Wednesday, April 17, 2013

TERROR ATTACKS OR FALSE FLAGS: Chaos And Jitters In America - "Suspicious Letter" To President Obama With Toxic Ricin Intercepted By Secret Service; "Suspicious Package" In Senate Building, Offices Evacuated; A Boston Courthouse Evacuated After Security Scare; Possible Suspect Sought In Boston Bombing!

April 17, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A letter addressed to President Obama was found to contain a substance that initially tested positive for the toxin ricin, the FBI said Wednesday.  The letter, intercepted Tuesday by authorities at a remote White House mail screening facility, contained “a granular substance that preliminarily tested positive for ricin,” the FBI said in a statement. It said there was “no indication” of any connection to the bombings Monday that killed three spectators at the Boston Marathon.

Suspicious Letter To President Obama With Toxic Ricin Intercepted By Secret Service.
The letter follows the discovery Tuesday of a ricin-laced letter sent to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and came as authorities were investigating suspicious packages in and near the offices of members of Congress.  Edwin Donovan, deputy assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service, did not identify the substance. However, he said the Secret Service is working closely with the U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI.  The substance was detected at a facility run by the Secret Service, Donovan said.  A law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter said the letter to Obama was intercepted in Anacostia, at a facility where all White House mail is initially screened.  It was then sent to a military installation in Maryland where preliminary testing found indications of ricin.  Confirmation of the powerful toxin can take 24 to 48 hours, depending on the method of testing.  CNN reported that the letters to Obama and Wicker had similar language and signatures. Quoting law enforcement sources, the network said the language included: “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner in its continuance.” CNN said the letters were signed: “I am KC and I approve this message.”  U.S. Capitol Police, meanwhile, were called to investigate suspicious packages — one delivered to the front office of Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) in the Russell Senate Office Building and another left in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. 

The Capitol Police later fully reopened both buildings.  Jonathan Graffeo, a spokesman for Shelby, said in a statement: “The Capitol Police have given us the all clear. Sen. Shelby and staff are unharmed. Questions relating to any details of the investigation should be referred to the Capitol Police.”  First-floor offices in the Hart Senate Office Building were evacuated during the midday scare, and people on higher floors were told to stay in their offices.  When authorities later reopened the building, they did not immediately disclose what — if anything — had been found.  Shennell S. Antrobus, spokesman for U.S. Capitol Police, would say only that the Hart and Russell buildings were given the all-clear about 1 p.m., allowing for normal pedestrian traffic in and out. He said neither building was “locked down” but that people in both were told to remain in offices, and visitors were carefully screened.  He would not say whether the suspicious items were investigated and found not to be threats, or whether there was a legitimate threat that has been neutralized.  A law enforcement official said officers stopped and questioned one visitor who appeared suspicious, but did not arrest him. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not say whether the man had a backpack with letters inside, as was first reported. The person subsequently left without being detained. - Washington Post.

WATCH: Letter to Obama Contains Suspicious Substance.

"Suspicious Package" In Senate Building, Offices Evacuated.
Washington, D.C., was sent into a frenzy Wednesday with news that a "suspicious substance" mailed to President Barack Obama was intercepted - one day after Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., was mailed a letter laced with ricin - and a "suspicious package" caused the evacuation of Senate office buildings.  "The U.S. Capitol Police are responding to a suspicious package on the Atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. All staff and other personnel are directed to avoid this area until further notice," a Senate alert quoted by the Weekly Standard said.  Politico tweeted, "Bomb squad on the scene at Hart and Russell Senate office buildings."  In a breaking news banner pinned to the top of its website around noon Wednesday, CNN reported, "Suspicious package delivered to [Alabama] Sen. Richard Shelby's office is being investigated, Shelby spokesman says."  [READ: With No Suspects, Boston Bombing Investigation Becomes Marathon]  ABC News reported in a tweet, "Sen. Manchin just confirmed that his office on Capitol Hill in the Hart office building is in quarantine."  "In statement, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) says his office in Saginaw, Mich. received 'a suspicious-looking letter' Wednesday morning," tweeted Washington Post reporter Ed O'Keefe.  "Capitol police say have cleared parts of two Senate office buildings over suspicious letters and package, and they are questioning an individual over suspicious envelopes," reported Colin McDonald of Reuters in a liveblog entry.

HazMat truck at Russell Senate Office building in Washington D.C.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said the letter to Obama was intercepted Tuesday and did not reach the White House, WJLA reports. The FBI released this statement Wednesday about the letter to Obama:

A second letter containing a granular substance that preliminarily tested positive for ricin was received at an offsite mail screening facility. The envelope, addressed to the President, was immediately quarantined by U.S. Secret Service personnel, and a coordinated investigation with the FBI was initiated. It is important to note that operations at the White House have not been affected as a result of the investigation.
Additionally, filters at a second government mail screening facility preliminarily tested positive for ricin this morning. Mail from that facility is being tested. Any time suspicious powder is located in a mail facility, field tests are conducted. The field and other preliminary tests can produce inconsistent results. Any time field tests indicate the possibility of a biological agent, the material is sent to an accredited laboratory for further analysis. Only a full analysis performed at an accredited laboratory can determine the presence of a biological agent such as ricin. Those tests are currently being conducted and generally take 24 to 48 hours.

The investigation into these letters remains ongoing, and more letters may still be received. There is no indication of a connection to the attack in Boston.
Sen. Claire McCaskill disclosed Tuesday that there is a particular suspect believed to have mailed the Wicker letter, which was intercepted at a sorting facility in Maryland. "The person that is a suspect writes a lot of letters to members," McCaskill said, according to The Associated Press. Tensions are high across the country following the Monday explosions at the Boston Marathon. No suspect has been identified by the FBI in that case. - US News.

Boston Federal Courthouse Reopens To Employees After Security Scare And Evacuation.
Security officials reopened Boston's federal courthouse building to employees on Wednesday afternoon after an hour-long evacuation tied to a security scare.  A security officer walked out of the courthouse and waved a green flag, signaling that employees could return. 

Reuters/Reuters - Employees and visitors evacuate the John Joseph Moakely federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts April 17, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A court official who declined to be identified confirmed by phone that the courthouse was reopened, but only to employees.  Hundreds of people had poured out onto the sidewalks of the city's waterfront district, joining an already large crowd of media which had gathered amid earlier reports that an arrest had been made in the investigation of Monday's Boston Marathon bombing.  Federal and local officials later said those reports were incorrect and no arrests had been made.  The evacuees included courthouse staff, lawyers, attorneys and two cribs with children in them. The courthouse has an in-house daycare center. - Yahoo.

Possible Suspect Sought In Boston Bombing.
Investigators scrambling to solve the fatal bombings at the Boston Marathon want to question a man seen on video as a possible suspect in the attack, two official sources with knowledge of the investigation said Wednesday.  The sources identified the person as a man wearing a white baseball cap. One of the sources added that the cap was on backwards and the man was also wearing a light-colored hooded sweatshirt and a black jacket. The second source said investigators have not identified this person.  The news comes on a day when authorities have made "significant progress" in the case but no arrests, a federal law enforcement source told CNN's John King. Sources previously told CNN that a suspect was in custody, but both Boston police and the FBI denied that any arrests had been made. 

In addition, a federal law enforcement source told CNN that "anyone who says 'arrest' is ahead of themselves."  A Boston law enforcement told CNN, "We got him," but wouldn't clarify whether that meant a suspect has been identified or arrested. Some federal sources said it was even too early to say investigators had identified the suspect, but several sources in Boston told CNN that they have a clear identification.  Earlier Wednesday, investigators revealed more details about the makeup of the bombs, which exploded 12 seconds apart near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The blasts killed three people and wounded about 180 others.  One of the bombs was housed in a pressure cooker hidden inside a backpack, the FBI said in a joint intelligence bulletin. The device also had fragments that may have included nails, BBs and ball bearings, the agency said.  The second bomb was also housed in a metal container, but it was not clear whether it too was in a pressure cooker, the FBI said.  The U.S. government has warned federal agencies in the past that terrorists could turn pressure cookers into bombs by packing them with explosives and shrapnel and detonating them with blasting caps.

Witness Ben Thorndike saw Monday's blast at the Boston Marathon from a nearby office building. His sequence of photos, seven shown here, show the moments immediately after the blast.

The bombs 
Photos obtained by CNN show the remains of a pressure cooker found at the scene, along with a shredded black backpack and what appear to be metal pellets or ball bearings.  Scraps of at least one pressure cooker, nails and nylon bags found at the scene were sent to the FBI's national laboratory in Virginia, where technicians will try to reconstruct the devices, the agent leading the investigation said Tuesday.  The pieces suggest each of the devices was 6 liters (about 1.6 gallons) in volume, a Boston law enforcement source said. The recovered parts include part of a circuit board, which might have been used to detonate a device.  A law enforcement official said Monday's bombs were probably detonated by timers. But the FBI said details of the detonating system were unknown.  While the clues moved the investigation forward, they did not make it immediately apparent whether the attack was an act of domestic or foreign terrorism. "If your experience and your expertise is Middle East terrorism, it has the hallmarks of al Qaeda or a Middle East group," former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes said. "If your experience is domestic groups and bombings that have occurred here, it has the hallmarks of a domestic terrorist like Eric Rudolph in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics bombings." Fuentes said he has investigated both types of terrorism -- from Iraq to the United States -- and finds the Boston attack has elements of both. "It has the hallmarks of both domestic and international (attacks), and you can see either side of that."

Boston University identified graduate student Lingzu Lu as the third person who died in Monday's bombings.  Previously identified were Krystle Campbell, 29, of Arlington, Massachusetts, and Martin Richard, 8, of Dorchester, Massachusetts.  "She was the best," Campbell's distraught mother, Patty, told reporters Tuesday. "You couldn't ask for a better daughter."  Martin "was a bright, energetic young boy who had big dreams and high hopes for his future," his school said in a statement. "We are heartbroken by this loss." The attack left Boston police with "the most complex crime scene that we've dealt with in the history of our department," Commissioner Ed Davis said Tuesday.  Authorities sifted through thousands of pieces of evidence and a mass of digital photos and video clips leading up to Wednesday's arrest. They had pleaded for the public's help in providing additional leads and images.  "Someone knows who did this," said Rick DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office said. "The community will play a crucial role in this investigation."  Medical personnel treating the wounded found evidence suggesting the bombmaker or bombmakers sought to maximize the suffering.  Dr. George Velmahos, head of trauma care at Massachusetts General Hospital, said his team found metal pellets and nails inside patients' bodies.  "They are numerous. There are people who have 10, 20, 30, 40 of them in their body, or more," Velmahos said.  While most of the patients treated at Brigham and Women's Hospital were wounded by "ordinary debris," three were struck by "perfectly round objects" that were uniform, consistent and metallic, the hospital's chairman of emergency medicine said. - CNN.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Tracking Developments At The Giant Louisiana Sinkhole - Officials Declare That The Hole Is "Likely To Be Permanent" And Will Take Thousands Of Years To Fill In?!

April 17, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Bulldozers and men have been at work building the next phase of a 1.5-mile-long berm and upgraded levee system aimed at containing the briney and oily contents of the Assumption Parish sinkhole.

Black geotextile fabric and white geosynthetic liner — about 7,800 linear feet of each — are being laid on top of a sand base that was finished in February, Texas Brine Co. officials said in a written response to questions. The white liner contains a special clay and is used to contain landfills and ponds.

Bulldozers are then spreading and compacting clay on top of the liner and the fabric, an estimated 7,300 cubic yards in all, company officials said.

Conservation Commissioner Jim Welsh ordered construction of the containment system last year as the primary means of keeping the oil and briney water feeding into the sinkhole from below from infiltrating surrounding cypress forests and scenic bayous.

Once completed by July 1 with limestone and drainage structures for heavy rain, the berm will contain 71 acres encompassing the growing 13-acre sinkhole, rise to 5.5 feet above ground level and have a designed lifespan of at least 20 years, Texas Brine officials said in their written statement.

Office of Conservation officials said in a written response to questions that the sinkhole is likely to widen and become more shallow over time even after periodic tremors end but said the hole itself isn’t likely to go anywhere.

“The sinkhole itself is likely to be a permanent feature even after the subsurface has fully stabilized,” officials said.

Conservation said they remain in emergency response mode and have set “no end point” for the berm.

The sinkhole formed last year after the failure of a Texas Brine salt dome cavern deep underground. About 350 people in the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities have been evacuated for more than eight months.

Tom Killeen, state Department of Environmental Inspection Division administrator, said it is likely the briney water in the sinkhole will freshen over time from inflowing groundwater.

Monitoring around the berm containment area will continue at least until the sinkhole water becomes homogeneous with the surrounding waterways, but there is no way to know how long that will take, he said.

“I foresee a longterm monitoring plan staying in place,” Killeen said.

 Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU - A bulldozer spreads clay April 0 over fabric layers that are being laid inside a 1.5-mile berm and upgraded levee system designed to contain the Assumption Parish sinkhole near Bayou Corne. The clay and the protective liners are part of a second phase of the berm construction.

Texas Brine officials, who will oversee the berm, said in a statement that filling the sinkhole would not be viable currently due to the sheer volume of the hole, the massive truck traffic required to fill it and the large hole that would be left where fill would be removed.

Conservation officials said they have discussed filling the hole, which has a volume of 1.2 million cubic yards, but are waiting on new seismic data to see what impact the dirt’s added weight would have on the rumbling fractured rock zone lying underneath the sinkhole.

Texas Brine officials said removing the brine is not viable now due to sinkhole stability now but said they will continue to evaluate the idea.

Rodney Mallett, a spokesman for DEQ, said that continued water quality testing since the sinkhole emerged in early August have shown that salt and other contaminants have not escaped into surrounding waterways and affected swamps and fisheries.

While virtually fresh at the surface, the sinkhole’s deepest waters have a projected salinity that would be about 25 percent salt by volume. The ocean has a salinity of 3.5 percent. Salinity in some parts of the Great Salt Lake in Utah reaches 28 percent, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Utah Water Science Center.

Ralph Portier, a professor in the LSU Department of Environmental Sciences, said the salt water poses a risk to fish, invertebrates and the freshwater vegetation, pointing the effect years of salt water intrusion has had on the state’s coastal wetlands, as an example.

While oil and gas condensates coming up from the sinkhole can biodegrade over the long term, he said, salt and other inorganic compounds will not.

He said using a berm to control the site’s hydrology is not any different than what would be done at an industrial site.

“Salt water is denser than fresh water,” Portier said.

“If you hydrologically control the water, you are not going to have that much off-site movement of water,” Portier said.

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU - Construction workers use a black geotextile fabric and white geosynthetic liner Tuesday to cover the first layer of a berm being built to contain the Assumption Parish sinkhole.

The heavier, denser brine, Conservation officials say, will tend to stay below fresher water on the top of the sinkhole.

Conservation officials added that any brine moving up the underground fracture zone beneath the sinkhole and its surrounding berm may rise to an aquifer in the area that is only used by industry.

But, for similar reasons related to brine’s density, the brine wouldn’t reach the root zone of the swamp vegetation without first displacing all the fresher aquifer water above the brine.

Conservation officials said that over the very long term — they were asked about a span over hundreds to thousands of years — the sinkhole is likely to fill in or become indistinguishable from the land around it, given Louisiana’s soft soils and frequent floods. - The Advocate.

MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: Major Disaster Precursors - Sea Lion Strandings Climb In California; Scientists Still Stumped By The Unusual Mortality Event; Nearly 1,300 Beached Since 2013; More Than 5 Times The Historical Average?!

April 17, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Scientists still don't know why nearly 1,300 sickly sea lions have beached themselves on the shores of southern California since the beginning of the year. However, they think some weird oceanic phenomenon may be blocking off the sea lion pups' source of food, scientists reported today (April 17).

The stranded sea lions - mostly pups born last summer - are typically turning up alive, but severely emaciated, some weighing less than 20 pounds (9 kg) when they should be well over 50 pounds (22 kg), marine officials say.

This year, an unusually high number of sea lion pups have stranded on southern California's shores, overwhelming marine mammal rehab centers. CREDIT: Pacific Marine Mammal Center
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared an "unusual mortality event" last month in light of the spike in strandings. Since the beginning of the year, 1,293 sea lions have washed ashore from San Diego County to Santa Barbara County.

That's more than five times higher than the region's historical average of 236, averaged from the same period of time (January through April) from 2008 to 2012, said Sarah Wilkin, NOAA's marine mammal stranding coordinator for California.

The problem is most pronounced in Los Angeles County, where 459 strandings have been reported this year as of April 14. During the same period last year, 60 strandings were reported.

California hasn't seen a spike in starving sea lions on this scale since El Niño warmed up Pacific waters in 1998. El Niño conditions can diminish the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water needed to support large populations of fish that are eaten by other animals like sea lions.

"In the words of some of the other biologists, if this was an El Niño year, it would still be overwhelming but it wouldn't be all that surprising," Wilkin said. But this isn't an El Niño year, so the mystery remains.

Wilkin told reporters today (April 17) that biologists think an unseen oceanographic or environmental phenomenon is likely cutting the sea lion pups' supply of food, much like El Niño would. While adult sea lions and other marine mammals may be able to adapt their feeding habits in the face of a shortage, pups are more limited in how far they can travel for food and what they can eat.

A localized anomaly like that happened in 2009, causing an above-average number of strandings.

"The prevailing onshore winds did not blow as strongly as they usually do and it resulted in a lack of upwelling, which created a foraging difficulty for California sea lions," Wilkin explained.

Toxic algae blooms and infectious disease outbreaks also can trigger mass pup strandings. Researchers don't have evidence that either of those factors are contributing to the problem this year, but scientists are still waiting to see if tests on blood and tissue samples turn up bacterial, viral and other infectious agents or radioactive traces.

In a good sign, there has been a slowdown in the number of stranded, starving sea lion pups being admitted to rehab facilities, Wilkin said. At the same time, other animals are washing up. Northern elephant seals have just entered their stranding season and biologists have found a few adult female sea lions suffering from seizures, suggesting they may have been poisoned by the neurotoxin domoic acid, which is produced by multiple species of the genus Pseudo-nitzschia, a type of algae. - Live Science.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Global Volcano Report For April 17, 2013 - New Lava Flow On Sciara del Fuoco, Emissions Of Ash And Gas Plume At Popocatépetl, Strong Degassing At Nevado del Ruiz, Strombolian Bursts At Etna!

April 17, 2013 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing reports of volcanoes across the globe.

Webcam image of the new lava flow on Stromboli this evening.

Stromboli (Eolian Islands, Italy): The new lava flow is well alimented and has reached several hundred meters down on the Sciara del Fuoco. Explosive activity continues as well.

The new lava flow on the upper Sciara del Fuoco this evening.

A new larger lava flow from the NE vent has started this afternoon to descend the Sciara del Fuoco, accompanied by glowing rockfalls and strong tremor. The eruption was preceded by very large strombolian explosions during the morning.

Popocatépetl (Central Mexico): Activity has dropped a bit but remains essentially unchanged. CENPRED reported 1-2 emissions of steam and minor ash amounts per hour today, a steam and gas plume rising up to 1 km as well as continuing glow at the crater.

Current seismic recording from Nevado del Ruiz (OLL station, INGEOMINAS).

Nevado del Ruiz (Colombia): Strong degassing and minor ash venting continue creating a plume reaching 1000 m above the crater today. The seismic swarm has decreased in strength, but goes on.

Etna (Sicily, Italy): New activity has started from the New SE crater last night, when incandescent degassing vents were visible at the crater. This activity has progressively increased during the night and produced strombolian bursts during the second half of the night. Tremor has been showing a slow increase.

- Volcano Discovery.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Bird Flu Virus - China Confirms 82 H7N9 Cases, 17 Deaths; H7N9 Minhang Confirmed Cluster Grows To Six; Bird Flu Fears Mount As Herbal Remedies Run Out; 4-Year-Old Bird Flu 'Carrier' Worries China About Human To Human Transmission!

April 17, 2013 - CHINA - From 8 p.m. Tuesday to 5 p.m. Wednesday, China confirmed five new cases of human H7N9 avian influenza infection, including one in Shanghai and four in Zhejiang Province.

Medical workers take part in a drill that simulates human infection of the H7N9 bird flu virus on April 9 in Hefei, China.

China Confirms 82 H7N9 Cases, 17 Deaths.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission said in its daily update on H7N9 cases that a total of 82 H7N9 cases have been reported in China, including 17 that have ended in death.

Of the total, five H7N9 patients have been discharged from hospitals after receiving treatment, and the other 60 patients are being treated in designated hospitals, according to the commission.

A total of 31 cases, including 11 that have ended in death, have been reported in Shanghai. Twenty cases, including three deaths, have been reported in Jiangsu Province, and 25 cases, including two deaths, in Zhejiang Province. Anhui Province has reported three cases, with one death. Beijing has reported one case and two have been reported in Henan Province.

China officially confirmed the occurrence of humans infected with the H7N9 virus late last month.

According to the commission, China's confirmed H7N9 cases are isolated and there has been no sign of human-to-human transmission. - Xinhuanet.

Pedestrians in Shanghai wear face masks to protect themselves from the H7N9 bird flu virus on Tuesday, April 16. At least 60 people have been infected and 13 have died in the past two weeks from the disease, according to Xinhua news agency.

H7N9 Minhang Confirmed Cluster Grows To Six.
On April 15, the City Health and Family Planning Commission, then the national CDC letter informed case samples submitted to the national CDC Shanghai Fifth People's Hospital in late March, detected four cases of human infection with the H7N9 avian influenza virus-positive cases. Isolated from samples of which 2 cases of human infection with the H7N9 avian influenza virus, 2 cases of convalescent serum antibody titers were more than four times higher.

The above translation increases the number of confirmed cases at Fifth Peoples Hospital in the Minhang District to six, which includes two recovered cases. The two cases confirmed by serum H7 titers is almost certainly the two sons (55M and 69M) of the first confirmed case (87M represented by A/Shanghai/1/2013). The other prior confirmed case (27M represented by A/Shanghai/2/2013, like the 3 member familial cluster also lived in the Minhang District and died at the Fifth People’s Hospital. His family threatened to sue the hospital because they thought the fatal case was infected by one of the three family members.

However, the A/Shanghai/1/2013 sequence did not match the A/Shanghai/2/2013 sequences, but the above confirmation indicates at least two additional H7N9 cases were treated at the hospital where at least one additional case died (the official total for confirmed cases is four fatalities and two discharges, consistent with media reports describing the additional cases). Moreover, the hospital compensated the family (130,000 yaun), adding credibility to their claim of a nosocomial H7N9 bird flu infection, which would represent additional H2H transmission.

The delayed confirmation of these cases raises concerns that H2H transmission is common, which is supported by recent comments by the Ministry of Agriculture, which noted that the 39 confirmed avian cases were identified by testing 47,801 samples. This low frequency and the presence of Q226L in the sequences from bird samples from live markets in or near the Minhang District (see map) raises the possibility that these birds sequences were linked to transmission from humans to birds (which was also associated with a reversion to wild type at position 627 because all three avian sequences from the region are wild type, while all four humans sequences have E627K).

The presence of E627K in all four human sequences also supports widespread H2H transmission, The latest update increases the number io confirmed human cases to 78, but only four sets of sequences have been released. Similarly, only 3 of the 39 H7N9 bird sequences have been released. An update of sequences from humans and birds would address the failure of the bird PB2 sequences to match the human sequences.

The presence of 6 confirmed H7N9 cases at the Fifth Peoples Hospital in the Minhang District in Shanghai raises serious pandemic concerns, especially since most or all cases are likely due to H2H transmission. Recombinomics.

 A technician conducts tests for the H7N9 bird flu virus at the Kunming Center for Disease Control on April 10 in Kunming, China.

4-Year-Old Bird Flu 'Carrier' Worries China.
Doctors say the discovery of a 4-year-old carrier of the H7N9 bird flu virus who shows no symptoms of the potentially lethal virus is a worrying development that could make the spread of the infection more difficult to monitor.  The Beijing Municipal Health Bureau said the boy was detected from a group of close contacts of the first infection in Beijing and the laboratory results showed the boy was an asymptomatic carrier of the disease.  The boy emerged after authorities screened 24 poultry owners in Naidong Village, Cuigezhuang County in Chaoyang District, taking throat swabs of those in contact with the group.  The report said the boy's parents were engaged in poultry and fish trading.

According to Dr. Leo Poon Lit-man, associate professor, School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, while there is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted from human to human, medical authorities need to be on the alert.  "It really depends on whether this H7N9 virus is transmissible between humans ... that key question needs to be answered," Dr. Poon told CNN. "So far, we do not know the full spectrum of the clinical presentations of these H7N9 patients.  "In the beginning, we were only able to detect it because there were some severe cases and some people actually died. They are trying enhance the surveillance so that's we can detect those cases where there is only a mild infection."  H7N9 is normally found in birds. Until last month, it was never known to infect people.

China has invited a team of international experts to assess the spread of the H7N9 bird flu virus in the country, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.  A team composed of Chinese experts on epidemiology, laboratory tests and clinical treatment, as well as experts and officials from the U.S, the European Union and the WHO, "will assess the outbreak and the response to guide further the prevention and control measures," Glenn Thomas, spokesman for the World Health Organization told reporters in Geneva.  Poon said evidence of human-to-human transmission would put the H7N9 problem into a different category.  "If it can (transmit human to human), then it's a very different scenario -- we would not be able to detect asymptomatic carriers and that would be a huge problem," he said.  The discovery of the carrier has meant Beijing has notched up a gear in its monitoring efforts, extending its action from a passive 'syndrome surveillance' to a more active 'pathogen monitoring'.  This involves actively seeking out and targeting populations at risk from the disease.  Health officials in China say there have been 82 confirmed cases of H7N9 and 17 confirmed deaths.  Several cities in eastern China have suspended trading in live poultry in an effort to contain the problem. - CNN.

Employees work on the production line of Shufeng Jiedu Capsule, an herbal medicine for treating avian influenza patients, at a workshop of Anhui Jiren Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd on Monday, April 8 in Bozhou, China.

Bird Flu Fears Mount In China As Herbal Remedies Run Out.
A popular herb called ban lan gen, or blue root, has been flying off pharmacy shelves across China as local governments encourage people to consider traditional remedies to ward off the latest bird flu virus.  With scientists so far unable to pinpoint the H7N9 influenza virus’ animal host, locals are preparing for a possible pandemic by stocking up on popular plant remedies as well as face masks and hand sanitizers and other over-the- counter medicines.

“Chinese people associate ban lan gen with anti-virus,” said Shen Jiangang, assistant director for research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Chinese Medicine. “So when they hear about bird flu, they immediately think it might be effective to protect themselves although there is no experimental evidence.”  Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines have used the remedy for centuries. Scientists have proved it can relieve bacterial conjunctivitis in eye drops and found it has an antiviral effect in test tubes. There is no test to show it works against influenza.  That hasn’t stopped buyers. Chinese consumers, especially older ones, tend to believe in traditional formulations especially when it comes to cold and flu remedies, said Iwona Mamczur, an analyst at Mintel International Group Ltd. The market for over-the-counter medicines was worth 77.5 billion yuan ($12.5 billion) in 2011, according to a report from the London-based researcher.

Ban lan gen is the root of a flowering plant known as dyer’s woad or indigo woad, and found in southeastern Europe, central Asia and eastern Siberia. The roots are dried and often processed into granules, which consumers ingest dissolved in hot water or tea. According to traditional Chinese medicine, which seeks to balance heat and cold in the body, the root can help clear the heat triggered by a viral attack, Shen said.  Patients should take the remedy under the guidance of a trained health practitioner, said Albert Leung, who heads Hong Kong University’s School of Chinese Medicine.  Huashi Pharmacy, located in Shanghai near the eastern bank of the Huangpu river, has started replenishing supplies of ban lan gen daily instead of weekly and still struggles to meet demand, according to pharmacy worker Zhang Zhijin.  Sales of facial masks have also gone up 10 times from before the H7N9 infections announcements, hand sanitizer has sold out, and companies have been bulk-ordering alcohol wipes for their employees, Zhang said.

Products are for sale at a traditional Chinese medicine market in Bozhou, Anhui Province, China.
Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Face Masks 
Beijing Tongrentang (600085), which makes a product extracted from ban lan gen, said in an e-mail that the outbreak of H7N9 has boosted sales, but didn’t provide numbers. The company’s shares increased 1.9 percent to a two-week high of 22.20 yuan at the close of trading in Shanghai today.  Francis Chu, the Singapore-based inventor of the totobobo face mask, said he’s fielded more than 20 inquiries about the pollution-filtering equipment’s effectiveness against bird flu since the start of April. Sales are up eight-fold from the same period last year.  “Earlier in the year, most of the increased orders from China were because of the air pollution,” Chu said in a telephone interview. “Sales are still increasing, but now it’s because of worries about bird flu.”  Beyond anecdotal evidence, the surge is hard to quantify. Pharmaceutical companies reaped at least $10 billion in sales of vaccines and antivirals globally as a result of the 2009 swine flu outbreak, according to data compiled by Bloomberg at the time. It’s too early to tell whether H7N9 will touch off another pandemic.

No Immunity 
Chinese authorities are struggling to identify the source and mode of transmission of the virus, which has sickened 82 people and killed 17 so far, most of them in China’s eastern provinces. While there is no evidence that H7N9 is spreading easily among people, it hasn’t been detected in humans before, so they have no natural immunity. That raises public health concerns, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said last week.  Sinovac Biotech Ltd. (SVA), the first company to win regulatory approval for a swine flu shot in 2009, surged 6.8 percent to $4.11 in Nasdaq trading on April 15 after Chief Executive Officer Yin Weidong said in an interview it is preparing to make immunizations against the new virus. Beijing-base Sinovac could have a first batch of the vaccine ready for commercial use by late July in the event of a pandemic, according to Yin.  Until such a vaccine is found, the race is on for Chinese citizens to track down the ban lan gen herb.  Zheng Bing, who works as an assistant at a local private equity firm, recently walked away empty-handed from three separate pharmacies in Beijing’s financial district. Zheng was told by his boss to stock up on the herb for the entire office. But he found that other anxious residents had beat him to the punch.  “I’m going to try a few more shops,” he said. “Otherwise I can’t answer my boss.” - Bloomberg.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Japanese Volcanic Island Hit By Series Of Earthquakes - Chance Of Changes In The Sea Levels Along Japan's Coast!

April 17, 2013 - JAPAN - Meteorologists say more than a dozen earthquakes, one of them magnitude 6.2, have rocked a volcanic island south of Tokyo on Wednesday.

The Japan Meteorological Agency says there have been no immediate reports of injuries or property damage from any of the quakes and no risk of a tsunami.

USGS earthquake map and location.

The biggest tremor, with its epicentre located near Miyake Island some 180 kilometres south of Tokyo, was registered at around 5:57pm local time.

"There may be slight changes in the level of sea along Japan's coast but there is no fear of damage resulting from this quake," the agency said.

There have been 13 minor quakes near the island - an active volcano - since Wednesday morning.

A small earthquake was also registered four minutes after the magnitude 6.2 tremor.

The volcano erupted in 2000, forcing all 3,800 islanders to evacuate. Many of them have since returned to the island. - ANN.

Tectonic Summary - Seismotectonics of the Philippine Sea and Vicinity.
The Philippine Sea plate is bordered by the larger Pacific and Eurasia plates and the smaller Sunda plate. The Philippine Sea plate is unusual in that its borders are nearly all zones of plate convergence. The Pacific plate is subducted into the mantle, south of Japan, beneath the Izu-Bonin and Mariana island arcs, which extend more than 3,000 km along the eastern margin of the Philippine Sea plate. This subduction zone is characterized by rapid plate convergence and high-level seismicity extending to depths of over 600 km. In spite of this extensive zone of plate convergence, the plate interface has been associated with few great (Magnitude greater than 8.0) ‘megathrust’ earthquakes. This low seismic energy release is thought to result from weak coupling along the plate interface (Scholz and Campos, 1995). These convergent plate margins are also associated with unusual zones of back-arc extension (along with resulting seismic activity) that decouple the volcanic island arcs from the remainder of the Philippine Sea Plate (Karig et al., 1978; Klaus et al., 1992).

South of the Mariana arc, the Pacific plate is subducted beneath the Yap Islands along the Yap trench. The long zone of Pacific plate subduction at the eastern margin of the Philippine Sea Plate is responsible for the generation of the deep Izu-Bonin, Mariana, and Yap trenches as well as parallel chains of islands and volcanoes, typical of circum-pacific island arcs. Similarly, the northwestern margin of the Philippine Sea plate is subducting beneath the Eurasia plate along a convergent zone, extending from southern Honshu to the northeastern coast of Taiwan, manifested by the Ryukyu Islands and the Nansei-Shoto (Ryukyu) trench. The Ryukyu Subduction Zone is associated with a similar zone of back-arc extension, the Okinawa Trough. At Taiwan, the plate boundary is characterized by a zone of arc-continent collision, whereby the northern end of the Luzon island arc is colliding with the buoyant crust of the Eurasia continental margin offshore China.

USGS historic seismicity for the region.

Along its western margin, the Philippine Sea plate is associated with a zone of oblique convergence with the Sunda Plate. This highly active convergent plate boundary extends along both sides the Philippine Islands, from Luzon in the north to the Celebes Islands in the south. The tectonic setting of the Philippines is unusual in several respects: it is characterized by opposite-facing subduction systems on its east and west sides; the archipelago is cut by a major transform fault, the Philippine Fault; and the arc complex itself is marked by active volcanism, faulting, and high seismic activity. Subduction of the Philippine Sea Plate occurs at the eastern margin of the archipelago along the Philippine Trench and its northern extension, the East Luzon Trough. The East Luzon Trough is thought to be an unusual example of a subduction zone in the process of formation, as the Philippine Trench system gradually extends northward (Hamburger et al., 1983). On the west side of Luzon, the Sunda Plate subducts eastward along a series of trenches, including the Manila Trench in the north, the smaller less well-developed Negros Trench in the central Philippines, and the Sulu and Cotabato trenches in the south (Cardwell et al., 1980). At its northern and southern terminations, subduction at the Manila Trench is interrupted by arc-continent collision, between the northern Philippine arc and the Eurasian continental margin at Taiwan and between the Sulu-Borneo Block and Luzon at the island of Mindoro. The Philippine fault, which extends over 1,200 km within the Philippine arc, is seismically active. The fault has been associated with major historical earthquakes, including the destructive M7.6 Luzon earthquake of 1990 (Yoshida and Abe, 1992). A number of other active intra-arc fault systems are associated with high seismic activity, including the Cotabato Fault and the Verde Passage-Sibuyan Sea Fault (Galgana et al., 2007).

Relative plate motion vectors near the Philippines (about 80 mm/yr) is oblique to the plate boundary along the two plate margins of central Luzon, where it is partitioned into orthogonal plate convergence along the trenches and nearly pure translational motion along the Philippine Fault (Barrier et al., 1991). Profiles B and C reveal evidence of opposing inclined seismic zones at intermediate depths (roughly 70-300 km) and complex tectonics at the surface along the Philippine Fault.

Several relevant tectonic elements, plate boundaries and active volcanoes, provide a context for the seismicity presented on the main map. The plate boundaries are most accurate along the axis of the trenches and more diffuse or speculative in the South China Sea and Lesser Sunda Islands. The active volcanic arcs (Siebert and Simkin, 2002) follow the Izu, Volcano, Mariana, and Ryukyu island chains and the main Philippine islands parallel to the Manila, Negros, Cotabato, and Philippine trenches.

Seismic activity along the boundaries of the Philippine Sea Plate (Allen et al., 2009) has produced 7 great (Magnitude greater than 8.0) earthquakes and 250 large (Magnitude greater than 7) events. Among the most destructive events were the 1923 Kanto, the 1948 Fukui and the 1995 Kobe (Japan) earthquakes (99,000, 5,100, and 6,400 casualties, respectively), the 1935 and the 1999 Chi-Chi (Taiwan) earthquakes (3,300 and 2,500 casualties, respectively), and the 1976 M7.6 Moro Gulf and 1990 M7.6 Luzon (Philippines) earthquakes (7,100 and 2,400 casualties, respectively). There have also been a number of tsunami-generating events in the region, including the Moro Gulf earthquake, whose tsunami resulted in more than 5000 deaths. - USGS.

FIRE IN THE SKY: "Meteor Season Is Back" - Springtime's Lyrid Meteor Shower Beginning To Bloom In The Night Skies This Week!

April 17, 2013 - SPACE - Like a spring flower, the annual Lyrid meteor shower is about to blossom in the night sky, and you've got several days to catch sight of the bloom as it grows.

"Meteor season is back!" photographer Jeff Berkes exulted in an email.

A meteor streaks through starry skies in a picture captured by photographer Jeff Berkes on Sunday from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in southern Maryland. Jeff Berkes Photography. Check out Berkes' Facebook page for more.

Although it's not the year's best shooting-star display, the Lyrids serve as a harbinger of spring and warmer days for skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere. At its peak, on the night of April 21-22, the meteors should flash every three to six minutes or so. But that's the expected rate under ideal conditions: clear skies, far from city lights, with no sources of glare in the sky.

Unfortunately, there'll be one big source of glare this time around: the moon, which will be nearing its full phase on the best night. That would be an argument for getting out a couple of hours before dawn sometime in the days ahead, to catch the early meteors in darker skies. That's how Berkes captured his primo image of a meteor streak against the backdrop of the Milky Way.

"I had been traveling for days while sleeping out of my car as I continue my dark sky projects," the Pennsylvania-based photographer wrote. "I drove over 1,000 miles in three days, visited several states, and came home with over 3,000 pictures in addition to some time-lapse work. After spending two days in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I decided to move north to have a chance at viewing the northern lights Saturday night into Sunday morning. While I waited for the polar activity to pick up, I set up a couple of cameras up in different locations. I ended up capturing this meteor before I drove to a fourth location around 4 a.m. The best part is watching a meteor fall right through the middle of your frame. It was a beautiful way to end the trip, and a good sign that the Lyrids are coming!"

Like other meteor showers, the Lyrids are sparked by the cosmic debris left behind by a comet. In this case, the debris comes from Comet Thatcher, which comes around every 415 years. Every April, when our planet passes through the trail of bits left behind by the comet, some of those bits zoom through Earth's upper atmosphere and ionize the air. That's what creates the meteor streaks. The Lyrids are so named because the streaks appear to emanate from a point in the constellation Lyra.

Don't expect to see fireworks: "Rates this early in the activity curve would be low, less than one per hour no matter your location," Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society says on the MeteorObs mailing list. But if you're lucky, you could spot a fireball like the one that skywatcher Salvador Aguirre reported from Mexico. If you do get snapshots of meteors blooming, feel free to share it with us via our FirstPerson photo-upload page. We'll pass along more pictures as the Lyrids blossom. - NBC News.

WATCH: Lyrid meteor shower set to light up the night sky.