Sunday, 29 November 2015

Magnitude 5.5 Earthquake in Sagaing Region, Myanmar.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 5.5 Earthquake at a depth of 22 km about 50 km to the north of Monywa in the Sagaing Region, Myanmar, slightly before 3.05 pm local time (slightly before 8.35 am GMT) on Friday 27 November 2015. There are no reports of any casualties arising from this event,but damage to numerous pagodas (religious shrines) has been reported in the area.

Damage to a pagoda in Sagaing Region, Myanmar, following the 27 November 2015 Earthquake. Earthquake Report.

Northern Myanmar is an area fairly prone to Earthquakes Much of Myanmar lies on the Burma Plate, a small tectonic plate caught between  the Eurasian Plate to the northeast, the Indian Plate to the west and southwest and the Sunda Plate to the southeast. As these larger plates move together the Burma Plate is being squeezed and fractured, with a major fault line, the Kabaw Fault, having formed across much of the north of the country, along which the Burma Plate is slowly splitting. Most Earthquakes in the region are caused by movement on this fault.

 The approximate location of the 27 November 2015 Sagaing Earthquake. Google Maps.

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. The international non-profit organization Earthquake Report is interested in hearing from people who may have felt this event; if you felt this quake then you can report it to Earthquake Report here.

See also... feared dead following landslide at Myanmar jade mine                                     One hundred and five people have now been confirmed dead and over a hundred are still thought to be missing following a landslide at a jade mine at Hpakant in Kachin State, Myanmar on Saturday 21 November 2015... injures four in Magwe Region, Myanmar.                                                    Four people have been injured following a landslide at the Ayeyarwady Bridge in the Magwe Region of Myanmar on Thursday 15 October. The incident happened at about 10.00 am local time on the Minbu... on Barren Island.                   The Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Center issued a warning to aviation after an ash column was spotted over Barren Island, an active volcano in the Andaman Islands, by the Japan Meteorological Agency's MTSAT-2 satellite on Saturday 6 June 2015. The ash column rose about 3 km above the volcano and drifted about 35 km to the east. Observations in infra-red also spotted a hotspot on the island, which may indicate hot lava on...
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Flooding and winter storms thought to have killed at least fouteen in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

At least fourteen people are thought to have died as flooding and winter storms battered Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas on Friday 27 November 2015. Eight deaths have been reported in flooding in northern Texas, while four have died in road accidents associated with wet conditions in Kansas and two in Oklahoma.At least three people are thought to have died in flash floods that swept vehicles from roads in Dallas, with two further deaths in Johnson County and one in Tarrant County. All four deaths in Kansas have been described as 'single vehicle incidents'. Details of other fatalities are not available at this time.

 Car caught in a flash flood at Garland in Dallas, Texas. USA Today.

Many areas of Texas are facing severe disruption to transport networks as roads are closed due to flooding and many rail services have been cancelled. Flooding has also caused many businesses to close in the area; schools and government services are not reporting closures at this time, but this is largely because most are closed for the Thanksgiving Holiday anyway. Many areas are also reporting overflowing sewage systems due to the floods, which will add to clean-up costs and may lead to public health problems. In Oklahoma around 83 000 people are reported to be without power after high winds toppled trees onto power lines.

 Flooding at Deer Creek in Fort Worth, Texas, on 27 November 2015. AP.

The flooding has been widely linked to the El Niño weather system currently affecting the Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon that typically brings high levels of rainfall to the southwest United States, starting around the beginning of December, although this year the area has been suffering floods since the middle of October. More specifically the flooding is likely to have been directly caused by moisture associated with Hurricane Sandra, a tropical storm which largely petered out before making landfall on the Pacific coast of Mexico, bein downgraded to a Tropical Depression on Saturday 28 November 2015, but which will nevertheless have raised the atmospheric water content severely. The relationship between the two events is difficult to determine; more tropical storms would be expected in the east Pacific late in the year during El Niño periods, but it is not possible to say that any particular storm was directly caused by the weather pattern.

Downed power lines in Yukon, Oklahoma, on Saturday 28 November 2015. News 9.

The El Niño is the warm phase of a long-term climatic oscillation affecting the southern Pacific, which can influence the climate around the world. The onset of El Niño conditions is marked by a sharp rise in temperature and pressure over the southern Indian Ocean, which then moves eastward over the southern Pacific. This pulls rainfall with it, leading to higher rainfall over the Pacific and lower rainfall over South Asia. This reduced rainfall during the already hot and dry summer leads to soaring temperatures in southern Asia, followed by a rise in rainfall that often causes flooding in the Americas and sometimes Africa. Worryingly climatic predictions for the next century suggest that global warming could lead to more frequent and severe El Niño conditions, extreme weather conditions a common occurrence.

 Predicted changes to North American weather patterns during an El Niño event. NWS/NCEP Climate Prediction Center/NOAA.

Tropical storms are caused by the warming effect of the Sun over tropical seas. As the air warms it expands, causing a drop in air pressure, and rises, causing air from outside the area to rush in to replace it. If this happens over a sufficiently wide area then the inrushing winds will be affected by centrifugal forces caused by the Earth's rotation (the Coriolis effect). This means that winds will be deflected clockwise in the northern hemisphere and anti-clockwise in the southern hemisphere, eventually creating a large, rotating Tropical Storm. They have different names in different parts of the world, with those in the northwest Atlantic and northeast Pacific being referred to as hurricanes.

 The path and strength of Hurricane Sandra. Thick line indicates the past path of the storm (till 3.00 pm GMT on Saturday 28 November 2015), while the thin line indicates the predicted future path of the storm, and the dotted circles the margin of error at six and twelve hours ahead. Colour indicated the severity of the storm. Tropical Storm Risk.

Despite the obvious danger of winds of this speed, which can physically blow people, and other large objects, away as well as damaging buildings and uprooting trees, the real danger from these storms comes from the flooding they bring. Each drop millibar drop in air-pressure leads to an approximate 1 cm rise in sea level, with big tropical storms capable of causing a storm serge of several meters. This is always accompanied by heavy rainfall, since warm air over the ocean leads to evaporation of sea water, which is then carried with the storm. These combined often lead to catastrophic flooding in areas hit by tropical storms.

See also... Patricia: The most severe storm ever recorded causes widespread flooding but relatively few casualties.                   Hurricane Patricia formed as a tropical depression over the eastern Pacific Basin in mid-October 2015, before increasing rapidly in intensity on 22 October... flooding brings chaos to South California.                                                     Many areas of southern California are recovering after a series of thunderstorms caused flash flooding across parts of Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa... Storm Erika kills at least 25 in the Caribbean.                                                     At least 36 people are known to have died and over 50 more are...
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Saturday, 28 November 2015

Ancestor of all modern Snakes more likely to have been a burrower than a swimmer.

Snakes are one of the most successful groups of living vertebrates, with over 3000 living species found in all but the very coldest environments on Earth. Modern snakes exhibit a wide range of habitat preferences, from totally marine species to species found entirely in the treetops, but it is thought that the earliest members of the group were either burrowers of swimmers, lifestyles which have led to limb-reduction and loss in a variety of other groups.
The most reliable way to assess the lifestyle of a modern Snake is to examine the trunk-to-tail ratio, i.e. the number of trunk and tail vertebrae it possesses. At first sight this would seem a useful tool to palaeontologists studying the origin of the group, as vertebrae are the most robust bones in the body of a Snake, with excellent potential to enter the fossil record. However in order for this analysis to be used all of the vertebrae of an individual snake have to be preserved, which is a very rare occurrence, making most known fossil Snakes useless for this purpose.

In a paper published in the journal Science Advances on 27 November 2015, Hongyu Yi of the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh and the Divisionof Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and MarkNorell, also of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, discuss the results of a study which examined the inner ear bones of Dinilysia patagonica, a Cretaceous fossil Snake thought to have been closely related to the last common ancestor of all living Snakes, though not actualy ancestral to such Snakes itself, as well as those of a variety of living Snakes, Lizards and Amphisbaenians (limbless Squamates which lost their limbs separately to the Snakes).

Ear bones are a potential good indicator of the habitat the medium in which an animal is living as solid ground, liquid water and gaseous air all reflect sound waves in different ways, so that in order to achieve good hearing (and most Snakes have very good hearing) the earbones of the Snake should reflect the environment in which it lives.

Yi and Norell found that in burrowing Squamates the vestibule is enlarged and almost spherical, the formamen ovale enlarged and the semicircular canals very slender. This was not seen in aquatic or above-ground dwelling Squamates, though some ground dwelling Snakes that burrow as a defense mechanism did have enlarged vestibules.

(A) Snake skulls in right lateral view, showing that the inner ear (orange) locates inside the braincase and opens to the stapes (blue) in the middle ear. Ear and skull models are not to scale. (B) Inner ear of Laticauda colubrina, an aquatic species. (C) Ptyas mucosa, terrestrial generalist (D) Xenopeltis unicolor, a burrowing species. Yi & Norell (2015).

The inner ear of Dinilysia patagonica was found to conform closely to the burrowing form with an enlarged and almost spherical vestibule, enlarged formamen ovale and slender semicircular cannals. This suggests that this species was extremely likely to have been a burrower, suggesting that this was the ancestral ecological preference for Snakes. A cladistic analysis of Snake evolution (computerised analysis of relationships within the group based entirely upon shared common features rather than assumed relationships) also suggested tha trait was ancestral within the Snakes, with the earliest derived groups allexclusively or predominantly burrowing and terrestrial or aquatic lifestyles arrising as specializations within several groups. This held true even when Mosasaurs, a group of Mesozoic Marine Reptiles thought to have been closely related to Snakes, were added into the matrix.

 The braincase and inner ear of Dinilysia patagonica. (A) Braincase of Dinilysia patagonica, showing the right otic region in lateral view. (B) X-ray CT model of Dinilysia patagonica, with the inner ear highlighted in blue. (C) Bony inner ear of Dinilysia patagonica. FO, foramen ovale; LR, lagenar recess; SC, semicircular canal; V, vestibule. Scale bars, 5 mm. Yi & Norell (2015).

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Landslide believed to have killed one person in West Java, Indonesia.

One person is missing and believed to be dead following a landslide that hit the Karangmukti Subdistrict at about 3.30 pm local time on Wednesday 25 November 2015. The event destroyed a commercial premises (variously described as a restaurant or drug store in local media), two cars and a motorbike. Four people were initially reported missing, but three have subsequently been found. There is thought to be little hope of recovering anyone alive from the debris at this stage.

The scene of a landslide at Karangmukti in West Java on Wednesday 25 November 2015. Istimewa.

Landslides are a common problem in Java, particularly in the rainy season, which lasts from October till April, and can result in an annual rainfall in excess of 4000 mm in parts of West Java. Landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall. This problem has been made worse in West Java as expanding populations has led to people farming higher on hillslopes, in an area where soils tend to be volcanic in action and poorly consolidated (i.e. lack much cohesion), making them more prone to landslides.

The approximate location of the 25 November 2015 Karangmukti landslide. Google Maps.

See also... airports closed by volcanic activity on Mount Raung, East Java.                Authorities in Indonesia have been forced to close several airports in East Java and Bali following a series of eruptions on Mount Raung, an active volcano...
Four people have been confirmed dead and another nine are missing following an explosion on a... confirmed deaths in Javanese landslide.
Twelve people have been confirmed dead following a landslide that hit the village of Tegal Panjang in Sukabumi District in West Java at about 10.30 pm local time on Saturday 28 March 2015. No further...

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Karangmukti subdistrict
Karangmukti subdistrict
Karangmukti subdistrict
Karangmukti subdistrict
Karangmukti subdistrict
Karangmukti subdistrict

Asteroid 2015 WP2 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2015 WP2 passed by the Earth at a distance of 229 800 km (0.6 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.16% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun; but 575.4 times as far from the Earth as the International Space Station and 11.4 times as distant as the satellites that transmit GPS signals), slightly before 1.45 am on Friday 20 November 2015. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though had it done so it would have presented only a minor threat. 2015 WP2 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 2.6-5.7 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 2.6-5.7 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to explode in an airburst (an explosion caused by superheating from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is greater than that caused by simply falling, due to the orbital momentum of the asteroid) in the atmosphere more than 40 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.

The calculated orbit of 2015 WP2JPL Small Body Database. 

2015 WP2 was discovered on 21 November 2015 (the day after its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon Survey at the Steward Observatory on Mount Lemmon in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2015 WP2 implies that the asteroid was the 65h object (object P2) discovered in the first second half of November 2015 (period 2015 W).
2015 WP2 has a 605 day orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 1.58° to the plane of the Solar System that takes it from 0.77 AU from the Sun (i.e. 77% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, and slightly outside the orbit of Venus) to 2.03 AU from the Sun (i.e. 203% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, considerably more than the distance at which Mars orbits the Sun). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). 2015 WP2 also has occasional close encounters with the planet Mars, with the next predicted in April 2021.
See also... 2015 VV2 passes the Earth.      Asteroid 2015 VV2 passed by the Earth at a distance of 6 623 000 km (17.2 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 4.43% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly after 10.30  pm on Wednesday 18 November 2015... 2015 VD105 passes the Earth. Asteroid 2015 VD105 passed by the Earth at a distance of 2 777 000 km (7.22 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 1.86% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 4.25 pm on Monday 16 November... Asteroid 2015 VU65 passes the Earth.    Asteroid 2015 VU65 passed by the Earth at a distance of 2 009 000 km (5.23 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 1.34% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 10.05  pm on Saturday 14...

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Neosabellides lizae: A new species of Ampharetid Worm from Lizard Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Ampharetid Worms are small, usually marine, Annelid Worms related to the tube-building Trumpet Worms and the Alvinellid Tube Worms found living around hydrothermal vents. They are small infaunal Worms, living in burrows in mud, sand, or other unconsolidated sediments and feeding by ingesting sediment and digesting organic material within it.

In a paper published in the journal Zootaxa on 18 September 2015, Tom Alvestad of Uni Research and Natural History Collections at the University Museum ofBergen and Nataliya Budaeva, also of Natural History Collections at the University Museum of Bergen, and of the P.P. Shirshov Instituteof Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, describe a new species of Ampharetid Worm from sediments off Casuarina Beach on Lizard Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, close to the LizardIsland Research Station of the Australian Museum.

The new species is placed in the genus Neosabellides, and given the specific name lizae in reference to the area where it was found. The worms are 3-5 mm in length, and a metalic silver grey in colour. They each have 26 thoracic segments and 14 abdominal segements with paradopodia (limbs) and one pair of eyes on the head.

Neosabellides lizae, live specimens. Arrows indicate the position of the eyes, br indicates branchial tentacles. Alvestad & Budaeva (2015).

See also... Bone-eating Worms from England.                                                                          Siboglinid Worms are a distinctive group of Annelids which lack mouths and digestive tracts in their... new species of Serpulid Worm from the Caribbean.                                                 Serpulids are distinctive Polychaete Worms found throughout the world’s oceans, from the intertidal zones to the deep seas. They live in calcareous tubes, which they cement to hard substrates, and are... new species of Scolecodont from the Early Devonian of the Ukraine.               Scolecodonts are the fossilized remains of the chitinous teeth and jaw elements of Polychaete Worms. They are described as species since preservation of entire Worms more-or-less never happens. Scolecodonts are known in the fossil record from the Cambrian...

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Magnitude 1.3 Earthquake in County Durham, England.

The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.3 Earthquake at a depth of 4 km about 5 km to the northeast of Durham in County Durham, England, slightly before 8.40 pm GMT on Monday 23 November 2015. There are no reports of any damage or injuries associated with this event, and nor would they be expected from such a small event, though it is possible it was felt locally.

The approximate location of the 23 November 2015 County Durham Earthquake. Google Maps.

Earthquakes become more common as you travel north and west in Great Britain, with the west coast of Scotland being the most quake-prone part of the island and the northwest of Wales being more prone  to quakes than the rest of Wales or most of England. However, while quakes in southern England are less frequent, they are often larger than events in the north, as tectonic presures tend to build up for longer periods of time between events, so that when they occur more pressure is released.

The precise cause of Earthquakes in the UK can be hard to determine; the country is not close to any obvious single cause of such activity such as a plate margin, but is subject to tectonic pressures from several different sources, with most quakes probably being the result of the interplay between these forces.

Britain is being pushed to the east by the expansion of the Atlantic Ocean and to the north by the impact of Africa into Europe from the south. It is also affected by lesser areas of tectonic spreading beneath the North Sea, Rhine Valley and Bay of Biscay. Finally the country is subject to glacial rebound; until about 10 000 years ago much of the north of the country was covered by a thick layer of glacial ice (this is believed to have been thickest on the west coast of Scotland), pushing the rocks of the British lithosphere down into the underlying mantle. This ice is now gone, and the rocks are springing (slowly) back into their original position, causing the occasional Earthquake in the process.

(Top) Simplified diagram showing principle of glacial rebound. Wikipedia. (Bottom) Map showing the rate of glacial rebound in various parts of the UK. Note that some parts of England and Wales show negative values, these areas are being pushed down slightly by uplift in Scotland, as the entire landmass is quite rigid and acts a bit like a see-saw. Climate North East. 

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. If you felt this quake, or were in the area but did not (which is also useful information) then you can report it to the British Geological Survey here. 

See also... 1.6 Earthquake in Cumbria, England.                                                    The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.6 Earthquake at a depth of about 5 km about five kilometers to the south of the village of Caldbeck... stuck by two Earthquakes in under ninety minutes.                                             The county of North Yorkshire in northern England was struck by two Earthquakes on Saturday 30 May 2015, according to the British Geological Survey, the... 1.9 Earthquake in North Yorkshire, England.                                             The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.9 Earthquake at an uncertain depth near the village of Wormersley in North...
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