Earth ChangesS


Crazy Ants Get Under Skin of Gulf Coast Residents

Eric Kayne for The Wall Street Journal
Crazy ants" swarm exterminator Tom Rasberry's hands in a Pearland, Texas, field with a heavy infestation.
Pearland, Texas -- Swarms of foreign "crazy ants" are spreading through Texas and Florida, raising alarms that the tiny, frenetic bugs will rival the fire ants that have ravaged the South, costing billions of dollars in damages each year.

Although the new pests don't pack the powerful sting of fire ants, scientists say they can do as much damage, killing wildlife and shorting out electrical equipment. Crazy ants have an additional trait that is proving especially irksome: They like to hang out where people live and are difficult to dislodge once they get inside buildings.

Called crazy ants because they scramble in all directions rather than trudging along a straight track, the ants carpet the ground and swarm over anything in their way -- plants, animals or humans. Scientists think the ants originated in the Caribbean.

Better Earth

Hmm...World's climate could cool first, warm later

Forecasts of climate change are about to go seriously out of kilter. One of the world's top climate modellers said Thursday we could be about to enter "one or even two decades during which temperatures cool.

"People will say this is global warming disappearing," he told more than 1500 of the world's top climate scientists gathering in Geneva at the UN's World Climate Conference.

"I am not one of the sceptics," insisted Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University, Germany. "However, we have to ask the nasty questions ourselves or other people will do it."

Few climate scientists go as far as Latif, an author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But more and more agree that the short-term prognosis for climate change is much less certain than once thought.

Comment: For an in-depth reading, see Fire and Ice: The Day After Tomorrow


Best of the Web: Global starvation imminent as US faces crop failure

hungry and homeless
© Unknown
The world faces "mass starvation" following North America's next major crop failure. And it could even happen before year's end. So says Chicago-based Don Coxe, who is one of the world's leading experts on agricultural commodities, so much so that Canada's renowned BMO Financial Group named the fund after him.

Climate change will cause shorter crop growing seasons and the world's under-developed farming sector is ill-prepared to make up for the shortfall, Coxe says. He has been following the farming industry for many years and benefits from more than 35 years of institutional investment experience in Canada and the U.S. This includes managing the best-performing mutual fund in the U.S., Harris Investment Management, as recently as 2005.

Comment: The constant refrain to India and China's "exploding population" in this article attributes blame to their voracious appetites. This racial undertone was similarly expressed by Germany's Angela Merkel last year:
Bad agricultural policies and changing eating habits in developing nations are primarily to blame for rising food prices, not biofuel production as some critics claim, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday...

But Merkel, whose country is Europe's largest biofuel producer, said the rise in food prices was not mainly due to biofuels but to "inadequate agricultural policies in developing countries" as well as "insufficient forecasts of changes in nutritional habits" in emerging markets.

"If you travel to India these days, then a main part of the debate is about the 'second meal'," Merkel said.

"People are eating twice a day, and if a third of one billion people in India do that, it adds up to 300 million people. That's a large part of the European Union," she said.

"And if they suddenly consume twice as much food as before and if 100 million Chinese start drinking milk too, then of course our milk quotas become skewed, and much else too," she said referring to EU limits on dairy production....
The reality is that most of the world's starving people are in Asia. Most of the world's largest consumers are in the West, from where corporations backed by military force are hoarding what remains of arable land in the poorest countries. The 'food rush' is exaccerbating an already precarious situation as cooling temperatures threaten shorter growing seasons.

Cloud Lightning

Irish priests pray for sun as deluge brings farmers to their knees

© UnknownFiremen pumping water from outside a pub in Athea, Co Limerick yesterday.
A heartfelt plea is being sent up to a higher power on behalf of stricken farmers.

After a miserable summer of record-breaking rainfall, farm families are facing massive financial losses -- as they struggle to salvage this year's crops.

The dire situation has caused the Bishop of Ferns, Dr Denis Brennan, to intervene -- by calling on all priests in his diocese to pray for fine weather to keep farmers afloat.

The heavy rainfall, meanwhile, put emergency services on standby as flooding struck many parts of the country, with Limerick and Kerry among the worst-hit counties.

A number of festivals and events have also fallen victim to the deluges, including racing at Killarney and animal welfare group the ISPCA's annual festival.


Java quake toll hits 46, dozens trapped

© Unknown
The death toll from Wednesday's 7.3 magnitude tremor in Indonesia's Java island has hit 46 while many others remain trapped under debris.

In Cianjur district south of the capital Jakarta, rescue workers, joined by police and army, are searching for people buried under the rubble, digging them out manually with hoes, while authorities hope to bring in the heavy machinery soon.

"There are 46 people dead (across Java) and about 42 are still buried in Cianjur. Their chances of surviving are slim," disaster management agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono told AFP.

In the village of Cikangkareng, the earthquake caused landslides burying a dozen houses some 20 meters under.

Bizarro Earth

Strongest Storms Each Year This Decade: 2008, Super Typhoon Jangmi

© Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, based on MODIS data
Cyclone Nargis, which killed tens of thousands of people when it struck Burma (Myanmar) in May, was more devastating, but the title of "strongest storm of 2008" goes to Super Typhoon Jangmi, shown in this image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite from September 27, 2008. The image comes from the Earth Observatory's new World of Change: Severe Storms feature, a collection of images of the strongest storm each year from the past decade.

Seen from space, even a super typhoon seems more beautiful than dangerous. The 50-kilometer-wide eye of Jangmi is encircled by a smooth disk of clouds. Bands of clouds swirl gracefully into the low-pressure heart of the storm. The smooth cloud band north of the eye is studded with thunderstorms.

Bizarro Earth

7.0 Indonesian quake kills 32, flattens homes

© Unknown
Jakarta - A disaster management official says the death toll from a powerful Indonesian earthquake has more than doubled to 32.

Social Affairs Ministry official Mardi says more than 700 houses and buildings have been badly damaged in Wednesday's 7.0 magnitude quake.

Scores of people have been injured.

Many of the victims died when their homes were buried in a landslide triggered by the temblor.

The official Antara news agency reports about 30 people are trapped under rocks and dirt from the landslide in one village.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake struck at 2:55 p.m. (0755 GMT) off the southern coast of the main island of Java. A tsunami alert was issued but revoked less than an hour later.

Cow Skull

Firefighters battle to save LA's communications hub as wildfire nears city

© Vibro1Mount Wilson on fire 15 miles from downtown LA
Higher humidity and a bit lower temperatures help crews battling the Station fire in the Angeles National Forest. But the northern and southeastern fronts could re-erupt, officials said.

Higher humidity and slightly lower temperatures helped firefighters inch closer to subduing the monstrous fire that has lashed about the San Gabriel Mountains for a week, but they were scrambling late Tuesday in gusty winds to keep it from overrunning Mt. Wilson.

The reprieve from extremely dry weather had fire crews feverishly setting back fires and cutting fire lines throughout the day, raising the blaze's containment to 22% in the evening, up from 5% the night before. Southwest winds largely pushed the fire deeper into the forest.

Evacuation orders were lifted in much of La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta. But fire officials still worried about the northern flank of the fire, from Agua Dulce to Littlerock, and said the blaze could reemerge as a threat to homes in the foothills of Sierra Madre and points east.

Cloud Lightning

Hurricane Jimena lashes Mexican Pacific resort

Los Cabos - Hurricane Jimena slammed Mexico's Baja California peninsula with howling winds on Tuesday and drenched the upscale Los Cabos resort area where tourists hunkered in boarded-up hotels.

The storm's wind speed eased as it neared land, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Jimena was now a Category 3 storm with 120 miles per hour winds with higher gusts, rather than an extremely dangerous Category 4.


Sun Run of 51 Days Without a Spot Now Among the Top 5 Longest

Sunday, August 30th marks the 51st straight day without a sunspot, one of the longest stretches in a century. One more day and we have a spotless month (we had some by some accounts one last August but a few observatories thought they saw a spot on the sun for a few hours one day). It would be either the first or second spotless month since 1913 depending on whether you count last August as spotless.

In fact it rises into 4th place among all spotless periods since 1849 (first table here). Note: It is 5th place if you accept a spotless August 2008 which would have led to a stretch of 52 days. The total number of spotless days this transition from cycle 23 to 24 is now 704, exceeding the number for cycle 15 in the early 1900s (See Graph here).

We have had 193 spotless days this year (79% of the days). We are in the top 20 years in 16th place. We will very likely rapidly rise up the list in upcoming weeks and rival 2008's 266 days and likely end in the top 5 years. 2007, 2008, 2009 will only have 1911, 1912, 1913 in the top 20 as string of 3 per transition (See Graph here).