Earth ChangesS

Cloud Lightning

China Storms Leave 18 People Dead; 20,000 Stranded

A typhoon and torrential rains killed at least 18 people in southern and central China, leaving more than 20,000 stranded in Sichuan province, which was devastated by an earthquake earlier this year.

Heavy rain in Sichuan killed at least eight people and left 38 missing, the official Xinhua News Agency said. As much as 34 centimeters (13.4 inches) of rain fell in the last two days, the China Meteorological Administration said.

Officials are concerned about the safety of residents as roads and telephone lines were cut after the rains caused floods and mudslides, Xinhua said, citing the Jiangyou municipal government. Sichuan is still rebuilding cities devastated by a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in May that killed 69,226 people and left 15 million homeless.


Food riots in east India, flood waters lap Taj Mahal

Bhubaneswar - Officials in eastern India struggled to provide aid to tens of thousands of flood victims after riots broke out on Wednesday, as floodwaters lapped the Taj Mahal compound but posed no immediate threat to it.

Monsoon rains, burst dams and overflowing embankments have unleashed bouts of flooding in South Asia this year, killing about 1,500 people, mostly in India but also in Nepal.

In India's Orissa state, tens of thousands were still stranded on embankments and on highways after large areas were flooded when authorities opened sluice gates of a dam on the Mahanadi river after heavy rains last week.

Food riots broke out in many areas after villagers complained they were not getting relief supplies. Hungry victims beat up officials, blocked roads and looted relief materials.

"At least eight people sustained injuries after two groups of people clashed over distribution of relief," police officer Jitendra Kumar Dalai, who was injured, told Reuters by telephone from flood-hit Jagatsinghpur district.

Cloud Lightning

Thousands stranded as storms hit China quake area

Beijing - Continuous rain near the epicentre of China's May 12 earthquake has killed at least two people, left 30 missing and thousands stranded by mountain torrents, cave-ins and mudslides, state media said on Wednesday.

Downpours began to pound Beichuan county in Sichuan province, southwest China, on Monday night, collapsing more than 1,100 houses since then, Xinhua news agency said.

More than 300 people have been injured in the downpours.

At least 1,100 houses have collapsed and about 6,000 people were stranded or "in dire need of help", Xinhua said.

Beichuan was one of the hardest-hit counties in the Sichuan earthquake, which killed at least 80,000 people.

Bizarro Earth

Images of Texas Neighborhood Devastated by Hurricane Ike Now Accessible

Before-and-after Hurricane Ike photographs showing the near total destruction of a coastal neighborhood in Texas are now accessible online.

On Monday, Sept. 15, a team of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists flew the coast impacted by Hurricane Ike and acquired photographs and video. Images of Crystal Beach, Texas, on the Bolivar Peninsula are compared to aerial photographs of the same area taken Sept. 9, several days before Ike's landfall, and are now available.

"The Bolivar Peninsula was in or near the right eyewall of Hurricane Ike when the storm made landfall," said USGS scientist Abby Sallenger. "This was the location of the strongest winds and where we observed the greatest impacts to the coast."

Storm surges and waves crested Crystal Beach and swept sand inland, along with the remains of homes. The four sets of before-and-after photographs posted online show these extreme changes to the residential area.


US: Storms and warming sinking islands in Gulf

From the plane flying over the Gulf Islands National Seashore, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey were scanning the ocean, trying to find Ship Island. Their maps and GPS system told them they were over its eastern end, but there was no sign of it.

"I don't see Ship anywhere," said Asbury H. Sallenger, a oceanographer at the Geological Survey who was sitting in the co-pilot's seat and had the best view. "On the map we see it, but all I see is breakers. There is just zip left of this thing."

Eventually, the scientists spotted the western part of Ship, but its eastern half had all but disappeared. A small patch of land and whitecaps breaking on underwater shoals were all that remained.

The damage was considerable, but it was the kind of land loss they would see often on their flight, which they made about 48 hours after Hurricane Ike struck the Gulf Coast, as part of the survey's long-standing effort to track storm damage on the coast.

The geologists should not have been surprised. Scientists studying the way stormy weather erodes the coast have long been able to identify regions at risk for inundation if sea-level rise continues, an inevitability in a warming world.


Last tree-sitters come down from California redwoods

Scotia - After more than 20 years of protests, the last two people living in the giant redwoods of Northern California were climbing down for good, convinced by the new owners of the forest that the ancient trees would be spared from the saw.

Still, the tree sitters looked rather lost.

Having lived nearly 200 feet off the ground for 11 months, Nadia Berg - who calls herself Cedar - seemed unsure of her footing on the lush forest floor of Humboldt County's Nanning Creek grove. Cedar had made herself at home in a tree dubbed Grandma, a massive double redwood joined at the base, and had grown accustomed to the whistles and whispers and ways of the woods.

Nadia Berg.

"Being here, for me, hasn't been a sacrifice," said the 22-year-old Alberta native, still in her harness after rappelling down Grandma last week for the final time. "I feel so honored that I could be here for the trees."


Feds ask to put wolves back on endangered list

Billings, MT - Federal wildlife officials have asked a judge to put gray wolves in the Northern Rockies back on the endangered species list - a sharp reversal from the government's prior contention that the animals were thriving.

Attorneys for the Fish and Wildlife Service asked U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula to vacate the agency's February finding that more than 1,400 wolves in the region no longer needed federal protection.

The government's request Monday follows a July injunction in which Molloy had blocked plans for public wolf hunts this fall in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho pending resolution of a lawsuit by environmentalists.

"What we want to do is look at this more thoroughly," Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Sharon Rose said. "We definitely have a lot of wolves out there, but we need to address some of (Molloy's) concerns in a way that people feel comfortable with."

At issue is whether a decade-long wolf restoration program has reversed the near-extermination of wolves, or if - as environmentalists claim - their long-term survival remains in doubt due to proposed hunting.

Red Flag

World's common birds 'declining'

The populations of the world's common birds are declining as a result of continued habitat loss, a global assessment has warned.

©Gareth Peacock
Once a familiar sight and sound, the nightingale is becoming less common

Bizarro Earth

New climate change threat: Arctic seabed releases millions of tons of methane into atmosphere

Arctic scientists discover new global warming threat as melting permafrost releases millions of tons of a gas 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide

The first evidence that millions of tons of a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere from beneath the Arctic seabed has been discovered by scientists.

The Independent has been passed details of preliminary findings suggesting that massive deposits of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats.

Preliminary findings suggest that massive deposits of subsea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats


Walnut Trees Emit Aspirin-like Chemical To Deal With Stress

Walnut trees respond to stress by producing significant amounts of a chemical form of aspirin, scientists have discovered.

©Carlye Calvin, UCAR
NCAR researcher Alex Guenther studies a chemical form of aspirin produced by walnut trees in California.

The finding, by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., opens up new avenues of research into the behavior of plants and their impacts on air quality, and also has the potential to give farmers an early warning signal about crops that are failing.

"Unlike humans, who are advised to take aspirin as a fever suppressant, plants have the ability to produce their own mix of aspirin-like chemicals, triggering the formation of proteins that boost their biochemical defenses and reduce injury," says NCAR scientist Thomas Karl, who led the study. "Our measurements show that significant amounts of the chemical can be detected in the atmosphere as plants respond to drought, unseasonable temperatures, or other stresses."

For years, scientists have known that plants in a laboratory may produce methyl salicylate, which is a chemical form of acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. But researchers had never before detected methyl salicylate in an ecosystem or verified that plants emit the chemical in significant quantities into the atmosphere.