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Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Weather on Venus; Women like Men to Feel Their Pain

The Weather on Venus; Women like Men to Feel Their PainDiscovered: Venus has bad weather, women like men to feel their pain, how much water the Earth has lost, cancerless super mice, and how to change your DNA.

What the weather is like on Venus. It's full of what science calls "hot flow anomolies," which by name alone sounds intriguing. "They [HFA] are an amazing phenomenon," says researcher David Sibeck, who found the evidence for these weather outbursts. Amazing, eh? Like, maybe the kind of place we might like to vacation? No. More like amazing from a safe, Earth-y distance. "Hot flow anomalies release so much energy that the solar wind is deflected, and can even move back toward the sun. That's a lot of energy when you consider that the solar wind is supersonic -- traveling faster than the speed of sound -- and the HFA is strong enough to make it turn around," he continues. [NASA]Women like men to feel their pain. There goes science again, confirming stereotypes about relationships. Basically, research has confirmed what makes women happy -- and this is a true fact, says this woman blogger -- is when their boyfriends or husbands feel, live, breathe their misery. There is nothing that makes us happier than you knowing how unhappy we are. Here's the scientific explanation for why that is: "It could be that for women, seeing that their male partner is upset reflects some degree of the man's investment and emotional engagement in the relationship, even during difficult times," said researcher Shiri Cohen. Our theory: Just plain selfish cruelty. If we're unhappy, you best be unhappy, too. Men, on the other hand, just want their partners to be happy. [American Psychological Association]The Earth hasn't lost that much water in the last 4 billion years. Considering all the fears about climate change and water availability, this sounds encouraging to us. Looking at rocks from Greenland, scientists estimate that Earth has lost less than a quarter of its "water budget," the term used for water on the planet. "The results demonstrate that the young planet's oceans, in relation to those of today, had proportionately more 'normal water' than 'heavy water' in them," said researcher Emily Pope. "We can explain this difference by the fact that Earth has lost less than ¼ of its water budget over the last roughly 4 billion years," she continued. Pope and her colleagues consider that type of loss over that long period of time, "stable." [University of Copenhagen]Cancerless super mice. Mice given Pten, a tumor suppressant, not only proved cancer resistant, but also ate whatever they wanted without getting fat. Imagine that! The finding has something to do with that magical, fat-burning, brown-fat our bodies have. "This tumor suppressor protects against metabolic damage associated with aging by turning on brown fat," explains Manuel Serrano. Sign us up! [Cell Press]How to change your DNA. They (my mom) say we're stuck with the lousy genes we inherited. Well, mom, science has discovered a way to change our DNA. Caffeine (yay!) and exercise (boo) don't change the underlying genetic makeup (boo again), but can change the molecules that make up that DNA (ok, fine). "Our muscles are really plastic," says researcher Juleen Zierath.  "We often say 'You are what you eat.' Well, muscle adapts to what you do. If you don't use it, you lose it, and this is one of the mechanisms that allows that to happen," she explains. [Cell Press]

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Experts Fear Unknown Impacts of Gas Boom

HOUSTON — Everyone agrees it’s cleaner than coal, but the trend toward making natural gas America’s top energy source is fueling fears that it may not be so great for the problem of global climate change.

While power plants that burn natural gas produce about half as many carbon emissions as those that burn coal—the dirtiest but still dominant source of U.S. electricity—there is little data on the amount of methane being produced by the boom in natural-gas drilling across the country. Scientists say methane has 20 times more impact on climate change than carbon dioxide.

“The greenhouse-gas footprint of natural-gas production is something that needs some really careful scientific and federal studies rather than making generalizations about it,” said John Deutch, chairman of an Energy Department advisory committee on shale gas. He spoke at the IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates annual conference this week, where the focus has been largely on natural gas.

Despite this uncertainty, President Obama has thrown his support behind natural-gas development, precisely because the energy source is cleaner than coal-fired power. Recent discoveries of shale natural gas all over the country promise the United States decades of the domestic energy source. But environmentalists are concerned about moving too quickly to natural gas without knowing its full impact on climate change.

“I’m worried insofar as we don’t have a handle on exactly how much methane leaks,” said Mark Brownstein, deputy director of the energy program at the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the few environmental groups working with industry on natural-gas issues. “If we’re not doing anything to gather the data and we’re not doing anything to cure the leaks, then yes, I do worry. This is a problem that we should be able to get a handle on and solve.”

Shale gas presents the country with several challenges, including concerns about water contamination associated with a controversial extraction method called hydraulic fracturing, along with the fact that near record-low gas prices are reducing the incentive to drill. But the lack of information about methane emissions from gas production may be the biggest problem of all, because it means the nation could be blindly moving toward an energy source that could cause irreversible damage with respect to climate change.

EDF is working with seven oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, on a study evaluating methane emissions during the entire production cycle for shale natural gas, including hydraulic fracturing, which injects large amounts of water, chemicals, and sand into a well at high pressures to break up rock and release gas.

“This is an issue we need to take seriously,” Royal Dutch Shell CEO Peter Voser told hundreds of oil and gas executives at the CERA conference. “Clearly more research and hard data are needed.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is working on regulations to limit methane emissions from gas wells, but the lack of data could slow down that process as well.


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Strong space weather storm hits Earth

The strongest space weather storm in five years struck Earth on Thursday, causing some airlines to reroute their flights, threatening power disruptions and sparking a show of the northern lights.

NASA and other agencies warned that the storm had the potential to disrupt global positioning systems, satellites and power grids, and had already caused some air carriers to change their planes' polar flight paths.

However, the Earth's magnetic field appeared to be absorbing the brunt of the shock and it was unlikely to reach the most severe levels, US experts said.

The leading edge of the coronal mass ejection -- a burst of hot plasma and charged particles -- that erupted from the Sun early Wednesday reached Earth on Thursday at 1045 GMT (5:45 am Eastern time in the United States), said an update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Predictions that the storm would reach a level three on a scale of five, or a "strong" level of solar radiation and geomagnetic storming, continue to "look justified," NOAA said.

"So far the orientation of the magnetic field has been opposite of what is needed to cause the strongest storming. As the event progresses, that field will continue to change."

NASA had forecast late Wednesday that the storm could reach "severe" levels, and its effects were expected to last through Friday.

The storm is likely "the strongest one since December 2006," NOAA scientist Joseph Kunches said on Wednesday.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station were not expected to be affected by the radiation storm, NASA said.

A vivid display of the northern lights -- aurora borealis -- created when highly charged particles interact with the Earth's magnetic field, causing a colorful glow, was expected to be visible over central Asia at nightfall Thursday.

Geomagnetic and radiation storms are growing more frequent as the Sun leaves its solar minimum period and moves into a solar maximum over the coming years, but people are generally protected by Earth's magnetic field.

However, some experts are concerned that because the world is more reliant on GPS and satellite technology now than it was during the last solar maximum, more disruptions to modern life are likely.

The fuss began late Sunday at an active region on the Sun known as 1429, with a big solar flare that was associated with a coronal mass ejection that thrust toward the Earth at some four million miles per hour (6.4 million kilometers per hour).

A pair of solar flares and a CME followed overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, setting off a strong geomagnetic and solar radiation storm registering at level three on a five-step scale.

NASA said the first of the two flares on March 6-7 -- classified in the potent X class and facing directly at the Earth -- was the biggest this year and one of the largest of this cycle known as the solar minimum, which began in early 2007.

In fact, it was second only to a stronger one that erupted in August.

The solar flares alone caused brief high frequency radio blackouts that have already passed, according to NOAA.


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Wind & Rain In North Texas Weather Forecast

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The nations weather

Weather Underground Forecast for Thursday, March 08, 2012.

Active weather will return to the eastern half of the nation on Thursday as the cold front extending from the Upper Great Lakes through the Southern High Plains advances eastward and stretches from the Northeast and Northern Appalachians through eastern and southern Texas. As the disturbances progresses, it will interact with moisture from the Gulf of Mexico lifting across the East. This will allow rain showers to persist along and ahead of the front from the western Gulf Coast through the Tennessee and Ohio Valley into the Northeast by Thursday evening. Thunderstorms will accompany wet weather activity from parts of the Southern Plains and the Mid-Mississippi Valley into parts of the Central and Western Gulf Coasts. There is a slight risk for severe thunderstorm development with hail from portions of central Texas to central and southern Arkansas. Expect showers to persist after this cold front passes. Post-frontal showers in the Northeast may mix with snow Thursday night as lows drop close to the freezing mark. Expect cooler daytime highs to follow this system on Friday. Meanwhile, another disturbance dropping across Ontario will trigger light snow in the ares of the Upper Great Lakes Thursday evening. Elsewhere in the East, easterly winds will kick up showers and thunderstorms in the southern tip of Florida and along it¼'s southeastern coast.

In the West, energy along the tail end of this cold front will kick up more light snow showers over parts of the Central and Southern Rockies during the morning. Snow accumulations are expected to range from 4 to 8 inches in the plains and mountain valleys to 10 to 20 inches with locally heavier amounts across the slopes of the mountains. Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Wednesday have ranged from a morning low of -20 degrees at West Yellowstone, Mont. to a high of 89 degrees at Fort Stockton, Texas


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Tornado victims flock to Facebook for helping hand

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Residents of the storm-ravaged communities in the Midwest are reaching out to each other, neighbor to neighbor, through social media sites to coordinate disaster relief and share information.

A chain of fast-moving tornadoes spawned by massive thunderstorms cut a swath of destruction from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, killing at least 39 people and leaving many residents homeless and seeking food, clothing, and shelter.

With phone connections spotty as emergency workers tried to repair downed power lines and clear debris, Facebook pages -- accessible by cell phone, mobile device, or computer -- have proven a go-to source for communities to assist one another.

In Morning View, Kentucky, Piner Baptist Church member Bea Angel turned to a Facebook group coordinating help in northern Kentucky to ask for flashlights, baby bottles, baby juice, sippy cups, newborn diapers and other items the church was collecting.

"A gentleman at our church lost everything on Friday and only has the clothes on his back. Looking for men's size 46 pants and XXL shirts," Jennifer Farwell Jewell of Independence, Kentucky, wrote on the page. Community members responded immediately with offers to purchase or donate clothing.

"This type of care and concern is what makes Facebook, and the internet well worth having!" said Timothy Anneken of Fort Wright, Kentucky, on the Facebook page.

At a firehouse in London, a town in the southeast corner of Kentucky, dozens of volunteers gathered to help with salvage efforts and other residents drove up to donate boxes of pizza to the hungry.

One volunteer leader there, 31-year-old medical assistant Heather Reynolds, issued a call on her Facebook page for gloves to protect against the cold, plastic tarps to close holes gouged into homes and clear plastic containers to protect keepsakes found strewn on the ground and threatened by rain and snow already pelting the area.

"Well it looks a lot better than it looked yesterday. However, it will take years for things to be right," Reynolds said.

Dozens of residents in the storm-hit areas have already taken to Facebook to begin planning fundraisers, from raffles and concerts to dance-a-thons, for when the first wave of disaster recovery is over.

"Last few days, we've kept up on the news related to the storms, traded information about who was okay or not, passed notice of missing people, and then the good news that they were found," said Paul Schewene on Facebook, adding that the Facebook groups were "a lot of friends and neighbors reminding them that they're not alone, and that we'll all do what we can to get 'em back on their feet and moving toward recovery."

Critter-conscious residents have even created Facebook groups for pets lost and found during the tornadoes, with the occasional happy reunion complete with heart-warming photos of owners reunited with their best friends.

(Additional reporting by John D. Stoll in Kentucky; Editing by Peter Bohan)


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Friday, March 9, 2012

Tornado-ravaged areas hit by snowstorm, cold

WEST LIBERTY, Kentucky (Reuters) - A winter snow storm added to the woes on Monday of tornado-struck Indiana and Kentucky, dropping several inches of snow on the ravaged region where dozens of people were killed, meteorologists said.

Overnight, three to five inches of snow fell in southern Indiana and north-central Kentucky, where recovery efforts were underway after Friday's deadly twisters, the National Weather Service said.

The fast-moving tornadoes, numbering at least 30, splintered blocks of homes and tossed around vehicles like toys.

Officials said the death toll was at least 39 -- 21 in Kentucky, 13 in Indiana, three in Ohio and one in Alabama. Georgia also reported a storm-related death.

One casualty was a toddler who survived a tornado in New Pekin, Indiana, and was found alive in a field. However, the 14-month-old girl died of her injuries Sunday. Her mother, father and two siblings also were killed.

In hard-hit West Liberty, Kentucky, the wet, heavy snow is contributing to the danger of more structural damage to buildings already weakened by the storm.

The snow has already caused the collapse of 20-foot by 30-foot tent set up to serve meals to emergency workers and survivors. Kentucky Baptist Convention volunteers shifted meal service to a crowded community center.

The snow had started to melt by early afternoon, and the region will have a break from storms the remainder of the week to focus on clean-up, according to the National Weather Service.

West Liberty's main street was congested with emergency workers, insurance inspectors and security personnel Monday morning, as shop owners and employees tried to return to their stores to assess the damage.

Among them were Linda Oakley, who along with her husband, Dale Oakley, accompanied firefighters into the storm-damaged All Occasion Flowers.

They used flashlights to survey the pitch-black store and found it a mess -- water on the floor, insulation hanging from the ceiling and smashed pots. Mysteriously, some floral arrangements on light-weight shelves remained intact. Thomas, the store cat, was found alive, but he wouldn't come out of his hiding place.

"Anything we can do to get back to normal business, (residents) will see that as a reason to believe we can recover," said Linda Oakley, an employee at the shop.

The region's weather was clearing on Monday and the snow was melting as of Monday afternoon, giving workers some relief as they tackled the massive recovery effort.

Like the interior of the flower shop, the homes of West Liberty showed the bizarre random nature of tornadoes -- some destroyed, some untouched. In front of a West Liberty house that had been undamaged, children were building a snowman.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said on Sunday the storm had caused at least $5.8 million in property damage. He described the scene in West Liberty as "total devastation" and signed an executive order barring price gouging for food and other necessities.

Reports of looting began to surface late Friday, according to the Kentucky State Police, though the situation is now under control. As recently as Sunday afternoon, police stopped a vehicle on a back road that was trying to leave a home with a load full of stolen copper, said Albert Hale, the emergency manager for Laurel County.

The opportunity for looters is clearly visible -- even from a busy highway drivers can view destroyed homes where items such as televisions sit unattended. Hale estimated that seven miles worth of damaged homes need to be monitored. In hard-hit areas, officials stopped drivers to make sure they had a good reason to be in the area.

The extra security means Tracy Pitman in Laurel County, Kentucky does not have to worry about thieves while sitting in her small recreational vehicle with her grandson.

For her, the bigger concern is planning the Wednesday funeral for her father-in-law and mother-in-law, both killed Friday during the storm. The family is planning to create a cemetery behind the spot where the family's homes used to stand.

"That's the way our parents wanted it to be," Pitman said.

The violent storms raised fears that 2012 would be another bad year for tornadoes after 550 deaths in the United States were blamed on twisters last year, the deadliest year in nearly a century, according to the National Weather Service.

AccuWeather.com reported that Friday's storms may be one of the worst tornado outbreaks for early March on record, with 80 sightings between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.

March and April are typically busy months for tornadoes, and it is difficult to predict how bad the rest of the tornado season would be, according to Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist, NOAA's National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.

(Reporting by John Stoll and Andy Stern; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst, Paul Thomasch and Greg McCune)


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Snow, cold temperatures hamper U.S. tornado clean-up

WEST LIBERTY, Kentucky (Reuters) - A winter snowstorm and freezing temperatures on Monday hampered clean-up efforts in Indiana and Kentucky, the states hardest hit by a wave of powerful tornadoes and storms that killed dozens of people.

Three to five inches of snow fell in southern Indiana and north-central Kentucky, where recovery efforts were underway after at least 30 tornadoes ripped through the region on Friday, the National Weather Service said.

In West Liberty, Kentucky, emergency and security personnel, insurance inspectors, business owners and their employees gathered on the main street to assess the damage amid fears heavy wet snow would cause weakened buildings to collapse.

"Anything we can do to get back to normal business, (residents) will see that as a reason to believe we can recover," said Linda Oakley, who visited the damaged flower shop where she works, accompanied by her husband and firefighters.

The storms and tornadoes that struck the Midwest and South on Friday splintered blocks of homes and tossed around vehicles like toys. They came on the heels of severe weather that killed about a dozen people earlier in the week.

Officials said at least 39 people died in the latest wave of storms - 21 in Kentucky, 13 in Indiana, three in Ohio and one in Alabama. Georgia also reported a storm-related death.

Among the dead was a 14-month-old girl who succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, on Sunday, two days after she was found in a field after a tornado hit the New Pekin, Indiana, area. Nearby lay the lifeless bodies of her parents and two siblings.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said on Sunday the storm had caused at least $5.8 million in property damage. He has signed an executive order barring price gouging for food and other necessities.

HARD TO FORECAST

The destruction raised fears that 2012 would be another bad tornado season in the United States. A total of 550 deaths were blamed on twisters last year, the deadliest in nearly a century, according to the National Weather Service.

Greg Carbin, a meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's storm prediction center, said tornadoes often formed in March and April but added that it was hard to predict how severe the 2012 season would be.

Tornadoes typically occur in the United States between March and July, when warm, moist air meets cooler, dry air in the atmosphere. Some parts of the country experience a late tornado season in autumn.

"There's nothing that points at something above or below normal," Carbin said.

The weather in hard-hit areas, however, was expected to begin improving on Monday. The snowstorm was moving east and expected to drop up to three inches of snow in Virginia and in West Virginia before heading out to sea by evening.

"A high-pressure system will give clean-up crews tranquil weather through at least the middle part of the week," said Andy Mussoline, a meteorologist at AccuWeather.com. "A gradual warm-up supported by plenty of sunshine will follow."

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Simao)


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65 killed in Madagascar storm: weather agency

Tropical Storm Irina has killed at least 65 people in Madagascar, most of them residents of the Ifanadiana district in the southeast of the island, weather authorities said on Monday.

Three people were also reported missing, according to the national bureau of natural catastrophes (BNGRC), which did not provide any other details.

Earlier it was reported that only one person had been killed when the storm passed over Madagascar last week before lashing the coasts of SOuth Africa and Mozambique, where at least one person was killed.

"A tree fell on a house and the roof collapsed," killing an elderly man in Mozambique's southern Gaza province, said Rita Almeida, spokeswoman for the national disaster agency.

In the South African city of Durban, beaches were closed as waves reached three-metre (16-foot), municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said. Ships were ordered to remain in port.

Irina was the second killer storm of the season. Tropical cyclone Giovanna left 35 people dead and many more injured.


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McDonald's revenue figure is short of expectations

NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald's Corp. said Thursday that a key revenue figure came in short of expectations in February as severe weather in parts of Europe and the timing of the Chinese New Year hurt its performance.

The world's biggest hamburger chain also noted that it's navigating an environment of "persistent economic uncertainty, austerity measures in Europe and commodity and labor cost pressures, particularly in the U.S."

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based company said the challenges are expected to hurt its first quarter operating income growth.

For February, the company said global revenue in restaurants open at least 13 months rose by 7.5 percent, driven by an extra day in the Leap Year and strong results in the United States.

But that still fell short of the 7.7 percent increase analysts on average were expecting, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters. Shares of McDonald's were down $3.58, or almost 4 percent, at $96.60 in pre-market electronic trading.

McDonald's said its strongest performance last month came from the U.S., where new menu items like the Chicken McBites and breakfast staples helped increase the revenue figure by 11.1 percent.

But in Europe, which is McDonald's largest market by revenue, the metric rose by just 4 percent. The figure rose by 2.4 percent in the region made up of Asia, the Middle East and Africa region, where the company is focusing its expansion efforts this year.

Revenue in restaurants open at least 13 months is a key measure of a restaurant chain's performance because it excludes the impact of recently opened or closed stores. It does include the company's temporarily closed restaurants.

The figures are a snapshot of money spent on food at both company-owned and franchised restaurants. They do not reflect corporate revenue.

McDonald's has more than 33,000 restaurants in 119 countries.


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'SimCity' game rebuilt for age of climate change

Climate change is coming to SimCity.

A new version of the city-building computer game that factors in real-world consequences of energy choices has won endorsements from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and the director of the Academy Award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."

"We are updating SimCity with technology of today and introducing it to a new generation of gamers," Maxis studio senior vice president Lucy Bradshaw said at this year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

"It gets under your skin; exposes you to the idea of cause and effect and that choices you make have repercussions," she said.

Millions of people have played SimCity since the computer game designed by Will Wright was first released in 1989.

The original title won a broad, devoted following and led to a successful franchise of "Sims" strategy games in which players manipulate worlds and animated characters in simulations of real life.

"Sims 3 Showtime" software, released on Tuesday as an addition to the latest version of the game, lets players act out fantasies of becoming famous singers, acrobats, magicians or DJs.

The $40 expansion pack adds a host of features, including one allowing players to send their characters into other people's games via the Internet with a capability called "SimPort."

While the franchise has thrived, it has been nearly a decade since the release of the last version of SimCity for desktop or laptop computers. A Maxis team will have a fresh SimCity title ready in 2013, according to Bradshaw.

Along with rich 3-D graphics, the game will have a new simulation engine that enhances its realism and extends ramifications of urban design decisions past borders to affect neighboring cities.

"In 'SimCity' resources are finite, you struggle with decisions people are struggling with today in the real world and your decisions can have a global impact," Bradshaw said.

"Be a polluter and you are ultimately going to affect your friends' cities... Will you have the wealthiest, fittest, greenest city ever or the sludgiest, most yikes-worthy SimCity ever?"

Maxis collaborated on the title with Games For Change, a group devoted to the creation of games that combine fun with learning about social issues.

"I love the game," said "Inconvenient Truth" director Davis Guggenheim, who played an early version with his son.

"Climate change is the biggest crisis of our time, but there is a disconnect because it is not in front of us," he added.

"When you play 'SimCity' it is in your face; if you build a coal power plant you feel the consequences -- smog in the city, water table getting dirty, and your people getting angry."

Twitter co-founder Stone is also among the early fans of the new "SimCity," which he said was in tune with his new initiative to support systems that help make "better humans, a smarter world and a healthier planet."

Stone left his day-to-day role at Twitter last year to devote time to Obvious Corporation, which he established with fellow Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and Jason Goldman.

"While I'm not a gamer I understand the learning power of play," Stone said.

"Learning the cause and effect and the impact you could have as an individual or a corporation is huge... The 'SimCity' overview puts us in that frame of mind."

Bradshaw noted that 'SimCity' has always blended realism and fantasy, "so you never know when a giant lizard might trundle around a corner and blow your buildings down."


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Why Early Earth Didn't Freeze Over Still a Mystery

Global warming gases cannot explain why Earth was not frozen billions of years ago when the sun was cooler, researchers say.

In the Archean Eon about 2.5 billion to 4 billion years ago, before the first advanced life appeared on the planet, the sun was only about 70 percent as bright as it is today. This means the amount of heat felt on Earth was much less, and Earth's surface should have been frozen.

However, ancient rocks at Isua near the southwest coast of Greenland indicate liquid water and even life was present on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago. "So Earth's climate had to be somewhere between the freezing point and boiling point of water, and probably pretty close to the temperature we have today, which sustains life," said researcher Emily Pope, an isotope geochemist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

The contradiction between the cold Earth that apparently should have existed and the temperate Earth that apparently did exist is known as the "faint young sun paradox." Until now, the most popular explanation for this enigma was that there was a higher concentration of "greenhouse gases" such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than today. These gases absorb heat from the sun, helping warm the planet.

"Just like the average temperature of Earth is getting higher today because there are more greenhouse gases than there were before the Industrial Revolution, or even before the invention of agriculture, the presence of high concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane should have kept the early Earth warm," Pope said. [Early Earth Was Purple]

For greenhouse gases to explain the faint young sun paradox, their concentrations would need to have been extremely high, hundreds to thousands of times as much as today.

"If levels of carbon dioxide were that high, they would be recorded in ancient soils and sediments in the rock record," Pope said. "If levels of methane were that high, they would actually form a kind of organic haze in the atmosphere that blocks the sun's rays and would counteract its properties as a greenhouse gas."

Now scientists analyzing relatively pristine 3.8-billion-year-old rocks from Isua find no evidence that greenhouse gas levels were high enough to explain the faint young sun paradox, further deepening the mystery, Pope told LiveScience.

Specifically, researchers looked at serpentine mineral deposits, which form when ancient seawater interacts with deep ocean crust (the outer layer of Earth). These deposits record details of the water such as the hydrogen and oxygen isotope ratios found within, which rely in part on ocean size. Isotopes are atoms of the same element, like hydrogen, with differing numbers of neutrons. Light hydrogen isotopes are more likely to be found in the air and escape into space than heavier ones; the smaller the oceans, the more their waters will have slightly lower concentrations of light isotopes.

The rocks suggest that the oceans were up to 26 percent larger in the past. These shrunk over time to present-day volumes — seawater became trapped in newly formed continental rocks, and hydrogen that is one of the key ingredients of water instead escaped to outer space.

The rate of hydrogen loss to space is linked to atmospheric levels of methane and carbon dioxide; both these greenhouse gases can interact with hydrogen and other gases such as oxygen in complex ways. The hydrogen loss rate the researchers estimated based on these findings suggests that concentrations of these greenhouse gases were nowhere near high enough to reconcile the faint young sun paradox. [Stunning Images of the Sun]

"We have new concrete data that characterizes the early oceans," Pope said. "This will hugely help our ability to put realistic constraints on our models of how Earth's oceans and atmosphere first evolved."

An alternative explanation for the faint young sun paradox is that early in Earth history, there were fewer continents because a number had not formed yet; less land mass would have meant less cloud cover, because there weren't biologically generated particles such as pollen and spores that could behave as seeds around which the clouds could form. 

"The result was that the planet, covered mostly by oceans, was darker, and like an asphalt road on a hot day, could absorb a lot more heat, enough to keep the Earth clement," Pope told LiveScience.

The scientists detailed their findings online March 5 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Calm weather offers respite after deadly storms

LONDON, Kentucky (Reuters) - Calm weather gave dazed residents of storm-wracked U.S. towns a respite on Sunday as they dug out from a chain of tornadoes that cut a swath of destruction from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, killing at least 39 people.

The fast-moving twisters spawned by massive thunderstorms splintered blocks of homes, damaged schools and a prison, and tossed around vehicles like toys, killing 21 people in Kentucky, 13 in neighboring Indiana, three in Ohio and one in Alabama, officials said. Georgia also reported a storm-related death.

Forecasters said more trouble was headed for the hardest hit areas of Indiana and Kentucky on Sunday night, when up to three inches of rain and snow were expected to add to the misery for hundreds of residents whose homes were destroyed.

"It's very light right now, but the coverage and intensity of the precipitation is expected to increase later on this afternoon and into the evening," said Kurt Van Speybroeck of the National Weather Service.

The fast-moving tornadoes that hit on Friday, numbering at least 30, came on top of severe weather earlier in the week in the Midwest and brought the overall death toll from the unseasonably early storms to at least 52 people.

On Sunday, a toddler who had become a symbol of hope amid destruction after she was found alive in an Indiana field died of her injuries, state police said. The tornado that killed Angel Babcock also claimed the lives of her parents and her two siblings.

Angel, who was reported to be 14 months old, had been in critical condition in a Kentucky hospital since Friday, when she was rescued after a tornado hit her family's mobile home in New Pekin, Indiana.

The girl's grandfather, Jack Brough, had earlier told the Louisville Courier-Journal that her condition was extremely critical, and asked for prayers. Angel's family of five were the only people killed in Washington County, one of the hardest hit areas of the state.

The violent storms raised fears that 2012 will be another bad year for tornadoes after 550 deaths in the United States were blamed on twisters last year, the deadliest year in nearly a century, according to the National Weather Service.

SECURITY CONCERNS

National Guard troops manned checkpoints on roads and outside towns, and were checking identity documents of those seeking to enter hard hit areas of Indiana and Kentucky following reports of looting. Long lines of cars waited at the entrances to some towns.

As recently as Sunday afternoon, police stopped a vehicle on a back road that was trying to leave a home with a load full of stolen copper, Albert Hale, the emergency manager for Kentucky's Laurel County said.

Indiana's hard-hit Clark County, where a powerful EF-4 tornado hit the town of Henryville, imposed a nighttime curfew, and Kentucky's Governor Steve Beshear on Sunday urged spectators and unsolicited volunteers to stay out of the way so emergency responders could do their jobs.

Beshear told reporters the storm had caused at least $5.8 million in property damage. He described the scene in the hard-hit town of West Liberty as one of "total devastation" and signed an executive order barring price gouging for food and other necessities.

"It looked like a bomb had been dropped in the middle of town," he said of West Liberty. "Buildings had the walls standing and the roof gone. It was a terrible sight. It's going to be a long, long time to get that town on its feet."

About 400 National Guard troops have been dispatched around the state to maintain order.

Indiana State Police Sergeant Jerry Gooden said the focus in southern Indiana had turned from search and rescue to securing the area and clearing the way for volunteers, who he said may be allowed in on Monday.

"We're guarding property so people don't come in and steal what little people do have left," Gooden said. "We've got a boatload of volunteers we can't let in yet because of the dangers from the electric lines and gas lines being there. It's a tedious process because each home's got a gas line, but they're getting it done."

President Barack Obama called the governors of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky to offer condolences and assure them the federal government was ready to help if needed. Kentucky's Beshear said he would request a federal disaster declaration.

Meanwhile, clean-up crews worked to move downed power lines and clear debris, and residents began putting tarps over torn apart homes to prevent further damage. The more fortunate brought donations including diapers, blankets and food to area churches.

Residents in the affluent Kentucky town of London, in a county near the Tennessee border that reported five deaths, were eager to get back to some degree of normal life.

Willa Reynolds greeted dozens of attendees at the front entrance of Grace Fellowship Church, many wiping snow flakes from their clothes as they walked in.

"It's good to see you," Reynolds said to one person. "It's good to see every single person who walks through the door after the week we had."

(Additonal reporting by Karen Brooks, Mary Slosson and Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Peter Bohan)


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Breaking Down the March Tornado Outbreak

New images from the nation's Storm Prediction Center show how much of the South and Midwest were affected by the severe weather and tornadoes on Friday (March 2).

An entire month's worth of tornadoes struck across parts of the country from March 2 into the morning of March 3. The Storm Prediction Center received 81 reports of tornadoes on March 2, according to data filtered to remove duplicate reports of tornadoes. For the entire month of March, the 10-year average number of tornadoes is 87, according to the Weather Channel's severe weather expert Greg Forbes. The National Weather Service's storm survey teams have not yet confirmed the tornado reports, so these numbers could change. But if the numbers hold, the outbreak could go down as the largest single-day outbreak in March history.

In 2006, the biggest March outbreak saw 105 tornadoes from March 9 to 13. March 12 of that outbreak saw 62 confirmed tornadoes. Yesterday's outbreak could top that total.

The unfiltered storm reports in one new image show that the Storm Prediction Center received 128 tornado reports on March 2.

To see how the March 2 outbreak compared with the April 27, 2011, outbreak — the largest tornado outbreak in recorded history — meteorologists at the Storm Prediction Center compared the tornado and severe weather warnings issued during those outbreaks (image below). On the March 2 outbreak, the area of warning covered nearly 500,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers).

During the April 27 outbreak, the area of warning covered more than 1 million square miles (2.6 million square km).The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created a map of areas with high rotational velocity — an important ingredient for forming tornadoes — using data from NOAA's network of NEXRAD radar installations, processed by the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla. By examining these images, forecasters can determine the approximate tracks of so-called supercells, which feature strong rotation and are known for producing tornadoes. Some of these supercells had rotational velocity up to 180 mph (290 kph), and so their signature stands out from the surrounding storm areas. Features such as these are watched carefully for possible tornado outbreaks.

An from NOAA's Suomi NPP VIIRS instrument shows the overshooting cloud tops and intense storms associated with March 2 tornado outbreak. The imagery was acquired over Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. Polar-orbiting satellites track the subtle changes in the environment that can trigger potentially deadly weather conditions, from tornadoes to tropical storms. Current operational POES data was critical for issuing watches and advisories days in advance of this outbreak.

You can follow OurAmazingPlanet staff writer Brett Israel on Twitter: @btisrael. Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanet and on Facebook.


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Get Ready For Big Weather Changes

CLOUDY & BREEZY WEDNESDAY

It has been a mild morning with temperatures hovering in the lower to mid 60s. It has been a gusty morning with south winds getting up to 30-35 mph at times. It will be a breezy, if not windy day today, but no WIND ADVISORY is expected. We don’t expect a lot of rain either…just a few sprinkles late this evening.

RAINY, STORM THURSDAY…THEN A PLUNGE IN TEMPS!

A fairly potent low pressure center over the Rockies will be slowly slogging our way over the next several days. It will help drag a cold front through our area Thursday afternoon. This is a strong cold front and temps will fall precipitously behind the front setting the stage for a chilly end of the week. With the front, there is a chance of some strong thunderstorms across North Texas. The SPC has put a good chunk of North Texas under the SLIGHT RISK for severe weather Thursday afternoon. Because we expect to see such extensive cloud cover ahead of the front our chance of a huge outbreak of severe weather appears less likely. But a few storms could produce larger hail and strong winds…along with heavy rainfall.

spc1 Get Ready For Big Weather Changes

LOT OF RAIN COMING

The system as it moves in Thursday will provide plenty of lift along with ample moisture to produce widespread rainfall over North Texas.  Some of the rain will be heavy at times.  Because this low pressure system is so slow-moving…we will have a decent shot at rain not only Thursday..but Friday & Saturday as well.  When all is said and done by the end of the weekend, there is forecast to be a wide area of 2-4” of rainfall.  Some locations east of I-45 could see upwards of 6 or 7” of rain!!  Obviously we’ll keep an eye on this…how much rain we get will depend on where different boundaries end up over our area.  But as it looks now, we will need to monitor the possibilities of flooding going into the weekend.

qpf Get Ready For Big Weather Changes

Today….Cloudy & breezy.  20% chance of spotty showers late. High 73° South wind 15-25 mph.

Tonight…Cloudy with a 30% chance of rain.  Low 66°  South wind 10-20 mph.

Thursday…Cloudy & breezy.  80% chance of rain & t’storms.  Some storms strong afternoon.  Temperatures peak at 70° by midday…then falling rapidly by afternoon into the lower 50s!  South wind becoming north wind 15-25 mph.

Friday…Cloudy & chilly.  50% chance of rain.  High 54°

Saturday…Mostly cloudy.  50% chance of rain.  High 57°

Sunday…Partly to mostly cloudy.  30% chance of rain.  High 65°


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