; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fortean / Alternative News: California Faces Natural Catastrophe, 'Superchickens' and 84-Year-Old Trans-Atlantic Adventurer

California Facing Further Natural Risks

NYTimes - California faces the risk not just of devastating earthquakes but also of a catastrophic storm that could tear at the coasts, inundate the Central Valley and cause four to five times as much economic damage as a large quake, scientists and emergency planners warn.

The potential for such a storm was described at a conference of federal and California officials that ended Friday. Combining advanced flood mapping and atmospheric projections with data on California’s geologic flood history, over 100 scientists calculated the probable consequences of a “superstorm” carrying tropical moisture from the South Pacific and dropping up to 10 feet of rain across the state.

“Floods are as much a part of our lives in California as earthquakes are,” said Lucy Jones, the chief scientist for the United States Geological Survey’s multi-hazards initiative, adding, “We are probably not going to be able to handle the biggest ones.”

The geological survey estimates that such a storm could cause up to $300 billion in damage. The scientists’ models estimate that almost one-fourth of the houses in California could experience some flood damage from one.

The conference was convened by the geological survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Emergency Management Agency to help disaster-response planners draft new strategies to limit the storms’ impact.

Climate scientists have for years noted that the rising temperature of the earth’s atmosphere increases the amount of energy it stores, making more violent and extreme weather events more likely.

Californians have learned to expect earthquakes the way Floridians expect hurricanes. (A minor earthquake, with a preliminary magnitude of 4.1, rattled windows in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area about a week ago.)

The existing engineering systems that dispose of floodwater are so efficient that the effects of moderate storms often go unnoticed, Dr. Jones said. So while many Californians know whether they live or work close to an earthquake-prone fault and what to do should there be a serious quake, few realize that the state could be hit by storms that at their worst could rival the largest hurricanes that devastate the Gulf Coast and the southeastern Atlantic Seaboard.

Yet vast floods have also been documented, both through tree-ring data and more modern historical records. Marcia K. McNutt, the director of the geological survey, said that 150 years ago, over a few weeks in the winter of 1861-62, enough rain fell to inundate a stretch of the Central Valley 300 miles long and 20 miles wide, from north of Sacramento south to Bakersfield, near the eastern desert.

The storms lasted 45 days, creating lakes in parts of the Mojave Desert and, according to a survey account, “turning the Sacramento Valley into an inland sea, forcing the state capital to be moved from Sacramento to San Francisco for a time, and requiring Gov. Leland Stanford to take a rowboat to his inauguration.”

Just like a major earthquake, a superstorm could be a severe blow to the state’s agriculture and to the water-supply system that now diverts water from the north to Southern California.

Dr. Jones said in an interview that improved satellite imagery available in recent years allowed scientists to clearly identify what they call “atmospheric rivers” — moisture-filled air currents up to 200 miles wide and 2,000 miles long, which flow from tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast.

The West Coast winter weather systems popularly known as the Pineapple Express, air currents carrying moisture from the Hawaiian Islands are just one moderate subset of these rivers, Dr. Jones said. The abbreviation for atmospheric river, A.R., gave the geological survey the root of its name for these major weather events, which they call ARk storms.


Genetically modified 'superchicken' that doesn't spread deadly bird flu

dailymail - A genetically modified 'superchicken' that doesn't spread deadly bird flu has been developed by scientists.

The bird is intended to prevent the outbreaks of avian influenza which lead to millions of birds being culled.

It could also stop new strains of flu mutating in domestic fowl and spreading to people, leading to killer worldwide pandemics.

The British team behind the GM chicken say it is 'inconceivable' that its meat or eggs could be harmful. However, it will need rigorous safety checks before it could go into the food chain, they said.

But anti GM campaigners warned that genetic engineering was not the answer to stopping bird flu - and said the public would never accept GM eggs and meat.

Avian flu is a serious threat to farmers and people. Although it does not easily infect humans, when it does it can be deadly.

The latest, most virulent strain - called H5N1 - has killed more than 300 people since 2003 in 15 countries and led to the deaths of millions of birds. In 2007 around 260,000 turkeys were culled in East Anglia after outbreaks of H5N1.

Doctors fear it could mutate in flocks of chickens into a new strain that is transmissible from person to person, fuelling a pandemic that kills millions of people.

The GM chicken was created by a team at Cambridge University and Edinburgh University and reported today in the journal Science.

Dr Laurence Tiley, from Cambridge, said: 'Preventing virus transmission in chickens should reduce the economic impact of the disease and reduce the risk posed to people exposed to the infected birds.'

The chickens carry an extra gene that stops the flu virus replicating in their bodies. The gene - which was added to embryo chicks while they were in the egg - produces 'decoy' loops of RNA, the chemical cousin of DN, in cells throughout their bodies.

The decoy RNA interferes with the machinery that viruses use to make copies of themselves inside cells and spread throughout the body.

So although GM chickens fall ill and die from flu - they cannot pass it onto other birds or people.

In tests at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, infecte GM chickens fell sick but did not transmit the flu virus to normal birds kept in the same pen.

The gene is expected to work against all strains of bird flu, and the virus cannot easily evolve to escape its effects.

Because the new gene is dominant, chicks bred from a pair of GM birds will also be unable to transmit bird flu. The trait will be passed down to future generations.

Dr Tiley said there was 'no observable difference' between the GM birds and their non-GM relatives he said.

'The nature of the decoy molecule means it is pretty well inconceivable that could have any detrimental effect on somebody that ate it because RNA is an unstable molecule that is easily broken down by the gut,' he said. 'There is no reason to suggest that these chickens would be unsafe in any way.'
Pugh cartoon

GM birds would need thorough safety tests and the approval of food agencies in America and Europe before they could enter the food chain.

Co-author Prof Helen Sang, from the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, said: 'Countries like China are interested in possibly of using GM to protect their poultry stocks and it will inevitably be more expensive because you will have to use products of breeding companies to stock your producers,' she said.

However, costs would come down over time, she added.

The researchers are now working on chickens that are completely immune to bird flu.

They believe the technique could be used to protect against the spread of disease in other animals such as turkeys, geese and pigs.

But Pete Riley from GM Freeze said: 'These are global industries with thousands of broiler and battery units around the world and it improbable that the GM chickens will be bred fast enough to keep pace with the mutations that are occurring in avian flu virus all the time around in the northern and southern hemisphere.

'In intensive units the environment is quite different to the lab and so far this has not been part of the research. In addition, many poorer producers may find the additional cost of the GM birds too high and stick with conventionally bred birds.

'Genetic diversity in chickens, not genetic modification of a single breed, is important in reducing the spread of infections, as it is with all farm animals'.

NOTE: Waiting for the other shoe to drop...Lon


84-year-old adventurer set to launch Atlantic raft

An-Tiki - Four English adventurers led by 84-year-old Anthony Smith are to sail 2,800 miles across the Atlantic on a raft made from plastic gas pipes. It is a journey that would test the mettle of any seafarer – a 2,800-mile Atlantic crossing powered only by sail. But when four Englishmen set off on the trip, two things will make their expedition remarkable. Their vessel will be a raft made from plastic gas pipes. And the crew will be led by an octogenarian who relies on a stick to walk. With a combined age of 259, the sailors on board the "An-Tiki" will not be lacking in experience. Anthony Smith, 84, will be joined by Don Russell, 61, David Hildred, 57, and Andrew Bainbridge, 57, for a ten-week voyage from the Canary Islands to the Bahamas. The raft is expected to begin the epic journey this week.

All the materials have been either donated or purchased by Mr Smith, who is spending compensation he received after he was run over by a van two years ago – an accident that has left the adventurer, writer and grandfather with metal pins in his leg. What would normally be regarded as a devastating setback has been turned into a positive. "I had some luck two years ago – I was run over," Mr Smith said. "That's what inspired the whole thing and that's provided the basis for the money. "The whole point it to prove that elderly people can do something interesting. Well, I am 84 and disabled, so I'm well qualified on that score." The inspiration for the unusual trip comes from a desire to show that rafts, although a primitive form of transport, are no more dangerous than hollow-hulled vessels. The crew are also raising money for WaterAid, a charity that provides clean water for the world's poorest people.

"People ask me 'Am I frightened?' But I say I don't know enough to be frightened," Mr Smith explains. "I don't know how we will get on, as we don't know each other very well. I don't know how tiring it will be, living on something that goes up and down all the time. I don't know what it will be like living on a bunk. Nobody knows what a storm will do to us, or how well we will be able to steer." But Mr Smith, of west London, insists the adventure is no foolhardy indulgence. Two of the crew – Mr Hildred and Mr Bainbridge – are experienced sailors, and the raft has been kitted out with all the necessary communications in case they get into trouble. All the pieces – including gas pipes, electronics, wood, and two telegraph poles that would became the mast – were assembled and shipped in a container from Felixstowe, Suffolk, to La Gomera in the Canary Islands. The crew will be sheltered by a wooden hut, 20ft by 7ft (6m by 2m), where they will take turns to sleep on two bunk beds. Cooking, from gas stoves, chart-reading and all-important communications will be also be carried out there.

"We've also got a small library so it won't all be hard work," says Mr Smith. The lights and electronics will be powered by four solar cells on top of the hut, a wind generator – and a pedalling machine. Meanwhile, the crew will be sustained by 16 boxes of food, containing dry stuffs like cornflakes and perishables such as eggs, oranges and bananas. A small bread maker will add homely comfort to their ordeal. "We also have a hook and line to catch fish, and a plankton net to eat plankton. Plankton is good enough for the blue whale, the biggest creature on earth, to eat, so it's good enough for us." Drinking water will be carried in five pipes, each 18ft long. "We'll have so much water I think we will be able to sell it to passing yachts." Asked what treats he's brought along to keep the crew's spirits up for the long days and nights ahead, Mr Smith's answer is short and simple. "Alcohol," he says. "Everyone's quite keen on a drink, so it's not so much beer as rum and whisky." The crew has had to wait for the weather to calm down before launching the raft. A support vessel will tow the raft out to sea for a few miles – "in case anyone forgets their toothbrush". "We have to wait for the wind. I don't want to be released and then blown back to shore. But the current is there to do the job. It took Columbus across in 1492 so it should take us across too." The crew's destination is the small island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas.


Miracle man comes back 'from the dead' after 3.5 hours

mirror - A man whose heart had stopped was brought back from the dead after three-and-a-half HOURS.

Arun Bhasin, 53, was rushed into hospital after being found unconscious in the street in temperatures of -10C.

But as he was being wheeled in, he went into cardiac arrest and was just minutes from death.

By pure luck, he’d been taken to the Croydon University Hospital – home to two of the country’s top experts in resuscitation.

They put him on a pioneering new CPR machine which performed almost 20,000 life-saving chest compressions.

Dr Nigel Raghunath, said: “He was pretty much dead in that he had no pulse or heartbeat for three-and-a-half hours so it is amazing that we got him back.”

He added: “I’ve not seen any-thing like it in 15 years in A&E.”

Engineer Arun, of East London, admitted: “I should be dead. I can’t believe they kept me alive for so long. It’s a miracle.


Roman rise and fall 'recorded in trees'

BBC - An extensive study of tree growth rings says there could be a link between the rise and fall of past civilisations and sudden shifts in Europe's climate.

A team of researchers based their findings on data from 9,000 wooden artifacts from the past 2,500 years.

They found that periods of warm, wet summers coincided with prosperity, while political turmoil occurred during times of climate instability.

The findings have been published online by the journal Science.

"Looking back on 2,500 years, there are examples where climate change impacted human history," co-author Ulf Buntgen, a paleoclimatologist at the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape, told the Science website.

The team capitalised on a system used to date material unearthed during excavations.

"Archaeologists have developed oak ring width chronologies from Central Europe that cover nearly the entire Holocene and have used them for the purpose of dating artefacts, historical buildings, antique artwork and furniture," they wrote.

"Chronologies of living and relict oaks may reflect distinct patterns of summer precipitation and drought."

The team looked at how weather over the past couple of centuries affected living trees' growth rings.

During good growing seasons, when water and nutrients are in plentiful supply, trees form broad rings, with their boundaries relatively far apart.

But in unfavourable conditions, such as drought, the rings grow in much tighter formation.

The researchers then used this data to reconstruct annual weather patterns from the growth rings preserved in the artefacts.

Once they had developed a chronology stretching back over the past 2,500 years, they identified a link with prosperity levels in past societies, such as the Roman Empire.

"Wet and warm summers occurred during periods of Roman and medieval prosperity. Increased climate variability from 250-600 AD coincided with the demise of the western Roman empire and the turmoil of the migration period," the team reported.

"Distinct drying in the 3rd Century paralleled a period of serious crisis in the western Roman empire marked by barbarian invasion, political turmoil and economic dislocation in several provinces of Gaul."

Dr Buntgen explained: "We were aware of these super-big data sets, and we brought them together and analyzed them in a new way to get the climate signal.

"If you have enough wood, the dating is secure. You just need a lot of material and a lot of rings."