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Scientists detect molten rock layer hidden under Earth's tectonic plates

Earth with the upper mantle revealed
© Leonello Calvetti/Dreamstime
The Earth with the upper mantle revealed. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered a previously unknown layer of partly molten rock in a key region just below the tectonic plates.
Scientists have discovered a new layer of partly molten rock under the Earth's crust that might help settle a long-standing debate about how tectonic plates move.

Researchers had previously identified patches of melt at a similar depth. But a new study led by The University of Texas at Austin revealed for the first time the layer's global extent and its part in plate tectonics.

The research was published Feb. 6, 2023, in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The molten layer is located about 100 miles from the surface and is part of the asthenosphere, which sits under the Earth's tectonic plates in the upper mantle. The asthenosphere is important for plate tectonics because it forms a relatively soft boundary that lets tectonic plates move through the mantle.

The reasons why it is soft, however, are not well understood. Scientists previously thought that molten rocks might be a factor. But this study shows that melt, in fact, does not appear to notably influence the flow of mantle rocks.

"When we think about something melting, we intuitively think that the melt must play a big role in the material's viscosity," said Junlin Hua, a postdoctoral fellow at UT's Jackson School of Geosciences who led the research. "But what we found is that even where the melt fraction is quite high, its effect on mantle flow is very minor."

Tornado2

Arctic blast led to rare weather phenomenon over a Vermont lake

A steam devil was seen churning over Lake Champlain from Burlington, Vermont, on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

A steam devil was seen churning over Lake Champlain from Burlington, Vermont, on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.
Record-low temperatures chilled New England on Friday, leading to a cold-weather phenomenon that's rarely seen in the United States.

A handful of folks in Burlington, Vermont, caught sight of a funnel over Lake Champlain Friday afternoon, but this was no waterspout. The funnel instead drew in steam fog, also referred to as sea fog, creating what is referred to as a "steam devil."


Arrow Down

Two killed, one missing after avalanche in Himachal Pradesh, India

Representative Image
© ANI
Representative image
Two labourers were killed and another is feared trapped under the snow after an avalanche hit the Shinkula-Darcha road in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh, officials said on Monday.

The avalanche hit Chika village on Sunday evening, they said.

Three labourers were buried under the snow along with snow cutters in the avalanche, the officials said.

A team comprising police personnel, health officials and district disaster management authority members rushed to the spot and started the rescue operation, they said.

The bodies of Ram Budha from Nepal and Rakesh from Chamba have been recovered. The third labourer, Passang Chhering Lama (27), a resident of Nepal, is missing, according to the state emergency operation centre.

The rescue operation was stopped at night as the temperature and visibility dropped. It will resume on Monday morning, the officials said.

Snowflake Cold

Snow and winter storms cut power, disrupt traffic across the Balkans

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Gale-force winds and snowstorms closed roads and left more than 25,000 households in Serbia without power on Sunday, while fallen trees disrupted traffic in neighboring Croatia and Montenegro.

In Croatia, a red alert was issued for the regions along the Adriatic coast due to north winds estimated to reach 130 kilometers per hour.

Authorities in Montenegro's coastal town of Budva warned citizens to stay indoors after strong winds on Saturday destroyed a school roof, brought down trees and lamp posts, sank a tourist boat and disrupted traffic along the coast.


Snowflake

Authorities on alert as heavy snowfall continues in Greece

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The cold weather front 'Barbara' hit Greece with snowfall that started late on Saturday continued on Sunday as far south as Central Evia, cancellations of boat schedules, and snow chains on tires required in Attica and sections of the Peloponnese.

Meanwhile, the Civil Protection, Fire Brigade, police, regional, and city authorities are meeting again since 11:00 on Sunday morning.

In Attica, traffic police has said drivers moving in the entire road network of the Attica prefecture must carry snow chains or other non-slip equipment. It also banned heavy trucks of over 3.5 tons from several highways. Authorities have also banned such trucks from sections of the Athens-Thessaloniki national road as well.


Arrow Down

Austria and Switzerland: 10 dead in avalanches in Alps over weekend (UPDATE)

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Austrian authorities logged at least 17 avalanches in the popular skiing destination of Tyrol over the past 24 hours. The dangerous conditions there and in Switzerland have already claimed five lives.

At least five people were killed in avalanches in the Austrian and Swiss Alps, authorities said on Saturday.

Three of the dead were killed while visiting the Austrian Alps.

Officials in the Austrian state of Tyrol have urgently cautioned tourists, skiers and other winter sports athletes to avoid the slopes amid a very high avalanche risk.

Comment: Update February 5

BBC reports:
Weekend avalanches kill 10 in Austria and Switzerland

Ten people have been killed in several avalanches across the Austrian and Swiss Alps over the weekend.

Tourists from New Zealand, China and Germany were among the dead at a number of different ski resorts.

Austrian authorities put in place a level four avalanche alert - the second highest - following intense snowfall and wind in the area.

Despite the warnings, ski resorts in western Austria have been filling up due to school holidays in Vienna.

Austrian police announced five deaths on Sunday, including that of a 59-year-old man who was using a snow plough in the western region of Tyrol.

They also recovered the bodies of a ski guide in Sankt Anton am Arlberg and a 62-year-old man who was cross-country skiing around the summit of Hohe Aifner.

On Saturday, a 17-year-old New Zealander, a 32-year-old Chinese national and a German man in his 50s - who were all said to be skiing off designated ski trails when avalanches hit - were also found dead.

In Switzerland, a 56-year-old woman and 52-year-old man were also killed by unstable snow in the south-east canton of Graubuenden on Saturday morning. Swiss police said a third member of their group managed to escape unharmed.

Avalanches are common in both countries. According to Austria's APA news agency, 30 avalanches were reported in the Tyrol region on Saturday alone - 11 of these involving people.

Austria's level four alert level means "very large avalanches are likely" - it advises inexperienced skiers to remain on open ski runs and trails and for experienced skiers to stay away from very steep terrain.



Snowflake Cold

Arctic blast sweeps through US north-east with record-breaking temperatures

Steam rises from Boston Harbor as
© Joseph Prezioso
Steam rises from Boston Harbor as temperatures reach -7F (-14C) in Massachusetts, on 4 February.
An Arctic blast has swept through numerous parts of the north-east, leaving millions of people under wind chill warnings and cities and states issuing emergency warnings.

Record-breaking temperatures will be 10 to 30 degrees below average over parts of the north-east and into the coastal mid-Atlantic, the National Weather Service announced on Saturday, with wind gusts potentially reaching up to 40 to 55mph (64 to 88km/h).

The wind chills from the blast have the potential to be once-in-a-generation cold, the agency added.

The cold, which is expected to last throughout the weekend, has prompted officials across multiple states to issue emergency orders and warnings that urge residents to remain indoors.


Snowflake

70 people trapped by masses of snow in Austria - up to a meter of snowfall within 24 hours

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Heavy snowfall in Austria have cut off 70 people from the outside world and caused traffic chaos, local media reported on Friday.

Due to the tense avalanche situation in the Austrian province of Styria, several roads had to be closed Thursday night, according to daily Kronen Zeitung.

It also said numerous vehicles got stuck on the roadway due to snow. In the meantime, traffic jams of 10 kilometers (six miles) in length occurred.

According to the reports, 80 centimeters (34.5 inches) of fresh snow fell within 24 hours. On Friday morning, several smaller avalanches are said to have already gone off.



Snowflake Cold

Upper Midwest, Northeast bracing for arctic blast bringing sub-zero temps, 'life-threatening' wind chills as new polar vortex system moves in

polar vortex february 2023
© FOX Weather
Wind Chill Warnings and Advisories have been issued for most areas across the Northeast in early February 2023
Wind chill warnings and advisories are active in upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania, far north New Jersey and all of New England

New England is preparing for some of the coldest air it's seen in five years as a "dangerous" polar vortex quickly moves into the Upper Midwest and Northeast, bringing sub-zero wind chills and plunging temperatures, FOX Weather reports.

Places like Chicago and Des Moines, Iowa, will be the first to experience the bitter cold Friday morning as morning temperatures are forecast to be in the negative single digits. Other areas in the Midwest, like Northern Minnesota, could even see temps in the negative 20s or 30s.

The highs across the Midwest will struggle to make it out of the single digits Friday afternoon.

Wind chills are expected to be even worse, with feels-like temperatures dropping all the way to negative 50 in some areas. FOX Weather reports frostbite and hypothermia can form on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes in this type of "dangerous cold."

Snowflake

Snow turns Australian Alps into winter wonderland in the middle of summer

Up to 5cm of snow fell at Perisher and Thredbo.
© Valhalla Perisher
Up to 5cm of snow fell at Perisher and Thredbo.
Parts of Victoria and New South Wales have shivered through the morning with snow falling in alpine areas while their northern counterparts in Queensland continue to endure a heatwave.

The overnight wintry blast left a light dusting of snow across the Victorian Alps including at Mount Hotham.

Chamber of Commerce president Steve Belli said while it was an incredible sight, it was not too unusual for snow to fall in February.

"[The weather] is a little bit unpredictable these days. You never know what's going to happen ... but it's Mother Nature, you've just got to work in with it," he said.