Earth ChangesS

Eye 2

Eyes Evolved For 'X-Ray Vision'

The advantage of using two eyes to see the world around us has long been associated solely with our capacity to see in 3-D. Now, a new study from a scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has uncovered a truly eye-opening advantage to binocular vision: our ability to see through things.

The eyes of some mammals have evolved to point in the same direction. While animals with forward facing eyes lose the ability to see what's behind them, they gain X-ray vision, which makes it possible for them to see through the clutter in the world.

Most animals - fish, insects, reptiles, birds, rabbits, and horses, for example - exist in non-cluttered environments like fields or plains, and they have eyes located on either side of their head. These sideways-facing eyes allow an animal to see in front of and behind itself, an ability also known as panoramic vision.

Humans and other large mammals - primates and large carnivores like tigers, for example - exist in cluttered environments like forests or jungles, and their eyes have evolved to point in the same direction. While animals with forward-facing eyes lose the ability to see what's behind them, they gain X-ray vision, according to Mark Changizi, assistant professor of cognitive science at Rensselaer, who says eyes facing the same direction have been selected for maximizing our ability to see in leafy environments like forests.

Bizarro Earth

Gustav Floods Jamaica; Louisiana Sees Revisit of 2005

Tropical Storm Gustav pounded Jamaica with rain, flooding streets with water and mud, as Louisiana prepared for the system to strengthen into a hurricane bound for areas devastated by Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Three years to the day after Katrina left more than 80 percent of New Orleans under water, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency was on alert for Gustav and said it had food, water and supplies ready to move into the area.


New parasitic wasp discovered in Ireland

A new species of a parasitic wasp with a grisly life cycle that involves laying its eggs inside flies has been found in Ireland, Galway University said on Thursday.

The chance discovery was made by Welsh researcher Chris Williams who is studying the life-cycle of tiny snail-killing marsh flies in County Mayo in the west of the country.

Williams, who is studying for his PhD in Galway, was waiting for flies to hatch in jam jars on his desk when, to his surprise, two different species of parasitic wasp emerged instead.

"I came across two little black Marsh Fly puparia and kept them in jam jars on my desk expecting that adult Marsh Flies might hatch but what emerged were two different species of parasitic wasp," Williams said.


Changes to Endangered Species Act Called Bad Science

bald eagle
The bald eagle is one of the Endangered Species Act's successes. The iconic bird of prey was officially delisted on June 28, 2007.

Changes that the Bush administration is proposing to make to Endangered Species Act regulations just aren't sound science, various scientists and conservation groups say.

They're concerned that the loss of scientific oversight resulting from the changes will leave some species vulnerable to federal projects that could damage habitats.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), signed into law by President Nixon on Dec. 28, 1973, does more than just provide for the creation of the Endangered Species List. The act also requires that "recovery plans" be drawn up and implemented to protect and ultimately restore the populations of endangered species, and it charges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service with detailing and enforcing these plans.

Bizarro Earth

Anatahan still unsafe; Fitial extends emergency

Due to continued volcanic activity on the island of Anatahan, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial issued a 30-day extension of his May 13, 2003, state of disaster emergency declaration for the island.

The issuance of the extension period is in accordance with the Emergency Management Office and the U.S. Geological Survey recommendations.

The extension means all travel to Anatahan is restricted except for scientific expeditions.

The latest update from the U.S. Geological Survey dated Aug. 21 said that seismicity remains low though occasional low-amplitude tremor bursts lasting minutes occasionally occur. No plumes have been reported.

Prior to that, on Aug. 20, there were a few low-amplitude tremor bursts lasting for two minutes.

Also on Aug. 21, there were two episodes of volcanic tremor that lasted for five minutes starting at about 4pm and 50 minutes of tremor starting at 4:50pm. It said, however, that subsequent seismicity returned to background levels.

Cloud Lightning

Tropical storm Gustav kills 59 in Caribbean, aims at U.S

Kingston - Tropical Storm Gustav hit Jamaica with near hurricane-force winds on Thursday after killing at least 59 people elsewhere in the Caribbean, and was on a path to reach New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico oil fields as potentially a powerful hurricane.

As Gustav churned through the Caribbean, Tropical Storm Hanna formed in the Atlantic Ocean with 40-mph (65-kph) winds and took a track that could threaten the Bahamas and Florida, also next week, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Energy companies prepared for Gustav to deliver what could be the hardest hit to the heart of the U.S. Gulf oil patch since the devastating 2005 hurricane season.

Oil prices rose above $120 a barrel in early trade on Thursday, adding to two days of gains as Gustav aimed deep into the heavy concentration of oil and natural gas platforms off Louisiana and Texas.


Bayer in the Dock Over Pesticide Linked to Colony Collapse Disorder

©Autan via flickr

Last week we reported on a lawsuit filed by the NRDC which seeks to force the EPA to turn over test results for a Bayer CropScience insecticide which may be linked to colony collapse disorder. The insecticide in question, clothianidin, was banned in Germany in May because of its potential harmful impact on bees.


Protection Zones In The Wrong Place To Prevent Coral Reef Collapse

Conservation zones are in the wrong place to protect vulnerable coral reefs from the effects of global warming, an international team of scientists warn.

Seychelles Islands.
©iStockphoto/Alain Couillaud
Seychelles Islands.

Now the team - led jointly by Newcastle University and the Wildlife Conservation Society, New York - say that urgent action is needed to prevent the collapse of this important marine ecosystem.

The research, recently published in the journal PLoS ONE, is the largest study of its kind to have been carried out, covering 66 sites across seven countries and spanning over a decade in the Indian Ocean.


Yellowstone's Ancient Supervolcano: Molten Plume Of Material Cooler Than Expected

The geysers of Yellowstone National Park owe their existence to the "Yellowstone hotspot"--a region of molten rock buried deep beneath Yellowstone, geologists have found.

©U.S. Geological Survey
Yellowstone National Park and its famous geysers are the remnants of an ancient supervolcano.

In an effort to find out, Derek Schutt of Colorado State University and Ken Dueker of the University of Wyoming took the hotspot's temperature.

The scientists published results of their research, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s division of earth sciences, in the August, 2008, issue of the journal Geology.

"Yellowstone is located atop of one of the few large volcanic hotspots on Earth," said Schutt. "But though the hot material is a volcanic plume, it's cooler than others of its kind, such as one in Hawaii."

When a supervolcano last erupted at this spot more than 600,000 years ago, its plume covered half of today's United States with volcanic ash. Details of the cause of the Yellowstone supervolcano's periodic eruptions through history are still unknown.


Australia's top solar physicist says we may be in for decades of global cooling

Climate change has been the most important and complex issue on my plate in 15 years as a science and technology correspondent for The Canberra Times. So an appropriate topic for a farewell commentary for this newspaper is an emerging scientific debate with the potential to complicate the already difficult relationship between scientists and politicians on this issue.