LA’s Island Playground Could Trigger Tsunamis

Compliments of Live Science 

Landslides coming off Catalina Island’s steep slopes could send tsunamisracing toward popular Los Angeles and Orange County beaches with just a few minutes of warning, geoscientists said on April 23 here at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America.

Researchers discovered chaotic deposits that are characteristic of landslides while probing underwater rocks offshore Catalina Island. Seismic waves provide images of underground sediment and rock layers in a manner similar to medical CT scanners that search for cancer and broken bones. [Waves of Destruction: History’s Biggest Tsunamis]

The landslides were buried underwater because Catalina Island is sinking, said lead study author Chris Castillo, a Stanford University graduate student. The remnants of old beaches have dropped beneath the waves as the island descends, creating a stair-stepped series of nine terraces.

“Catalina is rare,” Castillo told Live Science. “We knew there was evidence of subsidence, but it’s the only [Southern California] island that has these submerged beaches.”

Catalina’s nearest neighbor to the south, San Clemente Island, has ancient beaches that sit about 1,800 feet (550 meters) above sea level.

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Unmanned Russian cargo spacecraft is falling to Earth – live

Compliments of The Guardian 

The Russian space agency has conceded its out-of-control cargo spacecraft will not be able to dock with the International Space Station.

Roscosmos admitted the Progress 59 freighter’s failed mission will cost 2.59 billion roubles (£32.8 million), a spokesman for the agency said.

Igor Komarov, head of Roscosmos, listed a series of problems that had made the vessel tumble out of control since early on Tuesday, Reuters reported. He said:

Because of this, the craft’s continued flight and its docking with the ISS is not possible.

Here’s what else we learned throughout the day:

  • Progress 59 launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday without issue
  • The spacecraft is 7m long and holds 2.5 tonnes of food, water, fuel and other supplies
  • The vessel malfunctioned soon after it reached orbit on Tuesday and went into an uncontrolled spin.
  • It is rotating at a rate of 360 degrees every five seconds
  • The spacecraft is travelling at more than 16,000 miles per hour.
  • The vessel is 160 miles above the Earth.
  • It could take up to two weeks for Progress 59 to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, at which point it is expected to break up.
  • You can follow Progress 59 using satellite tracking websites Satflare andN2YO.
  • Igor Komarov, head of Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, says they are now considering different options for a “water landing”.

My colleagues Ian Sample and Shaun Walker have filed this report.

In light of information that Progress 59 could be orbiting the Earth for up to two weeks, we have decided to close the live blog. I’ll leave you with this clip from Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-winning thriller Gravity to serve as a reminder that the spacecraft was thankfully unmanned.

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With deadline near, lawmakers introduce bill to end NSA program

Compliments of Washington Post 

Almost two years after the disclosure of the government’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records, Congress is confronting a fast-approaching deadline to either continue the collection or end it.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill aimed at blocking the National Security Agency from collecting the phone records of millions of Americans. The effort was described by its sponsors as a balanced approach that would ensure the NSA maintains an ability to obtain the data it needs to detect terrorist plots without infringing on Americans’ right to privacy.

Congress failed to advance similar legislation last year, and some officials say the agency should not face new constraints at a time of deep concern over the threat from terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.

But given the politics on the Hill, in which liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans have made common cause, leaders on both sides of the Capitol appear to recognize that maintaining the NSA’s current authorities might not be tenable.

The government’s underlying authority to conduct bulk collection expires on June 1, with the “sunsetting” of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

The act was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to give law enforcement and intelligence officials more tools to thwart terrorist threats. But it was also to secretly authorize a sweeping collection of Americans’ phone records. The disclosure of the program in June 2013 prompted a backlash and led President Obama to call for changes that would end the NSA’s collection while at the same time preserving its access to the records of terrorist suspects.

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Chile Volcano Eruption

Compliments of ABC

volcano that was dormant for 42 years in Chile has erupted twice this week in a magnificent display. But the stunning twin blasts captured on photo and video has forced about 4,000 residents in towns nearby to evacuate as ash blanketed their neighborhoods.

The city of Ensenada, at the foot of the Calbuco volcano, was one of the most thickly covered in ash – which caused roofs to collapse and raised concerns about possible water contamination, respiratory illnesses and more grounded flights.

Chile’s national geology and mining service also warned people to prepare for a possible third and “even more aggressive eruption.”

Chile President Michelle Bachelet, who visited the Ensenada area Thursday, declared a state of emergency.

“We don’t have any problems with supplies, water or sewage up to now,” she said. “Our problem is a respiratory one, from inhaling all of this ash, and the fact that this ash could generate some sort of environmental contamination.”

Ensenada was like a ghost town Thursday except for about 30 residents, most in masks, who refused to evacuate, authorities said.

An occasional dog and horse could be seen roaming the village’s only street while a few residents were shoveling ash off their roofs.

One local, Daniel Patricio Gonzalez, left Ensenada with his family but returned Thursday night to check out the damage to his house and restaurant.

 

PHOTO: Horses are seen at a playground area covered with ash from Calbuco volcano at Ensenada town near Puerto Varas city April 23, 2015.

Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

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Senate Confirms Loretta Lynch as Attorney General After Long Delay

Compliments of The New York Times 

After one of the nation’s most protracted cabinet-level confirmation delays, the Senate Thursday approved Loretta E. Lynch to be attorney general. She is the first African-American woman to hold the position.

Ms. Lynch, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, was confirmed 56 to 43, with 10 Republicans voting for her.

Her confirmation took longer than that for all but two other nominees for the office: Edwin Meese III, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan, and A. Mitchell Palmer, who was picked by President Woodrow Wilson, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Republicans have found themselves in a quandary for months. They longed to replace Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., and they agreed that Ms. Lynch was qualified for the job. But they opposed her because Ms. Lynch defended President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

What’s more, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, had held up the nomination until the Senate voted on a human trafficking bill, a process that dragged on for weeks. The measure passed on Wednesday by a vote of 99 to 0.

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Obama: ‘I Take Full Responsibility’ For US Operation That Killed Innocent Hostages Held By Al Qaeda

Compliments of ABC 

President Obama said today that he takes “full responsibility” for a U.S. government counterterrorism operation that killed two innocent hostages held by al Qaeda.

Dr. Warren Weinstein, an American held by the terror group since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, anItalian national who had been an al Qaeda hostage since 2012, were “accidentally” killed in a U.S. operation in January, the president acknowledged.

“I want to express our grief and condolences for the families of two hostages,” Obama said from the White House briefing room, noting that at the time, the U.S. believed no civilians were present at the operation site.

“Since 9/11, our counterterrorism efforts have prevented terrorism attacks and saved innocent lives, both here in America and around the world, and that determination to protect innocent life only makes the loss of these two men especially painful for all of us,” he added. “It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight terrorists specifically, mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur. But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”

Though the administration asserted in a statement that the operation was “lawful and conducted consistent with our counter-terrorism policies,” President Obama promised a thorough independent review, saying he declassified the mission “because the Weinstein and Lo Porto families deserve to know the truth.”

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BILL APPROVED TO REQUIRE CALIFORNIA SCHOOLCHILDREN TO BE VACCINATED

Compliments of ABC

Opponents of a proposal that would require California schoolchildren to be vaccinated vowed to continue their fight after a Senate committee overwhelmingly approved the bill Wednesday.

The Senate Education Committee voted 7-2 on the bill by Sen. Richard Pan, a Democratic pediatrician from Sacramento, with votes from both Democrats and Republicans.

The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing next week as part of a long legislative process.

“We will continue to show our strength, and we will continue to educate lawmakers and the public about why this is a bad bill,” said Jean Keese, a spokeswoman for the California Coalition for Health Choice.

The proposal was among several drafted across the nation in the wake of a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland and sickened more than 100 people in the U.S. and Mexico.

It would eliminate California’s personal-belief and religious exemptions so unvaccinated children would not be able to attend public or private schools. Medical waivers would only be available for children who have health problems.

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McConnell Introduces Bill to Reauthorize Patriot Act Until 2020

Compliments of National Journal 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill Tuesday night that would reauthorize a controversial surveillance authority of the Patriot Act until 2020, a push that comes just as a group of bipartisan lawmakers is preparing a last-minute push to rein in the government’s mass-spying powers.

A McConnell aide said the majority leader is beginning a process to put the bill on the Senate calendar but said that the chamber will not take the measure up this week. That process, known as Rule 14, would bypass the traditional committee process. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr is a cosponsor.

Under the bill, Section 215 of the post-9/11 Patriot Act would be extended until December 31, 2020. The core provision, which the National Security Agency uses to justify its bulk collection of U.S. phone records, is currently due to expire on June 1.

The bill appears to be an attempt to thwart efforts to rein in the National Security Agency’s expansive surveillance powers, which came under intense scrutiny nearly two years ago after the disclosures spurred by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A bipartisan group of lawmakers were expected to reintroduceon Wednesday a comprehensive surveillance-reform bill that would have effectively ended the NSA’s dragnet of Americans’ call data.

It is possible the bill is being introduced as a backup in case the Senate is unable to agree on a reform bill prior to June 1. But given McConnell’s defense of the intelligence community, that option may be unlikely. The Kentucky Republican led an effort to vote down an NSA-reform package during the lame-duck Senate last year, whipping most of his caucus against the Democratic-backed measure on grounds it could help terrorists kill Americans.

Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and a chief backer of surveillance reform, quickly blasted McConnell’s maneuver and vowed to oppose any bill that reauthorized Section 215 without “meaningful reforms.”

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Study Claims: Azle earthquakes likely caused by oil and gas operations

Compliments of The Dallas Morning News 

Oil and gas operations are the most likely cause of dozens of earthquakes that began rattling the North Texas towns of Azle and Reno in November 2013, a group of scientists has concluded.

The study, led by researchers at SMU and published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, presents some of the most conclusive evidence yet that humans are shifting faults below Dallas-Fort Worth that have not budged in hundreds of millions of years.

While experts have not yet determined what’s causing the shaking in Dallas and Irving, the new paper previews aspects of that study and includes suggestions that will help speed research.

“It’s certainly one of the best cases in the literature,” said Art McGarr of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake Hazards Program in Menlo Park, Calif.

The new findings contradict statements by the Railroad Commission of Texas that there are no definitive links between oil and gas activity and earthquakes in the state.

Shown an embargoed version of the paper, the commission’s staff seismologist Craig Pearson wrote in a statement that “the study raises many questions with regard to its methodology, the information used and conclusions it reaches.” But he declined to answer specific questions before meeting with the paper’s authors. The Railroad Commission regulates the oil and gas industry.

The Azle study is the result of a yearlong collaboration involving 11 researchers at SMU, the University of Texas at Austin, and the U.S. Geological Survey and was reviewed by independent experts before publication.

The scientists zeroed in on an unusual mechanism behind the quakes: workers pushing liquid into the ground on one side of a fault and sucking gas and groundwater from the other side of the fault.

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Residents near Duke ash dumps told not to drink well water

Compliments of Big Story

North Carolina officials are advising dozens of residents near Duke Energy coal ash dumps not to drink or cook with water from their wells after tests showed contamination with toxic heavy metals.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Tuesday that tests of 87 private wells near eight Duke plants showed results that failed to meet state groundwater standards.

A state law passed after last year’s massive spill into the Dan River required wells within 1,000 feet of Duke’s 32 coal ash dumps across the state to be tested. About 145 private wells have been sampled since October.

Tom Reeder, the assistant secretary overseeing water quality for the state, said Duke will be required to provide the affected residents with an alternative water supply if it is determined coal ash is the source of the contamination.

The agency’s first public acknowledgement of the troubling test results came after The Associated Press reported 19 homeowners and a church near Duke’s Buck Steam Station outside Salisbury had received written warnings.

Several of the letters cited high levels of vanadium, a naturally occurring element found in oil and coal. In a 2011 regulatory filing, Duke reported releasing about 1.5 million pounds of vanadium into the environment from its power plants.

According to documents obtained by AP, test results from private drinking-water wells near the plant showed readings for vanadium as high as 86 times the state groundwater standard.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that vanadium is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Studies show lab animals exposed to high oral doses of vanadium suffered neurological and developmental problems.

In addition to Buck, the state said it had test results from private wells that failed to meet groundwater standards near Duke’s Allen, Asheville, Belews Creek, Cliffside, Marshall, Roxboro and Sutton facilities.

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