Earth ChangesS


Growing spread of crazy ants in Texas is no laughing matter

crazy raspberry ants
© Associated Press / David J. PhillipTom Rasberry displays "rasberry crazy ants", named after him, in Deer Park.
Something crazy is spreading across Texas, and it may be so destructive that one day it will make Texans actually miss the hated fire ant.

Crazy ants, so named because they move in all directions rather than in a straight line, first surfaced in Houston seven years ago and had previously been confirmed in 14 Southeast Texas counties as far north as Huntsville.

But now the ants have been seen beyond the Houston area, with confirmed sightings in San Antonio and in Jim Hogg County in the Rio Grande Valley.

This discovery is viewed as "a significant change" by researchers who have long feared that the ants would move to other parts of the state, said Rob Plowes, a research associate with the University of Texas at Austin Fire Ant Research Center who visited San Antonio last week.


Mafia sank boat with radioactive waste

© UnknownThe Cunsky is one of 32 vessels carrying toxic material that has been sunk by the mafia in the Mediterranean, according to the prosecutor's office in Reggio Calabria.
Italian authorities have discovered a ship that was sunk by the mafia off the coast of southern Italy with 120 barrels of radioactive waste on board, a local prosecutor said Monday.

The 110-metre (360-feet) long ship was found on Saturday 500 metres (1,640 feet) under water and around 28 kilometres (17 miles) from the coast of Calabria, Paola city prosecutor Bruno Giordano told AFP.

"For the moment, we do not know the origin of the waste, but it is probably from abroad. It is a first lead," he said.

The Cunsky is one of 32 vessels carrying toxic material that has been sunk by the mafia in the Mediterranean, according to the prosecutor's office in Reggio Calabria.

Cloud Lightning

Typhoon Choi-Wan Triggers Tropical Storm Warnings

© NASA/JPL, Ed OlsenNASA's Aqua satellite AIRS and AMSU instrument data created a microwave image of Choi-Wan on September 13 at 2:11 p.m. EDT. The cold areas in this image (yellow-green) that stretch from right center, left of the small chain of islands, indicate where there is precipitation or ice in the cloud tops. The purple area (far right) has the coldest cloud temperatures to -63F and suggests cloud heights to the 200 millibar level, near the tropopause.

Microwave imagery from NASA's Aqua satellite revealed extremely high thunderstorms in Typhoon Choi-Wan as it began passing the island of Sai-Pan in the Western Pacific Ocean. The U.S. National Weather Service has already issued a tropical storm warning and a typhoon watch for Tinian, Saipan and Agrihan in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Saipan is the largest island and capital of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Northern Marianas are a chain of 15 tropical islands belonging to the Marianas archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean. In the year 2000, the island chain was home to more than 62,000 residents. The National Weather Service issues advisories for them, because they are a U.S. Commonwealth.

NASA satellite imagery showed that the tops of the thunderstorms are so high they reached the tropopause, the level of atmosphere between the troposphere and stratosphere. Those high thunderstorms mean very heavy rainfall for the area underneath. The cloud tops extended to the 200 millibar level in the atmosphere where temperatures are as cold or colder than -63 Fahrenheit.

Bizarro Earth

Widespread Occurrence of Intersex Bass Found in U.S. Rivers

© USGSUSGS researcher examining bass for abnormalities in the field.
Intersex in smallmouth and largemouth basses is widespread in numerous river basins throughout the United States is the major finding of the most comprehensive and large-scale evaluation of the condition, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research published online in Aquatic Toxicology.

Of the 16 fish species researchers examined from 1995 to 2004, the condition was most common by far in smallmouth and largemouth bass: a third of all male smallmouth bass and a fifth of all male largemouth bass were intersex. This condition is primarily revealed in male fish that have immature female egg cells in their testes, but occasionally female fish will have male characteristics as well.

Scientists found intersex fish in about a third of all sites examined from the Apalachicola, Colorado, Columbia, Mobile, Mississippi, Pee Dee, Rio Grande, Savannah, and Yukon River basins. The Yukon River basin was the only one where researchers did not find at least one intersex fish.


A Skeptical Take on Global Warming

This Capital Weather Gang blog entry is written with considerable trepidation given the politically-charged atmosphere surrounding human-induced global warming.

I am a meteorologist with a life-long weather fascination. As I'm sure you know, meteorology is an inexact science due to the large number of variables involved in predicting and understanding the weather. I frequently say that weather forecasting is a humbling endeavor, and I have learned to respect its challenges. From this perspective, you might be able to better understand why I wince when hearing pronouncements such as "the science is settled", "the debate is over", or even the "the temperature in the 2050s is projected to be..." I realize that forecasting climate and weather are different, but both involve a large number of moving parts.

There are numerous reasons why I question the consensus view on human-induced climate change covered extensively on this blog by Andrew Freedman. But for this entry, I scaled them down to ten:

Eye 2

New Zealand: Maori legend of man-eating bird is true

© John MegahanGiant Haast's eagle attacking New Zealand moa.
A Maori legend about a giant, man-eating bird has been confirmed by scientists. Te Hokioi was a huge black-and-white predator with a red crest and yellow-green tinged wingtips, in an account given to Sir George Gray, an early governor of New Zealand.

It was said to be named after its cry and to have "raced the hawk to the heavens". Scientists now think the stories handed down by word of mouth and depicted in rock drawings refer to Haast's eagle, a raptor that became extinct just 500 years ago, say the authors of a study in The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Haast's eagle (Harpagornis moorei) was discovered in swamp deposits by Sir Julius von Haast in the 1870s. But it was at first thought to be a scavenger because its bill was similar to a vulture's with hoods over its nostrils to stop flesh blocking its air passages as it rooted around inside carcasses.


Museum butterfly collections chronicle evolutionary war against male-killers

Blue Moon butterfly
© UnknownBlue Moon butterfly
The drawers of the world's museums are full of pinned, preserved and catalogued insects. These collections are more than just graveyards - they are a record of evolutionary battles waged between animals and their parasites. Today, these long-dead specimens act as "silent witnesses of evolutionary change", willing to tell their story to any biologist who knows the right question to ask.

This time round, the biologist was Emily Hornett, currently at UCL, and her question was "How have the ratios of male butterflies to female ones changed over time?" You would think that the sex ratios of insects to mirror the one-to-one proportions expected of humans but not if parasites get involved.


Killer birds bite off bats' heads

It sounds like the avian equivalent of an Ozzy Osbourne legend. Great tits have been discovered killing and eating bats by pecking their heads open.

Bizarro Earth

Greece: Earthquake Magnitude 4.5 - Crete

Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 07:43:47 UTC

Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 10:43:47 AM at epicenter

34.013°N, 25.465°E

10 km (6.2 miles) set by location program

149 km (92 miles) S (171°) from Iraklion, Crete, Greece

213 km (132 miles) SE (141°) from Chania, Crete, Greece

255 km (159 miles) NNE (32°) from Tubruq, Libya

470 km (292 miles) SSE (160°) from ATHENS, Greece

Bizarro Earth

Venezuela rocked by strong earthquake

Caracas - A strong 6.4 magnitude earthquake sent people rushing into the streets from shaking buildings across Venezuela on Saturday and knocked out power in some parts of the oil exporting nation.

The head of Venezuela's emergency services, Luis Diaz Curbelo told Reuters the quake, which hit at about 3:40 p.m. local time/2010 GMT, was felt across the country.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake occurred 23 miles north-northeast of Puerto Cabello, one of the OPEC nation's main oil ports. The epicenter was below the sea at a depth of 6.2 miles.

Television reported smaller aftershocks in some regions.

One of Venezuela's main oil refineries, El Palito, and a petrochemicals complex are located in the region where the tremor was felt most strongly.

The quake also hit the country's oil heartland of Zulia, where buildings wobbled in state capital Maracaibo. But there were no initial reports of damage to oil installations.

Comment: With the military build-up encircling Venezuela, it's worth noting that the US military has long studied and pioneered the Earth as a Weapon in 21st Century Wars.