Saturday, December 26, 2015

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Ice Age Now And Climate Chaos - Texas Panhandle Faces 15 INCHES OF SNOW; National Weather Service Says A "HISTORIC BLIZZARD" Could Hit!

December 26, 2015 - TEXAS, UNITED STATES - The National Weather Service says a "historic blizzard" could hit Amarillo, Lubbock and other parts of the Texas Panhandle this weekend.

Forecasters say the Panhandle could get 6 to 15 inches of snow, with higher amounts possible in pockets of the region.

High winds could drive wind chill factor as low as 10 below zero and cause snow drifts several feet high.

The warning goes into effect at 6 p.m. Saturday through noon Monday.

Other parts of Texas are expected to see a wintry mix of rain, light snow and freezing temperatures. - NBCDFW.

TERMINATOR NOW: The Rise Of The Machines - Welcome To The New Age Of The Digital Dissenter As The Anti-Tech Movement Grows Larger And Louder!

December 26, 2015 - TECHNOLOGY - We need a movement, she said, “that says no to the existing order.”

The dissenters have no easy task. We’re in a new Machine Age. Machine intelligence and digital social networks are now embedded in the basic infrastructure of the developed world.

Much of this is objectively good and pleasurable and empowering. We tend to like our devices, our social media, our computer games. We like our connectivity. We like being able to know nearly anything and everything, or shop impulsively, by typing a few words into a search engine.But there’s this shadow narrative being written at the same time. It’s a passionate, if still remarkably disorganized, resistance to the digital establishment.

Techno-skeptics, or whatever you want to call them — “humanists” may be the best term — sense that human needs are getting lost in the tech frenzy, that the priorities have been turned upside down. They sense that there’s too much focus on making sure that new innovations will be good for the machines.

“I’m on Team Human!” author Douglas Rushkoff will say at the conclusion of a talk.

You could fill a college syllabus with books espousing some kind of technological resistance. Start the class with “You Are Not a Gadget” (Jaron Lanier), move on to “The Internet Is Not the Answer” (Andrew Keen), and then, to scare the students silly, “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era” (James Barrat).

Digital dissenter Astra Taylor in Washington Square Park in Manhattan. (Yana Paskova/For The Washington Post)

Somewhere in the mix should be Astra Taylor’s “The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age,” a clear-eyed reappraisal of the Internet and new media.

Of the myriad critiques of the computer culture, one of the most common is that companies are getting rich off our personal data. Our thoughts, friendships and basic urges are processed by computer algorithms and sold to advertisers. The machines may soon know more about us than we know about ourselves.

That information is valuable. A frequent gibe is that on Facebook, we’re not the customers, we’re the merchandise. Or to put it another way: If the service is free, you’re the product.

Some digital dissenters aren’t focused on the economic issues, but simply on the nature of human-machine interactions. This is an issue we all understand intuitively: We’re constantly distracted. We walk around with our eyes cast down upon our devices. We’re rarely fully present anywhere.

Other critics are alarmed by the erosion of privacy. The Edward Snowden revelations incited widespread fear of government surveillance. That debate has been complicated by the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, because national security officials say terrorists have exploited new types of encrypted social media.

Some dissenters think technology is driving economic inequality. There are grave concerns that robots are taking the jobs of humans. And the robot issue leads inevitably to the most apocalyptic fear: that machine intelligence could run away from its human inventors, leaving us enslaved — or worse — by the machines we created.

Moving rapidly

Technological skepticism isn’t new. Plato told the story of a king who protested the invention of writing, saying it would weaken his people’s memory and “implant forgetfulness in their souls.”

But something different is going on now, and it simply has to do with speed. The first commercial Internet browser hit the market in 1994. Google arrived in 1998. Twitter appeared in 2006, and the iPhone in 2007. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is all of 31 years old.

Our technology today is so new that we haven’t had time to understand how to use it wisely. We haven’t quite learned how to stop ourselves from texting and driving; many of us are tempted to tap out one more letter even if we’re going 75 on the highway.

Some countries are taking aggressive action to regulate new technologies. The South Korean government has decided that gaming is so addictive that it should be treated similarly to a drug or alcohol problem. Meanwhile, the European Union law “Right to Be Forgotten” forces companies such as Google and Yahoo to remove embarrassing material from search engine results if requested to do so.

Washington’s political establishment, however, has largely deferred to Silicon Valley. The tech world skews libertarian and doesn’t want more government oversight and regulations.

One of the tech world’s top advocates in Washington is Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, which receives about two-thirds of its funding from tech companies.

Atkinson is a lanky, voluble man who sounds exasperated by the rise in what he considers to be neo-Luddite thinking. (“Luddite” is a term dating to the early 19th century, named for a murky character named Ned Ludd, who inspired textile workers to smash mechanical looms.)

He’s worried that books by people such as Astra Taylor will create a thought contagion that will infect Washington policymaking. In his view, there are two types of Luddites: the old-fashioned hand-wringers who are spooked by anything new and innovative, and the “soft” Luddites — he would put Taylor in that category — who say they embrace technology but want to go slower, with more European-style regulations.

“It’s the emergence of soft Luddites that I worry about, because it has become the elite conventional wisdom in a lot of spaces,” Atkinson said.

But he may be worried prematurely. A Senate bill to regulate self-driving cars went precisely nowhere. It’s not as though people are marching on Washington to demand that lawmakers address the self-driving-car threat.

Fact in fiction
The technological resistance is not limited to nonfiction polemics. Fiction writers are picking up the thread, often borrowing from George Orwell and his dystopian masterpiece “1984.”

For example, Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story” is a tale of people struggling to find love and humanity in a world of Big Brother-like surveillance, societal breakdown and increasingly coarse social norms. The novel features gadgets that allow people to rate one another numerically on their sexual attractiveness. Not implausible: A start-up company recently announced its plan to market an app that would allow users to rate everyone on a 1-to-5 scale, without their consent. (After furious protest from around the Internet, the backers modified their plan to include only positive reviews.)

Dave Eggers’s novel “The Circle” tells of a rising star at a Google-like company. She excels by answering thousands of e-mails a day, working at a frenetic pace. She lives with a camera around her neck that streams everything she sees onto the Internet. This does not go well for her.

And there’s a new voice among the dissenters: Pope Francis. The pontiff’s recent encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” contemplates the mixed blessings of technology. After acknowledging the marvels of modern technology (“Who can deny the beauty of an aircraft or a skyscraper?”), Francis sketched the dangers, writing that technological development hasn’t been matched by development in human values and conscience.

“The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings,” he wrote.

The pontiff is saying, with his special authority, what many others are saying these days: Machines are not an end unto themselves. Remember the humans.

Becoming a dissenter
The dean of the digital dissenters is Jaron Lanier. He’s a musician, composer, performer and pioneer of virtual-reality headsets that allow the user to experience computer-generated 3D environments. But what he’s most famous for is his criticism of the computer culture he helped create.

He believes that Silicon Valley treats humans like electrical relays in a vast machine. Although he still works in technology, he largely has turned against his tribe.

“I’m the first guy to sober up after a heavy-duty party” is how he describes himself.

He can typically be found at home in California’s Berkeley Hills, swiveling in a chair in front of a computer screen and a musical synthesizer. Directly behind him is a vintage Wurlitzer golden harp. Lutes and violins hang from the ceiling. This is his home office and man cave.

Jaron Lanier, the dean of the digital dissenters, is also a musician, composer and pioneer of virtual-reality headsets. What he is most famous for is
his criticism of the computer culture he helped create. (Nick Otto/For The Washington Post)

Lanier, 55, is a man of considerable girth and extraordinary hair. He has dreadlocks to his waist. He hasn’t cut his hair for at least 30 years and says he wouldn’t know how to go about it. When a visitor suggests that he could see a barber, he replies, in his usual high-pitched, singsong voice, “I don’t know that term. Is that a new start-up?”

Lanier’s humanistic take on technology may trace back to his tragic childhood: He was 9 when his mother was killed in a car accident in El Paso. He later learned that the accident may have been caused by an engineering flaw in the car.

“It definitely influenced my thinking about the proper relationship of people and machines,” he said.

By age 14, he was taking college classes at New Mexico State University. He never graduated from college, which didn’t matter when he wound up in Silicon Valley, designing computer games. He eventually started a company that sold virtual-reality headsets, but the company folded. In 2000, he made his first major move as a digital dissenter when he published an essay, “One Half a Manifesto,” that began with a bold declaration:

“For the last twenty years, I have found myself on the inside of a revolution, but on the outside of its resplendent dogma. Now that the revolution has not only hit the mainstream, but bludgeoned it into submission by taking over the economy, it’s probably time for me to cry out my dissent more loudly than I have before.”

Lanier later wrote two books lamenting the way everyone essentially works for Facebook, Google, etc., by feeding material into those central processors and turning private lives into something corporations can mon­etize. He’d like to see people compensated for their data in the form of micropayments.

Other tech critics have rolled their eyes at that notion, however. Taylor, for example, fears that micropayments would create an incentive for people to post click-bait material. Stupid stunts — “Hold my beer, and watch this” — would be potentially marketable.

Lanier’s broadest argument is that technological change involves choices. Bad decisions will lock us into bad systems. We collectively decided, for example, to trade our privacy for free Internet service.

“It’s a choice. It’s not inevitable,” he says.

Lanier told his 8-year-old daughter recently: “In our society there are two paths to success: One is to be good at computers and the other is to be a sociopath.”

She’s a smart girl and knows what “sociopath” means, he said. And he understands the nature of this world that he has helped invent. That’s why this summer he sent his daughter to a software programming camp.

No coherent movement
Much of today’s tech environment emerged from the counterculture — the hackers and hippies of the 1960s and ’70s who viewed the personal computer as a tool of liberation. But the political left now has a more complicated, jaundiced relationship with the digital world.

The same technologies that empower individuals and enable protesters to organize also make it possible for governments to spy on their citizens. What used to be a phone now looks to many people like a tracking device.

Then there’s the question of who’s making money. Progressives are appalled by the mind-boggling profits of the big tech companies. The left also takes note of the gender and racial disparities in the tech companies, and the rise of a techno-elite.

Most painful for progressives has been the rise of the “sharing economy,” which they initially embraced. They feel as though the idea was stolen from them and perverted into something that hurts workers.

They say that companies such as Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit and Amazon Mechanical Turk are creating a “gig economy” — one that, although it offers customers convenience and reasonable prices, is built on freelancers and contractors who lack the income or job protections of salaried employees. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, an investor in Uber and Airbnb, owns The Washington Post.)

“What was billed as ‘sharing’ was actually ‘extraction,’ ” said Nathan Schneider, a journalist and co-organizer of the recent New School conference on cooperative platforms. “It’s revealed to be a way of shirking labor laws and extracting resources back to investors and building monopolies.”

He was speaking at a reception at the end of the two-day conference. The event was a huge success, with attentive audiences packing the panel discussions. These people are committed to reinventing the Internet.

“The story of the Internet has been one of disappointment after disappointment,” Schneider said.

As Schneider spoke, Astra Taylor stood a few feet away, holding court with friends and allies. Taylor is tall, with striking features that give her a commanding presence. She was born to be a tech critic. She wasn’t home-schooled, she was “unschooled.” Her parents in Athens, Ga., put her in charge of her education. At age 13, she created her own newspaper with an environmentalist bent. She burned with a sense of right and wrong. “I was a serious child,” she says, persuasively.

She says she’d like to see more government-supported media platforms — think public radio — and more robust regulations to keep digital powerhouses from becoming monopolies. Taylor is skeptical of the trope that information wants to be free; actually, she says, information often wants someone to pay for it.

The Internet, she said, is a bit like a friend who needs to be straightened out. She imagines giving the Internet a talking-to: “You know, Internet, we’ve known you for a long time and we think you’re not living up to your potential. You keep making the same mistakes.”

The final event at the New School conference featured a stemwinder of a talk by someone Taylor considers a mentor: Douglas (“I’m on Team Human!”) Rushkoff.

Rushkoff, whose new book is titled “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus,” provided a primer on the rise of capitalism, central banks and industrial culture. He suggested that civilization started making wrong turns in the Middle Ages. Centralized currency — not good. In the early days, every community could have its own coinage. We need to “rebirth the values of the peer-to-peer bazaar culture.”

Growing louder and more animated as his lecture went on, he talked about the need to “optimize the economy for humans.”

“Where do humans fit into this new economy?” he said. “Really not as creators of value, but as the content. We are the content. We are the data. We are the media. As you use a smartphone, your smartphone gets smarter, but you get dumber.”

Taylor, Rushkoff, Lanier and other tech skeptics do not yet form an organized, coherent movement. They’re more like a confederation of gadflies. Even Pope Francis’s thoughts on technology were largely lost amid his headline-grabbing views about climate change.

Andrew Keen, author of “The Internet is Not the Answer,” sounds a glum note when talking about what the technological resistance might accomplish.

“No one’s ever heard of Astra Taylor,” he said.

He didn’t mean that as an insult. He was making a point about the whole crew of dissenters. No one, he said, has ever heard of Andrew Keen, either.

The world is not about to go back to the Stone Age, at least not willingly. One billion people may use Facebook on any given day. Jaron Lanier may not like the way the big companies scrape value from our lives, but people are participating in that system willingly — if perhaps not entirely aware of what is happening to their data.

Taylor’s smartphone with the cracked screen clearly has been in heavy use. She knows these gadgets are addictive by design — “like Las Vegas slot machines in our pockets.” But she also has trouble living without one.

“I need to learn to turn it off,” she said. - Washington Post.

MONUMENTAL PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: "Don't Get Pregnant" - Brazilians Urged As 2,700 Babies Born With BRAIN DAMAGE Linked To Zika Virus; STATE OF EMERGENCY In Six States!

December 26, 2015 - BRAZIL - An outbreak of a virus that doctors believe causes microcephaly in newborns has forced Brazilian health officials to appeal to withhold from getting pregnant. Zika virus is believed to already have caused over 2,700 cases of birth defects.

Putting off pregnancy has become a necessity in Brazil, particularly in the northeast, where a dangerous virus transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes dwelling in tropical climates cause microcephaly, according to doctors. It is an otherwise rare condition which causes dramatically shrunken skulls in newborns.

With over 900 cases reported, Pernambuco state has become the most affected territory. After the number of reported cases nationwide sharply increased from 147 in 2014 to over 2,400 in 2015, six Brazilian states have declared the state of emergency. Related deaths of 29 infants are currently being investigated.

The presence of Zika virus in a newborn was established on November 28 during an autopsy of a baby born with microcephaly, Brazil's Health Ministry reported.

The problem is worsened by the fact that initial ultrasounds of a fetus could be normal and the microcephaly is determined towards the end of the pregnancy.

“This is an unprecedented situation, unprecedented in world scientific research,” the Brazilian Health Ministry said on its website, estimating the latest outbreak between 0.5 and 1.5 million cases in the country altogether.

The pathogen, known as Zika virus, was first discovered in Uganda in the 1940s in forest monkeys. In most cases, the virus causes mild symptoms, like slight fever, rash and headaches, yet it can have serious neurological complications that could lead to death.

While endemic in certain parts of Africa, the Zika virus has since spread to the South Pacific and Asia, most recently emerging in Latin America. In Brazil it was first detected in 2015. Brazilian medical experts believe the virus could be transferred to the country by guests of the football 2014 World Cup.

The transmitter of the Zika virus, Aedes aegypti mosquito, is also known for spreading such deceases as chikungunya fever, dengue fever and yellow fever.

Initially the Zika virus cases were registered in northeastern Brazil in states like Pernambuco, but more cases of microcephaly have since been detected in regions to the south, in densely populated states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Today, Zika virus cases have been registered in 20 out of the nation’s 27 states.

“These are newborns who will require special attention their entire lives. It's an emotional stress that just can't be imagined,” Angela Rocha, a pediatric infection expert at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital, told CNN. “Here in Pernambuco, we're talking about a generation of babies that's going to be affected."

“It's a very personal decision, but at this moment of uncertainty, if families can put off their pregnancy plans, that's what we're recommending,” Rocha said.

Summertime, with its rainy season, is only beginning in Brazil, so medics expect further growth in the number of Zika cases. With Rio de Janeiro hosting 2016 Olympic Games, Brazilian authorities are making extensive efforts in trying to bring the outbreak under control, disinfecting stagnant pools that serve as the breeding ground for mosquitoes, including the Aedes aegypti, with truckloads of larvicide insecticide.

Hundreds of pregnant women with suspected Zika syndrome are being monitored right now, while other pregnant women are strongly recommended to stay indoors and use insect repellant.

The World Health Organization has issued an alert about the Zika situation in Brazil. - RT.

EXTREME WEATHER: Apocalyptic Wildfire Rages In California - Forces Mass Evacuations And Highway Closures; 1,200 Acres Engulfed In Flames! [PHOTOS + VIDEOS]

December 26, 2015 - CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - A wildfire in Southern California has forced the temporary closure of one of the main interstate highways, as well as mandatory evacuations in the area, which is threatened by the fast-spreading blaze ravishing hundreds of acres of land.

The brush fire that engulfed some 1,200 acres on Solimar Beach near Ventura has resulted in the partial closing of the coastal 101 Freeway, which runs all the way to the Canadian border, on Saturday.

As the fast-spreading inferno torched hillsides near the beach, mandatory evacuations were ordered.

“Even if we do open up the roadways, it’s still not a contained fire,” Ventura County Fire Department Chief Norm Plott told reporters.

“It's a very dynamic fire. We’re not quite out of the woods yet.”

© Ventura Co. Aviation Unit
Night brush fire 12/25/15 near Highway 101/Solimar Beach. © Via Twitter@LACoFireAirOp

Cal Fire reported that the fire is 10 percent contained.

More than 600 firefighters are battling the blaze that still poses a threat to oil, gas, power and railroads in the area.

No deaths or injuries have so far been reported from the fire that started at around 11:00pm on Friday near the coastal city of Ventura.

The fire that initially burned roughly 100 acres of land in the 3000 block of the West Pacific Coast Highway, was soon spread by strong winds as high as 50 miles per hour.

WATCH: Footage of the Solimar Fire.

Dry vegetation also caused the fire to grow rapidly, fire officials said.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the fire prompted mandatory evacuations for the Solimar Beach area as the blaze threatened about 35 homes in the community.

Voluntary evacuation is currently in effect for the Faria Beach residents.

Rescue teams from Los Angeles County Fire Department and Cal Fire, and the Orange County Fire Authority deployed helicopters with water tankers to contain the spread of the fire. - RT.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVALS: Sinkholes Keep Popping Up Across The United States - Sinkhole Swallows Garbage Truck In New York!

December 26, 2015 - NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - There was an unusual sight in Latham on Thursday.

A garbage truck was caught sinking through the pavement in a parking lot on Troy-Schenectady Road in Colonie.

A crane had to come and lift the truck up so the tire could be freed.

The truck drove off undamaged, but there was a huge hole in the lot.

People who live and work nearby say this is only a small incident but it reveals a much bigger problem.

They say a pipe that runs underneath the lot from a creek on one side to a creek on the other has collapsed.

"We've had 3 major floods, totaling over $200,000 in damage because of this problem. The poor guys who work for the town they've been wonderful but their hands are tied," said Debbie Caprara, hair salon owner.

Caprara says she's gone to town officials but the problem has yet to be fixed.

She's concerned about losing business and someone seriously getting hurt.

WATCH: Sinkhole discovered in Latham after garbage truck falls in.

- News 10.

DELUGE: Successive Storms Hit The Philippines - At Least 41 People Killed; 1.7 MILLION Uprooted; Over 200,000 Homes DAMAGED Or DESTROYED; $99 MILLION Estimated Damage To Agriculture And Infrastructure!

A boy wades through a flooded street in Jaen, Nueva Ecija in northern Philippines October 20, 2015, after the province was hit by Typhoon Koppu.
© REUTERS/Erik De Castro

December 26, 2015 - THE PHILIPPINES - Successive storms across the Philippines, including Typhoon Melor, have temporarily uprooted 1.7 million, aid workers said, as President Benigno Aquino distributed food on Wednesday in areas hardest hit by the disaster.

At least 41 people were killed when Typhoon Melor struck central Philippines on Dec. 15, inundating villages, damaging crops and disrupting power supplies to six provinces.

Known locally as Nona, Melor damaged or destroyed about 200,000 homes mostly in the provinces of Oriental Mindoro, Northern Samar and Sorsogon, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said.

Damage to agriculture and infrastructure is estimated at $99 million, according to the IFRC, which has appealed for $3.8 million to deliver emergency assistance to survivors.

"These multiple disaster events have made life extremely difficult for communities, some of whom have been hit by repeated waves of flooding," Kari Isomaa, head of IFRC in the Philippines, said in a statement.

As rains continued across much of the Philippines, with flooding and landslides in some provinces, President Aquino met displaced families in Northern Samar and Oriental Mindoro.

His visit came a day after Maoist rebels attacked an army truck, that was delivering equipment to help clear up the destruction caused by the typhoon.

Military spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla said one soldier was killed in the attack on Tuesday morning, which could hamper relief work in typhoon-hit areas.

"It divides our focus on the primary mission at hand and takes away much needed helping hands from the main effort of saving lives," Padilla said.

The Philippines is one of the countries hardest hit by natural disasters, with an average of 20 typhoons per year.


IFRC said many families were still struggling to recover from the devastation wrought by Typhoon Koppu last October. Koppu, a category 4 storm, unleashed 4-metre storm surges, floods and landslides, killing 58 people and displacing more than 100,000.

Reports from aid workers on the ground suggest residents were better prepared for Typhoon Melor.

"Prior to landfall of the typhoon, community volunteers worked with the local government to disseminate information house to house," said Lolita Arellano, Plan International programme manager in Eastern Samar province.

"People are very aware. Each time there is typhoon, they are ready. They have stocks of food, stocks of water and relief items on the roof and ceiling."

The IFRC appeal will help the Philippines Red Cross provide aid - including emergency shelters and cash grants - to 45,000 people hit by storms and floods across the islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Funds from the appeal will also be used for home repairs, awareness raising campaigns on the prevention of waterborne diseases and repairs to water and sanitation facilities at schools, IFRC said.

Separately, the World Bank on Tuesday announced a $500 million credit line to support the Philippines to reduce disaster risks and help manage the financial impacts when disasters strike. - Trust.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Rapid Ohia Death - Newly Discovered Fungus Is Killing Trees Critical To Hawaii's Water Supply!

December 26, 2015 - HAWAII - A newly discovered fungus is killing a tree that's critical to Hawaii's water supply, endangered native birds and Hawaiian cultural traditions like hula.

The disease called rapid ohia death has hit hundreds of thousands of ohia lehua trees on the Big Island. As of last year, it was found to have affected 50 percent of the ohia trees across 6,000 acres of forest, but it's believed to have spread further since then. To date, it's been found primarily in Puna but also in Kona and Kau. It hasn't been seen anywhere else in the world.

Robert Hauff, the forest health coordinator at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the state is planning aerial surveys next month to learn how many acres are affected by the fungus. A world expert in similar diseases is also expected to visit the islands to advise the state on how to control the outbreak.

"Worst case scenario is that it spreads statewide and it decimates all of our ohia forests. It's a pretty bleak picture," Hauff told reporters at a news conference in Honolulu.

Ohia is important to the water supply because it's so effective at soaking water into the ground and replenishing the watershed. It's critical for native birds because the animals feed on its nectar. It provides a canopy to native plants growing underneath it in the forests.

The state Department of Agriculture has created rules prohibiting moving wood, flowers and other parts of the ohia tree between islands. The state is also encouraging people to clean tools used on ohia and clean shoes and clothes used near ohia.

Christy Martin, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, said the fungus is "sneaky" because it can infect a tree for months before showing any symptoms.

"So somebody could think they're walking through a healthy forest, picking up wood and doing whatever they're doing collecting for lei and not know they're dealing with an infected tree," Martin said after the news conference.

Sam Ohu Gon III, senior scientist and cultural adviser at the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, said ohia wood was used for weapons, hula instruments, homes and temples in ancient Hawaii. Many Hawaiian proverbs and sayings reference the tree.

"It's a fundamental blow to the natural foundations of Hawaiian culture as far as I'm concerned," Gon said. "It's very important thing, therefore, for anyone who has any love at all for those elements of where we live." -

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Las Vegas, Nevada Finally Gets Snow - McCarran International Airport Ties 1941 Christmas Day Snowfall Record!

© Via Twitter@LeeCanyonLV

December 26, 2015 - NEVADA, UNITED STATES - "Ho, ho, ho! Vegas got snow!"

That was a Christmas morning posting by the National Weather Service, heralding flurries mixed with rain showers after a windy cold front swept through the Las Vegas area.

Meteorologist Chris Stachelski noted that the trace of snow recorded at McCarran International Airport tied a Christmas Day record set in 1941.

Traces also were recorded on Christmas in 1988 and 2008.

Nothing stuck on the sidewalks of the Strip, but some northwest Las Vegas neighborhoods received a dusting of snow.

It melted as the morning dawned clear and sunny with temperatures in the high 30s.

Meteorologist John Salmen says the wet weather blew in with windy squalls that brought gusts up to 38 miles per hour between midnight and 2 a.m. Friday. - CBS.

ICE AGE NOW: Global Cooling - Arctic Sea Ice Extent Sets Another Record!

December 26, 2015 - ARCTIC SEA - The extent of thirty percent concentration sea ice in the Arctic has reach 10 million km² in December for the first time since at least 2004.
Shown sea ice extent values are therefore recommended to be used qualitatively in relation to ice extent values from other years shown in the figure.

Source: Ocean and Ice Services | Danmarks Meteorologiske Institut

- Real Science.

FIRE IN THE SKY: The Mystery Light - Meteor Fireball Lights Up Midwestern U.S. Morning Sky!


December 26, 2015 - UNITED STATES - Nobody is sure what it was, but plenty of people saw it. Twas the Light Before Christmas and it lit up the night sky across a long stretch of the Midwest early Thursday morning.

Jay Poppe sent us the video he captured near Denton, Iowa.

That was just one of the locations between northern Kansas, through Nebraska and Iowa and into Illinois where sightings were reported.

It happened around 1:30 a.m. in the Omaha, Nebraska area.

What do you think? A meteor? Santa taking a few warm-up laps? - WOWT.

WATCH: The Mystery Light.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVALS: Massive Landslide In Myanmar - At Least 50 Mine Foragers Feared Dead!

December 26, 2015 - MYANMAR - About 50 migrant workers combing soil discarded by jade mines are believed to have been killed by a landslide in north Myanman, in an area where over 120 people died in a similar incident a month ago.

"We heard about 50 people were buried in the collapsed dump and four or five bodies were found this morning," Sai Lon, who works at a jade mining company in the area, told Reuters on Saturday.

The landslide happened near the same Hpa-kant jade mining area in Kachin State on Friday evening, Xinhua reported local police as saying.

The 50 miners were trapped under the mud and are presumed dead.

"The rescue process has now started and we are searching for dead bodies but we can't tell the numbers yet," Nilar Myint, an official from Hpakant Administrative Office, told AFP.

Hpa-kant is prone to landslides and has experienced seven this year alone.

After the deadly incident last month, the authorities moved 108 migrant workers employed in the mining operations to other areas.

The area has been a attracting migrant workers from the region after mining companies started using heavy equipment in 2005, causing a large number of small jade stones to be discarded in the processed soil.

There are an estimated 200,000 squatters involved in the trade in Hpa-kant Township. - RT.

DELUGE: Storm Eva - Severe Flood Warnings In Place As Rain Drenches Northern Britain; Almost 150 Warnings Issued; Up To 120mm Of Rain Set To Fall; The Rainfall Levels Were "UNPRECEDENTED,... THAT NOBODY'S EVER SEEN BEFORE,..."; Armed Forces Deployed; Region Already Saturated By Winter Storms!

Almost 150 flood warnings issued as up to 120mm of rain set to fall in north of England – worsening situation in areas already saturated by winter storms.
The river Ouse in York continues to rise, flooding riverside properties in the city centre. Photograph: John Giles/PA

December 26, 2015 - BRITAIN - Householders in some parts of the north of England have been warned to take their Christmas presents and other valuables upstairs as the Environment Agency issued 149 flood warnings – seven of them severe – and 123 alerts.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency issued five flood alerts and eight flood warnings.

The warnings south of the border, which mainly cover the north-west and north-east of England and Wales, come as forecasters said up to 120mm (4.7in) of rain could fall in some areas already saturated by winter storms.

Seven of the warnings – among them two locations on the river Ribble at Ribchester and three locations on the river Calder at Whalley – have been classed as severe, meaning the weather conditions there pose a potentially deadly threat.

A red weather warning, the most serious alert, for heavy rain and flooding in Lancashire was issued by the Met Office on Saturday morning. As well as moving valuables, people are advised to take advice from emergency services about evacuation.

As members of the armed forces continued to assist in inundated areas of Cumbria on Christmas Day, the government’s emergency Cobra committee met and further flood warnings were issued.

The Met Office said December had been the wettest since records began. More than 110 flood alerts and warnings have been issued in advance of Storm Eva, which rolled across northern England and Wales through Christmas night, reaching southern Scotland on Boxing Day.

The army was deployed to towns across Cumbria on Christmas Day to build up flood defences before Eva made landfall, bringing winds of up to 80mph and persistent downpours with it. Met Office forecasters issued an amber warning of rain for Cumbria, the north-west and parts of West Yorkshire lasting into Saturday night. They estimated that 50-80mm of rain would fall on high ground, and up to 120mm over exposed Lakeland areas.

By late afternoon on Friday, the Environment Agency (EA) had issued 100 flood alerts across England and Wales, plus six warnings in the north-east, two in the north-west, one in the south-west and three for Wales that flooding was “imminent”.

Floods minister Rory Stewart said that rainfall levels in the flood-hit areas were unprecedented. “We’re looking potentially again today at maybe a month’s rainfall coming in a day. That’s falling on ground that’s very saturated. As the rain falls, the rivers respond very quickly,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“Certainly what we’ve seen is rainfall levels that nobody’s ever seen before.

“If somebody had said two years ago when we were designing these flood defences that we could get 13 inches of rain in a day, the answer from the engineers would have been: ‘Why are you making that kind of prediction? We have never seen this before.’

“I think this is why people are right to start focusing on uncertainty and why people obviously are very interested in the question of climate change.”

Troops helped locals in the north of England put out sandbags in preparation for yet more heavy rain, in a region where some areas have been flooded three times this month. Soldiers from 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, based at Weeton barracks near Preston, arrived in the beleaguered Cumbrian town of Appleby early on Friday morning to help build new flood defences, the Ministry of Defence said.

The environment secretary, Liz Truss, chaired the meeting of the government’s Cobra committee, which was also attended by EA chief executive Sir James Bevan, to coordinate the response in areas expected to be worst hit overnight.

“While we continue to monitor forecasts to model the precise impacts, we know rain will be falling on already saturated ground in Cumbria,” Truss said in a statement on Friday. “People are working round the clock, and through Christmas Day, to help communities prepare.”

Defra said more than 700 EA staff were on standby, many already checking flood defences, clearing blockages and monitoring water levels, with 85% of the country’s temporary flood barriers now in use in Cumbria. More than 20 pumps have also been set up, four of them capable of moving one metric tonne of water per second.

“This has been a very difficult time for all involved, especially people flooded out of their homes at Christmas, for whom I have enormous sympathy,” Truss said. “I want to assure them we are doing all we can to keep them safe and help them recover.”

The defence secretary, Michael Fallon, said: “Even at Christmas our armed forces are keeping us safe. Once again they are responding to the Cumbria floods with a level of commitment that is to be applauded.”

Paul Mustow, the EA’s deputy director in flood and coastal risk management, said: “Our thoughts are with all those who have had their homes and businesses flooded, some several times, in the runup to Christmas. On Christmas Day, Boxing Day and throughout the Christmas period, our operational teams, contractors and the military will be working around the clock to do all we can to reduce the potential impacts of flooding and support those communities affected.

“With heavy rain expected later today and tonight, we urge people to remain vigilant. We also want to remind people never to drive through flood water: just 30cm of flowing water is enough to move your car.”

The EA has also issued flood warnings for the next three days along the river Severn in Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, and Worcestershire, and the river Ouse in York, with the possibility of roads being flooded.

High tides and strong waves are expected to hit the south and west coasts of England over the coming days, with the EA warning Boxing Day walkers to take special care on coastal paths and promenades. - The Guardian.

EXTREME WEATHER: Large Tornado Hits Alabama As Severe Weather Continues To Hammer The U.S. South - Several People Trapped Underneath Rubble; State Of Emergency Declared For Several Towns As Pea River Approaches Record-Levels; At Least 15 People Killed As The Storm Outbreak Trenched Through Mississippi, Tennessee And Arkansas; One Resident Declares "IT'S A WASTELAND"! [PHOTOS + MAP + VIDEO]

Dec. 25, 2015: Lightning illuminates a house after a tornado touched down in Jefferson County, Ala., damaging several houses. (AP)

December 26, 2015 - UNITED STATES - Several people were trapped underneath rubble late Friday as another tornado touched down in north-central Alabama in the latest wave of severe weather that’s hammered the South during Christmas week, police said.

Lt. Sean Edwards, a Birmingham police spokesman, said trees are down and people are trapped in damaged houses, adding that several people were taken to hospitals for treatment of minor injuries.

The funnel was spotted by witnesses outside the city around 5 p.m. An hour later the National Weather Service confirmed that first responders were on the scene along Jefferson Avenue, a working class neighborhood outside Birmingham.

Concerned about her fellow neighbors, Ruthie Green went door-to-door in a coat and a bicycle helmet to check on neighbors after the storm and swept debris from her front porch as more emergency responders arrived in the neighborhood.

"I been listening to the news all day so I was kind of preparing," Green told the Associated Press. When the tornado warning came up on her iPad, Green said she ran to a closet.

"Then I heard the big roaring, it didn't last more than three minutes," Green said. "I just laid down and just kept praying."

Green said she was unsure of whether any neighbors had been injured or killed down the block where several homes were destroyed.

"We probably won't know anything until daylight comes," she said. "I'm hoping that everybody got out all right."

Alabama Tornado Adds to Christmas Storm Woes
Twitter: Massive Paper

"Details are still sketchy," said Jason Holmes, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Birmingham Fire Chief Charles Gordon told that at least four homes were damaged in the latest tornado, including three in southwest Birmingham.

Elsewhere in the region, dozens of people faced Christmas having lost their homes and possessions. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Friday issued a state of emergency for parts of the state experiencing flash flooding. Officials in southeast Alabama are particularly concerned, as Pea River is approaching record-levels near the town of Elba, which has a history of severe flooding.

Storms have already ravaged the Southeast this week. At least 15 people have died as the outbreak of severe weather trenched through Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Some people who survived the storms were thankful just to see another Christmas. Tony Goodwin ducked into a storm shelter with seven others as a storm pounded Tennessee and other states in the southeastern U.S. He emerged to find his house in Linden had been knocked off its foundation and hurled down a hill by high winds.

A confirmed, damaging tornado is moving through the south side of Birmingham, Alabama. Tornado warning continues
Twitter: The Weather Channel 

Goodwin's neighbors weren't so fortunate. Two people in one home were killed.

"It makes you thankful to be alive with your family," he said.

Peak tornado season in the South is in the spring, but such storms can happen at any time. Exactly a year ago, tornadoes hit Mississippi, killing five people and injuring dozens.

Barbara Perkins was told Thursday by an insurance agent that her storm-damaged home in Falkner, Mississippi, was a complete loss. But Perkins — who survived the storm hunkered down inside a closet with her husband — said she was happy just to be alive. Two neighbors had died in the storm that swept across the southeastern U.S. earlier this week.

"You kind of stop and realize what Christmas is all about," Perkins said. - FOX News.

WATCH: Severe weather slams the U.S. south on Christmas Eve.

FIRE IN THE SKY: If Something Big Enough Hits Earth Now, Say "Bye-Bye" - Rosetta Mission Astrophysicist!

December 26, 2015 - SPACE - Sooner or later some big enough space body will inevitably hit our planet, astrophysicist Matt Taylor told RT’s SophieCo show. By that time we had better be prepared, because no Bruce Willis is going to save humanity.

It is true that space scientists have the technical means to see practically everything that flies towards our planet, yet space objects are numerous and one day some “odd thing” might come towards Earth, Taylor said, stressing that monitoring space and deflecting dangerous space objects are two different technologies.

And if some sort of Armageddon-style thing approaches our planet and “Bruce Willis doesn't want to help us” – humankind would have to find a way of diverting or destroying such space guests, although practical steps in that direction will be a matter for the future.

Our civilization remains largely unprepared for such a rendezvous, “if something hits the sky now – then no, there's not much you can do apart from say bye-bye,” Taylor told RT’s Sophie Shevarnadze, noting that the outcome would depend on the size of the space object threatening to hit Earth.

“One has to remember that space is big and that it is highly unlikely that this would occur, but there's a statistical chance that it can occur,” the astrophysicist said.

Matt Taylor explained that Earth’s orbit is relatively safe because there are larger planets with a stronger gravitational pull that draw in these bodies, thus protecting our planet from ‘space guests’ coming from the outer parts of the solar system. However, the chance of collision remains.

WATCH: Matt Taylor on SophieCo.

“The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but you have to leave the cradle,” Taylor said, citing the pioneer of the Russian cosmonautics, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Humankind would have to reach for the stars, be it out of the necessity to protect the civilization from space dangers or because of the “fundamental human trait – to explore.”

“Ultimately, that's what we will have to carry on doing. We'll be limited by physics and we'll see if we can overcome that,” Taylor said.

The astrophysicist mocked the collective consciousness, which believes that since astronauts regularly fly to the International Space Station (ISS), then everything is fixed and simple.

“The thing is, anything in space is dangerous still. It's a high-risk game and that's why I have the ultimate respect for anyone that does want to stick themselves into the top of the rocket and go up to the ISS,” Taylor said, stressing that he personally would not go into space.

“Every time we go up there, it's very,very difficult, it's a very,very horrible environment to live in,” Taylor said, saying that is the case however many significant advances in space satellites and technology and science have been made over decades of space exploration.

“I don't want to be an astronaut, but I don't mind sending space probes out that I can interact with. It's that aspect, because if we don't do that, then we may as well have stayed in the cave and look to our navel.”

Cap it all, however people might dream about establishing contact with extraterrestrial life, when the day of such contact comes, it is going to be quite a serious shock for the human psyche, Taylor believes.

“I'm not sure how people would cope with that,” Taylor shared.

Taylor is the space scientist who managed to successfully park the Rosetta’s Philae lander on the comet in November 2014 – man’s first-ever historic touchdown on a comet. It took Rosetta 10 years to reach the comet and drop the landing module onto its surface. Comets are believed to have kept a record of the physical and chemical processes that occurred during the early stages of the evolution of our sun and solar system. Thus by studying them, scientists expect to better understand how life on Earth began.

Taylor explained that scientists “study comets because they’re full of stuff that was there right at the beginning and so, we’re studying that so that we get an idea of what the ingredients were that went to form planets, from Sun, and we’re trying to what the dynamic process was, to find out, ultimately, why we on Earth are here.”

When speaking about Rosetta, Taylor said that a fundamental human trait is the desire to explore, adding that for him “that’s what special about Rosetta. It’s an exploration, it’s going somewhere that we’ve never been before.”

Rosetta is about “trying to find out answers to bigger questions,” he said

Taylor was nearly overshadowed by an accomplishment of cosmic proportions when he wore a T-shirt with pin-up girls bearing firearms to a press conference. Some hated him for it, others defended the eccentric scientist. - RT.

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: Weather Phenomenon - Giant Lenticular Cloud Forms In Yalta, Crimea During Sunset! [PHOTOS]

December 26, 2015 - CRIMEA, RUSSIA - This giant lenticular cloud appeared in the sunset sky of Yalta, Crimea on December 23, 2015.

A present of Mother Nature just before Christmas.

What an amazing cloud formation.

- Strange Sounds.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVALS: Sinkholes Keep Popping Up Across The United States - Flooding Causes Massive Sinkhole At Mobile Home Park In Gretna, Virginia!

© WSET/viewer submitted photo

December 26, 2015 - VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES - All the rain the area got on Thursday caused some issues at Meadowbrook Mobile Home Park in Gretna.

Sgt. Hewitt with Gretna Police said a nearby creek flooded the road at the entrance to the park. That in turn caused a sink hole.

© WSET/viewer submitted photo

Police said they were working with emergency services to make sure that people have a way in and out of the park in case of an emergency.

Hewitt said flooding has not reached people's homes.  - ABC13 WSET.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Migratory Patterns And Disaster Precursors - Villagers Find Two Pygmy Sperm Whales Washed Ashore In Borneo; Murre (Guillermot) Die-Off In The Thousands In Kachemak Bay, Alaska; Thousands Of Dead Fish Found On Beach In Western Australia; Baby Humpback Whale Washes Ashore In Malaysia; Scientists Discover Rare Sea Snakes, Previously Thought Extinct, Off Western Australia?!

Iqbal recording some data after checking the carcass of the whale which was washed ashore at Kampung Masjid, Kuala Baram.

December 26, 2015 - EARTH - The following constitutes the latest reports of unusual and symbolic animal behavior, mass die-offs, beaching and stranding of mammals, and the appearance of rare creatures.

Villagers find two pygmy sperm whales washed ashore in Borneo

Two whales of the Pygmy Sperm species were found washed ashore at Kampung Masjid, a fishing village in Kuala Baram, yesterday.

According to village head Yusree Zainuzzaman, a fisherman had earlier asked for help from the villagers around 1pm to rescue a whale which was still alive.

He said they immediately pulled the mammal, a protected species, back to the sea.

A few minutes later, he said they found another whale from the same species which was bigger than the first one some 500 metres from the spot where the first one was found.

However, the whale had died, he added.

Malaysia Nature Society (MNS) Miri treasurer Iqbal Abdollah, when contacted by The Borneo Post, confirmed the case.

Iqbal, who is a member of Special Interest Group (SIG) in MNS which focuses on marine life, said the dead mammal was a female adult whale.

"The dead adult female whale was about 2.92 metres long," he said, adding that he went to the scene for data recording.

As the first mammal appeared smaller than the dead one, he suspected they could be mother and baby.

"I couldn't get the actual measure of the surviving whale as it had been released back to the sea before I reached the scene.

"Based on the detail and the picture that the villager showed to me, it is estimated that the 'baby whale' could be about 1.8 metres long."

He said Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) had been informed of the case. - The Borneo Post.

Murre (guillemot) die-off in the thousands in Kachemak Bay, Alaska

Common Murres, like the one held by Wildlife Biologist Leslie Slater on the beach along the Spit in Homer, are turning up along beaches all around the Kachemak Bay area.

Die-offs of common murres have been taking place across Alaska since summer and the latest report is from Kachemak Bay, according to biologists with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in Homer.

Wildlife biologist Leslie Slater says there have been two waves of mortality.

"This die-off started to be noticed around mid-July in certain parts of the state. And so it continued at some level — a fairly high, noticeable level — for a couple weeks and then it seemed to diminish and then there seemed to be resurgence again of the number of carcasses that we were seeing on beaches, and that happened in mid-November or so," Slater said.

There have been die-offs reported of the penguin-like sea birds in Cold Bay in July and in Kodiak in November. Slater says they've also had reports from Seward, Sitka and Prince William Sound. In November starving and dead murres turned up around the Mat-Su and Anchorage areas, farther inland than usual.

"It seems that then they would either be disoriented, which could be the result of ingesting a toxin or they could be very desperate in searching for food and just kept traveling up the inlet," Slater said.

Seabird die-offs have been recorded all along the west coast of the U.S. in Washington, Oregon and California this year. Slater estimates that a large number of murres have died around Kachemak bay.

"Based on the duration of the time that we've had carcasses being reported to us, I would say, it's into the thousands, certainly, throughout Kachemak Bay," Slater said.

The dead murres are being counted by citizen scientists all along the Spit and along the beach up to Anchor Point.

"They've been doing this for several years and so there's been a baseline established of what we would consider being a normal winter... and so far, it's been at least six times the normal background amount that's been observed," Slater said.

Slater says citizen scientists mark the murres with color-coded zip ties around a wing or foot and if you see a bird with a zip tie she says you should not disturb it because it's part of a study.

And anecdotal reports of dead murres and other birds are coming in from across the Bay. They've also had reports of dead tufted puffins, horned puffins and an ancient murrelet. She says the birds, along with murres, feed on small fish or dive to get invertebrates during summer. They dive for squid, crustaceans and krill during winter.

Slater says murre carcasses were sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin where bird flu was ruled out. The dead birds seem to have starved, but Slater says there could be other factors.

"There are analysis that are pending. So it could be something that had to do with PSP, like paralytic shelfish poisoning, that was ingested at some point, but that is still unknown," Slater said.

Results from those tests should be back in January. That's also when Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge biologist Heather Renner will be presenting a paper on the murre die-off at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage. - Alaska Public Media.

Thousands of dead fish found on beach in Western Australia

The fish washed up in Wickham. © Department of Fisheries

Western Australia's Department of Fisheries is investigating what caused thousands of dead bait fish to wash up on a beach in the Pilbara.

The department was made aware of the incident, which occurred at Wickham, around 50km east of Karratha, by a member of the public on Tuesday, the ABC reports.

A fisheries official visited the scene and estimated that at least 4000 fish of the same species were strewn across the beach.

The Department of Fisheries northern region manager Peter Godfrey said he could not recall such an incident ever occurring in the Karratha area.

"We do occasionally get reports of small fish kills, but certainly there has been nothing major in the area," he said.

Samples taken at the site have been sent to Perth for analysis by the department's fish health pathologists.

Mr Godfrey said there could be a number of possible explanations for the mass fish deaths and it was too early to speculate.

"It could be some sort of fish disease or it could be environmental factors, such as an algal bloom, or hot water conditions, or stranding by the tides," he said.

Mr Godfrey has advised locals to avoid the area, not to take samples and not to eat the fish. - 9 News.

Baby humpback whale washes ashore in Malaysia

The baby whale that washed up dead on Kg Sg Labu shoreline Thursday morning.

A dead look-alike baby humpback whale was washed ashore near the Kg Sg Labu shoreline Thursday morning.

Officials estimated the almost 20-foot whale to be over a year-old and had been dead when it was found lying on the beach.

Labuan Fisheries Department director Anuar Salam Sulaiman told Bernama the cause of the death was not clear and a report had been submitted to the fisheries headquarter in Putrajaya for a thorough investigation.

There were no signs of trauma, such as propeller marks. But the team from our headquarters will carry out investigations to find the cause of death.

Whether it was caught or trapped in a fishing net or hit by trawler, he said.

Anuar said during investigations, samples would be collected to determine its origin.

"It is tough to see. It is so young to die naturally. It is very surprising and very sad, he added.

Villagers found the whale at about 10am, which attracted many villagers to the beach and some even posed for pictures with the whale.

Anuar said the whale's remains would be buried inland Friday at the Kg Sg Labu beach, away from the shoreline, so it would not be decomposed quickly and sort of unhealthy elements.

For the time being, while waiting for the autopsy and investigation teams to arrive, we must bury the whale. The remains will be exhumed for an autopsy later, he said. - The Star.

Scientists discover rare sea snakes, previously thought extinct, off Western Australia

This is a photograph of the rare short nosed sea snake discovered on Ningaloo reef, Western Australia. © Grant Griffin, W.A. Dept. Parks and Wildlife

Scientists from James Cook University have discovered two critically endangered species of sea snakes, previously thought to be extinct, off the coast of Western Australia.

It's the first time the snakes have been spotted alive and healthy since disappearing from their only known habitat on Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea more than fifteen years ago.

"This discovery is really exciting, we get another chance to protect these two endemic Western Australian sea snake species," says study lead author Blanche D'Anastasi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU.

"But in order to succeed in protecting them, we will need to monitor populations as well as undertake research into understanding their biology and the threats they face."

The discovery of the critically endangered short nose sea snake was confirmed after a Western Australia Parks and Wildlife Officer, Grant Griffin, sent a photo of a pair of snakes taken on Ningaloo Reef to Ms D'Anastasi for identification.

"We were blown away, these potentially extinct snakes were there in plain sight, living on one of Australia's natural icons, Ningaloo Reef," says Ms D'Anastasi.

"What is even more exciting is that they were courting, suggesting that they are members of a breeding population."

The researchers also made another unexpected discovery, uncovering a significant population of the rare leaf scaled sea snake in the lush seagrass beds of Shark Bay.

The discovery was made 1700 kilometres south of the snakes only known habitat on Ashmore Reef.

"We had thought that this species of sea snake was only found on tropical coral reefs. Finding them in seagrass beds at Shark Bay was a real surprise," says Ms D'Anastasi.

Both leaf scaled and short nosed sea snakes are listed as Critically Endangered under Australia's threatened species legislation, which means they have special protection.

Despite the good news of the find, sea snake numbers have been declining in several marine parks, and scientists are at a loss to explain why.

"Many of the snakes in this study were collected from prawn trawl by-catch surveys, indicating that these species are vulnerable to trawling," says Dr Vimoksalehi Lukoschek from the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

"But the disappearance of sea snakes from Ashmore Reef, could not be attributed to trawling and remains unexplained.

"Clearly we need to identify the key threats to their survival in order to implement effective conservation strategies if we are going to protect these newly discovered coastal populations," Dr Lukoschek says.

Journal Reference:

B.R. D'Anastasi, L. van Herwerden, J.A. Hobbs, C.A. Simpfendorfer, V. Lukoschek. "New range and habitat records for threatened Australian sea snakes raise challenges for conservation." Biological Conservation, 2016; 194: 66 DOI.

- Science Daily.

DELUGE: Severe Flooding In Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil And Uruguay - Over 150,000 People Displaced!

Some experts have linked the weather to a stronger than usual El Nino phenomenon. © Reuters

December 26, 2015 - SOUTH AMERICA - More than 150,000 people in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil have been driven from their homes by some of the worst flooding in years.

Heavy summer rains have caused rivers to swell across a vast area.

In Paraguay, the most affected country, President Horacio Cartes declared a state of emergency, freeing up $3.5m (£2.3m) in relief funds.

The Paraguay river in the capital, Asuncion, is just 30cm (12in) away from overtopping its banks.

That could lead to widespread flooding in the Asuncion area.

And it could affect thousands of other people who live by the Paraguay - the country's main river - the authorities said.

WATCH: Thousands evacuated across South America as heavy rains spread.

Nearly 200 electricity pylons have been damaged or destroyed by strong winds.

Four people were killed in the country by fallen trees.

In northern Argentina, some 20,000 people have been evacuated.

At least two people have died in the floods, which have mostly affected the provinces of Entre Rios, Corrientes and Chaco.

Flooding in north-eastern Argentina is the worse to hit the region in five decades. © AFP

In the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, nearly 1,800 families in dozens of towns had been forced to leave their homes.

Heavy rain began to fall in the region on 18 December, swelling the Uruguay and Quarai rivers.

South of the Brazilian border, in Uruguay, thousands of people have been made homeless in the past few days.

But most of them have now returned home.

Dry weather is forecast for the Brazilian-Uruguayan border region in the next few days, but in Paraguay and Argentina water levels are still expected to rise. - BBC News.