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SKYE on AOL

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    January 2, 2013

    Neil Armstrong, waving in front, heads for the van that will take the crew to the rocket for launch to the moon at Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Fla., on July 16, 1969. (AP Photo)

    The famous first words uttered by the first person on the moon, Neil Armstrong, may not have been as spontaneous as commonly thought, according to Armstrong's brother.

    Armstrong, after becoming the first human to set foot on Earth's nearest neighbor in July 1969 during NASA's historic Apollo 11 mission, said, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." (Although the "a" isn't audible in his transmission, the moonwalker insisted that the official quote included the extra word.)

    In numerous interviews, and even in his own autobiography, Armstrong said he thought of the words after arriving at the moon, while waiting to exit his lunar module Eagle. But in a new BBC documentary, the astronaut's brother Dean Armstrong says the two discussed the statement months earlier, when Neil passed Dean a handwritten note during a late-night game of Risk, according to British newspaper the Telegraph.

    "On that piece of paper there was 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.' He says 'what do you think about that?' I said 'fabulous.' He said 'I thought you might like that, but I wanted you to read it,'" Dean Armstrong said, according to the Telegraph.

    Neil Armstrong, who died Aug. 25 at the age of 82, had never mentioned the conversation publicly. If that scene took place just as Dean Armstrong says, it would contradict numerous statements by the first moonwalker. [Neil Armstrong Buried at Sea (NASA Photos)]

    "Neil Armstrong said multiple times in multiple venues that he did not think about what to say until he got to the surface of the moon," said space history and collectibles expert Robert Pearlman, editor of SPACE.com partner site collectSPACE.com. "There were several hours after he landed, during which time he had the opportunity to give thought to what his first words would be."

    That version of the story has been corroborated by other astronauts, as well, including the two other men who flew on the Apollo 11 mission with Armstrong.

    "His crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins have said he did not discuss what he would say with them either before the mission or as the mission was progressing," Pearlman told SPACE.com.

    This new information from Dean Armstrong has ruffled some space enthusiasts and historians, who wonder what Neil Armstrong himself would say if he were still alive.

    "Whether intentional or not, Dean Armstrong's account now suggests his brother has been lying for 40-plus years," Pearlman said.

    The new BBC documentary, "Neil Armstrong - First Man on the Moon," is available to watch online here to those in the U.K.

    Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    Photos: Neil Armstrong - American Icon Remembered
    Neil Armstrong's 'One Small Step' That Changed The World | Video
    NASA's 17 Apollo Moon Missions in Pictures

    Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Updated Wednesday, Jan. 2, 7:34 p.m. ET

    Clean-up from Superstorm Sandy occurs on the site of a demolished home on the Rockaway peninsula in the Queens borough of New York on Nov. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The leader of the U.S. House of Representatives agreed Wednesday to a vote this week on aid for Superstorm Sandy recovery, changing course after coming under intense pressure from angry fellow Republicans.

    The speaker will schedule a vote Friday for $9 billion for the national flood insurance program and another on Jan. 15 for a remaining $51 billion in the package, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York said after emerging from a meeting with Boehner and Republican lawmakers from New York and New Jersey. The votes will be taken by the new Congress that will be sworn in Thursday.

    Boehner's decision Tuesday night to cancel an expected vote on the storm aid before Congress ends its current session had provoked a firestorm of criticism from New York, New Jersey and adjacent states, including many lawmakers in his own party.

    According to King, Boehner explained that after the contentious vote this week to avoid major tax increases and spending cuts called the "fiscal cliff," Boehner didn't think it was the right time to schedule the vote before the current Congress went out of business.

    King left the session with Boehner without the anger that led him to lash out at the speaker Tuesday night.

    "What's done is done. The end result will be New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will receive the funding they deserve. We made our position clear last night. That's in the past," King said.

    Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine in October. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest hit states and suffered high winds, flooding and storm surges.

    It was the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005 and one of the worst storms ever in the Northeast.

    "Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress, and that was reaffirmed today with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations," Boehner said in a joint statement with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

    King said Boehner assured the lawmakers present that the money from the two House votes would roughly equal the $60 billion package of aid that passed the Senate on Friday.

    The House Appropriations Committee has drafted a smaller, $27 billion measure for immediate recovery needs and a second amendment for $33 billion to meet longer-term needs.

    The $9 billion in flood insurance money to be voted on Friday was originally in the $27 billion measure. The votes on Jan. 15 will be for $18 billion in immediate assistance and $33 billion for longer-term projects, including projects to protect against future storms, King said.

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, was among those sharply criticizing Boehner before the speaker changed course.

    Christie said he was frustrated after Boehner withdrew the bill Tuesday night and tried to call him four times that night, but none of the calls were returned. Christie complained about the "toxic internal politics" of the House majority. Christie said he had worked hard to persuade House members to support Sandy aid, and was given assurances by Republican leaders that the bill would be voted on before Thursday.

    "There is no reason for me at the moment to believe anything they tell me," Christie said before Boehner announced there would be votes this month.

    Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, issued a joint statement, saying, "The fact that days continue to go by while people suffer, families are out of their homes, and men and women remain jobless and struggling during these harsh winter months is a dereliction of duty."

    King was among an angry chorus of New York and New Jersey lawmakers from both parties who blasted Boehner. He had branded Boehner's initial decision to pull the bill a "cruel knife in the back" to New York and New Jersey.

    In considering the Sandy aid package, the speaker was caught between conservative lawmakers who want to offset any increase in spending and Northeast and mid-Atlantic lawmakers determined to help their states recover more than two months after the storm hit.

    The criticism of Boehner on the House floor was personal at times, and reflected in part the frustration among rank-and-file over the decision to press ahead with a vote on the "fiscal cliff deal. Boehner had been struggling with conservatives who complained that the economic package didn't include enough spending cuts.

    Reps. Michael Grimm, a Republican, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said in angry House floor remarks that while they did not agree on much, Boehner's decision amounted to a "betrayal" and a crushing blow to states battered by the storm.

    Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, raised the political temperature even more. She said Boehner should explain his decision to families whose homes and businesses were destroyed, and added: "But I doubt he has the dignity nor the guts to do it."

    President Barack Obama called for House Republicans to vote on the Sandy aid "without delay for our fellow Americans." The president said in a written statement that many people recovering from the storm need "immediate support with the bulk of winter still in front of us."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    A B-2 stealth bomber passes over the Rose Bowl during pregame festivities for the NCAA college football game between Stanford and Wisconsin on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    By Vickie Frantz, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer

    The college football matches are in their final days before the BCS Championship Game takes place on Monday.

    Thursday

    The Oregon Ducks will take on the Kansas State Wildcats at the Fiesta Bowl at 8:30 p.m. EST.
    "It will be mainly clear with a pre-game temperature around 60 degrees F," said AccuWeather Meteorologist Andy Mussoline. "The temperature by the time the game ends may fall to 48 degrees F."

    The game will be played in the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The stadium has a retractable roof and, according to reports from azcentral.com, stadium spokesperson Kristen Pflipsen said they are considering keeping the roof open for the game. It all depends on the weather.

    If the roof stays open, it will be the first time the game has been played with an open roof since it has been hosted at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

    Friday

    The Texas A&M Aggies play against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Kickoff time is 8 p.m. EST.

    "It will be cloudy and chilly with pre-game temperatures in the mid- to lower 40s," said Mussoline. "The high temperature for the day is only 48 degrees F."

    RELATED ON ACCUWEATHER: Snowfall Headed for West Texas Thursday

    Saturday

    The Pittsburgh Panthers take on the Mississippi Rebels at 1 p.m. EST in Birmingham, Ala.
    "At game time, it will be mostly cloudy with a temperature of 54 degrees F," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Pigott.

    Sunday

    At 9 p.m. EST, the Kent State Golden Flashes play the Arkansas State Red Wolves in Mobile, Ala.

    "The temperature at kickoff will be 58 degrees F," Pigott said. "It will be mostly cloudy for the game with a chance of showers."

    Monday

    The BCS Championship Game kicks off at 8:30 p.m. EST when the Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Miami, Fla.

    "It will be 70 degrees F at kickoff time," said Mussoline. "It will be a dry day with winds out of the northeast at 6-12 mph."

    RELATED ON ACCUWEATHER: Cold and Snow to Retreat Week Two of January

     

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    This aerial image shows the Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Kulluk aground off a small island near Kodiak Island on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The grounding of a petroleum drilling ship on a remote Alaska island has refueled the debate over oil exploration in the U.S. Arctic Ocean, where critics for years have said the conditions are too harsh and the stakes too high to allow dangerous industrial development.

    The drilling sites are 1,000 miles from Coast Guard resources, and environmentalists argue offshore drilling in the Arctic's fragile ecosystem is too risky. So when a Royal Dutch Shell PLC ship went aground on New Year's Eve on an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Alaska, they pounced - saying the incident foreshadowed what will happen north of the Bering Strait if drilling is allowed.

    For oil giant Shell, which leads the way in drilling in the frontier waters of the U.S Arctic, a spokesman said the grounding will be a learning experience in the company's years long effort to draw oil from beneath the ocean floor, which it maintains it can do safely. Though no wells exist there yet, Shell has invested billions of dollars gearing up for drilling in the Beaufort and the Chukchi seas, off Alaska's north and northwest coast.

    The potential bounty is high: The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 26.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas exist below Arctic waters.

    Environmentalists note the Beaufort and the Chukchi seas are some of the wildest and most remote ecosystems on the planet. They also are among the most fragile, supporting polar bears, the ice seals they feed on, walrus, endangered whales and other marine mammals that Alaska Natives depend on for their subsistence culture.

    "The Arctic is just far different than the Gulf of Alaska or even other places on earth," said Marilyn Heiman, U.S. Arctic director for the Pew Environment Group.

    Royal Dutch Shell PLC in 2008 spent $2.1 billion on Chukchi Sea leases and estimates it has spent a total of nearly $5 billion on drilling efforts there and in the Beaufort.

    Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said the company has a long, successful history of working offshore in Alaska and is confident it can build another multi-decade business in the Arctic.

    "Our success here is not by accident," Smith said. "We know how to work in regions like this. Having said that, when flawless execution does not happen, you learn from it, and we will."

    The drill ship that operated in the Beaufort Sea, the Kulluk, a circular barge with a funnel-shape hull and no propulsion system, ran ashore Monday on Sitkalidak Island, which is near the larger Kodiak Island in the gulf.

    The ship had left Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Island under tow behind the 360-foot (110-meter) anchor handler Aiviq on Dec. 22. It was making its way to a Pacific Northwest shipyard for maintenance and upgrades when it ran into a vicious storm - a fairly routine winter event for Alaska waters.

    The tow line snapped Dec. 27. Shell vessels and the Coast Guard reattached tow lines at least four times. High wind and seas that approached 50 feet (15 meters) frustrated efforts to control the rig, and it ran aground on a sand and gravel beach.

    Shell, the drill ship operators and transit experts, and the Coast Guard are planning the salvage operation.

    Calmer weather conditions on Wednesday allowed a team of five salvage experts to be lowered by helicopter to the Kulluk to conduct a three-hour structural assessment. Also taken to the Kulluk was a state-owned emergency towing system for use in the operation.

    "There are still no signs of any sheen or environmental impact and the Kulluk appears to be stable," Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler said Wednesday night in a telephone briefing. He flew over the rig earlier in the day with a Shell representative and an Alaska Environmental Conservation Department official.

    Mehler said the assessment team that checked the ship Wednesday was working with salvage planners but it was too early to speculate on a time line for moving the ship.

    He said he saw four life boats on the shoreline but there was no indication that other debris had been ripped from the ship.

    The overflight in rain and 35 mph (56 kph) winds showed a few birds but no marine mammals near the rig, said Steve Russell of the Environmental Conservation Department.

    The state of Alaska has been an enthusiastic supporter of Arctic offshore drilling. More than 90 percent of its general fund revenue comes from oil earnings. However, the trans-Alaska pipeline has been running at less than one-third capacity as reserves diminish in North Slope fields. State officials see Arctic offshore drilling as a way to replenish the trans-Alaska pipeline while keeping the state economy vital.

    In September, two Shell ships sent drill bits into the U.S. Arctic Ocean floor for the first time in more than two decades. They created top holes and initial drilling for two exploratory wells. Drilling ended on the last day of October.

    The grounding in the North Pacific is not a wellhead blowout in the Arctic, and not a drop of oil has been detected in the water. But environmental groups say it's a bad sign.

    Drill rigs in Arctic waters could be affected by ice any time during the four-month open water season, said Heiman of the Pew Environment Group. The other threats - near hurricane-force winds compounded by cold and darkness - were seen in the grounding, she said.

    "We know that in the Arctic and in the gulf it's not uncommon to have pretty high seas, and you have to take precautions," she said. "If you're going to dill in those types of conditions, or even move vessels in those conditions, you have to have strong, Arctic-specific gear and equipment and safety training. It has to be very vigorous, and I don't think we're there yet."

    Shell was fortunate in some ways, she said, that the Kulluk experienced problems near Kodiak.

    "Up in the Arctic, you are 1,000 miles away from any Coast Guard station and the kind of response they were able to deploy in Kodiak," she said. The Coast Guard the last few summers has staged equipment and personnel in the Arctic. That has meant a couple of helicopters and possibly a cutter, Heiman said. It in no way can be compared to the Gulf of Mexico and the resources available for BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster.

    "It's remote. There are no roads. There's no real, true spill response capability like you would have in the gulf, where you have ports and harbors and boats and fishing boats and vessels everywhere," she said.

    Shell has said its preparations will allow it to operate safely far from the Coast Guard base. Like a backcountry camper, Shell has promised to carry all the response equipment needed to the isolated drilling sites: a fleet of more than 20 response vessels that could respond in either the Beaufort of the Chukchi.

    Shell spokesman Smith said the company remains confident in its ability to operate safely.

    "We encountered severe weather basically all summer long in the Arctic," he said. "While it was challenging, the personnel and the assets and the rigs performed very well."

    When a massive ice flow moved toward the drill ship operating in the Chukchi after less than a day of drilling, Shell released the vessel from anchors and moved out of the way.

    "As disappointing as that was, given how long we had waited to start drilling - we were only a day in - we had the time and made the decision to disconnect from anchors and safely move off," Smith said. "That's how responsible operators work in the Arctic, or anywhere, really."

    The Aiviq has towed the Kulluk more than 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers) and experienced conditions seen before the grounding, Smith said. It was no accident, Smith said, that additional vessels were standing by in Seward.

    It's too soon to know what led to the grounding, Smith said, but the failure of the Aiviq's engines for a time after the initial separation and the inability to re-establish an ideal tow connection were factors.

    "It's clear that a sequence of unlikely events compounded over a short period of time, underscored by the complete loss of power to the engines of the Aiviq," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: SKYESCAPES: 15 Stunning Photos of Alaska

     

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    In this file photo, a mosquito is sorted according to species and gender before testing for West Nile Virus in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Only a 10 percent chance of showers today, but a 70 percent chance of flu next month.

    That's the kind of forecasting health scientists are trying to move toward, as they increasingly include weather data in their attempts to predict disease outbreaks.

    In one recent study, two scientists reported they could predict - more than seven weeks in advance - when flu season was going to peak in New York City. Theirs was just the latest in a growing wave of computer models that factor in rainfall, temperature or other weather conditions to forecast disease.

    Health officials are excited by this kind of work and the idea that it could be used to fine-tune vaccination campaigns or other disease prevention efforts.

    At the same time, experts note that outbreaks are influenced as much, or more, by human behavior and other factors as by the weather. Some argue weather-based outbreak predictions still have a long way to go. And when government health officials warned in early December that flu season seemed to be off to an early start, they said there was no evidence it was driven by the weather.

    This disease-forecasting concept is not new: Scientists have been working on mathematical models to predict outbreaks for decades and have long factored in the weather. They have known, for example, that temperature and rainfall affect the breeding of mosquitoes that carry malaria, West Nile virus and other dangerous diseases.

    Recent improvements in weather-tracking have helped, including satellite technology and more sophisticated computer data processing.

    As a result, "in the last five years or so, there's been quite an improvement and acceleration" in weather-focused disease modeling, said Ira Longini, a University of Florida biostatistician who's worked on outbreak prediction projects.

    Some models have been labeled successes.

    In the United States, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of New Mexico tried to predict outbreaks of hantavirus in the late 1990s. They used rain and snow data and other information to study patterns of plant growth that attract rodents. People catch the disease from the droppings of infected rodents.

    "We predicted what would happen later that year," said Gregory Glass, a Johns Hopkins researcher who worked on the project.

    More recently, in east Africa, satellites have been used to predict rainfall by measuring sea-surface temperatures and cloud density. That's been used to generate "risk maps" for Rift Valley fever - a virus that spreads from animals to people and in severe cases can cause blindness or death. Researchers have said the system in some cases has given two to six weeks advance warning.

    Last year, other researchers using satellite data in east Africa said they found that a small change in average temperature was a warning sign cholera cases would double within four months.

    "We are getting very close to developing a viable forecasting system" against cholera that can help health officials in African countries ramp up emergency vaccinations and other efforts, said a statement by one of the authors, Rita Reyburn of the International Vaccine Institute in Seoul, South Korea.

    Some diseases are hard to forecast, such as West Nile virus. Last year, the U.S. suffered one of its worst years since the virus arrived in 1999. There were more than 2,600 serious illnesses and nearly 240 deaths.

    Officials said the mild winter, early spring and very hot summer helped spur mosquito breeding and the spread of the virus. But the danger wasn't spread uniformly. In Texas, the Dallas area was particularly hard-hit, while other places, including some with similar weather patterns and the same type of mosquitoes, were not as affected.

    "Why Dallas, and not areas with similar ecological conditions? We don't really know," said Roger Nasci of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is chief of the CDC branch that tracks insect-borne viruses.

    Some think flu lends itself to outbreak forecasting - there's already a predictability to the annual winter flu season. But that's been tricky, too.

    Seasonal flu reports come from doctors' offices, but those show the disease when it's already spreading. Some researchers have studied tweets on Twitter and searches on Google, but their work has offered a jump of only a week or two on traditional methods.

    In the study of New York City flu cases published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors said they could forecast, by up to seven weeks, the peak of flu season.

    They designed a model based on weather and flu data from past years, 2003-09. In part, their design was based on earlier studies that found flu virus spreads better when the air is dry and turns colder. They made calculations based on humidity readings and on Google Flu Trends, which tracks how many people are searching each day for information on flu-related topics (often because they're beginning to feel ill).

    Using that model, they hope to try real-time predictions as early as next year, said Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University, who led the work.

    "It's certainly exciting," said Lyn Finelli, the CDC's flu surveillance chief. She said the CDC supports Shaman's work, but agency officials are eager to see follow-up studies showing the model can predict flu trends in places different from New York, like Miami.

    Despite the optimism by some, Dr. Edward Ryan, a Harvard University professor of immunology and infectious diseases, is cautious about weather-based prediction models. "I'm not sure any of them are ready for prime time," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    In this Dec. 29, 2012, photo, a man handles pieces of headstone at his small family cemetery which sits along the bayou near Leeville, La. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

    LEEVILLE, La. (AP) - As a young adult, Kathleen Cheramie visited her grandmother's grave in a tree-lined cemetery where white concrete crosses dotted a plot of lush green grass just off Louisiana Highway 1.

    Now, the cemetery in Leeville is a skeleton of its former self. The few trees still standing have been killed by saltwater intruding from the Gulf. Their leafless branches are suspended above marsh grass left brown and soggy from saltwater creeping up from beneath the graves.

    "It was a beautiful place to visit," said Cheramie, 67, who lives in nearby Golden Meadow. "It hurts to see it now."

    Cheramie's small family graveyard is among at least two dozen cemeteries across the southeast Louisiana coast that are rapidly sinking or washing away because of erosion and subsidence accelerated by the tropical punch of storms such as Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, Lee and Isaac.

    Local residents say 11 cemeteries in Jefferson Parish have repeatedly flooded since Hurricane Katrina. In Lafourche, Terrebonne and Plaquemines parishes, more than a dozen others have succumbed to tidal surge. Some have more than 300 gravesites.

    Officials say not much can be done to save the cemeteries or the sinking communities that surround them, though some towns have tried pouring concrete slabs to build up the burial sites and hold headstones in place. They've also anchored above-ground caskets to the slabs to keep them from floating off.

    "When I was a kid, you didn't see graves floating away and going under water," said Timothy Kerner, 53, mayor of the fishing town of Jean Lafitte, where schools, restaurants and homes have flooded at least four times in the past seven years.

    Kerner said all 11 cemeteries in the area were under water during Hurricane Isaac, which struck Louisiana in August. Although many caskets had been anchored to concrete slabs, dozens still floated away, finding new resting places under and between houses.

    In some cases, human remains became separated from the caskets.

    "It's horrible," said Kerner, shaking his head as he flipped through photographs taken as officials recovered the caskets and remains. "It's sad, and it would be sad in any circumstance, but in this case you have families that have been here for 300 years, for generation after generation."

    Kerner said his community has about 1,500 grave sites - some dating back to the early 1800s, when the town's namesake, pirate Jean Lafitte, used the bayous for smuggling.

    Along the Louisiana coast, towns like Jean Lafitte watch the Gulf march closer each day, threatening wildlife habitats and a way of life.

    Coastal Louisiana has lost about 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s as canals dug for oil exploration allowed salty water to intrude into marshes and a succession of powerful hurricanes sucked marsh muck that protects populated areas out into the Gulf.

    Archie Chaisson, coastal zone manager for Lafourche Parish, said about 90 percent of one Leeville cemetery dating to the 1800s has been swallowed by a wide bayou that empties into the Gulf, and two other burial sites have been submerged in recent years.

    What's left of the bayou-side cemetery is accessible only by boat. Some headstones are barely visible above the water, and waves lap at the bricks and concrete surrounding caskets.

    Chaisson said that as recently as 1920, the cemetery was several feet above sea level, surrounded by orange groves, cotton fields and cattle farms. Much of the ground has subsided to barely sea level, and during Isaac, about seven feet of land washed away in the tidal surge, he said.

    "The bodies just lay abandoned because there's nothing we can do for them now," he said.

    South Lafourche Levee District General Manager Windell Curole, who also serves on the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said saltwater from the Gulf is causing a crippling subsidence problem.

    "We did not bury people in marshes," Curole said. "We buried them on high ground. This was high ground, and now it's subsided to the point of being wetlands and open water."

    Curole said Louisiana's coastal erosion problems started with the cutting and dredging of canals for oil and gas exploration, which allowed saltwater to work its way into freshwater marshes. The damming of the Mississippi River in the early 1900s also prevented the river from re-depositing freshwater sediment.

    "We created the problem, and now we have to be smart about fixing the problem," Curole said.

    In Lafourche Parish, some of the earthen levees are as high as 16 feet to protect the communities within, and the parish is creating "apron marsh" by pumping sediment from inside the levee out to the broken marshes just beyond it for added buffer from the Gulf.

    Curole said there isn't much that can be done to save communities like Leeville, which sits beyond the levee system and today is about two-thirds open water.

    "It's so strange to not see any trees," Cheramie said, adding that she rarely makes the short drive from her home inside the levee system to the family cemetery just beyond it. Her grandmother's gravesite today is surrounded by saltwater-soggy ground and patches of dead marsh grass, with open water nearby. "It makes me feel sad."

    Cheramie said that about 10 years ago, a concrete slab was poured to try to raise the ground and hold the cemetery's crosses in place, but with repeated hits from storms since 2005, sand and mud from the marsh have begun taking over the slab.

    "It's just disappearing," she said. "It's a shame to say, but you stay away because it's too much. It's too hard. We're losing so much so fast, and it's out of our control."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 U.S. Cities Most at Risk from Rising Sea Levels

     

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    Winter will sound the retreat of cold air and snow over much of the nation for the second week of January.

    Snowcover that has reached about two-thirds of the nation to start the year will not last due to an upcoming shift in steering-level winds.

    These high-flying, high-velocity winds, known as the jet stream, will pull northward during the second week of the month, allowing temperatures to moderate, which in turn will melt a substantial amount of snow outside of ski country.

    As the polar air retreats, milder Pacific air will flow in to takes its place.

    According to AccuWeather.com's Long Range Team, headed by Expert Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok, "Temperatures are likely to swing 15 to 25 degrees above normal or more from a several-day to perhaps a week or more period from the northern Rockies, eastward to the interior South and much of the Midwest and at least part of the Northeast."

    Temperatures will range from near- to above-normal for several days over the balance of the West.

    There will be at least one location where the cold air will resist for a little while longer: northern New England. Bubbles of Arctic air will slip over the region from central Canada into the first part of next week.

    There are signs, however, that the pattern will be "progressive." The warm-up for next week may not have the staying power of last winter.

    "The cold air is likely to start building southward from western Canada later next week, probably first entering the northern Rockies," Pastelok said.

    From there, the cold may push southward through the Rockies and eastward onto the Plains.
    As this happens, the warmth will come into full bloom over much of the eastern third of the nation, including New England.

    Exactly how the jet stream finishes its shuffle is uncertain for the second half of the month.

    It is possible it will set up a major southwest-northeast storm track somewhere from the Mississippi River to the East Coast later in week two to week three of the month.

    "The key to the storm track may be if the cold air drives well southward in the West," Expert Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston said. "If this happens, the storm track will set up more in the middle of the nation, which would be a good thing as far as moisture is concerned for the upper Mississippi Basin."

    If the cold pushes more to the east over the middle of the nation, it would likely set up the storm track somewhere from the Appalachians to the East coast.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Off-the-Charts Hottest and Coldest Places on Earth

     

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    January 3, 2012

    A couple walks along the Eastern Promenade overlooking Casco Bay in Portland, Maine, Thursday. The overnight low temperature dropped to 0 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland. The combination of cold air and warmer water created the arctic sea smoke rising from the ocean in the background. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

    Temperatures took the plunge Wednesday night into Thursday morning across part of the Northeast.

    Much of the area from northern upstate New York to interior New England dipped below zero due to thick snowcover and at least several hours of clear skies, light winds and an arctic air mass.

    Below is a list of low temperatures on Thursday morning. For some locations, it was the coldest morning in a couple of years.



    Areas farther south in the mid-Atlantic and western New York remained in more of a polar rather than arctic air mass and experienced some moderation in temperature from the Great Lakes and/or patchy cloud cover.

    The arctic high pressure system responsible for the very cold conditions is moving away. A weak storm, known as an Alberta Clipper, is moving eastward across the region Thursday with patchy clouds and spotty flurries.



    A second Alberta Clipper will sweep through the region Friday into Friday night.



    A second arctic high pressure area will settle over the area Saturday night. The core of the second air mass and the lowest temperatures are likely to be centered a bit farther north and east. Temperatures in much of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Brunswick and eastern Quebec are most likely to plunge below zero (Fahrenheit). Temperatures will dip to the single digits, teens and 20s father south and west in the Northeast.



    While warmer air will make a visit to New England and upstate New York next week, it will likely be abbreviated and not as extreme when compared to portions of the Plains, Midwest and areas farther south along the East Coast.

    AccuWeather.com Online Journalist Grace Muller has compiled a collection of photographs from the cold air in the Northeast Thursday morning.

    How cold was it at your place Thursday morning?

    For more weather news, visit AccuWeather.com.

     

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    Montreal was hit with record-setting snowfall last week, and snowboarder Seb Toots took advantage of the abundance of fresh powder. But instead of hitting the nearby slopes, he got a little creative. Starting at the top of Mount Royal Park, Toots jumps over stairs, rails and benches, weaves through a cemetery and finishes his run boarding along the downtown city streets.

    (via GrindTV)

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Wildest Adventure Videos of 2012

     

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    NASA released dramatic video today of a four-hour solar eruption that took place New Year's Eve. The space agency's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the eruption in extreme ultraviolet light and with a new image every 36 seconds.

     

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    Crews work work to replace the Superstorm Sandy destroyed boardwalk in Seaside Heights, N.J., Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress was set to vote Friday on the first large aid package for victims of the deadly Superstorm Sandy that hit the country's most densely populated region two months ago and led to new concerns about climate change.

    The newly seated Congress was voting on a $9.7 billion measure to pay flood insurance claims after a vote on Sandy aid by the outgoing, Republican-controlled House of Representatives was put off earlier this week. New Jersey's famously outspoken Republican governor, Chris Christie, erupted in response at his own party and joined New York's Democratic governor in calling the move a "disgrace."

    Trying to keep calm, House Speaker John Boehner assured angry lawmakers that votes on the states' entire request for more than $60 billion in aid would be held by the middle of the month.

    Sandy was blamed for 120 deaths in several states, most in New York and New Jersey, and it was the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Lawmakers have complained that it took just 10 days for Congress to approve about $50 billion in aid for Katrina.

    The storm ripped apart the famed New Jersey shore and parts of the New York City area coastline, leaving thousands homeless.

    If the House of Representatives approves the flood insurance proposal as expected Friday, the Senate planned to follow with a likely uncontested vote later in the day.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency has warned that the National Flood Insurance Program will run out of money next week if Congress doesn't provide additional borrowing authority to pay out claims. Congress created the FEMA-run program in 1968 because few private insurers cover flood damage.

    Northeast lawmakers say the money is urgently needed for storm victims awaiting claim checks from the late October storm.

    "People are waiting to be paid," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, whose district includes the casino-filled Atlantic City and many other coastal communities. "They're sleeping in rented rooms on cots somewhere, and they're not happy. They want to get their lives back on track, and it's cold outside. They see no prospect of relief."

    About 140,000 Sandy-related flood insurance claims have been filed, FEMA officials said, and most have yet to be closed out. Many flood victims have only received partial payments.

    The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.

    The flood insurance measure is the first phase of a proposed Sandy aid package. The House will vote Jan. 15 on an additional $51 billion in recovery money. Senate action on that measure is expected the following week.

    More than $2 billion in federal money has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia struck by the storm.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    This image provided Carl Agee, University of New Mexico, shows a rock from Mars that landed in the Sahara Desert. (AP Photo/University of New Mexico, Carl Agee)

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - Scientists are abuzz about a coal-colored rock from Mars that landed in the Sahara desert: A yearlong analysis revealed it's quite different from other Martian meteorites.

    Not only is it older than most, it also contains more water, tests showed. The baseball-size meteorite, estimated to be 2 billion years old, is strikingly similar to the volcanic rocks examined on the Martian surface by the NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which found water-bearing minerals.

    "Here we have a piece of Mars that I can hold in my hands. That's really exciting," said Carl Agee, director of the Institute of Meteoritics and curator at the University of New Mexico who led the study published online Thursday in the journal Science.

    Most space rocks that fall to Earth as meteorites come from the asteroid belt, but a number can be traced to the moon and Mars.

    Scientists believe an asteroid or some other large object struck Mars, dislodging rocks and sending them into space. Occasionally, some plummet through Earth's atmosphere.

    Short of sending a spacecraft or astronaut to the red planet to haul back rocks, Martian meteorites are the next best thing for scientists seeking to better understand how Earth's neighbor transformed from a tropical environment to a frigid desert.

    About 65 Martian rocks have been recovered on Earth, mostly in Antarctica or the Sahara. The oldest dates back 4.5 billion years to a time when Mars was warmer and wetter. About half a dozen Martian meteorites are 1.3 billion years old and the rest are 600 million years or younger.

    The latest meteorite NWA 7034 - nicknamed "Black Beauty"- was donated to the University of New Mexico by an American who bought it from a Moroccan meteorite dealer last year.

    Researchers performed a battery of tests on the meteorite and based on its chemical signature confirmed that it was blasted to Earth from Mars. At 2.1 billion years old, it's the second-oldest known Martian meteorite that formed from a volcanic eruption.

    There's also evidence that it was altered by water. Though the amount released during heating was small - 6,000 parts per million - it was still much more than other Martian meteorites. Scientists said this suggested there was interaction with water near the surface during a time when the planet was mostly dry and dusty.

    More tests are under way to determine how long the rock floated in space and how long it had been sitting in the Sahara.

    University of Alberta meteorite expert Chris Herd said the find was welcome since most Martian rocks that rain on Earth tend to be younger. And the latest find does not appear to be too contaminated, he said.

    "It's fairly fresh. It hasn't been subjected to a whole lot of weathering," said Herd, who had no role in the research.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Despite recent storms during the autumn and first part of the winter, drought conditions are forecast to continue over a large part of the Plains.

    Rainfall has been sufficient over the Ohio and lower Mississippi basins.

    However, unless there is a big turnaround later this winter and spring, more significant problems could be ahead for the Mississippi River above the Ohio River junction.

    While a storm is forecast to swing northeastward over the Central states, much of the rain may fall south and east of St. Louis. Mississippi River levels are expected to dip again next week at St. Louis, according to National Weather Service hydrologists.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been taking steps to keep the shipping channel open by dredging the river bottom, removing rocky outcroppings and placing barriers under the water to minimize shifting silt. The rest is up to Mother Nature. Barge companies have been limiting their loads due to the low water levels.

    Snow fell over part of the winter wheat belt with the storm just after Christmas 2012. However, much more moisture is needed through the winter and into the spring.

    According to Agricultural Meteorologist Dale Mohler, "One of the big problems the Central states had last spring was a lack of thunderstorm complexes."

    These groups of thunderstorms are the major source for spring rainfall and runoff over the Plains and Midwest, following melting snow early.

    According to AccuWeather.com's Long Range Team of meteorologists headed by Paul Pastelok, "There are concerns for drought continuing over the central High Plains and the northern Plains in general going into the spring."

    This area encompasses a large part of the watershed for the Missouri and upper Mississippi rivers.

    Opportunities from rain and/or snow would increase moving southeastward from the Plains toward the Ohio Valley during the winter. However, an area of high pressure is likely to set up over the central Rockies and central High Plains.

    Pastelok stated that the pattern does not look to be as dry of a start this spring, when compared to last year from Iowa to the Ohio Valley and some moisture is likely to make appearances over the southern Plains.

    There is also some good news for the Southeast.

    "Indications are that the drought/abnormally dry areas over Georgia and the Carolinas will shrink moving through the winter and should be mostly gone by the spring," Pastelok said.

    Water levels were slowly rising on Lake Lanier, Ga., in recent days thanks to recent storms and reduced water releases. The reservoir is the major source of drinking water for the Atlanta metro area.

    Large storm systems are projected by AccuWeather.com to sweep northeastward from the Gulf Coast toward the Ohio Valley, Appalachians and East Coast during much of the balance of the winter.

    For more weather news, visit AccuWeather.com.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    You've probably heard the old adage that no two snowflakes are alike. Turns out, that's only partly true -- in fact, there's a rather precise science behind every snowflake's structure making some utterly unique and others, well, not so much.

    The American Chemical Society has delved into the chemistry of snowflakes' formation, creating an animated video that explains nature's process, beginning with a dust particle in a cloud and ending with the final, fluffy flake.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    January 3, 2013

    Lava flows down the Tungurahua volcano, as seen from Cotalo, Ecuador, in the early hours of Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

    The rapid rise in sea levels could cause a dramatic increase in volcanic eruptions, according to a new study.

    The study, published in the journal Geology, found that during periods of rapid climate change over the last million years, the rapid melting of continental glaciers and the resulting sea-level rise eventually increased volcanic eruptions as much as fold.

    "Everybody knows that volcanoes have an impact on climate," said study co-author Marion Jegen, a geophysicist at Geomar in Germany. "What we found was just the opposite."

    The findings were based only on natural changes in climate, so it's not clear whether human-caused climate change would have the same impact, Jegen said. And if it did, she added, the effect wouldn't be seen for centuries.

    Volcanic changes

    It's long been known that volcanism can dramatically alter the climate, often in cataclysmic ways. For instance, mass extinctions such as the one at the end of the Permian period may have been caused by continuous volcanic eruptions that cooled the climate and poisoned the atmosphere and the seas. [50 Amazing Volcano Facts]

    But few people thought climate change could fuel volcanic eruptions before Jegen and her colleagues began looking at cores drilled from the oceans off of South and Central America. The sediments showed the last 1 million years of Earth's climatic history.

    Every so often, shifts in Earth's orbit lead to rapid warming of the planet, massive melting of glaciers and a quick rise in sea levels. The team found that much more tephra, or layers of volcanic ash, appeared in the sediment cores after those periods. Some places, such as Costa Rica, saw five to 10 times as much volcanic activity during periods of glacial melting as at other times, Jegen told LiveScience.

    To understand why that would be, the research team used a computer model and captured how those changes affected the pressures experienced at different places on the Earth's crust. The team found that when glaciers melt, they reduce the pressure on continents, while sea-level rise increases pressures on the ocean floor crust. In the computer model, the change in pressures on the Earth's crust seem to cause increases in volcanism.

    In general, the speed of the transition from ice age to melting, rather than the total amount of melting, predicted how intensely the volcanic eruptions increased, she said.

    The study doesn't address whether modern-day climate change would have any impact on the frequency of volcanic eruptions, though in theory it's possible, Jegen said.

    But even if anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change impacts volcanic eruptions, people wouldn't see the effect in this lifetime, because the volcanic activity doesn't occur immediately after the climate change, Jegen said.

    "We predict there's a time lag of about 2,500 years," Jegen said. "So even if we change the climate, you wouldn't really expect anything to happen in the next few thousand years."

    Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    50 Interesting Facts About The Earth
    The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted
    Countdown: History's Most Destructive Volcanoes

    Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    Jan. 5, 2013

    Homes and docks damaged by Superstorm Sandy remain uninhabitable in the Broad Channel section of Queens, N.Y., Thursday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The first large aid package for victims of the deadly Superstorm Sandy started moving through the U.S. Congress on Friday, as the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved $9.7 billion to pay flood insurance claims. A Senate vote was expected later in the day.

    The vote came more than two months after the storm left 120 dead and thousands homeless in the densely populated Northeast. Area officials and lawmakers had erupted earlier this week when House Speaker John Boehner decided to delay the vote.

    All "no" votes in the 354-67 House count were cast by Republicans, who largely object to more government spending without spending cuts to offset it. As with past natural disasters, the Sandy aid proposals do not provide for offsetting spending cuts. The Republican-controlled House was caught up this week in larger negotiations over the fate of the country's massive deficit, and a showdown on spending cuts is expected in the coming weeks and months.

    Northeast lawmakers say the Sandy aid money is urgently needed for victims of one of the worst storms ever to strike the region and the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. The bill gives more borrowing authority to the National Flood Insurance Program to pay about 115,000 pending claims.

    After the earlier House vote was delayed, New Jersey's famously outspoken Republican governor, Chris Christie, erupted in response at his own party and joined New York's Democratic governor in calling the move a "disgrace." He and others said it took just 10 days for Congress to approve about $50 billion in aid for Katrina. That storm killed 1,800.

    Sandy hit in late October, ripping apart the famed New Jersey shore and parts of the New York City area coastline.

    Trying to keep calm, Boehner assured angry lawmakers that votes on the states' entire request for more than $60 billion in aid would be held by the middle of the month.

    Rep. Tim Huelskamp was one fiscal conservative who voted against the Sandy bill Friday. "We have to talk seriously about offsets," he said. "We can't take $60 billion off budget, that's my problem with it."

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency has warned that the National Flood Insurance Program will run out of money next week if Congress doesn't provide additional borrowing authority to pay out claims. Congress created the FEMA-run program in 1968 because few private insurers cover flood damage.

    Northeast lawmakers say the money is urgently needed for storm victims awaiting claim checks.

    "People are waiting to be paid," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, whose district includes the casino-filled Atlantic City and many other coastal communities. "They're sleeping in rented rooms on cots somewhere, and they're not happy. They want to get their lives back on track, and it's cold outside. They see no prospect of relief."

    The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.

    About 140,000 Sandy-related flood insurance claims have been filed, FEMA officials said, and most have yet to be closed out. Many flood victims have only received partial payments.

    The House will vote Jan. 15 on an additional $51 billion in recovery money. Senate action on that measure is expected the following week.

    More than $2 billion in federal money has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia struck by the storm.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    Scottish filmmaker Gordon Buchanan was almost lunch meat for a huge, hungry polar bear in Svalbard, Norway. While filming his upcoming BBC documentary "The Polar Bear Family & Me," Buchanan climbed into a bear-proof snowmobile to observe the animals closely. It seems he got a little too close for comfort when the bear caught his scent and began eagerly clawing and gnawing at the enclosure.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Amazing Cold-Weather Creatures

     

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