Saturday, 25 June 2016

Ninety-eight confirmed deaths as storms batter Jiangsu Province, China.

Ninety-eight people have been confirmed dead and around 800 injured following a series of storms that battered coastal areas of Jiangsu Province, China, on Friday 24 June 2016. Windspeeds of 125 kilometers per hour were recored in Funing County, and witnesses reported seeing a tornado near the city of Yancheng. A factory belonging to GCL System Integration Technology Co Ltd has also been partially destroyed, including a store for hazardous chemicals, leading to concerns that water supplies could be contaminated.

Storm damage in Funing County following the storms that battered Jiangsu Province on 24 June 2016. AP.

Ocean storms form due to heating of air over the sea in tropical zones. As the air is heated the the air pressure drops and the air rises, causing new air to rush in from outside the forming storm zone. If this zone is sufficiently large, then it will be influenced by the Coriolis Effect, which loosely speaking means the winds closer to the equator will be faster than those further away, causing the storm to rotate, clockwise in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the southern hemisphere.

Storm damaged buildings in Yangcheng following the storms that battered Jiangsu Province on 24 June 2016. AP.

Tropical storms are common in South China, but Jiangsu Provinc is in the northeast of the country and does not usually suffer such storms. Meteorologists in China have suggested the storms may be conneted to last year's El Niño conditions, which has brought unusual weather conditions around the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Movements of air masses and changes in precipitation in an El Niño weather system. Fiona Martin/NOAA.

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.

See also... kills six in Zhejiang Province, China.                                                           Six people have been confirmed dead following a landslide in the city of Jiande in Zhejiang... deaths following landslide in Zhejiang Province, China.                        Eleven people have been confirmed dead and another 26 are still missing following a landslide that buried about 27 houses in the village of Lidong in the Llandu District of Zhejiang Province at about 10.50 pm local time on Friday 13 November 2015. The... in Anhui Province, China, kills at least two.                                                 Two people are known to have died and at least twelve more have been injured following an Earthquake close to the city of Fuyang in Anhui Province slightly before 2.15 pm local time (slightly before 6.15 am GMT) on Saturday 14 March 2015, which was recorded by the...

Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

Asteroid 2016 MA passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2016 MA passed by the Earth at a distance of 999 900 km (2.60 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.66% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 4.35 am GMT on Sunday 19 June 2016. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though had it done so it would have presented no threat. 2016 MA has an estimated equivalent diameter of 5-19 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 5-19 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 between 40 and 25 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.
 The calculated orbit of 2016 MAJPL Small Body Database.
2016 MA was discovered on 16 June 2016 (three days before 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 2016 MA implies that the asteroid was the first object (object A) discovered in the second half of June 2016 (period 2016 M).
2016 MA has a 658 day orbital period and an eccentric orbit that takes it from 0.92 AU from the Sun (i.e. 92% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 2.03 AU from the Sun (i.e. 203% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, considerably outside orbit of the planet Mars). 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). This means that close encounters between the asteroid and Earth are fairly common, with the last thought to have happened in May 2007 and the next predicted in October this year.

See also... 2004 KH17 passes the Earth.   Asteroid 2004 KH17 passed by the Earth at a distance of 16 990 000 km (30.2 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 11.4% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 0.20 am GMT on Thursday 2 June... over Arizona.                                  The American Meteor Society has received reports of a bright fireball meteor being seen over much of the southwest United States at about 4.00 am local time on Thursday 2 June 2016 (about 11.00 am GMT). The fireball was seen across Arizona, Utah, New... 2016 JD18 passes the Earth.    Asteroid 2016 JD18 passed by the Earth at a distance of 625 300 km (1.63 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.42% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), at about 11.25 pm on Monday 16 May 2016. There...
Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Explosion kills miner at Yorkshire potash mine.

Production at the Boulby Potash Mine in North Yorkshire, England, following an explosive gas outburst which killed a worker at the site on Friday 17 June 2016. The miner has been named as John Anderson, 56, though further details of the incident are not yet availble. The mine is operated by Cleveland Potash Limited a UK subsidiary of Israel Chemicals Ltd.

 The Boulby Potash Mine. Gazette Live.

Gas explosions typically occur in mines when miners hit pockets of gas, in potash deposits typically carbon dioxide (CO₂). Typically when a seam containing pressurized gas is cut into it bursts, releasing the pressure and throwing large blocks of rock into the faces of the miners, often with fatal results. Thus although the gas involved is flammable it does not actually need to ignite to cause fatalities.

Potash (potassium salt) is an important mineral in the production of commercial fertilizers. The Potash deposits of northeast England, as with most European salt deposits, were laid down during the drying of the Zechstein Sea. The Zechstein was an ancient inland sea in northern Europe, that evaporated away during the Middle to Late Permian, leaving vast mineral deposits that are excavated as far away as Germany and Poland. Because different ions have different properties they are precipitated out in a sequence as seawater evaporates, which does not show on a small scale, but which can produce distinct, workable, layered deposits when a body as large as the Zechstein evaporates.

The potash deposits of these Zechstein deposis are contained between layers of limestone, in an area that has suffered injections of volcanic material since the time of deposition. Heating limestone (CaCO₃), in this case by injecting hot magma into seems running through the limestone beds, causes it to release large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO₂), which in this case has become trapped in pockets within the salt deposits. Miners working these deposits need to take precautions against this, and carefully monitor the levels of carbon dioxide within the salt, though it appears on this occasion they were caught out.

See also... fire at former coal mine near Gateshead, England.                                    The Tyne and Wear Fire service are investigating a possible underground fire at the site of the former Clara Vale mine workings. The fire is not thought to present any hazard to the public, but part of a local... rescued from disused mine in Ceredigion, Wales.                                      Two men described as being in their seventies were rescued from the disused Bwlch Glas Mine near Talybont in Ceredigion, Mid Wales, at about... killed at Irish lead and zinc mine.       A worker was killed in a partial collapse at the Lisheen Mine in Tipperary, Ireland at about 4.40 pm on Thursday 4 April 2013. The man has bee named as Mario Francis, a married father of two in is forties, who had worked at the mine for twelve years and came...
Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Flooding and landslides kill forty seven in Central Java.

Forty seven people have been confirmed dead and another fifteen are missing after a series of landslides and flash floods in Central Java, Indonesia, this week. 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. 

Rescue teams searching for survivors following a landslide at Caok in Central Java on Sunday 19 June 2016. Hendra Nurdiyansyah/Antara Foto/Reuters.

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 2000 mm in parts of Central Java.

See also... 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... 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 in...
Four people have been confirmed dead and another nine are missing following an explosion on a...
Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

The June Solstice.

The June (or Northern) Solstice falls on Monday 20 June in 2016, the day on which the Sun rises highest in the sky and the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere (where it is the Summer Solstice) and the day on which the Sun rises lowest in the sky and the shortest day in the Southern Hemisphere (where it is the Winter Solstice). Up until this date the days have been growing longer in the Northern Hemisphere and shorter in the Southern Hemisphere since the December Solstice (which is the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere), but after it the situation will be reversed, with days growing steadily shorter in the Northern Hemisphere and longer in the Southern Hemisphere until the next December Solstice.

The solstices are entirely a product of variation in the Earth's rotation on its axis, which is at an angle of 23.5° to the plain of the Earth's orbit about the Sun. This means that in December the Earth's Southern Pole is tilted towards the Sun, while the Northern Pole is tilted away from it. This means that around the Southern Solstice the Southern Hemisphere is receiving radiation from the Sun over a longer part of the than the Northern, and at a steeper angle (so that it to pass through less atmosphere to reach the planet), creating the southern summer and northern winter.

 The tilt of the Earth at the Northern Solstice. Wikimedia Commons.
The solstices are fairly noticeable astronomical events, and tied to the seasons which govern the life cycles of life on Earth, and they have been celebrated under different names by cultures across the globe, but most notably by those at higher latitudes, who are more profoundly affected by the changes of the seasons.

See also... Equinox, 2016.                                  The March Equinox fell on 20 March this year. The Earth spins on its... 2015 December Solstice.                       The December (or Southern) Solstice this year falls on Tuesday 22 December, when the Sun is at its southernmost point in the sky. This is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, where it is known as the Winter Solstice and the longest day in... Eclipse of the Supermoon.                              A total Lunar Eclipse will occur on 28 September 2015, starting at about ten minutes past midnight GMT. It will be visible across much of Western Europe and...

Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Magnitude 4.5 Earthquake in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.

The Japan Meteorological Agency recorded a Magnitude 4.5 Earthquake at a depth of about 10 km, about 5 km to the west of the city of Uto in Kumamoto Prefecture on Kyūshū Island, slightly after 8.45 pm Japan Standard Time (slightly after 11.45 am GMT) on Saturday 18 June 2016. There are no reports of any damage or casualties associated with this event, but people have reported feeling it locally.

The approximate location of the 18 June 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake. Google Maps.

Japan has a complex tectonic environment with four plates underlying parts of the Islands; in addition to the Pacific in the east and the Othorsk in the North, there are the Philipine Plate to the south and the Eurasian Plate to the West. Kyūshū Island lies at the northeast end of the Ryukyu Island Arc, which sits on top of the boundary between the Eurasian and Philippine Plates. The Philippine Plate is being subducted beneath the Eurasian Plate, in the Ryukyo Trench, to the Southeast of the Islands. This is not a smooth process, with the two plates continuously sticking together then breaking apart as the pressure builds up, leading to frequent Earthquakes in the region.

 The movement of the Pacific and Philippine Plates beneath eastern Honshu. Laurent Jolivet/Institut des Sciences de la Terre d'Orléans/Sciences de la Terre et de l'Environnement.

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... evacuated and at least nine dead following Magnitude 6.4 Earthquake on Kyushu Island, Japan.                                     At least nine people have died and another 850 have been injured, eight seriously, following an Earthquake on the Japanese island of Kyushu... on Sakurajima volcano, Japan. Sakurajima, an active volcano on Kyushu Island, Japan, underwent a spectacular eruption on Friday 5 February 2015, producing an ash column about 2.2 km in height as well as throwing incandescent material (glowing... 6.1 Earthquake off the coast of Kyūshū Island, Japan.                                  The Japan Meteorological Agency recorded a Magnitude 6.1 Earthquake at a 'very shallow' depth about 50 km off the east coast of Kyūshū Island, slightly before...
Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook. 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Sclerocormus parviceps: A new species of Ichthyosaur from the Early Triassic of Anhui Province, China.

Ichthyosaurs were Marine Reptiles known from the Triassic to the Cretaceous. They were fully-aquatic with a Dolphin-like form, and known to have given birth to live young, rather than emerging from the water to lay eggs, as is the case in Turtles and Crocodiles. The origin of the group has for a long time been obscure, with large fully aquatic forms known from the Middle Triassic onwards. However several recent discoveries have suggested that they may have been related to the Hupehsuchians, an enigmatic group of Marine Reptiles known from the Early Triassic of China.

In a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports on 23 May 2016, a group of scientists led by Da-Yong Jiang of the Laboratory of Orogenic Belt and Crustal Evolution at Peking University, describe a new species of Ichthyosaur from the Early Triassic Nanlinghu Formation of Anhui Province, China.

The new species is named Sclerocormus parviceps, where 'Sclerocormus' means 'stiff trunk' and 'parviceps' means 'small skull'. The species is described from a single skeleton, 159.9 cm in length and partially compressed. The skull is notably small for an Ichthysaur, even for an early Ichthyosaur (which were generally shorter snouted), having a short snout and comprising only 6.25% of the total bodylength, compared to 12% in the earliest previously known Ichthyosaur, Chaohusaurus.

Sclerocormus parviceps. (a) Whole specimen. (b) Skull. (c) Close-up of gastral basket. (d) Close-up of U-shaped haemal arches. (e) Right forelimb. (f) Shoulder elements. (g) Pelvic girdle and hind limb. (h) Skull elements. Abbreviations: a, angular; ar, articular; as, astragalus; ca, calcaneum; car, caudal rib; ca.v, caudal vertebra; ce, centralia; cl, clavicle; d, dentary; dc, distal carpal; f, frontal; fe, femur; fi, fibula; he, hemal arch; il, ilium; in, intermedium; is, ischium; j, jugal, l, lacrimal; m, maxilla; mc, metacarpal; mt, metatarsal; n, nasal; p, parietal; pm, premaxilla; po, postorbital; pof, postfrontal; prf, prefrontal; pu, pubis; q, quadrate; sa, surangular; sc, scapula; scl, scleral ossicles; sq, squamosal; sr, sacral rib; st, supratemporal; ti, tibia; u, ulna; ul, ulnare. Scale unit in (a) is 1 cm, other scale bars are 2 cm. Jiang et al. (2016).

Sclerocormus parviceps has a short trunk with broad, flattened ribs and an extensive gastric basket covering its underside, similar to the condition seen in Hupehsuchians, strongly supporting a connection between the two groups. The fossil also dates from surprisingly close to the beginning of the Triassic; dating from the Olenekian (251.2-247.2 million years ago, with the beginning of the Triassic dated to 252.2 millions of years ago) which implies Marine Reptiles were colonising the oceans far sooner after the End Permian Extinction than had previously been supposed.

See also... new species of Hupehsuchian from the Early Triassic of Hubei Province, China.      The Hupehsuchians are a group of Marine... fresh look at the Albian Ichthyosaur Platypterygius hercynicus.                           The Ichthyosaurs were a group of marine tetrapods that resembled dolphins. They appear in the fossil record in the mid-Triassic about 245 million years ago, and survive till the mid-Cretaceous, about 90 million years ago. During the Jurassic they appear to have been the top marine predators, but in the Cretaceous they were overshadowed by other groups...
Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.