Earth ChangesS

Bizarro Earth

Lull Before the Storm; Experts Fear "Big Bang"

Volcanologists closely monitoring the activities of Mayon Volcano are wary of the calm before the storm.

With past eruption records in mind, volcanologists here are becoming more fidgety with the sudden lull of Mayon Volcano following its awesome two-day display of fireworks, saying it could serve as a prelude to the anticipated big bang.

Resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta said they are relying on the previous eruption records of Mount Mayon in doing away with any recommendation for the more than 47,000 evacuees to return home.

"We already learned our lesson in the past. Every affected resident here knows that the silence of Mayon is not an assurance that they would be safe if they go back home," said Laguerta.

Bizarro Earth

Huge Storm Hobbles Middle of United States

© Charlie Neibergall/Associated PresJose Felix shoveled snow on a sidewalk in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday.
Howling winds on Friday spread snow and freezing rain across the northern Plains, as the stubborn storm that stretched from Texas to North Dakota over the last several days wrapped the upper Midwest in a dangerous and debilitating wintry mix on Christmas Day.

Poor visibility due to blowing snow shut one major highway, Interstate 29, which stretches from Iowa through South and North Dakota up to the Canadian border, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation Web site.

"We've had the word out here a few days, that if people had to travel for Christmas to stay put," said Kyle Carstens, a meteorologist in Rapid City, S.D. "From a travel standpoint, it's a pretty big impact up here."

The winds near Rapid City were forecast to reach as high as 55 miles an hour, with temperatures in single digits.

Bizarro Earth

125 Pilot Whales Die on New Zealand Beaches, 43 Saved

Some 125 pilot whales died in New Zealand after stranding on the beach over the weekend - but vacationers and conservation workers Sunday managed to coax 43 others back out to sea.

Rescuers monitored the survivors as they swam away from Colville Beach on North Island's Coromandel peninsula, and by Monday morning they were reported well out to sea.

Department of Conservation workers and hundreds of volunteers helped re-float the 43 whales at high tide. The volunteers covered the stranded mammals in sheets and kept them wet through the day.

"Some 63 pilot whales stranded ... but it looks pretty good, we've got 43 live ones," Department of Conservation ranger Steve Bolten said as the pod swam out to sea.

Bizarro Earth

Avalanches Kill Seven in Italian Alps

© AP PhotoView of a snowy peak in the Alps.
In separate incidents, seven people, including a German teenager, have been killed by avalanches in northern Italy.

In one incident on Saturday, two Italian tourists were trapped in an avalanche while mountain climbing in the Trentino Alto Adige region.

Another avalanche killed four rescue workers of the seven-person team sent out to find the two trapped tourists.

A separate rescue expedition discovered that the two missing tourists had died and located their bodies.

And a 14-year-old German boy died on the spot in another avalanche in nearby Alto Adige as he was skiing off-piste with his brother and a friend.


Flowering Powers Genetic Understanding

New research from the John Innes Centre on how plants adapt their flowering to climate is also helping to unravel some of the mysteries of how genes are controlled.

Until relatively recently genome sequencing projects, and studies of gene expression have mostly focussed on the messenger RNA transcripts produced from genes that contain the code needed to make proteins. But as well as this coding RNA, it is now becoming apparent that there are extensive amounts of non-coding RNA that has important roles in regulating gene expression.

Despite being widespread amongst many different organisms, our understanding of this non-coding RNA is still very limited. It is thought to play major roles in the differentiation of stem cells, and it has been implicated in cancer development, but we are still a long way from knowing what all of this non-coding RNA is for. Recent studies by Professor Caroline Dean of the John Innes Centre on how plants control flowering in different climates have given indications of how non-coding RNA is processed and how it can affect gene expression, demonstrating the potential use of a plant based model system in unravelling fundamental questions about how genes work.

Bizarro Earth

'Clogged' Philippine Volcano Could Burst, Expert Says

© AFPLava cascades on the slopes of Mayon volcano as seen in Santo Domingo town, Albay province, southeast of Manila.
Rumbling Mayon volcano in the Philippines is showing signs of becoming clogged with lava and could erupt explosively, a government volcanologist said Saturday.

The volcano, which has been oozing lava for weeks, is also emitting gas and ash, all signs of a powerful eruption any day now, said Ed Laguerta, head of the government's volcanology team monitoring Mayon.

"Mayon volcano is still in a high state of unrest and in the coming days it could still have an explosive eruption," he warned in a radio interview.

"The number of (volcanic) quakes have lessened but now the quakes are of a different variety. What is becoming clear is that it (the volcano) is getting clogged. That is when the lava is rising but cannot get out," he said.

Bizarro Earth

Half of Stranded Air Comet Passengers Rescued

© AFPPassengers of Spanish airlines Air Comet wait in Barajas airport in Madrid
Special charter flights have rescued nearly half of the 7,000 passengers left stranded by the collapse of Air Comet, according to information released Saturday by Spain's airport authority.

Spain suspended Air Comet's operating license on Tuesday after the airline filed for protection from creditors and laid off all of its 666 employees.

Thousands of travelers were left stuck at airports in Spain and Latin America, and the Spanish government said Wednesday it had chartered four planes to take them to their destinations.

A 400-seat charter flight took off from Madrid's Barajas airport for Lima on Saturday, according to a spokesman for Aena, Spain's publicly-owned airport management company.


Barmy Brits Brave Winter Chill for Christmas Dip

© AFPMembers of the Bournemouth Spartans swimming club taking to the Channel for their Christmas Day swim in Boscombe near Bournemouth, Dorset.
The traditional British Christmas: a cosy fire, turkey, mince pies and sherry. Or, for some brave souls, stripping off in the bitter winter chill and charging headlong into the sea.

In Brighton, and at Porthcawl on the south Wales shore, hundreds of people, some in fancy dress, joined in the annual festive dips, to the bemusement of onlookers.

In the capital, swimmers in more traditional bathing costumes and caps made do by plunging into The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park.

The Brighton Swimming Club's traditional dip -- bracing might best describe it -- was first recorded in 1885.

"Spectators-wise, I've never seen so many people here. There must have been around 1,500 to 2,000," said club chairman John Ottaway.

Bizarro Earth

US: Forecasters Warn of Continued Blizzards in Plains

Residents in the nation's heartland were digging out after a blustery storm as meteorologists warned that blizzard conditions could continue across the northern Plains on Saturday.

The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin through Saturday. The storm had already dumped significant snow across the region, including a record 14 inches in Oklahoma City and 11 inches in Duluth, Minn., on Thursday.

Slippery roads have been blamed for at least 21 deaths this week as the storm lumbered across the country from the Southwest.


North America's biggest fish slips toward extinction

White sturgeon
© AP Photo/Monterey Bay Aquarium, Randy WildeThis undated image provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, shows the endangered Kootenai River white sturgeon. As efforts falter to save this largest freshwater fish — a toothless beast left over from the days of dinosaurs — officials hope to stave off extinction by sending more water hurtling down a river so the fish can spawn in the wild.
Billings, Montana. - As efforts falter to save North America's largest freshwater fish - a toothless beast left over from the days of dinosaurs - officials hope to stave off extinction by sending more water hurtling down a river so the fish can spawn in the wild.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday declared that attempts over the past two years to save the endangered Kootenai River white sturgeon had failed.

The prehistoric sturgeon, characterized by its large head and armor-like scales, can reach 19 feet long and top 1,000 pounds.

An isolated population of the species lives along a stretch of the Kootenai that passes through Montana, northern Idaho and southern British Columbia. Fewer than 500 of the bottom-feeding behemoths survive - and it's been 35 years since they successfully spawned.

The problem is Libby Dam, a hydroelectric facility in Montana run by the Army Corps of Engineers that serves power markets in the Pacific Northwest. When the dam went up in 1974, it stopped periodic flooding of Bonners Ferry, Idaho - but also high water flows that triggered the sturgeon to move upriver and spawn.