Wednesday, August 28, 2013

WORLD WAR III: The Dawn Of War - Arab Leaders Says That Syria Had Used Chemical Weapons Giving The Greenlight For Western Military Attack; Russia Warns U.S. Of "Catastrophic Consequences" Of Syria Intervention; Strikes Will "Likely To Trigger Terrorists Acts Against U.S. And Israel"; Iranian Official Threatens Israel, Warns It Will Be The ‘First Victim’ Of U.S. Attack On Syria; UN Security Council To Get Draft Resolution On Syria Within Hours!

August 28, 2013 - MIDDLE EAST - Arab leaders said Tuesday that Syria had used chemical weapons against its population, while Western governments discussed military responses to the attacks, bolstering the case for U.S. military strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Dawn Of War, As Arab Leaders Says That Syria Had Used Chemical Weapons.

The Arab League demanded an international response to what it called the "heinous crime" of last week's alleged chemical attack near Damascus that activists and rebels said left more than 1,000 Syrians dead. But the U.S.'s major Arab allies have stopped short of offering public support for a strike without international backing, reflecting broad unease in the region about another Western military intervention. This suggests the U.S. would face no opposition from regional allies if things go smoothly, and leaves Arab governments with political cover if things go badly.  "Don't expect a big cheer from us," said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a political-science professor in Dubai, of the likely response from the region. "If the results are fine, and the damage is very limited, I think that is gonna be a good sign. Maybe, 'Wow, give America a D.' "

WATCH:  Farage - UK govt keenest of all on Syria intervention.

The U.S. is examining ways to attack Syria without the approval of the United Nations, where Russia would likely veto any military action, U.S. and European officials have said. The Obama administration has recently stepped up contacts with North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Arab League allies about supporting a military operation against Damascus. On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with his opposites in France and the U.K., according to defense officials.  The U.S. Defense Department has presented military options to President Barack Obama, Mr. Hagel said, without outlining them. Defense officials have said the U.S. is considering cruise-missile strikes from navy ships in the Mediterranean.  "We are ready to go," Mr. Hagel said.  Arab League delegates on Tuesday urged the U.N. Security Council, rather than the West, to take "deterrent" action against Syria to prevent a repeat of alleged chemical attacks on Aug. 21 in the suburbs of Damascus.

WATCH:  'US would use any UN chemical weapons report to justify attack on Syria'.

Even Saudi Arabia and other countries that have helped arm, train and fund rebels fighting Mr. Assad have declined to offer public endorsement for any Western-led attack.  While senior Saudi officials have been urging the U.S. and others behind the scenes to support tougher action in Syria, according to officials, Arab leaders for more than a year have publicly maintained that any international military action there should be sanctioned by the Security Council.  A harder line emerged from some Western capitals.  France's President François Hollande vowed Tuesday to "punish" the Assad regime. "This mass chemical massacre cannot go unanswered," he said.  Addressing ambassadors at the Élysée Palace, Mr. Hollande pressed his case for the West to respond to the attack with "necessary force" targeting the Assad regime. He hinted that France was open to supporting a military strike without a Security Council resolution—a step that French officials had previously said would be essential. "International law must evolve with its times. It can't be a pretext for allowing massacres to be perpetrated," Mr. Hollande said.

The U.K. military is drawing up plans for a possible response to the alleged attack, the government said Tuesday.  But Prime Minister David Cameron said any British action in Syria would have to be legal, proportionate and specifically about deterring future global chemical-weapons use.  "This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria or going further into that conflict," he said in a recorded interview with BBC television. "It is about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world shouldn't stand idly by."  On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden said there was no question that the Assad regime was behind the attack.  "There is no doubt that an essential international norm has been violated," Mr. Biden said at the American Legion's annual convention in Houston. "No one doubts that innocent men, women and children have been the victims of chemical-weapons attacks in Syria. And there is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime."  U.S. officials have said they expect to release evidence in coming days that Syria's regime was behind the attacks.

WATCH: UK deploys warplanes in Cyprus, 100km from Syria.

Syria "utterly and completely" rejects the allegations that it used chemical weapons, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said on Tuesday. He added that Syria would defend itself by means available. "We will surprise others" planning to attack Damascus, he said.  "We are hearing the drums of war," Mr. Moallem added. "They want to attack Syria. I believe to use chemical weapons as a pretext is trite and inaccurate."  Syria's foreign minister condemned the U.S. for flouting international law and ignoring a continuing U.N. investigation into the incident, which has yet to determine whether chemical weapons were used. In Cairo, Egypt Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy appeared to side against intervention, saying on Tuesday, "The solution for Syria must be diplomatic, not militaristic." Turkey, in a newspaper interview by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu published Monday, became the first major Muslim Middle East ally of the U.S. to announce it would join an international military coalition against Syria, even without advance U.N. approval. The weakest Arab states, Lebanon and Jordan, particularly fear possible retaliation and a further deluge of Syrian refugees in the event of a Syria strike. A meeting of U.S., Saudi, and other Western and regional top military officials in the Jordanian capital on Sunday and Monday was devoted mainly to reassuring Jordan of protection in the event of any disruption following a strike on Syria, as well as to try to plot responses to any further alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria, according to officials in Jordan and in the Gulf familiar with the proceedings.

In Jordan, where a U.S.- and Saudi-backed effort is helping train Syrian rebels, Jordanian King Abdullah publicly called for peaceful settlement. Jordan already has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria. Its fear is being "dragged into retaliation and war," a senior Jordanian official said.  Saudi Arabia—for more than a year the strongest advocate of international action on Syria—has limited its public response to last week's alleged chemical attack to statements by Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal calling for unspecified, decisive action under the U.N.  A Saudi cabinet statement repeated that position Monday night, after the U.S. made clear it was considering a military strike on Syria.  "Not yet," a Saudi government spokesman said, when asked if the government had said if it would support a military strike on Syria.  In principle, and in private, Saudi Arabia probably "would support any act to stop that war, or stop the use of gas," said Anwar Eshki, a former adviser to Saudi Arabia's council of ministers, or cabinet, and the head of a Saudi-based strategic research center. Mr. Eshki was referring to the use of poison gas. 

WATCH: Crosstalk - Destroying Syria.

A U.N. team is currently in Damascus investigating the suspected chemical-weapons attacks that hit several towns on the capital's outskirts last week, whose victims included children and women, according to witnesses. On Monday, the U.N. was granted access to one of those sites, Mouadhamiya, to conduct interviews with survivors and take soil samples, although their convoy was fired on by unknown snipers earlier that day.  A second trip planned by the U.N. team was canceled Tuesday after a disagreement by rebels over how to provide security to the international inspectors, the foreign minister said. The U.N. said that its team decided to postpone its visit by one day "in order to improve preparedness and safety for the team," but didn't speak to Mr. Moallem's claims.  Access to the areas has been complicated by a Syria military operation—code-named Operation City Shield—that kicked off just hours after the first reports that toxic gas was killing residents.  For months, Syrian forces have successfully fought to regain control over the suburban regions surrounding the capital Damascus. The Eastern Ghouta region where the suspected chemical attack occurred is the last remaining area not under partial or total regime control.  Mr. Moallem, the foreign minister, said that the government launched a "pre-emptive strike" before rebels made claims about chemical weapons use last week. He said that the government had intelligence showing that rebel fighters trained outside Syria were amassing in that district "to raid Damascus." The military's assault was before Aug. 21, when the chemical attacks were alleged to have occured, but he declined to specify when.  Security officials previously said the strike was in the first hours of Aug. 21 and that rebels had been planning a massive attack on Damascus from four different fronts.  Mr. Moallem said the current government operation in Damascus would continue and would not be affected by plans by the U.S. and its allies to attack the regime.  "The military effort won't stop, they are dreaming if they want to limit the victories of the armed forces," said Mr. Moallem. - WSJ.

Russia Warns Of "Catastrophic Consequences" Of Syria Intervention.
Russia warns US: President Barack Obama and other Western leaders show
indications of preparing military intervention in Syria's civil war, the
Kremlin warned that such action would be 'catastrophic' and 'illegal.'
Shown, President Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 Summit
in Los Cabos, Mexico, in June 2012.
Carolyn Kaster/AP/File
Russian leaders, increasingly convinced that the West is preparing for imminent military action in Syria, kept up a barrage of criticism Tuesday over what they claim will be an "illegal" and potentially "catastrophic" intervention into the affairs of a sovereign state. A frustrated and increasingly despondent Moscow has already made clear that it can and will do nothing to stand in the way of Western military action against Syria, leaving it with few options beyond diplomatic sniping and rhetorical appeals to global public opinion. Russia has argued that Western nations are stampeding to judgement before all the facts are in about last week's alleged nerve gas attack in a Damascus suburb that may have killed more than 1,000 people.  Russia is also stressing that, absent a UN Security Council resolution authorizing force, any attack on Syria will be a violation of international law and a slippery slope that could lead to greater chaos in the region.

"Attempts to bypass the Security Council, to once again create artificial, unproven excuses for an armed intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement posted on the ministry's website Tuesday.  In another sign that military strikes could be just days away, the US cancelled a bilateral meeting scheduled for Wednesday at which mid-level US and Russian officials were to have discussed plans for the projected September Geneva-2 peace conference, at which Russia still hopes representatives of the Bashar al-Assad regime – brought to the table by Moscow – will sit down and hammer out a negotiated settlement with Syrian rebels sponsored by Washington.  "Moscow perceives Washington’s decision to postpone this meeting literally on the eve of the agreed-upon date with serious disappointment," Mr. Lukashevich said.  Georgy Mirsky, an expert with the Center for Development and Modernization with the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations, says that Russia fully expects even limited Western military action will produce unexpected complications, such as civilian casualties, and that will provide Moscow with an opening to take the lead in restarting diplomacy.  "There's nothing Russia can or should do to stop Western military intervention in Syria," he says.  "Syria isn't Libya. Battles are going on everywhere, and it will prove impossible to set up a secure zone. There is zero chance that Western forces will launch a ground war. So, it will be limited cruise missile attacks from ships; that might weaken Assad, but will not likely be decisive," he says.  "Russia can sit and watch. A propaganda war will rage, and Moscow will be able to say that we wanted peace, we were working for the Geneva-2 conference, but it didn't happen because they opted for military force instead.... As things stand, developments will play into Moscow's hands. The US will compromise itself with another war in another Arab country, and look more than ever like a neo-colonialist power. Why would Obama want this?" he says. - CS Monitor.

Strikes "Likely To Trigger Terrorists Acts Against U.S. And Israel".
With the White House closer to launching a surgical military strike on Syria, questions swirl over the extent to which such an attack could trigger a wave of terrorism directed at the U.S. and Israel.  Some analysts say that Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia fighting in support of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, likely would be inspired to ramp up operations in Iran’s “shadow war” with the U.S. and its allies.  Tensions between the West and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program have fueled the protracted and secretive war — a tit-for-tat exchange marked most often by operations and attacks carried out from the Middle East to Eastern Europe and Asia by Hezbollah and Israel’s lead intelligence agency, the Mossad.  “These are groups that have long memories,” Matthew Levitt, who heads the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Monday.  “I think that the type of asymmetric activities that we’ve been seeing already in the context of the shadow war over Iran’s nuclear program would continue with [an American military strike in Syria] serving as yet another factor motivating Hezbollah.”  Iran’s government, which most in the U.S. intelligence community think exerts heavy influence over the activities of Hezbollah, sought Monday to downplay the likelihood of a U.S. strike. But some officials in Tehran said that if a strike occurs, Israel would be targeted in response.  The Associated Press quoted Hossein Sheikholeslam, a member of Iran's Islamic Consultative Assembly, as saying that “the Zionist regime” — a reference to Israel — “will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria.”  The remark seemed to dovetail with what has for months been a claim by some lawmakers in Washington — Republican and Democrat — that Iran’s proxy presence in the Syrian war presents all the more reason for the Obama administration to get the U.S. military more deeply involved.  

A post office worker shows to an Israeli child how to wear a gas mask at a gas
mask kit distribution station in Pisgat Ze'ev, East Jerusalem, Israel. 
Getty Images
“Addressing the crisis in Syria at this stage will be extremely difficult, but every day that Assad remains in power helps Iran and Hezbollah and threatens stability across the region,” Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., Pennsylvania Democrat, said Monday. “Iran and terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, are plotting against the United States and its allies every day.”  Some Middle East analysts, meanwhile, said a U.S. strike likely would inspire the cadre of military and intelligence officials running Syria to commission their own terrorist activities with the goal of disrupting the existing U.S. military presence in the region and deepening instability surrounding Israel.  Joshua Landis, who heads the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, suggested that the Assad government in Syria already has backed terrorist activities in Lebanon.  “Assad is not powerless,” Mr. Landis said. “We just saw car bombs go off in Tripoli that killed many Sunni Muslims. So he can do things like that to destabilize things and inflame sectarian tensions in Lebanon.”  “The reaction of the Assad regime will depend on how hard the strike is,” said Mr. Landis, who added that the Assad government might respond by hiring Palestinian groups to target U.S. military officials believed to be in Jordan.  Citing rumors that American special forces officers are presently “camped out” at hotels in Jordan’s capital of Amman, Mr. Landis said the Assad government might aim to commission terrorists to try and “blow up a hotel” in the city.  Away from the region, there were signs Monday that Mr. Assad continues to enjoy rhetorical support but likely would struggle to draw another international power into the conflict in the event of an American military strike. - Washington Times.

Iranian Official Threatens Israel, Warns It Will Be The ‘First Victim’ Of U.S. Attack On Syria.
A Syrian army soldier walks on a street in the Jobar
neighborhood of Damascus, Syria / AP
A senior Iranian lawmaker said Israel would be the first casualty of any U.S.-led strike on Syria, according to regional media reports.  Hossein Sheikholeslam, the director general of the Iranian parliament’s International Affairs bureau, claimed the United States would not dare attack Syria but said that if it does, “the Zionist regime will be the first victim.”  “No military attack will be waged against Syria,” Sheikholeslam was quoted as saying on Monday by Iran’s state run Fars News Agency.  “Yet, if such an incident takes place, which is impossible, the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria,” Sheikholeslam said in an apparent response to the Obama administration’s increasingly stern rhetoric against Syria.  Iran has been one of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chief allies. It has sent Hezbollah reinforcements to battle rebel forces and acted as Assad’s chief defender in the Middle East.  As the Obama administration hints that it is gearing up to intervene in Syria following the reported use of chemical weapons, Iranian officials have similarly ramped up their rhetoric.  Sheikholeslam said Assad would immediately respond to a U.S. attack by going after the Jewish state with the full force of his military.  Syria can “heavily attack and raze the occupied territories,” Fars reported him as saying.  Another senior Iranian lawmaker said on Monday that the U.S. military is not prepared to handle an operation in Syria.  Mohammad Esmayeeli, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, claimed Washington is not ready for any new military invasion.  He said that if the Obama administration does decide to launch an attack, Moscow will support Damascus. 

Russia has consistently thrown its support behind Assad, providing him with advanced weapons and blocking concrete action at the United Nations.  “The U.S. as well as the western and Arab states and certain regional countries are beating on the drums of war, but they should know that this is not to their benefit,” Esmayeeli was quoted as saying by Fars.  Esmayeeli, in an apparent reference to America’s defense budget cuts, went on to say that the United States is in no condition to wage a war against Syria. If America “starts a war with Syria, the U.S. will not achieve its desirable and needed results,” Esmayeeli said.  Meanwhile, newly installed Iranian President Hassan Rowhani condemned the use of chemical weapons, the apparent tipping point for a U.S. strike on Assad.  “Iran gives notice to international community to use all its might to prevent use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world, esp. in #Syria,” Rowhani tweeted on Tuesday.  Syria expert Tony Badran said that despite Iran’s rhetoric, Assad currently has his hands full with the rebel fighters.  “I’m actually not sure they will retaliate against Israel and risk an escalation they can ill afford,” said Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Of course, anything is possible, and they could conceivably do a repeat of a small-scale, limited Katyusha [and] Grad [rocket] salvo from Lebanon, without anyone taking credit or with some minor faction claiming responsibility in order to avoid a punishing Israeli response.”  It is more likely that smaller pro-Assad factions would strike soft Western targets, Badran said.  “Instead of focusing too much or exclusively on Israel, some groups, such as the PFLP-GC, made a point to say that they would target ‘the interests’ of ‘participants in an aggression against Syria,’ which perhaps suggests softer targets,” Badran said.  These include European targets or even United Nations forces, Badran said  Former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin warned that Iran’s pro-Assad rhetoric should be viewed as a window into its thinking about nuclear arms.  “Once again, Iran shows why the international community should never let it even come close to a nuclear weapon,” Rubin said. “If Assad can murder Syrians in their sleep, he and his Iranian backers won’t bat an eye to do the same thing to Jordanians, Israelis, or Turks.”  Such rhetoric “shows why the red line should never be the use of WMD, but its possession in the arsenals of the world’s rogues,” Rubin said. - Free Beacon.

UN Security Council To Get Draft Resolution On Syria Within Hours.
A draft resolution authorizing “necessary measures” in Syria will be presented to the U.N. Security Council within hours, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Wednesday.  The move came as the U.S. and its allies lay the diplomatic groundwork for military strikes, which officials in Washington said could begin as early as Thursday night.  "Britain has drafted a resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack by President Bashar Assad and authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians," Cameron said on his official Twitter feed. It sets the scene for a diplomatic showdown with Russia - a key suppliers of weapons to Assad's regime - and China, which has a veto on the Council and is opposed to military strikes.  "We've always said we want the UN Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that," Cameron added.  However, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said inspectors should be given time to determine whether Assad used poison gas against civilians. "It is essential to establish the facts. The team needs time to do its job," he said in The Hague on Wednesday.  He spoke as the inspectors worked in rebel-held territories east of Damascus to collect more evidence of a suspected poison gas attack on Aug 21 that left hundreds dead.

WATCH: The country, home to a variety of religious groups, has long played a central role in the Middle East. Syria expert Patrick Seale talks to NBC News' Sigi de Vos about the seemingly intractable conflict.

However, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday it was already "crystal clear" that Assad's government was responsible. Vice President Joe Biden went even further, bluntly telling an American Legion audience in Houston: "Chemical weapons have been used."  Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied that his forces used chemical weapons.  In preparation for a likely three-day wave of military strikes, President Barack Obama and senior members of his administration have made at least 88 phone calls to allies and world leaders since disturbing pictures emerged of the Aug 21 deaths.  While the Arab League issued a statement Tuesday blaming Assad for the attack, it stopped short of endorsing military retaliation – leaving Obama with less support in the region than he had for the 2011 air strikes on Libya.  In anticipation of possible regional fallout, security forces in Israel moved an Iron Dome defense shield towards its northern border Wednesday, Israeli news site Ynet reported, and raised the alert level on its Arrow 2 missile battery.   Meanwhile, a terror group linked to al Qaeda pledged a “volcano of revenge” against Syria. A branch of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant said it would attack Syrian government security and military targets, according to a statement highlighted by the SITE monitoring service and reported by Reuters.

WATCH: Officials tell NBC News they have intelligence intercepts tying the chemical attacks to the Syrian regime. The White House is now waiting for a report from the UN team that arrived at the attack site on Monday. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

Top U.S. national security aides gathered to review the situation on Tuesday night in a meeting chaired by Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice, officials told Reuters. Advertise | AdChoices  Navy officials said four destroyers are lined up ready to strike: the USS Barry, the USS Mahan, the USS Ramage and the USS Gravely.  Tuesday, a fifth guided-missile destroyer, the USS Stout, also entered the Mediterranean, through the Straits of Gibraltar, but officials said it wouldn't take part in any cruise missile attack. "The four destroyers now in place have more than enough cruise missiles," one official said.  Experts say UN inspectors will painstakingly scour the soil for evidence of nerve agents as they investigate last week's alleged chemical attack. Craters where munitions exploded and shell fragments could provide clues as to who was behind the incident. The meticulous evidence-gathering process is likely to be filmed and exact locations where samples were found will be recorded using GPS technology.  A "chain of custody" will ensure the samples cannot be tampered with. Several witnesses will watch as evidence is placed in sealed containers. They will not be re-opened until they reach the laboratory. Samples are likely to be sent to several sites in the U.S., U.K., Finland, Netherlands and Switzerland.  Professor Alastair Hay, a U.K.-based chemical weapons expert who has conducted six investigations into alleged incidents, said that once the evidence has been gathered the testing process could take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. That raises the possibility that the U.S. and its allies could strike at Syrian targets before the UN has concluded its inquiry. - NBC News.

MONUMENTAL SOLAR SYSTEM CHANGES: Planet Jupiter's Io, The Volcanic Epicenter Of The Solar System Hosts A Most Massive New Eruption - Covering More Than 30 SQUARE KILOMETERE AREA; One Of The Top 10 Most Powerful Eruptions Ever Seen; Lava Reach Up To 250 KILOMETERS HIGH!

August 28, 2013 - JUPITER - A massive new eruption on Jupiter's moon Io covering more than a 30 square kilometer area was captured by Dr. Imke de Pater, Professor of Astronomy and of Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California in Berkeley using the Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii on August 15, 2013. The eruption is one of the top 10 most powerful eruptions that have been seen on this moon, where some lava towers reach up 250 kilometers high. The montage of images above of Jupiter and its volcanic moon Io, was taken by the New Horizons spacecraft's flyby in early 2007. The Jupiter image is an infrared color composite taken by the spacecraft's near-infrared imaging spectrometer on Feb. 28, 2007. The infrared wavelengths used highlight variations in the altitude of the Jovian cloud tops, with blue denoting high-altitude clouds and hazes, and red indicating deeper clouds. The prominent bluish-white oval is the Great Red Spot.

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Goddard Space Flight Center

The Io image, taken on March 1, 2007, is a nearly true-color composite. The image shows a major eruption in progress on Io's night side, at the northern volcano Tvashtar. Incandescent lava glows red beneath a high volcanic plume, whose uppermost portions are illuminated by sunlight. The plume appears blue due to scattering of light by small particles in the plume.

An active volcanic eruption on Jupiter's moon Io was captured in the image below taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. Tvashtar Catena, a chain of giant volcanic calderas centered at 60 degrees north, 120 degrees west, was the location of an energetic eruption caught in action in November 1999.

A dark, "L"-shaped lava flow to the left of the center in this more recent image marks the location of the November eruption. White and orange areas on the left side of the picture show newly erupted hot lava, seen in this false color image because of infrared emission. The two small bright spots are sites where molten rock is exposed to the surface at the toes of lava flows. The larger orange and yellow ribbon is a cooling lava flow that is more than more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) long. Dark, diffuse deposits surrounding the active lava flows were not there during the November 1999 flyby of Io.

This color mosaic was created by combining images taken in the near-infrared, clear, and violet filters from Galileo's camera. The range of wavelengths is slightly more than that of the human eye. The mosaic has been processed to enhance subtle color variations. The bright orange, yellow, and white areas at the left of the mosaic use images in two more infrared filters to show temperature variations, orange being the coolest and white the hottest material. This picture is about 250 kilometers (about 155 miles) across. North is toward the top and illumination from the Sun is from the west (left).

Although Io always points the same side toward Jupiter in its orbit around the giant planet, the large moons Europa and Ganymede perturb Io's orbit into an irregularly elliptical one. Thus, in its widely varying distances from Jupiter, Io is subjected to tremendous tidal forces. These forces cause Io's surface to bulge up and down (or in and out) by as much as 100 m (330 feet)! Compare these tides on Io's solid surface to the tides on Earth's oceans. On Earth, in the place where tides are highest, the difference between low and high tides is only 18 m (60 feet), and this is for water, not solid ground!

This tidal pumping generates a tremendous amount of heat within Io, keeping much of its subsurface crust in liquid form seeking any available escape route to the surface to relieve the pressure. Thus, the surface of Io is constantly renewing itself, filling in any impact craters with molten lava lakes and spreading smooth new floodplains of liquid rock. The composition of this material is not yet entirely clear, but theories suggest that it is largely molten sulfur and its compounds (which would account for the varigated coloring) or silicate rock (which would better account for the apparent temperatures, which may be too hot to be sulfur). Sulfur dioxide is the primary constituent of a thin atmosphere on Io. It has no water to speak of, unlike the other, colder Galilean moons. Data from the Galileo spacecraft indicates that an iron core may form Io's center, thus giving Io its own magnetic field.

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Goddard Space Flight Center

Io's orbit, keeping it at more or less a cozy 422,000 km (262,000 miles) from Jupiter, cuts across the planet's powerful magnetic lines of force, thus turning Io into a electric generator. Io can develop 400,000 volts across itself and create an electric current of 3 million amperes. This current takes the path of least resistance along Jupiter's magnetic field lines to the planet's surface, creating lightning in Jupiter's upper atmosphere.

As Jupiter rotates, it takes its magnetic field around with it, sweeping past Io and stripping off about 1,000 kg (1 ton) of Io's material every second! This material becomes ionized in the magnetic field and forms a doughnut-shaped cloud of intense radiation referred to as a plasma torus. Some of the ions are pulled into Jupiter's atmosphere along the magnetic lines of force and create auroras in the planet's upper atmosphere. It is the ions escaping from this torus that inflate Jupiter's magnetosphere to over twice the size we would expect.

Io was discovered on 8 January 1610 by Galileo Galilei. The discovery, along with three other Jovian moons, was the first time a moon was discovered orbiting a planet other than Earth. The discovery of the four Galilean satellites eventually led to the understanding that planets in our solar system orbit the sun, instead of our solar system revolving around Earth. Galileo apparently had observed Io on 7 January 1610, but had been unable to differentiate between Io and Europa until the next night. - Daily Galaxy.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Global Volcano Report For August 28, 2013 - Updates On Kliuchevskoi, Tolbachik, Sakurajima, Suwanose-jima, Manam, Popocatépetl, Santa María, Santiaguito, Pacaya And Fuego!

August 28, 2013 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing reports of volcanoes across the globe.

Klyu seen from the KVERT observatory this morning; the lava flow is indicated by the white
plume rising on the right side of the upper flank

Kliuchevskoi (Kamchatka): A small lava flow has started to descend on the upper northern flank of the volcano. Sometimes intense strombolian continues at the summit vent. Glowing blocks from the lava flow often detach from the front and roll down the steep slope of the volcano. No significant ash emissions have occurred so far.

Tolbachik (Kamchatka): The eruption seems to be coming to an end. Seismic activity dropped from still moderately high levels (2.4 mcm/s) to very low (0.12 mcm/s) on 24 Aug, and the effusion of lava has stopped. No incandescence was spotted in the area of the vent during the past days. The Aviation Color Code was lowered to yellow.

Sakurajima (Kyushu, Japan): Activity remains at high levels. Over the past 24 hours, the volcano has had 8 explosions recorded by VAAC Tokyo, with ash plumes rising to up to 12,000 ft altitude.

WATCH: The following shows an explosion this morning seen from Kagoshima:

Suwanose-jima (Ryukyu Islands): The volcano has entered an eruptive phase with frequent explosions, which over the past 2 days produced several ash plumes rising as high as 12,000 ft (3.6 km) altitude.

Manam (Papua New Guinea): Another ash plume was spotted earlier today reaching 10,000 ft and suggesting that the volcano has stepped up its activity recently.

Popocatépetl (Central Mexico): Activity has been low over the past days with little changes overall. The volcano continues to produce important degassing and has occasional small explosions. Glow at the summit can be seen when the weather is clear, indicating that lava continues to slowly extrude in the crater.

Santa María / Santiaguito (Guatemala): A moderate explosion took place yesterday morning at 03:24 h local time, generating an eruption column rising 1.3 km, a pyroclastic flow on the SW flank of the dome, and an ash plume that drifted southwest and caused ashfall on Palajunoj.

The viscous lava flow on the southern flank of the dome remained active.

Pacaya (Guatemala): INSIVUMEH reports ongoing mild strombolian activity and the appearance of a new lava flow yesterday. The explosions occurred at rhythms of 4-10 minute intervals and ejected glowing lava to about 75 m height. The lava flow on the western flank of the Mackenney crater reached a length of 150-200 m.

Strombolian activity from Pacaya 26 Aug evening and seismic recording (CONRED image).

Judging from the seismogram, activity has decreased a bit today.

Fuego (Guatemala): Activity has not seen significant changes over the past days. Mild to moderate explosions (14 during 26-27 Aug counted) produce ash plumes of 200-500 m height and weak to moderate glowing avalanches of bombs on the upper slopes.

Complete Earthquake list (worldwide) for August 28, 2013.

- Volcano Discovery.

EXTREME WEATHER: Millions Of Americans Impacted By A Intense Heat Wave In Plains, Midwest - Temperatures Running As Much As 20 Degrees Above Average, Many Daily Records Will Be Challenged!

August 28, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A heat wave in the Plains and parts of the Midwest will affect millions of people through this week and into the beginning of the Labor Day weekend.

This heat will impact many major cities in the country's midsection, including St. Louis, Mo., Omaha, Neb., Sioux Falls, S.D., Des Moines, Iowa and Minneapolis, Minn.

Additionally, thunderstorms riding along the northern edge of this dome of heat will bring the threat of stronger storms to parts of the Great Lakes and the Northeast.

Temperatures approaching the 100-degree mark will force residents of the Plains and Midwest to take action to avoid some of the dangers that this heat wave will bring.

The most dangerous time of day during a heat wave is the afternoon when temperatures are the hottest and when sunshine is most intense.

If you plan on being outside during the heat of the afternoon, there are several precautions that you can take to minimize the chance of heat-related injuries. Wearing light-colored clothing, drinking plenty of water and avoiding strenuous activity are just a few ways to stay safe from the heat.

Spending long periods of time out in the heat without taking the proper precautions may lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

While temperatures will climb to near or above the 100-degree mark, several other factors can make it feel even hotter.

High humidity, blazing sunshine and other components of the weather will make RealFeel® climb as high as 110 degrees in some areas.

This extreme heat has already caused disruptions across the Plains and Midwest for many and will continue to do so through the week.

With the last week of August being the first week back at school for many students, school districts have been forced to take action.

To help kids avoid the intense heat, some schools have ended the school day early, well before the extreme afternoon heat; while others have canceled school all together.

High school sports teams have also been forced to take action, canceling practices for the safety of the players.

While some may find the heat unwelcome, others are finding it to be providing favorable conditions for some late-season swimming.

This heat wave is expected to last though the week across the Midwest and the Plains with highs in the upper 90s and lower 100s each day.

With temperatures running as much as 20 degrees above average, many daily record temperatures will be challenged.

These temperatures will also carry into the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, but will slowly ease as the weekend progresses. - AccuWeather.

FUK-U-SHIMA: "THREE-EYED Fish For Dinner, Kids" - Many Nations Across The Pacific Are Fearing The IMPACT From Fukushima, Expecting Cancer Will Increase In Pacific Rim As Japan Exports Their Environmental Problem To The Ocean!

August 28, 2013 - PACIFIC OCEAN - While we struggle with the effects of earthquakes here in New Zealand and squabble over insurance claims, the effects of the tsunami on the other side of the ring of fire two and a half years ago are threatening our oceans.

During the huge earthquake of over nine on the Richter Scale and disastrous tsunami which followed, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered terrible damage and ever since, has been discharging radioactive water into the sea.

The tsunami destroyed the nuclear reactor's cooling system, forcing the ill-prepared Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to pump vast quantities of water through the reactors.

Of course, water is very hard to contain, especially when some of the sites that it is passing through are too radioactive for workers to even touch them.

So what do they do? They pump the waste into the ocean.

So despite David Lange's much revered policy that has banned nuclear activity in our country and become a bi-partisan apolitical policy that Kiwis are proud of, we may end up with tainted seafood because of ill-prepared and poorly managed efforts in Japan.

According to a report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, that initial breakdown caused "the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed."

Already, the crisis is being compared to Chernobyl, but the fact that Fukushima is right on the water means that nations across the Pacific are fearing that it will impact their fisheries and wellbeing.

Three-eyed wolf fish found off the coast of Argentina in October, 2011.

Over a year ago, in a study off California, every Bluefin tuna that was caught was shown to be contaminated with chemicals from Japan. Since then the situation has worsened considerably.

Elizabeth Grossman, a scientist from Yale University says that the signs are showing that nuclear material is already moving up the food chain.

This nuclear stuff is so potent that it can affect seafood (particularly migratory species) thousands of miles from the source. One report said that a sample contained 1.1 million times the legal level of radioactive cesium-137.

Cesium causes cell damage (a gateway for cancer, which many are expecting will increase in the Pacific Rim because of this) and nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding.


The radioactive water is pouring into the Pacific because the storage tanks that TEPCO built were shoddy. If they had built the right type of tanks in the first place this would never have escalated to this point.

All this time, the carefully managed PR response has been that there is no risk, but, just like the outrage that the world has when Japan says that slaughtering hundreds of whales is for scientific research, this is no longer going to wash.

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority has finally said that the disaster is "in some respects" beyond the plant operator's ability to cope but despite this, they have not sought assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency even though it has been proffered.

I would have thought that there should have been some consultation with neighbouring countries before Japan unilaterally decided that they would dump all of this waste into the ocean rather than store it on land.

It feels to me like they are exporting an environmental problem to the Pacific Ocean, which no-one should have the right to do. - NZ Herald.

EXTREME WEATHER: Haboob Swallows Phoenix Again - Massive Dust Storm And Thunderstorm Downed Power Lines And Trees In Tempe!

August 28, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Another dust storm and thunderstorm blew through the Phoenix metropolitan area Monday afternoon after heavy rain fell on many parts of western Arizona.

Winds from an approaching storm system around sundown pushed a hazy brown cloud over most of the Phoenix area.

There were reports of some downed power lines and trees in Tempe, but no immediate reports of any injuries.

Here are few images from social media websites:

At least 4-5 thousand feet high wall of dust moving in!

I-10 at Elliot - Only the vehicle lights are visible through the dust.

Sky Harbor airport reporting no takeoffs or landings to be allowed until about 8 or 8:30 p.m.

Haboob in downtown . 98 & dust storm

Dust Storm in progress in Maricopa Co [AZ]! Visibility reportedly less than 100 FEET at Tumbleweek Park just now! 

Awesome pic! RT @RobSchumacher1 Dust storm hits Phoenix.


Oh hey Haboob

I would'nt want to get caught in the middle of this #dust #storm

Only in phx az #skyharbor #airport #work #airplane #dust-storm #cool #awesome #arizona #phoenix #southwest

The view from inside the haboob.

Arizona's monsoon season begins in mid-June and runs through Sept. 30 and has produced massive dust storms called "haboobs" in recent years.

Much of western Arizona was under a flash flood watch Monday.

The Mohave Daily News reported that rain in the Bullhead City area closed several roads Sunday as runoff deposited mud, rocks and debris in low-lying areas. - Wunderground.

GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS: Huge Aquifer That Runs Through 8 American States Quickly Being Tapped Out - Nearly 70 Percent Of The Groundwater Could Be Used Up Within 50 Years!

August 28, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Nearly 70 percent of the groundwater stored in parts of the United States' High Plains Aquifer — a vast underground reservoir that stretches through eight states, from South Dakota to Texas, and supplies 30 percent of the nation's irrigated groundwater — could be used up within 50 years unless current water use is reduced, a new study finds.

An irrigation system sprays water on a cornfield.
Kansas State University Photo Services

Researchers from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., conducted a four-year study of a portion of the High Plains Aquifer, called the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides the most agriculturally important irrigation in the state of Kansas, and is a key source of drinking water for the region.

If current irrigation trends continue unabated, 69 percent of the available groundwater will be drained in the next five decades, the researchers said in a study published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"I think it's generally understood that the groundwater levels are going down and that at some point in the future groundwater pumping rates are going to have to decrease," study lead author David Steward, a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University, said in a statement. "However, there are lots of questions about how long the water will last, how long the aquifer will take to refill and what society can do."

Taking water measurements

Steward and his colleagues collected data on past and present groundwater levels in the Ogallala Aquifer, and developed statistical models to project various scenarios of water depletion over the next 100 years.

Using current trends in water usage as a guide, the researchers estimate that 3 percent of the aquifer's water was used up by 1960; 30 percent of the aquifer's water was drained by 2010; and a whopping 69 percent of the reservoir will likely be tapped by 2060. It would take an average of 500 to 1,300 years to completely refill the High Plains Aquifer, Steward added.

But, if reducing water use becomes an immediate priority, it may be possible to make use of the aquifer's resources and increase net agricultural production through the year 2110, the researchers said.
"The main idea is that if we're able to save water today, it will result in a substantial increase in the number of years that we will have irrigated agriculture in Kansas," Steward said.

A lot of variables

Yet, making projections about water security is challenging, because there are a number of factors to consider, and even though the High Plains Aquifer touches eight different states, the effects can be highly localized, said Bridget Scanlon, a senior research scientist and leader of the Sustainable Water Resources Program at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved with the new study.

"We know the aquifer is being depleted, but trying to project long-term is very difficult, because there are climate issues and social aspects that have to be included," Scanlon told LiveScience. "Projections are so difficult because I think we're clueless about a lot of things, like extreme weather events."

Water from the High Plains Aquifer irrigates a field of corn.
Kansas State University Photo Services

Scanlon pointed out that the new study does not consider the impact of extreme weather, such as droughts or floods. In 2011, Texas experienced a devastating drought that cost the state some $8 billion in economic losses, according to a report by Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. NASA satellites that studied the parched land determined that the drought depleted the region's aquifers to low levels that had rarely been seen since this type of mapping began more than 60 years ago.

Finding a solution to the groundwater depletion problem is also tricky without unfairly targeting the farmers, Scanlon said.

"Farmers are trying to make a living, and they're responding to economics," she explained. "Asking them to drastically reduce water might be like asking me to retire now because there are so many unemployed people."

Too many unknowns?

Steward and his colleagues anticipate future technologies will help farmers irrigate their land more efficiently. "Water use efficiencies have increased by about 2 percent a year in Kansas, which means that every year we're growing about 2 percent more crop for each unit of water," Steward said. "That's happening because of increased irrigation technology, crop genetics and management strategies."

But in some areas of the country's plains, the properties of the groundwater and soil largely dictate the irrigation techniques, Scanlon said. In parts of Texas and Kansas, the groundwater is brinier, which means if some farmers employ more efficient irrigation techniques, they will also be pumping up salty deposits that are not adequately washed away by rainfall.

"This is a very nice study, but we really need to address droughts and socioeconomic issues, and other approaches to figure out the problem, beyond the technical," Scanlon said. "If we don't know what we're doing, are we just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?" - NBC News.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Ice Age Now - Rare Snow Falls In Chile's Atacama Desert, One Of The World's Driest Places!

August 28, 2013 - CHILE - A rare snowfall in Chile's Atacama desert has delighted visitors to one of the world's driest areas.

Snow fell on the Atacama Desert in Chile, which is considered one of the driest places on earth.
(Neleman Initiative, LLC)

Residents of San Pedro de Atacama say the weekend snow was the heaviest in three decades for the desert city, which is 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) north of the capital, Santiago.

But local officials say they are concerned the snow and rain that fell over the weekend could cause some rivers to flood as has happened in the past.

The national tourism office says the road to San Pedro de Atacama was temporarily blocked due to the unusual weather. Officials have not ordered any evacuation although they expect more rain in the area. - Wunderground.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Supervolcanic Ash Can Turn To Lava Miles From Eruption, Scientists Find - Vicious Heating Can Reheat Volcanic Ash Enough To Convert It To Lava!

August 28, 2013 - GEOLOGY - Supervolcanoes, such as the one sitting dormant under Yellowstone National Park, are capable of producing eruptions thousands of times more powerful than normal volcanic eruptions. While they only happen every several thousand years, these eruptions have the potential to kill millions of people and animals due to the massive amount of heat and ash they release into the atmosphere.

Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have shown that the ash produced by supervolcanoes can be so hot that it has the ability to turn back into lava once it hits the ground tens of miles away from the original eruption.

Following a volcanic eruption, lava typically flows directly from the site of the eruption until it cools enough that it hardens in place. However, researchers found evidence of an ancient lava flow tens of miles away from a supervolcano eruption near Yellowstone that occurred around 8 million years ago. Previously, Graham Andrews, an assistant professor at California State University Bakersfield, found that this lava flow was made of ash ejected during the eruption. Following Andrew’s discovery, Alan Whittington, an associate professor in the University of Missouri department of geological sciences in the College of Arts and Science, along with lead author Genevieve Robert and Jiyang Ye, both doctoral students in the geological sciences department, determined how this was possible.

Evidence of flowing lava hardened into rock found in Idaho several miles away from the site of an 8 million year old supervolcano eruption at Yellowstone. Credit: Graham Andrews / California State University Bakersfield.

“During a supervolcano eruption, pyroclastic flows, which are giant clouds of very hot ash and rock, travel away from the volcano at typically a hundred miles an hour,” Robert said. “We determined the ash must have been exceptionally hot so that it could actually turn into lava and flow before it eventually cooled.”

Because the ash should have cooled too much in the air to turn into lava  right as it landed, the researchers believe the phenomenon was made possible by a process known as “viscous heating.” Viscosity is the degree to which a liquid resists flow. The higher the viscosity, the less the substance can flow. For example, water has a very low viscosity, so it flows very easily, while molasses has a higher viscosity and flows much slower. Whittington likens the process of viscous heating to stirring a pot of molasses.

Evidence of flowing lava hardened into rock found in Idaho several miles away from the site of an 8 million year old supervolcano eruption at Yellowstone. Credit: Graham Andrews / California State University Bakersfield.

“It is very hard to stir a pot of molasses and you have to use a lot of energy and strength to move your spoon around the pot,” Whittington said. “However, once you get the pot stirring, the energy you are using to move the spoon is transferred into the molasses, which actually heats up a little bit. This is viscous heating. So when you think about how fast the hot ash is traveling after a massive supervolcano eruption, once it hits the ground that energy is turned into heat, much like the energy from the spoon heating up the molasses. This extra heat created by viscous heating is enough to cause the ash to weld together and actually begin flowing as lava.”

Evidence of flowing lava hardened into rock found in Idaho several miles away from the site of an 8 million year old supervolcano eruption at Yellowstone. Credit: Graham Andrews / California State University Bakersfield.

The volcanic ash from this eruption has to be at least 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit to turn into lava; however, since the ash should have lost some of that heat in the air, the researchers believe viscous heating accounted for 200 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit of additional heating to turn the ash into lava.

Robert, Andrews, Ye, and Whittington’s paper was published in Geology. The National Science Foundation funded this research through a CAREER award to Whittington. - University of Missouri.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Strong 6.1 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Off Raoul Island, New Zealand!

August 28, 2013 - NEW ZEALAND - An earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale jolted 288 km northwest of Raoul Island, New Zealand at 0254 GMT Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

USGS earthquake location.

The epicentre, with a depth of 488.61 km, was initially determined to be at 27.7953 degrees south latitude and 179.6722 degrees east longitude.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and New Zealand authorities both said there was no tsunami threat.

The quake was at a distance of 902km (560miles) southwest of Nuku`alofa, Tonga; 1014km (630miles) northeast of Whangarei, New Zealand;  1076km (669miles) south of Suva, Fiji; and 1100km (684miles) northeast of North Shore, New Zealand.

USGS earthquake shakemap intensity.

New Zealand sits at the southwestern edge of the Pacific "ring of fire," an area of high seismic and volcanic activity that stretches up through Japan, across to Alaska and down the west coasts of North and South America.

In February 2011, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake toppled buildings in the South Island city of Christchurch, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand.

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

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

USGS plate tectonics for the region.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: The Return Of The Black Death - Bubonic Plague Outbreak Feared In Central Asia, Teenage Boy Dies From Disease In Kyrgyzstan, 131 Quarantined!

August 28, 2013 - ASIA - Health officials fear an outbreak of bubonic plague in central Asia after a teenage boy died from the disease and three more were admitted to hospital in Kyrgyzstan.

A Marmot. Temirbek Isakunov reportedly died from bubonic plague after eating an infected barbecued marmot Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media

Temirbek Isakunov, a 15-year-old from a mountain village near the border with Kazakhstan, reportedly died from the disease last week after eating an infected barbecued marmot. Kyrgyzstan's emergency ministry said a young woman and two children from a different village who came into contact with Isakunov were hospitalised on Tuesday with the high fever and swelling around the neck and armpits characteristic of bubonic plague, local news outlets reported.

A total of 131 people, including 33 medical personnel, have been quarantined, although none of them have yet exhibited symptoms of the disease, the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda in Kyrgyzstan reported. The health ministry continues to find and quarantine people who came into contact with the teenager, according to its director.

Kazakhstan has stepped up its border control with Kyrgyzstan and is operating quarantine points in light of the possible outbreak, the news agency Tengrinews reported. The Kazakh health ministry is searching out people who might have come into contact with the dead teenager, and is also determining where animal carriers of the disease might be moving between the two countries, according to a ministry official.

The bacteria that cause bubonic plague are typically transmitted from rodents to humans via flea bites but can also be contracted through direct contact with infected tissue.

Some local authorities in Russia have also grown wary over the incident, since citizens of Kyrgyzstan do not need a visa to enter the country and, according to the newspaper Izvestiya, more than 500,000 Kyrgyz work in Russia. According to TV news report in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, checkpoints in the airport there are inspecting all those arriving from countries with a high bubonic plague risk.

A Russian public health official said cases of bubonic plague were registered in Kazakhstan every year, and the disease existed naturally in parts of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia, Izvestiya reported. - Guardian.