Sunday, May 19, 2013

EXTREME WEATHER: America Under Attack - Powerful Storm System Stretching From North Texas To Minnesota Drops Hail And Heavy Rainfall; Tornadoes Tear Through Kansas, Oklahoma Downing Power Lines And Damaging Homes; New Round Of Storms Could Threaten Millions Of People!

May 19, 2013 - UNITED STATESPeople in two states were taking shelter amid wailing warning sirens Sunday as tornadoes were confirmed to have touched down in Kansas and Oklahoma as part of an extreme weather system plowing through the nation's midsection.

  A funnel cloud is seen in southwest Wichita on Sunday.
Shalyn Phillips /

The system, which stretched from North Texas to Minnesota, also heaved hail -- dime to softball sized -- as well as heavy rainfall.

Residents in downtown Wichita, Kan., were told to seek shelter Sunday afternoon after a tornado was confirmed on the ground – with its presence cloaked by thick thunder clouds and heavy rain.

Near Oklahoma City, a half-mile wide tornado was reported, prompting a stark alert from the Weather Service: "You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter," the advisory said.

The National Weather Service in Wichita warned of a large and “extremely dangerous and potentially deadly” tornado late Sunday.  Weather spotters confirmed the tornado 7 miles northwest of Haysville and moving northeast at 30 mph, the Weather Service said.

WATCH: KFOR in Oklahoma reports that there is damage after an apparent tornado hit the ground near Shawnee, Oklahoma on Sunday.

The tornado later passed south of the city in Sedgwick County in southern Kansas but rain and thunderstorms continued to batter the area, NBC station KSN TV in Wichita reported.

The warning, which covered downtown Wichita as well as the surrounding area that includes Haysville, was lifted in early evening, KSN reported.

Power lines were down and at least three homes were damaged near Wichita, one with its roof blown off, KSN reported. Authorities said there were no injuries to report.

Other tornadoes were confirmed near Udall and Emporia, and danger remained in many parts of southcentral Kansas with residents told to seek refuge in storm shelters.

At least one tornado was confirmed on the ground near Oklahoma City, NBC station KFOR reported. The Weather Service reported it was confirmed by spotters near Luther and was moving east at 30 mph. Tornado warnings were in effect for Lincoln and other northeastern Oklahoma counties.

WATCH: Some of the largest cities in the Midwest are under alert in what could be a long night for the country's heartland, The Weather Channel's Kelly Cass reports.

The Lincoln County sheriff's office reported damage from three tornadoes that touched down, but the extent of the damage was not immediately known.  There was no word of injuries from the storms as of Sunday evening.

The weather outlook across Middle America looks stormy with the Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., forecasting tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds over parts of the central Plains on Sunday.

Eastern Kansas, Western Missouri, Southern Nebraska, Central and Northeast Oklahoma were the areas most likely to be hit by the severe weather. 

A tornado touches down southwest of Wichita near the town of Viola on Sunday.
Travis Heying / MCT via Zuma Press

Low pressure in the Plains states will keep things "very unsettled and stormy" as the week goes on, The Weather Channel reported.

On Monday, the severe storms threat moves down to North Texas and Oklahoma, through northwest Arkansas, southeast Kansas and Missouri into parts of the Upper Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes, according to the Weather Channel. Large hail and damaging winds are also possible.

By Tuesday the large  system is expected to be moving slowly to the East, from eastern Texas to the southern Great Lakes.

WATCH: Authorities are telling people from Iowa to Oklahoma to prepare for powerful storms. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.

The storms are being generated by a dip in the jet stream combined with moisture moving north from the Gulf of Mexico, Kim Cunningham of The Weather Channel reported on NBC Nightly News.

The danger follows a series of tornadoes that struck northern Texas on Wednesday night, leaving six people dead and dozens injured. One of the twisters was preliminarily classified EF-4 by the National Weather Service, meaning it could have had winds up to 200 miles per hour.

Overall, tornadic activity has been slow this May, typically a bad month for twisters, said the Weather Channel’s Tom Moore. - NBC News.

ICE AGE NOW: A Year Without Spring - Anchorage Sets Record For Longest Snow Season On Record!

May 19, 2013 - ALASKA - 232 days - it took over 30 years for Anchorage to set a new record for the longest snow season on record.

The National Weather Service measured 2/10ths of an inch just after 9 p.m. Friday and 1/10th Saturday morning - breaking the old record of 230 days set in 1981-1982.

Anchorage police responded to 22 crashes, 4 with injuries and 37 vehicles in distress between midnight and noon Saturday.

Police say roads were wet and not icy midday and "motorists should use caution if the temperatures drop below freezing.

Other parts of the city had much higher amounts of snow, however official measurements must be consistent and observed at the Sand Lake forecast office.

The recent snowfall also broke the daily record for liquid precipitation, lowest maximum temperature for May 17, and a host of other records.

NWS says Saturday evening's forecast calls for "mostly cloudy with isolated snow showers in the evening...then partly cloudy after midnight - lows in the upper teens to mid 20s and north wind to 15 mph."

For Sunday, the forecast will be mostly sunny, highs in the 40s, and light winds, according to NWS. - Today.

THE GREAT DELUGE: Rainstorms In Southern China Cause Widespread Floods And Landslides - 55 Dead; 14 Missing; Over 2,000 Homes Destroyed!

May 19, 2013 - CHINA - Heavy rains in China have killed 55 people, and an additional 14 people are now missing. ABC News reports on May 18 that the rainstorms in southern China are causing floods and landslides. More rain is expected with additional flooding this week.

 A truck is driven along a flooded street on May 16, 2013 in Jianghua County, China.
Credit: ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

The Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs states that 55 people have died and 14 people are missing. Guangdong province has the highest number of victims with 36 people reported dead. The rains have created flooding and landslides throughout southern China. In addition, thunder and hail accompanied many of the storms.

People wade in a flooded street on May 16, 2013 in Jianghua County, China.
Credit: ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

Vehicles are trapped in a flooded street on May 16, 2013 in Xiamen, China.
Credit: ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

Water levels are also rising in the rivers, and residents in Guangdong province are being warned that their rivers have passed the warning lines. More than 2,000 homes may have been destroyed by flooding, but the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs is not revealing the exact numbers.

Rescuers evacuate a boy from flood-hit areas on May 16, 2013 in Xiamen, China.
Credit: ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

A tank truck is submerged by flood waters at a petrochemical company on May 16, 2013 in Jinjiang, China.
Credit: ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

More rain is coming to southern China, so officials warn that flooding will become more serious and dangerous. Rainstorms are a recurring problem for this part of China. In 2007, heavy rains also caused flooding and landslides that killed 76 people. Similar to 2013, multiple provinces were affected by the rainstorms with thousands of homes destroyed. - Examiner.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Global Volcano Report For May 19, 2013 - Updates On Pavlof, Kizimen, Shiveluch, Tolbachik, And Popocatépetl!

May 19, 2013 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing reports of volcanoes across the globe.

Pavlov (Alaska Peninsula, USA): The eruption continues with lava fountaining, an active lava flow and ash emissions, accompanied by continuous seismic tremor. Aerial observations suggest that the interaction of lava and ice on the upper slope of the volcano create mud flows and pyroclastic flows.

Pavlof volcano eruption column, May 18, 2013. Photo courtesy Theo Chesley. (AVO)

A narrow plume of steam, ash, and gas, occasionally up to 20,000 ft. above sea level, and extending southeast from the volcano over the North Pacific Ocean was visible in satellite images yesterday. Minor to trace ash fallout could be occurring on the north, east and southeast flanks of the volcano and possibly on parts of Pavlof Bay and adjacent waters southeast of the volcano. Nearby communities have not reported any ash fall over the past 24 hours. (AVO)

Kizimen (Kamchatka): The lava dome remains active and produces hot avalanches on the western and eastern flanks. KVERT reports moderate seismic activity, incandescence of the volcano summit and medium to strong degassing.

Shiveluch (Kamchatka): The activity of the growing lava dome continues with little changes. KVERT reports moderate seismic activity, moderate gas-steam activity and incandescence.

Tolbachik (Kamchatka): According to the latest KVERT report, the eruption has gained again in strength. Tremor levels have risen and lava continues to effuse from the southern fissure vent, feeding a broad lava flow field.

Popocatépetl (Central Mexico): Activity remains elevated, but the number and size of explosions have decreased during the past 2 days.

Aerial view of the lava dome in Popo's crater on 18 May (CENAPRED)

CENAPRED made an overflight and found that the series of recent explosions since 14 May, in particular the two that occurred on the night of the 16th to 17th, have excavated a crater of approx. 200 m diameter and 40 m depth in the lava dome. The rest of the dome's surface is covered by fragments from the explosions.

Complete Earthquake list (worldwide) for May 19, 2013.

- Volcano Discovery.

WAR DRUMS: Russian Warships Enter Mediterranean For The First Time In Decades - To Form Permanent Task Force?!

May 19, 2013 - MEDITERRANEAN - Warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet have entered the Mediterranean for the first time in decades. Russia’s Navy Chief says the task force may be reinforced with nuclear submarines, as the country starts building up a permanent fleet in the region.

“The task force has successfully passed through the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean. It is the first time in decades that Pacific Fleet warships have entered this region,”
the Pacific Fleet spokesman, Capt. First Rank Roman Martov told RIA Novosti.

The "Admiral Panteleyev" anti-submarine warfare ship of the Pacific Fleet (RIA Novosti/Vitaliy Ankov).

The vessels are now heading to Cyprus and will make a port call in the city of Limassol, he added.

The group includes destroyer Admiral Panteleyev, two amphibious warfare ships Peresvet and Admiral Nevelskoi, as well as a tanker and a tugboat.

The ships left the Far-Eastern port city of Vladivostok on March 19 to join Russia’s Mediterranean task force, which currently consists of vessels from Northern, Baltic, and the Black Sea Fleets, including a large anti-submarine ship, a frigate and a Ropucha-II Class landing ship.

Russian Navy Commander Adm. Viktor Chirkov on Sunday announced plans for the Mediterranean task force and said that it may “possibly” be enlarged to include nuclear submarines.

“Overall, already from this year, we plan to have five or six warships and support vessels [in the Mediterranean Sea], which will be replaced on a rotating basis from each of the fleets – the Black Sea, Baltic, Northern and, in some cases, even the Pacific Fleet. Depending on the scope of assignments and their complexity, the number of warships in the task force may be increased,”
Chirkov said, as quoted by RIA Novosti.

Guards missile boats of the Pacific Fleet (RIA Novosti/Vitaliy Ankov).

Russian submarines may be deployed in the region “in perspective,” the Navy Commander said, reminding that both nuclear and diesel submarines were present in the Soviet Union’s 5th Mediterranean Squadron.

“Everything will depend on the situation,”
Chirkov said, also leaving the door open for missions in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The task force will be “comprehensively trained” to meet situations that may arise in these regions too, he said.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced setting up a naval task force in the Mediterranean in April, while the country’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has said a permanent naval task force was needed to defend Russia’s interests in the region.

The permanent fleet’s headquarters will be set up in the summer of 2013, although their actual location is yet to be announced.

The Mediterranean has recently become a hotspot of military muscle flexing as global powers seemingly vie for influence.

NATO has been staging major naval war games involving several countries, last October holding an exercise code-named Noble Mariner 12. Russia held its largest naval exercises in the region this January, with drills spanning both the Black and Mediterranean Seas. The media quickly linked both the NATO and Russian war games to the situation in Syria.

Pacific Fleet's large amphibious ship "Admiral Nevelsky" (RIA Novosti/Ildus Gilyazutdinov).

Another recent naval display, seen as provocative by Israel, was the deployment of the Iranian Navy’s 24th Fleet to patrol the Mediterranean and convey a “message of peace.” Since then, Israel has acquired its fifth Dolphin-class submarine allegedly capable of launching cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.

China has also been increasing its involvement in the area, with the country’s warships sailing through the Suez Canal, and several key ports of the region becoming partially China-owned.

Major naval groups serving in the Mediterranean Sea include NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, French Naval Action Force, and the US Navy 6th Fleet. The only Russian naval installation in the region has for decades been the maintenance facility in the Syrian city of Tartus. - RT.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Disaster Precursor - A New Breed Of "Crazy Ants" Which Nest Everywhere And Damage Electrical Systems Are Taking Over Southeastern United States?!

May 19, 2013 - UNITED STATES - You certainly wouldn't want these ants in your pants. A species of ants, nicknamed 'crazy' by researchers because they are prone to sporadic movements has descended upon the Southeastern region of the country, particularly in coastal areas with warmer temperatures and has wreaked havoc on yards and homes.

The biggest factor to the spread of 'crazy' ants has been transportation via humans.

'Crazy' ants are known scientifically as 'Nylanderia fulva' and are native to Argentina and Brazil, they are also referred to as 'rasberry' after the exterminator Tom Rasberry who discovered them in Houston in 2002.

The 'crazy' ants do not have such a painful sting as their insect counterparts, they are still a nuisance for homeowners.

Edward LeBrun, a researcher with the University of Texas at Austin, has studied the patterns of the ants which can 'go everywhere.' They can crawl into small compact spaces and even cause damage towards electrical equipment.

Interestingly, though, their presence seems to come at the expense of the far more common fire ant. It is unclear why the two species apparently cannot co-exist in the same habitat.

'Crazy' ants have been identified all the way from Texas to Mississippi. Researchers believe that the ants cannot survive in regions that are dry or cold.

Unlike fire ants, 'crazy' ants also do not spread as quickly. They can only advance approximately 200 meters per year on their own.

The biggest factor in their spread along the Southeast has been human transportation.

LeBrun urges caution for residents in areas with known 'crazy' ant populations to be mindful when they are traveling. - Daily Mail.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Fury Unleashed - Volcanoes Erupting Around The World!

May 19, 2013 - EARTH - Volcanoes are rumbling in both the Arctic and the tropics of North America, while other eruptions continue on an Italian island and in the frozen tundra of Russia.

Pavlof Volcano in eruption. View is from the southwest in Cold Bay. Lava fountain is visible near the summit, and steam and ash clouds rise from the northwest flank where a lava flow advances down the slope. (Rachel Kremer, USGS)

In Alaska, twin volcanoes threaten to unleash more of their fury. Volcano fanatics are salivating over images of Pavlof volcano’s ash and steam plume. The plume rose to approximately 20,000 above sea level and have created a diffuse plume trailing 100 miles downwind to the northeast, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Volcano Observatory. Pilots recently spotted lava trickling down the northwest flank of the 8,261 feet (2,518 meter) volcano. Residents of Cold Bay, 37 miles away, reported a visible glow from the volcano’s summit last night.

Nearby Cleveland volcano hasn’t erupted yet, and USGS monitoring equipment hadn’t picked up any explosions as of yesterday evening. However, the USGS warns that an eruption of blocks of stone and ash could occur with little or no warning.

USGS officials warned aviators of the dangers of the incipient eruptions and set aviation alert level to “orange.”

Thousands of miles to the south, the one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Popocatepetl, continues its activity in the Valley of Mexico. On Monday, the volcano erupted a plume of ash that settled over nearby Puebla.

Mexico’s National Disaster Prevention Center announced that they had detected two explosions on Tuesday night. The center also stated that steam recently rose approximately one mile (1.5 kilometers) above Popocatepetl. Authorities are now preparing shelters and evacuations routes in case the volcanic eruption escalates, reported the AP.

Earlier in May, a tremor from Popocatepetl lasted for 3.5 hours, reported Volcano Discovery. An eruption of steam and ash accompanied the tremor and covered the villages San Juan Tianguismanalco, San Pedro Benito Juárez and the City of Puebla in ash as the plume drifted to the southeast.

Elsewhere around the world, Stromboli volcano remains active in Italy. Observers spotted a small flow of lava from the volcano’s northeast crater, reported Volcano Discovery. Stromboli is one of the eight Aeolian Islands located north of Sicily.

In Kamchatka, a region of eastern Russia, the volcano Shiveluch produced an ash cloud that rose 15,000 feet (4.7 meters) on Wednesday, according to Volcano Discovery. The five other active volcanoes in Kanchatka have shown no changes in activity recently.  - DISCOVERY News.

MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: "Catastrophic Mortality" - Manatees Are Dying In Droves In Florida, 582 Have Died So Far This Year?!

May 19, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A record number of endangered manatees are dying in Florida's algae-choked waterways. So far this year, 582 manatees have died, more than any year on record, according to preliminary numbers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Pat Rose is an aquatic biologist and the executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, an organization devoted to preserving the animal. In his interview with TakePart, Rose reports the estimated minimum population of these gentle beasts is only 3,100 adults. That means their population has decreased by more than 10 percent in just four months.

A total of 247 of these have died in the southwest of the state due to an explosion of a red-hued algae called Karenia brevis, also known as a red tide.

This pesky microorganism produces neurotoxins that can kill manatees by causing them to seize to the point where they can't make it to the surface—or even lift their head out of the water—to breathe.

The NOAA is launching a study to investigate the factors behind the recent rash of manatee deaths.
(Photo: Kallista/Getty Images)

The large marine mammals are also dying in the eastern part of the state, in Brevard County near Orlando. Rose says a gradual die-out of sea grass, upon which the manatees feed, has combined with blooms of brown algae and likely other unknown factors to kill nearly 150 more manatees. Since 2010, about 30,000 acres of sea grass have been wiped out.

Luckily, it appears that both events are winding down, and the rate of manatee deaths appears to be slowing. But that's cold comfort for Rose, since the number of threats to manatees appears to be growing, and little is being done to address the problem.

Traditionally, boat collisions have been the biggest killer of manatees; they're vulnerable since they're large, slow-moving and often hang out on the surface. Until this year, at least 41 percent of all manatee deaths resulted from these collisions, and likely more, because not all of these deaths are reported or detected.

The threat of algal blooms could be reduced if Floridians and others throughout the country could reduce nutrient runoff.  These nutrients, from fertilizers and wastewater, feed algae blooms like red tide. When these proliferations of algae die, they also consume massive amounts of oxygen, creating dead zones that kill fish, coral and just about anything that happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Unfortunately, the Florida State Senate is considering a bill that would prevent local governments from water quality laws that are stricter than that of the state—which aren't strict enough, according to Rose. "The Legislature is doing everything it can to further pair down our water-quality laws," he says.

Called HB 999, the bill will be voted on by the Senate this week. According to an editorial in the Tampa Bay Times, this legislature "would make it easier to pollute waterways, destroy flood protection areas, squander the drinking water supply and extend even more leverage to developers over when and where they build."

Rose says it's unclear exactly why this red-tide event killed more manatees than any on record. It certainly didn't help that the bloom persisted through the winter months. But this has happened before; there was a persistent bloom of Karenia brevis that lasted from June 2002 until February 2004, for example, but far fewer manatees were killed, according to the FWC. - Take Part.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: "Nothing Can Be Done To Stop It" - 6,000 Ducks Die Of Viral Enteritis Plague In Thrissur, India?!

May 19, 2013 - INDIA - Around 6,000 ducks were found dead in the sprawling kole fields of Arimbur panchayat in Thrissur on Saturday owing to the outbreak of duck plague aka duck viral enteritis over the last two days.

The ducks belong to Tony Eluvathinkal of Ammadam, a farmer. “I had no idea as to what was killing hundreds of ducks wading through the kole fields on Friday. But, the death toll dramatically mounted to around 6,000 on Saturday,” Tony said.

Mamman Abraham, assistant professor at the Pathology Department of Veterinary University College, who conducted the post-mortem examination on the carcass of the ducks, said that duck plague has been confirmed in poultry samples collected from the kole fields.

“The contagious anatid herpesvirus 1 caused internal bleeding and severe diarrhea. Most of the ducks died owing to the formation of the mucosae in the respiratory system and gastrointestinal system. The ducks which show symptoms will die eventually as mortality rate is 90 per cent in this disease. Nothing can be done to stop it.

The dead birds should be culled quickly to prevent further contamination,” Mamman Abraham said.

“I was rearing around 11,000 ducks, which had I brought from Kuttanad a couple of months ago, by leaving them in the post-harvested paddy fields as they can eat the left-over food grains, insects, snails, earthworms, aquatic plants, grass and small amphibians there.

However, on Thursday night onwards the ducks started showing symptoms of illness like loss of motor skills and coordination when they were released into the water in the kole fields. - New Indian Express.

WAR ON MOTHER NATURE: Trapping Of Millions Of Birds In Egypt Threatens European Bird Populations - Tens Of Millions Are Killed Each Year!

May 19, 2013 - AFRICA - Disturbing evidence has emerged from the Mediterranean coast of Egypt: Bavarian Broadcasting have documented a total of 700 kilometres of nets set to catch birds. The birds are then offered as a delicacy in markets and restaurants across Egypt.

The nets are very difficult to avoid for many migratory birds as they form a barrier across their flight path either across the Mediterranean or the Sahara when they are looking for a place to rest. The exact number of birds caught in this way can only be estimated, but experts believe that tens of millions are killed each year.

That songbirds are on the menu (and targeted by many hunters) in many countries of southern Europe and North Africa is nothing new. The existence of fishing nets on the coast of Egypt has long been known, but what is new is the scale of netting, which now extends from Libya across almost the entire coastline of the Egypt to the Sinai - interrupted only in a few places by military installations or major cities.

The nets stretch approximately 700 kilometres from the Libyan border almost to Gaza. Photo courtesy of NABU.

Catching birds in Egypt threatens European populations

This form of bird trapping is mostly illegal in Egypt; there are statutory requirements for minimum distances between the nets and maximum stipulated heights but these are largely ignored. Egypt has also signed international agreements on the protection of birds, but the resulting rules are not enforced at all.

The few birds that escape the nets are often caught by the gun. Photo courtesy of NABU.

Lars Lachmann, bird expert of NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, one of the oldest and largest environment associations in Germany.) states that the implications of bird trapping in Egypt to the European breeding population are not good: "The majority of our species are suffering from habitat loss and climate change; species such as willow warbler, nightingale, wheatear and nightjar will be adversely affected by the massive catch in Egypt."

Help the fight against this trapping

Most of the birds end up being sold on market stalls. Photo courtesy of NABU.

Any donations will go to NABU's partner organization "Nature Conservation Egypt" to enable it to campaign locally, through regular monitoring of the extent of bird trapping and also to develop specific projects to prevent bird trapping. - Wildlife Extra.

WAR DRUMS: Tensions Mount On The Korean Peninsula - North Korea Launches Fourth Short-Range Missile!

May 19, 2013 - KOREAN PENINSULA - North Korea fired a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan on Sunday, according to South Korea's semiofficial news agency Yonhap, citing a South Korean military official.

On Saturday, North Korea launched three short-range guided missiles into the sea, also known as the East Sea, off the Korean Peninsula's east coast, Yonhap reported.

The missiles on Saturday were fired in a northeasterly direction, away from South Korean waters, the ministry said.

South Korea has beefed up monitoring on North Korea and is maintaining a high level of readiness to deal with any risky developments, the ministry added, according to Yonhap.

According to the Arms Control Association, a U.S.-based organization, short-range guided missiles are generally classified as those traveling less than 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles).

Tensions in the region have eased since a period last month that included near daily North Korean threats of war.

U.S. and South Korean officials feared at that time that Kim Jong Un's regime was planning to carry out a test launch of longer-range ballistic missiles, believed to be Musudans. The South Korean government says they have a maximum range of 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles).

Andrew Salmon, a journalist and author based in the South Korean capital, Seoul, said North Korea's reported launch of short-range missiles Saturday should not cause the same degree of concern as the launch of a satellite or medium-range Musudan rocket.

"It's a short-range tactical weapon. If any other country launched this kind of weapon, it's a routine test, nobody would be too worried. It's really simply because it's North Korea doing this that it raises concerns," he said.

The situation is much less tense in the region than it was last month, Salmon said.

"The North Koreans have significantly de-escalated their bellicosity and their rhetoric since the end of April," he said. "The South Korean government, I suspect, will not be strongly condemnatory of this test because right now they are very, very keen to get the North Koreans to the negotiating table."

WATCH: North Korea launches fourth short-range missile.

The recent tensions flared after the North's long-range rocket launch in December and underground nuclear test in February, both of which were widely condemned.

Pyongyang's fiery rhetoric intensified in March as the U.N. Security Council voted to tighten sanctions on the regime following the nuclear test.

Annual U.S.-South Korean military drills in South Korea also fueled the North's anger, especially when the United States carried out displays of strength that included nuclear-capable B2 stealth bombers.

North Korea is demanding recognition as a nuclear power, something the United States refuses to accept.

Last month's crisis resulted in the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. - CNN.

ICE AGE NOW: A Year Without Spring - May Storm Dumps Heavy Snow In Interior Alaska, Denali National Park; Wacky Weather Producing One Of Alaska Interior's Craziest Spring Migrations On Record; Late Snow Delaying Annual Bird Migration Across Alaska!

May 19, 2013 - ALASKA - Denali Park, Alaska - Christmas music played Friday in the lobby of the McKinley Chalet Resort, just outside Denali National Park and Preserve.

It was fitting, considering the weather outside.

Carol and Haze Elliott, from South Carolina, brave the snow near the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. At first, they were excited about the snow, feeling like they were really having an Alaskan experience. “It can stop now,” they joked.
Photo by Tina Graham

May Storm Dumps Heavy Snow In Interior Alaska, Denali National Park.
A heavy spring snowstorm dumped enough snow in the area to cancel some local events, keep people from driving and surprise a few tourists.

A winter storm watch remained in effect until this morning.

"The guests are actually enjoying the experience," said Craig Pester, district manager of Aramark's Denali resorts. "We had to change a couple tours around so they didn't get the full experience, but all the guests are very happy. They're kind of making it part of their adventure."

Indeed, the Elliotts who are visiting from South Carolina thought the snow was pretty exciting, as they huddled behind an umbrella. What an Alaska experience, they said.

A visitor from Germany came north for better weather and ended up camping in the snow at Riley Creek Campground. He took it all in stride.

The grumpiest people here at Denali seemed to be Alaskans, who are tired of winter.

"I love winter," said Kris Fister, a year-round resident. "But really."

The snowstorm is proving to be challenging for local businesses and Denali National Park, which was supposed to open for the season Saturday.

On Friday afternoon, Annie and Mike Hopper, owners of the Black Rapids Lodge at 227 Mile Richardson Highway, posted this photo of their deck. They wrote, "We have two feet of snow! We had to plow and are still looking for the barbeque! Our first international guests will arrive tomorrow and won't they be surprised. We have a Canadian helicopter crew downed by the weather but quite happy to be tucked in the lodge on a day like this. My my.....mother nature is surely in charge." Photo by Tina Graham

The Department of Transportation plows the Nenana River Canyon on Friday.
Photo by Tina Graham

Flightseeing is not available. The rivers are still frozen, so there is no whitewater rafting. Across the street, on the boardwalk, shops that need water - like Glacier Scoops Ice Cream, Subway and Black Bear Coffee - remain closed.

"I told the high school kids today we'll open sometime between now and July 1," ice cream shop owner Donna Cook said. Realistically, she hopes to open by Monday.

No one will know until early today if the park road will remain open.

"Maintenance employees are getting up at 4:30 a.m. (to remove snow)," Pester said.

"It's incredible," he said. "Eight seasons and I've never seen this much snow."

The National Weather Service warned in a Friday afternoon storm update that close to a foot of snow could fall in the Denali park area overnight and that 2 to 4 inches of snow could fall at higher elevations in the Fairbanks region by this morning.

Heavy snow was falling Friday evening in Denali park, with visibility reduced to about one half mile and snow accumulation of 3 to 8 inches expected overnight, according to the weather service. The heaviest snowfall was expected east of Toklat. An additional 1 to 3 inches was expected in the Denali area this morning.

Higher elevations in the Fairbanks area were forecast to see up to 6 inches from Friday afternoon through this morning, while lower elevations would see much less, about 1 to 2 inches, according to the weather service.

The late-season snow storm also is expected to deliver a punch to the eastern Interior. Even heavier snowfall was expected west of Tok, with blowing snow severely reducing visibility and 4 to 8 inches of snow expected through the night and an additional 2 to 6 inches expected today.

German visitor Florian Fink sets up camp at Riley Creek Campground. After spending 10 nights in Anchorage, he took the train north in hopes of finding better weather.  He said his sleeping bag was rated to zero degrees and that he was planning on making the best of things.
Photo by Tina Graham

In Denali National Park, water lines are frozen
so there was no water or operational toilets Friday at the Denali Visitor Center or the Wilderness Access Center. Tour buses depart from the wilderness center.

Portable toilets were stationed at each site.

The Denali Visitor Center and the Alaska Geographic Bookstore were both open. The Morino Grill was expected to open today.

"What is not happening is campgrounds opening," said Kris Fister, park information officer.

Both Savage and Teklanika campgrounds are closed because they are snow-covered. People who have a reservation for this weekend and show up will be accommodated at Riley Creek campground in the entrance area. Meanwhile, no more reservations will be accepted for those campgrounds until the end of the month.

The seven camping sites in Sanctuary and Igloo campgrounds also will open eventually, but backpackers will be advised to prepare for winter camping.

That is, if they can get there.

That all depends on whether the road remains open.

Tours went into the park Friday. The wilderness tour went 30 miles to Teklanika and the natural history tour went to Primrose, as usual. Snowfall will determine whether the road will remain open.

"We're taking it day by day," said Dominic Canale, of Aramark, which runs the tours. "We're in direct communication with the park service and getting road updates. Tomorrow, we'll make the call first thing in the morning."

Meanwhile, park road crews made it to 90 Mile or 91 Mile plowing the one road into Denali National Park. On Friday, Fister said they pulled all the heavy equipment back to Toklat and will wait to see whether they need to plow going east to the entrance area, instead of west to Kantishna.

By mid-evening Friday, snow continued falling heavily and the state Department of Transportation prepared to plow the main Parks Highway.

"We usually switch over from winter to summer, but we haven't made that switch yet," said Meadow Bailey, spokeswoman for DOT's northern region office. "We had been planning to start doing potholes this week."

That was not happening.

Talkeetna resident Cissy McDonald, a 14-year Denali bus driver, said she never had seen anything like this. She already had packed her skis away for the summer but figured she might as well dig them out.
Photo by Tina Graham

Instead, crews were working to clear the Denali Highway. Bailey said they continue clearing that highway - "again and again."
The 135-mile mostly gravel road that links Cantwell on the Parks Highway and Paxson on the Richardson Highway usually is open by the middle of May, but the unusual spring weather has delayed the opening, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation.

DOT crews start working on the highway in April, but this year have been busy clearing snow on the Glenn, Parks and Richardson highways. Areas of the Denali Highway that have been plowed have had to be re-plowed because of snowdrifts.

The Department of Transportation will update travelers when the road is open. Drivers should use extra caution and visit or call 511 for the latest road conditions before traveling.

Meanwhile, a report Friday evening on the Facebook page of the Lodge at Black Rapids, located on the Richardson Highway south of Delta Junction at 227 Mile, indicated snow already was piling up.

"We have two feet of snow! We had to plow and are still looking for the barbecue! Our first international guests will arrive tomorrow and won't they be surprised," it reads. "We have a Canadian helicopter crew downed by the weather but quite happy to be tucked in the lodge on a day like this."

At Denali, a visitor asked a local, "What is going on with this weather?"

"There's a winter storm watch until 6 a.m. tomorrow," she replied.

The visitor sighed and replied, "So the snow will stop at 6 a.m.?" - News Miner.

Late Snow Delaying Annual Bird Migration Across Alaska.

Cold air across so much of Alaska, so late in the year, has delayed summer for the winter weary and left thousands of international travelers in holding patterns.
Sandhill Cranes congregate in a Wasilla field, resting on their migration north. April 23, 2013.
Photo: Loren Holmes

Thousands of Canada Geese make their way north through southcentral Alaska. April 23, 2013.
Photo: Loren Holmes

Snow Goose walks through a Wasilla field, resting during its spring migration. April 23, 2013.
Photo: Loren Holmes
An unexpected bonanza of migrating birds are reportedly hunkered down northwest of Denali National Park and Preserve. In the Delta-Tok region, thousands more cranes, swans, geese, and swallows than usual are waiting out conditions unusual even for Alaska.

Birds often "ball-up" in foul weather, congregating along coastlines and then fly over vast Interior Alaska in waves. Not this year. One local birder told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner he'd never seen so many stopped over, all at once, in more than 20 years.

Greater white-fronted geese rest in a field near the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. April 23, 2013.
Loren Holmes photo

A pair of Snow Geese replenishing near the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, on their migration north. April 23, 2013.
Photo: Loren Holmes

Sandhill Cranes congregate in a Wasilla field, resting on their migration north. April 23, 2013.
Photo: Loren Holmes

Arctic air pushing southward and smaller low-pressure systems have kept cold weather lingering. Up to 6 inches of snow was forecast over the weekend in Anchorage, with accumulation likely in Fairbanks as well, the National Weather Service predicted, though ground temperatures would melt most of it.

Normally, late May sees warmer air from the Gulf of Alaska pulled north across the state, but for now, at least, much of Alaska remains near freezing or colder.

Canadian Geese leave a field near the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, on their way north. April 23, 2013.
Photo: Loren Holmes

Sandhill Cranes congregate in a Wasilla field, resting during their spring migration. April 23, 2013.
Photo: Loren Holmes

A pair of Canada Geese cross a barely frozen pond near the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. April 23, 2013.
Photo: Loren Holmes

"It is a real fluke. We just haven't gotten into our summer pattern yet," meteorologist Dan Peterson said. Next week, forecasts called for highs in the 50s and 60s from Anchorage, in Southcentral Alaska, north to Fairbanks. - Alaska Dispatch.

Wacky Weather Producing One Of Alaska Interior's Craziest Spring Migrations On Record.
Birds of all kinds are arriving in dizzying numbers and many long-time birders say they have never seen such a concentrated wave of migrating birds in the Tanana Valley.

Bud Johnson in Tok estimates there were 100,000 sparrows descending on that area Tuesday. He reported seeing continuous flocks along the sides of the highway, and came home to hundreds of songbirds in his yard. White-crowned, golden-crowned, fox and tree sparrows mixed with juncos, rusty blackbirds and Lapland longspurs. Other viewers saw Lincoln's and Savannah sparrows and gray-crowned rosy-finches.

"I have never seen anything like this ever," Johnson said. "The ground is just in constant movement and the singing (mostly from the white-crowned sparrows) is insane."

Crazy migration: Part of a huge flock of sandhill cranes take to the air after being scared by a bald eagle in Delta Junction on Saturday night off Barley Way. Photographer Jim DeWitt estimated there were 3,000 cranes in the flock.
© Jim DeWitt/Frosty Feathers Images

Among bird-watchers, there is a phenomenon called "fallout," which is when a large number of migrating birds make landfall because they run into storm systems. Usually this happens along the coast, where exhausted birds touch down on the first solid ground they find. It's possible a combination of the late spring breakup and a current weather front has caused this unusual spring gathering.

"This is turning out to be the most spectacular spring migration I think the Tanana Valley has seen in recent memory," Fairbanks birder Nancy DeWitt wrote in an email. "First, there were the unprecedented numbers of swans and white-fronted geese in the Delta barley fields (many of which are still there) accompanied by the biggest flocks of Canada geese and pintails I've ever seen, now followed by what Steve Dubois says is the largest concentration of sandhill cranes he's seen in his 28 years there.

"Add in the numerous bluebird sightings (I've lost count), cloud after cloud of Lapland longspurs moving through the valley, thick groups of varied thrush at Fort Greely on Saturday night, and now the sparrow fall-out in Tok Bud describes, and I am just beside myself with glee," she said. "I assume most of this is weather related, but what happened and where along the migration route that balled up all these birds? I suppose the fact that a lot of the valley is snow-covered and many ponds and lakes are still frozen is also concentrating birds, but would sure love to know if anyone tracked migration radar data over Canada in the past month.

Swainson's hawk spied in Fairbanks

Although Swainson's hawks are a North American bird, they are uncommon in Alaska, which is why it was big news when birders spotted one in Fairbanks during the weekend near the float pond at the airport.

Some hard-core birders from Anchorage and Seward made the trip to Fairbanks to see the hawk. Another Swainson's hawk was reported near Delta, adding to the madness that is migration in the Interior this spring.

The woods are alive with music

Songbirds arrived in force last weekend in the Interior. Yards that were quiet one day were suddenly filled with bird song the next.

Observers saw large numbers of varied thrushes by Fort Greely last weekend. Songbirds are also returning full force in Fairbanks, with reports of large flocks of Lapland longspurs. Someone also saw a Swainson's thrush. A few people have spotted Townsend's warblers, which oddly enough seem to be early, along with yellow-rumped and yellow warblers. Tree and violet-green swallows once again dart above Creamer's Field and the Chena River.

Other returning songbirds noted this past week include olive-sided and Hammond's flycatchers and American pipits.

White-crowned sparrows gather around a bird feeder in Tok on Monday. There are thousands of sparrows reported in Tok. © Susan Huddleston Mollnow

American robins, meanwhile, still seem few and far between.

Crowds of cranes in Delta Junction

Exceptionally high numbers of sandhill cranes continue to flock to the Delta area. There are usually several thousand cranes there, but Delta Junction bird watcher Steve Dubois estimated at least 12,000 on the barley fields Monday.

"The remarkable thing is the number of birds right now," he commented.

Jim DeWitt captured some amazing photos of cranes last Saturday after a bald eagle put up a huge flock of approximately 3,000 cranes. The sight was "one of the most amazing birding experiences of my life," he said.

Raptor reports are on the rise

A few new raptors showed up this past week. Short-eared owls are following the crowd, with one spotted at Fairbanks International Airport and more in Delta. Ospreys have showed up along the Chena River and in Delta. Merlins have also put in appearances, and there seem to be unusually high numbers of northern harriers being spotted this spring.

Robert Levesque, who lives on the Chena River just upstream from the Princess Hotel off Pike's Landing Road, has been watching a pair of osprey fishing in the Chena.

"There's been a pair that's been hanging around harvesting fish," said Levesque, who has had fun photographing the birds from his back yard. "They dive all the way into the river so that just a few feathers are showing and pop out with a fish."

Shorebirds wading in

Shorebirds continue to alight, including yellowlegs, dowitchers, red-necked phalaropes, Wilson's snipe, and semipalmated, solitary, pectoral, and least sandpipers. Whimbrels, chicken-sized birds with long, curved bills, were seen at the airport and out in Tok. There were sightings of a killdeer at Creamer's Field.

Sharp-tails are dancing

Birders report more sharp-tailed grouse around Delta this spring than they can remember in the last 20 years and males are now strutting their stuff for the ladies.

The male birds gather on performance grounds, called "leks," each defending a mini territory where he dances to attract females: wings outstretched, head down, tail straight up, he does a fast tap-dance. Females visit the lek to shop for a mate, then nest elsewhere and raise the chicks alone.

Waterfowl still tricking in

In Fairbanks, a ring-necked duck joined more than 100 canvasback ducks on the Chena River near the Boatel bar. Other new waterfowl in the area include greater and lesser scaup, along with both horned grebes and larger red-necked grebes and a common loon.

Tanana Lakes finally thawing

Tanana Lakes in Fairbanks is finally thawing out on the east end, so you'll find good looks at birds from South Cushman Street. Observers have enjoyed a variety of waterfowl including ducks, horned grebes, shorebirds and Bonaparte's gulls.

Rare swans in Delta

Several people reported at least one, and possibly two, Bewick's swans mingling with tundra and trumpeter swans in the agricultural lands around Delta last weekend.

This subspecies of tundra swan lives in Europe and Asia. While North American tundra swans (also named whistling swans because of their high-pitched calls) have a small, bright yellow teardrop at the base of their bills, Bewick's swans have a noticeably larger yellow patch that covers the top of the bill from the base to the nostrils. - News Miner.

MASS FISH DIE-OFF: Over 200 Acres Of Dead Fish Found Mysteriously In Fish Ponds In Guangdong, China?!

May 19, 2013 - CHINA - Are environmental factors, diseases or poisoning is? Doumen Baijiao continued over more than 10 fish ponds half smell of dead fish   -Southern/rural reporter Liao bin

"Fish for more than 20 years, there has never been such a strange question!" On May 9, could hardly contain her confused and anxious, Chen Huapei journalist Leon feeling.


Chen Huapei doumen district, Zhuhai city, Guangdong lights surrounding third neighborhood east of Baijiao town residents the residents group. Over the past six months, about his team, about 10 farmers, about 200 acres of ponds, unexplained acute dead fish (shrimp). Farmers have turned to fish feed enterprises in the pharmacy, the fisheries authorities and public security departments, but as of press time, dead fish causes remain unknown. Farmers already Qing Tong, can't develop next breeding plan.

Strange - Common ways is invalid, unchanged after a pond next door

"Morning discovered the whole fish all dead!" The morning of April 17, Wu Weidong as usual to patrol the pond of fish ponds, this problem didn't occur. Dead fish this pond altogether 5 acres, intensive sun fish. This is the recent dead fish on the ground.

East second team leader Zhou Wenwang Wai residents told the newspaper reporter in rural areas of the South, from the 9, since October last year, the Group on the question of emerging dead fish, almost all of sudden death, whole fish will generally die in 3-4 hours.

A drugstore salesman Zhang Wenming and fisheries, Baijiao town (a pseudonym) several times in the night, got a call from farmers. Reflect the issues according to farmers, he suggested that stress, detoxification and oxygenation and drug resistance. According to its experience, past dead fish, these drugs can be used to improve fish and shrimps, palliative effect. "The strange thing is, after this drug, entirely without relief. "Zhang Wenming said the farmers that I can't control, can only fish in the fish immediately.

Many of the farmers surveyed said dead fish are usually on top of one or two species in the past, but this time on the many varieties have emerged. Zhou Wenwang introduction, barramundi, sea perch, United States Red fish and shrimp died vannamei more bamboo shell fish, Sunfish and other varieties. They group 487 acres of fish ponds, there are about 200 acres of fish ponds of the problem.

Let people wonder, next door to the pond on certain issues, there is no river or building space, but there are several ponds have never seen dead fish problem. On May 9, reporters at the scene saw these issues never made it out of the fish ponds, open aeration.

Introduction to Zhang Wenming, some farmers think they have management problems at the beginning, and Qing Tong after the death occurs, disinfection, or even wash pond with high pressure water gun, vaccine remains after things go wrong again. One farmers from the village for six months to 6 ponds died one after another, with high-pressure water guns washes after Tong, back seedling or dead fish (shrimp). Moreover, because fear is a particular problem, the farmers also try varieties have been replaced, for example, the last problem is the sea bass, Penaeus vannamei, but has not survived.

Death - Virus or "Pan bottom" to death?

Zhang Wenming has been concerned about the team's dead fish problem. Last September, some farmers after the death of barramundi, Anatomy of a fish he found iridovirus and. He told this reporter in September last year, outbreaks iridovirus Baijiao town, causing the death of many fish. However, the Rainbow virus usually lasts 2-3 days of death, will not let the fish all died in one night. "To this end, I have a hard time determining dead fish was the interference caused by the virus. ”

Feed enterprises in the Pearl River Delta a doumen market salesman Li Wei (pseudonym) told = reporter, the company did not address this issue devoted to the study, also very confused right now, but speculation based on its experience may be a virus problem.

Insiders also speculate with "end of the Pan" and hypoxia-related. Road, Zhu Jianhong, Secretary for oceans and fisheries had such speculation. However, "because farmers do not have the onset of the first notice to the competent authorities, we do not have access to appropriate water, it is difficult to make conclusions. ”

Zhang Wenming has such speculation. He told the newspaper reporter in rural areas of the South, and 11 last year, which farmers are more concentrated appearance of dead fish issues, but mainly to marketable size fish. That period lasts 1 month and rainy weather, fish are easy to "end of the pan." Baijiao town, there are many farmers as a whole appears "end of Pan". "Pan bottom" causing dead fish are also generally very acute, all die in a matter of a few hours, and dominated by big fish, Zhang Wenming believes that these dead fish farmers could be "end of generic" reasons. But he failed to understand was that other villages of the "end of the Pan" deaths are generally scattered, not like the village is so concentrated, even slices.

Zhu Jianhong suggested that if, in the future we could see dead fish, in occasion of the problems farmers best informed them, they sampled can be transferred to the Zhuhai entry-exit inspection and Quarantine Bureau for testing.

At present, the surveyed farmers generally do not think water quality problems, mismanagement, as well as issues such as water contamination causing fish kills, but worry about soil problems, or farming biogas produced in the process. Zhang Wenming believes that these two cases are unlikely, the soil changes will be reflected into the water above, their customary for farmers to do the monitoring situation, farmers of water in front of the dead fish and no obvious problems. Main component of biogas are methane, biogas, will not lead to fish death.

Death II - Someone poisoned?

From the culture itself was unable to analyze the reason, many farmers began to wonder if it was poisoned. Many farmers said they found the dead fish at the same time, smelled the strong smell of pesticides. Which has prompted them to the analysis on human issues. Because of this, when a dead fish continued to occur, farmers began to Baijiao town, police reported. Wu Weidong reported the case on April 20.

Doumen District Public Security Bureau Director of the command center for his excellent work, Baijiao Town police stations visited by the police at the scene after investigations found no suspicious signs, this branch of Forensic Science Department has been testing samples of white banana poisoning tests, ' part ' case detection is complete without checking out suspicious elements, in some cases, the sample is under testing.

For farmers, "smell the smell of concentrated pesticides", for his excellent work in view that this general situation is also inconsistent because of the irritation of many pesticides are not strong, man can be smelled. Even the pungent chemicals, to reach in the fish ponds can make people smell a strong smell, put in the very large amount of pesticides, artificial poison so long, somewhat difficult to understand.

Although there are suspected man-made causes, many aquaculture operators said it's hard to figure out who would do it too. According to villagers to reflect, the village and villages around interpersonal relations are good, caused not by a village dispute. There is also local industry insiders said if someone poisoned half a year, it's hard not found by farmers, poisoning is a little difficult to set up. - Shuichan. [Translated]

WAR DRUMS: Iran Dispatches Warship To Shadow The Gulf Exercises - 41 Nations Taking Part In Biggest Mine-Hunting Exercise Ever!

May 19, 2013 - IRAN - The frigate Jamaran cruised to within a mile of the western vessels, placing her "almost on top of" the fleet conducting exercises to secure shipping, naval sources said.

Commanders stressed they did not view the frigate as a threat and said day to day relations with the Iranian navy were cordial, but its presence underlined the sensitivity of the exercise in one of the world's most strategically important waterways.

An Iranian warship fires a Mehrab missile during naval wargames in the Strait of Hormuz on January 1. Iran has begun mass production of an anti-ship cruise missile, state television's website said on Saturday. (AFP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The Jamaran, armed with missiles and torpedoes, was built in Iran and launched in 2010, though it is based on a far older design.

Capt Jon Rodgers, commander of the USS Ponce which is one of 35 ships taking part in the exercise, said the Iranian and American navies regularly photographed each other as the two navies - widely seen as potential foes - run up against one another in the congested waters which many believe could be a future flashpoint.

He said: "As long as we are only taking pictures, then we are good."

The fortnight-long exercise in the Gulf has seen 41 nations take part in drills aimed at protecting shipping from mines, attack by small ships and guarding oil platforms. Most of the vessels belong to Nato members but Australia and some Arab states have also contributed ships.

The organisers say the exercise is purely defensive and deny it is aimed at Iran, but Tehran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a key strategic chokepoint that is just 25 miles wide at its narrowest point, in a move which would send oil process soaring, deal a heavy blow to the world economy - and would provoke a military clash.

A 50cal gunner aboard a US Navy Riverine Patrol Boat during joint naval exercises in the Persian Gulf north of Bahrain Photo: HEALTHCLIFF O'MALLEY
Capt Rodgers said: "The mission of mine counter measures is defensive in nature and we are not belligerent here. We are just practising to open up a waterway that may have been mined, so that oil and gas can get out to countries."

Six British ships are among the vessels taking part in the exercise in which participants are practising securing passage through a stretch of water 250 miles long and 50 miles wide.

The Navy has four mine hunters in the Gulf at any one time, equipped with divers, sonar and Seafox remote controlled underwater drones to find and destroy mines.

Lt-Cdr Ben Vickery, commander of the mine hunter HMS Atherstone, plastic-hulled to prevent it triggering an explosion, said: "It's something at which the Navy is world leading. It's an area where we have got great pieces of equipment and we are well supported."

The congested Strait carries nearly a third of all waterborne oil supplies, amounting to between 15 and 17 million barrels daily. A single mine costing a few thousand dollars could cripple a billion dollar vessel. Mines were used heavily during the Iran-Iraq war and the first Gulf war, and nine nations in the region still keep stocks.

On board the Mine Hunter HMS Atherstone during joint naval exercises in the Persian Gulf north of Bahrain  

Crews also held drills to protect shipping against the threat of terrorist suicide attack by small bomb-laden boats such as the one which struck the USS Cole in Aden in 2000. The ships bristled with mini-guns and heavy machine guns that would be used to unleash a barrage of fire against waves of attacking small craft, a tactic that has been rehearsed by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Cdre Simon Ancona, the Navy officer leading the exercise, said: "It's not one single threat, it's anything that could have a catastrophic effect on big value shipping. That's the thing that has such a huge impact on economies."

Such an attack would send energy markets into an instant panic he predicted, potentially costing billions.

Right now, though, he said relations with the Iranian navy were "polite, professional and reasonably cordial".

"In no sense do we feel that either side has an inclination, or indeed is it in their interest, to sabre rattle or be provocative.

"Neither side would wish an incident of miscalculation." - Telegraph.