NOAA-Supported Scientists Find Large Gulf Dead Zone, But Smaller Than Predicted

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NOAA-supported scientists found a large Gulf of Mexico oxygen-free or hypoxic “dead” zone, but not as large as had been predicted. Measuring 5,840 square miles, an area the size of Connecticut, the 2013 Gulf dead zone indicates nutrients from the Mississippi River watershed are continuing to aff…

NOAA-supported scientists found a large Gulf of Mexico oxygen-free or hypoxic “dead” zone, but not as large as had been predicted. Measuring 5,840 square miles, an area the size of Connecticut, the 2013 Gulf dead zone indicates nutrients from the Mississippi River watershed are continuing to affect the nation’s commercial and recreational marine resources in the Gulf.

“A near-record area was expected because of wet spring conditions in the Mississippi watershed and the resultant high river flows which deliver large amounts of nutrients,” said Nancy Rabalais, Ph.D. executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), who led the July 21-28 survey cruise. “But nature’s wind-mixing events and winds forcing the mass of low oxygen water towards the east resulted in a slightly above average bottom footprint.”

Hypoxia is fueled by nutrient runoff from agricultural and other human activities in the watershed. These nutrients stimulate an overgrowth of algae that sinks, decomposes and consumes most of the oxygen needed to support life. Normally the low or no oxygen area is found closer to the Gulf floor as the decaying algae settle towards the bottom. This year researchers found many areas across the Gulf where oxygen conditions were severely low at the bottom and animals normally found at the seabed were swimming at the surface.

This is in contrast to 2012, when drought conditions resulted in the fourth smallest dead zones on record, measuring 2,889 square miles, an area slightly larger than Delaware. The largest previous dead zone was in 2002, encompassing 8,481 square miles. The smallest recorded dead zone measured 15 square miles in 1988. The average size of the dead zone over the past five years has been 5,176 square miles, more than twice the 1,900 square mile goal set by the Gulf of Mexico / Mississippi River Watershed Nutrient Task Force in 2001 and reaffirmed in 2008.

On June 18, NOAA-sponsored forecast models developed by Donald Scavia, Ph.D., University of Michigan, and R. Eugene Turner, Ph.D., Louisiana State University,  predicted the Gulf hypoxic zone would range in size from 7,286 to 8,561 square miles.

“NOAA’s investment in the Gulf of Mexico continues to yield results that confirm the complex dynamics of hypoxia and provide managers and the public with accurate scientific information for managing and restoring the nation’s valuable coastal resources,” said Robert Magnien, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “For those who depend upon and enjoy the abundant natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico, it is imperative that we intensify our efforts to reduce nutrient pollution before the ecosystem degrades any further.”

This annual measurement provides federal and state agencies working on the 2008 Gulf task force implementation actions with the real consequences of inadequate nutrient pollution management. The task force’s actions are set for review this summer.

The hypoxic zone off the coast of Louisiana and Texas forms each summer threatening the ecosystem supporting valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries that in 2011 had a commercial dockside value of $818 million and an estimated 23 million recreational fishing trips. The Gulf task force, in its 2008 report, states that “hypoxia has negative impacts on marine resources.” It further states that research on living resources in the Gulf show long term ecological changes in species diversity and a large scale, often rapid change, in the ecosystem’s food-web that is both “difficult and impossible to reverse.” Additionally, there are numerous annual areas of the Gulf where large scale fish kills occur as a result of hypoxia.

Two surveys conducted in June and early July, one of which was led by a NOAA-supported Texas A&M University team, suggested a large hypoxic zone was forming in the Gulf, though the LUMCON July measurement will be the official one as required of NOAA by the Task Force. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, in conducting its Southeast Monitoring and Assessment Program groundfish surveys, also found large expanses of hypoxia in June-early July. Texas A&M will be conducting a follow-up cruise in mid-August to provide its final seasonal update.

Visit the Gulf Hypoxia web site for additional graphics and information concerning this summer’s LUMCON research cruise, and previous cruises.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service has been funding monitoring and research for the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico since 1985 and currently oversees the NGOMEX program, the hypoxia research effort for the northern Gulf which is authorized by the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act.

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Severe Storm Batters Britain With 90mph Winds

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Britain is facing transport chaos as hurricane force winds batter southern parts of the country, shutting bridges and railways and cancelling flights.
St Jude’s storm started battering the south west from around midnight.
The storm is expected to blast across England and Wales throughout…

Britain is facing transport chaos as hurricane force winds batter southern parts of the country, shutting bridges and railways and cancelling flights.

St Jude’s storm started battering the south west from around midnight.

The storm is expected to blast across England and Wales throughout the night and early morning.

Gusts of 93.15mph have already been recorded at the Needles on the Isle of Wight, according to the MeteoGroup.
Torrential rain is also forecast and there are a number of flood warnings in place.

The storm is expected to bring severe disruption to transport, with chaos predicted at southern airports when the worst of the weather hits.

Sky’s Home Affairs Correspondent Mark White reports airline workers have been that briefed winds of up to 80 knots (90+ mph) could last until midday at Heathrow.

Engineers have warned that they will be unable to open aircraft cargo hatches or operate walkways used to offload passengers in winds of more than 40-45 knots.
Airlines are believed to be making plans to divert planes to airports in the north of the UK if necessary.

Train companies are warning of widespread cancellations due to possible debris on the tracks.

Southern Railway, South West Trains, Greater Anglia and First Capital Connect are among those predicting travel delays.

Eurostar cross-channel services have been suspended until at least 7am, and around 60 flights have been cancelled at Heathrow airport.

As the storm approaches, the Coastguard said it had “stood down” its search for a 14-year-old boy swept out to sea while swimming at Newhaven, East Sussex.
A lifeboat and helicopter had been searching rough seas for the teenager. Sussex Police has warned people to “stay clear” of seashores during the adverse weather.
The storm has reminded some people of the Great Storm of 1987, when thousands of homes were without power for several days.

Veteran weatherman Michael Fish famously failed to predict its severity before it flattened trees, knocked out power and left 22 people dead in England and France.
This time he has warned people to “batten down the hatches” and to delay their morning journey by two or three hours on Monday morning.

He told Sky News’ Murnaghan show: “There is certainly a severe storm on the way – and we certainly do need to worry about it.

“If you draw a line from about Aberystwyth to the Humber – everywhere south of there looks like getting affected by strong winds, to the north of that the problem is going to be heavy rain and localised flooding.”

His comments were echoed by senior fire chiefs who have urged people to stay indoors if possible, and to take extra care if venturing out.

Meteorologists have warned the fierce winds and torrential rain could leave a trail of destruction, damaging buildings and bringing down trees and power lines.
Roads may also be hit by flash flooding, bringing rush hour traffic on Monday morning to a halt, and homes could be flooded.

The much-anticipated storm was named St Jude after the patron saint of lost causes, whose feast day is on Monday

Prime Minister David Cameron said he had chaired a call with Government departments and agencies to hear about their plans to “ensure people are protected from tonight’s storm”.

He was updated on preparations and contingency planning for transport, schools, hospitals, councils and power supplies.

Insurance companies have advised homeowners to take steps to protect themselves and their property.

They suggested having an evacuation plan, placing valuable items upstairs to limit flood damage and ensuring gutters are clear.

The Environment Agency says 20-40mm (0.8-1.6inches) of rain could fall within six to nine hours.

It has teams working to minimise river flood risk, clearing debris from streams and unblocking culverts.

A spokesman added: “Seafronts, quaysides and jetties should be avoided due to the risk of overtopping by waves and wind-blown shingle.”

Met Office severe weather alerts are also in place, with an amber warning, meaning “be prepared”, for the southern half of England and Wales.

A yellow warning, meaning “be aware”, has been issued for the rest of Wales and England.

In London, the Metropolitan Police has urged people to avoid calling 999 during the storm unless there is a real emergency.

Sky News weather presenter Jo Wheeler said Atlantic storms of this type usually develop further west across the ocean, losing strength by the time they reach the UK and Ireland.

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Researchers Suggest Vikings Used Crystals With Sun Compass To Steer At Night

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A team of researchers working in Hungary has proposed that a Sun compass artifact found in a convent in 1948 might have been used in conjunction with crystals to allow Vikings to guide their boats even at night. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical,…

A team of researchers working in Hungary has proposed that a Sun compass artifact found in a convent in 1948 might have been used in conjunction with crystals to allow Vikings to guide their boats even at night. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences, the team describes theories they’ve developed that might explain how Viking sailors were able to so accurately sail to places such as Greenland.

Since the discovery of the sun compass fragment, researchers have theorized that Viking sailors used them to plot their course—at least when the Sun was shining. They didn’t have magnetic compasses, however, which suggest they must have had some other means for steering in the evening or the later hours. In this latest effort, the researchers describe a scenario where the Vikings might have used a type of crystal that they called a sunstone to help them use light from the sun below the horizon as a guide.

The Sun compass fragment, prior research has suggested, operated in similar fashion to a sundial, using the position of the Sun to determine direction, instead of time.

Some have suggested the Vikings also used a dome shaped object with slits in it, placed on top of the compass to help narrow the light during the time when the Sun moved low towards the horizon. The researchers in Hungary are now suggesting that they also added calcite stone crystals for use after the Sun went below the horizon. They’ve conducted tests which show that the crystals can be used to note where the Sun is after it’s passed below the horizon, because they direct ultraviolet light into patterns inside the stone, which can be seen by the human eye. If such stones were used, the Vikings could have used them all night long in the northern latitudes as it never goes completely dark.

The researchers back up their theory by noting that Viking literature is rife with references to Sun stones, though none have ever been “officially” discovered. One crystal has been found amongst navigational tools on a sixteenth century sunken ship, but no one has been able to prove it was actually used as a navigational aid.

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Kepler Finds a Very Wobbly Planet

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Imagine living on a planet with seasons so erratic you would hardly know whether to wear Bermuda shorts or a heavy overcoat.
That is the situation on a weird, wobbly world found by NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.
The planet, designated Kepler-413b, precesses, or wobbles,…

Imagine living on a planet with seasons so erratic you would hardly know whether to wear Bermuda shorts or a heavy overcoat.

That is the situation on a weird, wobbly world found by NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

The planet, designated Kepler-413b, precesses, or wobbles, wildly on its spin axis, much like a child’s top. The tilt of the planet’s spin axis can vary by as much as 30 degrees over 11 years, leading to rapid and erratic changes in seasons. In contrast, Earth’s rotational precession is 23.5 degrees over 26,000 years. Researchers are amazed that this far-off planet is precessing on a human timescale.

Kepler 413-b is located 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. It circles a close pair of orange and red dwarf stars every 66 days. The planet’s orbit around the binary stars appears to wobble, too, because the plane of its orbit is tilted 2.5 degrees with respect to the plane of the star pair’s orbit. As seen from Earth, the wobbling orbit moves up and down continuously.

Kepler finds planets by noticing the dimming of a star or stars when a planet transits, or travels in front of them. Normally, planets transit like clockwork. Astronomers using Kepler discovered the wobbling when they found an unusual pattern of transiting for Kepler-413b.

“Looking at the Kepler data over the course of 1,500 days, we saw three transits in the first 180 days — one transit every 66 days — then we had 800 days with no transits at all. After that, we saw five more transits in a row,” said Veselin Kostov, the principal investigator on the observation. Kostov is affiliated with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. The next transit visible from Earth’s point of view is not predicted to occur until 2020. This is because the orbit moves up and down, a result of the wobbling, in such a great degree that it sometimes does not transit the stars as viewed from Earth.

Astronomers are still trying to explain why this planet is out of alignment with its stars. There could be other planetary bodies in the system that tilted the orbit. Or, it could be that a third star nearby that is a visual companion may actually be gravitationally bound to the system and exerting an influence.

“Presumably there are planets out there like this one that we’re not seeing because we’re in the unfavorable period,” said Peter McCullough, a team member with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University. “And that’s one of the things that Veselin is researching: Is there a silent majority of things that we’re not seeing?”

Even with its changing seasons, Kepler-413b is too warm for life as we know it. Because it orbits so close to the stars, its temperatures are too high for liquid water to exist, making it inhabitable. It also is a super Neptune — a giant gas planet with a mass about 65 times that of Earth — so there is no surface on which to stand.

Ames is responsible for the Kepler mission concept, ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery mission and was funded by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

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Dramatic Mudslide Sweeps Away Hamlet In Northern Japan After Four Inches Of Torrential Rain Falls In An HOUR Leaving Six Dead

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These were the shocking scenes of devastation in northern Japan this morning after torrential rain sparked floods and a massive mudslide killing six people.
At least eight buildings were destroyed by one mudslide in Senboku, Akita prefecture, which was triggered when about four inches of rain…

These were the shocking scenes of devastation in northern Japan this morning after torrential rain sparked floods and a massive mudslide killing six people.

At least eight buildings were destroyed by one mudslide in Senboku, Akita prefecture, which was triggered when about four inches of rain fell in an hour yesterday – a local record.

The Japanese Meterological Agency has issued evacuation warnings to residents and it’s understood that at least 300 people have been forced out of their homes.

Others have been wading through waterlogged streets in the town of Yahaba, in the Iwate prefecture as rivers over-spilled into the streets.

Dozens of soldiers and police have since been combing the area near Lake Tazwa in Semboku, looking for dead and survivors following the massive mudslide.

Pictures from the scene show the twisted wreckage of homes, tree branches and trunks buried underneath several feet of mud.

Rescue workers have been wading knee deep in the mud, using sticks to help them, in a bid to reach survivors.

So far they have found the bodies of a 93-year-old man, his 88-year-old wife and their 61-year-old son near their home.

The son’s wife is still believed to be missing, police said.

They have also recovered the body of a 58-year-old in the rubble and the body of a 62-year-old man was also discovered.

It is believed that he was swept away by an overflowing river.

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Weakening Haiyan Continues North To China And Vietnam, Killing More

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Typhoon Haiyan continued on its destructive path into Vietnam and China Monday, although it had weakened slightly and was later downgraded to a tropical storm.
At least 13 people were killed and 81 injured in Vietnam according to the Voice of Vietnam, the country’s national radio…

Typhoon Haiyan continued on its destructive path into Vietnam and China Monday, although it had weakened slightly and was later downgraded to a tropical storm.

At least 13 people were killed and 81 injured in Vietnam according to the Voice of Vietnam, the country’s national radio broadcaster.

Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua said at least nine people had died and seven were missing in Hainan and Guangxi provinces.

Gusts of up to 74 mph also left thousands without power, uprooted trees and ripped billboards from their stands after the storm slammed into Vietnam at around 3 a.m. local time (3 p.m. ET) the station reported.

The storm may be the most violent to ever make landfall. Power is out and both water and food are in short supply. NBC’s Angus Walker reports.

The storm made landfall near the city of Cam Pha in Vietnam, a small city about 100 miles east of Hanoi according to Kevin Noth, a lead meteorologist at The Weather Channel, who called Haiyan the most powerful tropical cyclone of the year.

“When it hit Vietnam it was still a typhoon,” he said. “But then it weakened sufficiently to be downgraded to a tropical storm. It is certainly the most powerful tropical cyclone of the year.

“After researching this, we believe that when it hit the Philippines this may have been the strongest ever recorded storm to make landfall,” Noth added.

“There have been more powerful storms over the sea, but this could be the strongest ever to hit land.”

The storm had earlier felled trees on the Chinese island of Hainan, The Weather Channel reported.

The storm then turned north and northeast across far northeastern Vietnam and into the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of southern China, where it made landfall at 9 a.m. local time (7.30 p.m. ET Sunday), Xinhua reported.

Two bodies thought to be crew members of a cargo ship registered in Guangxi were found by rescuers in the island province of Hainan, after the storm broke the vessel’s mooring and cast it out to sea. Five sailors were still missing.

Kindergartens, primary schools and middle schools suspended classes on Monday in the cities of Qinzhou, Beihai and Fangchenggang.

While the China Meteorological Administration issued a rainstorm warning, Noth said Haiyan was expected to “rapidly weaken” further as it encounters rugged terrain.

The Chinese meteorologists added that they were expecting around four to seven inches of rain in the area in the next 48 hours.

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Yet Another X-Class Flare From AR 1748

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Last night, as Commander Hadfield and the Expedition 35 crew were returning to Earth in their Soyuz spacecraft, the Sun unleashed yet another X-class flare from active region 1748, the third and most powerful eruption yet from the sunspot region in the past 24 hours — in fact, at a level of X…

Last night, as Commander Hadfield and the Expedition 35 crew were returning to Earth in their Soyuz spacecraft, the Sun unleashed yet another X-class flare from active region 1748, the third and most powerful eruption yet from the sunspot region in the past 24 hours — in fact, at a level of X3.2, it was the most intense flare observed all year.

And with this dynamic sunspot region just now coming around the Sun’s limb and into view, we can likely expect much more of this sort of activity… along with a steadily increasing chance of an Earth-directed CME.

According to SpaceWeather.com AR1748 has produced ”the strongest flares of the year so far, and they signal a significant increase in solar activity. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of more X-flares during the next 24 hours.”

The sunspot region just became fully visible to Earth during the early hours of May 13 (UT).

Sunspots are regions where the Sun’s internal magnetic fields rise up through its surface layers, preventing convection from taking place and creating cooler, optically darker areas. They often occur in pairs or clusters, with individual spots corresponding to the opposite polar ends of magnetic lines.

Sunspots may appear dark because they are relatively cooler than the surrounding area on the Sun’s photosphere, but in ultraviolet and x-ray wavelengths they are brilliantly white-hot. And although sunspots look small compared to the Sun, they are often many times larger than Earth.

According to SDO project scientists Dean Pesnell on the SDO is Go! blog, AR1748 is not only rapidly unleashing flares but also changing shape.

“The movies show that the sunspot is changing, the two small groups on the right merging and the elongated spot on the lower left expanding out to join them,” Pesnell wrote earlier today.

Of course, as a solar scientist Pesnell is likely much more excited about the chance to observe further high-intensity activity than he is concerned about any dramatically negative impacts of a solar storm here on Earth, which, although possible, are still statistically unlikely.

“Great times ahead for this active region!” he added enthusiastically.

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