Friday, August 16, 2013

FIRE IN THE SKY: The Comet Of The Century - Amateur Astronomer Recovers Comet ISON; Not As Bright As Hoped!

August 16, 2013 - SPACE - Late in 2012, astronomers discovered a distant sungrazing comet whose size and brightness at its great distance from the sun got many people very excited. Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was said to have the potential to become a striking object visible to the eye alone around the time of its perihelion – or closest approach to the sun – on November 28, 2013.


Comet C/ISON was imaged with the Hubble Space telescope on April 10 using the Wide Field Camera 3, when the comet was 394 million miles from Earth. View larger. Image via NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team

We began to hear the words Comet ISON and comet of the century in the same sentence. In June, July and part of August 2013, Comet ISON has been behind the sun as seen from Earth. Astronomers were waiting for it to emerge from the sun’s glare in August, so check on its brightness. A bright Comet ISON in August might mean a very bright comet for earthly observers in November and December. But now Comet ISON has been recovered – by amateur astronomer Bruce Gary in Arizona – and it is not as bright as hoped.


Comet ISON recovery photo. The comet was behind the sun as seen from Earth in June, July and part of August. Amateur astronomer Bruce Gary in Arizona became the first person to spot it again on August 12, 2013. Image by Bruce Gary. Full story of recovery here.

This comet’s orbit will bring it near the sun in November 2013. Some are predicted it’ll be briefly as bright as a full moon then, but, unfortunately, as its brightest it’ll also be near the sun’s glare. Image via NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Amateur astronomer Bruce Gary at his Hereford Arizona Observatory became the first to recover Comet ISON when it emerged from the sun’s glare in August 2013.

What’s the story on Comet ISON’s August 2013 recovery and brightness? According to a story published at skyandtelescope.com yesterday (August 13, 2013), amateur astronomer Bruce Gary was using an 11-inch telescope at Hereford Arizona Observatory, pointing only 6 degrees above the eastern dawn horizon, when he became the first to see Comet ISON again after its sojourn behind the sun during June, July and part of August 2013. He did not see the comet with his eye, but created a composite image by stacking separate images, thereby recording a fuzzy point with an anti-sunward tail at Comet ISON’s exact predicted position among stars.

But here’s the rub. The comet is fainter that it “should” be. Alan MacRobert at skyandtelescope.com wrote that its current brightness is being:
… compared to the formula that first led astronomers to predict it would become a grand naked-eye sight before dawn in early December … The short version: the comet could still turn out to be fairly good, or it might never reach naked-eye visibility at all.
Read a complete description of Bruce Gary’s remarkable recovery of Comet ISON in his blog.
Comet ISON on the morning of December 10, 2013. The view is toward the east before dawn. Chart via Dave Eagle at www.eagleseye.me.uk. Used with permission. View larger.

Comet ISON will be visible in both the morning and evening sky in December 2013. This view is looking west on the evening of the December 18, 2013. Chart via Dave Eagle at www.eagleseye.me.uk. Used with permission. View larger.

Comet ISON month-by-month in late 2013.

August 2013. As seen from Earth, Comet ISON will be behind the sun in June and July, 2013. Its recovery occurred on August 12, 2013 when amateur astronomer Bruce Gary of Arizona spotted it. This month, it might be bright enough to be seen by observers using small telescopes at dark locations. Look here for August 2013 finder charts for Comet ISON.

September and October 2013.
Comet ISON will brighten as the months pass. In September and October, amateur astronomers will surely be trying to pick it up. The comet will be sweeping in front of the constellation Leo then. It’ll pass first near Leo’s brightest star Regulus, then near the planet Mars. Finder charts for Comet ISON for September and October.

November 2013.
Comet ISON will get brighter still throughout November as it nears its late November perihelion (closest point to our sun). Comet expert John Bortle wrote on June 13 that he expects the comet to reach visibility to the unaided eye about three weeks before the November 28 perihelion date.

Comet ISON will come within 800,000 miles (1.2 million km) of our sun’s surface on November 28. That’s over 100 times closer to the sun than Earth. This close pass to the sun might cause Comet ISON to break to pieces, and, if that happens, the comet is likely to fizzle. Or ISON might emerge from perihelion bright enough to see with the eye, with a comet tail. Comets are notoriously unpredictable, so there’s just no telling, at this point, how bright it will get.

In November, ISON will pass very close to the bright star Spica and the planet Saturn, both in the constellation Virgo. These bright stars might help you find the comet. There has been some mention that Comet ISON could become a daylight object, briefly. Remember, though, at perihelion, Comet ISON will appear close to the sun on the sky’s dome (only 4.4° north of the sun on November 28). Although the comet will be bright, it’s likely that only experts who know how to look near the sun, while blocking the sun’s glare, will see it. November finder charts for Comet ISON here.

WATCH: Comet ISON's trek around the Sun.





December 2013.
This is likely to be the best month to see Comet ISON, assuming it has survived its close pass near the sun intact. The comet will be visible both in the evening sky after sunset and in the morning sky before sunrise. As ISON’s distance from the sun increases, it’ll grow dimmer. Comet expert John Bortle wrote on June 13:
The crescendo of the apparition will likely occur between December 10th and 14th, when the comet will be best seen just before dawn after the moon sets. Although little or perhaps nothing of the head will remain, the huge tail will loom in the northeastern sky. Almost evenly illuminated over its length, this rapidly fading appendage could [span] almost a quarter of the heavens as seen under good, dark observing conditions.
People all over Earth will be able to see it, but it’ll be best seen from the Northern Hemisphere as 2013 draws to a close. December finder charts for Comet ISON here.

January 2014.
Will ISON still be visible to the eye? Hopefully. Only time will tell. On January 8, 2014, the comet will lie only 2° from Polaris — the North Star. And here’s something else that’s fun. On January 14-15, 2014, after the comet itself has passed but when Earth is sweeping near the comet’s orbit, it might produce a meteor shower, or at least some beautiful night-shining or noctilucent clouds. January finder charts for Comet ISON here.

How bright will Comet ISON be later this year? How long will its tail be? No one can answer these questions yet. In his June 13 article published at skyandtelescope.com, comet expert John Bortle explained the reason we can’t know yet how bright Comet ISON will be:
A close solar pass can disrupt and evaporate a comet’s nucleus completely. The intrinsically faintest sungrazer to survive its brush with the sun reasonably intact was Comet Ikeya-Seki in 1965. The long-tailed sungrazers seen in 1880 and 1887 experienced total disruption of their nuclei and dissipated completely within weeks after perihelion. The latest observations of Comet ISON suggest that it’s intrinsically about as bright as those 19th-century objects, so the survival of its head much beyond November 28 is in question.

However, ISON is decidedly brighter than the recent Comet Lovejoy, which totally disrupted and, despite this or perhaps because of it, put on a spectacular long-tailed show for Southern Hemisphere observers at the end of 2011.
Comet C2012 S1 (ISON). Used with permission.

Who discovered Comet ISON?
Eastern European and Russian astronomers announced the new comet on September 24, 2012. Discovery magnitude was 18.8 – in other words, extremely faint. Vitali Nevski of Vitebsk, Belarus and Artyom Novichonok of Kondopoga, Russia spotted the comet on CCD images obtained on September 21 with a 0.4-m f/3 Santel reflector of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) near Kislovodsk, Russia. Afterwards, astronomers at Remanzacco Observatory in Italy confirmed the comet’s presence with the image above.


Comet Lovejoy was a sight to behold from Earth's Southern Hemisphere in late 2011. Here the comet is reflected in the water of Mandurah Esturary near Perth on December 21, 2011. Image Credit: Colin Legg.

Will Comet ISON live up to expectations? At this writing – August 14, 2013 – it does not appear that Comet ISON will become a legendary comet of the century. Comet ISON might still break into fragments when closest to the sun, as the much-hyped Comet Elenin did around August 2011.

Or, Comet ISON might survive its encounter with the sun as Comet Lovejoy did in late 2011. If so, when it emerges from perihelion (closest point to sun) in late November, it might become visible to the eye. And there is one thing we can count on. That is, if Comet ISON does become a bright comet, visible to the eyes of watching earthlings, it will be beautiful. All bright comets are.

No doubt about it, comets have a mystique. Once considered omens of doom, we now know them as icy visitors from the outer solar system that sweep near our sun, then disappear again into the depths of space, perhaps never to return. People get excited about comets. They are temporary visitors to our region of the solar system. This comet might not be as bright as hoped, but … it will be watched.

Bottom line: Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) is headed for a close encounter with our sun in late 2013. Although some thought this comet might become spectacular later this year, the chances of that are now not so good. This post contains a month-by-month viewing guide, some history of the comet, and a word about what to expect from Comet ISON. - EarthSky.






ICE AGE NOW: Major Danish Daily Warns - "Globe May Be On Path To Little Ice Age... Much Colder Winters...Dramatic Consequences"!

August 16, 2013 - DENMARK - Another major European media outlet is asking: Where's the global warming?

Moreover, they are featuring prominent skeptic scientists who are warning of a potential little ice age and dismissing CO2 as a major climate driver. And all of this just before the release of the IPCC's 5AR, no less!




Hat-tip: NTZ reader Arne Garbøl

The August 7 print edition of the Danish Jyllands-Posten, the famous daily that published the "Muhammad caricatures", features a full 2-page article bearing the headline: "The behavior of the sun may trigger a new little ice age" followed by the sub-headline: "Defying all predictions, the globe may be on the road towards a new little ice age with much colder winters."

So now even the once very green Danish media is now spreading the seeds of doubt. So quickly can "settled science" become controversial and hotly disputed. The climate debate is far from over. And when it does end, it looks increasingly as if it'll end in favor of the skeptics.

The JP writes that "many will be startled" by the news that a little ice age is a real possibility. Indeed, western citizens have been conditioned to think that nothing except warming is possible. Few have prepared for any other possibility.

In its latest 2-page report, the JP now appears to tell its readers that our views on climate science have to be much more open minded and unshackled from the chains of dogmatism.


The August 7 edition of Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten featured a major 2-page article on the globe’s 15-years of missing warming and the potential solar causes and implications.
© NTZ

JP starts by reminding readers that it was just over 100 years ago that the world had clawed itself out of the little ice age, which extended from 1400 - 1900, a time when the Thames river often froze over. All paths in determining the cause of the little ice age all seem to converge to a single factor: solar activity.

The Jyllands-Posten quotes David Hathaway:
'We now have the lowest solar activity in 100 years,' David Hathaway from American space research institute NASA newly concluded in connection to the release of new figures for the sun's activity. He said the activity for the ongoing cycle is half of the previous cycle, and he predicted an even lower activity for the next cycle, which will hit us in few years."
Suddenly even the greenest of media outlets among us are contemplating what the consequences of a quiet sun may be. The JP then quotes Irish solar specialist Ian Elliott, who says these consequences could be dramatic:
It indicates that we may be on the path to a new little ice age. It seems likely we are on the path to a period with very low solar activity, which could mean that we may have some very cold winters."
Elliott then cites the ice-cold winters of 2009 and 2010 as early signs.

JP then cites at length Danish astrophysicist Henrik Svensmark, who needs no introduction:
Since the 1940s and up to 10 years ago we have had the highest solar activity in 1000 years. The last time we had solar activity that high was when we had the Medieval Warm Period from year 1000 to around 1300. ... Historically there has been a close connection between solar activity and temperature for the last 1000 years. Therefore the sun's activity will also have influence the coming many years. ... The unusual thing right now is that sun's activity is decreasing while there's a great increase in atmospheric CO2. For that reason the question is how much the earth will cool in a time of decreasing solar activity. ... The development is beautifully consistent with a cooling effect of the solar activity in the same period. This could mean that the temperature will not rise for the next 30 years or maybe begin to decrease."
JP also quotes Svensmark on the subject of the IPCC: "...many of the climate models used by IPCC and others overestimate the influence of CO2 and underestimate the influence of the sun. ... The IPCC is very one-sided, so I don't think there will be anything reasonable in the next report."

Where did all the heat go?

In the second part (see right) of the JP's feature story on climate science, the daily asks whatever happened to all the missing warming?
Despite predictions that the temperature on the globe should rise with a huge speed, nothing has really happened the last 10-15 years. However climate scientists are insisting we are in the middle of the heaviest global warming maybe ever, and that the temperature will rise with at least 2-4 degrees towards the year 2100."
JP asks scientist Sebastian Mernild of the Glaciology and Climate Change Laboratory Center for Scientific Studies in Chile, who insists that ocean currents have taken the heat "down to the deep sea".

Once unthinkable just a few years ago, the European media and JP are now starting to admit the oceans are a poorly understood wild card in the climate equation after all. JP openly states, "The oceans are generally regarded as the big wildcard in the climate discussion." Jylland Posten ends its 2-page feature story with questions and comments by Svensmark:
How should ocean water under 700 meters be warmed up without a warming in the upper part? ... In the period 1990-2000 you could see a rise in the ocean temperatures, which fit with the greenhouse effect. But it hasn't been seen for the last 10 years. Temperatures don't rise without the heat content in the sea increasing. Several thousand buoys put into the sea to measure temperature haven't registered any rise in sea temperatures."
- NTZ.



FIRE IN THE SKY: NASA Release Maps Of Hazardous Asteroid That May Threaten Earth - Over 1,400 Asteroids Known To Creep Too Close To Earth For Comfort; At Least 460 Feet In Size!

August 16, 2013 - SPACE - If you've seen films like "Armageddon," you know the potential threat asteroids can be for Earth. To meet that threat, NASA has built a map like no other: a plot of every dangerous asteroid that could potentially endanger our planet … at least the ones we know about.


This NASA graphic shows the orbits of all the known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), numbering over 1,400 as of early 2013. Shown here is a close-up of the orbits overlaid on the orbits of Earth and other inner planets.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA released the new map of "potentially hazardous asteroids" on Aug. 2 in a post to its online Planetary Photojournal overseen by the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The map shows the orbital paths of more than 1,400 asteroids known creep too close to Earth for comfort. None of the asteroids mapped pose an impact threat to Earth within the next 100 years, agency officials said. "These are the asteroids considered hazardous because they are fairly large (at least 460 feet or 140 meters in size), and because they follow orbits that pass close to the Earth's orbit (within 4.7 million miles or 7.5 million kilometers)," NASA officials explained in the image description.

The asteroid map shows a dizzying swarm of overlapping blue ellipses (the asteroid orbits) surrounding the sun. The orbits of Earth, Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter are also visible to put the asteroid orbits in perspective on a solar system-wide scale.

If you're worried about a rogue asteroid or comet obliterating life as we know it this week, don't panic just yet. Just because the asteroids in the new NASA map are classified as "potentially hazardous" — scientists call them PHAs in NASA-speak — that doesn't mean they are an imminent threat to the Earth, NASA said.

According to NASA, "being classified as a PHA does not mean that an asteroid will impact the Earth: None of these PHAs is a worrisome threat over the next 100 years. By continuing to observe and track these asteroids, their orbits can be refined and more precise predictions made of their future close approaches and impact probabilities."

NASA scientists and astronomers around the world are constantly searching for asteroids that may pose an impact threat to Earth. NASA has said that roughly 95 percent of the largest asteroids that could endanger Earth — space rocks at least 0.6 miles (1 km) wide — have been identified through these surveys.


This graphic shows the orbits of all the known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), numbering over 1,400 as of early 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's Asteroid Watch project scientists work to share the latest asteroid discoveries and potential threats with the public. The Asteroid Watch is part of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program that studies asteroids and comets, as well as their potential impact threats to the Earth and other planets. - SPACE.




ICE AGE NOW: A Year Without Summer - Atlanta Breaks Century-Old Cold Temperature Record!

August 16, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Atlanta's high temperature on Thursday was only 73 degrees which is the coolest high temperature on record for August 15.



The previous record was a high of only 77 degrees from 1908.

The average high temperature for this time of year is 88 degrees, putting Thursday's high 15 degrees below average.

Atlanta has seen a cooler-than-average summer due to a lot of rain.  We're about 15 inches above average on rainfall this year. - CBS Atlanta.





EXTREME WEATHER: Idaho Faces Risk Of 'Explosive Fire Growth' As 34 Wildfires Rage Nationwide - Elk Complex Fire Has Burned More Than 111,000 Acres; Destroyed 38 Homes And 43 Other Structures; Over 700,000 Acres Burned Across The United States!

August 16, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Near historic droughts have led to dozens of wildfire breakouts in Western states, leaving firefighters struggling to battle flames threatening homes and inching closer to populated areas from Alaska down to Arizona.




The National Weather Service warned early Friday that gusting winds and “very low” humidity in parts of hard-hit Idaho - already dealing with nine large fires - meant there was a risk of that more wildfires could break out.

It said fires could turn into “wind driven events with explosive fire growth on new and ongoing fires.”

Warnings that new wildfires could break out were also in place for parts of Utah, Montana and Hawaii.




The Elk Complex Fire in the southern Idaho mountains has burned more than 111,000 acres, destroyed 38 homes and 43 other structures.

Evacuation orders have cleared out the town of Pine, a popular vacation area where most of the destroyed homes were located. The Forest Service said in a notice Thursday said the fire was not expected to be fully contained until Oct. 1.

Fire officials also continued to struggle with the “Rockport 5” wildfire near Park City, Utah, which has destroyed 8 homes and spans nearly 2,000 acres.

In all, 34 major fires are burning across 11 states, fueled largely by severe drought conditions.

“You get a hot spring and certainly a hot early summer you had, and you’ll get an expanding drought. And that’s exactly what’s happened out West,” said The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore.

With rainfall below average for a second year, the past seven months have been the driest on record in the areas where wildfires have consumed more than 700,000 acres.




The fire center said 3,119,259 acres had been burned by fire from the start of the year to Thursday, compared to 6,475,066 acres over the same period last year.

Though it has not been a record setting year for the amount of wildfires, it has been a noteworthy one. In June, 19 firefighters were killed while attempting to contain a fire in Yarnell, Ariz. In July, 486 homes were destroyed in Colorado’s Black Forest Fire, the most destructive ever in state history.


WATCH: A drought plus high temperatures, dry fuels and winds helped feed wildfires burning in the west.  NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.



The Forest Service issued a map showing the location of the wildfires throughout the country Thursday.

Apart from Idaho, California and Oregon were both dealing with five large wildfires. Utah had four, Alaska three, with Washington and Montana both on two. Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming each had one.

Still, firefighters continue to slowly make progress. The National Interagency Fire Center said Thursday that five large fires in Oregon, Washington and Montana had been contained.

Working late into the night, authorities in Utah were able to contain 50 percent of the Rockport blaze — although unpredictable wind gusts means future progress will rely on Mother Nature.

“We've seen extreme fire spread and extreme fire behavior with rapid changes in direction,” Bryce Boyer of the Utah Division of Forestry told NBC News. - NBC News.











DELUGE: The Precursors To A Global Coastal Event - Heavy Rainfall And Flooding From Typhoon Utor Kills Three In China; Jammu And Kashmir Floods Claim 10 Lives; Gambia Floods Kill 1, Affect Thousands; And Flash Floods Kill 9, Affect 5,300 Families In Cambodia!

August 16, 2013 - EARTH - Here are several of the latest reports of heavy rainfall and widespread flooding across the globe.


Heavy Rainfall And Flooding From Typhoon Utor Kills 3 In China.


Three people have died and five others remain missing in south China due to Typhoon Utor, which has been bringing high winds and torrential rains to the region since Wednesday.
More than 1 million people in south China's Guangdong Province have been affected by downpours and floods triggered by the typhoon, the provincial flood control and drought relief headquarters said.
The typhoon has forced the relocation of 161,500 people, as well as destroyed nearly 1,500 homes, the headquarters said.
In the cities of Zhanjiang and Wuchuan, several villages were flooded, as embankments along the swollen Quehua River were breached on Wednesday. Four hundred armed police are participating in rescue efforts.
Utor was the strongest typhoon of the year before it crossed the Philippines earlier this week, killing at least seven people and leaving four missing.
The typhoon made landfall at 3:50 p.m. Wednesday near the city of Yangjiang in western Guangdong, packing winds of over 150 km per hour at its center, local meteorological authorities said.
It moved into the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Wednesday night and is expected to linger there for four days.
On Thursday, the railway bureau in Nanning, Guangxi's capital, announced that sections of a railway linking the region to central China's Hunan Province collapsed after being soaked by heavy rain.
Passenger services on the line were suspended on Wednesday but resumed gradually on Thursday following the completion of repairs.
The Guangxi water conservation department said major rivers in the province are flooding due to downpours brought by the typhoon.
About 245,000 people from three cities and seven counties in Guangxi have been affected by the downpours brought by Utor, according to regional civil affairs authorities.
The storm has also forced 1,800 ships to return to harbor in south China, as well as led to the evacuation of 8,000 tourists on Weizhou Island.
Civil affairs authorities in Guangxi said 3,890 hectares of crops have been damaged and 176 houses have collapsed due to the storm, which has also caused direct economic losses of 34.53 million yuan (5.6 million U.S. dollars). - China Org.


Jammu And Kashmir Floods Claim 10 Lives.
Representational image. Agencies.

Ten people have died and scores were displaced following incessant rains and flash floods in the Jammu region, an official said on Thursday.

The dead include four children, a senior administrative officer told IANS.

Most of those killed were either washed away by swollen streams or killed in house collapses.

“Six were killed in house collapse accidents and four were washed away by swollen streams in Gool and Mahore areas of Jammu region,” the official said.

He said 24 people trapped by swollen rivers have been rescued while 200 families have been shifted to safer places in Poonch and Rajouri districts.

Incessant rains for the last two days have swollen all rivers and streams in Jammu region, damaging roads, bridges, railway tracks, houses and government properties.

The Jammu-Udhampur rail link was closed on Thursday because of landslides.

The Srinagar-Jammu highway was also closed because of landslides at several places on the highway that forms the landlocked Valley’s only road link with the rest of the country.

Both the Tawi and the Chenab rivers in Jammu region were flowing with full fury on Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir Met office has forecast light to moderate rain at many places in Jammu region on Thursday, warning that a heavy downpour could also occur at some places. - First Post.



Gambia Floods Kill 1, Affect Thousands.
Flash floods in Gambia have claimed life of a person and affected thousands of people.

Flood water swept away a 37-year-old man in Nemakunku region of Gambia, Daily Observer reported.

The torrential rain for more than 24 hours caused flash flood which affected thousands of people across Gambia, National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) said.

Heavy downpour have inundated several houses in Kanifing Municipality, West Coast Region (WCR), Jambarr Sanneh and Banjul area.

Gambia floods 2012 (October) had claimed lives of at least 13 people. - NDMA.




Flash Floods Kill 9, Affect 5,300 Families In Cambodia.
A disaster control spokesman reported on Friday that nine people lost their lives in the flash floods that have been wreaking havoc in Cambodia since last week, while about 5,300 families have been affected. According to Keo Vy, the head of the Cabinet of the National Committee for Disaster Management, five out of the nine fatalities were children.

Vy then called on parents to look after their kids during the flood season to prevent drowning incidents. Four provinces are badly hit by the floods, they are as follows: Banteay Meanchey, Kratie, Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear. Vy further stated that about 5,300 households are affected and 450 of those have been evacuated to safety. In addition, the floods have submerged 8,500 hectares of rice paddies. - UB Alert.





PLANETARY TREMORS: Powerful 6.5 Magnitude Earthquake Shakes Central New Zealand - Causes Minor Damage; No Tsunami Threat!

August 16, 2013 - NEW ZEALAND - A magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck south of New Zealand's capital on Friday, sending panicked Wellington workers and residents into the streets, but caused little major damage just weeks after a similar size quake shook the harbourside city.


USGS earthquake location.

The quake, which hit near the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island, was dangerously shallow at a depth of about 8 km (5 miles), similar to a deadly tremor that shattered the south island city of Christchurch in 2011.

"The building just shook and it went on and on and on. There's a lot of police out here and fire sirens going off. It's pretty frightening," said Chris Birks, General Manager of the Hotel d'Urville in Blenheim, near the quake epicenter.

Fire authorities said it was too early to assess the impact fully. There were reports of superficial damage to buildings from the quake, which shattered windows and sent items tumbling from supermarket shelves.

The U.S. Geological Survey originally measured the quake with a magnitude of 6.8 but later revised that figure down to 6.5. New Zealand quake monitoring service GNS Science put the magnitude at 6.2.

The quake did not trigger a widespread tsunami alert, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, although there was a series of strong aftershocks.

Some people were trapped in lifts in Wellington, a city of 400,000 that sprawls across hills along a major geological fault.


USGS earthquake shakemap intensity.

Air, rail and bus services were suspended while officials checked tracks, runways and roads for damage, and trading on New Zealand's NZX stock exchange was halted temporarily.

The quake sent the New Zealand dollar tumbling around a third of a U.S. cent to $0.8067.

There were also widespread power outages across the north of the South Island.

"It's very, very frightening and concerning for people, but it's been keep calm and carry on," said GNS Science's Bill Fry.

Fry said the impact of the quake had been concentrated on the capital, despite its epicenter being around 75 km (45 miles) to the south near the town of Seddon.


Earthquake damage outside Pencarrow House, Wellington, August 16, 2013.
Instagram image courtesy @MaryTV

A crack in a road is pictured after an earthquake on the outskirts of the town of Seddon in the Marlborough
region, on New Zealand's South Island August 16, 2013.
Credit: REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

Food and bottles lie scattered on the floor of a shop after they fell out of a fridge during an earthquake in the town of Seddon in the Marlborough region on New Zealand's south island August 16
Credit: REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

Workmen clear rubble from a road after the side of a hill collapsed after an earthquake on the outskirts of
the town of Seddon in the Marlborough region on New Zealand's south island August 16, 2013.
Credit: REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

A car drives past a crack in a road after an earthquake on the outskirts of the town of Seddon in the
Marlborough region, on New Zealand's South Island August 16, 2013.
Credit: REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

The damaged roof of a church is pictured after an earthquake in the town of Seddon in the Marlborough
region, on New Zealand's South Island August 16, 2013.
Credit: REUTERS/Anthony Phelps


At a building site in central Wellington, construction workers hugged a dazed-looking colleague as he came down a scaffolded staircase from a 15-storey crane.

"It just rocked. It was rugged," said crane operator Dion Paki. "I saw that the elevator shaft nearby looked like it was ready to fall so I was hanging out the window yelling at people to get out of the way.

"When you're all the way up there, you can't do nothing."

New Zealand has been hit by a string of quakes since a shallow, 6.3 magnitude tremor devastated the Canterbury region in 2011, killing nearly 200 people and causing $30 billion in damage to Christchurch, the country's second largest city.

Earthquakes are common in New Zealand, whose two islands lie along the Australia-Pacific tectonic plate boundary. - Reuters.


Tectonic Summary
The M 6.5 August 16, 2013 earthquake south of Blenheim, New Zealand, occurred as the result of strike-slip faulting on or near the plate boundary between the Pacific and Australia plates. At the latitude of this event, the Pacific plate moves towards the WSW with respect to Australia at a rate of approximately 41 mm/yr. Preliminary faulting mechanisms for the earthquake suggest it is related to either NE-SW right-lateral strike-slip motion (consistent with plate boundary oriented deformation), or NW-SE left-lateral strike-slip motion.

This region of New Zealand has hosted a number of small-moderate sized earthquakes in recent weeks, including a M 6.5 earthquake approximately 40 km east of the August 16 event in the Cook Straight, on July 21, 2013. The July 21 event was preceded by several M 5.3-5.8 events and was followed by a dozen or more aftershocks between M 4.5-5.0, delineating shallow upper plate structures aligned NE-SW, and some deeper subduction-related activity, mostly offshore of the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island. In contrast to the earlier events, the August 16 earthquake is on land, near the eastern end of the complex Marlborough Fault System. The event is located approximately 10 km southeast of the Awatere Fault in the vicinity of Lake Grassmere. The Marlborough Fault system is characterized by a series of NE striking right-lateral strike slip faults that have dismembered the northern South Island into a series of crustal blocks that are being transported to the northeast. Although there is no specific mapped surface fault that can be linked to the August 16 event at this time, the NE trending fault plane is similarly oriented to the Awatere and Clarence faults of the Marlborough system. In 1966 a M 5.8 earthquake (interpreted to have occurred offshore to the NE of the August 16 event) was widely felt in this area, causing surface deformation of the main railroad line in the region. That event is interpreted to have occurred on a blind structure sub-parallel to the Awatere fault to its northeast.


Seismotectonics of the Eastern Margin of the Australia Plate.
USGS plate tectonics for the region.


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.

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.


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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.