Monday, January 27, 2014

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Forget Global Warming, Worry About The MAGNETOSPHERE - Earth's Magnetic Field Is COLLAPSING And It Could Affect The Climate And Wipe Out Power Grids!

January 27, 2014 - EARTH's MAGNETOSPHERE - Deep within the Earth, a fierce molten core is generating a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds.

The Earth's protective field extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects
everything from global communication to animal migration and weather patterns

The protective field extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to animal migration and weather patterns.

But this magnetic field, so important to life on Earth, has weakened by 15 per cent over the last 200 years. And this, scientists claim, could be a sign that the Earth’s poles are about to flip.

Experts believe we're currently overdue a flip, but they're unsure when this could occur.

If a switch happens, we would be exposed to solar winds capable of punching holes into the ozone layer.

The impact could be devastating for mankind, knocking out power grids, radically changing Earth’s climate and driving up rates of cancer.

WATCH:  Magnetic field - An introduction.

‘This is serious business’, Richard Holme, Professor of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences at Liverpool University told MailOnline. ‘Imagine for a moment your electrical power supply was knocked out for a few months – very little works without electricity these days.’

The Earth's climate would change drastically. In fact, a recent Danish study believes global warming is directly related to the magnetic field rather than CO2 emissions.

The study claimed that the planet is experiencing a natural period of low cloud cover due to fewer cosmic rays entering the atmosphere.

Radiation at ground level would also increase, with some estimates suggesting overall exposure to cosmic radiation would double causing more deaths from cancer.

Researchers predict that in the event of a flip, every year a hundred thousand people would die from the increased levels of space radiation.

The magnetosphere is a large area around the Earth produced by the planet's magnetic field.
It presence means that charged particles of the solar wind are unable to cross the
magnetic field lines and are deflected around the Earth

'Radiation could be 3-5 times greater than that from the man-made ozone holes. Furthermore, the ozone holes would be larger and longer-lived,' said Dr Colin Forsyth from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL.

The magnetosphere is a large area around the Earth produced by the planet’s magnetic field. It presence means that charged particles of the solar wind are unable to cross the magnetic field lines and are deflected around the Earth.

Space agencies are now taking the threat seriously. In November, three spacecraft were launched as part of the SWARM mission to uncover how the Earth’s magnetic field is changing.

Swarm is a ESA satellite mission which was launched on 22nd November 2013.

The mission consists of three identical satellites which will precisely measure the strength and direction of Earth's magnetic field. The new data will be processed by British Geological Survey to produce an accurate map of this field.

In order to best measure the field, the satellites will orbit in a unique configuration. Two satellites will fly side-by-side at height of 450 km, while the third satellite will fly at an altitude of 530 km.

The lower two satellites will allow very fine measurements of the magnetic field generated by the rocks in the Earth's crust, which are difficult to detect otherwise. The upper satellite will give a simultaneous measurement at a different location.

The mission plans to provide better maps of our planet's magnetic field and help scientists understand the impact of space weather on satellite communication and GPS.

‘Whilst we have a basic understanding of the interior of the Earth, there is much we still don’t know,’ said Dr Forsyth.

WATCH:  Measuring Earth's magnetic field.

‘We do not fully understand how the Earth’s magnetic field is generated, why it is variable and the timescales of these variations.’

The mission will provide a current map of Earth’s magnetic field. But historic evidence of its decline has already been found in a surprising source – ancient pottery.

Scientists have discovered that ancient pots can act as a magnetic time capsule. This is because they contain an iron-based mineral called magnetite. When pots form, the magnetite minerals align with the Earth’s magnetic field, just like compass needles.

The Earth’s magnetic field is in a permanent state of change. Magnetic north drifts around and every few hundred thousand years the polarity flips so a compass would point south instead of north. The strength of the magnetic field also constantly changes and currently it is showing signs of significant weakening.

The Earth magnetic field is mainly generated in the very hot molten core of the planet. The magnetic field is basically a dipole (it has a North and a South Pole). Magnetic reversal or flip is the process by which the North Pole is transformed into the South and vice versa, typically following a considerable reduction in the strength of the magnetic field. However, weakening of the magnetic field does not always result in a reversal.

During a reversal, scientists expect to see more complicated field pattern at the Earth's surface, with perhaps more than one North and South Pole at any given time. The overall strength of the field, anywhere on the Earth, may be no more than a tenth of its strength now.

By examining pottery from prehistory to modern times, scientists have discovered just how dramatically the field has changed in the last few centuries.

They’ve found that Earth’s magnetic field is in a permanent state of flux. Magnetic north drifts and every few hundred thousand years the polarity flips so a compass would point south instead of north.

If the magnetic field continues to decline, over billions of years, Earth could end up like Mars - a once oceanic world that has become a dry, barren planet incapable of supporting life.

Life has existed on the Earth for billions of years, during which there have been many reversals.

There is no obvious correlation between animal extinctions and those reversals. Likewise, reversal patterns do not have any correlation with human development and evolution.

It appears that some animals, such as whales and some birds use Earth's magnetic field for migration and direction finding.

Since geomagnetic reversal takes a number of thousands of years, they could well adapt to the changing magnetic environment or develop different methods of navigation.

Radiation at ground level would increase, however, with some estimates suggesting that overall exposure to cosmic radiation would double causing more deaths from cancer. ‘But only slightly,’ said Professor Richard Holme.

‘And much less than lying on the beach in Florida for a day. So if it happened, the protection method would probably be to wear a big floppy hat.’

Electric grid collapse from severe solar storms is a major risk. As the magnetic field continues to weaken, scientists are highlighting the importance off-the grid energy systems using renewable energy sources to protect the Earth against a black out.

'The very highly charged particles can have a deleterious effect on the satellites and astronauts,' added Dr Mona Kessel, a Magnetosphere discipline scientist at Nasa.

In one area, there is evidence that a flip is already occurring. ‘The increasing strength of the South Atlantic anomaly, an area of weak field over Brazil, is already a problem,’ said Professor Richard Holme.

The Earth's climate could also change. A recent Danish study has found that the earth's weather has been significantly affected by the planet's magnetic field.

They claimed that fluctuations in the number of cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere directly alter the amount of cloud covering the planet.

Henrik Svensmark, a weather scientist at the Danish National Space Centre who led the team behind the research, believes that the planet is experiencing a natural period of low cloud cover due to fewer cosmic rays entering the atmosphere.

But scientists claim the rate of decline is too fast for the Earth’s core to simply burn out. Instead, the story told by ancient pottery suggests the Earth's poles could be about to undergo another flip.

According to the British Geological Survey, the Earth's magnetic field has on average four or five reversals in polarity every million years and we’re now overdue a similar event.

The Earth's magnetic field is generated in the very hot molten core of the planet. Scientists believe Mars
used to have a magnetic field similar to that on Earth which protected its atmosphere

‘At the moment, we cannot accurately determine whether or not the Earth’s field is about to flip,’ said Dr Forsyth. ‘We have only been recording the Earth’s field for around 170 years; about 1-15 per cent of the time a flip is expected to take.’

If a flip occurs, it would cause the Earth’s magnetic shield to be weakened for thousands of years, opening up our defences and causing cosmic radiation to get through.

'We have a double layer defence shield,' Jim Wild a space scientists at Lancaster University.

'Space is full of stuff that’s not great for biological tissue. If we didn’t have an atmosphere, that stuff would be hitting us. It’s the magnetic field protects atmosphere from the solar wind.'

Not all of the effects of a weak magnetic field will be bad. The much sought-after spectacle of an aurora
would be visible every night all over the Earth as solar winds hit the atmosphere

‘Some speculative studies have suggested that as the Earth’s magnetic field weakens we could see an increase in cloud coverage in the troposphere and an increase in the polar ozone holes,’ added Dr Forsyth.

‘This would be particularly evident in the northern hemisphere where up to 40 per cent of the ozone within the hole region could be lost, far greater than the current losses.’

In fact, in one area, there is evidence that a flip is already occurring. ‘The increasing strength of the South Atlantic anomaly, an area of weak field over Brazil, is already a problem,’ said Professor Holme. 

‘Satellites flying over have far more problems than in other locations. Astrophysical satellite are just switched off in this location, but from my perspective, this isn’t much good if you want to study the Brazilian rainforest.’

'The very highly charged particles can have a deleterious effect on the satellites and astronauts,' added Dr Mona Kessel, a Magnetosphere discipline scientist at Nasa.

Scientists however, are quick to point out that while a magnetic flip could cause problems for mankind, the event won’t be a catastrophic.

WATCH:  Magnetic field - Why it matters.

‘We’ve had many reversals in the past, and haven’t been able to show that they had anything to do with, for example, mass extinctions,’ said Professor Holme.

And not all of the effects will be bad. The much sought-after spectacle of an aurora would be visible every night all over the Earth as solar winds hit the atmosphere.

There remains, however, much work yet to be done in understanding the properties of the deep Earth.

The Earth’s core is a hostile world where the crushing forces and temperatures, similar to that of the surface of the sun, take our scientific understanding and abilities to the limit.

'This isn't some crazy theory that might happen,' said Professor Wild. 'There is evidence, but we still need to do more science to understand the impact...I'm confidence we can come up with a solution.' - Daily Mail.

ICE AGE NOW: Early-Week Polar Plunge Could Be Winter's Coldest - Brutal Cold Shuts Schools, Delays Travel In The U.S. Midwest; Wind Chill Values Sink To Historic Area Lows Of -45° In Chicago; As The Prolonged Cold Blast Worsens Propane Shortage Across Midwest!

January 27, 2014 - UNITED STATES - A blast of frigid air will grip most of the eastern two-thirds of the United States through Wednesday and could yield the lowest temperatures so far this winter in some communities.  The impending polar plunge will rival the frigid days from earlier this January for the coldest daytime highs and nighttime lows so far this winter.

 Early-Week Polar Plunge Could Be Winter's Coldest

This does not include South Florida.  The arctic air first plunged into the Upper Midwest, northern Plains and northern Rockies on Sunday and is expected to continue pressing to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts through Tuesday.  The magnitude of this cold blast will be enough to produce a far-reaching threat of frostbite, hypothermia, frozen pipes and water main breaks.

Care should also be taken to ensure that livestock and other animals housed outdoors have adequate shelter.  Especially across the Midwest and Northeast, officials may decide to cancel or delay school due to the extreme cold. Some vehicles may struggle or fail to start.

While highs will be held to the 30s southward to the I-10 corridor, the Midwest and Northeast are bracing for the harshest conditions.  Minneapolis, Chicago and other communities in the Upper Midwest will endure two consecutive days of subzero highs on Monday through Tuesday. Overnight lows will drop to 20 below zero or lower from North Dakota to the western suburbs of Chicago.  Grand Forks, N.D., will bottom out at around 30 below zero.  Across the interior Northeast, high temperatures will be held to the single digits and teens on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Fargo, N.D., Des Moines, Iowa, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are on the list of cities that could rival their lowest temperatures of the season. For locations in the I-95 corridor of the Northeast, temperatures will stop short of breaching season lows but will still be painful to endure.

Biting winds will usher in frigid air, creating dramatically lower RealFeel® temperatures.
Where snow covers the ground, the winds will worsen the situation for motorists by blowing and drifting the snow around. In the most extreme cases, there will be local ground blizzards. RealFeel® temperatures will be extremely dangerous across eastern North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On Sunday night, RealFeel® temperatures dipped to 50 below zero in the town of Wadena, Minn.

Frostbite can develop in a matter of minutes on exposed skin during such intense cold. Along the leading edge of the invading cold air, an Alberta Clipper spread a few inches of snow from parts of the southern Appalachians to northern New England on Monday. While Detroit already set a January snow record, the clipper may cause other Midwestern cities to follow suit. The lake-effect snow machine will continue downwind of lakes Ontario, Michigan, Huron and Superior with locally heavy snow forecast. Most of Lake Erie is frozen, so minimal snowfall is forecast downwind of the water body.

Snow will also drop along the Front Range of the Rockies as the cold presses southward. Denver will have periods of snow into Monday evening that can deposit up to a few inches. The invading cold will and a developing storm will spread a swath of snow and ice across the I-10 and I-95 corridors in the South Tuesday into Wednesday. - AccuWeather.

Prolonged Cold Blast Worsens Propane Shortage Across Midwest
Mark Burger of Blackhawk Propane delivers propane to a farm house on Jan. 24, 2014 near Clinton, Wis.
A shortage of propane in the Midwest has caused prices to surge upwards to near $5
a gallon in some markets.  Scott Olson/Getty Images

America’s chronic cold is creating a significant propane shortage across the Midwest — leading Wisconsin to become the latest state to declare an energy emergency in advance of more arctic air blasting eastward this week. Some 14 million Americans who rely on that type of fuel have been shelling out more and more to heat their homes while the strong demand has outpaced the already-low inventories, energy officials say.  Twenty-four states, including Ohio, Illinois and Alabama, have already declared energy emergencies — which helps to loosen transportation rules so that out-of-state truckers can drive longer hours to make needed propane deliveries.

“It’s not a permanent shortage and we won’t run out, but there are no avenues to deal with this shortage today other than a break in the weather,” Brandon Scholz, managing director of the Wisconsin Propane Gas Association, told Reuters. “We could be sitting in this situation to spring.”  Snow fell Sunday in parts of the upper Midwest, including Wisconsin, where the sub-zero overnight temperature is expected to hang around Monday and Tuesday, The Weather Channel reported.

WATCH: Frigid temperatures continue to grapple most of the country.

More than 275 flights were canceled in Chicago alone on Sunday morning, according to The city also plans to close public schools Monday in anticipation of below zero and a minus-25 degree windchill.  The lingering cold snap prompted Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to put all state agencies on emergency alert late Saturday.  “The health and safety of our citizens is our No. 1 priority, and this declaration gives us the necessary resources to protect the residents of Wisconsin,” Walker said in a statement.   His office said the short supply of propane was caused by record-breaking cold temperatures as well as production loss when a major pipeline supplying the fuel to parts of the Midwest was temporarily closed for maintenance last fall.  About 250,000 Wisconsinites rely on propane as a source for heat.  Most households are not connected directly to propane pipelines, and the system relies heavily on truck fleets now running at full capacity to get emergency supplies to states across the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast.  A spokesman for Pennsylvania-based AmeriGas, the largest U.S. propane retailer, said last week it was rationing deliveries to “small pockets” of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, reducing supplies to 100 gallons per customer from the standard delivery of some 250 gallons.

The westbound Interstate 696 is closed at Groesbeck Highway due to numerous accidents, on Sunday,
Jan. 26, in Roseville, Mich. Robin Buckson / Detroit News via AP

“Supply is very tight. There is propane to be had out there, but there are supply and transport issues across the country,” spokesman Simon Bowman said.  All the while, federal policymakers representing the Midwest have heard complaints from constituents angry about high fuel prices.  On Friday, propane heading for the Midwest changed hands at $4.30 a gallon — more than double its price a week earlier — although it had traded even higher at close to $5 a gallon on Thursday.  Meanwhile, natural gas users in parts of the Midwest are feeling a similar strain after a natural gas pipeline south of Winnipeg, Canada, exploded early Saturday, reported NBC affiliate WEAU in Eau Claire, Wis.  Utilities, including Xcel Energy and Minnesota Energy Resources, are asking more than 100,000 customers to turn down their thermostats or use alternate heating fuels as a precaution to overloading the system. 

Xcel, which has customers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, said in a statement that natural gas supplies “currently are adequate.” But officials couldn’t immediately say when service would return to normal.  No one was hurt in the pipeline blast, and Canadian officials said they were still determining the cause. TransCanada Corp., which operates the pipeline that exploded, didn’t immediately return a request for comment Sunday.  The request for customers to watch their natural gas usage comes as more dangerous cold is hitting the Plains, Midwest and Northeast, and is expected to stick around through the end of the month.  Forecasters warn that sub-zero temperatures will be fixtures in cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee for the next couple of days, while the Northeast, including Philadelphia and Boston, will struggle to stay above the teens and 20s.  Central Michigan mom Julie Palmer was happy to take her kids to an outdoor Winter Wonderland festival outside Lansing this weekend. But she told NBC affiliate WILX that she is no fan of this winter.  “It’s been horrible, miserable, cold,” she said. “We’re ready for spring.” - NBC News.

Brutal Cold Shuts Schools, Delays Travel In Midwest
Pedestrians make their way past vacant benches in snowy Lafayette Park in front of the White House in
Washington January 27, 2014. Slightly warmer temperatures today provided the nation's capital a brief
respite from a recent cold snap. Cold weather is forecast to return by the end of the day.

Bitter cold and high winds surging down from the Arctic pushed wind chills to dangerous lows across the U.S. upper Midwest on Monday, forcing officials to close schools and warn drivers off roads, and slowing public transit and river traffic.  Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and other parts of the upper Midwest are forecast to have two consecutive days of subzero highs on Monday and Tuesday, while most of the Northeast will see highs in the single digits and teens on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to  National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Krein blamed the weather on a surge of arctic high pressure out of Canada that has spread over the upper Midwest and central plains.

Even weather-hardy Midwesterners expressed weariness on Monday with the sub-zero cold snap, the second this month.  "I'm real sick of it," said Romik Stewart, 20, who was waiting for a bus in Milwaukee to go to his job at a fast food restaurant. "I've had enough of this already. It's too much."  Officials closed schools in Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and the Cleveland area and in most districts across Minnesota on Monday due to the biting cold. Chicago and Milwaukee public schools also will be closed Tuesday, as will the Indianapolis city government.  The frigid temperatures also are causing ice to accumulate on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, slowing the movement of grain barges to the U.S. Gulf, according to Drew Lerner, a meteorologist at World Weather Inc.  "I'm very ready for the spring," said 18-year-old Caroline Burns, a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, as she walked from her residence hall to class.  Nearly 900 flights have been canceled within, into and out of the United States on Monday, according to, which tracks flights. 

Even the south is seeing extremes this week.  Wind gusts of up to 35 mph knocked down power lines in the Dallas-Forth Worth area in Texas and temperatures were expected to fall into the 20s overnight from highs in the 60s and 70s over the weekend, the weather service said.  Galveston, Texas, public schools and most schools in New Orleans will be closed on Tuesday due to winter weather, according to officials and media reports.  Heavy snow was expected starting on Tuesday across eastern North Carolina, while coastal South Carolina will get rare ice accumulation with some snow and temperatures below freezing on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.  In Alaska, the roughly 4,000 residents of Valdez remained cut off to road traffic from the rest of the state Monday after weekend avalanches blocked the road into and out of the coastal town, officials said. - Yahoo.

Wind Chill Values Sink To Historic Area Lows Of -45° In Chicago

They're baaack!  Another cold weather system has ushered in below-zero temperatures and dangerous wind chills, three weeks after the frigid weather phenomenon broke Chicago's record low, for that time period, of -16 degrees.  Temperatures won't be quite as low this time around, but they could come close.  The Arctic air arrived Monday morning and forecast highs will dip below zero degrees for both Monday and Tuesday. Nighttime lows could dip as far as -25 degrees in some areas, with wind chill values sinking to -45.  Early-morning temps Tuesday are expected to be the coldest of the week.  Nearly all of the metropolitan area will be under a Wind Chill Warning from early Monday morning to Wednesday morning.  Several schools were reporting closures for Monday, including Chicago Public Schools.

Historic area lows for Jan. 27 are -10 degrees in Chicago and -13 in Rockford. Records for Jan. 28 sit at -13 in Chicago and -22 in Rockford.  Chicago's average temperature for the winter season so far sits at 20.3 degrees, making it the 13th coldest winter since 1872, according to the National Weather Service. But it could move up in the rankings after this week's cold spell.  Accumulating snow fell overnight Sunday as residents braced for the latest round of dangerously cold temperatures.  Snowfall totals ranged from 2 to 4 inches of snow in some areas by Sunday morning.  A Winter Weather Warning was in effect from 3 a.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday.  A late clipper Sunday evening brought another round of light snow to the area as temps began to fall and wind gusts picked up, causing blowing and drifting snow.

The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation deployed 200 snow plows and salt spreaders to main streets and Lake Shore Drive early Sunday morning. The department said its entire fleet was out by Sunday afternoon to assist with the blowing and drifting snow that was impacting road conditions. Metra issued a statement Friday morning warning of potential delays because of extremely cold temperatures and urged riders to allow extra time during the Monday morning commute.  "In the interest of safety, we will be operating at reduced speeds, if necessary, to reduce the stress on the rails," Metra officials said. "Cold weather often leads to slower boarding and we therefore expect station stops to be longer than usual."  Metra noted the last time the area saw this persistent combination of snow and cold was three decades ago, during the winter of 1983-84.

Metra engineering and maintenance staff will work 12 hour shifts on Monday, making sure critical switches are clear of snow and ice. Crews will also be in over the weekend to keep the train cars powered up.  Amtrak announced a modified schedule for Monday in preparation for bitter temperatures.  Illinois State Police issued a traffic alert Sunday afternoon due to hazardous road conditions in several counties.  Indiana drivers were being warned of hazardous conditions on the interstates in Northwest Indiana Saturday morning.  Road conditions, specifically for Interstate 80/94 and Interstate 65 throughout the Lowell State Police District, were "snow-packed, ice and blown over," officials said.  Indiana Department of Transportation crews were salting roads, but officials said the conditions have become "extremely challenging to keep up with."  Police were telling drivers to stay off the roads if possible, and to use caution, slow down and plan for travel delays.  The Illinois Department of Transportation issued a similar warning. - NBC Chicago.

BIG BROTHER NOW: The Rise Of The Global Police State - NSA And GCHQ Watches Phone Users And Scoops Data With Google Maps And "Leaky" Phone Apps Like Angry Birds!

January 27, 2014 - TECHNOLOGY - The National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have been developing capabilities to take advantage of "leaky" smartphone apps, such as the wildly popular Angry Birds game, that transmit users' private information across the internet, according to top secret documents.

GCHQ documents use Angry Birds – reportedly downloaded more than 1.7bn times –
as a case study for app data collection.

The data pouring onto communication networks from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps ranges from phone model and screen size to personal details such as age, gender and location. Some apps, the documents state, can share users' most sensitive information such as sexual orientation – and one app recorded in the material even sends specific sexual preferences such as whether or not the user may be a swinger.

Many smartphone owners will be unaware of the full extent this information is being shared across the internet, and even the most sophisticated would be unlikely to realise that all of it is available for the spy agencies to collect.

Dozens of classified documents, provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden and reported in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica, detail the NSA and GCHQ efforts to piggyback on this commercial data collection for their own purposes.

Scooping up information the apps are sending about their users allows the agencies to collect large quantities of mobile phone data from their existing mass surveillance tools – such as cable taps, or from international mobile networks – rather than solely from hacking into individual mobile handsets.

Exploiting phone information and location is a high-priority effort for the intelligence agencies, as terrorists and other intelligence targets make substantial use of phones in planning and carrying out their activities, for example by using phones as triggering devices in conflict zones. The NSA has cumulatively spent more than $1bn in its phone targeting efforts.

The disclosures also reveal how much the shift towards smartphone browsing could benefit spy agencies' collection efforts.

A May 2010 NSA slide on the agency's 'perfect scenario' for obtaining data from mobile apps. Photograph: Guardian

One slide from a May 2010 NSA presentation on getting data from smartphones – breathlessly titled "Golden Nugget!" – sets out the agency's "perfect scenario": "Target uploading photo to a social media site taken with a mobile device. What can we get?"

The question is answered in the notes to the slide: from that event alone, the agency said it could obtain a "possible image", email selector, phone, buddy lists, and "a host of other social working data as well as location".

In practice, most major social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, strip photos of identifying location metadata (known as EXIF data) before publication. However, depending on when this is done during upload, such data may still, briefly, be available for collection by the agencies as it travels across the networks.

Depending on what profile information a user had supplied, the documents suggested, the agency would be able to collect almost every key detail of a user's life: including home country, current location (through geolocation), age, gender, zip code, martial status – options included "single", "married", "divorced", "swinger" and more – income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, and number of children.

The agencies also made use of their mobile interception capabilities to collect location information in bulk, from Google and other mapping apps. One basic effort by GCHQ and the NSA was to build a database geolocating every mobile phone mast in the world – meaning that just by taking tower ID from a handset, location information could be gleaned.

A more sophisticated effort, though, relied on intercepting Google Maps queries made on smartphones, and using them to collect large volumes of location information.

So successful was this effort that one 2008 document noted that "[i]t effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ system."

The information generated by each app is chosen by its developers, or by the company that delivers an app's adverts. The documents do not detail whether the agencies actually collect the potentially sensitive details some apps are capable of storing or transmitting, but any such information would likely qualify as content, rather than metadata.

Data collected from smartphone apps is subject to the same laws and minimisation procedures as all other NSA activity – procedures that the US president, Barack Obama, suggested may be subject to reform in a speech 10 days ago. But the president focused largely on the NSA's collection of the metadata from US phone calls and made no mention in his address of the large amounts of data the agency collects from smartphone apps.

The latest disclosures could also add to mounting public concern about how the technology sector collects and uses information, especially for those outside the US, who enjoy fewer privacy protections than Americans. A January poll for the Washington Post showed 69% of US adults were already concerned about how tech companies such as Google used and stored their information.

The documents do not make it clear how much of the information that can be taken from apps is routinely collected, stored or searched, nor how many users may be affected. The NSA says it does not target Americans and its capabilities are deployed only against "valid foreign intelligence targets".

The documents do set out in great detail exactly how much information can be collected from widely popular apps. One document held on GCHQ's internal Wikipedia-style guide for staff details what can be collected from different apps. Though it uses Android apps for most of its examples, it suggests much of the same data could be taken from equivalent apps on iPhone or other platforms.

The GCHQ documents set out examples of what information can be extracted from different ad platforms, using perhaps the most popular mobile phone game of all time, Angry Birds – which has reportedly been downloaded more than 1.7bn times – as a case study.

From some app platforms, relatively limited, but identifying, information such as exact handset model, the unique ID of the handset, software version, and similar details are all that are transmitted.

Other apps choose to transmit much more data, meaning the agency could potentially net far more. One mobile ad platform, Millennial Media, appeared to offer particularly rich information. Millennial Media's website states it has partnered with Rovio on a special edition of Angry Birds; with Farmville maker Zynga; with Call of Duty developer Activision, and many other major franchises.

Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds, said it had no knowledge of any NSA or GCHQ programs looking to extract data from its apps users.

"Rovio doesn't have any previous knowledge of this matter, and have not been aware of such activity in 3rd party advertising networks," said Saara Bergström, Rovio's VP of marketing and communications. "Nor do we have any involvement with the organizations you mentioned [NSA and GCHQ]."

Millennial Media did not respond to a request for comment.

In December, the Washington Post reported on how the NSA could make use of advertising tracking files generated through normal internet browsing – known as cookies – from Google and others to get information on potential targets.

However, the richer personal data available to many apps, coupled with real-time geolocation, and the uniquely identifying handset information many apps transmit give the agencies a far richer data source than conventional web-tracking cookies.

Almost every major website uses cookies to serve targeted advertising and content, as well as streamline the experience for the user, for example by managing logins. One GCHQ document from 2010 notes that cookie data – which generally qualifies as metadata – has become just as important to the spies. In fact, the agencies were sweeping it up in such high volumes that their were struggling to store it.

"They are gathered in bulk, and are currently our single largest type of events," the document stated.

The ability to obtain targeted intelligence by hacking individual handsets has been well documented, both through several years of hacker conferences and previous NSA disclosures in Der Spiegel, and both the NSA and GCHQ have extensive tools ready to deploy against iPhone, Android and other phone platforms.

GCHQ's targeted tools against individual smartphones are named after characters in the TV series The Smurfs. An ability to make the phone's microphone 'hot', to listen in to conversations, is named "Nosey Smurf". High-precision geolocation is called "Tracker Smurf", power management – an ability to stealthily activate an a phone that is apparently turned off – is "Dreamy Smurf", while the spyware's self-hiding capabilities are codenamed "Paranoid Smurf".

Those capability names are set out in a much broader 2010 presentation that sheds light on spy agencies' aspirations for mobile phone interception, and that less-documented mass-collection abilities.

The cover sheet of the document sets out the team's aspirations:

The cover slide for a May 2010 GCHQ presentation on mobile phone data interception. Photograph: Guardian

Another slide details weak spots in where data flows from mobile phone network providers to the wider internet, where the agency attempts to intercept communications. These are locations either within a particular network, or international roaming exchanges (known as GRXs), where data from travellers roaming outside their home country is routed.

While GCHQ uses Android apps for most of its examples, it suggests much of the same data
could be taken from iPhone apps. Photograph: Guardian

GCHQ's targeted tools against individual smartphones are named after characters in the
TV series The Smurfs. Photograph: Guardian

These are particularly useful to the agency as data is often only weakly encrypted on such networks, and includes extra information such as handset ID or mobile number – much stronger target identifiers than usual IP addresses or similar information left behind when PCs and laptops browse the internet.

The NSA said its phone interception techniques are only used against valid targets, and are subject to stringent legal safeguards.

"The communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets are not of interest to the National Security Agency," said a spokeswoman in a statement.

"Any implication that NSA's foreign intelligence collection is focused on the smartphone or social media communications of everyday Americans is not true. Moreover, NSA does not profile everyday Americans as it carries out its foreign intelligence mission. We collect only those communications that we are authorized by law to collect for valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes – regardless of the technical means used by the targets.

"Because some data of US persons may at times be incidentally collected in NSA's lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for US persons exist across the entire process concerning the use, handling, retention, and dissemination of data. In addition, NSA actively works to remove extraneous data, to include that of innocent foreign citizens, as early as possible in the process.

"Continuous and selective publication of specific techniques and tools lawfully used by NSA to pursue legitimate foreign intelligence targets is detrimental to the security of the United States and our allies – and places at risk those we are sworn to protect."

The NSA declined to respond to a series of queries on how routinely capabilities against apps were deployed, or on the specific minimisation procedures used to prevent US citizens' information being stored through such measures.

GCHQ declined to comment on any of its specific programs, but stressed all of its activities were proportional and complied with UK law.

"It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters," said a spokesman.

"Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework that ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position."

• A separate disclosure on Wednesday, published by Glenn Greenwald and NBC News, gave examples of how GCHQ was making use of its cable-tapping capabilities to monitor YouTube and social media traffic in real-time.

GCHQ’s cable-tapping and internet buffering capabilities , codenamed Tempora, were disclosed by the Guardian in June, but the new documents published by NBC from a GCHQ presentation titled “Psychology: A New Kind of SIGDEV" set out a program codenamed Squeaky Dolphin which gave the British spies “broad real-time monitoring” of “YouTube Video Views”, “URLs ‘Liked’ on Facebook” and “Blogspot/Blogger Visits”.

A further slide noted that “passive” – a term for large-scale surveillance through cable intercepts – give the agency “scalability”.
The means of interception mean GCHQ and NSA could obtain data without any knowledge or co-operation from the technology companies. Spokespeople for the NSA and GCHQ told NBC all programs were carried out in accordance with US and UK law. - Guardian.

MONUMENTAL MASS FISH DIE-OFF: Over 120 TONS Of Fish Have Died In A Lake In Batangas, In The Philippines - Analysis Indicate That The Deaths Resulted From Toxic Eruptions From The Taal Volcano! [PHOTOS]

January 27, 2014 - PHILIPPINES - Over 120 tons of dead fish have been found in a lake in Batangas, Philippines. According to initial analysis, the death resulted from a lake of fire emanating from the Taal volcano.

Local time January 22, 2014, Luzon, Philippines Batangas, fishermen recovered from a large body of milkfish.

The total is expected to reach 120 tons.

According to the analysis, said the cause of fish death may be due to activity from the Taal volcano.

The activity from the volcano resulted in large amounts of toxic sulfide into the lake.

- IFENG. [Translated]

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Ash Plume Rises To A Few Hundred Meters At The Aso Volcano In Japan!

January 27, 2014 - JAPAN - Another small eruption occurred this morning at the Nakadake crater.

Ash emission from Aso volcano this morning.

Incandescence from the Nakadake crater at night.

An ash plume rose a few hundred meters from one of the active vents. During the night, incandescence is visible at the crater:

WATCH:  Aso volcano activity - January 27, 2014.

- Volcano Discovery.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: Are We On The Verge Of A Massive Emerging Markets Currency Collapse - We Are Now Potentially Facing The Bursting Of A Financial Bubble On A Global Scale?!

January 27, 2014 - GLOBAL ECONOMY - This time, the Federal Reserve has created a truly global problem.  A big chunk of the trillions of dollars that it pumped into the financial system over the past several years has flowed into emerging markets. But now that the Fed has decided to begin "the taper", investors see it as a sign to pull the "hot money" out of emerging markets as rapidly as possible.  This is causing currencies to collapse and interest rates to soar all over the planet. Argentina, Turkey, South Africa, Ukraine, Chile, Indonesia, Venezuela, India, Brazil, Taiwan and Malaysia are just some of the emerging markets that have been hit hard so far. 

In fact, last week, e
merging market currencies experienced the biggest decline that we have seen since the financial crisis of 2008.  And all of this chaos in emerging markets is seriously spooking Wall Street as well.  The Dow has fallen nearly 500 points over the last two trading sessions alone.  If the Federal Reserve opts to taper even more in the coming days, this currency crisis could rapidly turn into a complete and total currency collapse.

A lot of Americans have always assumed that the U.S. dollar would be the first currency to collapse when the next great financial crisis happens.  But actually, right now just the opposite is happening and it is causing chaos all over the planet.

For instance, just check out what is happening in Turkey according to a recent report in the New York Times...

Turkey’s currency fell to a record low against the dollar on Friday, a drop that will hit the purchasing power of everyone in the country.
On a street corner in Istanbul, Yilmaz Gok, 51, said, “I’m a retiree making ends meet on a small pension and all I care about is a possible increase in prices.”
“I will need to cut further,” he said. “Maybe I should use my natural gas heater less.”
As inflation escalates and interest rates soar in these countries, ordinary citizens are going to feel the squeeze.  Just having enough money to purchase the basics is going to become more difficult.

And this is not just limited to a few countries.  What we are watching right now is truly a global phenomenon...

"You've had a massive selloff in these emerging-market currencies," Nick Xanders, a London-based equity strategist at BTIG Ltd., said by telephone. "Ruble, rupee, real, rand: they've all fallen and the main cause has been tapering. A lot of companies that have benefited from emerging-markets growth are now seeing it go the other way."
So why is this happening?  Well, there are a number of factors involved of course.  However, as with so many of our other problems, the actions of the Federal Reserve are at the very heart of this crisis.  A recent USA Today article described how the Fed helped create this massive bubble in the emerging markets...
Emerging markets are the future growth engine of the global economy and an important source of profits for U.S. companies. These developing economies were both recipients and beneficiaries of massive cash inflows the past few years as investors sought out bigger returns fostered by injections of cheap cash from the Federal Reserve and other central bankers.
But now that the Fed has started to dial back its stimulus, many investors are yanking their cash out of emerging markets and bringing the cash back to more stable markets and economies, such as the U.S., hurting the developing nati ons in the process, explains Russ Koesterich, chief investment strategist at BlackRock.
"Emerging markets need the hot money but capital is exiting now," says Koesterich. "What you have is people saying, 'I don't want to own emerging markets.'"
What we are potentially facing is the bursting of a financial bubble on a global scale.  Just check out what Egon von Greyerz, the founder of Matterhorn Asset Management in Switzerland, recently had to say...
If you take the Turkish lira, that plunged to new lows this week, and the Russian ruble is at the lowest level in 5 years. In South Africa, the rand is at the weakest since 2008. The currencies are also weak in Brazil and Mexico. But there are many other countries whose situation is extremely dire, like India, Indonesia, Hungary, Poland, the Ukraine, and Venezuela.
I’m mentioning these countries individually just to stress that this situation is extremely serious. It is also on a massive scale. In virtually all of these countries currencies are plunging and so are bonds, which is leading to much higher interest rates. And the cost of credit-default swaps in these countries is surging due to the increased credit risks.
And many smaller nations are being deeply affected already as well.

For example, most Americans cannot even find Liberia on a map, but right now the actions of our Federal Reserve have pushed the currency of that small nation to the verge of collapse...
Liberia's finance minister warned against panic today after being summoned to parliament to explain a crash in the value of Liberia's currency against the US dollar.
"Let's be careful about what we say about the economy. Inflation, ladies and gentlemen, is not out of control," Amara Konneh told lawmakers, while adding that the government was "concerned" about the trend.
Closer to home, the Mexican peso tumbled quite a bit last week and is now beginning to show significant weakness.  If Mexico experiences a currency collapse, that would be a huge blow to the U.S. economy.

Like I said, this is something that is happening on a global scale.
If this continues, we will eventually see looting, violence, blackouts, shortages of basic supplies, and runs on the banks in emerging markets all over the planet just like we are already witnessing in Argentina and Venezuela.

Hopefully something can be done to stop this from happening.  But once a bubble starts to burst, it is really difficult to try to hold it together.

Meanwhile, I find it to be very "interesting" that last week we witnessed the largest withdrawal from JPMorgan's gold vault ever recorded.

Was someone anticipating something?

Once again, hopefully this crisis will be contained shortly.  But if the Fed announces that it has decided to taper some more, that is going to be a signal to investors that they should race for the exits and the crisis in the emerging markets will get a whole lot worse.

And if you listen carefully, global officials are telling us that is precisely what we should expect.  For example, consider the following statement from the finance minister of Mexico...

"We expected this year to be a volatile year for EM as the Fed tapers," Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray said, adding that volatility "will happen throughout the year as tapering goes on".
Yes indeed - it is looking like this is going to be a very volatile year.

I hope that you are ready for what is coming next. - Activist Post.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Italy's Mount Etna Erupts - With Long Streams Of Red Hot Lava Flowed Down The Mountain, Melting Snow!

January 27, 2014 - ITALY - Europe's most active volcano, Mount Etna, has erupted again.

Long streams of red hot lava flowed down the side of the mountain, melting snow.

Long streams of red hot lava flowed down the side of the mountain, melting snow.

There were no reports of damage, and the nearby Catania Airport, which had previously been closed, was unaffected.

Long streams of red hot lava flowed down the side of the mountain, melting snow.

The snow-capped volcano has been making its presence known over the past few months as a new southeastern crater has opened up. - Guardian.

The fissure vent, at the eastern base of the New SE crater, has continued to produce active lava flows along the W wall of the Valle del Bove and, according to direct observations, its fronts have reached 1700 m elevation at NE of the "Monti Centenari".

The New SE crater with a steam ring. (Photo: Emaunela / VolcanoDiscovery Italia)

Ash plume at New SE crater (Montagnola webcam, INGV Catania)

The lava flow at dawn (Photo: Emaunela / VolcanoDiscovery Italia)

The front of the lava flow. (Photo: Emaunela / VolcanoDiscovery Italia)

In the afternoon a moderately dense pulsating ash column was emitted by weak, deep-seated strombolian activity at the summit vent. The North-East Crater appeared to be covered by ash deposits and strong degassing activity continued from it. - Volcano Discovery.

WATCH:  Italy's Mount Etna volcano erupts.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: The Argentinian Peso Is In Freefall As Economic Crisis Deepens - The Currency Falls At Fastest Rate Since 2002 Collapse, As Central Bank Runs Out Of Reserves To Enter Market!

January 27, 2014 - ARGENTINA - The peso is suffering its fastest fall since Argentina's 2002 economic collapse as dwindling reserves keep the central bank from trying to prop up the currency by intervening in the foreign exchange market.

People walk by a sign showing the plunging rate between the Argentine peso and the US dollar in Buenos Aires.
The currency has fallen just over 17 percent in the last two days against the dollar, and economic analysts
expect inflation to hit 30 percent this year. Photograph: Victor R. Caivano/AP

The 16 percent loss in the peso's official value against the dollar over Wednesday and Thursday could worsen the country's inflation, which is among the worst in Latin America, analysts said.

The peso fell from 6.88 per dollar on Tuesday to 7.14 on Wednesday. By Thursday's close, it was at 8 to the dollar. On the black market, where Argentina's currency is even weaker, the peso dropped 6 percent Thursday to 13 per dollar.

The sharp depreciation is likely due to a new government strategy of seeking a sudden devaluation instead of a gradual one, said Juan Pablo Ronderos of economic consulting firm

"There was a first sign of this change on Tuesday because the central bank didn't show up (to intervene) until midday, and on Wednesday and today it just disappeared from the market," Ronderos said. "The gradual devaluation wasn't working because the central bank kept on sacrificing lots of its reserves and it kept on being reflected on consumer prices."

Analysts expect Argentina's inflation to reach more than 30 percent this year, the second highest rate in Latin America after Venezuela.

"The sharp drop will aggravate inflation, although the impact may be mitigated by the fact that some imports will already be purchased at the much weaker black market exchange rate," Neil Shearing, chief emerging market economist at Capital Economics in London, said in a research note.

"The bigger picture, though, is that the economic mismanagement of the past decade has once again pushed the country to the brink of a balance of payments crisis," Shearing wrote.

Critics of the left-leaning government of President Cristina Kirchner blame economic problems on its higher spending on social programs, expansion of business regulation and nationalisation of some companies.

Argentina has been kept from global credit markets since defaulting on its debt during its 2001-2002 financial crisis. So officials have been trying to keep dollars in the country for the central bank to use to pay off government debts.

But the bank's reserves have plunged to $29 billion, the lowest level in more than seven years despite increasingly restrictive currency controls meant to stem capital flight.

The controls make it nearly impossible to legally trade pesos for dollars, but many Argentines have turned to black market money changers to obtain dollars.

Many in the country are haunted by memories of the financial crisis, when banks froze deposits and the currency lost value, and they want dollars to keep in emergency stashes. - Guardian.

WEATHER PHENOMENON: Signs Of Earth's Magnetic Polar Migration - Mystifying "Light Pillars" Shine In Ohio?!

January 27, 2014 - OHIO, UNITED STATES -  On a clear and cold night, beams of light appeared to be coming from the ground and shooting skyward.

Fox 8 News viewers captured the phenomenon in Mansfield late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

The lights are mystifying and beautiful, and yet perfectly logical.

WATCH: Fox 8 Meteorologist Scott Sabol explains the light pillars in the video below.

- Pakalert Press.

WAR DRUMS: Military Gatherings And Preparations For World War III - Russian-Chinese Naval Training Exercise Begins In Mediterranean And China’s Military Conducts Long-Range Nuclear Missile Drill!

January 27, 2014 - MEDITERRANEAN - A Russian-Chinese naval training exercise in the Mediterranean Sea began on Saturday involving the Russian nuclear-powered cruiser Pyotr Veliky and China’s Yancheng frigate, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced.

Pyotr Veliky.  © RIA Novosti. Gregory Sysoyev

The exercise, which began with a gathering of the ships and accompanying speedboats, is being performed to reinforce co-maneuvering, air defense collaboration as well as naval helicopter landings on the different countries’ ships, the ministry’s press service said.

The exercise is focused on “raising the level of operational compatibility between Russian and Chinese military ships during joint actions in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea,” the ministry said.

Russian and Chinese military vessels began collaborating in the region on January 7 to ensure security for transports of Syrian chemical weapons. - RIA NOVOSTI.

China’s Military Conducts Long-Range Nuclear Missile Drill

China’s military has released images of an intercontinental ballistic missile with enough range to reach the United States, as Beijing is involved in a series of rows threatening to embroil Washington. The pictures of Chinese soldiers test-firing a Dongfeng-31 missile, which is said by experts to be able to carry nuclear warheads 8,000 kilometres (4,960 miles), appeared in the People’s Liberation Army Daily newspaper on Tuesday.  Further images showing soldiers dressed in protective suits, suggesting that the drill was simulating the launch of an armed warhead, were also posted on the news portal, attributed to the newspaper. said it was the first time that images of such an exercise had been released. The images could not be found on the PLA Daily’s website when checked by AFP on Thursday. China is embroiled in a series of territorial disputes with its neighbours in the South China Sea, and is locked in a row with Japan in the East China Sea over islands administered by Tokyo and claimed by Beijing.  The US has a security alliance with Japan and Vice President Joe Biden said last month that a strategic shift to Asia would continue. - Nation.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: The H1N1 Flu Pandemic - H1N1 Fears Spur Extra Flu Vaccine Demand; California Deaths From H1N1 Rise To 146; 5 More Flu Deaths Reported In San Diego; Flu Deaths In Saskatchewan Hit 16, Surpass Pandemic Year; And H1N1 Cases Hit Central Mexico!

January 27, 2014 - NORTH AMERICA - Achy, shaky, hot and cold? Didja get a flu shot? Didja?  “We’re seeing a lot of influenza, just like nationwide,” Lee County Health Department Administrator Cathy Ferguson said.  The same is true in Whiteside County, health department officials there said.  And like the rest of the nation, the H1N1, or swine flu strain, is back, Ferguson said.  Typical influenza hits infants and people older than 65 the hardest.

H1N1, which caused a nationwide pandemic in 2009, tends to expand that pool to young adults, pregnant women, older children, and people with chronic diseases.  Although health officials are seeing about the usual number of cases for this time of year, they are seeing it in more people younger than 65, said Joan Saunders, Whiteside County’s head of infectious diseases.  Statewide, at least seven people, most in Cook County, have died this season, while 450 have been hospitalized, Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said Thursday.  The flu has put at least a couple of people in the hospital in Lee County, Ferguson said. The state notifies her office of confirmed cases only when they’re bad enough to put the victim in ICU – the only cases required to be reported to the Department of Public Health, she said.  Those 450 cases are barely the tip of the iceberg, though, since most people suffer through the illness alone, many without seeing a doctor.  Although the season is nearly half over, it’s not too late to get immunized.  The Department of Public Health recommends anyone 6 months and older get a flu shot, since the more people vaccinated, the less likely it is to spread.  Vaccines, including the flu mist, still are available at the Lee County Health Department, Ferguson said.  Whiteside County, which has given more than 3,000 vaccines this season, is out, though, and so is advising people to go to their local pharmacies or physicians, Saunders said.  The vaccine takes about 2 weeks to take effect, so sooner is better than later.  And if you do get achy, shaky, hot and cold?  “Stay home!” Saunders said. - Sauk Valley.

H1N1 Fears Spur Extra Flu Vaccine Demand.
Community Health Nurse Amy Beck injects a patient with a H1N1 vaccine during a flu shot program
in Calgary on Oct. 26, 2009. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada will ship out more influenza vaccine this season than it has since the H1N1 pandemic swept the country four years ago, with nearly every province and territory placing late-season orders to satisfy a surprising surge in demand for the flu shot.  The 2013-2014 season marks the first time since the pandemic that Canada has been forced to track down extra vaccine, above and beyond a five-per-cent cushion built into the country’s contracts with vaccine makers, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“With this season – for whatever reason and we can only theorize – but there has been a lot more uptake, a lot more demand by Canadians,” said Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer.  Only Nova Scotia and Nunavut declined to snap up more vaccine when Ottawa secured more than 400,000 extra doses earlier this month, according to an informal survey by The Globe and Mail.  Newfoundland and Labrador increased its vaccine supply by the largest amount – 62 per cent – by requesting an extra 80,000 doses on top of the 130,000 it ordered at the start of the influenza season. Saskatchewan and Manitoba were not far behind, increasing their stockpiles by 53 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively.  Canada had already ordered approximately 10.8 million doses at the start of the season, about the same size of the order it placed at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season and more than any year since, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).  The demand is particularly puzzling because, as public health officials have been stressing, this has been a typical flu season.  That raises a question that is as difficult to answer as the flu virus is to predict: What makes Canadians clamour for flu shots one year and eschew them the next?  “It’s really quite unusual,” Dr. Michael Gardam, one of the country’s top flu specialists, said of the late-season purchases. “It’s been a very average season. ”

The prevalence of H1N1 this year could explain the surge, experts say.  More than 90 per cent of the flu cases detected this year have been H1N1, now considered a regular seasonal flu virus.  Some provinces have been hit harder than others: Saskatchewan, for instance, announced Friday that 16 people in the province had died of the H1N1 strain of the flu, one more than in the pandemic season of 2009-2010.  “The word H1N1 is scarier than regular flu and that drives demand,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital.  H1N1 also tends to strike people between the ages of 20 and 64. Last year, H3N2 dominated and hit more seniors. Both strains are included in this year’s flu vaccine, along with a type of influenza B.  Media reports of adults in this younger age group contracting the flu, falling seriously ill and dying, prompted a stampede to flu clinics, particularly in the western provinces in the last week of December and first week of January.  “It was the spike after Christmas in H1N1, the shift in morbidity and mortality to a younger age group and the media attention that that garnered,” said Dr. Perry Kendall, the provincial health officer for British Columbia.  Still, January and February are not the best time to get the flu shot. Full protection does not kick in until two weeks after the shot is administered. Those who receive the vaccine today would have gone unshielded through much of the flu season.  “Waiting until that moment to get your flu shot, it’s not entirely worthless, but frankly there’s a reasonable chance it’s not going to help you much,” said Dr. Gardam, who is the director of infection prevention and control at Toronto’s University Health Network. “The analogy I give is, you’ve never bought fire insurance, now your drapes are on fire and you’re frantically calling State Farm. You’re kind of too late.” - The Globe and Mail.

California Deaths From H1N1 Rise To 146.

Influenza claimed 50 more young lives in California this week, proving that a potent virus that arrived a virtual stranger in 2009 has gained the lead role in our winter dance with the disease.  The H1N1 virus -- the swine flu bug -- is circulating through susceptible groups, especially among a younger generation that often goes without vaccinations and had not been exposed to this strain, health authorities said Friday.  H1N1 has largely replaced last year's H3N2 strain and has already killed nearly 40 percent more people than last year's total, even though flu season has yet to reach its peak.

In California, it has claimed the lives of 95 adults younger than 65, and 51 more deaths await confirmation as flu related. That would bring the total to 146 deaths, state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez reported at a Friday news conference. The nine Bay Area counties and Santa Cruz County have reported 32 flu-related deaths this season.  That's a pattern similar to what was seen when H1N1 last circled the globe.  "The elderly, like in 2009, are not overwhelmingly getting infected," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "They are seemingly protected from it."  In contrast, at this time last year, H3N2 dominated and killed many elders -- but only nine deaths were reported among Californians under 65.  The state does not track flu deaths for residents over 65, so information about the impact on that age group is mostly anecdotal.  Among this year's victims were 23-year-old Matthew Walker, of Santa Rosa, a healthy young man who enjoyed windsurfing and skateboarding. The experience of losing a son, his father, Cliff Walker, told NBC Bay Area, was "a ragged roller coaster ride, with a bad ending."

All but one of this year's deaths have been linked to the H1N1 virus. Most occurred in Californians who, unlike Walker, had a pre-existing medical condition, such as chronic heart disease, asthma or a suppressed immune system, or were pregnant, according to Chavez.  One of the newly reported deaths was a child who lived in Riverside County. In all, the illness has claimed the lives of three children under age 10, including one in San Mateo County.  Despite such tragedies, the good news is that H1N1 is less deadly than it was during the peak of the 2009 pandemic, and that is because we're better protected, Fauci said. It is one of the strains included in the current flu vaccine, which usually shields people exposed to the virus. And many who have been sick before have developed antibodies to it.  There are several reasons why younger people seem so vulnerable. Significantly, as a group, they are less likely to be vaccinated than elders.  Some scientists think the genetic structure of H1N1 targets the lungs, while H3N2 tended to attack the upper respiratory system. A mutation in an amino acid called D225G might allow H1N1 to bind more effectively to lung cells, making us more susceptible to pneumonia and death.  And younger people may have not acquired immunity through previous exposure. Forms of the H1N1 virus were detected in the 1930s, then in the mid-1950s and again in 1971, according to flu tracker and biomedical researcher Henry Niman of the Pennsylvania company Recombinomics, Inc. It appeared again -- in significantly altered form -- in 2009.  This year, more than 95 percent of the circulating flu viruses are H1N1, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention That's much higher than in any of the previous three flu seasons.  "It has knocked the other strains off the map," said Fauci. - Mercury News.

Flu Deaths In Saskatchewan Hit 16, Surpass Pandemic Year.
The number of flu-related deaths in Saskatchewan is up to 16 from 12, surpassing the number of people
who died in the 2009 pandemic. | shutterstock

The number of flu-related deaths in Saskatchewan is up to 16 from 12, surpassing the number of people who died in the 2009 pandemic.  Fifteen people died in Saskatchewan during that H1N1 outbreak.  Dr. Denise Werker, the province's deputy medical health officer, says there have been more than 1,100 lab confirmed cases of flu this year and 57 people have been admitted to intensive care.  "What we are seeing is an incredible toll this season in terms of influenza and that is related most likely to the H1N1 virus, the strain that is circulating this season," she said Friday.  There's an unusual shift in the people affected, Werker added.  "What's interesting in terms of the admissions and deaths is that men are two times more likely to have been admitted to intensive care and to die as compared to women," she said.  "And that risk is not experienced in the laboratory confirmations where we have a ratio that's 50-50 between men and women. For some reason, men seem to be more at risk for being admitted to hospital with severe illness and also to die."

Werker said there is no concrete evidence as to why men are dying more than women. She speculates that it might be because men are less likely to get vaccinated or could be more genetically predisposed. There is always the question of an underlying health condition as well.  Werker noted that none of the 16 people who died were vaccinated. About 75 per cent of them had other health issues.  The people who were admitted to intensive care or who died range in age from under one to 86 years old. The average age is mid-50s, she said.  The doctor said she is puzzled to see the numbers in Saskatchewan, because other provinces don't seem to be having the same experience. But that might just be because Saskatchewan is more timely in reporting cases than other jurisdictions, she suggested.  The flu season has probably peaked in Saskatchewan overall, Werker said, but she cautioned that influenza is just beginning to take off in the northern part of the province.  "My concern is that we have just peaked and that we may get more deaths on the other side of the slope," she said.  "We have an enormous opportunity to prevent more deaths by people getting vaccinated. During pandemic, our vaccine coverage rates were 50 per cent.  "We have not achieved that this season." - Huffington Post.

5 More Flu Deaths Reported In San Diego.
Courtesy: County News Center.

Influenza activity in the region remains elevated, and five more deaths have been reported, the County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) announced Thursday. The new flu-related deaths raise the total reported locally this season to 12. The people who died ranged in age from 35 to 91 years old and all had underlying medical conditions. Last season, 65 flu-related deaths were reported in the county. For the week ending January 18, 2014, HHSA reported the following:
  • Emergency department visits for influenza-like illness: 10 percent of visits (down from 11 percent the previous week; the figure has been revised since the last report)
  • Lab-confirmed influenza cases for the week: 545 (down from 704 the previous week; the figure has been revised since the last report)
  • Total lab-confirmed influenza cases to date this season: 1,965
The latest statistics involving children as of January 23, 2014:
  • 11 patients are currently at Rady Children’s Hospital with influenza. 
  • 2 patients have been admitted into the ICU (Intensive Care Unit).
  • In the Emergency Department, approximately 10-15% of patients we are seeing have influenza or influenza-like illness.
  • Since January 1, 13 patients have been admitted to our Intensive Care Unit with Influenza.
  • Since January 1, almost a quarter of the patients we have tested for influenza have been admitted to the hospital.
“Influenza is widespread in San Diego and if you have not gotten vaccinated it’s not too late to do it,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer.  “The predominant influenza virus circulating in San Diego this season is Pandemic H1N1.  This is similar to the flu seen in other parts of the country.” Compared to last season, a significantly higher proportion of young and middle-aged adults are being reported with flu, which is expected with H1N1.  More San Diegans have required intensive care for influenza than at this time last year, with 92 cases reported so far this season.  There were 116 intensive care cases reported for all of last season. - Patch.

H1N1 Cases Hit Central Mexico.

The state of San Luis Potosí has registered the largest number of H1N1 influenza cases so far this flu season at 250 cases, followed by Jalisco with 219, Nuevo León with 109, Mexico City with 104 and Mexico State with 91, the Health Secretariat reported on Saturday.  Nevertheless, the 4 percent death rate from the H1N1 influenza in San Luis Potosí remains less than half the national average of 8.8 percent.  The Health Secretariat reported that 10 people have died from H1N1 influenza in San Luis Potosí — up from five the previous week.  In Hidalgo, 12 people have died from the disease and 86 have been infected, despite the fact that the previous week the Health Secretariat had reported only 23 infections and two deaths.  Hidalgo Health Subsecretary Ana María Tavares advised people to immediately see a doctor if they have a fever of more than 39°C (102°F), as well as if they present symptoms such as difficulty breathing and coughing, adding that those who died from the disease waited three days to see a doctor after their symptoms first appeared.  According to Tavares, between Jan. 1 and 24, 92 flu cases have been registered in Hidalgo, of which 86 correspond to the H1N1 strain. She added that six of the 12 people who have died of the disease were treated at hospitals managed by the Health Secretariat, with the other six at the hospitals run by the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS).  Public health authorities say that cold weather is helping spread the flu and other respiratory ailments, adding that the numbers are expected to go up in the coming days.  One of the disease control strategies that the Hidalgo Health Secretariat has employed to fight the disease is to install vaccination centers in shopping malls and transit centers in the cities of Pachuca and Tulancingo. - The News.