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Earth Changes


Dolphin species attempt 'common language'

© L.May-Collado
A Guyana dolphin leaps to escape the attention of a bottlenose dolphin

When two dolphin species come together, they attempt to find a common language, preliminary research suggests.

Bottlenose and Guyana dolphins, two distantly related species, often come together to socialise in waters off the coast of Costa Rica.

Both species make unique sounds, but when they gather, they change the way they communicate, and begin using an intermediate language.

That raises the possibility the two species are communicating in some way.

Bizarro Earth

Death Toll Rises As Storm Lashes Eastern U.S.

Tropical storm Nicole lashed the eastern United States with heavy rain and high winds again on Friday, causing more flooding and leaving one Pennsylvania woman dead in a weather-related traffic accident.

The woman drove her car into a rain-swollen creek, bringing the U.S. death toll from the storm to at least six, after five people were killed earlier this week in North Carolina.

The governor of North Carolina declared a state of emergency, with officials there warning that creeks and rivers would continue to rise even after the storm passed.

Flood warnings were in effect for parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.

The deluge that started on Wednesday set records in several areas, said Dan Peterson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Bizarro Earth

Tropical Storm Nicole Kills Nine in Jamaica

Short-lived Tropical Storm Nicole triggered flash flooding that killed at least nine people in Jamaica and dumped heavy rain on Florida, Cuba, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas on Wednesday.

The broad and ragged storm formed on Wednesday morning and dissipated Wednesday afternoon. U.S. and Cuban meteorologists disagreed on whether it ever actually became a tropical storm at all.

Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami pegged its peak sustained winds at 40 miles per hour, just over the 39 mph threshold to become a named storm.

Cuban forecasters put the top winds at 37 mph and disagreed that it was a tropical storm when it crossed the island. "No tropical storm exists," Cuba's top meteorologist, Jorge Rubiera, said on national television.

U.S. forecasters said Nicole had a poorly defined center of circulation and had been "a marginal system."

Arrow Down

China Experts Say Panda Suffocated to Death in Japan

© Agence France-Presse
Male giant panda Kou Kou
Chinese experts sent to Japan to investigate the death of a giant panda on loan to a zoo have determined that the animal died of asphyxiation, state media reported Saturday.

Kou Kou died last month at the Oji zoo in the western port city of Kobe after it had received an anaesthetic so that veterinarians could extract semen from the 14-year-old male panda to impregnate his partner, Tan Tan.

Experts found that Kou Kou had suffocated when "objects in its stomach went into its lungs, leading to asphyxiation," the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Earlier, reports suggested the experts believed that the death could have been caused by an overdose of sedatives and were questioning why Japanese veterinarians were extracting semen outside the animal's mating period.

A breeding agreement between Beijing and Tokyo includes the stipulation that Japan pay 500,000 dollars in compensation if a panda dies due to human error, state media reported previously.


US: Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Ravaged by Disease

© Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Bighorn sheep are pictured in Montana in this photograph taken on February 27, 2006 and obtained on October 2, 2010.
Across the northern Rocky Mountains, bighorn sheep are dying by the hundreds from pneumonia and alarmed wildlife officials are hunting and killing the majestic animals to halt the spread of the disease.

Since winter, nine disease outbreaks across five states in the West have claimed nearly 1,000 bighorns, prized as a game animal for the prominent curled horns of the adult males, or rams.

Scientists recently confirmed what they long suspected -- the cause of the plague is contact between the wild bighorns and domestic sheep flocks.

Putting the blame on domestic sheep has heightened a furious debate between advocates of the wild bighorns and sheep ranchers -- one skirmish in a bigger war between proponents of economic interests and those seeking protection of remaining wild areas and species in America's West.


US: Bull Sharks Making Homes in Waters of South Alabama

© Wikipedia Commons/Albert kok
Bull sharks born in waters around south Alabama are staying in the area and using the rivers as they get larger.
Bull sharks are common in Dog River, Fowl River and the rivers of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, according to a tracking effort conducted by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

During the last two years, 34 newborn sharks have been fitted with radio tags that transmit signals to receivers set up in the rivers around Mobile Bay.

While last year's data suggested that the babies were making use of the coastal rivers, it has now become apparent that sharks coming into their second year are staying in the area and using the rivers as they get larger.

The researchers said they also routinely catch adult bull sharks in Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound, some longer than 6 feet.


Roundup: Climate Science in 2009

For climate science, the year 2009 brought significant discoveries and startling controversies.

Warming goes global

The year started out with some sobering, if not altogether surprising, news: overall, the Antarctic continent is warming. Although some of the Antarctic Peninsula had previously shown rapid warming, parts of the continent - especially near the South Pole - seemed to be unaccountably cooling.

In January, climatologist Eric Steig of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues reported (Nature 457, 459 - 462; 2009) that warming was widespread across the continent. Using satellite measurements combined with historical weather station data to interpolate Antarctic temperatures over the last 50 years, they found that the average temperature in West Antarctica had increased 0.1 °C per year. The previous apparent cooling resulted from the fact that prior to the use of satellites, data existed for only a relatively small number of weather stations.

Their findings were backed up by a study published in October. Writing in Geophysical Research Letters (36, L20704; 2009) Liz Thomas and colleagues from the British Antarctic Survey reported that an ice core taken in the southwestern Antarctic Peninsula showed warming of 2.7 °C over the last 50 years.


New Predictions for Sea Level Rise

Fossil coral data and temperature records derived from ice-core measurements have been used to place better constraints on future sea level rise, and to test sea level projections.

The results are published today in Nature Geoscience and predict that the amount of sea level rise by the end of this century will be between 7- 82 cm - depending on the amount of warming that occurs - a figure similar to that projected by the IPCC report of 2007.

Placing limits on the amount of sea level rise over the next century is one of the most pressing challenges for climate scientists. The uncertainties around different methods to achieve accurate predictions are highly contentious because the response of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to warming is not well understood.

Dr Mark Siddall from the University of Bristol, together with colleagues from Switzerland and the US, used fossil coral data and temperature records derived from ice-core measurements to reconstruct sea level fluctuations in response to changing climate for the past 22,000 years, a period that covers the transition from glacial maximum to the warm Holocene interglacial period.

Comment: This is a press release about the study, "Constraints on future sea level rise from paleo reconstructions" as published in the journal Nature Geoscience, which has been retracted in February 2010. See "Climate Scientists Withdraw Journal Claims of Rising Sea Levels" for further detail.

Bizarro Earth

Canada, Quebec: Nun dies in Sherbrooke flooding

Authorities closed major roads into Sherbrooke because of flooding.
Torrential rain over the past two days has caused major flooding across Quebec's Eastern Townships, killing at least one person.

More than 95 millimetres of rain have fallen in the region, which includes the city of Sherbrooke in the last 24 hours, causing nearby rivers to spill their banks.

A 66-year-old Sherbrooke nun plunged to her death Friday morning while trying to track down a leak on her roof. The woman, who lived on Évangéline Street, fell several metres from a ladder as she tried to climb down, according to eyewitnesses.

About 100 people were forced out of their homes because of high water levels in the Saint-François River, which rose to seven metres on Friday.

Transport authorities shut down at least two major arteries into the downtown core, Saint-François North Street and Grandes-Fourches Street because of water accumulation.


Germany: Evacuations begin amid record flooding in Brandenburg

© Unknown
Emergency services in Brandenburg are preparing to evacuate the towns of Elsterwerda and Bad Liebenwerda amid flooding caused by record high water levels on the Elster River, officials said Wednesday.

Students of the Elsterschloss secondary school in Elsterwerda were forced to evacuate the school building on Wednesday, a police spokesman said.

In Bad Liebenwerda, the water level had already exceeded the maximum stage four flood alert by 30 centimetres. According to the state's Environment Ministry, the situation was intensifying in that town, with flood waters spilling over the dykes.

"This is no normal flood. We have the highest-ever measured water levels on the Elster," said ministry head Matthias Freude.

In places the flood waters could no longer be contained, making evacuations unavoidable, he said.

In particular danger was the area around the town of Pulsnitz in Saxony and the Schwarzer Elster River.

More than 800 emergency workers have been deployed and 150,000 sandbags transported to the area to contain the rising water.

The head of Ministry for the Cottbus region, Wolfgang Genehr, described the situation as "extremely critical."