Thursday, June 19, 2008

Iran Urges OPEC To Dump Dollar

Source: Press Tv
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday urged world oil exporting countries to find ways to switch their oil revenues from the U.S. dollar to alternative currencies, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Ahmadinejad made the remarks in his speech at the 29th Meeting of the Council of Ministers of OPEC Fund for International Development which is underway in Isfahan, central Iran.

This was one of suggestions made by the Iranian president to overcome the existing challenges facing the developing countries, IRNA reported.

"Today, the experts in international economy and the analysts of the oil market all agree that the economic crisis in the U.S. together with the fall in the value of dollar have especially affected the development of the poor and developing countries," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.

The Iranian president added that the current situation had adverse effect on the oil exporting countries economy.

"The lower dollar has given rise to severe fluctuations in capital markets and fueled an inordinate level of speculative activity," Ahmadinejad said. "Huge sums of money have been diverted into oil exchange resulting in a bubble in the oil market."

"Here, in addition to the poor and developing countries, economy of the oil-exporting nations has been adversely affected by these circumstances," he said.

High-ranking officials from 12 OPEC member countries were participating in the conference in Isfahan, which aimed to remove problems facing the energy sector and survey economic issues of the OPEC members.

Nuclear weapons parts missing

The US military cannot locate hundreds of sensitive nuclear missile components, according to several government officials familiar with a Pentagon report on nuclear safeguards
The US military cannot locate hundreds of sensitive nuclear missile components, according to several government officials familiar with a Pentagon report on nuclear safeguards.
Robert Gates, US defence secretary, recently fired both the US Air Force chief of staff and air force secretary after an investigation blamed the air force for the inadvertent shipment of nuclear missile nose cones to Taiwan.

According to previously undisclosed details obtained by the FT, the investigation also concluded that the air force could not account for many sensitive components previously included in its nuclear inventory.

One official said the number of missing components was more than 1,000.

The disclosure is the latest embarrassing episode for the air force, which last year had to explain how a bomber mistakenly carried six nuclear missiles across the US. The incidents have raised concerns about US nuclear safeguards as Washington presses other countries to bolster counter-proliferation measures.

In announcing the departure of the top air force officials earlier this month, Mr Gates said Admiral Kirkland Donald, the officer who led the investigation, concluded that both incidents had a “common origin” which was “the gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of effective oversight by air force leadership”.

Mr Gates added that the Pentagon was evaluating the results of a “comprehensive inventory of all nuclear and nuclear-related materials [conducted] to re-establish positive control of these sensitive, classified components”.

Adm Donald briefed Congress on the results of his investigation on Wednesday. Bryan Whitman, Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the classified report.

A senior defence official said the report had “identified issues about record keeping” for sensitive nuclear missile components. But he stressed that there was no suggestion that components had ended up in the hands of countries that should not have received them.

But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said the revelation was “very significant and extremely troubling” because it meant the US could not establish the positive control referred to by Mr Gates.

“It raises a serious question about where else these unaccounted for warhead related parts may have gone,” said Mr Kimball. “I would not be surprised if the recent Taiwan incident is not the only one.”

A senior military officer said the military leadership, including Adm Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was “deeply troubled” by the findings of the Donald report. He added that they would be paying close attention to recommendations for improving nuclear safeguards that Mr Gates has asked James Schlesinger, a former defence secretary, to make.

Gordon Johndroe, National Security Council spokesman, declined to comment on the disclosure about the unaccounted for components. But he said the “the White House has confidence that secretary Gates through his actions with the air force is addressing all of these issues”.

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Volcano Activity in the News

New Activity/Unrest

CHAITEN Southern Chile 42.833°S, 72.646°W; summit elev. 1122 m

SERNAGEOMIN reported that visual observations of Chaitén were inhibited due to inclement weather during 10-12 June. Customs officers in the town of Chaitén reported noises on 11 June. They also reported the presence of two new craters to the S that emitted ash-and-gas plumes on 12 June. The plumes drifted S. Later that day in Chaitén town, an abrupt swelling of the river Chaitén was observed. Seismic events increased in number and intensity.

An overflight on 14 June revealed spines rising above the top of the new lava dome, which had grown in height to exceed the old dome. Gas, ash, and steam plumes were primarily emitted from a vent, about 100 m in diameter, at the SE contact between the old and the new lava dome. Previously, emissions came from the NW contact between the old and new domes. Continuous explosions produced ash plumes that rose to an altitude of 3 km (10,000 ft) a.s.l.caldera floor. The Alert Level remained at Red. and drifted E. Several other points of gas-and-steam emissions were seen along the contact. Small block-and-ash flows from the new dome had descended the S flank of the old dome and occasionally reached the

Based on observations of satellite imagery, SIGMET reports, and pilot observations, the Buenos Aires VAAC reported that during 11-16 June ash plumes rose to altitudes of 2.1-3.7 km (7,000-12,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted N, NE, and E.

Geologic Summary. Chaitén is a small, glacier-free caldera with a Holocene lava dome located 10 km NE of the town of Chaitén on the Gulf of Corcovado. A pyroclastic-surge and pumiceobsidian lava dome occupies much of the caldera floor. Obsidian cobbles from this dome found in the Blanco River are the source of prehistorical artifacts from archaeological sites along the Pacific coast as far as 400 km away from the volcano to the north and south. The caldera is breached on the SW side by a river that drains to the bay of Chaitén, and the high point on its southern rim reaches 1122 m. deposit considered to originate from the eruption that formed the elliptical 2.5 x 4 km wide summit caldera was dated at about 9400 years ago. A rhyolitic, 962-m-high


Sources: Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (SERNAGEOMIN), Buenos Aires Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC)

GORELY Southern Kamchatka 52.558°N, 158.03°E; summit elev. 1829 m

KVERT reported that seismic activity in the area of Gorely and Mutnovsky volcanoes increased on 13 June. There is only one seismic station in the area of the two volcanoes, so the source of the seismicity could not be determined. Activity was not visually noted and satellite imagery was not available at the time of the seismicity increase. The level of Concern Color Code was raised to Yellow on 14 June.

Geologic Summary. Gorely volcano, one of the most active in southern Kamchatka, consists of five small overlapping stratovolcanoes constructed along a WNW-ESE line within a large 9 x 13.5 km late-Pleistocene caldera. The massive Gorely complex contains 11 summit and 30 flank craters. During the early Holocene, activity was characterized by frequent mild eruptions with occasional larger explosions and lava flows that filled in the caldera. Quiescent periods became longer between 6,000 and 2,000 years ago, after which the activity was mainly explosive. About 600-650 years ago intermittent strong explosions and lava flow effusion accompanied frequent mild eruptions. Historical eruptions have consisted of vulcanian and phreatic explosions of moderate volume.


Source: Kamchatkan Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT)

MUTNOVSKY Southern Kamchatka 52.453°N, 158.195°E; summit elev. 2322 m

KVERT reported that seismic activity in the area of Gorely and Mutnovsky volcanoes increased on 13 June. There is only one seismic station in the area of the two volcanoes, so the source of the seismicity could not be determined. Activity was not visually noted and satellite imagery was not available at the time of the seismicity increase. The level of Concern Color Code was raised to Yellow on 14 June.

Geologic Summary. Massive Mutnovsky, one of the most active volcanoes of southern Kamchatka, is formed of four coalescing stratovolcanoes of predominately basalticHolocene activity was characterized by mild-to-moderate phreatic and phreatomagmatic eruptions from the summit crater. Historical eruptions have been explosive, with lava flows produced only during the 1904 eruption. Geothermal development is planned at Mutnovsky, which has the highest heat capacity of any volcano in the Kuril-Kamchatka arc. composition. Multiple summit craters cap the volcanic complex. Growth of Mutnovsky IV, the youngest cone, began during the early Holocene. An intracrater cone was constructed along the northern wall of the 1.3-km-wide summit crater. Abundant flank cinder cones were concentrated on the SW side.


Source: Kamchatkan Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT)

Epidemics emerge as major threat in China's quake zone: report

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) June 18, 2008
Infectious diseases are emerging as a major threat in China's quake zone, with injured and traumatised victims most at risk, the health minister was quoted as saying Wednesday.

As summer approaches, the warmer weather creates optimal conditions for epidemics, with survivors of the massive May 12 quake particularly vulnerable to disease, the China Daily reported, citing Health Minister Chen Zhu.

"Simply experiencing such a huge trauma weakens people's immune systems. For those in more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and children, the risk of infection is even greater," Chen said, according to the paper.

Although no major disease outbreak has occurred, the paper warned that health workers were facing an "uphill battle," with medical services in the quake zone taking a serious hit.

"We are trying our best to meet the health service demands and restore proper facilities as soon as possible," Chen said, according to the paper.

Earlier this month, Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qunan said there would be no epidemics in an online discussion on

"We have the ability and the confidence to guarantee that after the disaster, there will be no epidemics," the spokesman said.

Given the large loss of manpower, medical workers from other parts of the country will be deployed to help those in the quake area, he said.

In the first 10 days of June, more than half a million children under the age of 12 in quake-affected areas were vaccinated against infections, such as hepatitis A and encephalitis B, the paper said.

The death toll from the Sichuan earthquake, the worst natural disaster to hit China in three decades, had reached 69,172 on Tuesday, the government said. Another 17,420 people were still missing.

Flood waters threaten millions in China, quake refugees evacuated

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) June 18, 2008
Surging waters in southern China's swollen Pearl river delta threatened millions of people on Wednesday as authorities raced to finish the evacuation of 110,000 people in the quake-hit southwest.

Although a huge flood crest flowed past the Makou monitoring station close to the city of Guangzhou on Tuesday, water levels remained 0.45 metres (1.5 feet) above warning levels a day later, the state flood headquarters said on its website.

The headquarters said the deluge of water that roared by the station was the biggest in 50 years and had prompted emergency measures to protect millions of people in the delta, home to China's huge export industry.

Up to 176 people have died and 52 have gone missing in flood-related incidents in China this year, with 51 dead or missing since June 6 in the provinces and regions of Guangxi, Guangdong, Jiangxi and Hunan, it said.

But state media did not agree on the toll, with some reports saying more than 200 people were dead or missing from the June weather in what appeared to be tabulations made from late breaking local news reports.

One such report by Xinhua news agency in the Guangxi region said four students were killed and 12 injured when a school collapsed Monday evening in Liubao township.

Another report on Wednesday said five children in Guangxi's Bobai county were swept into a river as they walked home from school, with only three bodies found so far.

Up to 3,000 schools in Guangxi have been damaged due to the flooding, Xinhua added.

Since the rainy season began in late May, rains have deluged large swathes of southern China, while the northeast of the country is experiencing the complete opposite in the form of an unusual heatwave, according to Xinhua.

Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province usually known as the "Ice City", reported an abnormally high temperature of 37.1 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) Tuesday -- the second highest in the city's history, Xinhua said.

But quake-hit Sichuan province, where millions of refugees are living in tents and makeshift shelters, was not so lucky.

According to the Beijing News, the evacuation of up to 110,000 quake refugees from dangerous mountainous areas threatened by rain-induced landslides in Aba prefecture was slated to finish Wednesday.

The operation began days ago on the orders of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and included up to 70,000 quake refugees in Aba's Wenchuan county, the epicentre of the May 12, 8.0-magnitude earthquake, reports said.

Up to 87,000 people were reported killed or missing after the massive quake, with as many as five million left homeless.

More than 1.66 million people have been evacuated in the areas hardest hit by the rains, with large tracts of farmland under water and losses totalling 14.5 billion yuan (2.1 billion dollars), the civil affairs ministry said Tuesday.

Officials also warned that the north could fall victim to the weather, and the government has urged the strengthening of dykes and reservoirs along the Yellow River, known as the "cradle of Chinese civilisation" and home to millions of urban dwellers and farmers.

In the south in Guangdong and the neighbouring Guangxi region, the rains have either swamped hundreds of roads or left them cut off by landslides.

Thousands of transport trucks have been stranded in both provinces, cutting off food supplies to urban centres and fuelling price rises, reports said.

The National Development and Reform Commission, China's economic planner, issued orders Wednesday to curb price gouging in the flood-hit areas.

Vegetable prices in parts of Guangdong have reportedly seen daily price rises of as much as 70 percent.

Mississippi levee buckles under rising waters

by Staff Writers
Chicago (AFP) June 17, 2008
Rising waters burst through an overtaxed levee on the Mississippi River Tuesday, sending gushing torrents into an Illinois town as the sodden US midwest reeled from days of epic flooding.

The levee break left Highway 34 at Gulfport, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, under water, prompting officials to close a bridge to the neighboring town of Burlington and creating havoc for commuters.

More than 1,000 Illinois National Guard troops were working alongside hundreds of inmates from the state's prisons to shore up levees throughout the state, a spokeswoman with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency told CNN.

The New York Times said people in dozens of Mississippi towns facing flooding were working Tuesday to shore up about 30 levees.

"We were very, very disappointed that this levee broke today," said emergency official Patti Thompson, adding the imposing Mississippi "is a very powerful river and it can be hard to harness" even in drier times, let alone during record flooding.

Officials had anticipated that the levees could be a weak point and had sought to shore them up with sand bags, she said.

President George W. Bush vowed Tuesday to help flood-ravaged states get back on their feet.

"I fully understand people are upset when they lose their home. A person's home is their most valued possession," Bush said.

"We want to work with state and local folks to have a clear strategy to help people find -- get back into a place that -- where they can live," he said, adding that housing and fresh water were the top priorities.

Bush, who was sharply criticized for the administration's slow response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, was to visit Iowa Thursday with a federal disaster response team.

"Unfortunately I've been to too many disasters as president," he said.

More than 11 million people in nine midwestern states have been affected by the flooding and extreme weather of recent weeks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said.

Iowa was by the far the hardest hit: 83 of the state's 99 counties have been declared disaster areas, and more than 4.8 million sandbags have been laid down to try to stem the tide.

Many Iowans who had scrambled to try to contain damage as flooding ravaged dozens of Midwest towns over the weekend were left with little option but to evacuate Tuesday with the Mississippi yet to hit its high point.

The massive river, which passes through 10 states in its 3,734-kilometer (2,320-mile) journey from its source in Minnesota to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico, is engorged by water from the Iowa and Cedar Rivers.

"It will take us a week before we can even assess what the cleanup is going to be," said Columbus Junction Mayor Dan Wilson.

"It will be days before we can get to the point that we can start pumping the water out. Right now, we just have to live with it."

No one yet knows how many small communities have been swamped, but there are dozens on the back roads of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.

Authorities fear the potential health impact of unclean water supplies, and that widespread crop damage will help worsen already high food prices.

In Oakville, Iowa, 36-year-old farmer Ron Lanz was forced to abandon his farm and 800 hogs after the Iowa River levee broke on Saturday.

"It's devastating to leave those hogs behind," Lanz said. "I don't like to think about it."

Meanwhile the American Red Cross said a series of weather-related calamities had left it low on cash and struggling to provide aid to disaster victims.

"Our disaster relief fund is empty, but there's a lot of need out there and the Red Cross is responding," spokeswoman Suzy De Francis told AFP.

Arctic sea ice melt 'even faster'

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website
Arctic sea ice is melting even faster than last year, despite a cold winter.

Data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) shows that the year began with ice covering a larger area than at the beginning of 2007.

But now it is down to levels seen last June, at the beginning of a summer that broke records for sea ice loss.

Scientists on the project say that much of the ice is so thin that it melts easily, and the Arctic may be ice-free in summer within five to 10 years. We had a bit more ice in the winter, although we were still way below the long-term average," said Julienne Stroeve from NSIDC in Boulder, Colorado.

"So we had a partial recovery. But the real issue is that most of the pack ice has become really thin, and if we have a regular summer now, it can just melt away," she told BBC News.

In March, Nasa reported that the area covered by sea ice was slightly larger than in 2007, but much of it consisted of thin floes that had formed during the previous winter. These are much less robust than thicker, less saline floes that have already survived for several years.
GraphA few years ago, scientists were predicting ice-free Arctic summers by about 2080.

Then computer models started projecting earlier dates, around 2030 to 2050.

Then came the 2007 summer that saw Arctic sea ice shrink to the smallest extent ever recorded, down to 4.2 million sq km from 7.8 million sq km in 1980.

By the end of last year, one research group was forecasting ice-free summers by 2013.

"I think we're going to beat last year's record melt, though I'd love to be wrong," said Dr Stroeve.

"If we do, then I don't think 2013 is far off any more. If what we think is going to happen does happen, then it'll be within a decade anyway."

Rising tide

Countries surrounding the Arctic are eyeing the economic opportunities that melting ice might bring.

Canada and Russia are exploring sovereignty claims over tracts of Arctic seafloor, while just this week US President George Bush has urged more oil exploration in US waters - which could point the way to exploitation of reserves off the Alaskan coast.

Summer ice cover in the Arctic has declined sharply

But from a climate point of view, the melt could bring global impacts accelerating the rate of warming and of sea level rise.

"This is a positive feedback process," commented Dr Ian Willis, from the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.

"Sea ice has a higher albedo (reflectivity) than ocean water; so as the ice melts, the water absorbs more of the Sun's energy and warms up more, and that in turn warms the atmosphere more - including the atmosphere over the Greenland ice sheet."

Greenland is already losing ice to the oceans, contributing to the gradual rise in sea levels. The ice cap holds enough water to lift sea levels globally by about seven metres (22ft) if it all melted.

Natural climatic cycles such as the Arctic Oscillation play a role in year-to-year variations in ice cover. But Julienne Stroeve believes the sea ice is now so thin that there is little chance of the melting trend turning round.

"If the ice were as thin as it was in the 1970s, last year's conditions would have brought a dip in cover, but nothing exceptional.

"But now it's so thin that you would have to have an exceptional sequence of cold winters and cold summers in order for it to rebuild."