By Tom Rowan
26 July 2010 - (Excerpts) - It happened in 1816 and is bound to happen again.
In 1816 the northern hemisphere suffered through the year without summer. During the previous winter the Mt Tambora volcano erupted. Thousands froze to death due to the bitter cold the atmospheric ash clouds created.
Frost killed most of the early crops as late as May that year in North America. Frost and snow killed even crops more in June. Riots, arson, and looting flared up in Europe as common food stores became scarce. Lake and river ice were recorded in Pennsylvania in July and August. 1816 also was a year of historic low solar activity as measured by 1816 era telescopes counting sunspots.
All the stars, including our own, are aligning for a repeat performance by Mother Nature.
Consider. Even with 21st century telescopes we can see that the sun is only producing tiny sun specks and weak sunspots. The northern hemisphere has experienced 3 years in a row of record breaking cold winters and snow fall. It snowed in all 50 States last winter. As in 1816, Canada and the rest of North America are experiencing record rainfalls this summer. Much of the Canadian harvest has been lost due to flooding. Some of the ski slopes in the western US reopened in July. Today, South America is experiencing a brutally cold winter killing farmers along with their livestock. It snowed in the Amazon. For two years in a row it has snowed in Australia during summertime.
And Katla is well past due to blow her top.
See entire great article:
Thanks to Alan Caruba and Tom Rowan for this link
Cold temperatures cause death, damage in South America
July 20, 2010 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
(CNN) -- An intense cold front in southern Latin America continues to blanket the region, causing deaths, school and highway closures, and other woes.
A total of 18 people have died in Bolivia as a direct or indirect consequence of low temperatures, the Peruvian state-run Andina news agency reported. The deaths were spread out throughout the country.
On Monday, Bolivian officials said temperatures in the major city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra would reach 3 C (37 F), the lowest in 29 years, and in other regions the mercury dropped below freezing, Andina reported.
As a precaution, Bolivian authorities canceled school from Monday to Wednesday, the official Bolivian news agency ABI reported.
Police in Paraguay reported eight deaths from hypothermia and two from carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of heating devices. The government opened shelters for the poor, who are picked up at night by military trucks.
Paraguayan authorities also estimated that 1,000 cattle died because of the cold.
In Uruguay, local media reported two weather-related fatalities.
The cold front hit the region on Saturday and was responsible for eight deaths in Argentina over the weekend.
An area of low pressure in the southern hemisphere jet stream pushed deeper north allowing for cold Antarctic air to pool over Chile and Argentina. Below-normal temperatures are expected over the next 48 hours across the region.
Argentina reported Monday that nine of its provinces were feeling temperatures below freezing.
The intense cold will remain in the area at least through Tuesday, Argentina's official news agency, Telam, reported.
Similarly, in Peru, the country's southern Amazon region was experiencing the coldest weather in three years, Andina reported, citing the National Meteorological and Hydrological Service.
In the city of Puerto Maldonado, the temperatures fell to 9 C (48 F). In the Amazon region, the usual lows are in the 20s C (high-60s F).
The cold was also affecting farmers in the Peruvian city of Arequipa, in the Andes Mountains. With temperatures falling there to -17 C (1 F), the cold was too much for the region's Alpaca herds.
Pregnant Alpacas were losing their babies, and young Alpacas were dying, Andina reported. Some 10 percent of the region's 40,000 Alpacas were affected, the news agency reported.
A Super Solar Flare
May 6, 2008: At 11:18 AM on the cloudless morning of Thursday, September 1, 1859, 33-year-old Richard Carrington—widely acknowledged to be one of England's foremost solar astronomers—was in his well-appointed private observatory. Just as usual on every sunny day, his telescope was projecting an 11-inch-wide image of the sun on a screen, and Carrington skillfully drew the sunspots he saw.
Right: Sunspots sketched by Richard Carrington on Sept. 1, 1859. Copyright: Royal Astronomical Society: more.
On that morning, he was capturing the likeness of an enormous group of sunspots. Suddenly, before his eyes, two brilliant beads of blinding white light appeared over the sunspots, intensified rapidly, and became kidney-shaped. Realizing that he was witnessing something unprecedented and "being somewhat flurried by the surprise," Carrington later wrote, "I hastily ran to call someone to witness the exhibition with me. On returning within 60 seconds, I was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeebled." He and his witness watched the white spots contract to mere pinpoints and disappear.
It was 11:23 AM. Only five minutes had passed.
Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.
Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.
"What Carrington saw was a white-light solar flare—a magnetic explosion on the sun," explains David Hathaway, solar physics team lead at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Now we know that solar flares happen frequently, especially during solar sunspot maximum. Most betray their existence by releasing X-rays (recorded by X-ray telescopes in space) and radio noise (recorded by radio telescopes in space and on Earth). In Carrington's day, however, there were no X-ray satellites or radio telescopes. No one knew flares existed until that September morning when one super-flare produced enough light to rival the brightness of the sun itself.
"It's rare that one can actually see the brightening of the solar surface," says Hathaway. "It takes a lot of energy to heat up the surface of the sun!"
Left: A modern solar flare recorded Dec. 5, 2006, by the X-ray Imager onboard NOAA's GOES-13 satellite. The flare was so intense, it actually damaged the instrument that took the picture. Researchers believe Carrington's flare was much more energetic than this one.
The explosion produced not only a surge of visible light but also a mammoth cloud of charged particles and detached magnetic loops—a "CME"—and hurled that cloud directly toward Earth. The next morning when the CME arrived, it crashed into Earth's magnetic field, causing the global bubble of magnetism that surrounds our planet to shake and quiver. Researchers call this a "geomagnetic storm." Rapidly moving fields induced enormous electric currents that surged through telegraph lines and disrupted communications.
"More than 35 years ago, I began drawing the attention of the space physics community to the 1859 flare and its impact on telecommunications," says Louis J. Lanzerotti, retired Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Bell Laboratories and current editor of the journal Space Weather. He became aware of the effects of solar geomagnetic storms on terrestrial communications when a huge solar flare on August 4, 1972, knocked out long-distance telephone communication across Illinois. That event, in fact, caused AT&T to redesign its power system for transatlantic cables. A similar flare on March 13, 1989, provoked geomagnetic storms that disrupted electric power transmission from the Hydro Québec generating station in Canada, blacking out most of the province and plunging 6 million people into darkness for 9 hours; aurora-induced power surges even melted power transformers in New Jersey. In December 2005, X-rays from another solar storm disrupted satellite-to-ground communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation signals for about 10 minutes. That may not sound like much, but as Lanzerotti noted, "I would not have wanted to be on a commercial airplane being guided in for a landing by GPS or on a ship being docked by GPS during that 10 minutes."
"In the 160-year record of geomagnetic storms, the Carrington event is the biggest." It's possible to delve back even farther in time by examining arctic ice. "Energetic particles leave a record in nitrates in ice cores," he explains. "Here again the Carrington event sticks out as the biggest in 500 years and nearly twice as big as the runner-up."
These statistics suggest that Carrington flares are once in a half-millennium events. The statistics are far from solid, however, and Hathaway cautions that we don't understand flares well enough to rule out a repeat in our lifetime.
And what then?
Lanzerotti points out that as electronic technologies have become more sophisticated and more embedded into everyday life, they have also become more vulnerable to solar activity. On Earth, power lines and long-distance telephone cables might be affected by auroral currents, as happened in 1989. Radar, cell phone communications, and GPS receivers could be disrupted by solar radio noise. Experts who have studied the question say there is little to be done to protect satellites from a Carrington-class flare. In fact, a recent paper estimates potential damage to the 900-plus satellites currently in orbit could cost between $30 billion and $70 billion. The best solution, they say: have a pipeline of comsats ready for launch.
Humans in space would be in peril, too. Spacewalking astronauts might have only minutes after the first flash of light to find shelter from energetic solar particles following close on the heels of those initial photons. Their spacecraft would probably have adequate shielding; the key would be getting inside in time.
No wonder NASA and other space agencies around the world have made the study and prediction of flares a priority. Right now a fleet of spacecraft is monitoring the sun, gathering data on flares big and small that may eventually reveal what triggers the explosions. SOHO, Hinode, STEREO, ACE and others are already in orbit while new spacecraft such as the Solar Dynamics Observatory are readying for launch.
Research won't prevent another Carrington flare, but it may make the "flurry of surprise" a thing of the past.
Methane in Gulf "Astonishingly High": U.S. Scientist
June 22, 2010
CHICAGO (Reuters) - As much as 1 million times the normal level of methane gas has been found in some regions near the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, enough to potentially deplete oxygen and create a dead zone, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday.
Texas A&M University oceanography professor John Kessler, just back from a 10-day research expedition near the BP Plc oil spill in the gulf, says methane gas levels in some areas are "astonishingly high."
Kessler's crew took measurements of both surface and deep water within a 5-mile (8 kilometer) radius of BP's broken wellhead.
"There is an incredible amount of methane in there," Kessler told reporters in a telephone briefing.
In some areas, the crew of 12 scientists found concentrations that were 100,000 times higher than normal.
"We saw them approach a million times above background concentrations" in some areas, Kessler said.
The scientists were looking for signs that the methane gas had depleted levels of oxygen dissolved in the water needed to sustain marine life.
"At some locations, we saw depletions of up to 30 percent of oxygen based on its natural concentration in the waters. At other places, we saw no depletion of oxygen in the waters. We need to determine why that is," he told the briefing.
Methane occurs naturally in sea water, but high concentrations can encourage the growth of microbes that gobble up oxygen needed by marine life.
Kessler said oxygen depletions have not reached a critical level yet, but the oil is still spilling into the Gulf, now at a rate of as much as 60,000 barrels a day, according to U.S. government estimates.
"What is it going to look like two months down the road, six months down the road, two years down the road?" he asked.
Methane, a natural gas, dissolves in seawater and some scientists think measuring methane could give a more accurate picture of the extent of the oil spill. Kessler said his team has taken those measurements, and is hoping to have an estimate soon. "Give us about a week and we should have some preliminary numbers on that," he said.
(Editing by Maggie Fox)