Friday, December 19, 2014

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: The Ebola Outbreak - Sierra Leone's Leading Doctor Dies Of Ebola!

Ebola health care workers carry the body of a middle aged man that they suspected of dying from the Ebola,
on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014.   (AP Photo/ Abbas Dulleh)

December 19, 2014 - SIERRA LEONE
- Sierra Leone's leading doctor died of Ebola on Thursday, hours after the arrival in the country of an experimental drug that could have been used to treat him, the government's chief medical officer said.

Victor Willoughby was diagnosed with Ebola last week after he treated a man with organ-related problems.

The patient, a senior banker, was later diagnosed with Ebola and has since died.

The drug, ZMab, was transported in frozen form on a Brussels Airlines flight that arrived overnight. Before it could thaw, Willoughby's condition deteriorated, said chief medical officer Brima Kargbo.

His death brings to 12 the number of Sierra Leone doctors to have contracted the virus. Eleven have died. In all, 142 health workers have been infected with the disease in the West African country and 109 have died, according to World Health Organization figures.

Sierra Leone, neighboring Guinea and Liberia are at the heart of the world's worst recorded outbreak of Ebola. Rates of infection are rising fastest in Sierra Leone, which now accounts for more than half of the 18,603 confirmed cases of the virus.

The overall death toll from the epidemic has risen to 6,915 as of Dec. 14, the WHO said on Wednesday, adding that the increase in cases in Sierra Leone appeared to have slowed.

Kargbo said Willoughby's death was one of the most tragic to hit the country since the passing, in July, of its only virologist and Ebola specialist, Dr Shek Humar Khan.

WATCH: Sierra Leone struggles to deal with Ebola.

"We all looked up to Dr Willoughby and would consult him on many issues relating to our medical profession," Kargbo said.

Ebola centers in Sierra Leone overflowed on Wednesday as health workers combed the streets of the capital Freetown for patients, after the government launched a major operation to contain the epidemic.

Dr M'Baimba Baryoh, a surgeon at Connaught hospital Freetown who described Dr Willoughby as a "very good friend", said Sierra Leone had desperate need of more foreign healthcare workers as local staff were overstretched.

"We've lost personal friends and colleagues we've worked with. It's extremely depressing and frustrating.

You can talk to someone today and tomorrow they are Ebola-infected," he said.

"The tension, the depression, it's a lot of pressure. You start having nightmares because of Ebola." - Yahoo.

Tracking the EBOLA Virus Outbreak

ICE AGE NOW: United States Holiday Travel Forecast - Major Christmas Eve Winter Storm To Impact MILLIONS In Midwest, East!

December 19, 2014 - UNITED STATES
- A major storm centered on Christmas Eve will affect the Midwest and East with areas of strong winds, heavy snow, torrential rain and thunderstorms.

A storm forecast to develop over the lower Mississippi Valley on Tuesday, Dec. 23, is likely to strengthen dramatically, while it races northeastward toward the eastern Great Lakes on Christmas Eve.

The most far-reaching impact from the storm will be strong winds that develop and that have the potential to cause substantial flight delays along the Interstate-95 corridor, parts of the South and the Midwest. Turbulence could be an issue for some flights.

Those with direct or connecting flights to New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit and Chicago should be prepared for disruptions and delays due primarily to wind, but also rain, thunderstorms and in some cases snow.

Ripple-effect delays are possible elsewhere across the nation if aircraft and crews are displaced due to the weather in the Central and Eastern states.

Travel by ground may be challenging to dangerous at times for motorists, due to poor visibility in rain, urban flooding and wind in some areas, and due to snow, wind and slippery roads in others.

According to Northeast Weather Expert Dave Dombek, "The current anticipated track of the storm will lead to primarily a rain event on the Atlantic coast and in much of the Appalachians."

A period of windswept rain will swing northeastward spanning Tuesday night through Wednesday night in the East. The worst of the wind and rain on the front-side of the storm may be from Philadelphia to New England.

"Fog may be a problem in parts of the Northeast, due to warmer air moving in on cold ground and snow cover in some locations," Dombek said.

WATCH: Holiday Travel Forecast.

A storm forecast to be as dynamic as this is likely to produce thunderstorms.

According to Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity, "A storm that becomes as strong as we suspect could produce severe thunderstorms from the eastern part of the Carolinas to Delmarva."

Thunderstorms could extend as far north as southern New England and as far south as Florida.

Snow during part of the storm is likely in the Upper Midwest. This includes the cities of Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis.

While it is too early to say where the heaviest snow will fall, there is the potential for a sudden burst of snow and a quick freeze-up to occur in the swath from Wisconsin and Illinois to Indiana, Ohio, western Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Michigan.

Snow could reach as far south as Tennessee, since colder air will wrap around the storm, before dry air sweeps precipitation away.

According to AccuWeather Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski, "Impact from adverse weather conditions from the storm will not stop on Christmas Eve."

As the colder air sweeps into the Appalachians from south to north spanning Christmas Eve night through Christmas Day, there is a similar chance of a period of accumulating snow behind the storm.

Depending on how much the storm intensifies, gusty winds, with and without snow, will continue and may increase and become very strong over the Midwest on Christmas Day.

Gusty winds from the west will buffet areas of the Atlantic Seaboard in the absence of snow on Christmas Day as well. The winds will blast colder air into the region.

The best advice for travelers at this time around the Christmas holiday is to consider leaving for your destination before the worst of the storm hits, such as Monday into Tuesday.

There is a risk of getting stuck on the road or at an airport terminal especially in the Midwest and Northeast on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day.

Travel conditions will improve over much of the area from south to north spanning later Christmas Day and Friday.

A shift in storm track farther east or west will determine which areas in the Midwest will be hit with mostly rain versus mostly snow. The speed of the storm will also affect which days are the best and worst for travel next week.

Meanwhile, as a storm affects a heavily-populated area of the Central and Eastern states around Christmas, a different storm will affect part of the West with areas of heavy rain and snow. - AccuWeather.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Ebola Outbreak - Child Quarantined After Ebola Screening Alert At Chicago's O'Hare Airport!

File photo.

December 19, 2014 - CHICAGO, UNITED STATES
- A child with a fever has been admitted to University of Chicago Medical Center to be checked for the Ebola virus after being screened at O’Hare International Airport.

The child, whose age and gender was not released, was admitted "for observation to rule out Ebola virus disease," the hospital said in a statement.

"Federal authorities identified the child as having a fever but no other symptoms of Ebola during screening at O’Hare.

"The patient has been isolated under strict quarantine protocols until the child’s condition improves and a diagnosis is established,” the statement said.

WATCH: Child with fever checked for Ebola virus after screening at O'Hare.

"The patient is in stable condition at this time. No other information can be shared about the child due to patient privacy laws."

The hospital said there is "no threat to the public, our staff and our patients.

Clinics and operating rooms at the medical center remain on their normal schedules."

The hospital said it was in contact with local and national public health officials, and said the next update would be at 5 p.m. Friday.

Health officials say there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in the Chicago area.

The University of Chicago Medical Center is one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's designated Ebola treatment facilities.  -  Chicago Tribune.

Tracking the EBOLA Virus Outbreak

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Global Volcanism - Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano's Lava Is Now Less Than One Mile From Commercial Plaza At The Junction Of Pahoa Village And The Main Highway; Advanced 220 Yards In Just 24 Hours; Measures 250 FEET Across! [VIDEO]

December 19, 2014 - HAWAII - The lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island is creeping closer to civilization every day and is now only a mile away from a grocery store and a gas station, reports say.

The volcano which began to spew lava again in June is slowly edging toward the town of Pahoa. Experts calculate that the lava lobe could contact the town by Christmas if the volcano continues its current action.

“Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey said the flow measured about 250 feet across and had advanced about 220 yards in 24 hours, putting its leading edge 0.9 mile from a small commercial plaza at the junction of Pahoa Village Road and the main highway,” Reuters reported on Thursday.

WATCH: Lava flow motion - Kilauea molten vomit closes in on Pahoa market Hawaii.

Some say that the lava flow could intersect the main road near the town’s grocery store and gas station and will then engulf the town’s city center and business district. It will be the worst destruction since 1983, when this lava flow from Kilauea first erupted.

The gas station has emptied its underground gasoline storage tanks and replaced it with water and fire-retardant foam.

Authorities are preparing for an evacuation if the situation demands it.

There have been two earthquakes in the area, too.

“On Nov. 22 at 7:58 a.m., a magnitude-3.3 earthquake occurred 19 miles northwest of Kailua-Kona at a depth of 4 miles,” West Hawaii Today reported. “On Nov. 23 at 7:35 a.m., a magnitude-3.3 earthquake occurred 1 mile west of Volcano at a depth of 1 mile.” - Breitbart.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC WAR: Europe Destabilizes Russia Through The United States Corporation - Russia Has Begun Selling Its Gold, According To SocGen!

December 19, 2014 - RUSSIA
- A few days ago, we first reported a rumor that was floating around Wall Street desks, and which, according to some, was the "reason" that gold was being kept lower even as sovereign risk was exploding around the globe. The rumor was that Russia was selling its gold holdings.
This led to Bloomberg speculating, and us rhetorically asking, if "Putin's next step will be to sell gold"
"Russia is at a critical juncture and given the sanctions placed upon them and the rapid decline in oil prices, they may be forced to dip into their gold reserves, if it happens it will push gold lower." That is what, according to some people Bloomberg has quoted, is in the cards.

While some suggest the accumulation was "tradition"
it is still nonetheless an impressive aggregation of the barbarous relic:

So given the efforts to build this gold-backing for their nation's currency, do we really expect Putin to now dump his physical: or perhaps more strategically suggest a true gold-backed currency and jawbone the currency that way?
So what is the truth? Well, we won't for sure until the next official report by the Central Bank of Russia hits the IMF database,  but in the menatime, SocGen just reported that the selling may have started:

Looking at the correlation between gold and oil prices, the chart above illustrates that both commodities were moving closely in tandem over the July to September period. However, this link was broken in early October when gold embarked upon the new rally on weaker US dollar and some physical support, while oil prices continued to slide. The rally, nonetheless, proved to be short lived, as gold returned to its downtrend after hitting the $1,250 level on 21 October, and continued to move down, along with oil, for the remainder of the month.

Starting from November we have seen gold and oil prices moving in opposite directions again. As we mentioned earlier, oil prices came under significant pressure on concerns about a growing global oil supply glut. On the contrary, gold recovered some of its earlier losses, supported by fresh buying interest in India on the news that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was reviewing gold import restrictions that were introduced last year. Towards the end of November, the RBI surprised the markets by announcing the withdrawal of the 80:20 rule, which saw gold imports surging to 150 tonnes that month, according to the latest statistics from the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry. In addition, worries over the potential impact of stronger US dollar on the global economy spurred some safe-haven buying. 


It is not surprising that Russia has been tackling its financial problems by selling the gold they have been accumulating. According to the IMF data this year, one of the world's largest oil exporters acquired 115 tonnes in the January to September period, and added another 18.9 tonnes to their reserves in October. Russia has been purchasing the yellow metal at a faster pace this year, taking advantage of lower gold prices and, perhaps, preparing for the possibility of a long-lasting restrained relationship with the West and economic downturn. It appears possible that the Central Bank of Russia has started to sell off some of its gold reserves in December, with some sources reporting that official gold reserves dropped by $4.3 billion in the first week of the month.

Of course, it should be noted that SocGen and its "sources" have a conflict: in an indirect way, none other than SocGen is suddenly very interested in Russia stabilizing its economy because as we wrote before, "Russia Contagion Spreads To European Banks : French SocGen, Austrian Raiffeisen Plummet" which also sent SocGen's default risk higher in recent days. So if all it will take to stabilize the RUB sell off, reduce fears of Russian contagion, and halt the selloff of SocGen stocks is a "source" reporting what may or may not be the case, so be it.

In any event, keep a close eye on the next update of Russian official gold holdings: it may well be the next big story of where gold is headed and, if true, an even more important question will be who is Russia selling its gold to. - Zero Hedge.

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: Galaxies Spiral Into Each Other - Create Stupendously Spectacular Light Show! [VIDEO + PHOTOS]

A new composite image of NGC 2207 and IC 2163 contains X-rays from Chandra X-Ray Observatory
(X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/S.Mineo et al, Optical: NASA/STScI, Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

December 19, 2014 - SPACE
- Two colliding galaxies in the Canis Major constellation put on an impressive light display that was captured in a composite image using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The galaxies, named NGC 2207 and IC 2163, were “caught in a grazing encounter,” NASA said in a statement. The two have hosted three supernova explosions over the last 15 years, producing “one of the most bountiful collections of super bright X-ray lights known.”

These super bright X-ray lights are called “ultraluminous X-ray sources” ‒ or ULXs ‒ which have far brighter X-rays than most “normal” X-ray binaries, or star systems consisting of a star in a tight orbit around either a neutron star or a “stellar-mass” black hole. The strong gravity of the central object pulls matter from the companion star. As this matter falls toward the neutron star or black hole, it is heated to millions of degrees and generates X-rays, according to the space agency.

The kaleidoscopic composite image of NGC 2207 and IC 2163 contains Chandra data in pink, optical light data from the Hubble Space Telescope in red, green and blue (appearing as blue, white, orange and brown), and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope in red.

The new Chandra image contains about five times more observation time than previous efforts to study ULXs in this galaxy pair. Scientists now tally a total of 28 ULXs between the two galaxies, which are slowly merging. Of those, seven were previously undetected because they were in a “quiet” phase during the earlier studies.

X-ray image of NGC 2207 and IC 2163 spiral galaxies (NASA/CXC/SAO/S.Mineo et al)

The image was compiled by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge and the Harvard Medical School in Boston (all in Massachusetts), and the Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

They note there is a strong correlation between the number of X-ray sources in different regions of the galaxies and the rate at which stars are forming in these regions. The compilation shows that X-ray sources are concentrated in the spiral arms of the galaxies, where large amounts of stars are known to be forming. It suggests that the companion star in the binary systems is young and massive. Researchers believe that the stars associated with the ULXs are about 10 million years old.

Optical image of NGC 2207 and IC 2163 spiral galaxies (NASA/STScI)

When galaxies come together, they produce shock waves that cause clouds of gas within them to collapse, leading to periods of intense star formation and the creation of star clusters. The Chandra image “would seem to confirm that they are the result of NGC 2207 and IC 2163 coming together,” Universe Today wrote. “This seem[s] a likely explanation since the merger between these two galaxies is still in its infancy, which is attested to by the fact that the galaxies are still separate.”

The larger NGC 2207 and smaller IC 2163 are both “spiral galaxies,” as is our own Milky Way. This means that they consist of a flat, rotating disc containing stars, gas and dust, and a central concentration of stars known as the bulge. These are surrounded by a much fainter halo of stars, many of which reside in globular clusters.

Infrared image of NGC 2207 and IC 2163 spiral galaxies (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The two spiral galaxies are expected to finish their collision course in about a billion years, and will likely look even more like the Milky Way than they each currently do, Universe Today reported. Our galaxy is approximately 13.2 billion years old, and spawns only about one to three new stars per year.

The pair of colliding galaxies located 130 million light-years from Earth was discovered by John Herschel in 1835. Together they measure 180,000 light-years across. - RT.

SOLAR WATCH: Chance Of Magnetic Storms Today, Coronal Mass Ejection Will Deliver Glancing Blow To Earth's Magnetic Field - Plus, Sunspot 2241 Erupts With M6.9 Solar Flare, Produces CME For Potential Impact On December 21!

December 19, 2014 - SPACE - A CME is heading in the general direction of Earth, and it could deliver a glancing blow to our planet's magnetic field later today.

NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of polar geomagnetic storms. The cloud was hurled into space two days ago by an M9-class explosion in the magnetic canopy of sunspot AR2242. Although the bulk of the CME flew south of the sun-Earth line, a collision is still possible. Computer models suggest a glancing impact on Dec. 19th with magnetic reverberations lasting until the 20th. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.

Space Weather Message Code: WATA30
Serial Number: 118
Issue Time: 2014 Dec 19 1315 UTC

WATCH: Geomagnetic Storm Category G2 Predicted

Highest Storm Level Predicted by Day:
Dec 20:  G1 (Minor)   Dec 21:  G2 (Moderate)   Dec 22:  G1 (Minor)


NOAA Space Weather Scale descriptions can be found at

Potential Impacts: Area of impact primarily poleward of 55 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude.
Induced Currents - Power grid fluctuations can occur. High-latitude power systems may experience voltage alarms.
Spacecraft - Satellite orientation irregularities may occur; increased drag on low Earth-orbit satellites is possible.
Radio - HF (high frequency) radio propagation can fade at higher latitudes.
Aurora - Aurora may be seen as low as New York to Wisconsin to Washington state.

M-CLASS SOLAR FLARE: Big sunspot AR2241 erupted on Dec. 18th (21:58 UT), producing a strong M6-class solar flare. Extreme UV radiation from the blast ionized the top of Earth's atmosphere and briefly blacked out HF radio communications over the Pacific Ocean.

Although coronagraph imagery still needs to be backfilled, new photos released by LASCO C3 show a coronal mass ejection (CME) leaving the sun with a potential Earth directed component.

An updated CME prediction model released by the Goddard Space Flight Center is calling for a potential impact to our geomagnetic field by December 21.

WATCH: M6.9 Solar Flare - December 18, 2014.


Below is an updated look at the visible solar disk on Friday. Solar activity increased once again to high levels.

Region 2241 was responsible for the largest event of the period, an M6.9 solar flare at 21:58 UTC (Dec 18). Coronagraph imagery reveals a faint halo coronal mass ejection (CME) with a potential Earth directed component. Prediction models are calling for an impact to our geomagnetic field by December 21. This could lead to a potential geomagnetic storm if an impact does materialize.

Sky watchers at middle to high latitudes should be alert this weekend. Region 2242, along with interaction between regions 2235 and 2237, produced a moderate M1.3 flare peaking at 09:44 UTC (Dec 19).

All other visible regions remained stable. A new sunspot is forming in the southeast quadrant and could be assigned a number later today.

- Space Weather | Solar Ham | NOAA SWPC.

ICE AGE NOW: New Study Shows 2,000-Year Downward Trend Of Northern European Summer Temperatures - A Cooling Trend Of -0.30°C Per 1,000 Years Over The Common Era!

Northern Europe summer (June, July, August) temperature reconstruction. Data shown in°C with respect to the 1961-1990 mean. 
© Adapted from Esper et al. (2014).

December 19, 2014 - EUROPE
- In a paper published in the Journal of Quaternary Science, Esper et al. (2014) write that tree-ring chronologies of maximum latewood density (MXD) "are most suitable to reconstruct annually resolved summer temperature variations of the late Holocene."

And working with what they call "the world's two longest MXD-based climate reconstructions" - those of Melvin et al. (2013) and Esper et al. (2012) - they combined portions of each to produce a new-and-improved summer temperature history for northern Europe that stretches all the way "from 17 BC to the present." And what did they thereby learn?

As the international team of researchers from the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Sweden and Switzerland describes it, this history depicts "a long-term cooling trend of -0.30°C per 1,000 years over the Common Era in northern Europe" (see figure above).

Most important of all, however, they note that their temperature reconstruction "has centennial-scale variations superimposed on this trend," which indicate that "conditions during Medieval and Roman times were probably warmer than in the late 20th century," when the previously-rising post-Little Ice Age mean global air temperature hit a ceiling of sorts above which it has yet to penetrate.

And so we continue to collect ever more real-world evidence for the fact that there is nothing unusual, unnatural or unprecedented about the Earth's current level of warmth.

Paper Reviewed
Esper, J., Duthorn, E., Krusic, P.J., Timonen, M. and Buntgen, U. 2014. Northern European summer temperature variations over the Common Era from integrated tree-ring density records. Journal of Quaternary Science 29: 487-494.

Full paper PDF

Esper, J., Frank, D.C., Timonen, M., Zorita, E., Wilson, R.J.S., Luterbacher, J., Holzkamper, S., Fischer, N., Wagner, S., Nievergelt, D., Verstege, A. and Buntgen, U. 2012. Orbital forcing of tree-ring data. Nature Climate Change 2: 862-866.

Melvin, T.M., Grudd, H. and Briffa, K.R. 2013. Potential bias in 'updating' tree-ring chronologies using Regional Curve Standardization: reprocessing the Tornetrask maximum-latewood-density data. The Holocene 23: 364-373.


WATCH: European Ice Storms and Zonal Media Censorship.

HUMAN DEVOLUTION: Mass Stabbing Tragedy In Australia - EIGHT CHILDREN Stabbed To Death, 34-Year-Old Mother In Serious Condition?!

Police comfort a distressed woman at the scene where eight children aged between 18 months and 15 years were found
dead at a home in the northern Australian city of Cairns.  Isaac Egan / AFP/Getty Images

December 19, 2014 - AUSTRALIA
- Eight children aged from 18 months to 15 years have been found stabbed to death inside a house in Manoora suburb of the city of Cairns in far north Queensland, police have confirmed.

Authorities were initially called in the scene after reports of a woman with serious injuries around 11.20am local time.

“During an examination of the residence police located the bodies of the children, all aged between 18 months and 15 years,” police said in a statement.

WATCH: 8 children stabbed to death in Cairns, Australia.

A 34-year-old woman who was injured in the mass stabbing has been taken to hospital.

Police have cordoned off the house and closed traffic on Murray St. while detectives are searching through the property. Ambulances also remain on scene.

People believed to be relatives and friends of the victims grieve at the scene after eight children have been found stabbed to
death at a house in Manoora near Cairns, Australia.  Romy Bullerjahn / EPA

The children were apparently all siblings and the 34-year-old was their mother, a cousin of the injured woman told AAP. According to Lisa Thaiday, another 20-year-old sibling was the one who found his brothers and sisters dead inside the house.

"I'm going to see him now, he needs comforting. We're a big family ... I just can't believe it. We just found out [about] those poor babies," Thaiday said, as quoted by AFP.

Police could not initially confirm the relationship between the children and the injured woman. She is in stable condition and assisting the investigation, Cairns Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said.

Police said the situation is under control and there is no need for the public to be concerned about safety.There is no reason to believe that the incident was terrorism related, authorities say.

“Nobody goes in there until our forensic people go in there. Until we have done that, we're not going to be able to clearly establish any relationships,” Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said, adding that the scene might be locked down for several days, according to ABC news.

Officers from the Cairns Criminal Investigation Branch, Child Protection and Investigation Unit, Scenes of Crime and Scientific section are conducting an investigation of the scene, AAP reports.

Police cordon off the scene where eight children aged between 18 months and 15 years were found dead at a home in the
northern Australia.  Isaac Egan / AFP/Getty Images

Cairns Post reporter Scott Forbes stressed that the local area has a large indigenous population.

"All of the people here are actually related to the people who were involved in this incident," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of those who live on the same street.

"So they're all reeling at the moment. But telling us that she was a very, very protective, very proud mother who loved her children dearly," he added.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the latest news as “heartbreaking.”

"All parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened. This is an unspeakable crime. These are trying days for our country," Abbott stated.

The tragedy comes as Australia is still in shock following a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe on Monday. It resulted in two hostages being killed along with the gunman after police stormed the cafe some 16 hours into the stand-off. - RT.

CYBER WARS: The New Cold War - The White House Says Sony Hack Is A Serious National Security Matter; Cancellation Of "The Interview" Movie Sets Worrying New Precedent For Cyber Terror!

Sony Pictures has canceled the Dec. 25 release of "The Interview" after hackers threatened terrorists attacks and the largest
multiplex chains in North America pulled the film from its screens. (AP)

December 19, 2014 - TECHNOLOGY
- The suspected North Korea computer attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment is a “serious national security matter,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday, as officials said the Obama administration is preparing to announce who it believes is behind the devastating hack.

Earnest said that the White House is weighing options for a “proportional” response to the attack whose ramifications President Obama is monitoring “very closely himself.”

Public attribution of the attack could come as early as this week, one national security official said. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the government of Kim Jong Un is behind the attack. North Korea has publicly denied involvement.

WATCH: White House - Sony hack a 'serious national security matter'.

“There is evidence to indicate that we have seen destructive activity with malicious intent that was initiated by a sophisticated actor,” Earnest said, characterizing the hack discovered last month that resulted in the theft of massive troves of executives’ e-mails and sensitive internal documents, and the deletion of data on hard drives. That activity, he said, “merits an appropriate response.”

The attack came in apparent retaliation for Sony's planned Christmas Day release of a comedy built around the assassination of the North Korean leader.

Earnest’s remarks indicate the White House has elevated a case of hacking a Hollywood movie studio to a government-to-government level, signalling to the North Koreans that there probably will be a U.S. response of some sort.

On Wednesday, bowing to threats of violence this week from the hackers against theaters that ran “The Interview,” Sony canceled the movie’s release. It was, analysts said, a stunning capitulation to the hackers’ demands and sets a worrying new precedent for cyberterrorism that could encourage more attacks.

The hack also throws into relief North Korea’s burgeoning cyberwarfare capabilities and its increased willingness to use a tool that can be wielded to disproportionate effect against countries with much larger and more powerful militaries and economies.

The administration has made clear for several years that it has a range of diplomatic, economic, legal and military options at its disposal in response to cyberattacks.

It is unlikely, however, that officials will announce the responses it is considering or the one it chooses. “There’s a lot of options,” the official said. “They likely won’t be discussed publicly anytime soon.”

Intelligence officials “know very specifically who the attackers are,” said one individual familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing. They are North Korean government personnel, the individual said. The hackers were able to root around for three weeks in Sony’s network before being detected, the source said.

Some analysts say that although North Korea poses a challenge because it is not tied into the global economy, lacks trade or diplomatic relations with the United States and is under international sanctions for its nuclear program, it is important for the United States to respond. Steps might include indicting the individuals it believes conducted the hack, asking like-minded states to join in condemning the action, and if North Korea persists, undertaking a covert action to dismantle the computer systems used in the operation.

The attack marks the first known intrusion by North Korea into private U.S. computer networks and was improbably effective: Not only were the hackers able to penetrate Sony’s system and expose embarrassing internal emails, but they cowed one of Hollywood’s biggest entertainment firms into pulling a movie — while official Washington struggles to figure out an appropriate response.

“This is a master stroke,” said Ken Gause, director of international affairs at CNA Corp., a federally funded think tank. “North Korea has always been very good at brinksmanship and provocation. We underestimate their guile and their ability to conduct a strategy like this.”

The reclusive government apparently has been able to pull off something no other nation’s military has been able to, said Dmitri Alperovitch, cofounder of CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm. “Despite all the cyber actions from Russia, China, Iran and everyone else, this is the first time a country has forced a target — through a cyber attack — to change its behavior against its will.”

North Korea had a fledgling computer attack capability in the late 1980s, but it did not begin to develop until the late 1990s, when Kim Jong Il’s oldest son, Kim Jong Nam, was given the responsibility of developing a computer center in Pyongyang. Cyber was seen as a way to help close the gap in military capability with countries such as the United States and its ally South Korea.

The country’s major strategic cyberwarfare organization is called Unit 121, located within the Reconnaissance General Bureau, analysts said.

North Korea has nearly doubled its number of elite hackers over the past two years and has set up bases in outside countries, mainly China, in an effort to boost its capacity to conduct cyberattacks, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported recently, citing military sources.

“North Korea appears to have some 5,900 personnel for cyberwarfare, up from around 3,000 two years ago,” the agency quoted the source as saying. Unit 121 is home to some 1,200 professional hackers, the source said.

The hackers have different roles. Some work on developing strategic attacks and some focus on hacking into government or national security targets while others target civilian systems, such as companies, analysts said.

Unit 121 may have been behind a series of similarly disruptive attacks on South Korean banks in 2011, sabotaging computer systems by wiping data off hard drives that needed to be replaced.

Hackers also work for the Korean Workers Party and the Korean Peoples Army, analysts said. Another unit, Lab 110, was identified as the group of hackers behind denial-of-service attacks against South Korea and the United States in 2009. - Washington Post.

POLE SHIFT: Geodetic Vertical Velocities Affected By Recent Rapid Changes In Polar Motion - New Data Shows Rapid Deformation In The Earth's Surface And Polar Shift!

December 19, 2014 - EARTH - Modeled deformation patterns for 2001 January 1 to 2015 January 1 expressed as anomalies to the average pattern (related to polar motion) over the 20th century.

- Geophysical Journal International.

ICE AGE NOW: "More Usually Spotted In The Antarctic" - "Ice Pancakes" Pictured Floating On The River Dee, Aberdeenshire!

Ice pancakes recently found at Lummels Pool, near Aboyne, Aberdeenshire.  © HEMEDIA

December 19, 2014 - UNITED KINGDOM
- "Ice pancakes" made out of frozen foam have been forming on the River Dee in Aberdeenshire.

The discs, which are roughly the size of dinner plates, were photographed on the Scottish river at Lummels Pool, in Birse.

They are thought to have been formed overnight, when temperatures fall to below freezing, before they rub and bump together to make a roughly circular shape, as temperatures rise during the day.

The phenomenon can happen on rivers or the open sea, but is more usually spotted in the Antarctic, according to experts from the River Dee Trust who made the discovery.  

WATCH: "Ice pancakes" form on River Dee in Aberdeenshire.

Jamie Urquhart, a biologist at the trust, told the BBC: "What we think happened is this: foam floating about on the water started to freeze, probably at night.

"Bits of frozen foam got pushed around in the eddy, and in the ensuing collisions became roughly circular.

"The air temperature rising - being colder at night due to the clear-sky conditions but warmer in the day - means the discs may have grown at night, collecting new foam.

"Then during the day, when the discs softened in the sun, softening particularly around the edges, the collisions raised up the rims."

The discs then increase in size when the process is repeated, Mr Urquhart added. - Telegraph.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Japanese Meteorologists Monitoring Tokachidake Volcano As Seismic Activity Increases, Alert Level Raised - Experts Warn That A String Of Volcanic Eruptions "Could Wipe Japan Off The Face Of The Earth"!

Japan's Meteorological Agency which provides round the clock monitoring of volcanic activity has raised the volcanic eruption
alert to the second level for the Tokachidake region in Hokkaido.

December 19,  2014 - JAPAN
- Japan's Meteorological Agency has raised the volcanic eruption alert for the Tokachidake volcano on Hokkaido Island to the second level, warning that small-scale volcanic activity is possible.

The agency has set a one kilometer safe zone around the area as a volcanic eruption may trigger a rockfall. Meteorologists note that Tokachidake's volcanic activity has been growing steadily in recent years, accompanied by small-scale earthquakes.

Since July 2014 there have been a number of changes in the rates of seismic activity in the region. For example, in September 2014 there were a series of small earthquakes, "volcanic tremors," lasting for almost 22 minutes.

Meteorologists warn that the eruption of ash and small rocks caused by a "tremor" may pose a serious threat to people.

In September 2014, the eruption of Mount Ontake in the Nagano Prefecture became the worst ever volcanic disaster in Japan, claiming the lives of 57 people. Japanese authorities have recognized the need for more specialists with deep knowledge of volcanic activity.

"We need to train researchers who are familiar with the characteristics of the mountain. It's important to have someone like that around on a regular basis," claimed Nagano Prefecture Governor Abe Shuichi, as quoted by Nippon media source.

Japanese scientists are currently weighing the possibility of Mount Fuji erupting, the highest and most famous mountain in Japan, and also the biggest active volcano in the country.

Its eruption would obviously have catastrophic consequences, not only for the nearby prefectures but also for the state's capital.

Some experts have speculated that a string of volcano eruptions could ultimately spell the end of the Japanese archipelago.

"Japan could be wiped off the face of the earth by a massive volcanic eruption sometime in the next century killing almost all of its 127 million inhabitants," the Daily Mail reported.

However, Japanese specialists claim that the possibility of a powerful eruption in Japan, that could affect up to 120 million of Japan's 127-million population, is about one percent each one hundred years. - Sputnik.