Friday, April 25, 2014

INFRASTRUCTURE & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: Parachutist Plane Crash In Finland - 8 Killed!

April 25, 2014 - FINLAND -  Finnish officials say eight people died when a small plane carrying parachutists crashed to the ground and caught fire.

April 20, 2014: A helicopter and an ambulance are seen at the Jamijarvi Airfield, southwest Finland. A small passenger
plane carrying parachuters fell to the ground near the airfield on Sunday afternoon. The police say that there are more
than three victims. Three people out of 11 on the plane were rescued.AP

Det. Supt. Petri Kangas said three people survived the accident Sunday after they parachuted from the aircraft above Jamijarvi airfield, about 45 miles east of the southwestern town of Pori.

Kangas said investigators didn't know the cause of the accident but that "apparently some parts fell off the plane before it crashed."

Police said the eight victims were found in the badly burned aircraft, a Comp Air 8 kit aircraft, popular among parachutists.

Police said all 11 people on board were accounted for and that the three survivors were being treated for minor injuries. - FOX News.

INFRASTRUCTURE & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: Sun Unleashes Major Solar Flare - Triggers Temporary Communications Blackout!

April 25, 2014 - THE ELECTRIC GRID - The sun erupted with a massive solar flare late Thursday (April 24), triggering a temporary communications blackout on some parts of Earth.

An X1.3-class solar flare (far right) erupts from the surface of the sun on April 24, 2014 EDT (April 25 GMT).
Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

The powerful flare peaked at 8:27 p.m. EDT Thursday (0027 April 25 GMT), and ranked as an X1.3-class solar storm, one of the strongest types of flares the sun can experience, according to a report from the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center. NASA's sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory captured video of the intense solar flare in several difference wavelengths.

WATCH: Sun unleashes major solar flare.

The solar flare erupted from an active sunspot region known as Region 2035 located on the far western side (or limb) of the sun as seen from Earth. Because of its position, the flare sparked a high-frequency radio blackout for about an hour on the daytime side of Earth, most likely over the Pacific Ocean and Eastern Pacific Rim, according to the SWPC update.

"Region 2035 is rotating out of view and won't pose any danger for much longer, but could in the immediate future," SWPC officials wrote in the update.

When aimed directly at Earth, X-class solar flares can endanger astronauts in space, as well as interfere with communications and navigation satellites in orbit. The most powerful X-class flares can also affect power grids and other infrastructure on the Earth.

X-class flares top the scale with the most energy and potential to disrupt communications on Earth.
Credit: Karl Tate, Contributor

Thursday's solar flare was the fourth X-class solar flare of 2014. It followed an X1.2 solar flare on Jan. 7, a monster X4.9 solar flare on Feb. 24, as well as an X1 solar flare on March 29.

While X-class flares are the most powerful eruptions on the sun, the star also experiences more moderate M-class solar flares (which can supercharge Earth's aurora displays) and weaker C-class storms. The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year weather cycle, and was expected to reach its peak activity in 2013.

NASA and other space and weather agencies keep watch on the sun's activity using a fleet of spacecraft, including the Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft and other probes. - SPACE.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: MERS Outbreak - Saudi Arabia Says MERS Virus Cases Top 300, 5 More Die; SARS-Like Coronavirus Spreads To Egypt!

April 25, 2014 - MIDDLE EAST -  Saudi Arabia said on Friday it had discovered 14 more cases of the potentially deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the kingdom, bringing the total number to 313.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah sacked the country’s health minister on Monday, April 21, 2014, amid a spike in deaths
and infections from the virus known as the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS
Photo by AP

A health ministry statement said the new cases had been reported in the capital Riyadh, the coastal city of Jeddah and the "holy capital" Mecca in the past 24 hours. Authorities had also registered five more deaths due to the virus, it said.

The jump in cases is of particular concern because Saudi Arabia will host pilgrims from around the world in July during the Muslim month of Ramadan, as well as in early October when millions of worshippers perform the annual Haj.

In total, 92 people have died of MERS in Saudi Arabia, the ministry said on its website.

Saudi Arabia has witnessed a jump in the rate of infection in recent weeks, with many of the new cases recorded in Jeddah, the kingdom's second-largest city. A large proportion of the people infected are healthcare workers.

MERS emerged in the Middle East in 2012 and is from the same family as the SARS virus, which killed around 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China in 2002. MERS can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia.

Although the number of MERS infections worldwide is fairly small, the more than 40 percent death rate among confirmed cases and the spread of the virus beyond the Middle East is keeping scientists and public health officials on alert.

A spokesman for the World Health Organization in Geneva said on Friday it was "concerned" about the rising MERS numbers in Saudi Arabia.

"This just highlights the need to learn more about the virus, about the transmission, and about the route of infection," he said.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah replaced the health minister last week after growing public concern about the spread of the disease. Saudi authorities say they have invited five leading international vaccine makers to collaborate with them in developing a MERS vaccine, but virology experts argue that this makes little sense in public health terms. - Yahoo.

Spreads To Egypt
Egypt has discovered its first case of the sars-like novel coronavirus in a patient at a Cairo hospital who recently arrived from Saudi Arabia, state TV said on Saturday.

The virus which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, has spread from the Gulf to Europe and has already caused dozens of deaths.

Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said Friday five more patients who contracted a potentially fatal Middle East virus related to SARS have died in the kingdom as the number of reported infections from the disease there rises past 300.

The Saudi ministry said Friday the deaths were among 14 new cases of the Middle East respiratory syndrome detected in the cities of Riyadh, Jiddah and the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

Two other deaths were recorded a day earlier as the kingdom releases near-daily reports of a rising number of infections.

The ministry says 92 people have died and 313 have contracted the virus in the kingdom since September 2012.

On Monday, King Abdullah fired the country's health minister as officials struggle to alleviate public concerns amid a spike in recent infections. - Haaretz.

INFRASTRUCTURE & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: Yet Another Natural Gas Explosion - Mysterious Blast Jolts Washington Town, Destroys 6 Buildings?!

April 25, 2014 - WASHINGTON STATE, UNITED STATES - An explosion rocked a small Washington state town on Friday, destroying six businesses in a strip mall and badly damaging an apartment complex across the street but causing no major injuries, authorities said.

The pre-dawn blast in North Bend was so strong it blew out windows from an assisted-living home half a block away, and several of the residents suffered minor lacerations, Eastside Fire and Rescue spokeswoman Josie Williams said.

The cause of the explosion, which occurred near a barber shop in a downtown strip mall, was still under investigation, she said.

Williams said there were no major injuries in the explosion and resulting fire, mainly because the businesses were all closed at that hour. North Bend is a town of about 5,700 people some 30 miles east of Seattle.

"If it had come two hours later it would have been a very different situation out here, we probably would have had some serious injuries if not deaths," she said.

The barber shop and five other businesses were destroyed, Williams said, and an apartment building across the street and nearby gas station also suffered significant damage.

Williams said some 80 firefighters from North Bend and neighboring communities put out the blaze and secured the area, and a major road running through the community remained closed hours later. - Reuters.

EARTH CHANGES: Monumental Signs Of The Times - Winter Suddenly Returns Again For Russia's Urals; Winter Remains In Romania, "It's As If We Were Preparing For Christmas, Not Easter"; Storms Bring High Tornado Threat Across U.S. Plains This Weekend; State Of Emergency As Wildfire Rages On The Latvian-Russian Border; Drought Covers 100 PERCENT Of California; Wettest February-To-April On Record In Seattle; Ice Shifts Bridge In New Brunswick, Canada; Sandstorm Turns Day Into Night In China; State Of Emergency Declared In Bulgaria After Heavy Rainfall Down Bridges; And Dozens Die As Floods Engulf Northern Afghan Villages!

April 25, 2014 - EARTH - The following stories constitutes some of the latest incidents of Earth changes across the globe.

Winter Suddenly Returns Again For Russia's Urals
Pedestrians cross the street during a heavy blizzard in Chelyabinsk, Russia RIA Novosti/Aleksandr Kondratuk

Russia's Urals region has been hit with freak winter weather, causing massive traffic jams, flight delays, power blackouts and school closures.

Just when everybody in the cities of Ekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk thought they had waved winter good-bye and was anticipating greener spring weather, blizzards dragging the region back to winter.

Having heard the forecast for snow, internet users were taking photos of the frail Urals spring that was proclaimed doomed by meteorologists.

Those would later be used in "before and after" collages with "goodbye summer" hashtags.


"We have snow falling the whole day without stopping," an Instagram user wrote. "It's sweeping severely, everything's white. My daughter even wanted to go for a snow-tubing ride."

Winter struck the region hard, with precipitation twice the monthly average coming as a shock to already burgeoning grass and trees.


Chelyabinsk made headlines across the world last year when a huge meteorite rocked the region. These late April blizzards have led to numerous online jokes over the region's "misfortune."

"Chelyabinsk's somewhat harsh," one Twitter user wrote. "They either have meteorite or snow at the end of spring."

The sudden return of winter has led to chaos on the region's highways.

"My parents have been stuck in a traffic jam for 17 hours already... Severe Chelyabinsk spring..." a Vkontakte (Russian social network) user, Maria, wrote.

Many of the drivers have already changed their winter tires for summer ones, making vehicles clumsy on icy roads.

Local police have recorded 700 road accidents in the Central Urals region.

Municipal workers push a trolleybus during a heavy blizzard in Chelyabinsk, Russia RIA Novosti/Aleksandr Kondratuk

A bride walks towards her limo during a harsh blizzard in Chelyabinsk, Russia RIA Novosti/Aleksandr Kondratuk

Twenty-three children who were returning to Tyumen from Ekaterinburg, where they had participated in competitions, had to be evacuated by rescuers from a 40 kilometer-long traffic jam.

Tens of thousands of people in towns across the snowstorm-struck region were left without electricity, following snow-induced power line disruptions.

Chelyabinsk authorities had to shutter schools on Saturday.

Shoveling snow on a Chelyabinsk street. RIA Novosti/Aleksandr Kondratuk

Yekaterinburg after a snowstorm. RIA Novosti/Pavel Lisitsyn

Young women cross a snow-covered bridge after a snowstorm in Yekaterinburg. RIA Novosti/Pavel Lisitsyn

Rough weather has led to numerous flight delays at airports in Chelyabinsk and Ekaterinburg. Some of the passengers had to spend up to 16 hours waiting for their flights which only resumed Saturday morning.

Urals meteorologists have said the last time the region was struck by a snowfall of such severity in springtime was 123 years ago. They've found an April 26, 1891 issue of "Ekaterinburg Week" magazine that reported how the region witnessed "even more snow fallen than throughout the whole winter". - RT.

Winter Remains In Romania, "It's As If We Were Preparing For Christmas, Not Easter"

Winter in April - In some places the snow measures 30 cm (12 inches).

(Google translate) - Just days before Easter , on April 14, it snowed like at Christmas. - road workers were out working just like in a regular month of winter !

Romania was under code yellow alert for snow and rain in 12 districts in the country !

Everyone hoped the snow would pass quickly, but on Friday it began snowing again, dumping 10 cm of snow on Predeal .

Tourist : "I got winter in the mountains, we came to leave for the summer and winter. I'm not ready , I had to change the tires.... two days of rain and sunny spring and summer and then two days - yesterday and today - two authentic winter days .

Worries for trees already in bloom and cultures that have sprung up in the garden

I Step Tihuta , which links Transylvania and Moldavia , snow removal machinery worked almost as hard as in full winter. Snow here measures 10 inches, and the wind blew hard. Temperatures dropped to 0 degrees on Friday, and people made ​​fires in their stoves . I am worried for the animals, but also for trees already in bloom and cultures that have sprung up in the garden.

Locals : "It's hard , this snow came upon us and that's so frustrating . Problems with garden, nothing you can do, should I expect now "

In this area , Easter begins with removing snow from the roof. In some places the snow measures 30 cm (12 inches).

In upland areas of Suceava , people woke up to a beautiful landscape ... winter . Rooftops blanketed in a thick layer of snow.

In Harghita , hundreds of people were left without power . In the center and north of the country , like the snow in Christmas .

The landscape looked like the middle of December.

People fear that the capricious weather will affect fruit trees already in bloom and spring crops .

Just days before Easter, in Romania it snowed like Christmas.
- Ice Age Now.

Storms Bring Tornado Threat Across U.S. Plains This Weekend
The area in yellow is at greatest risk of severe weather on Saturday. The green area could also see thunderstorms,
which are not expected to be severe. 
Storm Prediction Center

A strong storm system, with high winds and torrential rain, is taking shape in the south central United States this weekend and threatens to produce tornadoes, which have been relatively uncommon so far this year, forecasters said on Friday.

The storm is expected to develop in north central Texas on Saturday and move through Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and possibly Nebraska by Sunday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

"We are going to get a lot of moisture out of the Gulf of Mexico, strong winds and heat," said meteorologist Mike July, with the National Weather Service in Kansas City. "It all mixes a stew for storms to really work with."

The threat of tornadoes appears to be strongest in Kansas and Missouri and will dissipate as the system moves east by late Sunday or Monday, said July.

Only 109 tornadoes have been reported in the United States through April 24, less than a quarter of the yearly average of 451 by that date, according to data kept by the weather service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

No tornado deaths have been reported in the United States so far this year, compared with three through April last year, 66 in 2012 and 365 in 2011, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

More severe weather is expected in the weeks to come, said Jonathan Kurtz, a weather service meteorologist in Norman. "It's spring in the Plains and this happens every year," he said.

A lesser storm front is expected to hit the Mid-Atlantic states Friday afternoon with thunderstorms, damaging winds, large hail and possibly a few tornadoes, the National Weather Service said. - Yahoo.

State Of Emergency As Wildfire Rages On The Latvian-Russian Border
A state of emergency has been declared in the Lithuanian western Neringa Municipality on the Curonian Spit due to a spreading fire on the peninsula, which is a Site of a UNESCO World Heritage.

A call about the fire was received at around 11.55 am.

Having arrived at the scene, Minister of the Interior Dailis Alfonsas Barakauskas told the fire has engulfed 35 ha.

12 firefighter's vehicles are involved in the fire-extinguishing operation, assisted by a Mi-8 helicopter of the Armed Forces. According to the minister, Latvia has been asked to send one more helicopter.

Due to the fire, power supply has been shut down on the whole peninsula.

A huge fire broke out on the Curonian Spit in May, 2006. It was put down only after five days and the fire destroyed over 200 hectares of forest.

WATCH: Wildfire at Kaliningrad.



Scene of fire

Soundbite (Lithuanian), DAILIS ALFONSAS BARAKAUSKAS, minister of interior:

We are waiting for soldiers from Latvia, because we do not have more helicopters that could fight against fire. We are waiting for soldiers with spades and bulldozers to make a dig, we a counting an area of fire, it is bigger than previously thought, 35 ha.

Soundbite (Lithuanian), DARIUS JASAITIS, Mayor of Neringa, where Curonian Split belongs:
The wind has blown towards Klaipeda, towards Smiltine, so no one will be able to extinguish this barrel of gunpowder, it would burn out towards the sea, just like as it was before. However, if the wind would change, we would have interesting things... - LNRT.

Drought Covers 100 PERCENT Of California
A prolonged period of below-average rainfall has put the entire state of California under some level of drought, ranging in severity from moderate to exceptional, for the first time in 15 years.

The latest drought monitor released by the National Climatic Data Center this week shows that the entire state is under moderate drought conditions, but within that map, 76.6% of the state is experiencing extreme drought conditions, and for 24.7% of the state, the level of dryness is "exceptional."

During the same period last year, none of the state was considered to be under extreme or exceptional drought conditions, and just 30% fell under the "severe" category, according to the assessment released Thursday.

"This is a really serious situation here in California and people need to be cognizant of that and start conserving water as much as they can," said Jayme Laber, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service who is part of a team of scientists who contribute to the weekly drought monitor.

The lack of substantial precipitation over the last three rain seasons has affected every part of the state, "some worse than others," Laber said.

WATCH: 100 Percent of California is in drought.

While many municipalities across the state have instituted voluntary conservation measures, some have gone further. As of May 1, customers in Santa Cruz will have to cut their water use by 25% or face stiff financial penalties. The mandatory restrictions are the first for the city in 25 years, CBS San Francisco reported.

The statewide situation eased somewhat after soaking rains in Northern California earlier this year allowed the State Water Project, which supplies a majority of the state, to announce that it would make 5% of the system's allocation -- a minor bump from the zero allocation that customers had been expecting.

Still, NOAA reported last week that half of the Sierra Nevada's snowpack liquid water equivalent melted in one week, spurred by statewide temperatures that were as much as 12 degrees above average. The melt did little to boost reservoirs. - L.A. Times.

Wettest February-To-April On Record In Seattle
February was among the wettest on record with 6.11" in Seattle. March did it one better and smashed the all-time rain record with a whopping 9.44 inches.

While April likely won't make those lofty heights (11th wettest on record), when combined with the soggy February and March, they make quite the rain trio.

It's now the wettest February-to-April on record in Seattle, with 19.33" as of Thursday and more is on the way. The old record was 18.97 inches set in 1972.

WATCH:  Spring rain in Seattle.


The relatively dry January will likely prevent us from setting the wettest four-month start to a year, currently at 23.03 inches -- 5th wettest, but well behind the all-time record of 26.21 inches set in 1972.

Also, Seattle is nearing another rather obscure but amazing rainfall statistic: Another 0.76 inches of rain and Seattle could then go bone dry the entire rest of the year -- we're taking zero rain not just in the summer but through October, November, and December; a 200+ day consecutive dry streak -- and it would not go down as the driest year on record. That was 23.78 inches in 1952.

Long range forecasts do keep showers at times through the end of the month, although none of the days look as wet as what we've gone through the last few days. - KOMO News.

Ice Shifts Bridge In New Brunswick, Canada

Ice moving a Bridge In Sainte-Marie de Kent, New-Brunswick, Canada. The bridge has been moved 3 ft - 6 ft.

WATCH:  Ice moves and breaks bridge in Canada.


- Rene Girouard.

Sandstorm Turns Day Into Night In China
A street in Dunhuang is shrouded in floating dust during the storm, April 23.

A dense sandstorm turned day into night in Jiuquan in northwestern China's Gansu province on Wednesday afternoon, with visibility dropping to as low as 50 meters. Local authorities have since issued the highest dust storm warning for the area, reports the state-run China News Service.

A local resident told the news agency that it was as dark as evening by 3pm, with fierce wind and dust battering the city. Another local internet user said it was pitch dark in Dunhuang, a county-level city in Jiuquan, by around 2pm on the same day. The sky turned reddish-orange around half an hour later, the internet user said.

Dunhuang's Mogao Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site otherwise known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, was forced to close earlier than usual due to the storm. Visiting tourists were informed of the cause and related authorities arranged for their safe trips home.

A local meteorological station recorded visibility to be less than 50 meters in the desert city of Dunhuang and less than 500 meters in neighboring Subei Mongol autonomous county. Meanwhile, the strong winds reached level 10, or 89-102 kilometers per hour. The station predicted the storm will cover the entire Jiuquan area until Thursday afternoon.

The sandstorm is a natural phenomenon that takes place every year in the region, and often affects agricultural activities and may cause the temperature to drop by 10 C, China News Service said. - China Times.

State Of Emergency Declared In Bulgaria After Heavy Rainfall Down Bridges

A state of emergency has been declared in the municipality of Ruzhintsi in Bulgaria after torrential rain inundated the area, also flooding villages in the Vidin area, damaging bridges, private property and roads.

The emergency was announced after an April 24 special meeting at Ruzhintsi municipal headquarters of the crisis staff headed by Vidin deputy regional governor Nikolai Todorov.

Overnight, about 60 people were evacuated after the heavy rain in recent days flooded the villages of Gyurgich and Pleshivets.

While Bulgaria's Interior Ministry said that there had been no serious damage, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television reported that the mayors of the affected villages said that a house had been destroyed, yards flooded, cars deluged and bridges had collapsed.

Separate reports said that 10 bridges had been destroyed in the Ruzhintsi area because of the pouring rain that began in the area on April 18 and was continuing on April 24.

The bridges that were destroyed were in the villages of Ruzhintsi, Byalo Pove, Drenovets, Pleshivets, Roglets and Drazhintsi.

A disaster was declared in Chouprene Municipality on April 20 after the Gorni Lom River overflowed its banks.

Overflowing dams flooded dozens of houses in Vidin overnight, bTV reported.

Meanwhile, coloured rain fell overnight in Bulgaria, a phenomenon resulting from sand being borne from the Sahara by a cyclone that formed over northern Africa earlier in the week and which has been moving north-east, and was reportedly centred over Albania and Macedonia on April 24.

The Bulgarian Academy of Science said that the rain was not harmful. - Sofia Globe.

Dozens Die As Floods Engulf Northern Afghan Villages
Villagers took shelter on roofs as waters rose about them.

At least 58 people have been killed and hundreds of villagers left stranded in devastating flash floods in northern Afghanistan, officials say.

The governor of Jowzjan province warned that the number of victims was likely to rise.

People have been left trapped on the roofs of their homes and rescue helicopters have been deployed.

There are reports of flooding in other provinces in the north and west.

"Thousands of homes have been destroyed and thousands are suffering", Jowzjan's governor Boymurod Qoyinli told the BBC. He said that more than 80 people are missing and that 3,000 homes have been destroyed.

Many homes in the remote northern province have been submerged by the floods.

BBC Uzbek's Navid Nazari, reporting from the flood-hit areas, was told by one woman that she was taken by surprise by the flash flood just after reading evening prayers. She lost two of her children.

Heavy rain and storms on Thursday night created a perilous situation for villagers whose homes are largely built out of mud.

Three remote districts in the province were particularly badly affected, the governor told the BBC.

Our correspondent travelled on board one of the rescue helicopters deployed by the security forces.

He described a landscape where dozens of homes had been destroyed, many more submerged and villagers crouched on the roofs of their homes. - BBC.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Antarctica Iceberg Six Times The Size Of Manhattan In Open Ocean, Tracked By Scientists - Covers About 255 SQUARE MILES, Up To 500 Meters Thick!

April 25, 2014 - ANTARCTICA - Scientists are monitoring one of the largest icebergs in existence, after it broke off from an Antarctic glacier and began to head into the open ocean.

The B-31 Iceberg as it separated from a rift in Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier NASA/REUTERS

The iceberg covers about 255 square miles, making it roughly six times the size of Manhattan - and is up to 500 meters thick.

Known as B31, glacial crack that created the iceberg was first detected in 2011 but the iceberg separated from Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier in November.

NASA glaciologist Kelly Brunt said that the iceberg is not currently presenting a danger, but needs to be continually monitored.

"It's one that's large enough that it warrants monitoring. There is not a lot of shipping traffic down there. We're not particularly concerned about shipping lanes. We know where all the big ones are."

She added that scientists are especially interested because it originated in an unexpected location.

"It's like a large sheet cake floating through the Southern Ocean."

Scientists say the iceberg has floated across Pine Island Bay, a basin of the Amundsen Sea, and will likely be swept up soon in the swift currents of the Southern Ocean. - Telegraph.

GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS: Wheat Rust - The Fungal Disease That Threatens To WIPE OUT The World Crop!

April 25, 2014 - GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS - Scientists are warning that wheat is facing a serious threat from a fungal disease that could wipe out the world's crop if not quickly contained. Wheat rust, a devastating disease known as the "polio of agriculture", has spread from Africa to South and Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe, with calamitous losses for the world's second most important grain crop, after rice. There is mounting concern at the dangers posed to global food security.

The plant disease threatens the world's crops

Experts have been aware of the threat since a major epidemic swept across North America's wheat belt in the 1950s, destroying up to 40 per cent of the crop. Since then, tens of millions of pounds have been invested in developing rust-resistant varieties of the grain. However, an outbreak in Uganda in 1999 was discovered to have been caused by a virulent mutation of the fungus. There has been alarm at the speed at which further mutations have subsequently developed and spread across continents.

Plant scientists in Britain estimate the latest developments mean that 90 per cent of all current African wheat varieties are now vulnerable to the disease.

Last year, Germany witnessed its first outbreak of stem rust in more than 50 years. The outbreak was spurred by "a period of unusually high temperatures and an unusually late development of the wheat crop due to cold spring and early summer temperatures", explained Kerstin Flath, of Germany's Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants.

A further outbreak occurred in Ethiopia last November, with farmers losing on average 50 per cent of their wheat crop; the worst affected lost up to 70 per cent. Experts met in Mexico last month to discuss the threat. Work is under way to examine the different strains, to identify similarities.

According to Dr David Hodson, of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Addis Ababa, the disease's threat lies in its ability to cause "large- scale destruction in a very short period of time over very large cultivated areas". Rust epidemics could be compared to a forest fire, Dr Hodson said. Once it manages to gain ground it can very quickly spread out of control. The fungus reproduces millions of wind-borne spores, each of which is capable of starting a new infection.

Fazil Dusunceli, of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, said that the fungal disease, along with drought, are major challenges to wheat production globally.

He warned that countries need to react quickly to counter the new fungal varieties: "Production of new seed varieties is critical." He said the UN was looking to countries such as the US, Britain and other European nations to lead the fight. "Developed countries have well-established institutions, programmes and capacities that developing countries lack. The developing countries are not sufficiently prepared to fight against these diseases and so when epidemics occur they encounter significant losses," he said.

British scientists from the Sainsbury Laboratory, together with those from the world-renowned John Innes centre, both in Norwich are in the vanguard of efforts to combat the outbreaks. The UK teams are trying to control the disease with genetics rather than develop more powerful chemical fungicides. The work currently includes cloning new sources of resistance from wild grasses and from barley, which they think is essentially completely resistant to wheat rust.

Academics at Cambridge University, led by Professor Christopher Gilligan, are using sophisticated mathematical models to help predict the likely spread from outbreaks. "The project is designed to develop and test mathematical models that can be used to improve understanding of when, where and how disease spreads, which regions are most at risk and how to control epidemics," Professor Gilligan said.

Using models from the UK Meterological Office, the Cambridge team were able to predict the likely spread of the Ethiopian outbreak. "The results helped to direct sampling teams to find further outbreaks, from which it became apparent the epidemic was more severe and widespread than had been previously reported." Further work by the modellers has identified which of the countries surrounding Ethiopia in Africa, and the Middle East, are most at risk. "The current evidence suggests that the risk of direct spread to the Indian subcontinent is small during the winter months," Professor Gilligan said.

"The models show, however, that the fungus could spread in stages, by first infecting wheat crops in the Middle East and then spreading to other major wheat-growing areas."

According to scientists, climate change is in part behind the threat. The aggressive spread of two forms of the fungus is widely believed to be linked to its rapid adaptation to warmer conditions. Dr Hodson said this is resulting in outbreaks in countries not previously affected, with epidemics in several countries from North Africa to South Asia.

"The result has been large-scale epidemics in many parts of the world and stripe rust appearing in areas that were not considered favourable environments for the disease. Conditions this year were extremely favourable for rust development. In Ethiopia more than 600,000 hectares of wheat were affected - about one-third of the total area under wheat cultivation. Farmers suffered considerable production losses.

"Precise effects are difficult to ascertain. Certainly climate change is having an influence, and will have an influence on pests and diseases in terms of shifts in distribution patterns and shifts in the timing of their appearance."

Pests and diseases are a major threat to agriculture around the world, producing blights that cost farmers millions in lost production.

Black stem rust (Puccinia graminis) on bearded (awned) wheat stems

Signs of blight

Wheat rusts (yellow, leaf and stem rust) are fungal diseases that affect wheat in almost every country in which it grows, as infectious spores are transmitted by wind and through soil. Seven to 15 days after infection, small red dots called uredinia begin to form on the leaf or stem surface. The stem rust fungus, Puccinia graminis, attaches to another organism to survive, killing the host in the process.

Phytophthora infestans on potato

Kill list

Pests and diseases are a major threat to agriculture around the world, producing blights that cost farmers millions in lost production.

Asian soybean rust affects the soya crop in Brazil - the world's biggest producer. There are more than 244 confirmed cases this year. Industry spending on insecticides and fungicides is expected to reach $11bn (£6.6bn).

Cocoa pod borer disease Cocoa bean production in Indonesia, the world's third-largest producer, is likely to dip 2 per cent to 410,000 tonnes for 2013-2014, according to the International Cocoa Organisation. The fall is in part due to a tiny, mosquito-sized moth which attacks the plant.

Potato blight is a fungus-like organism (above) that thrives in damp, humid conditions. The speed with which blight infection occurs and the devastating impact on the crop make it the biggest threat to the six million tonnes of potatoes produced in the UK each year.

Coffee leaf rust is an orange-coloured fungus that has swept through coffee fields from Mexico to Panama. The epidemic is affecting the livelihoods of more than two million people and causing the loss of 500,000 jobs.

Banana fungus (TR4) This soil-borne disease is threatening banana crops in North America, Europe, South-east Asia, the Middle East and Africa; the value of traded bananas worldwide totals $8.9bn. - Independent.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Astronauts Reveal Very Sobering Data On Asteroid Impacts - Since 2001, 26 ATOMIC-BOMB-SCALE EXPLOSIONS Have Occurred In Remote Locations Around The World!

April 25, 2014 - SPACE -   This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought... three to ten times more, in fact.

The bolide that impacted the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk in Feb. 2013 detonated with the equivalent
of 530 kilotons of TNT, injuring over 1,200 people.

A new visualization of data from a nuclear weapons warning network, to be unveiled by B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu during the evening event at Seattle's Museum of Flight, shows that "the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid is blind luck."

Since 2001, 26 atomic-bomb-scale explosions have occurred in remote locations around the world, far from populated areas, made evident by a nuclear weapons test warning network. In a recent press release B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu states:

"This network has detected 26 multi-kiloton explosions since 2001, all of which are due to asteroid impacts. It shows that asteroid impacts are NOT rare - but actually 3-10 times more common than we previously thought. The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown in the video was detected in advance is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid is blind luck. The goal of the B612 Sentinel mission is to find and track asteroids decades before they hit Earth, allowing us to easily deflect them."

The Sentinel Space Telescope in orbit around the Sun.Ball Aerospace

The B612 Foundation is partnered with Ball Aerospace to build the Sentinel Infrared Space Telescope Mission. Once positioned in solar orbit closer to the Sun from Earth, Sentinel will look outwards in infrared to detect hundreds of thousands of as-yet unknown near-Earth objects over 140 meters in size. The privately-funded spacecraft is slated to launch in 2017-18 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

In addition to Lu, Space Shuttle astronaut Tom Jones and Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders will be speaking at the event, titled "Saving the Earth by Keeping Big Asteroids Away." 

The Sentinel Space Telescope in orbit around the Sun. Credit: Ball Aerospace. The event will be held at 6 p.m. PDT at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA. It is free to the public and the visualization will be made available online on the B612 Foundation website. - PHYSORG.