Sunday, March 25, 2018

Worst case scenario: the ‘preppers’ gearing up for disaster

[The Guardian] Midway through December, while temperatures in the UK plummeted, heaps of snow drove transport services into a frenzy and schools into closure. Water supplies froze. Medical assistance slowed, threatening genuine peril. People began to store fuel. Across the Midlands, families were left without power – no electricity, no heat – in some instances overnight. For those of us safely tucked away indoors, or unaffected by the weather, the news could be shocking. It also brought to mind an unnerving question: would you be ready if calamity struck?
The answer for most of us is no, not really. We tend to think of disaster as something that happens to others. But a growing number of people around the UK – preppers or survivalists, in the parlance – are quietly gearing up for the worst. They’re filling pantries with supplies in case their local food chains disintegrate, storing thermals in their cars in the event that they break down in a snowstorm, packing “go-bags” with a collection of bare necessities – water, food, medicine, perhaps a portable stove – supposing they need to leave home in a hurry. If catastrophe were to strike, the thinking goes, a preparatory head-start might well be life-saving.
This is behaviour that can sound extreme, but often it’s forged in reaction to events that could affect any one of us. Some preppers are concerned by natural disasters. Others worry about terrorism, or our financial system, or the repercussions of Brexit, whatever they may be. Survivalism has had a dedicated following in America since the 1970s, swelling during the run-up to the millennium in the 90s and peaking again after 9/11. Trump’s posturing hasn’t helped – the threat of nuclear war can send even the most rational thinkers running to the tinned-food aisle.
And not everyone is rational. The prepping movement contains overzealous elements, particularly in the US, where natural disasters are bigger and badder and, well, the guns. But those signed up to the movement in the UK are like you and me: relatively normal, with the odd quirk. They just keep a half-tank of petrol in the car at all times, and at least a month’s worth of food, and an alternative way to heat their homes in winter if the gas goes down.
When I was 17, Nasa announced the discovery of a far-off planet. News reports hinted at the prospect of the Voyager being deployed, but I never got to hear what the probe actually found. The excitement eventually dwindled and I got on with my life, but the discovery sparked an ongoing interest in space and exploration and, later, in the environment and geopolitics. About 18 months ago those interests led me to prepping.
I prep on two levels: first, for events that might cause a bit of social unrest and all of the food in my local supermarket to quickly disappear – a financial collapse, say – and, second, for something bigger: a national pandemic, a major environmental catastrophe. For the first scenario I’ve organised a reliable supply of clean water and a store of long-shelf-life food, and then some practical stuff: stitches for wounds, analgesics, antibiotics, a whole range of meds you wouldn’t normally have, various kinds of equipment needed to start a fire. I have go-bags at home and in my car, because you never know where you’ll be when something happens, and I’m part of a prepping community that has an equipment cache stored in a secluded spot near to my house. If there’s some kind of cataclysm? I’ve organised escape routes, away from the general population. You’ll find me above 900ft – or out of the country. Read More

This happened on our Earth!!! 22-24 March 2018

Mount Etna is 'sliding towards the sea'

[BBC] Scientists have established that the whole structure on the Italian island of Sicily is edging in the direction of the Mediterranean at a rate of 14mm per year.
The UK-led team says the situation will need careful monitoring because it may lead to increased hazards at Etna in the future.
"I would say there is currently no cause for alarm, but it is something we need to keep an eye on, especially to see if there is an acceleration in this motion," lead author Dr John Murray told BBC News. 
The Open University geologist has spent almost half a century studying Europe's premier volcano.
In that time, he has placed a network of high-precision GPS stations around the mountain to monitor its behaviour.
This instrumentation is sensitive to millimetric changes in the shape of the volcanic cone; and with 11 years of data it is now obvious, he says, that the mountain is moving in an east-south-east direction, on a general track towards the coastal town of Giarre, which is about 15km away.
Essentially, Etna is sliding down a very gentle slope of 1-3 degrees. This is possible because it is sitting on an underlying platform of weak, pliable sediments.
Dr Murray's team has conducted lab experiments to illustrate how this works. The group believes it is the first time that basement sliding of an entire active volcano has been directly observed. Read More

Dinosaur-killing asteroid could have thrust Earth into 2 years of darkness

[Knowridge] Tremendous amounts of soot, lofted into the air from global wildfires following a massive asteroid strike 66 million years ago, would have plunged Earth into darkness for nearly two years, new research finds.
This would have shut down photosynthesis, drastically cooled the planet, and contributed to the mass extinction that marked the end of the age of dinosaurs.
These new details about how the climate could have dramatically changed following the impact of a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid will be published Aug. 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study used a world-class computer model to paint a rich picture of how Earth’s conditions might have looked at the end of the Cretaceous Period, information that paleobiologists may be able to use to better understand why some species died, especially in the oceans, while others survived.
Scientists estimate that more than three-quarters of all species on Earth, including all non-avian dinosaurs, disappeared at the boundary of the Cretaceous-Paleogene periods, an event known as the K-Pg extinction.
Evidence shows that the extinction occurred at the same time that a large asteroid hit Earth in what is now the Yucatán Peninsula. The collision would have triggered earthquakes, tsunamis, and even volcanic eruptions.
Scientists also calculate that the force of the impact would have launched vaporized rock high above Earth’s surface, where it would have condensed into small particles known as spherules.
As the spherules fell back to Earth, they would have been heated by friction to temperatures high enough to spark global fires and broil Earth’s surface. A thin layer of spherules can be found worldwide in the geologic record. Read More

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

UK weather latest: climate expert warns of more 'Beasts from the East' and says humans will struggle to produce food and clean water within 50 years

[Evening Standard] A polar scientist has warned of more weather events like the Beast From the East as climate change worsens, saying with the world's current carbon emissions, humans will struggle to produce food and enough clean water within the next fifty years.
Professor Martin Siegert, a glaciologist Imperial College London, said unusual weather patterns like the extreme cold the UK has been experiencing in recent weeks, are “in line with” the predicted effects of global warming.
And he warned that these will be more common as parts of the earth heat up at different speeds – which could lead to further catastrophic weather such as flooding and snow storms.
Speaking to the Standard, Prof Siegert said that it is crucial for the world to heed to such warnings and head towards zero carbon emissions or risk being unable to produce food and use water in the way we have been. 
Prof Siegert is a director of Imperial’s Grantham Institute, which collaborates with scientists, business schools, economists, engineers, health professionals and others to tackle the problem of climate change and prepare for its affects. 
He explained that weather events such as the Beast From the East are in line with scientists’ predictions of how weather fronts would behave when the earth heats up.
“When we have extreme hot or flooding or cold – like we are getting at the moment – we hear a lot of contrasting views like ‘this is climate change’ or they say ‘this is proof that climate change is not happening’,” he said.
How does that relate to climate change? It is fair to say that we had snow before we started talking about climate change. Humans began changing out climate at industrial scale in 1850 yet it was certainly snowing before then.
“What we can say is that the extreme weather events we are witnessing are completely in line with climate change - extreme heat, flooding, cold…. 
“The atmosphere is one degree warmer now than it was in 1850 and when you energise the atmosphere you are going to have more extreme events in the UK and in many places.”
He explained that snow and flooding is caused when cold and warm weather fronts meet.
As the earth heats at different speeds, the difference in temperatures between weather fronts can become greater which enhances rain showers into flash flooding and snow. Read More

143 Million People May Soon Become Climate Migrants

[National Geographic] Climate change will transform more than 143 million people into “climate migrants” escaping crop failure, water scarcity, and sea-level rise, a new World Bank report concludes.
Most of this population shift will take place in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America—three “hot spots” that represent 55 percent of the developing world’s populations.
This worst-case scenario is part of a ground-breaking study focused on the impacts of slow-onset climate, as opposed to more visibly dramatic events such as extreme storms and flooding. The report, Groundswell—Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, also shifts the focus from cross-border migration, which has drawn global attention as refugees and migrants flee war, poverty and oppression, to in-country migration, which involves many more millions of people on the move in search of viable places to live. The 143 million represent 2.8 percent of the three regions’ population.
Sea-level rise is already prompting the migration of people from Pacific and Oceania island chains and low-lying coastal areas that flood regularly, and areas suffering extreme drought has sent others in search of sustainable farmland. Much of the coming migration will shift populations of people over the next three decades from rural areas to urban areas. Not surprisingly, the poorest people in the poorest countries will be hardest hit, the report finds.
The study’s authors say there is still reason for optimism: if the world acts in time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and engages in “robust development planning,” the flood of “climate migrants” could be reduced by 80 percent to a mere 40 million people. Read More

Monday, March 19, 2018

How farming with permaculture can mitigate climate change

[Wattagnet] “How do we take 950 million to 1.1 billion acres of damaged and degraded agricultural land and convert them into something that can actually produce something? With permaculture,” said Christopher Nesbitt, speaking at the 2018 Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farming Conference on February 24 in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Nesbitt manages Maya Mountain Research Farm in San Pedro Columbia, Belize, which promotes sustainable agriculture, appropriate technology and food security using permaculture principles and applied biodiversity.
Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. The design principles and strategies, which can be applicable to a wide range of domains, seek to minimize waste, human labor and energy input. As a result, permaculture can help farmers produce more food using fewer resources. In practice, permaculture farms are organic, low-input and biodiverse.
Agroforestry is an integrated approach of permaculture, which uses the interactive benefits from combining trees and shrubs with crops or livestock, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agroforestry Center. It combines agricultural and forestry technologies to create more diverse, productive, profitable, healthy and sustainable land-use systems.
Farmers and producers are chiefly concerned about how energy efficiency can be improved in terms of generating higher yields relative to the amount of energy input. Permaculture, which works with nature rather than against it, meets and exceeds these goals as the system provides for its own energy needs, says Nesbitt. “It’s all about thinking about how we can manage our energy and nutrient streams so that we get more successional harvests.”
Maya Mountain Research Farm was founded in 1988 when Nesbitt bought an abandoned and damaged citrus and cattle farm. Years of cattle raising left the farm with acres of heavily compressed soils and the acres of citrus at the end of their productive life span. The region where Nesbitt farms also faces the issue of a population that doubles every 25 years. As a result, the area has been deforested, crop rotation cycles are not being observed and people have begun to make bad long-term decisions for short-term need. These decisions compromise the land for 30 to 40 years.
Over the last few decades, after applying the principles of permaculture, the Maya Mountain Research Farm has been transformed into a productive food forest with over 500 species of plants. In addition to the large agroforestry system, the farm raises pigs, chickens and ducks with a plan to raise sheep and goats and a developing aquaponics system. The farm also conducts training in permaculture, agroforestry and renewable energy. Read More

How to survive the Cascadia Earthquake? Tips from seismologist Lucy Jones, ‘the Beyoncé of earthquakes’

[Seattle Times] For three decades, seismologist Lucy Jones soothed the nerves of quake-rattled Californians with her calm explanations and common-sense preparedness tips. Her frequent media appearances, including some with her toddler cradled on her hip, earned her a level of celebrity unprecedented among earthquake scientists since Charles Richter lent his name to the first earthquake scale.
“She’s been called the Beyoncé of earthquakes, the Meryl Streep of government service, a woman breaking barriers in a man’s world,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2016 when Jones retired from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Now director of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society, the pioneering researcher and communicator’s latest mission is helping cities boost their ability to bounce back from natural disasters by applying science in a way that makes a difference.
Jones got a taste of what it takes to spark political action during a temporary stint as Los Angeles’ earthquake “czar.” She helped create a gripping earthquake scenario to spell out what’s at stake and worked with politicians, building owners and affordable-housing advocates to push through the nation’s most aggressive seismic regulations requiring upgrades to dangerous buildings and other infrastructure.
On Monday, Jones will make her pitch for better quake preparedness in the Pacific Northwest at a free, public lecture at the University of Washington. In a Q&A with The Seattle Times (edited for clarity and brevity), she discussed topics ranging from our dread of earthquakes to why modern building codes aren’t as great as most people think, and how scientists have bungled explanations of earthquake risk.
Question: California has the country’s highest earthquake risk, but Washington is second. What’s your message for us?
Answer: You in many ways have a more challenging problem because you have fewer everyday earthquakes to bring the issue to public attention.
The concept of normalization bias (which causes people to underestimate the likelihood of a disaster and its effects) is a very strong thing in the human psyche. We’re clearly evolved to focus on more immediate threats and we need stories, we need emotional connections to understand why we need to take action.
Earthquakes are very difficult to plan for because of those reasons, especially if you don’t remember the last time you had one. In very quiet times, it’s very hard to get people engaged.
For a policymaker to decide it’s worthwhile spending money on this when you have competing claims of homelessness and other problems, you need an emotional reason to connect and relate to your constituents and scientists don’t understand that.
Q: What’s wrong with the way scientists communicate earthquake risk?
A: As scientists, we explicitly refuse to use stories. One of the favorite lines is: The plural of anecdote is not data.
When we did the ShakeOut scenario in California, we worked to make it a story, we made a movie out of it, the public fact sheet was written as a narrative.
We did not focus on probability. Talking about the probability of an earthquake in some time frame focuses on the part of the problem we don’t know the answer to. When you talk about the uncertainty, people can find a reason to think it won’t happen. Read More

Weird winter weather has scientists looking to the north pole

[Popular Science] Last October, experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a fairly mild winter for the United States. Though they were careful to hedge their bets (“maps show only the most likely outcome,” NOAA warned, “but this is not the only possible outcome”), models suggested a weak La Niña would bring slightly colder than average temperatures to the northwest, with slightly warmer than average temperatures cropping up in the south and east.
But this winter, as anyone with a TV—or window—knows, appears to have turned out rather differently. The northeast has experienced three back-to-back-to-back storms. We rang in the New Year with a so-called “bomb cyclone” and, for one day only, it was colder in Florida than in Alaska. This weird weather wasn’t confined to the eastern seaboard, either. Seattle and other communities in the Pacific Northwest saw unusual snowfall in November, December, and February. Last month, Europe got colder than the north pole, allowing the residents of Rome to toss a few snowballs.
Meteorologists have offered solid analyses of each passing storm, but scientists are still trying to determine what larger forces are at work. In a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, MIT climatologist Judah Cohen has a controversial message for all of them: it’s the Arctic, stupid.
By evaluating two indices—the polar cap geopotential height anomaly index and the polar cap air temperature anomaly index—and comparing them to real-life weather as measured by the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index, Cohen’s team was able to show that severe winter weather in the United States is often tied to (relatively) high heat in the North Pole. “If the Arctic is cold, that favors less severe winter in the eastern U.S.,” he says. “When the Arctic is warm, it’s the opposite relationship. A warmer Arctic favors colder temperatures in the eastern U.S. and heavier snowfall.” Read More