Thursday, November 20, 2008

Volcanoes: Nature's Way of Letting Off Steam

Volcanoes: Nature's Way of Letting Off Steam

Whether it's natural gas drilling unleashing a mud volcano that has engulfed 12 Indonesian villages or the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 blanketing the world in enough particles to block out the sunshine and lower temperatures by more than a 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius), volcanoes are among Earth's most destructive natural phenomena.

These openings, or vents, in Earth's crust allow hot ash, steam or even magma to erupt. Lava flows can then build new land in the ocean—as in the case of Hawaii—or entomb whole cities, as in the case of Pompeii in A.D. 79.

Scientists can predict when such an eruption will occur by measuring a series of indicators, including earthquakes and gas emissions at the volcano. But these methods are not foolproof—and surprises still occur. But, at the same time, tapping the hot rocks deep beneath the surface could provide a strong and renewable source of power.

Slide Show: Images of Volcanoes


New planning laws will include duty to combat climate change

All new major infrastructure projects in England and Wales will have to be prepared for hotter summers, floods and other changes in the weather caused by climate change under new planning laws.

New amendments to the Planning Bill mean planning proposals for any new airports, power stations or other projects will show how they will mitigate and adapt to climate change before they are approved.

The controversial Bill, that has been brought in to speed up the planning process on big projects, will replace the current system or regional plans with more centrally led National Policy Statements.

These new statements will now have to "show how they mitigate and adapt to climate change - and Government must explain how it does this to parliament."

Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, said the move would help the UK to meet ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050.

"With climate change now firmly implanted in this bill it really will deliver, in a more democratic system, the low carbon economy we need to move to."

However Hugh Ellis of Friends of the Earth said the legislation was not strong enough.

"We needed forceful, clear language on the duty of the Secretary of State to reduce emissions - we do not have that. We have a convoluted duty that will not help."

Top 10 Most Expensive Accidents in History

Throughout history, humans have been prone to accidents. Some can be very expensive -- whether through property damage or expenses incurred related to the accident such as cleanup and industry losses. Here are some of the ones that cost the most.

The Titanic -- $150 Million

The sinking of the Titanic is possibly the most famous accident in the world. On April 15, 1912, the Titanic, considered to be the most luxurious ocean liner ever built, sank on its maiden voyage. Over 1,500 people lost their lives when the ship ran into an iceberg and sunk in frigid waters. The ship cost $7 million to build ($150 million in today's dollars).

Tanker Truck vs. Bridge -- $358 Million

On August 26, 2004, a car collided with a tanker truck containing 32,000 liters of fuel on the Wiehltal Bridge in Germany. The tanker crashed through the guardrail and fell 90 feet, resulting in a huge explosion and fire which destroyed the load-bearing ability of the bridge. Temporary repairs cost $40 million and the cost to replace the bridge is estimated at $318 Million.

Metrolink Crash -- $500 Million

On September 12, 2008, in one of the worst train crashes in California history, 25 people were killed when a Metrolink commuter train crashed head-on into a Union Pacific freight train in Los Angeles. The Metrolink train may have run through a red signal while the conductor was busy text messaging. Wrongful death lawsuits are expected to cause $500 million in losses for Metrolink.

B-2 Bomber Crash -- $1.4 Billion

A B-2 stealth bomber crashed shortly after taking off from an air base in Guam on February 23, 2008. Investigators blamed distorted data in the flight control computers caused by moisture in the system. This resulted in the aircraft making a sudden nose-up move which made the B-2 stall and crash. It was the most expensive aviation accident in history. Both pilots were able to eject to safety.

Exxon Valdez -- $2.5 Billion

The Exxon Valdez oil spill was not a large one in relation to the world's biggest oil spills, but it was a costly one due to the remote location of Prince William Sound, which is accessible only by helicopter and boat. On March 24, 1989, 10.8 million gallons of oil was spilled when the ship's master, Joseph Hazelwood, left the controls and the ship crashed into a Reef. The cleanup cost Exxon $2.5 billion.

Piper Alpha Oil Rig -- $3.4 Billion

At one time, Piper Alpha was the world's single largest oil producer, spewing out 317,000 barrels of oil per day. On July 6, 1988, as part of routine maintenance, technicians removed and checked safety valves which were essential in preventing dangerous build-up of liquid gas. There were 100 identical safety valves which were checked. Unfortunately, the technicians made a mistake and forgot to replace one of them. At 10 PM that same night, a technician pressed a start button for the liquid gas pumps and the world's most expensive oil rig accident was set in motion. Within 2 hours, the 300 foot platform was engulfed in flames. It eventually collapsed, killing 167 workers and resulting in $3.4 billion in damages.

Challenger Explosion -- $5.5 Billion

The Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds after takeoff due on January 28, 1986 due to a faulty O-ring. It failed to seal one of the joints, allowing pressurized gas to reach the outside. This in turn caused the external tank to dump its payload of liquid hydrogen, causing a massive explosion. The cost of replacing the Space Shuttle was $2 billion in 1986, or $4.5 billion in today's dollars. The cost of investigation, problem correction, and replacement of lost equipment cost an additional $1 Billion in today's dollars.

Prestige Oil Spill -- $12 Billion

On November 13, 2002, the Prestige oil tanker was carrying 77,000 tons of heavy fuel oil when one of its twelve tanks burst during a storm off Galicia, Spain. Fearing that the ship would sink, the captain called for help from Spanish rescue workers, expecting them to take the ship into harbor. However, pressure from local authorities forced the captain to steer the ship away from the coast. The captain tried to get help from the French and Portuguese authorities, but they too ordered the ship away from their shores. The storm eventually took its toll on the ship resulting in the tanker splitting in half and releasing 20 million gallons oil into the sea. The total cleanup cost $12 billion.

Space Shuttle Columbia -- $13 Billion

The Space Shuttle Columbia was the first space-worthy shuttle in NASA's orbital fleet. It was destroyed during re-entry over Texas on February 1, 2003, after a hole was punctured in one of the wings during launch 16 days earlier. The original cost of the shuttle was $2 billion in 1978. That comes out to $6.3 billion in today's dollars. Investigation and search and recovery of debris added to the cost, and in the end, the total cost of the accident (not including replacement of the shuttle) came out to $13 billion.

Chernobyl -- $200 Billion

On April 26, 1986, the world witnessed the costliest accident in history when a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded. 50 percent of the area of Ukraine is in some way contaminated. Over 200,000 people had to be evacuated and resettled while 1.7 million people were directly affected by the disaster. The death toll attributed to Chernobyl, including people who died from cancer years later, is estimated at 125,000. The total costs including cleanup, resettlement, and compensation to victims has been estimated to be roughly $200 Billion. The accident was officially attributed to power plant operators who violated plant procedures and were ignorant of the safety requirements needed.


Attempts to save oldest freighter on Great Lakes fail; E.M. Ford headed to scrapyard

November 11, 2008 09:13AM

The 110-year-old E.M. Ford, the oldest freighter on the Great Lakes, is headed for the scrapyard. Attempts to save the historic 428-foot-long vessel, or at least parts of it, failed as it was expected to start its journey from the Saginaw River to the Purvis Marine Scrapyard in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, this morning.)

The E.M. Ford's 110-year journey has ended.

Attempts to save the historic 428-foot-long vessel, or at least parts of it, failed as it was expected to start its journey from the Saginaw River to the Purvis Marine Scrapyard in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, this morning.

"This is an extremely tragic loss," said Don Morin, a representative from the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society in Bay City. "We had been keeping our eye on the ship for the last decade knowing that someday it might become available, but ... we weren't on the list that received notification that it would be available to a museum group."

The E.M. Ford was built in 1898 and is the oldest freighter in the Great Lakes. It was a bulk ore carrier before it was converted to a self-unloading cement powder carrier for the LaFarge North America Cement Plant in Saginaw County's Carrollton Township - but has been mainly empty for a few years.

Two workers chat as the E.M. Ford prepares for its trip to the Purvis Marine Scrapyard in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.)

"Apparently it hasn't held any cement for quite some time though," said Don Comtois, president of the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society. "Of course with the economy down they don't need it anymore and it becomes a liability instead of an asset for a company."

Morin said operating marine museums were told by LaFarge of plans to scrap the freighter or give it to a museum. But the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society - which does not have an operating museum - didn't find out about the boat's availability until two weeks before the one-year deadline.

The E.M. Ford, or parts of it, could have made a nice addition to a proposed Bay City Maritime Heritage Center. Such a center has been planned for the Uptown at Rivers Edge property, although it is still in the preliminary stages.

"We knew the group in Alpena, the NOAA (Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary), wanted the engine ... and we would have taken the pilot house, but by the time we got back with LaFarge, the contract had already been signed for it to be scrapped."

Comtois, a longtime admirer of the E.M. Ford, said his favorite part of the historic freighter is the pilot house - which is unlike any other pilot house on the Great Lakes. The Ford's pilot house is among the biggest, with three stories housing steering quarters, captains quarters and guest quarters, according to Morin.

"It had a very tall pilot house compared to other Great Lakes boats," said Comtois. "It had guest quarters, its own galley forward (dinette area), patio doors ... it was a pretty little boat."

The E.M. Ford was built in 1898 and is the oldest freighter in the Great Lakes. It was a bulk ore carrier before it was converted to a self-unloading cement powder carrier for the LaFarge North America Cement Plant in Saginaw County's Carrollton Township - but has been mainly empty for a few years.)

The engine the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary had its eye on was a 1,500-horsepower, quadruple-expansion steam engine, very similar to the engine used in the Titanic and White Star Line.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Saginaw River Marine Historical Society will most likely try to work out a deal with the Purvis Marine Scrapyard once the freighter gets there, but Morin isn't hopeful. He believes the legal contracts for the deal won't allow the boat to come back onto U.S. waters.

"It's too bad though," he said. "Either the ship, or at least a couple of artifacts, would have been a good starting point to get the community rallied around (raising awareness for the Bay City Maritime Heritage Center)."

Comtois believes that if people would have known sooner about the fate of the E.M. Ford, there may have been a way to save it.

"The E.M. Ford ... has been a familiar site on the Saginaw River for at least 30-40 years," he said. "It's just sad to see a piece of history go, it's something that can never be reproduced.

"When anything of historical value is lost, we feel kind of sad about it. But that happens, unfortunately."