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Earth Changes


Goat Lived Like a Reptile - A First

© Jordi Nieva
The prehistoric goat Myotragus, seen here in an artist's reconstruction at the CosmoCaixa museum in Barcelona, lived on what is now the Spanish island of Majorca.
A prehistoric goat survived for millennia on a resource-poor island by living like a reptile - changing its growth rate and metabolism to match the available food supply, according to a new study of the animal's bones.

The discovery marks the first time scientists have seen this cold-blooded survival strategy in mammals.

The surprising skill likely allowed the goats to endure potentially fatal periods of scarcity on what is now the Spanish island of Majorca.

But the technique, developed when the goats had no major natural enemies, came with costs that seem to have made the now extinct goats unable to survive the arrival of skilled predators - humans - some 3,000 years ago.

The goats' energy-saving adaptations made the animals small and slow, noted study co-author Meike Köhler, a paleobiologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain.

Bizarro Earth

Volatile Gas Could Turn Rwandan Lake Into a Freshwater Time Bomb

© iStockphoto/Yves Grau
Lake Kivu on Rwandan side
A dangerous level of carbon dioxide and methane gas haunts Lake Kivu, the freshwater lake system bordering Rwanda and the Republic of Congo.

Scientists can't say for sure if the volatile mixture at the bottom of the lake will remain still for another 1,000 years or someday explode without warning. In a region prone to volcanic and seismic activity, the fragility of Lake Kivu is a serious matter. Compounding the precarious situation is the presence of approximately 2 million people, many of them refugees, living along the north end of the lake.

An international group of researchers will meet Jan. 13-15 in Gisenyi, Rwanda, to grapple with the problem of Lake Kivu. A grant from the National Science Foundation won by Rochester Institute of Technology will fund the travel and lodging for 18 scientists from the United States to attend the three-day workshop. Anthony Vodacek, conference organizer and associate professor at RIT's Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, is working closely with the Rwandan Ministry of Education to organize the meeting.

Bizarro Earth

US: Earthquake Magnitude 3.6 Near Palomar Observatory

A magnitude 3.6 earthquake struck northeast of San Diego Monday, according to a preliminary report from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The earthquake struck at 5:54 a.m. about 13 miles east-northeast of the Palomar Observatory and 53 miles north-northeast of San Diego, according to the computer-generated report.

Bizarro Earth

US: Earthquake Magnitude 4.6 - Southern California

Monday, November 16, 2009 at 21:21:30 UTC

Monday, November 16, 2009 at 01:21:30 PM at epicenter

35.549°N, 117.274°W

2 km (1.2 miles)

26 km (16 miles) SSE (158°) from Searles Valley, CA

26 km (16 miles) SSE (160°) from Trona, CA

37 km (23 miles) ESE (102°) from Ridgecrest, CA

188 km (117 miles) NNE (28°) from Los Angeles Civic Center, CA


Jellyfish Swarm Northward in Warming World

© AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa
A giant jellyfish drifting off Kokonogi in western Japan.
A blood-orange blob the size of a small refrigerator emerged from the dark waters, its venomous tentacles trapped in a fishing net. Within minutes, hundreds more were being hauled up, a pulsating mass crowding out the catch of mackerel and sea bass.

The fishermen leaned into the nets, grunting and grumbling as they tossed the translucent jellyfish back into the bay, giants weighing up to 200 kilograms (450 pounds), marine invaders that are putting the men's livelihoods at risk.

The venom of the Nomura, the world's largest jellyfish, a creature up to 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter, can ruin a whole day's catch by tainting or killing fish stung when ensnared with them in the maze of nets here in northwest Japan's Wakasa Bay.

"Some fishermen have just stopped fishing," said Taiichiro Hamano, 67. "When you pull in the nets and see jellyfish, you get depressed."


Birds Lose Color Vision in Twilight

© iStockphoto
Heron at sunset
Research at the Lund University Vision Group can now show that the color vision of birds stops working considerably earlier in the course of the day than was previously believed, in fact, in the twilight. Birds need between 5 and 20 times as much light as humans to see colors.

It has long been known that birds have highly developed color vision that vastly surpasses that of humans. Birds see both more colors and ultraviolet light. However, it was not known what amount of light is necessary for birds to see colors, which has limited the validity of all research on this color vision to bright sunlight only.

"Using behavioral experiments we can now demonstrate that birds lose their color vision in the twilight and show just how much light is needed for birds to be able to interpret color signals," says Olle Lind, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Cell and Organism Biology.


Following the Adventurous Ant Trail

ant trap in jungle
© John T. Longino, The Evergreen State College
Student researcher Crystal Vincent stands at blacklight sheet, a trap for catching insects at night.
"This work will be physically demanding. You will need to carry bulky sampling supplies into rugged terrain. Some sites may be swelteringly hot, others cold and rainy. You will need to move off trails into dense forested habitats. Long hikes may be required ... There will be mud and mosquitoes."

Although a hard-labor camp could be a reasonable match for that description, in reality, the harsh conditions are what await student field crews studying ants in Central America under the guidance of biologist John Longino of Evergreen State College.

Believe it or not, there is no shortage of fresh-faced undergraduates willing to confront the daunting challenges cataloged above (which were excerpted from a recruitment ad).

But members of Longino's work crews must be more than just willing to work; Longino warns them: "This should sound like fun to you."


Female Wild Horses Stick Together

wild mares
© Elissa Z. Cameron
Wild mares socialize in new Zealand's Kaimanawa Mountains.
Wild mares that form strong social bonds with other mares produce more foals than those that don't, researchers have found, in what may be the first documented link between "friendship" and reproductive success outside of primates.

The study followed bands of feral horses in the Kaimanawa Mountains of New Zealand over the course of three years. Elissa Z. Cameron, now at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and two colleagues computed sociality scores for 56 mares, based on parameters such as the proportion of time each animal spent near other mares and the amount of social grooming she did.

The team found that the scores correlated well with foaling rate: more sociable mares had more foals. They also suffered slightly less harassment by the bands' few males.

Better Earth

Auroras Ahoy!

"Who says one can't photograph the aurora from a moving ship? Digital photography has made things possible of which film shooters can only dream!" says traveling photographer Dennis Mammana. To prove it, he snapped this picture from the deck of the MS Midnatsol off the coast of Tromsø, Norway, on Nov. 12th.

© Dennis Mammana
When the auroras appeared, "I pulled out a 24mm f/1.4L lens, opened it up all the way, kicked up the camera's ISO to 3200 and shot 2 second exposures for the faintest lights, 1 second exposures for the brightest," Mammana explains. "I also made a panorama of four 1 second exposures at ISO 1600."

"Digital noise is, of course, present in all images at such high ISO settings, but thermal noise was minimized by the cold ambient temperatures and could be reduced easily by software."

Bizarro Earth

6.1 Earthquake Shakes Argentina

© RIA Novosti/Olga Melikyan
A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit north-western Argentina late on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported on its website.

The epicenter of the quake was located at the depth of 142 kilometers (82 miles), some 190 kilometers north-east of the city of San Salvador de Jujuy near the border with Bolivia and Chile.

There have been no reports of casualties or any damage so far.

Another powerful, 6.5-magnitude, tremor shook the northern Chilean regions of Arica, Tarapaca and Iquique early Friday, causing some blackouts but no casualties.