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Sat, 22 Jan 2022
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Who's to blame for winter that just won't end? Maybe it's a dastardly Russian plot

It was a dark and stormy night.

Ha ha ha! Just kidding. It was a dark and stormy afternoon. As hard as this is to believe, it was almost the end of (bad word) May.

Throughout the kingdom, the people were royally bummed out, partly because the economy was spinning slowly into the toilet, partly because everyone was terrified of catching a really nasty flu from pigs, but mainly because their land had been bewitched.

Once upon a time -- as all good stories are supposed to begin -- their kingdom was a place of warm and beautiful springs, the kind of springs you only read about in stories that begin with the words "once upon a time."

But now there was a darkness upon the land and their dreams of backyard barbecues and digging in the garden and going to the beach and baking their pasty white skin were being snowed under by The Winter That Refused To End.

Cloud Lightning

Heavy rains leave 11 dead in Haiti

Image
© Agence France-Presse
Hundreds of homes were flooded and dozens destroyed in the constant downpour. Some 40 percent of the southern city of Cayes was underwater, authorities said.
Several days of heavy rain has swamped Haiti and left 11 people dead across the poverty-seeped Caribbean nation, officials said Thursday.

"We have counted 11 deaths in four regions of the country since the beginning of the week," Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti's Civil Protection Agency, told AFP.

According to Jean-Baptiste, five people died in the department of Artibonite, whose main city Gonaives was left devastated last year by three successive hurricanes.

Hundreds of homes were flooded and dozens destroyed in the constant downpour. Some 40 percent of the southern city of Cayes was underwater, authorities said.

Better Earth

Magma pulses may reveal Earth's 'heartbeat'

Image
© Martin Rietze / WestEnd61 / Rex
Evidence from distant parts of Earth's crust suggests the core is pulsing, sending up a regular batch of magma to the surface.
Earth may have a heartbeat. Evidence from Hawaii and Iceland hints that the planet's core may be dispatching simultaneous plumes of magma towards the surface every 15 million years or so.

If the hypothesis is true, it would revolutionise our ideas of what's happening far below our feet. Independent scientists contacted by New Scientist were split, with some scornful and others intrigued.

Rolf Mjelde of the University of Bergen and Jan Inge Faleide of the University of Oslo, both in Norway, used seismological data to measure the thickness of Earth's crust between Iceland and Greenland. Iceland is on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where magma wells up to form fresh crust.

Better Earth

Earth's 'hum' may reveal stormier climate

The world is abuzz with climate change - in more ways than one. Swelling waves and rising sea levels can be detected in the way the planet "hums", says an oceanographer.

Peter Bromirski, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, says that seismic listening stations provide a long-term record of how the amount of energy reaching the world's shores is changing with climate change.

Most geologists who study seismology try to eliminate background noise in their data, but a handful of researchers have started to take a closer look at it.

They have identified at least three different types of "noise", including the Earth's hum, which was first discovered in 1998. The other two are called "microseisms" - tiny earthquakes - and have slightly different acoustic properties.

Attention

Earthquake Magnitude 5.4 in Southern Xinjiang China

Xinjiang Earthquake 1
© USGS
A strong earthquake occurred in Southern Xinjiang, China.

Arrow Down

Australia: State of emergency declared in Queensland as freak weather moves south

Brisbane Floods 5
© BOM
Current infrared satellite image from MTSAT-1R
Weather conditions have eased on the Gold Coast after strong winds and heavy rain pounded the south-east of Queensland, prompting Premier Anna Bligh to declare a state of emergency.

Nearly all of Brisbane's major arterial roads are damaged, hospitals have cancelled services, and emergency crews have been stretched to the limit by the city's most extensive flooding since 1974.

Magnify

Mockingbirds Can Identify People and Quickly React to Those They Don't Trust

Bird
© University of Florida
A mockingbird grazing University of Florida biology major Devon Duffy, in Gainesville, Fla., in an attempt to drive her away from its nest on the university campus.
Mockingbirds may look pretty much alike to people, but they can tell us apart and are quick to react to folks they don't like. Birds rapidly learn to identify people who have previously threatened their nests and sounded alarms and even attacked those folks, while ignoring others nearby, researchers report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This shows a bird is much more perceptive of its environment than people had previously suspected," said Douglas J. Levey, a professor in the zoology department of the University of Florida.

"We are a part of their environment and we are a concern to them," Levey said in a telephone interview.

The researchers are studying mockingbirds as part of an effort to better understand how species adapt to urbanization.

With more and more areas being converted into towns and cities, animals that adapt well seem to be those that are especially perceptive about their environment, he said.

Better Earth

Bird Songs Change With Environment

White-crowned sparrow
© iStockphoto/Chad Ivany
White-crowned sparrow. When the going gets rough, the tough apparently sing slower.
Just as a changing radio landscape has made it tough for Foghat to get much airplay these days, so it is for birdsongs according to new research published in The American Naturalist.

Behavioral ecologist Elizabeth Derryberry (Louisiana State University) has found that the songs of white-crowned sparrows change over time in response to changing habitats. The research sheds light on the factors that drive the evolution of mating signals in birds.

Derryberry says she first noticed that sparrows seem to be changing their tunes while working on her doctoral research. She ran across some old recordings of classic sparrow songs from 1970, and noted that the old tunes seemed a little different from the ones the kids are singing today.

Bug

U.S.: Destructive Ants Marching on San Antonio

Crazy Ant
© Unknown
Close-up view of a Raspberry crazy ant. Entomologists say the public must learn about the destructive Rasberry crazy ant and help prevent them from spreading.
A destructive menace is heading west on Interstate 10 toward San Antonio.

It's the crazy Raspberry ant that was first spotted in Houston in 2002. No one knows where it came from or how to control it, but it reproduces faster than any insect experts have ever seen.

"This is an alien species," says Sam Houston State University Entomologist Dr. Jerry Cook. "This is in higher densities than any other insects I've ever seen. They number in the billions and cover everything around them."

"Where you'll have 200,000 ants in a big fire ant mound, you'll have billions of crazy ants in one area, in that one group. They form a carpet of ants over acres that is several inches thick."

Eye 2

Venom is key to Komodo dragon's killing power

Kimodo Dragon
© David Hill/Rex
Those jaws hide razor-sharp teeth and venom glands
Far from harbouring toxic bacteria in their mouths as long believed, Komodo dragons produce venom from complex glands in their lower jaws, according to a team led by Bryan Fry of the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The study also suggests that the largest venomous creature to have ever existed was a 5.5-metre-long ancestor of the Komodo - the now extinct Megalania lizard.

Man-eating monitor

Komodos, which live on three Indonesia islands, repeatedly slash at their prey until they are weak enough to eat. They can take down a 40-kilogram Rusa deer, and kill a full-grown human.

For decades, wildlife documentaries have promoted the idea that Komodo dragons owe their success as predators to toxic bacteria in their saliva - a claim bolstered by a 2002 study reporting deaths among lab mice injected with their saliva.