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Sat, 29 Jan 2022
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Bizarro Earth

Illegal toxic waste spotted from space

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© S. Silvestri et al.
No hiding place
Move over Erin Brockovich. Today's environmental detectives can use radar, helicopters and even satellite images to help them spot illegal toxic waste dumps and help catch those responsible.

Ironically, the tightening of restrictions on waste disposal and the enforcement of new recycling laws have made illegal dumping more likely, turning it into big business for the criminals involved.

The trouble is digging up suspect dumps to investigate their contents can release toxins into local water supplies. But with new remote-sensing techniques, such as ground-penetrating radar (GPR), you can find toxic trash without disturbing the soil. Instead, you bounce microwaves off buried materials and the strength of returning signals provides clues to what they are.

Alastair Ruffell, a forensic geologist at Queen's University, Belfast in the UK, has used GPR in 17 cases for the environment agencies of Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Most are ongoing, however three have resulted in the culprits being jailed and fined.

Ruffell's latest research shows that geophysical techniques can be used to characterise the waste (Environmental Forensics, DOI: link). GPR surveys suggested the presence of a highly conductive waste such as farmyard slurry in a peat bog in Northern Ireland, simply because the suspect pocket in the bog reflected no microwaves.

Bizarro Earth

Asian quake could trigger California's big one

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© David Paul Morris/Getty
Influencing the San Andreas fault line at Parkfield.
It's a kind of geological butterfly effect. Fenglin Niu of Rice University in Houston, Texas, and colleagues believe they have found two clear cases where remote events weakened the San Andreas fault near Parkfield, California. The finding suggests powerful earthquakes - like the one that has just hit Sumatra - may trigger further quakes worldwide.

The first changes to the San Andreas occurred in 1992 after a 7.3-magnitude earthquake several hundred kilometres to the south. The second took place in 2004 after a quake of magnitude 9.1, also in Sumatra, 8000 kilometres away. In both cases, there were distinct changes in the movement of fluids and an increase in the frequency of micro-earthquakes deep within the fault below Parkfield (Nature, DOI: link).

Niu and colleagues believe these changes are linked to a weakening of the fault, and that monitoring them could lead to more accurate earthquake forecasts. They suggest that very large quakes might push faults all round the world closer to the point of failure, and so lead to a temporary increase in global seismicity.

Video

New film blames drug firm for plight of honey bees

It's a question that has baffled the worlds of agriculture and science - what is it that has caused the mysterious deaths of honey bees all over the world in the last five years? A new film may have the answer.

Vanishing of the Bees, which will be released in Britain next month, claims the cause is the use of a new generation of pesticides that weakens the bees and makes them more susceptible to other diseases.

Narrated by the British actress Emilia Fox, the 90-minute film tells the story of what has become known as colony collapse disorder.

Bizarro Earth

Philippines Looks to God as Super Typhoon Looms

Survivors
© AFP
Flood survivors mourn during a funeral mass for flood victims in Quezon City, suburban Manila
Millions of terrified Philippine flood survivors hunkered down Friday as a super typhoon approached, with officials pleading for God to save the disaster-struck Southeast Asian country from more devastation.

Typhoon Parma, packing gusts of 230 kilometres (145 miles) an hour, was forecast to hit rural areas in the north of the Philippines' main island of Luzon before dawn on Saturday.

The government warned Parma would tear down houses in its direct path, while likely bringing more heavy rain and high winds to the nation's capital, Manila, and nearby areas still recovering from record floods last weekend.

Ambulance

Indonesian Quake Toll at 1100, Thousands Missing

Quake
© AP Photo
Indonesian youths sit on the roof of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009.
Padang - Across this coastal provincial capital, hardest hit by the latest earthquake to devastate Indonesia, mourners, survivors and rescue workers alike clawed through the rubble.

Some, like Malina Utami, had already realized the worst. She was just looking for the shoes missing from her dead daughter's body, found in the rubble of a four-story school that was flattened within seconds.

As the death toll climbed Thursday - to 1,100 by one U.N. estimate - others looked for survivors, with thousands of people missing and feared trapped in the wreckage of shattered buildings.

Bizarro Earth

Indonesia quake deaths pass 1,000

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© Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images
Padang, 1 October: Rescuers search through the rubble of a collapsed building
At least 1,100 people have died in the earthquake that struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Wednesday, the UN humanitarian chief has said.

John Holmes said many hundreds more had been injured, and both figures were set to rise further.

Rescuers are working into the night to find survivors in the rubble of hundreds of collapsed buildings.

The 7.6-magnitude quake struck close to the city of Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province.

The earthquake brought down hospitals, schools and shopping malls, cut power lines and triggered landslides.

Bizarro Earth

US: Series of earthquakes rattle Central California, Largest 5.1

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© USGS
A series of earthquakes - the largest a magnitude-5.1 - have rattled the Lone Pine area of the eastern Sierra in Central California.

The largest struck about 18 miles southeast of the town of Lone Pine along the east shore of the Owens River at 3:01 a.m.

It was followed within three hours by about a half-dozen smaller quakes between magnitude-3.0 and magnitude-3.5 in the same rural area near Sequoia National Park, about 180 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Inyo County sheriff's dispatcher Faith Felton says she felt a slight tremor during the strongest quake. No damages or injuries have been reported.

Bizarro Earth

Indonesia shaken by another powerful quake

Jakarta - The U.S. Geological Survey says another powerful earthquake has shaken western Indonesia.

The 6.9 magnitude struck at 08:52 a.m. local time (0152GMT) Thursday on Sumatra island, about 180 miles (280 kilometers) from the epicenter of a more powerful quake on Wednesday.

Rescue efforts are under way around the area worst hit by Wednesday's quake, the regional capital of Padang on West Sumatra. At least 200 people died there and thousands are said to be trapped under collapsed buildings throughout the province.

There were no immediate reports of damage from Thursday's quake.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.


Bizarro Earth

More than 300 killed in path of deadly storm Ketsana

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© AFP / Getty Images
Ketsana, downgraded from a typhoon to a tropical depression, set its sights on a fourth nation Wednesday -- barreling toward Laos after leaving a trail of destruction and death across southeast Asia.

By Wednesday morning, the death toll from the storm's rage had topped 325: at least 246 in the Philippines, 74 in Vietnam and nine in Cambodia.

With heavy rains still lashing Vietnam, some major roads were closed and rivers and flood waters were rising. But the airport in the coastal city of Danang, which had been closed for three days, reopened Wednesday.

Bizarro Earth

Powerful 7.6 Indonesia Quake Kills 75, Traps Thousands

Quake
© Reuters
A man stands in front of a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Padang, on Indonesia's Sumatra island September 30, 2009.
A powerful earthquake struck western Indonesia on Wednesday, triggering landslides and trapping thousands under collapsed buildings - including two hospitals, an official said. At least 75 bodies were found, but the toll was expected to be far higher.

The temblor started fires, severed roads and cut off power and communications to Padang, a coastal city of 900,000 on Sumatra island. Thousands fled in panic, fearing a tsunami.

Buildings swayed hundreds of miles (kilometers) away in neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.

In the sprawling low-lying city of Padang, the shaking was so intense that people crouched or sat on the street to avoid falling. Children screamed as an exodus of thousands tried to get away from the coast in cars and motorbikes, honking horns.

The magnitude 7.6 quake hit at 5:15 p.m. (1015GMT, 6:15 a.m. EDT), just off the coast of Padang, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. It occurred a day after a killer tsunami hit islands in the South Pacific and was along the same fault line that spawned the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 11 nations.