Thursday, December 12, 2013

MASS FISH/MAMMAL/BIRD DIE-OFF: The Latest Incidents In North America - Millions Of Sea Stars Die-Off Due To "Mystery Disease" Along North American Coast; Hundreds Of Birds "Fall Dead From Sky" In Virginia; 28 Dolphins Wash Ashore Dead Along U.S. Southeast Coast; And Hundreds Of Birds Die From Outbreak Of Disease In Lake Ontario!

December 12, 2013 - NORTH AMERICA - The following constitutes the latest incidents of mass mammal, fish and bird die-offs in North America:

Millions Of Sea Stars Die-Off Due To "Mystery Disease" Along North American Coast.
Different species of sea star along the entire west coast of North America are experiencing a massive die-off
due to what is suspected to be a viral infection. This sea star shows signs of the
deadly disease that is affecting marine animals from Alaska to California.
Photograph by: Submitted, Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre

Our coastline is losing sea stars by the millions due to what is suspected to be a deadly virus.

The mysterious illness has the potential to wipe out all the sea stars along the west coast of North America, said Paula Romagosa, a marine biologist and curator at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney, B.C.

“Events like this have happened before but on a much smaller scale. We’ve never seen one of this magnitude.”

The die-off of sea stars was first detected in August in small pockets in Howe Sound, off West Vancouver and in Indian Arm.

Since then, the extensive die-off has been reported along the shoreline from Alaska to California.

Laurie Corbeil of Nanaimo noticed something was happening in the ocean close to her home near the Nanaimo Yacht Club.

“I’ve been watching the starfish and a large sea star for a week or two,” she said in an email. “I notice that these are losing their limbs and turning to white goo.”

She went down to the beach at low tide and couldn’t find any sea stars — “only white blotches where they used to be.”

Different species are being hit in different areas. From here to Alaska, it’s the sun star that is dying off. They are reddish on top, covered with brushlike spines and have eight to 14 arms.

From Victoria south to California, the five-armed, purple starfish is mostly affected.

The loss of the species is troubling because sea stars are omnivores and will eat anything, including smaller sea stars.

“Everything in the food chain below them is going to be affected — all the bivalves,” Romagosa said.

“There could potentially be an overpopulation of those species, and overpopulation usually leads to mass mortality from bacterial infections.

“Nature has control,” Romagosa said.

The virus has not yet been identified, but it’s under study at Vancouver Aquarium and some California universities.

“We’re diving as much as possible, trying to document it,” Romagosa said.

Adults are affected more than juveniles, “but in general, it’s affecting everyone,” she said.

Some populations are completely wiped out, including one near the Seattle Aquarium.

“You can see where the sea stars have died and there’s nothing left,” Romagosa said.

It could take decades for the species to recover, Romagosa said.

“It all depends if it continues on, if the populations are completely wiped out, or if the juveniles manage to get past it,” she said.

The virus affects the animals in different ways. A sea star at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre showed it was unwell by developing a bald spot.

“It just remained a bald spot for a few weeks,” she said. “There were no changes to behaviour, no change in eating habits. Then, all of a sudden, it turned into several bald spots.”

The sea star was removed from ocean water and placed in quarantine.

“Within five days or so, the sea star got really, really skinny. You could see the webbing between the legs. Then it couldn’t hold onto the walls anymore.”

Others look completely healthy except for their guts coming out in strings.

There is speculation that the die-off could be due to water-borne radiation originating from the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Romagosa said that doesn’t sound likely because the first place it was seen was in a remote area of Indian Arm and not the west coast.

“It could be chemicals that are released into the water from pulp mills or factories. The most possible option is a viral infection.”

There’s little marine biologists can do besides let the die-off run its course, she said. “There’s no way of stopping it that we’ve found so far.” - The Province.

Hundreds Of Birds "Fall Dead From Sky" In Virginia.
Photo: Katty Bell

Witnesses say hundreds of black birds fell dead from the sky in Nokesville on Thursday afternoon, littering Aden Road with their feathery remains.

Prince William County police spokesman Jonathan Perok said it happened about 2 p.m., near Aden Grocery.

Police, animal control and crews from the Virginia Department of Transportation were called to the area, where witnesses said they were shoveling dead birds off the road.

It was unclear Thursday night what type of birds they were, and what caused them to die.

Several people reported seeing large numbers of birds gathered on power lines in the area earlier in the day.

Kevin Rose, a wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said mass bird die-offs are usually the result of lightning or some sort of trauma. That trauma often includes birds in flight striking power lines.

“Without a few samples we can’t really tell,” Rose said in an email. “Unless it starts happening more, we are not concerned.”

Though strange and somewhat eerie, mass bird die offs aren’t all that uncommon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Wildlife Health Center.

On New Year’s Eve in 2011, as many as 5,000 birds die en massed in Arkansas, literally raining from the sky.

The USGS worked with Arkansas wildlife officials to determine what killed the birds, most of them red-winged blackbirds, and found they died of impact trauma.

”Field observations … suggested these birds were roosting for the night, were startled from their perches by loud noises in the area, and because of their very poor night-vision, the birds may have flown into stationary objects such as power lines, telephone poles, houses, mailboxes, tree branches, etc.,” the USGS report said.

Loud fireworks were heard in the area prior to the bird die-off.

That same year, the National Wildlife Heath Center also worked with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to investigate a similar though smaller scale event involving about 500 red-winged black birds, starlings, brown-headed cowbirds and grackles.

“The necropsy findings from these birds were also consistent with ‘trauma,’” the USGS reported. “Many of these birds appear to have collided with a power or fence line.” - Inside Nova.

28 Dolphins Wash Ashore Dead Along U.S. Southeast Coast.
Becca Lovett of Mount Pleasant took this picture of a dead dolphin on Isle of Palms Wednesday morning.

Becca Lovett had just started her morning beach run Tuesday when she saw town public safety officers surrounding a dead dolphin that had washed up on the beach.

The carcass was one of at least three that have washed ashore in South Carolina in the past three days, and the ninth death in seven days, just when marine mammal biologists had hoped a lethal virus outbreak was settling down for the winter.

"It's a sad thing to find," Lovett said.

At least 28 bottlenose dolphins have been found dead in the past week along the Southeast coast as a whole.

"From North Carolina to northern Florida it's still pretty heavy," said Wayne McFee, National Ocean Service marine mammal stranding program scientist.

Biologists can't confirm that the virus killed the dolphin until pathology tests are run, and only a percentage of the dolphins recovered will be tested.

But since the virus first showed up here earlier in the fall, 48 dolphins have died - about as many as could be expected to be found all year in an average year. Ten have been found from Kiawah to Dewees islands near Charleston.

The overall death total for the year is 103 in South Carolina, the worst year on record. They are among hundreds of deaths in the region, and part of the worst year on record for the entire East Coast, where nearly 1,000 dolphins have been found dead, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The morbillivirus, related to canine distemper, is considered the major cause - and the outbreak isn't anywhere near over. A second wave of deaths is expected in the spring.

The deaths could have a serious impact on the species.

About 10,000 bottlenose dolphins are thought to roam the Southeast coast; the numbers along South Carolina and Georgia have been estimated between 6,000 and 7,000.

Isle of Palms Public Safety Officials estimated that the dolphin discovered Tuesday to be about 6 feet long and 500 pounds, Lovett said.

The morbillivirus isn't contagious to humans, but a weakened dolphin can contract other infections. Stranded dolphins and other marine mammals are often sick, and some diseases can be spread to humans or pets.

People are urged to keep away from stranded dolphins or whales and contact the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Morbillivirus outbreaks occur from time to time. The virus is always present; exposed survivors develop immunity and following generations lose it. But animals weakened from other stresses are more susceptible to it.

Dolphins, the sea mammal maybe most related to humans as a species, are considered a "sentinel," an indicator detecting threats to ocean, and human, health. The virus is causing only one of three unusual bottlenose dolphin die-offs occurring at the same time along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. That is unheard of, and has alarmed mammal pathologists. - Post And Courier.

Hundreds Of Birds Die From Outbreak Of Disease In Lake Ontario.
Avian botulism has killed 200-300 birds in Lake Ontario (not pictured).
(Photo : REUTERS/Fred Thornhill)

Type E botulism has been linked with the death of at least 200-300 common loons in the eastern basin of Lake Ontario, according to The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Long-tailed ducks, grebes and gulls are some of the other species of birds that have died due to avian botulism.

Avian botulism is caused by toxins produced by the bacteria 'Clostridium botulinum'. Birds are most commonly affected by type C and type E, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The toxin affects the nervous system and causes paralysis. Infected birds lose control of their wings and neck muscles.

USGS reports indicate that Type E botulism has killed about 100,000 bird n the Great Lakes region since 2000, according to Guardian Express.

Although, the disease has been around since many decades, researchers haven't been able to explain how the toxin ends up affecting birds.

Scientists are now analyzing from the Great Lakes and studying the distribution of birds that depend on the fishes found in the region.

 According to the DEC, two non-native species might be important links in the spread of this toxin. Clostridium botulinum can be found in mussel beds. These mussels are eaten by small bottom-dwelling fish called the round gobies. These fish are a favorite meal of many birds, including loons, and some duck species.

Investigators are assessing all possible theories that explain how these toxins end-up killing thousands of waterbirds each year.

"It's kind of like a detective story," said David Blehert, a microbiologist with the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., according to the Associated Press. "You find a body somewhere. You want to find out where the incident took place. You look for clues on the body, you find a piece of hair, a piece of fiber, and trace it back to the location and hopefully find your culprit."

DEC biologists aren't expecting any more deaths due to Type E botulism in the coming months, but have requested people living in the area to keep a look-out for dead birds washing ashore as the carcasses could spread the toxin to other animals. - Nature World News.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Latest Incidents Of Fireballs Across Europe - UK Resident Thinks Meteorite May Have Hit A House; Fireball Seen Over Odda, Norway; Big Meteor Spotted Over Dundee, Scotland; And Two Separate Fireballs Explode Over Greece In ONE Night!

December 12, 2013 - EUROPE - Here are several reports of recent sightings of fireballs in the skies over Europe:

UK Resident Thinks Meteorite May Have Hit A House.
Lawrence Parkin from Jacksdale, Nottinghamshire said he was woken in the night by a tile falling from his roof.

In the morning he found large chunks of rock scattered around his front garden.

Experts at Nottingham University said he had possibly been hit by the remains of an iron rich meteorite. The pieces are now being sent to a London museum for further verification. - BBC.

Fireball Seen Over Odda, Norway.

Fireball over Odda may be a meteor. The Norwegian Meteor Network are asking people to be aware aorund Ringdal lake in Odda. There may have rained meteorites this week.

On Wednesday evening , at 19.33 according to calculations of the meteorite network a meteor went up in flames in the sky close to the border to Hardangervidda near Odda in Hordaland.

The fireball is described as blue-green in color and was visible for three to four seconds. Fireball is alleged to have come in far west on the plateau, and exploded about 25 kilometers northeast of Odda.

It is not know exactly where the meteorite exploded, but it is thought to be around the Ringdal lake. The Infrasound radar Løten, 275 kilometers away, recorded the pressure wave 14 minutes after the explosion. Data there suggest that it was around 25 km above the ground when it happened , which provide good opportunities for small parts to have fallen to the ground as meteorites.

Meteor Network calls for observations and are asking people in the area to be on the lookout for special stones. - Aftenposten.

Meteor Spotted Over Dundee, Scotland.
Alison Hepburn sent us this picture of an object hurtling through the sky above Dundee.© Alison Hepburn

An extra-terrestrial flash of light was snapped shooting across the Dundee sky.

The image, taken by city woman Alison Hepburn, shows an object burning through the skies over Glenconnor Drive. The 26-year-old science student said she did a double-take when she noticed an exceptionally bright light overhead.

She said: "It was just after 9am. It was the light I noticed - it was really, really bright. You know when you glance at something and then you glance back again? At first I thought it was an aeroplane, but I realised it couldn't have been. I took pictures and in the space of two minutes it was gone."

The Alloway Terrace resident added: "I wondered if it might be what's left of the comet that broke up recently."

But Dundee Astronomical Society secretary David Paterson said it was more likely to be a meteor - fire-hot dust and rocks tearing through space.

He said: "There is a meteor shower due about now - the showers are named after the constellations where they originate from.

"The one visible at the moment is the Geminids, which originates in the constellation Gemini. People will be able to see those shooting stars anywhere in the sky. It's due over December 12 and 13, but you can see them for a week or so either side of that date."

Comets move much slower through space than shooting stars, appearing almost stationary. However, David said there are comets to look out for over Dundee.

He said: "There is one you can see at the moment. Comet Lovejoy is visible through binoculars from about midnight to dawn - you'd have to get up early.

"Comet Ison was going to be really spectacular but it broke up going round the sun. It's unlikely the picture shows any debris from Ison, it's still too close to the sun.

"However, meteors are the rain of comets - so in a way the photographer was right.

"As the comets go round the sun they have a tail of dust and gas, if they come close to the Earth the grains burn up and we see shooting stars."  - Evening Telegraph.

Two Separate Fireballs Explode Over Greece In ONE Night.
Two new meteorites fell in Greece last night, the first one spotted over Attica and the second over the Ionian Sea, between Zakynthos and Kefalonia where the previous one had fallen.

According to professor of geology Efthymios Lekkas, these past two weeks the country has received a small meteor shower.

As Mr Lekkas said in channel SKAI's morning broadcast, he has a video of one of these meteorites at his disposal.

However in both cases of Attica and the Ionian sea there was no report of the celestial object falling on the land, and it is very probable that we are talking about a fall within the bounds of the sea once again.

The experts believe that the fall of the meteorite in Greece has nothing to do with comet ISON, in fact considering it a commonplace event.

What they don't explain however is why there's such an outbreak of the phenomena this last week all over the world, without them being able to offer a convincing answer.

On November 27 a meteorite fall was noted in Alberta, Canada, with the event being visible from Vancouver to Calgary and other neighbouring areas. The same day in Australia, another meteorite disturbed many regions in Oceania. The meteorite sighting lasted for 9 seconds, its main body being of reddish color and its tail ochre yellow. Next the meteorite broke up into two pieces, with the largest being dissolved into 15-20 fragments, and the smaller in 5-10, according to inhabitants' reports.

On November 24 there's a meteorite fall in Georgia, U.S.A.

On November 26, again in Canada, in Quebec, an object became visible and it was coming into the earth's atmosphere, scaring the citizens with a very loud sound, but without being able to cross-reference its impact point. According to astronomer Andrew Fazekas though, the sound that was heard was due to the explosion coming from the meteorite.

The same day in California, the lunarmeteoritehunters blog reoprted the fall of yet another meteorite.

On November 25 in Ottawa, Canada, eyewitnesses detected flaming objects falling just outside the city.

On November 22nd, the falling of a meteorite turns night into day for a few seconds in Ukraine, while during the same 24-hour period other objects fell in the eastern coasts of the U.S.A., causing the bafflement of experts and journalists, without anyone being able to explain where they came from.

Most scientists talk about rocks that fall from the sky but no one is able to provide a convincing answer for the sudden increase of the phenomenon since the explosion of the meteorite in Russia's Chelyabinsk on February 15. - Defencenet. [Translated]

PLANETARY TREMORS: San Andreas Quake Impact - "Imagine America Without Los Angeles," Expert Warns Southern California Isn't Ready For A Major Quake!

December 12, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A leading earthquake expert has issued a dire warning to Californians about the expected impact of a major disruption to the San Andreas fault line.

The title of Dr. Lucy Jones’ lecture this week to the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco was titled “Imagine America without Los Angeles.”

As KCAL9′s Dave Bryan reports, Jones, a Science Advisor for Risk Reduction at the U.S. Geological Survey, says when the “Big One” hits Southern California, the damage could be much greater, and could last much longer, than most of us ever imagined.

“Loss of shelter, loss of schools, loss of jobs and emotional hardship. We are risking the ends of our cities,” she said during the presentation.

According to a USGS study called the “Shakeout Report,” when a high-magnitude earthquake rocks the San Andreas fault, the damage will go far beyond the collapsed buildings and freeways seen in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

For example, LA-area supermarkets now depend on Internet systems for warehousing and shipping food to stores, and the food is stored on the other side of the San Andreas fault.

“With the development of the Internet and the new just-in-time economy, none of them store food on the Los Angeles side of the San Andreas anymore,” Jones said.

“So this is one more place where the development of the complexity of our modern society is creating new vulnerabilities as we face the big earthquakes.”

Fiber-optics could also be cut off when a disastrous earthquake hits the San Andreas fault.

“Two-thirds of the connectivity from Los Angeles to the rest of the world go through fiber-optic cables crossing the San Andreas fault,” Jones explained. “So we expect at the time of the earthquake when the fault moves, we will break these fiber-optic cables and two-thirds of the data capacity between LA and everyone else will disappear,” she said.

Natural gas pipelines also cross the San Andreas fault, so gas for cooking and heating would be in short supply.

And the area’s aging water pipes, which seem to break with great regularity even without a temblor, are not expected to stand up well when the big earthquake hits.

“The water pipes — remember the first thing you put in in a city is the water pipes. That means our water pipes are some of the oldest parts of our infrastructure,” Jones said.

“Seventy percent of the water pipes in Southern California are AC pipes and many of them will be breaking when this earthquake happens.”

WATCH: Experts warn that Los Angeles isn't ready for a major quake.

Much of the high-tech damage could hinder the recovery effort in the weeks and months after the earthquake, according to Dr. Jones, so getting Southern California back on its feet could be a wrenching process.

“The World Wide Web wasn’t in existence at the time of the Northridge earthquake,” she said. “Right now think of how much both your personal life, but also our economic system, depends on having cell phone communications and internet connectivity (sic).”

The “Shakeout Report” from the USGS estimates it could take six months for the broken water pipes to be replaced across Southern California after the earthquake.

And they say while the Northridge quake directly affected about a half a million people, a maximum credible earthquake on the San Andreas fault could affect 10 million Californians. - CBS Los Angeles.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Giant Blob Of Hot Rock Hidden Under Antarctic Ice - Similar To Yellowstone!

December 12, 2013 - ANTARTICA - A big, hot blob hiding beneath the bottom of the world could be evidence of a long-sought mantle plume under West Antarctica, researchers said Monday (Dec. 9) here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Mount Sidley is the youngest volcano rising above the ice in West Antarctica's Executive Committee Range.
A group of seismologists has detected new volcanic activity under the ice about 30 miles
ahead of Mount Sidley. (Doug Wiens)

The possible hotspot — a plume of superheated rock rising from Earth's mantle — sits under Marie Byrd Land, a broad dome at West Antarctica's edge where many active volcanoes above and below the ice spit lava and ash. The hot zone was discovered with seismic imaging techniques that rely on earthquake waves to build pictures of Earth's inner layers, similar to how a CT scan works. Beneath Marie Byrd Land, earthquake waves slow down, suggesting the mantle here is warmer than surrounding rocks. The strongest low-velocity zone sits below Marie Byrd Land's Executive Committee Range, directly under the Mount Sidley volcano, said Andrew Lloyd, a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis.

"The slow velocities suggest that it's a mantle hotspot," Lloyd said. The hot zone also matches up with Marie Byrd Land's high topography and active volcanoes, Lloyd said. 

Mantle Plume?

Many researchers have long suspected that Marie Byrd Land sits atop a hotspot, because the region swells above the surrounding topography like the top of a warm soufflé (and it has lots of volcanoes). But with few seismometers sitting on the ice, scientists were left speculating about what lies beneath Antarctica's ice.

The evidence for the new hot zone, called a thermal anomaly, comes from a massive, temporary earthquake-monitoring network called Polenet that was installed between 2010 and 2012, giving scientists an unprecedented look at Antarctica's crust and mantle. (A gravity survey conducted at the same time also suggests there is a big warm spot beneath this part of West Antarctica.)

But confirming that Marie Byrd Land is truly above a hotspot may require a return trip to Antarctica for another seismic experiment, said Doug Wiens, principal investigator on Polenet.

"What's absolutely sure is there's a big thermal anomaly, a big blob," said Wiens, a seismologist at Washington University. "What's less sure is whether that anomaly goes deeper."

The thermal anomaly extends 125 miles (200 kilometers) below Marie Byrd Land, Lloyd said. Below about 255 miles (410 km), where a mantle plume's trailing tail would also leave a hotter-than-average mark in mantle rocks, there's little evidence for a rising hotspot, said Erica Emry, a postdoctoral researcher at Pennsylvania State University.

"There's no smoking gun," Emry said. However, more work remains to be done on the Polenet data, which could reveal new clues and further refine what the mantle looks like under West Antarctica, Emry told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

Antarctica's Thinnest Crust

The discovery is one of many new insights reported Monday into the geologic mysteries concealed by Antarctica's thick ice. Other findings include extremely thin crust, just 10 miles (17 km) thick, in West Antarctica's Ross embayment near the Transantarctic Mountain Range, said Xinlei Sun, a postdoctoral researcher at Washington University. The Ross embayment is one of Antarctica's two big coastal divots; the gap is filled by the Ross Ice Shelf. Here, the crust is as thin as in the Gulf of California, where continental rifting (also called extension) is tearing Baja California from mainland Mexico and building a new ocean basin.

"This is the thinnest crust [in Antarctica] and is probably related to an extensional environment," Sun said.

On the other side of the Transantarctic Mountains lies the thick, old crust of East Antarctica, similar to the relatively stable interiors of continents such as North America and Africa. Antarctica's thickest crust is found here, beneath the Gamburtsev Mountain Range. The Gamburtsevs are spectacular Alpine peaks completely buried in ice; the crust here is about 31 miles (50 km) thick. The crust beneath Marie Byrd Land is about 15 miles (25 km) thick, Sun said. - TWC.