Earth ChangesS


US: Environmental disaster - every single bat may soon be dead

Alabama farm
© Associated Press/Elizabeth DalzielBats protect Alabama farms from insects.
While the media made a big deal out of honey bees dying last year, bats are quietly suffering a similar fate. And the death of bats is an environmental disaster in the making. Every single bat in the United States may soon be dead. White-nose syndrome (WNS), a mysterious fungus that kills bats wiped out about 90 percent of the bats in Connecticut this past winter and the syndrome is now headed to Alabama and other southern states.

According to a report in the Hartford Courant (Bats Die), officials from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection have found "veritable bat catacombs" in the state's caves. The wildlife inspectors discovered thousands of dead bats stacked up along the ledges of cave walls.


Cosmic Ray Flux and Neutron monitors suggest we may not have hit solar minimum yet

Cosmic rays illustration
© Simon Swordy/University of Chicago, NASAThe shower of particles produced when Earth's atmosphere is struck by ultra-high-energy cosmic rays (the most energetic particles known in the universe).

There's some interesting information of the six month trend of neutrons being detected globally that I want to bring to discussion, but first I thought that a primer on cosmic rays, neutrons, and their interaction with the atmosphere might be helpful to the many layman readers here. - Anthony

Cosmic rays are energetic particles that originate in space and our sun and collide with particles as they zip through our atmosphere. While they come from all directions in space, and the origination of many of these cosmic rays is unknown, they has recently been shown that a larger percentage emanate from specific deep space sources. Cosmic rays were originally discovered because of the ionization they produce in our atmosphere. They cause ionization trails in the atmosphere much like you see in a simple science project called a cloud chamber, shown below right:
cloud chamber ionization
© unknownUsing the Wilson cloud chamber, in 1927, Dimitr Skobelzyn photographed the first ghostly tracks left by cosmic rays.

In the past, we have often referred to cosmic rays as "galactic cosmic rays" or GCR's, because we did not know where they originated. Now scientists have determined that the sun discharges a significant amount of these high-energy particles. "Solar Cosmic Rays" (SCR's - cosmic rays from the sun) originate in the sun's chromosphere. Most solar cosmic ray events correlate relatively well with solar flares. However, they tend to be at much lower energies than their galactic cousins.


Beryllium 10 as climate proxy

greenland map icecap
© unknown

Beryllium-10 is an isotope that is a proxy for the sun's activity. Be10 is produced in the atmosphere by cosmic ray collisions with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen. Beryllium 10 concentrations are linked to cosmic ray intensity which can be a proxy for solar strength.

One way to capture earth's record of that proxy data is to drill deep ice cores. Greenland, due to having a large and relatively stable deep ice sheet is often the target for drilling ice cores.

Isotopic analysis of the ice in the core can be linked to temperature and global sea level variations. Analysis of the air contained in bubbles in the ice can reveal the palaeocomposition of the atmosphere, in particular CO2 variations. Volcanic eruptions leave identifiable ash layers.

While it sounds simple to analyze, there are issues of ice compression, flow, and other factors that must be taken into consideration when doing reconstructions from such data. I attended a talk at ICCC 09 that showed one of the ice core operations had procedures that left significant contamination issues for CO2. But since Beryllium is rather rare, it doesn't seem to have the same contamination issues attached. - Anthony Watts


Canada: "Pine Beetle Kill" No Longer Just Dead Wood

2010 Olympic Oval
© Holly Pyhtila/IPSNew 2010 Olympic Oval roof made from salvaged "pine beetle" wood.
Vancouver - The sheer magnitude of the devastation left by this tiny beetle is shocking on its own.

"The pine beetle kill", as it's known to British Columbians, refers to the millions of hectares of trees left for dead in the wake of the voracious insect. Forestry officials in Canada's westernmost province estimate the volume of wood lost to be around 620 million cubic metres - roughly equivalent to 15 million logging truck loads.

According to a B.C. Ministry of Forests report, roughly half of the province's pine trees are now destroyed by the bug, with the most extensive damage occurring in the central Canadian Rockies, where two-thirds of the region's lodgepole pine forests have been transformed into a sea of orange needles.

The beetle's environmental impact is just as impressive, as the death of billions of trees normally involved in capturing carbon have instead released carbon. Canadian Forest Service scientist Werner Kurz estimates the beetle's devastation will release almost a billion megatonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by 2020, equivalent to about five years of transportation sector emissions from Canada.


Man's contribution to climate change is negligible in geologic time

Most geologists, including those in the energy business, take a REALLY long view of the earth's history including global warming and cooling cycles. Within the framework of geologic time, i.e. the earth's history, man is a very late entry and relatively small contributor to climate changes.

The current debate concerning global warming is well publicized. It features histrionic presentations of data on both sides of the issue usually by writers or politicians, with no scientific background, "interpreting" volumes of data gathered by true scientists. The arguments, for and against, have been going on for about 40 years. The earth is about 4.6 billion (4,600,000,000) years old so the debate has been going on for about 0.000001% of geologic time. Man, or at least our earliest demonstrable "human" ancestors, arrived about 2.3 million (2,300,000) years ago so "man" has been an observer of climate change for about 0.05% of geologic time.


Underwater volcano creates new island off Tonga

© Telusa Fotu/AFP/Getty Images
The powerful underwater volcano that erupted in the south Pacific this week has created a new island off the coast of Tonga. The eruption, about 39 miles north-west of the Tongan capital, Nuku'alofa, began on Monday, shooting rocks, steam and ash thousands of feet into the air.

Tonga's chief geologist, Kelepi Mafi, said the volcano had two vents, one on a small uninhabited island and another about 100 metres (330ft) offshore. Rock and ash spewing from the sea have filled the gap between the two vents, creating a new land mass measuring hundreds of square metres.


One Third of U.S. Bird Species in Peril

© eFluxMedia
There are about 800 species of birds in our country and almost one third of those are "endangered, threatened or in significant decline." These are the findings of a study that not only found the main causes (habitat loss, invasive species and human behavior), but also gave some solutions to the problem: conservation.

Conservation measures were already taken in the case of some bird species and it really showed. Those species of birds showed significant recovery.

Cloud Lightning

Canada: Rainy forecast raises flood concerns along Red River

Winnipeg - Flood Of 97
© unknownNear Winnepeg during the Red River flood of 1997.
Provincial officials issue standby orders in Manitoba

The latest weather reports have officials in Fargo, N.D., ramping up emergency flooding efforts, as Manitoba communities await a provincial flood forecast on Friday.

Volunteers in North Dakota have begun packing 1.5 million sandbags after forecasters said an approaching weather system may deliver 20 to 60 millimetres of rain across the state and into Manitoba.

The ground in the region is already saturated with three times the normal amount of moisture.

Manitoba latest is awaiting the flood forecast, but provincial officials have already issued standby orders to mayors and reeves in communities along the Red River.

The weather system bearing down on Fargo is not expected to drop as much rain in Manitoba.

The Red River is expected to crest around the end of March, about two weeks earlier than initially anticipated.


South Africa: Pink elephant is caught on camera

Pink elephant I
© Mike HoldingThe little pink calf was spotted in amongst an 80-strong elephant herd
A pink baby elephant has been caught on camera in Botswana.

A wildlife cameraman took pictures of the calf when he spotted it among a herd of about 80 elephants in the Okavango Delta.

Experts believe it is probably an albino, which is an extremely rare phenomenon in African elephants.

They are unsure of its chances of long-term survival - the blazing African sunlight may cause blindness and skin problems for the calf.

Mike Holding, who spotted the baby while filming for a BBC wildlife programme, said: "We only saw it for a couple of minutes as the herd crossed the river.


Major Losses For Caribbean Reef Fish In Last 15 Years

© iStockphoto/David SafandaBy combining data from 48 studies of coral reefs from around the Caribbean, researchers have found that fish densities that have been stable for decades have given way to significant declines since 1995.

By combining data from 48 studies of coral reefs from around the Caribbean, researchers have found that fish densities that have been stable for decades have given way to significant declines since 1995.

"We were most surprised to discover that this decrease is evident for both large-bodied species targeted by fisheries as well as small-bodied species that are not fished," said Michelle Paddack of Simon Fraser University in Canada. "This suggests that overfishing is probably not the only cause."

Rather, they suggest that the recent declines may be explained by drastic losses in coral cover and other changes in coral reef habitats that have occurred in the Caribbean over the past 30 years. Those changes are the result of many factors, including warming ocean temperatures, coral diseases, and a rise in sedimentation and pollution from coastal development. Overfishing has also led to declines of many fish species, and now seems to also be removing those that are important for keeping the reefs free of algae.