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Several thousand snow geese have died after a snowstorm forced large flocks to take refuge in the acidic, metal-laden waters of an old open pit mine in Montana.
Mark Thompson, environmental affairs manager for mine company Montana Resources, said witnesses described the pit as like “700 acres of white birds” on 28 November.
Along with Atlantic Richfield, Montana Resources is responsible for Berkeley Pit in Butte.
Since 28 November, employees of MR and Arco had used spotlights, noise makers and other efforts to scare or “haze” the birds off the water and prevent others from landing.
The companies estimated that more than 90% of the birds had been chased off by 29 November, Thompson said.
Workers received some advance notice about the incoming flock from an off-duty Montana Resources employee about 25 miles away, who called to report there were about 25,000 geese in the air in Anaconda, Thompson said.
“I can’t underscore enough how many birds were in the Butte area that night,” Thompson said. “Numbers beyond anything we’ve ever experienced in our 21 years of monitoring by several orders of magnitude.”
The employees worked hard to save the birds, he said.
Typically, Butte sees between 2,000 and 5,000 birds all year, including spring and water migration, Thompson said.
The estimated death toll is based on drone and aircraft flights over the pit, which holds about 45bn gallons (175bn litres) of water.
Thompson said federal and state agencies were still confirming the number of dead geese. Nonetheless the company expected the total would be many times more than the 342 that died in 1995, prompting a mitigation effort that seeks to protect birds from the toxic water.
The companies would investigate to try and determine what circumstances led to “this kind of perfect storm”, with thousands of birds making a late migration and then facing a snowstorm at a time that Berkeley Pit had the only open water in the area.
University of Montana Western professor Jack Kirkley, who specializes in ornithology, told the Montana Standard that recent milder winters were not encouraging birds to head south as early and, in some cases, were causing some to stay in places where they had never stayed the winter before.
He noted there were 4m to 6m snow geese on the continent and there were some concerns that the population was too high.
MR and Arco could be fined if the EPA determines the companies were not in compliance with the bird hazing program, but Thompson said he was confident the efforts were adequate.
Courtesy of theguardian.com
At least 250,000 gallons of gasoline have spilled following a pipeline rupture in central Alabama. Emergency responders are working to repair the spill, while Alabama and Georgia have declared a state of emergency due to possible fuel shortages.
The spill, equivalent to 6,000 barrels, took place in a rural area southwest of Helena, Alabama, and was first noticed Friday. A spokesman for Colonial Pipeline said the spill has affected an area about two acres in size, Birmingham’s WBRC-TV reported.
According to local media, the spill is located near Lindsey’s Crossing in Shelby County, about 28 miles southwest of Birmingham.
Over 600 responders have been sent to the area and are working around the clock to locate the leak’s origin and repair the pipeline, Colonial spokesman Bill Berry said. Most of the spill has been contained in water retention ponds, and there is no concern for public safety, the spokesman said.
“It’s not safe for our workers to recover much product off of the pond due to gasoline vapors,” Berry added. “It’s a challenge for us to do much because the vapors are not at safe levels for human health. So that presents a challenge to say how much has been released.”
Environmental Protection Agency personnel at the site said that local residents were not in danger and that the spill was unlikely to contaminate the nearby Cahaba River, which is home to a number of endangered species, AL.com reported.
Federal authorities have imposed a no-fly zone above the affected area, to “protect responders, personnel and public,” and closed a nearby shooting range as a “precaution.” Local authorities are also blocking vehicles from accessing the trails near the leak site.
The 5,500-mile long pipeline runs from Houston, Texas to New York City and normally carries 1.3 million barrels of refined gasoline and other petroleum products a day. It has been shut down since last Friday due to the spill, which may impact the fuel supplies in a number of states.
“Based on current projections and consultations with industry partners, parts of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina will be the first markets to be impacted by any potential disruption in supply,” Colonial Pipeline said in a statement.
Georgia and Alabama have already declared a state of emergency in response to the spill, seeking to keep the gas prices from skyrocketing.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, this is the largest gasoline spill for Colonial Pipeline since the 1996 disaster, when 22,800 barrels spilled into Reedy River near Simpsonville, South Carolina. Between that and six other spills, Colonial was fined $34 million in 2003, the largest civil penalty in EPA history.
Courtesy of rt.com
Explosion of Turrialba today (OVSICORI-UNA webcam)
The activity at the volcano has increased during the past days and ash emissions from the active crater with intermittent stronger explosions have been near-continuous since yesterday.
A more violent phase of explosive activity began this morning at 07:29 local time, producing an ash column that rose about 3000 m above the crater to approx. 20,000 ft (6 km) altitude.
The most energetic phase lasted about 6 minutes and produced pyroclastic flows from collapsing parts of the ash column that affected the central crater and eastern rims.
An ash plume drifted eastwards and caused moderate to light ash falls in up to 60-70 km distance. A strong smell of sulfur was reported by eyewitnesses from various towns including San Rafael and San Francisco (50 km ENE).
Following similarly strong explosions yesterday afternoon (at 15:47, 16:09), the preventive exclusion zone was extended to a radius of 5 km around the crater. The school in the hamlet of La Central at the SW foot of the volcano remained closed.
After the strong explosion of 12 May, the volcano had been relatively calm for several days. In the evening of 17 May, seismic activity increased, first the number of long-period earthquakes and later volcanic tremor became stronger. Weak ash emissions started in the morning of 18 May, and became near-continuous after 11:04. Activity notably increased at 11:48 and a small explosion, which lasted 10 seconds and ejected ballistic blocks towards the crater rim, occurred at 12:56. This first new eruptive phase decreased at 14:30.
A second eruptive phase occurred yesterday morning at 07:27 and lasted approx. 6 minutes, generating pyroclastic flows that traveled to the central crater and the northern rim. Activity, at fluctuating levels, has been continuous since.
According to RSN, the current behavior of Turrialba is “entirely normal” for a volcano that is entering a new eruption. So far, monitoring data suggest that it involves a probably small batch of fresh magma that has risen to shallow depths (about 1 km) beneath the surface. The current explosions are likely the result of interaction of this magma (and its gasses) with the superficial hydrothermal system.
Same eruption closer view (image: RSA webcam)
How the eruption will evolve is unknown, but two scenarios are considered most likely:
1. The activity continues at similar levels and evolves into a state where the conduit is open, allowing rapid degassing and rise of the new magma. This might translate in intermittent to continuous explosions of stronger size than now, producing ash columns up to about 5 km tall, such as were observed during the last historical eruption of the volcano in the 19th century.
This type of activity would likely only severely threaten areas up to 2 km away (ballistic ejecta, pyroclastic density currents). Ash fall is likely to affect mostly areas south and west of the volcano due to the prevailing northerly and easterly wind directions.
2. A second scenario is that the volcano’s activity decreases, if the magma body is not large or gas-rich enough to reach the surface. Activity might gradually calm down and the volcano could fall back to dormant state.
Courtesy of volcanodiscovery.com