BREAKING NEWS: PART-I Galactic Cosmic Rays Reaching Levels Never Before Seen

Today’s article will come as no surprise to the Science Of Cycles reader. There have been several articles SOC published regarding this issue going back to 2012. One of the highly contested questions regarding the pole shift is…’where’ on the time line of this cycle do we stand. I had addressed this question in previous articles. A significant and conveying influence to the makings of a magnetic pole reversal is the inundation of galactic cosmic rays, often referred to as ‘cosmic rays’.

NASA’s most recent study on galactic cosmic ray levels reaching Earth’s atmosphere are the highest ever reported. It is of no coincidence today’s GCR levels correspond with one of the lowest solar minimums observed. This is compounded by the Earth’s magnetic field weakening at a rate nobody saw coming. Researchers estimated the field was weakening about 5 percent per ‘century’, but new data revealed the field is actually weakening at 5 percent per ‘decade’, or 10 times faster than thought.

These GCRs are made up of high energy electrons, positrons, and other subatomic particles, which originate in sources outside the solar system and distributed throughout our galaxy Milky Way; hence the name ‘galactic cosmic rays’. Although periods of high solar activity such as solar flares, CMEs (coronal mass ejections) and coronal holes (solar winds) play a significant role in space and earth weather (including various natural phenomenon such as earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and extreme weather) – studies indicate the periods of solar maximum are usually short-lived hovering around the 11 year cycle.

I propose that both solar rays and cosmic rays have an effect on Earth’s atmosphere, mantle, outer and inner core by generating the expansion and contraction of fluids and gas. Additionally, I suggest it is the more powerful highly energetic charged particles racing at nearly the speed of light which has the greater influence to Earth and all living things. It is the radiation from GCRs which can have – a yet to be determined minimal-or-significant measured effect on all forms of life. I would postulate the most sensitive species exposed to increasing radiation would be the most vulnerable – and in fact a significant number has already reached a point of extinction.

Coming Next: Part-II An Understanding of ‘Background’ and ‘Mass’ Extinctions (and why it applies to today’s galactic cosmic rays escalation.)

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Science Of Cycles keeps you tuned-in and knowledgeable of what we are discovering, and how some of these changes will affect our communities and ways of living.

3-D Earth In The Making

A thorough understanding of the ‘solid Earth’ system is essential for deciphering the links between processes occurring deep inside Earth and those occurring nearer the surface that lead to seismic activity such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the rise of mountains and the location of underground natural resources. Thanks to gravity and magnetic data from satellites along with seismology, scientists are on the way to modelling inner Earth in 3-D.

Solid Earth refers to the crust, mantle and core. Because these parts of our world are completely hidden from view, understanding what is going on deep below our feet can only be done by using indirect measurements.

New results, based on a paper published recently in Geophysical Journal International and presented at this week’s Living Planet Symposium, reveal how scientists are using a range of different measurements including satellite data along with seismological models to start producing a global 3-D Earth reference model.

The model will make a step change in being able to analyze Earth’s lithosphere, which is the rigid outer shell, and the underlying mantle to understand the link between Earth’s structure and the dynamic processes within.

Juan Carlos Afonso, from Australia’s Macquarie University and Norway’s Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics, said, “We are realising the new global model of Earth’s lithosphere and upper mantle by combining gravity anomalies, geoid height, and gravity gradients complemented with seismic, thermal, and rock information.”

Wolfgang Szwillus from Kiel University, added, “Data from ESA’s GOCE satellite mission served as input for the inversion. It is the first time that gravity gradients have been inverted on a global scale in such an integrated framework.”

While this is just a first step, 3-D Earth offers tantalizing insights into the deep structure of our world. For example, the new models of the thickness of the crust and the lithosphere are important for unexplored continents like Antarctica.

Jörg Ebbing from Kiel University, noted, “This is just a first step so we have more work to do, but we plan to release the 3-D Earth models in 2020.”

The 3-D Earth research, which involves scientists from nine institutes in six European countries, is funded through ESA’s Science for Society programme. ESA’s GOCE gravity mission and Swarm magnetic field mission are key to this research.

Bermuda Volcano Formed In a Way That Has Never Been Seen Anywhere Else On Earth

A volcano beneath Bermuda formed in a way that has never been seen before, scientists have discovered. The volcano appears to have been created by material rising up from a region deep beneath Earth’s surface—the transition zone.

The transition zone is the region between the upper and lower mantle. It extends between 250 and 400 miles beneath the surface of the planet and is rich in water, crystals and melted rock.

Volcanoes normally form when the tectonic plates are pushed together or pulled apart, producing a crack in Earth’s surface where magma can escape. They can also form at “hotspots,” where mantle plumes rise up and melt a hole in the plate—Hawaii is an example of this.

Now, researchers have found volcanoes can also form when material moves up from the transition zone. The team believes there was a disturbance in the transition zone that forced the material in this layer to melt and move up towards the surface. Their findings are published in the journal Nature.

The researchers were analyzing a now dormant volcano beneath the Atlantic Ocean that was responsible for the formation of Bermuda. They were looking at the chemical composition of a 2,600-foot core sample—by understanding its makeup they could build a picture of Bermuda’s volcanic history.

“Before our work, Bermuda has been interpreted as the result of a deep thermal anomaly in the Earth’s mantle, but there was no direct data to support this. This is due to the fact that the volcanic edifice is completely covered by limestone,” Cornell’s Esteban Gazel, one of the study authors, told Newsweek.

In a statement, he said they were expecting to show that the volcano was a mantle plume formation like Hawaii. This was not what they found, however. The measurements taken from the core sample were unlike anything seen before, suggesting the lava came from a previously unidentified source.

The samples contained signatures from the transition zone. Compared to samples taken from subduction zones, there was more water trapped in the crystals. The transition zone is known to contain vast quantities of water—one study calculated there is three times as much water in this region of Earth than is present in all the world’s oceans.

“I first suspected that Bermuda’s volcanic past was special as I sampled the core and noticed the diverse textures and mineralogy preserved in the different lava flows,” lead author Sarah Mazza, from the University of Münster, Germany, said in the statement. “We quickly confirmed extreme enrichments in trace element compositions. It was exciting going over our first results … the mysteries of Bermuda started to unfold.”

Numerical models developed by the team indicate a disturbance in the transition zone forced the material up. This is thought to have taken place about 30 million years ago and provided the foundation that Bermuda sits on today.

“We found a new way to make volcanoes,” Gazel said in the statement. “This is the first time we found a clear indication from the transition zone deep in the Earth’s mantle that volcanoes can form this way.”

The researchers believe there will be other examples of volcanoes being formed in this way. “With this work we can demonstrate that the Earth’s transition zone is an extreme chemical reservoir,” Gazel said. “We are just now beginning to recognize its importance in terms of global geodynamics and even volcanism.”

Speaking to Newsweek, he added: “I think many hotspot locations … are not deeply rooted to the core-mantle boundary probably have past similar to Bermuda’s.”

A Massive ‘Blob’ of Rock Stretching Under Asia Might Be Triggering Hundreds of Earthquakes

The Hindu Kush mountain range — which stretches about 500 miles (800 kilometers) along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan — shudders with more than 100 earthquakes at a magnitude of 4.0 or greater every year. The area is one of the most seismically active spots in the world, especially for intermediate-depth quakes (tremors forming between 45 and 190 miles, or 70 and 300 km, below the planet’s surface). And yet, scientists aren’t sure why.

The mountains don’t sit on a major fault line, where high earthquake activity is expected, and the region is many miles away from the slow-motion crash zone where the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates are steadily colliding. So, what’s the deal with this mountain earthquake epidemic?

A new study published April 17 in the journal Tectonics may have an answer to the mystery quakes of the Hindu Kush — and, like all great geologic mysteries, it involves blobs.

According to the study, the Hindu Kush mountains may owe their incredible seismic reputation to a long “blob” of rock slowly dripping away from the range’s subterranean underbelly and into the hot, viscous mantle below. Like a lone water droplet pulling away from the edge of a faucet, the 100-mile-deep (150 km) blob of mountain may be pulling away from the continental crust at a rate as fast as 4 inches (10 centimeters) per year — and this subterranean stress could be triggering earthquakes, the authors of the new study wrote.

The researchers discovered the troublesome blob after collecting several years’ worth of earthquake observations near the Hindu Kush mountains. They saw that the quakes formed in a pattern, creating what looked like a “round patch” of seismic activity on the planet’s surface, study co-author Rebecca Bendick, a geophysicist at the University of Montana in Missoula, told the website Eos.org. Those quakes also formed along a clear vertical axis, beginning between 100 and 140 miles (160 and 230 km) below the continent, and were most common deeper down, where the solid continental crust meets the hot, viscous upper mantle. Here, the researchers wrote, is where the slowly-stretching blob is strained the most.

All of these observations were consistent with a blob of solid rock slowly dripping into the gooey underworld below — a hypothesis that has previously been used to explain similar seismic activity underneath the Carpathian Mountains in central Europe. According to the researchers, the Hindu Kush blob likely began dripping no earlier than 10 million years ago, and continues to stretch downward nearly 10 times faster than the surface of the mountains move, as the Indian and Eurasian plates collide.

If accurate, these results may be more evidence that geophysical forces beyond just the subduction of tectonic plates can send earthquakes rattling through the planet.

Small, Hardy Planets Most Likely To Survive Death Of Their Stars

Small, hardy planets packed with dense elements have the best chance of avoiding being crushed and swallowed up when their host star dies, new research from the University of Warwick has found.

Astrophysicists from the Astronomy and Astrophysics Group have modelled the chances of different planets being destroyed by tidal forces when their host stars become white dwarfs and have determined the most significant factors that decide whether they avoid destruction.

Their ‘survival guide’ for exoplanets could help guide astronomers locate potential exoplanets around white dwarf stars, as a new generation of even more powerful telescopes is being developed to search for them. Their research is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Most stars like our own Sun will run out of fuel eventually and shrink and become white dwarfs. Some orbiting bodies that aren’t destroyed in the maelstrom caused when the star blasts away its outer layers will then be subjected to shifts in tidal forces as the star collapses and becomes super-dense. The gravitational forces exerted on any orbiting planets would be intense and would potentially drag them into new orbits, even pushing some further out in their solar systems.

By modelling the effects of a white dwarf’s change in gravity on orbiting rocky bodies, the researchers have determined the most likely factors that will cause a planet to move within the star’s ‘destruction radius’; the distance from the star where an object held together only by its own gravity will disintegrate due to tidal forces. Within the destruction radius a disc of debris from destroyed planets will form.

Although a planet’s survival is dependent on many factors, the models reveal that the more massive the planet, the more likely that it will be destroyed through tidal interactions.

But destruction is not certain based on mass alone: low viscosity exo-Earths are easily swallowed even if they reside at separations within five times the distance between the centre of the white dwarf and its destruction radius. Saturn’s moon Enceladus — often described as a ‘dirty snowball’ — is a good example of a homogeneous very low viscosity planet.

High viscosity exo-Earths are easily swallowed only if they reside at distances within twice the separation between the centre of the white dwarf and its destruction radius. These planets would be composed entirely of a dense core of heavier elements, with a similar composition to the ‘heavy metal’ planet discovered by another team of University of Warwick astronomers recently. That planet has avoided engulfment because it is as small as an asteroid.

Dr Dimitri Veras, from the University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, said: “The paper is one of the first-ever dedicated studies investigating tidal effects between white dwarfs and planets. This type of modelling will have increasing relevance in upcoming years, when additional rocky bodies are likely to be discovered close to white dwarfs.”

“Our study, while sophisticated in several respects, only treats homogenous rocky planets that are consistent in their structure throughout. A multi-layer planet, like Earth, would be significantly more complicated to calculate but we are investigating the feasibility of doing so too.”

Distance from the star, like the planet’s mass, has a robust correlation with survival or engulfment. There will always be a safe distance from the star and this safe distance depends on many parameters. In general, a rocky homogenous planet which resides at a location from the white dwarf which is beyond about one-third of the distance between Mercury and the Sun is guaranteed to avoid being swallowed from tidal forces.

Dr Veras said: “Our study prompts astronomers to look for rocky planets close to — but just outside of — the destruction radius of the white dwarf. So far observations have focussed on this inner region, but our study demonstrates that rocky planets can survive tidal interactions with the white dwarf in a way which pushes the planets slightly outward.

“Astronomers should also look for geometric signatures in known debris discs. These signatures could be the result of gravitational perturbations from a planet which resides just outside of the destruction radius. In these cases, the discs would have been formed earlier by the crushing of asteroids which periodically approach and enter the destruction radius of the white dwarf.”

The research received support from the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Off The Coast of Portugal, The Earth’s Crust Might Be Peeling In Two

In 1969, a giant earthquake off the coast of Portugal kicked up a tsunami that killed over a dozen people. Some 200 years prior, an even larger earthquake hit the same area, killing around 100,000 people and destroying the city of Lisbon.

Two earthquakes in the same spot over a couple hundred years is not cause for alarm. But what puzzled seismologists about these tremors was that they began in relatively flat beds of the ocean — away from any faults or cracks in the Earth’s crust where tectonic plates slip past each other, releasing energy and causing earthquakes.

So what’s causing the rumbles under a seemingly quiet area? [In Photos: Ocean Hidden Beneath Earth’s Crust]

One idea is that a tectonic plate is peeling into two layers — the top peeling off the bottom layer — a phenomenon that has never been observed before, a group of scientists reported in April at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly held in Vienna. This peeling may be creating a new subduction zone, or an area in which one tectonic plate is rammed beneath another, according to their abstract.

The peeling is likely driven by a water-absorbing layer in the middle of the tectonic plate, according to National Geographic. This layer might have undergone a geological process called serpentinization, in which water that seeps in through cracks causes a layer to transform into soft green minerals. Now, this transformed layer might be causing enough weakness in the plate for the bottom layer to peel away from the top layer. That peeling could lead to deep fractures that trigger a tiny subduction zone, National Geographic reported.

This group isn’t the first to propose this idea, but it’s the first to provide some data on it. They tested their hypothesis with two-dimensional models, and their preliminary results showed that this type of activity is indeed possible — but is still yet to be proven.

This research has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Tsunami Alert Issued, 7.5 Quake Hits New Guinea

A powerful earthquake struck Papua New Guinea late Tuesday evening, triggering a tsunami alert for coastal areas up to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured magnitude 7.5 and was located 45 kilometers (28 miles) northeast of Kokopo, a remote town with a population of about 26,000. It was centered at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), it said.

Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage on the Earth’s surface, but the USGS estimated that damage and injuries would be low because of the area’s sparse population.

The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves of up to 1 meter (3.3 feet) were possible along coastal areas up to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the epicenter, including Papua New Guinea and the nearly Solomon Islands. It later said the tsunami threat had largely passed and no waves had been observed, but that there were no sea level gauges in the area for measurement.

It said there was no tsunami threat to Hawaii or Guam.

Papua New Guinea is located on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, to the east of Indonesia.

It sits on the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire,” the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where much of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic activity occurs.

A magnitude 7.5 earthquake in February 2018 in the nation’s central region killed at least 125 people and forced another 35,000 from their homes. That quake hit areas that are remote and undeveloped, and assessments about the scale of the damage and injuries were slow to filter out.