Twin earthquakes rattle Italy, crumbling buildings and causing panic

October 2016 ITALYA pair of strong aftershocks shook central Italy late Wednesday, crumbling churches and buildings, knocking out power and sending panicked residents into the rain-drenched streets just two months after a powerful earthquake killed nearly 300 people. But hours after the temblors hit, there were no reports of serious injuries or signs of people trapped in rubble, said the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio. A handful of people were treated for slight injuries or anxiety at area hospitals in the most affected regions of Umbria and Le Marche, he said.
“All told, the information so far is that it’s not as catastrophic” as it could have been, Curcio said. The temblors were actually aftershocks to the Aug. 24 quake that struck a broad swath of central Italy, demolishing buildings in three towns and their hamlets, seismologists said. Several towns this time around also suffered serious damage, with homes in the epicenter of Visso spilling out into the street. The first struck at 7:10 p.m. and carried a magnitude of 5.4. But the second one was eight times stronger at 6.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Because many residents had already left their homes with plans to spend the night in their cars or elsewhere, they weren’t home when the second aftershock hit two hours later, possibly saving lives, officials said.


“It was an unheard-of violence. Many houses collapsed,” the mayor of hard-hit Ussita, Marco Rinaldi, told Sky TG24. “The facade of the church collapsed. By now I have felt many earthquakes. This is the strongest of my life. It was something terrible.” Rinaldi said two elderly people were rescued from their home, where they were trapped, and appeared to be in good condition. Some 200 people in Ussita were planning to sleep in the streets, given the impossibility of putting up tents so late at night.
Calling it “apocalyptic,” he said the town and its hamlets were “finished.” A church crumbled in the ancient Perugian town of Norcia, famed for its Benedictine monastery and its cured meats. A bell-tower damaged on Aug. 24 fell and crushed a building in Camerino, the ANSA news agency said. Elsewhere, buildings were damaged, though many were in zones that were declared off-limits after the Aug. 24 quake that flattened parts of three towns. “We’re without power, waiting for emergency crews,” said Mauro Falcucci, the mayor of Castelsantangelo sul Nera, near the epicenter. Speaking to Sky TG24, he said: “We can’t see anything. It’s tough. Really tough.”

He said some buildings had collapsed, but that there were no immediate reports of injuries in his community. He added that darkness and a downpour were impeding a full accounting. Schools were closed in several towns Thursday as a precaution and a handful of hospitals were evacuated after suffering damage. Premier Matteo Renzi, who cut short a visit to southern Italy to monitor the quake response, tweeted “all of Italy is embracing those hit once again.”
Italy’s national vulcanology center said the first quake had an epicenter in the Macerata area, near Perugia in the quake-prone Apennine Mountain chain. The U.S. Geological Survey put the epicenter near Visso, 170 kilometers northeast of Rome, and said it had a depth of some 10 kilometers (six miles). The second aftershock struck two hours later at 9:18 p.m. with a similar depth. Experts say even relatively modest quakes that have shallow depths can cause significant damage because the seismic waves are closer to the surface. But seismologist Gianluca Valensise said a 10-kilometer depth is within the norm for an Apennine temblor.
The Aug. 24 quake that destroyed the hilltop village of Amatrice and other nearby towns had a depth of about 10 kilometers. Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi said residents felt Wednesday’s aftershocks but “We are thanking God that there are no dead and no injured.” The original Aug. 24, 6.2-magnitude quake was still 41 percent stronger than even the second aftershock. Wednesday’s temblors were felt from Perugia in Umbria to the capital Rome and as far north as Veneto. It also shook the central Italian city of L’Aquila, which was struck by a deadly quake in 2009. The mayor of L’Aquila, however, said there were no immediate reports of damage there.


A section of a major state highway north of Rome, the Salaria, was closed near Arquata del Tronto as a precaution because of a quake-induced landslide, said a spokeswoman for the civil protection agency, Ornella De Luca. The mayor of Arquata del Tronto, Aleandro Petrucci, said the aftershocks felt stronger than the August quake, which devastated parts of his town. But he said there were no reports of injuries to date and that the zone hardest hit by the last quake remained uninhabitable. “We don’t worry because there is no one in the red zone, if something fell, walls fell,” he said.
In Rome, some 230 kilometers (145 miles) southwest from the epicenter, centuries-old palazzi shook and officials at the Foreign Ministry evacuated the building. The quakes were actually aftershocks of the magnitude 6.2 earthquake from two months ago. Because they were so close to the surface, they have the potential to cause more shaking and more damage, “coupled with infrastructure that’s vulnerable to shaking,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle.
“They have a lot of old buildings that weren’t constructed at a time with modern seismic codes,” he said. Given the size, depth and location of the quakes, the USGS estimates that about 24 million people likely felt at least weak shaking. This original quake was about 20 kilometers (12 miles) northwest of the original shock, which puts it on the northern edge of the aftershock sequence and two months is normal for aftershocks, Earle said.  –Seattle Times
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Scientists have found a massive dome growing on top of the world’s largest active magma store

The massive volcanic dome is one of the largest ever discovered. It is higher than the tallest building on Earth. If this magmatic reservoir ever erupts, it’s going to be apocalyptic. 
October 2016CENTRAL ANDESAn enormous dome has been discovered growing in the Central Andes above the world’s largest active magma store. Found in the Altiplano-Puna Plateau – the second highest plateau on the planet – the dome stretches more than a kilometer high (3,280 feet), making it 172 meters taller than the world’s tallest building in Dubai. Researchers say this massive structure is the result of an injection of magma from below. “The dome is the Earth’s response to having this huge low-density magma chamber pumped into the crust,’ says one of the team, Noah Finnegan from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
How did we all miss a massive dome of Earth rising a kilometer above the surface? It just so happens to be hidden within the Altiplano-Puna Plateau – a high, dry region, littered with volcanoes, that extends for some 2,000 km along the Central Andes, with an average height of 4,000 meters.  The Central Andes constitutes an even larger plateau, encompassing southern Ecuador, northwestern Bolivia, and most of Peru. Together, the Central Andes, Southern Andes, and Patagonia make up the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world. So it’s easy to see how something could elude us in the middle of all that. Back in 2014, the researchers used seismic imaging – a tool that bounces sound waves off underground rock structures – to reveal the enormous size and extent of the Altiplano-Puna magma body.
They found that this massive zone of melted rock is a whopping 11 kilometers thick and 200 kilometers in diameter – much larger than previous estimates. They’ve since gone back to take a closer look at the internal structure of the Altiplano-Puna plateau, and have identified a kilometer-high topographical dome, with the dormant Uturuncu Volcano sitting right in the center of it. “People had known about the magma body, but it had not been quantified that well,” says one of the researchers, Jonathan Perkins. “In the new study, we were able to show a tight spatial coupling between that magma body and this big, kilometer-high dome.”


The dome is located within the Altiplano-Puna Volcanic Complex, which sits in the southern part of the Altiplano-Puna Plateau. Roughly 10 million years ago, this was one of the most volcanically active places on the planet, and was shaped by a series of super-volcano eruptions over several thousand years. Since the 1990s, satellite surveys have been conducted in the area, and have shown consistent uplifting of the surface – in some places at a surprisingly rapid rate. The Uturuncu volcano at the heart of the newly discovered dome has been rising by about 1 centimeter every year, and the team took it upon themselves to figure out why.
“We think the ongoing uplift is from the magma body,” says Perkins. “The jury is still out on exactly what’s causing it, but we don’t think it’s related to a super-volcano.” The researchers suspect that activity in two tectonic plates in the region – the South American continental plate and the Nazca oceanic plate – has allowed magma to seep into the crust and feed the volcanoes. Meanwhile, water is also being released by this activity, which changes the melting temperature of the mantle rock in the lower Nazca oceanic plate, prompting it to melt and rise into the overlapping South American continental plate.
So the same process that once created our continents has been fueling the growth of this enormous dome. “This is giving us a glimpse into the factory where continents get made,” says Perkins. “These big magmatic systems form during periods called magmatic flare-ups when lots of melt gets injected into Earth’s crust. It’s analogous to the process that created the Sierra Nevada 90 million years ago, but we’re seeing it now in real time.”  –Science Alert

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Typhoon Haima leaves at least 8 dead in northern Philippines

October 2016NARVACAN, Philippines – “At least eight people were killed after Super Typhoon Haima smashed into the northern Philippines with ferocious wind and rains, flooding towns and forcing thousands to flee although it slightly weakened Thursday after slamming into a mountain range on its way to the South China Sea, officials said. Haima’s blinding winds and rain had rekindled fears and memories from the catastrophe wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, but there were no immediate reports of any major damage amid spotty communications and power outages in several provinces. Thousands of villagers were moved to emergency shelters as the typhoon approached.
Two construction workers died when a landslide buried their shanty in La Trinidad town in the mountain province of Benguet, officials said, while two villagers drowned in floodwaters in Ifugao province, near Benguet. The typhoon slammed into shore in Cagayan province late Wednesday, and lashed the mountainous province of Apayao at dawn with slightly weaker sustained winds of 205 kilometers (127 miles) per hour and gusts of 285 kph (176 mph). It was blowing northwestward at 25 kph (15 mph) toward the tobacco-growing Ilocos Norte, the last province before it exits toward the South China Sea, according to forecasters.
In Narvacan town in northern Ilocos Sur province, rice fields resembled a brown lake under waist-high floodwaters. Despite the still-strong wind and rain, government workers have started clearing roads blocked with toppled trees and all kinds of debris. “We can’t go out because the wind is so intense, trees are being forced down,” Councilor Elisa Arugay told DZMM radio late Wednesday from Camasi village in Cagayan province. Officials were concerned because the powerful typhoon struck at night and was expected to hit towns and cities amid power outages. The government’s weather agency lowered it storm warning to level five, down from the highest level of six.


Many of the provinces hit by the storm were still recovering from a powerful typhoon that killed two people and displaced tens of thousands of villagers last weekend. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, on an official visit to China, urged people in the typhoon’s path to heed orders by disaster agencies, including abandoning coastal communities prone to storm surges. Duterte is on a state visit to China and is to fly home Friday. “We only pray that we be spared destruction such as in the previous past which brought agony and suffering to our people, but we are ready,” Duterte told a news conference. About 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, adding to the many burdens in a country that is also threatened by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and considered one of the world’s most disaster-prone nations. In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines with ferocious power, leaving more than 7,300 people dead and displacing more than 5 million others after leveling entire villages.  –Duquoin

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Earth facing growing risks of powerful solar storms that could ‘reset’ civilization

October 2016SPACE Solar storms threaten Earth about every 100 years and experts warn we are overdue. Now, researchers have released the first ever map that shows which areas of the US are at high risk of being hit by the next intense storm. The map was built using geomagnetic storm measurements and data from magnetic materials beneath the Earth – revealing Minnesota is particularly at risk of being blasted by solar material.
Solar storms have the ability to disrupt Earth’s magnetic field and wreak havoc on our electric power grids. Officials warn that the massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from solar flares could cause $2.6 trillion in damages across the globe and bring an end to modern civilization as we know it. Solar Storms are eruptions of magnetic energy from the sun’s surface. Hot gases are accelerated when this magnetic energy is suddenly released and travels quickly towards the Earth. A solar flare’s killer electrons’ can travel at up to several million miles per hour towards Earth.
The latest researcher comes from Jeffrey Love, a geologists with the United States Geological Survey, and his colleagues, who have been working on this project called Space Weather Operations, Research and Mitigation (SWORM) for the past year. This project was first initiated by the White House’s National Science and Technology Council in 2015. Love and his colleagues believe knowing which power grids could be hit the hardest is key for survival, reports Science Alert. To create an accurate map, the team plotted the geomagnetic activity above certain areas and then gathered ground magnetometer data, or magnetotelluric survey.


The geomagnetic data was collected by the International Real-time Magnetic Observatory Network (INTERMAGNET), an organization that monitors Earth’s magnetic field. And the magnetotelluric survey data was taken from the US National Science Foundation’s EarthScope, which monitors electrical conductivity in the ground using hundreds of sensors located across the US. Solar storms could wreak havoc on Earth (pictured) and surges could be up to 100 times more powerful in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin than in other parts of the United States. However, experts say more than half of the US has yet to be plotted due to lack of funding
The US government revealed just last year that they are preparing for a catastrophic solar flare which could wipe out power across the world for months. The last powerful geomagnetic solar storm to hit the earth was in 1859, which caused telegraph lines to explode, setting fire to some telegraph offices, and power to fail across Europe and North America. In today’s far more advanced and technological world, experts the effects would be devastating. The massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from solar flares could wipe out power grids, bringing an end to modern civilization as we know it as cell phones, credit cards and the internet were rendered useless.  –Daily Mail

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Are ‘dark comets’ the most dangerous threat to Earth in the universe?

October 2016SPACE There are many cosmic catastrophes that could do us in, completely irrespective of anything that happens here on Earth. A star could pass into our Solar System and swallow up our planet whole, or eject us from our orbit and cause us to permanently freeze over. A supernova or gamma ray burst could go off too close to us, disintegrating all life on the Earth’s surface. Or, as we know it did at least once before some 65 million years ago, a large, fast-moving object like a comet or asteroid could have a catastrophic collision with Earth. At least if we’re prepared, we ought to see one coming and be able to take preparations. But what if there’s no chance; what if an incoming comet is somehow unseeable? David Bertone heard about that possibility, and wants to know!
I recently came across a few articles regarding dark comets, and to say the least it freaked me out! […] Is Napier right about the dark comets? Are they truly a threat to us [on] earth? We have lots of threats to life on Earth, and getting struck by a large, fast-moving, unexpected object is certainly among them! Bill Napier is a scientist who studies potentially hazardous objects from outer space. He rightly points out that, while most efforts to catalogue the potential dangers to Earth focus on near-Earth objects like the asteroids that leave the main belt and cross Earth’s orbit, that might not be a good reflection of what’s actually likely to get us. Nor is it necessarily an asteroid orbiting interior to Jupiter or a comet orbiting exterior to the orbit of Neptune, just waiting to get perturbed and flung into the inner Solar System. There are plenty of objects orbiting in between the orbits of the four gas giants, known as centaurs, that could be hurtled inwards without any warning, and most of them have not been catalogued. Napier postulates that many of these centaurs may be invisible to us, even after being flung inwards, until it’s far too late.


But this brings up an important question: what could render a comet dark, or otherwise unseeable? It isn’t simply going to be a comet that comes towards us from the outer Solar System that’s terrible at reflecting light. Sure, a centaur could have had all its volatile ices boiled off over billions of years, reducing its reflectivity tremendously. As obvious as that seems, the amount of light the Sun emits is so extreme that even a medium-sized comet (or centaur) that absorbed 99.9% of the Sun’s light would still be easily visible at the distance of Saturn. Moreover, comets tend to be made up of mostly ices, which are highly reflective and which get brought to the surface as a comet heats up. The only thoroughly ”dark” bodies in our Solar System are more like our Moon, which still reflects light very brightly, as any casual watcher of the night sky will tell you. An object that was as dark as any naturally occurring, abundant element or compound would still be visible from its reflected sunlight, particularly if you looked in the infrared portion of the spectrum.
But there are other possibilities to consider. What if an incoming, highly reflective comet were oriented bizarrely? What if it was quite icy, but reflected all the sunlight that struck it away from Earth, like some kind of strange crystal? It’s less obvious, but that wouldn’t work, either. When an object like that entered the planet-containing portion of the Solar System, it would heat up. Heat acting on the ices causes the development of a long tail that points away from the Sun, and this will be easily observable from one of many professional or even amateur all-sky surveys before too much time has passed.


But perhaps nature will conspire to make that tail unseeable from our point of view? In order for the tail to be hidden, the incoming comet would need to be directed straight at us, aligned so that the Sun, the Earth and the comet made a straight line. If the tail points directly away from us and is hidden behind the comet, that would render everything invisible, and we wouldn’t be able to see it, right? Unfortunately, that’s wrong, too. Comet tails don’t simply point away from the Sun, they spread outwards away from a comet. Even a “head-on” comet like this would have a visible coma around it. Again, amateur or professional astronomers would catch this quickly. But there is a real danger of an invisible comet, and it’s very different from the form that Napier envisions in any of his scenario. Imagine, if you will, that a bright, reflective, tail-and-coma-containing comet were headed right for us. Is there any direction it could approach us that you can think of that would render it completely unable to be seen? There is: from the direction of the Sun.
Telescopes don’t dare point too close to the Sun, even from space, since even a glimmer of direct sunlight will ruin and fry your optical system. If any object — comet, asteroid, centaur, even a kicked-up fragment from a collision with Mercury — either approached the Sun from behind it (from our perspective) or were sling-shotted around it, the right trajectory could send it hurtling towards Earth. This is part of the reason why having NASA’s STEREO satellites online is so important.


At this point, the technology to deflect an incoming asteroid or comet a significant amount in a short amount of time hasn’t been developed, but at least by having a set of observatories at different locations in the Solar System, we could see everything that was headed for us. In the future, more sensitive infrared all-sky surveys will make a far more complete census of the centaurs in our Solar System, and the launch of WFIRST in the 2020s will help us map potentially hazardous objects to much greater distances than we’ve presently done. But the odds of a distant object being hurled into us after being perturbed for the first time are exceedingly small; the much scarier prospect is of a long-period comet being kicked ever-so-slightly into Earth’s orbital path.
Comet Swift-Tuttle, which gave rise to the Perseids, is the single most dangerous object known to humanity, and has a chance to impact us with more than 20 times the energy of the legendary dinosaur-killer in the 4400s. But we’ve got plenty of time until that might happen. In the meanwhile, take heart in the fact that except for Sun-directed asteroids and comets, we can see everything large that could come headed our way. And if we’re lucky enough to make it as a civilization for another thousand years or so, our technology will likely have advanced to the point where perhaps asteroid/comet deflection isn’t such a daunting task after all!  –Forbes

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Floods kill 24 in Vietnam as Typhoon Sarika looms

October 2016VIETNAM Floods triggered by heavy rains have killed 24 people and left four others missing in central Vietnam, disaster officials said Monday, as Typhoon Sarika approaches after leaving at least two people dead and displacing more than 150,000 in the Philippines. In the worst-hit province of Quang Binh, 18 people died and authorities are searching for three others who are missing, disaster official Tran Le Dang Hung said. Six people died and one was reported missing in three other central provinces.
“We are worried. We have instructed district governments to outline plans for evacuating people from high-risk areas to cope with the Typhoon,” Hung said by telephone from Quang Binh. Heavy rains of up to 90 centimeters (3 feet) on Friday and Saturday submerged 125,000 homes in the region, temporarily disrupted the North-South Highway and damaged infrastructure, crops and fish farms. Hung said the floods have receded in most areas in Quang Binh.
In the Philippines, fast-moving Sarika Typhoon blew out of the northern Philippines on Sunday after leaving at least two people dead and displacing more than 150,000, though the region was spared a major disaster due in part to the storm’s speed. The Typhoon is over in the South China Sea and was moving at the speed of 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) to 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) per hour heading toward northern Vietnam, according to Vietnam’s national weather forecast center. –ABC News

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Typhoon Sarika slams into Philippines: 2 dead, thousands displaced and without power

October 2016PHILIPPINES A powerful typhoon slammed into the northeastern coast of the Philippine’s main island, Luzon, on Sunday. The storm killed two people, knocked out electricity and caused nearly ten thousand people to flee their homes. Typhoon Sarika is packing sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kmph), with gusts up to 135 mph (220 kmph)
“The roofs of some house[s] were blown away and power was cut in some areas,” said Mina Marasigan, spokeswoman for the government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. “Minor landslides were also reported as well as floods. We’re waiting for the typhoon to blow over to conduct a fuller assessment.” The cyclone began weakening after making landfall before dawn Sunday (1830 GMT/UTC Saturday), eventually raking across mountainous terrain and sparsely populated areas in the morning, and was expected to blow out into the South China Sea by afternoon.
Villagers along the coast were given advanced notice to seek higher ground. Still, one man drowned when strong river currents swept him away, and a farmer died when a powerful wind slammed him to the ground head first, according to provincial safety officer Gerry Beo. He added that three fishermen were also missing.
On Friday the area was drenched in a month’s worth of rain, in a single day sending rivers and creeks over their banks and flooding low-lying farming villages, according to Beo. He added that about 260,000 people were without electricity across the island province of Catanduanes. The storm forced 50 mountaineers in Bataan province to descend from Mount Tarak. But 36 others remained stranded in the highlands, according to police and firefighters who were trying to rescue them.
Nearly 200 domestic and international flights were canceled and thousands of passengers were stranded in seaports after local ferries were ordered to be docked because of the high seas. The Philippines is no stranger to typhoons: about 20 such storms rake the island nation every year, adding to the many hardships in a country that is also threatened by earthquakes and volcanoes.  –DW
 Ten cyclones predicted for the Pacific: Weather agencies around the Pacific say the region can expect about 10 named tropical cyclones over the November to April cyclone period. That is the typical annual number over the past 30 years and the agencies say conditions are likely to be near average over most islands through this time. They warn that all countries should remain vigilant in case conditions in the equatorial Pacific change during the cyclone season.
They warn that intensification, especially late in the season, is common. In the past two years the Pacific has been battered by two severe cyclones – Pam, which caused a lot of damage in Vanuatu last year and Winston which hit Fiji with record ferocity in February of this year.  –Radio New Zealand

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