Earth ChangesS


Yellowstone National Park's underground 'plumbing' comes into view

A vast "plume" of hot rock, which scientists say is responsible for Yellowstone's famous geysers and other geothermal features, is coming into sharper focus in research coordinated by University of Utah scientists that sheds new light on our planet's inner workings.

Geophysicist Robert Smith and colleagues monitored seismic waves from 800 earthquakes to assemble the most complete image ever published of the 500-mile "plumbing" system under Yellowstone National Park, suggesting its bottom is at least 400 miles deep in the Earth's mantle, directly under the southwest Montana town of Wisdom.

Bizarro Earth

Volcanic activity prompts Philippines evacuation

Thousands of people in the Philippines have fled their homes after the country's most active volcano oozed lava and shot up plumes of ash on Tuesday. State volcanologists raised the alert level on the cone-shaped, 2,460-metre Mayon volcano to two steps below a major eruption, saying the activity could get worse in the coming days.

"It's already erupting," said Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

More than 20,000 people living near the volcano were evacuated to safety by nightfall Tuesday, said Gov. Joey Salceda of Albay province, where Mayon is located about 340 kilometres southeast of Manila.

Nearly 50,000 people live within an eight-kilometre radius of the volcano.

Salceda said Tuesday that the province of Albay has been placed under a "state of imminent disaster" to allow for better mobilization of resources to handle the evacuation.

Better Earth

Record Levels of Toxic Algae Hurt Coastline

Large swaths of toxic algae have punished U.S. coastal towns at record levels this year, shutting down shellfish harvests and sickening swimmers from Maine to Texas to Seattle.

The algal blooms stretch for hundreds of miles in some areas in a phenomenon known as "red tides" and give off toxins that sicken fish and birds and can cause paralysis in humans, said Wayne Litaker, a research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The blooms have been getting increasingly larger and more toxic since 2004, causing an estimated $100 million a year in damage to the country's seafood and tourism industries, he said.


Many of the Tallest Mountains in North and South America Contain PCBs

Researchers from the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research in Spain, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany, and the University of Concepcion in Chile have identified the presence of high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on mountain ranges all over North and South America. Banned worldwide since 2001, PCBs are being found at the highest levels in many of the tallest mountain ranges.

Published in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters, the discovery coincides with a similar study conducted by Swiss scientists that found other pollutants in Alpine glacial lakes that affect drinking water supplies. The PCBs found on mountaintops may eventually make their way down the mountains and pollute fields, crops, and water supplies. Some scientists fear that such contamination is already taking place in certain areas.

Up until the 1980s, PCBs were widely used as coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and capacitors. They were also heavily used in paints, cements, coatings, and pesticides. Once it was discovered that these compounds cause liver damage, male infertility, hair loss, acne, and other serious problems, they were banned globally under the Stockholm Convention.

Life Preserver

Octopus Snatches Coconut and Runs

© BBCAn octopus and its coconut-carrying antics have surprised scientists.
Underwater footage reveals that the creatures scoop up halved coconut shells before scampering away with them so they can later use them as shelters.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, the team says it is the first example of tool use in octopuses.

One of the researchers, Dr Julian Finn from Australia's Museum Victoria, told BBC News: "I almost drowned laughing when I saw this the first time."

He added: "I could tell it was going to do something, but I didn't expect this - I didn't expect it would pick up the shell and run away with it."


Temperature of -46C in Edmonton area makes it coldest in Canada

The mercury dipped to a frigid - 46C at the Edmonton airport, making it the coldest place in Canada, he said. With the wind chill, it felt more like - 59C. Spiker said it crushed the same day coldest temperature record of about - 33C set in 1968.

© The Canadian PressDuane Maul walks along a Edmonton street Sunday afternoon, in a homemade winter coat. Maul said he made the coat out of a deep sheep skin carpet and some bonded leather. "It's good down to -40," said Maul. "You won't even feel the cold."
Edmonton - There's one way to deal with some of the coldest winter temperatures yet on the Prairies - outright denial.

At least that's how some folks were taking it as they strode into the Edmonton airport over the weekend after arriving from their vacations in Mexico, still dressed in their shorts and sporting tans.

Christopher Toutant walked out of the international arrivals area still wearing Bermuda shorts and a light shirt.

It didn't occur to him to prepare for a record-breaking cold snap back home.

Peter Spiker, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, says temperatures in the Edmonton area early Sunday morning were among the coldest anywhere in the country.


Aussie, Chinese Officials Urge Pandas to Reproduce

© AP Photo/Adelaide ZooAustralia's Governor General Quentin Bryce observes male giant panda Wang Wang after the official opening of the panda exhibit at the Adelaide Zoo, Australia.
Australian and Chinese officials urged two bamboo-munching giant pandas on Sunday to consider reproducing during their 10-year residency Down Under.

Wang Wang and Funi, on loan from China, arrived at the Adelaide Zoo two weeks ago but were officially welcomed Sunday by leaders at the opening ceremony of their 8 million Australian dollar ($7.25 million) enclosure. Their exhibit will open to the public on Monday.

"Look after yourselves, keep healthy and active, eat your greens and maybe, when the time is right, think about starting a family," Governor General Quentin Bryce said in a speech directed at Funi and Wang Wang, who were sprawled against nearby boulders, chewing bamboo shoots. "There are not enough of you in this world."

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Junsai said he was already thinking of Australian names for a possible panda cub.

Better Earth

After The Storm

Last week, a powerful blizzard paralyzed parts of the US Midwest. Mike Hollingshead of Blair, Nebraska, walked outside after the storm and this is what he saw:
© Mike Hollingshead

Sunlight shining through ice crystals had produced a bright pair of sundogs and a vivid circumzenithal arc. "These tend to appear on the backside of a storm's clearing line as ice crystals blow through the air," notes Hollingshead. "It's a beautiful sight but not a ton of fun to photograph at 5o F with winds blowing 40 mph."


Nine whales beached in Italy in rare accident

Beached sperm whale
© Agence France-PresseThe sperm whale is the largest of all toothed whales and is considered a vulnerable species.
A pod of sperm whales was beached on Italy's southern coast and at least five died in what experts said was a rare mass beaching for such a large species.

Nine whales measuring up to 40 feet in length were stranded Thursday on a beach in Puglia, the heel of boot-shaped Italy.

Only two managed to swim back to deeper waters and at least five were dead by Saturday, said Nicola Zizzo, one of the veterinarians caring for the animals. He said officials were considering euthanising the last two whales still trapped in high waves just off the beach.

The rough seas were making it difficult to understand even how many whales were still alive, with other experts telling Italian media that only one was breathing.

The sperm whale is the largest of all toothed whales and is considered a vulnerable species.

Cow Skull

Second Drug to Treat Cattle Deadly to Vultures

Bangkok - A second drug used to treat cattle for pain could be deadly to endangered vultures and should be prohibited as part of a campaign to prevent their extinction, according to a study released Wednesday.

Millions of long-billed, slender-billed and oriental white-backed vultures have died in South Asia - mostly in India - after eating cattle carcasses tainted with diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory painkiller given to sick cows.

Now, researchers writing in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters have found that a second drug, ketoprofen, has proven toxic to vultures and should no longer be used to treat livestock in Asia.