Earth ChangesS


Best of the Web: The killer frost for global warming

Global freezing
Turn up the heat, somebody. The globe is freezing. Even Al Gore is looking for an extra blanket. Winter has barely come to the northern latitudes and already we've got bigger goosebumps than usual. So far the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports 63 record snowfalls in the United States, 115 lowest-ever temperatures for the month. Only 44 Octobers over the past 114 years have been cooler than this last one.

The polar ice is accumulating faster than usual, and some of the experts now concede that the globe hasn't warmed since 1995. You may have noticed, in fact, that Al and his pals, having given up on the sun, no longer even warn of global warming. Now it's "climate change." The marketing men enlisted by Al and the doom criers to come up with a flexible "brand" took a cue from the country philosopher who observed, correctly, that "if you've got one foot in the fire and the other in a bucket of ice, on average you're warm." On average, "climate change" covers every possibility.


Deadly pistol shrimp stuns prey with sound as loud as Concorde

pistol shrimp
Super shrimp: The pistol shrimp is only 2cm long but can make a noise louder than Concorde's sonic boom.
A prawn which can make a sound louder than a jet engine has been found in British waters. Pistol shrimps - which stun their prey by snapping their claws together to create a deafening 'crack' - normally live in the sub-tropics.

Despite being less than an inch long, the creatures can emit an astonishing 218 decibels - louder than a gunshot.


Nanoparticles from melting glaciers could trap carbon

nanoscale iron particles
© Riaswell et al./BioMed CentralTwo forms of nanoscale iron particles (rods and granules) can be seen in high-resolution pictures of ice.
The increasing number of icebergs breaking off Antarctica may have an unexpected benefit. According to one team of scientists, the bergs could feed carbon-loving plankton. If they are right, melting icebergs could - theoretically - slow global warming. Just how great an effect this would have remains to be seen.

Rob Raiswell of the University of Leeds, UK and colleagues trained high-resolution microscopes on ice sampled from icebergs in the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic glaciers from which they are born.

They found nano-sized particles of iron, between five and 10 millionths of a millimetre across. The team believe that because of the size and structure of the particles, the iron could be assimilated by phytoplankton.

"Most of the ground-up rock carried by icebergs is thought to be inert," says Raiswell. "However, the high resolution microscopy shows there are small amounts of iron nanoparticles. They simply could not be seen except by these techniques."

Bizarro Earth

Darfur crisis is stripping the environment

The Darfur conflict in Sudan has devastated the environment in the region, stripping forests and destroying farmland, according to a report by the UN's Environment Program (UNEP).

People caught up in the five-year crisis have cut down large areas of woodland, partly to feed a booming war-fuelled construction industry.

Tree cover has become so sparse in some areas that Darfuris often have to travel more than 75 kilometres from their camps to find enough wood to sell or use for fuel, the report added.

"We're now seeing extreme stress on the environment around many of the camps and the major towns in Darfur," said UNEP's Sudan country director Clive Bates in a statement. "We need to plant millions of trees and introduce new technologies for construction and energy as quickly as humanly possible."


Dolphin males leave sponging to the females

Bytfluke dolphin
© Janet Mann, Georgetown UniversityBytfluke was one of the first dolphins seen sponging, in the 1980s.
Sexual stereotypes are not the preserve of humans. Male dolphins, it seems, are not interested in learning how to use a sponge, but their sisters are.

Dolphins were first seen carrying sponges cupped over their beaks in Shark Bay, Australia, in the 1980s.

Janet Mann of Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and colleagues have now reviewed data collected during 20 years spent monitoring this group of dolphins and found that, while mothers show both their male and female calves how to use sponges, female calves are almost exclusively the only ones to apply this knowledge.
dolphins use basket sponges
© Brooke SargeantThe dolphins use basket sponges to stir up fish in sandy channels - the technique is almost exclusively used by females.

"The daughters seem really keen to do it," says Mann. "They try and try, whereas the sons don't seem to think it's a big deal and hang out at the surface waiting for their mothers to come back up."

Bizarro Earth

Papua New Guinea: Huge waves destroy hospital, homes

Huge waves caused by king tides have smashed into dozens of villages and towns in northern Papua New Guinea, destroying homes and flooding businesses and a hospital.

Authorities said there were no reports of casualties, but they were still trying to contact several outlying islands after the waves hit across an 800km stretch of ocean yesterday. Hundreds of people were left homeless

The waves struck PNG's north coast near the town of Wewak and islands to the northeast, such as New Ireland.


Rare 50 year Arctic Blast Sets Sights On Southern California

With a week away, and a sure sign of things to come, is making preparations on the server to handle the traffic from this next event. UJEAS is in line with the majority if not all the other models in keeping a near historical arctic air mass into the Southern California region.



Caterpillar invasion so bad Yandaran residents can't stand still

© ... a caterpillar plague has hit a small town, and it's so bad people can't stand still for fear of being covered in the crawlies.

Millions of hairy caterpillars are making life an itchy misery for residents of a small town north of Bundaberg in Queensland.
The as yet unidentified sub-species of the "processionary" caterpillar has been steadily multiplying since the start of the year to the point where residents of Yandaran cannot stand still without being covered in the creepy crawlies.

"It's like something is out of whack somewhere in the environment for them to be like this, munching through everything," said resident Dallas Boothey, who wears a protective suit to shield herself from the caterpillar's itchy little hairs.

"During winter it wasn't too bad but they've come back with a vengeance," she said

"They can travel up to a kilometre in the air and they create a very itchy allergic reaction in some people, including me.

"I get itchy red welts and a tightness of the chest. That's why I wear the suit which is really hot in summer. At the moment it's like living in a horror movie that never ends."

Better Earth

Deadly vanilla fungus hits Madagascar

An incurable crop disease has spread widely in Madagascar's vanilla-producing region, government scientists said Monday. The scientists' initial assessment released Monday said the world's main vanilla exporter needs to radically change farming methods to fight the disease, carried by an underground fungus.

Most of Madagascar's vanilla is exported to the United States, where it is used in candy, soft drinks and ice cream.


Climate Change Wiped Out Cave Bears 13,000 Years Earlier Than Thought

Skeleton of extinct cave bear
© Wikimedia CommonsSkeleton of extinct cave bear from Warsaw Museum.
Enormous cave bears, Ursus spelaeus, that once inhabited a large swathe of Europe, from Spain to the Urals, died out 27,800 years ago, around 13 millennia earlier than was previously believed, scientists have reported.

The new date coincides with a period of significant climate change, known as the Last Glacial Maximum, when a marked cooling in temperature resulted in the reduction or loss of vegetation forming the main component of the cave bears' diet.

In a study published in Boreas, researchers suggest it was this deterioration in food supply that led to the extinction of the cave bear, one of a group of 'megafauna' - including woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, giant deer and cave lion - to disappear during the last Ice Age.

They found no convincing evidence of human involvement in the disappearance of these bears. The team used both new data and existing records of radiocarbon dating on cave bear remains to construct their chronology for cave bear extinction.