Earth ChangesS

Cloud Lightning

US: Southern California storm menaces neighborhoods near burn

California storm
© Associated Press/Russel A. DanielsA person walks with an umbrella in San Francisco as the first major storm of the season hits the area on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009. Residents across California worried Tuesday about possible flash floods and mudslides as a storm began showering areas devastated by wildfires
A powerful fall storm packing strong winds, drenching rain and heavy snow has moved into Southern California where residents near fire-scarred hillsides braced for possible mudslides and debris flows.

The storm prompted evacuation warnings earlier Tuesday near Santa Cruz and disrupted power across the state.

Officials urged residents to evacuate from about 60 homes in the town of Davenport in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 50 miles south of San Francisco, where more than six inches of rain fell on an area that burned in August.

Residents in the area of the massive Station Fire in Los Angeles County were on guard. The wildfire burned into the backyards of foothill homes in September, and stripped the steep mountains of vegetation that holds the soil to the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Better Earth

Chimps happy to help - you just have to ask

If you're looking for help from a chimp, don't forget to say please. Captive chimpanzees readily help others obtain an out-of-reach snack, but only if they beg for it, a new study shows.

Researchers have long debated whether chimpanzees act altruistically. In the wild, the great apes exchange grooming duties, and occasionally food such as meat, but whether these transactions fit the definition of altruism is controversial.

"It is difficult to evaluate the cost and benefit of behaviours in the wild and actually impossible to control the situations, and therefore it is disputable to say that it is altruistic behaviour," says Shinya Yamamoto, a primatologist at the Kyoto University in Japan, who led the new study.

Studies of captive chimps, meanwhile, found little consistent evidence for altruism, though one report showed that chimpanzees will lend humans a helping hand.


Animals feel the pain of religious slaughter

© Alex Segre / Rex FeaturesBrain signals have shown that calves appear to feel pain when slaughtered according to Jewish and Muslim religious law.
Brain signals have shown that calves do appear to feel pain when slaughtered according to Jewish and Muslim religious law, strengthening the case for adapting the practices to make them more humane.

"I think our work is the best evidence yet that it's painful," says Craig Johnson, who led the study at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Johnson summarised his results last week in London when receiving an award from the UK Humane Slaughter Association. His team also showed that if the animal is concussed through stunning, signals corresponding to pain disappear.

The findings increase pressure on religious groups that practice slaughter without stunning to reconsider. "It provides further evidence, if it was needed, that slaughtering an animal without stunning it first is painful," says Christopher Wathes of the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council, which has long argued for the practice to end.


US: Western Montana cold breaks records

If you've spent any time outdoors the past four days in Western Montana, you could probably guess that we've hit record low temperatures, without your local weather guy confirming this fact.

We haven't just set new records, we've blown them out of the water. The lowest have been 10, 11 and 8 the last three mornings in Missoula, and we've gone at least nine degrees lower than the old record each morning.

In addition, wind chill values have been in the teens during the afternoon Saturday and Sunday.

Not that it's any comfort, the lowest average temperature for the entire year comes in late December and early January. That number is 15 degrees.

Bizarro Earth

Philippines: Typhoon deaths now at 669

The collective death toll from storms "Ondoy" and "Pepeng" which devastated huge areas of Luzon in the past two weeks has reached 669, with 462 injured and 87 missing, authorities said Monday.

Damage to infrastructure and agriculture was also placed at more than P15 billion, with more reports still to come in.

Field reports showed that the number of people who died from the onslaught of typhoon Pepeng (international codename Parma) now stands at 332.

The latest official report from the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) put the confirmed deaths only at 199, broken down as follows: 137 from the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), 53 from Region 1, four in Region 3, one in Region 4A, and four in Region 4B.


Spain: Plague of Mosquitoes Descends on Torrevieja

© Wikipedia
More than 200 people have been treated for allergic reactions to the bites

A plague of mosquitoes affecting Torrevieja in recent days worsened over Friday and Saturday when more than 200 people were treated at La Loma health centre for allergic reactions to the insect bites. Diario Información reports that staff there were forced to send for supplies from other centres after running out of the medication they needed to treat their patients.

And La Verdad newspaper said local supermarkets and chemists have sold out of their stocks of insect repellents and insecticides.


The BBC's amazing U-turn on climate change

I think the BBC wanted to slip this one out quietly, but a Matt Drudge link put paid to that. The climate change correspondent of BBC News has admitted that global warming stopped in 1998 - and he reports that leading scientists believe that the earth's cooling-off may last for decades.

"Whatever happened to global warming?" is the title of an article by Paul Hudson that represents a clear departure from the BBC's fanatical espousal of climate change orthodoxy. The climate change campaigners will go nuts, particularly in the run-up to Copenhagen. So, I suspect, will devout believers inside the BBC. Hudson's story was not placed very prominently by his colleagues - but a link right at the top of Drudge will have delivered at least a million page views, possibly many more.


Man-made noise is blamed for driving whales to their deaths

bottlenose whale
© unknownA northern bottlenose whale stranded in Scotland
Scientists say man-made noise equipment, including anti-seal sonar devices used in fish farms, is driving deep-water animals such as whales to shore, where they die.

A northern bottlenose whale was washed up dead on a beach in Prestatyn, North Wales, on Saturday morning, the tenth of the species to become trapped or stranded on British shores this year.

Scientists are blaming not just military sonar, but a large range of man-made noises that they fear are driving the normally deep-water animals to shore.

The week before, another of the 10m (33ft) whales became trapped in a small Scottish loch. Rescuers managed to push the distressed animal out of Loch Eil and halfway to safety but on Friday morning the whale was found dead.


Birds in Captivity Lose Hippocampal Mass

© Developmental NeurobiologyMicrographs demonstrating the difference in size of the hippocampal formation in a bird from the wild, left, and captivity. Neither brain pictured was at the volumetric extreme of its group.
Being in captivity for just a few weeks can reduce the volume of the hippocampus by as much as 23 percent, according to a new Cornell study.

Caged birds may still sing, but being in captivity for just a few weeks can reduce the volume of the hippocampus by as much as 23 percent, according to a new Cornell study. The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in spatial learning and memory tasks.

The research, by psychology graduate student Bernard Tarr and professor Tim DeVoogd, indicates that the hippocampus is highly sensitive to some or all of the environmental conditions that change in captivity -- including, among other things, social stimulation, exercise, food-storing opportunities and stress. The article is online at the journal of Developmental Neurobiology's Web site.

The results provide new clues that could help researchers better understand human stress disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which have been linked in previous studies of mammals to decreased hippocampal volume.


What happened to global warming?

© NasaAverage temperatures have not increased for over a decade
This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998.

But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.

And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise.

So what on Earth is going on?