Locust Swarms Arrive in South Sudan
Swarms of locusts which are wreaking havoc across East Africa have now arrived in South Sudan, the government said on Tuesday, threatening more misery in one of the world’s most vulnerable nations.
Billions of desert locusts, some in swarms the size of Moscow, have already chomped their way through Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan and Uganda.
Their breeding has been spurred by one of the wettest rainy seasons in the region in four decades.
Experts have warned the main March-to-May cropping season is at risk. Eggs laid along the locusts’ path are due to hatch and create a second wave of the insects in key agricultural areas.
The arrival of the locusts could be catastrophic in South Sudan, where war followed by drought and floods has already left six million people – 60% of the population – facing severe hunger.
Radiation Eating Fungus
Scientists say they have begun to experiment with a type of fungus that feeds on radiation around Ukraine’s crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant and shows promise of protecting humans and equipment from radiation.
While Cryptococcus neoformans has been known to science for more than a century, it was only recently found to have properties that can block radiation.
The fungus contains melanin that absorbs radiation and turns it into chemical energy. It can also decompose radioactive materials such as the hot graphite debris from the Chernobyl blasts.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station recently received samples of the melanin derived from C. neoformans and are testing to see if it can protect against radiation in space.
Earth’s Magnetic North Pole Moving Towards Siberia at a Fast Pace
Our planet is restless, and its poles are wandering. Of course, the geographic north pole is in the same place it always was, but its magnetic counterpart – indicated by the N on any compass – is roaming towards Siberia at record-breaking speeds that scientists don’t fully comprehend.
It’s worth stating that while the pace is remarkable, the movement itself isn’t. The magnetic north pole is never truly stationary, owing to fluctuations in the flow of molten iron within the core of our planet, which affect how Earth’s magnetic field behaves.
“Since its first formal discovery in 1831, the north magnetic pole has travelled around 1,400 miles (2,250 km),” the NOAA’s National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI) says. “This wandering has been generally quite slow, allowing scientists to keep track of its position fairly easily.”
That slow wander has quickened of late. In recent decades, the magnetic north pole accelerated to an average speed of 55 kilometres (34 miles) per year.
The most recent data suggest its movement towards Russia may have slowed down to about 40 kilometres (25 miles) annually, but even so, compared to theoretical measurements going back hundreds of years, this is a phenomenon scientists have never witnessed before.
Heatwave – Australia
Tuesday, 17 December, was Australia’s hottest day on record. Ever. The average maximum temperature across the country was 40.9C. Temperatures of 46C and above were recorded in multiple localities in three states (SA, WA, NT) on Wednesday.
Smoke Pollution – Sydney, Australia
Bushfire smoke smothered Sydney on Tuesday, setting off fire alarms, suspending ferry services and triggering health warnings over choking air pollution.
The Sydney Opera House and harbour bridge were barely discernible through the thick haze enveloping the city, with smoke stinging the eyes and making it difficult to breathe.
The Air Quality Index compiled by the state environment department reached as high as 2,552 in some eastern suburbs — soaring past the “hazardous” threshold of 200. The pollution has been so bad it has set off smoke alarms in office buildings across the CBD, while ash has been washing up on the city’s usually pristine beaches. Flight arrivals at Sydney Airport were delayed by up to 30 minutes due to poor visibility.
Enormous Craters Blasted in Seafloor by Nuclear Bombs Mapped for the First Time
Today, all seems quiet in the remote Bikini Atoll, a chain of coral reef islands in the central Pacific. But more than 70 years ago, this region’s seafloor was rocked by powerful atomic bombs detonated by the U.S. Army.
For the first time, scientists have released remarkably detailed maps of this pockmarked seabed, revealing two truly massive craters. This new map shows that the seabed is still scarred by the 22 bombs detonated at Bikini Atoll between 1946 and 1958.
At the time of the tests, comedian Bob Hope joked grimly: “As soon as the war ended, we found the one spot on Earth that had been untouched by war and blew it to hell.”
Record Temperature in South Africa
Vioolsdrif, a village in the Northern Cape, has broken a new record for the highest temperature in the country — reaching over 50 degrees Celsius. On Thursday, it reached a new record of 50.1°C and then it broke its own record again on Friday by reaching 53.2°C.
There was an upper high weather system situated over the area that resulted in an increase of temperatures, which is the reason we had a heatwave condition in parts of SA. Planet Earth and Storm Report SA reported that the temperature recorded at the Viooldrif weather station is now the highest yet recorded anywhere in Africa in the modern era.
Scientists Study Sea Levels 125,000 Years Ago
Sea levels rose 10 metres above present levels during Earth’s last warm period 125,000 years ago, according to new research that offers a glimpse of what may happen under our current climate change trajectory.
The paper, published today in Nature Communications, shows that melting ice from Antarctica was the main driver of sea level rise in the last interglacial period, which lasted about 10,000 years.
Rising sea levels are one of the biggest challenges to humanity posed by climate change, and sound predictions are crucial if we are to adapt.
This research shows that Antarctica, long thought to be the “sleeping giant” of sea level rise, is actually a key player. Its ice sheets can change quickly, and in ways that could have huge implications for coastal communities and infrastructure in future.
Earth’s cycles consist of both cold glacial periods – or ice ages – when large parts of the world are covered in large ice sheets, and warmer interglacial periods when the ice thaws and sea levels rise.
The Earth is presently in an interglacial period which began about 10,000 years ago. But greenhouse gas emissions over the past 200 years have caused climate changes that are faster and more extreme than experienced during the last interglacial. This means past rates of sea level rise provide only low-end predictions of what might happen in future.
Pollution – Oil Spill, Brazil
Brazil says a Greek ship carrying Venezuelan oil has caused an oil spill that blackened tropical beaches along 2,500 km of its coasts over the last two months. Oil slicks have been appearing for three months off the coast of northeast Brazil and fouling beaches along a 2 500km area of Brazil’s most celebrated shoreline. Crews and volunteers have cleaned up tons of oil on the beaches.
Officials say it not yet possible to quantify the environmental and economic damage from the oil slicks. The government on Friday named a Greek-flagged tanker as the prime suspect behind the oil slicks. The ship Bouboulina took on oil in Venezuela and was headed for Singapore.
Pollution – New Delhi
Air quality has dropped to its worst recorded level this year in New Delhi and nearby cities, with a thick haze hanging over the Indian capital. Delhi pollution has been described ‘like smoking 50 cigarettes a day’.
Pollution – Plastic or Cans
Producers of bottled water are scrambling to find practical ways to switch from the single-use plastics that are polluting the planet to recyclable aluminum cans.
The biggest challenge is that creating each can means twice as much carbon is released into the atmosphere than from the manufacture of one plastic bottle. Cans are also more expensive to make.
Marketing experts say this is somewhat offset because less power is needed to chill water in cans.
Despite humankind wielding an overwhelming influence on the planet, scientists say that half of Earth’s land surface not covered in ice still remains relatively wild, albeit broken into small, isolated tracts.
The summary of a National Geographic Society global survey conducted in 2017 and 2018 concludes that even with the damage to the environment caused by human activities, there is still an opportunity to protect what wild places are left.
The wildest remaining regions are the remote boreal forests of northern Canada and Russia, the Central Asia highlands, the Central and South American rainforests and the deserts of North Africa and Australia.
The misery that cows suffer from biting flies could be greatly reduced, thanks to a novel paint job for the animals devised by a team of Japanese researchers.
They found that by painting white stripes on cows, similar to those on zebras, the number of flies landing on the cows fell by more than 50 percent.
Flies seem to avoid landing on black-and-white surfaces due to the difference in the polarization of light reflecting off the two shades, which confuses the flies.
Writing in the journal PLOS One, scientists say fewer flies on the striped cows led to a sharp decline in the fly-defense movements made by the bovines, such as stomping of the feet and flipping of the head.
Oil Spill – Brazil
Brazilian officials are pointing their fingers at Venezuela for a massive oil spill that has polluted hundreds of miles of beaches in nine northeastern states during the past few weeks.
The spill has killed numerous sea turtles and kept swimmers and fishermen from the contaminated coastal strip.
Brazil’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said the spill appears to have come from Venezuela, and that more than 110 tons of oil have been recovered.
“It could be something criminal, it could be an accidental spill, it could also be a ship that sank,” said Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.
Demand for charcoal threatens Madagascar’s forests
In the southwestern part of the country, charcoal is everywhere: sold on the side of major roads as well as next to coffee shops in remote villages. At about $1 for a sack the size of a large garbage bag, it is cheap even by Malagasy standards. But charcoal comes with a high environmental price that has to be paid by somebody.
Firewood, while not without its own environmental costs, typically entails collecting branches that are already dead and fallen. But to make charcoal people cut down living trees. They then burn the wood in a low-oxygen environment inside a kiln to turn it into nearly pure carbon that burns hotter, weighs less and lasts much longer than firewood — hence its popularity.
At least 15,000 hectares (37,100 acres) of dry forest located to the north and south of Toliara, the closest major city to Mikea Forest, are razed each year for fuelwood, according to the NGO World Wide Fund for Nature Madagascar. Much of this logging is done illegally.
Looking at 323,000 hectares of forest that includes Mikea National Park, the forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch reports that approximately 37,000 hectares (91,400 acres) of tree cover was lost between 2001 and 2018 — nearly 11.5 percent of the total area.
Nuclear Waste Flush
Japan’s power company is running out of storage for the radioactive water held in tanks at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant and will have to start dumping it into the Pacific.
Since the 2011 meltdowns, brought on by an offshore temblor and subsequent tsunami, the Tokyo Electric Power Company has collected more than 1 million tons of contaminated water from the cooling pipes that keep the remaining reactors from melting.
“The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it,” Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada told a news conference in Tokyo.
Drought in Botswana
Animal are struggling to survive in drought-hit Botswana. Around 38,000 livestock depend on the waters of Lake Ngami in northern Botswana, but the animals — like the lake itself — are being badly hit by a crippling drought. Hippo have also been severely affected seeking out the few remaining pools of muddy water to survive.
The more than 1 billion tons of lava that spewed into the Pacific last summer from the eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano triggered an algae superbloom offshore that initially puzzled scientists.
There are no nutrients contained in Kilauea’s lava. But Southern California and Hawaii scientists found that as the lava flowed deep into the coastal waters off the Big Island, its heat caused nitrates, silicic acid, iron and phosphate nutrients to rise from the deep, fueling the algae growth on the surface.
Pacific Hot Blob
The unusually hot sea-surface temperatures that caused algae blooms and sea lion deaths in the Pacific several years ago are back.
The “hot blob” is basically caused by unusually weak winds, which typically don’t stay weak for long. But they have this summer, and lingering heat from the last warming seems to be amplifying the current outbreak.
Oceanographers say that if the hot water stays around for a long time, it will begin to penetrate deeper into the Pacific, increasing its influences on marine life.