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Tonga Volcanic Eruption Highlights the Crucial Role of Satellites During Natural Disasters

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Tonga Volcanic Eruption Highlights the Crucial Role of Satellites During Natural Disasters
Before and after satellite images of the town of Nuku’alofa, Tonga captured by Maxar Technologies. The town covered in ash after the eruption. Maxar Technologies

Significant damages are being reported from Tonga this week, days after a huge volcano nearby violently erupted, causing earthquakes, a tsunami and a towering ash cloud that covered the entire Pacific island nation.

The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano, located just 40 miles north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, erupted on Saturday night. It was the biggest volcanic eruption recorded on Earth in more than 30 years.

Communication was completely cut off in the first hours after the eruption because the only undersea fiber optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world was severed during the disaster. A second undersea cable that connects the islands within Tonga was also damaged, the Associated Press later reported.

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During the crisis so far, satellites, which sit safely above the Earth’s atmosphere, have been a crucial, and sometimes the only tool for the outside world to get a glimpse of the latest in Tonga, a country with a population of about 106,000.

The first clear view of the spectacular eruption was captured by the Japanese weather satellite Himawari 8. The images showed a plume of ash, steam and gas spewing up to 13 miles into the atmosphere like a giant mushroom above the South Pacific.

San Francisco-based Earth imaging company Planet Labs PBC had watched the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano since late December after a smaller vent began erupting. December’s eruption increased the above-sea surface area of the volcano by nearly 45 percent due to ashfall, changing its appearance drastically in only a matter of days. Scientists thought the volcano was quieting down, Planet Labs said in a blog post days before the January 15 eruption.

Tonga Volcanic Eruption Highlights the Crucial Role of Satellites During

More satellite images of Tonga released Monday and Tuesday, including those captured by Planet Labs and Colorado-based Maxar Technologies, showed the striking difference before and after the eruption. Maxar’s images of Nuku’alofa showed the capital city covered in thick volcanic ash and smog after the eruption and houses and public facilities damaged by tsunami.

The only people in Tonga who have managed to contact the outside world are those who have access to satellite phones, although connection is unstable due to the thick ash cloud blocking signals from time to time, according to Tonga Cable Ltd.’s Chairman Samiuela Fonua.

Natural disaster experts point out that the crisis highlights just how vulnerable cable-reliant telecommunication infrastructure is for remote countries like Tonga.

“The events in Tonga once again highlight how fragile the global undersea cable network is and how quickly it can go offline,” Dale Dominey-Howes, a professor of hazards and disaster risk sciences at the University of Sydney, wrote in an article for United Press International published Tuesday.

“Cables cluster in narrow corridors and pass between so-called critical ‘choke points’” such as Hawaiian islands, the Suez Canal and Guam, Dominey-Howes explained, “which leave them vulnerable to a number of natural hazards, including volcanic eruptions, underwater landslides, earthquakes and tsunamis.”

Tonga is particularly vulnerable to this type of disruption because there is only one cable connecting the country to Fiji, located about 500 miles away.

“This isn’t the first time a natural disaster has cut off critical submarine cables, and it won’t be the last,” Dominey-Howes warned. “Governments and the telecommunication companies should find ways to diversify the way we communicate, such as by using more satellite-based systems and other technologies.”

Tonga Volcanic Eruption Highlights the Crucial Role of Satellites During Natural Disasters

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Twins blow late lead to Kansas City, squander terrific start by Devin Smeltzer

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Twins blow late lead to Kansas City, squander terrific start by Devin Smeltzer

Minnesota sports fans, do you want the good news or the bad news first?

OK, the bad news is the Twins blew an eighth-inning lead on Thursday and lost, 3-2, to last-placed Kansas City to begin a four-game home stand against their American League Central rival. They have lost two in a row for the first time since getting swept by Houston May 10-12, and their 4½-game division lead on the Central was in danger of shrinking pending the White Sox’s game against Boston.

The good news was that spot starter Devin Smeltzer was terrific. Called up from St. Paul for his second stint with the big league team this season, Smetlzer did everything he could to convince the Twins to keep him around for a while.

A left-hander acquired in the trade that sent Brian Dozier to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018 but in camp this spring as a non-roster invitee, baffled the Kansas City Royals for seven shutout innings in front of an announced crowd of 17,657 at Target Field.

Smeltzer left with a 2-0 lead after seven innings but the Royals quickly turned the tables, touching right-hander Tyler Duffey (2-3) for three runs on three hits and a walk in the top of the eighth.

Throwing a five-pitch mix — fastball, curve, changeup, sinker and slider — Smeltzer tied a career-high with six strikeouts and allowed only two hits while throwing a season-high 80 pitches. He walked one batter, Andrew Benintendo on four pitches to start the fourth inning, but erased him on a double play groundeder by the next batter, Bobby Witt Jr.

It was a master class in deception. Smeltzer’s four-seam fastball topped out at 90.7 mph, and his curveball was routinely in the 75 mph range. None of his three base-runners reached second base.

Smeltzer, 26, missed all of last season because of a herniated disc in his beck that caused him, among other things, to lose feeling in some of his fingers. Taken off the 40-man roster in November, he went to Fort Myers, Fla., as a non-roster invitee and nearly made the Opening Day roster. But he wasn’t called up until May 14.

He started games against Cleveland and Kansas City, going 1-0 with a 1.74 earned-run average. After Thursday’s start, he has allowed 8 hits and four walks in 17⅓ innings and lowered his ERA to 1.04.

Whit Merrifield hit a two-run double to center off Duffey to tie the game with one out in the eighth inning, and Witt Jr. singled him home for the go-ahead run. Ryan Jeffers and Gilberto Celestino drove in runs for the Twins.

The Twins loaded the bases with nobody out against right-hander Joel Payamps in their half of the inning. Gary Sanchez reached when third baseman Emmanuel Rivera dropped the ball after fielding his grounder, and Gio Urshela and Jose Luis Arraez followed with singles.

Royals manager then called for his high-leverage reliever, right-hander Scott Barlow. With the infield drawn in, Barlow struck out Miranda and pinch-hitter Nick Gordon, then got Max Kepler to ground out weakly to first to protect the lead. He pitched the ninth for his fifth save, stranding the potential tying run at third base.

The Twins outhit the Royals, 11-6, and left 11 men on base.

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More than 5,000 fans support new women’s soccer club in inaugural match

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More than 5,000 fans support new women’s soccer club in inaugural match

Minnesota Aurora president Andrea Yoch stood at the gates of TCO Stadium and watched fans of the new pre-professional women’s soccer team stream in for their inaugural match about an hour before kickoff Thursday.

“We just made this up,” Yoch said through a smile and in an orange romper and light green coat to match Aurora’s vibrant colors.

About 15 minutes before kickoff, Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination” played on the stadium’s speakers, and a community-owned club created out of the pandemic came to fruition with an announced crowd of 5,219 supporting the USL Women’s League.

Thursday’s attendance in Minnesota was on par with the average of seven pro-level National Women’s Soccer League crowds this season, including in Louisville, Seattle, San Diego, North Carolina, Orlando, Chicago and New Jersey.

Aurora benefited from a Green Bay Glory own goal early in the second half and Minnesota gave up an equalizing goal in the 89th minute to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Aurora, which has 3,500 season ticket holders, also took up another Minnesota soccer tradition: waiving scarves during corner kicks, a mainstay at Minnesota United games for years.

The crowd, which included MNUFC center back Michael Boxall, filled the stands at the Vikings’ field and lined the concourses, with the merchandise tent having lines for all 90 minutes.

Aurora’s supporters section chanted “No Glory” toward Green Bay and supported its own side in song. But there was also a small chorus of young girls chanting, “Let’s go, Aurora. Let’s go!” from the stadium’s grassy hill. On the concourse, another group of young girls were running around and one was overheard saying, “Sarah is my favorite.”

That was toward Aurora’s famous goalkeeper Sarah Fuller, showing signs of support were big and small.

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Yankees bats awake late in 7-2 win over Rays

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Yankees bats awake late in 7-2 win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Aaron Boone popped out of the dugout in the ninth inning to boos. It was not the Rays fans booing, but the large group of Yankees fans. The manager was headed to the mound to get Nestor Cortes, who had just given a leadoff single to Wander Franco—but had been brilliant all night.

Cortes dominated the Rays’ dangerous lineup for eight innings as the Yankees beat the Rays 7-2 at Tropicana Field Thursday night in the first of the four-game series.

The Yankees (32-13) have won three straight games and 13 of their last 18. They maintained the best record in baseball and increased their cushion in the American League East to 5.5 games over the Rays (26-18)

Cortes threw eight scoreless innings, but Franco scored on Manuel Margot’s single off Wandy Peralta to charge him with a run. It was his 18th consecutive start allowing three earned runs or less. The 27-year old scattered four  hits, walked one and struck out five for his fourth win of the season. It was just the second time in his career that Cortes pitched into the eighth inning.

Cortes walked Yandy Diaz to lead off the bottom of the first and then gave up a single to Harold Ramirez before getting out of the inning unscathed. Cortes matched scoreless innings with Yarborough, retiring 14 straight Rays. The Yankees most consistent starter this season, Cortes threw 109 pitches and got seven swings and misses, four off his four-seam fastball.

It was just the second time in his career Cortes had gotten through eight innings. He spared a bullpen that has been hit hard recently by injuries.

And gave a lineup that has also been hit by the injury bug a chance to catch up.

The Yankees were no-hit through five innings by Ryan Yarborough, who walked Anthony Rizzo in the first and then retired 14 straight before it unraveled in the sixth. Matt Carpenter, who had arrived in the Yankees clubhouse just hours before, was hit by a pitch, the first base runner since the first, and Marwin Gonzalez’s line drive to center field was the Bombers’ first hit of the night.

Aaron Judge grounded a single—98 miles an hour off the bat—up the middle to bring in the Yankees’ first run. The slugger, playing center field after Aaron Hicks was a late scratch, stole second. Miguel Andujar singled to drive in another and a  second run scored on the Rays’ throwing error on the play.

Isaiah Kiner-Falefa led off the seventh with a walk and scored on a Ralph Garza, Jr. wild pitch. Judge drove in the Yankees’ fifth run on a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the ninth. Anthony Rizzo followed with a sharp line drive double that plated two more.

The Yankees signed Carpenter, who exercised his opt-out earlier this week, and immediately brought him into the fold with uncertainty about DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton on the injured list.

LeMahieu, who had a cortisone shot in his wrist, was still out of the lineup and he tried hitting and took balls at third base before Thursday night’s game. He said the shot had not yet helped enough. The Yankees are also without Josh Donaldson, who is on the COVID-19 list but has not tested positive for the coronavirus. The third baseman is back in New York dealing with a respiratory illness. He is also facing a possible one-game suspension after his altercation with White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, whom he repeatedly called “Jackie,” in reference to Jackie Robinson. Donaldson issued a statement saying that he and Anderson, who is Black and interpreted the comments as racist, have a mutual understanding. Donaldson is appealing the league’s discipline.

Thursday night, the Yankees were just trying to get through their first series against the always tough Rays. It is also the first of a streak in which the Bombers will play 10 out of 13 games against teams with a winning record, after facing the perpetually rebuilding Orioles seven out of the last 10.

Carpenter, signed by the Yankees after opting out of his minor league deal with the Rangers last week, arrived at the visitors’ clubhouse about an hour and a half before first pitch and minutes before he was hustled off to the hitters’ meeting. The three-time All-Star and former Cardinal was rushed into the lineup less than an hour before first pitch when Hicks was scratched with tightness in his right hamstring.

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