Fire Earth

Earth is fighting to stay alive. Mass dieoffs, triggered by anthropogenic assault and fallout of planetary defense systems offsetting the impact, could begin anytime!

Archive for February 24th, 2010

Massive Oil Spill in Italy Poisoning Major River

Posted by feww on February 24, 2010

“Oil spill threatens ‘ecological disaster’ in Italy”

“An oil spill that fouled a small river in northern Italy reached the Po River on Wednesday, with officials warning of an ecological disaster as they scrambled to contain the spill before it contaminated Italy’s longest and most important river.” AP reported.

A View of Po River from Turin, Italy. Photo Credit: Miguel Tremblay

The spill is believed to have been caused by sabotage at an oil depot which was previously a refinery, “since the cisterns were apparently opened and allowed to flow into the Lambro River near Monza.”

The amount of the spill is estimated at 600,000 liters (158,500 gallons), which is substantially lower than the initial estimates of about 10 million liters.

“The spill began Tuesday and spread south down the Lambro to Piacenza and Cremona overnight, despite efforts to contain it. By Wednesday, it had reached the Po, which crosses the country from Piedmont in the west, across Milan and Verona before emptying into the Adriatic sea.”  More…

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North Atlantic Ocean Garbage Patch

Posted by feww on February 24, 2010

Researchers Map the North Atlantic Ocean Garbage Patch

A high concentration of plastic garbage is polluting the Atlantic Ocean north of the Caribbean, says a new study by researchers from SEA, the University of Hawaii and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Plastic marine debris collected in a surface plankton net tow. Credit: SEA

Kara Lavendar Law, one of the principal researchers,  announced the findings of a 22-year study at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Portland, US.

Dr Lavender Law said that she and her team of Sea Education Association undergraduates had picked up 64,000 plus small pieces of plastic garbage measuring up to 1cm across, using fine mesh nets  towed by a research boat.

“We found a region fairly far north in the Atlantic Ocean where this debris appears to be concentrated and remains over long periods of time,” she said.

“More than 80% of the plastic pieces we collected in the tows were found between 22 and 38 degrees north. So we have a latitude for [the patch where the] rubbish seems to accumulate.”

Mahi mahi caught using hand line in the North Pacific Ocean. Dissection of the fish revealed a piece of plastic embedded in its stomach. Source: SEA

The “plastic density” was a maximum of about 200,000 pieces of garbage per square kilometer, Dr Lavender Law said. “That’s a maximum that is comparable with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

“We know that many marine organisms are consuming these plastics and we know this has a bad effect on seabirds in particular.” She said.

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Posted in Kara Lavendar Law, Ocean Sciences Meeting, plastic density, SEA | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Google lands in brown goo again!

Posted by feww on February 24, 2010

Internet Mafia Provokes the Ire of EU Firms

The European Commission is investigating complaints against Google, the Internet Mafia admitted.

Three companies have complained about Google’s mafia-like activities:  UK price comparison site Foundem, French legal search engine, and Microsoft’s Ciao.

Recommended Google Logo of the Day.

Google’s senior competition lawyer Julia Holtz said the internet Goliath was “confident” it did not break European competition law, BBC reported.

Foundem says its site is downgraded in Google’s search results, a practice with which  Fire-Earth (this blog) is all too familiar.

“Foundem… argues that our algorithms demote their site in our results because they are a vertical search engine and so a direct competitor to Google,” Google said.

“’s complaint seems to echo these concerns.”

The complaint regarding price comparison site Ciao, which Microsoft bought in 2008, concerns Google’s standard terms and conditions.

Microsoft initially took its case to the German competition authority, but Google said it had now been transferred to Brussels.

“Although we haven’t been notified yet by the commission, we do believe it’s natural for competition officials to look at online advertising given how important it is to the development of the internet and the dominance of one player.

“In the meantime, we continue to co-operate with the German government’s investigation into complaints brought by Ciao.” BBC quoted A Microsoft spokesman as saying.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has issued a statement confirming that it had received three complaints against Google, which it was investigating, though not formally.

“As is usual when the Commission receives complaints, it informed Google earlier this month and asked the company to comment on the allegations. The Commission closely cooperates with the national competition authorities,” the statement said.

Another recommended Google logo.

‘Immediate threat’

Google’s attorney, J. Holtz,  has reportedly said that the Commission had contacted the company about the complaints.

“Though each case raises slightly different issues, the question they ultimately pose is whether Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners,” she said.

“This is not the case.” She reportedly added.

Foundem complaint said that Google had the “ability to arbitrarily penalize rivals and systematically favour its own services.”

It said Google’s Universal Search was a “mechanism for automatically inserting its own services into prominent positions within its natural search results” and “poses an immediate threat to healthy competition and innovation.” BBC reported.

Foundem founder was quoted as saying that  Google had an “unprecedented” amount of control over its market.

Original report: Google faces European competition inquiry

Meanwhile, An Italian court has convicted three Google executives in a trial over a video showing a teenager with Down’s Syndrome being bullied.

“12,000 years of [alleged] human civilization and all we have to show for is Google, Facelift [Facebook] … and cluster bombs.” —JPB

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Posted in European competition law, Foundem, Google monopoly, Internet Goliath, search engine | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Death Toll Rises in Indonesia Landslide

Posted by feww on February 24, 2010

15 Bodies recovered, up to 70 others believed buried, hundreds displaced

Tropical monsoon rains triggered a massive mudslide on a steep slope of a tea plantation in West Java’s Bandung district on Tuesday morning, burying about 50 houses.

According to the latest reports, the mudslide in Ciwidey area, about 150 km (90 miles) southeast of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, has also buried a small tea factory, a health center and a mosque, leaving as many as 800 workers displaced.

“Two excavators arrived last night but the digging has mostly been done with hoes,” the National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson said.

Fire-Earth believe that a combination of deforestation, seismic activity and tropical monsoon rains is expected to cause more landslide throughout Indonesia.

The landslide left a trail of raw earth on this steep slope above houses and tea plantation buildings in West Java’s Bandung district. (AFP Photo/Pikiran Rakyat). Image may be subject to copyright. See Fire-Earth Fair Use Notice.

Partial map of Indonesia with Bandung near the center.

Political Map of Indonesia (US Govt). Click image to enlarge.

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Will there be another major Haiti earthquake?

Posted by feww on February 24, 2010

For Fire-Earth Haiti-Jamaica Earthquake forecast See: Another Strong Quake Strikes Haiti as Expected

The following is a Public Release by University of Texas at Austin

Rapid response science missions assess potential for another major Haiti earthquake

To help assess the potential threat of more large earthquakes in Haiti and nearby areas, scientists at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics are co-leading three expeditions to the country with colleagues from Purdue University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the U.S. Geological Survey and five other institutions.

Source: The University of the West Indies at Mona

Rapid response missions can be critical for assessing future risks because a fault can continue to displace the ground for weeks and months after a large earthquake. At the same time, natural weathering processes and human activities can erase valuable geologic evidence.

The goal of the Haiti missions, researchers say, is to understand which segments of the earthquake fault ruptured during the Jan. 12 quake and how much fault movement and uplift of coastal features occurred in locations along or near the fault.

  • Expedition 1: Eric Calais of Purdue University led the first expedition, which has ended, collecting Global Positioning System (GPS) data to determine how land moved as a result of the earthquake. A second team participating in the expedition, led by Paul Mann of the Institute for Geophysics and Rich Koehler of the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys, used a helicopter and fieldwork to search for signs of ruptures-cracks at the surface along the main trace of the suspected earthquake fault. They found no signs of surface rupture but evidence for lateral spreading and liquefaction-a phenomenon in which soils behave like a liquid instead of a solid. Earthquakes most likely caused by the same fault and resulting in the same kind of lateral spreading and liquefaction destroyed the Jamaican capital of Kingston in 1692 and 1907. Funding was provided by the Rapid Response Research Program of the National Science Foundation (NSF).
  • Expedition 2: The second expedition, beginning Feb. 24, will for the first time use a scientific research vessel to examine the underwater effects of the quake. Chief scientist for the expedition is Cecilia McHugh at the City University of New York and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory with co-chief scientists Sean Gulick of the Institute for Geophysics and Milene Cormier of the University of Missouri. For two weeks, a team onboard the RV Endeavor will use sonar to map shifted sediments on the seafloor and seismic sensors to examine faults beneath the seafloor. The scientists hope to solve a mystery about how the earthquake unleashed a tsunami that killed seven people and to explain why corals along the coast have now been uplifted above sea level. The 185-foot Endeavor is owned by the NSF and operated by the University of Rhode Island. Funding is provided by the NSF and The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences.
  • Expedition 3: The third expedition, led by Fred Taylor of the Institute for Geophysics, will focus on large coral heads exposed by coastal uplift during the earthquake. Taylor will use a specialized chainsaw to collect the now dead coral for study of its tree ring-like structure to reveal clues on recent uplift and previous uplifts extending back hundreds of years. He will be assisted by Mann along with Rich Briggs and Carol Prentice of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The Jackson School of Geosciences and USGS are jointly funding the coral study.

The Jackson School places a special emphasis on mounting rapid response missions to the scenes of geo-hazards, supporting previous missions after the earthquake and tsunami in the Solomon Islands (2007) and Hurricane Ike along the Texas Gulf Coast (2008). Few academic organizations have the infrastructure, equipment and expertise to mount a large field expedition on a few weeks’ notice, yet they can yield valuable insights to prepare communities for future hazards.

“We expect a whole raft of studies about the Haiti earthquake coming out based on remote sensing data from satellites and airplanes,” said Sean Gulick of the Institute for Geophysics. “But there’s no substitute for getting on the ground and in the water to look directly at its immediate effects.”

While collecting information that can save lives in the near future is a top priority of the expeditions, the scientists are also working to help cultivate local earthquake expertise. Two Haitian scientists have been invited to participate-Nicole Dieudonne, a representative of the Haitian Bureau of Mines and Energy, and Steeven Smyithe, a student from the State University of Haiti.

“We’re trying to engage the Haitian science community,” said Mann, who will return to Haiti for the second expedition. “They can help us communicate better with Haitian policy makers and people about the geology behind this devastating earthquake and about the risks going forward.”

In 2008, Mann, Calais and colleagues presented a paper at the Caribbean Conference forecasting a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in the area of Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. The forecast was based on an integration of geologic information on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone with GPS data collected in the region. David Manaker, Calais and colleagues published an article on the same topic in Geophysical Journal International.


For more information from the source responsible for the above see:

Contact: Marc Airhart
University of Texas at Austin

The biggest hurdle for the ‘Rapid Response Expedition Teams’ could prove to be a political one. They may have to find creative ways of preventing USGS Earthquake People from altering the results of their research. See various notes and comments on Fire-Earth about USGS/EHP downgrading the magnitude of earthquakes for political reasons.

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ESA Says Australia Dry!

Posted by feww on February 24, 2010

Finally, the first calibrated images are being delivered by ESA’s SMOS mission. Most what they tell us we already know. AND, NO, they couldn’t program ESA SMOS to do a rain dance. But let’s at least hope that the images would help convince the world government to keep the hydrocarbons buried inside the earth, where they belong. Fire-Earth

Public Release: European Space Agency

First images from ESA’s water mission

In less than four months since launch, the first calibrated images are being delivered by ESA’s SMOS mission. These images of ‘brightness temperature’ translate into clear information on global variations of soil moisture and ocean salinity to advance our understanding of the water cycle.

Launched on 2 November, the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission is improving our understanding of Earth’s water cycle by making global observations of soil moisture over land and salinity over oceans. By consistently mapping these two variables, SMOS will not only advance our understanding of the exchange processes between Earth’s surface and atmosphere, but will also help to improve weather and climate models.

In addition, the data from SMOS will have several other applications in areas such as agriculture and water resource management.

SMOS captures images of ‘brightness temperature’, which then require substantial processing to realise information on soil moisture and ocean salinity. Brightness temperature is a measure of the radiation emitted from Earth’s surface. During the commissioning phase, considerable effort is put into improving the quality of these images of brightness temperature before using them as input for the soil moisture and ocean salinity data products. ESA is now in a position to show the first results, which are very encouraging.

This is a calibrated image of brightness temperature over Australia. Compared to the uncalibrated image, the “noise” in the product has been reduced so that the coast lines and physical features of the landscape are much sharper. Credit: ESA

Since it was launched, engineers and scientists from various institutes in Europe have been busy commissioning the SMOS satellite and instrument. This commissioning phase, which will continue until the end of April, initially involved testing the Proteus platform – a generic ‘satellite bus’ developed by the French space agency CNES and Thales Alenia Space – and the all-important MIRAS instrument developed by EADS-CASA in Spain under contract to ESA. Both platform and instrument have shown excellent performance during their first four months in orbit.

Achim Hahne, ESA’s SMOS Project Manager, said, “Our development team is extremely happy and proud to see the real performance of the SMOS system in orbit. We are only half-way through the in-orbit commissioning phase and it is rewarding to see these first very promising calibrated products delivered by SMOS.”

Among other tasks, commissioning also includes testing the system that sends the data to the ground and the process through which the data is distributed, as well as calibrating the data products delivered by MIRAS – the Microwave Imaging Radiometer with Aperture Synthesis instrument.

MIRAS produces a snapshot of brightness temperature every 1.2 seconds. The image of Scandinavia shows one snapshot acquired by SMOS. From these images of brightness temperature, it is possible to derive how much moisture there is in the surface layers of soil and how much salt there is in the surface waters of the oceans. High brightness temperatures translate into dry soils and low brightness temperatures into wet areas. This is why bodies of water show up as cold spots.

Calibration and validation are a major undertaking in any Earth observation mission. Once the data get to the ground, they need to be checked that they make sense and can be used for scientific research. The last three months have been dedicated to performing these calibration activities in order to assess the performance of the mission.

This first calibration step is important to ensure the instrument meets the required performance. The process also includes making corrections for errors caused by, for example, temperature variations in the instrument’s antenna receivers or light reflected from the Sun and Moon. The effect is instantly visible in the calibrated image of Australia, where geophysical features, such as lakes, are clearly visible, compared to the uncalibrated image.

The image showing Brazil highlights the rainforest, which is relatively stable and bright, and the Amazon River is seen in lower brightness temperatures.

Susanne Mecklenburg, who, as ESA’s SMOS Mission Manager, will formally take over the reins of the mission at the end of commissioning said, “It is exciting to see these first data products, which are already of excellent quality, even though we haven’t completed all the calibration activities yet. We also had very positive feedback from the scientists who have already started using the data.”

Yann Kerr, who first proposed the mission to ESA, added, “SMOS has delivered its first products earlier than expected and of a quality better than the specifications.”

The acquisition of these calibrated images marks a very important step in the progress of the SMOS mission and also demonstrates the excellent quality and availability of the data, which will soon be available to the science community.

Jordi Font, the mission’s Lead Investigator for ocean salinity, said, “For the ocean products, a lot of work still has to be done before the release of operational data. The low sensitivity to variations in salinity requires very accurate instrument calibration and data processing to achieve the mission’s measurement goals for ocean salinity. However, the excellent performance of MIRAS, and the work being done in commissioning means we are very close to obtaining good results for measuring salinity.”

The commissioning phase will continue to the end of April, after which the mission will be operational. However, the science team will continue to asses the quality of the data products throughout the lifetime of the mission. An airborne validation campaign is under way in Australia, comparing in situ measurements with those taken by the satellite. In addition, extensive airborne campaigns will be carried out in Germany, Spain and France in the spring.

Contact: Robert Meisner
European Space Agency

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Posted in ESA, ESA SMOS, Ocean Salinity, Soil Moisture, water cycle | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »