Earth ChangesS

Bizarro Earth

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

Kokaral dike
© AP Photo/Sergey PonomarevA 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.


Air Pressure Changes Trigger Landslides

© William Schulz/USGSThe 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.


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

© iStockphotoA 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.


Best of the Web: Enjoy the warmth while it lasts

© 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?


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

Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 17:00:38 UTC

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

27.256°N, 91.380°E

26.5 km (16.5 miles)

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

Bizarro Earth

Strong 6.0 earthquake strikes Afghanistan - or did it?

A strong earthquake struck the Hindu Kush region of eastern Afghanistan Thursday, but the U.S. Geological Survey said it had no reports of damage or injuries.

The preliminary magnitude was 6.0, the USGS said. The epicenter of the quake -- which struck about 10:15 p.m. (1:45 p.m. ET) -- was 255 kilometers (160 miles) north-northeast of the capital, Kabul.

The depth of the quake was 202 kilometers (126 miles), said USGS geophysicist Paul Caruso.

It was felt as far away as Islamabad, Pakistan. Because of the depth, Caruso said, it is not unusual for a quake to be felt quite a distance away.

Comment: So, we have an earthquake that was felt "as far away as Islamabad, Pakistan. Because of the depth, Caruso said, it is not unusual for a quake to be felt quite a distance away." Later, the USGS issued this:
DELETED: Event US 2009niba


***This event has been deleted after review by a seismologist.***

Geographic coordinates: 36.466N, 70.716E
Magnitude: 6.0
Universal Time (UTC): 29 Oct 2009 17:44:31
Time near the Epicenter: 29 Oct 2009 22:14:31

Location with respect to nearby cities:
72 km (45 miles) S (169 degrees) of Feyzabad, Afghanistan
131 km (81 miles) WNW (301 degrees) of Chitral, Pakistan
139 km (86 miles) SSW (212 degrees) of Khorugh, Tajikistan
239 km (149 miles) NW (322 degrees) of Mingaora, Pakistan
257 km (160 miles) NNE (32 degrees) of KABUL, Afghanistan


This is an update to a previous notification for this event
This begs the question, what was it that registered 6.0 magnitude, felt over a wide area and then suddenly didn't happen?

Perhaps it was something similar to this? Ignored by western media: Indonesian asteroid exploded with energy of 'small atomic bomb'


US: Autumn Snowstorm Wallops Rockies, Plains

© Bryan Oller/The Associated PressLon Rust clears snow from the sidewalk in front of his business in Green Mountain Falls, Colo., on Wednesday.
A slow-moving autumn storm showed no signs of letting up in Colorado and the western Plains on Thursday, blanketing areas already buried with as much as 3 feet, closing schools and businesses and delaying flights.

Roads across Colorado and Wyoming were snow-packed and icy from the first big winter storm of the season in the West, and the snow's not likely to let up anytime soon. The storm spread a blanket of white from northern Utah's Wasatch Front to western Nebraska's northern border with South Dakota.

"There's definitely some adverse driving conditions right now, and it's expected to continue throughout a good portion of the day," said Bob Wilson, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman. Wilson said although some cars are sliding off roads, not many accidents had been reported.

Cloud Lightning

Bad weather system causes Cyprus flooding

cyprus flooding
© unknown
Torrential rain has caused extensive flooding in areas south of Nicosia, as a severe weather front arrived over Cyprus.

Worst affected was the Alambra district, near the Limassol highway, 20 kilometres from Nicosia.

Several houses were flooded and the Fire Brigade rescued people who were in imminent danger of drowning.

Most of them were trapped in cars which were washed away by torrents.


Ancient 'Monster' Insect: 'Unicorn' Fly Never Before Observed

ancient fly
© George PoinarThis image of an ancient fly in amber shows the strange horn on its head, topped by three eyes.
Just in time for Halloween, researchers have announced the discovery of a new, real-world "monster" -- what they are calling a "unicorn" fly that lived about 100 million years ago and is being described as a new family, genus and species of fly never before observed.

A single, incredibly well-preserved specimen of the tiny but scary-looking fly was preserved for eternity in Burmese amber, and it had a small horn emerging from the top of its head, topped by three eyes that would have given it the ability to see predators coming. But despite that clever defense mechanism, it was apparently an evolutionary dead end that later disappeared.

"No other insect ever discovered has a horn like that, and there's no animal at all with a horn that has eyes on top," said George Poinar, Jr., a professor of zoology at Oregon State University who just announced the new species in Cretaceous Research, a professional journal.