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    Updated Tuesday, Sept. 11, 11:26 p.m. ET

    The Salton Sea. (Getty Images)

    SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - After a day of "odor surveillance" and other scent-based sleuthing, Southern California air quality investigators confirmed Tuesday what they had already expected - that a pungent, rotten-egg aroma that stretched across the region came from the Salton Sea.

    Investigators from the South Coast Air Quality Management District collected air samples, modeled weather patterns and measured hydrogen sulfide levels to determine that Monday's stench came from a fish die-off at the saltwater lake 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles, combined with clouds and wind from a huge complex of thunderstorms.

    "We now have solid evidence that points to the Salton Sea as the source of a very large and unusual odor event," AQMD Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein said in a statement.

    Wallerstein said the agency sent technicians trained to gauge the severity of smells across the agency's four-county jurisdiction, where they conducted "odor surveillance."

    The air samples showed that levels of hydrogen sulfide, which has an unmistakable rotten-egg odor, were highest around the lake and grew weaker at bigger distances.

    Modeling showed it was possible that a massive thunderstorm could have churned up bacteria from a recent fish die-off and released the stench into the air where it was trapped by low-hanging clouds.

    It was strongest in the Riverside County town of Mecca, which had far worse problems Tuesday as torrential rains caused flooding in some areas.

    Investigators also ruled out other possible causes like landfills or oil refineries.

    The AQMD never had any other significant candidates for the odor's cause, but they and others familiar with the sea still had doubts the wind could carry the stench more than 100 miles, through Riverside and San Bernardino counties through Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley and all the way to Ventura County on California's Central Coast.

    "The problem I'm having is the magnitude of the area that was covered by the odor itself," Andrew Schlange, general manager of the Salton Sea Authority, said earlier Tuesday. "But I guess it can happen under the right conditions, and we had those conditions, apparently, the other night.

    "What happened gives us an opportunity to let people know that the Salton Sea is dying and that we need to fix it," he said.

    The massive body of water 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles is a dying lake, plagued by increasing salinity, receding shorelines and periodic fish die-offs caused by plummeting oxygen levels in its briny waters.

    Created in 1905 when floodwaters broke through a Colorado River irrigation canal, the 376-square-mile Salton Sea is bigger than Lake Tahoe but is only 51 feet deep at its deepest spot and has no outlet to the ocean. Ninety percent of its water comes from agricultural runoff from the nearby Imperial, Coachella and Mexicali valleys - a fact that gives the lake its unique soup, but also causes its many problems.

    The lake, which is 235 feet below sea level, is 50 percent saltier than the ocean, and salinity levels are expected to increase even more as it shrinks.

    The salinity makes the water extremely fast for boating and the lake is a popular recreational destination for boaters, bird watchers, campers and anglers who fish for species introduced there.

    The rising salt level, however, has meant the demise in the past decade of several big game marine fish species. The only species remaining are tilapia, which have gradually adapted to the saltwater, and the desert pupfish, said Timothy Krantz, an environmental studies professor at the University of Redlands.

    Even those species are now struggling, and there have been fish die-offs every summer in recent years when the water heats up and oxygen levels drop, said Krantz, who has also served as the Salton Sea program's database director for 15 years. Summer temperatures can soar to 120 degrees or more.

    More than 400 species of migratory birds have been recorded at the Salton Sea, making it host to the highest biodiversity for bird species in the U.S.

    The birds, however, will eventually be threatened by the lake's rising salinity as fish die-offs remove their main food source.

    The lake's depth has dropped in recent years, creating exposed lake bed that generates dust. By 2018, the depth is expected to drop another 15 to 20 feet, exposing 140 square miles of lake bottom and its dust, Krantz said.

    "That's yet another huge problem that's impending," he said. "There is hope, but something absolutely has to be done. It's not just about birds and wildlife anymore. It's about human health issues and averting a potential air pollution disaster."

    The authority has a plan to save the sea, but has struggled for years to get funding and political muscle behind it. In 2006, various estimates put the cost between $3 billion and $9 billion, Schlange said.

    The plan involves stabilizing the sea level by cutting the body of water in half and allowing part of it to dry up, he said. The dried lakebed could host extensive geothermal and solar fields that would mitigate the restoration cost and provide power for millions of homes.

    Officials would then work to reduce the salinity in the remaining lake.

    "It's exciting to think about trying to fix it, and it can be fixed," Schlange said. "What we need is for the public to understand ... that this is likely to happen more often as time goes on, and we need their support to find a way to finance and pay for this thing."

    Strengthening breezes in the area Tuesday dissipated the smell, much to the relief of residents.

    At the peak of the stench Monday, residents from Riverside County to the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles lit up switchboards and social media to make a stink about the stink. The district was flooded with more than 200 complaints from across much of its 10,000 square miles.

     

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    (NOAA)

    ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland - Canadian officials warned of possible flooding and power outages as Tropical Storm Leslie barreled into Newfoundland, where it made landfall Tuesday morning.

    The Canadian Hurricane Centre predicted at least 12 hours of intense rain over the northeastern province's hilly terrain, which could generate rapid runoffs, said the agency's program supervisor Chris Fogarty. The center was warning of possible damage from toppled trees, flooded streets and downed power lines. Several towns along eastern Newfoundland had already lost power by Tuesday morning and some flights were cancelled.

    The storm was centered about 35 miles south of Stones Cove, Newfoundland and was moving north-northeast at about 40 mph at about 8 a.m. EST, the National Weather Center in Miami said. It had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.

    Forecaster Bob Robichaud said Leslie was gaining strength as it moved over warm waters, but its massive size may prevent it from reaching hurricane status. Storm watches were in effect for most of Newfoundland.

    "If it was a smaller storm, there would most definitely be strengthening and we'd almost certainly have a hurricane at landfall," he said. "But given the size of the storm, it takes a lot more to spin it up."

    The Halifax-based Canadian Hurricane Centre said Leslie was not expected to be quite as ferocious as Hurricane Igor, which caused about CA$125 million (US$128.5 million) in damages and left some parts of Newfoundland without power for several days in 2010.

    Red Cross spokesman Dan Bedell said supplies and additional people have been taken to the Burin Peninsula, on the south coast of the island, where Igor pounded Newfoundland as a Category 1 hurricane almost two years ago. Igor dumped eight inches of rain. The hurricane was also blamed for one death.

    Nasty weather had already battered Atlantic Canada before Leslie's arrival. The center said a trough of low pressure had already dumped heavy rain on parts of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

    Evacuation orders were issued Monday for Truro, Nova Scotia, where sheets of heavy rain caused two rivers to spill their banks as several dikes gave way, leading to flooding in Colchester County.

    The center said Leslie would combine with a low pressure system to generate additional heavy rainfall - up to six inches in some areas, adding that 26-foot waves were expected along Newfoundland's southeast coast, particularly Placentia Bay.

    On the Port au Port Peninsula, which hangs off Newfoundland's west coast, about 1.6 inches of fast-falling rain Monday swelled streams that flow down hills along its southern coast. Water swamped parts of the main highway as provincial transportation officials advised that the peninsula was inaccessible with no alternate route.

    Fire and Emergency Services worked Monday to shore up resources to ensure crews are ready to deal with the storm. Crews were trying to make sure that culverts and ditches were cleared to facilitate rapid runoffs, said Newfoundland Fire and Emergency Services spokeswoman Cheryl Gullage.

    "We've warned people to stay away from fast moving bodies of water," Gullage said. "We've taken preparedness measures within our control to mitigate large damages but we have no idea how this will impact until it actually hits." She added that authorities are prepared to move people to shelters if necessary.

    Patricia Devine, of Clarenville in southeastern Newfoundland, nervously hunkered down just two years after Igor caused more than CA$25,000 (US$25,600) in flood damage to her home.

    "All over this town trees were down, an awful lot of people got flooded basements. Oh, it was awful," she said. "In fact, I'm very nervous. I'm saying a lot of prayers."

    She was among many residents who spent Monday buying food, water and gasoline, checking sump pumps, preparing generators and making sure they had flashlights, batteries and emergency contact numbers at hand.

    Marine Atlantic said it was canceling ferries between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

    Also in the Atlantic, Michael weakened to a tropical storm early Tuesday with maximum sustained winds near 65 mph. Additional weakening was expected and the storm was expected to fizzle out in about a day. The storm was not a threat to land.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The Most Devastating Hurricanes in U.S. History

     

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    Flames burn at one end of a wildfire near Wenatchee, Wash. on Monday. (AP)

    WENATCHEE, Wash. - Homeowners in an upscale neighborhood of central Washington gathered in a cul-de-sac and watched helplessly as a wall of flames inched down a distant hill, a stark reminder that the 2012 fire season is far from over across the arid West.

    Firefighters east of the state's Cascade Range scrambled to contain dozens of fires sparked by a weekend lightning storm. They were aided by diminishing winds late Monday.

    But across the West, high winds and temperatures exacerbated already dangerous fire conditions, prompting the National Weather Service to issue red-flag warnings for wide swaths of eastern Washington and Oregon, Idaho, Montana and all of Wyoming.

    In Wyoming, authorities evacuated 500 people from homes and cabins as a wildfire about 10 miles southeast of Casper quickly grew.

    The Sheep Herder Hill Fire, which started Sunday, burned at least six structures and more than 15 square miles of pine forest and sagebrush. State Forester Bill Crapser wasn't sure if the structures were homes and that more buildings may have been lost.

    In Washington, rain that fell in the Seattle area after a 48-day dry stretch didn't make it over the Cascade Mountains that divide the state's western and eastern halves.

    In Wenatchee, about 140 miles east of Seattle, the self-appointed "Apple Capital of the World" had many residents worried about their homes. About 180 homes were evacuated Sunday. Some residents were allowed to return, while others were told to leave Monday, police Sgt. John Kruse said.

    Crews arrived from across the state to help fight several fires in the region. Shannon Grosdidier and her four daughters delivered oatmeal cookies to the firefighters on her street.

    "The wind has died down, which is good," she said. "But I've got the photo albums in the car and our overnight bags packed."

    Only a shed has been lost near Wenatchee, and no injuries have been reported at what appeared to be the most-threatening of the wildfires sparked Saturday by lightning in the state.

    In Wyoming, Gov. Matt Mead activated two state Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, each with 600-gallon buckets, to dump water on a fire there. A total of 12 Wyoming Army and Air National Guard troops were activated, including a liaison to coordinate possible aid to a Jackson-area fire in northwest Wyoming.

    About 1,000 residents were told to prepare to leave as the Little Horsethief Fire burned more than 4 square miles in a mountainous area less than two miles south of Jackson. But officials said it appeared the town of about 9,500 residents would be able to get through Monday night without any evacuations.

    In western Montana, residents of about 350 homes threatened by a wildfire west of Hamilton were told to leave Monday. The Sawtooth Fire grew to 4 square miles and was threatening houses, two businesses and scores of sheds, barns and other buildings spread over a 10-mile area, fire information officer Gregg DeNitto said.

    Blazes have scorched more than 8.1 million acres across the West so far in 2012, up from the 10-year average of 6.1 million, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

    Mild fire seasons combined with moderate winter weather recently contributed to a buildup of undergrowth that fuels fires, said Jeremy Sullens, a wildfire analyst for predictive services at the center. The dry summer exacerbated things.

    "Finer fuels allow fires to burn more rapidly and have more active fire behavior," Sullens said, adding that the fuels buildup explains why fewer fires have burned more acres altogether.

    Fire officials would like to have a wet fall, but Sullens said that's not in the forecast so far.

    The West's wildfire season started early and in earnest in Colorado, which had an unusually warm and dry March. A fire charred 6 square miles in the foothills outside Denver, killing three people and destroying 23 homes. March usually is one of the snowiest months, but this year it was Denver's warmest and driest on record.

    At higher elevations, the weather ate up snowpack weeks ahead of normal. Red-flag warnings were issued in parts of Colorado on an almost routine basis throughout the month.

    Other blazes across the West include:

    - In central Oregon, winds fanned a wildfire near the town of Sisters but also pushed flames away from populated areas. Officials estimated the acreage at nearly 7 square miles. About 300 firefighters were at the Pole Creek Fire.

    - In Washington, fires that apparently started over the weekend burned more than 23 square miles of sagebrush and grass, and threatened homes near Grand Coulee Dam in Douglas and Grant counties. Another fire 17 miles southwest of Creston in Lincoln County burned across 28 square miles.

    As many as 80 fires along the east slopes of the Cascades were set by lightning Saturday, the state Department of Natural Resources said. Most remained small.

    - In Northern California, weather aided about 1,600 firefighters battling a blaze that is threatening about 300 homes outside of Ukiah.

    - In Idaho, a blaze visible for miles forced closures in the Payette National Forest.

     

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    A power line leans over a street in St. John's, Newfoundland on Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Daly)

    FORTUNE, Newfoundland (AP) - Post-tropical storm Leslie moved out to sea Tuesday afternoon, hours after its stiff winds and heavy rains pummeled Newfoundland, knocking out power to thousands and forcing the cancellation of all flights at the island's main airport.

    Jean-Marc Couturier, a forecaster with the Canadian Hurricane Centre, said Leslie passed through Cape Bonavista in northeastern Newfoundland early Tuesday afternoon, and headed out to the Atlantic as a post-tropical storm.

    Couturier said the winds are receding, but he said strong northwesterly winds are still gusting in excess of 62 mph (100 kph) along the province's eastern and northeastern coasts.

    "It still remains a large system, but no longer has any tropical characteristics, it is now more like a mid-latitude storm as it moves offshore," said Couturier. "But it will continue to affect marine areas and the marine communities throughout the night particularly with Canadian waters."

    Several towns along eastern Newfoundland had already lost power and flights were cancelled before the storm made landfall Tuesday.

    Tree branches blocked several roads and there were multiple reports of roofs being blown off. Power was knocked out throughout St. John's and communities along the southeastern coast of the Avalon peninsula, and all flights at the airport were cancelled.

    Leslie was not as ferocious as Hurricane Igor, which caused about CA$125 million (US$128.5 million) in damages and left some parts of Newfoundland without power for several days in 2010, the Halifax-based hurricane center said.

    "More rain was spread out over the island, but the severity of the storm certainly was thankfully not as strong as Igor," said Couturier.

    The storm made landfall Tuesday morning, touching down in Fortune, Newfoundland, at about 8:30 a.m. AST (7:30 a.m. EST, 1130 GMT) and barreled north at about 40 mph (65 kph) before moving offshore, the Canadian Hurricane Centre said. The center initially said Leslie was a tropical storm when it made landfall, but later said it was a post-tropical storm.

    The storm had buffeted areas around St. John's, Newfoundland's capital, with winds that gusted up to 81 mph (131 kph), causing damage to roofs, trees, roads, Environment Canada meteorologist Bob Robichaud said. Waves were reaching 10 meters at an offshore buoy.

    "There are very strong winds to the right hand side of the track," he said. "We've seen some fairly heavy, intense rainfall as the storm was approaching and one of the things we're looking closely at are the winds."

    Bands of rain have been extending out ahead of Leslie, dousing some areas on the Burin and Avalon peninsulas with sheets of rain.

    Environment Canada had initially issued weather alerts for the entire island of Newfoundland, with tropical storm warnings and hurricane watches in the south and east.

    Leslie was also expected to drench parts of Prince Edward Isle and Nova Scotia, where rain warnings were also issued.

    Extensive power outages forced St. John's to close all municipal buildings except City Hall. Schools were also shut down.

    Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro spokeswoman Alex Collins said the utility experienced one transmission outage.

    Some residents faced the blustery weather to take pictures of trees uprooted in Bannerman Park.

    "It's pretty intense," said Holly Walsh, who was out storm chasing after classes for her therapeutic recreation course were cancelled. "I've never seen this before."

    Walsh said the force of the wind blew her down at nearby Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America, as it ripped the doors off three cars.

    In the central Newfoundland town of Badger, officials declared a state of emergency and kept close watch on a 78-foot-(24-meter-) high water tower that was condemned three weeks ago.

    "If we get the high winds, the engineers have advised us that it could topple," said Mayor Michael Patey.

    People from 23 homes near the tower were evacuated.

    Striking airport workers who briefly picketed outside braved powerful wind gusts that picked up a port-a-potty tied down by a rope.

    Inside the airport, stranded passengers gazed up at electronic boards red with cancellations before the power cut out and they went black.

    The Royal Canadian Mounted Police tweeted a photo of a truck blown over onto its side on the Trans-Canada Highway, west of St. John's.

    Red Cross spokesman Dan Bedell said supplies and additional people have been taken to the Burin Peninsula, on the south coast of the island, where Igor pounded Newfoundland as a Category 1 hurricane almost two years ago. Igor dumped eight inches (20 centimeters) of rain. The hurricane was also blamed for one death.

    Evacuation orders were issued Monday for Truro, Nova Scotia, where sheets of heavy rain caused two rivers to spill their banks as several dikes gave way, leading to flooding in Colchester County.

    Also in the Atlantic, Michael weakened to a tropical storm early Tuesday with maximum sustained winds near 65 mph (100 kph). Additional weakening was expected and the storm was expected to fizzle out in about a day. The storm was not a threat to land.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The Worst Hurricanes in U.S. History

     

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    (iStockphoto, Inset: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic | Daniella Zalcman)

    By Natalie Wolchover

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly accused his country's enemies of creating a drought in Iran by somehow destroying or co-opting its share of rain clouds.

    "The enemy destroys the clouds that are headed towards our country and this is a war Iran will win," Ahmadinejad said on Monday, according to Iranian news reports cited by Reuters.

    Iranian authorities have made this claim repeatedly in the past year. During a severe drought in the Islamic republic last fall, Ahmadinejad said European countries were using "special equipment" to dump rainwater on their continent, leaving nothing for Iran.

    Then, in July, the AFP news agency quoted Iranian Vice President Hassan Mousavi as saying, "The world arrogance and colonist (term for the West used by Iranian authorities) are influencing Iran's climate conditions using technology. The drought is an acute issue and soft war is completely evident... This level of drought is not normal."

    Iran has indeed experienced more frequent and more severe droughts in recent years, according to a study published last month in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. Scientists say the country's desertification may be attributable to regional rainfall redistributions caused by climate change. But could that explanation be wrong, and could Western Imperialists instead be sabotaging Iran's weather patterns by stealing its rain clouds?

    Arlen Huggins, an atmospheric scientist at the Desert Research Institute and director of the Nevada State Weather Modification Program, says no such cloud-busting technology exists.

    "In terms of dissipating clouds, you can do it on a very small scale but not anything that could change a weather pattern or create a drought situation," Huggins told Life's Little Mysteries. "Drought is related to long-term weather systems."

    Huggins, who has conducted research on various weather-control strategies for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says that in some cases, cloud seeding can be used to dissipate fog around airports. In cloud seeding, a cloud is injected with chemicals that serve as nuclei around which water vapor freezes into ice; the ice then falls as precipitation.

    "Usually the cloud is seeded with dry ice or pressurized carbon dioxide, and this crystallizes the cloud droplets and turns them into ice crystals. So the ice crystals grow a lot faster than they otherwise would and then fall out [as precipitation]," he explained.

    "But it's nothing like changing a regional weather pattern the size of a country."

    Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover or Life's Little Mysteries @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    Gallery of the Craziest Clouds
    5 Wild Weather Control Ideas
    The Surprisingly Strange Physics of Water

    Copyright 2012 Lifes Little Mysteries, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKE: Clouds that Look Like Animals

     

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    (NOAA)

    MIAMI - Tropical Storm Nadine has strengthened in the Atlantic but is still far from land.

    Nadine's maximum sustained winds increased to near 45 mph early Wednesday. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says additional strengthening is expected and Nadine could become a hurricane by Thursday or Thursday night.

    The storm is centered about 995 miles east-northeast of the Lesser Antilles and is moving west-northwest near 17 mph.

     

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    Smoke rises from a blaze near Wenatchee, Wash. (AP)

    WENATCHEE, Wash. - Firefighters battled stubborn blazes that kept residents from homes in Montana, Wyoming and Washington as authorities worried the weather could worsen the volatile situation.

    High temperatures, lower humidity and greater instability increase the potential for fires to grow, said Ed Delgado, the national predictive services meteorologist for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

    "Our biggest concern right now is existing fires," he said. "We're not expecting lightning over the next few days, although that doesn't alleviate the potential for human-caused fires, especially as we get into camping and hunting seasons."

    Seven homes were destroyed and hundreds of people were evacuated near Casper, Wyo., where a wildfire burned almost 24 square miles. In western Montana, fire crews were struggling to control a blaze that prompted an evacuation order for 400 houses west of Hamilton.

    In eastern Washington, a grass and sagebrush fire that ballooned from 11,000 acres to more than 60,000 - or 95 square miles - before winds died down was blamed for destroying three homes near Grand Coulee, a fire official said.

    As winds eased, crews were hopeful they could gain ground on dozens of fires sparked by weekend lightning storms. But more evacuation orders were issued Tuesday as a wildfire moved into the hills west of Wenatchee, a fruit capital on the banks of the Columbia River.

    More than 150 homes were evacuated as the fire burned about 140 miles east of Seattle. About 160 firefighters gathered to help fight the blaze, which covered 1,000 acres.

    Only a shed has been lost near Wenatchee, and no injuries were reported at what appeared to be the most threatening of numerous lightning-sparked wildfires in the state.

    In Montana, Sawtooth Fire spokesman Gregg DeNitto with the U.S. Forest Service said there was no word on when residents there might be allowed to return. The fire exploded over the past two days from just over 1 square mile to more than 6, although no houses were reported lost.

    DeNitto said most threatened houses were a half-mile to one mile from the fire's edge.

    An estimated 1,000 people live within the evacuated area, although Ravalli County Commissioner Suzy Foss said not all of them left. Of those who fled, most were staying with friends, relatives or acquaintances, Foss said.

    Only a couple of residents spent the night at a Red Cross shelter set up in Hamilton for evacuees, DeNitto said.

    Firefighters got help from the weather in Wyoming, where cooler temperatures and calmer winds bought time to put more people and equipment into action around two large fires. As many as 750 homes were threatened by the large wildfire near Casper. Some 400 people were evacuated from 150 homes.

    In central Oregon, smoke settled in the town of Sisters for about six hours Tuesday as crews battled a forest fire on about 4,300 acres southwest of town. Sisters has about 2,000 residents and is a center for tourists and outdoor recreation.

    The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said atmospheric conditions - a temperature inversion - could mean poor air quality in the mornings through Saturday.

    Residents of a subdivision west of Sisters have been warned that they might have to evacuate, but the fire has not yet advanced on populated areas.

    Blazes have scorched more than 8.1 million acres across the West so far this year, up from the 10-year average of 6.1 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

    Other blazes burning across the West include:

    - The Horsethief Canyon Fire, which has burned about 4 square miles south of the resort town of Jackson, Wyo. Firefighters were working to protect the town and the Jackson Hole valley's main communications towers from the blaze. About 1,000 residents have been warned to be prepared to leave in case the blaze gets too close.

    - The Millie Fire about 20 miles south of Bozeman, Mont. The fire was threatening the city's water supply and 10 commercial buildings. Fire spokeswoman Jennifer Myslivy said the flames were stopped for now at the top of a ridge over South Cottonwood Canyon.

    - As many as 80 fires sparked by lightning Saturday were burning along the east slopes of the Cascades in Washington state. Fifty-four homes were evacuated near Cashmere in front of a wildfire that has burned about 300 acres. Fire spokeswoman Connie Mehmel said the Cashmere fire was near other fires west of Wenatchee, but not expected to merge.

    Another blaze north of Entiat forced the evacuation of 19 homes.

    - A wildfire has burned 6½ square miles in a rugged area of the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles. The fire broke out over Labor Day weekend, sending out thousands of visitors from the Angeles National Forest.

     

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    When flash floods struck Las Vegas on Tuesday, some enterprising locals grabbed their wakeboards and made waves at a University of Nevada, Las Vegas parking lot.

     

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  • 09/12/12--03:01: Could Wind Power the World?

  • Wind turbines near Ellsworth, Kan. (AP)

    WASHINGTON - Earth has more than enough wind to power the entire world, at least technically, two new studies find.

    But the research looks only at physics, not finances. Other experts note it would be too costly to put up all the necessary wind turbines and build a system that could transmit energy to all consumers.

    The studies are by two different U.S. science teams and were published in separate journals on Sunday and Monday. They calculate that existing wind turbine technology could produce hundreds of trillions of watts of power. That's more than 10 times what the world now consumes.

    Wind power doesn't emit heat-trapping gases like burning coal, oil and natural gas. But there have been questions, raised in earlier studies, about whether physical limits would prevent the world from being powered by wind.

    The new studies, done independently, showed potential wind energy limits wouldn't be an issue.

    Money would be.

    "It's really a question about economics and engineering and not a question of fundamental resource availability," said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Palo Alto, Calif., campus of the Washington-based Carnegie Institution for Science. He is a co-author of one of the studies; that one appeared Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    Caldeira's study finds wind has the potential to produce more than 20 times the amount of energy the world now consumes. Right now, wind accounts for just a tiny fraction of the energy the world consumes. So to get to the levels these studies say is possible, wind production would have to increase dramatically.

    If there were 100 new wind turbines for every existing one, that could do the trick says, Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University professor of civil and environmental engineering.

    Jacobson wrote the other study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It shows a slightly lower potential in the amount of wind power than Caldeira's study. But he said it still would amount to far more power than the world now uses is or is likely to use in the near future.

    Jacobson said startup costs and fossil fuel subsidies prevent wind from taking off. The cheap price of natural gas, for one thing, hurts wind development, he added.

    Henry Lee, a Harvard University environment and energy professor who used to be energy chief for the state of Massachusetts, said there a few problems with the idea of wind powering the world. The first is the cost is too high.

    Furthermore, all the necessary wind turbines would take up too much land and require dramatic increases in power transmission lines, he said.

    Jerry Taylor, an energy and environmental analyst at the conservative Cato Institute, said the lack of economic reality in the studies made them "utterly irrelevant."

    Caldeira acknowledged that the world would need to change dramatically to shift to wind.

    "To power civilization with wind turbines, I think you're talking about a couple wind turbines every square mile," Caldeira said. "It's not a small undertaking."

     

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    By Mike Wall

    Fifty years ago today (Sept. 12), President John F. Kennedy whipped up support for NASA's fledgling Apollo program in a speech that contains perhaps the most famous words he ever uttered about space exploration.

    Kennedy's stirring, soaring "moon speech," delivered at Rice University in Houston, laid out why the president believed sending astronauts to Earth's nearest neighbor by the end of the 1960s was so important. Kennedy had first aired that ambitious goal in May 1961, just six weeks after the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin became the first human to reach space.

    The Rice speech marked a key moment in the trajectory of the Apollo program and space exploration in general, experts say.

    "Clearly, it's important, because you've got a president who steps up and says we're going to do it, makes it a policy objective, makes it a budgetary priority and reaffirms that commitment," Roger Launius, space history curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, told SPACE.com. [Photos: JFK's NASA Legacy]

    Kennedy's vision came true, of course. On July 20, 1969, late astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface. Four days later, he and his two Apollo 11 crewmates splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean, wrapping up a huge victory for the United States over the Soviets in the Cold War space race.

    'We choose to go to the moon'

    Kennedy made the Rice speech during a tour that also stopped at Houston's Manned Spacecraft Center (now known as Johnson Space Center), the Launch Operations Center in Florida and Alabama's Marshall Space Flight Center - NASA sites that would be key to making Apollo a success.

    The president wanted to give the Apollo program a boost and help explain to the nation why it should be such a high priority, said space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University.

    "There were controversies over how much money to put into Apollo, and, indeed, even whether to continue it," Logsdon told SPACE.com. "He wanted to indicate his strong support for the program, and this [speech] was the chance to do it."

    At Rice, Kennedy stressed that humanity's charge into space is inexorable, and that the world would be better off with the United States leading the way.

    "For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace," the president told 40,000 people in Rice's football stadium that day. "We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding."

    Kennedy viewed winning the space race as key to keeping the United States ahead of the Soviet Union technologically and militarily, as his next words make clear.

    "Yet the vows of this nation can only be fulfilled if we in this nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first," he said. "In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation."

    In perhaps the speech's most famous passage, Kennedy acknowledged the difficulty of Apollo's quest but argued that a challenge brings out the best in the United States.

    "We choose to go to the moon," the president said. "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

    Drawing inspiration today

    The federal government did indeed make Apollo a national priority, pouring an estimated $25 billion - well over $100 billion in today's money - into the program. In 1966, NASA funding represented 4.4 percent of the federal budget, compared with less than 0.5 percent last year.

    The space race is over now. The Soviet Union no longer exists, and its descendant state, Russia, is now a key spaceflight partner of the United States.

    But Kennedy's words of 50 years ago still have the power to inspire today, as celebrations of the speech's anniversary show. And while the president's Cold War rhetoric may not be so effective today, other passages of the speech may get people's space-exploration juices flowing again.

    "The question for today is whether the other rationales are enough to sustain support for the [space] program," Logsdon said.

    Follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

    Kennedy's 'Moon Speech', 50 Years Later | Video
    50 Years of Presidential Visions for Space Exploration
    President Kennedy's Next Moonshot Moment

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    (AP Photo)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Some airlines are making travelers work harder to find a deal.

    Carriers are offering more deals to passengers who book flights directly on their websites. It's an effort to steer people away from online travel agencies such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, which charge the carriers commissions of roughly $10 to $25 a ticket.

    While travelers save money, they also must do without the convenience of one-stop shopping.

    Frontier Airlines is the latest carrier to jump into the fight, announcing Wednesday that it will penalize passengers who don't book directly with the airline. Those fliers won't be able to get seat assignments until check-in. And they'll pay more in fees while earning half as many frequent flier miles.

    "Particularly for families, it provides an incentive to book directly," said Daniel Shurz, Frontier's senior vice president, commercial. "There is no logical reason for our customers to want to book anywhere else."

    Contracts with the online travel agencies prohibit airlines from offering lower fares on their sites. Instead, airlines such as JetBlue Airways Corp., Spirit Airlines Inc. and Virgin America often provide discount codes in emails to their frequent fliers or through Facebook and Twitter.

    The savings for booking directly can be significant.

    Toronto-based Porter Airlines frequently offers codes that save travelers up to 50 percent. A recent search of flights from Chicago to Toronto for November produced an airfare of $249.61 using a code at flyporter.com. The same flights would have cost $404.38 through Travelocity.

    The airlines face a delicate balance. The online travel agencies account for the lion's share of ticket sales. But the airlines want to trim the fees that eat into their profit margins.

    Besides the discounts, the airlines say their sites offer passengers a better experience, providing up-to-date seat maps, details about in-flight entertainment and more seamless booking.

    Henry Harteveldt, co-founder Atmosphere Research Group, said the airlines and travel sites have "a very, very dysfunctional business relationship." The travel sites treat all flights equally. Price is the only differentiator.

    "The online travel agencies either won't or can't talk about how an airline might have Wi-Fi on a plane or extra legroom seats available," he said.

    The online agencies say they provide travelers with several advantages, including comparison shopping and the ability to mix and match airlines for a single trip.

    "That's something you can't do on an airline's site," said Dara Khosrowshahi, president and CEO of Expedia, Inc.

    Simon Bramely, vice president of transportation and lodging for Travelocity, part of Sabre Holdings, noted that "the flight is one element of the trip." He said online travel agencies can save travelers hassle and money by creating packages that include hotel rooms and car rentals.

    The battle is not new. Southwest Airlines Co. was a pioneer in cutting out the middleman. The airline does not list its fares on third party sites. That means travelers have to search both southwest.com and then elsewhere to compare fares. Southwest hopes fliers will never make it to another site.

    "We think we can have better control over the customer experience by dealing directly with them," said Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz.

    Most of the big carriers have remained quiet. American Airlines, part of AMR Corp., was the exception. In December 2010, American cut off Orbitz Worldwide, Inc. from displaying its fares and selling its tickets to protest the commissions and the failure to displays extras like seat upgrades. The site had been selling about 3 percent of the airline's overall tickets. Expedia joined the fight by making American's fares harder to find. All sides eventually settled their disputes.

    Frontier, part of Republic Airways Holdings Inc., is making its changes specifically to cut the commissions.

    A four-segment itinerary - say a roundtrip flight from Sioux Falls, S.D., to Phoenix connecting in Denver each way - booked directly through Frontier costs the airline $1.60 to process. That same itinerary booked through an online travel agent costs Frontier $20 to $26, depending on which website the ticket is booked on, according to Shurz.

    Those commissions add up: Shurz said Frontier spends about $55 million to 60 million annually on distribution fees. In the first half of 2012, 42 percent of Frontier's $713 million in revenue came through tickets sold directly with the airline. Shurz hopes to increase that figure to 65 percent in a few years, cutting expenses in the process.

    Frontier's customers have a big incentive to book directly.

    Only those going through the airline's website will get to pick their seats in advance. Travelers booking through third-party websites will only get half the frequent flier miles. Fees for changing itineraries, going standby, traveling as an unaccompanied minor or bringing a pet onboard will be $50 higher for those booking elsewhere.

    Frontier is a low-cost carrier based in Denver. It flies to 80 destinations in the United States, many smaller cities, as well as leisure destinations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Through August, it carried 9.1 million passengers. In that same period, United Continental Holdings Inc. carried 96.1 million passengers.

    In a related move to increase loyalty, Frontier is lowering the amount of frequent flier miles needed for a free flight by 5,000. The airline also changed its website URL to flyfrontier.com.

    About the only thing not changing are baggage fees: They will remain $20 for each of the first two checked bags regardless of where you buy a ticket.

     

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    MIAMI (AP) - Forecasters say Tropical Storm Kristy has formed off the Mexico coast and that if it deviates north, the southern tip of the Baja California, may be in its path.

    Kristy's maximum sustained winds increased to near 45 mph Wednesday evening. It is about 380 miles south-southeast of the southern tip of California and moving northwest. No coastal warnings or watches are in effect.

    Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Nadine has strengthened in the Atlantic and could still become a hurricane, but is still far from land.

    Nadine's maximum sustained winds increased to near 65 mph Wednesday evening. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Nadine could become a hurricane by Thursday or Thursday night.

    The storm is centered about 875 miles east-northeast of the Lesser Antilles and is moving west-northwest near 17 mph.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The Most Devastating Hurricanes in U.S. History

     

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    MIAMI (AP) - Tropical Storm Nadine is just below hurricane strength as it swirls in the Atlantic far from land.

    The storm's maximum sustained winds early Thursday are near 70 mph with some strengthening expected.

    Nadine is centered about 800 miles east-northeast of the Northern Leeward Islands and is moving northwest near 16 mph.

    Meanwhile in the Pacific, Tropical Storm Kristy has maximum sustained winds near 50 mph. The storm is off Mexico's coast and is centered about 315 miles south-southeast of the southern tip of Baja California and is moving west-northwest near 10 mph.


    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    (AP Photo)

    SEATTLE (AP) - Heavy rains and flooding in the Southwest? A near-record dry streak in Seattle?

    The seemingly counterintuitive weather is not necessarily unusual for this time of year, but it's striking when compared with the usual opinions about the regions - overcast and rainy in the Northwest and sunny skies in the Southwest. But late summer is typically the sunniest, driest part of the year in Washington and Oregon, while the Southwest monsoon season stretches into September.

    In the Pacific Northwest, high temperatures and bone-dry terrain have made for dangerous fire conditions, particularly in Washington state. More than 1,600 firefighters labored Wednesday on seven large fire complexes in Eastern Washington that were fanned by high winds earlier this week.

    Meanwhile, intense summer thunderstorms that struck parts of the Southwest this week flooded homes and streets in the Las Vegas area, inundated mobile home parks in Southern California, stranded some Navajo Nation residents in Arizona, and broke a dike in southern Utah, leading to evacuations.

    The conditions may be leaving residents reeling, but they're par for the course this time of year, experts say.

    Arizona, for example, has seen much flooding in recent months, with normally dry washes rushing like rivers in parts of the state. Some residents might have the impression that this summer has been extremely wet because of the frequency of rain that they can see from their homes, said J.J. Broston, a science and operations officer for the National Weather Service in Tucson.

    But rain falls more diffusely across a region - and this year has been wet but not record-breaking, he said.

    "For the most part, people are looking at rainfall from their own individual perspectives, and if it rains at their homes, they think it has been a wet monsoon (season)," Broston said. "From the Weather Service's perspective, we are looking at a larger area."

    Rainfall levels in Arizona so far in the monsoon season that runs from June 15 through Sept. 30 have generally been just above average.

    Metro Phoenix and surrounding areas have seen 2.35 inches this season, up from the average of 1.4 inches but nowhere near the record of 9.56 in 1984, according to the National Weather Service.

    In southern Arizona, the Tucson International Airport has recorded 5.97 inches of rain this season. That's a half-inch above the average so far in the season, but pales in comparison to the record of 13.84 inches in 1964.

    Other southern Arizona cities, however, have seen 2 to 3 inches above their rainfall averages.

    In the Las Vegas area, heavy rains this week delayed flights and prompted helicopter rescues of some stranded motorists.

    Crews on Wednesday planned to resume their search for a landscape worker who was possibly swept away during a downpour at an area golf course. Police said the man was last seen Tuesday afternoon; photos showed the backhoe he was using almost completely submerged in floodwaters.

    More than 1.75 inches of rain was reported in downtown Las Vegas after Tuesday's showers. That puts the region on pace to exceed the 4.5 inches of rain it normally gets in a year.

    In Southern California, a thunderstorm settled for six to eight hours over Mecca and Thermal, two towns 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles near the location of the annual Coachella Music Festival. The storm dropped more than the average annual rainfall on parts of the Coachella Valley in one night alone, flooding two mobile home parks.

    Meanwhile, drought-striken New Mexico anxiously awaited the leftovers from the storms that drenched other Western cities.

    Meteorologists said an upper-level system moving in from the west was expected to collide with a cold front moving down through the heart of New Mexico.

    "This is kind of a unique setup in that we've got monsoon moisture in place for these storms to work with," said David Craft, a Weather Service forecaster in Albuquerque. "We are expecting the potential for anywhere from half an inch to an inch and a half of rain across much of northern New Mexico and central New Mexico."

    The rain isn't expected to fall all at once, so forecasters have opted not to call for any flood warnings.

    It was a different picture in the Northwest, where fire officials said it could be several weeks before any significant rain or snow dampens the numerous wildfires burning in Washington state.

    "While we know we will get a season-ending event in the foreseeable future, it still looks like it's a little ways down the road," fire spokeswoman Connie Mehmel said.

    In Seattle, a rain shower Sunday night dropped the first measurable moisture since July 23 at Sea-Tac Airport, ending a 48-day dry stretch - the second longest on record.

    Mehmel said firefighters are stretched thin by the number of large fires in the state, but they're putting their best efforts into blazes that could threaten people and property.

    Some residents just west of Wenatchee were allowed to return home Wednesday, but about 125 homes were still evacuated by a fire that had grown to more than 1,000 acres. Residents of dozens of other homes were told to be ready to flee if the fire grows.

    Near Grand Coulee Dam, three homes and nine outbuildings were confirmed lost to two fires that have burned a combined 92,000 acres - or 143 square miles. That fire was 20 percent contained Wednesday.

    Meteorologist Brent Bower said August and the first half of September are the driest part of the year for the Pacific Northwest.

    This year, though, it's a bit drier than usual.

    "If you're looking for good summer weather, and if that's defined by dry and sunny, August and September is what you're looking for."

    He said wet systems are staying away from Seattle, but he expects rain to come back as September progresses. But for now, the sun will keep shining over often soggy Seattle.

    "There really is no rain in the forecast," he said.

     

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    Death Valley, Calif. (szeke via Flickr)

    El Azizia, Libya, no longer holds the title for "world's hottest temperature." Today, that record passes to Death Valley, Calif.

    No, a heat wave didn't pass through the notoriously baking area yesterday. The new record-setting temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius) was actually recorded in Death Valley on July 10, 1913.

    The temperature is only now being recognized because the previous record high temperature of 136.4 F (58 C) in El Azizia has been overturned by the World Meteorological Organization after an in-depth investigation by a team of meteorologists. The record temperature had long been thought dubious, but this new study has finally made the persuading case to overturn it, 90 years to the day after it was made.

    A measurement in doubt

    The Libyan temperature had been recorded on Sept. 13, 1922, at an Italian army base. It had long stood out as an oddity, even though Libya certainly sees hot temperatures: El Azizia is located about 35 miles southwest of Tripoli, which lies on the Mediterranean coast. The waters would have a tempering influence on temperatures in the area, all of which weren't nearly as high as the record temperature.

    "When we compared his [the thermometer reader's] observations to surrounding areas and to other measurements made before and after the 1922 reading, they simply didn't match up," said team member Randy Cerveny, of Arizona State University, in a statement.

    Cerveny and the other members of the international team dug through historical records to evaluate the plausibility of the temperature.

    The team was able to find and locate the original log book in which the temperature was recorded. From it and other sources they were able to identify five major problems with the record temperature: it was made a new and untrained observer; it was measured with an instrument that was antiquated even at that time; the observation site wasn't representative of its surroundings; it didn't match other temperatures measured in the area; and it didn't match later temperatures taken at the site.

    "We found systematic errors in the 1922 reading," said Cerveny, who also is the Rapporteur of Climate and Weather Extremes for the WMO, the person responsible for keeping worldwide weather records.

    Essentially, the case likely boiled down to someone inexperienced incorrectly reading a thermometer that could easily be misread, the team concluded. The resulting reading was too high by 12.6 F (7 C), they found.

    Not just for bragging

    Officially, the "new" world record temperature extreme is 134 F (56.7 C), recorded on July 10, 1913, at Greenland Ranch in Death Valley, Calif. [Hell on Earth: Tour Death Valley]

    Of course, the record isn't just good for bragging rights. It also helps communities that experience extreme temperatures to properly plan and build for such extremes.

    Accurate measurements of past temperatures also help scientists better understand the Earth's climate and weather.

    "The end result is an even better set of data for analysis of important global and regional questions involving climate change," Cerveny said.

    The 9 Hottest Places on Earth

    The Harshest Environments on Earth
    50 Amazing Facts About Earth

    Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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

     

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    A parrot snake, one of at least 50 species of snake in Madidi National Park. (WCS)

    Madidi National Park, in northwest Bolivia, may be the most biologically diverse place on earth, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

    A list of species living there was released this week in a presentation at the World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea. The report follows yesterday's release of the 100 most threatened species, some of which live in Madidi National Park.

    According to a WCS release, a full 11 percent of the world's bird species live in the park. Madidi's diverse life also includes more than 200 species of mammals, almost 300 types of fish and 12,000 plant species. [Images: Newly Identified Bolivian Plant Species]

    The report, compiled by more than 50 scientists from around the world, counts a total of 1,868 vertebrates, including 1,088 species of birds. Only eleven countries have more bird species than Madidi, and the entire United States contains less than 900 types of birds.

    Animals in the park range in size from the 660-pound (300 kilograms) lowland tapir, an Amazonian herbivore, down to the tiny insectivorous Spix's disk-winged bat, which weighs just 0.14 ounces (4 grams). Record numbers of jaguars also make their home in the park.

    Bird species include large predators like the harpy eagle, which dines on sloths and monkeys. There are also 60 species of hummingbird in the park, including the tiny festive coquette.

    Life thrives in the park's many habitats, ranging from lowland tropical forests of the Amazon to snow-capped peaks of the High Andes.

    "With Madidi's almost 6,000-meter (19,685 feet) altitudinal range, no other protected area captures the diversity of South American habitats that pushes these numbers through the ceiling," said Robert Wallace, Madidi landscape program director for the WCS.

    Data on animals and plants have been collected for decades in the 7,335-square-mile (19,000 square kilometers) park, which is almost as large as New Jersey. Research was done in collaboration with the Bolivian Park Service (SERNAP).

    Even with all this research, much is unknown about the park, particularly in the tropical montane or cloud forests. Despite significant efforts from the scientific team, about two-thirds of the park's total biodiversity has yet to be observed or reported by scientists, the WCS said in its release, highlighting the need for further research in the region.

    Madidi National Park is a top tourist attraction in Bolivia and part of a larger protected region known as the Madidi-Tambopata Landscape, one of the largest such complexes in the world. Despite existing protections, some life in the area is threatened by development such as road construction, logging and agricultural expansion.

    Reach Douglas Main at dmain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

    The 10 Most Pristine Places on Earth
    Journey into the Tropical Andes
    8 of the World's Most Endangered Places

    Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Freakiest Bugs

     

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    A full-size replica of the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two sits at the Farnborough International Airshow in Hampshire, England on July 9, 2012. (Credit: Mark Chivers)

    As NASA's space shuttle Endeavour orbiter flew to its retirement home in sunny California on Sept. 21, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed legislation to bolster the commercial spaceflight sector in that state.

    The Assembly bill limits liability for private spaceflight companies.

    "California aerospace pioneers like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and the Spaceship Company are blazing a path to the stars with commercial space travel," Brown said in a statement. "This bill allows commercial space-travel companies to innovate and explore without the worry of excessive liability."

    A summary overview of Assembly Bill 2243 shows that it provides qualified immunity from liability to a spaceflight entity for injuries to a space flight participant, so long as a written warning statement is provided to the participant and the injury was not the result of spaceflight entity's gross negligence or intentional acts. [Now Boarding: The Top 10 Private Spaceships]

    The bill requires a spaceflight entity to have each participant sign a "prescribed warning statement" acknowledging that the participant understands the "inherent risks associated with space flight activity, including death, and also acknowledging that the space flight entity has limited liability for injuries or damages sustained by a participant as a result of these inherent risks."

    High desert

    Leading the measure that was targeted to an emerging industry in California was Assemblyman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale). Last August, the bill unanimously passed in both houses of the California State Legislature.

    Knight also said in a statement that, until recently, human space travel was accomplished through government space agencies, with volunteer participants assuming liability for injury and damage. Assembly Bill 2243 provides limited liability for commercial space ventures to ensure innovators remain competitive in this promising marketplace.

    "California, and specifically the High Desert, has a long tradition of pioneering aviation for a century, and human spaceflight since the Apollo era, and was the site of the first private human space flight event, which resulted in the winning of the Ansari X Prize in Mojave, California, in 2004," Knight said.

    History of spaceflight

    Over the past few decades, Knight added, California has lost a significant slice of its human spaceflight industry development to other states, specifying Alabama, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Texas. The human spaceflight business in California, he said, continues to struggle due to the poor business climate in general, and the current litigious environment.

    "The history of space flight and California are inseparable," Knight said. "Providing the commercial space industry with a competitive advantage will ensure our state maintains and possibly gains jobs in this important market."

    The bill-signing was praised by Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, who called California a state that tears down barriers and cultivates innovation, from social movements like environmentalism to the start-up culture of Silicon Valley.

    Branson called the bill a benefit to the teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Co. at the Mojave Air and Space Port - the construction site of the WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo launch system.

    "This legislation will ensure that California continues to be a place that looks forward ... and not back," Branson said.

    For a complete look at the newlegislation, visit: http://leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html and enter Assembly Bill 2243.

    Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is a winner of last year's National Space Club Press Award and a past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines. He has written for SPACE.com since 1999.

    Vote Now! The Best Spaceships of All Time
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    Giant waterspouts formed over Lake Erie near Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday. At least eight waterspouts were reported. Forecasters believe cool, fall temperatures contributed to their formation.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes

     

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