Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ebola death toll tops 600, spreads to 4 more counties in Liberia – WHO losing fight to contain outbreak

The Extinction Protocol | Jul 19, 2014

AFRICA -  New cases of Ebola virus have been found in four additional counties in Liberia, raising the number of affected counties to seven out of a total of 15. The four counties are located in the west, center and east of Liberia, while the virus has affected mainly western parts of the county. Ebola has spread through several West African countries, including Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, since its latest outbreak in February. The death toll from the virus has surpassed 600 despite efforts by regional and international health experts to contain the epidemic. Guinea is the worst-hit country with more than 500 people losing their lives. Liberia has reported 105 deaths since the outbreak there in May, while 142 have lost their lives in Sierra Leone. There is currently no known cure for Ebola, a form of hemorrhagic fever whose symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding. Some people in the affected communities reportedly believe that outsiders are spreading, rather than fighting, the Ebola outbreak. WHO noted on Tuesday that there have been at least 68 new deaths in the region from last week alone, bringing the death toll to 603 since February.

The virus has continued its spread throughout Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, despite local and international efforts to contain it. Epstein revealed that the main focus in the three countries currently is finding people who have been exposed to the disease, and placing them in a 21-day incubation period to see if they are infected. “It’s probably going to be several months before we are able to get a grip on this epidemic,” the WHO spokesman offered. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said about mobilizing leaders in West Africa to work together in welcoming medical professionals treating victims: “Sometimes the challenge for us is countries like to do disease control their way. But I think this is one such situation where countries must come together and adopt a similar approach to deal with a very dangerous disease.” The virus, which was first discovered in 1976, is known to have a 90 percent death rate for those infected. “The situation in West Africa should be a wake-up call to recognize that this weakening of this institution on which we all depend is not in anybody’s interest,” Scott Dowell, director of disease detection and emergency response at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a briefing in Washington. “In my view, there’s no way that WHO can respond in a way that we need it to.”

Ebola virus symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, which is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding, WHO explains. Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, which has sent a medical team to the region to offer help in battling the disease, said last week that it is directing efforts at an Ebola isolation center in Liberia, near the border with Guinea. “This is the largest outbreak of Ebola since it was first discovered in 1976 and it is the largest outbreak in Western Africa, with cases now showing up in national capital cities,” said Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations for Samaritan’s Purse. “Along with medical treatment, awareness and education are the keys to containing this outbreak.” Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham has added that Ebola is “one of the most deadly diseases in the world, and it must be contained as quickly as possible.” –Press TV  LA Times

Aquifers in Danger: California State Shuts Down 11 Frackers - Reviewing Hundreds More

A pumpjack brings oil to the surface in
the Monterey Shale, California
(Reuters / Lucy Nicholson)
RT | Jul 22, 2014

California is shutting down 11 oil and gas wastewater injection sites and reviewing over 100 others in the state’s drought-ravaged Central Valley as officials fear companies have pumped toxic fracking fluids into needed drinking water aquifers.

The California Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources issued cease and desist orders on July 7 to seven energy companies, warning that they may be injecting hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, waste fluids into aquifers, which "poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources,” the state wrote. The orders were confirmed with ProPublica after they were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian.

The demands come at a time of unprecedented drought in the state that has hit California’s top agriculture areas, emptying reservoirs and costing the state $2.2 billion thus far this year. The lack of water has forced the state to use supplemental water supply from underground aquifers, the University of California-Davis reported in a study released last week.

Unfortunately, the state years ago deemed at least 100 aquifers to be useless for drinking and farming given the water’s poor quality or location deep underground. The state exempted them from environmental guidelines, allowing energy companies to pollute them. Not all aquifers were exempted; protected and unprotected aquifers are overseen by a patchwork of regulations. But officials say the cease and desist orders issued by California regard seven injection wells that are likely leaving toxic waste into freshwater aquifers not exempted by the state.

"The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued are not exempt," said Ed Wilson, a spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation, told ProPublica.

Over 700,000 injection wells across the US are poorly regulated and are often polluting underground water supplies supposedly protected by federal law, ProPublica reported in 2012, adding that the US Environmental Protection Agency exempted more than 1,000 drinking water aquifers, many of them in California, from all pollution protection.

Now these aquifers are needed during fierce drought conditions. The state and the EPA worked together in 1981, often haphazardly, to the point where it is difficult today to surmise which bodies of water are supposed to be protected, and by which parts of the applicable laws.

California officials say the water will be tested and monitored at the pertinent injection wells. They say to date, none of the regulated aquifers have been contaminated.

"We do not have any direct evidence any drinking water has been affected," said Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor, in a statement to ProPublica.

State officials said new orders to study fracking impacts first alerted them to the potential problems posed by injection sites. The state has been criticized for its waste disposal program, though it is operated under EPA guidelines.

Experts say the state should have known, based on California’s precarious water supply, that aquifers could become a needed source of water as the climate changes and technology helps reduce barriers of access to the water while aiding its treatment for contamination.

The EPA conducted a review of California’s injection well operations in 2011, finding severe enforcement, testing, and oversight problems that required immediate improvement. The feds warned at the time that failing to address these shortcomings could lead to a revocation of the state’s authority.

The exemptions and lack of protection of vital water supply are “especially disturbing,” National Resources Defense Council attorney Damon Nagami said, in a state that has long understood its own water constraints.

"Our drinking water sources must be protected and preserved for the precious resources they are, not sacrificed as a garbage dump for the oil and gas industry."

Three years after the EPA report, California has not finished its review of the injection well program, state officials said.

To unleash oil or natural gas, fracking requires blasting large volumes of highly pressurized water, sand, and other chemicals into layers of rock.

Besides groundwater contamination, fracking has been linked with an uptick in earthquakes, exacerbation of drought conditions, and a host of health concerns for humans and the local environment.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The EPA Dithers While a Popular Pesticide Threatens Ecosystems

© Mother Jones
Mother Jones | Jul 18, 2014 | Tom Philpott

Ah, summer—the season when trillions of corn and soybean plants tower horizon-to-horizon in the Midwest. All told, US farmers planted more than 170 million acres in these two crops this year—a combined landmass roughly equal in size to the state of Texas. That's great news for the companies that turn corn and soy into livestock feed, sweeteners, and food additives; but not so great for honeybees, wild pollinating insects like bumblebees, and birds.

That's because these crops—along with other major ones like alfalfa and sunflower—are widely treated with pesticides called neonicotinoids. Made  by European chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta, these chemicals generate a staggering $2.6 billion in annual revenue worldwide—and have come under heavy suspicion as a trigger of colony collapse disorder and other, less visible, ecological calamities.

Last year, the European Union imposed a two-year ban on the chemicals, pending more study of their effects on pollinators. The US Environmental Protection Agency—which originally approved the products through a highly dubious process I laid out here—has stood by these ubiquitous pesticides.

Meanwhile, damning research piles up.

• In a study (press release here) that came out in early July and was published in the peer-reviewed journal Functional Ecology, UK researchers outfitted bumblebees with radio-frequency identification tags, dosed some of them with levels of neonics equal to what they might find in a treated field, and set them outside to observe their foraging behavior. The results suggest that the pesticides impair bees' learning ability: Bees from untreated colonies improved their pollen-collecting ability as they learned to forage, while their neonic-exposed counterparts saw their pollen collection dwindle with time. The takeaway is similar to that of another bumblebee study (my summary here), this one by a different set of UK researchers and published by Nature in 2012. Bad foraging makes bee colonies more vulnerable to a host of threats that confront them: loss of habitat, parasitic mites, and viruses.

• Another study, also released in July, adds weight to the concern that neonics aren't just harming insects, but also birds. In this one, published in Nature and well-summarized by National Geographic, scientists looked at neonic concentrations in water and bird populations over time on Dutch farmland. They found that in the areas with relatively high concentrations of a common neonic called imidacloprid, bird populations "tended to decline by 3.5 per cent on average annually." The evidence is circumstantial—they proved that neonics are correlated with, but not the cause of, bird declines. But the case is pretty damning: The declines began in the mid-'90s, when neonics were introduced; and the correlation with neonic concentrations held up when the researchers controlled for other factors that could cause bird decline, like changes in crop type and amount of fertilizer used. The authors conclude that neonics may have "cascading effects" on ecosystems—by poisoning insects en masse, they harm the other species that feed on them, including birds. In that way, neonics are reminiscent of the "persistent insecticides in the past"—a reference to the harsh, now-banned chemicals like DDT that Rachel Carson thundered against in her seminal 1962 book Silent Spring.

The Silent Spring analogy got a depressing boost earlier in the summer when a group of European scientists called the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides released a comprehensive analysis of the recent science on neonics' ecosystem effects. Their conclusion, published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Science and Pollution Research: "Population-level impacts have been demonstrated to be likely at observed environmental concentrations in the field for insect pollinators, soil invertebrates and aquatic invertebrates." Translation: the stuff is likely not just killing bees, but also earthworms and water bugs like dragonflies. "The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT," Jean-Marc Bonmatin, of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France and one of the 29 international researchers who conducted the four-year assessment, told The Guardian. "Far from protecting food production, the use of neonicotinoid insecticides is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it."

I asked the Environmental Protection Agency for comment on its neonic stance amid such withering criticism. "The EPA will continue monitoring the open literature and other data sources for further developments on this issue," the agency replied in a statement. Meanwhile, it is painstakingly reviewing its approval of each of the major neonicitinoid products, the first of which won't be completed until 2016-'17.

Mysterious dance of dwarf galaxies may force a cosmic rethink

At approximately 2.5 million light-years away, the
Andromeda galaxy, or M31, is our
Milky Way's largest galactic neighbor. | Jul 21, 2014

The discovery that many small galaxies throughout the universe do not 'swarm' around larger ones like bees do but 'dance' in orderly disc-shaped orbits is a challenge to our understanding of how the universe formed and evolved.

The finding, by an international team of astronomers, including Professor Geraint Lewis from the University of Sydney's School of Physics, is announced today in Nature.

"Early in 2013 we announced our startling discovery that half of the dwarf galaxies surrounding the Andromeda Galaxy are orbiting it in an immense plane" said Professor Lewis. "This plane is more than a million light years in diameter, but is very thin, with a width of only 300,000 light years."

The universe contains billions of galaxies. Some, such as the Milky Way, are immense, containing hundreds of billions of stars. Most galaxies, however, are dwarfs, much smaller and with only a few billion stars.

For decades astronomers have used computer models to predict how these dwarf galaxies should orbit large galaxies. They had always found that they should be scattered randomly.

Our Andromeda discovery did not agree with expectations, and we felt compelled to explore if it was true of other galaxies throughout the universe," said Professor Lewis.

Using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a remarkable resource of colour images and 3-D maps covering more than a third of the sky, the researchers dissected the properties of thousands of nearby galaxies.

"We were surprised to find that a large proportion of pairs of satellite galaxies have oppositely directed velocities if they are situated on opposite sides of their giant galaxy hosts," said lead author Neil Ibata of the Lycée International in Strasbourg, France.

"Everywhere we looked we saw this strangely coherent coordinated motion of dwarf galaxies. From this we can extrapolate that these circular planes of dancing dwarfs are universal, seen in about 50 percent of galaxies," said Professor Geraint Lewis.

"This is a big problem that contradicts our standard cosmological models. It challenges our understanding of how the universe works including the nature of dark matter."

The researchers believe the answer may be hidden in some currently unknown physical process that governs how gas flows in the universe, although, as yet, there is no obvious mechanism that can guide dwarf galaxies into narrow planes.

Some experts, however, have made more radical suggestions, including bending and twisting the laws of gravity and motion. "Throwing out seemingly established laws of physics is unpalatable," said Professor Lewis, "but if our observations of nature are pointing us in this direction, we have to keep an open mind. That's what science is all about."

Journal Reference:

Neil G. Ibata, Rodrigo A. Ibata, Benoit Famaey, Geraint F. Lewis. ''Velocity anti-correlation of diametrically opposed galaxy satellites in the low-redshift Universe''. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13481

Source: ScienceDaily

Suddenly, the sun is eerily quiet: Where did the sunspots go?

The Sun by the Atmospheric Imaging
Assembly of NASA's Solar Dynamics
Observatory. Credit: NASA | Jul 21, 2014 | Deborah Netburn

The sun has gone quiet. Almost too quiet. A few weeks ago it was teeming with sunspots, as you would expect since we are supposed to be in the middle of solar maximum-the time in the sun's 11-year cycle when it is the most active.

But now, there is hardly a sunspot in sight. In an image taken Friday by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, there is a tiny smidgen of brown just right of center where a small sunspot appears to be developing. But just one day before, there was nothing. It was a totally spotless day.

So what's going on here? Is the "All Quiet Event" as solar physicist Tony Phillips dubbed it, a big deal, or not?

"It is weird, but it's not super weird," said Phillips, who writes about solar activity on his web site "To have a spotless day during solar maximum is odd, but then again, this solar maximum we are in has been very wimpy."

Phillips notes that this is the weakest to have been observed in the space age, and it is shaking out to be the weakest one in the past 100 years, so the spotless day was not so totally out of left field.

"It all underlines that solar physicists really don't know what the heck is happening on the sun," Phillips said. "We just don't know how to predict the sun, that is the take away message of this event."

Sunspots are interesting to solar observers because they are the region of the sun where solar activity such as (giant flashes of light) and coronal mass ejections (when material from the sun goes shooting off into space) originate.

They are caused by highly concentrated magnetic fields that are slightly cooler than the surrounding surface of the sun, which is why they appear dark to us. Those intense magnetic fields can get twisted up and tangled, which causes a lot of energy to build up. Solar flares and occur when that energy is released in a very explosive way.

Alex Young, a heliophysicist at Goddard Space Flight Center, said it is hard to say what is and isn't unusual when it comes to the sun.

"We've only been observing the sun in lots of detail in the last 50 years," he said. "That's not that long considering it's been around for 4.5 billion years."

And it's not like astronomers have never seen the sun this quiet before. Three years ago, on Aug. 14, 2011 it was completely free of sunspots. And, as Phillips points out, that year turned out to have relatively high overall with several X-class flares. So in that case, the spotless sun was just a "temporary intermission," as he writes on his .

Whether this quiet period will be similarly short-lived or if it will last longer remains to be seen.

"You just can't predict the ," Phillips said.

Source:  Los Angeles Times

Sunday, July 20, 2014

US pushing tar sands into Europe despite EU proposed block

IPS reports on US efforts to push tar sands oil into the EU despite resistance in Europe.
Thousands of acres of trees and plants, in
an area the size of Florida, must be stripped away
and the ground torn apart to mine for tar sands oil.
Newly publicized internal documents suggest that U.S. negotiators are working to permanently block a landmark regulatory proposal in the European Union aimed at addressing climate change, and instead to force European countries to import particularly dirty forms of oil.

Current negotiating texts for the TTIP talks are unavailable. But critics say the negotiations are forcing open the massive E.U. market for a particularly heavy form of petroleum known as tar sands oil, significant deposits of which are in the Canadian province of Alberta.

The oil industry has repeatedly expressed concern over the European Union’s potential tightening of regulations around transport fuel emissions, first proposed in 2009 for what’s known as the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Yet according to a report released Thursday by Friends of the Earth Europe, the sector now appears to have convinced the U.S. government to work to permanently block the implementation of this standard.

Common Core Introduces A New Gaming Standard For American Students

Real Science | Jul 18, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sonic cannons for E. Coast: Obama approves oil exploration despite ‘threat to sea life’

Reuters / Enrique Marcarian AFP Photo / Frederic J. Brown
RT | Jul 19, 2014

The Obama administration has announced it is reopening the US Eastern Seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration, clearing the way for the use of sonic cannons to locate energy deposits - despite the threat to sea life.

The White House is attempting to sell its controversial energy plan on the back of desperately needed jobs in a stagnant economy, as well as reducing its energy dependency. However, those arguments have done little to persuade environmentalists and folks who depend upon fishing and tourism for their livelihoods.

Environmental groups attempted to extend a decades-old ban against drilling off the Atlantic Coast by pointing out the dangers that the use of sonic cannons, which emit powerful pulses of sound into the ocean every 10 seconds, presents to a multitude of sea creatures, including dolphins, turtles and whales. The argument, however, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved opening the outer continental shelf from Delaware to Florida to exploration beginning in 2018, while adding that it is still dedicated to protecting marine life. In fact, the bureau’s own estimates show that more than 138,000 types of marine life could be harmed by the exploration, including nine of the world’s remaining 500 North Atlantic right whales.

Read more..