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Earth News: Week Ending December 08, 2006


Greenhouse Gas Eaters
Researchers announced
they have found that global
warming is reducing the
amount of the marine plant
life that consumes carbon dioxide —
the gas mainly responsible for climate
change. Writing in the journal
Nature, lead author Michael Behrenfeld
of Oregon State University said
the growth of phytoplankton, which
forms the basis for the rest of the
marine food chain, is tightly linked to
climate change and would be reduced
by further global warming. He
warned that such a reduction would
allow carbon dioxide to accumulate
more rapidly in the atmosphere, promoting
even more warming.

Koala Survivors
Wildlife rescuers in Australia
say one of the country’s
largest and most
important koala colonies
survived a huge bushfire that swept
through its habitat in a remote area of
New South Wales. Thousands of the
herbivorous marsupials came under
threat from the blaze, which broke out
in the Pilliga Nature Reserve three
weeks ago. Wildlife rescuers said
they found groups of the animals in
burned areas, and no dead or injured
ones had been seen.

El Niño Lingers
The U.N.’s weather agency
predicts that the El Niño
ocean warming in the tropical
Pacific is likely to last
until at least early next year, producing
further disruptions in weather patterns.
The World Meteorological
Organization says the phenomenon is
possibly responsible for the recent
devastating floods in East Africa,
severe drought conditions in Australia
and Indonesia, as well as the
nearly endless string of storms that
have pounded the Pacific Northwest.

Glacial Virus Reservoirs
A new report published in
the Journal of Virology
says there is evidence that
viruses, bacteria and fungi
may be preserved in glacial ice for up
to 140,000 years, posing a threat of
infection once they are thawed. Lead
author Scott Rogers says that pools of
water from melted glaciers can
become mixing pots for these
pathogens — something that is likely
to become more common with global
warming. “Ice may act as a reservoir
for influenza-A viruses, preserving
them for later release and infection of
animals, including migratory waterfowls
and humans,” writes Rogers.
He added that the periodic thawing
and refreezing of glacial ice and lakes
may explain why “some influenza
virus strains have appeared, disappeared
and then reemerged decades
later virtually unchanged.”

Typhoon Odyssey
One of the most deadly and
long-lived tropical
cyclones of the year ended
a nearly two-week passage
across the western Pacific from
Micronesia to the edge of the Indian
Ocean. Typhoon Durian left more
than 1,200 people dead or missing
when it triggered a mudslide in the
eastern Philippines. Devastating torrents
of mud and volcanic ash triggered
by the typhoon’s rains engulfed
more than 700 villages near Mayon
volcano. Durian later lashed Vietnam,
killing at least 67 people in the
south of the country and forcing the
evacuation of about 50,000 others
living near the coast. The storm
destroyed or tore the roofs off an estimated
120,000 Vietnamese homes,
including more than 70,000 small
shacks in the Mekong Delta. Durian
later drenched southern Thailand,
then dissipated while entering the
Indian Ocean.

Kamchatka Eruptions
Two separate volcanoes on
the Kamchatka Peninsula
sent plumes of ash soaring
high into the atmosphere
above the Russian Far East. Karymsky
volcano was the first to erupt, but
threatened only aircraft with its airborne
debris. Two days later, an
explosion within Shiveluch volcano
to the north produced an ash plume
that reached an altitude of 26,500
feet. Officials said the nearest community,
20 miles away, was not

One person was killed and
several homes and buildings
were damaged on
Indonesia’s Sumbawa Link
Island by a magnitude 6.3 temblor.
Hundreds of people ran from their
homes in the coastal town of Rasanae,
fearing a tsunami was about to strike.
• Earth movements were also felt
in northwest Sumatra, northern Pakistan,
northeast Iran, western
Guatemala and eastern Ontario.

Winter Delayed
The mildest autumn
weather on record in parts
of Europe has left some ski
resorts in the Alps without
any snow at all, and caused flowers
to bloom at high elevations too warm
to even use snow-making machines.
Azure trumpet-shaped Alpine gentian
flowers are blossoming as high
as 3,600 feet in the Austrian Alps,
while the vernal forsythia are providing
rare wintertime color in some valleys.
Wildlife observers report that
bears from Siberia to the Baltic have
been unable to begin their winter
hibernation because their dens are
uncomfortably warm and damp.

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