Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

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Emergency / Disaster Readiness Workshop & Expo – Feb. 25 in Napa

January 28, 2012 at 8:57 pm By Roz Potter
Saturday, February 25, 2012, from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm,  Napa, CA  – Location TBA

We regret that the February EXPO must be postponed. Instead, a 3.5 hour Disaster Readiness Workshop will be held Saturday, March 24th from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the John Muir Inn in Napa. Please call 707.255.7146 for details.

This 6-hour one-of-a-kind event will help get your household ready for a variety of emergencies.

Demonstrations: Learn how to disinfect water, handle utility emergencies, use safety and self-defense devices, see how earthquake protection materials work, and select worthwhile supplies and equipment for lighting, first-aid, communications, sanitation, and 3-day “Go” bags

Tasting, of three types of emergency food bars and water with a 5-year shelf-life

Family Disaster Planning documents, including communication and reunification, urgent medical information, utility emergencies, asset protection, and emergency notification documents

Disaster Readiness Lecture and Discussion, including earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, and hazardous materials

$60 fee ($65 at the door) includes 3.5  hrs of instruction, disaster plan documents,  supply lists for “Go” bags for home, work, car and school, and 7 live demonstrations (2.5 hours). $15 discount for prior Defying Disaster Workshop participants, seniors over 65, full-time students & multiple participants from the same address. Partial scholarships available ($20 total cost).  Register in advance to avoid disappointments at the door.

See Link for details including registration.

Scientific American: Fracking Would Emit Large Quantities of Greenhouse Gases

January 22, 2012 at 11:07 am By Roz Potter



Add methane emissions to the growing list of environmental risks posed by fracking.

Opposition to the hydraulic fracturing of deep shales to release natural gas rose sharply last year over worries that the large volumes of chemical-laden water used in the operations could contaminate drinking water.

Then, in early January, earthquakes in Ohio were blamed on the disposal of that water in deep underground structures. Yesterday, two Cornell University professors said at a press conference that fracking releases large amounts of natural gas, which consists mostly of methane, directly into the atmosphere—much more than previously thought.

Robert Howarth, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, and Anthony Ingraffea, a civil and environmental engineer, reported that fracked wells leak 40 to 60 percent more methane than conventional natural gas wells. When water with its chemical load is forced down a well to break the shale, it flows back up and is stored in large ponds or tanks. But volumes of methane also flow back up the well at the same time and are released into the atmosphere before they can be captured for use. This giant belch of “fugitive methane” can be seen in infrared videos taken at well sites.

Molecule for molecule, methane traps 20 to 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than does carbon dioxide. The effect dissipates faster, however: airborne methane remains in the atmosphere for about 12 years before being scrubbed out by ongoing chemical reactions, whereas CO2 lasts 30 to 95 years. Nevertheless, recent data from the two Cornell scientists and others indicate that within the next 20 years, methane will contribute 44 percent of the greenhouse gas load produced by the U.S. Of that portion, 17 percent will come from all natural gas operations.

Currently, pipeline leaks are the main culprit, but fracking is a quickly growing contributor. Ingraffea pointed out that although 25,000 high-volume shale-gas wells are already operating in the U.S., hundreds of thousands are scheduled to go into operation within 20 years, and millions will be operating worldwide, significantly expanding emissions and keeping atmospheric methane levels high despite the 12-year dissipation time.

To read more: Link

Lessons from Christchurch

January 21, 2012 at 10:11 am By Roz Potter

This piece was originally posted on February 24, 2011. Since then, there have been approximately 9,000 aftershocks in the Christchurch, New Zealand area.

Christchurch’s downtown has been all but leveled with additional extensive damage to outlying areas, and many injuries. You may wish to visit this website to see for yourself,  http://www.christchurchquakemap.co.nz/all.

The seismic activity is so strong that Christchurch residents are experiencing motion sickness on a daily basis, even though they are on land.

Here’s the original post:

The “Ring of Fire” earthquake zone is the source of 80% of the world’s earthquakes.

According to the USGS, the Ring of Fire “extends from Chile, northward along the South American coast through Central America, Mexico, the West Coast of the United States, and the southern part of Alaska, through the Aleutian Islands to Japan, the Philippine Islands, New Guinea, the island groups of the Southwest Pacific, and to New Zealand”.

This earthquake belt was responsible for 70,000 deaths in Peru in May 1970, and 65 deaths and a billion dollars’ damage in California in February 1971 (the San Fernando quake).

Located on the Ring of Fire, Christchurch, New Zealand has some of the world’s most stringent building codes. Why then, did Tuesday’s 6.3 magnitude earthquake cause the collapse of many buildings, when September’s 7.1 magnitude quake in the same vicinity did little damage?

The devastation from the latest quake was an unfortunate combination of proximity, timing, and stress from September’s stronger but more distant rupture.

Tuesday’s earthquake, centered just 3 miles from Christchurch, a city of 390,000 people, was also just 3 miles deep. Shallower, closer quakes are more destructive. While September’s quake struck early on a weekend morning, catching most people at home in bed, Tuesday’s quake struck in the middle of a workday, finding people at multistory pre-World War II as well as more modern buildings, many of them unreinforced masonry, already weakened by September’s temblor.

The New Zealand Herald newspaper gives us a real-time glimpse into actual conditions following the quake. This report is from 4:22 PM today:

- All hospitals are operational and have been emptied to make room for victims

- 80% of the city is still without water. Emergency water supplies are available at locations, primarily schools throughout the city and neighboring towns. People are advised to bring their own containers. The water needs to be boiled before drinking.

If it rains, residents are urged to save all water for drinking. It is not to be used to flush toilets, take showers or baths.

- The sewage system has been damaged. People are advised not to flush their toilets and to use a bucket or dig a hole outside for human waste.

- Gasoline supplies are low and needed for emergency vehicles. People are advised not to buy gas except for critical uses. Roads are damaged.

- People are encouraged to walk to keep vehicles off the road. The public is to bring bedding, medications and personal effects with them to shelters.

- Power has been restored to 60% of the city. It may be several weeks before it is restored completely.

- All schools and day care centers are closed. People are only to report to work if they work in an industry supplying food.

- Telephone and cellphone calls are to be limited. Text messages are preferred as they place less load on networks. In yesterday’s paper, people were asked to change their cellphone messages to let callers know their location and to give alternate details if possible.

- Many supermarkets and ATMs are closed due to damage.

- The Port has sustained serious damage

- Aftershocks are continuing. More damage is expected. Residents are urged to drop, cover and hold on at the first sign of an aftershock.

Update: 2 26 11

The death toll stands at 145, with hundreds more missing. There are many traumatic injuries from collapsed concrete buildings.

Eye-opening Frontline documentary on Fukushima, nuclear power and energy

January 18, 2012 at 3:19 am By Roz Potter

From PBS:  Link

A look at nuclear power,  energy, Fukushima, the Indian Wells nuclear plant near New York City, a near-disaster at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska last year, and other threats. Link

Totally drug resistant tuberculosis?

January 12, 2012 at 11:42 pm By Roz Potter

From Maryn McKenna’s blog, Superbug, at Wired.com,  Link

Tuberculosis is one of the world’s most lethal communicable diseases, accounting  for  9.4 million cases and 1.7 million deaths in 2009, according to the World Health Organization. That death toll may soon be much higher.

Due to incomplete and incorrect treatment regimens, the bacteria has developed resistance to all drugs known to effectively treat it, according to a group of doctors in Mumbai, India.

The World Health Organization takes issue with the notion that the bacteria is totally drug-resistant, or TDR, since experimental drugs have not yet been tried.


News of some of the cases was published Dec. 21 in an ahead-of-print letter to the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases…

On Saturday, the Times of India disclosed that there are actually 12 known cases just in one hospital, the P. D. Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre; in the article, Hinduja’s Dr. Amita Athawale admits, “The cases we clinically isolate are just the tip of the iceberg.” And as a followup, the Hindustan Times reported yesterday that most hospitals in the city — by extension, most Indian cities — don’t have the facilities to identify the TDR strain, making it more likely that unrecognized cases can go on to infect others.


Because of the mismatch between treatment and symptoms, people often don’t take their full course of drugs — and from that (and some other factors I’ll talk about in a minute) we get multi-drug resistant and extensively drug-resistant, MDR and XDR, TB. MDR is resistant to the first-choice drugs, requiring that patients instead be treated with a larger cocktail of “second-line” agents, which are less effective, have more side effects, and take much longer to effect a cure, sometimes 2 years or more. XDR is resistant to the three first-line drugs and several of the nine or so drugs usually recognized as being second choice.


As of last spring, according to the WHO, there were about 440,000 cases of MDR-TB per year, accounting for 150,000 deaths, and 25,000 cases of XDR. At the time, the WHO predicted there would be 2 million MDR or XDR cases in the word by 2012.

That was before TDR-TB.

The first cases, as it turns out, were not these Indian ones, but an equally under-reported cluster of 15 patients in Iran in 2009. They were embedded in a larger outbreak of 146 cases of MDR-TB, and what most worried the physicians who saw them was that the drug resistance was occurring in immigrants and cross-border migrants as well as Iranians: Half of the patients were Iranian, and the rest Afghan, Azerbaijani and Iraqi. The Iranian team raised the possibility at the time that rates of TDR were higher than they knew, especially in border areas where there would be little diagnostic capacity or even basic medical care.

The Indian cases disclosed before Christmas demonstrate what happens when TB patients don’t get good medical care. The letter to CID describes the course of four of the 12 patients; all four saw two to four doctors during their illness, and at least three got multiple, partial courses of the wrong antibiotics. The authors say this is not unusual:

2011 Natural Catastrophes Review – record losses from earthquakes

January 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm By Roz Potter

From Prevention Web:  Link

An insurance industry view of 2011 record-breaking natural disasters. Source(s):Munich Reinsurance Company (Munich Re)


…90% of the recorded natural catastrophes were weather-related – however, nearly two-thirds of economic losses and about half the insured losses stemmed from geophysical events, principally from the large earthquakes.

Normally, it is the weather-related natural catastrophes that are the dominant loss drivers. On average over the last three decades, geophysical events accounted for just under 10% of insured losses. The distribution of regional losses in 2011 was also unusual. Around 70% of economic losses in 2011 occurred in Asia.

The earth shakes: 11 March, the Tohoku earthquake

The most destructive loss event of the year was the earthquake of 11 March in Tohoku, Japan, when a seaquake with a magnitude of 9.0 occurred 130 km east of the port of Sendai and 370 km north of Tokyo. It was the strongest quake ever recorded in Japan.

The damage from the tremors themselves was relatively moderate thanks to strict building codes. However, the quake triggered a terrible tsunami. The wave devastated the northeast coast of the main island Honshu. In some bays, the wave reached a height of up to 40 metres. Entire towns, roads and railway lines were washed away, hundreds of thousands of houses were destroyed.

Some 16,000 people were killed in spite of high protective dykes and an excellent early-warning system. Without these protective installations, the death toll would have been much higher. The tsunami-exposed northeast of Japan is believed to have last been hit by a seismic sea wave of this size in the year 869.

The tsunami led to severe damage at several blocks of the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant. Some areas within a radius of several kilometres of the plant will remain uninhabitable for a period of many years. Even without considering the consequences of the nuclear accident, the economic losses caused by the quake and the tsunami came to US$ 210bn – the costliest natural catastrophe of all time. The share of insured losses may amount to as much as US$ 40bn.

The fault line that triggered the quake was actually fairly short with a length of 450 km. However, the seabed at the fracture face shifted by 30 to 40 metres. Experts believe that an earthquake of this strength occurs there once every 500 to 1,500 years. The main shock was followed by thousands of aftershocks, the strongest of which, some 40 minutes after the main shock, had a magnitude of 7.9.

The earth shakes II: The Christchurch earthquake

Before the tsunami catastrophe in Japan, there had been an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 22 February. The notable aspect of this event was that an earthquake of 7.1 magnitude had hit Christchurch just six months earlier.

Unfortunately, the seismic waves were amplified due to reflection off an extinct volcano, so that far greater destruction was caused than would have normally been expected with an earthquake of this magnitude. The epicentre was located at a shallow depth and only a few kilometres from the city centre.

The losses were enormous. Numerous old buildings collapsed, and many new buildings were damaged despite the very high building standards. Some residential areas will not be rebuilt. Economic losses came to around US$ 16bn, of which approximately US$ 13bn was insured.

One day before Christmas, the earth shook again in Christchurch. Over a dozen people were injured following three strong earthquakes. However, in terms of their severity, the quakes were not as bad as the devastating event in February. Consequently, losses for the insurance industry from these aftershocks are expected to be significantly lower.

Prof. Peter Höppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research unit: “Even if it seems hard to believe given recent events, the probability of earthquakes has not increased. However, these severe earthquakes are timely reminders that the decisions on where to build towns need careful and serious consideration of these risks, especially where certain buildings are concerned, above all nuclear power plants. Also, building codes in regions exposed to earthquakes need to be made even stricter, so that buildings do not just remain standing to an extent sufficient to save lives but can be used again afterwards.”

Weather-related catastrophes: Floods in Thailand

The floods in Thailand stand out among the many weather-related catastrophes of 2011. They were triggered by extreme rainfall, which started in spring and peaked in the autumn. Due to its low elevation above sea level, the plain of central Thailand – where the capital Bangkok is situated – is prone to flooding throughout the rainy season from May to October. According to the authorities, this year’s floods were the worst for around 50 years. It is presumed that the La Niña natural climate phenomenon was a contributory factor, since the rainy season is often stronger during this phase.

The floods claimed the lives of some 800 people. Not only were hundreds of thousands of houses and vast expanses of farmland flooded, but also seven major industrial areas with production facilities belonging mainly to Japanese groups. A large number of electronic key component manufacturers were affected, leading to production delays and disruptions at client businesses. Approximately 25% of the world’s supply of components for computer hard drives was directly impacted by the floods. With economic losses amounting to tens of billions of dollars, the floods were by far the costliest natural catastrophe in Thailand’s history.

North America: Many storms but few hurricanes in North America

The tornado season was especially violent in the Midwest and southern states of the USA. Several series of storms with numerous tornadoes caused economic losses totaling some US$ 46bn, of which US$ 25bn was insured. Insured losses were thus twice as high as in the previous record year of 2010. The series of severe weather events can largely be explained by the La Niña climate phenomenon.

As part of this natural climate oscillation, weather fronts with cool air from the northwest more frequently move over the central states of the USA and meet humid warm air in the south. Under such conditions, extreme weather events are more probable than in normal years.

Losses from North-Atlantic hurricanes were moderate. However, as in 2010, this was purely by chance. At 18, the number of recorded tropical cyclones in this season was some way above the long-term average (11) and above the average for the current warm phase with increased hurricane activity since the mid-1990s (15). The number of hurricane-strength storms (6) was in line with the long-term average. However, the number of tropical cyclones that made landfall, especially on the US coast, was very low. Only three named storms, one of them Hurricane Irene, made landfall in the USA. Irene caused economic losses in the Caribbean and USA totalling US$ 15bn, US$ 7bn of which was insured.

Another striking feature of this year was that, for the first time ever, US weather agency NOAA categorised a low-pressure system over the Mediterranean as a tropical storm. The low-pressure system Rolf formed on 3 November. It was caused by a ridge of cold air forming over the still warm sea (20°C). With peak wind speeds of 120 km/h, the storm “01M” made landfall on the French Mediterranean coast before dispersing. The storm produced extreme rainfall along the Cote d’Azur.

Doomsday Clock moves to five minutes to midnight

January 11, 2012 at 10:57 pm By Roz Potter

From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,  Link


It is five minutes to midnight. Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007.

About the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was established in 1945 by scientists, engineers, and other experts who had created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. They knew about the horrible effects of these new weapons and devoted themselves to warning the public about the consequences of using them. Those early scientists also worried about military secrecy, fearing that leaders might draw their countries into increasingly dangerous nuclear confrontations without the full consent of their citizens.

The Doomsday Clock

In 1947, the Bulletin first displayed the Clock on its magazine cover to convey, through a simple design, the perils posed by nuclear weapons. The Clock evokes both the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero). In 1949, the Clock hand first moved to signal our assessment of world events and trends. The decision to move the minute hand is made by the Bulletin’s Board of Directors in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences.

Today’s challenges

When we moved the hand of the Clock from 7 to 5 minutes to midnight in January 2007, the Bulletin’s Board of Directors warned about two major sources of potential catastrophe: the perils of 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, 2,000 of them ready to launch in minutes, and the destruction of human habitats from climate change.

The Bulletin publishes information from leading scientists and security experts who explore the potential for terrible damage to societies from human-made technologies.
We focus as well on ways to prevent catastrophe from the malign or accidental use of nuclear, carbon-based, and biology-based technologies. After all, these technologies are ones that we create; it is in our power to channel them solely for benign purposes.

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