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Top 10 Influential News Stories of 2010-2011

Bryan Johnson

The year 2010 recorded some of the worst natural disasters in history. The events have had a strong impact on people as we move into 2011. Many of the disturbances have been blamed on the world’s current global weather disruption. In researching various articles on the internet that explore the most shocking news stories from 2010, Sandra Bullock’s name was far too frequent. You won’t find any updates on celebrity relationship status in this article. All of these news stories have had a direct impact on world societies. Some important stories that were deserving but left out of the list are: the 2010 earthquakes that hit Haiti and Chile, Typhoon Megi, the Phnom Penh stampede and the death of Néstor Kirchner.

10

Grim Sleeper

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In the early 1980s, a collection of black women began to turn up dead in the alleyways and dumpsters of South Los Angeles, California. On September 23, 1985, the police announced that they believed a single individual, labeled the Southside Slayer, was responsible for the crimes. The case turned cold until May 2007, when the murder of Janecia Peters, 25, was linked by DNA analysis to 11 unsolved murders attributed to the Southside Slayer. The attacker was soon dubbed the Grim Sleeper by the local press, because he supposedly took a 14-year hiatus from his crimes, from 1988 to 2002. In August 2008, the LA Weekly conducted an extensive interview with the sole survivor of the Southside Slayer attacks and she provided several important details, describing him as a “thin, neat, polite and well-groomed African-American guy.”

The killer documented his attack with a Polaroid camera. The female victim blacked out, but was startled awake by the bright flash of the camera. On July 7, 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that an arrest had been made in the Grim Sleeper case. The suspect is Lonnie David Franklin Jr., who is 57 years old. Originally, the police had not been able to obtain a DNA match between evidence found at the crime scenes and people in California’s DNA profile database. However, officials located similar DNA belonging to Lonnie Franklin’s son, Christopher, who was convicted of a felony weapons charge. Ultimately, the police used a piece of discarded pizza with Lonnie Franklin’s DNA to make the link.

In order to obtain the evidence, a federal detective pretended to be a waiter at a restaurant where the suspect ate. He collected dishes, silverware, glasses, and pizza crusts to obtain DNA. Saliva found on the victim’s breasts was used to obtain a DNA match linking Lonnie Franklin to the murders. Along with the DNA evidence, the police discovered a large collection of circumstantial evidence against Franklin when searching his home. On December 16, 2010, the Los Angeles Police Department released 180 photos of women found in Franklin’s home. Officials released the images after unsuccessful attempts to identify the people, who are possibly additional victims.

In all, investigators found over 1,000 photos and several hundred hours of video in Franklin’s home. The images show mainly African American women of a wide age range, from teenagers to middle-aged and older, often nude. Police believe Franklin took many of the pictures, which show both conscious and unconscious individuals, and date back up to 30 years. As the history of serial killers has taught us, the number of linked murders to a specific DNA specimen does not indicate the entire murder count. The photographs suggest that Franklin may have killed hundreds of unidentified women. Currently, Lonnie David Franklin Jr. is charged with 10 homicides and 1 attempted murder. He is being held without bail and could face the death penalty if convicted.

9

Nodar Kumaritashvili

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Nodar Kumaritashvili was a Georgian luger, who suffered a fatal crash during a training run for the 2010 Winter Olympics competition in Vancouver, Canada. Georgia is a sovereign state that is situated at the juncture of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The country is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. Nodar Kumaritashvili first began to compete in the sport of luge when he was 13 years old. He came from a family of seasoned lugers. In 2010, Nodar qualified for the men’s singles event at the 2010 Winter Olympics, which would be his Olympic debut. On February 12, 2010, he was killed in a crash during a training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Kumaritashvili lost control in the final turn of the course and was thrown off his luge and over the sidewall of the track, striking an unprotected steel support pole. He was travelling at 143.6 km/h (89.2 mph) at the moment of impact. The luge course at Whistler is notoriously fast and, before the competition, Josef Fendt, president of the International Luge Federation (FIL), publicized his concerns about the Sliding Centre. Nodar Kumaritashvili was the fourth athlete to die during Winter Olympics preparations, after British luger Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypeski, Australian skier Ross Milne (both Innsbruck 1964), and Swiss speed skier Nicolas Bochatay (Albertville 1992). He was the sixth athlete to die in the long history of the Olympic Games. During the opening ceremony, a moment of silence was held to honor the young man’s memory, when both the Canadian and Olympic flags were lowered to half-staff.

8

2010 Eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull

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Eyjafjallajökull is one of Iceland’s smaller ice caps, located in the far south of the island. It is situated to the north of Skógar and to the west of the larger ice cap, Mýrdalsjökull. Eyjafjallajökull covers the caldera of a volcano, with a summit elevation of 1,666 meters (5,466 ft). The volcano has erupted relatively frequently since the last ice age. Before 2010, the most recent major event was in 1920. The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruptions weren’t the largest ever recorded, but the subsequent ash clouds that were released caused an enormous disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe over a six day period in April 2010. It was the highest level of air travel disruption since the Second World War.

The most severe explosion occurred on April 14, 2010, and resulted in an estimated 250 million cubic meters (330,000,000 cu yd) of ejected tephra. The ash plume rose to a height of approximately 9 kilometers (30,000 ft). The subsequent air traffic closures caused millions of passengers to be stranded, not only in Europe, but across the world. Between the months of April and May, 2010, various regions, including Ireland, Scotland, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, northern Italy and Austria, had to completely close their airspace. The volcano was able to inject its ash plume directly into the jet stream. The ash was then carried over Europe into some of the busiest airspace in the world.

Previous eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull have historically been followed by eruptions of its larger neighbor, Katla. In the past 1,000 years, all three known eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull have triggered a subsequent Katla event, often times within months of each other. Katla is one of the largest and more dangerous volcanoes in Iceland. On April 20, 2010, Icelandic President Ólafur Grímsson said “the time for Katla to erupt is coming close, we [Iceland] have prepared. It is high time for European governments and airline authorities all over Europe and the world to start planning for the eventual Katla eruption.” The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that the airline industry worldwide lost €148 million (US$200 million, GB£130 million) a day during the air travel disruptions.

7

Bedbug Infestation

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Bedbugs are small parasitic insects that survive by feeding exclusively on the blood of warm-blooded animals. In many nations, bedbugs were largely eradicated as pests in the early 1940s, with the help of pesticides. The insects were common in the U.S. before World War II, but became rare after the widespread use of DDT. Beginning in the summer of 2010, a large collection of bedbug infestations began to spread across the United States. The national media conducted daily updates on the situation, and reports of the insects occurred in thousands of homes from New York to Ohio. Besides houses, the pests showed up in malls, restaurants and hotels.

Contrary to what many believe, the infestations were often reported in clean, upscale hotels. The 2010 outbreak caused the first-ever bedbug summit in Chicago, where experts convened to discuss the invasion. The tiny bugs are not only hard to get rid of, but their expansion is all but impossible to prevent. A few tiny bugs clinging to a piece of clothing can lead to an infestation of not just your bed, but your sofa, your closet and your carpets. A number of health effects can occur due to bedbugs, including skin rashes, psychological effects and allergic symptoms.

To make the situation worse, recent tests have determined that the insects responsible for the 2010 outbreak have undergone a genetic restructuring. The new bedbugs have developed immunity to many chemicals. They also have a better ability to protect nerve cells and thicker shells. All of this research has determined that we are being confronted with an entirely different species of insect. Bedbug infestations across North America haven’t spared London, where the city-run public housing agency’s pest-control budget has increased 10-fold for 2011. Officials are trying to find an effective way to track and kill the bedbug populations. Some of these methods include bedbug-sniffing dogs and a wide range of treatments that involve both extreme heat and cold.

6

2010 Copiapó Mining Accident

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Chile has a long tradition of mining, which began during the 20th century and has made the country the world’s top producer of copper. Since 2000, approximately 34 people a year have been killed in mining accidents in Chile. On August 5, 2010, a cave-in occurred at the San José copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert near Copiapó, Chile. The accident left 33 men trapped 700 meters (2,300 ft) underground, approximately 5 kilometers (3 mi) from the mine entrance. The initial rock fall caused a thick dust cloud that blinded the miners for up to six hours, and created lingering eye irritation and burning. The trapped miners initially tried to escape through a ventilation shaft system, but all attempts failed.

To find the miners, rescuers used percussion drills to make eight exploratory boreholes about 15 centimeters (5.9 in) wide. The effort was complicated by out-of-date maps of the mine shafts. While underground, the crew’s supervisor, Luis Urzúa, helped organize the workers meager resources. The men gathered in a secure room called a “refuge.” On August 22, the eighth borehole broke through a ramp, located 688 meters (2,257 ft) underground. Approximately 20 meters (66 ft) from an emergency shelter room where the miners were staying. The crew heard the drills approaching for days and prepared notes which they attached to the tip of the drill. The engineers thought they heard tapping on the drill tip, but were surprised to discover the notes, as the miners had survived for 17 days, which was much longer than expected.

The note read “We are alright in the shelter, the 33 [of us].” The words became an emblem of the miners’ survival and the rescue effort, appearing on websites, banners and t-shirts. Video cameras were soon sent down the borehole capturing the first grainy, black-and-white, silent images of the skinny, dirty, shirtless and unshaven men. The miners survived underground for a record 69 days. All 33 people were rescued and brought to the surface on October 13, 2010. After the last trapped miner was winched to the surface, the rescue workers held up a sign stating “Mission accomplished Chile” to the estimated more than 1 billion people watching on live television around the world. The event was one of the most watched programs of the 21st century.

5

WikiLeaks

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WikiLeaks is an international non-profit organization that publishes submissions of private, secret and classified media from anonymous news sources. The WikiLeaks website was launched in 2006. An Australian journalist named Julian Assange is the founder, spokesperson and editor in chief of WikiLeaks. Since 2006, the site has published material exposing extrajudicial killings in Kenya, toxic waste dumping in Côte d’Ivoire, Church of Scientology manuals and Guantanamo Bay procedures. However, WikiLeaks made international headlines in 2010 when they posted classified details surrounding the American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. On November 28, 2010, WikiLeaks and its five media partners began publishing secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

The WikiLeaks website began to gain mainstream recognition when they released a video showing an American airstrike that occurred on July 12, 2007 in Baghdad, which still remains on the website. The classified U.S. military footage shows a series of attacks by a U.S. helicopter that killed 12 people, including two news staff, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. After gaining military clearance, the helicopter fired a series of 30 mm calibre cannon shells into a group of ten men alleged by the U.S. Army to be Iraqi insurgents. In fact, the American soldiers had mistaken a collection of cameras for guns. The video is extremely graphic, especially the initial shooting when a group of people are instantly killed.

The second airstrike, using 30 mm fire, was directed at a man who pulled up in a van and attempted to help the wounded. In the third airstrike, the “Bush” helicopter team deployed three AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, which destroyed a building. An undisclosed number of civilians were killed in the explosion. It was the first time that the American public had been exposed to such a war video. After WikiLeaks released a series of logs surrounding the Iraqi War, the Pentagon referred to the exposure as “the largest leak of classified documents in its history.” Media coverage of the documents focused on claims that the U.S. government ignored reports of torture by the Iraqi authorities.

In October 2010, Assange told a leading Moscow newspaper that “The Kremlin had better brace itself for a coming wave of WikiLeaks disclosures about Russia.” In 2010, Assange told Forbes magazine that WikiLeaks was planning another “megaleak” for early in 2011, which would be from inside the private sector and involve “a big U.S. bank.” Following the announcement, Bank of America’s stock price fell by 3%. During the interview, Assange commented on the possible impact of the leak. “It could take down a bank or two.” In December 2010, Julian Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC, that WikiLeaks had information that it considers to be a “thermo-nuclear device” which it would release if the organization needs to defend itself.

4

Ajka Alumina Plant Accident

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On October 4, 2010, approximately one million cubic meters of red mud was released from an alumina plant near Kolontár, in western Hungary. The ecological disaster occurred when the northwestern corner of the caustic waste dam at the Ajkai Timföldgyár alumina plant collapsed, releasing liquid waste from the red mud lakes. Red mud is a solid waste product of the Bayer process, which is the way industries refine bauxite to produce alumina. Alumina is then used in the production of aluminum metal. The toxic material presents one of the industry’s most challenging disposal problems. In most countries where red mud is produced, it is pumped into holding ponds, which need to be contained with large dams.

Due to the Bayer process, the red mud is highly basic with a pH ranging from 10 to 13. During the 2010 Ajka accident, the red mud was released as a 1–2 m (3–7 ft) wave, flooding several nearby localities, including the village of Kolontár and the town of Devecser. The high pH levels of the mud caused severe chemical burns to humans and animals, killing life in rivers and contaminating soil. At least nine people died and 122 people were injured. The chemicals extinguished all life in the 100 km (62 mi) long Marcal River.

On October 7, 2010, the red mud reached the Danube River, prompting countries, such as Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine to develop emergency plans in response. The Danube is Europe’s second longest river. It is notable for being classified as an international waterway. On October 11, the Hungarian government announced that the managing director of the company involved with the disaster had been arrested, to be charged with “criminal negligence leading to a public catastrophe.” After the spill, emergency teams began pouring plaster and acetic acid (vinegar) into the Raba-Danube meeting point to lower the pH value.

After a government inquest, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán released a statement that indicated the cause of the spill was, presumably, human error. The Hungarian government has also said that the mud is “not poisonous” to humans. It has been suggested that the heavy metal concentrations are not continuing to impact the environment. On the hierarchy of industrial wastes, red mud is not as toxic as most. However, recent studies of the soil have indicated that a high level of salt in the ground is negatively impacting plant life. The ecological disaster remains one of the worst in the history of Hungary. Following the accident, a second dam was build directly behind the original to prevent the weakened wall from a complete failure.

3

Animal Mass Death Events

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Since the middle of 2010, the world has experienced a series of bizarre events surrounding the mass death of various animal species. Large groups of wildlife, predominately birds and fish are dying off in large numbers. The isolated events have received a significant amount of media attention and created internet buzz. The scientific world is yet to release information describing the potential cause of many of the strange occurrences. However, it appears that a wide range of potential factors are disturbing the world’s animal life. The mass death events are alarming because they might indicate a problem in the Earth’s natural cycle, possibly stemming from the global climate disruption we are experiencing.

Let’s examine some of the mass death events that have been reported in 2010 and 2011. The U.S. Geological Service’s website has listed 90 mass deaths of birds and other wildlife from June through December 12, 2010. On December 29, 2010, 100,000 freshwater drum were found dead across 17 miles (27 km) of the Arkansas River bank. The fish were reported along the Ozark Lock and Dam downstream to River Mile 240, directly south of Hartman, Arkansas. The exact cause of the mass death is yet to be determined, however, state officials have suggested that a disease may be at fault. Residents have been advised not to eat the fish.

In research on the Arkansas River incident, it has been noted that earthquakes may be a contributing factor. In 2009, the state of Arkansas registered 38 earthquakes. Since September 20, 2010, the area around Guy, Arkansas, has been plagued by more than 500 earthquakes. The temblors, ranging from 1.8 to 4.0, have been described as abnormal for this area. Beginning in early 2011, the string of unexplained animal deaths began to be referred to in the media as the “aflockalypse,” provoking comparisons to a cataclysmic event such as the apocalypse.

On New Year’s Eve, 2010 more than 5,000 dead red-winged blackbirds and starlings were found in Beebe, Arkansas, USA. The incident has been attributed to mass collisions and stress caused by fireworks. On December 30th, three young whooping cranes and hundreds of grackles, cowbirds, starlings and red-winged blackbirds died in Kentucky. The cranes were first seen flying low and crashing into objects in the streets. It appears that in many of the various descriptions of bird fatalities, the animals are becoming confused and running themselves into poles, signs, buildings and other objects.

Between the dates of December 28 and January 3rd, 100 tons of dead fish washed ashore the Brazilian coast, near the port of Paranagua. On January 3rd, an estimated 2 million fish died in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. This event has been attributed to the cold weather. On January 5th, thousands of dead turtle doves were found in Faenza, Italy. The birds were discovered with a noticeable blue stain on their beaks. The Italian government was shocked by the deaths and noted the rarity of the event. On January 8th-9th, thousands of dead gizzard shad fish turned up in the harbors of Chicago. During the month of December, more than 100 pelicans died under suspicious circumstances along the beaches of Topsail Island, North Carolina. The list goes on, spanning many areas of the world.

2

World Floods

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Beginning in late 2010 and early 2011, a series of floods have devastated certain areas of the world, most notably Australia and Rio de Janeiro. In December 2010, a great flood hit the state of Queensland, Australia, including its capital city, Brisbane. The floods forced the evacuation of at least 70 towns and over 200,000 people were affected. The December 2010 Gascoyne River flood was the one of the most severe floods to ever take place along the Gascoyne River in Western Australia. It was triggered by record-breaking rainfall, amounting to over 6,000% of the monthly mean in just four days. The flood caused widespread damage in the region, most notably the coastal town of Carnarvon.

A high intensity of rainfall between January 12 and 14, 2011, caused major flooding across much of the western and central parts of the Australian state of Victoria. The question has been raised. When will the rain stop? Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser said it is not possible to put a figure on the damage, but a rough estimate is currently putting lost revenue from Australia’s GDP at about A$30 billion. The floods damaged a large portion of Australia’s coal mines and cotton plantings, among other resources. The 2010 La Niña weather pattern, which brings wetter conditions to eastern Australia, was the strongest since 1973.

Record or near to record sea surface temperatures were recorded off the Queensland coast in late 2010. The month of December, 2010, was Queensland’s wettest on record. 2010 was the Australian continent’s third wettest year ever. Communities isolated by floodwaters have experienced food shortages, and a rise in the cost of fruits and vegetables. On January 11, the Wivenhoe Dam in South East Queensland filled to a level equivalent to 191% of its supply capacity. The dam can hold the equivalent of 225% of its supply capacity. As of January 14, 2011, 30 deaths have been attributed to the Australian floods, 15 of which are from the Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley area. Additionally, 14 people are listed as missing.

Starting on January 11, 2011, a series of floods and mudslides struck the Mountainous Region in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. The floods have caused at least 763 deaths so far, including 367 in the Nova Friburgo area and 310 in the city of Teresópolis. In a 24-hour period between January 11 and 12, 2011, this area of Brazil registered more rainfall than was expected for the entire month. Following the downpour, many areas in the region flooded. The disaster caused widespread property damage. Around 2960 people had their homes destroyed. The Brazilian local media has claimed that the combination of floods, mudslides and landslides in Rio de Janeiro has become the worst weather-related natural disaster in the country’s history. However, a similar flooding event occurred in 1967 when 1,700 people lost their lives.

1

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

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On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit experienced a large explosion and fire, while drilling in the Macondo Prospect oil field about 40 miles (60 km) southeast of the Louisiana coast. The blast caused an underwater wellhead to erupt and started a massive offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which flowed for three months. The environmental disaster is considered the largest in U.S. history. In all, the event resulted in the release of approximately 4.9 million barrels or 205.8 million gallons of crude oil. It is the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. The spill continues to cause severe damage to marine and wildlife habitats, as well as the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries.

By late November 2010, 320 miles (510 km) of the Louisiana shoreline was closed because of the spill. In January 2011, eight months after the explosion, an oil spill commissioner reported that tar balls continue to wash ashore, wetlands are fouled and dying, and crude oil remains visible off the Gulf of Mexico coastlines. Scientists have reported immense underwater plumes of dissolved oil not visible on the surface, as well as an 80-square-mile (210 km) “kill zone” surrounding the damaged BP well, where it looks like everything is dead on the seafloor. The disaster has put hundreds of endangered animal species at risk.

The North Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, prized for sushi and sashimi, regularly travels across the Atlantic seaboard to spawn in the Gulf of Mexico. Five of the world’s seven sea turtle species live, migrate and breed in the Gulf region. Kemp’s ridley is the world’s most endangered species of sea turtle. Ten days after the accident, scientists recorded 156 sea turtle deaths, most of the victims were Kemp’s ridleys. The grass beds south of the Chandeleur Islands are very close to the oil spill. These grasses are a nursing area for a large number of shark species. Oil spills pose an immediate threat to marine mammals because they need to surface and breathe. Some other notable creatures at risk are Louisiana oysters, shrimp, blue crab, and a huge collection of birds, including the Brown Pelican.

One of the biggest unknown factors surrounding the spill is related to the dispersants BP used to fight the oil. Dispersants are a collection of chemicals that rapidly disperse large amounts of certain types of oil from the sea surface by transferring it into the water column. The oil is effectively spread over a larger volume of water and taken off the surface of the ocean. Dispersants can delay the formation of persistent oil-in-water emulsions. The problem is that laboratory experiments show that dispersants have increased the toxic hydrocarbon levels in fish by a factor of up to 100 and may kill fish eggs. Some people believe that BP used these chemicals because they wanted the oil out of sight and mind.

BP didn’t want people to see the oil collecting on the surface of the water, so they made the premature decision to use the dispersants. A dispersant was used in an attempt to clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. During that spill, fisheries didn’t see a dramatic decline in business right away. However, four years after the disaster, the herring market made a strong decline. Since that time, there has been a steady downward trend of the salmon fisheries in the area where the Exxon Valdez spill occurred, which is Prince William Sound, Alaska. This has concerned environmentalists who have predicted that the damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is only beginning to impact the world economy and sea life.