February 14, 2008

The physical world today: Global disasters

Thursday, February 14, 2008 -


This morning there has been a 5.4 quake in RWANDA, and a 6.7 and 6.1 quake in SOUTHERN GREECE.

Largest quakes yesterday -
2/13/08 -

GREECE - Two strong earthquakes struck southern Greece this morning, sending people rushing out of buildings in areas near the epicenter. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The first quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.5, hit just after noon and was felt as far away as Cairo, Egypt. 'It was incredibly strong and lasted a long time.' The second, which seismologists said was likely a 'very strong aftershock of the first, had a preliminary magnitude of 6.4 and hit about two hours later. Both had an epicenter beneath the seabed 140 miles south-southwest of Athens. The first quake struck at a depth of about 18 miles beneath the seabed, which helped prevent it causing serious damage.

RWANDA - The 5.4 earthquake that hit Rwanda's capital of Kigali early today has left at least one injured and sent panicked residents running into the streets. The strong tremor occurred at around 4:00am (local time), less than two weeks after a 6.1 earthquake shook the Great Lakes region in eastern Congo on February 4, killing 45 people, including 38 in Rwanda.

INDONESIA - A strong 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the eastern Indonesian province of Maluku yesterday, prompting a tsunami alert that was later lifted.

CALIFORNIA - cities bordering Mexico, including Calexico and El Centro, have been rocked since Friday by hundreds of quakes, from tiny to teeth-rattling. Three have registered a magnitude of 5.0 or more. On Wednesday alone, at least three dozen earthquakes, one a 3.3, registered on the Richter scale. Though the quakes aren't breaking any geologic records, to Calexico residents the shaking has seemed nonstop. The tremors feel 'like a big rumble, then all of a sudden the house starts moving.' More than 100 buildings in Mexicali are believed to have sustained damage. Similar quake swarms hit the region in May 2006 and in summer and fall of 1999. The region rests atop not only a fault line but also a geothermal area, where past volcanic activity has kept underground rocks hot. That heats the groundwater, which could lubricate local fault lines or change underground stresses.

IRAN - A moderate 4.3 earthquake overnight rattled a remote mountain area in Iran and injured 10 people and damaged 70 buildings.

INDONESIA - High waves that struck coastlines across Indonesia's eastern islands killed one and forced hundreds to flee their homes on Tuesday. 'A local tourist aged 16 was swept away yesterday (Tuesday) by waves as high as three metres (10 feet) while he was fishing on the beach.' Hundreds of houses along beaches in Sikka district and about 50 others on the nearby island of Alor were damaged by the high waves. Some 300 people were evacuated to emergency shelters. The winds on Wednesday were moving at speeds of up to 70 kilometres (43 miles) per hour. They were whipping up six-metre-high waves, lashing areas on Sumba, Flores and Alor islands in East Nusa Tenggara. A low pressure system off Australia's north was contributing to the wild weather.
With the threat of large waves, strong wind and persistent rain once again hanging over their heads, fisherman remained in their shacks. At least 800 fishermen in the Cilincing and Kali Baru subdistricts have been forced to stay ashore due to rough weather on Java's northern and southern coastlines in recent weeks. Bad weather and high tides over the last two weeks have destroyed 18 houses and severely damaged 25 others in the Kali Baru subdistrict. Every year thousands of fishermen working along Java's coasts suffer the same fate. 'Usually waves get higher around Imlek (Chinese New Year), but this year the bad weather has lasted a long time.' Over the years the weather has been getting worse, making it harder to catch fish. 'Green mussels are caught not far from shore, but to get fish we have to go further and further each year.'

AUSTRALIA - Sunshine Coast lifeguards say it will be months before the region's beaches recover from significant erosion. Large swells and king tides have washed away huge amounts of sand over the past two months. Sand is slowly returning to coast beaches, but they will not be replenished until the swell decreases. 'Traditionally over the winter months we might ... get a bit lighter swell and those offshore winds and we're probably hoping through this coming winter that we might get a period of low swell which might give the beaches a chance to return.'

HAWAII - the Pacific Ocean is bouncing back to life. Taking a radical shift from what has been THE WORST WINTER ON RECORD FOR WAVES IN HAWAII FOR SURFERS, the tail end of February looks like it will be above average by comparison to other La Nina years. A final flurry of big-wave action has begun to pulse through the Hawaiian Island chain with waves to approach giant heights later this week. The Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational is staged each winter at Waimea Bay, on Oahu's North Shore, and only runs when and if wave heights reach a minimum of 20 feet on the Hawaiian wave scale (40-foot wave face heights). Today's swell is forecast to reach 15 to 18-feet Hawaiian scale. Moving beyond Thursday's swell, wave forecasters are looking at regular big-wave episodes every two to three days.

Projected storm paths .
Cyclone IVAN was 421 nmi NNE of Port Louis, Mauritius.
Cyclone NICHOLAS was 155 nmi NW of Broome, Australia.

AUSTRALIA - Authorities in Western Australia have issued a Blue Alert for all communities between Kuri Bay and Bidyadanga as Tropical Cyclone Nicholas approaches the coast. The risk to the Kimberley Coast in the next 24 hours is gales developing. (satellite photo)
AUSTRALIA - Tropical Cyclone Nicholas could threaten the Pilbara coast over the weekend. The storm reached category one cyclone intensity Wednesday morning, with gusts of up to 100km/h. 'Nicholas is likely to become a severe tropical cyclone in the coming days.' The cyclone is expected to move slowly over the next few days before turning towards the coast of the Pilbara region, the heartland of WA's mining boom.

BOLIVIA - some 60,000 families across the country have been affected by severe flooding, which has followed weeks of heavy rain, which started in November. The flooding is expected to get worse as more rain is forecast. The flood waters, which have killed at least 60 people, are threatening to inundate the Amazon city of Trinidad, sparking large-scale evacuations. Rivers have broken their banks and floodwaters are threatening to breach a raised road surrounding the provincial capital, home to some 90,000 people. The government has declared a state of emergency in the worst-hit areas. The rains, which have swept away crops and communication lines, are blamed on the La Nina weather phenomenon. It is the second year in a row that Bolivia has seen such floods and officials are saying that climate change is also to blame. Bolivia is used to seeing heavy rains at this time of year but the latest floods are particularly bad. The floods have caused hundreds of millions of dollars' damage to Bolivia's ranching and agriculture. ( 6 photos )

HONG KONG - As Hong Kong shivers through its second-longest cold spell since 1885, scientists point to global warming to explain the abnormal cold weather phenomenon worldwide. UNUSUALLY COLD weather is gripping a number of countries, including China and Canada. 'We are seeing EXTREMELY UNUSUAL WEATHER across the world.' Hong Kong yesterday recorded its second-longest cold spell - 21 days. The longest cold period lasted 27 days in 1968. That record is expected to remain intact as the thermometer is forecast to register a low of 13 degrees by Sunday. Hong Kong has also experienced more than 456 hours of cold weather this winter - MORE THAN DOUBLE THE RECORD of 205-hours set in January 2004. The cold spell has led to higher admissions to public hospitals.


Alps snow holding up despite RECORD TEMPERATURES - snow cover is good in the Alps and Corsica, but only above 1500 meters. However the Pyrenees is suffering from a second year of poor snow with cover. Snow depths are above average in the Southern Alps following heavy falls in the first half of January. The recent warm and sunny weather has been tempered by clear, cold nights which have helped preserve the snow pack. January has seen temperatures +2.3 °C above average for the whole of France. Records were broken on the 28th of January, +8.6°C at 1970 meters at la Plagne and a whopping +25°C at 700m in the Alps Maritimes. The snow in the Pyrenees has suffered from mild weather and warm southern winds. The French environment ministry has asked people to conserve water. Rainfall has been less than average over much of France since September - 25% less than normal, with 50% less in the Pyrenees and Southern Alps.

Global Bird Flu Breaking News - updated every 10 minutes.

Rising food prices have hit Asia's poor so hard that many have taken to the streets in protest, but experts see few signs of respite from the growing problem. An array of factors, from rising food demand and high oil prices to global warming, could make high costs for essentials such as rice, wheat and milk a permanent fixture. Prices globally soared nearly 40 percent in 2007, helping stoke protests in Myanmar, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia. Asia's growth has left many of its poor behind. They spend between 50 and 70 percent of their meager incomes on food, making price rises especially debilitating. 'There was also a lack of investment in agriculture, particularly in science and technology and in irrigation.' Drought and bad weather, high oil prices stoking transport costs, spiking biofuel demand and low reserves have also played their part. In Australia they lost almost a year of wheat due to drought. Cold weather caused grain crops to fail in Europe and the United States, while bird flu culls and disease outbreaks hit Asian poultry and meat supply. Elsewhere, Bangladesh is struggling to feed its poor after a 2007 cyclone destroyed $600 million worth of its rice crop. The price of rice rose around 70 percent in Bangladesh last year. It now stands at around 50 cents per kilo (2.2 pounds), but many Bangladeshis live on less than a dollar per day. More recently, unexpected snowstorms swept across rice growing areas in China, where rising food costs have already raised the fear of unrest. Experts are still wary of pinning the blame for these events explicitly on the impact of global warming. But a study found that climate change could cut South Asian millet, maize and rice production by 10 percent or more by 2030. Farmers are switching to growing crops such as corn or jatropha, a weed, to feed the biofuel industry rather than crops destined for the dinner table. Thailand now requires that all its diesel fuel includes a component made from palm oil, which is also used for cooking. However, the new regulation has sent palm oil prices soaring, contributing to shortages amid shrinking supplies. The amount of US maize used for biofuel has doubled since 2003, and European wheat used for ethanol could rise 12-fold by 2016. Urbanization and industrialization in Asia are eliminating farmland and soaking up scarce water resources. Meanwhile, government policies are trying to push people out of subsistence agricultural lives into the industrial sector and urban jobs. The prospect of high food prices is a sharp break from the past, when the Green Revolution pushed up output but drove down prices in Asia from the late 1960s. Financial speculators have even begun betting the price of items like wheat and rice will rise, making the picture still more volatile.

Canada, the world's second-largest wheat exporter, said its inventories of the grain plunged 30 percent after drought hurt crops in southern growing areas and cool, wet weather damaged plants in the north. Dwindling global inventories have helped send wheat prices to records in recent months. Wheat has more than doubled during the past year on the Chicago Board of Trade. At the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, where high-protein spring varieties trade, futures have nearly tripled from a year ago. The drop in supplies in storage was the largest year-over-year decline on Dec. 31 since 1988, when inventories fell 47 percent. Stockpiles fell to the lowest for the date since 2002. Barley stockpiles fell 4.9 percent as of Dec. 31 and canola dropped 9.3 percent.

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