Friday, September 25, 2015

Hidden superchain of volcanoes discovered in Australia

[FOX] Scientists have just found the world's longest chain of volcanoes on a continent, hiding in plain sight.
The newly discovered Australian volcano chain isn't a complete surprise, though: Geologists have long known of small, separate chains of volcanic activity on the island continent. However, new research reveals a hidden hotspot once churned beneath regions with no signs of surface volcanism, connecting these separate strings of volcanoes into one megachain.
That 1,240-mile-long chain of fire spanned most of eastern Australia, from Hillsborough in the north, where rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef, to the island of Tasmania in the south.
"The track is nearly three times the length of the famous Yellowstone hotspot track on the North American continent," Rhodri Davies, an earth scientist at Australian National University, said in a statement. [See Amazing Photos of the World's Wild Volcanoes]
Scientists had long known that four separate tracks of past volcanic activity fringed the eastern portion of Australia, with each showing distinctive signs of past volcanic activity, from vast lava fields to fields awash in a volcanic mineral called leucitite that's dark gray to black in color. Some of these regions were separated by hundreds of miles, leading geologists to think the areas weren't connected.
But Davies and his colleagues suspected that the Australian volcanism had a common source: a mantle plume that melted the crust as the Australian plate inched northward over millions of years. (Whereas many volcanoes form at the boundaries of tectonic plates, where hot magma seeps up through fissures in the Earth, others form when mantle plumes, or hot jets of magma, at the boundary between the mantle and Earth's core reach the surface.)
To bolster their hypothesis, Davis and his colleagues used the fraction of radioactive argon isotopes (versions of argon with different atomic weights) to estimate when volcanic activity first appeared in each of these regions. They combined this data with past work showing how the Australian plate had moved over the millennia. From this information, they could estimate where and when volcanism affected certain regions. Read More

Climate change is having a surprising effect on bumble bees

[Washington Post] Climate change is making some pretty strange things happen in the world. It’s able to alter the behavior of tiny marine organisms, change the circulation of the oceans and even prompt walruses to huddle en masse on the Alaskan shore. But one of the weirder effects of global warming may be happening inside the mouths of one of our most beloved insects: the bumble bee.
In a new paper published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers suggest that the effects of climate change are causing some bumble bees’ tongues — yes, their tongues — to shrink. In fact, they found that tongues on two alpine species of bumble bees in the Rocky Mountains have shrunk by nearly 25 percent in approximately 40 years. And it might sound bizarre, but this tongue-shrinking could actually have big implications for both the bees and the flowers they pollinate.
Tongue size is important in bees because it controls which flowers they can visit for nectar. Bees with longer tongues are able to collect nectar from flowers with longer corollas (that’s the tube shape a flower’s petals form, protecting the tasty nectar inside).
Bees with more medium-length tongues tend to pollinate many different species of flowers. But bees with long tongues are often considered specialists, meaning they only pollinate flowers with deep corolla tubes — and this can be a beneficial arrangement for both the bee and the plant. The bee gets to collect nectar from flowers that insects with shorter tongues can’t access, meaning it has less competition for food. And the flower is pollinated by bees that are only visiting other flowers of the same type, meaning there’s a better chance its pollen is getting transferred to the correct species.
This tactic works best when food is abundant. But the researchers on this study found that rising temperatures are causing flowers (of all sizes) to decline in the mountains, putting more stress on the bees when it comes to finding food. Read More

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Volcanic Eruption That Reverberates 200 Years Later

[New York Times] In April 1815, the most powerful volcanic blast in recorded history shook the planet in a catastrophe so vast that 200 years later, investigators are still struggling to grasp its repercussions. It played a role, they now understand, in icy weather, agricultural collapse and global pandemics — and even gave rise to celebrated monsters.
Around the lush isles of the Dutch East Indies — modern-day Indonesia — the eruption of Mount Tambora killed tens of thousands of people. They were burned alive or killed by flying rocks, or they died later of starvation because the heavy ash smothered crops.
More surprising, investigators have found that the giant cloud of minuscule particles spread around the globe, blocked sunlight and produced three years of planetary cooling. In June 1816, a blizzard pummeled upstate New York. That July and August, killer frosts in New England ravaged farms. Hailstones pounded London all summer.
A recent history of the disaster, “Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World,” by Gillen D’Arcy Wood, shows planetary effects so extreme that many nations and communities sustained waves of famine, disease, civil unrest and economic decline. Crops failed globally.
“The year without a summer,” as 1816 came to be known, gave birth not only to paintings of fiery sunsets and tempestuous skies but two genres of gothic fiction. The freakish progeny were Frankenstein and the human vampire, which have loomed large in art and literature ever since.
“The paper trail,” said Dr. Wood, a University of Illinois professor of English, “goes back again and again to Tambora.”
The gargantuan blast — 100 times bigger than Mount St. Helens’s — and its ensuing worldwide pall have been the subject of increasing study over the years as scientists have sought to comprehend not only the planet’s climatological past but the future likelihood of such global disasters. Read More

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mexico's 1985 Earthquake Awoke a Social Earthquake That Is Still Roiling

[Huffington Post] Many things changed after the devastating September 19, 1985 earthquake, measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale, struck Mexico City. Mexico's president was Miguel de la Madrid, champion of a failed "moral renewal" campaign, and the city's mayor was Ramón Aguirre Velázquez, a man close to the president and a candidate to succeed him.
That September morning, the monolith that was the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) began to crumble, along with tens of thousands of buildings, while the phantom of systemic corruption rose up among the ghosts of many thousand dead. "The tragedy that devastated us yesterday has been one of the worst ever in the history of Mexico. There are hundreds of dead and wounded. We don't have the exact or final numbers yet," Miguel de la Madrid said in his first message to the Mexican people, 36 hours after the earthquake struck at 7:19 a.m. Thirty years later, no one can explain why the President of the Republic kept silent for a day and a half, unless he was struck dumb morally.
In his absence, Mexico's Tenochtitlan Federal District was taken over by its inhabitants. During the President's disappearance, people discovered that the city was vulnerable: electricity, water, gas, telephone and transportation services were all affected; people streamed into the streets to rescue relatives, friends and anyone else trapped in the ruined structures and to search for the missing. Burials of the dead began. Heroes emerged from the crowd, such as La Pulga (The Flea), who risked his life digging through the ruins to find survivors. At the Tlatelolco housing complex, among volunteers trying to find family members buried under the remains of the 13-story Nuevo Leon building's 288 apartments, Plácido Domingo dug through the rubble with his hands trying to find his aunt, uncle, nephew and grandnephew, but they had perished. On Sept. 23, the Group of 100 declared to the media that, "Now more than ever it's glaringly obvious that corruption is a disastrous builder. The number of public buildings, including government offices, public housing, schools and hospitals, that were destroyed in the earthquake is alarming. However, it's not by chance that the Historic Center in downtown Mexico City, built to last, survived both earthquakes." Read More

2015 wildfire season a record-breaker

[EarthSky] The 2015 wildfire season in the United States has already broken records. So far this year, more acres of land have burned as of mid-September than the total annual amount in 2011, which was the 4th worst year for wildfires at least since the 1960s. So will this year be the new fourth worst, third worst, second worst, or worst wildfire year since then? Read on, and take a guess.
The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, publishes a ton of useful statistics on wildfires that are critical for helping state and federal agencies manage the flames. These records date back to the 1960s.
The chart below, created with the National Interagency Fire Center data, shows that the worst years for wildfires in the U.S., since these records began being kept, were 2006 (9,873,745 acres burned), 2007 (9,328,045 acres burned), 2012 (9,326,238 acres burned), 2011 (8,711,367 acres burned), and 2005 (8,689,389 acres burned).
Already as of September 18, 2015, 8,821,040 acres of land have burned across the U.S., and this number exceeds the total number of acres burned for 2011. Hence, 2015 has already earned a spot as the 4th worst year on record, and the 2015 wildfire season is still going strong. Read More

Why Forgiveness is at the Core of Peace and Spiritual Growth

[Huffington Post] Sharon Salzberg, a renowned Buddhist teacher, was once approached by a participant at one of her meditation workshops who revealed to her that he had survived a terrorist attack. The man told her that he felt “overwhelmed” by the forgiveness meditation she led the class in, and said, "I don't know if it is possible to learn to forgive. I do know that it is possible, and in fact essential, to learn to stop hating."
Salzberg shared the anecdote to demonstrate a critical element of forgiveness. “We should not be sentimental about forgiveness: It is often a difficult, knotty spiritual practice,” she told The Huffington Post. “We may recognize, like that meditator, that taking a position of hatred is destroying us, and that if we are to truly live, out of compassion for ourselves we work to be free of hatred.”
The International Day of Peace, which falls on Sept. 21 every year, serves as a reminder that only through unity and compassion can we right the wrongs engineered by war and violence. To do this, we must learn to forgive -- and that can be the greatest challenge of all.
“Forgiveness is the ultimate spiritual practice,” said Rev. Adriene Thorne, executive minister of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. “All other spiritual offerings depend on it.”
In the Christian tradition, Jesus offers the foundational example of forgiveness. A biblical parable from Matthew 18 illustrates: “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”
“It is this same ridiculous forgiveness we receive from God that we are required to extend to our neighbor,” Thorne said.
That’s easier said than done. “Forgiving others can be very hard depending on the nature of hurt caused,” said Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, a lecturer and Hindu chaplain at Columbia University. He pointed out that Hindu scriptures contain many stories in which people who have been persecuted forgive their aggressors. “In one story, a five-year-old child, Prahlad, forgives his incredibly abusive father,” Dasa said. “In another story, a mother forgives the murderer of her five children.”
These are chilling tales that call into question the feasibility of forgiveness. The difficulty of the practice is compounded by a pervading “eye for an eye” rhetoric that dominates American culture, Dasa added. Read More

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Are dolphins psychic? Their complex social intelligence suggests the animals may share a 'collective consciousness'

[Daily Mail] Dolphins have long been considered to be intelligent, but scientists are only now starting to unravel the true complexity of their brains and behavior. In many ways they behave like humans - they form social groups and cliques, they have previously been taught to recognize 'alphabets' of symbols and many have even attempted to befriend us. Now, a book discusses how this high level of intelligence could stem from the mammals having what's known as a collective consciousness, with the author claiming they 'may know something that we don't'.
The points are raised in Susan Casey's book 'Voices in the Ocean'.
Ms Casey wrote the book after she encountered a pod of spinner dolphins.  She admitted that this first experience made her want to explore the 'strange, enduring, occasionally tragic, and often wonderful relationship between humans and dolphins' and set off to learn more about the creatures.
Over the past 50 million years the brains of dolphins have evolved and expanded dramatically in size. At the same time, their bodies have shrunk, their teeth have become smaller and they have developed high-frequency hearing. The limbic system in a dolphin's brain is responsible for the emotions in the same way as it is in human brains. While most vertebrates evolved this region early and kept it pretty much intact, the system in the brains of dolphins developed further.
Odors, for example, are indistinguishable underwater so the hippocampus of dolphins - a region linked to their olfactory sense - diminished, Ms Casey explained. 'Meanwhile, their paralimbic area grew huge, so densely jammed with neurons that it blurped out an extra lobe,' she said. 'There's a jubilee of tissue packed into this area, an exuberance of grey matter that scientists believe relates to all things feeling - and no other mammal has anything quite like it.'
During an interview with neuroscientist Lori Marino, Ms Casey asked whether the animals' nature was the reason why dolphins have such large brains.  Ms Marino said this unique evolution suggests the animals are 'doing something very sophisticated or complex while they're processing emotions' and their brains may have adapted for a type of connectivity unprecedented in the animals kingdom. Ms Marino calls this a 'collective soul'. Read More

Prepare to Expect the Unexpected

 It’s hurricane season again. 
[USDA] It’s hard to believe that it was just 10 years ago when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and a large portion of the Gulf Coast with floods, power outages, food and water shortages, as well as many other after effects.

September is National Preparedness Month, which is a great opportunity for you, organizations, and communities to prepare for specific hazards through drills, group discussions, and exercises.  The focus this year is making sure that you and your community are prepared for six specific hazards: earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, wildfire and winter storm.
To help you, USDA recommends the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) as your one-stop shop for information on how to prepare for and respond to disasters.  It is a collaborative multistate effort by extension services across the country to improve the delivery of services to citizens affected by disasters.  EDEN is hosted by the Louisiana State University Ag Center and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). 
Preparedness goes beyond the home, so you also need to consider what to do if disaster strikes while you, a loved one or friend is at work.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that workers put together emergency plans and a “grab-and-go” bag in case they are required to “hunker down” or stay in offices/buildings/schools/businesses for up to three days. FEMA recommends that these bags include clothing, flashlights, toiletries, battery radio, canned food, and whatever else one might needed during an emergency.  Do you have a “grab-and-go” bag?
If you already have a grab-and-go bag, great!  Is it up-to-date?  Are the batteries still good?  Are you brave enough to eat the food you packed without checking first to see if it’s past the expiration date? Because most disasters cannot be predicted; you must remain vigilant with routine preparations for any possible situation.
The following list might help you get started as you prepare your plan and “grab-and-go” kit:
  • Be Informed – Learn what protective measures to take, before, during, and after an emergency.
  • Make a Plan – Prepare, plan, and stay informed for emergencies.
  • Build a Kit – Build a kit for disasters to be prepared.
  • Get Involved – Find opportunities to support community preparedness.
  • Protect Your Business – Plan for and protect your business.
  • Kids – Fun and games for kids. Great tools for educators and parents.
Are you prepared for the unexpected? Read More

Respected Scientist Validates Public Concern Over Chemtrails

[American Free Press] A respected peer-reviewed scientific journal has boldly published the groundbreaking research of a noted San Diego geoscientistabout “chemtrails,” shedding important new light on the murky subject by identifying a particularly hazardous substance being sprayed into the atmosphere.
Dr. J. Marvin Herndon’s paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Healthreveals that this substance is coal fly ash, a byproduct of coal burning.
Coal fly ash is comprised of micron and sub-micron particles that would go up the smokestack unless captured and stored. Because of its adverse environmental health effects, Western nations now require coal-combustion fly ash to be captured and stored.
Used as a Portland cement additive, for agricultural soil amendments, mine reclamation, melting river ice and as subsurface material for roads, coal fly ash also is a concentrated repository for many trace elements: arsenic, barium, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, thallium, thorium, vanadium and uranium.
His paper, entitled “Evidence of Coal Fly Ash Toxic Chemical Geoengineering in the Troposphere: Consequences for Public Health,” should bring much-needed visibility and legitimacy to chemtrails, a subject that’s still unknown to most citizens. The paper vindicates other researchers and activists who’ve been laboring to call attention to those strange cloud-like streaks crisscrossing our skies and their potential dangers.*
“There’s nothing in the scientific literature that I’ve been able to find on this subject,” Herndon told AMERICAN FREE PRESS August 25. “As far as legitimate scientific papers, there appear to be none”—regarding what his paper calls “the intentional and increasingly frequent chemical emplacement [spraying] in the troposphere.” Read More

California's Sierra Nevada snowpack shrinks to a 500-year low

[CSMonitor] California's Sierra Nevada mountains haven't had this little snowpack since the days of Christopher Columbus.
That's the finding of a new study released Monday indicating this year the state has seen its lowest snowpack in 500 years, and climate change may cause greater water shortages in the already drought-stricken, wildfire-ravaged state.
This past spring, the mountain range had just 5 percent of the average snowpack recorded in the second half of the 20th century, and scientists said the findings indicated "the 2015 low is unprecedented in the context of the past 500 years."
The study found that the depth of snow at 108 measuring stations in the Sierra Nevada on April 1 was just 2.3 inches in "snow water equivalent" - the depth of the water if the snow melted - against an average 27.5 inches from 1930-2014.
“We were expecting that 2015 would be extreme, but not like this,” said senior study author Valerie Trouet, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arizona, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
According to the newspaper, the new research is the latest attempt in a series of studies that seek to find scope and broader context for California’s four-year drought. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada range, which runs along the spine of the Golden State, provides about 30 percent of California’s annual water supply.
The “low” finding was based on records of snowfall and temperatures gathered from annual growth rings of blue oaks and other trees in the mountain range, resulting in some reservations about extremes in past centuries.
The scientists also said the uncertainties in tree ring data indicated that a few years, mainly in the 16th century, might have had snowpack lows even lower than the 2015 numbers. Read More

Friday, September 11, 2015

Climate scientists fear ‘Day After Tomorrow’ scenario

[MSNBC] In the 2004 disaster-flick “Day After Tomorrow,” abrupt man-made climate change knocks the planet into a state of utter chaos. At the time, the movie’s vision of the apocalypse wasn’t seen as realistic. But that’s begun to change.  
Two new studies deepen the fear that global warming could shut down the circulation of the oceans, much as the movie portrays, dropping vast stretches of Asia into drought and exposing the whole Northern Hemisphere to severe ice and snow.
Unlike gradual climate change, where the planet warms steadily, this change would be sudden and sharp enough to roil civilization—happening in as little as three years and resulting in as much as an 18-degree Fahrenheit drop in average temperatures.
Jud Partin is the lead author of the stronger of the two studies, supported by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Nature Communication. He’s also a geophysicist at the University of Texas, and an unabashedly close viewer of a certain summer blockbuster starring Dennis Quaid as hero-scientist Jack Hall.
“In the movie they defy the laws of physics,” Partin told msnbc, referring to hurricanes that form over land and other impossible weather. “But they got the climate science more or less right.”
The climate science deals with the “Atlantic thermohaline circulation,” an oceanic conveyor belt that carries heat from the tropics to the north, where it warms Western Europe and Eastern North America. It’s a fragile pattern, dependent on precise levels of salinity; Partin and others believe it could stop as Greenland’s ice sheets melt, flooding the ocean with fresh water.
To glimpse our possible future, Partin and his colleagues gathered new geological data and re-examined the deep past. They looked at an earlier, all-natural melt-off that happened about 12,000 years. Known as the “Younger Dryas,” the period was defined by a deep chill across the northern latitudes.
Ice core studies cited by Partin show an 18-degree Fahrenheit drop in average temperatures across Greenland. New York and London would be slightly warmer, he believes, but still frigid with average temperature drops of at least a dozen degrees. That might seem small, but even minute changes in the average are a signal of extreme swings in actual conditions.
And the effects of this temperature change would be felt in a matter of years or decades, rather than a century or longer. That’s because this part of the climate system seems to work more like a switch than a dial. Once a certain threshold is reached, there’s a big, fast swing in the conditions over large parts of the planet.  
“It would definitely change everyday life in Europe and North America,” Partin told MSNBC. “Daily life would be drastically affected in these areas, in ways I can’t imagine or begin to address.” Read More

Is Stupid Making Us Google?

[The New Atlantis] Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” Sound familiar? Describing, in The Atlantic Monthly, his own struggles to keep his attention span from contracting like the wild ass’s skin in Balzac’s novel, Nicholas Carr cites a British study of research habits among visitors to two serious scholarly websites which suggests a more general problem: that “users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of ‘reading’ are emerging as users ‘power browse’ horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”
Almost seems? I don’t know about Mr. Carr, but I have no doubt that I go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense. The question is, how guilty do I need to feel about this? In his view, presumably, quite a lot guilty, since by reading online as much as I do I am depriving myself of the ability to read offline. He takes this insight to an even more alarming conclusion in the end, writing that “as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.” And if that’s the case for veteran readers, think how much worse it must be for the jeunesse dorée of the information age, if they never developed the habits that accompany “deep reading” in the first place.
It is these poor cultural orphans, for whom “information retrieval” online is the only kind of reading they know, who are the main concern of Mark Bauerlein in his new book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. One would think that a whole future in jeopardy would be too serious a matter for the flippancy of the rest of the subtitle: Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30. But Professor Bauerlein, who teaches English at Emory University and is a former director of research and analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts, is not always sure just how much a matter of mirth “the dumbest generation” is, or isn’t. After all, it is not really their fault if, as he says, they have been “betrayed” by the mentors who should have taught them better. Yet he seems to agree with Nicholas Carr that what we are witnessing is not just an educational breakdown but a deformation of the very idea of intelligence. Read More

Japan Flooding

[CNN] In the latest area to suffer from extreme flooding caused by a lingering rainy season and compounded by a tropical storm, rescue teams in Osaki City, in the northeastern prefecture of Misaki, are battling to save residents after a section of a levee containing the Shibui River broke early Friday morning.
Around 100 buildings in the city have been flooded, prompting calls from residents to the city government and emergency services for aid.
As many as 1,000 people live in the affected area, the city's disaster prevention office told CNN Friday, but the office could not confirm how many were seeking rescue. More than 700 Osaki residents have been temporarily placed in shelters according to NHK, Japan's state media.
Rescue workers including firefighters and members of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) were using boats and helicopters to reach residents. The disaster prevention office said that 115 people had been rescued as of 2.50 p.m. Friday (1:50 a.m. Friday ET). Read More

What the US would look like if all the Earth's ice melted