Earth ChangesS

Better Earth

Earth's Atmosphere May Be Extraterrestrial in Origin

Analyses of noble gases hint that air didn't fizz from within the planet

Isotopic analyses of the gases krypton and xenon suggest that much of Earth's atmosphere came from outer space, not inner space.

Krypton and xenon appear in Earth's atmosphere - and in the universe as a whole - only in trace amounts. Detailed analyses of the gases provide clues about where those atmospheric components originated, says Greg Holland, an isotope geochemist at the University of Manchester in England. Those analyses, reported in the Dec. 11 Science, suggest that those gases, as well as many others now cloaking our planet, arrived via comets or were swept up from nearby gas clouds during the late stages of Earth's formation.

Some scientists have proposed that the gases in Earth's atmosphere originated within the planet, says Holland. According to those arguments, the atmosphere either seeped out of the Earth as the planet gradually cooled or were expelled from the crust when large numbers of asteroids pummeled the planet and melted its surface around 3.9 billion years ago. But new isotopic evidence gathered by Holland and his colleagues suggests that those scenarios probably aren't right.


Scientist Work To Protect Cuba's Unspoiled Reefs

© Noel LopezThe reefs of Cuba's Los Jardines de la Reina are protected from fishermen, pollution and fertilizer runoff. The waters are plentiful with huge fish, sharks, sea turtles and saltwater crocodiles.
Cuba has some the most extensive coral reefs in the hemisphere, but political strains between Washington and Havana largely have kept American scientists away.

A new partnership for marine research is trying to change that at one of Cuba's most remote places, far from people and pollution.

Off of central Cuba's southern coast, hundreds of tiny islands stretch into the Caribbean. They are ringed with narrow beaches and thick stands of red mangrove.

Monkey Wrench

Sorry Monsanto, You're Wrong: More GE Crops Mean More Pesticides

When do we get to officially call the "green revolution" an environmental nightmare?

More genetically engineered crops means less pesticides are needed, right? That's what the big agricultural biotech companies, like Monsanto, promised. But, a report proves they're wrong. Really wrong.

First, the report was funded by a coalition of non-governmental organizations including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Food Safety, the Cornerstone Campaign, Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, Greenpeace International and Rural Advancement Fund International USA.

They found that GE corn, soybean, and cotton crops have increased the use of weed-killing herbicides in the U.S. by 383 million pounds from 1996 to 2008. Why? Because the idea behind many of the big GE crops is to make them resistant to herbicides, for instance Roundup Ready Soybeans won't be killed if you spray the herbicide Roundup on them. Roundup instead is suppose to kill the weeds around the plant. But, crafty little nature has outsmarted biotech again and now we've got weeds that have become resistant as well. Woops.


Dark side of a natural gas boom: environmental destruction

New Yorkers have just a few more days to petition Governor Patterson before permits for natural gas drilling utilizing a method called hydraulic fracturing will be issued in New York State. If drilling takes effect, New York's beautiful, pristine landscapes will soon be reduced to wastelands similar to these in Pennsyvania shown in this video

Dimock, Pennsylvania - Victoria Switzer dreamed of a peaceful retirement in these Appalachian hills. Instead, she is coping with a big problem after a nearby natural gas well contaminated her family's drinking water with high levels of methane.


'Act of nature': Climate change not to blame for polar bear cannibalism

A polar bear with a cub it has killed and partly eaten
The gory photos of male polar bears devouring cubs, dragging shredded carcasses around and creating a bloody mess on the white snow of Canada's North have caused a stir on the Internet and in reports that link the activity to climate change.

But cannibalism among the species is a natural occurrence, says one expert, disputing what is just the latest story to put the polar bear in the debate over man-made global warming.

"Both Inuit and scientific knowledge show that cannibalism in polar bears happens, and it probably always has," said Steve Pinksen, director of policy and legislation for Nunavut's Department of Environment.

Comment: It is well documented that the polar bear population is increasing, not decreasing. So the increase in cannibalism among polar bears, if any, may be due to that rather than the non-existent global warming.

Bizarro Earth

Snow, Wind, Rain: Winter Storm Blankets U.S.

© Mike Groll//AP PhotoA pedestrian walks on a snow-covered street during the area's first winter storm in Albany, N.Y.
Dangerous Road Conditions, School Closings in Much of the Country

It's a mess. A fierce winter storm slogged eastward across the U.S. today, bringing a foot of snow to the Midwest, pelting rain to the eastern seaboard, 50 mph winds, slippery road conditions and hundreds of school closings.

The National Centers for Environmental Prediction called it a "significant winter storm" -- never mind that the winter solstice is still 12 days away. Over the last three days, it said, there have been 17 inches of snow in Madison, Wisc., and 15 inches in Winterset, Iowa.

In Omaha, Neb., a 28-year-old woman was reportedly killed overnight when a pickup truck, plowing out of the parking lot of an apartment complex, accidentally backed over her.

Bizarro Earth

Hawaii sees highest surf in decades

Honolulu - Extremely high waves on the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Maui have attracted thousands of surfers and onlookers, clogging traffic in the area, observers say.

Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters
© UPI Photo/Pierre Tostee/ASP TosteeSpectators watch massive waves crash at the venue for the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters at the Banzai pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii on December 13, 2004.. The contest was placed on hold due to stormy surf conditions which rocked the North Shore. The Rip Curl Pipeline Masters is the final event for the men on the 2004 Fosters ASP World Championship Tour and features the top 45 surfers and three wild card entrants. .
Surf lovers jammed Oahu's Kamehameha Highway and packed every inch of the North Shore beach Monday as waves as high as 40 feet pounded the shore, while massive, 50-foot waves were predicted for Tuesday, Hawaii Magazine reported.

The magazine said this winter's first round of swells was already being considered the best in many years, perhaps decades. It reported that at Maui's north shore Peahi Beach -- also known as "Jaws" for its big winter waves -- surfers were citing swells of up to 50 feet from crest to trough.


Homosexual selection: The power of same-sex liaisons

© Tui De Roy/Minden Pictures/FLPAFemale Laysan albatrosses on the Hawaiian island of Oahu pair off with other females.
Not long ago, the news was full of reports about two male Humboldt penguins at a zoo in Germany that adopted an egg, hatched it and reared the chick together. It seems like every time you turn around, the media spotlight has fallen on another example of same-sex liaisons in the animal kingdom.

In the past few years, the ubiquity of such behaviour has become apparent. This summer evolutionary biologists Marlene Zuk and Nathan Bailey from the University of California, Riverside, published a paper on the subject that included examples from dozens of species ranging from dung flies and woodpeckers to bison and macaques.

That is just the beginning of the story. The burning question is why same-sex behaviour would evolve at all when it runs counter to evolutionary principles. But does it? In fact there are many good reasons for same-sex sexual behaviour. What's more, Zuk and Bailey suggest that in a species where it is common, it is an important driving force in evolution.


Dinosaur-killing impact set Earth to broil, not burn

© Don Davis/NASADebris kicked up by a large asteroid rained back down on the Earth, heating up as it fell. But new research suggests that the first debris to re-enter the atmosphere shielded the surface from the heat of later infalling debris, preventing the world's forests from igniting
The asteroid impact that ended the age of dinosaurs 65 million years ago didn't incinerate life on our planet's surface - it just broiled it, a new study suggests. The work resolves nagging questions about a theory that the impact triggered deadly wildfires around the world, but it also raises new questions about just what led to the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period.

The impact of a 10-kilometre asteroid is blamed for the extinction of the dinosaurs and most other species on the planet. Early computer models showed that more than half of the debris blasted into space by the impact would fall into the atmosphere within eight hours.

The models predicted the rain of shock-heated debris would radiate heat as intensely as an oven set to "broil" (260 °C) for at least 20 minutes, and perhaps a couple of hours. Intense heating for that long would heat wood to its ignition temperature, causing global wildfires.


Copenhagen climate summit: global warming 'caused by sun's radiation'

© Reuters
Global warming is caused by radiation from the sun, according to a leading scientist speaking out at an alternative "sceptics' conference" in Copenhagen.

As the world gathered in the Danish capital for the UN Climate Change Conference, more than 50 scientists, businessmen and lobby groups met to discuss the arguments against man made global warming.

Although the meeting was considerably smaller than the official gathering of 15,000 people meeting down the road, the organisers claimed it could change the course of negotiations.