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March 13, 2013 at 7:03 PM   |   Comments

System gave warning of Calif. earthquake

PASADENA, Calif., March 13 (UPI) -- Seismologists in California say an earthquake early-warning system proved a success, giving them 30 seconds to prepare for a quake that struck Monday.

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., said Wednesday The Early Earthquake Warning project -- a test run of a proposed statewide program that would utilize thousands of existing ground sensors -- alerted them to a 4.7 earthquake in Anza, around 100 miles to the southeast.

"It was right," Kate Hutton, a seismologist with Caltech, said of the system.

"I sat really still to see if I could feel it and it worked," she told the Los Angeles Times.

Even a few seconds of warning could be important in the event of an earthquake, seismologists say -- giving utilities time to shut down, trains an opportunity to reduce speed and lessen the risk of derailment and workers a chance to move to avoid hazardous materials or dangerous areas.

Because earthquake waves move through the ground at the speed of sound, about 5 miles per second, a warning system could do little to help people within 20 miles of an earthquake's epicenter, but warnings could help people at farther distances, they said.

The system that warned of Monday's temblor was part of a beta-test for an early warning program proposed last year, although officials said incorporating the thousands of monitors and sensors across California into a state-wide system could cost as much as $80 million.


Ancient coin links China, East Africa

CHICAGO, March 13 (UPI) -- A 15th-century Chinese coin found in Kenya shows trade existed between China and east Africa decades before European explorers arrived, researchers say.

A joint expedition of The Field Museum and the University of Illinois at Chicago unearthed the 600-year-old coin on the Kenyan island of Manda, a release by the museum reported Wednesday.

The small copper and silver coin, with a square hole in the center so it could be worn on a belt, was issued by China's Emperor Yongle, who reigned from AD 1403-1425 during the Ming Dynasty, the researcher said.

Yongle initiated political and trade missions to the lands surrounding the Indian Ocean and sent Admiral Zheng He to explore the region, they said.

"Zheng He was, in many ways, the Christopher Columbus of China," Chapurukha M. Kusimba, the museum's curator of African Anthropology, said. "It's wonderful to have a coin that may ultimately prove he came to Kenya."

After Emperor Yongle's death later Chinese rulers banned foreign expeditions, allowing European explorers to dominate the Age of Discovery, the researchers said.

"We know Africa has always been connected to the rest of the world, but this coin opens a discussion about the relationship between China and Indian Ocean nations," Kusimba said.


Texas sees dwindling number of butterflies

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, March 13 (UPI) -- The numbers of Monarch butterflies migrating north across Texas from Mexico are down, scientists say, from drought, wildfires and a loss of food plants.

"The severe drought in Texas and much of the Southwest continues to wreak havoc with the number of Monarchs," Texas A&M researchers Craig Wilson said.

Milkweed plants -- the only kind that the butterflies feed on to survive -- are not in plentiful supply, he said.

"The conditions have been dry both here and in Mexico in recent years. It takes four generations of the insects to make it all of the way up to Canada, and because of lack of milkweed along the way, a lot of them just don't make it."

Reports coming from Mexico where the Monarchs have their breeding grounds show their numbers are significantly down, a disturbing trend lasting much of the past decade, a university release said Wednesday.

Wildfires in the past few years have hampered milkweed growth, researchers said, and even though there are more than 30 types of milkweed in the state there isn't enough to sustain the Monarchs as they start their 2,000-mile migration trip to Canada.

"It is important to have a national priority of planting milkweed to assure there will be Monarchs in the future," Wilson said. "If we could get several states to collaborate, we might be able to provide a 'feeding' corridor right up to Canada for the Monarchs."


U.K. phone users get French connections

DOVER, England, March 13 (UPI) -- People in two small towns on Britain's south coast say they're getting roaming charges because their cellphones keep connecting to a French carrier.

Users of mobile devices in St. Margaret-at-Cliffe and St. Margaret's Bay near Dover said they regularly get "Welcome to France" messages when using their phones, the BBC reported.

This has resulted in extra costs including data roaming charges from their British cellphone service providers, they said.

The villages are blocked by the white cliffs of Dover from receiving British signals and residents are sometimes connected to the French network, depending on atmospheric conditions and the weather.

"We are a little telecommunications enclave of France here," Nigel Wydymus, landlord of the Coastguard pub and restaurant, said.

"Obviously people strolling along the beach in England do not expect to be on a French network and so, unlike when they get off the plane in Spain or elsewhere, they haven't switched off their data roaming and it causes some extra bills," he said.

The cost of calls made on the French network can be as much as four times that of using a British network, the BBC said.

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