Why is Africa ripping apart? Seismic scan may tell

  • african-rift-valley

    This radar image highlights portions of three of the lakes located in the Western Rift of the Great Rift Valley, a geological fault system of Southwest Asia and East Africa: Lake Edward (top), Lake Kivu (middle) and Lake Tanganyika (bottom). (ESA)

Arrays of sensors stretching across more than 1,500 miles in Africa are now probing the giant crack in the Earth located there a fissure linked with human evolution to discover why and how continents get ripped apart.

Over the course of millions of years, Earth’s continents break up as they are slowly torn apart by the planet’s tectonic forces. All the ocean basins on the Earth started as continental rifts, such as the Rio Grande rift in North America and Asia’s Baikal rift in Siberia.

The giant rift in Eastern Africa was born when Arabia and Africa began pulling away from each other about 26 million to 29 million years ago. Although this rift has grown less than 1 inch year, the dramatic results include the formation and ongoing spread of the Red Sea, as well as the East African Rift Valley, the landscape that might have been home to the first humans.


The giant rift in Eastern Africa was born when Arabia and Africa began pulling away from each other about 26 million to 29 million years ago.


“Yet, in spite of numerous geophysical and geological studies, we still do not know much about the processes that tear open continents and form continental rifts,” said researcher Stephen Gao, a seismologist at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo. This is partly because such research has mostly focused on mature segments of these chasms, as opposed to ones that are still in development, he explained. [Earth Quiz: Mysteries of the Blue Marble]

Seismic SAFARI
Geodynamic models suggest that below mature rifts, a region called the asthenosphere is upwelling. The asthenosphere is the hotter, weaker, upper part of the mantle that lies below the lithosphere, the planet’s outer, rigid shell. So far, there are two contenders for what might cause this upwelling: anomalies deeper in the mantle or thinning of the lithosphere due to distant stresses.

To help find out which of the two different rifting models is correct, the Seismic Arrays for African Rift Initiation (SAFARI) project installed 50 seismic stations across Africa in the summer of 2012, each spaced about 17 to 50 miles apart.

“One of the techniques that we will use to image the Earth beneath the SAFARI stations is called seismic tomography, which is in principle similar to the X-ray CAT-scan technique used in hospitals,” Gao told LiveScience’s OurAmazingPlanet. “The only differences are that our sources of the ‘rays’ are earthquakes and man-made explosions, and the receivers are the seismic stations such as the 50 SAFARI stations.”

Altogether, these arrays encompass a length of about 1,550 miles and are located in four countries Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

“I think the project has a positive impact on local communities,” Gao said. “Some of our 50 SAFARI seismic stations are on local schools, and the teachers and students were excited and were proud about the fact that their school was selected for a high-tech scientific instrument. We believe that this project showed some kids that the outside world is different and even fascinating.”

The arrays will image the areas under the Okavango, Luangwa and Malawi rifts, the southwest and southernmost segments of the East African Rift system. These so-called incipient rifts are not yet mature and could thus shed light on why and how rifting occurs.

“This is the first large-scale project to image the structure and deformation beneath an incipient rift,” Gao said. “The Okavango rift in Botswana is as young as a few tens-of-thousand years, while most other rifts such as the Rio Grande and Baikal rifts are as old as 35 million years.”

Upwelling or thinning?
If thermal or dynamic anomalies deep in the mantle are responsible for rifting, then upwelling from the asthenosphere should already be occurring beneath these incipient rifts. In contrast, if thinning of the lithosphere is the cause of rifting, then any levels of upwelling should be insignificant because the lithosphere should not have thinned adequately for major upwelling to occur yet.

A magnitude-5.6 earthquake in November near the northern end of the Indian Ocean’s mid-ocean ridge sent out seismic waves that were more than 1 second slower than predicted. This supports the idea that the mantle layer beneath Southern Africa is hotter than normal, perhaps due to a jet of magma known as a mantle plume that geologists have proposed exists beneath this area.

To image the structures beneath these rifts and pin down what the rifting mechanism in Eastern Africa is, researchers need data from more than just one event. The seismic arrays will be deployed for 24 months, and each station will sample the Earth for seismic waves 50 times per second.

“We are anxious to see if there are melted rocks in the mantle beneath the rifts, if there is convective mantle flow that is driving the rifting process, and how much the crust has been thinned in different portions of the rifts,” Gao said. “But this cannot be done until next summer, when all the data recorded by SAFARI are processed.”

The scientists detailed their findings to date in the June 11 issue of Eos, the online newspaper of the American Geophysical Union.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company.

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Beware deadly hurricane season, researcher warns

By Douglas Main

Published June 08, 2013


  • hurricane-audrey

    An image showing flooding from Hurricane Audrey, which killed about 500 people in 1957. (NOAA)

Hurricanes that strike the Gulf Coast in June can be as deadly or more deadly that those that hit later in the season, one researcher warns.

That’s partially because hurricanes that make landfall in this region are more likely to also develop over the Gulf of Mexico, giving forecasters less time to warn residents, said Bill Merrell, a hurricane researcher at Texas A&M University at Galveston. And June is the peak month for hurricanes in the Gulf, Merrell told LiveScience.


“If you see a hurricane in June, be worried that it may accelerate and intensify. It could end up being much worse than initially expected.”

– Bill Merrell, hurricane researcher at Texas A&M University at Galveston


Quite often, hurricanes that arise in this region also tend to speed up and intensify as they make landfall, Merrell added. That contrasts with tropical cyclones hurricanes and tropical storms that arise in the Atlantic Ocean basin, which don’t tend to speed up and generally weaken upon landfall. Merrell said the physics governing this phenomenon haven’t yet been determined, although it likely has to do with the fact that the Gulf hurricanes are young and often still developing.

“These are kind of trick things you think you’ve got a small hurricane out there and then it blossoms into a pretty big one,” Merrell said.

The northern portion of Texas’ coast is particularly vulnerable to June hurricanes: About two-thirds of the hurricanes that have struck in that area have formed in the Gulf of Mexico, Merrell said. That’s because the area is directly in the path that many Gulf hurricanes take, as the cyclones tend to head west and north, he said.

While Tropical Storm Andrea won’t reach hurricane status, it did form in the Gulf and strengthened as it moved toward the Florida peninsula, causing drenching rains and spawning tornadoes.

Merrell had this advice for Gulf Coast residents in preparing for hurricanes: “If you see a hurricane in June, be worried that it may accelerate and intensify. It could end up being much worse than initially expected.”

Hurricane Audrey, which struck in 1957, is a good example of a dangerous Gulf-formed cyclone. It was initially a Category 1 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, but suddenly intensified to become a Category 4 hurricane a short distance from the coast. It killed about 500 people, making it the sixth-deadliest hurricane in U.S. history, Merrell said.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Oklahoma man thanks Ford after surviving tornado flight in pickup

Published June 07, 2013


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    Chip Legett
Four people in Oklahoma survived being tossed over 100 yards in a pickup truck when they were hit head on by the largest tornado to ever touchdown in the United States.

The incident happened just southeast of El Reno, where the category five twister claimed 18 lives on May 31st.

The owner of the truck, Chip Legett, tells FoxNews.com they’d gotten caught up in traffic trying to get away from the fast approaching storm and pulled over to the side of the road to take cover.

But events turned so quickly, the sky filling with debris, that they didn’t have the opportunity to get out of the truck and down on the ground, as is advised in these situations. So they hunkered down in the truck, a 2011 Ford F-150, and hoped for the best.

Before they knew it, a window was smashed, the back of the truck lifted into the air.

The pickup was then blown across a wheat field, rolling four times before coming to a rest a football field away from where it started.

Legett had his eyes closed, but one of his passengers told him that it looked like they’d gotten as high as 20 feet in the air.

Despite one passenger that unbelted to take cover on the floor being ejected along the way, all of them suffered only minor injuries.

Legett posted his story and a photo of the truck on Ford’s community website, Ford Social. Fortunately, the truck landed upright and the doors could still be opened, allowing the ejected passenger to get back in to take cover from the baseball sized hail that followed.

Sadly, a man who parked his truck nearby didn’t survive a similar ordeal, and the incident occurred only a mile and a half away from where three Discovery Channel storm chasers were killed, impressing on Legett how much luck played a role in being able to walk away from the nightmare.

Nevertheless, he wrote a thank you to the engineers who designed his Ford, and is definitely planning to replace it with another one.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/06/07/four-survive-tornado-in-ford-pickup/?intcmp=features#ixzz2VbOntgfa

Ruby, jade shine light on Earth’s history

By Becky Oskin

Published June 02, 2013


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    The 23.1-carat Carmen Lucia Ruby, donated to the Smithsonian Institution. (Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution)

Gem hunters have always been natural geologists, seeking the mother lode long before researchers explained how gems and minerals form.

Now, scientists want to officially link precious gems to their geologic setting, with a new suite of tectonic gemstones that will help researchers and the public recognize the special conditions that create rare gems. Their proposal kicks off with ruby and jadeite jade, two rare stones linked to colliding tectonic plates.


‘Everybody’s always appreciated ideas of beauty, whether or not they understood the natural conditions.’

– Robert Stern, geoscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas


“I don’t think anyone ever started off looking for gems,” said Robert Stern, geoscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas and lead author of the proposal, published May 9 in the journal Geology. “Who was the first person to find a shiny stone? But everybody’s always appreciated ideas of beauty, whether or not they understood the natural conditions. We can take advantage of what we know and appreciate them even more,” he told LiveScience’s OurAmazingPlanet.

Jade is a general term for both jadeite jade and a similar, more common rock called nephrite jade. Jadeite is the hallmark of subduction zones, a collision between continental and oceanic tectonic plates. At a subduction zone, the colder, denser oceanic lithosphere bends down into hotter mantle rock underneath the continental crust. It gets squeezed and cooked and releases all of its fluids into the overlying mantle, Stern said. In some subduction zones, the interaction between the mantle, fluids and subducted oceanic sediments creates jade.

For Stern, one of the most interesting parts of the process is how the jade gets back to the surface. “Subduction zones have a way of coughing up material that is taken down, even during active subduction,” he said. In the Alps and the Himalayas, researchers have found material was carried as far down as 125 miles, then returned to the surface, he said.

Jadeite is most commonly found in Myanmar, from subduction before India and Asia collided, and in Guatemala, from subduction between the North America and Caribbean plates.

Ruby, or corundum, represents two continents colliding. (This only happens after a subduction zone disappears, because subduction brings two continents closer together by consuming oceanic crust. This is what happened as what is now India slowly moved toward, and then collided with, the rest of Asia.) Deeply buried sediments rich in aluminum but with no silica make ruby an odd set of circumstances, given that silicon is the most second-most common element in Earth’s crust, after oxygen. Most of the world’s ruby deposits are in altered limestone. [Sinister Sparkle Gallery: 13 Mysterious & Cursed Gemstones]

The tallest mountains on Earth, such as the Himalayas, result from continent-continent collisions and create the heat and pressure necessary for ruby to form. In the past, East Africa, southern India and Madagascar were home to one of these massive mountain chains and are now a source of rubies, Stern said. The regions were joined in a supercontinent at the end of the Precambrian, about 650 million years ago. Millions of years of erosion (and mining) have brought them to the surface. A band stretching across Central Asia’s steep peaks is also famed for rubies.

Plate tectonics: young or old?
Stern and his co-authors hope that linking rubies and jadeite jade to their tectonic setting will help capture interest in gems and plate tectonics, whether for economic or scientific pursuits. “I think we’re asking some questions that I’m sure will capture interest,” Stern said.

For example, Stern, unlike his co-authors, is in the minority of geoscientists who think the distribution of gemstones (along with other indicators) suggest that modern-style plate tectonics, with active subduction zones, didn’t rev up until about 750 million years ago.

“Not all subduction zones get jade, and not all continental collisions get ruby,” Stern said. “The question is: Are these special conditions that are really limited in time?”

Of the 32 ruby deposits in the current study, all but two formed after about 750 million years. The 19 jadeite spots are all younger than 550 million years.

However, the majority of researchers think Earth’s rock evidence points to plate tectonics starting 2.5 billion to 3 billion years ago, Stern said.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Feathered dino may be world’s first bird

By Tanya Lewis

Published May 31, 2013


  • first-bird-reconstruction

    A birdlike dinosaur from the Middle/Late Jurassic of China could be the first of the bird group. (Masato Hattori)

The skeleton of a Jurassic dinosaur from China could also be the oldest known bird, scientists report.

The fossil of Aurornis xui was found last year in a museum at the Fossil and Geology Park in Yizhou, China, long after a farmer first dug it up in the Liaoning Province. The feathery specimen represents the most ancient of the avialans, the group that includes birds and their relatives since their split from nonavian dinosaurs.

The research also reconfirms the birdlike fossil Archaeopteryx as an avialan, a classification that was challenged by some recent research. [Avian Ancestors: Dinosaurs That Learned to Fly]

Not everyone agrees that the new specimen is strictly a bird. “In my opinion, it’s a bird,” study author Pascal Godefroit, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, told Nature News. Even so, he added, “The differences between birds and [nonavian] dinosaurs are very thin.”

“Traditionally, we have defined birds as things like Archaeopteryx and closer to things like modern birds,” vertebrate paleontologist Luis Chiappe of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience. “If you stick to the definition, this thing is not earliest known bird,” Chiappe said, but that’s missing the point, he said. What matters, is that it’s a very interesting animal that “still helps us understand better the origin of birds,” he said.

Aurornis xui was a feathered dinosaur that lived during the Middle Jurassic period about 150 million years ago, analysis shows. It was about 1.6 feet from beak tip to tail tip, and possessed small, sharp teeth and long forelimbs.

The creature probably couldn’t fly, Godefroit said, but may have used its wings to glide between trees. The fossil’s feathers aren’t well-preserved, but the hip bones and other features strongly suggest it was a relative of modern birds, he said.

The researchers assert that Aurornis displaces Archaeopteryx as the oldest avialan, placing Archaeopteryx further along in the avialan lineage. Since Archaeopteryx was a flying creature, its placement among avialans means dinosaurs would have only had to develop powered flight once during evolutionary history.

The new findings also classify another family of birdlike dinosaurs, known as Troodontidae, as a sister group to the avialans. This reshuffling of the bird-dinosaur family tree suggests birds and nonavian dinosaurs diverged in Asia during the Middle to Late Jurassic.

The findings are detailed in the May 30 issue of the journal Nature.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Amazing! First ever photograph inside a hydrogen atom

Published May 28, 2013


  • image of hydrogen atom.jpg

    The first direct observation of the orbital structure of an excited hydrogen atom, made using a newly developed “quantum microscope.” (Stodolna et al. / Physical Review Letters)

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    A photoionization microscope provides direct observation of the electron orbital of a hydrogen atom. The atom is placed in an electric field E and excited by laser pulses (shown in blue). The ionized electron can escape from the atom along direct and indirect trajectories with respect to the detector (shown on the far right). The phase difference between these trajectories leads to an interference pattern, which is magnified by an electrostatic lens. (APS/Alan Stonebraker)

  • Australia Chinese Hackers 2.jpg

    May 28, 2013: The Australian Security Intelligence Organization’s new headquarters is nearing completion in Canberra, Australia. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk)

Scientists have captured the first ever photo of an electron’s whizzing orbit within a hydrogen atom, thanks to a unique new microscopy technique.

Seeing inside the tiniest bits of matter is a challenge, not just because of the infinitesimal atomic scale: Extremely small things operate in extremely weird ways, a branch of science called quantum physics. And the basic act of observing such diminutive things can affect their very existence, a concept known as the uncertainty principle.


‘[It’s] a beautiful demonstration of the intricacies of quantum mechanics.’

– Aneta Stodolna, of the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics


To get around that mind-warping concept, scientists have relied upon quantum theory to define the behavior of particles in time and space, coming up with complex equations that predict where and when electrons are in their whizzing orbit around an atom’s proton-packed nucleus.

The Schrödinger equation governs the atomic structure, describing a wave function. But actually observing that structure would inevitably destroy it.

That changes, thanks to a newly developed “quantum microscope,” invented by Aneta Stodolna, of the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics (AMOLF) in the Netherlands and her colleagues and described in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Stodolna’s experiment imaged the wave function of a hydrogen atom. Hydrogen is uniquely suited for the new photography technique because the first element in the periodic chart contains just a single electron.

“This experiment — initially proposed more than 30 years ago — provides a unique look at one of the few atomic systems that has an analytical solution to the Schrödinger equation,” wrote Christopher T. L. Smeenk of the University of Ottawa’s Joint Attosecond Science Laboratory, in an essay that accompanied the experiment.

Stodolna zapped the atom with laser pulses, which forced the ionized electron to escape from the hydrogen atom along direct and indirect trajectories. The phase difference between these trajectories leads to an interference pattern, which Stodolna magnified with an electrostatic lens and captured — the first ever such photo.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/05/28/amazing-first-ever-photograph-inside-hydrogen-atom/?intcmp=features#ixzz2Uh1mlfzT

Remote Alaska volcano erupting with lava and ash

Published May 17, 2013

Associated Press

  • AlaskaVolcano.JPG

    May 16, 2013: In this photo provided by the Alaskan Volcano Observatory, the Pavlof volcano erupts. (AP)

A remote Alaska volcano continues to erupt, spewing lava and ash clouds.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory said Thursday a continuous cloud of ash, steam and gas from Pavlof Volcano has been seen 20,000 feet above sea level. The cloud was moving to the southeast Thursday.

John Power, the U.S. Geological Survey scientist in charge at the observatory, estimates the lava fountain rose several hundred feet into the air.

Onsite seismic instruments are picking up constant tremors from the eruption at Pavlof, located about 625 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Residents of Cold Bay, 37 miles away, have reported seeing a glow from the summit.

Pavlof is among the most active volcanoes in the Aleutian arc, with nearly 40 known eruptions, according to the observatory.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/05/17/remote-alaska-volcano-erupting-with-lava-and-ash/?test=latestnews#ixzz2TefldgnO

Oldest water on Earth found deep underground

By Charles Q. Choi

Published May 16, 2013


  • oldest water on earth.jpg

    A scientist takes a sample of water from a mine deep underground in Ontario, Canada. The water turned out to be 2.6 billion years old, the oldest known water on Earth. (B. Sherwood Lollar et al.)

  • deep-mine-waters

    A scientists takes a sample of water from a mine deep underground in Ontario, Canada. The water turned out to be 2.6 billion years old, the oldest known water on Earth. (B. Sherwood Lollar et al.)

A pocket of water some 2.6 billion years old the most ancient pocket of water known by far, older even than the dawn of multicellular life has now been discovered in a mine 2 miles below the Earth’s surface.

The finding, announced in the May 16 issue of the journal Nature, raises the tantalizing possibility that ancient life might be found deep underground not only within Earth, but in similar oases that may exist on Mars, the scientists who studied the water said.

Geoscientist Barbara Sherwood Lollar at the University of Toronto and her colleagues have investigated deep mines across the world since the 1980s. Water can flow into fractures in rocks and become isolated deep in the crust for many years, serving as a time capsule of what their environments were like at the time they were sealed off.


‘It was absolutely mind-blowing. They were billions of years old.’

– Geoscientist Barbara Sherwood Lollar at the University of Toronto


In gold mines in South Africa 1.7 miles deep, the scientists previously discovered microbes could survive in pockets of water isolated for tens of millions of years. These reservoirs were many times saltier than seawater, “and had chemistry in many ways similar to hydrothermal vents on the bottom of the ocean, full of dissolved hydrogen and other chemicals capable of supporting life,” Sherwood Lollar said. [Strangest Places Where Life Is Found on Earth]

To see what other ancient pockets of water might exist, Sherwood Lollar and her colleagues investigated copper and zinc mines near the city of Timmins in Ontario, Canada. “As the prices of copper, zinc and gold have gone up, mines now go deeper, which has helped our search for long-isolated reservoirs of water hidden underground,” Sherwood Lollar said.

‘Mind-blowing’ find
“Sometimes we went down in cages they’re not called elevators underground that dropped us to the levels we wanted to go,” Sherwood Lollar told OurAmazingPlanet. “Other times, we went down ramp mines, which have curling spiral roadways, so we could actually drive all the way down.”

The scientists analyzed water they found 2 miles deep. They focused on noble gases such as helium, neon, argon and xenon. Past studies analyzing bubbles of air trapped within ancient rocks found that these rare gases could occur in distinct ratios linked with certain eras of Earth’s history. As such, by analyzing the ratios of noble gases seen in this water, the researchers could deduce the age of the water.

The scientists discovered the fluids were trapped in the rocks between 1.5 billion and 2.64 billion years ago.

“It was absolutely mind-blowing,” Sherwood Lollar said. “These weren’t tens of millions of years old like we might have expected, or even hundreds of millions of years old. They were billions of years old.”

The site was formed by geological activity similar to that seen in hydrothermal vents. “We walked along what used to be ocean floor 2.7 billion years ago,” Sherwood Lollar said. “You could still see some of the same pillow lava structures now seen on the bottom of the ocean.”

Signs of life?
This ancient water poured out of the boreholes the team drilled in the mine at the rate of nearly a half-gallon (2 liters) per minute. It remains uncertain precisely how large this reservoir of water is.

“This is an extremely important question and one that we want to pursue in our future work,” Sherwood Lollar said. “We also want to see if there are habitable reservoirs of similar age around the world.”

Sherwood Lollar emphasized they have not yet found any signs of life in the water from Timmins. “We’re working on that right now,” she said. “It’d be fascinating to us if we did, since it’d push back the frontiers of how long life could survive in isolation.”

And the implications of such a finding would extend beyond the extremes of life on Earth.

“Finding life in this energy-rich water is especially exciting if one thinks of Mars, where there might be water of similar age and mineralogy under the surface,” Sherwood Lollar said.

If any life once arose on Mars billions of years ago as it did on Earth, “then it is likely in the subsurface,” Sherwood Lollar said. “If we find the water in Timmins can support life, maybe the same might hold true for Mars as well.”

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Mount Everest’s ice is melting, researcher claims

By Becky Oskin

How Green

Published May 15, 2013


  • everest

    Mount Everest is the second peak from the left. (Pavel Novak)

Earth’s global thaw has reached Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, researchers said Tuesday at the Meeting of the Americas in Cancun, Mexico.

Glaciers in the Mount Everest region have shrunk by 13 percent in the last 50 years and the snowline has shifted upward by 590 feet, Sudeep Thakuri, a graduate student at the University of Milan in Italy, said in a statement. Located in the Himalaya Mountains on the border between China and Nepal, Everest’s summit is 29,029 feet above sea level.

Thakuri and his colleagues tracked changes to glaciers, temperatures and precipitation at Everest and the surrounding Sagarmatha National Park. There, glaciers have retreated an average of 1,300 feet since 1962, the team found. More recently, precipitation (both snow and rain) has dropped by 3.9 inches and temperatures have risen 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1992.

The researchers suspect that the glacial melting in the Everest region is due to global warming, but they have not yet established a firm connection between the mountains’ changes and climate change, Thakuri said in the statement.

While Everest isn’t the only Himalayan region seeing the effects of climate change, not all of the region’s glaciers are melting. The Karakoram Mountains, on the China-India-Pakistan border, are holding steady and may even be growing. But shrinking glaciers in the rest of the Himalayas have drawn significant global attention, because the glaciers provide water and power for roughly 1.5 billion people.

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5 climbers killed after volcano spews rock and ash in the Philippines

Published May 07, 2013

Associated Press

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    May 7, 2013: A mushroom of volcanic ash shoots up to the sky as Mayon volcano, one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes, spewed huge rocks and ash after daybreak. (AP)

  • PhilippinesVolcano.JPG

    FILE: A column of ash shoots up to the sky in another mild eruption of the cloud-covered Mayon volcano as viewed from Legazpi city. (AP)

One of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes rumbled to life Tuesday, spewing room-sized rocks toward nearly 30 surprised climbers, killing five and injuring others that had to be fetched with rescue helicopters and rope.

The climbers and their Filipino guides had spent the night camping in two groups before setting out at daybreak for the crater of Mayon volcano when the sudden explosion of rocks, ash and plumes of smokes jolted the picturesque mountain, guide Kenneth Jesalva told ABS-CBN TV network by cellphone.

He said rocks “as big as a living room” came raining down, killing and injuring members of his group, some of whom were in critical condition. Jesalva said he rushed back to the base camp at 3,000 feet to call for help.

Among the dead were three Germans and their Filipino guide, said Albay provincial Gov. Joey Salceda. He said everyone on the mountain had been accounted for at midday, except for a foreigner who was presumed dead.

Eight people were injured, and Salceda said the others were in the process of being brought down the mountain. Ash clouds have cleared over the volcano, which was quiet later in the morning.

“The injured are all foreigners … They cannot walk. If you can imagine, the boulders there are as big as cars. Some of them slid and rolled down. We will rappel the rescue team, and we will rappel them up again,” he said from Legazpi, the provincial capital at the foothill of the mountain.

An Austrian mountaineer and two Spaniards were rescued with small bruises, he said.

Tuesday’s eruption was normal for the restive Mayon, said Renato Solidum, the head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

The 8,070-foot mountain about 212 miles southeast of Manila has erupted about 40 times during the last 400 years.

In 2010, thousands of residents moved to temporary shelters when the volcano ejected ash up to 5 miles from the crater.

Solidum said no alert was raised after the latest eruption and no evacuation was being planned.

Climbers are not allowed when an alert is up, and the recent calm may have encouraged this week’s trek. However, Solidum said that even with no alert raised, the immediate zone around the volcano is supposed to be a no-go area because of the risk of a sudden eruption.

Salceda said he would enforce a ban on climbers.

Despite the risks, Mayon and its near-perfect cone is a favorite spot for volcano watchers. Most enjoy the occasional nighttime spectacle of the rim lit by flowing lava, viewing from the safety of hotels in Legazpi.

The volcano has a trail to the crater that is walkable though it’s steep and strewn with rocks and debris from past eruptions.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/05/07/5-climbers-killed-after-volcano-spews-rock-and-ash-in-philippines/#ixzz2ScRoiZK6