Earth ChangesS

Bizarro Earth

Best of the Web: Pulsating Auroras

During the geomagnetic storm of Feb. 4th, Fredrik Broms of Kvaløya, Norway, witnessed an episode of elusive pulsating auroras. "The sky was filled with patches of green that oscillated in brightness," he explains. A snapshot with his Nikon D3 caught the phenomenon in mid-pulse:

Pulsating Auroras
© Fredrik Broms
"The patches didn't move much, but their intensity changed. When one patch got brighter another became more diffuse and so on," Broms describes.

Reports of pulsating auroras go back more than a century, but until recently no one knew what made the aurora borealis behave like a strobe light. Researchers from UCLA solved the puzzle in 2009-10. Using data from NASA's THEMIS spacecraft, they discovered that auroras pulse in sync to 'chorus waves' in Earth's magnetosphere. This is a type of plasma wave that, apparently, can modulate the flow of solar wind particles down to Earth during geomagnetic storms. It sounds cool, too--hence the name 'chorus.'

Bizarro Earth

Downgraded Yasi extends into South Australia

A severe weather warning has been issued for parts of South Australia as the downgraded Cyclone Yasi sweeps into the state.

State Emergency Service (SES) duty officer Darryl Wright said reports were coming in on Friday afternoon of heavy rains in many parts of the Flinders Ranges, north of Adelaide.

The Bureau of Meteorology was forecasting rainfall of between 50 and 100mm in some areas, increasing to up 200mm in the northwest pastoral district, north of Coober Pedy.

The bureau said a severe thunderstorm warning and a flood watch was current for some districts.

"We have received reports that a number of creeks in the northern Flinders Ranges, including the Bandioota Creek near Blinman, have started to flow," Mr Wright said.

Cloud Lightning

Australia: More Flooding Forecast for Victoria

Aussie flood
© n/a
MARK COLVIN: Victorians are being warned to prepare for heavy rain and possible flash flooding this weekend as a tropical air mass from Cyclone Yasi moves south.

North-east and central Victoria are expecting to be the hardest hit and some of those areas still haven't recovered from flooding in January.

Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Many Victorians are still cleaning up after flooding rains last month. But with an air mass from ex-tropical Cyclone Anthony and Yasi feeding into a strong Southern Ocean weather system, the north-east and central areas in particular are facing a new flood threat.

Tim Wiebusch is with the Victorian State Emergency Service.

TIM WIEBUSCH: The north-east of the state is our main concern given the likelihood of seeing at least between 100 to 150 mils and maybe localised totals up to 200 millimetres. This will result initially in flash flooding and then, potentially, right through to major riverine flooding along the Goulburn, Broken, Mitta Mitta, Kiewa, Ovens Catchments and may affect places like Benalla, Wangaratta and right through the Ovens valley, including places like Bright and Myrtleford.


US: Snow, cold make Dallas feel more like Green Bay

© Matt Slocum/Associated PressFans pose for photographs near the NFL Super Bowl Experience during a winter storm, Friday, Feb. 4, 2011, in Dallas.
Football fans whose flights had been canceled struggled Saturday to get to Dallas for Sunday's big game, while those already in town for the Super Bowl were contending with temperatures and snow typical of Pittsburgh and Green Bay but unusual in Texas.

A fresh blast of snow and ice canceled hundreds of flights Friday, transformed highways into ribbons of white and caused dangerous sheets of ice to fall from Cowboys Stadium, sending six people to the hospital. It was enough to turn the biggest week in American sports into a Super Mess.

The injured included private contractors the NFL hired to prepare the stadium for the game, authorities said. One man was hit in the head, another in the shoulder. None of the injuries was considered life-threatening.

Alison Crombie, a spokeswoman for Getty Images, said Saturday one of its photographers, Win McNamee, also was hurt. He was flying home and would be assessed by his doctor there, she said.


US: Storm reaches South Texas, freezing Brownsville

Snow and ice hampered travel in parts of Texas as a winter storm closed Dallas Love Field and gave more students another day off.

Love Field, home to Southwest Airlines, closed early Friday. City of Dallas aviation spokesman Jose Luis Torres told The Associated Press that crews were working to clear snow from the runways.

About 120 flights were canceled Friday at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport as a winter storm warning covered much of North Texas.


Flashback Prince warns Saudi Arabia of apocalypse

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah (R) meets US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Riyadh, February 15, 2010.
Saudi Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud has warned the country's royal family to step down and flee before a military coup or a popular uprising overthrows the kingdom.

In a letter published by Wagze news agency on Tuesday, the Cairo-based prince warned Saudi Arabia's ruling family of a fate similar to that of Iraq's executed dictator Saddam Hussein and the ousted Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, calling on them to escape before people "cut off our heads in streets."

He warned that the Saudi royal family is no longer able to "impose" itself on people, arguing that deviations in carrying out the religious concepts that make up the basis of the Saudi government "have gotten out of our hands," so that the opposition views our acts as "interfering in people's private life and restricting their liberties."

"If we are wise, we must leave this country to its people, whose dislike for us is increasing," said Prince Turki, advising Saudi officials to escape with their families.

"Do it today before tomorrow as long as the money we have is enough for us to live anywhere in the world; from Switzerland to Canada and Australia...we should not return as long as we are able to get out safely, we must take our families quickly and pull out," he urged.

Bizarro Earth

New Zealand: New Bid to Free Re-Stranded Whales

Stranded Whales
© Serge ZollingerVolunteers help keep the beached whales hydrated at Puponga Point on Friday.

Three pilot whales were found dead near Farewell Spit, at the top of the South Island, after they beached for the third time this morning.

Department of Conservation (DOC) spokeswoman Trish Grant told NZPA the two groups of whales which restranded on Farewell Spit yesterday afternoon moved with the high tide overnight, and have now formed three groups.

She said there were about 19 whales near Puponga, about 25 at the base of Farewell Spit on triangle flat, and about 25 whales 10km down the spit.

The groups were believed to include the 66 whales which refloated themselves on Saturday morning after becoming stranded at Puponga Point, north of Taupata Point, on Friday. Fourteen of the pod died in that stranding.

"Some of the dead are calves," Ms Grant said. "This is the third time they have stranded and to be stranded even once is a quite a stressful ordeal for a whale. They are doing surprisingly well considering what they have been through."


New Zealand: Mystery as Dead Birds Pile up on City Street

Dead Bird
© Andrew Warner 020211aw2 Dead: One of the sparrows found on Amohau St over the long weekend.

What killed hundreds of dead birds found on a Rotorua central city street? Nobody seems to know.

Rotorua mother Glyssa Bosworth was walking down Amohau St this week when her 1-year-old daughter pointed out a bird on the ground.

Then she saw a few more.

"I could smell something absolutely horrific," Miss Bosworth told The Daily Post.

She turned around and saw "hundreds" of them on the ground around the base of a tall tree in the reserve near the entrance to the Central Mall.

She said she had never seen that many dead birds before.

"There was a humongous pile of them. It was gross."


Photographer after ice from roof of Cowboys Stadium falls on him: I'm going to die here

© Louis DeLucaCowboys Stadium and the surrounding area are blanketed by snow on Friday.
As bowling ball-size chunks of ice fell on him from the roof of Cowboys Stadium on Friday afternoon, Win McNamee said he didn't think he would survive.

"Honestly, while it was hitting me, I was thinking I'm going to die here," McNamee said. "It was pretty frightening."

McNamee, a veteran photographer who works for Getty Images, was one of six people injured by falling ice outside the site of Sunday's Super Bowl XLV in Arlington. He broke his left shoulder in four places and was planning to fly home to Washington, D.C., on Saturday and undergo surgery soon.

None of the other injuries were thought to be life-threatening, authorities said. One person remained hospitalized in stable condition Friday evening, officials said.

McNamee said he was at the stadium to take snow-related photos when he heard what sounded like jet engines and spotted an "avalanche of ice."

"I had nowhere to go," he said. "It hurt pretty bad."

Bizarro Earth

Landslides in Brazil

Brazil Landslide_1
© Earth Observatory, NASAAcquired February 2, 2011.
Brazil Landslide_2
© Earth Observatory, NASAAcquired May 24, 2010.
After weeks of persistent cloud cover, the skies above Brazil finally cleared enough for satellites to take stock of the mudslides that devastated the states of Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina, and São Paulo in mid-January.

The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA's EO-1 satellite captured these true-color images of the hills north and west of Teresópolis, Brazil, on February 2, 2011 (top), and May 24, 2010. In both images, forested land is dark green, while land that has been cleared is light green. The 2011 image shows dozens of tan stripes where the hillsides have been overrun by mudslides, usually within or adjacent to those light green patches.

Nearly a month's worth of rain - 26 centimeters (10 inches) - fell on January 12 in the Serra do Mar mountain region and the nearby cities of Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo. The downpours provoked flash floods and sent rivers of mud flowing down steep hillsides, killing 860 people and leaving at least 8,700 homeless. 429 people have not yet been accounted for, according to Agencia Brazil, the state news service.

The unusually heavy rains were attributed by some meteorologists to La Niña, but human activity likely exacerbated the scale of the disaster. Rapid population growth in the area has led Brazilians to build favelas (self-built settlements) on the steep slopes above Teresópolis. Those structures have been built on previously forested land, so the reduced tree cover has diminished the ability of the soil to hold water and the hills to hold onto the soil. Many of the houses lost, according to reports, were built on slopes of 45 degrees or more or in the buffer zones around rivers and streams. The Brazilian Forest Code officially forbids building in such areas.