Friday, July 26, 2013

THE ELECTRIC UNIVERSE: Intense Electromagnetic Waves - NASA's Van Allen Probes Discover Very Massive Particle Accelerator In The Heart Of The Earth's Radiation Belts; Reach 99% Speed Of Light!

July 26, 2013 - EARTH - Scientists have discovered a massive particle accelerator in the heart of one of the harshest regions of near-Earth space, a region of super-energetic, charged particles surrounding the globe called the Van Allen radiation belts. Scientists knew that something in space accelerated particles in the radiation belts to more than 99 percent the speed of light but they didn't know what that something was. New results from NASA's Van Allen Probes now show that the acceleration energy comes from within the belts themselves. Particles inside the belts are sped up by local kicks of energy, buffeting the particles to ever faster speeds, much like a perfectly timed push on a moving swing.

Recent observations by NASA’s twin Van Allen Probes show that particles in the radiation belts
surrounding Earth are accelerated by a local kick of energy, helping to explain how these
particles reach speeds of 99 percent the speed of light. (Credit: G. Reeves/M. Henderson)

The discovery that the particles are accelerated by a local energy source is akin to the discovery that hurricanes grow from a local energy source, such as a region of warm ocean water. In the case of the radiation belts, the source is a region of intense electromagnetic waves, tapping energy from other particles located in the same region. Knowing the location of the acceleration will help scientists improve space weather predictions, because changes in the radiation belts can be risky for satellites near Earth. The results were published in Science magazine on July 25, 2013.

In order for scientists to understand the belts better, the Van Allen Probes were designed to fly straight through this intense area of space. When the mission launched in August 2012, it had top-level goals to understand how particles in the belts are accelerated to ultra-high energies, and how the particles can sometimes escape. By determining that this superfast acceleration comes from these local kicks of energy, as opposed to a more global process, scientists have been able to definitively answer one of those important questions for the first time.

"This is one of the most highly anticipated and exciting results from the Van Allen Probes," said David Sibeck, Van Allen Probes project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "It goes to the heart of why we launched the mission."

The radiation belts were discovered upon the launch of the very first successful U.S. satellites sent into space, Explorers I and III. It was quickly realized that the belts were some of the most hazardous environments a spacecraft can experience. Most satellite orbits are chosen to duck below the radiation belts or circle outside of them, and some satellites, such as GPS spacecraft, must operate between the two belts. When the belts swell due to incoming space weather, they can encompass these spacecraft, exposing them to dangerous radiation. Indeed, a significant number of permanent failures on spacecraft have been caused by radiation. With enough warning, we can protect technology from the worst consequences, but such warning can only be achieved if we truly understand the dynamics of what's happening inside these mysterious belts.

"Until the 1990s, we thought that the Van Allen belts were pretty well-behaved and changed slowly," said Geoff Reeves, the first author on the paper and a radiation belt scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M. "With more and more measurements, however, we realized how quickly and unpredictably the radiation belts changed. They are basically never in equilibrium, but in a constant state of change."

In fact, scientists realized that the belts don't even change consistently in response to what seem to be similar stimuli. Some solar storms caused the belts to intensify; others caused the belts to be depleted, and some seemed to have almost no effect at all. Such disparate effects from apparently similar events suggested that this region is much more mysterious than previously thought. To understand -- and eventually predict -- which solar storms will intensify the radiation belts, scientists want to know where the energy that accelerates the particles comes from.

The twin Van Allen Probes were designed to distinguish between two broad possibilities on what processes accelerate the particles to such amazing speeds: radial acceleration or local acceleration. In radial acceleration, particles are transported perpendicular to the magnetic fields that surround Earth, from areas of low magnetic strength far from Earth to areas of high magnetic strength nearer Earth. The laws of physics dictate that the particle speeds in this scenario will speed up when the magnetic field strength increases. So the speed would increase as the particles move toward Earth, much the way a rock rolling down hill gathers speed simply due to gravity. The local acceleration theory posits that the particles gain energy from a local energy source more similar to the way hot ocean water spawns a hurricane above it.

To help distinguish between these possibilities, the Van Allen Probes consist of two spacecraft. With two sets of observations, scientists can measure the particles and energy sources in two regions of space simultaneously, which is crucial to distinguish between causes that occur locally or come from far away. Also, each spacecraft is equipped with sensors to measure particle energy and position and determine pitch angle -- that is, the angle of movement with respect to Earth's magnetic fields. All of these will change in different ways depending on the forces acting on them, thus helping scientists distinguish between the theories.

Equipped with such data, Reeves and his team observed a rapid energy increase of high-energy electrons in the radiation belts on Oct. 9, 2012. If the acceleration of these electrons was occurring due to radial transport, one would measure effects starting first far from Earth and moving inward due to the very shape and strength of the surrounding fields. In such a scenario, particles moving across magnetic fields naturally jump from one to the next in a similar cascade, gathering speed and energy along the way -- correlating to that scenario of rocks rolling down a hill.

But the observations didn't show an intensification that formed further away from Earth and gradually moved inward. Instead they showed an increase in energy that started right in the middle of the radiation belts and gradually spread both inward and outward, implying a local acceleration source.

"In this particular case, all of the acceleration took place in about 12 hours," said Reeves. "With previous measurements, a satellite might have only been able to fly through such an event once, and not get a chance to witness the changes actually happening. With the Van Allen Probes we have two satellites and so can observe how things change and where those changes start."

Scientists believe these new results will lead to better predictions of the complex chain of events that intensify the radiation belts to levels that can disable satellites. While the work shows that the local energy comes from electromagnetic waves coursing through the belts, it is not known exactly which such waves might be the cause. During the set of observations described in the paper, the Van Allen Probes observed a specific kind of wave called chorus waves at the same time as the particles were accelerated, but more work must be done to determine cause and effect.

"This paper helps differentiate between two broad solutions," said Sibeck. "This shows that the acceleration can happen locally. Now the scientists who study waves and magnetic fields will jump in to do their job, and find out what wave provided the push."

Luckily, such a task will also be helped along by the Van Allen Probes, which were also carefully designed to measure and distinguish between the numerous types of electromagnetic waves.

"When scientists designed the mission and the instrumentation on the probes, they looked at the scientific unknowns and said, 'This is a great chance to unlock some fundamental knowledge about how particles are accelerated,'" said Nicola J. Fox, deputy project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "With five identical suites of instruments on board twin spacecraft -- each with a broad range of particle and field and wave detection -- we have the best platform ever created to better understand this critical region of space above Earth."

The Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the twin Van Allen Probes for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Van Allen Probes comprise the second mission in NASA's Living With a Star program, managed by Goddard, to explore aspects of the connected sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.

For more information about the Van Allen probes, visit:

- Science Daily.

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: Developments On The Sun Puzzle NASA's Scientists - First Photos Of Never-Been-Seen Before Mysterious "Interface" Region Suggest "Tremendous Amounts Of Energy Flow," However Solar Cycle 24 Is Shaping Up To Be The Weakest Cycle In Over 50 Years?!

July 26, 2013 - SUN - NASA's newest solar observatory has taken its first photos of the lowest layers of the solar atmosphere, a mysterious and little-understood region of the sun.

First Photos Of Mystery Region On The Sun.
A still image from the first movie captured by the IRIS solar observatory, 21 hours after mission
controllers opened the telescope’s door. (NASA/IRIS)

The images, taken just 21 hours after mission controllers first opened the telescope’s door, reveal new details of the sun’s lower atmosphere — an area known as the "interface region." The IRIS spacecraft (short for Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) captured images of thin magnetic structures and streams of material in the solar atmosphere. These early observations suggest tremendous amounts of energy flow through the interface region, according to NASA officials.

"With this grand opening of the telescope door and first observations from IRIS, we've opened a new window into the energetics of the sun's atmosphere," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "We look forward to the new insights IRIS will provide."

The door covering the IRIS telescope was first opened on July 17, allowing it to take its first photographs of the sun. These photos showed thin, fiberlike structures that have never been seen before in the solar atmosphere, NASA officials said.

Artist's concept of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) satellite in orbit. The sun-observing
telescope is launching in June 2013. (NASA)

IRIS also observed vast differences in density and temperature throughout the sun's interface region, even between loops of solar material located only a few hundred miles apart from each other, the scientists said. The spacecraft also captured spots that appear to blink — rapidly brightening and then dimming — which could indicate how the energy is being transported and absorbed in this area of the sun's atmosphere.

Energy that flows through the interface region may help power the sun's dynamic atmosphere, and heat the upper layers of the solar atmosphere to scorching temperatures of about 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit, NASA officials explained.

The features observed in the lower layers of the sun's atmosphere may also drive the solar wind, which flows through the entire solar system. During powerful solar storms, the streams of charged particles that make up the solar wind can knock out satellites in their path, causing power grid failures and disrupting GPS services.

During its two-year mission, IRIS will closely study the sun's interface region, where most of the star's ultraviolet emissions are generated. The spacecraft will examine how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up as it travels through this part of the lower atmosphere.

This image compares observations from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (left) and
the IRIS telescope (right). (NASA/SDO/IRIS)

The spacecraft's telescope, which is a combination of an ultraviolet telescope and spectrograph, is designed to capture high-resolution images every few seconds, and can zero in on areas as small as 150 miles on the sun, NASA officials said. The onboard spectrograph analyzes the sun's light, splitting it into various wavelengths and measuring how much of any given wavelength is present.

Over the next few weeks, scientists will inspect the IRIS data to ensure that the spacecraft's instruments are performing well. So far, mission managers are impressed.

"The quality of the images and spectra we are receiving from IRIS is amazing — this is just what we were hoping for," Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator at Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, Calif., said in a statement. "There is much work ahead to understand what we're seeing, but the quality of the data will enable us to do that." - FOX News.

MAGNETIC UNREST: Earth's polar magnetic field is unsettled as a fast-moving stream of solar wind blows around our planet's magnetosphere. Last night, the buffeting sparked bright auroras over James Bay, Canada:

"Auroras shone between the clouds until daylight," says photographer Michel Tournay. "Too Earth stop rotating, the show is not over!"

NOAA forecasters estimate a 55% chance of geomagnetic storms on July 26th as the solar wind continues to blow. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.

UNDERWHELMING SOLAR CYCLE 24: Solar Cycle 24 is shaping up to be the weakest solar cycle in more than 50 years. In 2009, a panel of forecasters led by NOAA predicted a below-average peak. Now that Solar Max has arrived, however, it is even weaker than they expected. Look inside the yellow circle to see the shortfall:

It may be premature to declare Solar Cycle 24 underwhelming. Solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center thinks Solar Cycle 24 is double peaked--and the second peak is yet to come. Also, weak solar cycles have been known to produce very strong flares. The strongest solar storm in recorded history, the Carrington Event of 1859, occurred during a relatively weak solar cycle like this one. - Space Weather.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Brrrr - What Happened To The Heat Wave, Temperatures Across The United States Will Drop 20 Degrees Below July Averages; Weather Whiplash Has Millions Missing Heat Wave?!

July 26, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Many Americans are reaching for their jackets less than a week after a sweltering heat wave pushed temperatures to record highs, as a cold front sweeps across the country that's expected to last up to two weeks.

Many Americans are reaching for their jackets less than a week after a sweltering heat wave pushed
temperatures to record highs, as a cold front sweeps across the country.

The cooler weather, which will sink temperatures between 5 and 20 degrees lower than July averages, will primarily affect the Upper Midwest, causing thunderstorms from Michigan to Illinois to eastern Missouri on Friday.

Temperatures on Friday will average 75 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicago, 70 degrees in Boston and 86 degrees in Charlotte, N.C. Saturday looks to be a little cooler than Friday.

'The quick change of air mass to cool Canadian air is unusual in that the northwest flow is also going to last a week or two,' said Bill Karins, a meteorologist for NBC News. 'Typically a cool spell in the summer would last one or two days.'

The cooler weather, which will sink temperatures between 5 and 20 degrees lower than July averages, will primarily
affect the Upper Midwest, causing thunderstorms from Michigan to Illinois to eastern Missouri on Friday.

The cool air comes as a relief after a week of excessive warmth that baked every region of the country with several days of record-breaking highs pushing the heat index above 100 degrees.

Last week should be the worst of the summer in terms of heat, according to Boston meteorologist David Epstein.

Saying that he believes the worst of the heat is over, Epstein explained that severe heatwaves aren't sustainable as the summer wears on due to a number of factors including less daylight and the sun being at a lower angle, 'the likelihood of a weeklong heat wave starts to diminish.'

Power outages: High winds knocked down trees last Friday, which led to power outages for more
than 33,000 people in Nevada

As the cold front started to affect the Northeast on Thursday, temperatures in New York dipped below 70. Occasional rain and wind had many New Yorkers bundled up in coats.

It was quite a change from last week, when the temperature in Manhattan's Central Park topped 90 for six straight days, inching down only to 89 by 11 p.m. Friday. Consolidated Edison said it broke a record for electricity usage that day. The utility used 13,214 megawatts at 2 p.m., topping the old mark of 13,189 from July 22, 2011.

Scorcher: New York City and other parts of the Northeast had been hit with oppressive heat last week.

Summertime: Some New Yorkers embraced the heat last week by lounging in the city's Central Park.

In Milwaukee, where three people died of heat-related causes last week, temperatures will remain in the low 70s throughout the weekend.

Thunderstorms are expected across most of the Midwest on Saturday before moving to the East Coast on Sunday. - Daily Mail.

RATTLE & HUM: Unexplained Phenomena - Mysterious Hum Driving People Crazy Around The World!

July 26, 2013 - EARTH - It creeps in slowly in the dark of night, and once inside, it almost never goes away.

It's known as the Hum, a steady, droning sound that's heard in places as disparate as Taos, N.M.; Bristol, England; and Largs, Scotland.

But what causes the Hum, and why it only affects a small percentage of the population in certain areas, remain a mystery, despite a number of scientific investigations.

Reports started trickling in during the 1950s from people who had never heard anything unusual before; suddenly, they were bedeviled by an annoying, low-frequency humming, throbbing or rumbling sound.

The cases seem to have several factors in common: Generally, the Hum is only heard indoors, and it's louder at night than during the day. It's also more common in rural or suburban environments; reports of a hum are rare in urban areas, probably because of the steady background noise in crowded cities.

Who hears the Hum?

Only about 2 percent of the people living in any given Hum-prone area can hear the sound, and most of them are ages 55 to 70, according to a 2003 study by acoustical consultant Geoff Leventhall of Surrey, England.

Most of the people who hear the Hum (sometimes referred to as "hearers" or "hummers") describe the sound as similar to a diesel engine idling nearby. And the Hum has driven virtually every one of them to the point of despair.

WATCH: Taos Hum.

"It's a kind of torture; sometimes, you just want to scream," retiree Katie Jacques of Leeds, England, told the BBC. Leeds is one of several places in Great Britain where the Hum has recently appeared.

"It's worst at night," Jacques said. "It's hard to get off to sleep because I hear this throbbing sound in the background. … You're tossing and turning, and you get more and more agitated about it."

Being dismissed as crackpots or whiners only exacerbates the distress for these complainants, most of whom have perfectly normal hearing. Sufferers complain of headaches, nausea, dizziness, nosebleeds and sleep disturbances. At least one suicide in the United Kingdom has been blamed on the Hum, the BBC reports.

The Hum zones

Bristol, England, was one of the first places on Earth where the Hum was reported. In the 1970s, about 800 people in the coastal city reported hearing a steady thrumming sound, which was eventually blamed on vehicular traffic and local factories working 24-hour shifts.

Another famous hum occurs near Taos, N.M. Starting in spring 1991, residents of the area complained of a low-level rumbling noise. A team of researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratories and other regional experts were unable to identify the source of the sound.

Windsor, Ontario, is another Hum hotspot. Researchers from the University of Windsor and Western University in London, Ontario, were recently given a grant to analyze the Windsor Hum and determine its cause.

Researchers also have been investigating the Hum in Bondi, a seaside area of Sydney, Australia, for several years, to no avail. "It sends people around here crazy — all you can do is put music on to block it out. Some people leave fans on," one resident told the Daily Telegraph.

Back in the United States, the Kokomo Hum was isolated in a 2003 study financed by the Indiana city's municipal government. The investigation revealed that two industrial sites — one a Daimler Chrysler plant — were producing noise at specific frequencies. Despite noise-abatement measures, some residents continue to complain of the Hum.

What causes the Hum?

Most researchers investigating the Hum express some confidence that the phenomenon is real, and not the result of mass hysteria or hearers' hypochondria (or extraterrestrials beaming signals to Earth from their spaceships).

As in the case of the Kokomo Hum, industrial equipment is usually the first suspected source of the Hum. In one instance, Leventhall was able to trace the noise to a neighboring building's central heating unit.

Other suspected sources include high-pressure gas lines, electrical power lines and wireless communication devices. But only in a few cases has a Hum been linked to a mechanical or electrical source.

There's some speculation that the Hum could be the result of low-frequency electromagnetic radiation, audible only to some people. And there are verified cases in which individuals have particular sensitivities to signals outside the normal range of human hearing.

Medical experts are quick to point out that tinnitus (the perception of sound when no external noise is present) is a likely cause, but repeated testing has found that many hearers have normal hearing and no occurrences of tinnitus.

Environmental factors have also been blamed, including seismic activity such as microseisms — very faint, low-frequency earth tremors that can be generated by the action of ocean waves.

Other hypotheses, including military experiments and submarine communications, have yet to bear any fruit. For now, hearers of the Hum have to resort to white-noise machines and other devices to reduce or eliminate the annoying noise.

Leventhall, who recommends that some hearers turn to cognitive-behavioral therapy to relieve the symptoms caused by the Hum, isn't confident that the puzzle will be solved anytime soon.

"It's been a mystery for 40 years, so it may well remain one for a lot longer," Leventhall told the BBC. - NBC News.


July 26, 2013 - SIBERIA
- Your mental image of Siberia is probably a snowy, wind-whipped expanse, perhaps with a cluster of buildings to house those banished from Russian society. Not this week.

This week, Norilsk, the northernmost large city in the world, the second largest city north of the Arctic Circle, and the site of one of those gulags, hit a balmy 32 degrees Celsius — about 90 Fahrenheit. It's normally in the mid-60s.

The online outlet The Siberian Times ("up-to-date information in English from across Siberia's six time zones") featured a photo of people sunbathing on the shores of Lake Baikal in its report on what may be a new record high.

The average temperature in July is 13.6 but the mercury was touching 32C, a long way from the coldest-ever recorded temperature of minus 61C.

The previous hottest was 31.9C, more than three decades ago.

'I've never worn a bikini before in Norilsk, just to top up my tan', said Polina, 21, a student.
Minus 61 degrees Celsius is about 78 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The Arctic region of Siberia is seeing a spate of warm weather.
, however, disputes that this is a record. Translated by Google:
According to meteorologists, such hot weather in Norilsk recorded more than once. For example, in July 1979, the thermometer has been raised to the level of 32 degrees.

Maria Corina, head of the service economy Taimyr Center for Hydrometeorology: "The only difference this year is that there is such a high temperature for the past five days. Since 1972 in Norilsk, this has not happened."
The Weather Underground (from which the map below comes) described the bizarre heatwave on Wednesday. The site was also unable to figure out if Norilsk has seen such temperatures before.
The extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented heat wave continues in the central arctic region of Russia. Some locations have now endured 10 consecutive days above 30°C (86°F). Wildfires are erupting in the taiga forests …

The prolonged heat wave is the result of an amazingly intense and prolonged heat dome that has centered itself over north central Siberia.
A similar "heat dome" was responsible for the heat wave blanketing the East Coast last week.

Norilsk, home to some 175,000 people, is known primarily for its nickel mines. Under Stalin, it was also the site of the Norillag camp, unwilling residents of which helped create the aforementioned mines. In 2007, it was named one of the ten most-polluted places in the world. This is what it looks like for much of the year.

Image: Associated Press.

The city is far enough north — over 300 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle — that it's built on permafrost, permanently frozen ground solid enough to support buildings and infrastructure. In other words, and as we outlined yesterday, extended periods of high temperatures would not be a good thing.

Is this the result of climate change? Scientists will note that isolated weather incidents can't be linked directly to changes in the climate. Heat domes existed before we started burning coal and oil. But scientists will also note that climate change tends to result in more extreme weather events. Yes, heat domes have existed a long time, but a heat dome in a much-hotter atmosphere would naturally suggest much higher temperatures.

Unprecedented temperatures.

Incidentally, we think we may have solved one mystery plaguing the city. The top story at (again, as translated by Google) is "Heavenly mystery."
The optical effect or residents of extraterrestrial civilizations are watching us. These issues now ask hundreds, or even thousands of Norilsk. All night and all morning phone edition of "Messages" does not die down. Confused and frightened witnesses shared their experiences and asked to find out the truth about the phenomenon. …

On the video there is no gluing. Luminous sphere that freezes, then starts to move rapidly in a spiral.
Guys, that mysterious glowing sphere is the Sun. - The Atlantic Wire.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Strong Magnitude 6.2 Earthquake Strikes North Of Bristol Island, South Sandwich Islands!

July 26, 2013 - SOUTH SANDWICH - A strong earthquake, measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale, struck the South Sandwich Islands region in the southern Atlantic Ocean at 5.33 am today, the Malaysian Meteorological Department reported. 

USGS earthquake location.

It said in a statement that the epicentre of the quake was located 58 degrees south latitude and 24.1 degrees west longitude, some 3,845km southeast of Puerto Montt in Chile and 12,250km southwest of Pontian, Johor.

The tremor had a depth of 10.0km (6.2miles)

The quake did not pose any threat of a tsunami, it added.

USGS earthquake shakemap intensity.

The South Sandwich region is bounded by the South American American Plate and the Antarctic Plate.

The islands comprise 11 mostly volcanic islands (excluding tiny satellite islands and offshore rocks), with some active volcanoes. They form an island arc running north-south in the region 56°18′–59°27′S, 26°23′–28°08′W, between about 350 miles (560 km) and 500 miles (800 km) southeast of South Georgia.

USGS historic seismicity for the region.

The northernmost of the South Sandwich Islands form the Traversay Islands and Candlemas Islands groups, while the southernmost make up Southern Thule. The three largest islands – Saunders, Montagu and Bristol – lie between the two. The Islands’ highest point is Mount Belinda (1,370 m/4,495 ft) on Montagu Island.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Volcano Alert After Activity At New Zealand's White Island - Increase In Volcanic Tremor Levels; Debris Ejected Up To 30 Metres High!

July 26, 2013 - NEW ZEALAND - Activity on White Island has increased in the last 24 hours, prompting GNS Science to issue a low level volcanic alert.

White Island activity increasing - Source: ONE News

Volcanologists visited the island today following an increase in volcanic tremor levels last night, GNS Science said.

They found two types of activity, volcanologist Brad Scott said.

"Audible jets of gas were being shot through the small lake and broader expanding bubbles of dark lake sediments and debris were being ejected 20-30 metres vertically," he said.

White Island's crater lake. File photo / Chris Gorman.

GNS Science has issued a level one volcanic alert and the aviation code has been lifted to yellow.

It is similar to the volcanic activity that happened earlier in February, when the volcano spewed ash into the air and the volcanic alert level was raised to two.

GNS Science said there was no reason to believe the activity was related to the recent Cook Strait earthquakes. - TVNZ.

Following increased tremor including numerous earthquakes, and increased gas-steam emissions from the crater lake, the alert level of the volcano was raised to yellow again.

Current seismic recording from White Island (GeoNet)

According to Brad Scott of GNS Science, the crater produced "audible jets of gas" and "broader expanding bubbles of dark lake sediments and debris" throwing material 20-30 meters into the air. - Volcano Discovery.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Trying To Make Sense Of Our Weird Weather - Dry Seasons Earlier, Wet Seasons Later, What's Going On Here?!

 July 26, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Call it weird, call it extreme, maybe even call it the new normal. Wild weather in the United States in the past decade has amassed a long list of toppled records and financial disasters.

Flood conditions appear far worse in April 2011 than a year earlier, as the Wabash,
Ohio, Black, and Mississippi Rivers are all considerably higher.
NASA, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center

Some of these exceptional weather events included unusually heavy rain and snow. Now, a new study confirms that everywhere except in the Atlantic Plains region, more rain and snow is falling during wet and dry seasons alike. The Atlantic Plains are the flatlands along the central and southern Atlantic Coast that stretch from Massachusetts to Mississippi. On average, the total precipitation in the contiguous United States has increased 5.9 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

What's more, the timing has changed too. In some parts of the United States, dry seasons are arriving earlier and wet seasons are starting later than they did 80 years ago. The time shift does not necessarily extend the length of dry or wet seasons, because most areas have transitional periods in between these precipitation extremes.

In the Ohio River Valley, the fall dry season starts two to three weeks earlier today, the researchers report. In east New York, the wet season now kicks off on Jan. 8 instead of Feb. 1. And in the Southwest, the summer monsoon is starting later than it did during the middle of the 20th century. 

"The effects vary from region to region," said Indrani Pal, lead study author and a water resources engineer at the University of Colorado in Denver. "This study has a lot of implications from an ecology and water management perspective, and for extreme events like droughts and floods as well."

Altering the timing of dry and wet season starts can significantly affect agriculture and cities, Pal said. In the Southwest, water contracts rely on the timing of spring snowmelt and summer monsoons to generate hydroelectric power and water for farming and millions of residents.

Pal and her colleagues analyzed data from 774 weather stations across the United States with a continuous record since 1930. They found an overall drop in dry spells (the number of days without precipitation) between 1930 and 2009 in most regions of the country.

For instance, there were 15 more precipitation days (rain or snow) during the dry season in the Central and Great Plains, and 20 more precipitation days during the wet season in the Midwest and intermountain regions today than 80 years ago. However, the length of dry spells during the wet season, a drought indicator, increased by 50 percent in the Atlantic Plains.

Pal said the study cannot answer whether climate change is causing the seasonal shifts in precipitation. "This opens many other research doors," she told LiveScience. "We would like to find what is actually affecting this shift. It's probably a mixture of natural variability and climate change," Pal said.

The findings were published July 19 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. - NBC News.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Alert Level Raised To Yellow At Russia's Ketoi Volcano - Thermal Anomaly Detected!

July 26, 2013 - RUSSIA -  SVERT raised the alert level to yellow after a weak thermal anomaly has been detected on satellite data at the summit of the volcano. No other details about possible activity are currently known.

Ketoi volcano forms a 10 km wide island 19 km NE of Simushir Island across Diana Strait in the Kurile Islands. The first historical eruption of Pallas Peak, during 1843-46, was its largest. Strong fumarolic activity was observed on the northern flank of Pallas Peak in the 1980's.

The volcano's structure is very complex and includes a mostly buried 5-km-wide Pleistocene caldera exposed only on the NE side. A younger 1172-m-high stratovolcano forms the NW part of the island, but cut by a horst-and-graben structure containing 2 fumarole fields.

A 1.5-km-wide freshwater lake (Lake Malakhitovoye) fills an explosion crater in the center of the island.

Pallas Peak  is a large andesitic cone in the NE part of the caldera and truncated by a 550-m-wide crater containing a brilliantly colored turquoise crater lake. Lava flows from Pallas Peak overtop the caldera rim and descend nearly 5 km to the SE coast. - Volcano Discovery.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: More Sinkholes Keep Popping Up Across The United States - Massive 20-Feet Deep Sinkhole Opens Up In Minneapolis, Minnesota!

 July 26, 2013 - UNITED STATES - On the morning of June 22, the bottom of a 36-inch water main in the heart of Robbinsdale burst, peeling back several feet of concrete-coated steel pipe like a can of sardines.

Over the next 40 minutes, an estimated 600,000 gallons of water blasted downward, creating a hole 20 feet deep at the city’s busiest intersection.

Some big hole: An aerial view several days after the water main break in the heart of Robbinsdale.

“This is your worst nightmare,” said Crystal City Engineer Tom Mathisen, who supervised the repairs. “It’s always kind of hair-pulling, but yet, because we do this kind of stuff all of the time, there’s a process to do it.”

The complete repair and reconstruction of the giant Robbinsdale Sinkhole was finished in three weeks, an impressive feat considering the magnitude and complexity of the damage. Water gushing from the broken water main bored down 10 feet and destroyed a sanitary sewer line, which filled with sand and dirt. Then water, dirt and debris churned upward, taking out a storm sewer pipe that sat less than a foot above the water main.

The water continued to drive toward the surface, and eventually popped off several manhole covers, flooding the intersection of 42nd Avenue (County Rd. 9) and Bottineau Boulevard (Hwy. 81) around 10 a.m. In a stroke of luck, a nearby gas line was unscathed and no one was injured.

“I certainly have to commend the [various public works departments] for how quickly they turned the water off ... and then repaired it,” said Robbinsdale Mayor Regan Murphy. “It was an amazing response — I mean, it was a 20-foot hole, and they had [Hwy. 81] open in two weeks,”

The repairs were especially tricky because the water main takes two slight turns near the break, one at a 45-degree angle and one at a 12-degree angle. The bends had to be replaced with custom piping, which was trucked in overnight from Dayton, Ohio.

“Thirty-six-inch ductile iron pipe is not something you just keep on your shelf,” said Mathisen.

There was speculation that the blowout was related to the severe weather that ripped through the Twin Cities June 21-22, but city officials say that the break was probably a result of a leak that slowly built for years. Mathison pointed out clusters of pinholes around the spot where the 50-year-old pipe burst as evidence of it weakening over time.

A community curiosity

Packs of onlookers gathered to marvel at the massive hole as workers began the repair process.

Mathisen insists that the Robbinsdale Sinkhole was not actually a sinkhole at all but rather a “blowhole” that resulted when the water pressure from the break blew the road apart. A sinkhole occurs when water weakens the ground below the surface, causing a collapse.

People cracked jokes and shared funny Photoshopped pictures on Facebook, and crowds spent their lunches sitting in the grass on the side of the formerly busy road watching the repairs.

“It became like a peanut gallery. People were gathered at the parking lot at McDonald’s and over at Pilgrim Cleaners, cheering,” said Mathisen.

“On Facebook, someone posted a picture of a Tyrannosaurus rex coming out” of the hole, added Murphy. “There was talk of making T-shirts, and a lot of people drove down to come look at it.”

A Twitter account, @Rdale Sinkhole, even sprang up to make light of the giant crater.

Mayor Murphy said that while all of the wisecracking was fun, most people he talked to were just relieved that no one was hurt. And some nearby residents had minor flooding due to the sanitary sewer getting clogged, which wasn’t funny at all for those homeowners.

Tangled teamwork

The burst water main is owned by the Joint Water Commission, a coalition of three cities — Crystal, Golden Valley and New Hope — that buy their water from Minneapolis. The Robbinsdale Police Department provided security for the site — it was, after all, the Robbinsdale Sinkhole.

Hennepin County got involved because the break occurred on County Road 9, and private contracting companies Northern Dewatering (water and sewage excavation), Valley-Rich (pipe repair) and C.S. McCrossan (repaving) worked on the repairs, in addition to a team of municipal workers headed by Mathisen.

In all, Mathisen estimates that there were 60 workers on-site initially, but that subsided to a daily number closer to 20 once repairs commenced. At this point, it’s still unclear who will be paying for what.

“How much reimbursement is due to us for our costs handling our emergency response and having to get the sand out of our sanitary main and storm sewer main has yet to be worked out,” said Marcia Glickman, Robbinsdale city manager. Glickman expects that the specific payments will be worked out through insurance companies. Total costs were estimated by Mathisen to be between $300,000 and $500,000.

Over the next two summers, a large section of County Road 9 east of Hwy. 81 is scheduled to be rebuilt, and the Water Commission already planned to replace the water pipes below that section of County Road 9 as part of the project.

Now, in addition to replacing the pipes, Mathisen hopes to purchase Smart Balls from Pure Technologies to help monitor leaks in the system.

Smart Balls are periodically inserted into pipes and record audio as they roll along. They can detect, record and pinpoint the location of minor leaks within 10 feet, according to the Pure Technologies’ website.

Mathisen hopes that aggressive maintenance measures like this will extend the life of the pipes and prevent another Robbinsdale Sinkhole from happening. - Star Tribune.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Strong 6.2 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Off Vanuatu - No Immediate Tsunami Warning Issued!

 July 26, 2013 - VANUATU - A 6.2-magnitude quake hit off the South Pacific island of Vanuatu on Friday, the US Geological Survey said, but it was not expected to generate a tsunami.

USGS earthquake location.

The US Geological Survey said the tremor at 0707 GMT was 135 kilometres (84 miles) deep and some 48 kilometres northeast of Luganville, and more than 270 kilometres from the capital Port Vila.

Geoscience Australia estimated the quake at 5.7-magnitude and said it was unlikely to have caused any damage due to its depth.

"If there was any damage it would only be light," duty seismologist Steve Tatham said.

Earthquakes regularly hit near Vanuatu, with a 6.8-magnitude shaker hitting off the South Pacific island in December without generating a destructive tsunami.

USGS earthquake shakemap intensity.

The island lies on the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", a zone of frequent seismic activity caused by friction between shifting tectonic plates.

It has been rocked by several large quakes in recent years, averaging about three magnitude 7.0 or above incidents every year.  - The Economic Times.

Tectonic Summary - Seismotectonics of the Eastern Margin of the Australia Plate.
The eastern margin of the Australia plate is one of the most sesimically active areas of the world due to high rates of convergence between the Australia and Pacific plates. In the region of New Zealand, the 3000 km long Australia-Pacific plate boundary extends from south of Macquarie Island to the southern Kermadec Island chain. It includes an oceanic transform (the Macquarie Ridge), two oppositely verging subduction zones (Puysegur and Hikurangi), and a transpressive continental transform, the Alpine Fault through South Island, New Zealand.

Since 1900 there have been 15 M7.5+ earthquakes recorded near New Zealand. Nine of these, and the four largest, occurred along or near the Macquarie Ridge, including the 1989 M8.2 event on the ridge itself, and the 2004 M8.1 event 200 km to the west of the plate boundary, reflecting intraplate deformation. The largest recorded earthquake in New Zealand itself was the 1931 M7.8 Hawke's Bay earthquake, which killed 256 people. The last M7.5+ earthquake along the Alpine Fault was 170 years ago; studies of the faults' strain accumulation suggest that similar events are likely to occur again.

USGS tectonic plates boundary.

North of New Zealand, the Australia-Pacific boundary stretches east of Tonga and Fiji to 250 km south of Samoa. For 2,200 km the trench is approximately linear, and includes two segments where old (greater than 120 Myr) Pacific oceanic lithosphere rapidly subducts westward (Kermadec and Tonga). At the northern end of the Tonga trench, the boundary curves sharply westward and changes along a 700 km-long segment from trench-normal subduction, to oblique subduction, to a left lateral transform-like structure.

Australia-Pacific convergence rates increase northward from 60 mm/yr at the southern Kermadec trench to 90 mm/yr at the northern Tonga trench; however, significant back arc extension (or equivalently, slab rollback) causes the consumption rate of subducting Pacific lithosphere to be much faster. The spreading rate in the Havre trough, west of the Kermadec trench, increases northward from 8 to 20 mm/yr. The southern tip of this spreading center is propagating into the North Island of New Zealand, rifting it apart. In the southern Lau Basin, west of the Tonga trench, the spreading rate increases northward from 60 to 90 mm/yr, and in the northern Lau Basin, multiple spreading centers result in an extension rate as high as 160 mm/yr. The overall subduction velocity of the Pacific plate is the vector sum of Australia-Pacific velocity and back arc spreading velocity: thus it increases northward along the Kermadec trench from 70 to 100 mm/yr, and along the Tonga trench from 150 to 240 mm/yr.

The Kermadec-Tonga subduction zone generates many large earthquakes on the interface between the descending Pacific and overriding Australia plates, within the two plates themselves and, less frequently, near the outer rise of the Pacific plate east of the trench. Since 1900, 40 M7.5+ earthquakes have been recorded, mostly north of 30°S. However, it is unclear whether any of the few historic M8+ events that have occurred close to the plate boundary were underthrusting events on the plate interface, or were intraplate earthquakes. On September 29, 2009, one of the largest normal fault (outer rise) earthquakes ever recorded (M8.1) occurred south of Samoa, 40 km east of the Tonga trench, generating a tsunami that killed at least 180 people.

Across the North Fiji Basin and to the west of the Vanuatu Islands, the Australia plate again subducts eastwards beneath the Pacific, at the North New Hebrides trench. At the southern end of this trench, east of the Loyalty Islands, the plate boundary curves east into an oceanic transform-like structure analogous to the one north of Tonga.

Australia-Pacific convergence rates increase northward from 80 to 90 mm/yr along the North New Hebrides trench, but the Australia plate consumption rate is increased by extension in the back arc and in the North Fiji Basin. Back arc spreading occurs at a rate of 50 mm/yr along most of the subduction zone, except near ~15°S, where the D'Entrecasteaux ridge intersects the trench and causes localized compression of 50 mm/yr in the back arc. Therefore, the Australia plate subduction velocity ranges from 120 mm/yr at the southern end of the North New Hebrides trench, to 40 mm/yr at the D'Entrecasteaux ridge-trench intersection, to 170 mm/yr at the northern end of the trench.

Large earthquakes are common along the North New Hebrides trench and have mechanisms associated with subduction tectonics, though occasional strike slip earthquakes occur near the subduction of the D'Entrecasteaux ridge. Within the subduction zone 34 M7.5+ earthquakes have been recorded since 1900. On October 7, 2009, a large interplate thrust fault earthquake (M7.6) in the northern North New Hebrides subduction zone was followed 15 minutes later by an even larger interplate event (M7.8) 60 km to the north. It is likely that the first event triggered the second of the so-called earthquake "doublet". - USGS.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Landslides Devastates China - 9 Dead, 8 Missing As Massive Landslides Affects Hundreds Of Thousands In Dingxi And Landslide Sweeps Away 28 Houses In Sichuan Province Forcing The Evacuation Of 14,000 People!

 July 26, 2013 - CHINA - Heavy rains sparked landslides in an earthquake-shattered region of northwestern China, killing at least nine people and burying another eight.

9 Dead, 8 Missing As Landslides Hit Dingxi.

The landslides struck just south of the city of Dingxi where Monday's earthquake left 95 dead, five missing and more than 800 people in hospital.

The worst landslide buried 13 people in Nanyu village and nine bodies have been recovered, the official Xinhua News Agency said Friday. Rescue efforts are under way in the neighboring village of Yongguang, where four people were buried and are listed as missing, the report said.

Local officials reached by phone said they had no information about dead or missing

The area along the Yellow River has rolling hills of loose soil blown south from the Gobi desert.

Thunderstorms have loosened the terraced hillsides that were made unstable by the quake.

About 123,000 people were affected by the quake, with 31,600 moved to temporary shelters, the provincial earthquake administration said on its website. Almost 2,000 homes were destroyed and about 22,500 damaged, it said.

Urban areas where buildings are more solid were spared major damage, unlike the traditional mud and brick homes in the countryside.

The government's earthquake monitoring center said the quake was magnitude 6.6, while the U.S. Geological Survey said it was 5.9. Measurements can often vary, especially if different monitoring equipment is used. - Huffington Post.

Landslide Sweeps Away 28 Houses In Sichuan Province.

Residents are evacuated after a massive landslip on a mountainside ravages a local village in southwest China.

Footage on Chinese state television showed a huge swathe of mountainside tumbling into a valley in Sichuan province.

The disaster destroyed scores of houses and around six hectares of farmland, and forced the evacuation of around 14,000 people.

WATCH: Landslides devastates Sichuan province.

Miiitary personnnel, police and local officials have been drafted in to help cope with the aftermath of the landslide. - Telegraph.