Earth ChangesS


US: Striking salamander species found

New salamander species
© T. LambThe yellow patch on the nose is a distinctive feature
A striking new species of lungless salamander has been found living in a small stream in the Appalachian foothills of the US.

The salamander is so distinct that it's been classified within its own genus, a taxonomic grouping that usually includes a host of related species.

The creature breathes through its skin, and unusually for its kind, males and females have different colouration.

Such a distinct amphibian has not been found in the US for half a century.

The researchers who discovered the salamander describe it in the Journal of Zoology. They have dubbed it the 'patch-nosed' salamander after the yellow patch on the animal's snout.

Bizarro Earth

US: Mysterious tremors detected on San Andreas Fault

Los Angeles - Scientists have detected a spike in underground rumblings on a section of California's San Andreas Fault that produced a magnitude-7.8 earthquake in 1857.

What these mysterious vibrations say about future earthquakes is far from certain. But some think the deep tremors suggest underground stress may be building up faster than expected and may indicate an increased risk of a major temblor.

Bizarro Earth

More than 300 injured by 6.0 magnitude quake in China

A moderate earthquake rocked southwest China Thursday evening, injuring at least 336 people and collapsing 10,000 homes, state media said. The magnitude-6.0 temblor, centered in Yunnan province's Yao'an county, damaged another 30,000 homes, the Xinhua News Agency said.

Thirty people suffered severe injuries, while the other 305 were slightly injured, Xinhua said.

The quake was followed by eight aftershocks and the provincial civil affairs department was sending 4,500 tents, 3,000 quilts and other relief materials to Yao'an, Xinhua said.

Hundreds of police were dispatched to the disaster zone, it said.


Monkeys have a memory for grammar

© Gary Ramage / Newspix / Rex FeaturesHe may not be conjugating Latin verbs, but this cotton-topped tamarin can remember some simple grammar
Primates can intuitively recognise some rules of grammar, according to a study of cotton-topped tamarin monkeys (Saguinus oedipus).

The findings do not mean primates can communicate using language, but they do suggest that some of the skills required to use language may be linked to very basic memory functions.

One grammatical structure that is found across many languages is affixation: the addition of syllables, either at the beginning or at the end of a word, to modify its meaning.

For instance, in English, the suffix " - ed" is added to verbs to make the past tense. In German, the same effect is achieved by adding the prefix "ge - " to the front of verb stems.

Ansgar Endress and colleagues at Harvard University thought that, because this structure is found in so many languages, it might be linked to basic memory functions that are independent of language. If they could prove this was true, it would suggest ways that children might be learning grammatical structures.


Turtles crawl on runway, delay flights at JFK Airport

A runway at New York City's Kennedy Airport was shut down Wednesday morning after 78 turtles emerged from the bay and crawled onto the tarmac.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says grounds crews rounded up the wayward reptiles in about 35 minutes and deposited them back in the water, further from airport property.

The shutdown disrupted flight schedules, though, with delays climbing to nearly 1 1/2 hours. Pilots reported the first turtle sightings at around 8:30 a.m.


Third Oz Blue Bird

Blue Ibis
© Darrel McKay
Breaking news from Chris at Where Light Meets Dark alerts us to another blue bird in Australia. This time the blue bird is an Australian white ibis, which is ordinarily white. In this case, in addition to the photographs, a blue feather has been recovered.

The other two types of blue birds were a little corellas and one or more house sparrows.

All of these have turned up blue in and around Sydney between June 2008 and June 2009.


Blue House Sparrow in Syndney, Australia

Blue House Sparrow
© Richard Shears/Daily Mail
A blue house sparrow has appeared in Sydney, out of nowhere. Experts are convinced the colour is genuine, but baffled as to the cause.

Richard Shears reports seeing a blue house sparrow in April this year (Passer domesticus) in his garden in Sydney, Australia. At first he thought he was seeing things, but he made no mistake.

On the first day he was unable to photograph it, but it returned again 1 day later and managed to take a few photographs.

The bird was flying with a flock of normally-coloured house sparrows, which are light and dark brown.

Shears began doing some research on the web, looking for references to blue sparrows. After being unable to find anything relevant, he started asking questions with ornithologists and other experts.


Blue House Sparrow of Oz

Blue House Sparrow
© Richard Shears/Daily Mail
No one is claiming they are blue birds of happiness, but there is a compelling mystery here.

A blue house sparrow (Passer domesticus) has appeared in Sydney, Australia, out of nowhere. Experts are convinced the color is genuine, but baffled as to the cause.

This happened last April, but Where Light Meets Dark is bringing this up on July 2nd, 2009, because they have received a report - including photographs - of other blue birds, probably of different species, in New South Wales, Australia.

For more details, see here and here.

Cloud Lightning

El Nino conditions return to affect weather

El Nino is back.

Government scientists said Thursday that the periodic warming of water in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which can affect weather around the world, has returned.

The Pacific had been in what is called a neutral state, but forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the sea surface temperature climbed to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal along a narrow band in the eastern equatorial Pacific in June.

In addition, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center said temperatures in other tropical regions are also above normal, with warmer than usual readings as much as 975 feet below the ocean surface.

In general, El Nino conditions are associated with increased rainfall across the east-central and eastern Pacific and with drier than normal conditions over northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

A summer El Nino can lead to wetter than normal conditions in the intermountain regions of the United States and over central Chile. In an El Nino year there tend to be more Eastern Pacific hurricanes and fewer Atlantic hurricanes.


California: Brush fire near Getty Center 90% contained; Sepulveda Boulevard closed

Firefighters continued efforts this morning to stamp out a slow-moving brush fire near the Sepulveda Pass that burned 80 acres and forced evacuations from the Getty Center and Mt. St. Mary's College. The fire was 90% contained this morning.

Sepulveda Boulevard remained closed between Mulholland Drive and Sunset Boulevard, said Erik Scott, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. At least two freeway off-ramps -- Getty Center Drive and Skirball Center Drive --on the northbound 405 Freeway also remained closed.