Strong 6.8 magnitude earthquake hits near Solomon Islands, no tsunami expected

Solomon Islands Quake
May 2015 SOLOMON ISLANDSA strong 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck near the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific on Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey said, but no tsunami was expected and there were no immediate reports of damage. The earthquake, with a magnitude 7.0, was centered near the Santa Cruz Island group between the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu at a depth of 10 km (6 miles), the USGS said.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which measured the quake at magnitude 6.9, said that based in its available data, no tsunami was expected. The quake originally measuring a 7.0 was later downgraded to a 6.8 by the USGS. The South Pacific nations are still recovering from a devastating cyclone that hit the region in March. –Reuters
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Earth is now in a seismically-active period according to earthquake cluster theory, say scientists

Nepal 2
May 2015GEOLOGY Following the second major earthquake that hit Nepal on 12 May, some scientists believe we could be seeing a seismically active period that began in 2004 and could end around 2019. However, predicting the quakes more accurately in time and space still remains a task for the future. The magnitude 9.1 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake of 26 December 2004, was one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded, triggering a tsunami that killed over 200,000 people. Experts like Sun Shihong, research fellow at the China Earthquake Networks Centre have in the past spoken of a 100-year cycle for earthquakes. In the first 60 years of the 20th century there were seven earthquakes above 8.5 on the Richter scale. In the following 40 years there were no major quakes. Sun believes a new cycle began at the end of 2004 with a massive 9.1 magnitude quake in Indonesia. More recently, Zhang Zhang Xiaodong, deputy director of an earthquake forecast research institute under the China Earthquake Administration told Xinhua that since 2004, the world has suffered a frequency of quakes above 8 magnitude not seen since the first half of the 20th century.
Earthquake clusters
Rajender Kumar Chadha, chief scientist at the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) in India also believes that we could be in a seismically active period. In fact, he had said two years ago that the planet is into a very seismically active period that could see earthquakes of magnitude greater than 8. The twin earthquakes that hit Nepal in April and May this year have killed over 8,500 and many are still missing, making the disaster the deadliest to hit the Himalayan country on record. –  Earthquakes of magnitude 8 and above can occur along any of the collision or subduction zones where two plates collide, whether continent-continent collision as in the Himalayas or ocean-continent subduction zones like the Pacific Ocean plate with different continent plates along the ‘Ring of Fire.’ Great earthquakes of magnitude 8.5 or higher occur infrequently but are found to cluster in time, says Chadha, based on the analysis of 115 years of global data. Such “clustering” is not found for magnitudes lesser than 8.0 which show an annual average of about 15 to 16 every year, globally.
Data analyzed from 1900 onwards based on the catalogue available with United States Geological Survey (USGS) indicate there have been three possible periods of clustering of magnitude 8.5 or greater, lasting 15 years, which can also be referred to as “periods of seismic activation” of great earthquakes, he told IBTimes UK. The first was in the period beginning with 1905 till 1920 when there were six earthquakes exceeding magnitude 8.5 and several closer to 8.5. Next followed the period between 1950 to 1965, when seven earthquakes exceeding magnitude 8.5 occurred which included three of magnitude 9.0 or greater. During this period, the greatest known earthquake of M9.5 occurred in Chile in 1960. “The third clustering in time of great earthquakes seems to have begun with Sumatra earthquake of magnitude 9.3 in 2004 and till 2015, already six earthquakes exceeding magnitude 8.5 have occurred globally, after Sumatra, including one of magnitude 9.0 in Japan in 2011,” points Chadha.
Going by this pattern indicating a “period of seismic activation” lasting for a 15-year cycle thrice in the last 115 years, we could now be in the third cluster, he says. “This can continue till 2019 and earthquakes with magnitude 8.5 or greater can occur along any of the collision or subduction zones of the world.” –IB Times
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Massive earthquake could flatten Manila – magnitude 7.2 quake only a matter of time, warns expert

Manila Quake
May 2015PHILIPPINES Widespread damage and tens of thousands of deaths — that’s what is in store for Manila when an anticipated large earthquake strikes the Philippines, something experts say could happen at any time. The city straddles the West Valley Fault, which is capable of producing earthquakes larger than magnitude 7, officials said. The warning comes just weeks after a massive tremor devastated the South Asian country of Nepal, killing at least 8,500 people and turning villages to rubble. Residents of Manila can look up the areas of the city that are most vulnerable to a major quake based on new data released Monday by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, or Phivolcs. Researchers hope the new tool could help local governments better prepare for when “the big one” strikes.
“It can happen within our lifetime,” Renato Solidum, Phivolcs’ director, told the Philippine Star. Such concerns have been raised before, but this was the first time detailed maps were produced of the areas likely to suffer the most damage. The earthquake monitoring group said a magnitude 7.2 quake would cause 2.4 trillion Philippine pesos ($54 billion USD) in damages and kill over 37,000 people.  Officials said homes and buildings clustered around the fault line, which cuts through the greater Manila area like a lightning bolt, were especially vulnerable to a West Valley Fault earthquake. Among the structures considered most at risk were at least 10 schools, according to CNN Philippines. “We told them they can use the buildings but they should not let their students use them,” said Solidum. “It’s up to the [Department of Education] to check whether that’s followed.”
On April 25, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, toppling homes and buildings in the country’s capital city Kathmandu and triggering an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed 19. Many city residents were forced to spend several nights sleeping outdoors in tents for fear that aftershocks could cause buildings already weakened by the initial quake to collapse. It was the country’s deadliest natural disaster since 1934. –IB Times
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Severe dust storm hits northern India; 9 dead in Rajasthan

Dust Storm
May 2015 INDIA Nine people died after strong winds and a dust storm hit parts of Rajasthan on Tuesday afternoon. The storm has brought the temperature down by a few notches. Chief minister Vasundhara Raje has announced a compensation of Rs. 4 lakh for the affected families. The dust storm, which started at 3 pm, lasted for about an hour. It damaged many houses in Bikaner and Bharatpur, trees were uprooted and traffic and power supply were affected, police said.
“The storm, with high velocity winds, was generated over Bikaner region and advanced to Jodhpur, Nagaur, Jaipur, Alwar, Bharatpur and nearby areas,” said an official of the Indian Meteorological Department in Jaipur. Bharatpur was the worst-affected area where five people have died. Two persons died in Dholpur and two in Bikaner. Of the five people killed in Bharatpur, three died when walls collapsed on them. –NDTV
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The ocean off the coast of California is “turning into a desert” – marine ecosystem crash is unprecedented

Dead Seals
A cart of deceased malnourished and dehydrated sea lions that had been stranded along the northern California coast, await their turn for necropsy. Photograph: Peter Dasilva/EPA
May 2015 OCEAN HEALTH The waters of the Pacific off the coast of California are a clear, shimmering blue today, so transparent it’s possible to see the sandy bottom below. Viewing the ocean from the state’s famous craggy headlands, it’s impossible to know that the ocean’s unusual clarity is hiding a cruel beauty: clear water is a sign that the ocean is turning into a desert, and the chain reaction that causes that bitter clarity is perhaps most obvious on the beaches of the Golden State, where thousands of emaciated sea lion pups are stranded. Sea lions are a ubiquitous part of the Californian landscape – they’re up and down beaches, piers and wharfs, with an overall population estimated at around 300,000. They have the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to thank for their existence, passed by Congress in response to concerns about dwindling populations of marine mammals, including sea lions.
Now, the familiar creatures have become victims of their own success, with some arguing that their population may have reached natural capacity, and others blaming it on changing environmental conditions in California. Over the last three years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has noticed a growing number of strandings on the beaches of California and up into the Pacific north-west. In 2013, 1,171 sea lions were stranded, and 2,700 have already stranded in 2015 – a sign that something is seriously wrong, as pups don’t normally wind up on their own until later in the spring and early summer. The problem, explains Justin Viezbicke of NOAA, is those crystal-clear waters. “The main contributing factor that we’re looking at right now and talking about with the biologists and climatologists on the Channel Islands [a major sea lion rookery] is the lack of upwelling. We haven’t had the strong north winds that drive the currents that create it, and because it hasn’t materialized – it’s moved the prey further and deeper from the moms that are foraging.” –Guardian
Warm Blob
Nate Mantua, NOAA: “[An unusually large number of sea lions stranding in 2013 was a red flag] there was a food availability problem even before the ocean got warm.” Johnson: This has never happened before… It’s incredible. It’s so unusual, and there’s no really good explanation for it. There’s also a good chance that the problem will continue, said a NOAA research scientist in climatology, Nate Mantua.
Experts blame a lack of food due to unusually warm ocean waters. NOAA declared an El Nino, the weather pattern that warms the Pacific, a few weeks ago. The water is three and a half to six degrees warmer than the average, according to Mantua, because of a lack of north wind on the West Coast. Ordinarily, the north wind drives the current, creating upwelling that brings forth the nutrients that feed the sardines, anchovies and other fish that adult sea lions feed on. –ERN
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Mass death of seabirds in Western U.S. is ‘unprecedented’ – unexplained changes within ocean to blame

Dead Sea Birds
May 2015 OCEAN HEALTH In the storm debris littering a Washington State shoreline, Bonnie Wood saw something grisly: the mangled bodies of dozens of scraggly young seabirds. In the storm debris littering a Washington State shoreline, Bonnie Wood saw something grisly: the mangled bodies of dozens of scraggly young seabirds. Walking half a mile along the beach at Twin Harbors State Park on Wednesday, Wood spotted more than 130 carcasses of juvenile Cassin’s auklets—the blue-footed, palm-size victims of what is becoming one of the largest mass die-offs of seabirds ever recorded. “It was so distressing,” recalled Wood, a volunteer who patrols Pacific Northwest beaches looking for dead or stranded birds. “They were just everywhere. Every ten yards we’d find another ten bodies of these sweet little things.”
Cassin’s auklets are tiny diving seabirds that look like puffballs. They feed on animal plankton and build their nests by burrowing in the dirt on offshore islands. Their total population, from the Baja Peninsula to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, is estimated at somewhere between 1 million and 3.5 million. Last year, beginning about Halloween, thousands of juvenile auklets started washing ashore dead from California’s Farallon Islands to Haida Gwaii (also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) off central British Columbia. Since then the deaths haven’t stopped. Researchers are wondering if the die-off might spread to other birds or even fish.
“This is just massive, massive, unprecedented,” said Julia Parrish, a University of Washington seabird ecologist who oversees the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a program that has tracked West Coast seabird deaths for almost 20 years. “We may be talking about 50,000 to 100,000 deaths. So far.” Although there doesn’t appear to be a link to the virus that killed tens of millions of sea stars along the same shores from California to Alaska over the past 18 months, some scientists suspect a factor in both cases may be uncharacteristically warm waters. The U.S. Geological Survey and others have performed animal autopsies, called necropsies, on several of the emaciated Cassin’s auklets.
They’ve found no evidence of disease or trauma—no viruses or bacteria, no feathers coated with spilled oil. The birds appear simply to have starved to death. “There’s very little evidence of food in their GI [gastrointestinal] tracts or stomachs,” said Anne Ballmann, with USGS’s National Wildlife Health Center. At first scientists weren’t too surprised by the carcasses washing ashore. When young auklets fledge in late summer, they all enter the water at the same time and start competing for food—shrimp-like krill and tiny crustaceans called copepods. For various reasons, last summer’s birth class of Cassin’s auklets was gigantic. Researchers expected a higher death toll, too. But they now are perplexed by the sheer numbers of dead birds and the spreading geographic extent of the die-off. “Death at this level and over this much real estate has to be from more than just that,” Parrish said.
By comparison, not one of the five largest U.S. bird mortality events tracked by USGS since 1980 is estimated to have topped 11,000 deaths. In Europe, according to the U.K.-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the worst die-off on record occurred in 1983, when 57,000 guillemots, razorbills, puffins, and other seabirds perished in the North Sea and washed up on the British coast. “You get some of this with seabirds every year,” said David Nuzum, with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “You get so many juveniles out there, and they’ve got this steep learning curve for feeding after being separated from their parents, so you always get a die-off in winter. But I’ve never seen anything like this, ever, and I’ve been here since 1985.”  –National Geographic  (January 2015)

Seabirds Chile

Chile investigating death of 1,300 seabirds: (May 18, 2015) Chilean authorities said Monday they are investigating what killed some 1,300 seabirds that mysteriously turned up dead on a beach. The birds, which belong to the Procellariidae family, may have drowned after getting trapped in fishing nets or died from a disease such as bird flu, which is not endemic to Chile, said the country’s Agriculture and Livestock Service (SAG).
They were found Sunday afternoon by visitors to a small black-sand beach in the southern town of Lenga, a cove with several hundred inhabitants who live mainly on fishing and tourism. SAG said it was analyzing samples taken from the birds to try to determine the cause of death. Hundreds of birds were found dead in the same area in 2010. Authorities determined they had been caught in fishing nets. –France 24
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More than 62 dead, dozens injured in Colombia landslide

Colombia Landslide
May 2015COLOMBIAA landslide sent mud and water crashing onto homes in a town in Colombia’s northwest mountains on Monday, killing more than 62 people and injuring dozens, officials said. “The earth slid into the course of the La Liboriana ravine, then the dammed water caused an avalanche which destroyed everything in its path” in Salgar in Antioquia department, regional police commander Jose Angel Mendoza said in an interview. The national disaster unit said in a statement that 2 people were killed and 37 others had been treated for injuries. Rescue teams, including search dogs, continue working in the area looking for an unknown number of missing people.
Photographs released by the country’s air force and television news footage showed homes and streets covered in mud and debris in the town in a mountainous area close to the Colombian Andes. Residents were shown digging through rubble with sticks and their hands, looking for survivors.  “We don’t know how many people are missing,” said President Juan Manuel Santos, who flew over the affected area to survey the damage and met with local authorities. Santos declared a public emergency, freeing up relief funds for victims.
 “People that you knew, children, young people, whole families lost their homes. We’re on alert because there are fears there could be another landslide,” resident Maria Gutierrez told local media. “It almost gave me a heartache. We saw big waves and people and pigs going down in the water.” Additional but less intense rain is expected over the next two to three days, meteorology officials said. –Reuters   CNN
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Geologists warn megaquake and tsunami could hit central New Zealand

 Alpine Fault
May 15, 2015NEW ZEALAND Scientists finally have proof that central New Zealand could be ticking down to a highly damaging “megathrust” earthquake. Earlier research has suggested the seabed between the Wairarapa and Marlborough is capable of generating magnitude 7-plus quakes. Now researchers have found solid geological evidence that an area off the coast of Wairarapa and fringing Cook Strait causes “megathrust” quakes and tsunami similar to, but probably smaller than, the devastating magnitude 9.0 March 2011 event in Japan. The work, out Tuesday morning, highlights the active threat the southern Hikurangi margin – where the Pacific Plate is being dragged down below the Australian Plate – poses to life and livelihood from Hawke’s Bay south to the Wairarapa, Wellington and Marlborough. The Alpine Fault, which extends further south from that plate boundary, is also a hazardous feature that will generate a magnitude 8 quake when it ruptures, possibly some time in the next 50 to 100 years.
The scientists, from GNS Science, the University of Texas and Geomarine Research, have calculated that in the past 1000 years two subduction quakes of at least magnitude 7 occurred – one between about 880 to 800 years ago and the other between 520 and 470 years ago. “This is the first evidence that the southern Hikurangi margin ruptures in large (7-7.9) to great (8+) earthquakes, and the relatively short time interval between the two events has significant implications for seismic hazard in New Zealand,” they said in Tuesday’s Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. They cited an earlier paper that said for a magnitude 8.9 Hikurangi subduction quake, losses in the Wellington region alone were estimated to be about $13 billion, with about 3550 deaths and 7000 injuries.
Their findings would allow better modeling of the impacts and help communities prepare to cope with such an event, they said. The Hikurangi margin, which runs from east of East Cape to offshore of the Marlborough coast, is one of the few subduction zones around the Pacific that has not generated a “great,” above magnitude 8, quake in historic times. Data shows that in the southern Hikurangi margin the Australian and Pacific plates are locked and accumulating strain where they meet, about 25km beneath Wellington and Blenheim. Previous research suggests this locked patch between Cook Strait and Cape Turnagain could generate a quake of between 8.5 and 8.7 magnitude. In their search for subduction-quake evidence, the researchers used a salt marsh on the edge of Big Lagoon near Blenheim to recover sediment that could be aged by radiocarbon dating.
They collected 48 sediment cores, from 0.5m to 2.2m deep. Analysis and dating of the buried soils in the cores showed there had been two occasions of sudden subsidence of the lagoon in the past 1000 years, indicative of two large quakes. The older event was accompanied by a tsunami at least 3.3m high that swept more than 360m inland. –Stuff
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