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Ancient Bird's Feathers Had Iridescent Glow

Nanostructures preserved in feather fossils more than 40 million years old show evidence that those feathers were once vivid and iridescent in color, paleontologists say. Iridescence is the quality of changing color depending on the angle of observation — it's what makes you see a rainbow in an oil slick.
Many insects, such as butterflies, display iridescent colors on their wings, as do many modern birds on their feathers.
The simplest iridescent feather colors are produced by light scattering off the feather's surface and a smooth surface of melanin pigment granules within the feather protein.
Scientists found smooth layers of these melanin structures, called melanosomes, when they examined feather fossils from the Messel Shale in Germany with an electron microscope.
"These feathers produced a black background with a metallic greenish, bluish or coppery color at certain angles—much like the colors we see in starlings and grackles today," said Richard Prum of Yale University, who was part of the team that studied the fossils.

What is the 2030 Perfect Storm idea?

A "perfect storm" of food, water and energy shortages in 2030 - "a whole series of events come together":
•The world's population will rise from 6 billion to 8 billion (33%)
•Demand for food will increase by 50%
•Demand for water will increase by 30%
•Demand for energy will increase by 50%
- each problem combining to create a "perfect storm" in which the whole is bigger, and more serious, than the sum of its parts. Some scientists are predicting that the Arctic will be ice-free by 2030, which could accelerate global warming by reducing the amount of the sun's energy that is reflected back out of the atmosphere. "Whereas changes in Europe could be incremental, in Asia it's potentially more abrupt. Whole regions are dependent on cycles of glacial melts and monsoons and if these start to shift there will be trouble."

Mexico water body warns of risk of 'critical' shortage

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's water commission warned Monday of the risk of a "critical" water shortage at the start of 2010 and called on state governments to act now to save water.
"El Nino (seasonal warming), climate change and low rainfall could increase drought in the country, and cause a critical situation in the first quarter of 2010," a Conagua statement said.
Farming and some water supplies across the country have already been hard hit by this year's drought.
Supplies for both public and private use could be affected next year, the statement said, pointing to record low levels at the Cutzamala reservoir which supplies the capital's urban sprawl.
The main problem in and around the city of some 20 million people, which once sat on lakes, was the over-exploitation of aquifers, the statement said.

Seaweed on French beaches emitting lethal fumes

PARIS — Mounds of rotting seaweed clogging beaches across northwestern France are emitting a toxic and potentially lethal gas, test results released by the government showed on Thursday.
Tests were ordered on the foul-smelling algae, which green groups blame on nitrates fertilisers used by local farmers, after a horse apparently died from inhaling fumes on a beach in Saint Michel de Greve in Brittany.
Results showed the seaweed in Saint Michel was giving off dangerous levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S), sometimes referred to as "sewer gas" because it is produced by the breakdown of putrified waste material.
"Measurements carried out on site ... showed in several places that the gas released by sediment containing the decomposing algae could be dangerous," said France's national institute for environmental threats, INERIS.
The build-up of rotting weed on shores in more than 80 towns around Brittany has worried residents and threatened the region's lucrative tourist industry, with part of the coastline already declared off-limits.
Green groups blame nitrate pollution caused by intensive agriculture -- especially among pig farmers -- and have accused the government of turning a blind eye to an "environmental cancer."
The government was spurred to act after a horse and rider fell onto a patch of the algae on July 28.
The horse died immediately, while 28-year-old horseman Vincent Petit lost consciousness and was pulled to safety by nearby workers.

Increased Ocean Acidification In Alaska Waters

The same things that make Alaska's marine waters among the most productive in the world may also make them the most vulnerable to ocean acidification. According to new findings by a University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist, Alaska's oceans are becoming increasingly acidic, which could damage Alaska's king crab and salmon fisheries.

This spring, chemical oceanographer Jeremy Mathis returned from a cruise armed with seawater samples collected from the depths of the Gulf of Alaska. When he tested the samples' acidity in his lab, the results were higher than expected. They show that ocean acidification is likely more severe and is happening more rapidly in Alaska than in tropical waters. The results also matched his recent findings in the Chukchi and Bering Seas.

Water crisis to hit Asian food

Scientists have warned Asian countries that they face chronic food shortages and likely social unrest if they do not improve water management. They say countries in south and east Asia must spend billions of dollars to improve antiquated crop irrigation to cope with rapid population increases. That estimate does not yet take into account the possible impact of global warming on water supplies. Asia's population is forecast to increase by 1.5 billion people over the next 40 years. Asian countries will need to import more than a quarter of their rice and other staples to feed their populations. Asia's food and feed demand is expected to double by 2050. "The best bet for Asia lies in revitalising its vast irrigation systems, which account for 70% of the world's total irrigated land...Without water productivity gains, south Asia would need 57% more water for irrigated agriculture and east Asia 70% more. Given the scarcity of land and water, and growing water needs for cities, such a scenario is untenable." The scenarios forecast do not factor in the impact of global warming, which will likely make rainfall more erratic and less plentiful in some agricultural regions over the coming decades.

Drought causing historic cotton losses

For the first time in over a century, a severe South Texas DROUGHT HAS CLAIMED THE ENTIRE COTTON PRODUCTION of Kleberg County. “Since the founding of Kingsville in 1904, not a single pound of cotton was produced this year in Kleberg County, which includes the King Ranch, one of the area’s largest producers." Other Coastal Bend counties have not fared much better, experts say. “Nueces County planted 124,000 acres of cotton and about 95 percent of that failed. San Patricio County planted about 130,000 acres with a fail rate of more than 90 percent. Grain sorghum did only a little better.” They estimate the economic hit to Kleburg County alone at about $50 million. “That’s not just lost crop revenue in cotton and grain sorghum, that includes money lost to motels that house the harvesting crews, labor costs at gins and grain elevators and other related losses.” Like many areas of South Texas, Kleberg County has not seen significant, widespread rainfall in almost a year. “From January to now, we’ve had about two inches of total rainfall. But in the crop year, from Sept. 1, 2008, to now, we’ve had under 5 inches. Normally in a 12-month period we’ll have 27 to 28 inches of rainfall.” Local historians claim THIS IS THE WORST DROUGHT THEY'VE EVER SEEN. In late July, economists reported that agricultural drought losses throughout the state had reached $3.6 billion and by the end of the year could exceed $4.1 billion.

Millions of salmon go missing

MILLIONS of sockeye salmon expected to reach the Fraser River on Canada's Pacific Coast this month have vanished, devastating the local fishery, officials say.

According to the nation's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, between six to 10 million sockeye were projected to return to the river this month.

But the official count is now just 600,000 for the "summer run" - by far the largest of four salmon groupings that return to area lakes and rivers each year from June to late August. Where the other fish went remains a mystery.

The Globe and Mail newspaper cited fishermen who today said the situation was "shocking", a "catastrophe" and a "crisis", while public broadcaster CBC said this could end up being the worst year ever for the Pacific salmon fishery.

Giant herd 'flees Kenya drought'

A giant herd of cattle has fled from northern Kenya into the Borena zone in Ethiopia to escape a drought. The herd numbers more than 200,000. It is ONE OF THE LARGEST MOVEMENTS OF CATTLE IN 10 YEARS. The drought has seen farmers abandoning their villages in search of water in recent months. The drought has also hit the country's capacity to generate hydro-electricity and last week electricity rationing was introduced. In January, 10 million Kenyans were facing starvation. 

'Trees of life' are vital food source

The "famine food" of trees can keep drought-hit communities alive when all other food crops fail, says Miranda Spitteler. In this week's Green Room, she argues that policy makers need to recognise the important role trees play in providing emergency food aid.

Japan to Increase Wheat Imports as Rain Ravages Crop

Cool and rainy weather this summer, an influence from the El Nino weather pattern, is reducing farm output in Japan, the world’s largest grain importer. The nation’s RICE production may decline 6.9 percent this year to the LOWEST LEVEL IN SIX YEARS on lower yields. Japan may increase WHEAT purchases to a MORE THAN 3-YEAR HIGH as rain cuts domestic output and lower prices help revive demand. Wheat demand is recovering after the nation’s worst postwar recession and a rise in the grain’s price last year spurred a shift to rice. An expected cut in Japan’s wheat selling prices in October may be the largest in four decades, after the reduction in April was the biggest since 1970.

People try to flee Chinese town hit by plague

BEIJING — Residents of a remote farming town in western China say people have been seeking to flee in defiance of a lockdown by authorities to prevent the spread of highly infectious pneumonic plague which has claimed three lives in the area.
Police have set up checkpoints around Ziketan in Qinghai province, a town of 10,000 people, which has been put under quarantine after at least a dozen people caught the lung infection that can kill within 24 hours if untreated.
Some people tried to leave the quarantined area Monday evening, mostly by foot, after the third death was reported, two residents reached by The Associated Press said.
"A lot of people ran off last night when they heard that another person died of this plague. They are mostly from other provinces," a local food seller, surnamed Han, said Tuesday. "They headed back home with food, water and their donkeys."

Giant Ocean-Trash Vortex Attracts Explorers

It may lack the allure of the North Pole or Mount Everest, but a Pacific Ocean trash dump twice the size of Texas is this summer's hot destination for explorers. The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch, situated in remote waters between California and Hawaii, is created by ocean currents that pick up millions of tons of the world's discarded plastic.
 As much as 10 percent of the 260 million tons of plastic produced annually ends up in the oceans, much of it in trash vortices like the Pacific garbage patch.
This summer, two separate expeditions will set sail for the patch to document the scope of the problem and call global attention to disastrous ocean pollution.

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