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Bizarro Earth

Colombia: 1000 People Evacuated After Colombia Volcano Erupts

© AFP PhotoThe Galeras volcano erupted in southern Colombia without causing casualties
A thousand people were evacuated and traffic was stopped after the Galeras volcano erupted in southern Colombia without causing casualties, officials said Saturday.

The locals were taken to shelters in Pasto, the capital of Narino department on the border with Ecuador, after authorities put the volcano -- the most active in Colombia -- on red alert to signal an imminent or ongoing eruption.

Some 9,000 people live in the vicinity of the volcano, which erupted at 8:37 pm Friday (0137 GMT Saturday), will be forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in temporary accommodations if the alert is prolonged, the Colombia Institute of Geology and Mining (Ingeominas) said.

Narino Government Secretary Fabio Trujillo, whose office coordinates volcano prevention, evacuation and relief efforts, told local radio that traffic restrictions would be imposed on the highway linking Pashto -- 920 kilometers (570 miles) -- to localities close to Galeras.


Active Hearing Process in Mosquitoes

© University of BristolThis is a mosquito hearing organ.
A mathematical model has explained some of the remarkable features of mosquito hearing. In particular, the male can hear the faintest beats of the female's wings and yet is not deafened by loud noises.

The new research from the University of Bristol is published in the Journal of the Royal Society: Interface.

Insects have evolved diverse and delicate morphological structures in order to hear the naturally low energy of a transmitting sound wave. In mosquitoes, the hearing of acoustic energy, and its conversion into neuronal signals, is assisted by multiple individual sensory units called scolopidia.

The researchers have developed a simple microscopic mechanistic model of the active amplification in the Tanzanian mosquito species Toxorhynchites brevipalpis. The model is based on the description of the antenna as a forced-damped oscillator attached to a set of active threads (groups of scolopidia) that provide an impulsive force when they twitch. The twitching is controlled by channels that are opened and closed if the antennal oscillation reaches critical amplitude. The model matches both qualitatively and quantitatively with recent experiments: spontaneous oscillations, nonlinear amplification, hysteresis, 2:1 resonances, frequency response, gain loss due to hypoxia.


Mystery of World's Worst Mass Arsenic Poisoning Finally Solved

The culprit are tens of thousands of man-made ponds excavated to provide soil for flood protection.

Paris - Researchers have pinpointed the source of what is probably the worst mass poisoning in history, according to a study published Sunday.

For nearly three decades scientists have struggled to figure out exactly how arsenic was getting into the drinking water of millions of people in rural Bangladesh.

The culprit, says the new study, are tens of thousands of man-made ponds excavated to provide soil for flood protection.


Climatologists Baffled by Global Warming Time-Out

Global warming appears to have stalled. Climatologists are puzzled as to why average global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 10 years. Some attribute the trend to a lack of sunspots, while others explain it through ocean currents.

At least the weather in Copenhagen is likely to be cooperating. The Danish Meteorological Institute predicts that temperatures in December, when the city will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference, will be one degree above the long-term average.

Otherwise, however, not much is happening with global warming at the moment. The Earth's average temperatures have stopped climbing since the beginning of the millennium, and it even looks as though global warming could come to a standstill this year.

Ironically, climate change appears to have stalled in the run-up to the upcoming world summit in the Danish capital, where thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, business leaders and environmental activists plan to negotiate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Billions of euros are at stake in the negotiations.


Scientists Uncover Corn's Full Genetic Code

© AFP PhotoTwo corncobs are seen in a corn field ready to be harvested
A team of US scientists has uncovered the complete genetic code of corn, a discovery that promises to speed development of higher yielding varieties of one of the world's most important food crops.

Corn is the third most abundant cereal crop, after rice and sorghum, researchers said. Advances in corn production could mean major steps toward feeding the world's growing population as it struggles with climate change.

The team of 150 experts, led by Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said Thursday they had identified some 32,000 DNA sequences, or genes, in the 10 chromosomes that make up the genome of maize, the largest of any plant examined so far.

By comparison, the human genome includes 20,000 genes distributed in 23 chromosomes.

Better Earth

Rich Ore Deposits Linked to Ancient Atmosphere

Much of our planet's mineral wealth was deposited billions of years ago when Earth's chemical cycles were different from today's. Using geochemical clues from rocks nearly 3 billion years old, a group of scientists including Andrey Bekker and Doug Rumble from the Carnegie Institution have made the surprising discovery that the creation of economically important nickel ore deposits was linked to sulfur in the ancient oxygen-poor atmosphere.

© iStockphotoVolcano eruption on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.
These ancient ores -- specifically iron-nickel sulfide deposits -- yield 10% of the world's annual nickel production. They formed for the most part between two and three billion years ago when hot magmas erupted on the ocean floor. Yet scientists have puzzled over the origin of the rich deposits. The ore minerals require sulfur to form, but neither seawater nor the magmas hosting the ores were thought to be rich enough in sulfur for this to happen.

"These nickel deposits have sulfur in them arising from an atmospheric cycle in ancient times. The isotopic signal is of an anoxic atmosphere," says Rumble of Carnegie's Geophysical Laboratory, a co-author of the paper appearing in the November 20 issue of Science.


Flax and Yellow Flowers Can Produce Bioethanol

© Johnathan J. Stegeman and Tom Hilton/SINCFlowers of a Brassica plant. Brassica offers a greater production of biomass per hectare and has a lesser environmental impact than flax.
Surplus biomass from the production of flax shives, and generated from Brassica carinata, a yellow-flowered plant related to those which engulf fields in spring, can be used to produce bioethanol. This has been suggested by two studies carried out by Spanish and Dutch researchers and published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

"These studies evaluate, from an environmental point of view, the production of bioethanol from two, as yet unexploited sources of biomass: agricultural residue from flax (for the production of paper fibres for animal bedding), and Brassica carinata crops (herbaceous plant with yellow flowers, similar to those which carpet the countryside in spring)," Sara González-García, researcher of the Bioprocesses and Environmental Engineering Group of the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC), said.

González-García, along with other researchers from USC, the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the University of Leiden (Holland), has confirmed that if bioethanol is produced from these two types of biomass "both CO2 emissions and fossil fuel consumption will be reduced, meeting two of the objectives established by the European Union to promote biofuels."


The Benefits of Plants

© Flickr
Chronic stress in humans has been implicated in heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes, among a host of other health problems. Extreme environments, a source of chronic stress, present a challenge even for the hardiest organisms, and plants are no exception. Yet, some species somehow manage to survive, and even thrive, in stressful conditions.

A recent article by Dr. Yuri Springer in the November issue of the American Journal of Botany finds that certain wild flax plants growing in poor soils have succeeded in balancing the stress in their lives -- these plants are less likely to experience infection from a fungal pathogen. Walking the fine line between the costs associated with surviving under stressful conditions and the benefits that may be derived from growing in an environment with fewer interactions with antagonistic species is a tricky balancing act.

For plants, serpentine soils are one example of an extreme environment. Serpentine soils are those that provide a stressful medium for plant growth, due to features of the soil, such as a rocky texture, low water-holding capacity, high levels of toxic metals, and/or low levels of necessary nutrients.

Cloud Lightning

Ireland facing huge bill for flood damage

© Eamon WardSome people find the bright side in everything! Cloughleigh-native Shane Millar makes good use of his skim board on the streets of Ennis yesterday.
South and west hardest hit as Army is deployed

Ireland faces a multi-million euro flood damage bill after some of the worst flooding in living memory.

Bus and rail travel was disrupted, motorists were urged to undertake journeys only if absolutely necessary and the Army was called out to help stem rising floodwaters as parts of the South and the West faced the brunt of the atrocious conditions.

Last night, Met Eireann warned of more bad weather to come with more wind and heavy rain. Meteorologists added that next week was looking "every bit as unsettled".

Bizarro Earth

5.1 Earthquake Hits New Zealand

Two earthquakes hit near New Zealand North Island's Palmerston North on Thursday morning. There have been no immediate reports of injury or damage.

The New Zealand Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS Science) said the first tremor of 5.1 magnitude struck at 7:04a.m. (18:04 GMT Wednesday), 10 km south of Palmerston North at a depth of 40 km.

The tremor was felt throughout the North Island.