Scientists stunned by rare Arctic lightning storms north of Alaska

The polar Northern lights in the mountains of Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Norway. (Shutterstock)
The polar Northern lights in the mountains of Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Norway. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 17 July 2021

Scientists stunned by rare Arctic lightning storms north of Alaska

Scientists stunned by rare Arctic lightning storms north of Alaska
  • Air over the Arctic Ocean typically lacks the convective heat needed to generate lightning storms, but that's changing, scientists say

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: Meteorologists were stunned this week when three successive thunderstorms swept across the icy Arctic from Siberia to north of Alaska, unleashing lightning bolts in an unusual phenomenon that scientists say will become less rare with global warming.
“Forecasters hadn’t seen anything like that before,” said Ed Plumb, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fairbanks, speaking about the storms that started on Saturday.
Typically, the air over the Arctic Ocean, especially when the water is covered with ice, lacks the convective heat needed to generate lightning storms.
But as climate change warms the Arctic faster than the rest of the world, that’s changing, scientists say.
Episodes of summer lightning within the Arctic Circle have tripled since 2010, a trend directly tied to climate change and increasing loss of sea ice in the far north, scientists reported in a March study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. As sea ice vanishes, more water is able to evaporate, adding moisture to the warming atmosphere.
“It’s going to go with the temperatures,” said co-author Robert Holzworth, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle.
These electrical storms threaten boreal forests fringing the Arctic, as they spark fires in remote regions already baking under the round-the-clock summer sun. Boreal Siberia in Russia gets more lightning than any other Arctic region, Holzworth said.

“What used to be very rare is now just rare.”

Rick Thoman, climate scientist at University of Alaska Fairbanks

The paper also documented more frequent lightning over the Arctic’s treeless tundra regions, as well as above the Arctic Ocean and pack ice. In August 2019, lightning even struck within 60 miles (100 kilometers) of the North Pole, the researchers found.
In Alaska alone, thunderstorm activity is on track to increase three-fold by the end of the century if current climate trends continue, according to two studies by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, published over the last year in the journal Climate Dynamics.
“What used to be very rare is now just rare,” said Rick Thoman, a climate scientist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As the parade of Arctic storms this week demonstrated, lightning is already appearing in unexpected places, he said. “I have no memory of three consecutive days of this kind of thing” in the Arctic.
With the sharp uptick in lightning, Siberia has seen increasingly ferocious forest fires in recent years. This week, the Russian army deployed water-dropping aircraft to douse flames burning some nearly 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) of forest, while the hardest-hit region of Yakutia has been in a state of emergency for weeks.
Meanwhile, mid-June lightning sparked one of the biggest fires this summer in Alaska, scorching more than 18,000 acres of tundra about 125 miles (200 km) north of the Arctic Circle in the Noatak National Preserve in the northwestern corner of the state.
Warming in the Arctic is also encouraging the growth of vegetation on northern Alaska’s tundra, adding further fuel for fires, scientists said.
By the end of the century, twice as much Alaska tundra could burn on a regular basis than was the norm in the past, with fires occurring four times more frequently, according to researchers at the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks.
On the water, the lightning is an increasing hazard to mariners, and vessel traffic is increasing as sea ice retreats, Holzworth said.
People can become lightning rods and usually try to get low for safety. That’s tough to do on flat tundra or ocean expanse.
“What you really need is to pay better attention to the lightning forecasts,” he said.


Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO

Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO
Updated 59 min 38 sec ago

Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO

Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO
  • The ECHR decision told the Vienna government to delay until Aug. 31 the planned deportation of the man
  • The court asked the government to explain how it planned to conduct the removal given

ZURICH: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has temporarily halted the imminent deportation from Austria of an Afghan whose request for asylum was turned down, a relief group supporting the man said on Tuesday.
The ECHR decision, published on the website of the non-governmental organization Counselling for Deserters and Refugees, told the Vienna government to delay until Aug. 31 the planned deportation of the man, whose identity was not released.
The court asked the government to explain how it planned to conduct the removal given that Afghanistan has informed EU members that it has stopped accepting such deportations until Oct. 8.
It also asked whether “there is a real risk of irreparable harm” to the applicant’s rights given the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
Clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban have intensified across the country, with the insurgent group gaining control over check points, trading posts and infrastructure projects.
The court ruling applied only to the man in question.
The European Union is weighing a new package of financial aid to Afghanistan and its neighbors to help limit the flow of refugees from the country, ravaged by intense fighting between government forces and the Taliban, officials told Reuters last month.


Afghan army urges civilians to evacuate city besieged by Taliban

Afghan army urges civilians to evacuate city besieged by Taliban
Updated 03 August 2021

Afghan army urges civilians to evacuate city besieged by Taliban

Afghan army urges civilians to evacuate city besieged by Taliban
  • Taliban have seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began withdrawing in May
  • Fighting is raging for Lashkar Gah with the UN saying at least 40 civilians were killed in the last 24 hours

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Residents were urged Tuesday to evacuate a besieged Afghan city as the army prepared a major offensive against Taliban insurgents after three days of heavy fighting.
A massive blast meanwhile rocked Kabul on Tuesday evening, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky, AFP correspondents reported.
It appeared to take place in the center of the city but no details were immediately available.
The Taliban have seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began the last stage of their withdrawal in May, but are now focused on capturing provincial capitals, where they are meeting stiffer resistance.
Fighting is raging for Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province, with the United Nations saying at least 40 civilians were killed in the last 24 hours.
General Sami Sadat, commander of the 215 Maiwand Afghan Army Corps, told residents to get out as soon as they could.
“Please leave as soon as possible so that we can start our operation,” he said in a message to the city of 200,000 delivered via the media.
“I know it is very difficult for you to leave your houses — it is hard for us too — but if you are displaced for a few days, please forgive us.
We are fighting the Taliban wherever they are. We will fight them... we will not leave a single Taliban alive,” he said.
Officials said earlier that insurgents had seized more than a dozen local radio and TV stations in Lashkar Gah, leaving only one pro-Taliban channel broadcasting Islamic programming.
“Deepening concern for Afghan civilians... as fighting worsens,” the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) tweeted.
“UN urges immediate end to fighting in urban areas.”
“Fighting was intense this morning,” said Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio in the city.
He said US and Afghan air force planes had pounded Taliban positions, and that fighting was ongoing near the city’s prison and a compound housing the headquarters of police and intelligence agencies.
In recent days, the US military has intensified air strikes across the country in a bid to stem Taliban advances.
“The Taliban are everywhere in the city, you can see them on motorcycles in the streets. They are arresting or shooting people who have smartphones,” a resident of Lashkar Gah told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The Taliban are in the people’s houses and the government is bombing them. About 20 houses in my neighborhood have been bombed, they are fighting street-to-street battles,” he said.
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government, which has pledged to defend cities at all costs after losing much of the rural countryside to the Taliban over the summer.
In the western city of Herat that is also under siege, r hundreds of residents chanted “Allah-u Akbar” (God is greatest) from their rooftops Monday night after government forces countered the latest Taliban assault.
Officials said government forces had managed to push back the insurgents from several parts of Herat — including near the airport, which is vital for resupplies.
But on Tuesday afternoon four rockets struck the airport leading to canceling of two flights although the facility was not damaged, airport chief Shaheer Salehi told AFP.

Washington and London meanwhile accused the Taliban of committing atrocities that may amount to “war crimes” in the town of Spin Boldak, which the insurgents captured last month along the border with Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission earlier said the insurgents had indulged in revenge killings there of at least 40 people.
“The Taliban chased and identified past and present government officials and killed these people who had no combat role in the conflict,” the group said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the international recognition the Taliban want will not be possible if they seek “to take the country by force and commits the kind of atrocities that have been reported.”
Fighting across the country has displaced around 80,000 children from the start of June, humanitarian organization Save the Children said Tuesday, adding that many schools and health facilities had also been damaged.


Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away

Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away
Updated 03 August 2021

Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away

Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away
  • Lithuania says the migrant influx in the past months is an act of retaliation to increased sanctions by the European Union
  • Interior Ministry distributed a video shot from a helicopter as a proof that large groups of immigrants were being escorted to Lithuania's EU border

VILNIUS, Lithuania: Lithuania has ordered its border guards to turn away, by force if needed, migrants attempting to enter the Baltic country.
This comes amid a surge of Iraqis and others coming in from neighboring Belarus has emerged as a major foreign policy issue.
Lithuania says the migrant influx in the past months is an act of retaliation by Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to increased sanctions by the European Union toward his country over an air piracy incident.
The Interior Ministry distributed a video shot from a helicopter as a proof that large groups of immigrants were being escorted to Lithuania’s EU border by vehicles belonging to Belarus border guards.
Lithuania’s Interior Ministry said Tuesday that at least three large migrant groups were stopped in thick woods in the border between the two countries, and Lithuanian border guards ordered them to return back to Belarus.
“First of all, (Lithuanian border) officers tell them (migrants) that they are lost; that they have arrived in the beautiful country of Belarus and got the wrong way while enjoying its nature but now they must continue the tourist track back into that country,” Vice Interior Minister Arnoldas Abramavicius told reporters.
If that method proves unsuccessful, he said Lithuania has reserved the right to use force to keep the migrants away but “the use of force depends on circumstances.”
“It cannot be ruled out that (border guard) officers will face aggression” from migrants, Abramavicius said, adding the measures were necessary to stop illegal border crossings. “Lithuania can not accept this influx, which grows day by day.”
Some 4,026 migrants, most of them from Iraq, have crossed from Belarus into Lithuania, a EU and NATO nation of slightly less than 3 million, this year. Lithuanian officials turned away 180 migrants attempting to enter the country on Tuesday.
Lithuania officials estimate that more than 10,000 more migrants might try to arrive this year as the number of direct flights from Iraq to the Belarus capital of Minsk tripled in August. The country has no physical barriers for its almost 679 kilometer (420-mile) long border with Belarus.
On Monday, EU officials pledged millions of euros to help Lithuania tackle its migrant crisis.
Lithuania wants to build a physical barrier with Belarus, which it estimates will cost more than 100 million euros ($119 million) but EU funding is not usually permitted to finance border barriers.
Some Lithuanian politicians, meanwhile, urged the government to still respect the migrants’ rights.
Tomas Vytautas Raskevicius, the head of the parliamentary human rights committee, said he saw the measures taken by Lithuanian authorities as “necessary” but acknowledged that the migrant situation “is sensitive from the point of view of human rights, and that should be assessed.”
Raskevicius, a member of the liberal Freedom Party, said attention should be paid in particular to women who migrate with children.


Pentagon on lockdown after gunshots fired near Metro

Pentagon on lockdown after gunshots fired near Metro
Updated 03 August 2021

Pentagon on lockdown after gunshots fired near Metro

Pentagon on lockdown after gunshots fired near Metro

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon was on lockdown Tuesday after reports of a shooting at a subway station just outside the secure US military headquarters.
Employees in the US Defense Department headquarters in the Arlington suburb of Washington were ordered to shelter in place amid reports of several gunshots and possible injuries in the station, the entrance of which is just a few dozen yards (meters) from the building’s main doors.
At least one person was down, according to two people familiar with the shooting, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information publicly. The person’s condition was not known.
“The Pentagon currently is on lock down due to an incident at the Pentagon Transit Center. We are asking the public to please avoid the area,” the Pentagon’s security force said in a tweeted statement. 
The incident occurred on a Metro bus platform that is part of the Pentagon Transit Center
The local news station WUSA showed a picture of heavy security and fire and rescue vehicles at the iconic five-sided building.
A Pentagon announcement said the facility was on lockdown due to “police activity.”
Metro subway trains were ordered to bypass the Pentagon due to a police investigation.
(With AFP and AP)


Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’

Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’
Updated 03 August 2021

Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’

Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’
  • Sudesh Amman shot dead by police in February 2020 after stabbing 2 people
  • Prison officers found note in his cell in which he pledged allegiance to Daesh

LONDON: A terrorist who stabbed two people in south London last year had become increasingly violent and radicalized while in prison, where he is reported to have said he “wanted to kill the queen,” an inquest heard on Tuesday.

Sudesh Amman was shot dead by police in February 2020, 10 days after leaving prison on an early release.

Jurors at the central London inquest heard how Amman discussed becoming a suicide bomber and openly expressed his “extreme” views in prison.

After being released in January 2020, Amman, 20, was placed under constant armed surveillance, and there were concerns about his exit from prison.

He went on to injure a man and woman in a sudden knife attack in south London on Feb. 2 last year, before being shot dead by the team that was tracking his movements.

He was sentenced to 40 months in jail for preparing and engaging in acts of terrorism, but he was given an early release on Jan. 23, 2020, which sparked concerns.

The inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice was shown a prison report on Amman that detailed how he had “been shouting different things on the wings such as ‘this place is full of non-believers’ ... and ‘everyone here will come under the black flag (the symbol of Daesh)’.”

About a month before he was released on license, prison officers found a note in his cell in which Amman had pledged his allegiance to Daesh.

He also “appeared proud of being the youngest terrorist offender in Belmarsh (prison)” and “didn’t seem remorseful,” the inquest was told.

Leon Campbell, a probation officer, assessed that Amman was a high risk to the public, and that he could cause serious harm “due to his promoting of extremist ideas … and wanting to carry out a terrorist act.”

Jurors were told that a senior officer in London’s Metropolitan Police wrote to the governor of Belmarsh prison on Jan. 15, 2020, to request a delay to Amman’s release.

The request was rejected, with the officer reportedly being told that a delay to Amman’s release was impossible.