Earth Changes


Tough birds make better singers

© Fotosearch
A Northern Mockingbird
A hostile environment and inconsistent weather may explain why some birds become better singers than others, and are also likely to have superior learning and mating skills, according to a new study.

The research is based on a large-scale study of mockingbirds in different habitats carried out by researchers at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre (NESCent) in Durham, North Carolina, the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, and McGill University.

"As environments become more variable or unpredictable, song displays become more elaborate," said Carlos Botero, a postdoctoral researcher at NESCent.

Afghan mudslide kills five children

A mudslide has killed five children in northern Afghanistan, where weeks of heavy rain has killed about 150 people and destroyed hundreds of houses, officials said on Saturday.

The children, aged between seven and 10, died in the northern province of Balkh late on Friday when they were buried by earth and stones as they were playing and watching animals graze, deputy provincial governor Abdul Satar Barez said.

The earth had been loosened by construction and days of downpour, he said.
Arrow Up

Australia: Massive dust storm envelops Southwestern New South Wales

NSW Dust Storms
Latest colour mean sea level pressure analysis for Australia and New Zealand
There have been reports of huge dust storms in the south-west of New South Wales as winds whip up dirt from dry paddocks.

The Bureau of Meteorology says there are strong easterly winds in excess of 35 kilometres per hour going right through the ranges, northern tablelands and central tablelands, with the strongest winds in Wagga.

Corals upgrade algae to beat the heat

© Jurgen Freund / Nature Picture Library / Rex Features
This fan coral is in good health, and many of its relatives may stay healthy if they can upgrade their in-house algae.
In oceans around the world, heat-resistant algae are offering the prospect of a colourful future for corals. The reef-forming animals are upgrading their symbiotic algae so that they can survive the bleaching that occurs in waters warming under climate change.

"The most exciting thing was discovering live, healthy corals on reefs already as hot as the ocean is likely to get 100 years from now," says Stephen Palumbi of Stanford University.

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with tiny algae called zooxanthellae. The corals give the algae a home and, in exchange, the algae provide the corals with food. When water temperatures get too hot, the corals expel the algae. This is what is known as coral bleaching and it is expected to kill coral reefs around the world as global temperatures rise.

Ancient Colony of Microbes Found Thriving Without Oxygen, Warmth or Light

© AP
Iron oxides stain the snout of the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica
An ancient colony of microbes thriving without oxygen, warmth or light beneath a rusty glacier has led scientists to re-evaluate what it takes for life to survive.

The bugs, believed to be descended from ocean-dwelling organisms, have evolved a unique ecosystem in a briny pool under 400 meters of ice.

There they have flourished for at least 1.5 million years, transforming sulfur and iron compounds to fuel their growth.
Bizarro Earth

Earthquake Magnitude 5.7 - Puebla, Mexico

© US Geological Survey
Date-Time Friday, May 22, 2009 at 19:24:18 UTC

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 02:24:18 PM at epicenter

Location 18.347°N, 98.267°W

Depth 56 km (34.8 miles) set by location program


Distances 75 km (45 miles) NW of Huajuapan de Leon, Oaxaca, Mexico
80 km (50 miles) S of Puebla, Puebla, Mexico

90 km (55 miles) W of Tehuacan, Puebla, Mexico

150 km (95 miles) SE of MEXICO CITY, D.F., Mexico
Arrow Down

Australia's Tasmanian devil declared endangered

Tasmanian devil
© Agence France-Presse/Torsten Blackwood
Australia's Tasmanian devil, the world's largest surviving marsupial carnivore, will be listed as endangered because of a contagious and deadly cancer, the government said
Australia's Tasmanian devil, the world's largest surviving marsupial carnivore, will be listed as endangered because of a contagious and deadly cancer, the government said.

"This disease has led to the decline of about 70 percent of the Tasmanian devil population since the disease was first reported in 1996," Environment Minister Peter Garrett said in a statement.

Devil facial tumour disease, which is spread through biting, kills the animals usually within three months by growing over their faces and mouths, preventing them from eating.

Australia: Residents of Northern New South Wales told to flee floods

NSW Floods 1
Latest infrared satellite image from MTSAT-1R
Thousands of residents in northern New South Wales have been asked to evacuate, as the Clarence and Wilson Rivers threaten to flood surrounding towns.

At least 9,000 Grafton residents have been told to leave, with the town predicted to flood tonight.

However, there are differing reports about the number of residents being asked to evacuate, with the SES putting the figure at about 20,000.

Australia: Tropical North Queensland Wakes To Coldest May Morning

Cooktown - north of Cairns, Australia
Two far north Queensland towns have experienced their coldest May morning on record.

Cooktown, north of Cairns, was 10 degrees Celsius at 6:00am AEST - two degrees below its previous record low.

Contaminants In Marine Mammals' Brains

© Eric Montie
Atlantic white-sided dolphin and her calf.
The most extensive study of pollutants in marine mammals' brains reveals that these animals are exposed to a hazardous cocktail of pesticides such as DDTs and PCBs, as well as emerging contaminants such as brominated flame retardants.

Eric Montie, the lead author on the study currently in press and published online in Environmental Pollution, performed the research as a student in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution-MIT Joint Graduate Program in Oceanography and Ocean Engineering and as a postdoctoral fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

The final data analysis and writing were conducted at College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, where Montie now works in David Mann's marine sensory biology lab.