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U.S. Geological Survey study eyes growing earthquake toll

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Structural damage in San Francisco resulting from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo courtesy USGS.

Increasing population in seismically active areas means death toll could double in 21st century

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Growing populations in earthquake-prone areas are setting the stage for an uptick in catastrophic quakes in the 21st century, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists who evaluated historical earthquake data back to about 1500 AD against projected population increases.

Based on the data, the researchers concluded that there will be more individual earthquakes with very large death tolls as well as more people dying during earthquakes than ever before.

The study projects that about 21 catastrophic earthquakes will occur in the 21st century, triple the number during the 20th century. They also predict that total deaths in the century could more than double to approximately 3.5 million people if world population grows to 10.1 billion by 2100 from 6.1 billion in 2000. Continue reading

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Senate committee gains more access to drone documents

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The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will get more access to documents describing the Obama adminstration’s legal rational for using drones to kill American citizens.

Sen. Mark Udall: “We need to understand what the administration believes the limits on its authorities are.”

SUMMIT COUNTY — Just ahead of voting on the confirmation of John Brennan as head of the CIA, the Obama administration has said it will release additional documents on the targeted killing of Americans by drones.

Sen. Mark Udal (D-Colo.) has long advocated more transparency on the administration’s legal rationale for the drone strikes. Udall announced this week that the administration has agreed to give the committee ongoing access to the Office of the Legal Counsel opinions on targeted killings of Americans. Continue reading

Global warming: Geographers eye future Arctic shipping routes

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The fastest navigation routes for ships seeking to cross the Arctic Ocean by mid-century include the Northwest Passage (on the left) and over the North Pole (center), in addition to the Northern Sea Route (on the right).

New study looks at Arctic sea ice projections and also explores geopolitical issues

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new study helps quantify some of recent speculation about shipping routes through the Arctic, indicating that, in 40 years, normal seagoing vessels will be able to  navigate previously inaccessible parts of the Arctic Ocean without the help of icebreakers.

The Arctic ice sheet is expected to thin to the point that polar icebreakers will be able to navigate between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by making a straight shot over the North Pole, according to UCLA geographers Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson. Continue reading

Health officials urge action on endocrine disrupting chemicals

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Air fresheners are one of the products that often include endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Report cites worldwide failure to act, calls for transparency on path forward

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A growing global epidemic of endocrine-related diseases in people and wildlife requires immediate attention and action, the World Health Organization and the UN Environment Program said in a report released last week.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals include man-made products such as pesticides and plasticizers. They’re also found in food, indoor and outdoor environments, and a wide range of consumer products.

Adverse effects increasingly linked to exposure to chemicals with endocrine disrupting properties include: effects on reproduction, such as infertility and reduced sperm count and viability; breast, mammary, testicular, and prostate cancers; type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease; neurobehavioral outcomes; and thyroid and immune system dysfunction. Continue reading

Health: No more NyQuil?

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A new sinusitis treatment derived from marine bacteria show promise, according to UK researchers.

Marine enyzme holds promise for sinusitis treatment

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — An enzyme derived from marine bacteria holds promise in treating sinusitis, according to a team of scientists and surgeons from Newcastle, who are developing a new nasal spray that helps break down mucus.

The enyzme is from the Bacillus licheniformis, which scientists had started researching for the purpose of cleaning the hulls of ships. In a paper on the potential new treatment in PLOS ONE, the scientists describe how in many cases of chronic sinusitis the bacteria form a biofilm which can protect them from sprays or antibiotics. Continue reading

NASA scientists eye asteroid fly-by

Russian meteor unrelated to today’s close call

Russian seismographs show the magnitude of the blast from the meteor that exploded over Siberia. Graph courtesy Helmholtz Centre, Potsdam.

Russian seismographs show the magnitude of the blast from the meteor that exploded over Siberia. Graph courtesy Helmholtz Centre, Potsdam.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — NASA scientists say the trajectory of the meteor over Russia was completely opposite of the asteroid expected to shave Earth’s orbit today, emphasizing that the pair of celestial close-calls is an unrelated coincidence.

The meteor over Russia likely exploded as it heated up from the friction generated as it encountered Earth’s atmosphere. Smaller pieces may have hit the ground as meteorites, but most of the reported damage and injuries in Siberia were the result of the pressure wave generated by the blast. Continue reading

Op-ed: Obama draws reasonable path in State of Union

President Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After listening to President Obama’s speech last night I downloaded the text and read through it twice. The president expressed his willingness to lead on some vexing issues that pose challenges and risks, and extended an ideological hand across the partisan divide that offer a reasonable chance at finding common ground — freezing discretionary public spending for five years could be a huge step toward cutting the deficit, and the president was right-on when he said a shift toward renewable energy could boost the economy.

His call for a free-market path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions elicited some lip-biting by House Speaker John Boehner, but offers a good chance to make meaningful cuts in CO2 pollution, spread across the economy in a way that spurs innovation and adoption of advanced technologies.

On gun control, Obama called on Congress to at least have a thoughtful debate on the scourge of shootings. On this contentious issue, victims have a right to expected elected lawmakers to vote, he said.

Considering what’s at stake economically and environmentally the next few years, Obama’s State of the Union Speech outlined a reasonable path for progress on some key issues, and it would seem that a reasonable majority in the middle of a politically divided country could agree to at least test the president’s cue in the spirit of unity and optimism. Click more to read the full text of the president’s speech.

Continue reading

Senators want more info on U.S. counter-terrorism policies

Policies that allow lethal targeting of U.S. citizens at issue during confirmation hearings

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A Justice Department white paper outlines legal rationale for use of deadly force against U.S. citizens.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Colorado Democrat Mark Udall, said this week they want more information on U.S. policies that permit the government to kill American citizens during counter-terrorism operations.

Udall joined Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) in asking President Obama for details of the secret legal opinions that enable the president to target Americans if, for example, they are working as operatives for Al Qa’ida.

In their Feb. 4 letter, the senators likened the situation to the Civil War, when President Lincoln had authority to order Union troops to fire on Confederate forces. They acknowledged that, if Americans choose to take up arms against their own country, that there is a justification for targeting them with deadly force. Continue reading

Udall plans to quiz CIA nominee on ‘torture report’

Sen. Mark Udall.

Sen. Mark Udall.

Senators want John Brennan to reform CIA interrogation practices

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It may be business as usual for incoming CIA chief John Brennan, who was was unprepared this week to discuss a recent classified U.S. Senate report on the agency’s detention and interrogation program, but that stance doesn’t sit well with at least a handful of senators, who plan to grill Brennan about the report at his confirmation hearing next week.

Among them is Mark Udall, Colorado’s senior Democratic senator, who has often expressed concerns and questions over whether U.S. Intelligence agencies are violating civil rights and U.S. laws in some of their programs.

“I was deeply disappointed today during my meeting with John Brennan. A few weeks ago, I had asked that he be prepared to discuss at today’s meeting the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee‘s comprehensive study on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program,” Udall said in a statement. “Not only was he not prepared to discuss the important findings, but he hadn’t reviewed the report at all,” Udall said. Continue reading

Climate: Australian heatwave sets numerous records

Global warming kicks into high gear Down Under

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Australian heatwave breaks records.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The New Year is barely a week old, but extreme weather continues, this time in the Southern hemisphere, where parts of Australia reached unprecedented high temperatures, in some cases ranging upward of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. For the sake of comparison, Death Valley reported a reading of 136 degrees way back in July, 1913.

Temperatures during the recent Australian heatwave were so warm that the country’s meteorology bureau added a new color to its temperature-scale map — bright purple, designating readings of warmer than 50 degrees Celsius (129 Fahrenheit). Read the latest update from the bureau here. Continue reading

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