Officials in Indonesia warn Mt. Sinabung’s volcanic eruption could continue almost indefinitely

October 2014 INDONESIA - An observation team says that Mount Sinabung in Karo regency, North Sumatra, is likely to continue erupting for quite some time following an increase in seismic activity on Monday. As of 12 p.m. Monday, Mt. Sinabung had 148 temblors comprising 83 short-period quakes, 34 low-frequency and 31 mixed tremors. Observation team member Arif Cahyo said Mt. Sinabung’s tectonic quakes showed that a large volume of magma was present, indicating that the volcano would continue to erupt for a long time. “We cannot determine how long Mt. Sinabung will continue to erupt, but if we observe the increase in seismic activity, it will definite be a long time,” Arif told The Jakarta Post on Monday. Arif said that Mt. Sinabung was still erupting and emitting pyroclastic flows and volcanic ash sporadically. He said the volcano had emitted pyroclastic clouds twice on Sunday and three times on Monday. “Until Monday noon, the volcano discharged pyroclastic flows three times that drifted as far as 2,500 meters to the south, while volcanic ash drifted up to 1,500 meters to the east,” said Arif, who voiced fear that Berastagi city would be covered by ash that had been drifting east for the past two days.
Two weeks ago, the wind carried volcanic ash east, paralyzing trading activities as many shops were forced to close. A week later, the wind shifted to the west in the direction of the three districts of Payung, Tiganderket and Kuta Buluh. Currently, pyroclastic clouds are drifting to the east in the direction of Berastagi city. Arif said his office had yet to recommend that the volcanic’s status be raised from alert level 3 (caution) as it considered the situation relatively safe for residents living beyond a 3-km radius of the volcano peak. Sinabung has been erupting for the past year and has shown so signs of stopping. Fourteen people have been killed and tens of thousands of residents forced to take shelter elsewhere. North Sumatra Governor Gatot Pujo Nugroho said his administration had proposed to the central government that the current eruptions be categorized as a national disaster, as demanded by a number of provincial legislators. However, Gatot said the proposal had not been approved by the central government as a number of criteria had not been meet, such as the number of fatalities and material losses caused by the eruptions.
“The provincial administration has conveyed the proposal, but the central government has not approved it,” Gatot told the media when he attended security preparations for the new president’s inaugural celebration at Merdeka Square in Medan on Monday. The prolonged eruptions have taken away the livelihoods of people living around the volcano, which started erupting in September last year. The supply of agricultural products in the regency, which is known for its oranges, has sharply decreased as volcanic ash has blanketed thousands of hectares of farmland. –Jakarta Post
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Thousands of undersea volcanoes revealed in new map of ocean floor

October 2014GEOLOGY - Scientists have created the highest resolution map yet of the ocean floor, revealing thousands of underwater mountains and extinct volcanoes that were previously unknown. In a study published Thursday in Science, researchers say the new map is at least twice as accurate as the previous version assembled nearly 20 years ago even though it can only resolve features that are a mile high and bigger. “You might think, that’s not so much better, but instead of seeing 5,000 old volcanoes down there, now we can see 10,000,” said David Sandwell, a geophysics professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego who led the study. Scientists know remarkably little about the deep-sea floor. Sandwell thinks of it almost as a separate planet in our solar system that we have only begun to explore. “We have maps of Mars that have 100 to 10,000 times more resolution than maps of the deep ocean,” he said.
To create the new map, the researchers used data collected by two satellite observatories: the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2, and the Jason-1, operated by NASA and the French space agency CNES. Both spacecraft have instruments that can measure the topography of the ocean surface within a fraction of an inch. Large mountains and volcanoes on the ocean floor affect the height of the water at the ocean’s surface, so measuring the surface can give a good idea of what is going on below. “You have to go through a bit of math and physics to get there, but, for example, a 1.2-mile-high volcano will produce a very low amplitude bump on the ocean surface of about 10 centimeters over 12.5 miles,” Sandwell said. “This is how we are measuring what is on the bottom.”In the Science study, the researchers noted two of the most obvious features that the higher resolution map allowed them to see: a previously hidden ridge in the South Atlantic that is almost 500 miles long, and another ridge in the Gulf of Mexico that is as wide as Texas.
Asked whether we would ever be able to see the bottom of the seafloor with resolution as high as those images of Mars, a planet more than 100 million miles away, Sandwell responded: “Not in our lifetimes.” It’s not that it’s impossible to map the ocean in much greater detail, it’s just that it’s expensive and time-consuming, he explained. Instruments carried on ships can resolve the features of the ocean floor to within 32 feet, giving researchers about 500 times better spatial resolution than what the satellites can provide. “To do that mapping would take somewhere between 100 and 200 ship years,” he said. “If you had 10 ships you could do it in 10 years, but no one is willing to pay for that. It would cost about the same as a Mars mission.” –LA Times
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The Earth’s magnetic field could flip within our lifetime

October 2014GEOLOGY - Earth’s magnetic field is constantly shifting, and roughly every 200,000 to 300,000 years it flips north and south completely. We’re currently overdue for a switcheroo—and scientists now say it could happen in a time as short as 100 years, potentially altering life in unexpected ways. It was long thought that these reversals took as many as 7,000 years to completely switch, according to a 2004 study funded by the National Science Foundation. But over the past few years, other scientists have suggested that the shifts have occurred at speeds previously unimagined. And a brand-new study published in the Geophysical Journal International by a team of scientists from Europe and the U.S. sheds even more light on these speedy changes—suggesting that the last 180-degree flip only took about 100 years. How did they discern changes in the magnetic field that date back hundreds of thousands of years? By testing layers of ash deposited by volcanic eruptions over the course of 10,000 years, found in a lakebed near Rome. According to a release from Berkeley, the magnetic field directions are “frozen” into these layers of ash, which could be reliably dated to find out when the reversals occurred and how long they took to complete. “We don’t know whether the next reversal will occur as suddenly as this one did, but we also don’t know that it won’t,” said Berkely’s Paul Renne, one of the study’s authors.
We’ve known for a long time that the Earth’s magnetic field is shifting, We know, for example, that the North Pole has moved 600 miles in the last 200 or so years. We also know that, as observed by three ESA satellites this summer, the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening in some areas and strengthening in others. We also know that the shifting currents are already necessitating some changes in our human world: Airports that name their runways after compass directions have recently been forced to rename and repaint due to the shift. So it’s no surprise that a flip may be imminent—more so that a true, full reversal could happen so quickly. And, as the study suggests, how it could actually change the way we live on Earth. For example, a weakened field means less protection for humans against harmful rays that cause cancer, meaning that the cancer rate would likely increase. And the infrastructural impact of a flipped field could be massive, too, causing problems with the electricity grid and other sensitive systems. –GIZMODO
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Ebola doctors at breaking point – a major wave of infections is about to wash everything away

October 2014AFRICAAt 3:30 a.m. in the world’s biggest Ebola treatment center, Daniel Lucey found the outbreak reduced to its essentials: patients lying on mattresses on the floor and vomiting in the dark, visible only by the wavering flashlight beam of a single volunteer doctor.  “I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Lucey, a physician and professor from Georgetown University who is halfway through a five-week tour in Liberia with Medecins Sans Frontieres, the medical charity known in English as Doctors Without Borders. “The epidemic is still getting worse,” he said by phone between shifts. That’s an increasingly urgent challenge for MSF and the global health community. As fear spreads in the U.S. over transmission of the virus to two nurses in a modern Dallas hospital, the main fight against the outbreak is still being waged by volunteers like Lucey half a world away.
MSF has been the first — and often only — line of defense against Ebola in West Africa. The group raised the alarm on March 31, months ahead of the World Health Organization. Now, after treating almost a third of the roughly 9,000 confirmed Ebola cases in Africa — and faced with a WHO warning of perhaps 10,000 new infections a week by December — MSF is reaching its limits. “They are at the breaking point,” said Vinh-Kim Nguyen, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal who has volunteered for a West African tour with MSF in a few weeks. MSF has already seen 21 workers infected and 12 people die, and “there’s a sense that there’s a major wave of infections that’s about to wash everything away,” Nguyen said. –Bloomberg
South Korean aid workers exposed to Ebola: South Korean aid workers in West Africa have been exposed to the deadly Ebola virus due to a lack of protective wear and medical equipment, a lawmaker claimed Tuesday. A total of 102 South Korean aid workers have been living in West African countries, including Senegal and Cameroon, without proper protection from the epidemic, Rep. Kim Jae-won of the ruling Saenuri Party said, citing data from the government’s official development assistance body, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). –Yonhap News
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Ebola response passes over to the military- Pentagon to form rapid response strike team

October 2014HEALTHThe Pentagon has ordered that a 30-person military medical team be prepared to be put on standby to quickly assist the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with its Ebola response in the United States if needed. The move followed a request to the Defense Department made Saturday by the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC. Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon Press Secretary, said the move was “an added prudent measure to ensure our nation is ready to respond quickly, effectively, and safely in the event of additional Ebola cases in the United States.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered U.S. Northern Command Command “to prepare and train a 30-person expeditionary medical support team that could, if required, provide short-notice assistance to civilian medical professionals in the United States,” Kirby said.
The team will be made up of personnel from various military services and include “20 critical care nurses, five doctors trained in infectious disease, and five trainers in infectious disease protocols.” They will be sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio,Texas, for up to seven days of specialized training in infection control and personal protective equipment. An official says the majority of the team will come from military bases in the San Antonio area, though Navy members of the team will come from other parts of the U.S. The military is preparing to send as many as 4,000 personnel to Liberia to assist with that country’s response to the Ebola outbreak, but those military personnel will not be involved in the care or treatment of Ebola infected patients. That will not be the case with this new 30-person team of military health professionals, who will be directly involved in the care of Ebola patients if their services are requested. The training of team members is expected to start as early as this week and will be provided by the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
After their training is complete they will return to their home units and remain in a “prepare to deploy” status for 30 days, where they could be sent anywhere in the United States if their services are required. “They will not be sent to West Africa or elsewhere overseas and will be called upon domestically only if deemed prudent by our public health professionals,” Kirby said. The U.S. official familiar with the request said that on Thursday an initial contact had been made to the Pentagon by the Centers for Disease Control about the possibility of military medical personnel helping out their efforts if needed. HHS Secretary Sulvia Burwell made a formal written request of Hagel on Saturday. In the request, Burwell asked that the team be ready no later than Oct. 25 and that when ready it be prepared to augment HHS/CDC operations within 72 hours of notification. –ABC News
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Mutant Ebola: Leading U.S. scientist warns deadly virus is already changing to become more contagious

October 2014AFRICA The deadly Ebola virus could be mutating to become even more contagious, a leading U.S scientist has warned. The disease has killed nearly 4,000 people, infecting in excess of 8,000 – the majority in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Communities lie in ruins, thousands of children have been orphaned, millions face starvation but the virus continues its unprecedented pace, invading and destroying vast swathes of these countries. Meanwhile three nurses, two in the U.S. and one in Spain have caught the infection while treating Ebola patients, despite wearing protective suits. Now U.S. scientist Peter Jahrling of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease believes the current Ebola outbreak may be caused by an infection that spreads more easily than it did before.
Dr. Jahrling explained that his team, who are working in the epicenter of the crisis in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, are seeing that the viral loads in Ebola patients are much higher than they are used to seeing. He told Vox.com: ‘We are using tests now that weren’t using in the past, but there seems to be a belief that the virus load is higher in these patients [today] than what we have seen before. If true, that’s a very different bug. ‘I have a field team in Monrovia. They are running [tests]. They are telling me that viral loads are coming up very quickly and really high, higher than they are used to seeing. ‘It may be that the virus burns hotter and quicker.’
Dr Jahrling’s warning comes amid calls for the international community to step up their efforts to tackle the Ebola epidemic. Yesterday the World Health Organization admitted it blundered in its efforts to halt the outbreak of the virus in Africa, blaming incompetent staff and a lack of information for the failure. Now British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the EU to stump up £800millon (1billion euros) to pay for 2,000 health workers to fly out to the affected West African countries, to help stem the spread of the disease. He has insisted that the UK is ‘leading the way’ in providing assistance to West Africa as he backed a call by United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon for other countries to deliver more in the way of funding and resources. –Mail
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Liberian deaths far higher than what’s been reported in the news

October 2014 LIBERIA - The true death toll from the Ebola epidemic is being masked by chaotic data collection and people’s reluctance to admit that their loved ones had the virus, according to one of West Africa’s most celebrated film-makers. Sorious Samura, who has just returned from making a documentary on the crisis in Liberia, said it is very clear on the ground that the true number of dead is far higher than the official figures being reported by the World Health Organization. Liberia accounts for more than half of all the official Ebola deaths, with a total of 2,458. Overall, the number of dead across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has exceeded 4,500. Samura, a television journalist originally from Sierra Leone, said the Liberian authorities appeared to be deliberately downplaying the true number of cases, for fear of increasing alarm in the west African country. “People are dying in greater numbers than we know, according to MSF [Médecins sans Frontières] and WHO officials. Certain departments are refusing to give them the figures – because the lower it is, the more peace of mind they can give people.
The truth is that it is still not under control.” WHO has admitted that problems with data-gathering make it hard to track the evolution of the epidemic, with the number of cases in the capital, Monrovia, going under-reported. Efforts to count freshly dug graves had been abandoned. Local culture is also distorting the figures. Traditional burial rites involve relatives touching the body – a practice that can spread Ebola – so the Liberian government has ruled that Ebola victims must be cremated. “They don’t like this burning of bodies,” said Samura, whose programme will air on 12 November on Al Jazeera English. “Before the government gets there they will have buried their loved ones and broken all the rules.”
Kim West of MSF admitted that calculating deaths was “virtually impossible”, adding that only when retrospective surveys were conducted would the true figure be known. Samura believes sexual promiscuity among westerners could play a role in the virus’s spread abroad. Almost immediately after the outbreak was reported in March, Liberia’s health minister warned people to stop having sex because the virus was spread via bodily fluids as well as kissing.“I saw westerners in nightclubs, on beaches, guys picking up prostitutes,” he said. “Westerners who ought to know better are going to nightclubs and partying and dancing. It beggars belief.It’s scary.” He said another striking feature was that the ineffectiveness of years of aid had been laid bare: “Money has poured in from the west, but it has gone to waste. Ebola should make us think about how the west gives aid to Africa; aid has not been used to create a system able to cope with this challenge. Ebola has exposed the fact it is not working. That money has gone to waste.” –Guardian
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