PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet 59/2003 - 22 August 2003
------------------------------

* Yes, I'm back from glorious and refreshing summer holidays. Hope you all had a nice break too!
  --Benny Peiser


"As the search [for NEOs] expands, at least one group is recommending a practice deflection. The B612 Foundation, which takes its name from the asteroid in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, is designing a mission to alter an asteroid's orbit using a low-thrust, possibly nuclear-electric spacecraft. The Houston-based organization, a group of scientists and astronauts that includes space station crewmember Ed Lu, won't be able to fund the mission on its own, so B612 plans to present the plan to NASA and other space agencies, and push for a test by 2015. Clark Chapman of B612 won't name an exact price for the mission, but he estimates it will fall somewhere between the cost of a typical interplanetary probe mission and NASA's several-billion-dollar Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter project."
     --Gregory Mone, Popular Science, September 2003


"Over 200,000 objects in space that could be described as space garbage are in near Earth orbits. Asteroids are also dangerous. A network of telescopes and radars needs to be created to monitor and tackle these problems. The equipment available in Europe is not sufficient. Therefore a new project involving Europe's means of surveillance and the optical facilities and radars of former Soviet republics has been launched."
     --Igor Molotov, Russian Academy of Sciences, --Interfax News Agency, 17 August 2003


(1) INCOMING: PLANNING THE NEXT STEPS OF THE SPACEGUARD PROJECT
    Popular Science, September 2003

(2) WORLD'S LARGEST ROBOTIC TELESCOPE READY TO TRACK NEAS
    NEO Information Centre, 18 August 2003

(3) RUSSIAN RESEARCHERS PROPOSE TRANS-EUROPEAN SPACEGUARD AND SPACE GARBAGE PROJECT
    Interfax News Agency, 17 August 2003

(4) BOILING SEAS LINKED TO MASS EXTINCTION (AND BIBLICAL FLOOD)
    Nature Science Update, 22 August 2003

(5) DEFENSES DOWN, GALACTIC DUST STORM HITS SOALR SYSTEM
    Space.com, 14 August 2003

(6) TSUNAMIS: THE NEXT BIG WAVE
    The Economist, 14 August 2003

(7) CONFRONTING CATASTROPHE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
    Erhan Altunel <ealtunel@ogu.edu.tr>

(8) "... OTHERS, SUCH AS OUR SUN, ARE METEL-RICH, OFTEN CONTIANING AN IRON CORE."
    Oliver Manuel <oess@umr.edu>

(9) SUPERLAKES, MEGAFLOODS AND ABRUPT CLIMATE CHANGE
    Michael Paine <mpaine@tpg.com.au>

(10) CATASTROPHES IN EARTH HISTORY
     Rolf Sinclair <rolf@santafe.edu>

================
(1) INCOMING: PLANNING THE NEXT STEPS OF THE SPACEGUARD PROJECT

Popular Science, September 2003
http://www.popsci.com/popsci/aviation/article/0,12543,473545-1,00.html

Its name is 1950DA, it's the size of a small mountain, and it's headed for Earth. According to one grim scenario, 1950DA will hit its target-most likely water, since there is more water than land on our planet-and plunge to the seabed in a fraction of a second. When the asteroid meets the ocean floor, it will explode, excavating a crater 11 miles wide. A column of water and debris will shoot a few miles into the sky-to the height of a low-flying jetliner. Then skyscraper-high walls of water will head for shore, eventually breaking in the shallows and flooding the coast. The rest you know, if you saw the weepy 1998 asteroid movie Deep Impact.

Worse things may already have happened: One theory credits an 11-kilometer-wide asteroid with roasting dinosaurs alive 65 million years ago. The enormous impact sent debris flying back into space-some of it halfway to the Moon. When the asteroid bits reentered the atmosphere, the heat that was generated flash-baked plant and animal life. (Had that not happened, mind you, we probably wouldn't be here today.) 1950DA is minuscule by comparison, though even a still smaller asteroid could take out an entire city with a direct hit. And make no mistake, there are plenty of space rocks out there; one missed Earth by only 75,000 miles in June 2002-and wasn't spotted until after it had whizzed by.

Now for the good news. First, 1950DA is 877 years away and a 300-to-1 long shot for actually striking the planet and doing the damage in the scenario above, which is part of a simulation recently created by planetary scientists Steven Ward and Erik Asphaug of the University of California, Santa Cruz. And although there are more 1950DAs out there-maybe bigger, maybe due to arrive much sooner-the search for potential killer asteroids is at least under way, though sorely underfunded. Furthermore, a small band of scientists, many of them fueled more by passion than by actual government grants, is working on novel methods to deal with asteroids before they get too close to be diverted or destroyed. (The time spans involved give a new definition to advance thinking: As the foldout on the previous pages shows, some diversion operations would require centuries to work.)

NASA is more than halfway through a search for asteroids and comets that come within striking distance of Earth-called "near Earth objects," or NEOs-and are wider than a kilometer. Experts calculate that the chance of an object that size hitting Earth in the next century is only one in several thousand, but the result would be global havoc.

After astronomers spot an asteroid in their telescopes, they use radar tracking to get a more precise picture of where it's headed, how fast it's moving, and whether its orbit around the Sun will intersect with Earth's orbit. Before 1950DA's predicted encounter with Earth in 2880, the asteroid will swing around the Sun almost 400 times, while Earth will complete 876 orbits.

Of the 600-plus large NEOs tracked thus far, only 1950DA poses any threat at all. But at this stage of the search, there are an estimated 400 potential global killers left to find, not to mention over a million hard-to-spot smaller asteroids capable of regional destruction. (A rock that exploded over Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908 leveled a thousand square miles of remote forest; it was a mere 60 meters wide.) Making the tallying work more tricky are a few long-period comets, which only swing by every few hundred years and are much more difficult to track.

The search is only the beginning, and as Jay Melosh, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona points out, "The question is, If we find one with our name on it, can we do anything?"

NASA's search effort receives a paltry $3 million per year, just a fraction of the $25 million that NASA earmarked last year to fix the doors on the Kennedy Space Center's vehicle-assembly building. "I'd like to see more money spent," says David Morrison of NASA's Ames Research Center. But as yet, there's no official program either to build or to test asteroid-deflection technologies. If Earth gets whacked by a significant asteroid within the next few centuries, survivors might find themselves marveling that their ancestors, with tools in hand, did little to prevent a cataclysm.

The asteroid interception and diversion experts are mostly hobbyists-planetary scientists, astronomers and engineers who think up these strategies on their own time. But the ideas are plentiful: As our gatefold shows, the path from detection to mitigation could include low-thrust engines, solar sails, standoff nuclear explosions and more.

Melosh, for example, has been focusing on the use of solar collectors, which could concentrate sunlight on an asteroid, vaporizing enough material to gradually nudge the rock off course. Until recently, this idea amounted to little more than a series of conceptual sketches bolstered by calculations. Then Melosh learned of L'Garde, a California company that makes smaller versions of the exact collectors he needs. With a few adjustments, he says, his strategy could be put to work tomorrow.

It would take years for sunlight to redirect an asteroid, however, so advance notice is absolutely critical. Ditto for tactics that would involve painting an incoming asteroid or covering its surface with white glass beads-both approaches would make the asteroid more reflective, increasing the tiny reaction forces produced when sunlight is radiated back into space. Over several centuries, the cumulative effect of these slight forces would alter the asteroid's velocity and cause a miss. "You let the Sun do the work," says Jon Giorgini of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), one of the scientists who projected 1950DA's orbit out to 2880.

"The key," says Donald Yeomans, who heads the NEO Program Office at JPL, "is you've got to find them early. If they're on an approach trajectory and you've [only] got a few months, there's not much you can do."

Given ample time, an effective defense strategy might require that a probe be launched to study the structure of the incoming body. Not all asteroids are the solid objects familiar from museum meteorite displays. Some are porous, others are collections of rubble loosely held together by gravity. Exploding a nuclear bomb nearby might nudge a dense asteroid off track, but it could break a brittle one into pieces, effectively multiplying the threat by creating smaller but still lethal rocks.

Each threat, in other words, requires an adjustment of strategy. "You need to find out [the asteroid's] density, find out its mass, its porosity, its composition, because all these things are important if you want to effect some kind of mitigation or deflection," says Yeomans. One approach uses so-called kinetic kill vehicles-numerous small spacecraft placed in an asteroid's path. Hit by hit, they slow it down enough that Earth will pass through the projected collision point before the asteroid does.

Also possible is a dock-and-push approach, in which a spacecraft parks on the asteroid's surface, fires its thrusters, and alters the trajectory. Robert Gold of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University says the probe he designed for NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission-the first to land on an asteroid-could divert a hundred-meter-wide object, which is large enough to wipe out the Washington Beltway. "If you found [the asteroid] 30 years in advance, that little 6-foot by 6-foot spacecraft could provide enough impulse to make it miss Earth," he says.

Still, as Yeomans warns, none of this will work without advance notice. Currently, NASA expects to find only about 90 percent of the NEOs large enough to cause global catastrophes. The remaining 10 percent are too dark for today's telescopes, or too difficult to distinguish from the many asteroids that orbit harmlessly in the solar system's main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Andrea Milani, of the Space Mechanics group at the University of Pisa in Italy, wants to find the hidden large NEOs and extend the survey down to objects as small as 300 meters across. Both goals require a new generation of ground-based telescopes capable of detecting fainter objects, and possibly space-based observatories to peer into obscure areas of the solar system. The ground-based, 8.4-meter Large-aperture Synoptic Survey Telescope is one possibility, but its $120 million price is the equivalent of 40 years of the current search budget.

As the search expands, at least one group is recommending a practice deflection. The B612 Foundation, which takes its name from the asteroid in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, is designing a mission to alter an asteroid's orbit using a low-thrust, possibly nuclear-electric spacecraft. The Houston-based organization, a group of scientists and astronauts that includes space station crewmember Ed Lu, won't be able to fund the mission on its own, so B612 plans to present the plan to NASA and other space agencies, and push for a test by 2015. Clark Chapman of B612 won't name an exact price for the mission, but he estimates it will fall somewhere between the cost of a typical interplanetary probe mission and NASA's several-billion-dollar Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter project.

Morrison applauds the civilian effort, but also calls for more from NASA. "We need an actual program, even if it's a modest beginning, to demonstrate that we can do some of this," he says. Morrison doubts that any concerted effort will be made until a specific threat is discovered-something like 1950DA but closer to home. In the meantime, he and fellow asteroid spotters will keep at it.

"It's one of the few areas where astronomy can actually have a practical impact on us, on Earth," he says. "Saving the world, that's not such a bad idea."

Gregory Mone, a PopSci assistant editor, is the author of The Wages of Genius.

Copyright 2003, Popular Science

===============
(2) WORLD'S LARGEST ROBOTIC TELESCOPE READY TO TRACK NEAS

NEO Information Centre, 18 August 2003
http://www.nearearthobjects.co.uk/news_display.cfm?code=news_intro&itemID=195
 
The telescope designed, constructed and commissioned by Telescope Technologies Ltd., a subsidiary company of [Liverpool John Moores University], observes autonomously from its site on La Palma in the Canary Islands. The Liverpool Telescope's unique capabilities of flexible scheduling and rapid response will put the UK at the forefront of exciting new fields of research in time dependant astrophysics. "This enables us to study such phenomena as supernovae and Gamma Ray Bursts, the biggest explosions in space," said Professor David Carter of the ARI.

The telescope's other great strength is its ability to make regular observations of objects that vary over periods from seconds to years. With current astronomical facilities this is very difficult, whereas the new telescope will track newly discovered objects such as comets or Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), allowing accurate calculations of their paths and potential hazards.

The telescope is supported by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), making 40% of the observing time available to astronomers throughout the UK. A further 5% of the time has been donated by JMU to the National Schools' Observatory (NSO) programme. "School children can now work on their own projects alongside professional astronomers," said Dr. Andy Newsam (NSO astronomer). This is the first time regular access has been granted to schools for world-class research telescopes.

The telescope is sited at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos which is operated on the island of La Palma by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias.

More info: The Liverpool Telescope  http://telescope.livjm.ac.uk/

=============
(3) RUSSIAN RESEARCHERS PROPOSE TRANS-EUROPEAN SPACEGUARD AND SPACE GARBAGE PROJECT

Interfax News Agency, 17 August 2003

MOSCOW. Aug 17 (Interfax) - Russian researchers have proposed establishing a Trans-European monitoring system to prevent satellite collisions with asteroids and space garbage.

"Over 200,000 objects in space that could be described as space garbage are in near Earth orbits. Asteroids are also dangerous. A network of telescopes and radars needs to be created to monitor and tackle these problems," Igor Molotov, an expert form the Russian Academy of Sciences' Pulkovo Observatory, has told Interfax.

"The equipment available in Europe is not sufficient. Therefore a new project involving Europe's means of surveillance and the optical facilities and radars of former Soviet republics has been launched," he said.

"The new system will be able to warn of small pieces of space garbage and monitor them round-the-clock in any weather. There are telescopes and radars located from Spain to the Far East, covering several time zones," Molotov said.

"The system will be capable of finding new asteroids and measuring their orbits and determining their physical properties, which will help make long-term forecasts on dangerous space collisions and evaluate the consequences of possible impacts," he said.

Copyright 2003 Interfax News Agency.

=============
(4) BOILING SEAS LINKED TO MASS EXTINCTION (AND BIBLICAL FLOOD)
 
Nature Science Update, 22 August 2003
http://www.nature.com/nsu/030818/030818-16.html
 
Methane belches may have catastrophic consequences.
 
TOM CLARKE
 
A massive methane explosion frothing out of the world's oceans 250 million years ago caused the Earth's worst mass extinction, claims a US geologist.
 
Similar, smaller-scale events could have happened since, which might explain the Biblical flood, for example, suggests Gregory Ryskin of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois1. And they could happen again: "It's a very conjectural idea but it's too important to ignore," says Ryskin.
 
Up to 95% of Earth's marine species disapeared at the end of the Permian period. Some 70% of land species, including plants, insects and vertebrates, also perished. "It's arguably the single most important event in biology but there's no consensus as to what happened," says palaeontologist Andrew Knoll of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massacheusetts.
 
Ryskin contends that methane from bacterial decay or from frozen methane hydrates in deep oceans began to be released. Under the enormous pressure from water above, the gas dissolved in the water at the bottom of the ocean and was trapped there as its concentration grew.
 
Just one disturbance - a small meteorite impact or even a fast moving mammal - could then have brought the gas-saturated water closer to the surface. Here it would have bubbled out of solution under the reduced pressure. Thereafter the process would have been unstoppable: a huge overturning of the water layers would have released a vast belch of methane.
 
The oceans could easily have contained enough methane to explode with a force about 10,000 times greater than the world's entire nuclear-weapons stockpile, Ryskin argues. "There would be mortality on a massive scale," he says.

"It's a wacky idea," says geologist Paul Wignall of the University of Leeds, UK, "but not so wild that it shouldn't be taken seriously." There is evidence that the oceans stagnated at the end of the Permian period. And the chemical signature in fossils of the time hints there was a massive change in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide would have been produced as methane broke down or exploded in the atmosphere.
 
After all, belches of trapped methane from lakes and oceans are "a rare but well-known maritime hazard", Wignall adds.
 
Flood warning
 
The same phenomenon could explain more recent events, such as the Biblical flood, Ryskin also argues. An eruption from Europe's stagnant Black Sea would fit the bill. There is even some geological evidence that such an event took place 7,000-8,000 years ago.
 
Other sluggish seas might still be accumulating methane at their depths and could represent a future hazard, Ryskin adds. "Even if there's only a small probability that I am right, we should start looking for areas of the ocean where this might be happening," he argues.
 
References
1. Ryskin, G. Methane driven oceanic eruptions and mass extinctions. Geology, 31, 737 - 740, (2003).
 
(c) Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2003
 
=============
(5) DEFENSES DOWN, GALACTIC DUST STORM HITS SOALR SYSTEM

Space.com, 14 August 2003
http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/dust_storm_030814.html

By Robert Roy Britt

Our solar system's natural defenses are down and a vigorous cosmic dust storm is blowing through, according to a new study. The forecast calls for a prolonged and increasing blizzard of small interstellar bits.

While no serious consequences are expected, the extra dust could slightly alter our night sky and might pose an increased risk to spacecraft, which are vulnerable to high-speed impacts from the tiny particles.

The whole scenario is also a vivid reminder that there is no such thing as empty space.

The number of incoming particles recently tripled and the pace is expected to grow over the next decade. Terrestrial weather and climate will not likely be affected, but more shooting stars could grace the night sky, said the study's leader, Markus Landgraf of the European Space Agency (ESA). 

The fresh influx is related to a periodic weakening of the Sun's magnetic field.

The discovery was made using data from ESA's Ulysses spacecraft, which orbits the Sun on a noncircular path between Earth and Jupiter and his been monitoring the situation since 1992. The probe detects small particles and, based on direction, mass and speed, figures out which ones came from outside the solar system.

Threefold increase

The number of interstellar dust grains increased from four per day, per meter in 1997 to 12 per day in 2000, Landgraf said. The results were announced earlier this month. He expects the rate to stay constant until 2005, and then increase by another factor of 3 prior to 2013.

The potential effects are not well known, according to Landgraf and his colleagues at the Max-Planck-Institute.

"Generally interstellar dust is not considered a problem, as it does not penetrate typical spacecraft structures," Landgraf explained in an e-mail interview. "However, due to the high impact velocity, sensitive high-voltage instruments can suffer a short circuit after an exceptionally big impact. Also, sensitive optical instruments have to worry about the erosion of polished surfaces."

Most interstellar grains are just one-hundredth the diameter of a human hair. But they move fast, roughly 58,160 mph (26 kilometers per second) relative to the Sun.

Secondary effects

Any notable effects on Earth will likely involve secondary processes. When interstellar dust hits comets and asteroids, it's like shooting a tiny bullet at a rock, and more dust is kicked up, and the follow-on dust tends to be bigger.

More interstellar dust means more dust generated in-house.

"This has a number of potential effects," Landgraf said, cautioning that they haven't been observed yet, however.

One possibility is an increased number of sporadic meteors, those not associated with known showers like the summer Perseids or the November Leonids. Meteors are created when something vaporizes in Earth's atmosphere. Space rocks as big as peas and baseballs crash through now and then, but most shooting stars are made of mere dust.

It's also possible, Landgraf said, that the eerie Zodiacal Light -- a "false dawn" caused by sunlight reflecting off space dust -- will be enhanced.

And in general, more material might rain down to Earth from space every year.

Astronomers armed with huge telescopes will be interested to see if increased secondary dust brightens the Kuiper Belt, a region of frozen rocks and dust beyond Neptune. "With the brighter dust, especially infrared space telescopes will have a harder time to see faint objects behind the dust," Landgraf said.

Among other tasks, infrared telescopes on the ground and in space are used to study dust around other stars.

More to come

The solar system is always plowing through interstellar material. The Sun's giant magnetic field thwarts much of the dust from entering the solar system. But the magnetic field weakens periodically, on a cycle that lasts roughly 22-years. The cycle is related to an 11-year cycle of sunspot activity.

This is the first of the related dust storms that has been seriously monitored by a spacecraft.

Some day, the influx could get worse. The solar system is plowing toward the fringes of a galactic cloud known as the G-cloud.

"The time of the entry into the G-cloud is unknown, but is expected to occur any time in the next 10,000 years," Landgraf said. "There will be a constant increase [in dust rates], because the G-cloud is more dense than the local interstellar cloud that is now surrounding our Sun."

The study will be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Copyright 2003, Space.com

=============
(6) TSUNAMIS: THE NEXT BIG WAVE

The Economist, 14 August 2003
http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=1989485

New ways of tracking these killer waves may help save lives

FOR many inhabitants of the Pacific coast, powerful waves caused by earthquakes or underwater landslides-generally known by their Japanese name, tsunamis-are an ominous threat. When a wave 15 metres (50 feet) high pounded the northern shores of Papua New Guinea in July 1998, the inhabitants were taken by surprise. This tsunami killed more than 2,200 villagers, making it one of the most destructive in recent years. But it was just one of a string of killer waves that have struck the western Pacific over the past few years. Since 1990, ten big tsunamis have claimed more than 4,000 lives. So it would be nice to be able to detect such tsunamis far enough in advance for people to be evacuated. But that is not easy.

Seismometers and coastal tidal gauges-instruments already deployed for other purposes-can provide some warning. Seismometers measure earthquakes that might cause tsunamis, but they cannot detect the waves themselves. Nor can they normally detect landslides triggered by earthquakes, since the energy released in a landslide is small compared with that released by an earthquake. Yet landslides are often the cause of the most destructive tsunamis. (The New Guinea tsunami mentioned above is believed to have been amplified in this way.) The result is error on the side of caution: since the 1950s, 75% of tsunami warnings that led to evacuations have turned out to be false alarms. Such evacuations are not cost-free. A false alarm that triggered the evacuation of Honolulu, in May 1986, resulted in losses of more than $30m.

The environment

The NOAA's Tsunami Research Programme is developing detection systems. Teruyuki Kato is researching tsunamis at the Earthquake Research Institute in Tokyo. Emile Okal is doing likewise at Northwestern University.

Tidal gauges, by contrast, can spot tsunamis reliably from their effect on the sea level, at least when they are close to shore. But since a tsunami may travel at more than 700kph (450mph), that does not give much warning. Tidal gauges cannot measure tsunamis in the deep ocean.

Waving, not drowning

What is needed are specific detectors that take advantage of the fact that tsunamis are felt throughout the ocean's depths, unlike wind-generated waves, which affect only its surface. One approach is to put pressure detectors on the seabed. When a tsunami passes by, the detector records the increased pressure caused by its passage.

Japan was the first country to deploy such detectors. It now has 14 of them. But they are connected to the mainland by submarine cables. That means, in practice, that they can be deployed only some 50km from land, which is better than tidal gauges, but not ideal. The network can give local warnings. But the only way to be sure whether a dangerous wave is headed towards a distant coastline is to track it across the open ocean.

America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hopes to do just that. Its "tsunameters", as they are dubbed by Eddie Bernard, the director of the agency's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, have cut the umbilical cord with the land. Instead, they transmit warnings to buoys on the surface, and these, in turn, relay the information to NOAA via satellite. Besides allowing the detectors to be deployed almost anywhere, this system is cheaper than using cables. Each detector costs about $200,000 to set up. The Japanese versions cost more than $5m each.

According to Frank Gonzalez, who heads NOAA's tsunami research programme, five tsunameters have been deployed in the North Pacific and one in the South Pacific, with the actual detectors located at depths of up to 4km. A seventh will be set up near Chile in November this year, to intercept tsunamis generated off South America. Although the system has yet to detect a big tsunami (none has occurred since it began operations), it has successfully identified small ones.

The Japanese, meanwhile, are trying an alternative approach to the job of cutting the cable. A group of researchers at Tokyo University's Earthquake Research Institute are developing a warning system that relies on global positioning system (GPS) navigation satellites to monitor the motion of buoys moored in the open ocean. By placing GPS antennae on shore and on the buoys, the researchers are able to compare a buoy's "altitude" with that of a stable location on land. According to Teruyuki Kato, the project's leader, this arrangement can measure a buoy's vertical motion with an accuracy of a few centimetres, which will pick up dangerous tsunamis in the open ocean where they are mere ripples on the surface (they rear up into killer waves only when they reach the shallows). Dr Kato's team has already tested the system successfully in the sea off Ofunato, in the east of the country, and a new system will be placed off Muroto promontory, in the west, early next year.

Another line of research that holds promise is the analysis of a type of sound wave known as a T-phase wave. Rocks rumbling downhill produce T-phase waves that are carried by the ocean to both nearby and distant coastlines. Emile Okal of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois has observed that T-phase waves produced by landslides can be heard by hydrophones (underwater microphones) of the sort used to detect submarines. Dr Okal has used this technology to identify tsunamis caused by landslides (ie, the sort most likely to be dangerous, and thus require evacuations to be organised). He has also been able to process seismograms and identify differences between the seismic signals from earthquakes that produce tsunamis directly and those that trigger tsunami-producing landslides.

Merely detecting tsunamis, though, is not enough. Tsunamis must be classified to predict the level of danger. One way of doing that is by computer modelling. Models developed by Vasily Titov, at NOAA, and Costas Synolakis, at the University of Southern California, can predict the size and shape of the waves that will be generated by a particular tsunami, as well as the resulting coastal inundation. Knowing how far inland a tsunami will penetrate should help the authorities to evacuate the right areas.

Technology, though, can do only so much. The best protection, according to Dr Synolakis, is common sense. Coastal dwellers must be able to recognise the signs of a possible tsunami-such as strong, prolonged ground shaking-and seek higher ground at once. As with any hazard, the more informed the public are, the better their chances of survival. For instance, after the Papua New Guinea tsunami, an international team was dispatched to Vanuatu, a group of islands in the Pacific, where they showed videos of tsunamis to the villagers. When a tsunami struck Vanuatu in 1999, only five people died in it. The message is clear enough. There is no way to stop a tsunami once set in motion, but there is certainly a way to avoid getting killed by one. Run like hell.

Copyright © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2003.

============
(7) CONFRONTING CATASTROPHE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD

ANCIEN-L@LISTSERV.LOUISVILLE.EDU

Dear Colleagues,

We wish to draw your attention to the following scientific workshop that will be held at Osmangazi University, Eskesehir, in western Turkey, on 20-22 June 2004.

CONFRONTING CATASTROPHE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD

Human development over the last 11,500 years (the Holocene) is set against an environmental backdrop of climatic and geological instability. The natural actions of sudden and dramatic climatic shifts and of extreme geophysical events ensure that nature in the ancient world was in flux, not balance. But what are the cultural resonances of rapid environmental change? How did past human communities adapt to and recover from a constantly moving and frequently harmful natural world? And, most critically, how can we disentangle the cultural consequences of natural change from those of human action?

This 3-day workshop seeks to bring together an interdisciplinary forum of geologists, archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, climate scientists, and ecologists to critically examine human responses to past rapid environmental change. The convenors encourage submission of
research presentations that are seeking to elucidate the cultural history of major environmental downturns or reconstruct the environmental history of dramatic cultural transitions. Contributions with an emphasis on establishing high-resolution chronologies of cultural and environmental change are particularly welcome.

Abstract deadline: 15 January 2004

The workshop is the joint initiative of two current international research projects: (1) International Council for Science (ICSU) - 'Dark Nature - Rapid Natural Change And Human Responses', and (2) International Geological Correlation Programme Project 490 - 'The Role Of Holocene Environmental Catastrophes In Human History'.

An associated fieldtrip around key cultural and geological sites in western Turkey will take place immediately following the workshop (24-30 June 2004).

A first circular with further details of the scientific programme, the fieldtrip and the local and international scientific committee is currently in preparation. However, those interested in participating are encouraged to contact the main lead convenors as early as possible:

Dr Erhan Altunel,
Osmangazi University, Eskesehir,
ealtunel@ogu.edu.tr

Dr Iain Stewart
University of Glasgow,
Glasgow G12 8QQ,
UK.
E-mail: istewart@geog.gla.ac.uk

=========== LETTERS ==============

(8) "... OTHERS, SUCH AS OUR SUN, ARE METEL-RICH, OFTEN CONTIANING AN IRON CORE."

Oliver Manuel <oess@umr.edu>

Dear Benny,

The above quote from Tom Clarke's report on the International Astronomical Union meeting in Sydney, Australia illustrates how opinions are changing in the astronomical community.

Twenty years ago Meteoritics 18, 209-222 (1983) showed the Sun is iron-rich. Subsequent measurements confirmed this [See "Why the model of a hydrogen-filled Sun is obsolete" in Meteoritics & Planetary Sci. 37, A92 (2002)].

The Sun consists mostly of the same elements Harkins reported in 1917 to comprise 99% of ordinary meteorites: Fe, O, Ni, Si, S, Mg and Ca [J. Am. Chem. Soc. 39, 856-879].  They have even atomic numbers and high nuclear stability.

This is important to the scientific community because:

   a) Over 99% of the mass of the solar system is in the Sun, and

   b) The Sun serves as a model for other stars in the cosmos.

With kind regards,

Oliver
Professor of Nuclear Chemistry
University of Missouri
Rolla, MO  65401  USA
Phone: 573-341-4420 or -4344
Fax: 573-341-6033
E-mail: oess@umr.edu or om@umr.edu
http://www.umr.edu/~om/
http://www.ballofiron.com

=============
(9) SUPERLAKES, MEGAFLOODS AND ABRUPT CLIMATE CHANGE

Michael Paine <mpaine@tpg.com.au>

Dear Benny

Hope you enjoyed your August break. The following is from Science, 301: 922-923
The timing (6200 BC) is interesting!
Mike

Superlakes, Megafloods, and Abrupt Climate Change
Garry Clarke, David Leverington, James Teller, Arthur Dyke

About 8200 years ago, the climate of much of the Northern Hemisphere cooled abruptly for a period of about 200 years. In their Perspective, Clarke et al. examine the most likely culprit for this cooling: an outburst of fresh water from a vast, ice-dammed glacial lake in North America. The superlake had formed when the kilometers-thick ice sheet covering much of North America disintegrated. When the ice dam became unstable, fresh water flooded from the lake into the North Atlantic. It remains unclear how this fresh water affected ocean circulation or whether the outburst occurred in more than one stage, but the timing points strongly to the outburst flood as the trigger of the 8200-year climate event.

G. Clarke is in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada. E-mail: clarke@eos.ubc.ca D. Leverington is at the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560, USA. J. Teller is in the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2, Canada. A. Dyke is in the Terrain Sciences Division, Geological Survey of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E8, Canada.

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(10) CATASTROPHES IN EARTH HISTORY

Rolf Sinclair <rolf@santafe.edu>

Hi Benny --

The readers of CCNet may be interested in the 32nd International Geological Congress (Florence, Italy, August 20-28, 2004). There will be topical symposia on "Catastrophes in Earth History" and "Myth and Geology" (as well as on "Geology and Wine").
Full information at http://www.32igc.org/home.htm and http://www.32igc.org/circular-gen01.htm.

Rolf Sinclair

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