Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan earthquake shortened days on Earth

JAPAN -- The massive earthquake that struck northeast Japan last March 11 has shortened the length Earth's day by a fraction and shifted how the planet's mass is distributed.
A new analysis of the 8.9-9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan has found that the intense temblor has accelerated Earth's spin, shortening the length of the 24-hour day by 1.8 microseconds, according to geophysicist Richard Gross at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Gross refined his estimates of the Japan quake's impact - which previously suggested a 1.6-microsecond shortening of the day - based on new data on how much the fault that triggered the earthquake slipped to redistribute the planet's mass. A microsecond is a millionth of a second.
"By changing the distribution of the Earth's mass, the Japanese earthquake should have caused the
Earth to rotate a bit faster, shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds," Gross told SPACE.com in an e-mail. More refinements are possible as new information on the earthquake comes to light, he added.
The scenario is similar to that of a figure skater drawing her arms inward during a spin to turn faster on the ice. The closer the mass shift during an earthquake is to the equator, the more it will speed up the spinning Earth.
One Earth day is about 24 hours, or 86,400 seconds, long. Over the course of a year, its length varies by about one millisecond, or 1,000 microseconds, due to seasonal variations in the planet's mass distribution such as the seasonal shift of the jet stream.
The initial data suggests Friday's earthquake moved Japan's main island about 8 feet, according to Kenneth Hudnut of the U.S. Geological Survey. The earthquake also shifted Earth's figure axis by about 6 1/2 inches (17 centimeters), Gross added.
The Earth's figure axis is not the same as its north-south axis in space, which it spins around once every day at a speed of about 1,000 mph (1,604 kph). The figure axis is the axis around which the Earth's mass is balanced and the north-south axis by about 33 feet (10 meters).
"This shift in the position of the figure axis will cause the Earth to wobble a bit differently as it rotates, but will not cause a shift of the Earth's axis in space - only external forces like the gravitational attraction of the sun, moon, and planets can do that," Gross said.
This isn't the first time a massive earthquake has changed the length of Earth's day. Major temblors have shortened day length in the past.
The 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile last year also sped up the planet's rotation and shortened the day by 1.26 microseconds. The 9.1 Sumatra earthquake in 2004 shortened the day by 6.8 microseconds.
And the impact from Japan's 8.9-magnitude temblor may not be com¬pletely over. The weaker aftershocks may contribute tiny changes to day length as well.
The March 11 quake was the largest ever recorded in Japan and is the world's fifth largest earthquake to strike since 1900, according to the USGS. It struck offshore about 231 miles (373 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo and 80 miles (130 km) east of the city of Sendai, and created a massive tsunami that has devastated Japan's northeastern coastal areas. At least 20 aftershocks registering a 6.0 magnitude or higher have followed the main temblor.
"In theory, anything that redistributes the Earth's mass will change the Earth's rotation," Gross said. "So in principle the smaller aftershocks will also have an effect on the Earth's rotation. But since the aftershocks are smaller their effect will also be smaller." 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tsunami In Japan :'(

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – Japan battled on Monday to prevent a nuclear catastrophe and to care for the millions without power or water in its worst crisis since World War Two, after a massive earthquake and tsunami that likely killed more than 10,000 people.
A badly wounded nation has seen whole villages and towns wiped off the map by a wall of water, leaving in its wake an international humanitarian effort of epic proportions.
And as the country returned to work on Monday, markets began estimating the huge economic cost, with Japanese stocks plunging around 5 percent and the yen falling against the dollar.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Monday the situation at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant north of Tokyo remained worrisome and that the authorities were doing the utmost to stop damage from spreading.
"The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War Two," a grim-faced Kan had told a news conference on Sunday.
"We're under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis."
Officials confirmed on Sunday that three nuclear reactors north of Tokyo were at risk of overheating, raising fears of an uncontrolled radiation leak.
Engineers worked desperately to cool the fuel rods in the damaged reactors. If they fail, the containers that house the core could melt, or even explode, releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere.
The world's third biggest economy also faced rolling power blackouts to conserve energy, and Tokyo commuters reported long delays as train companies cut back services.
DEATH TOLL "ABOVE 10,000"
Broadcaster NHK, quoting a police official, said more than 10,000 people may have been killed as the wall of water triggered by Friday's 8.9-magnitude quake surged across the coastline, reducing whole towns to rubble. It was the biggest to have hit the quake-prone country since it started keeping records 140 years ago.
"I would like to believe that there still are survivors," said Masaru Kudo, a soldier dispatched to Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened town of 24,500 people in far-northern Iwate prefecture.
Kyodo news agency said 80,000 people had been evacuated from a 20-km (12-mile) radius around the stricken nuclear plant, joining more than 450,000 other evacuees from quake and tsunami-hit areas in the northeast of the main island Honshu.
Almost 2 million households were without power in the freezing north, the government said. There were about 1.4 million without running water.
"I am looking for my parents and my older brother," Yuko Abe, 54, said in tears at an emergency center in Rikuzentakata.
"Seeing the way the area is, I thought that perhaps they did not make it. I also cannot tell my siblings that live away that I am safe, as mobile phones and telephones are not working."
NUCLEAR CRISIS
The most urgent crisis centers on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, where authorities said they had been forced to vent radioactive steam into the air to relieve reactor pressure.
The complex, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, was rocked by an explosion on Saturday, which blew the roof off a reactor building. The government did not rule out further blasts there but said this would not necessarily damage the reactor vessels.
Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said on Monday it had reported a rise in radiation levels at the complex to the government. On Sunday the level had risen slightly above what one is exposed to for a stomach X-ray, the company said.
Authorities have poured sea water in two of the reactors at the complex to cool them down.
Nuclear experts said it was probably the first time in the industry's 57-year history that sea water has been used in this way, a sign of how close Japan may be to a major accident.
"Injection of sea water into a core is an extreme measure," Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "this is not according to the book."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there might have been a partial meltdown of the fuel rods at the No. 1 reactor, where Saturday's blast took place, and there was a risk of an explosion at the building housing the No. 3 reactor, but that it was unlikely to affect the reactor core container.
A Japanese official said 22 people have been confirmed to have suffered radiation contamination and up to 190 may have been exposed. Workers in protective clothing used handheld scanners to check people arriving at evacuation centers.
"NOT ANOTHER CHERNOBYL"
The nuclear accident, the worst since Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine in 1986, sparked criticism that authorities were ill-prepared for such a massive quake and the threat that could pose to the country's nuclear power industry.
Prime Minister Kan on Sunday sought to allay radiation fears: "Radiation has been released in the air, but there are no reports that a large amount was released," Jiji news agency quoted him as saying. "This is fundamentally different from the Chernobyl accident."
Kan said food, water and other necessities such as blankets were being delivered by vehicles but because of damage to roads, authorities were considering air and sea transport.
Thousands spent another freezing night huddled in blankets over heaters in emergency shelters along the northeastern coast, a scene of devastation after the quake sent a 10-meter (33-foot) wave surging through towns and cities in the Miyagi region, including its main coastal city of Sendai.
There were also fears another powerful quake could strike, with Japan's Meteorological Agency saying there was a 70 percent chance of an aftershock with a magnitude of 7.0 or greater in the three days from 10 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Sunday.
Aftershocks in the 5 to 6 magnitude range have shaken the ground repeatedly since Friday's huge quake.
ECONOMIC IMPACT
The earthquake has forced many firms to suspend production and shares in some of Japan's biggest companies tumbled on Monday, with Toyota Corp dropping around 7 percent. Shares in Australian-listed uranium miners also dived.
Already saddled with debts twice the size of its $5 trillion economy and threatened with credit downgrades, the government is discussing a temporary tax rise to fund relief work.
Analysts expect the economy to suffer a hit in the short-term, then get a boost from reconstruction activity.
"When we talk about natural disasters, we tend to see an initial sharp drop in production ... then you tend to have a V-shaped rebound. But initially everyone underestimates the damage," said Michala Marcussen, head of global economics at Societe Generale.
Ratings agency Moody's said on Sunday the fiscal impact of the earthquake would be temporary and have a limited play on whether it would downgrade Japan's sovereign debt.
Risk modeling company AIR Worldwide said insured losses from the earthquake could reach nearly $35 billion.
The Bank of Japan has said it would pump cash into the banking system to prevent the disaster from destabilizing markets.
It is also expected to signal its readiness to ease monetary policy further if the damage threatens a fragile economic recovery.
Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said authorities were closely watching the yen after the currency initially rallied on expectations of repatriations by insurers and others. The currency later reversed course in volatile trading.
The earthquake was the fifth most powerful to hit the world in the past century. It surpassed the Great Kanto quake of September 1, 1923, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area.
The 1995 Kobe quake killed 6,000 and caused $100 billion in damage, the most expensive natural disaster in history. Economic damage from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was estimated at about $10 billion.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bill Gates's philanthropy costs him richest-man title

Bill Gates didn't lose his title as the world's richest man last year; he gave it away by plowing billions into his charitable foundation, experts say.
Forbes will release its 2011 billionaires list on Wednesday and Gates, investor Warren Buffett and last year's richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, will almost certainly be in the top three. The trio have topped the list for the past five years.
But it would be no contest if Microsoft co-founder Gates had not already given away more than a third of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on global health and development and U.S. education.
"It wouldn't be a competition," said David Lincoln, director of global valuations at wealth research firm Wealth-X. " would have a comfortable margin if he had never discovered philanthropy."
Lincoln said Gates was currently worth about $49 billion, behind Slim, whose fortune he estimated at $60 billion. Buffett, also a philanthropist, is now worth some $47 billion.
But had Gates not given away any money, he would be worth $88 billion, Lincoln said.
Gates and his wife Melinda have so far given $28 billion to their foundation, the largest in the United States.
Forbes' 2010 billionaires list put Gates' fortune at $53 billion, but he was knocked into second spot by Slim's $53.5 billion, losing the crown for only the second time since 1995.
Slim has said businessmen do more good by creating jobs and wealth through investment, "not by being Santa Claus," and while he has still pledged several billion dollars to charity, his efforts have been a fraction of Gates's philanthropy.
Buffett, who Forbes ranked as the third richest man in the world last year with $47 billion, has also pledged almost all of his fortune to the Gates Foundation and has given $8 billion to the organization since 2006.
But Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc has fared better than Gates's Microsoft. Microsoft shares now trade about where they were a decade ago, while Berkshire shares have roughly doubled. Since the end of 2009, Microsoft shares have fallen 16 percent, while Berkshire shares are up 29 percent. Slim's major companies, which include Mexico's former state telecoms monopoly Telmex, have also seen gains in their stock prices.
"DRAMATIC" PHILANTHROPIC INFLUENCE
Gates and Buffett have joined forces to encourage other billionaires to publicly pledge to give away at least 50 percent of their wealth during their lifetimes or upon their death as part of a campaign called The Giving Pledge.
Glen Macdonald, president of the Wealth and Giving Forum, said Gates's philanthropy had influenced the way other rich people in the United States approach their own philanthropy.
"Encouraging people and leading by example -- there's no question that's going to have influence on people's giving patterns," said Macdonald. "They are going to give sooner and they are going to give in greater amounts."
But Macdonald, whose group has advised 600 wealthy U.S. families on their philanthropy, disagrees with the public nature of The Giving Pledge, which requires billionaires to release a letter explaining their intentions.
So far 59 billionaires have joined The Giving Pledge, publishing their letter at www.givingpledge.org. The campaign does not accept any money nor tell people how to give away their wealth, it just asks for a moral commitment.
Paul Schervish, director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, said Gates' influence had been "dramatic" and likened philanthropy to a gem, saying Gates was "changing the facets by learning and teaching others."
"He would be the first to admit that he is not the origin of the movement, of all the ideas in the movement, for which he is a leader," Schervish said.
"One of the things we're dramatically finding is people beginning foundations and endowing them at higher levels while they are still alive," he said.