Earth ChangesS


Finches keep the beat with a mental metronome

© Frank Sundgaard NielsenWild zebra finch pair. The males are distinguished by an orange cheek patch
The way birds can sing the same song at the same speed day after day has long been a mystery. Now it has emerged that an area in the brains of zebra finches acts as a kind of music box, controlling the speed at which the birds sing. A similar mechanism may also help to control the speed of human speech.

Michale Fee and Michael Long at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology investigated by implanting small coolers at various sites in the finches' brains. The devices cooled that part of the birds' brains by up to 6.5 °C.


Concealed floods drive flow of Antarctic ice

A hidden network of glacial lakes far below the Antarctic surface regulates the motion of the continent's ice rivers, a study has found. When the subglacial lakes overflow, the ice above accelerates towards the ocean.

"It's like putting in a squirt of oil," says Andy Smith of the British Antarctic Survey, who was not involved in this latest study. "The water lubricates the base of the glacier."
Byrd glacier
© StearnsByrd glacier has one of the largest catchment basins in Antarctica and funnels 20 gigatonnes of ice to the Ross ice shelf (bottom left) each year.

What causes the lakes to flood is not known, but researchers watching the movement of ice in satellite images have noticed that the ice appeared to "breathe" in some places, apparently linked to the ebb and flow of water underneath. Now, for the first time, evidence has emerged sub-surface floods can indeed act like a "turbo lubricant" for glaciers.


Fiddler Crabs Reveal Honesty Is Not Always The Best Policy

Dishonesty may be more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously thought. A team of Australian ecologists has discovered that some male fiddler crabs "lie" about their fighting ability by growing claws that look strong and powerful but are in fact weak and puny. Published this week in the British Ecological Society's journal Functional Ecology, the study is the first direct evidence that crabs "bluff" about their fighting ability.
Male fiddler crab
© Tanya DettoMale fiddler crab, Uca mjoebergi.

The signals animals send each other about their fighting prowess - and the honesty of these signals - is a long-standing problem in evolutionary biology. Despite their size - they are just two centimetres across - fiddler crabs are ideal for studying dishonesty in signalling. This is because males have one claw that is massively enlarged (which they use to attract females or fight rival males) and if they lose this claw during fights they can grow a replacement. In most species the new claw is identical to the lost one, but some species "cheat" by growing a new claw that looks like the original but is cheaper to produce because it is lighter and toothless.


Low Concentrations Of Pesticides Can Become Toxic Mixture For Amphibians

Ten of the world's most popular pesticides can decimate amphibian populations when mixed together even if the concentration of the individual chemicals are within limits considered safe, according to University of Pittsburgh research.
© iStockphoto

Such "cocktails of contaminants" are frequently detected in nature, a new paper notes, and the Pitt findings offer the first illustration of how a large mixture of pesticides can adversely affect the environment.

Study author Rick Relyea, an associate professor of biological sciences in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences, exposed gray tree frog and leopard frog tadpoles to small amounts of the 10 pesticides that are widely used throughout the world. Relyea selected five insecticides-carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, endosulfan, and malathion-and five herbicides-acetochlor, atrazine, glyphosate, metolachlor, and 2,4-D. He administered the following doses: each of the pesticides alone, the insecticides combined, a mix of the five herbicides, or all 10 of the poisons.


Nature Ups The Ante: Brisbane declared natural disaster zone

Brisbane Storms 1
© ABC News: Shelley LloydSoldiers will help clear trees and debris from around power lines and roads
Brisbane has been declared a natural disaster zone as authorities scramble to respond to yesterday's violent storm, and the weather bureau has likened the storm to a Category 2 cyclone.

Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the Federal Government will provide practical help to families affected by the storm, which caused damage across south-east Queensland and killed one person.


Wild horse advocates decry BLM euthanasia proposal

© 2003 katherine e. koziar
Reno, Nev. - A stampede of opposition is growing over a proposal being considered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for the first time to kill or allow unrestricted sale of wild horses captured from western public lands because of budget constraints.

Tens of thousands of horse advocates have weighed in with public comments to the agency, voicing outrage at the idea of slaughtering what many revere as romantic symbols of the American West.

"Most Americans view these horses as the greatest symbols of our American freedom," said Ross Potter of Phoenix.


California fires destroy 1,000 homes, winds ease

LOS ANGELES - Wildfires hop-scotched around Southern California on Sunday although calmer winds slowed flames that have destroyed almost 1,000 houses, forced tens of thousands to evacuate and turned some neighborhoods into scenes resembling war zones.

Bizarro Earth

7.5 Earthquake Minahasa, Sulawesi, Indonesia


* Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 17:02:31 UTC

* Monday, November 17, 2008 at 01:02:31 AM at epicenter

* Time of Earthquake in other Time Zones

Location 1.275°N, 122.103°E

Depth 21 km (13.0 miles) (poorly constrained)


Distances 135 km (85 miles) NW of Gorontalo, Sulawesi, Indonesia

305 km (190 miles) W of Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

1485 km (920 miles) S of MANILA, Philippines

1890 km (1170 miles) ENE of JAKARTA, Java, Indonesia

Location Uncertainty horizontal +/- 7.8 km (4.8 miles); depth +/- 23.8 km (14.8 miles)


Hungry LA fires reduce hundreds of homes to ash

LOS ANGELES - Southern Californians endured a third day of destruction Saturday as wind-blasted wildfires torched hundreds of mobile homes and mansions, forced tens of thousands of people to flee and shut down major freeways.

Eye 1

Sunspots spell end of climate myth

It is disturbing that many recent statements on climate change by influential people are not supported by hard evidence.

For instance, Professor Ralph Chapman's statement that the globe risks a tipping point if emissions are not reduced by 2015 is unsupported by hard evidence, as is David Parker's claim that if we do nothing to reduce emissions, New Zealand could be up to $500 million worse off by 2012.

This is not true because, if we adopt the Emissions Trading Scheme, electricity bills alone will increase by more than $500 million each year.

On Kyoto, lawyer Alistair Hercus recently claimed that "as a country we have to pay". In fact, the Kyoto protocol says nothing about enforcement and as yet there are no international emissions enforcers to act as judge, jury and executioner.