Earth ChangesS

Bizarro Earth

Tree deaths double across western US

Old, unmanaged trees in the western US
© Jerry FranklinOld, unmanaged trees in the western US are dying twice as fast as they were 50 years ago

The majestic old trees of the western US are disappearing twice as fast as they were three decades ago, and climate change is most likely to blame, say scientists.

Philip van Mantgem of the US Geological Survey and colleagues collected data from 76 plots on the west coast - from California up to British Columbia, Canada - and in Idaho, Arizona and Colorado. These are plots without any direct human management, so any tree loss is not due to logging.

The team focused on old forests, where many of the trees were at least 200 years old, and sometimes as much as 1000 years old. In 87% of the plots, trees are disappearing faster than new trees are springing up. Death rates varied, but the trend held whether the trees were old or relatively young, big or small, high up in the mountains or down in valleys.

The Pacific Northwest, including the pine trees of British Columbia, were the worst affected - death rates there are doubling every 17 years.


Scientific Submarine Makes Deep-sea Discoveries

bright red, undescribed species of shell-less coral
© Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory WHOIA bright red, undescribed species of shell-less coral, called an anthomastid or gorgons-head coral, at 1700 metres deep at the Cascade Plateau, off south-east Tasmania.

A four-week expedition to explore the deep ocean south-west of Tasmania has revealed new species of animals and more evidence of impacts of increasing carbon dioxide on deep-sea corals.

The collaborative voyage of US and Australian researchers was led by chief scientists Dr Jess Adkins from the California Institute of Technology and Dr Ron Thresher from CSIRO's Climate Adaptation and Wealth from Oceans Flagships.

"We set out to search for life deeper than any previous voyage in Australian waters," Dr Thresher says. "We also gathered data to assess the threat posed by ocean acidification and climate change on Australia's unique deep-water coral reefs."

The survey through the Tasman Fracture Commonwealth Marine Reserve, south-west of Tasmania, explored the near vertical slice in the earth's crust, known as the Tasman Fracture Zone, which drops from approximately 2000 metres to over 4000 metres.


Climbing Fish from Remote Venezuela Shakes the Catfish Family Tree

New catfish species Lithogenes wahari
© S. Schaefer/AMNHNew catfish species Lithogenes wahari found in the Río Cuao.

A new species of fish from tropical South America is confirming suspected roots to the loricariid catfish family tree. Lithogenes wahari shares traits with two different families of fish: the bony armor that protects its head and tail, and a grasping pelvic fin that allows it to climb vertical surfaces.

The discovery of both of these characteristics in Lithogenes suggests to ichthyologists Scott Schaefer of the American Museum of Natural History and Francisco Provenzano of the Universidad Central de Venezuela that the common ancestor of the Loricariidae and Astroblepidae probably could grasp and climb rocks with its tail and mouth.

The unusual catfish caught the team's attention twenty years ago in Caracas. An anthropologist working in the remote state of Amazonas collected samples of local foods and brought them to the Instituto de Zoologíca for identification.

Better Earth

Much of Antarctica is Warming More Than Previously Thought

New Data
© NASAThis illustration depicts the warming that scientists have determined has occurred in West Antarctica during the last 50 years, with the dark red showing the area that has warmed the most.
Scientists studying climate change have long believed that while most of the rest of the globe has been getting steadily warmer, a large part of Antarctica - the East Antarctic Ice Sheet - has actually been getting colder.

But new research shows that for the last 50 years, much of Antarctica has been warming at a rate comparable to the rest of the world. In fact, the warming in West Antarctica is greater than the cooling in East Antarctica, meaning that on average the continent has gotten warmer, said Eric Steig, a University of Washington professor of Earth and space sciences and director of the Quaternary Research Center at the UW.

"West Antarctica is a very different place than East Antarctica, and there is a physical barrier, the Transantarctic Mountains, that separates the two," said Steig, lead author of a paper documenting the warming published in the Jan. 22 edition of Nature.

For years it was believed that a relatively small area known as the Antarctic Peninsula was getting warmer, but that the rest of the continent - including West Antarctica, the ice sheet most susceptible to potential future collapse - was cooling.

Comment: There is more behind this story than meets the eye.

The Steig paper has been found to have some data errors and is raising other concerns about the agenda of the global warming advocates behind it.

Read about the data errors here.

Read how this paper was promoted by big media with robust disdain for critical thinking here.


Mountain gorillas in dire straits, DNA reveals

baby Gorilla kisses a silverback male
© Paul Souders / CorbisA baby Gorilla kisses a silverback male, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

Mountain gorillas are in more trouble than we thought. Fewer of them are living in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) than previous estimates suggest. This is one of only two places worldwide where the gorillas survive in the wild.

Traditionally, conservationists estimate gorilla numbers by counting nests and examining the dung outside each one. "Each individual constructs a nest to sleep in, and before they leave in the morning, they defecate outside it," says Katerina Guschanski at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig, Germany.

According to this method, there are 336 gorillas left in the 331-square-kilometre national park. But when Guschanski's team analysed DNA samples from each pile of dung using a new genetic counting method, the population estimate dropped by 10 per cent to 302. This suggests that some individuals had been counted twice using the old technique (Biological Conservation, DOI: link).

Bizarro Earth

Multiple Quakes Strike Northern California

Tres Pinos -- Several small earthquakes have rattled a remote area outside of Hollister.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the four largest temblors struck late last night and early this morning and ranged from magnitude-3.5 to magnitude-3.8.

They were all centered near the city of Tres Pinos, about ten miles south of Hollister and 50 miles south of San Jose.

Another magnitude 3.0 was recorded at 6:46 this morning.

Better Earth

Sea otter diets affect disease exposure

Davis, California - The U.S. Geological Survey says central California sea otters risk higher exposure to disease-causing parasites due to the food they eat and where they feed.

Researchers said sea otters that eat small marine snails are at a higher risk of exposure to Toxoplasma gondii, a potentially deadly protozoal pathogen, than animals that feed exclusively on other prey. Sea otters living along the coast near San Simeon and Cambria are more at risk than sea otters outside that area.

"Recovery of the sea otter in California has been especially sluggish at the center portion of its range, where sea otter densities are highest and where most of the reproduction occurs," said Tim Tinker, co-leader of the study led by the USGS and the University of California-Davis. "Where food resources are limited, individual sea otters tend to become diet specialists, and the specific skills used to secure food are passed on from mother to pup."

Bizarro Earth

Australia state declares massive monsoon disaster

Australia's tropical Queensland state on Thursday declared a flood disaster over an area the size of France and Germany after recent monsoon storms.

Thirty Queensland communities covering 969,000 square km (374,000 sq miles) were declared disaster zones by the state's emergency services minister, Neil Roberts, including many outback and rural communities.

Queensland residents affected by storms would be able to apply for government assistance payments if they were "unable to recover via their own means", Roberts said.


Satellites may be used to find water in drought-ravaged Africa

© ESAAn ESA Envisat image of Lake Chad, a freshwater lake located in central Africa
High flying satellites, which have already proven their mettle in delivering television programs, cell phone calls and views of our neighborhoods (thank you, Google Earth), can also locate potable water in countries such as Niger where droughts have made it scarce, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced this week.

The agency said satellites had successfully pinpointed 90 locations in western Niger where, based on satellite images taken between 1993 and 2007, drinkable surface water was likely to be; the Regional Center of the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control (AGRHYMET) confirmed the satellites were right in all cases. AGRHYMET is a Niger-based agency formed in 1974 to gather information about food availability and the management of water and other natural resources in the Sahel, the region in Western Africa that forms the border between the Sahara desert to the north and the less arid forests to the south.

Black Cat

Scotland: Cheetah-like big cat spotted by commuter

A North-East commuter claims he spotted a cheetah-like big cat on his way home last night.

Steven Mathieson spotted the creature near New Byth in Aberdeenshire as he drove from Aberdeen to Macduff.

The financial adviser said he could not believe his eyes when his headlights picked out the animal's eyes in a field at the edge of the road at about 8.30pm.

"I can't believe I saw it," he said. "I drive along that road every day and I've never seen anything like that, although I'm usually a bit earlier.