Earth Changes
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Bizarro Earth

Giant Crack in Africa Will Create a New Ocean

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© AFP / Landsat satellite
A huge crater that is really a volcano that has been slowly eroded in Mauritania in Africa.
A 35-mile rift in the desert of Ethiopia will likely become a new ocean eventually, researchers now confirm.

The crack, 20 feet wide in spots, opened in 2005 and some geologists believed then that it would spawn a new ocean. But that view was controversial, and the rift had not been well studied.

A new study involving an international team of scientists and reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters finds the processes creating the rift are nearly identical to what goes on at the bottom of oceans, further indication a sea is in the region's future.

Binoculars

Wolves, Moose And Biodiversity: An Unexpected Connection

© Michigan Technological University
The coastline of Isle Royale National Park is represented in two maps. Moose carcasses, like the ones on which wolves are feeding in lower map, produce pulses of nutrients that affect soil fertility, decomposition and the nutrition of nearby plants. Clustered hotspots of biogeochemical activity are seen in the yellow to white zones in upper map.
Moose eat plants; wolves kill moose. What difference does this classic predator-prey interaction make to biodiversity?

A large and unexpected one, say wildlife biologists from Michigan Technological University. Joseph Bump, Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich report in the November 2009 issue of the journal Ecology that the carcasses of moose killed by wolves at Isle Royale National Park enrich the soil in "hot spots" of forest fertility around the kills, causing rapid microbial and fungal growth that provide increased nutrients for plants in the area.

"This study demonstrates an unforeseen link between the hunting behavior of a top predator -- the wolf -- and biochemical hot spots on the landscape," said Bump, an assistant professor in Michigan Tech's School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science and first author of the research paper. "It's important because it illuminates another contribution large predators make to the ecosystem they live in and illustrates what can be protected or lost when predators are preserved or exterminated."

Bump and his colleagues studied a 50-year record of more than 3,600 moose carcasses at Isle Royale. They measured the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil at paired sites of wolf-killed moose carcasses and controls. They also analyzed the microbes and fungi in the soil and the leaf tissue of large-leaf aster, a common native plant eaten by moose in eastern and central North America.

Fish

Japanese Fishing Trawler Sunk by Giant Jellyfish

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Nomura's jellyfish: The crew of the fishing boat was thrown into the sea when the vessel capsized, but the three men were rescued by another trawler
The trawler, the Diasan Shinsho-maru, capsized off Chiba as its three-man crew was trying to haul in a net containing dozens of huge Nomura's jellyfish.

Each of the jellyfish can weigh up to 200 kg and waters around Japan have been inundated with the creatures this year. Experts believe weather and water conditions in the breeding grounds, off the coast of China, have been ideal for the jellyfish in recent months.

The crew of the fishing boat was thrown into the sea when the vessel capsized, but the three men were rescued by another trawler, according to the Mainichi newspaper. The local Coast Guard office reported that the weather was clear and the sea was calm at the time of the accident.

Cloud Lightning

Major storm slams Vietnam; thousands evacuate

© Associated Press/Mike Alquinto
A Filipino worker checks on a toppled electric post in suburban Manila, Philippines on Saturday Oct. 31, 2009
Tropical Storm Mirinae slammed into Vietnam's central coast Monday, unleashing heavy rains and winds and forcing more than 80,000 people to evacuate before losing steam as it moved inland.

The storm was packing winds of 63 miles per hour (102 kilometers per hour) as it made landfall in Phu Yen province Monday afternoon, toppling trees and utility poles and causing blackouts, said Nguyen Ba Loc, deputy chairman of the provincial People's Committee.

The storm lost force and was downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved deeper inland later Monday, according to the national weather forecast center.

Bizarro Earth

From Barren Central Asian Steppes, a Devastated Sea is Reborn and Along with It - Hope

© AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev
A man walking on the Kokaral dike protecting the Aral Sea some 150 kilometers from Aralsk, Kazakhstan.
Standing on the shore under the relentless Central Asian sun, Badarkhan Prikeyev drew on a cigarette and squinted into the distance as one fishing boat after another returned with the day's catch.

Until recently, this spot where the fish merchant was standing, in a man-made desert at the edge of nowhere, represented one of the world's worst environmental calamities.

Now fresh water was lapping at his boots, proclaiming an environmental miracle - the return of the Aral Sea.

The Aral Sea was once the world's fourth-largest body of fresh water, covering an area the size of Ireland. But then the nations around it became part of the Soviet Union. With their passion for planned economics and giant, nature-reversing projects, the communists diverted the rivers that fed the inland sea and used them to irrigate vast cotton fields. The result: The Aral shrank by 90 percent to a string of isolated stretches of water.

Binoculars

Air Pressure Changes Trigger Landslides

© William Schulz/USGS
The slow-moving Slumgullion landslide in southwestern Colorado.
A river of rock and soil nearly 2.5 miles long and 1,000 feet wide, the Slumgullion landslide winds like an earthy freight train down the hills of southwestern Colorado. But this incredible force of nature is swayed by the tiniest push.

According to a new study, the daily ups and downs in air pressure -- equivalent to the weight of about half a glass of water -- are enough to get the behemoth rolling.

Just like the ocean, the atmosphere has tides of air that swish over the planet, controlled by the sun's heat. Around the hottest part of the day, air pressure is diminished -- 'low tide' -- and it gradually goes up as things cool off.

William Schulz of the United Stated Geological Survey in Denver compared detailed records of the Slumgullion landslide's movement against pressure readings taken in the area.

They fit hand-in-glove: each time pressure lowered during the warmest part of the day, the Earth slid a little bit faster.

Magnify

Venomous Shrew and Lizard: Harmless Digestive Enzyme Evolved Twice into Dangerous Toxin in Two Unrelated Species

© iStockphoto
A harmless digestive enzyme can be turned into a toxin in two unrelated species - a shrew (pictured) and a lizard - thereby giving each a venomous bite.
Biologists have shown that independent but similar molecular changes turned a harmless digestive enzyme into a toxin in two unrelated species - a shrew and a lizard - giving each a venomous bite.

The work, described this week in the journal Current Biology by researchers at Harvard University, suggests that protein adaptation may be a highly predictable process, one that could eventually help discover other toxins across a wide array of species.

"Similar changes have occurred independently in a shrew and a lizard, causing both to be toxic," says senior author Hopi E. Hoekstra, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences in Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. "It's remarkable that the same types of changes have independently promoted the same toxic end product."

Lead author Yael T. Aminetzach, a postdoctoral researcher in the same department, suggests that the work has important implications for our understanding of how novel protein function evolves by studying the relationship between an ancestral and harmless protein and its new toxic activity.

Igloo

Enjoy the warmth while it lasts

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© Unknown
Thank your lucky stars to be alive on Earth at this time. Our planet is usually in a deep freeze. The last million years have cycled through Ice Ages that last about 100,000 years each, with warmer slivers of about 10,000 years in between.

We are in-betweeners, and just barely - we live in (gasp!) year 10,000 or so after the end of the last ice age. But for our good fortune, we might have been born in the next Ice Age.

Our luck is even better than that. Those 10,000-year warm spells aren't all cosy-warm. They include brutal Little Ice Ages such as the 500-year-long Little Ice Age that started about 600 years ago. Fortunately, we weren't around during its fiercest periods when Finland lost one-third of its population, Iceland half, and most of Canada became uninhabitable - even the Inuit fled. While the cold spells within the 10,000 year warm spells aren't as brutal as a Little Ice Age, they can nevertheless make us huddle in gloom, such as the period in history from about 400 AD to 900 AD, which we know as the Dark Ages. We've lucked out twice, escaping the cold spells within the warm spells, making us inbetweeners within the inbetween periods. How good is that?

Frog

Largest Bat in Europe Inhabited Northeastern Spain more than 10,000 Years Ago

© A.G. Popa-Lisseanu et al.
This is what the bat, Nyctalus lasiopterus, looks like nowadays.
Spanish researchers have confirmed that the largest bat in Europe, Nyctalus lasiopterus, was present in north-eastern Spain during the Late Pleistocene (between 120,000 and 10,000 years ago). The Greater Noctule fossils found in the excavation site at Abríc Romaní (Barcelona) prove that this bat had a greater geographical presence more than 10,000 years ago than it does today, having declined due to the reduction in vegetation cover.

Although this research study, published in the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol, is the second to demonstrate the bat's presence in the Iberian Peninsula, it offers the first description in the fossil record of the teeth of Nyctalus lasiopterus from a fragment of the left jaw.

"It is an important finding because this species is not common in the fossil record. In fact, the discovery of Nyctalus lasiopterus at the Abríc Romaní site (Capellades, Barcelona) is one of the few cases of fossils existing on the species in the European Pleistocene," says Juan Manuel López-García, principal author of the work and researcher at the Institute of Social Evolution and Human Palaeoecology at the Rovira i Virgili University (URV).

Bizarro Earth

India: Earthquake Magnitude 5.2 - Bhutan

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© USGS
Date-Time:
Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 17:00:38 UTC

Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 11:00:38 PM at epicenter

Location:
27.256°N, 91.380°E

Depth:
26.5 km (16.5 miles)

Distances:
125 km (75 miles) NNW of Gauhati, Assam, India

180 km (110 miles) E of THIMPHU, Bhutan

600 km (375 miles) NNE of Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal, India

1395 km (870 miles) E of NEW DELHI, Delhi, India