Brace Yourselves, New Yorkers, You’re Due for the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

A couple of hundred thousand years ago, an M 7.2 earthquake shook what is now New Hampshire. Just a few thousand years ago, an M 7.5 quake ruptured just off the coast of Massachusetts. And then there’s New York.

Since the first western settlers arrived there, the state has witnessed 200 quakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater, making it the third most seismically active state east of the Mississippi (Tennessee and South Carolina are ranked numbers one and two, respectively). About once a century, New York has also experienced an M 5.0 quake capable of doing real damage.

The most recent one near New York City occurred in August of 1884. Centered off Long Island’s Rockaway Beach, it was felt over 70,000 square miles. It also opened enormous crevices near the Brooklyn reservoir and knocked down chimneys and cracked walls in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Police on the Brooklyn Bridge said it swayed “as if struck by a hurricane” and worried the bridge’s towers would collapse. Meanwhile, residents throughout New York and New Jersey reported sounds that varied from explosions to loud rumblings, sometimes to comic effect. At the funeral of Lewis Ingler, a small group of mourners were watching as the priest began to pray. The quake cracked an enormous mirror behind the casket and knocked off a display of flowers that had been resting on top of it. When it began to shake the casket’s silver handles, the mourners decided the unholy return of Lewis Ingler was more than they could take and began flinging themselves out windows and doors.

Not all stories were so light. Two people died during the quake, both allegedly of fright. Out at sea, the captain of the brig Alice felt a heavy lurch that threw him and his crew, followed by a shaking that lasted nearly a minute. He was certain he had hit a wreck and was taking on water.

A day after the quake, the editors of The New York Times sought to allay readers’ fear. The quake, they said, was an unexpected fluke never to be repeated and not worth anyone’s attention: “History and the researches of scientific men indicate that great seismic disturbances occur only within geographical limits that are now well defined,” they wrote in an editorial. “The northeastern portion of the United States . . . is not within those limits.” The editors then went on to scoff at the histrionics displayed by New York residents when confronted by the quake: “They do not stop to reason or to recall the fact that earthquakes here are harmless phenomena. They only know that the solid earth, to whose immovability they have always turned with confidence when everything else seemed transitory, uncertain, and deceptive, is trembling and in motion, and the tremor ceases long before their disturbed minds become tranquil.”

That’s the kind of thing that drives Columbia’s Heather Savage nuts.

New York, she says, is positively vivisected by faults. Most of them fall into two groups—those running northeast and those running northwest. Combined they create a brittle grid underlying much of Manhattan.

Across town, Charles Merguerian has been studying these faults the old‐fashioned way: by getting down and dirty underground. He’s spent the past forty years sloshing through some of the city’s muckiest places: basements and foundations, sewers and tunnels, sometimes as deep as 750 feet belowground. His tools down there consist primarily of a pair of muck boots, a bright blue hard hat, and a pickax. In public presentations, he claims he is also ably abetted by an assistant hamster named Hammie, who maintains his own website, which includes, among other things, photos of the rodent taking down Godzilla.

That’s just one example why, if you were going to cast a sitcom starring two geophysicists, you’d want Savage and Merguerian to play the leading roles. Merguerian is as eccentric and flamboyant as Savage is earnest and understated. In his press materials, the former promises to arrive at lectures “fully clothed.” Photos of his “lab” depict a dingy porta‐john in an abandoned subway tunnel. He actively maintains an archive of vintage Chinese fireworks labels at least as extensive as his list of publications, and his professional website includes a discography of blues tunes particularly suitable for earthquakes. He calls female science writers “sweetheart” and somehow manages to do so in a way that kind of makes them like it (although they remain nevertheless somewhat embarrassed to admit it).

It’s Merguerian’s boots‐on‐the‐ground approach that has provided much of the information we need to understand just what’s going on underneath Gotham. By his count, Merguerian has walked the entire island of Manhattan: every street, every alley. He’s been in most of the tunnels there, too. His favorite one by far is the newest water tunnel in western Queens. Over the course of 150 days, Merguerian mapped all five miles of it. And that mapping has done much to inform what we know about seismicity in New York.

Most importantly, he says, it provided the first definitive proof of just how many faults really lie below the surface there. And as the city continues to excavate its subterranean limits, Merguerian is committed to following closely behind. It’s a messy business.

Down below the city, Merguerian encounters muck of every flavor and variety. He power‐washes what he can and relies upon a diver’s halogen flashlight and a digital camera with a very, very good flash to make up the difference. And through this process, Merguerian has found thousands of faults, some of which were big enough to alter the course of the Bronx River after the last ice age.

His is a tricky kind of detective work. The center of a fault is primarily pulverized rock. For these New York faults, that gouge was the very first thing to be swept away by passing glaciers. To do his work, then, he’s primarily looking for what geologists call “offsets”—places where the types of rock don’t line up with one another. That kind of irregularity shows signs of movement over time—clear evidence of a fault.

Merguerian has found a lot of them underneath New York City.

These faults, he says, do a lot to explain the geological history of Manhattan and the surrounding area. They were created millions of years ago, when what is now the East Coast was the site of a violent subduction zone not unlike those present now in the Pacific’s Ring of Fire.

Each time that occurred, the land currently known as the Mid‐Atlantic underwent an accordion effect as it was violently folded into itself again and again. The process created immense mountains that have eroded over time and been further scoured by glaciers. What remains is a hodgepodge of geological conditions ranging from solid bedrock to glacial till to brittle rock still bearing the cracks of the collision. And, says Merguerian, any one of them could cause an earthquake.

You don’t have to follow him belowground to find these fractures. Even with all the development in our most built‐up metropolis, evidence of these faults can be found everywhere—from 42nd Street to Greenwich Village. But if you want the starkest example of all, hop the 1 train at Times Square and head uptown to Harlem. Not far from where the Columbia University bus collects people for the trip to the Lamont‐Doherty Earth Observatory, the subway tracks seem to pop out of the ground onto a trestle bridge before dropping back down to earth. That, however, is just an illusion. What actually happens there is that the ground drops out below the train at the site of one of New York’s largest faults. It’s known by geologists in the region as the Manhattanville or 125th Street Fault, and it runs all the way across the top of Central Park and, eventually, underneath Long Island City. Geologists have known about the fault since 1939, when the city undertook a massive subway mapping project, but it wasn’t until recently that they confirmed its potential for a significant quake.

In our lifetimes, a series of small earthquakes have been recorded on the Manhattanville Fault including, most recently, one on October 27, 2001. Its epicenter was located around 55th and 8th—directly beneath the original Original Soupman restaurant, owned by restaurateur Ali Yeganeh, the inspiration for Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. That fact delighted sitcom fans across the country, though few Manhattanites were in any mood to appreciate it.

The October 2001 quake itself was small—about M 2.6—but the effect on residents there was significant. Just six weeks prior, the city had been rocked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers. The team at Lamont‐Doherty has maintained a seismic network in the region since the ’70s. They registered the collapse of the first tower at M 2.1. Half an hour later, the second tower crumbled with even more force and registered M 2.3. In a city still shocked by that catastrophe, the early‐morning October quake—several times greater than the collapse of either tower—jolted millions of residents awake with both reminders of the tragedy and fear of yet another attack. 9‐1‐1 calls overwhelmed dispatchers and first responders with reports of shaking buildings and questions about safety in the city. For seismologists, though, that little quake was less about foreign threats to our soil and more about the possibility of larger tremors to come.

Remember: The Big Apple has experienced an M 5.0 quake about every hundred years. The last one was that 1884 event. And that, says Merguerian, means the city is overdue. Just how overdue?

“Gee whiz!” He laughs when I pose this question. “That’s the holy grail of seismicity, isn’t it?”

He says all we can do to answer that question is “take the pulse of what’s gone on in recorded history.” To really have an answer, we’d need to have about ten times as much data as we do today. But from what he’s seen, the faults below New York are very much alive.

“These guys are loaded,” he tells me.

He says he is also concerned about new studies of a previously unknown fault zone known as the Ramapo that runs not far from the city. Savage shares his concerns. They both think it’s capable of an M 6.0 quake or even higher—maybe even a 7.0. If and when, though, is really anybody’s guess.

“We literally have no idea what’s happening in our backyard,” says Savage.

What we do know is that these quakes have the potential to do more damage than similar ones out West, mostly because they are occurring on far harder rock capable of propagating waves much farther. And because these quakes occur in places with higher population densities, these eastern events can affect a lot more people. Take the 2011 Virginia quake: Although it was only a moderate one, more Americans felt it than any other one in our nation’s history.

That’s the thing about the East Coast: Its earthquake hazard may be lower than that of the West Coast, but the total effect of any given quake is much higher. Disaster specialists talk about this in terms of risk, and they make sense of it with an equation that multiplies the potential hazard of an event by the cost of damage and the number of people harmed. When you take all of those factors into account, the earthquake risk in New York is much greater than, say, that in Alaska or Hawaii or even a lot of the area around the San Andreas Fault.

Merguerian has been sounding the alarm about earthquake risk in the city since the ’90s. He admits he hasn’t gotten much of a response. He says that when he first proposed the idea of seismic risk in New York City, his fellow scientists “booed and threw vegetables” at him. He volunteered his services to the city’s Office of Emergency Management but says his original offer also fell on deaf ears.

“So I backed away gently and went back to academia.”

Today, he says, the city isn’t much more responsive, but he’s getting a much better response from his peers.

He’s glad for that, he says, but it’s not enough. If anything, the events of 9/11, along with the devastation caused in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, should tell us just how bad it could be there.

He and Savage agree that what makes the risk most troubling is just how little we know about it. When it comes right down to it, intraplate faults are the least understood. Some scientists think they might be caused by mantle flow deep below the earth’s crust. Others think they might be related to gravitational energy. Still others think quakes occurring there might be caused by the force of the Atlantic ridge as it pushes outward. Then again, it could be because the land is springing back after being compressed thousands of years ago by glaciers (a phenomenon geologists refer to as seismic rebound).

“We just have no consciousness towards earthquakes in the eastern United States,” says Merguerian. “And that’s a big mistake.”

Adapted from Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake by Kathryn Miles, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Kathryn Miles. Thanks

Iran on Brink of Nuclear Threshold (Daniel 8:4)

Hassan Iran news

Iran warning: Tehran on brink of nuclear weapon power as MP demands MAJOR sanctions (Image: Getty)

“This is a flagrant violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.

“This puts Iran well within reach of the amount needed to produce a nuclear weapon.“Does the Minister share my concern that further steps must be urgently taken to stop Iran’s aggression?

Iran News coronavirus

In addition to these tensions with the West, Iran has had to deal with the deadly coronavirus. (Image: Getty)

“This includes the reimposition of major sanctions.”

Ms Murray’s complaints come after a US airstrike against an Iranian-backed group in the Middle East.

It was in response to a believed Iranian supported militia rocket attack that killed two American service members and one British soldier at a military base Wednesday last week.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper addressed this in a speech at the Pentagon late last week.


He said: “Yesterday’s attack by Iranian backed Shia militia groups consisted of multiple indirect fires that originated from a stationary platform and was clearly targetting coalition and partner forces on Camp Taji.”

Tension in Iraq has resulted in multiple rocket attacks over the past few weeks, however, the attack on Wednesday was the first to cause the death of a US soldier since December.

Wednesday’s attack in Iraq killed three soldiers and wounded a further 12 military personnel.

Iran news coronavirus

Iran has the third most cases across the globe with over 16,000 and has struggled to contain the deadly disease from spreading further. (Image: Getty)

Hostility between the US and Iran has been high over the last few months, most notably after the killing of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani.

In addition to these tensions with the West, Iran has had to deal with the deadly coronavirus.

At the time of writing China has reported over 80,000 coronavirus cases and had over 7,800 deaths.

Iran has the third most cases across the globe with over 16,000 and has struggled to contain the deadly disease from spreading further.

The French Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Does France Have Nuclear Weapons?

France refuses to acknowledge the exact number of nuclear weapons the country has.

France was among the pioneers of nuclear weapons technology. Currently, France refuses to acknowledge the number of nuclear weapons she has but the international community believes France has the third-largest nuclear weapons stockpile globally, approximately 300 of which are in deployment. This number begs the question, “why does France have such a high number of nuclear weapons?” International relations are volatile. Today’s allies may be tomorrow’s enemies and France knows this fact too well from as early as World War I. Apart from the French nuclear weapon programme, the country also has a massive peaceful nuclear programme and generates among the world’s largest quantities of nuclear power.

Force de Frappe

In the late 1950s and 1960s, France initiated Force de frappe (Strike Force). This force was to enable the country to operate independently without the help of NATO using nuclear deterrence on future superior enemies. Force de frappe used sea, air, and land-based nuclear weapons for deterrence. To date, France Nuclear Force, a section of the French Military, remains the third-largest nuclear force in the world after the US and Russia.

Testing In Algerian Sahara

France did 210 nuclear tests between 1960 and 1995 within its territory and overseas territories. Between 1960 and 1966, the country conducted seventeen tests in the then French Algeria within the Sahara Desert. Thirteen of these tests were underground. Apart from geographic location, they choose Algeria because of the Algerian War that was ongoing. The Centre Saharien d’Expérimentations Militaires ((C.S.E.M) Saharan Military Experiments Centre), Centre Interarmées d’Essais d’Engins Spéciaux ((CIEES) Joint Special Vehicle Testing Center), and Centre d’Expérimentations Militaires des Oasis (C.E.M.O) conducted the tests under different code names like Gerboise Bleue (“Blue jerboa”) and Gerboise Rouge.

Testing In French Polynesia

France also conducted 193 tests in French Polynesia in the South Pacific Ocean from 1966 to 1996. Initially, the military did not favor French Polynesia because of its distance from France and its lack of a large airport. However, after Algeria gained independence, the rest of the tests took place in French Polynesia. France conducted her last nuclear test in the South Pacific Ocean in 1996 just before signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) the same year. In 2008, the country announced that she had reduced the nuclear arsenal in the French Airforce by 30%, leaving Force de Frappe with only 290 nuclear warheads. Today, France has deactivated all her land-based nuclear missiles. Between 1996 and 2012, France used powerful supercomputers to simulate nuclear tests and also for study purposes. Currently, French law dictates that out of four submarines on patrol at any given time, one must carry a nuclear weapon.

Protests Against French Nuclear Tests

The Algerian Sahara tests elicited protests from Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, and Japan. Of the seventeen, an accident happened during one test leading to radiation exposure to soldiers and a section of civilians. Moroccan and Liberian government denounced the tests. Over 26 Afro-Asian countries also condemned the tests at the United Nations General Assembly. Between 1960 and 1996, governments, lobby groups, think tanks, and Civil Society groups in New Zealand and Australia staged several protests against testing in the South Pacific. In 1972, Australia and New Zealand took France to the International Court of Justice.

About the Author

  • Mark Owuor Otieno
  • Writer

Mark is a student at Maseno University and community commentator in Kenya. Mark also has interests in geography, African history, and international development.

The Danger of China’s Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Yes China’s Nuclear Missile Subs Are a Danger (But That’s the Point)

All about deterrence.

Key Point: ICBM submarines are a vital part of any country’s nuclear triad. Here’s why they matter.

China for decades has struggled to develop nuclear ballistic-missile submarines. The country finally might be on the cusp of deploying reliable boomers.

This piece originally appeared in October 2018 and is being republished due to reader’s interest.

An effective Chinese ballistic-missile submarine fleet over the long term could have a stabilizing influence on the world’s nuclear balance. But in the short term, it might heighten tensions. Especially if Beijing lets popular fervor drive its build-up.

That’s the surprising conclusion of a new report from Tong Zhao, a fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, based at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

A fleet of survivable nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) would reduce China’s concerns about the credibility of its nuclear deterrent and lessen the country’s incentives to further expand its arsenal,” Tong writes.

“Such benefits, however, will be tempered by vulnerabilities associated with Beijing’s current generation of SSBNs. In the near to mid-term, developing an SSBN fleet will require China to substantially enlarge its previously small stockpile of strategic ballistic missiles, possibly exacerbating the threat perceptions of potential adversaries and causing them to take countermeasures that might eventually intensify an emerging arms competition.”

Beijing began developing boomers as far back as 1958. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the country completed its first boat. But the Type 092 SSBN never deployed on an operational patrol. “It was reportedly too noisy and might have had other safety and reliability issues,” Tong explains. “Moreover, the missiles it carried had very short ranges.”

The newer Type 094 class of SSBNs, each armed with a dozen, longer-range JL-2 nuclear-tipped missiles, began to enter service around 2006. A Type 094 apparently conducted China’s first undersea deterrence patrol in 2015. “China has obtained, for the first time, a demonstrably operational underwater nuclear capability. This represents the start of a new era for China’s sea-based nuclear forces.”

As of late 2018 there are four Type 094s in service. Beijing has not publicly released a detailed plan for its SSBN fleet expansion, but the U.S. military expects China to build between five and eight of the vessels, in total, according to Tong and various military reports and statements.

The U.S. military has responded to the China’s new boomers by boosting its own anti-submarine capabilities. “Between Chinese efforts to create a credible sea-based nuclear deterrent and U.S. endeavors to strengthen anti-submarine countermeasures, tensions are brewing under the surface of the South China Sea and the broader Pacific Ocean,” Tong explains.

But the Type 094s and future Chinese SSBNs could actually end up encouraging stability rather than conflict. Today SL-2s about boomers account for nearly half of China’s approximately one-hundred-strong arsenal of long-range nuclear missiles. That proportion is likely to rise as more SSBNs enter service.

As they have the potential to be more survivable than land- and air-launched nukes, the SL-2s could change the attitudes of Chinese leaders toward the country’s atomic deterrent. “If China’s SSBNs significantly contribute to the credibility of its overall nuclear deterrent, China would have less of an incentive to further enlarge its nuclear arsenal,” Tong writes.

In other words, China ultimately might need fewer nukes overall if a larger proportion of the weapons are submarine-launched missiles. In an era of escalating nuclear buildups in the United States and China, a relatively smaller and stabler Chinese arsenal could have a cooling effect, according to Tong.

But Beijing must convince other powers that a growing boomer fleet contributes not only to its own national security, but to the stability of the whole world. “China has a few unilateral steps that it should take to ensure that the growth of its SSBN fleet is as undisruptive as possible to regional security dynamics and to its own security interests.”

For one, China must build only as many SSBNs as it truly needs in order to maintain a credible at-sea deterrence. Four or five Type 094s could be enough for one boat to be on patrol at all times. If Beijing builds significantly more than five SSBNs, it could mean that the Communist Party has let irrational nationalistic sentiment shape its force structure, as the Party allegedly has done in its breakneck acquisition of aircraft carriers.

“If China allows nationalistic sentiments to induce it to build a massive sea-based nuclear capability beyond any practical security needs, this could raise doubts in foreign countries about Beijing’s strategic intentions and contribute to an unnecessary, damaging strategic arms competition,” Tong warns.

But for China’s rivals, a small but reliable Chinese boomer fleet could be as calming as a big one is alarming.

David Axe edits War Is Boring . He is the author of the new graphic novels MACHETE SQUAD and THE STAN. This piece originally appeared in October 2018 and is being republished due to reader’s interest.

Image: Reuters

How the First Nuclear War Would Transform the Entire Planet (Revelation 8 )

How a small nuclear war would transform the entire planet

As geopolitical tensions rise in nuclear-armed states, scientists are modelling the global impact of nuclear war.

16 March 2020


Alexandra Witze

India tests its Agni-5 rocket in 2013, which is capable of carrying nuclear warheads.Credit: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty

It all starts in 2025, as tensions between India and Pakistan escalate over the contested region of Kashmir. When a terrorist attacks a site in India, that country sends tanks rolling across the border with Pakistan. As a show of force against the invading army, Pakistan decides to detonate several small nuclear bombs.

The next day, India sets off its own atomic explosions and within days, the nations begin bombing dozens of military targets and then hundreds of cities. Tens of millions of people die in the blasts.

That horrifying scenario is just the beginning. Smoke from the incinerated cities rises high into the atmosphere, wrapping the planet in a blanket of soot that blocks the Sun’s rays. The planet plunges into a deep chill. For years, crops wither from California to China. Famine sets in around the globe.

This grim vision of a possible future comes from the latest studies about how nuclear war could alter world climate. They build on long-standing work about a ‘nuclear winter’ — severe global cooling that researchers predict would follow a major nuclear war, such as thousands of bombs flying between the United States and Russia. But much smaller nuclear conflicts, which are more likely to occur, could also have devastating effects around the world.

This week, researchers report that an India–Pakistan nuclear war could lead to crops failing in dozens of countries — devastating food supplies for more than one billion people1. Other research reveals that a nuclear winter would dramatically alter the chemistry of the oceans, and probably decimate coral reefs and other marine ecosystems2. These results spring from the most comprehensive effort yet to understand how a nuclear conflict would affect the entire Earth system, from the oceans to the atmosphere, to creatures on land and in the sea.

Scientists want to understand these matters because the nuclear menace is growing. From North Korea to Iran, nations are building up their nuclear capabilities. And some, including the United States, are withdrawing from arms-control efforts. Knowing the possible environmental consequences of a nuclear conflict can help policymakers to assess the threat, says Seth Baum, executive director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute in New York City, who has studied the risks of triggering a nuclear winter. “Fleshing out the details of ways in which it can be bad is valuable for helping inform decisions,” he says.

Cold-war forecasts

Nuclear-winter studies arose during the cold war, as the United States and the Soviet Union stockpiled tens of thousands of nuclear warheads in preparation for all-out assaults. Alarmed by leaders’ bellicose rhetoric, scientists in the 1980s began running simulations on how nuclear war might change the planet after the initial horrific deaths from the blasts3,4. Researchers including the US planetary scientist and communicator Carl Sagan described how smoke from incinerated cities would block sunlight and plunge much of the planet into a deep freeze lasting for months, even in summer4. Later studies tempered the forecasts somewhat, finding slightly less-dramatic cooling5. Still, Soviet leader Mikail Gorbachev cited nuclear winter as one factor that prompted him to work towards drawing down the country’s nuclear arsenals.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the world’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons continued to drop. But with many thousands of warheads still in existence, and with more nations becoming nuclear powers, some researchers have argued that nuclear war — and a nuclear winter — remain a threat. They have shifted to studying the consequences of nuclear wars that would be smaller than an all-out US–Soviet annihilation.

US President George Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev celebrate the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on 31 July 1991. Credit: Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty

That includes the possibility of an India–Pakistan war, says Brian Toon, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Colorado Boulder who has worked on nuclear-winter studies since he was a student of Sagan’s. Both countries have around 150 nuclear warheads, and both are heavily invested in the disputed Kashmir border region, where a suicide bomber last year killed dozens of Indian troops. “It’s a precarious situation,” says Toon.

Both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, highlighting growing geopolitical tensions. By the mid-2000s, Toon was exploring a scenario in which the countries set off 100 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs, killing around 21 million people. He also connected with Alan Robock, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, who studies how volcanic eruptions cool the climate in much the same way that a nuclear winter would. Using an advanced NASA climate model, the scientists calculated how soot rising from the incinerated cities would circle the planet. All around the dark, cold globe, agricultural crops would dwindle.

But after a burst of publications on the topic, Robock, Toon and their colleagues struggled to find funding to continue their research. Finally, in 2017, they landed a grant worth nearly US$3-million from the Open Philanthropy Project, a privately funded group in San Francisco that supports research into global catastrophic risks.

The goal was to analyse every step of nuclear winter — from the initial firestorm and the spread of its smoke, to agricultural and economic impacts. “We put all those pieces together for the first time,” says Robock.

The group looked at several scenarios. Those range from a US–Russia war involving much of the world’s nuclear arsenal, which would loft 150 million tonnes of soot into the atmosphere, down to the 100-warhead India–Pakistan conflict, which would generate 5 million tonnes of soot6. The soot turns out to be a key factor in how bad a nuclear winter would get; three years after the bombs explode, global temperatures would have plummeted by more than 10 °C in the first scenario — more than the cooling during the last ice age — but by a little more than 1 °C in the second.

Toon, Robock and their colleagues have used observations from major wildfires in British Columbia, Canada, in 2017 to estimate how high smoke from burning cities would rise into the atmosphere7. During the wildfires, sunlight heated the smoke and caused it to soar higher, and persist in the atmosphere longer, than scientists might otherwise expect. The same phenomenon might happen after a nuclear war, Robock says.

Raymond Jeanloz, a geophysicist and nuclear-weapons policy expert at the University of California, Berkeley, says that incorporating such estimates is a crucial step to understanding what would happen during a nuclear winter. “This is a great way of cross-checking the models,” he says.

Comparisons with giant wildfires could also help in resolving a controversy about the scale of the potential impacts. A team at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico argues that Robock’s group has overestimated how much soot burning cities would produce and how high the smoke would go8.

The Los Alamos group used its own models to simulate the climate impact of India and Pakistan setting off 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs. The scientists found that much less smoke would get into the upper atmosphere than Toon and Robock reported. With less soot to darken the skies, the Los Alamos team calculated a much milder change to the climate — and no nuclear winter.

At a 2005 parade in Islamabad, Pakistan, a truck carries a Shaheen II long-range missile that can be armed with a nuclear warhead.Credit: Farooq Naeem/AFP via Getty

The difference between the groups boils down to how they simulate the amount of fuel a firestorm consumes and how that fuel is converted into smoke. “After a nuclear weapon goes off, things are extremely complex,” says Jon Reisner, a physicist who leads the Los Alamos team. “We have the ability to model the source and we also understand the combustion process. I think we have a better feel about how much soot can potentially get produced.” Reisner is now also studying the Canadian wildfires, to see how well his models reproduce how much smoke gets into the atmosphere from an incinerating forest.

Robock and his colleagues have fired back in tit-for-tat journal responses9. Among other things, they say the Los Alamos team simulated burning of greener spaces rather than a densely populated city.

Dark seas

While that debate rages, Robock’s group has published results showing a wide variety of impacts from nuclear blasts.

That includes looking at ocean impacts, the first time this has been done, says team member Nicole Lovenduski, an oceanographer at the University of Colorado Boulder. When Toon first approached her to work on the project, she says, “I thought, ‘this sure seems like a bleak topic’.” But she was intrigued by how the research might unfold. She usually studies how oceans change in a gradually warming world, not the rapid cooling in a nuclear winter.

Lovenduski and her colleagues used a leading climate model to test the US–Russia war scenario. “It’s the hammer case, in which you hammer the entire Earth system,” she says. In one to two years after the nuclear war, she found, global cooling would affect the oceans’ ability to absorb carbon, causing their pH to skyrocket. That’s the opposite to what is happening today, as the oceans soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide and waters become more acidic.

She also studied what would happen to aragonite, a mineral in seawater that marine organisms need to build shells around themselves. In two to five years after the nuclear conflict, the cold dark oceans would start to contain less aragonite, putting the organisms at risk, the team has reported2.

In the simulations, some of the biggest changes in aragonite happened in regions that are home to coral reefs, such as the southwestern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. That suggests that coral-reef ecosystems, which are already under stress from warming and acidifying waters, could be particularly hard-hit during a nuclear winter. “These are changes in the ocean system that nobody really considered before,” says Lovenduski.

And those aren’t the only ocean effects. Within a few years of a nuclear war, a “Nuclear Niño” would roil the Pacific Ocean, says Joshua Coupe, a graduate student at Rutgers. This is a turbo-charged version of the phenomenon known as El Niño. In the case of a US–Russia nuclear war, the dark skies would cause the trade winds to reverse direction and water to pool in the eastern Pacific Ocean. As during an El Niño, droughts and heavy rains could plague many parts of the world for as long as seven years, Coupe reported last December at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Beyond the oceans, the research team has found big impacts on land crops and food supplies. Jonas Jägermeyr, a food-security researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, used six leading crop models to assess how agriculture would respond to nuclear winter. Even the relatively small India–Pakistan war would have catastrophic effects on the rest of the world, he and his colleagues report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1. Over the course of five years, maize (corn) production would drop by 13%, wheat production by 11% and soya-bean production by 17% .

The worst impact would come in the mid-latitudes, including breadbasket areas such as the US Midwest and Ukraine. Grain reserves would be gone in a year or two. Most countries would be unable to import food from other regions because they, too, would be experiencing crop failures, Jägermeyr says. It is the most detailed look ever at how the aftermath of a nuclear war would affect food supplies, he says. The researchers did not explicitly calculate how many people would starve, but say that the ensuing famine would be worse than any in documented history.

Farmers might respond by planting maize, wheat and soya beans in parts of the globe likely to be less affected by a nuclear winter, says Deepak Ray, a food-security researcher at the University of Minnesota in St Paul. Such changes might help to buffer the food shock — but only partly. The bottom line remains that a war involving less than 1% of the world’s nuclear arsenal could shatter the planet’s food supplies.

“The surprising finding”, says Jägermeyr, “is that even a small-war scenario has devastating global repercussions”.

Nature 579, 485-487 (2020)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00794-y


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Palestinians Caged Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Palestinian Health workers spray disinfectant as a precaution against the new coronavirus in the Al-Omari Mosque in Gaza City. March 15, 2020. (Ail Ahmed/Flash90)

Israel’s caging of Gaza is a recipe for coronavirus disaster

The pandemic’s arrival threatens to make Gaza even more unlivable under Israeli siege. Humanitarian aid is not enough — Palestinians need freedom.

By Jehad Abusalim March 22, 2020

The Palestinian Health Ministry today reported its first two cases of the novel coronavirus in the Gaza Strip. For weeks the Hamas-led authority, which has ruled the blockaded territory since 2007, undertook serious measures to preempt the arrival of the virus to the strip. Up until its decision to seal off its sides of the Rafah crossing with Egypt and the Erez checkpoint with Israel, hundreds of Palestinians who entered the strip were immediately quarantined to ensure they had no symptoms of the disease.

These actions, however, are of very little comfort.

It is no exaggeration to say that the prospect of COVID-19 spreading in the Gaza Strip is terrifying. This year, 2020, is the year in which the United Nations and other international agencies predicted that Gaza would become “uninhabitable.” If Israel’s 13-year blockade and isolation of the strip continued, they warned, Gaza’s most basic services and its capacity to sustain itself would collapse.

As the specter of the coronavirus haunts the strip’s 2 million Palestinian residents, half of whom are children, the world needs to face an urgent truth: Gaza, which has long been unlivable under its current conditions, will be even more so now that the virus has reached its people.

For years, international NGOs, and even some Israeli officials, have warned that Gaza’s health system is on the verge of collapse, incapacitated by decades of systematic de-development, impoverishment, and siege. All the problems of the Israeli blockade are entangled and heightened in Gaza’s health sector: a severe water crisis, an extreme power shortage, high rates of unemployment, and crumbling infrastructure.

Palestinian workers wearing protective masks as they prepare the quarantine zone to test returning passengers for coronavirus, at Rafah border crossing in the Gaza Strip, February 16, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

As such, Gaza’s healthcare system is not equipped for a COVID-19 breakout. It has a total number of 2,895 hospital beds, or 1.3 beds per thousand people. It has just 50 to 60 ventilators for adults. According to the head of the WHO’s sub-office in Gaza, Abdelnasser Soboh, Gaza is only prepared to handle the first hundred cases of the virus; “After that, it will need further support.”

The health system is further aggravated by the emigration of many Palestinian health professionals due to Gaza’s economic crisis. More than 35,000 Palestinians have left the strip since 2018 alone, among them dozens of doctors and nurses. A Health Ministry official declared they would need at least 300 to 400 more doctors just to close the gap and meet the population’s minimum needs.

Another feature of Gaza’s existence could fuel a mass spread of the virus: population density. According to scientists, “crowded conditions can increase the likelihood of people transmitting infectious diseases” — and with an average of 6,028 persons per square kilometer, Gaza has one of the highest population densities in the world. Its over-crowdedness is only surpassed by a few places, such as Hong Kong; but while people can freely move in and out of Hong Kong, the majority of Palestinians in Gaza are caged there against their will.

Gaza’s eight refugee camps have even higher population densities than the territory’s average. Take Jabalia, where more than 140,000 Palestinian refugees live in an area of 1.4 square kilometers, or about 82,000 persons per square kilometer. The camp has access to just three health clinics and one public hospital. On the land just on the other side of the fence within present-day Israel — where many of the Palestinian refugees are from — the density ranges from zero to 500 persons per square kilometer.

In the shadow of the global pandemic, these conditions in Gaza are a recipe for a disaster. Yet they are not the result of some unfortunate accident; they are a deliberate product of decades of Israeli state policy, consciously designed and maintained to achieve Gaza’s disintegration.

General view of Palestinian homes and buildings in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, February 9, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Most of the 2 million Palestinians living in the tiny strip today are descendants of 200,000 refugees who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war that created the State of Israel, joining around 80,000 to 100,000 Palestinians who resided in the area at the time.

These refugees believed that their stay in Gaza would be temporary, but Israel quickly built militarized fences to confine the Palestinians, and enacted laws to make their displacement permanent. These included the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law, which deemed any attempt by Palestinians to return to their land, homes, and property as illegal. Many Palestinians who tried to do so were shot and killed by Israeli forces.

When Israel conquered the strip in 1967, it enabled Jewish settlers to take over 25 percent of the already-small territory, comprising about 40 percent of its arable land. Until Israel’s “disengagement” in 2005, four decades of Jewish settlement worsened Gaza’s over-crowdedness and prevented Palestinians from building and expanding within the strip. Since then, repeated Israeli military offensives decimated Palestinian homes and further displaced tens of thousands of families.

Put bluntly, the Gaza Strip is in its current shape because of the logic of Israeli expansionism: the state’s relentless drive to maintain a Jewish majority at the direct expense of the Palestinians. Two million Palestinians are trapped in Gaza not because they chose this life, but because it was forced upon them.

The threat of COVID-19 looming over Gaza is perhaps a last opportunity to say what many refuse to hear: Gaza’s problem is not a lack of humanitarian aid, as urgent as it may be. It is territorial, demographic, and political. It is about who, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, is privileged and who is not; who gets to live and thrive on the land, and who does not.

Palestinian students walk past a UN distribution center in the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2013. (Wissam Nassar/FLASH90)

Right now, while Israel’s Jewish citizens enjoy the land and its resources, Palestinians are denied that same right and barred from returning to their homeland. And while the international community largely focuses on the threat of Israeli “annexation” of its illegal settlements in the West Bank, many do not care about the unnatural reality experienced by the people in Gaza.

In this time of pandemic and concern for the health of communities worldwide, it is time to address the full consequences of the unjust partition of historic Palestine — and that includes Gaza.

Indeed, Gaza encapsulates many of our world’s problems: war, poverty, displacement, and racism. But it also offers glimmers of hope, through its humanity, resilience, and resistance.

In this moment — when people in more privileged countries can just slightly relate to a life in confinement, separated from loved ones, uncertain about basic needs, and worrying about our collective future — it is imperative to think of places like Gaza, where people have suffered much worse for decades, and are at the risk of a far more devastating blow now that the pandemic has reached their shores.

I write this while thinking about my family in Gaza, who, like many others, may soon be at the mercy of COVID-19. Although this is the time to think about survival, it is also the time to ask big questions, about how we as human beings have failed to prepare for this moment. If this is not the time to end the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of Palestine, and if this is not the time to address the injustices that have rendered Palestinian life to suffering and pain, then when?

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Coronavirus pandemic driving increased racism against Indian Jews in Israel

A 28-year-old Indian Jew in Israel is in hospital after being assaulted by Israelis who called him ‘corona.’

Bnei Menashe arriving in Israel after emigrating from India, Ben-Gurion Airport, June 25, 2015. (Flash90)

Last Saturday, Am Shalem Singson, a 28-year-old yeshiva student, was walking toward downtown Tiberias with some friends when two Israeli men scrunched up their nose and called them “corona, corona.” Singson told them that he wasn’t even from China, but India — he and his friends are Bnei Menashe, a community of Indian Jews, several thousand of whom live in Israel. But the men, angry at being questioned, first shoved, then repeatedly kicked him. Singson had to undergo surgery for severe injuries to his chest and lungs.

Singson, who is still recovering in the hospital, believes that the novel coronavirus pandemic has become a catalyst for racists to escalate their bigotry. “They don’t want to live with us, they just want to fight,” he says. “They take advantage [of the situation] using coronavirus…and it’s not just me, many people face this.”

There have been significant reports of racist attacks against Asians around the world by people blaming them for the outbreak and spread of the coronavirus. U.S. President Donald Trump, who continues to call it “Chinese virus,” has been criticized for endangering Asians by encouraging racist scapegoating while people’s anger and fear at the spread of the virus escalate.

The Bnei Menashe have been facing the brunt of this kind of racism — mostly, they believe, because the vast majority of Israelis don’t know much about them. Numbering 5,000 thousand in Israel, the Bnei Menashe emigrated from two northeast Indian states — Manipur and Mizoram, bordered by Myanmar — and believe they are descendants of a 2,700-year-old “lost tribe” of Israel. They do not qualify to emigrate under the Israeli Law of Return, but are able to arrive sporadically in groups of a few hundred through Shavei Israel, an Israeli nonprofit which works to locate “lost” Jewish communities around the world and bring them to Israel. Singson immigrated with his mother, grandmother and brother from Manipur in 2017.

Bnei Menashe have expressed outrage and disappointment at the racism directed toward them, and point to numerous instances in the past few weeks of community members being called “coronavirus” by other Israelis.

An Israeli man wearing a face mask walks through the Mahane Yehuda market, Jerusalem, March 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“It’s really sad to see most Israelis being infected not by the coronavirus but by the virus of racism,” says 24-year-old Shlomo Thangminlien Lhungdim, a friend of Singson. A few days ago, after getting on a bus with some Bnei Menashe friends, other passengers stared at him oddly and many covered their noses. “Even the driver was coughing intentionally as soon as he saw us,” he says. “People tend to run away from us. They look at us differently in bus stations, supermarkets…we are discriminated against everywhere. Life’s awful. Why? Just because we look different?”

Isaac Thangjom, a project manager for the Jewish Federation of New Mexico who emigrated to Israel in 1997, says his family hasn’t faced any such incidents in or around Ramla where they live. But such instances are common in more smaller towns like Tiberia, Kiryat Arba in the West Bank, and Akko, where most Bnei Menashe also live, he says. He has also heard of several instances of coronavirus-related racism. “There’s one lady who takes a bus to Jerusalem from Kiryat Arba — and she was saying that she felt uncomfortable, because when she was traveling in the city bus, people kept their distance from her.”

The Bnei Menashe have consistently faced racism in Israel. They are often confused with Thai and Filipino workers despite their orthodox Jewish clothing. But the coronavirus pandemic has taken the prejudice to new heights, Thangjom says.

The assault on Singson in Israel has parallels in India. Northeast Indians are subjected to discrimination and attacks in other parts of the country where they are racial minorities. Many are reportedly being called “corona,” “coronavirus,” and “Chinese,” even in large cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. In a video that went viral last week, northeast Indian students appealed to their fellow Indians to stop targeting them.

In the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, 20-year-old Dimi Lhungdim, on a break from her army service, has been fuming while watching a video of “Shevet Achim Va’achayot” (“A Tribe of Brothers and Sisters”), the official song of the Israel’s 2019 Independence Day celebrations. The song’s message of kinship rings hollow for Lhungdim in light of the assault on Singson.

“I was thinking, why are you singing this song and saying we are brother and sister?” Lhungdim says. “Every time that sentence came, I thought, ‘you don’t know what you are saying.’ They say, ‘this is our home in Israel, this is our heart’. What they did to Am Shalem is not what they are singing in the song. I was so angry.”

Empty Offer From Babylon the Great

Khamenei says U.S. offer to help Iran fight coronavirus is strange

DUBAI (Reuters) – The offer by the United States to help Iran fight the coronavirus pandemic is strange, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech on Sunday, describing U.S. leaders as “charlatans”.

Despite heightened tensions between the longtime foes, Washington has offered humanitarian assistance to Iran while it struggles with the coronavirus outbreak.

Iran is the most-affected country in the Middle East with over 1,500 coronavirus deaths and 20,610 infected people.

“Several times Americans have offered to help Iran to contain the virus … You are accused of creating this virus. I do not know whether it is true, but it is strange that you want to help Iran,” Khamenei said.

“Aside from the fact that you have shortages in your fight against the virus, what if you give us a drug that will help the virus to remain in Iran permanently?”

Khamenei, an anti-U.S. hardliner, said the Islamic Republic had the capability to overcome “any kind of crisis and challenges, including the coronavirus outbreak”.

Tensions have been running high between Iran and the United States since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.

Frictions increased when Trump ordered a U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.. Iran retaliated by hitting U.S. targets in Iraq on Jan. 8.

Our number one enemy is America. It is the most wicked, sinister enemy of Iran ... its leaders are charlatans,” Khamenei said.

Iranian authorities have blamed U.S. sanctions for hampering its efforts to curb the outbreak and called for the restrictions to be lifted. Washington has refused to lift sanctions.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans