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The USGS Monitors Earth’s Magnetic Field to Prepare for Magnetic Storms

Everyone is familiar with weather systems on Earth like rain, wind and snow. But space weather – variable conditions in the space surrounding Earth – has important consequences for our lives inside Earth’s atmosphere.

Solar activity occurring miles outside Earth’s atmosphere, for example, can trigger magnetic storms on Earth. These storms are visually stunning, but they can set our modern infrastructure spinning.

On Jan. 19, scientists saw a solar flare in an active region of the Sun, along with a concentrated blast of solar-wind plasma and magnetic field lines known as a coronal mass ejection that burst from the Sun’s surface and appeared to be headed for Earth. When these solar winds met Earth’s magnetic field, the interaction created one of the largest magnetic storms on Earth recorded in the past few years. The storm peaked on Jan. 24, just as another storm began.

“These new storms, and the storm we witnessed on Sept 26, 2011, indicate the up-tick in activity coming with the Earth’s ascent into the next solar maximum,” said USGS geophysicist Jeffrey Love.” This solar maximum is the period of greatest activity in the solar cycle of the Sun, and it is predicted to occur sometime in 2013, which will increase the amount of magnetic storms on Earth.

Magnetic storms, said Love, are a space weather phenomenon responsible for the breathtaking lights of the aurora borealis, but also sometimes for the disruption of technology and infrastructure our modern society depends on. Large magnetic storms, for example, can interrupt radio communication, interfere with global-positioning systems, disrupt oil and gas well drilling, damage satellites and affect their operations, and even cause electrical blackouts by inducing voltage surges in electric power grids.

Storms can also affects airline activity — as a result of last weekend’s  storm, both Air Canada and Delta Air Lines rerouted flights over the Arctic bound for Asia as a precautionary measure. Although the storm began on the 19th of January, it did not peak until January 24th.

…(USGS)

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January 31, 2012 Posted by | Solar, Space | , , , , , | Leave a comment

6.3 Magnitude EQ – Near the Coast of Central Peru

At approximately 05:11:01 UTC on Monday, January 30th, an earthquake based on land struck at a depth of 39.2 km (24.4 miles) off the coast of Central Peru, 15 km (9 miles) SE of Ica, Peru, and 96 km (59 miles) SSE of Chincha Alta, Peru. Coords: 14.179°S, 75.644°W

United States Geological Survey – The event has been reviewed by a seismologist and confirmed, at present, to be a 6.3 magnitude earthquake at a depth of 39.2 km (24.4 miles). The European Mediterranean Seismology Agency is in agreeance with the earthquake parameters provided by the USGS.

…(USGS) (EMSC)

The quake occurred shortly after midnight local time (1 a.m. ET) and was centered about 9 miles southeast of the city of Ica and about 170 miles south-southeast of Lima.

Witnesses said the quake shook buildings in coastal Lima, Peru’s capital. Although there were no reported injuries or damage, local radio said residents near the epicenter were alarmed and ran outside their homes when they felt the quake. Power was out in nearby Pisco, the radio said.

“We felt a terrible earthquake that’s really scared us,” Ica resident Blanca Cabanilla told the local radio. “It was similar to what happened to us in 2007.”

An 8.0 quake in 2007 killed more than 500 people in Ica and wrecked thousands of homes.
…(Reuters)

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Seismic | , , , , , | Leave a comment

NASA Enhances its Solar Storm Forecasting

NASA is applying existing technology called “ensemble forecasting” that’s been used to predict hurricanes in its observations of solar weather to better predict the path and effect of solar storms. The use of the computational predictive technique couldn’t come as a better time, as the sun is entering its solar maximum, or period of greatest activity, which will spur an increase in space weather, according to the agency. Researchers at the Space Weather Laboratory of Goddard Space Flight Research Center have begun to implement ensemble forecasting–which allows them to produce as many as 100 computerized forecasts at once–with full implementation in three years’ time, according to NASA.

Support from NASA’s Space Technology Program Game Changing Program is allowing for the use of the technology, which meteorologists already use to track the potential path or impact of hurricanes and other forms of severe weather. Ensemble forecasting uses computer modeling to calculate multiple possible space weather conditions to simultaneously produce forecasts that researchers can analyze. From this analysis they can create alerts for solar storms that could affect astronauts or NASA spacecraft, according to the agency.

These alerts already are available, but not with the same speed or reliability as ensemble forecasting will provide, Michael Hesse, chief of Goddard’s Space Weather Laboratory and director of the Center’s Heliophysics science division, said in a press statement.

“Ensemble forecasting will provide a distribution of arrival times, which will improve the reliability of forecasts,” he said. “This is important. Society is relying more so than ever on space. Communications, navigation, electrical-power generation, all are susceptible to space weather.”

…(InformationWeek)

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Solar | , , , | Leave a comment

Volcanic Eruptions Emerge as Lead Cause for Little Ice Age

The Little Ice Age began in the late 13th century, scientists now posit, and lasted about 400 years. Some regions cooled significantly. A series of volcanic eruptions has become a leading culprit.

Sequences of explosive volcanic eruptions in the tropics were the likely trigger for the Little Ice Age, according to a new study.  The research attempts to answer two longstanding questions swirling around the roughly 400-year span of slightly cooler-than normal temperatures: Exactly when did it begin? And what was its initial trigger? Previous estimates for the onset of the Little Ice Age range from as early as the late 1200s to as late as the 1500s, the research team notes. Globally, temperatures averaged a modest 0.6 degrees Celsius, or about 1 degree Fahrenheit cooler than usual.

Researchers have proposed a range of possible causes for the Little Ice Age – from decline in the sun’s output, volcanic activity, some combination of the two, or some form of natural variability within the climate system.

The problem either with a decline in the sun’s output, which happened during this period, or volcanism is that neither was powerful enough on its own to account for the cooling, says Gifford Miller, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine.

Recent research on solar activity has indicated the sun didn’t dim as deeply as earlier research suggested. And volcanic activity typically affects climate only for a few years after an explosive eruption. It does this by hurling vast amounts of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, where the SO2 particles reflect sunlight back into space. Those particles eventually drift back into the lower atmosphere, where they get washed out of the sky during storms.

Instead, Dr. Miller’s team proposed that the initial trigger involved several major volcano eruptions occurring within about a decade of one another, followed by another set roughly 150 years later, which intensified the cooling.

The cooling effect of those eruptions, the team posits, probably triggered the growth of Arctic summer sea-ice cover and changes in North Atlantic ocean circulation. These changes reinforced the cooling trend, turning what might have been relatively short cool periods into a centuries-long chill.

…(CsMonitor)

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Climate, Volcanic | , , , | Leave a comment

Swine Flu Outbreak Kills 29, Infects Nearly 1,500 in Mexico

An ongoing swine flu outbreak in Mexico has left at least 29 people dead and nearly 1,500 others infected, health officials confirmed on Saturday. Thousands more are also ill as the country faces several types of flu this season.

Since the start of the ongoing winter season, at least 7,069 people have reported suffering from symptoms similar to those of swine flu. Lab tests are still underway and have so far confirmed 1,456 cases of the disease, which is officially known as A/H1N1.

According to Mexico’s Health Ministry, at least 29 people have died of swine flu so far this season. While no health emergency has been declared, officials expect the death toll will rise in the coming weeks as Mexico also faces A/H3N2 and B influenza.

The H1N1 influenza virus emerged in the Mexican state of Veracruz in April 2009 and quickly spread around the world, causing the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a global flu pandemic in June 2009. At least 18,000 people have died of the disease since, although the actual number is believed to be far higher.

In August 2010, the WHO declared that the swine flu pandemic was over. “In the post-pandemic period, influenza disease activity will have returned to levels normally seen for seasonal influenza,” the WHO said at the time. “It is expected that the pandemic virus will behave as a seasonal influenza A virus.”

…(BNO News)

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Health Warning, Outbreak | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Found in Antarctica Seawater

Bacteria that can resist nearly all antibiotics have been found in Antarctic seawater.

Björn Olsen of Uppsala University in Sweden and colleagues took seawater samples between 10 and 300 metres away from Chile’s Antarctic research stations, Bernardo O’Higgins, Arturo Prat and Fildes Bay. A quarter of the samples of Escherichia coli bacteria carried genes that made an enzyme called ESBL, which can destroy penicillin, cephalosporins and related antibiotics.

Bacteria with these genes can be even more dangerous than the better known superbug MRSA. That’s because the genes sit on a mobile chunk of DNA that can be acquired by many species of bacteria, increasing the incidence of drug-resistant infections such as the E. coli outbreak last year in Germany.

The type of ESBL they found, called CTX-M, is common in bacteria in people, and the Uppsala study found that concentrations of resistant bacteria were higher close to the sewage outfalls from the stations. Some Antarctic stations started shipping out human faeces for incineration after gut bacteria were found nearby. Chile’s research stations have virtually no sewage treatment in place, says Olsen.

Recent work shows the bacteria may hang on to the genes for CTX-M even when no longer exposed to antibiotics, suggesting that superbugs can survive in the wild, with animals acting as a reservoir. Penguins near the Chilean stations have been checked and are free of ESBL, though Olsen is now looking at the area’s gulls as he has found ESBL-producing bugs in gulls in France.

“If these genes are in Antarctica, it’s an indication of how far this [problem] has gone,” he says.

…(New Scientist)

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Health Warning | , , , , | Leave a comment

Snowy Owls Soar South in Mass Migration

Bird enthusiasts are reporting rising numbers of snowy owls from the Arctic winging into the lower 48 states this winter in a mass southern migration that a leading owl researcher called “unbelievable.”

Thousands of the snow-white birds, which stand 2 feet tall with 5-foot wingspans, have been spotted from coast to coast, feeding in farmlands in Idaho, roosting on rooftops in Montana, gliding over golf courses in Missouri and soaring over shorelines in Massachusetts. A certain number of the iconic owls fly south from their Arctic breeding grounds each winter but rarely do so many venture so far away even amid large-scale, periodic southern migrations known as irruptions.

“What we’re seeing now — it’s unbelievable,” said Denver Holt, head of the Owl Research Institute in Montana. “This is the most significant wildlife event in decades,” added Holt, who has studied snowy owls in their Arctic tundra ecosystem for two decades.

Holt and other owl experts say the phenomenon is likely linked to lemmings, a rodent that accounts for 90 percent of the diet of snowy owls during breeding months that stretch from May into September. The largely nocturnal birds also prey on a host of other animals, from voles to geese.

Greater competition this year for food in the Far North by the booming bird population may have then driven mostly younger, male owls much farther south than normal.

…(Yahoo)

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Animals | , , , , | Leave a comment

Active 200-km Fault Found off Honshu’s Kii Peninsula

Previous shifts caused magnitude 8.6 quake, huge tsunami: scientists

An active fault around 200 km long that is believed to have been a source of huge quakes in the past has been found off Honshu’s Kii Peninsula, according to researchers at the University of Tokyo. If the fault on the Nankai Trough moves, it could trigger a magnitude 8.0 earthquake, the researchers said, adding they have found a seabed cliff several hundred meters high that was created by the fault’s past movements. “There is a high probability that fault shifts have caused great tsunami,” said Park Jin Oh, associate professor of marine geology. “We need to reformulate disaster countermeasures by taking into account an active fault on the seabed 200 km or longer.”

Park analyzed sonar data on the seabed collected by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and found a fault branching off from a boundary between two tectonic plates in an area west of the southern tip of the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture. The fault was found to be connected to a similar fault to the east of the peninsula and to extend at least 200 km, the researchers said.

While it remains unclear exactly when or how many times the fault has moved, the eastern and western parts are believed to have shifted often and at the same time, judging from the geographical characteristics of the area. Such movements may have caused the 8.6-magnitude Hoei earthquake in 1707, Park said.

The eastern part of the fault is  believed to have caused a magnitude 7.9 and tsunami that struck in 1944.

In addition, an extended area of the newly discovered western part overlaps the area where a magnitude 8.0 quake struck in 1946. It is therefore possible that the western part moved two years after the eastern part did, Park said.

…(Japan Times)

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Seismic | , , , , | Leave a comment

Cyclone and Bushfires Threaten Western Australia

A tropical cyclone and major bushfires are posing a twin threat to travellers in Western Australia’s central west. Authorities are concerned holidaymakers from Perth and elsewhere may find themselves stranded. The Fire and Emergency Services Authority had urged tourists to leave the Gascoyne region because flooding, linked to the approaching Cyclone Iggy, could cut off the highway to Perth.

But now bushfires have forced the closure of the highway, south of Carnarvon. Department of Environment and Conservation spokesman Anthony Desmond says there was a window of opportunity earlier yesterday when families, returning to Perth for the new school year, could have made it through.

“Either way there were two issues people needed to deal with, a cyclone and now a fire, so I don’t think there was anything wrong with making that call for people,” he said.

“But we’ll be talking to the Department for Child Protection about accommodating people in Carnarvon if they need accommodation.”

…(ABC)

January 28, 2012 Posted by | Weather | , , , | Leave a comment

Haiti Could Be in a New Earthquake Cycle, Scientists Say

The magnitude-7.0 earthquake that shook Port-au-Prince, Haiti, two years ago nearly demolished the city and took both residents and geologists by surprise.

Now, a team of scientists thinks they’ve identified a centuries-long pattern of earthquakes on the island of Hispaniola, which comprises both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, that could portend earthquakes to come.

Although past seismic activity can’t be used to predict future quakes, the findings may help residents and those hoping to rebuild Port-au-Prince prepare for the next big one, said William Bakun, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif.

“People shouldn’t be surprised if, in the decades to come, there are more very damaging earthquakes in the region,” Bakun told OurAmazingPlanet, “and they should plan and build accordingly.”

A very detailed record
Bakun and his colleagues gathered historical records — letters, drawings, newspaper clippings and more — from residents of Hispaniola since the time that Christopher Columbus dropped anchor at the island. From descriptions of shaking and damage, Bakun was able to estimate the intensities, magnitudes and locations of historical earthquakes.

“It was in the interests of the Spanish colonies to report all damage back to the king,” Bakun explained, “because he was in the habit of supplying them funds to rebuild critical facilities, cathedrals and the like. So there are actually very detailed records of Hispaniola’s earthquakes.”

…(MSNBC)

January 28, 2012 Posted by | Seismic | , , , , , , | 1 Comment