Earth ChangesS


Mysterious ailment is killing foxes

© NTAFoxes
An unidentified disease is making its way through the fox population of Tuolumne County, leading to an increase in sick foxes that have appeared in populated areas.

According to Jennifer Clarke, Tuolumne County Animal Control manager, agents responded to 12 to 14 cases of sick foxes in February alone.

"It's cyclical," she said. "Every seven or eight years a disease will make its way through a certain population of animals."

Animal Control only tests dead animals that have come into contact with humans and domestic pets. It also only tests for rabies.

Four foxes have met this criteria. One was touched by a person and the other three were attacked by pet dogs.


Mystery problem again hits bee colonies

© Fresno BeeHoneybees climb over each other entering and exiting a beehive near Woodlake. Colony collapse disorder is characterized by a sudden drop in a bee colony’s population and the inexplicable absence of dead bees. After several mild years, it has resurfaced in California.
A mysterious problem that causes bee colonies to decline is once again taking its toll on the state's beekeepers.

The problem known as colony collapse disorder is characterized by a sudden drop in a bee colony's population and the inexplicable absence of dead bees.

The disorder has no known cure and appears to be cyclical. After several mild years, it has resurfaced with a vengeance, said Eric Mussen, apiculturist with the University of California at Davis.

"It never went away, but this year a substantial number of beekeepers got walloped again," said Mussen, the state's leading bee expert. "And worse than they had been hit before."

Although Mussen said it is too early to tell exactly how many bees have been lost, a bee industry official said losses in the state vary from 30% to 80%.


Giant Panda Genome Reveals New Insights Into the Bear's Bamboo Diet

© iStockphoto/Bryan FaustA panda eats a large bamboo stalk
A Chinese-led team including international researchers with a scientist from Cardiff University, has shed new light on some of the giant panda's unusual biological traits, including its famously restricted diet.

The team has successfully sequenced the panda genome for the first time and now, the genetic insights gleaned from the work may aid conservation efforts for the endangered species.

Giant pandas are known for their bamboo diet but the researchers discovered that the animal actually lacks the genes necessary for compete digestion of this staple food source.

Professor Mike Bruford, Cardiff School of Biosciences, worked on the study as part of an ongoing collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Zoology, funded by the Royal Society.


Hormone Study Gives Scientists a Sense of How Animals Bond

© iStockphotoScientists have pinpointed how a key hormone helps animals to recognize others by their smell.
Scientists have pinpointed how a key hormone helps animals to recognize others by their smell.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have shown that the hormone vasopressin helps the brain differentiate between familiar and new scents.

The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that when the hormone fails to function, animals are unable to recognize other individuals from their scent.

The ability to recognize others by smell is crucial in helping animals to establish strong bonds with other animals.

The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), may offer clues about the way people make emotional connections with others through smell and deepen our understanding of the role scent plays in memory.

Bad Guys

Climate scientists to fight back at skeptics

Undaunted by a rash of scandals over the science underpinning climate change, top climate researchers are plotting to respond with what one scientist involved said needs to be "an outlandishly aggressively partisan approach" to gut the credibility of skeptics.

In private e-mails obtained by The Washington Times, climate scientists at the National Academy of Sciences say they are tired of "being treated like political pawns" and need to fight back in kind. Their strategy includes forming a nonprofit group to organize researchers and use their donations to challenge critics by running a back-page ad in the New York Times.

Comment: Such interesting times we live in. After spending the last ten years or so blocking dissent, stopping opposings views being published and fiddling the data to get the results their political masters want, (and thus guaranteeing their rich research funding), suddenly the shoe is on the other foot.

These scientists are upset that they have been outed, that their manipulations have been exposed, their cosy and privileged life has been disrupted and they can see their research incomes drying up in the very near future. So they resort to the classic manipulation tactics - ad hominum attacks, references to McCarthyesque tactics in a vain attempt to further besmirch their opponents, claims that the climate sceptics are funded by the huge multinational energy companies, claims of false science and claims of an unshakable belief system that won't be moved by the facts.

Now look at this last statement from the enraged George Woodwell - "We are dealing with an opposition that is not going to yield to facts or appeals from people who hold themselves in high regard and think their assertions and data are obvious truths," he wrote.

Is he really saying that his group are "people who hold themselves in high regard and think their assertions and data are obvious truths"? Or is this an example of the mask of sanity slipping and showing us his true nature?

Better Earth

Anthropogenic Global Warming, or just natural variation?

For the past 1.3 million years there have been 13 ice ages, average duration 90,000 years, and each followed by an interglacial period, average duration 10,000 years. During both ice ages and interglacial periods, there will be numerous briefer cycles of warming and cooling. A 65 million year review of climate and related information is available at JoNova.

If this one million+ year trend continues, we are now nearing the end of our current interglacial period. The actual duration will likely vary somewhat from the 10,000 year average. Even assuming that the ice age cycle again repeats, its start date will probably not be easy to recognize in real-time.

During our current interglacial period there have been several periods when it was warmer than now. The most recent prior warming, and hence best documented, was about 1,000 years ago, spanning the period from about 800 to 1300 AD, and is referred to as the Medieval Warming Period (MWP).


Flashback Abrupt Climate Change: Should We Be Worried?

Are we overlooking potential abrupt climate shifts?

Most of the studies and debates on potential climate change, along with its ecological and economic impacts, have focused on the ongoing buildup of industrial greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and a gradual increase in global temperatures. This line of thinking, however, fails to consider another potentially disruptive climate scenario. It ignores recent and rapidly advancing evidence that Earth's climate repeatedly has shifted abruptly and dramatically in the past, and is capable of doing so in the future.

Fossil evidence clearly demonstrates that Earth's climate can shift gears within a decade, establishing new and different patterns that can persist for decades to centuries. In addition, these climate shifts do not necessarily have universal, global effects. They can generate a counterintuitive scenario: Even as the earth as a whole continues to warm gradually, large regions may experience a precipitous and disruptive shift into colder climates.

This new paradigm of abrupt climate change has been well established over the last decade by research of ocean, earth and atmosphere scientists at many institutions worldwide. But the concept remains little known and scarcely appreciated in the wider community of scientists, economists, policy makers, and world political and business leaders. Thus, world leaders may be planning for climate scenarios of global warming that are opposite to what might actually occur.1


Best of the Web: Dramatic rescue of 1,000 people trapped on ferries as 50 ships get stuck in Baltic Sea ice after worst winter in 50 years

© Agence France-PresseNo way through: A passenger ferry attempts to power its way through pack ice off Sweden's east coast. The Baltic Sea is experiencing its coldest winter in 50 years
Nearly 1,000 people trapped on a ferry were dramatically rescued today after 50 ships got stuck in heavy pack ice in the Baltic Sea, officials said.

The passenger ferry Amorella was returned safely to Stockholm harbour after ice breakers helped release it from large masses of ice off Sweden's east coast.

A total of 50 ships and boats had been stuck for hours as gale-force winds built up the ice along the coastline north of Stockholm.

Rescue helicopters and military hovercraft had been placed on standby to evacuate passengers if needed. No one was injured.

'It arrived in the port during the morning,' sea rescue spokeswoman Christel Englund said.

The Swedish Maritime Administration said the Amorella had 753 passengers and 190 crew on board.

The 10-deck ship belongs to Viking Line, which operates Baltic Sea cruises between Sweden and Finland.

Bizarro Earth

Volcanoes Erupt Side by Side in New Satellite Picture

© Jesse Allen, NASA Earth ObservatorySeen via satellite, two Russian volcanoes—the third "plume" at center is just cloud cover—erupt on February 13.
In a satellite image released today by NASA, two neighboring Russian volcanoes are seen erupting at the same time.

Surprising as the picture may be, the simultaneous eruptions of the Kamchatka Peninsula's Klyuchevskaya and Bezymianny volcanoes isn't all that shocking, according to geologist James Quick of Southern Methodist University in Texas.

"Kamkatcha [map] volcanoes are very active, so it's not uncommon for more than one of these volcanoes to be erupting at the same time," Quick said.

In fact, the volcanoes' close proximity makes it more, not less, likely that they'd explode in unison, he said.

Though there's no "great pool or pipe of lava connecting them," he said, the volcanoes lie above the same active subduction zone, an area where one tectonic plate is diving under another. So if the gnashing of the plates sends heat, lava, gas, or ash up through the earth toward one of the volcanoes, chances are the other might get it too. (See plate tectonics pictures.)


Flashback Failing ocean current raises fears of mini ice age

© Mark Daly The photo above showing ice at the docks in Galway, Ireland was captured in the early afternoon of January 9, 2010. The Atlantic coast of Ireland hasn't experienced seawater freezing in its dock area since the early 1980s. Ireland is still freezing in its coldest and longest winter since 1963. Is it a canary in the goldmine in terms of the North Atlantic Drift ocean current?
The ocean current that gives western Europe its relatively balmy climate is stuttering, raising fears that it might fail entirely and plunge the continent into a mini ice age.

The dramatic finding comes from a study of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, which found a 30% reduction in the warm currents that carry water north from the Gulf Stream.

The slow-down, which has long been predicted as a possible consequence of global warming, will give renewed urgency to intergovernmental talks in Montreal, Canada, this week on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

Harry Bryden at the Southampton Oceanography Centre in the UK, whose group carried out the analysis, says he is not yet sure if the change is temporary or signals a long-term trend. "We don't want to say the circulation will shut down," he told New Scientist. "But we are nervous about our findings. They have come as quite a surprise.