Thursday, August 15, 2013

STORM ALERT: Tropical Storm Erin Forms In The Atlantic - Next May Brew In The Gulf Of Mexico!

August 15, 2013 - ATLANTIC OCEAN - The area of tropical moisture being monitored in the western Caribbean could develop to bring flooding rain to the Southeast by the end of the week. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Erin has formed over the eastern Atlantic.




Tropical development in the Caribbean and Gulf has been a concern since early this week, with numerous scenarios still in play. However, meteorologists continue to have more confidence due to the moisture from the storm shifting into the Gulf of Mexico and towards the United States.

Once the system moves into the Gulf Thursday night and Friday, it will also be in a rather favorable environment for development. Through the end of the week, water temperatures are expected to stay just slightly above average for this time of year. The strong opposing winds that tend to shred storms have also weakened.

However, it is still questionable if the storm will have enough time to officially develop into a tropical depression or storm. AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski noted Tuesday morning that the broad area of low pressure has not yet shown signs of strengthening.

“This suggests there is no sign that a low-level feature is forming yet,” Kottlowski said, and a low-level feature is necessary for a disturbance to strengthen. There will only be a day or two in which this lower-level feature could form before the system moves inland. Without the warm, tropical water after landfall, the storm will not be able to strengthen.




Although there are still multiple plausible paths this disturbance could take, a path into the central U.S. Gulf Coast appears to be the most likely route. This puts locations between central Louisiana east to the Florida Panhandle most at risk. With a very wet summer thus far, even just a little rain could cause isolated flooding problems.

However, with the increasing likelihood of more rain with this tropical system, flooding will be a huge risk, especially along the Gulf coast and into the southern Appalachians. There could also be some gusty winds along the coastlines as the disturbance moves closer to land, as well as some minor storm surge.

In addition to keeping an eye on the southern Gulf of Mexico, Tropical Storm Erin has formed in the eastern Atlantic. Erin is the fifth named tropical storm in the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season. - AccuWeather





INFRASTRUCTURE & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: Sectarian Violence Explodes In Iraq - 34 Killed In Latest Bomb Blast!

August 15, 2013 - IRAQ - Car bomb attacks killed at least 34 people in Baghdad on Thursday but the Interior Ministry said it would not allow al Qaeda, which it blames for a surge in sectarian violence, to turn Iraq into another Syria.


A vehicle burns at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's Kadhimiya district August 15, 2013.
REUTERS/Stringer

More than 100 people were wounded in at least eight blasts, one of which was near the "Green Zone" diplomatic complex, part of a wave of bloodshed that has taken the monthly death toll in Iraq to the highest levels in five years.

"Iraq's streets have become a battleground for sectarian people who are motivated by hatred and religious edicts and daring to kill innocent people," the Interior Ministry said in an unusually frank statement.

"It is our destiny to win this battle which is aimed at destroying the country and turning it into another Syria," the ministry said.

Earlier on Thursday the ministry had put the death toll far lower, at three dead and 44 wounded.

Mainly Sunni Muslim rebels have been fighting for more than two years to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite minority support base is a branch of Shi'ite Islam.

Sunni Muslim militant groups, including al Qaeda, have stepped up their insurgency against Iraq's Shi'ite-led government in the past four months, raising fears of a return to full-blown sectarian conflict 18 months after U.S. troops left.

Police sources said one bomb exploded 200-300 meters (yards) from Baghdad's international zone, close to Iraq's Foreign Ministry. Four people died and 12 others were wounded.

The central zone is a highly-fortified area housing Western embassies including the U.S. mission, and the nearby Iraqi ministry has been a frequent target of attacks.

Since the start of the year, attacks using multiple car bombs have become an almost daily occurrence. Religious holidays have failed to stem the slaughter, as bombers at the weekend targeted families celebrating the end of the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan.

Each of the past four months has been deadlier than any in the last five years, dating back to when U.S. and government troops were engaged in battles with militiamen.

The government has launched a security sweep to try to round up suspected militants and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Wednesday the crackdown would continue.

COMMON CAUSE AGAINST AL QAEDA

The civil war in neighboring Syria, which has stoked sectarian tensions across the Middle East, has boosted Sunni insurgents in Iraq who are also benefiting from general discontent in the minority Sunni population.

The Interior Ministry described the conflict last month as "open war" and the United States has said it will work closely with the Iraqi government to confront al Qaeda.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, in Washington on Thursday, told Secretary of State John Kerry that the Iraqi people would not succumb to the violence and the government would not allow a lapse into civil or sectarian war.

"There is a clear determination by the Iraqi leadership that really we've been there before, in 2007-2008. We are not going to go there again," Zebari said at the State Department.

Kerry said the United States would help Baghdad deal with the spillover from the Syrian conflict, including weapons flowing out of Syria into Iraq and from Iraq to Syria, as well as to combat the efforts by al Qaeda and by Syria's allies Iran and Hezbollah to recruit Iraqis.


People gather at the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad August 15, 2013.
REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

"We are committed to helping Iraq to withstand these pressures and to bolster the moderate forces throughout the region," said Kerry. He also urged Baghdad to address pressing domestic issues that fuel strife.

"There needs to be progress within Iraq on political issues, on economic issues, as well as on the larger constitutional issues that have been outstanding for too long," said Kerry.

Thursday's car bombs targeted districts in central, eastern, northern and southern Baghdad, including Shi'ite areas, police said.

Five people died when a bomb exploded near a traffic police station in Baladiyat, in eastern Baghdad, crushing the roofs of nearby vehicles, their wheels splayed on the ground by the force of the explosion.

"Windows were smashed and my children started screaming and running everywhere, smoke and dust filled my house," said a man wounded by flying shards of glass. He declined to be named.

"The politicians are responsible for the deterioration in security," he said.

In the al-Shurta al-Rabaa district, a bomb on a tractor trailer carrying gas cylinders killed four people while in Husseiniya, on the capital's northeastern outskirts, a minibus exploded in a repair shop, killing three, police said.

The Interior Ministry said security forces were cracking down on "hotbeds of terrorism" outside Baghdad, raiding bomb-making factories and recruitment centers for suicide bombers. - Reuters.





ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Carnivore "Teddy Bear" Emerges From The Mists Of Ecuador - First New Carnivore To Be Discovered In The West For 35 Years!

August 15, 2013 - ECUADOR - A small, wide-eyed beast with luxuriant orange fur has been identified as a new species more than 100 years after it first went on display in the world's museums.


Olinguito is first new carnivore identified in western hemisphere for 35 years, bringing 100 years of mistaken
identity to an end.  The olinguito, which lives in the cloud forests of Ecuador, has been described as a
cross between a teddy bear and a house cat.  © Mark Gurney

The discovery brings to an end one of the longest zoological cases of mistaken identity and establishes the "olinguito" (which rhymes with mojito) as the first new carnivore recorded in the western hemisphere for 35 years.

The animal - which has been described as a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat - had been displayed in museums around the globe and exhibited at numerous US zoos for decades without scientists grasping that it had been mislabelled.

One adult female, named Ringerl, was kept at Louisville zoo in the 1960s, but was moved to Tucson zoo, to the Smithsonian's National zoo, and to the Bronx zoo after keepers repeatedly failed in their attempts to breed the animal. The reason for that failure is now clear: it was a different species to the mates on offer.

The true identity of the overlooked beast only emerged after Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, launched a 10-year investigation into an obscure group of raccoon-like mammals called olingos. What began with a drawer-full of remains ended with a nighttime trek through the cloud forests of Ecuador, where scientists photographed the creature living in the trees.

"If you look up olingos in a book today, pretty much everyone says we don't know quite how many species there are, what their ranges are, and which are endangered. I set out to resolve all that, I wanted to put olingos on the map," Helgen told the Guardian.

"But in the process of trying to do that, and because we were the first group in generations to look closely at his part of the carnivore family tree, we revealed this incredible and beautiful animal that everyone had overlooked," he said.

The moment of realisation came when Helgen was going through skins and skulls of mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago. "I pulled out a drawer and there were these brilliant, beautiful orange-red pelts with long flowing fur. It was nothing like olingo fur. I then looked at the skulls and the shape was very different. I wondered, 'is this a mammal that's been missed by every other zoologist?' It turns out that it was," he said.

The animal had been mistaken for an olingo because of some broad similarities, but these turned out to be superficial. Helgen's animal was different on almost every measure: it was smaller, much furrier, had a shorter tail, different teeth, and smaller ears. "We are not talking about splitting hairs. If you saw the two animals side by side you would wonder how they could ever be confused," Helgen said.


WATCH: Meet the 'olinguito' the world's newest mammal.





Convinced they had a new species on their hands, Helgen's team arranged an expedition to the cloud forests of the Andes, where similar creatures had come from. Trekking at night through the dense vegetation, and accompanied by a chorus of frogs and crickets, they spotted other nocturnal beasts in the beams of their headtorches: kinkajous and porcupines.

"Eventually, there it was, an olinguito. We got it in the beam, running around, jumping from tree to tree, but getting close enough so that when it turned and looked into the beam we knew exactly what it was," he said.

The olinguito is a carnivore, but the term has two meanings in biology. The most familiar is an animal that eats meat, but the other is any animal that belongs to the order Carnivora, which includes cats, dogs, tigers, bears and others. They are not all meat eaters, and the olinguito mostly eats fruit.

Working with local museums, the team later extracted DNA from animals on display and confirmed that some were olinguitos, a previously unknown relative of the olingo. They have since confirmed there are at least four sub-species of the animals.

The DNA evidence took the scientists back to the Smithsonian Institution. There they found that scientific databases already contained olinguito DNA that had been wrongly labelled as olingo. It also led them to tissues from a Colombian olinguito held in storage at the museum. They belonged to Ringerl, the unfortunate female that toured US zoos.

"We tracked down Ringerl's keeper and asked why she moved her around so much. She said 'we couldn't get her to breed with any of the olingos.' This animal wasn't fussy, it just wasn't the same species. It would have been impossible. It was a glorious case of mistaken identity," said Helgen.

The name olinguito means small or adorable olingo, but writing in the journal ZooKeys, the team give the animal a formal scientific name too, Bassaricyon neblina. The species name, neblina, means "fog" or "mist" in Spanish, a nod to the cloud forests where the animal lives. But it also means obscured. "That's exactly what the olinguito has been," Helgen said. "Lost in the fog." - Guardian.





MASS FISH DIE-OFF: 1,000 Dead Fish Found Floating In National Mall Pond In Washington D.C.?!

August 15, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Nearly 1,000 fish were found dead in a pond on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on the evening of Aug. 14, according to the National Park Service.


Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

Carol Johnson, an NPS spokesperson, told ABC News that fish are being removed and the water is getting tested.

“We have no reason to believe it is anything other than environmental conditions,” said Johnson.

Johnson said this has happened before, particularly in the summertime, although she could not recall the most recent incident.


WATCH: 1,000 dead fish found in National Mall pond.

 

 


“Because of the way [the pond is] constructed it’s an ongoing problem,” said Johnson. She explained that because the pond is not near a river, it is a closed system and is therefore difficult to keep in ecological balance, which can cause incidents like the death of these fish.

“We have identified it as an area that needs to be worked on,” she said. - ABC News.



EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: Unusual Temperature Variations In China - Rare Summer Snowfall In Xinjiang As Eastern China Bakes In Record-Breaking Heat Wave?!

August 15, 2013 - CHINA - China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region witnessed a rare display of summer snowfall on Tuesday as a powerful cold air front moved into the area.



Xinjiang has been suffering scorching heat since July, with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees Celsius. A powerful cold air front has recently moved into the region, causing much and heavy rainfall.
However, one netizen under the username "Chief of the Daolang Tribe" uploaded a group of photos taken near the Tieliemaiti Pass to his microblog account on August 13, saying that some rare summer snowfall occurred near the Duku section of National Highway 217.
The snowfall's photos went viral within hours as residents in most parts of southern China are still enduring a heat wave. - China Org.



Extreme Heat Wave.
For the entire month of July and the first half of August, eastern China baked in a record-breaking heat wave. Nineteen provinces endured above-normal temperatures. Shanghai broke its all-time record high three times in as many weeks. The current record—40.8 degrees Celsius (105.4°F)—was set on August 7, 2013. At least 40 people have died during the heat wave, including ten in Shanghai, according to the Xinhua news service.


During a heat wave, ground temperatures soar, particularly in urban areas where there are fewer plants to cool the ground with shade and evapotranspiration. Paved or metallic surfaces can become warm enough to cook food. These images show land surface temperatures as measured by two different satellites.

The image above shows temperature anomalies across China between August 5 and August 12, 2013, as observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Red areas are warmer than the long-term average for the week, while cooler-than-average temperatures are blue. While much of China was warm during this period, the worst of the heat wave was concentrated near the coast and in Tibet. This weather pattern is tied to a subtropical high-pressure system parked over southern China, according to the China Meteorological Administration.

Though miserable everywhere, the heat wave was likely worst in China’s cities, where manmade surfaces absorb heat during the day and cool slowly at night. As a result, cities are warmer during the day and slower to cool at night, making an extended heat wave more uncomfortable, and more deadly, in a city. The image below shows this “urban heat island” effect in Shanghai.




The image was made with measurements taken on August 13, 2013 by the Thermal Infrared Sensor on the Landsat 8 satellite. The warmest surfaces are yellow, while cooler surfaces are pink. The image shows pockets of very warm areas, particularly downtown, surrounded by cooler suburban areas. The dark purple dots are cold clouds.

Chinese officials have declared a weather emergency, warning residents to limit time outdoors. It is the first time the country has issued a weather warning for heat. China’s National Meteorological Center expected the heat to break sometime after August 15. - EO.



PROTESTS & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: Perpetual Revolution - Hundreds Of Morsi Supporters Torch Government Buildings In Giza, Egypt After Brutal Crackdown; Over 500 Dead In The Army's Bloodbath Against The Muslim Brotherhood!

"All these wars, protests and color revolutions,... are all in divine order,... all connected to the rise of the Moors." - Aseer, The Duke of Tiers.

August 15, 2013 - EGYPT
- Hundreds of Morsi supporters have stormed a government building in Giza and set it alight, reports state TV. This comes after Wednesday’s brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood loyalists in which over 500 people died.


Militias torched Giza Governorate building in Egypt.

The Giza incident was confirmed by interior ministry sources, who told Al Jazeera that protesters had been flinging Molotov cocktails at the building and firing live ammunition.


WATCH: Morsi's supporters torch govt building in Giza after brutal crackdown.





However, government employees managed to evacuate the main colonial-style vialla building before it fell under siege.

Earlier, it was reported that MB supporters set on fire the governorate headquarters in Cairo. This is yet to be confirmed.


Egyptians mourn over bodies wrapped in shrouds at a mosque in Cairo on August 15, 2013
(AFP Photo / Mahmoud Khaled)

A man grieves as he looks at one of many bodies laid out in a make shift morgue after Egyptian security forces stormed
two huge protest camps at the Rabaa al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda squares where supporters of ousted president
Mohamed Morsi were camped, in Cairo, on August 14, 2013 (AFP Photo / Mosaab El-Shamy)

An Egyptian woman mourns over the body of her daughter wrapped in shrouds at a mosque in Cairo on August 15, 2013
(AFP Photo / Khaled Desouki)

In Giza, a nearby four-story administrative buildings was torched alongside the governorate building. People could be seen frantically trying to escape from the top levels of a block in the area with the aid of firefighters. The affected Giza government offices are situated on Pyramids Street, on the west bank of the River Nile.


WATCH: Burnt-out Cairo protest camps.





The burst of anti-government activity in the capital shortly follows a hundred-strong march in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city. Protesters have been chanting “We will come back again for the sake of our martyrs,” despite the violent clearing of two protest camps on Wednesday.



Reporters run for cover during clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed
Morsi, and police in Cairo on August 14, 2013 (AFP Photo / Mosaab El-Shamy)

Egyptian Muslim brotherhood supporters of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi evacuate a wounded man
during clashes with riot police at Cairo's Mustafa Mahmoud Square after security forces dispersed
supporters Morsi on August 14, 2013 (AFP Photo / Str)


The march eventually turned violent as MB supporters clashed with local residents. At least three people were killed and 55 others sustained injuries there, reports Al Arabiya.

The Muslim Brotherhood called for marches and sit-ins to continue throughout Thursday as a show of solidarity for previous rallies and those who were killed when security forces cleared the two main camps in the capital.


WATCH: State of emergency may herald more violence.





The suppression prompted outcry from the international community, which demanded that the violence be halted. 

The interim government declared a state of emergency and a curfew, stating that new protest camps would not be allowed. - RT.




FIRE IN THE SKY: Around The World In Just Four Days - How Dust Belt From Russian Meteor Raced Across The Earth At Incredible Speeds!

August 15, 2013 - RUSSIA - The meteor created a 50-foot hole in a frozen lake near town of Chelyabinsk  Around 3.5 hours after the explosion, its dust belt moved east at 190 mph  In four days, the belt had snaked its way around the entire planet  It released 30 times more energy than the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. 


Burning from the friction with Earth's thin air, the space rock exploded 14.5 miles (23.3km)
above the Russian town Chelyabinsk

The meteor that exploded over Russia in February caused a thin stratospheric dust belt that travelled around the world in just four days.

NASA satellites made the unprecedented measurements of the meteor which is thought to have released 30 times more energy than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

The meteor fireball measuring 18 meters across and weighing 11,000 metric tons, screamed into Earth's atmosphere at 41,600 mph.

Burning from the friction with Earth's thin air, the space rock exploded 14.5 miles (23.3km) above the Russian town Chelyabinsk.

For comparison, the meteor that triggered mass extinctions, including the dinosaurs, measured about 10 kilometres across and released about 1 billion times the energy of the atom bomb.

Some of the surviving pieces of the Chelyabinsk bolide fell to the ground. But the explosion also deposited hundreds of tons of dust up in the stratosphere forming a thin but cohesive and persistent dust belt.

We wanted to know if our satellite could detect the meteor dust,' said atmospheric physicist Nick Gorkavyi of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center.

'Indeed, we saw the formation of a new dust belt in Earth's stratosphere, and achieved the first space-based observation of the long-term evolution of a bolide plume.'


Satellite data from Nasa has revealed that that four days after the bolide explosion, the faster, higher
portion of the plume (red) had snaked its way entirely around the northern hemisphere
and back to Chelyabinsk in Russia

Gorkavyi and colleagues combined a series of satellite measurements with atmospheric models to simulate how the plume from the bolide explosion evolved as the stratospheric jet stream carried it around the Northern Hemisphere.

About 3.5 hours after the initial explosion, the Ozone Mapping Profiling Suite on the Nasa-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite detected the plume high in the atmosphere at an altitude of about 25 miles (40 kilometers), moving east at about 190 mph.

The day after the explosion, the satellite detected the plume continuing its eastward flow in the jet and reaching the Aleutian Islands.

Larger, heavier particles began to lose altitude and speed, while their smaller, lighter counterparts stayed aloft and retained speed - consistent with wind speed variations at the different altitudes.

Just four days after the explosion, the faster, higher portion of the plume had snaked its way entirely around the Northern Hemisphere and back to Chelyabinsk.

At least three months later, a detectable belt of bolide dust was still present around the planet.

Spanish astrophysicists analysed fragments of the meteor that were scattered across the Russian town of Chelyabinsk, where the meteor landed, and claim it came from the large Apollo asteroid that regularly crosses passed Earth as it orbits the sun.

They added that the piece may have broken off because of the stress caused by the gravitaional pull of the planets and the sun, or could have been caused by the asteroid hitting into something else during its orbit.

Over 1,000 people were injured by the exploding rock and scientists managed to recover more than 50 tiny fragments of the meteor, allowing them to study its contents and origin.

As it raced through the sky, the 50-foot wide chunk of space rock compressed the air ahead of it, creating the enormous temperatures that meant it exploded in a fireball.


WATCH: NASA | NPP Sees Aftermath of the Chelyabinsk Meteor.





Although some debris fell to earth, 'whipping up a pillar of ice, water and steam' and creating a 20-foot-wide crater, the damage in nearby towns was actually caused by shockwaves created by the meteor breaking the sound barrier and then exploding.

'Of course, the Chelyabinsk bolide is much smaller than the "dinosaurs killer," and this is good,' said Gorkavyi.

'We have the unique opportunity to safely study a potentially very dangerous type of event.'

Collectors from around the world will be keen to get hold of a piece of the meteor. Film director Steven Spielberg is a noted collector. In October a 9in piece of the Seymchan meteorite found in Siberia in 1960 sold in New York for $43,750 (£28,200).

Astronomers have also revealed that the meteor could have hit UK cities if it had hit at a slightly different time of day. - Daily Mail.



MASS BEES DIE-OFF: Beemageddon And The Global FOOD Crisis - More Than ONE MILLION More Bees Die Off Near Hanover, Canada?!

August 15, 2013 - CANADA - There is more troubling news for beekeepers.

Another die-off has a local producer sounding the alarm, and provincial inspectors have stepped in to get to the bottom of the issue.


David Schuit tells CTV Barrie millions more bees have died off at his farm. (Roger Klein / CTV Barrie)


Beekeeper Dave Schuit estimates that 1.3 million bees have died in his yard north of Hanover in the past 24 hours. Schuit says he has seen this before, and it looks like the bees have been poisoned.

“I believe it's in the soil, the neonicotinoids,” says Schuit of Saugeen Country Honey. “I believe it’s in the water and it's in the pollen.”

Neonicotinoids are extremely toxic to bees, even in tiny amounts. They are now widely used to protect corn, soy and wheat seed. The pesticide is water-soluble and persists in the environment for several years. Neonicotinoids were recently banned in Europe while more research is being done.

According to the Ontario Bee Keepers Association, the number of acute poisonings like this is mounting this summer and the total number of incidents is expected to surpass last year when 240 were reported. Laboratory testing confirmed the presence of neonicotinoids in 80 per cent of those cases.

Today inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture collected samples for testing to see if the pesticide or something else is killing these bees. Results are not expected for several months.

Health Canada is currently re-evaluating at least seven crop protection products that contain the chemical.

In July, the province created a new working group made-up of bee keepers, farmers and scientists to look into the crisis.


WATCH: 1.3 MILLION Bees found dead on Organic farm near Hanover.





Gerald Poechman is a farmer who is seeing this with his own eyes for the first time.

“When I see dead canaries in the mine I know there is a problem, when I see dead bees I know there is a bigger problem,” he says. “I don't know where to point the finger. I hardly know here to start but we have to start some place because our entire biodiversity is seriously at risk, if not even our food supply.”

The province's new working group that is looking into bee mortalities is scheduled to have its next meeting early next week. - CTV News.




MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Dead Sea Scrolls Of Biological Deserts - Why This Year's Gulf Of Mexico Dead Zone Is TWICE As Big As Last Year's?!

August 15, 2013 - GULF OF MEXICO - First, the good news: The annual "dead zone" that smothers much of the northern Gulf of Mexico - caused by an oxygen-sucking algae bloom mostly fed by Midwestern farm runoff - is smaller this year than scientists had expected.


Dead Sea scrolls: In the red part, "habitats that would normally be teeming with life become,
essentially, biological deserts," NOAA says. NOAA.

In the wake of heavy spring rains, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had been projecting 2013's fish-free region of the Gulf to be at least 7,286 square miles and as large as 8,561 square miles - somewhere between the size of New Jersey on the low end to New Hampshire on the high end. Instead, NOAA announced, it has clocked in at 5,840 square miles - a bit bigger than Connecticut. It's depicted in the above graphic.

Now, for the bad news: This year's "biological desert" (NOAA's phrase) is much bigger than last year's, below, which was relatively tiny because Midwestern droughts limited the amount of runoff that made it into the Gulf. At about 2,900 square miles, the 2012 edition measured up to be about a third as large as Delaware.




Smaller than expected though it may be, this year's model is still more than twice as large as NOAA's targeted limit of less than 2,000 square miles. Here's how recent dead zones stack up - note that the NOAA target has been met only once since 1990. Low years, like 2012 and 2009, tend to marked by high levels of drought, and high years, like 2008, by heavy rains and flooding.




Why such massive annual dead zones? It's a matter of geography and concentration and intensification of fertilizer-dependent agriculture. Note that an enormous swath of the US landmass - 41 percent of it - drains into the Mississippi River basin, as shown below. It's true that even under natural conditions, a river that captures as much drainage as the Mississippi is going to deliver some level of nutrients to the sea, which in turn will generate at least some algae. But when US Geological Survey researchers looked at the fossil record in 2006, they found that major hypoxia events (the technical name for dead zones) were relatively rare until around 1950 - and have been increasingly common ever since. The mid-20th century is also when farmers turned to large-scale use of synthetic fertilizers. Now as much a part of Mississippi Delta life as crawfish boils, the Gulf dead zone wasn't even documented as a phenomenon until 1972, according to NOAA.




The very same land mass that drains into the Gulf is also the site of an enormous amount of agriculture. The vast majority of US corn production - which uses titanic amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, the two main nutrients behind the dead zone - occurs there.




The region is also where we shunt much of our factory-scale meat farms. This Food and Water Watch map depicts concentration of beef cow, dairy, hog, chicken, and egg farms - the redder, the more concentrated.




Big Ag interests like to deflect blame for the annual dead zone, claiming that other factors, like runoff from lawns and municipal sewage, drive it. But the US Geological Service has traced flows of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Gulf, and there's no denying the link to farming. "In total, agricultural sources contribute more than 70 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus delivered to the Gulf, versus only 9 to 12% from urban sources," the USGS reports.




The Gulf of Mexico isn't the only water body that bears the brunt of our concentrated ag production. Much of the eastern edge of the Midwest drains into the Great Lakes, not the Gulf. And they, too, are experiencing fertilizer-fed algae blooms - particularly Lake Erie. The below satellite image depicts the record-setting, oxygen-depleting bloom that smothered much of Lake Erie in 2011, which peaked at 2,000 square miles (about Delaware-size). "That's more than three times larger than any previously observed Lake Erie algae bloom, including blooms that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, when the lake was famously declared dead," a University of Michigan report found. The culprit: severe storms in the spring, plus "agricultural practices that provide the key nutrients that fuel large-scale blooms.




Then there's the Chesapeake Bay region, site of a stunning concentration of factory-scale chicken facilities (Food and Water Watch map)...




...and a massive annual dead zone. "Livestock manure and poultry litter account for about half of the nutrients entering the Chesapeake Bay," the Chesapeake Bay Program reports:




All of which raises the question: Are dead zones inevitable, a sacrifice necessary to feeding a nation of 300 million people? Turns out, not so much. A 2012 Iowa State University study found that by simply adding one or two crops to the Midwest's typical corn-soy crop rotation, farmers would reduce their synthetic nitrogen fertilizer needs by 80 percent, while staying just as productive. And instead of leaving fields bare over winter, they could plant them with cover crops - a practice that, according to the US Department of Agriculture, "greatly reduces soil erosion and runoff" (among many other ecological benefits) - meaning cleaner streams, rivers, and ultimately, lakes, bays, and gulfs. Moreover, when animals are rotated briskly through pastures - and not crammed into factorylike structures where their manure accumulates into a dramatic waste problem - they, too, can contribute to healthy soil that traps nutrients, protecting waterways from runoff. - Mother Jones.