Wednesday, February 13, 2013

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: "Carbonate Capacitors" - Do Key Volcanoes Control Earth's Climate Cycles?!

February 13, 2013 - VOLCANOES - Volcanoes at key locations where enormous amounts of carbon dioxide are poised for release may have driven Earth’s back and forth between greenhouse and icehouse states over the past 500 million years.“We found that Earth’s continents serve as enormous ‘carbonate capacitors,’” says Cin-Ty Lee, professor of Earth science at Rice University. “Continents store massive amounts of carbon dioxide in sedimentary carbonates like limestone and marble, and it appears that these reservoirs are tapped from time to time by volcanoes, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

Mount Etna eruption.
As much as 44 percent of carbonates by weight is carbon dioxide. Under most circumstances that carbon stays locked inside Earth’s rigid continental crust. “One process that can release carbon dioxide from these carbonates is interaction with magma,” he says. “But that rarely happens on Earth today because most volcanoes are located on island arcs, tectonic plate boundaries that don’t contain continental crust.” Earth’s climate continually cycles between greenhouse and icehouse states, which each last on timescales of 10 million to 100 million years. Icehouse states—like the one Earth has been in for the past 50 million years—are marked by ice at the poles and periods of glacial activity.  By contrast, the warmer greenhouse states are marked by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and by an ice-free surface, even at the poles. The last greenhouse period lasted about 50 million to 70 million years and spanned the late Cretaceous, when dinosaurs roamed, and the early Paleogene, when mammals began to diversify.

Wow! Moment
Lee and colleagues found that the planet’s greenhouse-icehouse oscillations are a natural consequence of plate tectonics. The research shows that tectonic activity drives an episodic flare-up of volcanoes along continental arcs, particularly during periods when oceans are forming and continents are breaking apart. The continental arc volcanoes that arise during these periods are located on the edges of continents, and the magma that rises through the volcanoes releases enormous quantities of carbon dioxide as it passes through layers of carbonates in the continental crust. Published in the journal GeoSphere, the study breaks with conventional theories about greenhouse and icehouse periods.

“The standard view of the greenhouse state is that you draw carbon dioxide from the deep Earth interior by a combination of more activity along the mid-ocean ridges—where tectonic plates spread—and massive breakouts of lava called ‘large igneous provinces,’” Lee says. “Though both of these would produce more carbon dioxide, it is not clear if these processes alone could sustain the atmospheric carbon dioxide that we find in the fossil record during past greenhouses.” The conclusions in the study developed over several years, but the initial idea of the research dates to an informal chalkboard-only seminar at Rice in 2008. The talk was given by Rice oceanographer and study co-author Jerry Dickens, a paleoclimate expert; Lee and Rice geodynamicist Adrian Lenardic, another co-author, were in the audience. “Jerry was talking about seawater in the Cretaceous, and he mentioned that 93.5 million years ago there was a mass extinction of deepwater organisms that coincided with a global marine anoxic event—that is, the deep oceans became starved of oxygen,” Lee says. “Jerry was talking about the impact of anoxic conditions on the biogeochemical cycles of trace metals in the ocean, but I don’t remember much else that he said that day because it had dawned on me that 93 million years ago was a very interesting time for North America. There was a huge flare-up of volcanism along the western margin of North America, and the peak of all this activity was 93 million years ago. “I thought, ‘Wow!’” Lee say. “I know coincidence doesn’t mean causality, but it certainly got me thinking. I decided to look at whether the flare-up in volcanic activity that helped create the Sierra Nevada Mountains may also have affected Earth’s climate.”

Active Mount Etna 
Over the next two years, Lee developed the idea that continental-arc volcanoes could pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. One indicator was evidence from Mount Etna in Sicily, one of the few active continental-arc volcanoes in the world today. Etna produces large amounts of carbon dioxide, so much that it is often considered an outlier in global averages of modern volcanic carbon dioxide production. Tectonic and petrological evidence indicated that many Etna-like volcanoes existed during the Cretaceous greenhouse. Lee and colleagues traced the likely areas of occurrence by looking for tungsten-rich minerals like scheelite, which are formed on the margins of volcanic magma chambers when magma reacts with carbonates. It wasn’t easy; Lee spent an entire year pouring through World War II mining surveys from the western US and Canada, for example.

“There is evidence to support our idea, both in the geological record and in geophysical models, the latter of which show plausibility,” he says.  For example, in a companion paper published last year in G-Cubed, Lenardic used numerical models that showed the opening and breakup of continents could change the nature of subduction zones, generating oscillations between continental- and island-arc dominated states. Though the idea in the GeoSpheres study is still a theory, Lee says it has some advantages over more established theories because it can explain how the same basic set of geophysical conditions could produce and sustain a greenhouse or an icehouse for many millions of years. “The length of subduction zones and the number of arc volcanoes globally don’t have to change,” he says. “But the nature of the arcs themselves, whether they are continental or oceanic, does change. It is in the continental-arc stage that CO2 is released from an ever-growing reservoir of carbonates within the continents.” Researchers from Caltech, Texas A&M University, the University of Tokyo, the University of British Columbia, and Pomona College co-authored the study, which was supported by the Packard Foundation, the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute at the University of Tokyo, the National Science Foundation, and the Miller Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. - Oilprice.

GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS: Wheat Prices May Rise Due To Tight Supply And U.S. Drought, "Emergency" And "Scary" Drought Conditions In Southern Colorado, Wild Weather In Australia Hits Crops On Both Sides Of The Country, Jamaica Gov't Announces $45 Million Drought Mitigation Programme And Unseasonal Rains Ruins Crops In India!

February 13, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Global wheat prices are close to bottoming out and may rise in coming months because of lingering drought in the U.S. and smaller crops in exporting countries including Australia and Russia and Argentina.  Higher prices would result in costlier imports by Asian countries, higher returns to growers and switching by animal-feed millers to relatively cheaper corn instead of wheat.  Benchmark wheat prices rose to a multi-year high of $9.4725/bushel July 23 but have since eased. CBOT March wheat settled at a seven-month low of $7.32/bushel Tuesday in response to rain and snow slightly easing drought conditions in parts of the U.S.  The Taiwan Flour Millers' Association recently purchased U.S. Western White wheat with 9% protein around $343.77/ton, or $9.35/bushel, FOB, up by over $11/ton since mid-November. Some traders and analysts expect prices to test $350/ton if the U.S. drought continues.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in forecasts released Thursday, said global wheat inventories will decline 10% in the year ending June 30. 


Wheat Prices May Rise Due to Tight Supply And U.S. Drought.
"There is a supply stress in wheat which is expected to continue in the first half of the year," says Abdolreza Abbassian, FAO senior grains economist.  Recent rain and snow in the drought-hit U.S. Plains is said by some experts as insufficient and late.  "In many regions west of the Mississippi River soil moisture is deficient, there is a lack of snow cover and we definitely need more rain," Jay O'Neil, senior agricultural economist at Kansas State University told Dow Jones Newswires.  He said several Hard Red Winter wheat growing regions in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and eastern Colorado continue to face dry weather conditions.  "Many fields [in the U.S.] did not sprout at all; some are so spotty that they will be used to graze cattle rather than harvest wheat," S. Elwynn Taylor, a senior agronomist at Iowa State University said.  Citing weak export demand for U.S. wheat, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analyst Damien Courvalin has slashed his three-month price forecast for Chicago wheat futures to $7.80 a bushel from $9.50 a bushel--but this is still well above current prices.  ANZ Banking Group forecasts wheat futures on CBOT will average $8.38/bushel in the second quarter.  The U.S. drought is reflected in the widening premium HRW Kansas City Board of Trade wheat futures are commanding over soft wheat contracts on CBOT. KCBT wheat for July delivery has a premium of around 46 cents/bushel over the CBOT July contract, up from 15 cents five months ago.  This may widen further, to 70 cents in the second quarter of 2013, because of a revival in demand for U.S. wheat and tight global supply, says Paul Deane, Melbourne-based senior agricultural economist with ANZ Banking Group.  Adding to global supply problems is last summer's drought in the Black Sea region, which cut Ukrainian wheat output in the year ending June 2013 by 29% to 15.8 million tons and Russia's by 32% to 38 million tons, the London-based International Grains Council says.  In previous years, Argentina used to be a major exporter of wheat but production is now on the decline.



The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast Argentina's wheat output in 2013 will fall 29%. "Growers in Argentina are turning to more remunerative crops such as corn and soybeans," says FAO's Mr. Abbassian.  Australia Tuesday kept unchanged its forecast that its wheat export volumes will fall 15% in the current marketing year that started Oct. 1 as a result of lower output.  Australian Standard White wheat is now offered around $330/ton, free on board for January 2013 shipment, up from $260/ton from shipments in August, traders said.  A severe drought in Western Australia has prompted Japan to relax quality norms for imports of noodle grade wheat.  Average protein levels in Australian wheat this year are down by 1 percentage point, said Lachie Stevens, Managing Director of Victoria-based Lachstock Consulting.  Buyers in Southeast Asia are turning to India to bridge the supply gap but quality issues and infrastructure bottlenecks are crimping shipments.  "Indonesia's millers are importing some cargoes from India due to higher Australian prices," PT Bogasari Flour Mills Chief Executive Franciscus Welirang said on phone from Jakarta. - Market Watch.

Drought Words for Southern Colorado: "Emergency" and "Scary".
Words like "emergency" and "scary" were used Monday to describe the toll the drought is taking on the water supply in Southern Colorado. "We are looking at a significant, I'll call crisis," said Colorado Springs Utilities, CEO, Jerry Forte.  Colorado Springs Utilities water managers went before the Colorado Springs City Council with proposed plans for saving water. The want to impose two day a week watering restrictions starting in April and there would be penalties on the bills of people who use excessive water. There are also options for increasing restrictions if the situation continues to get worse.  Council will make a decision next month on whether to approve the proposal. - KOAA.

WATCH: Water restrictions proposed by Colorado Springs Utilities.



Wild Weather in Australia Hits Crops on Both Sides of the Country.
This summer's wild weather is expected to hit crop production targets, with below-average rainfall in Western Australia and extreme heatwaves and bushfires in the eastern states to blame.  Total summer crop production is forecast to fall by 13 per cent in 2012-13 to about 4.8 million tonnes, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.  But despite a fall in output since 2011-12, the expected results are nearly 14 per cent higher than the previous five-year average of 4.2 million tonnes.  Grain sorghum production is forecast to fall by 23 per cent to 1.7 million tonnes, while the production of cotton lint and seed are both expected to fall by 21 per cent to 945,000 tonnes and 2.1 million tonnes, respectively.  Rice production, however, is forecast to increase by 15 per cent to about 1.1 million tonnes.  A decrease in the planting area of cotton and grain sorghum contributed to a 15 per cent overall reduction. But while recent flooding in some regions has caused minor damage to some summer crops, other areas are expected to benefit from the rainfall which allows a later planting opportunity.  Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Joe Ludwig said while there had been a small drop compared to the "bumper crop" last financial year, the results were still positive.  "Crops have withstood challenges of hot and dry seasonal conditions and the recent severe flooding and are set to improve with increased rainfall in the coming season," he said.  Total winter crop production also took a blow, the ABARE report said, with the largest fall in production expected in WA.  Crop production in winter is estimated to have fallen by 22 per cent to about 35.8 million tonnes.  But early harvesting may have saved much of the winter crop in the east, which was completed before flooding and bushfires struck parts of Queensland and NSW. - The Australian.



Jamaica Announces $45 Million Drought Mitigation Programme.
Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke, has announced a $45 million crop production programme as part of the Government’s drought mitigation initiative for the sector.  The programme, he said, will provide for the establishment of 645 hectares of select crops in 13 parishes to counter any shortfall in cash crops resulting from the severe dry conditions affecting the island.  Clarke, who was addressing a press briefing at his Hope Gardens office Tuesday (February 12), said that the programme will have three components: production incentives for farmers in irrigated areas to encourage them to plant additional acreages; production incentives for farmers in non-irrigated areas not presently affected by the dry conditions; and the trucking of water to the dry farming areas in St. Elizabeth.  “Through this initiative, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) will disburse, in the coming weeks, some $15 million in planting material to approximately 2,000 farmers covering the full requirement for planting material,” Clarke said.  “Also, a critical focus of this intervention will be the urgent disbursement of $5 million for the trucking of water to the most severely impacted communities to sustain crops already in the ground. Emphasis will be placed on assisting dry farming areas in Southern St. Elizabeth. The trucking of water is scheduled to begin in the coming week,” he said.  - Jamaica Observer.

Unseasonal Rains Ruins Crops In India.
Lack of adequate rainfall for the last two years has brought on a severe drought in the state with farmers not being able to salvage their crops and even drinking water being available at a premium. Now however unseasonal rains are causing more havoc, farmers in Nashik who had been able to salvage their crops in spite of the drought saw their crops being ruined due to unseasonal rains on Monday when it rained in many parts of Nashik.  APMC officials in Lasalgaon Asia's largest onion market confirmed that it had rained in Nashik and said that onion crops were damaged but said that it was too early too reveal as to whether it would lead to a further increase in onion prices. - Times of India.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Second Case Of SARS-Like Virus In Britain Indicates Human-To-Human Infection, 11th Worldwide Case Of The Mysterious Coronavirus!

February 13, 2013 - BRITAIN - A patient in Britain has contracted a new Sars-like virus, showing the deadly infection is being spread from person to person.

The latest case brings the worldwide number of confirmed infections with the new virus - known as the novel coronavirus - to 11, of whom five have died. Most of those had recently travelled in the Middle East.

According to Britain's Health Protection Agency yesterday, the patient had close personal contact with a case that was identified on Monday as Britain's second. This patient had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

A British Health Protection Agency image of a coronavirus, part of a family of viruses that cause Sars, first identified last year in the Middle East. Photo: AP.
The latest victim may also have been at greater risk of infection due to an underlying medical condition and is currently in intensive care.

The virus belongs to the same family as Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which a decade ago devastated Hong Kong, killing 299 people, after it emerg ed on the mainland in late 2002. It killed about a tenth of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide.

Symptoms common to both viruses include severe respiratory illness, fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.

Novel coronavirus was identified when the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued an international alert in September last year, saying a virus previously unknown in humans had infected a Qatari man who had recently been in Saudi Arabia.

"Confirmed novel coronavirus infection in a person without travel history to the Middle East suggests that person-to-person transmission has occurred, and that it occurred in the UK," said John Watson, the UK Health Protection Agency's head of respiratory diseases.

Coronaviruses are typically spread like other respiratory infections such as flu, travelling in airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Yet since the virus was identified in September, health experts say evidence of person-to-person transmission of novel coronavirus has been limited.

The president of the University of Hong Kong's Centre of Infection, Dr Ho Pak-leung, said the key now was whether the virus had mutated to a form more transmissible among humans.

Scientists have sequenced the infection's full genome.
"If the virus becomes easily transmittable between humans, there will be clusters of outbreaks in a short period of time," he said.

Present circumstances did not suggest signs of mutation, and he expected the answer would be revealed after UK authorities had sequenced viral DNA from the 11th patient.

The new cases posed no immediate threat to Hong Kong but needed to be followed, Ho said. Last night the Department of Health said it was closely monitoring the situation.

The WHO said on Monday that the confirmation of a new British case did not alter its risk assessment but "does indicate that the virus is persistent".

While person-to-person transmission may have occurred in some other cases in the Middle East, the risk of infection was low, the WHO said. It added there was no need for travel restrictions or special screening at borders. - SCMP.

THE WAR ON EARTH: Red Dawn Pollution Doomsday - China's Smog Becoming an International And Monumental Issue, Smog Problems Could See China Moving Its Capital Away From Beijing?!

February 13, 2013 - CHINA - Recent reports from Radio France Internationale (RFI)’s Chinese site suggest that China’s pollution problem is raising serious concerns within the country itself. In the push for economic growth, the China is also becoming increasingly aware of what could potentially develop into a serious problem if steps are not taken soon. In this connection, there has been heated debate on the Internet suggesting that Chinese authorities are proposing moving the capital away from Beijing. The level of toxic gases from factories and car fumes have reached levels that can no longer be ignored; many are suggesting that just living in Beijing alone is equal to smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Of course, all this pollution doesn’t stop at the air one breathes; crops, water and the like have also been affected. At the same time, Beijing is a city to over 20 million people. Under these circumstances, leaving things as they are without a strategy of some sort would undoubtedly see the innocent citizens of Beijing fall victim to many a case of ill-health.


In 2012, there were publications by specialists in the field that actually predicted the relocation of the capital. There was the work, “An Essay on The relocation of China’s Capital” by the Chinese writer Tangaimin, and also “Relocating the Capital: A Change in Strategy is Fundamental to China’s Growth” which was created in collaboration with the Director of the Shangai Economic Research Insitute, Shen Yao, and Chinese and Foreign State Development Planning Specialist Shao Lu. Both of these publications argue strongly at the possibility of a shift in the capital’s location. However, since their publication last year, the whole notion of pollution and the problems it brings have to some extent faded into the background. Or so this was the case until recently. With this year’s serious smog problems, the above essays have seen something of a revival and are attracting much interest and debate among those interested in China’s future developments. Both authors of the collaborative work “Relocating the Capital: A Change in Strategy is Fundamental to China’s Growth” propose moving Beijing to Xinyang, in the Henan province.


On this occasion what is taking many a net user aback and admittedly creating quite an uproar is the post that can be found on the Chinese Agricultural Reform Research Centre’s website, titled “From 2016, the current capital of China will be relocated to XinYang.” It states that this is something which has already been decided by the concerned authorities. On the same Agricultural Reform Research Centre’s site can be found an article entitled, “Have Preparations to move the Capital to Xinyang Already Begun?” According to this article, “The issues brought about by a shortage in water recourses, a dramatic increase in the population, traffic congestion and pollution problems are showing no signs of improvement. The argument for moving the capital is heating up.” It goes on state that on 28 July, 2012 an investigation into the possibility of moving the capital to Xinyang was conducted by 20 government divisions made up of 160 members. It carried out the survey a staggering 28 times and according to the same site, “It has been determined that from 2016, the capital of China will be moved to Xinyang.” If the above reports are true, moving the capital will undoubtedly require a considerable amount of preparation. That being said, under the circumstances of China’s rapid growth and Beijing’s incredible congestion some might argue that such a measure is necessary. One line of thought is that  the smog problem could all be avoided by China introducing technology such as toxic fume filters and air purifiers from abroad (Japan’s technology is particularly renowned in this area). Whatever the turn of events, I’m sure the world will be watching China intently from here on in. - Rocket News.


China's Smog Becoming An International Issue.
The good news for the Chinese leadership is that their fiscal policies have paid off, producing both the world’s second largest economy and the globe’s leading creditor nation in less than a generation.  The less good news is that the country’s hell-bent drive towards industrialization has brought in its train a host of collateral problems, not the least of which is pollution. Last month Beijing’s air pollution soared past levels considered hazardous by the World Health Organization. Prior to that, the government often played down the pollution in Beijing, insisting it was merely fog, despite evidence to the contrary that was plain for all to see. Earlier this year, following public pressure resulting from hourly air-quality readings first published in 2011 by the U.S. embassy in Beijing, which Chinese authorities had previously denounced as "foreign interference," the municipal officials took notice. On 12 January the air-quality monitor operated by the U.S. embassy in Beijing recorded a Particulate Matter PM 2.5 level of 886 micrograms a cubic meter, nearly 35 times what the World Health Organization considers safe.

How bad?
On 5 February flights were grounded as visibility fell to around 200 meters across Beijing. Last month Beijing’s Jiangong Hospital recorded a 30 percent spike in cases involving respiratory problems and the hospital’s Emergency Department chief Cui Qifeng noted, "People tend to catch colds or suffer from lung infections during the days with heavily polluted air." According to a Chinese Academy of Engineering specialist in respiratory diseases, speaking about Beijing’s current pollution levels, "It (the pollution) is more frightening than SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). For SARS, you can consider quarantine and other means. But no one can escape from the air pollution and indoor pollution." The six-month SARS epidemic in 2003 killed 775 people in 25 countries.


Causes?
Beijing alone now has five million cars choking the streets, spewing their exhaust into the air. More importantly, the nation’s pollution problems are caused by China developing at a speed and scale unprecedented in history, which has produced widespread environmental degradation that the central authorities have been slow to acknowledge. Aside from vehicle exhaust, thermal energy plants utilizing the nation’s poor grade coal power the country's factories, providing the heat for hundreds of millions of homes even as they belch toxins into the atmosphere. And the toxic air threatens to become an international issue as well. Drifting across the Sea of Japan, the smog is now impacting parts of Japan, with the Japanese Ministry of the Environment’s website on 5 February being overloaded. One ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity said, “Access to our air-pollution monitoring system has been almost impossible since last week, and the telephone here has been constantly ringing because worried people keep asking us about the impact on health.”

While the Japanese government remained discreet about air quality issues, Ministry of the Environment official Yasushi Nakajima was more blunt, stating, “We can’t deny there is an impact from pollution in China.” According to National Institute for Environmental Studies researcher Atsushi Shimizu, the prevailing winds from the west carry air pollution over western Japan. The pollution from China has exceeded government limits for particulate matter, which government concern focusing on particles 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, whose concentration has been reported as high as 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air in northern Kyushu. The Japanese government limit is 35 micrograms.

Solutions?
Responding to the recent crisis, Beijing’s city government ordered 103 heavily polluting factories to suspend production and told government departments and state-owned enterprises to reduce their use of cars by a third. More immediately, on 6 Feb. the Chinese government issued a timetable for its program to upgrade fuel quality, aiming to implement a strict standard nationwide by 2017, upgrading its standard V for automobile petrol, with sulfur content within 10 parts per million before the end of the year. But the country’s long term solutions will not be inexpensive – reducing the use of coal, forcing cars to use efficient pollution exhaust equipment, and developing mass transit options to reduce the country’s rising love affair with the automobile. China now has the wealth to implement such solutions –whether the political will is there is quite another matter. Should authorities not act, then they’d better ramp up the country’s health insurance policies, as undoubtedly more and more workers will be reporting sick days. - Oilprice.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Volcano Discovery Report For February 13, 2013 - Updates On Stromboli, Manam And White Island!

February 13, 2013 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing report from the Volcano Discovery Group.

Stromboli volcano.
Stromboli (Eolian Islands, Italy): Lava overflows continue to be active on the upper outer slope of the NE crater.

Lava overflow from Stromboli this morning.
Manam (Papua New Guinea): A large explosion occurred yesterday afternoon from the volcano. VAAC Darwin reported an ash plume rising to 33,000 ft (10 km) altitude.

Tremor amplitude at White Island (GeoNet).
White Island (New Zealand): While the official alert status of White Island had been reduced to yellow 2 days ago, tremor has just increased again to levels similar to before 5 Feb when it suddenly had dropped.

According to GNS, the risk of an eruption is now lower and the small explosive water-mud-steam eruptions in the active crater that had been occuring for about three weeks lessened in intensity.

The area of the crater lake vent that had dried out has now filled again with water and the only activity is small geysering. The lake remains hot, at about 80 deg C.

The latter statements, from the bulletin of 11 Feb., obviously do not take the new elevated tremor signal into account. - Volcano Discovery.

EXTREME WEATHER: United Kingdom Faces A 12-Hour Blast Of Freezing Weather - Some Areas To Get Up To 6 Inches Of Snow, 88 Flood Alerts In Place!

February 13, 2013 - UNITED KINGDOM - Much of the UK will be covered with a thick blanket of snow today as a weather system from the Atlantic sweeps in bringing up to 6in (15cm) in places.  The Met Office has issued severe weather warnings for much of Scotland and northern England for today, advising people to be careful in the icy conditions and low temperatures.  Many roads are impassable as winter bites Britain yet again, while a number of crashes have occurred in Scotland and the North due to the icy conditions. 

Ice smash: At least seven cars and lorries were involved in this accident on the A96 Huntly to Inverurie road in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, but thankfully there were no serious injuries.

Struggle: Heavy snow starts to settle on the roads in Leeds, West Yorkshire as these cars battle with the elements on a road in the suburb of Calverley.
This evening London and the South East could see a dusting of snow, causing problems at rush hour in places. But the snow will disappear almost as soon as it has arrived, heralding drier, warmer and sunnier weather for the rest of the week, forecasters predict.  John Lee, forecaster for the Press Association's weather division MeteoGroup, said: 'There is a great large area of snow across the country but it is being quite quickly followed by the rain in the west.  'So areas that are having snow - it will turn into rain tonight.  'The South East has remained mostly dry so far but there will be a small amount of snow in the early evening which will be quickly followed by rain.  'The heaviest of the snow has been further North, over higher ground.'  Most will have a dry, clear start before a band of heavy snow moves into western Scotland this morning and pass eastwards throughout the day across most parts of the UK.  West Wales, south west England and coastal parts of the South will see rain instead.  Temperatures will hover at about 2C to 3C (36F to 37F) in most places, though they could reach 10C (50F) in the South West or 12C (54F) in Northern Ireland.  'As soon as the snow moves through it does get a bit milder,' Miss Webb said. 'It will be milder for the rest of the week, mainly dry with sunny spells and cloud.'  

Parts of West Yorkshire were deemed too dangerous for motorists today.
Stranded: Two men help push a vehicle stuck on hill during snow today in Blanefield, Scotland.
The Environment Agency has 88 flood alerts in place, mainly in the South East, and 12 more serious flood warnings.  It is further proof that spring could still be a long way off as forecasters warn Britain faces another month of Arctic conditions.  The snow is caused by a band of rain moving in from the Atlantic early today will turn into snow across much of England and Scotland.  Nick Prebble, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: 'There will be snow across much of England and Scotland, and it will settle through the Midlands, the North and Scotland.  'The Midlands will see up to 4cm (1.6in), further north in England will have up to 6cm (2.4in) while lower ground in Scotland could have 8cm (3.2cm). But on higher ground that is likely to be more than 10cm (4in), possibly up to 15cm (6in), with significant falls of snow.'  But the freeze is likely to be short lived, and the snow will thaw and melt away overnight as milder air comes in from the west, Mr Prebble said, paving the way for dry, sunny spells until Friday.  On Monday the heaviest snowfall was in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire with nearly 5inches - 12cms - falling overnight while much of London and the south-east saw several centimetres overnight.  

A car left abandoned by the side of the road in Blanefield is taken away.
Blanket of snow: A gritter clears the road after heavy snowfall near Tomintoul in Scotland this morning.
Warning: The Met Office has issued severe weather warnings for much of Scotland and northern England for today. In this picture a gritter is busy clearing the road after heavy snowfall near Tomintoul in Scotland this morning.

Dangerous: A car which has left the road and crashed into a wall during wintry weather in Cumbria this morning.
'The Midlands will see up to 4cm (1.6in), further north in England will have up to 6cm (2.4in) while lower ground in Scotland could have 8cm (3.2cm). But on higher ground that is likely to be more than 10cm (4in), possibly up to 15cm (6in), with significant falls of snow.'  But the freeze is likely to be short lived, and the snow will thaw and melt away overnight as milder air comes in from the west, Mr Prebble said, paving the way for dry, sunny spells until Friday.  On Monday the heaviest snowfall was in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire with nearly 5inches - 12cms - falling overnight while much of London and the south-east saw several centimetres overnight.   The Highways Agency had gritters out in force ahead of the snow and said no disruptions were reported on the road this morning because of ice and snow.  But in Sussex, the A27 has been closed westbound between Bognor and Tangmere because of flooding. The road is not fully open.   Network Rail reported that 82 per cent of the train network is running on time today with most delays down to engineering works or signalling problems. - Daily Mail.

WATCH: People struggle in astonishingly deep snow. Sheffield and Blenheim Palace.


GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Earthquake Swarm At Machin In Colombia - Five Volcanoes In The Country Are Now On Elevated Status!

February 13, 2013 - COLOMBIA - I like to keep close tabs on the volcanoes in Colombia — with half of my family living in the country, it seems only appropriate. Some of my first volcanic memories are of seeing firsthand some of the lahar deposits at Nevado del Ruiz from the 1985 eruption.

Now, at that time, only two Colombian volcanoes really made any noise: Galeras in the south near Pasto and the aforementioned Ruiz in central Colombia. Nowadays, thanks to increased monitoring on Colombian volcanoes by INGEOMINAS, we know a lot more about the restless nature of the volcanoes of the South American country.

The forested dacite domes of Cerro Machín, nested within an older caldera. Pyroclastic flow deposits from Machín have been traced upwards of 40 kilometers from their source at the volcano. Image: INGEOMINAS, taken November 16, 2011.
Five volcanoes are now on elevated alert status, meaning that they show some level of activity that could lead to an eruption: Ruiz, Galeras, Cumbal, Sotará, Huila and Machín.

Over the past week, Cerro Machín, a dacite dome complex to the  to the south Ruiz near Ibagué, has been feeling some increased seismicity. The INGEOMINAS special bulletin details a M2.9 earthquake that occurred at a depth of ~4.7 km beneath the volcano that was felt by local residents.

This was part of a swarm that produced over 210 earthquakes in a few hours on February 10 — all within 2 and 5 km depth, but all very small. Now, before you need to get too nervous about this activity,

INGEOMINAS rightly points out that these swarms have occurred before at Machin and that sensitive new seismometers are likely to notice this type of activity that might not have been noticed in the past. Not a lot to see, but in the small chance that Machín does get more active, the Observatorio Manizales has a webcam pointed at the volcano. Machín’s last known eruption was over 800 years ago.

Right now, the most active volcano in Colombia is still Nevado del Ruiz. The volcano is still experiencing elevated seismicity, along with a ~950 meter steam plume that occasionally has minor ash as well — which can be seen via webcam, weather permitting. Hopefully when I’m in Pereira this spring, I’ll get a chance to see the volcanoes up close! - Erik Klemetti/WIRED.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Fireball Spotted Over Fort Saint John, BC, Canada; Bright Fireball Streaks Across Nova Scotia Skies; Meteorite Fragments Found Near Sri Lanka's Parliament; Emerald Green Fireball Lights Up Mountains In Colorado And Wyoming; And Blue Fireball Creates Spectacular Show Over Ontario And Michigan!

February 13, 2013 - SKY - Here are several of the latest fireball sightings report seen across the globe in the early days of the month of February.


Blue Fireball Creates Spectacular Show Over Ontario And Michigan - February 9, 2013.
09 February 2012 - Donald Blubaugh, Coleman, MI, USA 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time Zone
2-3 seconds duration. N-S direction, I was facing North. It was a blue fireball with a tail of blue and red. Pretty bright. Too quick to tell if it was a meteor?
09 February 2013 - Zoobie, Hamilton, Ontario 1:20 a.m.
2 seconds duration. West/north direction. Green/blue color. Very Bright. Amazing!
09 February 2013 - David & Joanne Mank, Orangeville, Ontario, Canada 1:20 a.m.
2 seconds duration. N-E, from my left to right. Green-blue-white color. 1/4 brightness of the moon. It burned out very close to the ground - a spectacular show!
09 February 2012 - Yves Grandguillot, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1:20 a.m.
2 seconds duration. S-W direction. Green color. As bright as the Sun. It was a large and very bright green light - quite fascinating to see.
09 February 2012 - Heather Howell, Burlington, Ontario, Canada 1:20 a.m.
2 seconds duration. North facing. Green & white color, it was bright like a flare.
- Lunar Meteorite Hunters.


Emerald Green Fireball Lights Up Mountains In Colorado And Wyoming - February 9, 2013.
09 February 2013 - Jeremy Greeley, CO, USA 2:30 MST
5 seconds duration. Emerald green color. Between moon and Sun in brightness. A little bit emerald green, it was a meteor/ fireball that seemed to go beneath the clouds and light up the sky.
09 February 2013 - Brian & Michelle, FALCON, COLORADO, USA 01:55 MST
3-5 seconds duration. W-E diirection. I was facing north. Bright green with bright green tail. Not as bright as the sun, but brighter than the moon. It was huge and it looked like it hit the ground because as it disappeared from our sight. There seemed to be an explosion of light. It did not shoot across the sky but appeared have fallen down out of the sky
09 February 2013 - Daniel, San Luis Valley, Colorado, USA 01:55 MST
2-3 seconds duration. Before it fell behind the mountains, it traveled NNW as I was driving due north. Bright, but not as bright as the moon. After the meteorite fell out of sight behind mountains, there was a flash that illuminated the mountains from behind. The flash behind the mountains was very surprising.
09 February 2013 - Shawn Wright, Wyoming, US 01:54 MST
3 seconds duration. E-W direction, I was facing south. It was overcast out and I seen a big blue greenish flash in the sky. It was very cloudy out yet the fireball was bright enough to light up the whole sky and you could see it move from east to west! Very bright at first, it then faded away.
- Lunar Meteorite Hunters.



Meteorite Fragments Found Near Sri Lanka's Parliament - February 8, 2013.
Investigations were underway to check the authenticity of claims that several fragments suspected to be from a meteorite had fallen into a home garden near Parliament at Battaramulla yesterday morning, Colombo University, Prof. Chandana Jayaratne said.

The unusual fragments were first seen by the domestic worker, who removed them. Subsequently, the house owner called the Moratuwa University and contacted Prof. Chandana Jayaratne.

Prof. Jayaratne, who visited the place, said that it was a meteorite type rock and it would be possible to confirm whether it was from a meteorite within one or two days.

Prof. Jayaratne warned people not to destroy evidence which was vital to carry out the required tests. Meanwhile, he asked the public not to disturb such objects.

He stressed that it was a great loss when people destroyed the evidence of meteorites due to ignorance.

"If you happen to see such objects, you should cover them with a basin or a piece of oil cloth," Dr. Jayaratne said. - The Island.


A stone particle resembling a meteorite which had fallen into a quarry at Aladeniya, Kandy, near the seventh mile-post last morning drew a curious crowd.

Several thousands gathered by noon yesterday to see the particle which was about 20 inches in diameter and weighed nearly 5 Kg.

A team led by CEA Assistant Director Senarath Bandara removed the particle for further investigations. - Daily News.


Bright Fireball Streaks Across Nova Scotia Skies - February 8, 2013.
08 February 2013 - Mike, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada 2:15 Atlantic Time
2-3 seconds duration. South-West direction. Bright green color, as bright as the moon.
08 February 2013 - Justin Gale, New Germany, Nova Scotia, Canada 2:15 Atlantic Time
1-2 seconds duration. South-East direction. Bright blue like an arc welder with a red tail. Near the brightness of the sun. No fragments. It streaked across the entire view of the sky and burned out just before hitting the horizon.
- Lunar Meteorite Hunters.



Fireball Spotted Over Fort Saint John, BC, Canada - February 7, 2013.
"Did anyone else see this crazy fire trail that went through the sky earlier this evening?...It has become the talk of our page tonight via a member post and we now have a photo to go with what some local residents saw..." - PJXM Breaking News FSJ.

EXTREME WEATHER: American Northeast Could Be In For More Snow - As Region Recovers From Punishing Record Snowstorm!

February 13, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Even as it recovers from a punishing snowstorm that buried much of New York and New England, the Northeast could be in for more snow, according to meteorologists.

A couple walks through Prospect Park in New York on Monday as the Northeast began returning to work after being hit by a massive winter storm. Another severe storm could be on the way this weekend, but forecasts are mixed.  Spencer Platt / Getty Images.
A system forecast to bring snow, heavy in places, to parts of the Southern Plains and Mid-Atlantic may veer northeastward Wednesday and give a fresh dusting to already-covered states. And yet another winter storm is possible for the coming weekend, though there is less confidence that it will, said Weather Channel meteorologist Tom Moore.

More from The Weather Channel

As of Tuesday morning, the storm had an area from the Texas Panhandle to central Oklahoma in its sights.

A winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service cautioned that 6 to 9 inches of snowfall was likely in central and eastern parts of the Texas Panhandle and parts of Oklahoma, with travel becoming hazardous. That warning was scheduled to remain in effect until 9 p.m. ET Tuesday. Forecasters say the storm will move through the Appalachians and the Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday, then turn slightly toward the Northeast, generally leaving behind only a couple of inches of snow.

A dangerous winter storm churned Friday into the Northeast as forecasters warned of a whiteout. Craig Ruttle / AP.
But that’s not the storm the Northeast needs to worry about. The potential problem comes with a low-pressure system that could lash the Northeast with heavy snow and high winds this weekend, Moore said.

But there’s good news: The latest computer models are in disagreement over the likelihood of that happening. One model shows the low pressure staying offshore and having no ill effects on the Northeast. The other shows wretched weather for an area already suffering. “It is still too early to choose one solution over the other,” Moore said. - NBC News.

HUMAN DEVOLUTION: Ruthless & Gruesome Killing - Muslim Man Shot And Beheads Two Christians In New Jersey, Then Severs Their Hands And Buried The Bodies In A Backyard?!

February 13, 2013 - NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES - There's a gruesome double murder mystery in New Jersey.

Police say who did it's not a mystery because someone is under arrest but the mystery is why the accused killer cut of two men's heads and hands.

The victims are reportedly from Jersey City, but their remains were found buried in a town southwest of Philadelphia.


On the streets of Jersey City along Bergen Avenue, to the naked eye it's not obvious.

But to members of the close knit Coptic Orthodox church the pain is real.

"It's a shock, something like this doesn't happen to people like that," a resident said.

Now they know two members of the church have been brutally murdered.

But no one in this community seems to know why.

"It was crazy what happened to these two. Do they deserve it? No. Was it expected? Never. And it's just sad," a resident said.

The two victims were found buried in a back yard in Buena Vista, New Jersey last Thursday.

Monday, police announced an arrest.

28-year-old Yusuf Ibrahim is in custody.


Investigators say Ibrahim shot and killed the victims, severed their heads and hands, and buried the remains at a Buena Vista house.

Back in Jersey City, friends of the victims are praying that police will have the answers to the questions that now haunt them.

Privately some wonder if it had something to do with the victims' religion.

"I leave it for the police and the investigation," said Samy Hohareb, the victim's friend.

So far, police have not revealed a motive for the grisly murders as the suspect sits behind bars, waiting for his day in court. - WABC.

WATCH: Gruesome double murder, men decapitated.

SOLAR WATCH: Sun Unleashes Magnetic Filament Eruption - Launches Coronal Mass Ejection Into Space, Not Earth-Directed!

February 13, 2013 - THE SUN - According to Space Weather, none of the sunspots on the stellar object is actively flaring, however a filament eruption occurred this morning.

FILAMENT ERUPTION:
Solar activity is low, but not zero. During the early hours of Feb. 13th, a magnetic filament erupted near the sun's SW limb. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the blast (click to set the scene in motion):



The extreme UV movie shows the filament flinging itself into space followed by the formation of a "canyon of fire" marking the channel formerly occupied by the filament. The glowing walls of the canyon are formed in a process closely related to that of arcade loops, which appear after many solar flares.

As erupting magnetic filaments often do, this one launched a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space. NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft spotted the expanding cloud, which does not appear to be heading for Earth or any other planet. - Space Weather.



NEW SUNSPOTS: At least two or three new regions appear to be developing on the farside of the Sun. This image by STEREO Behind shows the regions (circled) currently transiting the southern hemisphere.

The lead region which will be the first to rotate onto the east limb, formed within the past 24 hours. It is not possible to say if there are indeed Sunspots visible at this time, however it is something to keep an eye on. These regions will begin to rotate onto the limb by the weekend. - Solar Ham.

FIRE IN THE SKY: The Comet Of The Century - Comet ISON Sprouts A Tail!

February 13, 2013 - SPACE - Comet ISON, which is plunging toward the sun for a bright and fiery encounter in late 2013, has just sprouted a tail.

It's not much--yet--but that is because the comet is still in deep space near the orbit of Jupiter.

On. Feb. 3rd, amateur astronomer Rolando Ligustri photographed the development using a robotic telescope in New Mexico:

© Rolando Ligustri.
Comet ISON doesn't look very impressive now as it glides through the cold vacuum more than 600,000 km from Earth, but its appearance will improve later this year.

On Nov. 28th, ISON is going to glide through the sun's atmosphere only 1.1 million km above the stellar surface.

It could emerge from the encounter glowing as brightly as the full Moon, visible in broad daylight near the sun.

If so, today's budding tail would likely grow into a garish appendage that wows observers in both hemispheres--no telescope required. Stay tuned for updates. - Space Weather.

WATCH: NASA's Deep Impact Spacecraft Eyes Comet ISON.

TERMINATOR NOW: The Rise Of The Machines - 5 Homeland Security "Bots" Coming To Spy On You (If They Aren't Already)!

February 13, 2013 - UNITED STATES - It's been 10 years since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) started up operations. During that decade, DHS has moved to the forefront of funding and deploying the robots and drones that could be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

DHS funds research and development for surveillance robots. It provides grant money by the hundreds of thousands to police agencies to buy their own. And sometimes it's bought and deployed robots -- for their skies, the ground and the waters -- of its own, usually concentrated along the border. It's not clear how many of those robots police operate, and law enforcement isn't by any means the only domestic market for the 'bots. But the trend lines point toward more robotic spy tools for law enforcement in more places -- with more DHS cash.

But it's not going to be simple. The Federal Aviation Administration is cautious about opening the skies to unmanned vehicles -- so much so that Congress and the Obama administration ordered it to ease up on restrictions by 2015. But not all spy robots fly. DHS is also developing robots that resemble fish, and deploys tunnel-bots deep into drug-smuggling tunnels along the border.

Here are five examples:


Predator B
Unarmed Predator surveillance drones inside the United States have had a rocky history. The Department of Homeland Security's sub-agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has flown them off-and-on along the U.S.-Mexico border since 2004. Flights were suspended in 2006 after one of them crashed in Arizona, and drone flights were suspended again in 2010 after a Predator lost communications with its operators. At one point, drone boosters in Congress allocated funding for more drones than CBP had people to fly them.

How things have changed. In the past two years, DHS expanded Predator flights into the Caribbean to hunt for drug traffickers, and has taken to using the drones in an ad-hoc program to help out local police agencies, such as during a June 2011 standoff between SWAT officers and alleged cattle rustlers in Washington state. The drones have been used more broadly than that, reportedly assisting in police investigations from the Midwest to Texas. DHS has also gotten around to expanding its drone fleet. In November, DHS was revealed to be planning to expand its inventory of 10 Predators to 24, and is constructing a testing ground for small surveillance drones at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

But in the years to come, the Predator is likely to have a numerically more marginal role as more law enforcement agencies join the drone bandwagon -- it's exceedingly likely the Predator will remain an exclusive item for the federal government. That is, a federal government putting the machines to work snooping on domestic turf.


BIOSwimmer
Catch it if you can. In September, the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate premiered a prototype of its tuna-shaped robot called BIOSwimmer, developed by Boston Engineering Corporation. The concept revolves around eventually deploying the swimming robot to use in port security operations, and could prove to have several advantages over human divers. For one, it can get into tighter spaces, and can work in areas that have been contaminated with oil or other hazardous chemicals that could pose a risk to human health. But mainly, it's designed to inspect ships and "flooded bilges and tanks, and hard to reach areas such as steerage, propulsion and sea chests," noted a DHS statement. The flapping motion is also designed to reduce power consumption, and the robot itself is designed with the intention of its sensors being easily swapped out between missions. There's no public timeline for when it's expected to be deployed, if it makes it that far -- the tuna 'bot is still an experimental design. But it's generally a good idea to start on a small scale.

WATCH: ShadowHawk.


ShadowHawk
In a way, the trials of the ShadowHawk represent why police drones remain limited, at least for the time being. The Department of Homeland Security handed $220,000 to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department -- just north of Houston, Texas -- for one of these 50-pound helicopter drones in 2011. Aside from a mishap in which developer Vanguard Defense Industries crashed a ShadowHawk into the department's armored SWAT vehicle during a photo-op, it seemed like a great idea. The drone has a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour, a range of 15 miles, and a turbine engine powered by jet fuel that can keep it in the air for more than an hour. For surveillance, it can be equipped with a Sony FCB EX-1020 camera or a Photon 320 thermal imaging camera, and in theory would've allowed the county's law enforcement to cease relying on over-worked and tight-budgeted agencies in Houston for aircraft.

In theory, that is. Actually using the drone is another question. The FAA has only granted Montgomery County authorization to train with the drone over a one-mile-wide piece of rural land in the county's northwest corner -- away from the county's built-up suburbs to the south -- and not for actual police work. The drone is also too heavy, exceeding the 25-pound limit for domestic drones set by the FAA. (The limit was 4.4 pounds until a 2012 agreement between the Justice Department and the FAA bumped it up.) That had the chief deputy in the county fuming. The deputy, William McDaniel, argued to the House Homeland Security Committee (.pdf) last summer that the FAA should be removed from overseeing and approving drone operations in the United States, "other than the regular, routine review of agency flight operations to insure [sic] flight safety rules are being followed." That doesn't sound too likely, which means Montgomery County might have ended up with a brick for a drone -- at a cost of more than 200 K's in DHS money.


Versatrax 150
The past decade has seen a big build-up in border security under Homeland Security's watch, including a doubling of Border Patrol agents and hundreds of miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. But to keep their wares flowing, the drug cartels in Mexico have turned to an inventive tactic: digging more and more tunnels deep underground. Then in 2008, the DHS tunnel task force -- a joint team of agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and the DEA -- got its hands on a Versatrax 150 crawler-bot, designed by Canadian robotics firm Inuktun.

But the Versatrax wasn't first intended to be used for border security -- it's a pipe inspection robot more commonly used by sewage and water workers. The machine is waterproof, has a 500-foot tether cable and can travel at a rate of 30 feet per minute. A high-resolution camera can rotate in all directions, and the robot itself can squeeze through an opening as small as six inches in diameter. Border tunnels can also be dangerous places, at the risk of collapse and even booby-trapped -- with no telling who's inside or what weapons they may be carrying. The Versatrax was designed for sludging its way through sewer tunnels, so it's not that big of a leap.


Draganflyer X6
The Draganflyer X6 mini-helicopter is perhaps the first police drone to see regular active use inside the United States by a local police agency. In July 2010, the Mesa County Sheriff's Office in western Colorado used funding from the Department of Homeland Security to buy one of the machines, while also becoming one of the first police agencies for the FAA to authorize using the drones for police work. Weighing about four and a half pounds, the X6 can only stay in the air under its own power for about 20 minutes, but can travel at 30 miles per hour -- allowing it to travel about six miles in one go. The drone packs either a Panasonic DMC-ZS20 camera or an infra-red thermal imaging camera, and can transmit video (when it's not recording) in real-time back to an operator. The camera is stabilized against vibration, and a sensor head made of carbon fiber contains the gyros, accelerometers, GPS receiver and a barometric pressure sensor to keep it in the air. Mostly, the sheriff's office claims it uses the drones to map out crime scenes and traffic accidents, although the office claims (.pdf) it's been used to help a SWAT team track an armed suspect, and photograph a minor airplane crash.

Meanwhile, the DHS provided more than $80,000 to the Seattle Police Department for a pair of X6 drones. The department claims it intends to use the drone for criminal investigations and search-and-rescue operations. But Seattle hasn't yet been approved by the FAA to use them in actual police work beyond training officers in how to fly it, and it hasn't made it this far without objections from civil libertarians. On Feb. 4, Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell proposed legislation to prohibit the department using its drones for "general surveillance" -- that is, spying on anything or anyone other than an individual suspect with a warrant. - WIRED.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: A/H1N1 Pandemic In India - 95 Dead, 494 Confirmed Cases, Bangladesh On High Alert!

February 13, 2013 - BANGLADESH - Bangladesh has been put on high alert following the death of at least 95 people in India due to swine flu or A/H1N1, officials said Sunday.

Indian nurses work at a hospital in New Delhi, India on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. With a rise in swine flu cases, Delhi Government directed 22 hospitals, including five private ones, to set up isolated wards to offer treatment to patients affected by the disease, according to a news report. -  AP.
"We're on alert as a precautionary measure against the H1N1 influenza," Benazir Ahmed, director of disease control under the ministry of health and family welfare, told Xinhua.

A ministry official said they were asked to remain on alert after media reports said at least 494 cases of swine flu and 95 deaths were reported in India since January.

"We're closely monitoring the influenza situation in India so that we can go for more preventive measures like establishing checkpoints on borders on a short notice," Ahmed said.

The government has urged people not to panic but be cautious about the outbreak.

A/H1N1, which first appeared in Mexico in 2009, has rapidly spread around the world.

With the death of two women in 2010, the toll in Bangladesh has risen to eight since the first A/H1N1 case in June 2009.

The respiratory virus, which infects pigs and humans only sporadically, spreads mainly through coughs and sneezes.

Since 2009, Bangladesh has reported 783 A/H1N1 flu cases, including 150 in 2012, said Alamgir Hossain from the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research under the health ministry.

"There is nothing to be scared of because we're now better prepared to treat patients infected with the virus," Hossain said.

He said officials from all 26 surveillance sites across Bangladesh will sit together to discuss a mechanism to better combat the disease. - Khaleej Times.