Friday, 22 January 2010

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Haiti Aftershocks Will Continue for Months, Maybe Years

Posted: 21 Jan 2010 11:22 PM PST


A preliminary U.S. Geological Surveyassessment has found that the sequence of aftershocks following the magnitude 7 earthquake that struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Jan. 12 is likely to continue for months, possibly years.

Though the frequency of aftershocks will decrease over time, there is still potential for quakes large enough to cause more damage in the coming months, and a small possibility of an event larger than the main shock, according to a team of USGS scientists.

Their initial probability estimates for the next 30 days are that there is a 3 percent chance of a magnitude 7 or greater quake, a 25 percent chance of a magnitude 6 or greater quake and a 90 percent chance of a magnitude 5 or greater quake.

"Any aftershock above magnitude 5.0 will be widely felt and has the potential to cause additional damage, particularly to vulnerable, already damaged structures," according to the USGS statement released Thursday evening.

The forecast is based on the aftershocks Haiti has already experienced and general statistics on aftershocks.

Haiti experienced a magnitude 5.9 aftershock on Wednesday. The USGS expects two or three more of at least magnitude 5 in the nest 30 days.

Thescientists arealso concerned because it's unclear how much of the Enriquillo-Plantain Gardenfault, which bounds the North American and Caribbean plates, ruptured in the earthquake. Analysis of ground deformation at the surface using satellite and aerial photos and preliminary radar data suggests that the segment of the fault directly east of the rupture and directly under Port-au-Prince did not slip. This means it could rupture in the future.

At least four times in the past earthquakes as big or bigger than the recent quake have struck Haiti. Two major quakes struck the capital city in 1751 and 1770. For this reason, the USGS cautions that as Port-au-Prince is rebuilt, future seismic risk must be taken into account.

USGS webpage for the January 12 Haiti earthquake and aftershocks


Images: 1) NASA/USGS. 2) NASA

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NASA Garage Sale Includes Shuttles, Engines, Space Suits

Posted: 21 Jan 2010 03:20 PM PST


Looking for a good deal during the recession? Space geeks don't have to look any further than NASA, where they can pick upa retiredspace shuttle for the bargain-basement price of $28.8 million.

That's the cost NASA estimates for shipping and handling on a space shuttle. The Space Shuttle Discovery has already been spoken for by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, but Atlantis and Endeavour are still available.

Not just anybody can buy them, however. NASA says because of the role theshuttles have played in the nation's space program, "special attention is being given to ensure the shuttle orbiters are appropriately retired and displayed in the broadest interest of the American public." That means Bill Gates or Sergei Brin probably can't put one in the backyard.

The $28.8 million price tag is more than 30 percent off the original sticker price of $42 million NASA was asking in December of 2008. The space agency says it dropped the price because much of the original cost included work that is needed to decommission theshuttles even if theywere only to bestored in a hangar.

NASA says the new price reflects the cost of transporting thespace vehicles to their new locations and fixing them up so they are in proper display condition. More than 20 inquiries were received after the initial listing, but NASA expects others will step up now that theshuttles have been discounted. Technically, Atlantis and Endeavour are not for sale. They will remain property of NASA, but will be on permanent display at the new locations. The deadline for organizationsto applyto adopt a shuttle is February 19.

In addition to the orbiters, NASA is also offering up surplus main engines from the space shuttle.And, it's offering numerous other items are space-shuttle related (.pdf) to museums and educational institutions, including such items as flight-crew clothing and instruments that have been to space, as well as wind-tunnel models, mockups and simulators that never left the ground.

The fire sale extends beyond the shuttle program to include 2,500 items from the space program that are newly available, including space suits from Apollo and Mercury and other artifacts like an adorable model of a Gemini spacecraft.


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Images: NASA

Government May Ban Giant Snake Imports

Posted: 21 Jan 2010 12:40 PM PST


Nine species of giant, exotic snakes will face new import and transportation restrictions if regulations under consideration by the Interior Department are enacted.

The snakes would be listed as "injurious species" under the Lacey Act, a law first established in 1900 that gives the Interior Department the ability to restrict some aspects of commercial distribution of potentially harmful plants and animals.

"The Burmese python and these other alien snakes are destroying some of our nation's most treasured — and most fragile — ecosystems," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. "The Interior Department and states such as Florida are taking swift and common-sense action to control and eliminate the populations of these snakes, but it is an uphill battle in ecosystems where they have no natural predators. If we are going to succeed, we must shut down the importation of the snakes and end the interstate commerce and transportation of them."

The new regulations come after the the U.S. Geological Survey published an assessment of the risk posed by exotic snakes to native ecosystems. That 300-page study found that the snakes could put 150 endangered species at further risk if they continued to be released into the wild.

While not an outright ban on the snakes — pet owners could stillkeep them and buy them from in-state sources — they could reduce thenumber of snakes on the market. That will likely drive up the prices for the snakes. And that's exactly the point, said USGS zoologist Gordon Rodda, who co-led the study.

"It probably will have the effect of driving up the price somewhat. From the standpoint of unwanted pets being released, that's actually a very good thing," Rodda told "People are dumping the animals because they are not worth anything, so if you make them more valuable, then they are less inclined to be released."

In other words, by restricting cheap foreign snake imports, the Interior Department hopes to raise price of "used" snakes. It's a market-based mechanism for changing the behavior of pet owners.

But, Rodda noted, the new regulations won't do anything to address the populations of snakes that are already established.

"This really only addresses the prevention of future problems, it's certainly not air tight," he said. "There are still going to be tens of thousands of these animals around, some of which will escape or be released."

Individual animals can be a nuisance, but it's reproducing populations that are the big problem. Three species have established breeding populations in the United States: Burmese pythons, boa constrictors and Northern African pythons. All the known populations are in south Florida.

How a few scattered individuals released far from each other in time and space find each other and begin to breed is a major outstanding research question. Indeed, it seems downright improbable.

"It takes an unusual confluence of events, and because it's a rare event, it makes the science a little complicated," Rodda said.

Establishing a new population of non-native animals can be difficult even when humans are trying to do it. In the early 1890s, a group called the American Acclimatization Society engaged in a project to introduce every bird mentioned by Shakespeare into New York. The starlings they released had colonized the entire American continent by 1950, but it took several releases to get the original colony established.

"They brought them over many times before it actually worked," Rodda said. "It wasn't just one or two birds, either; they brought a whole bunch."

Nonetheless, we know that humans have somehow created populations of snakes accidentally. The key may be that it doesn't actually take many animals to create a new population. After World War II, the brown tree snake was accidentally introduced into Guam. Over the last 50 years, the species has overrun the island, killing off native species and seriously damaging the native ecosystem. Mitochondrial DNA analysis has found that all those rampaging snakes are the offspring of a single female, Rodda said.

Image: Burmese python (Python molurus). Roy Wood/National Park Service.

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WiSci 2.0: Alexis Madrigal's Twitter, Google Reader feed, and green tech history research site ; Wired Science on Twitter and Facebook.