Earth ChangesS

Cloud Lightning

As deaths mount in Brazil flooding, more rain is forecast

Brazil floods May 2009
© unknownFloodwaters reach almost to the tops of some homes in Piaui state in Brazil.

Rio De Janeiro -- The death toll from flooding that has covered large parts of Brazil continued to rise Friday, with the government reporting seven new fatalities, bringing the total to 38.

The rain-induced floods left nearly 800,000 people displaced, according to the Brazilian civil defense agency.

Rain has fallen steadily in some parts of the country for more than two weeks and is forecast to continue for another 10 days. World Vision, a relief agency working in Brazil, predicted it could take 30 days for flood waters to recede.

Communities in 10 states have been swamped by the floods, though most of the fatalities have occurred in the country's northeast, officials said.


Solar cycle will be weakest since 1928, forecasters say

© NASA/Goddard Space Flight CenterThe sun is thought to have reached the lowest point in its activity in December 2008, but the new solar cycle has gotten off to a slow start. This week, however, two active regions (bright regions in upper-left corner) - whose knotty magnetic fields often coincide with eruptions and flares - appeared on the far side of the sun. One of NASA's twin STEREO probes snapped this image.
The sun's new solar cycle, which is thought to have begun in December 2008, will be the weakest since 1928. That is the nearly unanimous prediction of a panel of international experts, some of whom maintain that the sun will be more active than normal.

But even a mildly active sun could still generate its fair share of extreme storms that could knock out power grids and space satellites.

Solar activity waxes and wanes every 11 years. Cycles can vary widely in intensity, and there is no foolproof way to predict how the sun will behave in any given cycle.

In 2007, an international panel of 12 experts split evenly over whether the coming cycle of activity, dubbed Cycle 24, would be stronger or weaker than average.

Bizarro Earth

Brazil's other big forest in dire straits

© Andre Seale / SplashdownDirect / Rex FeaturesVinaceous Amazon, a critically endangered parrot found only in the South American Atlantic Forest.
The ongoing degradation of the Amazon rainforest has obscured the plight of its smaller sibling: the Atlantic forest in Brazil, which is a biodiversity hotspot. Once covering about 1.5 million square kilometres, the rainforest has been reduced to about one-tenth of its original area in the past 500 years, a new study has shown.

The Atlantic forest supports more than 20,000 species of plants, 260 mammals, 700 birds, 200 reptiles, 280 amphibians and hundreds of unnamed species.

Unless the damage is halted, monkeys and birds unique to the region will go extinct, including iconic species such as the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) and the northern woolly spider monkey (Brachyteles hypoxanthus), both among the most endangered of all the world's monkeys.

"Unfortunately, the forest is in very bad shape," says Jean Paul Metzger at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. "Species extinctions will occur more rapidly and, since 30 per cent of the species are endemic to the region, they will disappear forever."

Bizarro Earth

Congo volcano 'may soon erupt'

Goma volcano
© APThe volcanoes around Goma often spew smoke and steam
Scientists in the Democratic Republic of Congo have recorded significant increased volcanic activity around Goma in the east of the country.

Half of the city was destroyed in 2002 after the nearest of two volcanoes, Mount Nyiragongo, erupted.

Now Mount Nyamulagira, which lies 25km (16 miles) from Goma, may soon erupt.

Scientist Dieudonne Wafula told the BBC if it did erupt, there would not be an immediate threat to Goma, but some key rural roads could be cut off.

Bizarro Earth

California Burns! Jesusita Fire Forces Out 30,000 Residents

Firefighters struggled Friday to get ahead of a raging wildfire that has moved dangerously close to heavily populated areas around this idyllic coastal city and forced the evacuation of roughly 30,000 people.

Mobile home parks and neighborhoods of multimillion-dollar mansions were like ghost towns, bathed in the eerie orange glow of the growing blaze as billows of smoke wafted over the blackened mountains.

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Jodi Dyck said the fire had grown since Thursday night, when it measured roughly 2,700 acres. By 9:30 a.m. Friday, 3,500 acres had burned.


Newly Discovered Frogs in Madagascar

All green frog
© Reuters
An all green frog of the new species Boophis aff. elenae is seen in this undated picture released by the Spanish Scientific Research Council this week. Scientists have found more than 200 new species of frogs in Madagascar.

Red-back frog
© Reuters
A red-backed frog of the new species Guibemantis liber. is shown in this image released by the Spanish Scientific Research Council.


Best of the Web: It's snowing all over the world

© unknown

Ice in the Arctic is often twice as thick as expected, report surprised scientists who returned last week from a major scientific expedition. The scientists - a 20-member contingent from Canada, the U.S., Germany, and Italy - spent one month exploring the North Pole as well as never-before measured regions of the Arctic.

Among their findings: Rather than finding newly formed ice to be two metres thick, "we measured ice thickness up to four metres," stated a spokesperson for the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research of the Helmholtz Association, Germany's largest scientific organisation.

Then we get this from the United States: "Sorry, Al Gore, but Public Cares About the Economy, Not Global Warming".

Gallup Poll Editor Frank Newport says he sees no evidence that Al Gore's campaign against global warming is winning. "It's just not caught on," says Newport. "They have failed." Or, more bluntly: "Any measure that we look at shows Al Gore's losing at the moment. The public is just not that concerned." What the public is worried about: the economy.

He adds: "As Al Gore I think would say, the greatest challenge facing humanity . . . has failed to show up in our data."


Enormous Shark's Secret Hideout Finally Discovered

© Chris Gotshalk
After half a century of searching, scientists have finally discovered what happens to the world's second largest shark every winter: It has a Caribbean hideout.

Basking sharks, which can grow up to 33 feet long and weigh more than a Hummer H1, spend the late spring, summer and early fall in the temperate regions of the world's oceans. But then they pull their great disappearing act, eluding scientists throughout the winter months.

Better Earth

The Global Warming Hypothesis and Ocean Heat

Ocean Heating model versus actual
© William DiPuccio

Albert Einstein once said, "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." Einstein's words express a foundational principle of science intoned by the logician, Karl Popper: Falsifiability. In order to verify a hypothesis there must be a test by which it can be proved false. A thousand observations may appear to verify a hypothesis, but one critical failure could result in its demise. The history of science is littered with such examples.

A hypothesis that cannot be falsified by empirical observations, is not science. The current hypothesis on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), presented by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is no exception to this principle. Indeed, it is the job of scientists to expose the weaknesses of this hypothesis as it undergoes peer review. This paper will examine one key criterion for falsification: ocean heat.

Ocean heat plays a crucial role in the AGW hypothesis, which maintains that climate change is dominated by human-added, well-mixed green house gasses (GHG). IR radiation that is absorbed and re-emitted by these gases, particularly CO2, is said to be amplified by positive feedback from clouds and water vapor. This process results in a gradual accumulation of heat throughout the climate system, which includes the atmosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and, most importantly, the hydrosphere. The increase in retained heat is projected to result in rising atmospheric temperatures of 2-6ºC by the year 2100.


Danger: Ice Age Ahead

"We're well on our way into the next ice age," says this video from the National Geographic. "One of our major challenges will be how to keep us from killing each other." (I agree.)

"We are hardwired at a genetic level to seek survival at almost any cost," says Dr. Irwin Redlener of Columbia University. Our base survival instincts will kick in as the food chain collapses, says Redlener, an expert at the National Cdnter for Disaster Preparedness. Civilization as we know it will change forever. We could see deadly competition for food, for water, and for power, as civilization collapses. (I agree.)