Category Archives: REFERENCE

Fallout forensics hike radiation toll

Fallout forensics hike radiation toll : Nature News.

The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March released far more radiation than the Japanese government has claimed. So concludes a study1 that combines radioactivity data from across the globe to estimate the scale and fate of emissions from the shattered plant.

The study also suggests that, contrary to government claims, pools used to store spent nuclear fuel played a significant part in the release of the long-lived environmental contaminant caesium-137, which could have been prevented by prompt action. The analysis has been posted online for open peer review by the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Andreas Stohl, an atmospheric scientist with the Norwegian Institute for Air Research in Kjeller, who led the research, believes that the analysis is the most comprehensive effort yet to understand how much radiation was released from Fukushima Daiichi. “It’s a very valuable contribution,” says Lars-Erik De Geer, an atmospheric modeller with the Swedish Defense Research Agency in Stockholm, who was not involved with the study.

The reconstruction relies on data from dozens of radiation monitoring stations in Japan and around the world. Many are part of a global network to watch for tests of nuclear weapons that is run by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna. The scientists added data from independent stations in Canada, Japan and Europe, and then combined those with large European and American caches of global meteorological data.

Stohl cautions that the resulting model is far from perfect. Measurements were scarce in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima accident, and some monitoring posts were too contaminated by radioactivity to provide reliable data. More importantly, exactly what happened inside the reactors — a crucial part of understanding what they emitted — remains a mystery that may never be solved. “If you look at the estimates for Chernobyl, you still have a large uncertainty 25 years later,” says Stohl.

Nevertheless, the study provides a sweeping view of the accident. “They really took a global view and used all the data available,” says De Geer.

Challenging numbers

Japanese investigators had already developed a detailed timeline of events following the 11 March earthquake that precipitated the disaster. Hours after the quake rocked the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, the tsunami arrived, knocking out crucial diesel back-up generators designed to cool the reactors in an emergency. Within days, the three reactors operating at the time of the accident overheated and released hydrogen gas, leading to massive explosions. Radioactive fuel recently removed from a fourth reactor was being held in a storage pool at the time of the quake, and on 14 March the pool overheated, possibly sparking fires in the building over the next few days.

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But accounting for the radiation that came from the plants has proved much harder than reconstructing this chain of events. The latest report from the Japanese government, published in June, says that the plant released 1.5?×?1016?bequerels of caesium-137, an isotope with a 30-year half-life that is responsible for most of the long-term contamination from the plant2. A far larger amount of xenon-133, 1.1?×?1019?Bq, was released, according to official government estimates.

The new study challenges those numbers. On the basis of its reconstructions, the team claims that the accident released around 1.7?×?1019?Bq of xenon-133, greater than the estimated total radioactive release of 1.4?×?1019? Bq from Chernobyl. The fact that three reactors exploded in the Fukushima accident accounts for the huge xenon tally, says De Geer.

Xenon-133 does not pose serious health risks because it is not absorbed by the body or the environment. Caesium-137 fallout, however, is a much greater concern because it will linger in the environment for decades. The new model shows that Fukushima released 3.5?×?1016? Bq caesium-137, roughly twice the official government figure, and half the release from Chernobyl. The higher number is obviously worrying, says De Geer, although ongoing ground surveys are the only way to truly establish the public-health risk.

Stohl believes that the discrepancy between the team’s results and those of the Japanese government can be partly explained by the larger data set used. Japanese estimates rely primarily on data from monitoring posts inside Japan3, which never recorded the large quantities of radioactivity that blew out over the Pacific Ocean, and eventually reached North America and Europe. “Taking account of the radiation that has drifted out to the Pacific is essential for getting a real picture of the size and character of the accident,” says Tomoya Yamauchi, a radiation physicist at Kobe University who has been measuring radioisotope contamination in soil around Fukushima.

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Stohl adds that he is sympathetic to the Japanese teams responsible for the official estimate. “They wanted to get something out quickly,” he says. The differences between the two studies may seem large, notes Yukio Hayakawa, a volcanologist at Gunma University who has also modelled the accident, but uncertainties in the models mean that the estimates are actually quite similar.

The new analysis also claims that the spent fuel being stored in the unit 4 pool emitted copious quantities of caesium-137. Japanese officials have maintained that virtually no radioactivity leaked from the pool. Yet Stohl’s model clearly shows that dousing the pool with water caused the plant’s caesium-137 emissions to drop markedly (see ‘Radiation crisis’). The finding implies that much of the fallout could have been prevented by flooding the pool earlier.

The Japanese authorities continue to maintain that the spent fuel was not a significant source of contamination, because the pool itself did not seem to suffer major damage. “I think the release from unit 4 is not important,” says Masamichi Chino, a scientist with the Japanese Atomic Energy Authority in Ibaraki, who helped to develop the Japanese official estimate. But De Geer says the new analysis implicating the fuel pool “looks convincing”.

The latest analysis also presents evidence that xenon-133 began to vent from Fukushima Daiichi immediately after the quake, and before the tsunami swamped the area. This implies that even without the devastating flood, the earthquake alone was sufficient to cause damage at the plant.

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The Japanese government’s report has already acknowledged that the shaking at Fukushima Daiichi exceeded the plant’s design specifications. Anti-nuclear activists have long been concerned that the government has failed to adequately address geological hazards when licensing nuclear plants (see Nature 448, 392–393; 2007), and the whiff of xenon could prompt a major rethink of reactor safety assessments, says Yamauchi.

The model also shows that the accident could easily have had a much more devastating impact on the people of Tokyo. In the first days after the accident the wind was blowing out to sea, but on the afternoon of 14 March it turned back towards shore, bringing clouds of radioactive caesium-137 over a huge swathe of the country (see ‘Radioisotope reconstruction’). Where precipitation fell, along the country’s central mountain ranges and to the northwest of the plant, higher levels of radioactivity were later recorded in the soil; thankfully, the capital and other densely populated areas had dry weather. “There was a period when quite a high concentration went over Tokyo, but it didn’t rain,” says Stohl. “It could have been much worse.” 

Additional reporting by David Cyranoski and Rina Nozawa.

New Research Casts Doubt on Doomsday Water Shortage Predictions

New Research Casts Doubt on Doomsday Water Shortage Predictions: Scientific American.

MELTDOWN: The melting of mountain glaciers around the world may not contribute as much to water supplies as thought, new research argues. Image: Abhishekjoshi/Flickr

From the Andes to the Himalayas, scientists are starting to question exactly how much glaciers contribute to river water used downstream for drinking and irrigation. The answers could turn the conventional wisdom about glacier melt on its head.

A growing number of studies based on satellite data and stream chemistry analyses have found that far less surface water comes from glacier melt than previously assumed. In Peru’s Rio Santa, which drains the Cordilleras Blanca mountain range, glacier contribution appears to be between 10 and 20 percent. In the eastern Himalayas, it is less than 5 percent.

“If anything, that’s probably fairly large,” said Richard Armstrong, a senior research scientist at the Boulder, Colo.-based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), who studies melt impact in the Himalayas.

“Most of the people downstream, they get the water from the monsoon,” Armstrong said. “It doesn’t take away from the importance [of glacier melt], but we need to get the science right for future planning and water resource assessments.”

The Himalayan glaciers feed into Asia’s biggest rivers: the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in China. Early studies pegged the amount of meltwater in these river basins as high as 60 or 70 percent. But reliable data on how much water the glaciers release or where that water goes have been difficult to develop. Satellite images can’t provide such regular hydrometeorological observations, and expeditions take significant time, money and physical exertion.

New methods, though, are refining the ability to study this and other remote glacial mountain ranges. Increasingly, scientists are finding that the numbers vary depending on the river, and even in different parts of the same river.

Creeping hyperbole
“There has been a lot of misinformation and confusion about it,” said Peter Gleick?, co-director of the California-based Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security. “About 1.3 billion people live in the watersheds that get some glacier runoff, but not all of those people depend only on the water from those watersheds, and not all the water in those watersheds comes from glaciers. Most of it comes from rainwater,” he said.

A key step forward came last year when scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, using remote sensing equipment, found that snow and glacier melt is extremely important to the Indus and Brahmaputra basins, but less critical to others. In the Indus, they found, the meltwater contribution is 151 percent compared to the total runoff generated at low elevations. It makes up about 27 percent of the Brahmaputra — but only between 8 and 10 percent for the Ganges, Yangtze and Yellow rivers. Rainfall makes up the rest.

That in itself is significant, and could reduce food security for 4.5 percent of the population in an already-struggling region. Yet, scientists complain, data are often inaccurately incorporated in dire predictions of Himalayan glacial melt impacts.

“Hyperbole has a way of creeping in here,” said Bryan Mark, an assistant professor of geography at Ohio State University and a researcher at the Byrd Polar Research Center.

Mark, who focuses on the Andes region, developed a method of determining how much of a community’s water supply is glacier-fed by analyzing the hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in water samples. He recently took that experience to Nepal, where he collected water samples from the Himalayan glacier-fed Kosi River? as part of an expedition led by the Mountain Institute.

Based on his experience in the Rio Santa — where it was once assumed that 80 percent of water in the basin came from glacier melt — Mark said he expects to find that the impact of monsoon water is greatly underestimated in the Himalayas.

Jeff La Frenierre, a graduate student at Ohio State University, is studying Ecuador’s Chimborazo glacier, which forms the headwaters of three different watershed systems, serving as a water source for thousands of people. About 35 percent of the glacier coverage has disappeared since the 1970s.

La Frenierre first came to Ecuador as part of Engineers Without Borders to help build a water system, and soon started to ask what changes in the mountain’s glacier coverage would mean for the irrigation and drinking needs of the 200,000 people living downstream. Working with Mark and analyzing water streams, he said, is upending many of his assumptions.

Doomsday descriptions don’t fit
“The easy hypothesis is that it’s going to be a disaster here. I don’t know if that’s the case,” La Frenierre said. He agreed that overstatements about the impacts are rampant in the Himalayas as well, saying, “The idea that 1.4 billion people are going to be without water when the glaciers melt is just not the case. It’s a local problem; it’s a local question. There are places that are going to be more impacted than other places.”

Those aren’t messages that environmental activists will likely find easy to hear. Armstrong recalled giving a presentation in Kathmandu on his early findings to a less-than-appreciative audience.

“I didn’t agree with the doomsday predictions, and I didn’t have anything that was anywhere near spectacular,” Armstrong said. But, he added, “At the same time, it’s just basic Earth science, and we want to do a better job than we have been.”

The more modest numbers, they and other scientists stressed, don’t mean that glacier melt is unimportant to river basins. Rather, they said, they mean that the understanding of water systems throughout the Himalayan region must improve and water management decisions will need to be made at very local levels.

“We need to know at least where the water comes from,” Armstrong said. “How can we project into the future if we don’t know where the water comes from now?”

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

Two Plus Two Equals Five – A 2nd look at disaster death tolls

Two Plus Two Equals Five – By Philip Walker | Foreign Policy.

The death toll and level of destruction immediately following a disaster are always difficult to determine, but over time a consensus usually emerges between governments and aid organizations. But, as David Rieff points out, “Sadly, over the course of the past few decades, exaggeration seems to have become the rule in the world of humanitarian relief.… These days, only the most extreme, most apocalyptic situations are likely to move donors in the rich world.” And with donor fatigue an ever-present possibility, it is no surprise then that later studies that contradict the original, inflated estimates are criticized — or worse, ignored — for seemingly undermining the humanitarian cause.

Arriving at these estimates is no easy endeavor, as government agencies and relief organization are rarely able to survey entire populations. Instead, emergency management experts rely on sound statistical and epidemiological techniques. But debating and questioning the numbers behind man-made and natural disasters is not just an academic exercise: the implications are huge. For example, relief agencies were restricted from operating in Darfur, partly because of Sudan’s anger that the U.S.-based Save Darfur Coalition had estimated that 400,000 people were killed in the region. Moreover, the U.N. Security Council used the International Rescue Committee’s death toll of 5.4 million in the Congo to put together its largest peacekeeping operation ever. Similarly, government aid pledges increase or decrease depending upon the extent of the disaster. Numbers do matter, and much depends upon their validity and credibility. What follows is a look at some recent disasters where the numbers just don’t match up.

Above, a view of some of the destruction in Bandar Aceh, Indonesia, a week after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck on Dec. 26, 2004. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 227,898 people died and about 1.7 million people were displaced in 14 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Africa. Indonesia, the hardest hit country by the disaster, initially claimed that 220,000 people had died or went missing but ended up revising that number down to around 170,000.

THE DEADLIEST WAR IN THE WORLD

Discrepancy: 5.4 million vs. 900,000 dead in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1998 and 2008

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has seen more than its fair share of conflict over the past 15 years. The war in the DRC officially broke out in 1998 and although the conflict technically ended in 2003 when the transitional government took over, fighting has continued in many of the country’s provinces. The conflict has been dubbed “Africa’s World War,” both due to the magnitude of the devastation and the number of African countries that have, at different times, been involved in the conflict. According to a widely cited 2008 report by the New York-based International Rescue Committee (IRC), “an estimated 5.4 million people have died as a consequence of the war and its lingering effects since 1998,” making it the world’s deadliest crisis since World War II. The organization is one of the largest providers of humanitarian aid in the Congo and is therefore deemed one of the few reliable sources on the conflict.

However, Andrew Mack, director of the Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University in Canada, said the IRC study did not employ appropriate scientific methodologies and that in reality far less people have died in the Congo. “When we used an alternative measure of the pre-war mortality rate, we found that the IRC estimates of their final three surveys, the figure dropped from 2.83 million to under 900,000,” Mack argued. (He also argued that international relief agencies — such as the International Rescue Committee — are facing a potential conflict of interest because they depend on donations that, in turn, are stimulated by their studies of death tolls. Those studies should be done by independent experts, not by relief agencies that depend on donations, he says.)

Above, the body of a young man lying on the central market avenue of Ninzi, about 25 miles north of Bunia, where on June 20, 2003, Lendu militias launched an attack, killing and mutilating at least 22 civilians.

Discrepancy: 400,000 vs. 15,000 women raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2006 and 2007

A June 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 400,000 women aged 15-49 were raped in the DRC over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007. The shockingly high number is equivalent to four women being raped every five minutes. Perhaps even more alarming, the new number is 26 times higher than the 15,000 rapes that the United Nations reported during the same period.

Maria Eriksson Baaz, a Swedish academic from the University of Gothenburg, has called the study into question by arguing that it is based on out-of-date and questionable figures. As a long-time researcher on women’s rights in the DRC, Baaz claims that extrapolations made from these figures cannot be backed up scientifically. In a recent interview with the BBC, she said it was difficult to collect reliable data in the Congo and that women sometimes claim to be victims in order to get free health care. “Women who have been raped can receive free medical care while women who have other conflict-related injuries or other problems related to childbirth have to pay,” she said. “In a country like the DRC, with [its] extreme poverty where most people can simply not afford health care, it’s very natural this happens.”

Above, Suzanne Yalaka breastfeeds her baby Barunsan on Dec. 11, 2003, in Kalundja, South Kivu province. Her son is the consequence of her being raped by ten rebels from neighboring Burundi. She was left behind by her husband and her husband’s family.

NORTH KOREAN FAMINE

Discrepancy: 2.4 million vs. 220,000 dead in North Korea between 1995 and 1998

Due to the regime’s secretive nature, reliable statistics on the 1990s famine in North Korea are hard to come by. Yet, surprisingly, on May 15, 2001, at a UNICEF conference in Beijing, Choe Su-hon, one of Pyongyang’s nine deputy foreign ministers at the time, stated that between 1995 and 1998, 220,000 North Koreans died in the famine. Compared with outside estimates, these figures were on the low end — presumably because it was in the regime’s interest to minimize the death toll.

A 1998 report by U.S. congressional staffers, who had visited the country, found that from 1995 to 1998 between 900,000 and 2.4 million people had died as a result of food shortages. It noted that other estimates by exile groups were substantially higher but that these numbers were problematic because they were often based on interactions with refugees from the northeastern province of North Hamgyong, which was disproportionately affected by the famine.

Above, North Koreans rebuilding a dike in Mundok county, South Pyongan province, in September 1997, following an August tidal wave after typhoon Winnie. The rebuilding effort was part of an emergency food-for-work project organized by the World Food Program. According to a former North Korean government official, during the famine — from 1993 to 1999 — life expectancy fell from 73.2 to 66.8 and infant mortality almost doubled from 27 to 48 per 1,000 people.

GENOCIDE IN DARFUR

Discrepancy: 400,000 vs. 60,000 dead in Darfur between 2003 and 2005

In 2006, three years after the conflict in Darfur began, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir publically criticized the United Nations for exaggerating the extent of the fighting in Darfur. “The figure of 200,000 dead is false and the number of dead is not even 9,000,” he proclaimed. At the same time, outside groups like the Save Darfur Coalition and various governments, including the United States, were having a difficult time producing concrete numbers as well. Their only consensus was that the real death toll was exponentially higher than those numbers provided by Bashir.

In 2005, a year after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a U.S. congressional committee that the ethnic violence in Darfur amounted to “genocide,” Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick estimated the death toll between 60,000 and 160,000. Zoellick was widely criticized for understating the numbers. The World Health Organization estimated that 70,000 people had died over a seven-month period alone. At the same time, researchers for the Coalition for International Justice contended that 396,563 people had died in Darfur. Today, the Sudanese authorities claim that since the conflict began in 2003, 10,000 people have died, while the U.N. estimates that over 300,000 have been killed and another 2.7 million have been displaced.

Above, an armed Sudanese rebel arrives on Sept. 7, 2004, at the abandoned village of Chero Kasi less than an hour after Janjaweed militiamen set it ablaze in the violence-plagued Darfur region.

CYCLONE NARGIS 

Discrepancy: 138,000 vs. unknown death toll in Burma in 2008

Tropical cyclone Nargis made landfall in southern Burma on May 2, 2008, leaving a trail of death and destruction before petering out the next day. It devastated much of the fertile Irrawaddy delta and Yangon, the nation’s main city. Nargis brought about the worst natural disaster in the country’s history — with a death toll that may have exceeded 138,000, according to a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology. But, with a vast number of people still unaccounted for three years later, the death toll might even be higher. The Burmese authorities allegedly stopped counting for fear of political fallout.

It’s more common for countries hit by a devastating disaster to share their plight with the world and plead for a robust relief effort, but in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis the Burmese military regime sought to maintain control over news of the disaster — restricting access to journalists and censoring the release of information and images. Moreover, the United Nations and other relief agencies were initially banned from setting up operations. At the time, with over 700,000 homes blown away, the U.N. and the Red Cross estimated that over 2.5 million people were in desperate need of aid.

Above, school teacher Hlaing Thein stands on the wreckage of a school destroyed by cyclone Nargis in Mawin village in the Irrawaddy delta region on June 9, 2008.

 

Two Plus Two Equals Five

What numbers can we trust? A second look at the death toll from some of the world’s worst disasters.

BY PHILIP WALKER | AUGUST 17, 2011

EARTHQUAKE IN HAITI

Discrepancy: 318,000 vs. 46,000-85,000 dead in Haiti in 2010

The devastating earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, killed over 318,000 people and left over 1.5 million people homeless, according to the Haitian government. International relief organizations generally estimate anywhere between 200,000 and 300,000 casualties.

However, a recently leaked report compiled for USAID by a private consulting firm claims that the death toll is likely between 46,000 and 85,000, and that roughly 900,000 people were displaced by the earthquake. The report has not yet been published, but its alleged findings have already been disputed by both Haitian authorities and the United Nations. Even the U.S. State Department, for now, is reluctant to endorse it, saying “internal inconsistencies” in some of the statistical analysis are currently being investigated prior to publication.

PAKISTAN FLOODS

Discrepancy: Large numbers affected vs. small death toll in Pakistan in 2010

A young girl washes the mud from her toy at a water pump in the middle of collapsed buildings at a refugee camp near Nowshera in northwest Pakistan on Sept. 23, 2010. Figures provided by the United Nations and Pakistan’s government estimate that 20 million people were affected by the 2010 summer floods — the worst in the country’s history. Almost 2,000 people died, 3,000 were injured, 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed, and over 12 million people were left in need of emergency food aid, according to Pakistan’s National and Provincial Disaster Management Authority. Flood waters wiped out entire villages and vast stretches of farmland affecting an area roughly the size of England. After surveying 15 key sectors across the country, in Oct. 2010, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank announced an estimated damage of $9.7 billion — an amount more than twice that of Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake which killed approximately 86,000 people. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon characterized the destruction as more dire than that caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the Pakistani earthquake combined. “In the past I have visited the scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this,” he stated.

David Rieff warns that, “By continually upping the rhetorical ante, relief agencies, whatever their intentions, are sowing the seeds of future cynicism, raising the bar of compassion to the point where any disaster in which the death toll cannot be counted in the hundreds of thousands, that cannot be described as the worst since World War II or as being of biblical proportions, is almost certainly condemned to seem not all that bad by comparison.” This was the case in Pakistan where the number affected by the flooding was gigantic but the death toll was relatively low — especially compared to the Haiti earthquake a few months earlier. As a result, the United Nations and other aid organizations were unable to raise large sums for the relief effort compared to previous disasters. “Right now, our level of needs in terms of funding is huge compared to what we’ve been receiving, even though this is the largest, by far, humanitarian crisis we’ve seen in decades, ” said Louis-George Arsenault, director of emergency operations for UNICEF, in an interview with the BBC in Aug. 2010.

As David Meltzer, senior vice president of international services for the American Red Cross, discerningly put it, “Fortunately, the death toll [in Pakistan] is low compared to the tsunami and the quake in Haiti. … The irony is, our assistance is focused on the living — and the number of those in need is far greater than in Haiti.”

 

Can we predict earthquakes?

BBC News – Can we predict when and where quakes will strike?.

l'Aquila earthquake Seismologists try to manage the risk of building damage and loss of life

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This week, six seismologists go on trial for the manslaughter of 309 people, who died as a result of the 2009 earthquake in l’Aquila, Italy.

The prosecution holds that the scientists should have advised the population of l’Aquila of the impending earthquake risk.

But is it possible to pinpoint the time and location of an earthquake with enough accuracy to guide an effective evacuation?

There are continuing calls for seismologists to predict where and when a large earthquake will occur, to allow complete evacuation of threatened areas.

What causes an earthquake?

An earthquake is caused when rocks in the Earth’s crust fracture suddenly, releasing energy in the form of shaking and rolling, radiating out from the epicentre.

The rocks are put under stress mostly by friction during the slow, 1-10 cm per year shuffling of tectonic plates.

The release of this friction can happen at any time, either through small frequent fractures, or rarer breaks that release a lot more energy, causing larger earthquakes.

It is these large earthquakes that have devastating consequences when they strike in heavily populated areas.

Attempts to limit the destruction of buildings and the loss of life mostly focus on preventative measures and well-communicated emergency plans.

Predicting an earthquake with this level of precision is extremely difficult, because of the variation in geology and other factors that are unique to each location.

Attempts have been made, however, to look for signals that indicate a large earthquake is about to happen, with variable success.

Historically, animals have been thought to be able to sense impending earthquakes.

Noticeably erratic behaviour of pets, and mass movement of wild animals like rats, snakes and toads have been observed prior to several large earthquakes in the past.

Following the l’Aquila quake, researchers published a study in the Journal of Zoology documenting the unusual movement of toads away from their breeding colony.

But scientists have been unable to use this anecdotal evidence to predict events.

The behaviour of animals is affected by too many factors, including hunger, territory and weather, and so their erratic movements can only be attributed to earthquakes in hindsight.

Precursor events

When a large amount of stress is built up in the Earth’s crust, it will mostly be released in a single large earthquake, but some smaller-scale cracking in the build-up to the break will result in precursor earthquakes.

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There is no scientific basis for making a prediction”

Richard Walker University of Oxford

These small quakes precede around half of all large earthquakes, and can continue for days to months before the big break.

Some scientists have even gone so far as to try to predict the location of the large earthquake by mapping the small tremors.

The “Mogi Doughnut Hypothesis” suggests that a circular pattern of small precursor quakes will precede a large earthquake emanating from the centre of that circle.

While half of the large earthquakes have precursor tremors, only around 5% of small earthquakes are associated with a large quake.

So even if small tremors are felt, this cannot be a reliable prediction that a large, devastating earthquake will follow.

“There is no scientific basis for making a prediction”, said Dr Richard Walker of the University of Oxford.

In several cases, increased levels of radon gas have been observed in association with rock cracking that causes earthquakes.

Leaning building Small ground movements sometimes precede a large quake

Radon is a natural and relatively harmless gas in the Earth’s crust that is released to dissolve into groundwater when the rock breaks.

Similarly, when rock cracks, it can create new spaces in the crust, into which groundwater can flow.

Measurements of groundwater levels around earthquake-prone areas see sudden changes in the level of the water table as a result of this invisible cracking.

Unfortunately for earthquake prediction, both the radon emissions and water level changes can occur before, during, or after an earthquake, or not at all, depending on the particular stresses a rock is put under.

Advance warning systems

The minute changes in the movement, tilt, and the water, gas and chemical content of the ground associated with earthquake activity can be monitored on a long term scale.

Measuring devices have been integrated into early warning systems that can trigger an alarm when a certain amount of activity is recorded.

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Prediction will only become possible with a detailed knowledge of the earthquake process. Even then, it may still be impossible”

Dr Dan Faulkner University of Liverpool

Such early warning systems have been installed in Japan, Mexico and Taiwan, where the population density and high earthquake risk pose a huge threat to people’s lives.

But because of the nature of all of these precursor reactions, the systems may only be able to provide up to 30 seconds’ advance warning.

“In the history of earthquake study, only one prediction has been successful”, explains Dr Walker.

The magnitude 7.3 earthquake in 1975 in Haicheng, North China was predicted one day before it struck, allowing authorities to order evacuation of the city, saving many lives.

But the pattern of seismic activity that this prediction was based on has not resulted in a large earthquake since, and just a year later in 1976 a completely unanticipated magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck nearby Tangshan causing the death of over a quarter of a million people.

The “prediction” of the Haicheng quake was therefore just a lucky unrepeatable coincidence.

A major problem in the prediction of earthquake events that will require evacuation is the threat of issuing false alarms.

Scientists could warn of a large earthquake every time a potential precursor event is observed, however this would result in huge numbers of false alarms which put a strain on public resources and might ultimately reduce the public’s trust in scientists.

“Earthquakes are complex natural processes with thousands of interacting factors, which makes accurate prediction of them virtually impossible,” said Dr Walker.

Seismologists agree that the best way to limit the damage and loss of life resulting from a large earthquake is to predict and manage the longer-term risks in an earthquake-prone area. These include the likelihood of building collapsing and implementing emergency plans.

“Detailed scientific research has told us that each earthquake displays almost unique characteristics, preceded by foreshocks or small tremors, whereas others occur without warning. There simply are no rules to utilise in order to predict earthquakes,” said Dr Dan Faulkner, senior lecturer in rock mechanics at the University of Liverpool.

“Earthquake prediction will only become possible with a detailed knowledge of the earthquake process. Even then, it may still be impossible.”

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Japan struggles to rebuild

Insight: Japan struggles to rebuild, leaving lives in limbo | Reuters.

Severe storms hit the Midwest on Saturday and are expected later in the Northeast, where flash flooding killed at least four people in Pittsburgh on Friday.

Heavy rains submerged cars in flood water that was nine feet deep in places in Pittsburgh, authorities said.

A mother and her two daughters died when water engulfed their vehicle in a low-lying section of the city’s Washington Boulevard near the Allegheny River.

Kimberly Griffith, 45, and her daughters Brenna, 12, and Mikaela, 8, were pronounced dead at the scene, a spokeswoman for the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office said.

The water pinned their vehicle to a tree and they were unable to escape, authorities said.

Also recovered after the flood was the body of Mary Saflin, 72, who had been reported missing earlier, according to the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office.

The Philadelphia area was also soaked by heavy thunder showers Friday, bringing a record rainfall of 12.95 inches for August, close to the record for any month, according to NWS meteorologist Lee Robertson.

The previous record is from September 1999, set when a hurricane pushed rainfall to 13.07 inches.

As more storms were forecast for the region Sunday, the NWS warned in a flood advisory that nearly half of all flood fatalities are vehicle-related.

“As little as six inches of water will cause you to lose control of your vehicle,” the NWS stated.

MORE STORMS

The Weather Channel forecast more storms from the Great Lakes to the Central Plains into Saturday night.

One man died as storms and a tornado roared across northern Wisconsin Friday night, cutting an 8-mile-wide swath 65 miles north of Green Bay and taking out power to around 2,000 homes, officials said.

Douglas Brem, 43, was staying in a rented trailer at a recycling center in the path of the storm, which caused extensive damage to homes, Marinette County Coroner George Smith said.

A fierce thunderstorm in the Chicago area Saturday suspended the Chicago Air & Water Show until about 2 p.m., leaving time for a condensed show. The two-day free annual event was expected to attract around 2 million spectators.

Saturday’s thunderstorm threat will shift to the Northeast Sunday.

The Southeastern Virginia Hampton Roads region was spared from severe storm activity, but smoke from a 6,000-acre fire in the Great Dismal Swamp continues to plague the region down into North Carolina.

Virginia’s Environmental Quality Department downgraded Friday’s air quality red alert in some areas to orange, advising of possible health problems for sensitive individuals.

(Additional reporting by John Rondy in Milwaukee, Cynthia Johnston in Las Vegas, Matthew A. Ward in Chesapeake, Va., David Warner in Philadelphia; Writing by Molly O’Toole and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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ACTION PLAN NEEDED

<span class="articleLocation”>More than five months after a massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake and a deadly tsunami ravaged Japan’s northeast coast, the nation has yet to come up with a detailed action plan and the money needed to rebuild the devastated areas.

The following is a summary of where Japan’s rebuilding efforts stand.

DEATH TOLL, EVACUEES AND SHRINKING WORKING-AGE POPULATION

— About 15,690 were killed, 4,740 are missing, and 5,710 were injured.

— Many of about 5.6 million residents of the three prefectures worst hit by the March disaster have lost their homes and the number of evacuees peaked at more than 475,000 on March 14.

— Some 9,900 still live in evacuation shelters while 34,100 are staying in hotels or with relatives or friends and about 40,000 live in temporary housing.

— Japan’s northeast is aging faster than other area of a country whose population is already graying at a rapid pace. By 2030, 31.6 percent of the population is expected to be above 65 in Tohoku, whereas the country-wide estimate is 29.6 percent.

According to BNP Paribas estimates the region’s working population shrunk 8.4 percent over the past 15 years and is expected to decline by further 12.6 percent over the next decade.

RUBBLE

— The quake and tsunami left an estimated 22.6 million tonnes of rubble in the coastal towns. Out of that, nearly half has been moved to temporary storage destinations.

— By end-August, the government aims to remove debris from areas where people live and work and this goal is likely to be met. But removal of all rubble and dismantling of damaged buildings will take months, if not years, and the government aims to dispose the stored rubble by end of March, 2014.

ECONOMIC DAMAGE

— The quake and tsunami destroyed supply chains given that the northeast is home to many manufacturers. Japan’s gross domestic product fell 0.9 percent in the first quarter, tipping the economy into its second recession in three years. But in the second quarter, the economy shrank much less than foreseen as companies made strides in restoring output and is expected to bounce by 1.2 percent this quarter — probably the best performance among major industrialized nations.

— The government initially estimated the material damage from the March 11 disaster at 16-25 trillion yen ($190-$300 billion) but later lowered it to 16.9 trillion yen ($210 billion). The estimated damage is roughly double that from the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

EMERGENCY BUDGET FOR RELIEF

— The government enacted its first extra budget of 4 trillion ($50 billion) in May, and its second emergency budget of 2 trillion ($25 billion) in July.

— The government hopes to pass the third extra budget by the end of September under a new prime minister, though whether this can materialize so quickly is unclear.

DAMAGE TO FISHING AND FARMING

— Northeast Japan is known for fishing and farming. Damages in the fishing industry are estimated at 1.23 trillion yen. About 320 fishing ports, or 11 percent of all fishing ports in Japan, have been closed due to the March disaster and it would take at least another decade for full operations to resume at these ports.

— About 2.6 percent of the total farm area in Japan, or 23,600 Ha, has been washed away or submerged due to the disaster.

AID MONEY

— The Japanese Red Cross Society has so far collected 259 billion yen in relief money. Out of this, about 48 percent has been distributed to disaster victims, while the remaining amount is stuck at overburdened local governments.

(Sources: The Cabinet Office’s Reconstruction Headquarters in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, Environment Ministry, Fukushima Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture, Statistics Bureau, Fisheries Agency, Farm Ministry, Japanese Red Cross Society, Cabinet Office, National Police Agency, Tohoku Trade department)

(Reporting by Yuko Takeo; Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota)

 

Zone Near Fukushima Daiichi May Be Off Limits for Decades

Zone Near Fukushima Daiichi May Be Off Limits for Decades – NYTimes.com.

 

TOKYO — Broad areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could soon be declared uninhabitable, perhaps for decades, after a government survey found radioactive contamination that far exceeded safe levels, several major media outlets said Monday.

The formal announcement, expected from the government in coming days, would be the first official recognition that the March accident could force the long-term depopulation of communities near the plant, an eventuality that scientists and some officials have been warning about for months. Lawmakers said over the weekend — and major newspapers reported Monday — that Prime Minister Naoto Kan was planning to visit Fukushima Prefecture, where the plant is, as early as Saturday to break the news directly to residents. The affected communities are all within 12 miles of the plant, an area that was evacuated immediately after the accident.

The government is expected to tell many of these residents that they will not be permitted to return to their homes for an indefinite period. It will also begin drawing up plans for compensating them by, among other things, renting their now uninhabitable land. While it is unclear if the government would specify how long these living restrictions would remain in place, news reports indicated it could be decades. That has been the case for areas around the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine after its 1986 accident.

Since the Fukushima accident, evacuations have been a sensitive topic for the government, which has been criticized for being slow to admit the extent of the disaster and trying to limit the size of the areas affected, despite possible risks to public health. Until now, Tokyo had been saying it would lift the current evacuation orders for most areas around the plant early next year, when workers are expected to stabilize Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged nuclear reactors.

The government was apparently forced to alter its plans after the survey by the Ministry of Science and Education, released over the weekend, which showed even higher than expected radiation levels within the 12-mile evacuation zone around the plant. The most heavily contaminated spot was in the town of Okuma about two miles southwest of the plant, where someone living for a year would be exposed to 508.1 millisieverts of radiation — far above the level of 20 millesieverts per year that the government considers safe.

The survey found radiation above the safe level at three dozen spots up to 12 miles from the plant. That has called into question how many residents will actually be able to return to their homes even after the plant is stabilized.

Some 80,000 people were evacuated from communities around the plant, which was crippled by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and towering tsunami on March 11. Many of those residents now live in temporary housing or makeshift refugee shelters, and are allowed back to their homes only for brief, tightly supervised visits in which they must wear protective clothing.

climate sceptics take note: raw data you wanted now available

OK, climate sceptics: here’s the raw data you wanted – environment – 28 July 2011 – New Scientist.

Anyone can now view for themselves the raw data that was at the centre of last year’s “climategate” scandal.

Temperature records going back 150 years from 5113 weather stations around the world were yesterday released to the public by the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. The only records missing are from 19 stations in Poland, which refused to allow them to be made public.

“We released [the dataset] to dispel the myths that the data have been inappropriately manipulated, and that we are being secretive,” says Trevor Davies, the university’s pro-vice-chancellor for research. “Some sceptics argue we must have something to hide, and we’ve released the data to pull the rug out from those who say there isn’t evidence that the global temperature is increasing.”

Hand it over

The university were ordered to release data by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, following a freedom-of-information request for the raw data from researchers Jonathan Jones of the University of Oxford and Don Keiller of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK.

Davies says that the university initially refused on the grounds that the data is not owned by the CRU but by the national meteorological organisations that collect the data and share it with the CRU.

When the CRU’s refusal was overruled by the information commissioner, the UK Met Office was recruited to act as a go-between and obtain permission to release all the data.

Poland refused, and the information commissioner overruled Trinidad and Tobago’s wish for the data it supplied on latitudes between 30 degrees north and 40 degrees south to be withheld, as it had been specifically requested by Jones and Keiller in their FOI request and previously shared with other academics.

The price

The end result is that all the records are there, except for Poland’s. Davies’s only worry is that the decision to release the Trinidad and Tobago data against its wishes may discourage the open sharing of data in the future. Other research organisations may from now on be reluctant to pool data they wish to be kept private.

Thomas Peterson, chief scientist at the National Climatic Data Center of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and president of the Commission for Climatology at the World Meteorological Organization, agrees there might be a cost to releasing the data.

“I have historic temperature data from automatic weather stations on the Greenland ice sheet that I was able to obtain from Denmark only because I agreed not to release them,” he says. “If countries come to expect that sharing of any data with anyone will eventually lead to strong pressure for them to fully release those data, will they be less willing to collaborate in the future?”

Davies is confident that genuine and proper analysis of the raw data will reproduce the same incontrovertible conclusion – that global temperatures are rising. “The conclusion is very robust,” he says, explaining that the CRU’s dataset of land temperatures tally with those from other independent research groups around the world, including those generated by the NOAA and NASA.

“Should people undertake analyses and come up with different conclusions, the way to present them is through publication in peer-reviewed journals, so we know it’s been through scientific quality control,” says Davies.

No convincing some people

Other mainstream researchers and defenders of the consensus are not so confident that the release will silence the sceptics. “One can hope this might put an end to the interminable discussion of the CRU temperatures, but the experience of GISTEMP – another database that’s been available for years – is that the criticisms will continue because there are some people who are never going to be satisfied,” says Gavin Schmidt of Columbia University in New York.

“Sadly, I think this will just lead to a new round of attacks on CRU and the Met Office,” says Bob Ward, communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. “Sceptics will pore through the data looking for ways to criticise the processing methodology in an attempt to persuade the public that there’s doubt the world has warmed significantly.”

The CRU and its leading scientist, Phil Jones, were at the centre of the so-called “climategate” storm in 2009 when the unit was accused of withholding and manipulating data. It was later cleared of the charge.

This Is the Warmest Year Ever On Record!

This Is the Warmest Year Ever Recorded – Seattle News – The Daily Weekly.

There’s never been a hotter year than this year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been tracking temperature measurements for both the water and the land since 1880, and so far 2010 is registering at about one degree above the 20th century average. Pretty, possibly apocalyptic pictures after the jump.

 

temperature anomalies january to july.jpg

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Canada and the Northeast have experienced the most unseasonably warm temperatures in the year to date.

 

temperature anamolies july 2010.png

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While Russia, which has been aflame for the past month, was by far the warmest its ever been in the month of July, with Moscow’s previous high temperature being eclipsed by a full four degrees when the mercury hit 102 on July 30.

Happy miserable summer, everyone!

Humans Dwarf Volcanoes for CO2 Emissions

Humans Dwarf Volcanoes for CO2 Emissions : Discovery News.

  • Human activities emit roughly 135 times as much climate-warming carbon dioxide as volcanoes each year.
  • Volcanoes emit less than cars and trucks, and less, even, than cement production.
  • Climate change skeptics have claimed the opposite.
volcano

The eruption of the Grimsvotn volcano on May 23, 2011 above Iceland. Click to enlarge this image.
NordicPhotos /Getty Images

Colossal, mind-bogglingly hot and capable of spewing billowing clouds of flight-grounding smoke and searing, molten lava, volcanoes are spectacular displays of the massive forces at work inside our planet. Yet they are dwarfed by humans in at least one respect: their carbon dioxide emissions.

Despite statements made by climate change deniers, volcanoes release a tiny fraction of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by human activities every year.

In fact, humans release roughly 135 times more carbon dioxide annually than volcanoes do, on average, according a new analysis. Put another way, humans emit in under three days the amount that volcanoes typically release in a year, according to the best estimates of volcanic emissions.

NEWS: Climate Change Impact: Underestimated?

“The question of whether or not volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activity is one I get more than any question in my email from the general public.’ said Terrence Gerlach, a retired volcanologist, formerly with the Cascades Volcano Observatory, part of the US Geological Survey in Vancouver, Wash. Even earth scientists who work in other areas often pose him the question, he said.

To lay out a clear answer, Gerlach compiled the available estimates of CO2 emissions from all global volcanic activity on land and undersea and compared them with estimates for human emissions. He published the compilation in Eos, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

Researchers estimate the amounts of carbon dioxide released by terrestrial volcanic eruptions by methods including remote sensing or flying through clouds of erupting volcanic gas, and by measuring certain isotope concentrations near undersea volcanoes. Carbon dioxide is dissolved in magma at great depths and is released as the magma rises to the surface.

“A lot of climate skeptics claim that volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans do,” Gerlach said. “They never give any numbers, but the fact is you will never be able to find the volcanic gas scientist that will agree to that,” he said.

One example of these skeptic’s claims is the 2009 book, “Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science” by Ian Plimer of the University of Adelaide, who did not respond to Discovery News’ requests for comment.

“The main reason, I think, that this myth persists,” Gerlach said: “First of all, the emissions are extremely spectacular. When people see volcanic eruptions on television and it’s awesome, and it’s very easy for people to imagine that huge amounts of CO2 are being emitted to the atmosphere.”

“However, these spectacular volcanic explosions that are so stunning on TV last only a few hours,” he added. “They are ephemeral. In contrast, the sources of anthropogenic CO2 (smokestacks, exhaust pipes, etc) are comparatively unspectacular, commonplace, and familiar, and in addition they are ubiquitous, ceaseless, and relentless. They emit CO2 24/7.”

While there is uncertainty in the measurements–researchers estimate between 0.13 and 0.44 billion metric tons per year, with their best estimates between 0.15 and 0.26 billion tons–even the highest end of the range is dwarfed by anthropogenic emissions of 35 billion metric tons in 2010.

Gerlach noted that human land-use changes alone, which include deforestation, release 3.5 billion metric tons per year. Cars and light-duty trucks produce 2 billion metric tons; even cement production produces 1.5 billion tons. Any of these by itself is still several times higher than the annual emissions of all of the world’s volcanoes .

Pakistan or Kazakhstan each produce about the amount of CO2 as volcanoes do each year, Gerlach noted in the article.

In yet another comparison, Gerlach reported that in order for volcanic emissions to match those made by humans, the May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens eruption would need to happen every 2.5 hours. The June 15, 1991, Mount Pinatubo eruption would need to occur every 12.5 hours.

“There is no way you can escape the fact that volcanoes are releasing a tiny amount of emissions right now,” said Bernard Marty of the Centre de Recherches Petrographiques et Geochimiques in Nancy, France. “There is no doubt about this.”

“Even if you do the reverse and you compute how much volcanism should happen to match atmospheric levels, you end up with completely unrealistic eruption rates,” he said.

Marie Edmonds, a volcanologist at Cambridge University agreed. While volcanoes are the most important natural source of atmospheric CO2, she noted, “The results show clearly that the amount is 100-150 times less than anthropogenic amounts.”

Sea levels rising at fastest rate in 2,000 years and other sea level news

Sea levels rising at fastest rate in 2,000 years – Telegraph.

Sea levels rising at fastest rate in 2,000 years

Sea levels are rising faster than at any point in the past 2,000 years because of the impact of global warming, scientists have found.

Sea levels rising at fastest rate in 2,000 years

Since then the average rise in sea levels in North Carolina, where the study was based, it has been higher than 2mm per year Photo: ALAMY

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