Thursday, August 22, 2013

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: MERS Contagion - Bats Are Named As Source Of Mysterious Middle East Virus, Researchers Say!

August 22, 2013 - SAUDI ARABIA - Bats in Saudi Arabia appear to be the source of a mysterious virus that has claimed the lives of 47 and sickened 96 in the Middle East and Europe since last September, health officials reported Wednesday.

For more than 15 months, officials have tried to determine what sparked the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). They have identified bats with similar viruses in Africa and Eastern Europe, but had not yet found an exact match to MERS.

A researcher holds up a Taphozous perforatus. A match to the virus was found in a fecal sample of
this type of bat. / Jonathan H. Epstein/EcoHealth Alliance

In the report released published Aug. 21 in Emerging Infectious Diseases, an international team of doctors from EcoHealth Alliance and Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity pointed to the Egyptian tomb bat, an insect-eating bat that does not typically bite humans or come near human food supplies.

Researchers collected about 100 fecal samples from seven species of bats living in three locations, veterinary epidemiologist Jonathan Epstein, of EcoHealth Alliance, explained to One of the bats was a perfect match for the MERS coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause conditions ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which killed about 800 people during a 2003 pandemic.

The infected bat lived in an abandoned house in Bisha, a small city in Saudi Arabia where the first victim fell ill. The victim was a wealthy 60-year-old man who owned a paint warehouse, according to Dr. W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia. The warehouse's large garden included fruit trees and insects that often attract bats.

Epstein added that while it is exciting to find an exact match in one sample, more testing is definitely needed. "The finding in bats is very exciting because there's insight into the virus, but what we still need to learn is how it's getting from bats into people," Epstein said. "We're still trying to understand the role that other animals such as sheep or camels can play."

One concept is that the virus become airborne once an infected bat's feces dry. People, such as shepherds, squatting in the abandoned buildings where the bats nest may breath in particles of the virus if dust is kicked up. Animals may have contract it in the same fashion, and then transfer it to humans.

Camels, goats, sheep and cows are also being tested for the virus, according Lipkin. Previous reports pointed to camels as the source of the virus.

"We really want to understand if there are other animals involved in transmission to people," Epstein said, explaining that MERS could spread the same way as the SARS virus. "SARS coronavirus is carried by horseshoe bats, but transmission happened in a live animal market in China."

MERS' mortality rate is currently 60 percent, but that number might decline as more cases are being reported of younger victims with milder symptoms, Memish noted. Most of the victims have thus far been old and had chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

Researchers reported in July that MERS may not claim as many lives as the SARS pandemic because the new virus disproportionately affects people with preexisting medical problems, whereas SARS affected healthy and unhealthy individuals alike.

The virus does not easily transfer between people, but Saudi officials are recommending that people with compromised immune systems should be cautious if they choose to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. - CBS News.

EXTREME WEATHER: Wild And Dangerous Weather - 29,000 Lightning Strikes In California In Just TWO DAYS!

August 22, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A storm front that worked its way north through California early this week produced an unusual -- and potentially dangerous -- result: nearly 29,000 lightning strikes in two days, which sparked about 150 fires, Cal Fire officials said Tuesday.

Fires: The barrage of lightning in southern California also sparked several brush fires in San Bernardino County.

Most of those fires were quickly contained, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said, but several were able to grow "fairly quickly" with the help of wind and dangerously dry conditions.

A red-flag warning issued Monday by the National Weather Service for the foothills and mountains of Northern California was expected to be in effect through Wednesday.

Most of the fires were sparked over the weekend in the southern Sierra mountains through Kern County, but Monday night, the storm moved into Northern California.

The skies were lit up for miles across vast swathes of southern California's counties, including
the hills surrounding Barstow, pictured.

"We do tend to see in July and August summertime thunderstorms that bring dry lightning," Berlant said.

Still, seeing almost 29,000 lightning strikes from Sunday through Tuesday afternoon was unusual, he said, noting that "every spark has the potential to cause fire."

From Jan. 1 through Saturday -- before the thunderstorm arrived -- Cal Fire had responded to more than 4,700 wildfires that scorched nearly 95,000 acres. Compared with an average 3,300 wildfires each year, Berlant said, that's a nearly 40% increase.

Further north: Heavy thunder storms also rumbled over San Francisco,
pictured, with lightning forks flashing overhead.

Over the same period last year, a little more than 3,400 wildfires burned about 76,000 acres, he said.

Berlant emphasized that despite the fact that lightning strikes have been at the root of plenty of blazes, humans still cause 94% of wildfires.

WATCH: Wild weather - High desert hit with rain, hail and lightning.

"That's the message," he said. "People don't realize that something negligent or stupid that they do can easily cause a fire."

In fiscal year 2012-13, Berlant said, the state spent about $261 million fighting wildfires, of which about $60 million was reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Since the beginning of this fiscal year, on July 1, the state has spent about $46 million, with $15 million reimbursed by FEMA. - L.A. Times.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: MERS Contagion - Qatar Admits First Case Of MERS Infection!

August 22, 2013 - QATAR - Health authorities in Qatar have announced the first case of MERS coronavirus in the Gulf state, with a 59-year-old man infected.

The patient, a Qatari, was in stable condition, they said on Tuesday. Another Qatari with the infection died in a London hospital on June 28.

The virus has killed 46 people worldwide since September, 39 of them in Saudi Arabia, which neighbours Qatar.

MERS is considered a cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.

Like SARS, it is thought to have jumped from animals to humans, and shares the former's flu-like symptoms, but differs by causing kidney failure.

Researchers have pointed to the Arabian, or dromedary, camel as a possible host of the virus.

Scientists studying the new virus have found older patients, men and people with underlying medical conditions are those particularly at risk. - Al Jazeera.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Global Volcano Report For August 22, 2013 - Updates On Kizimen, Karymsky, Shiveluch And Poas!

August 22, 2013 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing reports of volcanoes across the globe.

Glowing rock avalanche from Kizimen last night.

Kizimen (Kamchatka): The lava dome continues to grow at the top of the volcano and produce incandescent rockfalls and small pyroclastic flows, generating ash plumes. A new prominent spine is being extruded at the top and visible on the webcam. The following time-lapse movies show this activity during the day and night:

WATCH: Glowing avalanches from Kizimen volcano at night - August 21-22, 2013.

Karymsky (Kamchatka): Activity has remained elevated. A series of ash emissions caused by moderately strong vulcanian-type explosions occurred over the past days. This morning, an ash plume rose to 8,000 ft (2.4 km) altitude and drifted east.

Shiveluch this morning (KVERT webcam).

Shiveluch (Kamchatka): The volcano continues to extrude a new lobe of viscous lava (visible as the dark patch in the webcam image) at the lava dome, as well as produce occasional (usually small) ash explosions.

Phreatic activity at Poás on 20 Aug 2013 (OVSICORI).

Poas (Costa Rica): A series of small phreatic eruptions occurred on 20 August at the crater lake. The first occurred at 09:55 (local time), ejecting mud and water to 2-3 m height, and a second one, more powerful, at 11:16 reached heights of 10-20 m.

Complete Earthquake list (worldwide) for August 22, 2013.

- Volcano Discovery.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Tracking Developments At The Giant Louisiana Sinkhole - New Video Shows Monster Sinkhole Swallowing Up Trees In Seconds!

August 22, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Assumption Parish officials on Wednesday released a video showing the sinkhole swallowing several trees in a matter of seconds.

Assumption Parish officials on Wednesday released a video showing a sinkhole swallowing several
trees in a matter of seconds. (

The video, posted on the city's blog, is described a "slough in" that happened around 7:15 p.m. Wednesday.

The collapse comes a little more than a year after an area around Bayou Corne dissolved into liquefied muck. The sinkhole, discovered Aug. 3, 2012, has grown to 24 acres, and 350 residents in the tiny community have no end in sight to their evacuation order because the hole continues to widen.

WATCH: Slough in at Louisiana sinkhole - August 21, 2013.

The state of Louisiana earlier this month said it is suing Texas Brine LLC for the environmental damage and massive sinkhole that officials say was caused by the collapse of a salt dome cavern operated by the company.

The sinkhole is in a swampy area of Assumption Parish about 40 miles south of Baton Rouge. - NOLA.

EXTREME WEATHER: Huge Lightning Strike Leaves 120,000 Homes Without Power In Southern California As Forecasters Warn Of More Storms!

August 22, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A bolt of lightning knocked out power to around 120,00 homes in southern California during a storm on Monday.

The fork of lightning struck a major bank of transformers at the Rector Station, just outside Visalia on Road 148 and Caldwell, causing it to burst into flames.

Electrifying: Lightning storms in California cut power to 120,000 customers around the Tulare County area,
and lit up the sky further south in Barstow, pictured.

Firefighters battled for an hour to control the blaze but thousands of homes were without power last night and for many, it will not be restored until this evening, according to ABC30.

Southern California Edison (SCE) said in a statement damage to its facilities from the storms was 'significant' and it was working to quickly restore power to homes in the area.

The company also warned that more scattered thunderstorms were expected to continue for a few days.

Violent thunder storms were experienced across many parts of California yesterday, as the hot weather continued.

Giant forks of lightning were captured striking the ground close to Barstow, about 250 miles south east of Visalia, and San Francisco was also lit up by electrical storms overnight.

Inferno: It took an hour for firemen to bring the blaze at the electricity substation under control, after l
ightning struck yesterday cutting power to 120,000 customers.

Nearly 4,000 additional homes and businesses lost power in the Barstow area, according to local news service, The Sun.

The lightning also caused more than a dozen small brush fires in the San Bernardino Mountains, in and around the arid San Bernardino County, close to Barstow, which is around 150 miles north east of LA.

SCE said it received reports of additional power outages in San Bernardino, Cedarpines Park, Lake Arrowhead, Fort Irwin, Perris, Lake Elsinore and other areas due to the lightning.

The local forecast for Visalia is for hot sunny weather, with temperatures reaching 39C (102F) today and tomorrow. The forecast is for thunderstorms today, but not tomorrow.

SCE spokesman David Songg, told local media: 'The storm weather pattern is expected to continue for the next few days.'

Multiple outages were reported across California yesterday; the electricity company said more than 350 locations within its service were affected and additional crews were redirected to deal with restoring the power.

Storm-response operations were active in Tulare, Kern and San Bernardino counties and the cities of Redlands, Ridgecrest, Arrowhead and Menifee, SCE said.

According to ABC30, the impact of the outage was felt across more than 675 square miles in the southern valleys, affecting 120,000 customers.

The energy company said it had relocated restoration crews from other jobs in less affected areas to assist in the repairs.

The company said: 'SCE recognizes this inconvenience to customers, and crews will be working overnight and throughout tomorrow to restore power.'

The storms near Barstow, pictured, caused further power outages in the Inland Empire, east of Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, firefighters said the blaze at the transformer station presented an unusual challenge because the facility was filled with oil, meaning they could not use water on it.

So the crews had to stock up on dry ice from a local store.

Speaking to ABC30, Mike Green, Tulare county fire department battalion chief, said: 'We went to the local Savemart store. They were gracious and gave us 15-20 lbs of dry ice. We brought it back and the Edison crew used a man lift to get near to the transformer and they were able to put the fire out.'

SCE spokesperson Bill DeLain added that there were no reported injuries and that the fire was handled safely by all personnel. - Daily Mail.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Indonesia Warns Of Rising Volcanic Activity In East Province!

August 22, 2013 - INDONESIA - Indonesian authorities have been warning local villagers in East Nusa Tenggara Province about increasing volcanic activities in the area in recent days.

“The people around the areas should continue to practice caution” despite there not having been fresh volcanic activity on Wednesday, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

Mount Rokatenda volcano, shown here on Aug. 12, killed six people on Palue island two days earlier.
Authorities are now watching two other volcanoes, subsea Mount Hobalt and and
Mount Ili Werung, in the same eastern province.

The agency reported on Tuesday two volcanoes in the East Nusa Tenggara Province have shown “increasing activities.” The volcanoes are subsea Mount Hobalt and and Mount Ili Werung.

It noted Mount Hobalt erupted Tuesday morning, spewing cloud as high as 6,560 feet above the sea level for around two minutes.

“Visually, the water near the volcano turned yellow and bubbly,” the agency said.

Meanwhile, Mount Ili Werung, located on the southern part of Lembata Island, started rumbling just before dusk Tuesday for about an hour and a half.

But the agency said, at least so far, it isn’t necessary for the villagers to evacuate their villages.

Six people were killed in the small Palue Island in the province when Mount Rokatenda erupted on Aug. 10, spewing hot ash and smoke up to 6,560 feet into the air. Nearly 3,000 people were evacuated from the area in the island since it first rumbled in October 2012.

East Nusa Tenggara is about 1,297 miles east of Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta. Just west to the province is West Nusa Tenggara Province, famous for the Mount Tambora, whose eruption in April 1815 is cited as the largest volcanic eruption in the world in recorded history. The precise death toll from the eruption remains unclear, but it is believed to be at least 71,000.

The eruption caused a “volcanic winter,” a reduction in temperature cause by volcanic ash and droplets of sulfuric acid. It made 1816 known as the year without summer due to the effects of the weather in North America and Europe. - WSJ.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Slow Earthquakes May Foretell Larger Events!

August 22, 2013 - GEOLOGY - Monitoring slow earthquakes may provide a basis for reliable prediction in areas where slow quakes trigger normal earthquakes, according to Penn State geoscientists.

Scanning electron microscope images showing localized shear surfaces in cross-section and oblique view.
Sense of shear is top to the right Note striations on shear surface. Similar patterns appear with serpentine.
(Credit: Haines, S. H.; Kaproth, B.; Marone, C.; Saffer, D. and B. A. van der Pluijm)

"We currently don't have any way to remotely monitor when land faults are about to move," said Chris Marone, professor of geophysics. "This has the potential to change the game for earthquake monitoring and prediction, because if it is right and you can make the right predictions, it could be big."

Marone and Bryan Kaproth-Gerecht, recent Ph.D. graduate, looked at the mechanisms behind slow earthquakes and found that 60 seconds before slow stick slip began in their laboratory samples, a precursor signal appeared.

Normal stick slip earthquakes typically move at a rate of three to 33 feet per second, but slow earthquakes, while they still stick and slip for movement, move at rates of about 0.004 inches per second taking months or more to rupture. However, slow earthquakes often occur near traditional earthquake zones and may precipitate potentially devastating earthquakes.

"Understanding the physics of slow earthquakes and identifying possible precursory changes in fault zone properties are increasingly important goals," the researchers report on line in today's (Aug. 15) issue of Science Express.

Using serpentine, a common mineral often found in slow earthquake areas, Marone and Kaproth-Gerecht performed laboratory experiments applying shear stress to rock samples so that the samples exhibited slow stick slip movement. The researchers repeated experiments 50 or more times and found that, at least in the laboratory, slow fault zones undergo a transition from a state that supports slow velocity below about 0.0004 inches per second to one that essentially stops movement above that speed.

"We recognize that this is complicated and that velocity depends on the friction," said Marone. "We don't know for sure what is happening, but, from our lab experiments, we know that this phenomenon is occurring."

The researchers think that what makes this unusual pattern of movement is that friction contact strength goes down as velocity goes up, but only for a small velocity range. Once the speed increases enough, the friction contact area becomes saturated. It can't get any smaller and other physical properties take over, such as thermal effects. This mechanism limits the speed of slow earthquakes. Marone and Kaproth-Gerecht also looked at the primary elastic waves and the secondary shear waves produced by their experiments.

"Here we see elastic waves moving and we know what's going on with P and S waves and the acoustic speed," said Marone. "This is important because this is what you can see in the field, what seismographs record."

Marone notes that there are not currently sufficient measuring devices adjacent to known fault lines to make any type of prediction from the precursor signature of the movement of the elastic waves. It is, however, conceivable that with the proper instrumentation, a better picture of what happens before a fault moves in slip stick motion is possible and perhaps could lead to some type of prediction. - Science Daily.