Friday, April 2, 2010

Can Toads Predict Earthquakes?

Scientists can't predict earthquakes. But toads might be able to.

In the spring of 2009, Rachel Grant, a doctoral candidate in life sciences at London's Open University, was studying a population of toads in a large dry lake in central Italy. Common toads reproduce once a year, sometimes traveling great distances to gather at their breeding grounds, and Grant was looking at whether her subjects were using the cycles of the moon to coordinate their romantic encounters.

In the previous three years, she had watched the toads increase in number with the waxing of the moon. But last year was different. The moon grew from crescent to gibbous, and suddenly the toads were gone. "It went from there being 90 to 100 toads down to six, and then to one, and then zero," says Grant. A few mating pairs hung around, but after two days, they too left. "It was so dramatic, I was trying to think of reasons why they might have gone," she says. "I was at a loss. Did somebody come and disturb them? Did somebody run through with a tractor? But that didn't seem right. Toads get run over by cars all the time, and that doesn't make them run away."

Five days after the toads disappeared, she had a possible answer: an earthquake struck in the middle of the night. The 6.3-magnitude quake was the deadliest to hit Italy in nearly 30 years, killing roughly 300 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ocean Geoengineering Scheme May Prove Lethal


  • One type of phytoplankton that feeds on iron could sequester carbon, but may also produce a potent neurotoxin.
  • The neurotoxin can and has killed or weakened fish, birds and people.
  • Other geoengineering schemes may have similar, unintended consequences.

Although phytoplankton may prove an unlikely ally in the effort to reduce the impact of climate change, enlisting these microorganisms to sequester carbon could have deadly consequences.

One proposed method to combat climate change is to dump iron in regions of the ocean where the growth of marine phytoplankton -- tiny organisms that grow via CO2-absorbing photosynthesis -- is limited by the amount of iron available.

Adding iron is intended to cause a bloom of phytoplankton growth, sucking up CO2 in the process.

But new findings, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that one type of phytoplankton that thrives under such circumstances makes domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin. This neurotoxin can move up the food chain as other animals eat the phytoplankton, harming sea life. The toxin can kill or weaken birds, fish, sea mammals or even humans who eat seafood that contains the toxin.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New leopard species caught on film

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – The Sundaland clouded leopard, a newly identified and little understood species of big cat in Borneo, has been filmed for the first time.

The leopard, a healthy-looking animal a metre long (3 feet) and weighing about 40 kilos (90 pounds) was caught on video at night at the Dermakot Forest Reserve in Malaysian Borneo's Sabah state.

"What surprised us was that while clouded leopards are very elusive cats, this one was not scared at all," said Azlan Mohamed, a field scientist with University Sabah Malaysia.

"Despite our powerful spot lights and the roar of our vehicle's engine, it walked around our vehicle calmly," he told AFP.

"It is rare to see the big cat in the wild. These cats are usually shy of humans, it was by chance we caught it on video."

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dinosaur had flamboyant, multi-colored feathers

A study of a 150 million year old dinosaur fossil has revealed it had multi-coloured feathers.

The research, published in the journal Science, compared the structures which determine colour in living bird feathers with those in the fossil.

"This would be a very striking animal if it was alive today," said Yale University's Professor Richard Prum, co-author of the report.

It is believed the colours would have helped the dinosaur attract a mate.

Anchiornis huxleyi is a four-winged dinosaur which lived in the late Jurassic Period in China. Researchers chose this particular fossil to work on because the feathers were so well preserved.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

45-foot Ancient Snakes Devoured Crocs

The largest snake the world has ever known likely had a diet that included crocodile, or at least an ancient relative of the reptile.

Scientists have discovered a 60-million-year-old ancient crocodile fossil, which has been named a new species, in northern Columbia, South America. The site, one of the world's largest open-pit coal mines, also yielded skeletons of the giant, boa constrictor-like Titanoboa, which measured up to 45 feet long (14 m).

Crocodyliforms are extinct reptiles that are distant relatives of modern crocodiles and alligators.

"We're starting to flesh out the fauna that we have from there," said study author Alex Hastings, a graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

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US encyclopedia apologizes for old Irish Civil War goof

DUBLIN – Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. apologized Wednesday for mangling the history of the Irish Civil War in past editions, but stressed that Ireland's 4,000 schools have access to the corrected version.

Irish radio stations received irate calls this week complaining that the Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia describes Ireland's civil war as a 1919-21 fight between the Catholic south and Protestant north. The war actually happened in 1922-23, took place entirely within the south, and was fought between the Irish army and Irish rebels.

The Chicago-based publisher launched an investigation Tuesday after hearing of the complaints. It determined the errors exist only on older versions of its concise edition, and survive today chiefly on handheld electronic devices.

Earlier, the managing director of the encyclopedia's London office, Ian Grant, said the company's "editors have been up all night looking at this. It's important to get this thing right."

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Tuzki Bunny Emoticon Emotional Bunny Says: "...And just how many editor's do I employ? What's that? Enough to wrap around the world? Twice?...."

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Haiti's Signal FM: The Little Radio Station that Could

In Haiti's devastation and upheaval since the Jan. 12 earthquake there has been one constant: the sound of Signal FM, the only radio station in the country that remained on the air after the quake hit, broadcasting through the following tumultuous days. "I cannot tell you how this happened, but our antennae did not fall down," the station manager Mario Viau told TIME by phone on Friday. "We stayed here and just kept going." With telephone and electricity lines down, and fuel scarce, Signal FM has been a lifeline for Haitians — one of the few sure ways people have had to relay details of where needs are most urgent, and to broadcast information about the missing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

U.S. texting raises $10 million and counting for Haiti

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Cellphone users in the United States have contributed more than $10 million to Haitian earthquake relief through text messages in what is being hailed as an unprecedented mobile response to a natural disaster.

Jim Manis, CEO of the foundation helping to manage cellphone donations, said it was receiving up to 10,000 text messages per second, he said. The foundation said more than $10 million has been donated.

Cellphone users can donate $5 to Haiti-born hip-hop musician Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund by texting the word "Yele" to 501501, or they can donate $10 to other nonprofit organizations, such as the American Red Cross, by texting the word "Haiti" to a specified number, like 90999.

The donation is charged to a user's cellphone bill.

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A note from the Homeschool Hangout Zone Commentator:

Teen readers with cell phones (like me) who can text (unfortunately, not like me) - DONATE NOW! Don't text your usual $10 worth of texts this week - send it to Haiti instead! The American Red Cross text code is 90999. Give!

US sending 10,000 troops to earthquake-hit Haiti

Up to 10,000 US troops will be on the ground or off the coast of Haiti by Monday to help deal with the earthquake aid effort, US defence officials say.

Tuesday's earthquake has left as many as 50,000-100,000 people dead.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said more than 15,000 bodies had already been recovered and buried, French news agency AFP reported.

The UN has launched a flash appeal for $562m (£346m), saying three million people would need help for six months.

US President Barack Obama described the scale of the devastation as extraordinary and the losses suffered as "heartbreaking".

Read more....'

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dubai opens world's largest half-mile-high tower

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Dubai opened the world's tallest skyscraper Monday in a blaze of fireworks, then added a final flourish: It renamed the half-mile-high tower for the head of neighboring Abu Dhabi, whose billions bailed out Dubai amid last year's financial crisis.

Long known as Burj Dubai — Arabic for "Dubai Tower" — the building rises 2,717 feet (828 meters) from the desert. The $1.5 billion "vertical city" of luxury apartments and offices and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani also plans to have the world's highest mosque (158th floor) and swimming pool (76th floor).

Its backers wanted the skyscraper to be a monument to the boundless, can-do spirit of Dubai — one of a federation of seven small sheikdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates — but the timing could not be worse. Property prices in parts of Dubai collapsed by nearly half in the past year, the result of easy credit and overbuilding during a real estate bubble that has since burst.

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