Category Archives: Nature

Two Napa earthquakes: A video and a story


First up, some footage of Sunday morning’s disastrous Napa Valley earthquake, now estimated to has caused at least a billion dollars in damage to one of the planet’s most scenic places.

The dramatic footage was shot by videographer Evan Kilkus using a quadropter drone as a demonstration of the potential of drones to document damage from natural disasters. Pay close attention to those shots of parking shelter roof collapses at an apartment building, especially the very last ones.

We’ll explain after the video.

From Evan Kilkus:

Napa Earthquake 2014 Quadcopter Test Video

Program notes:

These are aerial clips showing a unique look at the major damage in downtown Napa caused by the earthquake on August 24, 2014.

Pretty impressive, no?

The quake sent scores to the emergency and critically injured three people, one a small child.

We were living in Napa when the last significant quake hit the valley.

It hit just after 1:30 a.m. one September 2000, and we were sitting in a recliner in a second floor apartment in the building with those collapsed parking roofs, and our own car used the last structure shown in the video.

Fortunately for us, the roof held in that 2000 quake, a 5.2. shaker compared to last weekend’s 6.0.

But less fortunately, we found ourselves suddenly alone in the dark, and feeling damn sore as we’d been struck repeatedly the instant the lights went out. Fortunately, we always keep a flashlight within reach, and once we managed to locate it in our chairside table, we discovered that the assault had been the result of books hurled across the room from our 140-year-old walnut wardrobe, the sharp end of which had come to rest on the elevated leg rest of our recliner. Just a few minutes earlier, we’d crossed our legs in our lap. Otherwise we’d have had two broken femurs to contend with [it’s a heavy wardrobe].

Since the phones were out and we lacked a cell phone [ah, blissful days], once we cleared a path through the detritus [stereo compents and our 32-include tube television also took a dive when the earth moved] me made our way to our car and headed up the road to the house where the ex and our two daughters lived.

They and the house were fine, so we headed back to the apartment, and found ourselves profoundly shaken because our ever-so-carefully arranged library had been scattered across the floors of three bedrooms, while most of our bookcases [made of plastic-connector-fused reinforced wire square grids] had collapsed into their components.

For a depressed and jobless writer and bibliophile who had read each of those thousand-plus volumes, the sudden and profound disorder [plus breakage of some antiques and antiquities held in trust for progeny] simultaneously shocked and dismayed.

Restoring order would take weeks, possibly months.

On 20 October, seven weeks after the earthquake, we were sitting in the same chair in the same room, when the second blow came, in the form of a painful cramping sensation in the neck and jaw. It’ll pass, we decided. But it didn’t, and the pain wasn’t just a cramp, but a wholly different thing altogether. Could it be a heart attack? No, we thought, that’s when you feel something similar, but in the left arm.

Then we got up.

Promptly falling to the floor.

We got up on knees, painfully making our way two knee-moves to the phone to punch in 911.

When the operator asked the nature of the emergency, we said we were probably having a heart attack. Three minutes later, paramedics were at the door. Minutes later we were in the same emergency room that handled this weekend’s earthquake victims.

We got a stent in the left anterior descending artery, the one the paramedics had called “The Widowmaker,” then spent two or three days in the ICU before heading home with prescriptions we’ve been swallowing since.

Subsequent research directly links earthquakes with increased heart attacks in a 16-week period after the temblor itself [with a major spike on the day of the quake itself as well], and we were convinced ourselves that the lingering effects of the quake-caused disorder in our physical environment had significantly prolonged the quake’s impact.

So when we see the impact of the weekend Napa quake, including the devastating caused at the apartment where we’d once lived, we feel a particular sense of empathy with those whose lives where literally and psychologically profoundly shaken by a reminder of the fundamentally contingent nature of our carefully ordered personal universes.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, ills, critters, water, nukes


Today’s compendium begins, once again, with that latest on the health crisis consuming a continent, opening with this from the Guardian:

Ebola outbreak: Congo becomes fifth country with confirmed cases

  • Health minister says up to 15 people may have died but virus is not linked to epidemic that has spread through west Africa

The World Health Organisation has sent protective equipment for medical staff to the Democratic Republic of the Congo after it became the fifth African country this year to suffer a deadly outbreak of Ebola.

“The ministry of health has declared an outbreak and we are treating it as such,” Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesman, told Reuters in Geneva on Monday.

Congo declared on Sunday that Ebola had been identified in its northern Équateur province after two patients tested positive for the virus, but the health minister, Felix Kabange Numbi, denied any link to the epidemic raging in west Africa.

Officials believe Ebola has killed 13 other people in the region, including five health workers. Kabange said 11 were ill and in isolation and 80 contacts were being traced, and the Djera area would be placed under quarantine. Djera is about 750 miles (1,200km) from Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, and 375 miles from the provincial capital, Mbandaka.

From Deutsche Welle, a graphic representation:

BLOG Ebola

And the accompanying story from Deutsche Welle:

Ebola outbreak in DRC: same virus, but different

  • New cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are spreading fears that the virus will spread further across Africa. Yet, the variety found in Central Africa might be of a different kind.

The Ebola River is a small stream running through the forests of the Equateur province in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is in this region that the deadly disease was first recognized by Belgian scientists, who named the worm-looking virus after the river in 1976. Now, the virus has once again returned to the Equateur province with two confirmed cases of people who died from Ebola.

“In this region especially, the Ebola virus is circulating and has caused some smaller and larger outbreaks in the past”, says Dr. Schmidt-Chanasit, head of the viral diagnostic unit at Hamburg’s Bernhard-Nocht-Institute. “So this outbreak, most probably, is not associated with the outbreak in West Africa.

“Case fatality rate is much lower when we compare this to West Africa – it’s around 20 percent,” says Schmidt-Chansit. “So it might be possible that this is a different strain of the Ebola virus that is less pathogenic.”

The London Daily Mail covers a controversial policy:

Quarantined at gunpoint, desperate and hungry, the ordeal of the West African towns in quarantine because of Ebola epidemic

  • Volunteers are being paid four pounds a day to sterilize and bury bodies of Ebola victims in Kenema, Sierra Leone
  • Rigorous quarantine measures being used to stop the virus spreading, as those affected reaches 2,615 worldwide
  • In Liberia, soldiers have created weapon-guarded blockades to ensure thousands of residents stay in quarantine
  • Some 20,000 have been left desperate for food as they wait for rationed deliveries to arrive from the government
  • The enforced quarantines have created ghost towns around the area, as authorities try to stop spread of the virus

CBC News offers a critique:

Ebola outbreak: Why Liberia’s quarantine in West Point slum will fail

  • A relic of the Middle Ages, quarantines do more harm than good

Medical experts say that mass quarantine is rarely if ever effective in stemming the spread of a contagion like Ebola, and the move by Liberia to cordon off a sprawling slum is likely to do more harm than good.

“It’s a measure that basically goes back to the Middle Ages. It’s a reflection really of ignorance and panic,” said Dr. Richard Schabas, formerly chief medical officer for Ontario and now in that role in Hastings and Prince Edward counties.

“Mass quarantine of this kind really has no place at all in disease control”

More from the Independent:

Ebola is inspiring irrational fears that are potentially more damaging than the disease itself

  • We need to look beyond the stigma that attaches to those who have been infected

The bigger danger is the irrational fear which has infected families, communities, towns and cities across West Africa. As the virus has spread so have wild rumours about its cause, which have been variously attributed to witchcraft, a Western plot, and a conspiracy by African governments said to have introduced the disease in order to extract multi-million pound payments in aid from the West.

Irrational fear is posing as a great a threat to the countries affected as the virus itself. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, the two worst affected countries, hospitals and clinics have closed, leaving patients with other diseases such as malaria with nowhere to go for treatment. The official toll of 1,427 deaths and 2,615 cases in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone is certain to understate the real total, as many people with ebola in rural areas will have died and been buried without their ever reaching hospital. But even the real figure is likely to dwarfed by collateral deaths caused by the collapse of the countries’ health systems.

A clinic and quarantine centre in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia,  was attacked a week ago and 29 suspected ebola cases fled while an angry mob looted medical items, instruments and soiled bedding. They were heard chanting that ebola was a hoax by the Liberian president to get money.

And from the New York Times, a video report on those charged with burying the victims:

The Gravediggers of Ebola | Virus Outbreak 2014

Program note:

In Sierra Leone, a group of young men take on the dirtiest work of the Ebola outbreak: finding and burying the dead. Produced by: Ben C. Solomon

From the World Health Organization, another side of the crisis:

Unprecedented number of medical staff infected with Ebola

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in west Africa is unprecedented in many ways, including the high proportion of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who have been infected.

To date, more than 240 health care workers have developed the disease in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, and more than 120 have died.

Ebola has taken the lives of prominent doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia, depriving these countries not only of experienced and dedicated medical care but also of inspiring national heroes.

Several factors help explain the high proportion of infected medical staff. These factors include shortages of personal protective equipment or its improper use, far too few medical staff for such a large outbreak, and the compassion that causes medical staff to work in isolation wards far beyond the number of hours recommended as safe.

The Associated Press covers a casualty:

Liberia: Doctor given experimental Ebola drug dies

A Liberian doctor who received one of the last known doses of an experimental Ebola drug has died, officials said Monday, as Canada said it has yet to send out doses of a potential vaccine that the government is donating.

Ebola has left more than 1,400 people dead across West Africa, underscoring the urgency for developing potential ways to stop and treat the disease. However, health experts warn these options have not undergone the rigorous testing that usually takes place before drugs and vaccines are approved.

The experimental vaccines are at still at a Canadian laboratory, said Patrick Gaebel, spokesman for the Public Health Agency of Canada, who declined to speculate how many weeks it could be before those are given to volunteers.

Jiji Press lends a hand:

Japan to Offer Relief Goods to Ebola-Hit Liberia

Japan will provide emergency relief goods worth 30 million yen, including tents and blankets, to Liberia in response to a request from the West African country hit by Ebola hemorrhagic fever, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

The relief goods will be sent through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the ministry said.

In Liberia, the number of people who were confirmed or suspected to have the Ebola virus stood at 1,802 as of Wednesday while the death toll came to 624, according to the World Health Organization.

And CBC News covers another Japanese contribution:

Ebola outbreak: Japan offers anti-influenza drug for treatment

  • Ebola and influenza viruses are the same general type

Japan said Monday it is ready to provide a Japanese-developed anti-influenza drug as a possible treatment for the rapidly expanding Ebola outbreak.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan can offer favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm Holdings Corp., at any time at the request of the World Health Organization.

The drug, with the brand name Avigan, was developed by Fujifilm subsidiary Toyama Chemical Co. to treat new and re-emerging influenza viruses, and has not been proven to be effective against Ebola.

Meanwhile, the Times of India covers prevention:

Mumbai airport to screen Indians coming from Ebola-hit Liberia

Elaborate precautionary arrangements have been put in place at the Mumbai airport here to screen the 112 stranded Indians, who are expected to arrive on Tuesday by various flights from and around the Ebola-hit Liberia, authorities said here on Monday.

“As part of the tentative plan, the aircraft will be first taken to a remote bay and all passengers will be screened at the step-ladder exit after the arrival of flights at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA),” Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) said here.

Besides, while the passengers without any symptoms will be cleared and shifted to terminal for immigration and customs clearance, those coming from Liberia with symptoms suggestive of EVD, will be directly shifted to designated hospital in ambulance from the bay, it said.

From the Guardian, another cause for anxiety, this time Down Under [in both senses]:

‘Sex superbug’ fears over powerful new drug resistant strain of gonorrhoea

  • Sexual health clinics on alert after patient treated in Cairns found to have the highest level of drug resistance reported in Australia

Concerns are mounting over a powerful new form of gonorrhoea after a patient was found to have the highest level of drug resistance to the disease ever reported in Australia.

It is understood the patient, a tourist from central Europe, contracted the “sex superbug” in Sydney and was eventually treated in Cairns.

The discovery of the case in Australia, which resulted in a health alert in July, has also prompted warnings in New Zealand, where sexual health clinics are on high alert amid fears the new strain will spread there.

While in Pakistan, the Express Tribune covers another threat:

Health and safety: KMC to survey 2,000 houses to check for Congo

At least 2,000 houses surrounding the house of a man who died due to the Congo virus on Thursday are being surveyed to check for possible threats of the virus being present in the area.

Muhammad Kashif was a 24-year-old butcher and a resident of Azizabad who contracted the virus and passed away at a private hospital.

This is the first reported case of the Congo virus in the province this year and it has forced the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to initiate an epidemiologic and demographic survey to gather details of the area the patient resided in.

On to another environmental threat, this time from BBC News:

‘Widespread methane leakage’ from ocean floor off US coast

Researchers say they have found more than 500 bubbling methane vents on the seafloor off the US east coast.

The unexpected discovery indicates there are large volumes of the gas contained in a type of sludgy ice called methane hydrate. There are concerns that these new seeps could be making a hitherto unnoticed contribution to global warming.

The scientists say there could be about 30,000 of these hidden methane vents worldwide.

From the Guardian again, more methane:

Labour attempts to strengthen regulation of UK fracking industry

  • Opposition party to table amendments to Lords infrastructure bill that would tighten rules for companies drilling for shale gas

The Labour party believes the rules covering fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – for gas are not tight enough and will attempt to strengthen regulation of the controversial drilling method by tabling a series of amendments to the infrastructure bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) says there are adequate safeguards covering drilling for shale gas under existing rules or voluntary agreements. However, Tom Greatrex, the shadow energy minister, believes current agreements do not go far enough.

The opposition wants to see well-by-well disclosure of the fracking fluid being pumped into the well, baseline monitoring of methane levels in the groundwater and environmental impact assessments for all fracking sites.

And from Vocativ, the new methane frontier:

What’s the North Pole Worth, Anyways? We Did the Math

  • It’s more valuable than the entire U.S. economy. No wonder the battle for Arctic is fierce

Natural resources are like catnip for power-hungry governments, which is why rich countries have battled over the North Pole for decades. Beneath the frozen tundra bordered by Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States lies some 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of its untapped oil.

And each of those countries is hell-bent on getting the biggest slice of the pie. Perhaps the most hotly contested area is the Lomonosov Ridge, which spans 1,800 miles and divides the Amerasian and Eurasian basins. Both Canada and Russia claim that resource-rich ridge is a natural extension of their continental shelves. Meanwhile, Russia’s 2001 claim to the ridge was rejected by the United Nations (the governing body that decides such matters), but that didn’t stop the country from planting its flag on the North Pole in 2007.

It is the Canucks, though, who have made the most recent play for the North Pole. In December, Canada filed an application with the U.N. arguing that the North Pole falls within Canadian territory, and this month it launched two ice-breaking vessels to gather more scientific data to support its claim. The Canadian government has reportedly spent nearly $200 million in expeditions as part of its quest for Arctic sovereignty.

More from Yale Environment 360:

A New Frontier for Fracking: Drilling Near the Arctic Circle

Hydraulic fracturing is about to move into the Canadian Arctic, with companies exploring the region’s rich shale oil deposits. But many indigenous people and conservationists have serious concerns about the impact of fracking in more fragile northern environments.
by ed struzik

Among the dozens of rivers that flow unfettered through the Canadian North, the Natla and the Keele may be the most picturesque and culturally important. They are especially significant to the Dene people of the Sahtu region, which straddles the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. Both of the rivers flow crystal clear out of the Mackenzie Mountains along the Yukon/Northwest Territories border before coming together in their final course to the Mackenzie River.

For hundreds — if not thousands — of years, the Mountain Dene people have been traveling upstream to salt licks that draw caribou, moose, and mountain sheep down from the high country in the early fall. For the Dene, it is the best opportunity to stock up on wild game, fish, and berries for the long winter.

Water woes from Want China Times:

Drought affects half a million in Xinjiang

A prolonged drought in northwest China’s Xinjiang has left about 200,000 people in need of emergency aid, including drinking water, said the region’s civil affairs department Saturday.

In seven counties of the Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of Ili in northern Xinjiang, more than half a million people and 3.46 million head of livestock have been affected. Some 7,700 cattle have died. Rainfall since May in the Ili valley has been about 50% less than in previous years.

Herders are concerned how their livestock will survive the winter due to the destruction of fodder by the drought. Over 4.3 million mu (287,000 hectares) of crops and 22.8 million mu of pastures have suffered, with direct economic losses of 4.3 billion yuan (US$700 million).

More water woes, this time from Yale Environment 360:

Mideast Water Wars: In Iraq, A Battle for Control of Water

Conflicts over water have long haunted the Middle East. Yet in the current fighting in Iraq, the major dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are seen not just as strategic targets but as powerful weapons of war.

There is a water war going on in the Middle East this summer. Behind the headline stories of brutal slaughter as Sunni militants carve out a religious state covering Iraq and Syria, there lies a battle for the water supplies that sustain these desert nations.

Blood is being spilled to capture the giant dams that control the region’s two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. These structures hold back vast volumes of water. With their engineers fleeing as the Islamic State (ISIS) advances, the danger is that the result could be catastrophe — either deliberate or accidental.

“Managing water works along the Tigris and Euphrates requires a highly specialized skill set, but there is no indication that the Islamic State possesses it,” says Russell Sticklor, a water researcher for the CGIAR, a global agricultural research partnership, who has followed events closely.

After the jump, a radical solution to save the world’s wildlife, saving China’s cranes, an ecological/economic crisis in Southern Europe, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, an American nuclear mystery, and life-saving cannabis news. . . Continue reading

InSecurityEnviroWatch: A very slow news day


We’re not sure why, but it’s been a very slow news day, so we’re combining topic, starting with an Ebola story from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

First WHO worker infected by Ebola, Briton evacuated

The UN’s World Health Organisation on Sunday (Aug 24) announced a first Ebola infection among the health experts it has dispatched to battle the raging epidemic in West Africa that has killed at least 1,427 people with few signs of abating.

Also on Sunday, the first Briton to be infected with Ebola was being flown out of Sierra Leone on Sunday, headed to an isolation ward in a London hospital.

The WHO gave no details about the age, sex or nationality of its infected health worker but said the person had been deployed to Sierra Leone.

Next, our lone Fukushima item, via the Asahi Shimbun:

Thyroid cancer diagnosed in 104 young people in Fukushima

The number of young people in Fukushima Prefecture who have been diagnosed with definitive or suspected thyroid gland cancer, a disease often caused by radiation exposure, now totals 104, according to prefectural officials.

The 104 are among 300,000 young people who were aged 18 or under at the time of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and whose results of thyroid gland tests have been made available as of June 30. They were eligible for the tests administered by the prefectural government.

However, government officials in Fukushima say they do not believe the cases of thyroid gland cancer diagnosed or suspected in the 104 young people are linked to the 2011 nuclear accident.

From TheLocal.se, a culture clash:

Ten injured at Malmö anti-Nazi demonstration

A planned manifestation against the neo-Nazi Party of the Swedes spiralled out of control on Saturday in Malmö as police and protesters clashed leading to several injuries.

Ten people were taken to hospital, five with serious injuries with one of them requiring treatment in the emergency room. Police arrested six people and took scores more into custody.

An estimated 1,500 people gathered in Limhamn square to protest against a planned appearance by the leader of the Svenskarnas parti (party of the Swedes) who was due to make a speech.

The Washington Post covers a gap:

U.S. strikes in Syria against Islamic State would be hindered by intelligence gaps

A U.S. offensive in Syria against the radical Islamist group that beheaded an American journalist would likely be constrained by persistent intelligence gaps and an inability to rely on fleets of armed drones that have served as the Obama administration’s signature weapon against terrorist networks elsewhere, U.S. officials said.

The Pentagon has conducted daily surveillance flights along Iraq’s border with Syria in recent weeks as part of a push to bolster U.S. intelligence on the Islamic State without crossing into Syrian airspace and risking the loss of aircraft to that nation’s air defenses, officials said.

The CIA has also expanded its network of informants inside Syria, largely by recruiting and vetting rebel fighters who have been trained and equipped at clandestine agency bases in Jordan over the past two years, U.S. officials said.

From Deutsche Welle, a drone alert:

Iran ‘downs Israeli drone’ over nuclear site

Iran claims it has shot down an Israeli stealth drone over one of its nuclear sites. Israel has refused to comment on the authenticity of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards’ statement.

“A spy drone of the Zionist regime (Israel) was brought down by a missile… This stealth drone was trying to approach the Natanz nuclear zone,” the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) said on Sunday.

The IRGC’s public relations office said the intruding drone was intercepted by a surface-to-air missile.

The Natanz facility is situated 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of the capital Tehran. It is the country’s main uranium enrichment site, housing more than 16,000 centrifuges.

And from China Daily, a Chinese countermeasure:

Chinese OS expected to debut in October

After concerns about US surveillance and a monopoly probe of Microsoft, there is some good news for China’s homegrown operating system (OS): a desktop version may be ready in October.

Ni Guangnan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering told the People’s Post and Telecommunications News that the OS will be first seen on desktop devices and later expanded to smartphones and other mobile devices.

Ni heads an OS development alliance established in March. There are still problems in the program, including a lack of research funds and too many developers pulling in different directions.

From the Mainichi, our first Game of Zones story:

4 Chinese gov’t ships intrude into Japanese waters near Senkakus

Four China Coast Guard vessels intruded into Japanese territorial waters Sunday morning near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea for the first time since Aug. 12, the Japan Coast Guard said.

The vessels, identified as the Haijing 2102, 2113, 2146 and 2305, left the waters about two hours later. Japanese patrol ships warned the vessels to leave the waters, with one of the Chinese ships responding with a message that the waters belong to China, according to the coast guard.

The Japanese-administered uninhabited islets, located in the East China Sea about 400 kilometers west of Okinawa’s main island, are claimed by China and Taiwan, which call them Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.

And for our final item, NewsOnJapan has another insular tale:

GSDF holds annual drills to protect remote islands

Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force has shown reporters its annual live-fire drills at the foot of Mt Fuji.

The GSDF held the exercise on Sunday at the Higashi-Fuji training camp in Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan.

The drills were based on the scenario that a remote Japanese island was under attack. The set-up was the same as last year’s. About 80 vehicles and 20 aircraft took part.

6.0 early morning earthquake rocks Bay Area


The quake hit at 3:20 a.m., and was centered south of Napa, a city which sustained some serious damage and left at least 89 injured, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Several downtown buildings, including the post office, sustained major damage.

At least six aftershocks followed.. the strongest clocking in at 3.6 at 5:47 a.m.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s web page for the quake is here, seen here in a screen capture:

BLOG Quake

From the Hubble telescope: The Cone Nebula


BLOG Nebula

Via NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

The Cone Nebula from Hubble
Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA Processing & Licence: Judy Schmidt Explanation: Stars are forming in the gigantic dust pillar called the Cone Nebula. Cones, pillars, and majestic flowing shapes abound in stellar nurseries where natal clouds of gas and dust are buffeted by energetic winds from newborn stars. The Cone Nebula, a well-known example, lies within the bright galactic star-forming region NGC 2264. The Cone was captured in unprecedented detail in this close-up composite of several observations from the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. While the Cone Nebula, about 2,500 light-years away in Monoceros, is around 7 light-years long, the region pictured here surrounding the cone’s blunted head is a mere 2.5 light-years across. In our neck of the galaxy that distance is just over half way from the Sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, the Alpha Centauri star system. The massive star NGC 2264 IRS, seen by Hubble’s infrared camera in 1997, is the likely source of the wind sculpting the Cone Nebula and lies off the top of the image. The Cone Nebula‘s reddish veil is produced by glowing hydrogen gas.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, land, trade, and nukes


We begin with the latest Ebola news, first from the Jakarta Globe:

Last Ebola-Free Region of Liberia Falls to Virus

Every region of Liberia has now been hit by Ebola, officials said Friday, as the World Health Organization warned the fight against the worst-ever outbreak of the killer disease would take months.

After seeing people fall to the deadly virus in area after area, Liberia said two people had succumbed to the virus in Sinoe province, the last Ebola-free bastion in a country that has seen the biggest toll with 624 deaths.

The virus has spread relentlessly through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and Nigeria has also been affected despite showing some progress in fighting the epidemic, which has killed 1,427 people since March.

From the Guardian, a British patient:

Ebola outbreak: British national living in Sierra Leone tests positive for virus

  • Overall risk to UK public ‘very low’ says chief medical officer as west African nations impose stringent new measures

A British national living in Sierra Leone has tested positive for the Ebola virus – the first Briton confirmed to have contracted the disease.

The Department of Health said medical experts were assessing the situation “to ensure that appropriate care is delivered”. Consular assistance is being provided.

Professor John Watson, deputy chief medical officer, said: “The overall risk to the public in the UK continues to be very low. Medical experts are currently assessing the situation in Sierra Leone to ensure that appropriate care is provided.

The Associated Press covers a crackdown:

Sierra Leone makes hiding Ebola patients illegal

Sierra Leone voted to pass a new amendment to its health act, imposing possible jail time for anyone caught hiding an Ebola patient, a practice the World Health Organization believes has contributed to a major underestimation of the current outbreak.

The new law, an update to the country’s 1960 Public Health Act, was passed on Friday and imposes prison terms of up to two years for violators, said lawmaker Ansumana Jaiah Kaikai.

The measure was necessary to compel residents to cooperate with government officials, Kaikai said, noting that some residents had resisted steps to combat Ebola including the construction of isolation centers in their communities.

CBC News covers another crackdown:

Ebola outbreak: Ivory Coast closes western borders

  • Filipino peacekeepers leave Liberia due to outbreak

Ivory Coast has closed its land borders with Ebola-affected West African neighbours Guinea and Liberia in an attempt to prevent the world’s deadliest outbreak of the virus from spreading onto its territory, the government announced.

A number of African nations have defied advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) and put in place restrictions on travel to and from the countries where Ebola has appeared, which also include Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

More on the Philippine pullout from Deutsche Welle:

Philippines withdraw UN troops over Ebola concerns

The Philippines will repatriate over 100 UN troops serving in Liberia “as soon as possible.” The decision comes after Liberia confirmed all regions have now been hit by the Ebola virus.

The Philippines defense department confirmed on Saturday that it will pull out more than 100 troops from a UN peace-keeping mission Liberia amid concerns over the Ebola virus. It will also bring home over 300 Filipino UN troops from the Golan Heights amid deteriorating security in the region.

In a statement, the department said the 115-member contingent in Liberia will be “repatriated as soon as possible” due to the increasing health risk from the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

“The Philippines prioritizes the safety and security of its troops, but remains committed to the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations,” the statement added.

South China Morning Post covers a return:

Hong Kong Red Cross volunteers return from Ebola-stricken Liberia, free of disease

Two local volunteers who worked to fight Ebola in Liberia arrived back in Hong Kong yesterday disease-free, as lawmakers gathered to discuss measures to prevent the deadly virus from entering the city.

Clinical psychologist Eliza Cheung Yee-lai and Dr May Yeung Pui-shan, both from Hong Kong Red Cross, showed no symptoms when they were stopped by health officers at the airport for preliminary assessments. They were allowed to leave without being quarantined.

“Eliza and I have finished our mission. Our health is good, and we are in good spirits,” said Yeung, a public health expert.

The Guardian names a culprit:

Ebola: research team says migrating fruit bats responsible for outbreak

  • A toddler’s chance encounter with one infected bat in Guinea led to west Africa’s present epidemic

The largest-ever outbreak of Ebola was triggered by a toddler’s chance contact with a single infected bat, a team of international researchers will reveal, after a major investigation of the origins of the deadly disease now ravaging Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

A group of 17 European and African tropical disease researchers, ecologists and anthropologists spent three weeks talking to people and capturing bats and other animals near the village of Meliandoua in remote eastern Guinea, where the present epidemic appeared in December 2013. They have concluded that the disease was spread by colonies of migratory fruit bats. Their research is expected to be published in a major journal in the next few weeks.

Early studies suggested that a new strain of Ebola had emerged in west Africa but, according to epidemiologist Fabian Leendertz, a disease ecologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, who led the large team of scientists to Guinea, it is likely the virus in Guinea is closely related to the one known as Zaire ebolavirus, identified more than 10 years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Leendertz said the virus had probably arrived in west Africa via an infected straw-coloured fruit bat. These bats migrate across long distances and are commonly found in giant colonies near cities and in forests.

A coming visit via the Associated Press:

CDC director to visit Ebola outbreak countries

A top U.S. health official plans to travel to West Africa to see firsthand how the Ebola outbreak is unfolding.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is scheduled to visit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea next week.

A CDC spokesman Friday said Frieden wants to meet the African and international health leaders trying to control the outbreak, and to hear what help they need. He also plans to visit hospitals treating Ebola patients.

And from Global Times, preparations:

China raises precaution against Ebola

China’s health authorities have stepped up control measures against Ebola in the past week, in wake of continuous epidemic in West Africa.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission distributed a protocol for diagnosis, treatment and fast response of Ebola cases to 31 provincial health departments on Thursday.

The document elaborates the symptoms of the disease and instructs medical workers how to put possible cases under medical observation, to handle suspected cases, to treat confirmed cases and under what circumstances to release a person under observation.

From CBC News, another environmental alert:

Iceland volcano: Bardarbunga eruption begins

  • Volcanic ash could affect air traffic

Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano began erupting Saturday under the country’s largest glacier after a week of seismic activity rattled the area with thousands of earthquakes, the country’s Meteorological Office said.

The eruption prompted Iceland to raise its aviation alert level to red — the highest level on a five-point scale — indicating the threat of “significant emission of ash into the atmosphere.”

Seismic data indicates that magma from the volcano is melting ice beneath the Dyngjujokull icecap on the Vatnajokull glacier, Met Office vulcanologist Melissa Pfeffer said.

MintPress News covers another one:

Environmentalists Rally Against New Herbicide For GE Crops

Citing the inevitability of “superweeds” and calling the product a “life preserver” for fatally flawed technology, environmentalists urge the EPA not to register a new Dow AgroSciences herbicide for GE corn and soybeans

Environmentalists warn that an herbicide designed to work with new varieties of genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans should not be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency because, like other widely-used herbicides for GE crops, it will gradually promote the emergence of “superweeds” resistant to the new herbicide.

The herbicide at issue is Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Duo, whose active ingredients are two “old” chemicals: glyphosate (best known by the trade name “Roundup”) and 2,4-D. The herbicide would be applied in fields planted with Enlist Corn and Enlist Soybeans – which Dow has engineered to tolerate the product.

The first commercial applications of 2,4-D date back to the mid-1940s, but the chemical gained notoriety due to its use in a Vietnam War-era defoliant: Agent Orange. Although 2,4-D was not the only herbicide in Agent Orange, the product was contaminated with dioxin — a potent carcinogen — as a byproduct of the production process.

From Deutsche Welle, a video report on the destructive role played by free trade pacts on local agriculture in one Latin American nation:

Business Brief: Columbia’s Struggling Farmers

Program note:

Free trade pacts are supposed to be a win-win situation for the nations who enter in to them.

And from Al Jazeera America, a sovereign victory to the north:

Canada’s First Nations people seek to ‘evict’ energy companies from land

  • Indigenous people of British Columbia are emboldened by a court decision siding with tribe in land rights dispute

The Gitxsan and First Nations peoples across the country have been emboldened by a June Supreme Court of Canada decision they describe as a “game changer.” In that case, the court sided with the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, a band of roughly 3,000 people residing in British Columbia’s interior, in a dispute over commercial logging. The court ruled that because the Tsilhqot’in were found to hold “aboriginal title” over the territory in question, their permission was required before logging could proceed.

“Canada is witnessing something that I call the rise of native empowerment,” said Bill Gallagher, a lawyer and author who specializes in First Nations legal challenges. “The Supreme Court of Canada has declared, verbatim, that the doctrine of terra nullius — that nobody was here when flags were planted by colonizers — that that doctrine does not apply in Canada.”

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

Late Fukushima nuclear plant chief’s testimony may be made public

The government plans to disclose testimony by Fukushima No. 1 chief Masao Yoshida that could shed light on whether he ordered staff at the stricken power plant to stay at their posts during the triple meltdown crisis, sources revealed Friday.

The decision could be made by mid-September, governmental and other sources said, noting Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga might comment on the leaking testimony on Monday.

Yoshida, who died of cancer in July last year, gave testimony to a government panel that was formed to probe the March 2011 disaster. It interviewed Yoshida for more than 20 hours between July and November 2011.

And from the Asahi Shimbun, a compromise:

Fukushima Prefecture to accept intermediate storage facility for radioactive waste

Fukushima Prefecture is set to accept the construction of an interim facility to store radioactive waste from cleanup work due to the nuclear disaster, advancing the stalled process of decontaminating the affected areas.

The prefectural government has decided to shoulder the difference between the appraised value of land in Okuma and Futaba, where the structure will be built, and the price it would have fetched before the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The decision came after landowners insisted that the land should be bought at a fair market value because the current appraisals are much lower than pre-disaster estimates.

For our final item, Big Oil tries to buy a city, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Chevron pouring money into Richmond election

The biggest political campaign war chest in Richmond doesn’t belong to a candidate, it belongs to a corporation that hopes to steer the city’s November municipal election in its favor.

Chevron, the city’s main employer and taxpayer, is also the biggest spender on political campaigns – it set aside $1.6 million in a political action committee called Moving Forward that supports the oil giant’s favorite City Council and mayoral candidates.

Let me repeat: $1.6 million. For local elections in a city of a little over 106,000 residents.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, inequality, toxins, nukes


We open today’s coverage of stories about people, place, and their interaction with a much-needed report on an aspect of the Ebola crisis that’s received far too little notice.

From Democracy Now!:

“A Reflection of Growing Inequality”: Dr. Paul Farmer on the Deadly Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

Program notes:

As the death toll from the West African Ebola outbreak nears 1,400, two American missionaries who received experimental drugs and top-notch healthcare have been released from the hospital. We spend the hour with Partners in Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer discussing what can be done to stop the epidemic and the need to build local healthcare capacity, not just an emergency response. “The Ebola outbreak, which is the largest in history that we know about, is merely a reflection of the public health crisis in Africa and it’s about the lack of staff, stuff and systems that could protect populations, particularly those living in poverty, from outbreaks like this or other public health threats,” says Farmer, who has devoted his life to improving the health of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. He is a professor at Harvard Medical School and currently serves as the special advisor to the United Nations on community-based medicine. He has written several books including, “Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues.”

A longer version of the interview is posted online here.

Closer to Casa esnl, some good news, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Sacramento Ebola test comes back negative

Health officials announced Thursday night that a patient in Sacramento who was thought to have been exposed to the Ebola virus after traveling to West Africa has tested negative and does not have the disease.

Dr. Ron Chapman, Director of the California Department of Public Health, said that a blood sample sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came back free of the deadly virus, which has been ravishing West Africa over the last two months, killing more than 1,100 people.

The patient had recently traveled to the region, officials said.

Followed immediately by more bad news, first via BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Speed and extent of outbreak ‘unprecedented’

The World Health Organization has said the speed and extent of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “unprecedented”.

The WHO’s Dr Keiji Fukuda expressed concern over so-called “shadow zones”, areas which cannot be reached and where patients are not being detected.

Speaking at a news conference in the Liberian capital Monrovia, Dr Fukuda said combating the disease would take “several months of hard work”.

“We haven’t seen an Ebola outbreak covering towns, rural areas so quickly and over such a wide area,” he added.

CBC News has the numbers:

Ebola epidemic’s death toll rises to 1,427

  • Ebola ‘road map’ in the works to fight outbreak for 6 to 9 months, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib says

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has led to 1,427 deaths out of 2,615 known cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

In its latest update, the WHO reported 142 new laboratory-confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola and 77 more deaths from four affected countries — Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Al Jazeera America adds another caution:

Ebola virus may not be contained in Nigeria as two more cases emerge

  • The development comes as African nations have tightened travel restrictions against WHO’s advice

Two new cases of Ebola have emerged in Nigeria and, they are outside the group of caregivers who treated an airline passenger who arrived with Ebola and died, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said Friday.

The two are spouses of a man and woman who had direct contact with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, who flew into Nigeria last month with the virus and infected 11 others before he died in July, including the male and female caregiver who both subsequently died of Ebola, Chukwu told reporters in Abuja, the capital.

Nigerian officials initially claimed the risk of exposure to others was minimal because Sawyer was whisked into isolation after arriving at the airport. But Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris later acknowledged that Sawyer was not immediately quarantined the first day.

More from Reuters:

WHO warns of ‘shadow zones’, hidden cases in Ebola outbreak

The scale of the world’s worst Ebola outbreak has been concealed by families hiding infected loved ones in their homes and the existence of “shadow zones” that medics cannot enter, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The U.N. agency issued a statement detailing why the outbreak in West Africa had been underestimated, following criticism that it had moved too slowly to contain the killer virus, now spreading out of control.

Independent experts raised similar concerns a month ago that the contagion could be worse than reported because suspicious local inhabitants are chasing away health workers and shunning treatment.

Under-reporting of cases is a problem especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The WHO said it was now working with Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to produce “more realistic estimates”.

The Guardian covers a consequence:

Ebola has caused Liberia’s cauldron of dissatisfaction to boil over

  • Relations between the Liberian state and its citizens were already in crisis before the Ebola outbreak made things much worse

“We dodged bullets during the war, now Ebola is going to kill us?” my aunt asked me in distress one evening in mid-July, as we sat commiserating at my house on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.

Back then, Ebola seemed like a looming threat in the way that armed conflict had 15 years earlier. But by the end of the month, the Liberian government had declared a state of emergency and, days later, the World Health Organisation designated the Ebola outbreak in west Africa an international health emergency. Ebola has now killed more than 1,000 people, with the number of deaths in Liberia surpassing those in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Yet before the highly infectious disease permeated Liberia’s borders from neighbouring Guinea in March, the country was plagued by a crisis of citizenship. Relations between the Liberian state and its citizens were already volatile.

The Guardian covers First World fear:

Fear and false alarms as Ebola puts Europe on alert

  • After the death of a Spanish missionary who contracted the virus in Liberia, European authorities are taking no chances

There has been only one confirmed Ebola case in Europe since the epidemic broke out in Africa, but a string of false alarms has provoked jitters and charges of overreaction.

From Austria to Ireland, Spain to Germany, there have been at least a dozen cases of west Africans with mild flu symptoms being isolated until it was established that they were not suffering from Ebola. The only recorded case involved a Spanish missionary who contracted the virus in Liberia and died after he had returned to Spain.

In Spain, worries over Ebola have resulted in three false alarms in as many days.

From TheLocal.fr, airborne alarm:

Ebola: Cabin crew told to boycott Air France flights

Pressure mounted on Air France to suspend flights to West Africa on Friday when a trade union called on cabin crew to refuse to board planes to Ebola hit countries. It comes after panic spread through a Paris flight earlier this week.

A trade union representing Air France cabin crew has told its members to refuse to board planes bound for West African countries hit by Ebola.

The UGICT –CGT union said crew were not sufficiently protected against contamination from Ebola and they should boycott flights bound to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

TheLocal.it covers another alarm:

Italian woman in suspected Ebola case

An Italian woman travelling from Nigeria on Friday was stopped at Istanbul airport in a suspected Ebola case, Turkish media reported.

The Italian woman had a high fever and was put under medical supervision on arrival at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Cihan news agency reported.

She had travelled on a Turkish Airlines flight from Kano in Nigeria, where there have been 12 confirmed cases and four deaths of the Ebola virus.

The woman was taken from the airport to Istanbul’s Haseki Training and Research Hospital, Cihan said.

BBC News covers another consequence:

Ebola crisis: Senegal defends Guinea border closure

Senegal has defended the closure of its border with Guinea because of the Ebola outbreak, despite warnings that such measures are counterproductive.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says travel bans do not work.

Senegal’s Health Minister Dr Eva Marie Colle Seck told the BBC the travel ban would not affect humanitarian flights, and that the WHO was “learning, like everybody [else]”.

In Liberia, a boy of 16 shot while protesting about a quarantine has died.

CBC News gets proactive:

Ebola treatment of Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol holds lessons for others

  • Replace fluid and electroytes, U.S. doctor advices colleagues treating Ebola patients in Africa

Two Americans who recovered from Ebola virus infections are contributing to doctors’ understanding of the deadly disease, a physician who treated them says.

Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were infected with the Ebola virus in Liberia while working for Christian aid groups.

They were evacuated from Liberia, treated for three weeks at a hospital in Atlanta and discharged this week.

And The Hill reassures:

FDA seeks to dispel Ebola outbreak fears

The Food and Drug Administration has posted a Web page with quick facts about the Ebola virus and the outbreak in West Africa in order to fight misconceptions about the disease permeating the general public.

“Currently, there are no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola,” the FDA says on its page. “Ebola does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public.”

The FDA plans to update the page with its ongoing assessments of the disease and has provided information for the public to report fake Ebola drugs and vaccines, which have been a major concern for the agency.

While health officials have repeatedly said there is virtually no risk of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S., 4 in 10 people are concerned there will be a large outbreak, and a quarter of people are worried they or a loved one will be infected within the next year according to a new survey by Harvard University.

And that old metadata surfaces anew in another context, via MIT Technology Review:

Cell-Phone Data Might Help Predict Ebola’s Spread

  • Mobility data from an African mobile-phone carrier could help researchers recommend where to focus health-care efforts

A West African mobile carrier has given researchers access to data gleaned from cell phones in Senegal, providing a window into regional population movements that could help predict the spread of Ebola. The current outbreak is so far known to have killed at least 1,350 people, mainly in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

The model created using the data is not meant to lead to travel restrictions, but rather to offer clues about where to focus preventive measures and health care. Indeed, efforts to restrict people’s movements, such as Senegal’s decision to close its border with Guinea this week, remain extremely controversial.

Orange Telecom made “an exceptional authorization in support of Ebola control efforts,” according to Flowminder, the Swedish nonprofit that analyzed the data. “If there are outbreaks in other countries, this might tell what places connected to the outbreak location might be at increased risk of new outbreaks,” says Linus Bengtsson, a medical doctor and cofounder of Flowminder, which builds models of population movements using cell-phone data and other sources.

Meanwhile, the London Daily Mail evokes another specter:

Will climate change cause a rise in dengue fever? Holidaymakers visiting Italy and Spain could be at risk

  • Risk of dengue fever in Europe is likely to increase, researchers claim
  • Dengue is a viral infection carried and spread by mosquitoes
  • Thrive in warm, humid conditions, which could include areas in Europe
  • This is dependent on climate change continuing on its current trajectory
  • Italy’s Po Valley and areas in southern Spain are at risk
  • University of East Anglia’s research is based on data collected in Mexico

On to other environmental news, first with an Al Jazeera America story that evokes concerns raised by Paul Farmer much closer to home:

Alabama community alleges race bias over toxic landfill site

  • Coal ash from earlier environmental disaster is causing health concerns for poor African-American residents

Five-and-a-half years have passed since an earthen dam holding toxic coal ash from a coal plant failed in Harriman, Tenn., spilling more than a billion gallons of the ash into rivers and forests, and destroying several homes. The TVA Kingston Fossil Plant disaster was widely considered one of the worst in U.S. history, or at least one of the biggest by volume. And it’s still causing headaches, hundreds of miles away.

Last week, Environmental Protection Agency investigators traveled to Uniontown, Ala., to interview residents and activists who say a local landfill that accepted much of the Tennessee coal ash is polluting air and water sources nearby, causing people who live in the area to become sick. The residents of the poor, predominantly black area say they are being unfairly burdened with the literal remnants of a disaster they had nothing to do with.

“The landfill is a hill, a mountain, and it’s scary,” said Esther Calhoun, a 51-year-old resident that has lived in Uniontown for most of her life. “Who wants to live in a place that might be bad for your health? But most of us are on a fixed income. We’re stuck here.”

After the jump, endangered species under threat from palm oil logging, claims of plankton alive in space, fire ants invade Hawaii, too much gas in North Dakota, mine fires in Pennsylvania, and the latest chapter of the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading