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Bizarro Earth

Chaitén Volcano In Southern Chile: Historic Volcanic Eruptions Significantly Underestimated, Ash Fallout Analysis Shows

© Oxford UniversityAsh and steam rising from the Chaiten lava dome, shortly after a small earthquake.
A study into ash fallout from the biggest volcanic eruption in almost 20 years has shown that the impact of past eruptions is likely to have been significantly underestimated as so much of the evidence quickly disappears, Oxford University scientists report.

The study focuses on the Chaitén volcano in southern Chile that began to erupt explosively on 2 May 2008. For six days afterwards the volcano pumped huge volumes of ash high into the atmosphere before its activity began to decline to a low intensity eruption still going on today.

With emergency funding from the UK's Natural Environment Research Council, a team of scientists from the University of Oxford was quickly dispatched to map out the distribution of ash from the eruption and to study its impacts on the local environment, in collaboration with Argentinian scientists.


Flight Of The Bumble Bee Is Based More On Brute Force Than Aerodynamic Efficiency

© Richard BomphreyHigh-speed cameras capture the bumblebee's 'brute force' approach to flight.
Brute force rather than aerodynamic efficiency is the key to bumblebee flight, Oxford University scientists have discovered.

In recent years scientists have modelled how insect wings interact with the air around them to generate lift by using computational models that are relatively simple, often simplifying the motion or shape of the wings.

"We decided to go back to the insect itself and use smoke, a wind tunnel and high-speed cameras to observe in detail how real bumblebee wings work in free flight," said Dr Richard Bomphrey of the Department of Zoology, co-author of a report of the research published this month in Experiments in Fluids. 'We found that bumblebee flight is surprisingly inefficient - aerodynamically-speaking it's as if the insect is 'split in half' as not only do its left and right wings flap independently but the airflow around them never joins up to help it slip through the air more easily.'

Bizarro Earth

US: Rare 3.1 Earthquake Shakes Central Arizona

© US Geological Survey
A rare magnitude 3.1 earthquake shook central Arizona late Friday night, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

It occurred at 11:07:31 p.m. and was centered about 31 miles southeast of Prescott near Bumble Bee, seismologists said.

Bizarro Earth

Earthquake Magnitude 6.1 Off Coast Of Ecuador

© US Geological Survey

* Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 01:16:10 UTC

* Saturday, May 09, 2009 at 07:16:10 PM at epicenter

Location 1.405°N, 85.228°W

Depth 23.9 km (14.9 miles)

Distances 500 km (310 miles) SSE of Isla del Coco, Costa Rica

550 km (340 miles) ENE of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Galapagos

710 km (440 miles) WNW of Guayaquil, Ecuador

945 km (590 miles) S of SAN JOSE, Costa Rica

Bizarro Earth

Mystery worms turn on northwest China herdsmen

Beijing - An invasion of unidentified worms has forced 50 herdsmen and their families from their grassland homes, taking 20,000 head of livestock with them, in northwest China's Xinjiang region, state news agency Xinhua said Friday.

The worms are packed up to 3,000 per square meter and chew through the grasslands like lawnmowers, leaving only brown soil in their wake, Xinhua said.

The agency described it as the worst plague in three decades in Usu, about 280 km (175 miles) west of the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.

Local experts could not identify the 2-cm (1 inch) long, thorny green worm with black stripes and samples had been sent to Xinjiang Agricultural University, Xinhua said.

Cloud Lightning

As deaths mount in Brazil flooding, more rain is forecast

Brazil floods May 2009
© unknownFloodwaters reach almost to the tops of some homes in Piaui state in Brazil.

Rio De Janeiro -- The death toll from flooding that has covered large parts of Brazil continued to rise Friday, with the government reporting seven new fatalities, bringing the total to 38.

The rain-induced floods left nearly 800,000 people displaced, according to the Brazilian civil defense agency.

Rain has fallen steadily in some parts of the country for more than two weeks and is forecast to continue for another 10 days. World Vision, a relief agency working in Brazil, predicted it could take 30 days for flood waters to recede.

Communities in 10 states have been swamped by the floods, though most of the fatalities have occurred in the country's northeast, officials said.


Solar cycle will be weakest since 1928, forecasters say

© NASA/Goddard Space Flight CenterThe sun is thought to have reached the lowest point in its activity in December 2008, but the new solar cycle has gotten off to a slow start. This week, however, two active regions (bright regions in upper-left corner) - whose knotty magnetic fields often coincide with eruptions and flares - appeared on the far side of the sun. One of NASA's twin STEREO probes snapped this image.
The sun's new solar cycle, which is thought to have begun in December 2008, will be the weakest since 1928. That is the nearly unanimous prediction of a panel of international experts, some of whom maintain that the sun will be more active than normal.

But even a mildly active sun could still generate its fair share of extreme storms that could knock out power grids and space satellites.

Solar activity waxes and wanes every 11 years. Cycles can vary widely in intensity, and there is no foolproof way to predict how the sun will behave in any given cycle.

In 2007, an international panel of 12 experts split evenly over whether the coming cycle of activity, dubbed Cycle 24, would be stronger or weaker than average.

Bizarro Earth

Brazil's other big forest in dire straits

© Andre Seale / SplashdownDirect / Rex FeaturesVinaceous Amazon, a critically endangered parrot found only in the South American Atlantic Forest.
The ongoing degradation of the Amazon rainforest has obscured the plight of its smaller sibling: the Atlantic forest in Brazil, which is a biodiversity hotspot. Once covering about 1.5 million square kilometres, the rainforest has been reduced to about one-tenth of its original area in the past 500 years, a new study has shown.

The Atlantic forest supports more than 20,000 species of plants, 260 mammals, 700 birds, 200 reptiles, 280 amphibians and hundreds of unnamed species.

Unless the damage is halted, monkeys and birds unique to the region will go extinct, including iconic species such as the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) and the northern woolly spider monkey (Brachyteles hypoxanthus), both among the most endangered of all the world's monkeys.

"Unfortunately, the forest is in very bad shape," says Jean Paul Metzger at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. "Species extinctions will occur more rapidly and, since 30 per cent of the species are endemic to the region, they will disappear forever."

Bizarro Earth

Congo volcano 'may soon erupt'

Goma volcano
© APThe volcanoes around Goma often spew smoke and steam
Scientists in the Democratic Republic of Congo have recorded significant increased volcanic activity around Goma in the east of the country.

Half of the city was destroyed in 2002 after the nearest of two volcanoes, Mount Nyiragongo, erupted.

Now Mount Nyamulagira, which lies 25km (16 miles) from Goma, may soon erupt.

Scientist Dieudonne Wafula told the BBC if it did erupt, there would not be an immediate threat to Goma, but some key rural roads could be cut off.

Bizarro Earth

California Burns! Jesusita Fire Forces Out 30,000 Residents

Firefighters struggled Friday to get ahead of a raging wildfire that has moved dangerously close to heavily populated areas around this idyllic coastal city and forced the evacuation of roughly 30,000 people.

Mobile home parks and neighborhoods of multimillion-dollar mansions were like ghost towns, bathed in the eerie orange glow of the growing blaze as billows of smoke wafted over the blackened mountains.

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Jodi Dyck said the fire had grown since Thursday night, when it measured roughly 2,700 acres. By 9:30 a.m. Friday, 3,500 acres had burned.