Mid-Latitude Cyclone over the United States

Mid-Latitude Cyclone over the United States : Natural Hazards.

Mid-Latitude Cyclone over the United States

acquired September 26, 2011 download large image (17 MB, JPEG)
acquired September 25 – 27, 2011 download web resolution GOES animation (7 MB, QuickTime)
acquired September 25 – 27, 2011 download high definition GOES animation (74 MB, QuickTime)

At 3:05 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on September 26, 2011, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite observed a mid-latitude cyclone over the midwestern United States. The center of the storm appeared immediately west of Lake Michigan.

The Capital Weather Gang at The Washington Post reported that the storm was at its most mature stage on September 26. Sporting a comma shape spanning hundreds of kilometers, the storm was comprised of a combination of warm, moist air (clouds) and cold, dry air (cloud-free areas).

Mid-latitude cyclones drive most of the stormy weather in the continental United States. Development of these cyclones often involves a warm front from the south meeting a cold front from the north. In the Northern Hemisphere, cyclones move in a counterclockwise direction. (In the Southern Hemisphere, cyclones are clockwise.) The bands of cold and warm air wrap around a center of low pressure, and air rising near the center spurs the development clouds and precipitation.

Justin Berk, a meteorologist based in Baltimore, explains that in this region, “cold air eventually wins out and wraps completely around a storm. This is called a ‘cold core’ storm and has cut itself off from the main flow of the jet stream.” This, says Berk, is why the September 26 storm appears stalled near Chicago.

An animation of the storm from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) shows the storm’s progress from September 25 to September 27.

  1. References

  2. Samenow, J. (2011, September 27). An immaculate mid-latitude cyclone and its decay. Capital Weather Gang. The Washington Post. Accessed September 27, 2011.
  3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Midlatitude Cyclones. Accessed September 27, 2011.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, the MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Animation from the NASA/NOAA GOES Project Science Team. Caption by Michon Scott.

Instrument: 
Aqua – MODIS

China's new forests aren't as green as they seem

China’s new forests aren’t as green as they seem : Nature News.

Impressive reports of increased forest cover mask a focus on non-native tree crops that could damage the ecosystem, says Jianchu Xu.

 

In the United Nations’ 2011 International Year of Forests, China is heralded as a superstar. Almost single-handedly, the country has halted long-term forest loss across Asia, and even turned it into a net gain. Since the 1990s, China has planted more than 4 million hectares of new forest each year.

Earlier this month, President Hu Jintao pledged that China would do even more. He told a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Beijing that the nation would increase its total area of forest by 40 million hectares over the next decade. China, he said, is ready to make new contributions to green, sustainable growth.

It sounds impressive, but we risk failing to see the wood for the trees. In China, ‘forest’ includes uncut primary forest, regenerating natural forest and monoculture plantations of non-native trees. The last of these accounts for most of the ‘improvement’ in forest cover.

The State Forestry Administration has claimed that total forest cover in China reached 20.36% in 2008. Most of this results from the increase in tree crops such as fruit trees, rubber and eucalyptus, not recovery of natural forest, yet Chinese data do not record this shift. The change threatens ecosystem services, particularly watershed protection and biodiversity conservation.

“I have seen massive tree plantations on the Tibetan Plateau, in areas where forests never grew.”

Exotic tree species are being planted in arid and semi-arid conditions, where perennial grasses with their extensive root systems would be better protectors of topsoil. Plantation monocultures harbour little diversity; they provide almost no habitat for the country’s many threatened forest species. Plantations generate less leaf litter and other organic inputs than native forests, so soil fauna and flora decrease, and groundwater depletion can be exacerbated by deep-rooted non-native trees that use more water than native species. Afforestation in water-stressed regions might provide wind-breaks, and tree plantations offer some carbon storage. But these benefits come at a high cost to other ecological functions.

Why the intense focus on forest cover? China has long promoted the planting of tree crops. Since 1999, the Grain for Green programme has resulted in some 22 million hectares of new trees on sloping farmland. The programme began after the 1998 Yangtze River floods, which the government blamed on loss of tree cover, although reductions in riparian buffers and soil infiltration capacity probably also had a major role.

Since 2008, forest tenure reform has encouraged the privatization of former collective forests, with more than 100 million hectares affected. Privatization can benefit local economies. But in the absence of any management framework, it has also promoted conversion of natural forests into plantations: smallholders often fell natural forests for immediate income, then plant monoculture tree crops for long-term investment.

Although the Chinese government has shown that it understands environmental fragility, its scientific and policy guidelines do not adequately address the country’s diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. I have seen massive tree plantations on the Tibetan Plateau, in areas where forests never grew before. Local governments face the need to respond to the national imperative for increased forest cover by planting fast-growing species, while also generating the biggest local economic benefits possible. This explains why unsuitable species such as aspens are planted in north China, whereas eucalyptus and rubber trees proliferate in the south.

Perhaps the International Year of Forests can help decision-makers to focus on the various meanings of ‘forest’, and the trade-offs each type entails. Natural recovery is still the best way to restore damaged forests, but restoration requires targeted involvement using the best science.

Afforestation can restore ecosystem function only if the right species are planted in the right place. Further studies are needed on how the mix of species affects ecosystem functions. Sloping lands, for example, benefit from perennial root systems and associated soil microfauna, but trees are not the only, or necessarily the best, way to establish these root systems.

China’s forestry mandate should focus on enhancing environmental services, but policy-makers cannot ignore rural livelihoods. Technical know-how should be provided to local foresters and farmers. Doing away with narrow, one-size-fits-all management targets would also help. The country, with its state-managed market economy, can afford direct payments for forest ecosystem services, but they should only be offered for natural or regenerated forests with proven biological or ecological value.

As an ecologist and agroforestry practitioner, I would like to see China establish parallel forest-management programmes for recovery and restoration of natural forests, and for incorporating working trees into farmlands. Each should include best practices from ecosystem science; a clear definition of tree crop plantations for timber or non-timber products would clarify the separate systems. A dual strategy would require increased collaboration throughout China’s land-management ministries, well supported by interdisciplinary research. But it could ensure that China’s massive investment in forests provides maximum benefits, to both local livelihood and the environment. 

Jianchu Xu is a senior scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre and a professor at the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

 

NASA satellite to Crash to Earth Today

Heads up! NASA satellite descends toward fiery doom | The Space Shot – CNET News.

NASA’s decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, out of gas and out of control, is not descending toward re-entry as rapidly as expected, officials say, likely delaying the satellite’s kamikaze plunge to Earth by a few hours, to late Friday or early Saturday.

Experts expect more than two dozen chunks of debris to survive re-entry and hit the ground in a 500-mile-long footprint somewhere along the satellite’s orbital track. But given the bus-size 6.3-ton’s satellite’s trajectory and the vast areas of ocean and sparsely populated areas UARS passes over, experts say it is unlikely any falling debris will result in injuries or significant property damage.

Additional radar tracking is required to pinpoint when–and where–the satellite will make its final descent.

 

A chart showing the latest predicted entry point for the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, based on data from U.S. Strategic Command. Because of uncertainty about the satellite’s behavior as it approaches the discernible atmosphere, the timing of the re-entry could change by several hours either way.

(Credit: William Harwood/MacDoppler Pro)

“As of 10:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 23, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 100 miles by 105 miles (160 km by 170 km),” NASA said in a brief update. “Re-entry is expected late Friday, Sept. 23, or early Saturday, Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time. Solar activity is no longer the major factor in the satellite’s rate of descent. The satellite’s orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent.

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“There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted because of this changing rate of descent. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 12 to 18 hours.”

A subsequent update from U.S. Strategic Command, which operates a global radar network used to monitor more than 20,000 objects in low-Earth orbit, predicted the satellite would re-enter sometime around 11:34 p.m. EDT Friday as the spacecraft flies over the southern Indian Ocean. But the prediction was uncertain by several hours and at orbital velocities of 5 miles per second, just 10-minutes of uncertainty translates into 3,000 miles of uncertainty in position.

For comparison, some 42.5 tons of wreckage from the shuttle Columbia hit the ground in a footprint stretching from central Texas to Louisiana when the orbiter broke apart during re-entry in 2003. No one on the ground was injured and no significant property damage was reported.

Tracking data is expected to improve as the day wears on, and subsequent updates should be more precise.

The centerpiece of a $750 million mission, the Upper Atmosphere Research satellite was launched from the shuttle Discovery in September 1991. The solar-powered satellite studied a wide variety of atmospheric phenomena, including the depletion of Earth’s ozone layer 15 to 30 miles up.

The long-lived satellite was decommissioned in 2005 and one side of its orbit was lowered using the last of its fuel to hasten re-entry and minimize the chances of orbital collisions that could produce even more orbital debris. No more fuel is available for maneuvering and the satellite’s re-entry will be “uncontrolled.”

Nick Johnson, chief scientist with NASA’s Orbital Debris Program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, told reporters last week he expects most of the satellite to burn up as it slams into the dense lower atmosphere at more than 17,000 mph. But computer software used to analyze possible re-entry outcomes predicts 26 pieces of debris will survive to impact the surface in a 500-mile-long down-range footprint.

“We looked at those 26 pieces and how big they are and we’ve looked at the fact they can hit anywhere in the world between 57 north and 57 south and we looked at what the population density of the world is,” he said. “Numerically, it comes out to a chance of 1-in-3,200 that one person anywhere in the world might be struck by a piece of debris. Those are obviously very, very low odds that anybody’s going to be impacted by this debris.”

For comparison, some 42.5 tons of wreckage from the shuttle Columbia hit the ground in a footprint stretching from central Texas to Louisiana when the orbiter broke apart during re-entry in 2003. No one on the ground was injured and no significant property damage was reported.

A second Great Depression: Eight drastic policy measures necessary to prevent global economic collapse?

A second Great Depression: Eight drastic policy measures necessary to prevent global economic collapse. – By Nouriel Roubini – Slate Magazine.

The latest economic data suggest that recession is returning to most advanced economies, with financial markets now reaching levels of stress unseen since the collapse of Lehman Bros. in 2008. The risks of an economic and financial crisis even worse than the previous one—now involving not just the private sector, but also near-insolvent governments—are significant. So, what can be done to minimize the fallout of another economic contraction and prevent a deeper depression and financial meltdown?

First, we must accept that austerity measures, necessary to avoid a fiscal train wreck, have recessionary effects on output. So, if countries in the Eurozone’s periphery such as Greece or Portugal are forced to undertake fiscal austerity, countries able to provide short-term stimulus should do so and postpone their own austerity efforts. These countries include the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the core of the Eurozone, and Japan. Infrastructure banks that finance needed public infrastructure should be created as well.

Second, while monetary policy has limited impact when the problems are excessive debt and insolvency rather than illiquidity, credit easing, rather than just quantitative easing, can be helpful. The European Central Bank should reverse its mistaken decision to hike interest rates. More monetary and credit easing is also required for the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England, and the Swiss National Bank. Inflation will soon be the last problem that central banks will fear, as renewed slack in goods, labor, real estate, and commodity markets feeds disinflationary pressures.

Third, to restore credit growth, Eurozone banks and banking systems that are undercapitalized should be strengthened with public financing in a European Union-wide program. To avoid an additional credit crunch as banks deleverage, banks should be given some short-term forbearance on capital and liquidity requirements. Also, since the U.S. and EU financial systems remain unlikely to provide credit to small and medium-size enterprises, direct government provision of credit to solvent but illiquid SMEs is essential.

Fourth, large-scale liquidity provision for solvent governments is necessary to avoid a spike in spreads and loss of market access that would turn illiquidity into insolvency. Even with policy changes, it takes time for governments to restore their credibility. Until then, markets will keep pressure on sovereign spreads, making a self-fulfilling crisis likely.

Today, Spain and Italy are at risk of losing market access. Official resources need to be tripled— through a larger European Financial Stability Facility, Eurobonds, or massive ECB action—to avoid a disastrous run on these sovereigns.

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Fifth, debt burdens that cannot be eased by growth, savings, or inflation must be rendered sustainable through orderly debt restructuring, debt reduction, and conversion of debt into equity. This needs to be carried out for insolvent governments, households, and financial institutions alike.

Sixth, even if Greece and other peripheral Eurozone countries are given significant debt relief, economic growth will not resume until competitiveness is restored. And, without a rapid return to growth, more defaults—and social turmoil—cannot be avoided.

There are three options for restoring competitiveness within the Eurozone, all requiring a real depreciation—and none of which is viable:

  • A sharp weakening of the euro toward parity with the U.S. dollar, which is unlikely, as the United States is weak, too.
  • A rapid reduction in unit labor costs, via acceleration of structural reform and productivity growth relative to wage growth, is also unlikely, as that process took 15 years to restore competitiveness to Germany.
  • A five-year cumulative 30 percent deflation in prices and wages—in Greece, for example—which would mean five years of deepening and socially unacceptable depression. Even if feasible, this amount of deflation would exacerbate insolvency, given a 30 percent increase in the real value of debt.

Because these options cannot work, the sole alternative is an exit from the Eurozone by Greece and some other current members. Only a return to a national currency—and a sharp depreciation of that currency—can restore competitiveness and growth.

Leaving the common currency would, of course, threaten collateral damage for the exiting country and raise the risk of contagion for other weak Eurozone members. The balance-sheet effects on euro debts caused by the depreciation of the new national currency would thus have to be handled through an orderly and negotiated conversion of euro liabilities into the new national currencies. Appropriate use of official resources, including for recapitalization of Eurozone banks, would be needed to limit collateral damage and contagion.

Seventh, the reasons for advanced economies’ high unemployment and anemic growth are structural, including the rise of competitive emerging markets. The appropriate response to such massive changes is not protectionism. Instead, the advanced economies need a medium-term plan to restore competitiveness and jobs via massive new investments in high-quality education, job training and human-capital improvements, infrastructure, and alternative/renewable energy. Only such a program can provide workers in advanced economies with the tools needed to compete globally.

Eighth, emerging-market economies have more policy tools left than advanced economies do, and they should ease monetary and fiscal policy. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank can serve as lender of last resort to emerging markets at risk of losing market access, conditional on appropriate policy reforms. And countries like China that rely excessively on net exports for growth should accelerate reforms, including more rapid currency appreciation, in order to boost domestic demand and consumption.

The risks ahead are not just of a mild double-dip recession, but of a severe contraction that could turn into the Great Depression II, especially if the Eurozone crisis becomes disorderly and leads to a global financial meltdown. Wrong-headed policies during the first Great Depression led to trade and currency wars, disorderly debt defaults, deflation, rising income and wealth inequality, poverty, desperation, and social and political instability that eventually led to the rise of authoritarian regimes and World War II. The best way to avoid the risk of repeating such a sequence is bold and aggressive global policy action now.

Read this story at Project Syndicate.

Europe's oceans changing at unprecedented rate

Europe’s oceans changing at unprecedented rate: report | Reuters.

LONDON | Tue Sep 13, 2011 3:26pm EDT

(Reuters) – Europe’s seas are changing at an unprecedented rate as ice sheets melt, temperatures rise and marine life migrates due to climate change, a report by the Climate Change and European Marine Ecosystem Research (CLAMER) project warned.

Scientists examined a mass of EU-funded research on the impacts of climate change on Europe’s marine environment and identified the gaps and priorities for future work.

“Change has been clearly visible and is much more rapid than we thought was possible,” Carlo Heip, chair of the CLAMER project and lead author of the report, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Over the past 25 years, sea water temperatures have increased as Arctic sea ice has melted. The combination of rising sea-levels and increased winds has contributed to the erosion of 15 percent of European coasts, the report said.

Warming has speeded up in the past 25 years at around 10 times faster than the average rate of increase in the 20th century, it added.

From 1986 to 2006, sea surface temperature rises for European waters were three to six times higher than the global average.

“Scenario simulations suggest that by the end of the 21st century, the temperature of the Baltic Sea may have increased by 2 to 4 degrees centigrade, the North Sea by 1.7 degrees, and the Bay of Biscay by 1.5 to 5 degrees,” the report said.

Melting ice sheets and glaciers add more uncertainty. Current estimates for 2100 suggest European sea levels could rise 60 cms and up to 1.9 meters at some British coasts.

Sea level rise threatens populations in all low-lying areas of Europe, but countries such as Britain, France and the Netherlands could be less vulnerable because they are rich enough to adopt coastal protection measures.

Changes in the marine food chain have also occurred as organisms have migrated to the Atlantic from the Pacific via seasonal ice-free passages through the Arctic.

While some species can thrive in other oceans, any major upheaval to the marine ecosystem could have devastating effects, the report said.

CLAMER also found that some bacteria strains were becoming more prevalent and could be a potential threat to human health. For example, cholera strains have increased in the North Sea over the past 50 years, perhaps due to temperature change.

Among its many recommendations, CLAMER urged more study of seal-level changes due to ice sheets breaking up or melting, coastal erosion, temperature changes, ocean acidification, marine ecosystems and circulation changes.

“The main message is we need to keep our fingers on the pulse,” said Heip.

The full report is available at: www.clamer.eu/

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

'Dinosaur Killer' Asteroid Parent Now Doubted

Was the ‘Dinosaur Killer’ Unfairly Charged? – ScienceNOW.

 

 

Wanting to bring the master evildoer, not just a henchman, to justice is human enough. So when planetary scientists traced the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago back to a rampaging rock named Baptistina in the asteroid belt there was palpable satisfaction that the ultimate culprit seemed to have been nailed.

But now a group of astronomers is challenging that claim. Baptistina did blast another asteroid to smithereens, sending a devastating shower of debris into the inner solar system, but that cataclysmic collision probably came too late to have sent the dino killer to Earth, they argue.

The original CSI-like case against Baptistina involved an odd link between an asteroid’s size and the ability of sunlight to move it across the asteroid belt. In their 2007 Nature paper, planetary scientists William Bottke, David Vokrouhlický, and David Nesvorný of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, identified asteroids whose similar orbits mean they are members of the “family” of asteroids formed in a collision between asteroids 170 and 60 kilometers in diameter, 40-kilometer-diameter Baptistina being the largest survivor.

By assuming how reflective Baptistina family members are, the SwRI group could estimate the size of each asteroid from the amount of visible light they reflected. Their sizes, in turn, determined how quickly sunlight could ease debris away from the collision. As each fragment absorbs solar energy, it radiates the heat away to give an ever-so-gentle rocketing effect. That nudging could have driven fragments toward a known orbital spot from which Jupiter’s gravity could fling them toward Earth. Judging by how far from the collision Baptistina family members have gotten, the group estimated that the collision occurred about 160 million years ago, early enough for the solar-driven rocketing to drive a 5- or 10-kilometer fragment to the jumping-off point to Earth by 65 million years ago.

But now team members on the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission dispute this line of evidence in a paper just out in The Astrophysical Journal. Joseph Masiero of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and colleagues report that WISE has returned estimates of the size of 100,000 asteroids, the Baptistina family among them. These estimates are more accurate than those the SwRI group had because WISE detects infrared light, not the visible spectrum. The SwRI group had to assume a reflectivity, but the WISE infrared measurements yielded actual measurements of reflectivity that are four times larger than the SwRI group had assumed. That in turn gave smaller sizes, faster moving fragments, and therefore a younger collision time—about 80 million years ago—than the SwRI group had calculated.

“This doesn’t give the remnants from the collision very much time to … get flung down to Earth 65 million years ago,” says Amy Mainzer, a co-author and the principal investigator of the asteroid phase of WISE at JPL. So instead of the Baptistina collision being ultimately responsible, another, as-yet-undated collision may have been responsible. Or the dino killer was a random asteroid that happened to wander out of the asteroid belt then.

Bottke doesn’t see a problem. Indeed, the WISE results “if anything … make our story stronger,” he writes in an e-mail. The SwRI group’s 2007 calculations show that “lots of things escape from the Baptistina family right away … decreasing the age of the Baptistina family is not a problem.”

Before, the collision was so early that the dino killer would have had to have been among the sparse debris that reached Earth long after the collision, Bottke says; with a more recent collision, far more Baptistina fragments would have been raining toward Earth 65 million years ago. Bottke’s argument “provides a good counterpoint to the conclusions reached by the WISE team,” writes dynamicist Derek Richardson of the University of Maryland, College Park. Now perhaps the prosecution and the defense can work on a settlement.

IMF says US and Europe risk double-dip recession

US and Europe risk double-dip recession, warns IMF | Business | guardian.co.uk.

International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook says slow, bumpy recovery could be jeopardised by Europe’s debt crisis or over-hasty attempts to cut America’s budget deficit

IMF cuts growth forecast for UK

Wall Street protest

A protest on Wall Street. Confidence has fallen and the risks are on the downside, the IMF said in its half-yearly report. Photograph: Keystone/Rex Features

The International Monetary Fund warned on Tuesday that the United States and the eurozone risk being plunged back into recession unless policymakers tackle the problems facing the world’s two biggest economic forces.

In its half-yearly health check, the Washington-based fund said the global economy was “in a dangerous place” and that its forecast of a slow, bumpy recovery would be jeopardised by a deepening of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis or over-hasty attempts to rein in America’s budget deficit.

“Global activity has weakened and become more uneven, confidence has fallen sharply recently, and downside risks are growing,” the IMF said as it cut its global growth forecast for both 2011 and 2012.

The IMF also cut its growth forecasts for the UK economy and advised George Osborne to ease the pace of deficit reduction in the event of any further downturn in activity.

The IMF’s World Economic Outlook cited the Japanese tsunami and the rise in oil prices prompted by the unrest in north Africa and the Middle East as two of a “barrage” of shocks to hit the international economy in 2011. It said it now expected the global economy to expand by 4% in both 2011 and 2012, cuts of 0.3 points and 0.5 points since it last published forecasts three months ago.

“The structural problems facing the crisis-hit advanced economies have proven even more intractable than expected, and the process of devising and implementing reforms even more complicated. The outlook for these economies is thus for a continuing, but weak and bumpy, expansion,” the IMF said.

Speaking at a press conference in Washington, Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s economic counsellor, said there was “a widespread perception” that policymakers in the euro area had lost control of the crisis.

“Europe must get its act together,” Blanchard said, adding that it was “absolutely essential” that measures agreed by policymakers in July, including a bigger role for the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), should be made operational soon.

“The eurozone is a major source of worry. This is a call to arms,” he said.

Blanchard said the fund was cutting its growth forecasts because the two balancing acts needed to ensure recovery from the recession of 2008-09 have stalled. Governments were cutting budget deficits but the private sector was failing to make up for the lost demand. Meanwhile, the global imbalances between deficit countries such as the US and surplus countries such as China looked like getting worse rather than better.

“Markets have become more sceptical about the ability of governments to stabilise their public debt. Worries have spread from countries on the periphery of Europe to countries in the core, and to others, including Japan and the US, Blanchard said.

He added that there was a risk of low growth, fiscal, and financial weaknesses could easily feed on each other.

“Lower growth makes fiscal consolidation harder. And fiscal consolidation may lead to even lower growth. Lower growth weakens banks. And weaker banks lead to tighter bank lending and lower growth.” As a result, there were “clear downside risks” to the fund’s new forecasts.

Developing nations lead the way

In its report, the IMF said it expected the strong performance of the leading emerging nations to be the main driving force behind growth in the world economy. China’s growth rate is forecast to ease back slightly, from 9.5% in 2011 to 9% in 2012, while India is predicted to expand by 7.5% in 2012 after 7.8% growth in 2011.

Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to continue to post robust growth, up from 5.2% in 2011 to 5.8% in 2012.

The rich developed countries, by contrast, are forecast to grow by just under 2%, slightly faster than the 1.6% pencilled in by the IMF for 2011.

“However, this assumes that European policymakers contain the crisis in the euro periphery area, that US policymakers strike a judicious balance between support for the economy and medium-term fiscal consolidation, and that volatility in global financial markets does not escalate.”

“The risks are clearly to the downside,” the IMF added, pointing to two particular concerns – that policymakers in the eurozone lose control of the sovereign debt crisis, and that the US economy could weaken as a result of political impasse in Washington, a deteriorating housing market or a slide in shares on Wall Street. It said the European Central Bank should consider cutting interest rates and that the Federal Reserve should stand ready to provide more “unconventional support”.

It said: “Either of these two eventualities would have severe implications for global growth. The renewed stress could undermine financial markets and institutions in advanced economies, which remain unusually vulnerable. Commodity prices and global trade and capital flows would likely decline abruptly, dragging down growth in developing countries.”

The IMF said that in its downside scenario, the eurozone and the US could fall back into recession, with activity some three percentage points lower in 2012 than envisaged. Currently, the fund is expecting the US to grow by 1.8% in 2012 and the eurozone by 1.1%.

“In the euro area, the adverse feedback loop between weak sovereign and financial institutions needs to be broken. Fragile financial institutions must be asked to raise more capital, preferably through private solutions. If these are not available, they will have to accept injections of public capital or support from the EFSF, or be restructured or closed.”

The IMF urged Republicans and Democrats in Washington to settle their differences: “Deep political differences leave the course of US policy highly uncertain. There is a serious risk that hasty fiscal cutbacks will further weaken the outlook without providing the long-term reforms required to reduce debt to more sustainable levels.”

Typhoon Roke

Typhoon Roke : Natural Hazards.

Typhoon Roke

acquired September 20, 2011 download large image (6 MB, JPEG)
acquired September 20, 2011 download GeoTIFF file (60 MB, TIFF)
acquired September 20, 2011 download Google Earth file (KMZ)

Typhoon Roke promises to bring unwelcome rain to areas of Japan still recovering from Typhoon Talas, which triggered landslides and floods across the Kii Peninsula in early September 2011. The new typhoon has the potential to trigger additional landslides and floods, particularly as rainwater builds up behind mud dams formed by landslides during Typhoon Talas. Fearing floods from two rivers, officials in the city of Nagoya ordered the evacuation of 80,000 people and advised more than a million more to evacuate, said The Japan Times.

Typhoon Roke was on its way to becoming a very strong storm when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image at 1:45 p.m. local time (4:45 UTC) on September 20, 2011. The storm is large and well-formed, with a distinct eye. An hour after the image was taken, Roke had winds of 176 kilometers (109 miles) per hour per hour (95 knots), making it a Category 2 storm. Seven hours later, the storm intensified to Category 4, with winds reaching 213 kilometers (132 miles) per hour ( 115 knots).

Roke was moving northeast toward the Japanese island of Honshu at 35 kilometers per hour (22 miles/hour) and was forecast to come ashore on September 21, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Roke could bring as much as 500 millimeters (20 inches) of rain to parts of Japan.

  1. References

  2. Japan Meteorological Agency. (2011, September 20). Tropical cyclone information. Accessed September 20, 2011.
  3. The Japan Times. (2011, September 20). Nagoya orders 80,000 out as typhoon nears. Accessed September 20, 2011.
  4. Unisys Weather. (2011, September 20). Typhoon Roke. Data from Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Accessed September 20, 2011.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

Instrument: 
Aqua – MODIS

Scientists find way to disarm AIDS virus

Scientists find way to disarm AIDS virus | Reuters.

LONDON | Mon Sep 19, 2011 5:08pm EDT

(Reuters) – Scientists have found a way to prevent HIV from damaging the immune system and say their discovery may offer a new approach to developing a vaccine against AIDS.

Researchers from the United States and Europe working in laboratories on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) found it is unable to damage the immune system if cholesterol is removed from the virus’s membrane.

“It’s like an army that has lost its weapons but still has flags, so another army can recognize it and attack it,” said Adriano Boasso of Imperial College London, who led the study.

The team now plans to investigate how to use this way of inactivating the virus and possibly develop it into a vaccine.

Usually when a person becomes infected with HIV, the body’s innate immune response puts up an immediate defense. But some researchers believe HIV causes the innate immune system to overreact. This weakens the immune system’s next line of defense, known as the adaptive immune response.

For this study — published on Monday in the journal Blood — Boasso’s team removed cholesterol from the membrane around the virus and found that this stopped HIV from triggering the innate immune response. This in turn led to a stronger adaptive response, orchestrated by a type of immune cells called T cells.

AIDS kills around 1.8 million people a year worldwide. An estimated 2.6 million people caught HIV in 2009, and 33.3 million people are living with the virus.

Major producers of current HIV drugs include Gilead Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.

Scientists from companies, non-profits and governments around the world have been trying for many years to make a vaccine against HIV but have so far had only limited success.

A 2009 study in Thailand involving 16,000 volunteers showed for the first time that a vaccine could prevent HIV infection in a small number of people, but since the efficacy was only around 30 percent researchers were forced back to the drawing board.

An American team working on an experimental HIV vaccine said in May that it helped monkeys with a form of the AIDS virus control the infection for more than a year, suggesting it may lead to a vaccine for people.

HIV is spread in many ways — during sex, on needles shared by drug users, in breast milk and in blood — so there is no single easy way to prevent infection. The virus also mutates quickly and can hide from the immune system, and attacks the very cells sent to battle it.

“HIV is very sneaky,” Boasso said in a statement. “It evades the host’s defenses by triggering overblown responses that damage the immune system. It’s like revving your car in first gear for too long — eventually the engine blows out.

He said this may be why developing a vaccine has proven so tricky. “Most vaccines prime the adaptive response to recognize the invader, but it’s hard for this to work if the virus triggers other mechanisms that weaken the adaptive response.”

HIV takes its membrane from the cell that it infects, the researchers explained in their study. This membrane contains cholesterol, which helps keep it fluid and enables it to interact with particular types of cell.

Normally, a subset of immune cells called plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) recognize HIV quickly and react by producing signaling molecules called interferons. These signals activate various processes which are initially helpful, but which damage the immune system if switched on for too long.

Working with scientists Johns Hopkins University, the University of Milan and Innsbruck University, Boasso’s team found that if cholesterol is removed from HIV’s envelope, it can no longer activate pDCs. As a result, T cells, which orchestrate the adaptive response, can fight the virus more effectively.