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3 more Hurricane Ike victims raises toll to 67

Three more bodies were discovered over the weekend in areas of Texas ravaged by Hurricane Ike, increasing the storm's toll to 67 deaths nationally.


Two weeks after Ike, more than 400 are still missing

Gail Ettenger made her last phone call at 10:10 p.m. She was trapped in her Bolivar Peninsula bungalow with her Great Dane, Reba. A drowning cat cried outside. Her Jeep bobbed in the seawater surging around her home.


Urban Black Bears 'Live Fast, Die Young'

Black bears that live around urban areas weigh more, get pregnant at a younger age, and are more likely to die violent deaths, according to a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Wild black bear searching for food
© iStockphoto/Ling XiaWild black bear searching for food at a garbage dump. A life of garbage, early pregnancies and violent deaths plague big city bears.
The study, published in the Fall 2008 issue of the journal Human-Wildlife Conflicts, tracked 12 bears over a 10-year period living in urban areas around Lake Tahoe, Nevada and compared them to 10 "wildland" bears that lived in outlying wild areas. The authors found that bears in urbanized areas weighed an average of 30 percent more than bears in wild areas due to a diet heavily supplemented by garbage.

The authors believe that because the bears weigh more they are giving birth at an earlier age - on average when they are between 4-5 years old, as compared to 7-8 years for bears in wild areas. Some urban bears even reproduced as early as 2-3 years of age around Lake Tahoe.

Urban bears also tend to die much younger due mostly to collisions with vehicles, according to the study. All 12 urban bears tracked by the researcher were dead by age 10 due to vehicle collisions, while six of the wildland bears still survived. Bear cubs in urban areas also had dramatically higher mortality rates due mainly to vehicle collisions.

Bizarro Earth

Pollution slowly killing world's coral reefs

Cancun, Mexico - Dainty blue fish dart around coral shaped like moose antlers near the Mexican resort of Cancun, but sickly brown spots are appearing where pollution threatens one of the world's largest reefs.

Parts of the reef, nestled in turquoise waters, have died and algae -- which feed on sewage residues flowing out of the fast-growing resort city -- has taken over.

Coral reefs like Chitales, near the northern tip of a Caribbean reef chain stretching from Mexico to Honduras, are dying around the world as people and cities put more stress on the environment.

Climate change alone could trigger a global coral die-off by 2100 because carbon emissions warm oceans and make them more acidic, according to a study published in December.

But local environmental problems like sewage, farm runoff and overfishing could kill off much of the world's reefs decades before global warming does, said Roberto Iglesias, a biologist from UNAM university's marine sciences station near Cancun.

"The net effect of pollution is as bad or maybe worse than the effects of global warming," said Iglesias, a co-author of the study in the journal Science on how climate change affects reefs.

Human waste like that from Cancun's hotels and night spots aggravates threats to coral worldwide like overzealous fishing which hurts stocks of fish that eat reef-damaging algae.

Bizarro Earth

Stalagmites May Predict Next Big One Along The New Madrid Seismic Zone

Small white stalagmites lining caves in the Midwest may help scientists chronicle the history of the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) - and even predict when the next big earthquake may strike, say researchers at the Illinois State Geological Survey and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Small white stalagmites
© K. HackleySmall white stalagmites. Insert: one stalagmite cut vertically in half, showing generations of growth with the white one on top.
While the 1811-12, magnitude 8 New Madrid earthquake altered the course of the Mississippi River and rung church bells in major cities along the East Coast, records of the seismic zone's previous movements are scarce. Thick layers of sediment have buried the trace of the NMSZ and scientists must search for rare sand blows and liquefaction features, small mounds of liquefied sand that squirt to the surface through fractures during earthquakes, to record past events. That's where the stalagmites come in.

The sand blows are few and far between, said Keith Hackley, an isotope geochemist with the Illinois State Geological Survey. In contrast, caves throughout the region are lined with abundant stalagmites, which could provide a better record of past quakes. "We're trying to see if the initiation of these stalagmites might be fault-induced, recording very large earthquakes that have occurred along the NMSZ," he said.


Australia: Unusual haze engulfs Gold Goast - depth of mystery debated

Mysterious Haze at Gold Coast
Hazy... the salt spray at Main Beach, while conditions remain clear at Southport (inset)

A salty haze over parts of the Gold Coast this morning has dramatically reduced visibility in some areas - while others are perfectly clear.

Comment: The unusual appearance of the thick and localised haze received wide media coverage in Queensland. Some of the reader comments sent to The Courier Mail's website are interesting. Here are two of them...

Marko of South Brisbane
"I was at Surfers Paradise today and I saw some very unusual cloud conditions at about mid-day. It was a hot and windy blue sky day - which is not unusual. Small and isolated puffy clouds came in quickly from the sea, and swept past the top floors of the Coast towers. No other types of cloud were in the sky."
Gillian Lane of Southport
"Actually being on the Gold Coast, I can tell you that the hazy conditions were really quite remarkable and most certainly newsworthy. It was almost like cloud at ground level at Southport."


Erupting Volcano in Chile

The Chilean volcano Chaiten has been erupting since September 23, 2008. This activity has been registered on the website, when the volcano icon turned from brown to red. A little later, magma flow was detected by the Modis fire detection system, shown by a yellow spot in the middle of the volcano symbol.


Shiveluch Volcano, Kamchatka, Russia

An eruption occurred at Shiveluch volcano in Russia on 25th September 2008. At 8 am local time the eruption produced an ash column 4.5 km high. The eruption was accompanied by earthquakes. There was no threat to nearby communities according to the Geophysics Service of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


Like an arrow: Jumping insects use archery techniques

© Burrows et al, BMC Biology 2008An adult froghopper
Froghoppers, also known as spittlebugs, are the champion insect jumpers, capable of reaching heights of 700 mm - more than 100 times their own body length. Research published today in the open access journal BMC Biology reveals that they achieve their prowess by flexing bow-like structures between their hind legs and wings and releasing the energy in one giant leap in a catapult-like action.


How the jellyfish got its sting: From a bacterium, surprisingly

© NHPA/A.N.T. PHOTO LIBRARYThe venom of the box jellyfish can paralyse the central nervous system of its victims
Jellyfish may owe thanks to a humble bacterium for their ability to sting prey. Scientists have found that one of the genes necessary for them to sting is similar to a gene in bacteria, suggesting the ancestors of jellyfish picked up the gene from microbes. The research is published this week in Current Biology.

"The result was a great surprise," says developmental biologist Nicolas Rabet of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France, who led the team. "[This kind of] horizontal gene transfer is often neglected, and could sometimes be more important than we thought." Unlike vertical gene transfer from parent to offspring, the horizontal variety happens between organisms, or even between different species. Common in microbes, it has only been described a few times in animals. Japanese beetles have picked up sequences from a parasitic bacterium and microscopic aquatic creatures called bdelloid rotifers have collected genes from bacteria, fungi and plants.