Thursday, August 25, 2016

Why the Italy Quake Was So Severe

[NY Times] The combination of a shallow fault and old, unreinforced masonry buildings led to widespread devastation in the earthquake that struck central Italy early Wednesday.
The magnitude-6.2 quake killed at least 241 people and left hundreds more injured. Many people were trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Like other villages and towns in the mountainous area, Amatrice, where the mayor lamented that “half the town no longer exists,” has stone churches and other buildings that were constructed centuries ago, when little if anything was known about earthquakes. Unless they have been reinforced in recent years, such structures are easily damaged or destroyed by shaking.
“Even 100 years ago, they didn’t know how to build structures to withstand earthquakes,” said David A. Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England.
The earthquake was less powerful than many recent deadly quakes. The magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015, for instance, killing 8,000 people, released roughly 250 times more energy.
But the Italian quake was very shallow: According to the United States Geological Survey, it occurred about six miles below the surface. “Shallow earthquakes cause more destruction than deep earthquakes because the shallowness of the source makes the ground-shaking at the surface worse,” Professor Rothery said.
Video from Amatrice and other towns near the quake center showed heaps of masonry rubble from buildings that had been shaken apart.
Earthquakes are set off by the movement of the earth’s crust, which is divided into large sections called tectonic plates. The Apennine Mountains, where the quake occurred on Wednesday, are in an area where one plate, the African, is moving under another, the Eurasian. Read More


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

This is How South Florida Ends

[Gizmodo] It’s a scorching midsummer day, and the sawgrass is still under a pale blue sky. Waist-deep in water and sinking slowly into the muck, I fend off mosquitos as a man from South Florida’s Water Management District mixes a bag of salt into a hot tub-sized bucket on the side of the road. Thirty feet away in the marsh, another city official wearing waders and a bug hat stands on a narrow steel walkway, dangling the end of a long hose over a plexiglass chamber.
The experiment seems innocuous enough. Seawater is being added to a freshwater wetland, and scientists are observing what happens. The grim subtext is that this same experiment is about to play out in real life and on an enormous scale, from here in the southern Everglades, to Miami forty miles east, to the Florida Keys due south. If scientists are correct, much of South Florida will be underwater by the end of the century.
Standing next to me, pulling strands of what looks like a moss-covered scarf out of the water, is Viviana Mazzei, an ecology PhD student at Florida International University. It’s a periphyton mat, she explains, a unique symbiosis of algae, bacteria, and other microorganisms that forms the base of the Everglades’ food chain. When the saltwater comes, it’s expected to die, with profound ecological consequences.
“The urgency for doing this work has never been greater,” Tiffany Troxler, the FIU ecologist leading the experiment, told me later that week over the phone. “The Everglades is a world treasure, and we’d like for people to continue coming here to enjoy it for a long time.”
Today, the Everglades is fighting a war. Its adversary—rising sea levels brought on by man-made climate change—is relentless and merciless. It’s coming faster than we think. And unlike an earlier war between man and the so-called river of grass, this fight will have no winners.
The first war on the Everglades began over a century ago, when European colonists arrived in South Florida intending to grow crops and build cities, and instead found themselves wading through a mosquito-infested swamp. It was a dreary, dismal, abominable place, “suitable only for the haunt of noxious vermin, or the resort of pestilential reptiles” according to an early government report.
In other words, it was America’s last frontier, and man’s God-given right to conquer it. And so, men conquered, or at least they tried. For decades, efforts to tame the wetlands proved futile. The tides turned in 1928, when a devastating hurricane flooded Lake Okeechobee—the enormous freshwater reservoir that fed wetlands to south—sending nearly three thousand Everglades pioneers to a watery grave. That disaster prompted the US Army Corps of Engineers to erect an enormous dike around the lake, cutting off the Everglades’ lifeblood and draining hundreds of thousands of acres for agriculture. East, west, and south of Lake Okeechobee, the Army Corps dug thousands of miles of levees and canals to move water around in a more orderly fashion. Read More

Go flexitarian: A three-week plan to eat less meat

[CNN] Cutting down on animal protein does more than slash calories -- it lowers your cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as your risks of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The vegetables, legumes, and whole grains that will replace the meat help shield you from developing these chronic diseases, too. "Plants are nature's pharmacy," says Kate Geagan, RD, author of Go Green Get Lean ($5, amazon.com). "They're brimming with protective nutrients and antioxidants that you just can't get from animals." You don't have to go full vegetarian -- our plan ups your plant protein without depriving you of that Saturday-night steak.
"Meat can have a place on your plate if you're passionate about that -- just shift the proportions," says Geagan. Here's how to nail the balancing act. 
Shop for substitutes: Stock up on at least three foods that can replace meat in many dishes. "Mushrooms, beans, and chickpeas are my go-tos," says Elle Penner, RD, a dietitian and blogger.
Combine proteins: In as many meals as you can this week, swap half the meat with an equal serving of plant protein; mix chickpeas with half the usual amount of chicken, say, or black beans with half the ground beef.
Trim the bacon: Reduce your intake of sausages and bacon big-time. "They contain a ton of sodium, preservatives, and fat," says Penner. Read More

Climate change is thawing deadly diseases. Maybe now we'll address it?

[Guardian] Earlier this month, an outbreak of anthrax in northern Russia caused the death of a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother and put 90 people in the hospital. These deadly spores – which had not been seen in the Arctic since 1941 – also spread to 2,300 caribou. Russian troops trained in biological warfare were dispatched to the Yamalo-Nenets region to evacuate hundreds of the indigenous, nomadic people and quarantine the disease.

Americans are likely to associate anthrax with the mysterious white powder that was mailed to news media and US Senate offices in the weeks following 11 September 2001. The bacteria – usually sequestered in biological weapons labs – killed five people and infected 17 others in the most devastating bioterrorism attack in US history.
But in Russia, the spread of illness was not the result of bioterrorism; it was a result of global warming. Record-high temperatures melted Arctic permafrost and released deadly anthrax spores from a thawing carcass of a caribou that had been infected 75 years ago and had stayed frozen in limbo until now. This all suggests that it may not be easy to predict which populations will be most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change. Read More