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Rare 'derecho' storm sweeps across the Midwest

Rare ‘derecho’ storm sweeps across the Midwest | MNN – Mother Nature Network.

From July but still interesting….

A derecho uprooted a huge tree in Chicago, Ill. A MIGHTY WIND: A derecho uprooted a huge tree in Chicago, Ill. (Photo: DERRICKR_SMG/lockerz.com)
A severe storm is sweeping across the Midwest today with winds so strong that it has a special name: derecho.

A derecho (from the Spanish adverb for “straight”) is a long-lived windstorm that forms in a straight line — unlike the swirling winds of a tornado — and is associated with what’s known as a bow echo, a line of severe thunderstorms. The term “derecho” was first used over a century ago to describe a storm in Iowa. Across the United States, there are generally one to three derecho events each year.

The Midwest derecho has wind gusts between 60 and 80 mph (97 to 129 kph), according to the Weather Channel. Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois have all reported severe winds. These severe winds are the main cause of damage from the storm, said Rose Sengenberger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, Ill., but added that people should be on the lookout for other dangerous weather.
“With any long-lived storm, there is also the threat of lightning and heavy rain,” Sengenberger told OurAmazingPlanet.
Tornadoes are not any more likely during a derecho, Sengenberger said. Still, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for parts of southwest Michigan. Dangerous rain-wrapped tornadoes could shoot down from the squall line, said the NWS. As their name suggests, rain-wrapped tornadoes are shrouded from view by pouring rains, making them even more potentially dangerous for their ability to surprise.
A derecho is not the worst of the windstorms, however. On May 8, 2009, a rare windstorm that swept across Kansas, Missouriand Illinois was in a league of its own. An intense vortex and eyelike structure similar to what forms at the center of tropical storms and hurricanes appeared in the bow echo. The storm was so severe that it earned a brand-new name: super derecho.
The super derecho gained strength as it moved across Kansas in the early morning, spinning off 18 tornadoes and packing wind speeds from 70 to 90 mph (115 to 145 kph) when it hit Springfield, Mo. The super derecho plowed a path of destruction through the state about 100 miles (62 kilometers) wide, crossed the Mississippi River with 90 to 100 mph (145 to 160 kph) wind gusts and blew through Illinois before dissipating at that state’s eastern border.
This article was reprinted with permission from OurAmazingPlanet.

Can disaster aid win hearts and minds?

A Friend in Need – By Charles Kenny | Foreign Policy.

BY CHARLES KENNY | OCTOBER 31, 2011

On Tuesday last week, Turkey reversed its previous stand and decided to accept aid from Israel to help deal with the tragic earthquake that had stricken the country’s east. Shipments of portable housing units began the next day. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quick to emphasize that accepting aid did not signal an improvement in diplomatic relations between the two countries, strained ever since Israel’s raid of a Turkish aid flotilla bound for Gaza in 2010 — likely a response to the perception that aid can buy off recipient governments, even if it can’t change popular attitudes. The irony is that the humanitarian assistance that responds to disasters — unlike the majority of aid that goes to long-term development projects — might be the one case where that logic is sometimes reversed.

At a time when the United States’ aid budget is confronted by an army of hatchet-wielding deficit hawks among the Republican Party’s congressional majority and presidential candidates, some aid proponents are making the case that development and humanitarian assistance are powerful tools to buy friends and influence people. And it is true that aid has long been used to grease the often-rusty wheels of diplomacy. The Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel were cemented with the help of an aid package worth an average of $2 billion a year to Egypt. Since 1985, U.S. law has mandated that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) take account of would-be aid recipients’ voting patterns at the United Nations — rewarding larger aid packages to those who vote with America. Political Scientists David Carter at Pennsylvania State and Randall Stone at the University of Rochester note that this kind of carrot-minded approach has been successful, influencing countries’ votes on decisions that the U.S. State Department declares as politically important.Watch movie online The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Twisting politicians’ arms is one thing, but changing popular attitudes is another matter entirely. Look again at Egypt: Despite being one of the largest recipients of USAID financing over the past 30 years, Pew surveys suggest only 20 percent of Egyptians have a favorable view of the United States — considerably less than half of the U.S. favorability rating in former Cold War foe Russia. Popular opinion in Egypt is driven by other factors, not least broader U.S. foreign policy in the region. (A propensity to invade neighboring countries doesn’t help.) And development assistance just isn’t a major factor in the financial fortunes of the average citizen. Maybe that was true back in 1990, when net overseas development assistance to the country equaled 36 percent of government expenditures. But by 2008, that figure was just 3 percent — only a little more one-tenth the value of tourism and one-seventh that of manufacturing exports.

Aid’s limited impact on public opinion usually applies even when the aid is specifically focused on winning converts. A study by consultant Michael Kleinman and Mark Bradbury, a director at the Rift Valley Institute, looked at U.S. military aid for small projects in Kenya designed to improve popular support for the U.S. military presence there, and found that it didn’t. Attitudes were shaped by faith, the relationship between target populations and the Kenyan state, U.S. foreign policy, and events in Somalia — not by a U.S.-financed well or asphalt road. A German aid agency-financed 2010 study, using repeated surveys in Afghanistan’s Takhar and Kunduz provinces, found that in a comparatively peaceful period between 2005 and 2007, development aid did have a small, short-lived positive impact on the general attitudes of Afghan respondents towards foreign peace-building operations in their backyard. But this impact disappeared as threat perceptions rose between 2007 and 2009. Not surprisingly, other factors — in this case, how many people were getting shot — were just more important than who was cutting the checks.

But there is evidence of an exception to the rule that money can’t buy love, and it involves disaster assistance. Four years after a 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan, economists Tahir Andrabi of Pomona College and Jishnu Das of the World Bank surveyed attitudes towards foreigners in the region. They found trust in foreigners was significantly higher in areas where humanitarian aid had been concentrated than in other areas — dropping off by six percentage points for each 10 kilometers of distance from the fault line.

Why might recipients react differently and more positively to disaster relief assistance than they do to other forms of aid? In part it is surely related to the simple gratitude felt by people who have just lost much of what they had in a flood or earthquake. But it is also more plausible that such aid is given without a broader political motive. Although U.S. food aid flows according to the size of the surplus domestic crop as much as recipient need, using humanitarian relief to reward or punish countries for U.N. voting records or other diplomatic policies presents a practical challenge — you can’t schedule a disaster. Recipients appear to understand that, and are more likely to view such aid as given in good faith. In the Pakistan case, for example, Andrabi and Das note that the positive impact on attitudes was related to a significant on-the-ground presence of foreigners who were assumed to have purely humanitarian motivations — aid distribution was not perceived to be (and wasn’t) linked to war-fighting efforts.

Aid is likely to be a more effective foreign policy tool when it comes to persuading governments to do things that lack popular support. Creating that popular support in the first place is much harder. Perhaps Turkey’s Davutoglu is right to say that even government relations won’t improve in the case of Israeli disaster aid — after all, U.S. humanitarian support in the aftermath of Iran’s Bam earthquake only temporarily thawed diplomatic tensions. On the other hand, maybe the assistance can play a small role in improving popular opinion towards Israel in Turkey. For good or ill, that’s one more reason for governments to respond with open hearts and open checkbooks whenever disaster strikes worldwide.

10 Biggest Snowstorms of All Time

HowStuffWorks “10 Biggest Snowstorms of All Time”.

Anyone who’s ever lived in a chilly climate knows snowstorms well. Sometimes the weather forecast gives ample warning, but other times these storms catch us by surprise. Plows struggle to keep roads clear, schools are closed, events are canceled, flights are delayed and everyone gets sore backs from all the shoveling and snowblowing.

But there are those rare snowstorms that exceed all forecasts, break all records and cause mass devastation (even if it’s devastation that will melt in a few days or weeks). These storms are the worst of the worst, weather events that seem more like elemental blasts of pure winter rather than a simple combination of wind, temperature and precipitation.

Defining the 10 “biggest” snowstorms can be a tricky task. You can’t simply rely on objective measures like the amount of snow. Often, the worst storms involve relatively modest snowfalls whipped into zero-visibility by hurricane-force winds. Some storms are worse than others because they impact major urban areas, or are so widespread that they affect several major urban areas. Timing can play a role as well — a storm during weekday rush hour is worse than one on a Saturday morning, and a freak early storm when leaves are still on the trees can cause enormous amounts of damage. In fact, meteorologists have developed a system similar to the one used to classify hurricanes to measure the severity of winter storms. The Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS) takes in account a variety of factors and generates a single number that signifies a storm’s severity, usually on a scale from one to 10 — and sometimes higher [source: Science Daily].

With those factors in mind, here is our list of the biggest snowstorms of all time.

10: The Blizzard of 1888 — Northeastern United States

This snowstorm was so massive it became a historical event. In terms of storm severity factors, this one had it all: enormous amounts of snow, frigid temperatures, howling winds whipping up monstrous snow drifts — and a widespread area of effect that covered the entire northeastern United States from New England to the Chesapeake Bay, including major metropolitan areas like New York City [source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. More than 400 people died during the storm, including more than 100 who were lost at sea.

The storm struck in early March and started out as a serious rain storm. From Sunday night to Monday morning, the temperature plummeted and the rain turned to snow. In the end, New York City received 22 inches (56 centimeters) of snow, shutting the city down and causing floods when the snow melted. Other places received much more: 58 inches (1.5 meters) of snow in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and 45 inches (1.14 m) in New Haven, Conn. Snow drifts as high as 50 or 60 feet (15.2 to 18.3 m) were reported on Long Island, and wind gusts were reported as fast as 80 mph (128.7 kph).

 

The “Storm of the Century” certainly lived up to its name, affecting about half of the population of the U.S. in 1993.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

9: The Storm of the Century, 1993 — Eastern United States

In 1993, an early March storm surged up the east coast of the United States, unleashing snow and wind on a wider area than any other storm in recorded history. Massive snowfalls were recorded from eastern Canada to Alabama. Parts of 26 states were hit; roughly half of the entire U.S. population was affected, including many large cities [source: NOAA]. Two hundred and seventy Americans were killed. This storm is often compared to the Blizzard of 1888 — in many areas, it wasn’t as severe and didn’t drop as much snow, but it covered a much larger area.

This storm broke numerous weather records. A low temperature of minus 12 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 24.4 degrees Celsius) was recorded at Burlington, Vt., while even Daytona Beach, Fla., felt the effects, with a low of 31 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 0.56 degrees Celsius). Birmingham, Ala., received more than a foot of snow (30.5 cm), with four inches (10.2 cm) falling as far south as Atlanta, Ga. Snowfall totals were amplified farther north — Syracuse, N.Y. got more than 40 inches (1.02 m), for example. Mountainous areas in the Appalachians and Catskills got the most snow, with recorded totals of 50 inches (1.27 m) or more. Wind speeds topped 70 mph (112.7 kph) in many places, and topped 100 mph (161 kph) in a few locations. Using storm surge and barometric pressure data, meteorologists say the Storm of the Century was the equivalent of a category three hurricane; it ranked a 13.2 on the NESIS scale.

8: New York City Blizzard of 2006

This storm was relatively mild; it covered a smaller area than other major snow storms and didn’t have high winds. In fact, it wasn’t technically a blizzard at all, since the scientific definition of a blizzard requires sustained wind speeds above 35 mph (56.3 kph) and visibility under 500 feet (152.4 meters). But this storm is notable for the one place it did hit: New York City.

The weather station at New York’s Central Park Zoo recorded a total of 26.9 inches (68.3 cm) of snow from the storm. That total equals the greatest snowfall in New York City recorded history and breaks a record that had been set in 1947 [source: NOAA].

 

A group of boys play in the snow in Tibet, site of one of history’s biggest snowstorms.

China Photos/Getty Images

7: Lhunze County, Tibet — 2008

Tibet is known for some of the world’s tallest mountains, including Mount Everest. It gets bitterly cold there in the winter, but the climate is generally very arid. Some passes through the Himalayas remain passable throughout the year because of the low snowfall rates. For that reason, the snow storm that hit Lhunze County in October 2008 was a shock to its citizens.

Chinese officials reported an average snow depth of 59 inches (1.5 m). Some villages experienced continuous snow for 36 hours, dropping five or six feet (1.52 or 1.83 m) of snow on the ground [source: China Daily]. The amount of snow was so great that many buildings collapsed, resulting in seven deaths. Roads were closed for days as rescue crews fought to clear them and bring food to people trapped by the storm.

The economic effects of the storm were particularly harsh, as many locals were forced to slaughter or sell off large parts of their yak herds, or lost them entirely in the storm’s aftermath.

6: Mount Shasta, Calif. — 1959

In 1959, a storm dumped a huge amount of snow on Mount Shasta, Calif. The 189 inches (4.8 m) of snow recorded at the Mount Shasta Ski Bowl is the largest snowfall from a single storm in North America [source: NOAA]. However, many believe that 1993’s “Storm of the Century” has eclipsed this mark in terms of the actual volume of snow, due to heavy snowfall across such a massive area.

Oddly enough, the storm didn’t have much of an effect on locals. For one thing, residents of the Mount Shasta area were used to big snowstorms, so aside from some delays while they waited for plows to clear the wet, heavy snow, it didn’t affect them much. Also, the bulk of the snow fell away from the communities of Weed and Mount Shasta City, covering unpopulated mountainous areas. Few people at the time even noted that the town had broken the single storm snowfall record [source: College of the Siskiyous].

 

5: The Eastern Canadian Blizzard of 1971 — Quebec and Ontario, Canada

This March nor’easter (a powerful storm that blows in from the Atlantic Ocean) created classic blizzard conditions throughout eastern Canada, dumping a foot and a half (45.7 cm) of snow on Montreal and more than two feet (61 cm) elsewhere in the region. On top of the snowfall, the storm produced heavy winds that whipped the snow into the air and obliterated visibility. These conditions, combined with frigid temperatures, resulted in more than 20 fatalities.

Although many Canadians took the wintry blast in stride — residents of Cornwall, Ontario were encouraged to come to work despite the storm — this blizzard caused a event virtually unheard of in Canadian history: the cancellation of a Montreal Canadiens hockey game [source: Envirozine]. It was the first time that a game at the Montreal Forum had been postponed since the flu epidemic of 1918 [source: LCN].

4: The New England Blizzard of 1978

This dreadful storm stalled over New England for more than a day, dropping up to 4 inches (10.2 cm) of snow per hour. Boston, Mass. and several communities in Rhode Island were hit hardest, but even New York City — located some four hours south of Boston — felt the storm’s effects. Meteorologists estimate snow totals between 1 and 3 feet (30.5 and 91.4 cm), with Boston’s total accumulation of 27.1 inches (68.8 cm) setting the city’s single-storm record [source: NOAA]. Wind speeds measured well over 100 mph (161 kph), causing severe visibility and drifting problems.

This storm was worse than most for two additional reasons. First, it struck during a period of high tides, which led to some of the most severe coastal flooding that region had ever seen. Second, it struck in the afternoon. Since the morning had been clear, most people had gone to school and work as usual. The timing of the storm left thousands of people stranded in their cars on roads and highways throughout the area [source: Hurricanes-blizzards-noreasters.com]. This contributed to the storm’s high death rate; more than 100 people died in Massachusetts and Rhode Island [source: NOAA].

 

3: The Great Snow of 1717 — New England

The Great Snow was really a series of four storms that struck in quick succession in late February and early March of 1717. No one is quite sure how widespread the effects were, as record-keeping was spotty in colonial New England. Heavy snow was recorded as far away as Philadelphia, but Boston got hit the hardest.

That winter had already been a snowy one, with reports of five feet (1.5 m) of snow already on the ground when the Great Snow began. Three or four more feet (91.4 or 122 cm) were added to that total, with drifts reportedly reaching 25 feet (7.6 m), burying entire houses or forcing people to exit from second story windows [source: NSIDC].

Such a massive snowfall would’ve hit hard in any era. But at a time when one could travel only by horseback or on foot, when no method of snow removal beyond a shovel and a strong back was available, and when many small communities struggled in ordinary winter conditions, the Great Snow hit especially hard. Roads were blocked for a week or more, and travel between New York City and Boston was impossible. In fact, there wasn’t really anything that could be done about the roads — except to wait for warmer weather to melt the snow.

 

2: The Buffalo Blizzard of 1977

A modest snowfall and brutal winds averaging 45 mph (72.4 kph), with gusts of 75 mph (120.7 kph) would’ve made for a nasty storm at any time, but an unusually cold and snowy winter had left several feet of packed snow already on the ground. As if that weren’t bad enough, snow covered much of the frozen surface of nearby Lake Erie, giving the wind even more snow to drift and blow. The result was zero visibility and roads blocked by snow. The storm brought intense cold (the temperature dropped more than 20 degrees in just a few hours) and stranded people at work or, worse, in their cars [source: NOAA]. The conditions led to 29 deaths in Western New York and Southern Ontario. Storm effects were felt into Canada and as far east as Watertown, N.Y.

Although the city of Buffalo generally gets less snow than other nearby cities and has warmer winter temperatures than many northern regions, this one storm cemented Buffalo’s reputation as the blizzard capital of the United States. In fact, 1977 still holds Buffalo’s record for the most snow in one season — 199.4 inches (5.06 m) [source: NOAA].

 

 

The Midwestern U.S. has seen its share of snowstorms; the Blizzard of 1967 dumped two feet of snow on the region and killed more than 70 people.

Scott Olson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1: The Blizzard of 1967 – Midwestern U.S.

The Midwest has suffered through many brutal blizzards and monstrous snow storms. However, many parts of this region are more sparsely populated than the eastern U.S., so the effects of these storms haven’t been as acute. This storm, however, hit not just Chicago but cities as disparate as Kalamazoo, Mich., and Gary, Ind. [source: NOAA].

Snow totals topped 2 feet (61 cm), and winds exceeded 50 mph (80.5 kph). Sadly, the storm left 76 dead — 26 in Chicago alone [source: Chicago Tribune]. It set the record for a 24-hour snowfall in Chicago (23 inches or 58.4 cm). Strangely, the area saw record high temperatures in the 60s and a severe tornado outbreak in the days before the storm hit.

For more information on snowstorms and other weather-related events, take a look at the links on the next page.

Thailand: Super-canal may prevent floods

Thailand: Super-canal may prevent floods – CNN.

Thai authorities are considering the construction of a super-express waterway through Bangkok to prevent future floods similar to the one that has crippled the Thai capital and brought manufacturing in other parts of the country to a standstill.

A team of disaster experts from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok is now investigating permanent solutions to the disaster that has left hundreds dead.

“One of the urgent solutions is a super-express floodway,” Thanawat Jarupongsakul, from the university’s Unit for Disaster and Land Information Studies, told the Bangkok Post.

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Under the plan, existing natural canals — some of them more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) long — would be linked in a 200-km “super-highway” that would divert the course of floodwaters from the north.

The super-canal would hold 1.6 billion cubic meters of water and drain run-off at a rate of 6,000 cubic meters per second — the equivalent of two and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools a second.

“This idea is much cheaper than digging a new river as a floodway,” Thanawat said.

He said the proposed scheme would involve the construction of a kilometer-wide exclusion zone next to the floodway to prevent properties from being inundated, and a raised highway on both side of the canal.

The super-express floodway would then drain upstream run-off directly into the sea.

The university team is also looking at other flood-prevention measures such as a better early-warning system, improved water resource management, a flood tax, the use of a flood-risk map for urban development and groundwater-use controls.

“Now, the government must stop [trying to] solve flood problems with political methods,” Thanawat told the Bangkok Post. He said poor water management rather than excess rain had caused this year’s severe flooding, adding that natural swamps in the west of Thailand’s Central Plains, which once absorbed water flow, had been developed into industrial and residential areas, blocking the natural floodway.

While giant flood tunnels in the Bangkok metropolitan area could drain floodwater from the city, they could not cope with a massive inundation from the north.

“If there is no step forward, foreign investors will eventually disappear from the country and the next generation will be still worried whether flooding will happen or not,” he said.

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Climate Change Evaporates Part of China's Hydropower

Climate Change Evaporates Part of China’s Hydropower: Scientific American.

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WATER FALL: Unusually low water levels in many Chinese rivers has contributed to a big drop in hydropower production. Image: Tomasz Dunn/Flickr

SHANGHAI — China has set ambitious goals for itself to develop hydropower to help mitigate the risks of climate change, but increasing extreme weather events likely rooted in climate change are now sabotaging the goals’ foundations.

The latest blow came in September, when many major rivers across China ran into an unusual shrinkage, with less than 20 percent water remaining at some stretches. As a result, the nation’s hydroelectric generation dropped by almost a quarter compared with last year. There has been an ever-widening decrease in power each month since July, according to a recent government statement.

As water stocks in key hydro stations decline, the regular dry season is approaching. The resulting stress on hydroelectric generation will last into next year, the statement said.

The Chinese government has yet to explain why the water flows slumped. But experts blamed it on climate change, warning of more future droughts in areas traditionally blessed with water.

If this expectation comes true, it will hamper China’s hydropower sector, which contributes most of the country’s carbon-free electricity. It will also threaten a national strategy in transmitting electricity from resource-rich western China to feed the country’s power-hungry manufacturing sector, most of which is in the east.

For Guangdong province, located on China’s east coast, this threat has already turned into a daily reality. Since its western neighbors this year failed to send as much electricity as usual, the manufacturing hub, with a capacity to produce more than half of the world’s desktops and toys, is forced to conserve electricity.

Turbines left high and dry
China Southern Power Grid, the region’s electricity distributor, attributed the energy shortage partly to the evaporation of hydropower.

As of July, on average, not even half of its installed hydropower capacity found water to turn turbines, the company’s statistics show. And several major hydro stations, built as part of the west-to-east electricity transmission plan, failed to do their jobs.

Goupitan, the largest hydroelectric generator in Guizhou province, reportedly produced only 10 percent of its normal output per day, due to shrinking water flows. And in another hydro station called Longtan, located in the Guangxi region, this year’s missing rain dropped its reservoir’s water level to a point dozens of meters lower than previous years.

“This will definitely negatively affect our hydroelectric production from now to next summer,” said Li Yanguang, who is in charge of public relations in the power station. Asked whether next summer — a regular rainy season — could make the situation better, Li answered in a cautious tone.

“This totally depends on weather,” he said. “We can’t predict that.”

Hydro growth plan sticks despite falling power output
But Lin Boqiang, one of China’s leading energy experts, is confident that the nation’s hydroelectric generation may just go in one direction: getting worse.

“If climate change caused this year’s water flow decreases, which I think it did, and then its impact [on rivers] will be a long term. It will take a toll on China’s hydroelectric output, and also push up the cost of using it,” explained Lin, who directs the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University.

But still, from Lin’s point of view, such setbacks can’t compete with the Chinese desire for tapping more water power. China, already the world’s largest hydropower user, plans to add another 120 gigawatts by 2015 — a crucial step toward greening 15 percent of its power mix by the end of the decade.

Yang Fuqiang, a senior climate and energy expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, agreed that China’s hydropower plan will stand, though not primarily for energy supply concerns.

Although a climate-resilient approach is factored into the designs of hydro projects, China is still likely to suffer from hydroelectric output decline, says Yang. But the nation can seek more clean energy from the sun or wind, which won’t be affected by climate change, and get the electricity generated elsewhere via a smart grid, he said, referring to an advanced transmission infrastructure China has been building.

So what’s the point of keeping hydro?

“In the future, the importance of hydro projects won’t be on power generation, but on water management,” Yang explained. “It helps control floods, ensure ships transportation and reserve water — a function that [water-scarce] China needs badly.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

Deflecting Killer Asteroids Away From Earth

Deflecting Killer Asteroids Away From Earth: How We Could Do It | Asteroid 2005 YU55, Asteroids & Near-Earth Objects | Asteroid Impact & Mass Extinction | Space.com.

An illustration of how solar sails might help deflect the asteroid Apophis.
CREDIT: Olivier Boisard

A huge asteroid’s close approach to Earth tomorrow (Nov. 8) reinforces that we live in a cosmic shooting gallery, and we can’t just sit around waiting to get hit again, experts say.

Asteroid 2005 YU55, which is the size of an aircraft carrier, will zip within the moon’s orbit tomorrow, but it poses no danger of hitting us for the foreseeable future. Eventually, however, one of its big space rock cousins will barrel straight toward Earth, as asteroids have done millions of times throughout our planet’s history.

If we want to avoid going the way of the dinosaurs, which were wiped out by an asteroid strike 65 million years ago, we’re going to have to deflect a killer space rock someday, researchers say. Fortunately, we know how to do it.

“We have the capability — physically, technically — to protect the Earth from asteroid impacts,” said former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, chairman of the B612 Foundation, a group dedicated to predicting and preventing catastrophic asteroid strikes. “We are now able to very slightly and subtly reshape the solar system in order to enhance human survival.”

 

In fact, we have several different techniques at our disposal to nudge killer asteroids away from Earth. Here’s a brief rundown of the possible arrows in our planetary defense quiver. [The 7 Strangest Asteroids in the Solar System ]

 

The gravity tractor

If researchers detect a potentially dangerous space rock in plenty of time, the best option may be to send a robotic probe out to rendezvous and ride along with it.

The spacecraft’s modest gravity would exert a tug on the asteroid as the two cruise through space together. Over months or years, this “gravity tractor” method would pull the asteroid into a different, more benign orbit.

“You can get a very precise change in the orbit for the final part of the deflection using a technology of this kind,” Schweickart said in late September, during a presentation at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., called “Moving an Asteroid.”

Humanity has already demonstrated the know-how to pull off such a mission. Multiple probes have met up with faraway asteroids in deep space, including NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which is currently orbiting the huge space rock Vesta.

And in 2005, the Japanese Hayabusa probe even plucked some pieces off the asteroid Itokawa, sending them back to Earth for analysis.

Smash ’em up

We could also be more aggressive with our asteroid rendezvous craft, relying on brute force rather than a gentle gravitational tug. That is, we could simply slam a robotic probe into the threatening space rock to change its orbit.

We know how to do this, too. In 2005, for example, NASA sent an impactor barreling into the comet Tempel 1 to determine the icy object’s composition.

The impactor approach would not be as precise as the gravity tractor technique, Schweickart said, but it could still do the job.

There’s also the possibility of blowing the asteroid to smithereens with a nuclear weapon. The nuclear option could come into play if the dangerous space rock is too big to knock around with a kinetic impactor,  but it would likely be a weapon of last resort.

For one thing, blasting an asteroid to bits might end up doing more harm than good, said fellow presentation panelist Bill Nye, executive director of the Planetary Society.

“Momentum is conserved,” Nye said. “If you blow it up, then the whole giant spray of rocks is coming at the Earth instead of one.”

The politics involved in mobilizing use of a nuke could also be a cause for concern, Schweickart said. It will likely be hard enough to convince the world to mount any sort of asteroid-deflection mission in time, and adding nuclear missiles to the equation would make things much stickier.

“The potential use of nuclear explosives for deflection cannot currently be ruled out,” Schweickart said. “But it is an extremely low probability that they will be needed.”

Close Encounters of the Comet Kind: A Brief History
This image of Comet Tempel 1 was taken by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft on July 4, 2005, 67 seconds after a probe crashed into the comet.
CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

‘Mirror bees’ and foil wrap

While we’re pretty sure that gravity tractors and kinetic impactor probes would work, researchers are also looking into several other ideas. [Photos: Asteroids in Deep Space]

There’s the “mirror bee” concept, for example, which would launch a swarm of small, mirror-bearing spacecraft to a dangerous asteroid. These mini-probes would aim reflected sunlight at one spot on the space rock, heating it up so much that rock is vaporized, creating propulsive jets.

“The reaction of that gas or material being ejected from the asteroid would nudge it off-course,” Nye said.

The Planetary Society is helping fund research into mirror bees, Nye said. And while he said the concept isn’t yet ready for deployment or demonstration, he stressed that it’s not too far off, either.

“Maybe five years,” Nye told SPACE.com. “It’s not 30 years.”

Nye also floated another, more speculative idea. It might be possible to move an asteroid, he said, by wrapping it in reflective foil, like a giant baked potato. Photons from the sun might then nudge the space rock away from Earth, in much the same way they propel spacecraft equipped with solar sails.

“This might work, even if the thing is rotating,” Nye said. “OK, make no promises. But it’s something to invest in.”

Passing the intelligent life test

The biggest key to deflecting dangerous asteroids, researchers say, is detecting them with plenty of lead time to take appropriate action. We’d like to have a least a decade of notice, NASA scientists have said.

It’ll take awhile, after all, to mobilize and launch a deflection mission, and for that mission to do its job, especially if we go the gravity tractor route.

We need to make sure we can rise to the challenge when a big, threatening asteroid shows up on our radar, Schweickart and Nye said. Civilization’s very survival depends on it.

“If there is a community of intelligent life out in the universe … those intelligent beings will have already conquered this challenge,” Schweickart said. “Our entrance exam to that community of intelligent life is to pass this test.”

You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Big Asteroid to Cross Earth-Moon Orbit Tuesday 11/8/11

Big Asteroid to Cross Earth-Moon Orbit Tuesday | Wired Science | Wired.com.

    By Mark Brown, Wired UK

    An asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier is to soar past the Earth this week and, while NASA is certain that the space rock will not hit us, it will be our closest encounter with such a large chunk of rock in three decades.

    The 400-yard-wide asteroid is called 2005 YU55and at the point of closest approach it will graze our planet at 201,700 miles — about 10 percent closer to Earth than the Moon’s typical orbit.It is the “closest approach by an asteroid, that large, that we’ve known about in advance,” said principal investigator Lance Benner, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an educational announcement. This gives the space agency an unprecedented view of such a rare flyby — and it will take full advantage.

     

    NASA will track 2005 YU55 from the Deep Space Network at Goldstone California, and provide radar observations from the Arecibo Planetary Radar Facility in Puerto Rico. This should reveal a wealth of detail about the asteroid’s surface features, shape, and dimensions.

    The Arecibo radar telescope spotted the asteroid back in April 2010, and those observations provided the ghostly image of YU55, above. NASA hopes to get higher resolution snaps — with details as fine as two meters per pixel — this month.

    But what about amateur astronomers, will they be able to see it? “Absolutely,” said NASA astronomer and YU55 investigator Marina Brozovic in the announcement. “8 November is when it becomes a nighttime object and that is when you can see it.”

    “400 meters, I’d say, is a moderate size asteroid, but it’s still small and very far away. You’ll need at least a six-inch telescope in order to be able to observe it. You’ll see it buzzing really fast along the sky,” said Brozovic.

    “The pass’ track is especially favorable for western Europe and North America. But you’ll need to know exactly where and when to look,” wrote Kelly Beatty, senior contributing editor of Sky and Telescope magazine.

    The when is 23:28 UK time on 8 November. As for the where, Beatty wrote that, “the object will traverse the 70 degrees of sky eastward from Aquila to central Pegasus in just 10 hours, clipping along at seven arcseconds per second.” A star chart is available here.

    2005 YU55 is trapped in an orbit that frequently brings it back to Earth and our nearby neighboring planets — but the 2011 encounter with Earth is the closest this space rock has come for at least the last 200 years. NASA is certain that it will miss us, and “the gravitational influence of the asteroid will have no detectable effect on anything here on Earth, including our planet’s tides or tectonic plates.”

    Plus, “we have a very good idea about its orbit for the following hundred years and there is no chance of impact,” said Brozovic in the announcement. “We believe with these upcoming measurements at Arecibo and Goldstone we will remove this threat even further — probably for many centuries.”

    Updated: Nov. 7, 2011; 12:40 p.m. EST

    Image: NASA/Cornell/Arecibo/JPL-Caltech

    Asteroid Yu55 on course for close encounter with Earth

    Asteroid Yu55

    An image of asteroid Yu55, made from radar data taken in April 2010. Photograph: AP

    Astronomers around the world have readied their telescopes to catch a glimpse of a speeding ball of rock that will hurtle past the Earth on Tuesday night.

    Scientists say the asteroid, which is about a quarter of a mile wide, will pass inside the moon’s orbit and come within 198,000 miles (319,000km) of Earth at 23.28GMT. This is the closest a tracked object this size has come to the planet.

    Nasa calculates the 400-metre (1,312ft) wide asteroid, known as 2005 YU55, has roughly a one in 10m chance of hitting Earth in the next century. Were it to strike, the collision would unleash the equivalent of several thousand megatonnes of TNT.

    Even with clear skies the asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye, but professional and amateur astronomers will turn their telescopes on the rock to learn about its surface and chemical composition.

    Because the asteroid is approaching from the sun’s direction, there will be too much glare to observe the rock with optical or infra-red telescopes until the day of closest approach.

    “Most of the asteroids we see are so far out that we only get a small amount of information from the light reflected off them,” said Kevin Yates, at the Near Earth Objects Information Centre at the National Space Centre in Leicester. “Because this one is coming in so close we’ll be able to get more radar observations, which will give us a detailed surface map, and be able to get more of a chemical signature on the minerals it’s made up from.”

    The Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico last year revealed the asteroid to be remarkably spherical while its surface is very dark, suggesting it is rich in carbon.

    Observatories at Nasa’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, in the Mojave desert of California, and at Green Bank, West Virginia, will join forces with Arecibo to watch the asteroid pass this week. Operators have called on scores of amateur astronomers to help with observations, using 10-12in telescopes with special filters.

    A similar flyby will not happen until 2028 when asteroid 2001 WN5 swings past the Earth at a distance of 143,000 miles.

    “We are finding a whole variety of unusual shapes out there and this asteroid is particularly spherical. If we can characterise them more and understand them more, then if we ever do have a threat from one, understanding the structure and the materials they’re made from would better equip us to divert one. It may be that there are materials on board that could be used as a fuel to drive an engine that would push it into a different orbit over 20 years,” Yates added.

    The asteroid is among the most ancient objects in the solar system, having formed from the dust and gas disc that surrounded the sun 4.5bn years ago. Though born in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter the rock was pulled by gravity or nudged by collisions on to its new orbital course.

    “These are the building blocks left over from when the solar system formed and this particular carbonaceous asteroid is one of the most primitive types,” Yates said. “Understanding its chemical composition is like looking into the ingredients book to see how it was put together.”

    The asteroid will pass close to Venus in 2029, which will disturb its orbit to mean its next passage past Earth, in 2041, could be between 198,000 miles and nearly 30m miles from the planet. The close encounter after that will be with Mars in 2072.

     

     

    How fracking caused earthquakes in the UK

    How fracking caused earthquakes in the UK – environment – 02 November 2011 – New Scientist.

    In April and May this year, two small earthquakes struck the UK near the town of Blackpool. Suspicion immediately fell on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking – a controversial process to extract natural gas by fracturing the surrounding rock. A report has now confirmed that fracking caused the earthquakes.

    New Scientist looks at what happened, and whether fracking is likely to cause more earthquakes.

    When and where did the earthquakes happen?
    A magnitude-2.3 earthquake occurred on 1 April, followed by a magnitude-1.5 quake on 27 May. Both occurred close to the Preese Hall drilling site, where Cuadrilla Resources was using fracking to extract gas from a shale bed.

    Initial studies by the British Geological Survey (BGS) suggested that the quakes were linked to Cuadrilla’s fracking activities. The epicentre of the second quake was within 500 metres of the drilling site, at a depth of 2 kilometres. Less information was available on the first quake, but it seems to have been similar.

    The link with fracking has now been confirmed by an independent report commissioned by Cuadrilla, Geomechanical Study of Bowland Shale Seismicity, which states: “Most likely, the repeated seismicity was induced by direct injection of fluid into the fault zone.”

    The two geologists who wrote the report ran detailed models to show that the fracking could – and most likely did – provoke the quakes.

    How did the fracking cause the earthquakes?
    Fracking works by injecting huge volumes of water into the rocks surrounding a natural gas deposit. The water fractures the rocks, creating dozens of cracks through which the gas can escape to the surface.

    The UK quakes were not caused by the violent rupturing of the rocks, as you might expect, but by the presence of water. This lubricates the rocks and pushes them apart, allowing them to slip past each other. “It’s a bit like oiling the fault,” says Brian Baptie of the BGS.

    Seismologists have not been able to find the fault that moved, probably because it is tiny. Baptie says the surface area of the fault is likely to be just 100 metres by 100 metres, and that the rocks moved by about 1 centimetre – the seismological equivalent of a needle in a haystack.

    So should we expect lots more earthquakes from fracking?
    It’s difficult to say. Fracking has been going on in the US for decades, and has become much more common in recent years, yet evidence that it causes earthquakes has so far been elusive. “This is one of the first times felt earthquakes have been associated with fracking,” Baptie says.

    The Cuadrilla report says the earthquakes occurred because of a rare combination of circumstances: the fault was already under stress, was brittle enough to fracture and had space for large amounts of water that could lubricate it. The report says this is unlikely to happen again at the Preese Hall site.

    Baptie is not so sure. He says small faults are probably common in deep rocks, but go undetected because of their size. “It seems quite possible, given the same injection scheme in the same well, that there could be further earthquakes,” he says.

    Cuadrilla is proposing to monitor seismic activity around its fracking site. If earthquakes begin to occur, it could reduce the flow of water into the well, or even pump it back out, preventing the bigger quakes. Baptie says such monitoring is now necessary to avoid further quakes at fracking sites.

    Are these earthquakes dangerous?
    Not particularly. Magnitude-2.3 earthquakes can shake the ground enough for people to notice, especially if they occur close to the surface, but damage is normally limited to objects falling off shelves.

    According to Baptie, the UK gets an average of 15 magnitude-2.3 earthquakes every year, so the quakes produced by the fracking are not out of the ordinary.

    World economy on verge of new jobs recession

    BBC News – ILO: World economy on verge of new jobs recession.

    The global economy is on the verge of a new and deeper jobs recession that may ignite social unrest, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned.

    It will take at least five years for employment in advanced economies to return to pre-crisis levels, it said.

    The ILO also noted that in 45 of the 118 countries it examined, the risk of social unrest was rising.Watch movie online Rings (2017)

    Separately, the OECD research body said G20 leaders meeting in Cannes this week need to take “bold decisions”.

    The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said the rescue plan announced by EU leaders on 26 October had been an important first step, but the measures must be implemented “promptly and forcefully”.

    The OECD’s message to world leaders came as it predicted a sharp slowdown in growth in the eurozone and warned that some countries in the 17-nation bloc were likely to face negative growth.

    ‘Moment of truth’

    In its World of Work Report 2011, the ILO said a stalled global economic recovery had begun to “dramatically affect” labour markets.

    It said approximately 80 million net new jobs would be needed over the next two years to get back to pre-crisis employment levels.

    But it said the recent slowdown in growth suggested that only half the jobs needed would be created.

    “We have reached the moment of truth. We have a brief window of opportunity to avoid a major double-dip in employment,” said Raymond Torres from the ILO.

    The group also measured levels of discontent over the lack of jobs and anger over perceptions that the burden of the crisis was not being fairly shared.

    It said scores of countries faced the possibility of social unrest, particularly those in the EU and the Arab region.

    Loss of confidence

    Meanwhile, in its latest projections for G20 economies, the OECD forecast growth in the eurozone of 1.6% this year, slowing to 0.3% next year.

    OECD’s forecasts on GDP growth

    Country 2011 2012
    US 1.7% 1.8%
    Euro area 1.6% 0.3%
    Japan -0.5% 2.1%
    China 9.3% 8.6%

    In May, it had forecast growth of 2% per year in both 2011 and 2012.

    It also cut its growth forecasts for the US to 1.7% in 2011 and 1.8% in 2012. It had previously expected growth of 2.6% and 3.1% respectively.

    The organisation called for G20 leaders, who meet on Thursday and Friday, to act quickly.

    “Much of the current weakness is due to a generalised loss of confidence in the ability of policymakers to put in place appropriate responses,” the OECD said.

    “It is therefore imperative to act decisively to restore confidence and to implement appropriate policies to restore longer-term fiscal sustainability.”

    It also called for the eurozone to cut interest rates.