Earth ChangesS


Heavy rains kill 19 in Brazil, leave 186K homeless

Sao Paulo - Floods and mudslides from months of heavy rains in northern Brazil have driven more than 186,000 from their homes, killed at least 19 people and cut off shipments from a huge Amazon iron mine, officials said Tuesday.

Television footage showed the rooftops of houses poking out of inundated towns and people using boats to move around in their cities. Mudslides swamped homes and forced residents to move in with relatives and pack into emergency shelters.


1,200 homes ordered evacuated amid California wildfire

Santa Barbara - Authorities in Southern California have ordered about 1,200 homes to evacuate because of a wind-driven wildfire burning in Santa Barbara County.

Fire Capt. David Sadecki says the blaze, which erupted Tuesday afternoon, is burning less than a square mile along the foothills above Santa Barbara. He says winds are pushing the fire toward homes.

Magic Hat

Sun Oddly Quiet - Hints at Next "Little Ice Age"?

Spotless sun May 5, 2009

A prolonged lull in solar activity has astrophysicists glued to their telescopes waiting to see what the sun will do next - and how Earth's climate might respond.

The sun is the least active it's been in decades and the dimmest in a hundred years. The lull is causing some scientists to recall the Little Ice Age, an unusual cold spell in Europe and North America, which lasted from about 1300 to 1850.

The coldest period of the Little Ice Age, between 1645 and 1715, has been linked to a deep dip in solar storms known as the Maunder Minimum.

During that time, access to Greenland was largely cut off by ice, and canals in Holland routinely froze solid. Glaciers in the Alps engulfed whole villages, and sea ice increased so much that no open water flowed around Iceland in the year 1695.

But researchers are on guard against their concerns about a new cold snap being misinterpreted.

"[Global warming] skeptics tend to leap forward," said Mike Lockwood, a solar terrestrial physicist at the University of Southampton in the U.K. (Get the facts about global warming.) He and other researchers are therefore engaged in what they call "preemptive denial" of a solar minimum leading to global cooling.

Evil Rays

Hot-air doomsayers

In Heaven and Earth - Global Warming: The Missing Science, I predicted that the critics would play the man and not discuss the science. Initial criticism appeared before the book was released three weeks ago.

Well-known catastrophists criticised the book before they actually received a review copy. Critics, who have everything to gain by frightening us witless with politicised science, have now shown their true colours. No critic has argued science with me. I have just enjoyed a fortnight of being thrashed with a feather.

Despite having four review copies, ABC's Lateline photocopied parts of chapters and sent them to an expert on gravity, a biologist and one who produces computer models. These critics did not read the book in its entirety. The compere of Lateline claimed that he had read the book yet his questions showed the opposite. When uncritical journalists have no science training, then it is little wonder doomsday scenarios can seduce them.

In The Age (Insight, May 2), David Karoly claims that my book "does not support the answers with sources". Considering that the book has 2311 footnotes as sources, Karoly clearly had not read the book. Maybe Karoly just read up to page 21, which showed that his published selective use of data showed warming but, when the complete set of data was used, no such warming was seen.


'Stench of life' prevents ants from being buried alive

© National Academy of Sciences/PNASPupae that had been coated with the chemicals that signal life - dolichodial and iridomyrmecin - were ignored by workers
Life really stinks for Argentine ants. New research shows that while alive, the ants produce two odoriferous chemicals that prevent their compatriots from immediately carting their bodies away to the 'morgue'.

Within minutes of their death, however, the conspicuous absence of these chemicals prompts workers to remove the carcasses, explaining how the foraging ants are able to detect and dispose of their dead before infectious pathogens and pungent chemicals fill the corpse.

The work overturns a long-held idea - first suggested by ant expert E. O. Wilson - that it is the buildup of fats after death that encourages workers to collect the dead.

Dong-Hwan Choe, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside, says the accrual of fats can't explain why some ants and bees dispose of their dead well before the chemicals reach a high level.

Arrow Down

Strong winds knock down 270-year-old palm tree in West Bank

ancient palm tree
© Ma'an ImagesBystanders inspect the ancient palm tree
Hajj Abu Ala Al-Eteili wept when he awoke to find that high winds knocked down a 270-year-old palm tree in his garden in the West Bank city of Tulkarem on Monday morning.

Al-Eteili told Ma'an that that the tree was knocked down in the early morning hours. He said his father and grandfather were born during the tree's lifespan.

He said that he had cared for the tree his entire life and had taught his children to care for it.


Doth Smithfield Protest Too Much? Swine Flu Brings Focus to Factory Farm Practices

As I wrote earlier this week, the virus formerly known as the swine flu (although the CDC continues to say that indeed the H1N1 strain does, as initially reported, contain swine, human and avian virus components) seems quite likely to have links to an industrial hog operation in the La Gloria community where the outbreak was believed to have started, although new information suggests that this strain of the flu may actually have origins in the US as well as Asia. As could be expected, Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork processor and co-owner of the La Gloria facility in question, came out early last weekend denying culpability in the outbreak.


Experiment: Songbirds' tunes are in their genes

A Zebra Finch
© RedOrbit.comA Zebra Finch
In an experiment that examines genetics in the development of culture, biologists at The City College of New York (CCNY) and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have discovered that zebra finches raised in isolation will, over several generations, produce a song very similar to that sung by the species in the wild.

Young zebra finches learn to sing by imitating adult male songbirds. But when raised in isolation, they produce an unrefined, off-beat song quite different from anything heard in the wild. In order to understand what would happen to this "isolate song" through generations, the scientists designed experiments in which these isolated singers would pass the song to their progeny, which was repeated in following generations. The birds were either paired one-on-one with their offspring, or placed in a more natural social setting with a colony of non-singing females to breed for a few generations.

Heart - Black

Bear tapping: A bile business

Jasper is an Asiatic black bear, also known as a moon bear because of the yellow crescent on his chest. In 2000 he came to the Animals Asia Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu, China, from a bear farm.

When Jasper arrived his rescuers had to cut him out of a tiny "crush cage" that pinned him down so the farmer could extract lucrative bile from his gall bladder. Bear bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine and fetches a tidy price. In China, the wholesale price is around 4000 yuan (approximately $580) per kilogram; each bear produces up to 5 kilograms a year. But it comes at terrible cost.

Cloud Lightning

Philippines: Storm 'Dante' toll: 21 dead, 3 missing in Bicol

Manila - The death toll from tropical storm "Dante" has risen to 21 while three remained missing, disaster management officials said early Monday.

Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) Bicol regional director Raffy Alejandro said that as of 10:30 p.m. Sunday, they recorded at least 21 casualties [fatalities], and three still missing.