An earthquake swarm has taken over Central California

Earthquake CA
July 2016LOS ANGELES, CACentral California is currently in the middle of an earthquake swarm, with up to 18 (and counting) tiny quakes shaking things up over the course of a single day. The situation is not, however, as ominous as it may seem. KTLA reported that the quakes began in the Bay Area late last night and have continued through today. With nothing larger than a magnitude of 3.7, all of the quakes have been relatively small. But should the rising tally give alarm? Probably not. Central California is just in the middle of a run-of-the-mill earthquake swarm.
The precise mechanics of what sets an earthquake swarm off aren’t clear, but they’re pretty common in geologically active areas. The USGS defines them as simply a bunch of small earthquakes clustered around the same locale and time. There’s no set limits for either the time or area. In fact, the quakes in a swarm don’t even need to stem from the same fault lines. Is a swarm a sign of something bigger on its way, though? Probably not. Although the question of whether swarms are a precursor to something larger is often asked, there’s no evidence linking them directly to larger quakes or eruptions so far. In fact, they usually just pop up in geologically-active areas and then just stop without incident.
Yellowstone National Park, for instance, is famous for being hit by regular earthquake swarms, including large ones in 2004, 2009, and again in 2010. The swarm in 2010 lasted for over a month and included more than 2,000 earthquakes over that period, several with a magnitude of over 3.0.Despite how much bigger and longer that swarm was than California’s current on-going one, residents of the state should be comforted to know that Yellowstone’s 2010 swarm simply petered out on its own, with no larger quake or event at the end.  –Gizmodo

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Why Florida’s recent earthquake is so rare

Florida EQ
July 2016FLORIDA An earthquake struck off the coast of Florida on Saturday (July 16), a rare event in a relatively tectonically peaceful region. The 3.7-magnitude quake had an epicenter that was 104 miles (168 kilometers) east-northeast of Daytona Beach, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It hit at about 4 p.m. local time and originated at a depth of about 3 miles (5 km). According to the USGS ShakeMap, some weak tremors were reported and picked up by scientific instruments on the mainland, but the quake was too weak to cause any damage.
Earthquakes are rare in Florida, and the reason for the relative peace has to do with Florida’s position on the North American plate. The state sits on the passive margin of the plate, a transition from land to ocean that isn’t seismically active. In contrast, the western end of the North American plate — the active margin — is slipping under the Pacific Plate, triggering the medium-to-large earthquakes that are commonly experienced in California.
According to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), there have only been about 24 “seismic events” reported since 1727. A 1997 review suggested that only five were actual earthquakes. The Florida Geological Survey rounded up these events in a 1991 report that illustrates the challenge of identifying past “earthquakes” in the state. Many of the reported temblors have come from newspaper reports or other unofficial sources. For example, a “severe quake” was reported to have hit St. Augustine in 1727, but all original reports of the event have been lost.
At some point in 1930, there were reports of shaking across Central Florida — tremors that some attributed to an explosion of some sort and others blamed on an earthquake. In January 1945, the windows at the De Land courthouse in Volusia County shook – the only evidence that anything might have happened. Rattling doors and windows were also reported on Captiva Island in 1948 and northwest of Tallahassee in 1952.
Other reports of temblors are easily linked to large quakes that occurred outside of Florida, but they were strong enough to be felt in the state. For example, in 1886, a large earthquake struck Charleston, South Carolina, and the shaking spread across northern Florida. Floridians also felt shaking from several aftershocks of the South Carolina quake. More recently, a magnitude-5.8 quake centered in the Gulf of Mexico was felt in Florida. There has never been a recorded earthquake with an epicenter under Florida, according to the DEP.  –Live Science
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Bolivia’s second largest lake disappears – another victim of climate change

Bolivian Lake
July 2016 BOLIVIAA livelihood in Bolivia’s high plains has suddenly disappeared, and a population that relied on the dried-up lake for centuries suddenly became refugees of climate change with nowhere to go. The civilization that once thrived around Lake Poopó was forced to leave when the waterway dwindled, dying a slow death that was blamed on a lethal combination of drought, changing climate and failures by the government to keep it alive. Sitting more than 12,000 feet above sea level, Poopó shrunk for years before vanishing entirely just months ago. “The lake was our mother and our father,” Adrián Quispe, a fisherman who lives in Llapallapani, told the Times. “Without this lake, where do we go?”
Over the past two years, many of the indigenous Uru-Murato people who lived in the area went to work in the lead mines or salt flats 200 miles from the lake, the Times report also said. At this point, fewer than 650 Uru-Murato still live in the three villages where they once flourished. The saline lake spanned as much as 1,200 square miles, but its shallow nature allowed it to evaporate rather quickly, especially during El Niño years. At the end of last year – a year in which El Niño was very strong – Lake Poopó was declared drained.
Scientists have also placed some of the blame on officials who made several missteps when they had the chance to preserve the lake. Researcher Lisa Borre told National Geographic that the Bolivian government could’ve done more to manage the water supply and enact plans to keep the lake alive, but they failed. The result of those failures, paired with the impacts of climate change, was the permanent loss of Bolivia’s second-largest lake. “This is a picture of the future of climate change,” German glaciologist Dirk Hoffman told the Associated Press.  –Weather Channel

“Earth’s stability is collapsing…and one by one, the biospheric processes regulating life itself are going awry. These are early characteristics of climate shock and are indications that even more ominous changes are yet to unfold. The fact that Earth’s systems are crashing in concert (climate, biodiversity and ecosystems, atmosphere, aquifers, and geological processes) is evidence geological change is accelerating on a planetary scale…we may not all be on the same page now that change is underway on planet Earth but sooner or later, we’ll all be in the same boat as environmental refugees from the change that will inevitably neutralize biological conditions on the planet.” –The Extinction Protocol by Alvin Conway, page 9, 2009 (1st edt)
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After 36,000 years, a massive volcano near Rome rumbles to life

Rome Volcano
July 2016ROME, Italy The country of Italy, home to one of the most famous volcanic disasters in history, is showing signs that another massive eruption is brewing, according to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Almost 2,000 years after the burial of Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., an ancient volcano near Rome is rumbling to life, say scientists. About 19 miles away from the heart of Rome, an ancient volcanic district called the Colli Albani is stirring. The Colli Albani, a 9-mile-long semicircle of hills on the outskirts of Rome, last erupted 36,000 years ago, so geologists had classified it as extinct – until about 20 years ago.
In the early 1990s, the area around the Colli Albani Volcanic District began showing geological indicators of a future explosion: ground levels shifted, steam vents opened, and earthquakes shook the hills around the site. Since that time, scientists have used these symptoms, along with satellite data and information about the volcano’s previous eruptions, to evaluate the risk that the Colli Albani poses to the surrounding region.
The increase in earthquakes (many of which occurred during an “earthquake swarm” between 1991 and 1995) and ground level changes in the region indicate the presence of a magma bubble forming beneath the earth near Colli Albani, pushing upwards until it can erupt. Using historical data, researchers determined that Colli Albani is not extinct, as was long believed – it merely operates on a 31,000-year cycle of dormancy and wakefulness. And when the volcano is awake, scientists say, it is dangerous.
Over the last 200,000 years, scientists say that the region surrounding the Colli Albani has risen by 164 feet, and it continues to rise by nearly an inch per year, indicating that the magma bubble is still growing. For thousands of years, the magma bubble has been trapped by pieces of land that have now begun sliding against each other. If those pieces shift enough, Colli Albani will erupt.
When conditions are right (or, from a human perspective, terribly, terribly wrong), Colli Albani can produce eruptions similar to the one that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD. Like Vesuvius, Colli Albani could erupt with a towering cloud of burning ash and showers of heated “lava bombs” that could damage or destroy nearby towns. Past eruptions have also seen swift streams of lava, scientists say, where Roman suburbs now cluster. A future eruption could devastate them. Rome itself would be safe from such an eruption in all but the very worst of circumstances. If the wind is blowing in the right direction, it could steer an ash cloud from Colli Albani towards the heart of the city.
The good news, according to researchers, is that time is on Rome’s side. The study’s lead author, Fabrizio Marra, a volcanologist at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome, told the American Geological Union that he does not expect the Colli Albani to erupt for another 1,000 years. “We expect for sure some initial stages which may not be so explosive,” said Dr. Marra, “but it may evolve in time.”  –Christian Science Monitor

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Megathrust: Giant Bangladesh earthquake could put 140 million lives at risk, study says

July 2016BANGLADESHUp to 140 million lives could be at risk from a potentially massive earthquake in Bangladesh, according to a new study. The research found that pressure is building along a fault line situated underneath the most densely-populated nation on Earth. The research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience on July 11th, found that a juncture between major tectonic plates in the region is locked and mounting with stress. Citing data collected using GPS devices since 2003, the paper states that measurements found convergence of tectonic plates at a rate of 13-17mm “on an active, shallowly dipping and locked mega-thrust fault.”
One plate is moving under the other deep beneath the surface, and two plates are stuck together at the upper layers of the fault. The plates are covered in layers of sediment more than 20 meters thick. The situation could result in a magnitude 8.2 to 9.0 earthquake in Bangladesh. “Some of us have long suspected this hazard, but we didn’t have the data and a model,” study co-author Michael Steckler, a geophysicist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York, said in an article on the university’s website. “Now we have the data and a model, and we can estimate the size.”
Steckler and his colleagues have estimated that the 140 million people living within 100km of the fault would be at risk if the quake struck the area. He stressed, however, that it is impossible to predict when such an earthquake might occur. “We don’t know if it’s tomorrow or if it’s not going to be for another 500 years,” he said. “We don’t know how long it will take to build up steam, because we don’t know how long it was since the last one. But we can definitely see it building.”
Steckler went on to state that those most at risk are the 17 million people living around the low-lying Dhaka region of Bangladesh, which struggles with poor construction and is therefore most at risk of building collapses in the event of an earthquake. Overcrowding in Dhaka could also hinder rescue efforts in such an event, according to Steckler. “Right now, the streets are clogged with traffic such that it’s impossible to drive around Dhaka on a normal day,” he told Live Science. “If you fill the streets with debris, it’s really going to be impossible to get supplies and rescue equipment and things like that around.”
Those thoughts were echoed by co-author Syed Humayun Akhter, a geologist at Dhaka University. “…In Dhaka, the catastrophic picture will be beyond our imagination, and could even lead to abandonment of the city,” he said. The research team is now building a more advanced map of the shape of the fault, and looking at historical tsunami data to understand how often mega-thrust earthquakes occur, Steckler said. The zone is an extension of the fault line which caused the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries.  –RT News

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Geohazard: Giant sinkholes near West Texas oil patch towns are growing—as new ones lurk

Sinkholes TX A
July 2016 TEXAS Satellite radar images reveal ground movement of infamous sinkholes near Wink, Texas; suggest the two existing holes are expanding, and new ones are forming as nearby subsidence occurs at an alarming rate. Residents of Wink and neighboring Kermit have grown accustomed to the two giant sinkholes that sit between their small West Texas towns. But now radar images taken of the sinkholes by an orbiting space satellite reveal big changes may be on the horizon.
A new study by geophysicists at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, finds the massive sinkholes are unstable, with the ground around them subsiding, suggesting the holes could pose a bigger hazard sometime in the future. The two sinkholes—about a mile apart—appear to be expanding. Additionally, areas around the existing sinkholes are unstable, with large areas of subsidence detected via satellite radar remote sensing.
That leaves the possibility that new sinkholes, or one giant sinkhole, may form, said geophysicists and study co-authors Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU. “This area is heavily populated with oil and gas production equipment and installations, hazardous liquid pipelines, as well as two communities. The intrusion of freshwater to underground can dissolve the interbedded salt layers and accelerate the sinkhole collapse,” said Kim, who leads the SMU geophysical team reporting the findings. “A collapse could be catastrophic. Following our study, we are collecting more high-resolution satellite data over the sinkholes and neighboring regions to monitor further development and collapse.”
Lu and Kim reported the findings in the scientific journal Remote Sensing, in the article “Ongoing deformation of sinkholes in Wink, Texas, observed by time-series Sentinel-1A SAR Interferometry.” The research was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Land Remote Sensing Program, the NASA Earth Surface & Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at Southern Methodist University. The sinkholes were originally caused by the area’s prolific oil and gas extraction, which peaked from 1926 to 1964. Wink Sink No. 1, near the Hendricks oil well 10-A, opened in 1980. Wink Sink No. 2, near Gulf WS-8 supply well, opened 22 years later in 2002.
It appears the area’s unstable ground now is linked to changing groundwater levels and dissolving minerals, say the scientists. A deep-seated salt bed underlies the area, part of the massive oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. With the new data, the SMU geophysicists found a high correlation between groundwater level in the underlying Ogallala Aquifer and further sinking of the surface area during the summer months, influenced by successive roof failures in underlying cavities.
Satellite images and groundwater records indicate that when groundwater levels rise, the ground lifts. But the presence of that same groundwater then speeds the dissolving of the underground salt, which then causes the ground surface to subside.  –Physics

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Piton de la Fournaise volcano (La Réunion): signs of unrest, volcano might be heading for new eruption

La Reunion V
July 2016La RéunionThe volcano is showing signs of unrest that could be (but not necessarily) precursors of a new eruption. Since the beginning of the month, shallow (0-2 km depth) volcanic earthquakes of rock-fracturing type under the Dolomieu crater (the main vent of the volcano) have been more frequent, probably caused by a new magma intrusion.
The volcano observatory’s (OVPF) latest statement mentions that 111 “collapses” have occurred recently on the Dolomieu crater, the Enclos and on the lava flow of Aug-Oct 2015. In addition, it seems that new deformation has started during the past days, which would fit into the picture that the volcano is likely preparing itself for a new eruption, although the trend was still unclear and needs to be confirmed. Gas emissions have not shown any significant variation above background levels.  –Volcano Discovery
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