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Thu, 27 Jan 2022
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Hunt for oil slicks boosted by free satellite images

Natural oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico can be seen in satellite
© Hu
Natural oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico can be seen in satellite (MODIS) pictures when the Sun is highlighting the polluted waters.
Natural oil oozing out from the seabed makes up nearly half of the oil that spills into the oceans. Now, a new technique that uses freely available satellite imagery can precisely locate and monitor every natural seep on Earth.

Detecting natural oil slicks is useful for several reasons. For starters, geologists use them as starting points for finding marine stores of fossil fuels. In addition, the seeps give rise to unique seafloor ecosystems that live off the hydrocarbons. The specially adapted plants and animals could inspire new ways of controlling the damage caused by oil spills.

It is important to track seeps because the oil can eventually disintegrate, causing carbon to enter the atmosphere - possibly influencing climate change, says John Amos, director of environmental awareness organisation SkyTruth and former NASA scientist.

Info

Canadian tar plan threatens millions of birds

Continued development could kill 100 million migratory birds

Canada's plans to mine more of its oil sands have just sunk deeper into the political mire. A new report saying that millions of migratory birds are at risk adds to a mass of criticism of the damage caused by exploiting the oil sands.

The thick tarry deposit in northern Alberta is the world's second-largest oil reserve after Saudi Arabia, but separating the useable oil from the gunk takes three times as much energy as pumping conventional oil. This alone makes it some of the "dirtiest" oil on the planet.

This week, a report by the US Natural Resources Defense Council says that continued development of the area could kill 100 million migratory birds over the next 50 years, mainly by destroying their habitat.

Info

Jealous dogs don't play ball

A sulky dog
© stock.xchng
A sulky dog might just feel unfairly.
A dog might be a man's best friend, but only if it is being treated fairly. When a dog thinks it's getting a raw deal in comparison to other dogs, it doesn't shy away from expressing its envy.

Until now, such overt dislike of unfairness had only been demonstrated in primates, but some scientists have suspected that other species that live cooperatively could also be sensitive to fair play - or a lack of one.

To test this theory, Friederike Range and her colleagues at the University of Vienna, Austria, asked 43 trained dogs to extend their paw to a human in various situations.

The animals performed the trick almost at every request, regardless of whether they were given a reward or not; as well as when working alone or alongside another dog.

Bizarro Earth

Powerful earthquake rocks Timor Leste

An earthquake of 6.2 magnitude hit off Timor Leste's coast Saturday, with no reports of injuries or damage, the U.S. geological agency said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 160 km northwest of the capital, Dili at a depth of 408.3 km beneath the Banda Sea at 6:55 pm (1055 GMT).

Telephone

Noisy oceans 'threaten sea life'

Increasing noise pollution in the world's oceans is threatening the survival of whales
whale

Some whales show damage suggesting they surfaced too quickly, experts say
and dolphins, a UN-backed conference has heard.


Experts say the noises sea creatures use to communicate are being drowned out by noises from commercial shipping, new military sonar and climate change.

They become disoriented, cannot find mates or food and behave differently, scientists say.

Butterfly

Harbour seals' decline 'alarming'

Harbour seals, or common seals, are familiar faces along coastlines across
seal

Drowning, not waving - harbour seal numbers have halved in some areas
the northern hemisphere.


But they are now vanishing in the UK at an alarming rate, warn scientists from St Andrews University.

Numbers have halved in the hardest hit area, the Orkney Islands, since 2001 - falling almost 10% each year.

Better Earth

Glimmer of hope for rare monkey

A new sub-population of a Critically Endangered species of monkey has been recorded in north-western Vietnam.

Biologists from Fauna and Flora International said they had found up to 20 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in a remote forest.

The team said the new group offered a ray of hope because it included three infants, suggesting that the monkeys were breeding and increasing in number.

Bizarro Earth

The behemoth that wouldn't stop growing

Have you noticed that we describe the market and economy as if they were living entities? The market is showing signs of stress. The economy is healthy. The economy is on life support.

Sometimes, we act as if the economy is larger than life. In the past, people trembled in fear of dragons, demons, gods, and monsters, sacrificing anything - virgins, money, newborn babies - to appease them. We know now that those fears were superstitious imaginings, but we have replaced them with a new behemoth: the economy.

Even stranger, economists believe this behemoth can grow forever. Indeed, the measure of how well a government or corporation is doing is its record of economic growth. But our home - the biosphere, or zone of air, water, and land where all life exists - is finite and fixed. It can't grow. And nothing within such a world can grow indefinitely. In focusing on constant growth, we fail to ask the important questions. What is an economy for? Am I happier with all this stuff? How much is enough?

Comment: The 'brain damage" is more correctly defined as pyschopathy. Psychopaths have no sense of long-term consequences. They're hard-wired to pay attention only to their own desires and goals, without considering the wider ramifications of those goals.


Igloo

Colder Manitoba winter predicted

Image
© unknown
Winter in Winnipeg
With more snow to boot

Will we freeze in our boots or skate through a mild winter?

Weather forecasters say parts of Manitoba might be in store for cooler than normal temperatures from now through February with more precipitation than usual this winter.

"We're saying this will be a colder than normal year," said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada.

The weather agency doesn't predict exactly how much colder the winter might be but Phillips said it could be similar to last winter, which ran about one degree colder than normal.

Frog

Mystery of crocs' mass die-off

Gharial
© Unknown
Some gharials may be feeding on fish that have large toxic loads
Measuring up to 6m long, with elongated narrow snouts, gharials are one of the world's most distinctive-looking crocodilians.

Just 100 years ago, these fish-eating reptiles were prevalent throughout the Indian subcontinent; but by 2007, there were just 200 breeding adults found in only a handful of rivers in India and Nepal.

Last winter, this already critically endangered species was dealt another cruel blow. Over the space of just five months, more than 100 of the creatures washed up dead on the banks of India's Chambal river - and nobody knew why.

For the past year, herpetologist Rom Whitaker, who runs the Madras Crocodile Bank, has been followed by a BBC Natural World team as he attempted to solve this mystery.