Earth Changes

Better Earth

A "New Level" of Disaster: BP's 70-Ton Oil Containment Dome Floats, No "Plan B"

© Agence France-Presse
Update: 'Flummoxed' BP engineers ask public for oil leak solutions

New Orleans, Louisanna -- With the impending threat of a growing oil slick just offshore, US Gulf coast states are seizing at all straws to avert disaster, with police in north Florida even suggesting protecting beaches with rolls of hay.

"That's why we get a lot of inventions in wartime, because people are willing to take a chance," Eric Smith, an oil and gas expert at Tulane University in New Orleans, said of the flood of ideas on how to stop the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Florida's Santa Rosa Beach, Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson and C.W. Roberts, Inc., a private contractor, unveiled their audacious plan to stop oil from blackening 26 miles of pristine white beaches facing the Gulf.


Gulf Oil Spill Spreads West Toward Texas

© Reuters/Daniel Beltra
An aerial view of the oil leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, May 6, 2010.
Robert, Louisiana - BP Plc engineers desperately explored options on Sunday to control oil gushing from a ruptured well deep under the Gulf of Mexico after a setback with a huge undersea containment dome fueled fears of a prolonged and growing environmental disaster.

The spill is spreading west, further from Florida but toward the important shipping channels and rich seafood areas of the Louisiana shoreline, where fishing, shrimping and oyster harvesting bans have been widened.

A state of emergency was declared in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, with sheen, the leading edge of the oil slick, forecast to come ashore near Port Fourchon within days.

BP is exploring several new options to control the spill after a buildup of crystallized gas in the dome forced engineers to delay efforts to place a massive four-story containment chamber over the rupture on Saturday.

Cloud Lightning

Over 200 private houses flooded in Dagestan due to heavy rains

Three residential areas were flooded in the town of Mamedkala, the Derbent district of Dagestan, due to heavy rains and an emergency water discharge from the local Gedzhukh lake. Some 210 private houses, where about 1,000 people live, were flooded, a source in the Emergency Situations Ministry main department in Dagestan reported.

The dam of the Gedzhukh lake was not damaged, the source said on Tuesday. The republican emergency service and the republican authorities laid out an evacuation camp for 250 people, but the local residents prefer to stay temporarily at their relatives.


Tennessee flood damage at least $1 billion: governor

Tennessee sustained more than $1 billion in flood damage just in the private sector, and many homeowners likely were not insured against flooding, the governor said on Thursday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has received 8,500 requests for financial aid, which could come in the form of loans or grants, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a conference call with reporters.

"This is a very large, very complex flood event and the numbers are only going to go up," Fugate said.

A weekend deluge triggered flash flooding and pushed rivers out of their banks in parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, killing some 30 people.

"I'd be astonished if there weren't $1 billion in damage in the private sector, and probably considerably more," Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen told reporters.

Bizarro Earth

New "Plan" After Gulf Oil Containment Failure

© AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Black waves of oil and brown whitecaps are seen off the side of the supply vessel Joe Griffin at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, Sunday, May 9, 2010.
Crews planned Sunday to park the giant oil containment box on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and offload equipment that could be used in a new attempt to stem the flow of gushing into the sea.

The equipment to be offloaded from another vessel would use a tube to shoot mud and concrete directly into the well's blowout preventer, a process that could take two to three weeks. But BP PLC spokesman Mark Proegler said no decisions have been made on what step the company will take next.

The company was considering several options, including the technique known as a "top kill," Proegler said.

Crews planned to secure the big box about 1,600 feet from the massive leak site, much farther away from where it was placed Saturday after icelike crystals clogged the top when it was over the leak, according to a daily activity sheet reviewed by The Associated Press.

It could be at least a day before BP can make another attempt at putting a lid on a well spewing thousands of gallons of crude into the Gulf each day.

Waves of dark brown and black sludge crashed into a boat in the area above the leak. The fumes there were so intense that a crewmember of the Joe Griffin and an AP photographer on board had to wear respirators while outside.


US: Arizona - Dividends of a Real Winter - 144 inches of snow in Flagstaff

© Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun
A Blue Heron flies lazily across Marshall Lake beneath the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks on Thursday. After a winter of heavy snowfall, area lakes are at, or near, capacity.
Northern Arizona is seeing the dividends of this winter in area reservoirs and damp forests. What's less certain is this year's fire season. Despite this past week's wildfire in Timberline, firefighters expect the fire season to be moderate or light, because the big logs lying on the ground are still saturated from the snow.

But the finer fuels like grasses and twigs are beginning to dry, leading to the expectation of severe fires in grasslands and deserts at lower elevations. Depending on the weather and the wind, as seen last week in Timberline, the bigger fuels could dry, too.

"The future weather is what will determine whether it will be a moderate or severe fire season," said Buck Wickham, division chief of the Peaks Ranger District on the Coconino National Forest.


Bahamas islands were giant labs for lizard experiment

© Danita Delimont/Alamy
Think that'll save you?
Wrapping entire islands in the Bahamas with netting, introducing snakes to two other islands and measuring the fitness of hundreds of lizards using treadmills: one of the most ambitious ecological field experiments ever conducted has resolved a long-standing question about the evolution of lizards.

Lizards of the genus Anolis are found throughout the American tropics, where they vary widely in size and shape depending on ecological conditions. It has long been thought that predation is the most important evolutionary force for continental lizard populations, whereas on islands competition between lizards themselves is more important. Until now, though, no one had tested this experimentally.

Ryan Calsbeek and Robert Cox of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, cut no corners in their experiment. They excluded predators from two small, uninhabited islands in the Bahamas by wrapping the islands - about 1000 square metres each - with netting to keep out predatory birds. Meanwhile, they enhanced predation on two other islands by introducing lizard-eating snakes.

Bizarro Earth

Mercury high in Japanese town that hunts dolphins

© AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
Dolphin sashimi, raw slices from the breast of a striped dolphin, is served during lunch at Moby Dick, a hotel run by the local government, in Taiji, southwestern Japan, Sunday, May 9, 2010.
Taiji - Residents of the dolphin-hunting village depicted in Oscar documentary The Cove have dangerously high mercury levels, likely because of their fondness for dolphin and whale meat, a government lab said Sunday.

The levels of mercury detected in Taiji residents were above the national average, but follow-up tests have found no ill effects, according to the National Institute for Minamata Disease. The tests were done on hair samples from 1,137 volunteers of the town's roughly 3,500 residents.

"The results suggest there is a connection between hair mercury levels and eating cetaceans," Director Koji Okamoto told reporters at town hall.

Mercury accumulates up the food chain, so large predators such as dolphins, tuna and swordfish tend to have the highest levels. The latest studies published by the Japanese government show that meat from bottlenose dolphins had about 1,000 times the mercury content of that from sardines.

Fetuses and small children are particularly vulnerable to mercury, which affects the development of the nervous system. The Health Ministry recommends that pregnant women eat at most 2.8 ounces (80 grams) of bottlenose dolphin per two months.


BP's First Attempt to Divert Gulf Oil Leak Fails

On the Gulf of Mexico - It could be at least a day before BP can make another attempt at putting a lid on a well spewing thousands of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, as a big box meant to siphon the oil away sat idle and encased in ice crystals.

The company's first attempt to divert the oil was foiled, its mission now in serious doubt. Meanwhile, thick blobs of tar washed up on Alabama's white sand beaches, yet another sign the spill was worsening.

It had taken about two weeks to build the box and three days to cart it 50 miles out and slowly lower it to the well a mile below the surface, but the frozen depths were just too much. BP officials were not giving up hopes that a containment box - either the one brought there or another one being built - could cover the well.

But they said it could Monday or later before they decide whether to make another attempt to capture the oil and funnel it to a tanker at the surface would be tried. The box was moved hundreds of feet away while officials tried to figure out their next move.


Environmentalists, Lawyers, and Fishermen Go After BP

© U.S. Navy
Members of Elastec/American Marine Inc. inspect a fire boom containing collected oil prior to conducting a controlled burn in the Gulf of Mexico, May 5, 2010.
Reporting from New Orleans

Even though a 4-story, 100-ton metal box, also known as a "Coffer Dam," has been placed on a gushing wellhead of crude deep in the Gulf of Mexico, the disaster here is far from over.

Countless gallons of crude has covered over 2000 miles of water and there is no guarantee that the Coffer Dam will stop the leak 100 percent, which means that more crude will spill into Gulf.

Environmentalists are worried that the damage could be irreversible, saying that the shrimp and fishery industry that people in Louisiana and lower Mississippi have depended on for generations may be coming to an end.