Thursday, February 12, 2015

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Sign Of Impending Ice Age - Snowy Owls Flee Northern Latitudes For UNPRECEDENTED FOURTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR?!

Snowy owl

February 12, 2015 - NORTH AMERICA - Regular SOTT readers may recall last year's unusual influx of snowy owls into North America from the Arctic (as well as other birds from the tundra and taiga regions). This winter season appears to be shaping up to an unprecedented fourth consecutive irruption year following the invasions of 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. The following reports are just a small sample of the many that have been seen in the media over the last couple of month:
Last winter brought an unprecedented number of snowy owl sightings in the northern United States, and this winter is turning out to be above average as well.

Scientists believe last year's southward sweep of the arctic species was triggered by a record nesting season in northern Quebec. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says there was another bumper crop last summer in Nunavut in northernmost Canada.

Snowy owls are being reported on the online eBird database this winter across the northern-third of the Lower 48 states from Washington state to Maine.
Here's some short film footage taken at Beech Hill Preserve in Rockport, Maine (on 30 January 2015), of one of the many snowy owls seen this winter:

WATCH: Snowy Owl in Flight.

The following article (partly quoted below) popped up in January:
The elusive snowy owl, rarely seen outside the Arctic, is turning up more frequently in the skies of North America than it does in the pages of a Harry Potter book, data from the National Audubon Society suggested on Wednesday.

Sightings of the majestic raptors, popularised by the owl Hedwig in author JK Rowling's fantasies and the films based on them, could eclipse last season's record when the final tally is in, according to preliminary data from the society's 115th Christmas bird count.

The society is not expected to release the total until June. It needs to analyse data from an estimated 2,400 counting sessions by teams of volunteers from 14 December to 5 January. The countings took place in North, Central and South America, the Caribbean and some South Pacific islands.

As of Wednesday, with just a fifth of the counting sessions totalled, there were 303 of the enormous white birds sighted, Geoff LeBaron, the project leader, said on Wednesday.

Last year's final tally was 1,117 snowy owls, or nearly double the previous high of 563 from the 2011 count, he said.

"This is a big flight," LeBaron said, noting the birds' epicentre seems to be southern Ontario, the Great Lakes and the US north-east.

It may be the fourth year in a row with a high number of snowy owls, he said. "It probably won't quite reach the level of the one last season or in 2011. But you never know."
This also from January:
For a second year in a row, a mass migration of snowy owls from Canada is occurring, and that's highly unusual. It's called an irruption and it's thought to be related to boom and bust cycles of arctic lemmings, the small rodents that snowy owls love to eat.

Author and naturalist Scott Weidensaul is co-founder of Project SNOWstorm, which since last year has been using cellphone technology to track these mysterious and majestic birds.

"It's exciting," he tells Here & Now's Lisa Mullins, "to have this many of the these birds down in places they're normally not seen every year and in some cases every decade."
Then there is this record of a large influx of 226 snowy owls into just one US state (Wisconsin), perhaps giving an indication that the total numbers across the continent may number in the thousands:
A year ago, snowy owls were staging a mass migration from Canada, sweeping through Wisconsin and other states in historic numbers.

It's happening again this winter, with numerous sightings popping up across much of the state, including Milwaukee.

A favorite of the birding world, snowy owls - the largest owl by weight in North America - nest in the arctic and start flying south in November.

As of Friday, Ryan Brady of the Department of Natural Resources had recorded 226 snowy owls in the state, gleaning data from different sources.

At the same time last year, the number stood at 173.
Like last year, it's not just snowy owls fleeing from the Arctic, but also Hawk owls and Arctic-dwelling gulls both in North America and Eurasia, as these recent stories illustrate:
Gulls descended on Pittsburgh in recent weeks, congregating in great flocks numbering in the thousands along the Allegheny River.

Estimates of the flock's size range from 5,000 to 7,000 birds. The most commonly observed species are the ring-billed gull and herring gull. But the region's community of birding enthusiasts have spotted more rare varieties, including the Iceland gull, glaucous gull and lesser and greater black-backed gulls.
Incidentally, this same invasion was noted at the above location last year, while this year in Illinois an extremely rare Ivory gull put in an unlikely appearance:
Bird enthusiasts from all over the Midwest descended upon Quincy Saturday to get a glimpse of the extremely rare Ivory Gull.

"It's a fairly small gull but very elegant, pure white with very dark eyes and legs, with this cute little bill that's dark with a yellow tip on it," biology professor Jim Mountjoy said.

It was rainy, cold, and damp. But that didn't stop Knox College Biology Professor and bird expert Jim Mountjoy from getting a glimpse of the Ivory Gull. He says the bird is a native of the high Arctic Islands and is rarely seen in the lower 48.

"This is an exceedingly rare bird to spot this far south," Mountjoy said. "Anywhere in the continental United States it's pretty hard to see, even if you go to Alaska it's sometimes quite difficult."
The same species was also logged on the other side of the Atlantic on a remote Scottish island.

In addition, ducks and Arctic gyrfalcons, and mammals like manatee and fur seals, are trying to escape frigid conditions and cold temperatures.

One can't help but wonder whether the record snow extent and cold temperatures over the Northern hemisphere recorded for the last few years is a major factor in driving these creatures much further south than normal?

Fall snow cover extent in the Northern Hemisphere, 1967 to 2014.  © Rutgers Global Snow Lab


GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: New Land Rises On The Lousiana Coast - The Atchafalaya And Wax Lake Outlet Have Combined To Grow 2.8 Square Kilometers Or 1 Square Mile Per Year!

February 12, 2015 - LOUISIANA
- While most of the delta plain of the Mississippi River Delta is losing ground, new land is forming in Atchafalaya Bay at the mouths of the Wax Lake Outlet and the Atchafalaya River.

Geologists first noticed mud deposits building up in Atchafalaya Bay in the 1950s, but new land first rose above the water line in 1973 after a severe flood. Since then, both deltas have grown considerably. According to one estimate by scientists from Louisiana State University (LSU), the Atchafalaya and Wax Lake Outlet deltas have combined to grow by 2.8 square kilometers (1 square mile) per year.

This pair of false-color satellite images illustrates the growth of the two deltas between 1984 (top) and 2014 (bottom). Both images were acquired by sensors aboard Landsat satellites. A combination of shortwave infrared, near infrared, and green light was used to accentuate differences between land and water. Water appears dark blue; vegetation is green; bare ground is pink. All of the images were acquired in autumn, when river discharge tends to be low. Vegetation appears slightly brown in 1984 because the image was acquired later in the year. 

Image comparison.

The Atchafalaya is a distributary of the Mississippi River that connects to the “Big Muddy” in south central Louisiana near Simmesport. Wax Lake Outlet, an artificial channel designed to reduce the severity of floods in Morgan City, delivers about 40 percent of the Atchafalaya’s water into the bay about 16 kilometers (10 miles) west of where the main river empties.

The deltas’ rate of growth has varied considerably, mainly due to the timing of major floods and hurricanes. Floods transport large volumes of extra sediment to Atchafalaya Bay, while hurricanes redistribute sediment within the bay and transport it offshore into deeper waters. Hurricanes also destroy coastal vegetation that would otherwise protect land from erosion.

The Atchafalaya delta has grown at a faster rate than its neighbor—about 1.6 (0.6 square miles) square kilometers per year, versus 1.2 square kilometers (0.46 square miles) per year for the Wax Lake delta. The difference is due to regular dredging and channel widening on the lower Atchafalaya, which delivers extra sediment to its delta. Due to the lack of dredging, Wax Lake delta is more natural in character, with a more symmetric, lobate shape.

“We are looking carefully at the Wax Lake and Atchafalaya deltas as models for building new land and preserving some of our coastal marshlands,” said Harry Roberts, director of the Coastal Studies Institute at LSU. “If we start diverting significant portions of the water and sediment from the main channel of the Mississippi River into adjacent wetlands, lakes, and bays—as happens now in Atchafalaya Bay—we’ll be taking an important first step toward saving a significant part of Louisiana’s coastal plain.”

Learn more and see more imagery by reading “Growing Deltas in Atchafalaya Bay.”

 - Earth Observatory.

INFRASTRUCTURE COLLAPSE: Chemical Explosion In Spain - Sends Massive Orange Toxic Cloud Over Two Northeastern Towns; Residents Advised To Stay Indoors; Two People Injured So Far! [PHOTOS + VIDEO]

February 12, 2015 - SPAIN
- Spanish authorities have ordered the residents of two northeastern towns to stay indoors after a chemical explosion at a warehouse spread a large, orange toxic cloud over the area.

WATCH: Toxic orange smoke spews from explosion site, Spain.

A spokeswoman for Catalonia's regional firefighting department said the blast occurred Thursday when products being delivered to a warehouse in the city of Igualada became mixed, exploded and set a truck on fire.

She said two people were slightly injured.

The Red Cross cited firefighters as saying the chemicals were nitric acid and ferric chloride.

The spokeswoman said firefighters are urging some 40,000 residents of Igualada and the nearby town of Odena to stay indoors until the cloud dissipates. She said the town's water systems are also being checked.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with department regulations. - Huffington Post.

ICE AGE NOW: Yet Another Alberta Clipper Snowstorm - Quick-Hitting Snow To Brush New England Thursday!

- After bringing snow and slippery travel to the Great Lakes, a storm riding along a blast of arctic air will continue to push eastward into New England Thursday.

Yet another Alberta Clipper will drop in from Canada this week. As is often the case with these moisture-starved storms, the snow will tend to be light and more of a nuisance for most areas.

The storm will bring another round of slippery roads and perhaps minor airline delays from Philadelphia to New York City and Boston.

While the storm will strengthen as it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, it will not do so quickly enough to bring a major snowstorm New England.

During the day Thursday, a little snow is likely to impact Philadelphia; New York City; Albany, New York; and Hartford, Connecticut.

Some areas could be hit with snow squalls that bring dangerously low visibility. Folks traveling on area highways will want to slow down and proceed with caution if such an event occurs.

A couple of showers of mixed rain and snow can occur as far south as Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Dover, Delaware, with the greatest chance for slippery travel during Thursday night as arctic air begins to sweep in.

There is a chance of a few inches of snow across southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Long Island to coastal New Hampshire and Maine from Thursday night into Friday. The storm will begin to strengthen and turn northward as it moves offshore.

Workers and school districts around Providence, Rhode Island, and Boston will want to monitor this close call, and next potential snowfall and snow day.

The storm could add more insult to injury for property owners, cities and townships in southeastern New England struggling with how to pay for snow removal, let alone where to put it.

At least for this particular storm the snow will tend to be more of a nuisance, rather than another major blow to commerce.

Since the storm is not likely to strengthen rapidly, southeastern New England will be spared from a major snowstorm. However, heavy snow is likely to hit areas from Nova Scotia to southern Newfoundland.

Still, the exact track and speed of strengthening of the storm will determine how far north and west the accumulating snow expands across New England before the system heads out toward Atlantic Canada. will continue to provide updates on this storm and others.

As the Alberta Clipper sweeps by, arctic air will follow from the Upper Midwest to the Northeast.

Areas made wet and slushy from the storm and moderate temperatures during the middle of the week can become icy and freeze solid. Temperatures may get so low that inexpensive ice-melting compounds, such as rock salt, will be ineffective.

The parade of Alberta Clipper storms will not stop by the end of the school week.

The next Alberta Clipper storm is forecast to dive into the Northeast states during the Valentine's Day weekend with another round of snow.

The clipper storm storm this weekend is likely to be accompanied by dangerously cold air with gusty winds regardless of the amount of snow it brings.

Since the storm this weekend will strengthen quickly, it has the potential to bring moderate to heavy snowfall to parts of the Northeast. - AccuWeather.

INFRASTRUCTURE & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: "Tragedy On An Enormous Scale" - At Least 300 Migrants Are Feared To Have Drowned After Attempting To Cross The Mediterranean Sea From North Africa; Pope Francis Warns That The Region Could Become A "VAST CEMETERY"!

UNHCR official: "Unfortunately the number of dead is getting higher"

February 12, 2015 - MEDITERRANEAN SEA
- At least 300 migrants are feared to have drowned after attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa this week in rough seas, the UN says.
UNHCR official Vincent Cochetel said it was a "tragedy on an enormous scale".

Survivors brought to the Italian island of Lampedusa said they were forced to risk the bad weather on ill-equipped vessels by human traffickers in Libya.

They were rescued from two of four dinghies that got into trouble after leaving Libya for Europe on Saturday.

The Italian coast guard rescued 105 people on Monday after one of the dinghies overturned but 29 died after spending several hours in the water.

Those rescued on Wednesday morning had spent days drifting without food or water in two of the other dinghies - with each said to be carrying more than 100 people.

The survivors said the fourth dinghy, carrying an estimated 100 migrants, disappeared at sea.

Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, said the victims had been "swallowed up by the waves," with the youngest a child of 12.

'Too little too late'

"This is a tragedy on an enormous scale and a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea," Mr Cochetel said in a statement.

The UN said the latest incident should be a message to the European Union that the current search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean was inadequate.

"Europe cannot afford to do too little too late," Mr Cochetel added.

In November, Italy ended an operation known as Mare Nostrum, which was launched in October 2013 in response to a tragedy off Lampedusa in which 366 people died.

The survivors rescued on Wednesday were from two of four dinghies that left Libya at the weekend

The year-long operation was aimed at rescuing seaborne migrants, with Italian vessels looking for ships carrying migrants that may have run into trouble off the Libyan coast.

Late last year, the UNHCR warned that Italy's decision to end its operation in the Mediterranean would almost certainly lead to more deaths.

But other European countries, including the UK, said a rescue service for migrants could encourage them and so the operation was scaled down.

The EU now runs a border control operation, called Triton, which only operates close to Europe's coast and with fewer ships.

Analysis: Matthew Price, BBC News, Italy

There is no way of knowing for sure whether these men, women, and children would have been saved if the former Italian search-and-rescue operation known as Mare Nostrum was still running.

But having spent a week on board an Italian navy frigate, I can be sure they would have done their utmost to save as many lives as possible.

The EU's Triton border patrol is not designed to do that. It cannot pre-empt trouble in international waters - it can only act when lives are immediately at risk.

The Italian operation was set up differently. The naval crews knew they had one single purpose - to prevent death.

'What else could we do?'

The survivors of the latest incident were from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Gambia, Niger, Mali and Mauritania, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

One survivor was quoted in Italian media as saying the migrants had been forced to make the journey in bad weather from the Libyan capital Tripoli "under the threat of arms" by human traffickers.

He said they were kept in a locked warehouse on the outskirts of Tripoli before being taken to a small beach on Saturday and forced into the dinghies.

"We were threatened and watched over. What else could we do?" he added.

Justin Forsyth, the chief executive of Save the Children, said: "How many of these tragedies can the international community watch from the shores before we are morally compelled to respond?"

"It is not acceptable to prioritise border control over life-saving rescue missions," he added.

A convoy of hearses arrived at the Lampedusa harbour on Wednesday to collect bodies of the victims

The UNHCR says almost 3,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2014, making it the world's most dangerous sea crossing for migrants.

More than 200,000 people were rescued in the Mediterranean during the same period, many under the Mare Nostrum mission prior to its abolition.

The IOM warned that 2015 could be even deadlier, pointing out that the latest incident comes on top of 115 deaths reported in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year.

That compares to just 27 deaths during the same period last year, according to the IOM.

At least a quarter of those attempting the crossing are thought to be refugees from Syria, rather than economic migrants.

In a speech to the European Parliament last year, Pope Francis called for a "united response" to the issue, warning that the Mediterranean could not be allowed to become a "vast cemetery".
- BBC.

RATTLE & HUM: "Loud Boom" Ripples Through Huntsville Area In Alabama Shattering Windows And Damages Nearby Businesses - Redstone Arsenal Claims It Was A Planned Munitions Demolition?!

February 12, 2015 - ALABAMA, UNITED STATES
- Around 6:15 p.m. Wednesday evening, the WHNT News 19 newsroom was flooded with calls of at least one loud “boom.”

Many people reported hearing two booms. It seems like the majority of the reports came from south Huntsville, but we had reports come in from Morgan and Marshall Counties.

The store owner of Goody’s on south Parkway reported the boom shattered the window of his store.

WATCH: Loud booms rattle Huntsville area.

Chris Colster, Redstone Arsenal Spokesman, told WHNT News 19 it was a planned destruction of old munitions that had reached the end of their life cycle. He said this was not an accident and it was handled by Redstone teams.

If you believe you have damage as a result of testing done at the Arsenal, click here to find out how to file a claim. We talked to the Arsenal about damage claims when an explosion knocked an antique plate from a wall in Oct. last year.

Check out this seismograph graphic of the boom from Steve Jones at

In case you’re wondering how sound waves from a blast can travel so far, take a look at this graphic:


GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Latest Report Of Volcanic Eruptions, Activity, Unrest And Awakenings – February 12, 2015!

February 12, 2015 - EARTH - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing reports of volcanoes across the globe.

Sinabung (Sumatra, Indonesia): Another large pyroclastic flow occurred yesterday morning. The flow traveled 2-3 km to the base of the mountain and produced an impressive coignimbrite ash plume that rose to approx. 4 km altitude.

Pyroclastic flow of Sinabung volcano

The volcano's eruption continues mostly quietly to effuse viscous lava, feeding a flow emplaced on the upper southeastern flank. At times, such as yesterday, it becomes too unstable and smaller or larger parts of it can collapse, generating dangerous pyroclastic flows.

Fogo (Cape Verde): It seems that eruptive activity which had started on 23 Nov last year has finally stopped on 7 February, according to a post by Asociación Canaria de Volcanología on facebook.

It may be a bit too early to be sure to declare the eruption ended, because pauses in eruptive activity are not uncommon. On the other hand, activity had been showing a decreasing trend over the past weeks, and it would be no surprises if it actually did end now.

Colima (Western Mexico): A small vulcanian-type explosion this morning produced a beautiful, vertical ash column rising approx. 2 km (no wind).

Eruption of Colima this morning (webcams de Mexico image)

Fuego (Guatemala): The recent, strong paroxysm ended Sunday. It had lasted 22 hours. CONRED reported that the volcano now returned to its typical intermittent strombolian activity with weak to moderate explosions.

Fuego volcano

The lava flow towards the Trinidad and Ceniza canyon on its upper flank remains weakly active, although seems to be decreasing.

Guatemala's international airport has resumed operations.

A new paroxysm, a drastically stronger phase of activity, began at the volcano on the 7th, characterized by increased strombolian-type explosions, effusion of lava flows and moderate to large pyroclastic flows that traveled to the southeastern side threatening the road between Antigua and Escuintla.

Bright glow at Fuego volcano from violent strombolian activity, lava flows and forest fires

According to the observatory of INSIVUMEH, the surge in lava effusion produced two lava flows of 2000 m length from the summit towards the Trinidad and El Jute drainages, causing forest fires. Several pyroclastic flows were generated by partial collapses of the lava masses from the upper slopes and traveled several kilometers.

Piton de la Fournaise (La Réunion): La Réunion-based photographer Pierre Choukroun sent us this great photo from the first evening of the eruption, showing the typical alignment of active vents along the eruptive fissure.

The eruption continues without major changes. The volcano observatory OVPF reports low, but stable tremor levels. Webcam imagery from last night (before clouds obscure views) show that the eruption is mainly effusive with only weak explosive activity (weak spattering) at the vents.

Piton de la Fournaise eruption 4 Feb 2015 (photo: Piere Choukroun)

View of the active lava flow at Piton de la Fournaise volcano last night

Currently, a small lava flow is active that extends approx 500 m from the base of the Dolomieu cone, enlarging the new lava field of partially overlapping flows at its base. The middle section of the lava flow is through a lava tube, making it invisible in this part on the webcam images.

Shiveluch (Kamchatka)
: A possibly strong eruption seems to have occurred this morning. An ash plume to 30,000 ft (10 km) altitude was reported by Tokyo VAAC. Webcam images are cloudy.

Soputan (North Sulawesi, Indonesia)
: Activity remains elevated. An explosion produced an ash plume to 10,000 ft (3 km) altitude this morning.

- Volcano Discovery.

EXTREME WEATHER: Californian Town Of Swall Meadows Ravaged By "Wall Of Red" Wildfire - 11-SQUARE MILE Blaze; 40 Homes And Other Buildings DESTROYED; Mass Evacuation Underway!

The wind-whipped fire gutted about 40 homes near Swall Meadows, California, along the Sierra Mountains, this weekend. © Jim Stimson/AP

- Police went door to door to get 250 residents out of Swall Meadows this weekend before a massive wind-driven wildfire swept through the town and destroyed 40 homes and other buildings along the Sierra mountains.

Ira Hanson milled around an evacuation center near tiny Swall Meadows on Sunday afternoon, not quite sure what to do after learning that the dream home he and his late wife had built 30 years earlier was damaged in a wildfire that consumed 40 homes and buildings.

Sheriff's deputies had banged on the door and urged him to get out less than 48 hours earlier, and he'd fled the house with little more than his medications and a pillow. Officials later told him that fire crews had to knock down one of the home's walls in an effort to save another house next door, but he had yet to see the damage.

"It's unbelievable," said Hanson, 79. "It's like having a nightmare and you're going to wake up any minute and it won't be true."

Fire crews increased containment of the wind-driven wildfire that ravaged communities along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, but they said Sunday that they still didn't know when the roughly 250 residents evacuated from Swall Meadows and nearby Paradise would be able to return home.

WATCH: Evacuations remain after wildfire chars California towns.

 WATCH: Round Fire ravages Swall Meadows near Bishop.

Utility workers were busy tending to the charred power poles along the roads in the two towns, and forestry crews sawed at fallen trees that blocked a main thoroughfare. Nearby, two gutted, gray trucks rested on a driveway that led to a pile of rubble.

With power poles down and hot spots smoldering near propane tanks, it was unclear when officials would lift evacuation orders.

The fire left burnt out vehicles and homes reduced to rubble in the community of Swall Meadows, California.
Firefighters made progress after rain moved in, and they have since contained 75 percent of the 11-square-mile blaze.

But Brown said the rain hasn't been enough to completely put out the fire. A three-year drought across California has created extremely dry timber brush that fueled the flames and pushed them all the way up the Sierra slopes to the snow line around 8,000 feet, she said.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

The fire left burnt out vehicles and homes reduced to rubble in the community of Swall Meadows, California.  © Michelle Rindels/AP

Meanwhile, officials running the evacuation center in Crowley Lake said they received an outpouring of support. Pizzas, fresh fruit and a birthday cake collected on a folding table, while a white board filled up with the names and phone numbers of people who had volunteered their homes for displaced humans and pets.

So many had opened their homes that nobody stayed in the shelter overnight.

"This is one of the most resilient communities you're ever going to find," said Mono County Administrator Jim Leddy. "They know how to take care of themselves and take care of their neighbors."  - NY Daily News.