Earth ChangesS

Bizarro Earth

Blizzard Hits North China, Paralyzes Major Cities

© ShanghaiDailyA man walks on a snow-covered street in Shijiazhuang, capital of north China's Hebei Province, today.
Heavy snow blanketed Shijiazhuang, capital of north China's Hebei Province, for a second day today and paralyzed all transport, including aviation and highway services, provincial authorities said today.

Meteorological officials said city recorded 74 mm of snow in the 24 hours till 6 am today, with the accumulated snow 48 mm thick in most areas.

It was the heaviest snow fall in the city since 1955 when the city began to make meteorological records.

Xinhua reporters saw no traffic on roads in the city, and pedestrians struggled through knee-high snow. All middle and primary schools were informed they could suspend classes if necessary.

All flights from and to the city have been canceled, and all local sections of the six expressways traversing the city, including the Beijing-Shijiazhuang, Zhangjiakou-Shijiazhuang,Shijiangzhuang-Huanghua, and Qingdao-Yinchuan expressways were closed, said transport authorities.


Philippines: Mayon Volcano Erupts

More ash explosions seen

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology recorded an ash explosion in Mayon Volcano early Wednesday, which caused ash fall in Albay towns located southwest and northwest of the volcano.

"The explosion, which occurred at around 1:58 a.m., is a clear sign of magma intrusion toward the summit crater of the volcano," said Alex Baloloy, Phivolcs science research analyst.

The explosion, which lasted for about three minutes, was accompanied by rumbling sounds. Residents in the towns of Camalig, Guinobatan, Polangui, Oas, and Ligao City reported experiencing the ash fall.

Baloloy said, however, that the height of the ash column was not recorded because clouds covered the view of the volcano and it was still dark when the explosion happened.

Arrow Down

Koalas Face Extinction Within 30 years

Australia's koalas could be become extinct within 30 years unless urgent action is taken to halt a decline in the population, researchers say.

Development, climate change and bushfires have all contributed in reducing the numbers of wild koalas. The sexually transmitted disease chlamydia has also played a part in the animal's demise. In the past six years alone the population may have dropped by half according to a survey carried out by the Australian Koala Foundation.

Previous estimates put the number of koalas at more than 100,000. However recent estimates show there may be as few as 43,000. The foundation collected field data from 1,800 sites and 80,000 trees to calculate the numbers. In one area in northern Queensland estimated to have 20,000 koalas a decade ago, a team of eight people could not find a single animal in four days of searching.

Bizarro Earth

5.0 Earthquake Hits Western Indonesia

An earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale rocked West Sumatra province in the western parts of Indonesia on Wednesday, the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency said.

The quake occurred at 10:14 a.m. Jakarta time (0314 GMT) with the epicenter at 69 km southeast of Siberut of Mentawai island of the province and at a depth of 15 km, the agency said.

Indonesia has been conducting reconstruction in the province after the 7.6 magnitude quake on Sept. 30 killed more than 1,000 people.


New Fossil Plant Discovery Links Patagonia to New Guinea in a Warmer Past

Foliage of Papuacedrus prechilensis
© P. Wilf.The monotypic genus Papuacedrus is today restricted to montane rainforests of New Guinea and the Moluccas, but its scarce fossil record includes Tasmania and Antarctica.
How revising an ancient species can change what we know of a lineage's historical distribution and the climate in which it lived

Fossil plants are windows to the past, providing us with clues as to what our planet looked like millions of years ago. Not only do fossils tell us which species were present before human-recorded history, but they can provide information about the climate and how and when lineages may have dispersed around the world. Identifying fossil plants can be tricky, however, when plant organs fail to be preserved or when only a few sparse parts can be found.

In the November issue of the American Journal of Botany, Peter Wilf (of Pennsylvania State University) and his U.S. and Argentine colleagues published their recent discovery of abundant fossilized specimens of a conifer previously known as "Libocedrus" prechilensis found in Argentinean Patagonia. This plant was first described in 1938 based on one fossil vegetative branch whose characteristics were said to most closely match those of a living South American dry, cold-climate conifer found in the study area: Austrocedrus (Libocedrus) chilensis, the Cordilleran Cypress.

However, numerous characteristics of the leaves, including their distinctive shape and stomatal arrangements, as well as seed cone details of the newly discovered specimens entirely match those of extant Papuacedrus, a closely related genus, currently found only in tropical, montane New Guinea and the Moluccas.


Cave Study Links Climate Change to California Droughts

California experienced centuries-long droughts in the past 20,000 years that coincided with the thawing of ice caps in the Arctic, according to a new study by UC Davis doctoral student Jessica Oster and geology professor Isabel Montañez.

The finding, which comes from analyzing stalagmites from Moaning Cavern in the central Sierra Nevada, was published online Nov. 5 in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

The sometimes spectacular mineral formations in caves such as Moaning Cavern and Black Chasm build up over centuries as water drips from the cave roof. Those drops of water pick up trace chemicals in their path through air, soil and rocks, and deposit the chemicals in the stalagmite.

"They're like tree rings made out of rock," Montañez said. "These are the only climate records of this type for California for this period when past global warming was occurring."

Bizarro Earth

NASA Sees High Thunderstorms in Newly Formed Tropical Cyclone Near India

© NASANASA's Aqua satellite captured cold thunderstorm cloud tops of Cyclone 4A with temperatures as cold as -63 degrees Fahrenheit (in purple), indicating strong convection is occurring in the storm.
Tropical Cyclone 4A formed yesterday, November 10 off the western coast of India in the Arabian Sea, and NASA's infrared imagery captured some high, powerful thunderstorms developing in the storm's center. Tropical Cyclone (TC) 4A formed yesterday around 4 p.m. ET, 380 miles south-southwest of Mumbai, India, with maximum sustained winds near 37 mph. By 10 a.m. ET today, November 10, 4A had moved north about 135 miles.

Cyclone 4A was located about 245 miles south-southwest of Mumbai, near 15.2 North and 71.1. East. It still maintained sustained winds near 37 mph, and was moving north at 13 mph.

The U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center, the organization that forecasts tropical cyclones in that region of the world, noted that gusty winds between 34-40 mph (55-65 kmph) and heavy rainfall (as much as 10 inches or 250 millimeters) will affect Konkan and Goa and Madhya Maharastra over the next two days as the storm moves north.

Gusty winds and heavy rainfall is also expected over coastal Karnataka, Kerala and Lakshadweep in the next day, South Gujarat will begin to feel rainfall and gusty winds from 04A on November 11.

NASA's Aqua satellite flew over Cyclone 4A on November 9 at 20:59 UTC (3:59 p.m. ET) and the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument onboard captured an infrared image of Cyclone 4A's cold thunderstorm tops. The infrared imagery revealed that 4A's cloud tops had some strong thunderstorms around its center of circulation, where temperatures are colder than -63 Fahrenheit. That indicates strong convection and development of thunderstorms that power the cyclone. 4A is expected to continue intensifying as it moves north over the next couple of days in the Arabian Sea, paralleling the Indian coast.


Ancient Penguin DNA Raises Doubts About Accuracy of Genetic Dating Techniques

© PhysOrgAdelie penguins have survived in Antarctica for thousands of years and are invaluable for genetic research.
Penguins that died 44,000 years ago in Antarctica have provided extraordinary frozen DNA samples that challenge the accuracy of traditional genetic aging measurements, and suggest those approaches have been routinely underestimating the age of many specimens by 200 to 600 percent.

In other words, a biological specimen determined by traditional DNA testing to be 100,000 years old may actually be 200,000 to 600,000 years old, researchers suggest in a new report in Trends in Genetics, a professional journal.

The findings raise doubts about the accuracy of many evolutionary rates based on conventional types of genetic analysis.

"Some earlier work based on small amounts of DNA indicated this same problem, but now we have more conclusive evidence based on the study of almost an entire mitochondrial genome," said Dee Denver, an evolutionary biologist with the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing at Oregon State University.

Bizarro Earth

Landslide Triggered by Rains Kills 42 in India

A landslide triggered by torrential seasonal rains swept through a hilly region in southern India, killing at least 42 people, an official said Tuesday.

The landslide demolished nearly 300 tin-roofed mud huts Monday in the Ooty and Coonoor region of Tamil Nadu state, a state flood control official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. The region is nearly 1,120 miles (1,800 kilometers) south of the capital, New Delhi.

Rescuers found 14 bodies in the debris Monday and another 28 on Tuesday, the official said, adding that eight injured people were hospitalized.

The death toll was expected to rise further with the rescue operation continuing in the region, the official said.

Ooty is a popular tourist destination, but none of those killed or injured were foreigners, he said.

Cloud Lightning

Stone Age humans crossed Sahara in the rain

© Sergio Pitamitz/GettyIt used to be wetter
Wet spells in the Sahara may have opened the door for early human migration. According to new evidence, water-dependent trees and shrubs grew there between 120,000 and 45,000 years ago. This suggests that changes in the weather helped early humans cross the desert on their way out of Africa.

The Sahara would have been a formidable barrier during the Stone Age, making it hard to understand how humans made it to Europe from eastern Africa, where the earliest remains of our hominin ancestors are found.

Isla Castañeda of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and colleagues studied land plant hydrocarbons in Saharan dust that has settled on the sea floor off west Africa over the past 192,000 years. From the ratio of carbon isotopes in the hydrocarbons they can work out which types of plants were present at different times.

Wet spells

While about 40 per cent of hydrocarbons in today's dust come from water-dependent plants, this rose to 60 per cent, first between 120,000 and 110,000 ago and again from 50,000 to 45,000 years ago. So the region seemed to be in the grip of unusually wet spells at the time.

That may have been enough to allow sub-Saharan Stone Age Homo sapiens to migrate north: the first fossils of modern humans outside Africa date from 93,000 year ago in Israel. And both genetic analysis and archaeology show that humans didn't spread extensively beyond Africa until 50,000 years ago, suggesting a second migration at the time of the second wet spell.