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Tue, 30 May 2023
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Bizarro Earth

Swimming Through the Spill

For the last few days, attention has understandably been directed at the shores of the Gulf Coast as oil has started to wash up on beaches and in marshes. But last week I had the chance to see the effects of the spill from another perspective - when I dived into the oil slick a few miles off the Pass a Loutre wetlands in southern Louisiana. What I witnessed was a surreal, sickening scene beyond anything I could have imagined.

As the boat entered the slick, I had to cover my nose to block the fumes. There were patches of oil on the gulf's surface. In some places, the oil has mixed with an orange-brown pudding-like material, some of the 700,000 gallons of a chemical dispersant called Corexit 9500 that BP has sprayed on the spreading oil. Near Rig No. 313, technically a restricted zone, the boat stopped and I (wearing a wetsuit, with Vaseline covering exposed skin) jumped in.

Bizarro Earth

BP Oilpocalypse Creates Underwater Nightmare

On Good Morning America, correspondent Sam Champion and Philippe Cousteau Jr. explore the toxic plumes of dispersed oil floating beneath the waves in the Gulf of Mexico.


Big volcanic eruptions in Guatemala, Ecuador

Tungurahua volcano
© AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa
A view of the Tungurahua volcano throwing ashes in Huambalo, in Ecuador's central highlands, Friday, May 28, 2010. The Tungurahua has been constantly erupting since 1999.

Guatemala City - Explosive eruptions shook two huge volcanos in Central and South America on Friday, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes and disrupting air traffic as ash drifted over major cities.

Guatemala's Pacaya volcano started erupting lava and rocks Thursday afternoon, blanketing the country's capital with ash and forcing the closure of the international airport. A television reporter was killed by a shower of burning rocks when he got too close to the volcano, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) south of Guatemala City.

In the village of Calderas, close to the eruption, Brenda Castaneda said she and her family hid under beds and tables as marble-sized rocks thundered down on her home.

Arrow Down

Is It Raining Oil In Florida? This Is Just The Beginning

© Sean Gardner/EPA
Greenpeace senior campaigner Lindsey Allen walks through a patch of oil from the Deepwater Horizon on the breakwater in the mouth of the Mississippi river where it meets the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana
As early as May 9 it was announced that FEMA evacuation protocol for forest fires in and around Tampa, Florida could be activated at a moment's notice in the event of the oil slick approaching Florida's coastline. One proposal is to undergo a 'controlled burn' of surface oil in the Gulf to prevent the oil reaching Florida's coast. This would result in highly toxic fumes blowing ashore. In fact, toxic fumes have already been reported elsewhere as Gulf residents complain of breathing difficulties and nausea:
Oil is semi-volatile, which means that it can evaporate into the air and create a heavy vapor that stays near the ground -- in the human breathing zone. When winds whip up oily sea water, the spray contains tiny droplets -- basically a fume -- of oil, which are small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs. We know that's happening in the Gulf Coast, because people are reporting a heavy oily smell in the air. Already my colleagues in Louisiana are reporting that people in the coastal community of Venice, Louisiana are suffering from nausea, vomiting, headaches, and difficulty breathing.
The following eyewitness account came to our attention yesterday:
Hi all,

Making this quick, don't feel well. About 4:15pm or so eastern, coming back from Tampa, Florida north on Veteran's Expressway...about 7 miles perhaps from SR 54...it sprinkled some gray watery and solid black oil on my car. Thought it was bugs, but so fast did not make sense and windshield wipers just smeared it. Got out of car at store and looked on the paint and solid black dots on my car...I touch? huh? it's wet? it's OIL!!!!!

I had several folks verify it before I sprayed it off and it came off easier than the few love bugs. Two hours later still wet like OIL! nope, not water, smell it, OIL!!!


Gulf Oil Photo Essay

Bizarro Earth

Central and South America: Thousands Forced to Flee Volcanoes

Explosive eruptions have shaken two huge volcanoes in Central and South America, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes and disrupting air traffic as ash drifted over wide regions.

Guatemala's Pacaya volcano started spewing lava and rocks on Thursday, blanketing the country's capital with ash and forcing the closure of the international airport. President Alvaro Colom declared a "state of calamity".

Television reporter Anibal Archila was killed by a shower of burning rocks when he got too close to the volcano, about 15 miles south of Guatemala City, said David de Leon, a spokesman for the national disaster committee. The last images of Mr Archila broadcast by Channel 7 television show him standing in front of a lava river and burning trees, talking about the intense heat.

Mr De Leon said three children between the ages of seven and 12 were missing. At least 1,600 people from villages closest to the volcano were evacuated to shelters.

The volcano's eruption lost some intensity on Friday, although ash still rained heavily on nearby communities and constant explosions continued to shake the 8,373ft mountain, according to the Central American country's Geophysical Research and Services Unit. The unit reported an ash plume 3,000ft high which trailed more than 12 miles to the north-west.

Bizarro Earth

Louisiana scientist locates another vast oil plume in the gulf

A day after scientists reported finding a huge "plume" of oil extending miles east of the leaking BP well, on Friday a Louisiana scientist said his crew had located another vast plume of oily globs, miles in the opposite direction.

James H. Cowan Jr., a professor at Louisiana State University, said his crew on Wednesday found a plume of oil in a section of the gulf 75 miles west of the source of the leak.

Cowan said that his crew sent a remotely controlled submarine into the water, and found it full of oily globules, from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a golf ball. Unlike the plume found east of the leak -- in which the oil was so dissolved that contaminated water appeared clear -- Cowan said the oil at this site was so thick that it covered the lights on the submarine.

Bizarro Earth

Fierce hurricane season predicted

© AFP/Getty Images
Powerful Hurricane Helene churns over the open Atlantic Ocean in 2006. Federal forecasters are predicting an above-average season in the Atlantic.
Federal forecasters today called for an "active" to "extremely active" hurricane season this year, with anywhere from 14 to 23 named storms expected to form in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

Of those named storms, 8 to 14 should become hurricanes, including 3 to 7 "major" hurricanes, with wind speeds above 111 mph.

Tropical storms are given a name when wind speeds reach 39 mph, and are upgraded to hurricane status when their sustained winds reach 74 mph. An average Atlantic hurricane season sees 11 named storms, including six hurricanes, with two becoming major hurricanes.

Forecasters do not predict the number of storms that will make landfall.

The forecast was announced Thursday morning by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Comment: This 'fierce hurricane season' news doesn't bode well for Florida and the other Gulf states. See these stories for more information: Is It Raining Oil In Florida? This Is Just The Beginning, Nightmare scene as oil smothers Louisiana wetlands and Florida Gulf oil spill: Plans to evacuate Tampa Bay area are in place


The History Of Ice On Earth

© Astromujoff / Getty
Don't forget your woolly mittens.
Primitive humans, clad in animal skins, trekking across vast expanses of ice in a desperate search to find food. That's the image that comes to mind when most of us think about an ice age.

But in fact there have been many ice ages, most of them long before humans made their first appearance. And the familiar picture of an ice age is of a comparatively mild one: others were so severe that the entire Earth froze over, for tens or even hundreds of millions of years.

In fact, the planet seems to have three main settings: "greenhouse", when tropical temperatures extend to the poles and there are no ice sheets at all; "icehouse", when there is some permanent ice, although its extent varies greatly; and "snowball", in which the planet's entire surface is frozen over.

Why the ice periodically advances - and why it retreats again - is a mystery that glaciologists have only just started to unravel. Here's our recap of all the back and forth they're trying to explain.

Comment: For an eye-opening article, read Fire and Ice: The Day After Tomorrow by Laura Knight-Jadczyk.

Bizarro Earth

San Andreas-Like Fault Found in Eastern United States

© Mark G. Steltenpohl, Isidore Zietz, J. Wright Horton, Jr., and David L. Daniels
The fault is invisible from the surface, but magnetic surveys from the air see it clearly, represented in the white line.
The fault stretches from N.Y. to Alabama and could cause an earthquake with the right mix of ingredients.

For 30 years geologists have been puzzled by a remarkably straight magnetic line that runs between New York and Alabama along the Appalachians.

A more recent aerial magnetic survey of the Alabama end of the line suggests that it's probably a 500-million-year-old San Andreas-style fault that appears to have slipped 137 miles (220 kilometers) to the right in the distant past.

If so, it's no surprise that the most dangerous part of the eastern Tennessee seismic zone is right next to part of this magnetic line and has the second-highest earthquake frequency in the eastern United States.

"It's most likely a strike-slip fault," said Mark Steltenpohl of the University of Alabama at Auburn. "But it's all buried."