Earth ChangesS


White Squirrels are Turning Heads in Maryland, Elsewhere

© Don Weiser
Pale rodents are a hit as some folks cash in on the oddities

They're not as fearsome as a white whale on the high seas, or as portentous as a white buffalo calf on the Great Plains. But a handful of white squirrels is causing a stir in Maryland.

Two of the critters have been spotted scampering about between the historic Holly Hall Mansion and the Big Elk Mall in Elkton, chasing nuts and making headlines in the local newspaper.

"We all feed them, and they just kind of enjoy themselves, frolicking around in a little yard," said Elkton native Deborah L. Duff, who first noticed the young pair in September.

"They're like any typical squirrel," she said. "If you have enough peanuts, they'll come close, but not close enough to eat out of my hand."

Cloud Lightning

Louisiana Governor declares emergency ahead of hurricane Ida

New Orleans - Hurricane Ida, the first Atlantic hurricane to target the United States this year, plodded Sunday toward the Gulf Coast with 100 mph winds, bringing the threat of flooding and storm surges.

A hurricane watch extended over more than 200 miles of coastline across southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Louisiana's governor declared a state of emergency.

Authorities said Ida could make landfall as early as Tuesday morning, although it was forecast to weaken by then. Officials and residents kept a close eye on the Category 2 hurricane as it approached, though there were no immediate plans for evacuations.

Bizarro Earth

6.7 Earthquake Reported Near Indonesia

A strong earthquake was reported in the ocean off Indonesia on Sunday, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The quake measured a magnitude of 6.7, the survey reported. It hit at 3:41 a.m. local time (1941 GMT)

It struck at a depth of 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) and had its epicenter about 10 miles (15 kilometers) north-northwest of Sumbawa and 830 miles (1,335 kilometers) east of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

There were no immediate reports that tsunami warnings were issued and no immediate reports of damage.

Arrow Down

Death Toll for Rains in El Salvador Rise to 54

The death toll in El Salvador from the strong rains and flooding caused by the tropical depression Ida rose to 54, El Salvador's Civil Protection director Jorge Mendez said on Sunday.

One of the most affected localities is Verapaz, in San Vicente department in the center of the country, with some 300 houses destroyed, according to the reports from El Salvador's Red Cross.

The Salvadorian authorities have issued the "orange alert" in the departments of Cuscatlan, La Libertad, La Paz, San Salvador and San Vicente due to Ida, which has produced pouring rains and a low pressure system in the Pacific.

The tropical depression Ida is moving across the Central American region, including Mexico and Nicaragua, causing huge damages and leaving thousands of people homeless.

Cloud Lightning

Ida now a Category 2 storm with 100 mph winds

Miami, Florida - Forecasters say Hurricane Ida has strengthened to a Category 2 storm, and a hurricane watch was extended to the Florida Panhandle as Ida made its way across the Gulf of Mexico.

The hurricane watch now stretches from southeastern Louisiana to Mexico Beach, Fla. Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami say Ida's winds are now near 100 mph (160 kph), and Ida could get stronger later Sunday.

The hurricane was moving to the northwest near 10 mph (17 kph), and Ida was expected to pick up steam as it moved over open waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ida could reach the Gulf Coast by Tuesday, though it was unclear how strong it would be by then.

Breaking News Update: AP's earlier story is below.

Cloud Lightning

Death toll rises to at least 99 in Vietnam storm

© Reuters
Authorities in Vietnam have stepped up rescue and relief operations after a powerful storm left at least 99 people dead in the country's central region.

A further 22 people were reported missing after tropical storm Mirinae struck on Monday, destroying hundreds of homes and displacing thousands in a region still reeling from the impact of Typhoon Ketsana just over one month earlier.

Nine provinces have been affected with the provinces of Phu Yen and Gia Lai among the worst-hit, suffering some of the most severe floods seen in several decades.


Ants Are Friendly to Some Trees, But Not Others

Tree-dwelling ants generally live in harmony with their arboreal hosts. But new research suggests that when they run out of space in their trees of choice, the ants can get destructive to neighboring trees.

The research, published in the November issue of the American Naturalist, is the first to document that ants bore into live trees, and it reopens a centuries-old debate on the relationship between ants and plants.

Ants and certain species of plants and trees have cozy relationships. Myrmecophytes, also knows as ant-plants, have hollow stems or roots that occur as a normal part of their development. Ant colonies often take residence in these hollows. To protect their homes, the ants patrol the area around the tree, killing insects that want to eat the plant's leaves and sometimes destroying vegetation of other plants that might compete for precious soil nutrients and sunlight. The relationship is a classic biological mutualism. The ants get a nice place to live; the trees get protection. Everybody wins.

Better Earth

Picking up mates at the white shark café

© Tom Campbell/SplashdownDirect/Rex FeaturesMeet me at the great white café
Great whites aren't all alike. Even though the sharks travel all over the Pacific Ocean to hunt, they tend to mate with others from the same area, forming genetically distinct groups.

That's what local great whites revealed to Barbara Block of Stanford University in California and her colleagues. The team headed out into the Pacific to find the sharks, which they lured to the surface using a silhouette of a seal. They then used a pole to attach two different tags to the sharks and took a sneaky biopsy at the same time. See the biologists tagging white sharks here.

GPS tags were used to track the long-distance movements of the creatures, allowing the team to follow their migration during the colder months from coastal areas to the deep ocean. The other tags gave off sonic "pings" that were picked up by sensors moored in coastal areas, providing more precise location fixes than the satellite measurements, so that the team could tell if the sharks returned to the same areas.

Bizarro Earth

Quakes from the 1800s still shaking planet

© USGSMoment Magnitude, Mw 7.9 USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
Some earthquakes can leave a legacy of aftershocks that last for centuries.

Low-level seismic rumbles appear to foreshadow many quakes. Yet not always: the 2008 Sichuan quake in China came out of the blue. These rumbles may not be precursors but aftershocks - readjustments at a fault following a larger event, in some cases centuries earlier.

Seth Stein of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and colleagues analysed the rate of fault slip in various tectonic settings. At plate boundaries, motion rapidly "reloads" a fault with new stress and changes conditions there, so tremors that can be clearly identified as aftershocks typically end within a decade, they found. Far away from plate boundaries, however, fault reloading is much slower, and aftershocks can continue for hundreds of years. The New Madrid fault in Missouri, for instance, may be experiencing aftershocks from a quake in the early 1800s (Nature, DOI: link).

Heart - Black

Midway: Message from the Gyre

These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.