Earth ChangesS


Ancient Bird's Feathers Had Iridescent Glow

Feather fossil
© Jakob Vinther/Yale University
Scientists discovered that nanostructures found in this 40-million-year-old fossil were responsible for producing iridescent colors in the living feather.
Nanostructures preserved in feather fossils more than 40 million years old show evidence that those feathers were once vivid and iridescent in color, paleontologists say.

Iridescence is the quality of changing color depending on the angle of observation - it's what makes you see a rainbow in an oil slick.

Many insects, such as butterflies, display iridescent colors on their wings, as do many modern birds on their feathers.

The simplest iridescent feather colors are produced by light scattering off the feather's surface and a smooth surface of melanin pigment granules within the feather protein.

Scientists found smooth layers of these melanin structures, called melanosomes, when they examined feather fossils from the Messel Shale in Germany with an electron microscope.


US: Brisk July portends frigid, snowy winter, experts say

Meteorologists at AccuWeather have a name for 2009: "Year Without True Summer." The worst part? It could lead to the truest of winters.

July's below-average temperatures could mean heavy snowfalls and bitter cold this winter along the Eastern Seaboard, according to the State College-based service and its chief meteorologist, Joe Bastardi. Whether Pittsburgh will feel the chill is tough to say: It's on the edge of the predicted snow belt and might or might not be hit, depending on where the storms blow, AccuWeather meteorologist Kate Walters said.

But these types of long-term forecasts are difficult to make accurately, other meteorologists said. The National Weather Service has a less detailed long-range outlook that in part contradicts AccuWeather's. And Weather Channel meteorologists declined to comment, telling their spokesman that such predictions are just too hard to make.

"They vary greatly, depending on their detail. The more detail, the less likely they are to be accurate," said Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Pittsburgh office. "It gets real (uncertain) beyond (90 days). All you're doing is trying to play the game of percentages."

Evil Rays

Arctic temperature headed below freezing

There's a couple of indicators that at least for Arctic temperature, the numbers are headed south. First the weather plot from the drifting buoy that is connected with NOAA's North Pole Cam:
Artic temp graph 08-2009
© unknown

After some very brief excursions above freezing, it is now averaging below freezing. See the raw weather data here. The temperatures from the buoy have been hitting -2°C regularly the past nineteen days.

Another indication is the north pole cam itself.
NOrth Pole Camera


US: California firefighters battle wilderness blazes

Los Angeles - California firefighters working in withering heat battled wildfires Thursday in rugged mountains above the foothill suburbs of Los Angeles, in the central coast region and on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park.

Weather plagued fire crews as temperatures in some areas rose toward triple digits and humidity levels headed downward. For a second day, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning of extreme fire conditions for many of Califonia's central and southern mountain ranges.

Alarm Clock

Pacific Ocean garbage patch worries researchers

Los Angeles - A tawny stuffed puppy bobs in cold sea water, his four stiff legs tangled in the green net of some nameless fisherman.

It's one of the bigger pieces of trash in a sprawling mass of garbage-littered water, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where most of the plastic looks like snowy confetti against the deep blue of the north Pacific Ocean.

Bizarro Earth

New Zealand: Wellington rocked by two earthquakes

Wellingtonians had a shaky night's sleep as two earthquakes rocked the city in the early hours of the morning. The quake, which measured 5.2 on the Richter scale, was centred 20 kilometres south of Wellington at a depth of 30 kilometres. It struck at 2.10am Friday.

Some residents say it is the biggest earthquake they have felt in 35 years. A second quake followed at 3.52am in the same area and measured 4.3.

Police were inundated by 111 calls from people wanting more information on the quake but had no reports of damage, a central police communications spokesman said.

However some residents have reported cracks in ceilings. GNS Science duty seismologist Ken Gledhill says the first earthquake was felt from the Kapiti Coast to the top of the South Island.

More than 100 reports of shaking were received by the GeoNet website within 25 minutes of the earthquake.

Bizarro Earth

US: Six earthquakes hit Oklahoma today

Six earthquakes struck Oklahoma today, including five in Jones. Magnitudes of the quakes in Jones ranged from 2.5 to 2.7 on the Richter scale, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. All five epicenters were near the intersection of Main Street and SW 3. They were reported at 7:58 a.m., 10:17 a.m., 10:31 a.m., 12:13 p.m. and 1:32 p.m.

Today's strongest quake measured 3.4 on the Richter scale. It was reported at 3:22 a.m. in Seminole County about 15 miles northeast of Ada.

There were no reports of damage, said Pontotoc County Emergency Manager Chad Letellier, whose office is in Ada. More than 30 people reported feeling the quake, he said.


UK: Farmers issue warning after fatal cow attacks

The deaths of no fewer than four people after being trampled by cows in the past two months has prompted Britain's main farming union to issue a warning about the dangers of provoking the normally docile animals.

Cows can become aggressive and charge, especially when calves are present and walkers are accompanied by dogs, said the National Farmers Union (NFU).

The union and the Ramblers' Association both advise that walkers release dogs from their leads when passing through a field of cows.

Bizarro Earth

Canadian crops off

With farmers stung by a terrible growing season, Canada will produce less grain and oilseeds, Statistics Canada says in its new estimate of field crops released in Ottawa last Friday.

Crops will be off for almost all crops, the federal agency reports in first estimate for this summer's crop. Spring wheat production at 16.1 million metric tons (mmt) will be down more than 12% from last year. The durum harvest is expected to be off more than 18% at around 4.5 mmt.

Feed grains like corn and barley will also be down from last year at 9.4 mmt (-10.9%) and 8.9 mmt (-24%) respectively.

Canadian farmers will also take in a smaller oilseed crop, although increased soybean output will reduce the drop from last year. The canola crop at 9.5 mmt will be down 24.5%. Soybean output at more than 3.4 mmt is up 4.4%.

"In the West, late germination caused by unfavorable conditions this spring has held back progress by about two weeks compared with normal," Statistics Canada says. "Yields will drop for all major crops compared with 2008. In the drought-stricken areas of Saskatchewan and Alberta, higher than normal abandonment was also shown to be a factor in the loss of production."

"In Ontario and Quebec, excessive moisture and cool growing conditions held back growing progress."

The report summarizes results of a survey of 14,600 farmers undertaken by the government agency between July 27 and August 4.


Guatemala at food shortage risk after drought

Guatemala is at risk of a food shortage because a drought has reduced more than 60 percent of the production of corns and beans in five key provinces, the Food Security Ministry said on Monday.

According to news reaching here, the ministry said the worst hit provinces are Zacapa, Chiquimula, Jalapa, Jutiapa and El Progreso. In El Progreso, 90 percent of the bean crops that farmers planted have been lost.

Around 4,000 settlements across those provinces will suffer food shortages, a figure which represents around 80 percent of the population there.

State-run welfare body the Social Cohesion Council said it is already financially supporting 136 towns at the highest risk.

In May, the government approved a plan worth 273 million quetzals (around 33 million U.S. dollars) to cover such emergencies.