Tuesday, May 6, 2014

PLANETARY TREMORS: Strong 6.1 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes West Of The Chile Rise!

May 06, 2014 - CHILE - A strong magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit west of the Chile Rise, on Tuesday at  20:52:26 UTC, the U.S. Geological Survey and local officials said.

There were no reports of serious damage to Chile or any structure on the South American mainland.

USGS earthquake location.

The quake, initially reported as a magnitude 6.5, struck at a depth of 6.2 miles, 975 miles southeast of Easter Island, Chile; and 1,280 miles west of Lebu, Chile.

The navy said the quake did not meet the conditions needed to generate a tsunami off the country's Pacific coastline.

Nearly four years ago, a massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami ravaged central-southern Chile, killing hundreds of people and causing billions of dollars worth of damage.

Seismotectonics of South America (Nazca Plate Region).
The South American arc extends over 7,000 km, from the Chilean margin triple junction offshore of southern Chile to its intersection with the Panama fracture zone, offshore of the southern coast of Panama in Central America. It marks the plate boundary between the subducting Nazca plate and the South America plate, where the oceanic crust and lithosphere of the Nazca plate begin their descent into the mantle beneath South America. The convergence associated with this subduction process is responsible for the uplift of the Andes Mountains, and for the active volcanic chain present along much of this deformation front. Relative to a fixed South America plate, the Nazca plate moves slightly north of eastwards at a rate varying from approximately 80 mm/yr in the south to approximately 65 mm/yr in the north. Although the rate of subduction varies little along the entire arc, there are complex changes in the geologic processes along the subduction zone that dramatically influence volcanic activity, crustal deformation, earthquake generation and occurrence all along the western edge of South America.

Most of the large earthquakes in South America are constrained to shallow depths of 0 to 70 km resulting from both crustal and interplate deformation. Crustal earthquakes result from deformation and mountain building in the overriding South America plate and generate earthquakes as deep as approximately 50 km. Interplate earthquakes occur due to slip along the dipping interface between the Nazca and the South American plates. Interplate earthquakes in this region are frequent and often large, and occur between the depths of approximately 10 and 60 km. Since 1900, numerous magnitude 8 or larger earthquakes have occurred on this subduction zone interface that were followed by devastating tsunamis, including the 1960 M9.5 earthquake in southern Chile, the largest instrumentally recorded earthquake in the world. Other notable shallow tsunami-generating earthquakes include the 1906 M8.5 earthquake near Esmeraldas, Ecuador, the 1922 M8.5 earthquake near Coquimbo, Chile, the 2001 M8.4 Arequipa, Peru earthquake, the 2007 M8.0 earthquake near Pisco, Peru, and the 2010 M8.8 Maule, Chile earthquake located just north of the 1960 event.

USGS plate tectonics for the region.

Large intermediate-depth earthquakes (those occurring between depths of approximately 70 and 300 km) are relatively limited in size and spatial extent in South America, and occur within the Nazca plate as a result of internal deformation within the subducting plate. These earthquakes generally cluster beneath northern Chile and southwestern Bolivia, and to a lesser extent beneath northern Peru and southern Ecuador, with depths between 110 and 130 km. Most of these earthquakes occur adjacent to the bend in the coastline between Peru and Chile. The most recent large intermediate-depth earthquake in this region was the 2005 M7.8 Tarapaca, Chile earthquake.

Earthquakes can also be generated to depths greater than 600 km as a result of continued internal deformation of the subducting Nazca plate. Deep-focus earthquakes in South America are not observed from a depth range of approximately 300 to 500 km. Instead, deep earthquakes in this region occur at depths of 500 to 650 km and are concentrated into two zones: one that runs beneath the Peru-Brazil border and another that extends from central Bolivia to central Argentina. These earthquakes generally do not exhibit large magnitudes. An exception to this was the 1994 Bolivian earthquake in northwestern Bolivia. This M8.2 earthquake occurred at a depth of 631 km, making it the largest deep-focus earthquake instrumentally recorded, and was felt widely throughout South and North America.

Subduction of the Nazca plate is geometrically complex and impacts the geology and seismicity of the western edge of South America. The intermediate-depth regions of the subducting Nazca plate can be segmented into five sections based on their angle of subduction beneath the South America plate. Three segments are characterized by steeply dipping subduction; the other two by near-horizontal subduction. The Nazca plate beneath northern Ecuador, southern Peru to northern Chile, and southern Chile descend into the mantle at angles of 25° to 30°. In contrast, the slab beneath southern Ecuador to central Peru, and under central Chile, is subducting at a shallow angle of approximately 10° or less. In these regions of “flat-slab” subduction, the Nazca plate moves horizontally for several hundred kilometers before continuing its descent into the mantle, and is shadowed by an extended zone of crustal seismicity in the overlying South America plate. Although the South America plate exhibits a chain of active volcanism resulting from the subduction and partial melting of the Nazca oceanic lithosphere along most of the arc, these regions of inferred shallow subduction correlate with an absence of volcanic activity. - USGS.

PLANETARY TREMORS: The Hollywood Landmarks That Could Be Lost To An EARTHQUAKE - Controversial New Map Reveals Hotels, Schools And Churches Lie On Fault Lines!

May 06, 2014 - CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - Nearly a century ago, as Hollywood rose from lemon groves, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church was built on a steep slope near Yucca Street.

The new Hollywood fault line: The buildings now affected by the zone (shown in green) include landmarks such as the
Capitol Records tower in Hollywood, the Mondrian, Chateau Marmont and Standard hotels in West Hollywood,
elementary and high schools and the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center

But it was only this year that the pastor found out his church may lie atop an earthquake fault capable of tearing it in two.

In January, the California Geological Survey issued preliminary fault maps for Los Angeles County for the first time in nearly two decades. One of the maps shows the approximate path of the Hollywood fault going directly under the church.

The mapped fault lines cut through more than 1,500 developed properties, according to a Times analysis of maps of the Hollywood fault and the Sierra Madre and Duarte faults in the northern San Gabriel Valley.

Preschools, senior housing, luxury hotels on the Sunset Strip, one of San Gabriel Valley's largest housing developments and Bradbury's City Hall were built along hillsides that geologists say were formed by earthquakes.

The buildings include landmarks such as the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood, the Mondrian and Standard hotels in West Hollywood, three elementary schools, a performing arts college and Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School.

A total of about 12,000 properties lie in the newly drawn fault zones, roughly 500 feet on each side of estimated fault lines.

State law prohibits new construction on faults. Once the state finalizes the maps — a decision expected later this year after public hearings and appeals — development will be restricted within the fault zones. Owners wanting to build would have to do underground seismic testing, which is the only definitive way to locate a fault.

For building owners, the maps raise legal and moral issues.

"There's a lot of unanswered questions," said Jaime Edwards-Acton, senior pastor at St. Stephen's. "We have to figure out: Do we have to change anything?"

If a building lies on a fault, there is no engineering solution to resist the movement of the earth in opposite directions, said State Geologist John Parrish.

The remedy would be to tear down the building and rebuild away from the fault, something that would not be feasible for most properties.

Single-family homes make up about 3 out of 4 properties in the zones. Their owners generally have one option: Live with the risk and, as required by state law, inform future buyers the house is in a fault zone.

But for others, the choice is much more complex.


Public schools reacted quickly to the new fault maps.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has begun an underground study to see whether the Hollywood fault runs underneath Atwater Avenue Elementary School. In the past, L.A. Unified has demolished classroom buildings found to be on top of faults.

The Azusa Unified School District has also begun searching for the fault shown crossing the campus of Charles Lee Elementary School.

Other school districts have routinely razed classrooms that have faults underneath.

"If you knowingly have a population inhabiting them, you've got not only a legal but a moral obligation to address it," said Denise Whittaker, former president of San Bernardino Valley College, which demolished several buildings along the San Jacinto fault in the 2000s.

Legal counsel advised the district's board "that if they didn't fix the buildings … they were personally liable," said the chancellor at the time, Donald Averill.

Unlike public school trustees, who deliberate in public and can tap public funds, the leaders of two private schools are saying little about what they will do.

"We have and will continue to take responsive steps — including the review and assessment of our own particular site — and action, if necessary," said Julie McCormick, president of Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School. "The safety of our students and faculty is our highest priority."

"We are taking all of this very seriously," said Ted Hamory, head of the Oaks School, a $21,000-a-year private elementary school that leases space in Hollywood United Methodist Church.

"We are consulting with experts to help us determine the potential impact of this new information and to help us plan accordingly," he said.


Luxury hotels on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood — the Mondrian, the Sunset Tower and the Standard — illustrate the delicate public relations problem facing owners of highly valuable properties.

The Standard "will take necessary precautions to ensure the safety of their guests, which could potentially include structural assessment or seismic investigation," spokeswoman Kaitlin Kominsky said.

Representatives of the Sunset Tower and the Mondrian declined to comment.

Dealing with the earthquake risk is complicated by uncertainty among scientists about exactly where the faults actually lie.

In some areas, state geologists are fairly certain of fault locations based on such features as the hill St. Stephen's sits upon or sharp changes in the soil, rock and groundwater levels. Along other sections, scientists have estimated the path of faults by connecting points where a fault has been identified through excavation. Also, unidentified fault strands could extend away from the main path.

Seismic experts consider underground studies the best way to determine the path of a fault. But even that may not always be definitive, if, for example, the trench is not dug deep enough.

The Royal Oaks senior living center near Bradbury took what its owner thought were reasonable precautions before constructing a new building in the 1990s. It hired geologists to dig trenches, and they concluded there was no fault under the site.

Now the preliminary state map puts a line underneath the building. State geologists say previous trenches weren't deep enough to be conclusive.

Royal Oaks spokesman Dan Hutson said the owner, be.group, hasn't decided what to do.

"It's a tough situation," Hutson said. "For seniors, they're better off living in a senior living community.… We've got 24-hour staff, emergency generators, food and nursing."


The new maps have caught many by surprise, because California had virtually stopped drawing fault zones.

Mapping active earthquake faults is required under the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act, which generally prohibits building over active faults. The state law passed after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake ripped apart many homes directly on top of the San Fernando fault.

State officials were initially aggressive about mapping faults, but budget cuts stalled efforts over the last 20 years. Of an estimated 7,000 miles of active faults in California, 2,000 still need to be mapped — in places such as L.A. County's Westside, Orange County, Pasadena, Lake Tahoe and the San Diego and San Francisco Bay areas.

Parrish, the state geologist, accelerated the mapping of the Hollywood fault after the Los Angeles City Council approved the controversial Millennium Hollywood skyscraper project despite his warnings that it may fall within a fault zone.

The stakes are high for developers planning multimillion dollar projects.

If developers can satisfy local building officials that a fault does not run under the site, they are free to build. For that reason, owners of high-value properties sometimes obtain their own geological reports to make the case that the fault does not cross their land.

Millennium Partners, which co-owns the Capitol Records building and is seeking to build two skyscrapers next to it, says the state's fault map is wrong. Millennium's geologists have taken soil samples and plan to dig a trench.

"We are confident the trenching will corroborate our previous investigations and demonstrate conclusively that no active fault exists on our site," Philip Aarons, one of the developers at Millennium Partners, said in a statement.

Blvd6200, a large residential and commercial project under construction at 6201 Hollywood Blvd., lies directly in the state's estimated path of the Hollywood fault.

A geologist hired by the developer monitored the excavation of the site for underground parking and concluded that the fault "is not clearly detectable," said lawyer John M. Bowman. The state is evaluating the company's appeal of the fault map. The state's new fault map would not halt Blvd6200's construction, which is nearly complete, but the company wants the line removed.

WATCH: Preliminary Hollywood fault zone on Google Earth.


The developer of Rosedale, a large master-planned community in Azusa, is making a different argument. Its geologist, Eldon Gath, contends that "an abundance of evidence" shows that a fault crossing underneath several recently constructed homes last caused earthquakes so long ago, "there is no hazard from rupture."

State geologists reached a different conclusion, saying in January that the fault is active. The California Geological Survey is evaluating the developer's appeal.

Some property owners say they can't afford to hire a geologist to conduct a study, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Pastor Edwards-Acton of St. Stephen's, which has a preschool attached, said he doesn't know where the church will find the money needed to learn more about the fault.

"I don't know what the resources are to address these things," Edwards-Acton said. "Is the state going to step up? Who helps?" - LA Times.

SOLAR WATCH: NASA Captures Huge Explosion On The Surface Of The Sun! [VIDEO]

May 06, 2014 - SUN - Ever wanted to know what it's like to dance on the sun?

A NASA satellite captured stunning images from the surface of the sun last month.(Photo: NASA)

Instruments aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured stunning views of our nearest star late last month, as seen in this video of "prominence eruptions" blasting off the surface of the sun.

It's not a solar flare, according to NASA, but "material on the sun, doing what it always does, dancing and twisting — and in this case erupting off the side of the sun," according to NASA spokeswoman Susan Hendrix.

The material is a small, hovering mass of twisted plasma that shifts back and forth before erupting into space over the course of just one day.

The suspended plasma is being pulled and stretched by competing magnetic forces until something triggers the breakaway, NASA reports. This kind of activity is fairly common on the sun, but we have only been able to view them at this level of detail since the SDO began operations just four years ago.

WATCH: NASA captures huge explosion on the surface of the sun.

The SDO is a satellite that's in orbit around the Earth, with sensors pointed at the sun to take a variety of measurements of the sun and solar activity.

One of the mission's goals is to see how the sun's magnetic field is generated and structured, and how it impacts life on Earth and our telecommunications systems. - USA Today.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: The Strange Case Of Xeroderma Pigmentosum - Rare Disease In Brazilian Village Causing People To "MELT AWAY"?!

May 06, 2014 - BRAZIL - This is a village where the people melt away.

Tucked into the sunbaked rolling hills of Brazil's midwest, Araras is home to what is thought to be the largest single group of people suffering from a rare inherited skin disease known as xeroderma pigmentosum, or "XP."

Those with the disease are extremely sensitive to ultraviolet rays from sunlight and highly susceptible to skin cancers. It robs victims of the ability to repair the damage caused by the sun.

That's a particularly vexing burden in Araras, a tropical farming community where outdoor work is vital for survival.

"I was always exposed to the sun — working, planting and harvesting rice and caring for the cows," said Djalma Antonio Jardim, 38. "As the years passed my condition got worse."

Agriculture is no longer a real option for Jardim. He survives on a small government pension and meager earnings from an ice cream parlor he runs.

XP shows early signs that it has taken hold of its victims.

Jardim said he was just 9 when a large number of freckles and small lumps started appearing on his face, the tell-tale signs that experts say signal XP is present in children and call for measures to protect them against the sun.

Such precaution wasn't taken for Jardim, who now wears a large straw hat in an effort to protect his face. But it's helped little. He has undergone more than 50 surgeries to remove skin tumors.

In an effort to camouflage how the disease has eaten away the skin on his lips, nose, cheeks and eyes, Jardim wears a rudimentary orange-tinted mask, its stenciled-in right eyebrow not matching his bushy real one that remains.

Beyond skin damage and cancers, about one in five XP patients may also suffer from deafness, spastic muscles, poor coordination or developmental delays, according to the U.S.-based National Cancer Institute.

More than 20 people in this community of about 800 have XP. That's an incidence rate of about one in 40 people — far higher than the one in 1 million people in the United States who have it.

For years, nobody could tell Jardim or the others what was afflicting them.

"The doctors I went to said I had a blood disorder. Others said I had a skin problem. But none said I had a genetic disease," Jardim said. "It was only in 2010 that my disease was properly diagnosed."

Experts say Araras has such a high incidence rate because the village was founded by only a few families and several were carriers of the disease, so it was passed to future generations as villagers intermarried.

For instance, both of Jardim's parents were carriers of the defective gene that causes the disease, largely ensuring he would have it.

Gleice Francisca Machado, a village teacher whose 11-year-old son, Alison, has XP, has studied its history in the area and says she found cases of people having the disease going back 100 years. She has started an association that educates locals about XP and tries to get parents to take extra care for their children, even if they may not have outward signs of the illness themselves.

"The sun is our biggest enemy and those affected must change day for night in order live longer," Machado said. "Unfortunately, that is not possible." - Breitbart.

THE AGE OF TRANSCENDENCE: Despite The Inevitable March Towards The European Exo-Skeleton, Physicist Stephen Hawking Is Terrified Of Artificial Intelligence - Says "Success In Creating AI Would Be The Biggest Event In Human History, But It Might Also Be The LAST"!

May 06, 2014 - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - With the Hollywood blockbuster Transcendence playing in cinemas, with Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman showcasing clashing visions for the future of humanity, it's tempting to dismiss the notion of highly intelligent machines as mere science fiction. But this would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake in history.

Artificial-intelligence (AI) research is now progressing rapidly. Recent landmarks such as self-driving cars, a computer winning at Jeopardy! and the digital personal assistants Siri, Google Now and Cortana are merely symptoms of an IT arms race fuelled by unprecedented investments and building on an increasingly mature theoretical foundation. Such achievements will probably pale against what the coming decades will bring.

The potential benefits are huge; everything that civilisation has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools that AI may provide, but the eradication of war, disease, and poverty would be high on anyone's list. Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history.

Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks. In the near term, world militaries are considering autonomous-weapon systems that can choose and eliminate targets; the UN and Human Rights Watch have advocated a treaty banning such weapons. In the medium term, as emphasised by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee in The Second Machine Age, AI may transform our economy to bring both great wealth and great dislocation.

Stephen Hawking
Looking further ahead, there are no fundamental limits to what can be achieved: there is no physical law precluding particles from being organised in ways that perform even more advanced computations than the arrangements of particles in human brains. An explosive transition is possible, although it might play out differently from in the movie: as Irving Good realised in 1965, machines with superhuman intelligence could repeatedly improve their design even further, triggering what Vernor Vinge called a "singularity" and Johnny Depp's movie character calls "transcendence".

One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.

So, facing possible futures of incalculable benefits and risks, the experts are surely doing everything possible to ensure the best outcome, right? Wrong. If a superior alien civilisation sent us a message saying, "We'll arrive in a few decades," would we just reply, "OK, call us when you get here – we'll leave the lights on"?

Probably not – but this is more or less what is happening with AI. Although we are facing potentially the best or worst thing to happen to humanity in history, little serious research is devoted to these issues outside non-profit institutes such as the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, the Future of Humanity Institute, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, and the Future of Life Institute. All of us should ask ourselves what we can do now to improve the chances of reaping the benefits and avoiding the risks. - Stephen Hawking / Independent.

FIRE IN THE SKY: The Asteroid Grand Challenge - NASA Seeks Help To Save Earth From Killer Asteroids!

May 06, 2014 - SPACE - With nothing less at stake than the future of planet Earth, NASA has decided to crowd source ideas to detect and track asteroids that have the potential to wipe out life as we know it.

NASA has launched contests for smart folks around the globe to come up with ways
to keep an eye on asteroids that could threaten Earth.

After a previously undetected, 20-metre-wide asteroid exploded over Russia in February 2013, unleashing the force of 450,000 tonnes of TNT, NASA launched a series of contests for smart folks around the globe to come up with ways to keep an eye on asteroids that could threaten Earth.

Currently, NASA estimates that only 1 per cent of the millions of asteroids hurtling around our solar system have been found.

So NASA calls the series of contests that make up the Asteroid Grand Challenge “a broad call to action” to defend Earth against any number of asteroids that could be bearing down on us right this instant.

“Good ideas can come from anywhere,” said Ben Burress, staff astronomer at Oakland’s Chabot Space & Science Center, which is not affiliated with NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge. “There are millions of asteroids we don’t know about, so the idea of more information really is better. Are we going to be hit? Yes. The question is, when and by how big of an asteroid?”

In a video announcing the series of contests, a NASA narrator says, “Asteroid hunting is an activity everyone can get involved with, whether it’s writing computer code, building hardware, making observations through a telescope. Survival is its own reward. It’s up to each of us to protect our planet from asteroids.”

And in a throw down to all citizens of Earth, the narrator says, “The dinosaurs would have cared if they knew about this problem.”

With NASA out of the business of launching humans into space — and asteroid killer and action star Bruce Willis on the bench —“Earth’s defence,” as NASA calls it, is left in the hands of mere mortals.

NASA first invited what it calls “citizen scientists” to join the search for killer asteroids in March at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, during a session titled, “Are We Smarter than the Dinosaurs?”

On Friday, NASA ended the third contest of its competition to create an algorithm to detect hidden asteroids. No fewer than 422 people from 63 countries — from Argentina to Zimbabwe — submitted algorithmic solutions.

NASA spokeswoman Sarah Ramsey could not immediately say whether any entries came from the brightest algorithm-writing minds in Silicon Valley.

In all, NASA plans to award $35,000 this year to people who can figure out how to identify hidden asteroids.

The algorithm contests are managed by NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation. The centre uses the NASA Tournament Lab and its partner, the Harvard Business School, for its algorithmic and software development contests.

“For the past three years, NASA has been learning and advancing the ability to leverage distributed algorithm and coding skills through the NASA Tournament Lab to solve tough problems,” the lab’s director, Jason Crusan, said in a statement. “We are now applying our experience with algorithm contests to helping protect the planet from asteroid threats through image analysis.”

This year, NASA hopes to receive algorithms from citizen scientists that will enable it to find and track asteroids, identify their size and shape and whether they represent threats to Earth — then come up with ways to prevent them from hitting and wiping out plants, animals and humans.

“This is a big global problem that needs everybody to solve,” Ramsey said. “We can’t do it alone. That’s the whole point of the grand challenge.”

NASA plans 10 contests this year. Asked how long the entire Asteroid Grand Challenge will last, Ramsey said, “Until the problem’s solved.”

Here are the 10 most recent asteroid or meteor impacts that have left a “structure” — or crater —behind.
1. Kamil crater; Egypt; date unknown
2. Carancas crater; Peru; 7 years ago
3. Sikhote-Alin crater; Russia; 67 years ago
4. Wabar crater; Saudi Arabia; 140 years ago
5. Haviland crater, Kansas; 1,000 years ago
6. Sobolev crater; Russia; 1,000 years ago
7. Whitecourt crater, Alberta, Canada; 1,100 years ago
8. Campo Del Cielo crater; Argentina; 4,000 years ago
9. Kaalijarv crater; Estonia; 4,000 years ago, plus or minus 1,000 years
10. Henbury crater; Australia’s Northern Territory; 4,200 years ago, plus or minus 1,900 years
Note: The list does not include asteroids that blew up in the atmosphere without hitting Earth.
Source: Planetary and Space Science Centre Earth Impact Database

- The Star.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Global Food Crisis - California City Looks To Sea For Water In Drought!

May 06, 2014 - CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - This seaside city thought it had the perfect solution the last time California withered in a severe drought more than two decades ago: Tap the ocean to turn salty seawater to fresh water.

The $34 million desalination plant was fired up for only three months and mothballed after a miracle soaking of rain.

As the state again grapples with historic dryness, the city nicknamed the "American Riviera" has its eye on restarting the idled facility to hedge against current and future droughts.

"We were so close to running out of water during the last drought. It was frightening," said Joshua Haggmark, interim water resources manager. "Desalination wasn't a crazy idea back then."

Removing salt from ocean water is not a far-out idea, but it's no quick drought-relief option. It takes years of planning and overcoming red tape to launch a project.

Santa Barbara is uniquely positioned with a desalination plant in storage. But getting it humming again won't be as simple as flipping a switch.

After the plant was powered down in 1992, the city sold off parts to a Saudi Arabia company. The guts remain as a time capsule - a white elephant of sorts - walled off behind a gate near the Funk Zone, a corridor of art galleries, wineries and eateries tucked between the Pacific and U.S. 101.

The city estimates that it will need $20 million in technological upgrades, a cost likely to be borne by ratepayers. Any restart would require city council approval, which won't vote until next spring after reviewing engineering plans and drought conditions.

Santa Barbara, population 89,000, has enough water for this year and even next year by buying supplemental supplies and as long as residents continue to conserve.

While it may seem like a head-scratcher to put the plant in hibernation soon after it was built, officials said the decision saved the city millions of dollars in unnecessary operating costs.

"With the current drought likely to continue, they now appear as if they will be able to cash in on their insurance policy," said Tom Pankratz, editor of Water Desalination Report and consultant on several other desalination projects in California.

The cyclical nature of droughts has made it difficult, if not impossible, to bet on desalination. It requires prime coastal real estate and the foresight to diversify the water supply in flush and dry times. Communities that choose desalination may be more resilient to inevitable droughts in the future.

Santa Barbara relies on water piped through tunnels from the Santa Ynez Mountains. But with Lake Cachuma, the main reservoir, dangerously low, the city expects desalination to play a role.

"We live in a desert. We can expect droughts. It's just inevitable that desalination is going to become a part of our regular water portfolio," Haggmark said.

Santa Barbara is not alone in mulling desalination as parched conditions persist for a third straight year, forcing some rural places to ration water and farmers to fallow fields.

Earlier this year, the agency that delivers water to the central coast town of Cambria voted to approve an emergency desalination plant with the hopes of getting it running by July before water supplies dry up.

Instead of drawing ocean water, the proposed $5 million plant would pull brackish water from a well, treat it and reinject it into the aquifer. Since that would require a lengthy study, the plant likely won't be able to go online until fall.

Not long ago, there was a rush to quench California's growing thirst with seaside desalination plants. Currently, there are about a dozen proposed projects, according to the California Coastal Commission, which is charged with permitting the facilities.

The Western Hemisphere's largest desalination plant is under construction north of San Diego after overcoming years of regulatory hurdles. The developer - Poseidon Resources LLC - is seeking approval to build another one in Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles.

In California's agricultural belt, a solar-powered desalination plant in Fresno County has purified irrigation runoff for the past year. The output is small, but the operator hopes to expand.

Not every community embraces desalination. The port city of Long Beach is trying to reduce dependence on imported water but dropped the idea of desalination after realizing the cost.

In this April 25, 2014 photo, Joshua Haggmark, interim resources manager for Santa Barbara, Calif., stands next to a
desalination plant, which removes salt from ocean water, in Santa Barbara, Calif. The city is considering restarting
the plant as California withers in a drought. (AP Photo/Alicia Chang)

Australia, Singapore, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other thirsty countries are big desalination supporters, but tougher regulatory requirements have made it a harder sell in the U.S.

Many environmentalists see desalination as a last resort, contending it's an energy hog that sucks marine life into the plants.

Other options should be exhausted "before you start putting a straw into the ocean," said Susan Jordan, executive director of the California Coastal Protection Network based in Santa Barbara. "People tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to drought."

The city council is set to take action Tuesday on an $820,000 contract spelling out what's needed to restart the facility. The city contends that it has the permits to reactivate the plant, but the state coastal commission said it needs new or amended permits.

On a recent tour of the ghost plant, Haggmark inspected the onetime state-of-the-art control room. A pair of bulky desktop computers boasting floppy disk drives served as a vintage reminder. A line of trailers outside store the original pumps and empty metal cylinders that used to hold parts that have since been sold. Intake valves pulled from the seafloor sit exposed to the elements.

The original plant had a capacity to produce about 7,500 acre-feet of water per year, about half of the city's average water use. An acre foot is enough to last a family of four about a year.

Haggmark acknowledged desalination's limits, but he said it made sense to start considering it as an option to ease the strain on local supplies. The earliest restart date would be summer 2016.

"This community can't conserve its way out of this drought as it currently has been unfolding," he said. "It's just been unprecedentedly dry." - AP.

PLANETARY TREMORS: "We Haven't Seen This Before" - The USGS Issues RARE Earthquake Warning For Oklahoma!

May 06, 2014 - OKLAHOMA, UNITED STATES - Mile for mile, there are almost as many earthquakes rattling Oklahoma as California this year. This major increase in seismic shaking led to a rare earthquake warning today (May 5) from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Oklahoma earthquakes. USGS

In a joint statement, the agencies said the risk of a damaging earthquake - one larger than magnitude 5.0 - has significantly increased in central Oklahoma.

Geologists don't know when or where the state's next big earthquake will strike, nor will they put a number on the increased risk. "We haven't seen this before in Oklahoma, so we had some concerns about putting a specific number on the chances of it," Robert Williams, a research geophysicist with the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program in Golden, Colorado, told Live Science. "But we know from other cases around the world that if you have an increasing number of small earthquakes, the chances of a larger one will go up."

That's why earthquakes of magnitude 5 and larger are more frequent in states such as California and Alaska, where thousands of smaller temblors hit every year.

This is the first time the USGS has issued an earthquake warning for a state east of the Rockies, Williams said. Such seismic hazard assessments are more typically issued for Western states following large quakes, to warn residents of the risk of damaging aftershocks, he said.

Oklahoma earthquakes. USGS

The geological agencies took action after the rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma outpaced that of even California for the first few months of 2014. (California regained the lead in April.)

"The rate of earthquakes increased dramatically in March and April," Williams said. "That alerted us to examine this further and put out this advisory statement."

While Oklahoma's buildings can withstand light earthquakes, the damage from a magnitude-5 temblor could be widespread. Oklahoma's last major earthquake was in November 2011, when a magnitude-5.6 earthquake centered near Prague, Oklahoma, destroyed 14 homes and injured at least two people.

"Building owners and government officials should have a special concern for older, unreinforced brick structures, which are vulnerable to serious damage during sufficient shaking," Bill Leith, a USGS senior science adviser for earthquakes and geologic hazards, said in the joint statement.

While scientists haven't ruled out natural causes for the increase, many researchers suspect the deep injection wells used for the disposal of fracking wastewater could be causing the earthquake activity. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a method of extracting oil and gas by cracking open underground rock.

Ongoing studies have found a link between Oklahoma's high-volume wastewater injection wells and regions with an uptick in earthquakes.

WATCH: 2500+ Oklahoma Earthquakes Since 2012.

According to the USGS, the number of quakes magnitude-3 and stronger jumped by 50 percent in the past eight months in Oklahoma. Some 183 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater struck between October 2013 and April 14, 2014. The state's long-term average from 1978 to 2008 was only two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or larger per year.

If the earthquakes are caused by wastewater injection, then the activity could continue or decrease with future changes in well usage in the state.

"We don't know if this earthquake rate is going to continue," Williams said. "It could go to a higher rate or lower, so the increased chances of a damaging quake could change in the future." - Live Science.

BIG BROTHER NOW: The Rise Of The Global Police State - Is This The End Of Anonymity For All Of US, Face-Recognition Software Grows Exponentially?!

May 06, 2014 - GLOBAL POLICE STATE - From 2008 to 2010, as Edward Snowden has revealed, the National Security Agency (NSA) collaborated with the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to intercept the webcam footage of 1.8 million Yahoo users.

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook. Now the US
government is in the process of building the world's largest cache of face-recognition data,
with the goal of identifying every person in the country

The agencies were analysing images that they downloaded from webcams and scanning them for known terrorists who might be using the service to communicate, matching faces from the footage to suspects with the help of a new technology called face recognition.

The outcome was pure Kafka, with innocent people being caught in the surveillance dragnet. In fact, in attempting to find faces, the Pentagon's Optic Nerve program recorded webcam sex by its unknowing targets – up to 11 per cent of the material the program collected was "undesirable nudity" that employees were warned not to access, according to documents. And that's just the beginning of what face-recognition technology might mean for us in the digital era.

Over the past decade, face recognition has become a fast-growing commercial industry, moving from its governmental origins into everyday life. The technology is being pitched as an effective tool for securely confirming identities. To some, face recognition sounds benign, even convenient. Walk up to the international check - in at a German airport, gaze up at a camera and walk into the country without ever needing to pull out a passport – your image is on file, the camera knows who you are. Wander into a retail store and be greeted with personalised product suggestions – the store's network has a record of what you bought last time. Facebook already uses face recognition to recommend which friends to tag in your photos.

But the technology has a dark side. The US government is in the process of building the world's largest cache of face-recognition data, with the goal of identifying every person in the country. The creation of such a database would mean that anyone could be tracked wherever his or her face appears, whether it's on a city street or in a mall.

Face-recognition systems have two components: an algorithm and a database. The algorithm is a computer program that takes an image of a face and deconstructs it into a series of landmarks and proportional patterns – the distance between eye centres, for example. This process of turning unique biological characteristics into quantifiable data is known as biometrics.

Together, the facial data points create a "face-print" that, like a fingerprint, is unique to each individual. Some faces are described as open books; at a glance, a person can be "read". Face‑recognition technology makes that metaphor literal. "We can extrapolate enough data from the eye and nose region, from ear to ear, to build a demographic profile" including an individual's age range, gender and ethnicity, says Kevin Haskins, a business-development manager at the face-recognition company Cognitec.

Face-prints are collected into databases, and a computer program compares a new image or piece of footage with the database for matches. Cognitec boasts a match accuracy rate of 98.75 per cent, an increase of more than 20 per cent in the past decade. Facebook recently achieved 97.25 per cent accuracy after acquiring biometrics company Face.com in 2012.

So far, the technology has its limits. "The layman thinks that face recognition is out there and can catch you anytime, anywhere, and your identity is not anonymous any more," says Paul Schuepp, the co-founder of Animetrics, a decade-old face-recognition company based in New Hampshire. "We're not that perfect yet."

The lighting and angle of face images must be strictly controlled to create a usable face-print. "Enrolment" is the slightly Orwellian industry term for making a print and entering an individual into a face-recognition database. "Good enrolment means getting a really good photograph of the frontal face, looking straight on, seeing both eyes and both ears," Schuepp says.

How face recognition is already being used hints at just how pervasive it could become. It's being used on military bases to control who has access to restricted areas. In Iraq and Afghanistan it was used to check images of detainees against al-Qa'ida wanted lists. The police department in Seattle is already applying the technology to identify suspects on video footage.

The technology's presence is subtle and as it gets integrated into devices that we already use, it will be easy to overlook. The most dystopian example might be NameTag, a start-up that launched in February promising to embed face recognition in wearable computers such as Google Glass. The software would allow its users to look across a crowded bar and identify the anonymous cutie they are scoping out. The controversial company also brags that its product can identify sex offenders on sight.

As the scale of face recognition grows, there's a chance that it could take its place in the technological landscape as seamlessly as the iPhone. But to allow that to happen would mean ignoring the increasing danger that it will be misused.

By licensing their technology to everyone from military contractors to internet start-ups, companies such as Cognitec and Animetrics are churning a global biometrics industry that will grow to $20bn (£12bn) by 2020, according to Janice Kephart, the founder of Siba (Secure Identity and Biometrics Association). With funding from a coalition of face-recognition businesses, Siba launched in February 2014 to "educate about the reality of biometrics, bridging the gap between Washington and the industry", says Kephart, who previously worked as a legal counsel to the 9/11 Commission. Kephart believes biometric technology could have prevented the 9/11 attacks (which, she says, "caused a surge" in the biometrics industry) and Snowden's NSA leaks. She emphasises the technology's protective capabilities rather than its potential for surveillance. "Consumers will begin to see that biometrics delivers privacy and security at the same time," she says.

A businessman using a face recognition system (Alamy)

It's this pairing of seeming opposites that makes face recognition so difficult to grapple with. By identifying individuals, it can prevent people from being where they shouldn't be. Yet the profusion of biometrics creates an inescapable security net, with little privacy and the potential for serious mistakes, with dire consequences. An error in the face-recognition system could cause the ultimate in identity theft, with a Miley Cyrus lookalike dining on Miley's dime or a hacker giving your digital passport (and citizenship) to a stranger.

This summer, the FBI is focusing on face recognition with the fourth step of its Next Generation Identification (NGI) programme, a $1.2bn initiative launched in 2008 to build the world's largest biometric database. By 2013, the database held 73 million fingerprints, 5.7 million palm prints, 8.1 million mug shots and 8,500 iris scans. Interfaces to access the system are being provided free of charge to local law enforcement authorities.

Jennifer Lynch, staff attorney for the privacy-focused Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), notes that there were at least 14 million photographs in the NGI face-recognition database as of 2012. What's more, the database makes no distinction between criminal biometrics and those collected for civil-service jobs. "All of a sudden, your image that you uploaded for a civil purpose to get a job is searched every time there's a criminal query," Lynch says. "You could find yourself having to defend your innocence."

In the private sector, efforts are being made to ensure that face recognition isn't abused, but standards are vague. A 2012 Federal Trade Commission report recommends that companies should obtain "affirmative express consent before collecting or using biometric data from facial images". Facebook collects face-prints by default, but users can opt out of having their face-prints collected.

Technology entrepreneurs argue that passing strict laws before face-recognition technology matures will hamper its growth. "I don't think it's face recognition we want to pick on," Animetrics's Schuepp says. He suggests that the technology itself is not the problem; rather, it's how the biometrics data [is] controlled.

Yet precedents for biometric surveillance must be set early in order to control its application. "I would like to see regulation of this before it goes too far," Lynch says. "There should be laws to prevent misuse of biometric data by the government and by private companies. We should decide whether we want to be able to track people through society or not."

What would a world look like with comprehensive biometric surveillance? "If cameras connected to databases can do face recognition, it will become impossible to be anonymous in society," Lynch says. In the future, the government could know when you use your computer, which buildings you enter on a daily basis, where you shop and where you drive. It's the ultimate fulfilment of Big Brother paranoia.

But anonymity isn't going quietly. Over the past several years, mass protests have disrupted governments in countries across the globe, including Egypt, Syria and Ukraine. "It's important to go out in society and be anonymous," Lynch says. But face recognition could make that impossible. A protester in a crowd could be identified and fired from a job the next day, never knowing why. A mistaken face-print algorithm could mark the wrong people as criminals and force them to escape the spectre of their own image.

If biometric surveillance is allowed to proliferate unchecked, the only option left is to protect yourself from it. Artist Zach Blas has made a series of bulbous masks, aptly named the "Facial Weaponisation Suite", that prepare us for just such a world. The neon-coloured masks disguise the wearer and make the rest of us more aware of how our faces are being politicised.

"These technologies are being developed by police and the military to criminalise large chunks of the population," Blas says of biometrics. If cameras can tell a person's identity, background and whereabouts, what's to stop the algorithms from making the same mistakes as governmental authorities, giving racist or sexist biases a machine-driven excuse? "Visibility," he says, "is a kind of trap." - Independent.