Tuesday, December 10, 2013

MASS MAMMAL/BIRD DIE-OFF: The Latest Incidents In South Africa - 300 Seals Wash Ashore Dead In Cape Town And Thousands Of Water Birds Have Died At Kamfers Dam!

December 10, 2013 - SOUTH AFRICA - The following constitutes the latest incidents of mass mammal and bird die-offs in South Africa:

300 Seals Wash Ashore Dead In Cape Town.

Disaster management officials say they have removed about 300 dead seals from Kommetjie Beach in Cape Town.

A high tide or extreme wind conditions probably caused the animals to be washed off Seal Island on Thursday night and officials say it is not a particularly unusual phenomenon.

Hundreds of dead seals are scattered around the peninsula from Strandfontein as far as Kommetjie.

Those passing by say the mammals have been laying there for hours.

An onlooker who drives past Muizenberg Beach everyday says he spotted the seals on the shore at 7am.

According to disaster management's Johannes Solomons-Johannes, there are more 100 dead seals which must still be removed between Strandfontein and Monwabisi Beach.

Meanwhile, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) says it is not that unusual for dead seals to wash ashore in Cape Town at this time of year.

However, it is surprised by the sheer number of carcasses which washed up on the False Bay coastline.

SPCA spokesperson Brett Glasby says the City of Cape Town is conducting a clean-up.

"These high winds and high seas washed over the Seal Island and seem to wash off any of the young seals that can't swim and any seals that have died on the island," he says. - African Conservation.

Thousands Of Water Birds Have Died At Kamfers Dam.

The Department of Nature Conservation and Environmental Affairs has finally entered the fray following the deaths of thousands of birds at Kamfers Dam, but has squarely laid the blame for a suspected outbreak of the deadly avian botulism on the doorstep of the Sol Plaatje Municipality.

Having remained mum as reports of thousands of dead birds was broadcast across the country, the MEC of Nature Conservation and Environmental Affairs, Patrick Mabilo announced that pathological tests would be conducted on the dead birds and also said that a task team had been set up to investigate the matter.

This comes after Birdlife SA commissioned an independent expert to conduct tests earlier this week.

Mabilo, at a press conference, said that the possible outbreak of the paralytic disease was not only a local concern, but could have an international impact.

The MEC, together with experts who are now conducting pathological tests on bird samples to determine the cause of death, shifted the blame and responsibility for the life-threatening situation onto the Sol Plaatje Municipality, as they “occupy the land”.

“What we are dealing with here is not the problem of possible botulism but the issue of water quality. We can safely say that the prevailing conditions at Kamfers Dam are conducive for the production of botulism. Kimberley has of late suffered high temperatures and the microbial condition at the dam is highly suspect. With Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works’ purification system not working optimally, it can safely be assumed that the quality of the effluent (being pumped into Kamfers Dam) is also suspect,” Mabilo stated.

The panel of experts, which included the acting HOD, Hessie van der Westhuizen, Biodiversity Compliance officers Des Mgoboli and Success Thibela, as well as Aquatic Scientist, Peter Ramollo, and Director for Biodiverity Compliance Monitoring, OT Gaoraelwa, indicated that plans for a long-term solution were mainly focused on bringing the Sol Plaatje Municipality to book.

The department said that it would now instruct the municipality to initiate a process of appointing an ecologist to attend to monitoring the dam and undertake weekly water- and land-based patrols to monitor water and bird habitat and animal mortality. The municipality was further instructed to have the anaerobic digester at the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works repaired and also submit weekly reports to the task team.

When asked if the department would be removing the infected birds from the dam to prevent further spread of the toxic bacteria to other birds and scavengers, the department again said that this was the responsibility of the Sol Plaatje Municipality.

“We will be issuing the municipality with a section 28 directive to remove and incinerate all carcasses and take the infected, but live birds to the SPCA,” the panel said.

The MEC further said that the department would be working closely with various stakeholders, including Transnet, Eskom and Water Affairs and would be releasing an accurate report after the results of the pathological tests were known.

He said he would be pushing to have the situation resolved before next week, when he and most of the scientists in the department would be going on leave, adding that they “could not be expected to work overtime”.

Mabilo also released the report regarding the deaths of dozens of flamingos early last month. He said the veld area where the birds were found had become inundated with raw sewage after a sewerage pipe directed to the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works had become blocked and overflowed.

He said this “vlei” (created by the raw sewage) had become an ideal site for the birds to visit.

“Intensive research indicated that these birds were disturbed by vehicles driving on the gravel roads heading to a Pikwane Diamond mining site and then collided with overhead powerlines when they flew away,” Mabilo stated.

Dr Jan Roos, the independent water quality analysis expert, who on Tuesday took water samples at the dam on request of Birdlife South Africa, has meanwhile raised concerns that the sewage spill Mabilo was referring to could have been the trigger for the current botulism outbreak and subsequent death of thousands of birds.

Sol Plaatje Municipal Manager, Goolam Akharwaray, responded by saying that he had not received any information, analysis or communication from the Department of Nature Conservation and Environmental Affairs or any other source regarding the possible botulism outbreak.

“We are prepared to take responsibility if reports indicate water quality was found to be the cause of the outbreak, but we have not received any reports indicating the exact problem and the cause. This should not be a blame game, but rather an inclusive process to find solutions,” Akharwaray said.

He added that while they were urgently awaiting the results, they would immediately start looking at corrective measures to improve effluent quality at the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works.

“All workers at the plant have been instructed to leave no stone unturned in searching for solutions and improvements, but it is a systematic process that will take time,” he said.

Akharwaray further noted that no water had been pumped into Kamfers Dam for the last three weeks as all waste water was currently being directed to Langleg.

The Department of Water Affairs failed to react to inquiries regarding the quality of the water at Kamfers Dam. - IOL.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Space Shuttle-Sized Asteroid 2013 XY8 To Fly Past Earth On December 11, 2013!

December 10, 2013 - SPACE - A newly-discovered asteroid about the size of a space shuttle will fly past Earth on December 11, 2013 at a very safe distance of 760,000 kilometers (470,000 miles).

The closest approach of Asteroid 2013 XY8 will be 11:14 UT, and its size is estimated between 31 – 68 meters.

This asteroid is zipping along at about 14 kilometers per second, and of course at about 2 lunar distances away, there is no danger of this asteroid hitting Earth.

Animation of Close Approach of Asteroid 2013 XY8 imaged on 2013, December 10.6
by E. Guido & N. Howes.

Asteroid 2013 XY8 imaged on 2013, December 10, 2013 by E. Guido, N. Howes and
M. Nicolini/Remanzacco Observatory.

The asteroid was discovered on Dec. 7 by the team at the Catalina Sky Survey, and our friends Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes and Martino Nicolini from the Remanzacco Observatory have provided a follow-up image of the asteroid, taken just this morning.

More information at their website.

And as usual with close passing asteroids, the Virtual Telescope Project will is offering a live, online event sharing real-time images of 2013 XY8 with live commentary by their science staff. “It will be a nice opportunity to spy this 40 meter large asteroid moving across the stars,” said Gianluca Masi from the Virtual Telescope Project.

WATCH: The feed is live now, and you can watch below -

- Universe Today.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: BYU Geologists Discover A "Supervolcano" In Utah - Past Eruption Superseded Yellowstone!

December 10, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Geologists at Brigham Young University have discovered what may be the world's largest "super" volcano that erupted in Utah's own backyard.

While there are a variety of volcanoes that blast away in different ways, super volcanic eruptions are the biggest that collapse into large calderas. Yellowstone Park is the remains of one of those calderas and it's still very much alive and active.

But, geologists think they may have found an equally as big if not bigger super volcano, one that shook up western Utah and eastern Nevada 30 million years ago. The eruption is hardly visible to the naked eye now, but underneath and in surrounding formations, the evidence was waiting to be uncovered.

"As far as we know, the Wah Wah Springs eruption is the largest known explosive volcanic eruption," said BYU professor of geology Eric Christiansen.

The eruption and collapse of the super volcano released almost 6,000 square kilometers of magma.

"It moved over a flat landscape covering 12,000 square miles in western Utah and eastern Nevada. It would have been unimaginable devastation." said Emeritus BYU geology professor Myron Best.

The magma flow extended beyond current-day Panguitch and north almost to Delta and south almost to St. George. As the ash was caught up in the jet stream, it carried as far as Nebraska.

"The magma is erupting explosively as the flow spreads across the landscape," Best said.

WATCH: BYU geologists discover 'super volcano' in Utah.

Compared to Mt. St Helens — which is a different kind of volcano — Utah's super volcano was 5,000 times larger. Deposits left behind in southern Utah from the single eruption are 13,000 feet thick.

Thousands of rock samples collected over 30 years currently reside inside a repository at BYU with drawers extending from floor to ceiling. 600 students, 30 summers of field work and a lot of geologic mapping and analysis were utilized to confirm the existence of Utah's super volcano.

However, unlike Yellowstone which is still an active caldera, Utah and Nevada's shared super volcano will unlikely ever erupt again, according to geologists. - KSL.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Indonesia's Sinabung Volcano Shaken By Large Eruption - Ejects Ash Plume To 38,000 Feet Altitude!

December 10, 2013 - INDONESIA - After a relatively calm period, a large vulcanian explosion occurred at the volcano this morning (04:30 GMT).

VAAC Darwin reports an ash plume to 38,000 ft (12 km) altitude drifting 50 nautical miles to the NW. The eruption was preceded by a smaller one at midnight (GMT) with an ash plume altitude of estimated 18,000 ft (5.5 km).

The volcano has been on red alert for 2 weeks and more than 17,000 people remain evacuated (for good reason!). - Volcano Discovery.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Ice Age Now - NASA Spots The Coldest Place On Earth In Antarctica At A Record -94.7 Degrees Celsius!

December 10, 2013 - ANTARCTICA - NASA has spotted the coldest place on Earth in the  East Antarctica Plateau peak. This finding will help uncover some of the hidden mysteries under the ice covered continent.

NASA Spots Coldest Place on Earth in Antarctica at a Record -94.7 Celsius
(Photo : Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center)

NASA announced the discovery of the coldest place on Earth after examining global surface temperature data collected over a period of 32 years by remote sensing satellites including the new Landsat 8.

The coldest spot identified is a high ridge located on the East Antarctic Plateau where the temperatures drop below -133.6 degree Fahrenheit during winters. This new record temperature on the icy plateau was set on Aug.10, 2010.

The research team was led by Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., who discovered that the temperatures dropped to a record of low, several times, in clusters of pockets near an ice ridge located between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji, two ice summits on the East Antarctica Plateau.

WATCH:  The Coldest Place in the World.

"We had a suspicion this Antarctic ridge was likely to be extremely cold, and colder than Vostok because it's higher up the hill," Scambos said in a statement. "With the launch of Landsat 8, we finally had a sensor capable of really investigating this area in more detail."

The new record is in fact several degrees colder than the previous low of -128.6 Fahrenheit that was set at the Russian Vostok Research Station in East Antarctica in 1983.

Scientists discovered this coldest spot on Earth while studying the large snow dunes formed by winds blowing across the East Antarctic Plateau. On a closer look they spotted cracks present in the snow surface between the dunes that most likely form when the temperatures during the winter fall so low that the snow layer present on the top shrinks. This ignited a curiosity in the scientists to estimate the range of temperatures and pushed them to look for coldest places on Earth using two kinds of satellite sensors.

"The record-breaking conditions seem to happen when a wind pattern or an atmospheric pressure gradient tries to move the air back uphill, pushing against the air that was sliding down," Scambos said. "This allows the air in the low hollows to remain there longer and cool even further under the clear, extremely dry sky conditions," Scambos said. "When the cold air lingers in these pockets it reaches ultra-low temperatures."

The two sensitive instruments namely, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites and the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) on the NOAA satellite have the capacity to identify the thermal radiation that is emitted from the surface of the Earth, even in those regions that lack heat.

WATCH:  How to Get Colder Than Anywhere Else.

Using this, the researchers spotted the cold temperatures present on the ridge spread across 620 miles at a high elevation between Argus and Fuji. Colder temperatures were present in the compartments between the ridges.

The researchers suspect that a layer in the atmosphere that is present above the ice plateau attains a certain minimum temperature and prevents the ice plateaus from getting colder.

"There seems to be a physical limit to how cold it can get in this high plateau area and how much heat can escape," Scambos said. "The levels of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, traces of water vapor and other gases in the air may impose a more or less uniform limit on how much heat can radiate from the surface."

The team further plans on putting weather stations in the area where the record temperatures occur in order to confirm the data accumulated by Landsat8. - SWR.

ICE AGE NOW: "It's Getting Whiter... And Whiter... And Whiter..." - Snow Falls In Australia During The Summer?!

December 10, 2013 - AUSTRALIA - A day after we posted images of fresh summer snow falling across the Australian Alps, we've updated our original story with new images that show the ground getting whiter... and whiter... and whiter.

The timestamp doesn't lie. Pic: Thredbo.com.au Source: Supplied

Thredbo resort in new South Wales is now in the very unusual position of desperately needing its snow to melt. Thredbo has a huge mountain bike event this weekend but the course is currently snow-covered. Hopefully, forecast warmer tempreatures will take care of things.

Meanwhile, here are one or two pics to get you going. And as mentioned, scroll through yesterday's story (below) for another updated image or two.

Yes, that’s the correct date. The upper slopes of Thredbo this morning (Friday) Source: NewsComAu

And THAT’S why they have orange poles. Perisher ski resort in NSW yesterday during the summer blizzard.


THIS is just the beginning. The really cold air and the really heavy snow is due later in the day, but snow is already falling today across the high country of New South Wales and Victoria.

And yes, it's December 5. The fifth day of summer. Your calendar is not wrong.

Snow is not a freak event in southern Australia in the warmer months. A small dusting usually appears on the higher parts of the Australian Alps at least once each summer.

We’ll put a fresh pic under this one later today when more snow has fallen to show you the contrast.

As promised, here's an arvo update of the pic above. Yep, that snow's still falling.

The main moisture band is about to hit the mountains so be sure and check in later when we update again.
Source: NewsComAu

Sorry it’s a bit blurry, but this is Thredbo this morning, Friday December 6. Source: NewsComAu

Today's system is a little stronger than your typical out-of-season wintry blast, and snow accumulations could reach as much as 20 cm by tonight.

The weather bringing the snow is the same cold southerly system which has brought unseasonal cold to Adelaide on Day One of the second Ashes Test. The good news is the cricket should be largely unaffected.

The bad news, in a sporting sense, is that Thredbo ski resort is hosting a huge mountain bike event called The Cannonball MTB festival this weekend. Athletes have come from around the world for the event, and while it will still take place once today's snow melts (and December snow always melts really quickly), training is being disrupted.

Those berms might be just a bit too little slippery today. And the snow has only just started falling.

By the way, give Bureau of Meteorology a little credit for once. They spotted this weather system at least seven days ago, and snow has been in the forecast ever since then.

We'll update this story throughout the day as more pics emerge. Here's a fresh afternoon view from the top of Thredbo, with a glimpse through the clouds down into the valley.

Don’t forget the sun cream. Source: NewsComAu

 Now here's your updated Friday view of the same location.

That’s almost more than they had in winter. Source: NewsComAu

 And here's a view of the same mountain, Thredbo, from the valley looking up. Ah, summer in Australia, eh?

Quick, someone crank up the lifts. Source: NewsComAu

- News Australia.