, if the Fed unleashed a third-round of money-printing and bond-buying (as it later did), gold prices would hit $5,000 an ounce. But the inflation hasn't arrived, despite all the money-printing by central banks. Consumer prices in the major developed economies are increasing at a less-than-2% annual pace; in the rest of the world, that is around 6%. "Inflation has been remarkably quiet of late," the International Monetary Fund observed last week. "As long as inflationary expectations remain firmly anchored," it said, "fears about high inflation" shouldn't prevent central banks from pursuing their easy-money policies.

The collapse of gold is provoking a chorus of "I told you so" from those long skeptical that the rise in the metal's price was a harbinger of inflation. The recent drop in gold prices coincides with weakness in the prices of other commodities. That is seen by some as a signal the world economy—and China's, in particular—may be slowing. Prices of energy, metals and other commodities are exquisitely sensitive to changes in demand, and thus are an important gauge of the pace of industrial activity around the world. Commodity prices fell sharply during the recession, rebounded for time, peaked in the spring of 2011, fell for about a year, and then turned up again in mid-2012. Now, they seem to be back on the downward trend. "We continue to see a slide in global commodity prices," economists at J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -2.20% & Co. told clients. "To the extent that the move reflects weakening demand, the signal is of decelerating global factory output." - WSJ.

WATCH: Can Gold Prices Go Lower?

U.S. Stock Market Suffers Worst Drop Of The Year On China, Commodities Concerns.
FILE - A board on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in this March 28, 2013 file photo shows the closing number for the S&P 500 index. World stock markets fell Friday April 12, 2013 as investors turned cautious and took profits from recent rallies in spite of evidence pointing to an improving U.S. employment picture. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
The stock market had its worst drop this year as prices for oil and other commodities fell sharply on concerns about slowing growth in China.

Oil fell to a four-month low, dragging down energy stocks. Mining companies sank after gold had its biggest one-day drop since 1983.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 265.86, or 1.8 percent, to close at 14,599.20.

The S&P 500 index fell 36.49 points, or 2.3 percent, to 1,552.36.

The Nasdaq composite fell 78.46 points, or 2.4 percent, to 3,216.49.

For the year:

The Dow is up 1,495.06 points, or 11.4 percent.

The S&P 500 is up 126.17 points, or 8.9 percent.

The Nasdaq is up 196.98 points, or 6.5 percent. - Huffington Post.

WATCH: Dow Jones & Gold Have First Historical Triple-Digit Loss IN US HISTORY!

WORLD WAR III: Escalation Towards Armageddon - United States Military Helicopter Crashes North Of Seoul Near North Korea Border!

April 15, 2013 - KOREAN PENINSULA - A US helicopter has crashed near the North Korean border, not far from an army base north of Seoul, according to South Korean and US military sources.

The military aircraft was confirmed to be a CH-53 US Marine helicopter by a US military official. It was carrying three crew and 13 other personnel. The crash happened during a training exercise.

It had previously been identified as a Black Hawk UH-60 by Yonhap.

A U.S. Marine CH 53-Delta Sea Stallion helicopter (AFP Photo)

The chopper went down in Cheolwon during continued South Korea-US joint military exercises. No casualties have been reported as a result of the crash, which the US official later described as a "hard landing."

An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the incident.

North Korea has condemned the ongoing military exercises, which have been conducted during a tense period in the North’s relations with the US, Japan, and South Korea.

The period has seen suggestions that the DPRK’s nuclear capabilities could be tested in retaliation.

There are 28,500 US military personnel stationed at the base. Cheolwon has previously been the site of occasional border incidents: in 1992, three North Korean soldiers wearing South Korean uniforms were killed, and in 1997, five North Korean soldiers crossed the Demilitarized Zone and fired on South Korean positions. - RT.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Global Volcano Report For April 14-15, 2013 - Updates On White Island, Shiveluch, Sakurajima, Popocatépetl, Bagana, Reventador Masaya, Nevado del Ruiz, Stromboli, Batu Tara, Lokon-Empung, Colima, Santa María, Santiaguito, Pacaya, Fuego, Concepción, San Cristobal, Machin, Telica, And Lascar!

April 15, 2013 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing reports of volcanoes across the globe.

Current seismic signal from White Island (GeoNet).

White Island (New Zealand)
: Tremor remains unstable. After a period of low intensity, strong tremor has reappeared today, reflecting internal fluid movements and degassing.

Shiveluch (Kamchatka): KVERT reports no significant change in the activity (seismic and surface). Lava flows continue to effuse from the southern fissure. Tremor remains high, although it has continued to slowly decrease. The other active Kamchatkan volcanoes have not shown variations reported: Sheveluch, Bezymianny, Kizimen continue to build their lava domes, Karymsky has occasional small explosions. Seismicity at Gorely volcano remains moderate, caused by internal fluid movements and strong degassing.

Sakurajima (Kyushu, Japan): After 8 days with no reports about explosions, a small eruption last night made it back into the list of Tokyo VAAC reports of ash plumes. The explosion produced an ash plume rising to 6,000 ft (1.8 km) altitude.

Ash emission from Popocatepétl.

Popocatépetl (Central Mexico): Another, but weaker episode of strong volcanic tremor and near-continuous emissions occurred yesterday at 15:50 (local time), creating a plume of steam, gas and ash rising 900 m and drifting NE. After a few hours, activity decreased again to individual small explosions at a rate of about 1 per hour, such as one captured on the webcam a few minutes ago.

Bagana (Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea): Activity at the volcano continues. A volcanic ash plume was observed at 6,000 ft (1.8 km) altitude and extending 15 nautical miles to the S and W.

Current seismogram from Telica volcano (TELN station INETER).

Telica (Nicaragua): The earthquake swarm continues with little changes.

Masaya (Nicaragua): Seismic activity is unstable, with a phase of weak tremor (and a regional earthquake) visible on this morning's seismogram.

Seismic signal from Ruiz this morning (OLL station, INGEOMINAS).

Nevado del Ruiz (Colombia): The earthquake swarm with weak volcanic tremor continues, associated with internal fluid movements and steam and ash venting, creating a plume observed rising 630 m above the volcano this morning.

The volcano-tectonic earthquakes , i.e. the likely location of new intruding magma, are located in northwest of Arenas crater, at an average depth of 7 km. The largest recorded quake was a magnitude 2.6 event at 22:43 (local time) last night, felt by officials of the Colombia National Parks in the area of ​​Brisas.

Strombolian eruption from NW crater today (INGV thermal webcam.

Stromboli (Eolian Islands, Italy): Activity has remained more or less unchanged. Explosions, sometimes strong continue from several vents,and small amounts of viscous lava overspills the rims of the NE crater.

Batu Tara (Sunda Islands, Indonesia): Relatively large strombolian explosions at the volcano regularly produce ash plumes rising 5-7,000 ft (1.5-2.1 km) altitude and are visible on satellite data.

Lokon-Empung (North Sulawesi, Indonesia): Another relatively large eruption occurred this morning around 9am local time. The explosion produced an ash plume reported 4 km high (or: altitude?), and strong vibrations felt in up to 5 km distance.h a height of 1580 meters was still in alert status to level III.
Authorities advise not to approach the volcano's summit within 2.5 km radius, which was declared a prohibited zone (villagers often go there to collect wood, grass etc.).

Current seismic recording from Colima volcano (Soma station, Univ. Colima).

Colima (Western Mexico): After a week of relatively high activity, the volcano has been a bit calmer yesterday and today, although there are still frequent rockfalls and small explosions from the growing lava dome.

Santa María / Santiaguito (Guatemala): Activity has been low recently. Few weak to moderate explosions continue to occur from time to time at the lava dome, with ash plumes reported 5-700 m high and drifting for about 10 km to the west.

Pacaya (Guatemala): INSIVUMEH's latest bulletin confirms that a small lava lake is present in the Mackenney crater at a depth of 40 meters and generating mostly small strombolian explosions that eject material to the NW flank. These explosions generated weak rumbling sounds. According to INSIVUMEH, activity is likely to pick up in the coming days as the crater is gradually filling up.

Fuego (Guatemala): Activity has remained relatively low. Only few explosions were observed during yesterday, generating fine ash plumes rising up to about 800 m.

Yesterday's seismic signal of Concepción volcano, CONN station (INETER).

Concepción (Nicaragua): A small swarm of earthquakes and small tremor pulses occurred yesterday.

San Cristobal (Nicaragua): Seismic activity has generally remained low over the past weeks. A phase of more frequent small volcanic earthquakes and some tremor occurred yesterday and has eased again.

Machin (Colombia): On April 13 at 15:54 (local time), a volcano-tectonic earthquake of magnitude 2.8 associated with rock fracturing within the volcanic edifice occurred southwest of the main dome a depth of 7.4 km, and was felt by residents near the volcano, in the municipality of Cajamarca, in the village of Toche and the area known as Moral (Tolima).

Yesterday's seismic signal of Concepción volcano, CONN station (INETER).

Reventador (Ecuador): A MODIS hot spot at the summit and fluctuating moderate levels of seismicity suggest that slow lava extrusion and occasional explosions continue. Tungurahua volcano in turn has remained calm.

Lascar (Northern Chile): The incandescence observed at the crater due to hot gas emissions has decreased during 12-13 April and was no longer visible during last night.

Complete Earthquake list (worldwide) for April 15, 2013.

- Volcano Discovery.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Millions Face Starvation As World Warms, Say Scientists - World Is Unprepared For Changes That Will See Parts Of Africa Turned Into Disaster Areas!

April 15, 2013 - EARTH - Millions of people could become destitute in Africa and Asia as staple foods more than double in price by 2050 as a result of extreme temperatures, floods and droughts that will transform the way the world farms.

As food experts gather at two major conferences to discuss how to feed the nine billion people expected to be alive in 2050, leading scientists have told the Observer that food insecurity risks turning parts of Africa into permanent disaster areas. Rising temperatures will also have a drastic effect on access to basic foodstuffs, with potentially dire consequences for the poor.

Corn in the hands of a farmworker in South Africa. Photograph: Greatstock Photographic Library/Alamy

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world's 15 international CGIAR crop research centres, which study food insecurity, said: "Food production will have to rise 60% by 2050 just to keep pace with expected global population increase and changing demand. Climate change comes on top of that. The annual production gains we have come to expect … will be taken away by climate change. We are not so worried about the total amount of food produced so much as the vulnerability of the one billion people who are without food already and who will be hit hardest by climate change. They have no capacity to adapt."

America's agricultural economy is set to undergo dramatic changes over the next three decades, as warmer temperatures devastate crops, according to a US government report. The draft US National Climate Assessment report predicts that a gradually warming climate and unpredictable severe weather, such as the drought that last year spread across two-thirds of the continental United States, will have serious consequences for farmers.

The research by 60 scientists predicts that all crops will be affected by the temperature shift as well as livestock and fruit harvests. The changing climate, it says, is likely to lead to more pests and less effective herbicides. The $50bn Californian wine industry could shrink as much as 70% by 2050.

The report lays bare the stark consequences for the $300bn US farm industry, stating: "Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production. The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock production. Climate disruptions have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further over the next 25 years.

"Critical thresholds are already being exceeded. Many regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests and other climate change-induced stresses. Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further".

Lead author Jerry Hatfield, director of the US government's national laboratory for agriculture and the environment, said that climate change was already causing weather extremes to worsen. Very hot nights, fewer cool days and more heatwaves, storms and floods have already devastated crops and will have "increasingly negative" impacts, he said.

The report follows recent disastrous harvests in Russia, Ukraine, Australia and the US. In 2010, climate-driven factors led to a 33% drop in wheat production in Russia and a 19% drop in Ukraine. Separate climate events in each case led to a 14% drop in Canada's wheat output, and a 9% drop in Australia.

A separate US government-funded study of the fertile Lower Mekong basin, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, states that temperatures there could rise twice as much as previously expected, devastating food supplies for the 100 million people expected to live there by 2050. "We've found that this region is going to experience climate extremes in temperature and rainfall beyond anything that we expected", says Jeremy Carew-Reid, author of the Climate Change Adaptation and Impact Study for the Lower Mekong.

Two major food security summits are being held in Ireland, organised by UN World Food Programme, the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change and the Mary Robinson Climate Justice foundation.

Ertharin Cousin, the UN's World Food Programme director, said: "We are entering an uncertain and risky period. Climate change is the game changer that increases exposure to high and volatile food prices, and increases the vulnerability of the hungry poor, especially those living in conflict zones or areas of marginal agricultural productivity. We must act quickly to protect the world's poorest people." - Guardian.

GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS: Severe And Exceptional Drought - “Urinating In Dams” To Solve India’s Worst Drought In Over 40 Years, Minister Faces Backlash?!!

April 15, 2013 - INDIA - As India’s western state of Maharashtra reels from the worst drought in over four decades and millions of people face the risk of hunger, a top official has sparked outrage with a crass, insensitive joke that he should urinate in the region’s empty dams to solve water shortages.

Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and former irrigation minister, referred in a speech last weekend to a poor drought-hit farmer who had been on hunger strike for almost two months to demand more water.

A plant grows from a crack on the dried-up bed of a natural pond at Badarganj village, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, August 5, 2012. Armed with the latest monsoon rainfall data, weather experts finally conceded this month that India is facing a drought, confirming what millions of livestock farmers around the country had known for weeks. Picture taken August 5, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

“He has been fasting for the last 55 days. If there is no water in the dam, how can we release it? Should we urinate into it? If there is no water to drink, even urination is not possible,” Pawar told the gathering, who responded with much laughter.

Dubbed as “Urine-Gate” by some sections of the media, Pawar’s controversial comments have been played and replayed on India’s national news channels over the past week, sparking a barrage of criticism from civil society groups and opposition politicians who are demanding he resign over the remarks.

Aid workers say almost one-fifth of Maharashtra, India’s third-largest state and one of the biggest producers of sugar, pulses, cotton and soybeans, has been declared drought-hit. Dams are empty, farmland is parched and livestock are emaciated.

Millions of people across some 12,000 villages in 15 districts have no drinking water, little fodder for their cattle and no income due as they have no crops. Some are being forced to migrate to urban areas.

Aid workers say the government’s response – sending in drinking water in tanker trucks and setting up “cattle camps” where farmers can bring their livestock for fodder – has been inadequate, erratic and ineffective.

The next month, they warn, is critical and millions could face hunger if the monsoon rains due around June 10 do not arrive and adequate relief is not provided.

People in Maharashtra have not only taken to the streets to protest but they have burned effigies of Pawar and accused him of being arrogant and out of touch with the people who elected him.

Aid workers say they were shocked at Pawar’s comments.

“He should not have said this. I was quite shocked to be honest. It was so insensitive. People are really suffering because of this drought,” said K.V. Thomas, chief zonal officer for Church’s Auxillary for Social Action (CASA) by telephone from Mumbai, the capital of Mahasrashtra.

Others have been even more damning in their criticism. In fact, one political party has named a urinal after Pawar.

Pawar has apologised following the backlash, saying he had made the biggest mistake of his political life.

“My comments … were not directed towards drought-affected people and I had no intention to hurt anybody’s sentiments. I hope my comments will not affect drought relief measures, which will continue vigorously,” he said this week in the Maharashtra parliament, which was forced to adjourn proceedings for two days due to uproar by the opposition.

Many civil society groups and opposition politicians say his apology does not go far enough and argue he is being shielded by his powerful uncle Sharad Pawar who is, ironically, India’s agriculture minister. But reports suggest Pawar may still be forced to resign.

“Ajit Pawar fancies himself as a stand-up comic. I think his party should take his cue, sack him and let him follow his dream,” tweeted Bollywood actor and director Farhan Akhtar. - Reuters.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Bird Flu Virus - China Confirms 63 H7N9 Cases, 14 Deaths!

April 15, 2013 - CHINA - During the 24-hour period ending 5 p.m. on Monday, China confirmed three new cases of H7N9 avian influenza, with one new death reported in Nanjing Municipality.

A seven-year-old girl in Beijing, the first confirmed H7N9 case in the capital, is being treated at Ditan Hospital's ICU.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission said in a daily update on H7N9 cases that so far the country has reported a total of 63 H7N9 cases, including 14 that ended in fatalities.
East China's Jiangsu Province reported one new infection case. A 60-year-old man surnamed Kong tested positive for H7N9 on Monday and is receiving treatment in a hospital in Suzhou. Three people who have had close contact with him have not exhibited any abnormal symptoms.
Another infection case was confirmed in neighboring Zhejiang Province on Monday, according to a statement issued by the provincial health department at 4 p.m. A 68-year-old woman surnamed Wang began exhibiting flu-like symptoms on April 3 and is now in a critical condition.

A man surnamed Chen in Anhui Province also tested positive for the strain of bird flu on Monday, according to the provincial health department. Of the 25 people who had been in close contact with the 60-year-old man, none have exhibited any abnormal symptoms.

Two college students carrying a model of a capsule chase another student holding a banner reading "H7N9" during a performance at the opening ceremony of the sports meeting hosted by Chongqing University in Southwest China's Chongqing municipality on Friday. The characters on the capsule model read "H7N9 killer".
[Photo/China News Service]
So far, a total of 24 cases, including nine ending in fatalities, have been reported in Shanghai. Seventeen cases, including two deaths, have been reported in Jiangsu Province, and 16 cases, including two deaths, in Zhejiang Province. Beijing has reported one case, Henan Province two cases, and Anhui Province three cases, with one death.
China officially confirmed the occurrence of human infection with the H7N9 virus late last month.
Those who have had close contact with people infected by H7N9 have been placed under medical observation and have exhibited no abnormal symptoms, the commission said.
According to the commission, China's confirmed H7N9 cases are isolated and there has been no sign of human-to-human transmission. - China.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Scientists Probe The Secrets Of Earth's Tectonic Plates - What Are The Mechanisms Behind "Mega-Thrust" Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Tsunamis And Geological Phenomena!

April 15, 2013 - EARTH - Scientists from across the world have come here to examine how to unlock secrets hidden within our offshore tectonic plate boundaries over the next decade, potentially resulting in multi-million dollar projects.

Around 160 leading scientists from 10 countries are in Wellington this week for the GeoPrisms workshop, picking projects from a wish-list of earth science research proposals.

The studies centre on activity at the boundaries of the Pacific Plate and the Australian Plate, and the process of "subduction", when one is pulled under another.

A high level of interest in the workshop from overseas scientists reflected the importance of New Zealand's geological setting. Photo / File
Despite the relatively slow movement, this process gives rise to earthquakes, volcanism and other geological phenomena that scientists want to learn more about.

These subduction zones are among the more active in the world and are thought to be capable of producing giant "mega-thrust" earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as being responsible for the long history of volcanic activity in the central North Island and the Kermadec Arc.

Yet little is known about the mechanisms at play.

Among the proposed projects is a multi-million dollar plan to drill into the interface between the Pacific and Australian plates east of Gisborne to obtain direct evidence of the processes occurring at the plate boundary.
This project, subject to rigorous safety checks, would involve inserting instruments in the drill holes to record a range of physical and chemical phenomena.

Other places where such drilling could be considered include the Brothers volcano in the Kermadec Arc, 400km northeast of the Bay of Plenty, and at the Lord Howe Rise about 1500km northwest of Northland, to help understand how and why subduction began beyond northern New Zealand 45 million years ago.

"New Zealand is unique in the world in having a plate boundary that exhibits many different aspects of subduction, including a wide variety of earthquake and volcanic behaviour," said workshop convener Dr Laura Wallace.

"The New Zealand setting represents a superb opportunity for the international earth science community to find answers to the many outstanding questions about why subduction zones behave the way they do."

A high level of interest in the workshop from overseas scientists reflected the importance of New Zealand's geological setting, she said.

As part of its earth science research programme, the National Science Foundation in the US had picked New Zealand as one of three places where a large amount of research effort and money will be spent on understanding subduction plate boundary phenomena over the next decade.

The foundation chose New Zealand largely because of the high level of tectonic research that has already been done here by New Zealand-based scientists, and the outstanding opportunities for establishing productive collaborations between US and New Zealand scientists.

New Zealand's substantial investment in scientific infrastructure, such as the GeoNet monitoring network, also made New Zealand a compelling location for subduction zone research.

Plan to drill into marine volcano.
It reads like something out of science fiction: an active underwater volcano, a team of international experts - and a giant drill.

To scientists, the Brothers Volcano represents the world's best opportunity to understand how magmatic hydrothermal systems work within submarine volcanos.

The volcano, 400km northeast of White Island, is perhaps the best mapped and understood submarine volcano known to science.

Three kilometres wide and with a highest peak 1.2km below sea level, Brothers is the most hydrothermally active of all the volcanoes along the Kermadec Arc - itself arguably the most active chain of submarine volcanoes in the world.

It continually throws up dark, metal-rich plumes of dissolved minerals which, when hitting cold seawater, precipitate out and gather on the sea floor.

As this reaction occurs it can also build "chimneys" rich in metals above the vents.

One of two vent fields that sharply contrast in their chemistry is responsible for large mineral deposits of copper and gold.

By drilling into the volcano, scientists hope to unlock the secrets of its magma chamber, test computer models of its sea floor hydro-thermal plumbing, find out about the transport of precious metals inside the volcano, and assess diversity of microbial life within the volcano.

GNS Science research geologist Dr Cornel de Ronde said the main aim was to recover several hundred metres of drill core from inside the volcano for analysis. Instruments would be inserted in the holes.

"The project will improve the understanding of processes such as the transport of metals from magmas to the sea floor," he said.

A pre-proposal was recently submitted to the Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme, a consortium of 25 countries, which would assess the project before deciding whether to call for a full proposal.

If it was approved, it was unlikely the project would kick off before 2016 and it could cost up to $10 million, which would be borne by the panel.

NZ may hold key to silent quake puzzle
For scientists striving to solve the mystery of newly-discovered "silent" earthquakes, the key to the puzzle might be hidden just off the east coast of the North Island.

These quakes, also known as slow-slip quakes, represent movement between tectonic plate boundaries over periods of weeks or months, rather than in a single large thrust.

They have been detected at extremely shallow depths off the coasts of Gisborne and Hawkes Bay at the Hikurangi subduction zone - a plate boundary fault where one plate dives or "subducts" under another.

Large quakes in such subduction zones also pose the threat of tsunami - such a scenario near the coast of New Zealand could swamp coastal populations with less than an hour's notice.

But little is known about silent quakes, which have been documented across the world and usually happen well below the earth's surface - sometimes as far down as 40km.

The Hikurangi zone offered scientists an opportunity to learn more about these quakes as it could be directly accessed with ocean drilling methods, said Dr Laura Wallace of the University of Texas. - NZ Herald.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Extreme Weather Battering Insurance Firms’ Bottom Line - Ohio's Low Premiums At Risk As Storms, Droughts Increase!

April 15, 2013 - UNITED STATES - As a meteorologist for FirstEnergy Corp., Pete Manousos’ job is to keep the electric utility informed about any upcoming extreme weather that might cause outages, or hamper repair crews’ ability to restore power.

But the last two years, that job has gotten harder and harder.

“You have to consider that part of the issue for FirstEnergy is our geographical footprint has gotten larger over the last decade. There’s more exposure to events as a result,” Mr. Manousos said.

William White, left, speaks to his insurance agent Rick Anderson, from USAA, right, to asses the damage to his home and property that was destroyed by the tornado. White's truck, behind, was blown into their backyard.

“That said, for the portions of FirstEnergy that have been impacted since 2011, the frequency of the extreme events have been notable,” he added.

Whether the country is embarking on a pattern of annual extreme weather events, or merely going through a temporary phase, is impossible to know, the meteorologist said.

But one segment that has a large financial stake in figuring out if the weather is growing more violent and extreme is the insurance industry.

To be sure, the insurance industry knows more than a thing or two about calculating risk, and the industry has never been healthier financially, according to the New York-based Insurance Information Institute.

However, the increasing frequency of catastrophic weather events over the last three years — including some that affected Ohio in general and northwest Ohio in particular — are causing some in the insurance industry to adjust their climate-risk models and consider establishing a new baseline for weather events in the future.

It also is affecting some of the insurance policies that Ohio homeowners are purchasing and causing bigger increases in annual premiums, even though Ohioans continue to pay some of the lowest premiums in the nation for homeowner coverage.

“While many are expecting catastrophe events to return to a more normalized level in 2012, it is questionable what ‘normal’ is. In addition, it is clear insurers should prepare for the possibility that the event frequency of 2011 may be repeated,” A.M. Best Co. stated in a March briefing last year while warning about increasing extreme weather. The firm rates the financial strength of insurance companies and measures their ability to pay claims.

“There is no question the number of national disasters impacting the United States is trending upward, especially over the last 35 years or so. Those are mostly storm events, flooding events. drought, even wildfires,” said Robert Hartwig, president and an economist for the insurance institute.

“It’s the case that the number of events is increasing and the total cost is increasing and that’s going to mean premiums will increase. It’s just a reality,” he said.

Currently, Ohio homeowners enjoy some of the lowest costs in the nation for HO-3 policies, the most commonly purchased homeowners insurance policy.

As of 2010, the Ohio average of $614 for a homeowners policy was sixth lowest in the United States -- 48 percent lower than the U.S. average of $909.

From 2004 through 2010, the average annual price increase in Ohio was just under 4 percent.

An overturned car in the field behind the home of Jerry and Myrna Montri on Ida Center Rd. in Ida Township,MI. The Monroe, MI area was hit by large storms, hail and a tornado last year.

But in 2011 it rose 6.2 percent to $652, and last year it rose 5 percent to $685. Part of those larger increases relate to weather claims. The question facing Ohio homeowners now is this: How much will rates go up annually in 2013 and beyond if volatile weather increases and insurers are forced to adjust for increased risk?

“Many years ago, it seemed like everybody wanted to write homeowners policies, because that’s where the money was, and not write auto coverage. Now, it’s a complete reversal,” said Ben Brown, vice president in charge of personal and professional insurance at Brooks Insurance Agency, one of Toledo’s largest independent insurance brokerages.

“Many are making money on auto and losing money on homeowners policies,” he added.

By law, insurers cannot raise premiums to recoup past losses, but they can make premium increases based on potential future risk.

And from 2010-12, there were more storms that resulted in at least $25 million in insured losses in Ohio than there were in the entire previous decade, according to the Ohio Insurance Institute in Columbus.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Buckeye state had at least 12 storms near or over the $25 million loss mark, with preliminary losses totaling $1.1 billion. As claims are settled, losses will be adjusted and are expected to grow.

Among those storms was the F-4 tornado in Wood and Ottawa Counties that hit Lake High School in Millbury in June, 2010. Initial estimates put the losses at just $22.1 million, but in the 2 1/2 years since the storm, insured losses have reached $41.2 million.

The Ohio Insurance Institute measures losses in five-year periods, and the most recent period has been one of the costliest.

Disaster-related insured losses in 2007 through 2011 increased 187 percent and are approaching $2.5 billion. That compares to just $871 million for losses due to catastrophic storms from 2002 through 2006.

According to the institute, the September, 2008, storm in Ohio that was the remnants of Hurricane Ike caused $1.25 billion in damage and now tops the list for the costliest natural disaster in state history. The third-costliest disaster was just last summer when storms raked the state from June 28-July 4 and caused $440 million in damages.

And just as A.M. Best predicted in March a year ago, Ohio suffered nearly $292 million in losses last October when the western edge of Superstorm Sandy sent high winds and rains into northeastern Ohio and cut power to more than 250,000 residents, according to ISO Property Claim Services, an insurance information clearinghouse.

Mr. Brown, of Brooks Insurance Agency, said that over the last few years the increase in extreme weather has prompted changes in the policies that insurance providers write for northwestern Ohio homeowners. “They are developing new tactics. Some of the strategies are also designed to avoid raising premiums,” he said.

For example, some newer policies increase deductible limits for damage caused by high winds. “In Ohio, that’s something that’s brand new,” Mr. Brown said.

Uprooted trees have cut through a roof of a house in the 500 block of Favony Avenue in Holland. A storm swept through the area on Thursday, July 5 snapping trees, poles and power lines.

High winds have been a major source of damage in Ohio of late. Last June and July, a powerful wind storm, known as a derecho, sent gusts of 80 to 100 mph across much of the Buckeye state, coming as far north as Findlay, where it uprooted trees and downed power lines.

Extreme winds also were responsible for storms in March, 2012; April, 2011; September, 2010, the 2010 storm that hit Millbury, and a May, 2010, storm that caused damage in Wood and Sandusky Counties. Combined, those high wind storms caused $228.2 million in damages.

“Wind or even hail claims, the amount insurers are paying is astronomical lately,” Mr. Brown said. “If the roofs are older, the damage hail will do on it is an appreciable amount.”

In Florida, where high winds and hurricanes are becoming frequent, policies now include a wind mitigation form. It gives policy holders a break in their premiums depending on the type of window glass they use in their homes, whether their roof is bolted down, and the type of wind-resistant construction used to build their house.

“When a home is built with those standards in Florida, they find there’s very little damage,” Mr. Brown said. “We haven’t got to that point in Ohio, but hurricanes are now starting to reach us even up here. In 2008, in 84 of the state’s 88 counties, there was damage caused by Hurricane Ike coming up from the Gulf.”

Mr. Brown said insurers “are not at a panic stage” over the increasing number of weather-related claims. But given the results for 2012, it wouldn’t be uncommon to think some insurers might have lost money or just broke even on the homeowners policies they sold in Ohio, he added.

Last September, Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit coalition of businesses that advocates for sustainable business practices, issued a report on the growing costs of extreme weather events. It noted that in 2011, property-casualty insurers shouldered a whopping $32 billion in losses due to extreme weather events and indicated that while the 2012 total was lower, extreme weather and associated economic costs were continuing.

The report said the threat was not just from volatile events, like hurricanes and tornadoes, but also extreme heat, which caused last year’s severe drought — affecting both farmers and insurers who provide private crop insurance — and was responsible for an outbreak of destructive wildfires in the western United States.

Ironically, the report was issued before Superstorm Sandy, which caused an estimated $18.7 billion in damage in the East Coast and inland states, including Ohio.

“Given that weather peril losses have been trending upward for years, due to a combination of higher concentrations of property in vulnerable areas and increasingly more severe and frequent extreme weather events, there is strong reason to believe that 2011 and 2012 are not anomalies,” the report warned.

But Karen Clark, an expert in catastrophe risk assessment and management and the president of Karen Clark & Co., a company that helps insurance firms refine their data gathering to better understand catastrophe risk, said that looking at the United States as a whole, it doesn’t appear to her that there is a trend of increasing extreme weather events.

Ms. Clark, who founded the first catastrophe-modeling firm, AIR, in 1987, said that from a meteorological point of view storms of much greater intensity occurred in the 1930s, 1960s, and other eras than what we are seeing currently. But what is different now is the increasing amount of developed property in areas frequently exposed to extreme weather events.

The growth of “more expensive targets” — larger, more elaborate dwellings and businesses — are driving up insured loss totals, she said.

As the losses mount, the insurance industry has tried hard to develop risk models to predict the number and severity of extreme weather events, but those models have failed miserably, Ms. Clark said.

“At this point we obviously can’t control the weather, so we have to assume that an upward trend will continue,” said Mr. Hartwig, of the information institute.

In 2011, violent storms caused $15 billion in damages to the non-coastal areas of the United States, the largest losses ever for those geographical regions. “It’s also the case that Ohio has seen losses from Sandy and losses from Hurricane Ike. So it seems that Ohio increasingly seems to be at the crossroads of disaster, even though Ohio doesn’t really have a coastline other than Lake Erie,” Mr. Hartwig said.

However, “People are not helpless against that violent weather,” he said. “You can mitigate the cost of, say, hurricanes, with measures like roof tie-downs, stronger windows and doors, and for hail damage with hail-resistant shingles and better roof designs,” he said.

To that end, three years ago in South Carolina the insurance industry built a research center akin to the Highway Safety Institute where it can study climactic effects on homes and buildings and learn how certain kinds of events, such as high winds, lead to high insured losses.

“We are learning about things like roof design,” Mr. Hartwig said. “Something like this can pay dividends even if there’s no change in the weather,” he added. - The Blade.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Countless Seismic Aftershocks - 4.5 Magnitude Earthquake Off British Columbia Described As One Of ‘Thousands’ By Seismologist!

April 15, 2013 - CANADA - Those who felt a little rumble Sunday afternoon on Haida Gwaii weren’t dreaming — there was a 4.5-magnitude earthquake off B.C.’s west coast.

John Cassidy of Earthquakes Canada says the relatively small quake occurred just after 3 p.m.

The quake struck about 91 kilometres west of Queen Charlotte City, B.C

It’s one of thousands of aftershocks that have been occurring since a 7.7-magnitude quake hit the region last fall.

The seismologist says he’s received a couple of reports that the quake was lightly felt in Skidegate and the Village of Queen Charlotte, but most people went about their day without disruption.

The quake struck about 91 kilometres west of Queen Charlotte City, B.C.

Cassidy says the quake was too small to have caused any damage or injuries, and people shouldn’t be worried.

The 7.7 earthquake that rocked Haida Gwaii in October was the strongest recorded in Canada since 1949. - Vancouver Sun.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Low Frequency Event - 'Unusual' Earthquake Swarm Shaking Oregon's Newberry Volcano In Oregon!

April 15, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A cluster of earthquakes has occurred during the past days under the caldera. USGS reports:

"Between 8-12 April, five earthquakes were located within or along the margins of the Newberry caldera by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN, The first two occurred at 04:19 & 04:20 PDT on 04/08 and were followed over the next 20 minutes by eight smaller (and therefore unlocatable) earthquakes.

Image: USGS.

"Three days later at 5:01 PDT a "low-frequency event", so-called because it lacks higher-frequency waves that are commonly observed in regular earthquakes, occurred at a depth of ~8 km. Finally on 04/12 two additional earthquakes occurred at 02:28 and 04:06 PDT. The largest of these five events was a M 1.2. These five events appear as orange or red (two most recent) circles in the below map-view plot.

"Although these five events are nothing to get excited about, they are noteworthy because only six other earthquakes have been located within or along the margins of the Newberry caldera since the Newberry seismic network was expanded from one to nine seismic stations in the summer of 2011 (none of these events would have been detected prior to 2011).

"In addition, the 04/11 event is the first low-frequency event ever recorded in the Newberry area. Low-frequency events are not unusual at volcanoes, and when observed are commonly thought to reflect movement of fluid (water, gas, or other) through cracks. Given that there are active hot springs within the caldera, the occasional occurrence of such events should not be surprising.

Newberry earthquakes, 2011 - 2013 Map showing earthquakes located within the Newberry caldera from 2011 - 2013. Earthquakes from April 08-12, 2013, are colored orange or red (for April 12 events) (map: USGS)

"An unusual feature of this low-frequency event is its depth (8 km). Since the 1980s, such "deep low-frequency events" have been seen intermittently at Mount Baker (31), Glacier Peak (9), Mount Rainier (9), and Mount St. Helens (9). At these other volcanoes the deep low-frequency events occur as part of background seismicity and have not been associated with eruptions or unrest at the surface (for more information about these type of events in the Cascades, see Nichols et al. (2011)**). Although intriguing from a volcanological perspective, these events are again nothing to get excited about. - Volcano Discovery.

MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT: Chemical Warfare Looms Over Syria - Israel Passes Atropine To Rebels!

April 15, 2013 - MIDDLE EAST - As the Syrian civil way went into its third year this week, signs abounded of increasing readiness for the use of chemical weapons on both sides of the conflict.

Since February, the US, Israel, Ankara and Amman have been aware of Bashar Assad’s resolve to override their threats and resort to deadly poison gas if the rebels closed in on the heart of Damascus. On April 3, an unnamed Syrian army officer made the warning clear. By continuing to advancie on Damascus, he said, “the rebels and their leaders” were assured of “certain death.”

At about the same time, debkafile reported exclusively that the Syrian ruler had ordered protective suits for chemical warfare and gas masks distributed to the 4th and 3rd Divisions defending the capital. Tank commanders were told to activate their filtering systems against chemical and biological agents.

Protective suits have since been distributed to the Syrian army units fighting in southern Syria and the Golan, the enclave divided between Syria and Israel by the 1974 ceasefire that ended the Syrian war of attrition after the Yom Kippur War.

These steps were registered by the joint counter-chemical warfare center set up between the US, Israel, Turkey and Jordan when President Barack Obama visited their capitals in the third week of March. In the last few days, Israeli troops were asked by this center to start handing out atropine injections or IV drips to Syrian rebels fighting Syrian troops on the Golan.

Extracted from deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) and mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), atropine is highly effective for blocking such nerve agents as sarin, VX, soman and tabun and counteracting the effects of poisoning, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and low heart rate.

The IDF’s distribution of a chemical weapon antidote to Syrian rebels may be regarded as the first Israeli intervention in the Syrian conflict, a small step past administering medical treatment to Syrians wounded in battle.

Israeli tanks on Golan border with Syria.

The Syrian high command will have noted this, or been tipped off by its Iranian, Russian or Hizballah intelligence comrades. And, say debkafile’s military sources, this may account for the Syrian decision for the first time in 34 years to direct shell fire at an IDF Golani patrol on duty Friday night, April 12, in the northern Golani area of Kibbutz El-Rom.

No one was hurt. But in order to deter the Syrians from making this attack a precedent, Israeli artillery and a Tamuz rocket returned the fire, achieving a direct hit on the Syrian outpost.

The British disclosure April 12 in the Times of London of soil samples smuggled out of Syria provided forensic evidence of the use of chemical weapons but carefully avoided assigning responsibility.

Though containing traces of “some kind of chemical weapon” collected from an unidentified “neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus,” the British experts could not identify the type of weapon – possibly even tear gas – or whether it was fired by forces loyal to President Assad or the rebels fighting him.

debkafile’s military sources note that, even if Britain’s MI6 secret service knew the answers to these questions, they would take care not to make them public so as not to build up the pressure for Western military intervention - pledged by President Obama in the event of chemical weapons being used in Syria – before the US president was ready to give the go signal. - DEBKA.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Iran’s Earthquakes And Nuclear Power Are Too Close For Comfort - Third Quake Measuring 4.2 Magnitude Jolts Iran's Bushehr Province!

April 15, 2013 - IRAN - Third earthquake measuring 4.2 on Richter scale shocked Abdan town in southern province of Bushehr on Sunday afternoon, IRNA reported.

According to the seismography center affiliated to Tehran University Geophysics Institute, the tremor occurred at 17:02 hours local time ( 1232 hours GMT) and its epicenter was at 51.58 degrees latitude and 28.24 degrees longitude.

There is no immediate report on the possible casualties or damages.

Two other earthquakes measuring 4.1 and 3.6 rocked Kaki region in Bushehr province at 13:39(09:9 hours GMT) and 15:29(10:59 hours GMT).

In the meantime, an earthquake measuring 4 on the Richter scale jolted Kaki in the early hours on Sunday.

According to the seismography center affiliated to Tehran University Geophysics Institute, the tremor occurred at 01:11 hours local time (2041 GMT on Saturday) and its epicenter was at 28.52 degrees latitude and 51.91 degrees longitude and in depth of 35 kilometers underground.

Meanwhile, an earthquake measuring 6.1 on Richter scale jolted areas of Kaki, Shanbeh and Tasouj last Tuesday which left 37 dead and 850 injured.

Iran sits astride several major faults in the earthˈs crust, and is prone to frequent earthquakes, many of which have been devastating. - Trend.

Iran’s Earthquakes And Nuclear Power Are Too Close For Comfort.
Last Tuesday, April 9, a massive earthquake hit southern Iran, next to the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The earthquake has heightened concerns about possible damage to this nuclear reactor, with possible devastation throughout Iran and the Gulf. A nuclear accident at the reactor could spread destruction to all surrounding areas, contaminating the air and drinking water of most GCC countries.

The epicenter of the first tremor, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, was located just 85 km from the Bushehr reactor. It has been followed by numerous aftershocks, which are still continuing as I write this piece. According to Iranian Red Crescent officials quoted by the official news agency, about one hundred villages have been affected by the earthquake and close to a thousand homes damaged as a result.

Iranian officials have tried to calm fears that the earthquake could affect the nuclear reactor. However, their words were far from reassuring, especially as the aftershocks continued, getting ever closer to the plant. The whole area of the reactor is prone to earthquakes, as it sits on a major fault line. Many devastating earthquakes have taken place in this vicinity over the years, with devastating results.

The Zagros Mountains mark the boundary between two colliding continental plates.
CREDIT: NASA Earth Observatory

The location of the Bushehr facility, in an earthquake-prone area, is disconcerting. Last Tuesday’s earthquake epicenter was just 85 km away, but some of the aftershocks were even closer. The effects of the earthquake were felt throughout Iran the Gulf, but more noticeably in the vicinity of the Bushehr facility.

In 2011, the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council evaluated the seismic hazard to reactors worldwide, as determined by the Global Seismic Hazard Assessment Program data, placing Busheher nuclear reactor among the highest seismic hazard areas.

In addition to its location, the age of the Bushehr reactor, its checkered history, the technology it uses, and the competence level of its operators, are all contributing factors to the unease felt worldwide about this facility, which started operating in September 2011.

Despite those facts, Iranian officials have defiantly said since Tuesday’s earthquake that they intended to build two additional reactors in the Bushehr facility, together with 16 other reactors in different parts of the country.

What has been equally disturbing is the cavalier attitude of Iranian officials following the earthquake, dismissing concerns without providing tangible evidence to the contrary. At the same time, they have not changed their position regarding unfettered international inspection of their nuclear facilities. Nor are there convincing indications that Iran has contingency plans in case of nuclear accidents at this facility.

Iranian recent posturing was reminiscent of their attitudes last year after the news came out about a malfunction in the Bushehr reactor. The lack of concern by Iranian officials combined with Iran’s reluctance to open up its nuclear facilities to international inspections, heightening concerns in the GCC and elsewhere about safety at the reactor.

In Iran's Zagros Mountains, salt layers have pushed through overlying rock, flowing like glaciers.
CREDIT: NASA Earth Observatory.

Concerns about possible nuclear fallout are highest in the GCC countries, because of the close proximity of the Bushehr facility to GCC capitals and major population centers. In fact, Bushehr is much closer to those capitals than it is to Tehran, the Iranian capital, located some 1,300 km to the north. By contrast, Bushehr is just around 250 km across the Northern Gulf from Kuwait City and only 200 km of the city of Khafji in Saudi Arabia on the west coast of the Gulf. Bushehr is only about 300 km from Dammam, Alkhobar, Dharan, Bahrain and Doha. It is about 400 km from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and other UAE cities. Bushehr is closer to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, and to the Sultanate of Oman than it is to the Iranian capital.

As we saw in previous major nuclear accidents, in the Ukraine and Japan, devastation can be swift, massive and long lasting. Toxic nuclear effects can be carried by wind and water hundreds of miles away, wreaking havoc everywhere they reach. In many respects, those effects can be irreversible.

In addition to air pollution, a nuclear accident in Bushehr would immediately contaminate the Gulf waters, which are the main source of drinking water, as most GCC countries rely on water from the Gulf for desalination.

Given the high stakes of nuclear safety in Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran should be more forthcoming in allowing international inspection of Bushehr, to reassure its own citizens and neighbors about the safety of the plant. - Arab News.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: "Summer Melting" - The Antarctic Ice Melting Is 10 Times Faster Than 600 Years Ago!

April 15, 2013 - ANTARCTIC - A report has found that the Antarctic summer ice melt is now occurring 10 times faster than it did 600 years ago.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and the Australian National University drilled a 360-metre ice core near the northern tip of the peninsula to to identify past temperatures.

(AFP/British Antarctic Survey: Jim Elliott, file photo)

The ice core gave an extraordinary insight into the temperatures, revealing the coolest conditions, and the lowest melt, occurred six centuries ago.

By comparison, it found temperatures now are 1.6 degrees Celsius higher, and the ice melt is 10 times as fast.

The lead author of the report, Dr Nerilie Abram from the Australian National University, says the most rapid melt has occurred in the last 50 years.

"The lowest levels of melt were about 600 years ago and then the melt has increased almost tenfold over that time," she said.

"But it's really in the last 50 years or so that melt has increased dramatically.

"When we build the ice core we're able to see these visual layers in the ice that we were pulling up.

"Those layers showed times when the snow had melted and then refrozen. We were able to use those to actually build up a record and look at how melting had changed over the last 1,000 years."

Dr Abram says even the slightest increase in temperature is now having an impact.

"A lot of changes have happened in the last 50 years ... there has been ice shelves [that have] collapsed, there's been glaciers flowing faster and losing more mass, [and] more ice into the oceans," she said.

"Summer melting is what scientists believe is causing those changes.

"To have this record that shows that even just a small amount of temperature increase now can cause a large increase in melt in this area is reason for concern."

Dr Abram says the ice core showed that changes in the environment when the climate warms do not necessarily happen gradually.

"As the climate has warmed ... the summer temperatures are getting closer and closer to that zero degrees melting threshold," she said.

"Now, for every little bit of warming that happens, you get more days that go above that temperature ... [and that] small increase in temperature can causes a very large increase in melting."

The research paper is being published in the journal Nature Geoscience. - ABC News Australia.