Earth ChangesS


Antarctic patents strain goals of shared science

Rothera Base, - Fifty years into a treaty demanding all scientific findings on Antarctica be freely shared, governments are trying to end a dispute over a surge in company patents on life in the continent.

An increasing number of companies developing new products through biological discovery or "bioprospecting" are trying to file patents on Antarctic organisms or molecules for items from cosmetics to medicines, putting new strains on the treaty.

"Biology is going through a revolution ... it's a tricky situation," Jose Retamales, head of the Chilean Antarctic Institute, said of the lack of clear rules for prospecting for animals and plants on the continent.


Parasitic Butterflies Dupe Hosts with Ant Music

© Jeremy ThomasCaterpillar inside a red ant nest, being fed regurgitations by a worker ant.
Though they wouldn't win much applause at a karaoke lounge, the infant forms of blue butterflies can belt out a convincing cover version of a tune favoured by red ants - which show their appreciation by protecting and feeding the butterfly larvae.

Researchers have found that the larvae and pupae of Maculinea rebeli - a parasitic butterfly native to western Europe, though threatened with extinction - impersonate red ants so faithfully that worker ants worship them as if they were queens, caring for the developing caterpillar even at the expense of their own lives.


Super Strong Stratospheric Warming Event to Bring More Cold and Snow as Grand Finale to 08/09 Winter

It has been a top ten coldest winters for the first two months of the year in parts of the central states. After a bit of a roller coaster ride with even a warm day or two (first in many weeks) the next week, a major stratospheric warming event that began last month will translate down to the mid and lower atmosphere with amazing high latitude blocking - high pressure. Cooling will start the end of next week and continue the rest of the month at least.
winter 08 09 zonal mean temp graph
© unknown


The Missouri River is sinking

Sinking river eroding banks
© APKansas City water supply division assistant manager for operations Mike Klender

The problem is this: Parts of the nation's longest river are losing elevation. The so-called "degradation" process is not affecting the amount of water in the channel, but the water is physically lower on the Earth because the river bottom is washing away.

The water depth is not changing, and the situation is nearly imperceptible from shore. But for engineers, it's a costly headache.

"Part of the whole problem is it's not visible," said John Grothaus, chief of planning for the Army Corps of Engineers in Kansas City, where the river bed has dropped by about 12 feet over the last 50 years.

"It's not in the public eye. You can't see it on the river".


Nightmarish Caterpillar Swarm Defies Control in Liberia

They came by the millions out of the forest.

© UnknownAchaea catocaloides, the caterpillar that began devouring Liberia's trees and crops in January 2009, turns into a moth that can lay 500 to 1,000 eggs if not killed beforehand. Experts fear the cycle could begin anew if the caterpillars are not contained.
From off in the bush, townspeople at the epicenter of the plague heard a low roar, like the sound of heavy rain cascading down through the leaves. It was caterpillar droppings.

In early January, when the long, black caterpillars reached the creeks that serve as the main water sources for the town of Belefanai in north-central Liberia, the creatures' feces instantly turned streams dark and undrinkable.

Moving through the forest canopy on webs, devouring the leaves as they went, the caterpillars advanced like nothing the townspeople had ever seen.

Cow Skull

China declares emergency as drought bites

Lidong Village - China has declared an emergency over a drought which could devastate crops and farmers' incomes, official media said on Thursday, threatening further hardship amid slumping economic growth.

The drought gripping parts of central and northern China has sent Zhengzhou wheat futures prices CWSK9 up 5 percent this week but physical prices W-EXWZGZ-GEN have not moved, with most investors confident the country's reserves and last year's big harvest can offset any fall in wheat production this spring.

But the drought could hurt the incomes of farmers in Henan, Anhui and other populous provinces when many have lost factory and construction jobs after China's growth faltered in late 2008.


Black Wolves: The First Genetically Modified Predators?

Black Wolf
© Marco Musiani, University of CalgaryBlack wolves dominate packs in the forests of North America, while white wolves are more numerous in the treeless tundra.
Emergence of black-colored wolves is the direct result of humans raising dogs as pets and beasts of burden, according to new research by a University of Calgary biologist published today by the prestigious academic journal Science. And dark coloring may also aid the survival of the species as wolf habitat is affected by climate change in the future, the study suggests.

"Although it happened by accident, black wolves are the first example of wolves being genetically-engineered by people," said Marco Musiani, an internationally-recognized expert on wolves and a professor in the U of C's Faculty of Environmental Design. "Domestication of dogs has led to dark-colored coats in wolves, which has proven to be a valuable trait for wolf populations as their arctic habitat shrinks," Musiani said. "It also shows that human activities can help enrich the genetic diversity of wild animal populations, which is a very unexpected finding."


Global warming conference at -6 degrees

Talk about great timing.

Buffalo State College hosts the national teach-in on Global Warming Situations today - a day the local temperature bottomed out at minus 6 degrees.

No evidence of global warming here, at least not this morning, when unofficial reports to the National Weather Service listed temperatures as low as 9 degrees below zero elsewhere in Erie County.

"We didn't have temperatures forecast to be quite that cold," weather service meteorologist David Zaff said this morning. "When you have snowpack on the ground and clear skies, temperatures can plummet. It's called radiational cooling."

That cooling phenomenon, under mockingly clear skies, posed a hardship for some morning commuters and some finger-numbing discomfort for others.


Ancient sponges leave their mark

© D. FikeThe rocks date to a time of dramatic glaciation on Earth.
Traces of animal life have been found in rocks dating back 635 million years.

The evidence takes the form of chemical markers that are highly distinctive of sponges when they die and their bodies break down in rock-forming sediments.

The discovery in Oman pushes back the earliest accepted date for animal life on Earth by tens of millions of years.

Scientists tell Nature magazine that the creatures' existence will help them understand better what the planet looked like all that time ago.


Deadly H5N1 avian flu found in Hong Kong birds

Scientists check ducks
© AFP/deHK officials check ducks for avian bird flu.
Hong Kong: A dead goose and two dead ducks found on a Hong Kong island last week have tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, officials said on Wednesday.

The birds were found on January 29 and 31 on a beach on Lantau island and preliminary tests showed they had tested positive for H5 avian influenza.

Further tests confirmed it was the H5N1 strain of the virus, a spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said in a statement.