the Guardian: ‘Catastrophe’ as France’s bird population collapses due to pesticides

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Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, because insects they feed on have disappeared

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said.

Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies.

NPR new excavation at Pompeii–

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Archaeologists working at Pompeii say they have found the remains of a man who survived the initial explosion of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 — but was crushed by a massive rock as he attempted to flee a deadly cloud of gases, ash and rock.

The skeleton’s remains are in what the Pompeii archaeological site calls a “dramatic position” — with a large rectangular stone embedded in the upper torso.

“Initial observations would appear to indicate that the individual survived the first eruptive phase of the volcano, and subsequently sought salvation along the alley now covered in a thick layer of lapilli,” or rocks ejected by the volcano, the site said in a statement released Tuesday.

The man was on top of the layer of rocks, which was a full story high by that point. The dense cloud of gas and stone, called a pyroclastic flow, knocked him backward, the archaeologists say.

“A formidable stone block (perhaps a door jamb), violently thrown by the volcanic cloud, collided with his upper body, crushing the highest part of the thorax,” they explain.

The skeleton’s head has not been located, but archaeologists believe it is probably crushed beneath the stone block.

The man was an adult, over 30 years old, who had a bone infection that would have caused him to have trouble walking and may have interfered with his escape, archaeologists say.

Time: Scientists Predict 2018 Will Be a Bad Year for Earthquakes

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By JEFFREY KLUGER

November 20, 2017

There is no natural disaster sneakier than an earthquake. Hurricanes can be predicted and tracked weeks in advance, and even tornados, monsoons and blizzards at least have seasons. But earthquakes strike entirely without warning. Now, however, a new study suggests that we may want to brace for a surge of quakes in the year ahead, and the reason for the danger is an unlikely one: the rotation of the Earth has slowed slightly.

While accurately forecasting earthquakes is impossible, a backward look through the seismic record allows geologists to detect some distinct patterns. In the new study — which was presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, in Seattle, and published in Geophysical Research Letters — geologists Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana, tracked the incidence of magnitude 7 or greater earthquakes worldwide since 1900. While in most years there is an average of just 15 such major shake-ups — already more than enough — there have been evenly spaced intervals in the past 117 years in which the annual total jumped to between 25 and 30.

A little more than a century on a planet that is more than 4 billion years old is not exactly a representative time sample, but Bilham and Bendick noticed something else about these volatile, quake-prone periods. They seem to follow periodic slowdowns in speed of the Earth’s rotation. Our solid planet is a lot less solid than it seems, and that’s true not just of its oceans and air, but of its outer core, which is about 1,200 mi. (2,200 km) thick and is composed mostly of liquid iron and nickel. That molten ooze tends to slosh about, following a pattern that oscillates more or less predictably over time, much the way — on a vastly smaller and more fleeting scale — water sloshing in a bucket will move back and forth in a repeating cycle.

Such motion deep inside the Earth slightly changes the planet’s rate of spin, adding to or subtracting from the 24-hour day by about a millisecond — a change that is regularly recorded by atomic clocks. When a slowdown occurs, the molten core continues to strain outward, obeying Newton’s fundamental law that objects in motion will try as hard as they can to remain in motion.

That outward pressure slowly propagates through the rocks and plates and faults that lie above it. Bilham and Bendick calculate that it takes five to six years for the energy sent out by the core to radiate to the upper layers of the planet where quakes occur, meaning that after the atomic clock notices a slowdown you’ve got five to six years before you’d better buckle up.

The last such time the planet slowed was in 2011, and recent events suggest a troubling pattern again playing out: the magnitude 7.1 quake that struck Mexico City on Sept. 19; the 7.3 event on the Iran-Iraq border on Nov. 12; and the 7.0 off New Caledonia on Nov. 19.

Not only does the new study suggest when there could be an uptick in quakes, it also points to where: near the equator, within a latitude of 30º north or south. It makes sense that this would be the danger zone because any given point along the equator — the planet’s widest point — rotates up to 1,000 mph (1,600 k/h) faster than a point closer to the poles, so a slowdown in the overall spin would be more powerful along that midline. The Iran-Iraq quake occurred at about 33º north latitude, exceeding that cartographic limit, but not by much.

None of this says that 2018 will definitely be a more geologically unstable year, and it certainly doesn’t pinpoint where any possible quaking will occur. It does say that the maddeningly imprecise science of earthquake prediction has at least gotten a tiny bit more precise. For disasters with such deadly stakes, even that small improvement makes a difference.

Guardian: Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals

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Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet.

The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.

The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.

Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass. The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface.

“I was shocked to find there wasn’t already a comprehensive, holistic estimate of all the different components of biomass,” said Prof Ron Milo, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” he said, adding that he now chooses to eat less meat due to the huge environmental impact of livestock.

Massive New Fissures Open On Hawaiian Volcano, Prompting More Evacuations

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Terray Sylvester, Huffington Post

Some 37 buildings have been destroyed and nearly 2,000 people ordered to evacuate in the past 10 days.

PAHOA, Hawaii, May 13 (Reuters) – Two new fissures opened on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, hurling bursts of rock and magma with an ear-piercing screech on Sunday, threatening nearby homes and prompting authorities to order new evacuations.

One new fissure from Sunday morning was a vivid gouge of magma with smoke pouring out both ends and was the 17th to open on the volcano since it began erupting on May 3. Some 37 buildings have been destroyed and nearly 2,000 people ordered to evacuate in the past 10 days.

Viewed from a helicopter, the crack appeared to be about 1,000 feet (300 meters) long and among the largest of those fracturing the side of Kilauea, a 4,000-foot-high volcano with a lake of lava at its summit.

“It is a near-constant roar akin to a full-throttle 747 interspersed with deafening, earth-shattering explosions that hurtle 100-pound lava bombs 100 feet into the air,” said Mark Clawson, 64, who lives uphill from the latest fissure and so far is defying an evacuation order.

New York Times: These Billion-Dollar Natural Disasters Set a U.S. Record in 2017

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From the New York Times: By Kendra Pierre-Louis

Extreme weather events caused a total of $306 billion in damage in the United States last year, making 2017 the most expensive year on record for natural disasters in the country, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday.

A trio of major hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria, contributed hundreds of billions to the total. But the year was seemingly mired in disaster, from a freeze in the Southeast that damaged fruit crops in March, to hail storms that whipped across Colorado, Oklahoma and other central states in May, to the tornadoes that struck the Midwest in June.

Unusual consequences of extreme weather could be found all over the map. Thirteen cows died in a field in Pennington County, S.D., after ingesting anthrax spores from the soil; they had changed their grazing patterns during a drought that lasted much of the year in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana. The cows’ demise was a small part of the $2.5 billion of damage that struck the three states.

In all, there were 16 natural disasters that caused more than $1 billion of damage in 2017. In 1980, when NOAA first started tallying records, there were only three such disasters, adjusted for inflation. This year’s $306 billion in damage broke a record set in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina contributed to a total of $215 billion in damage, also adjusted for inflation.

Pompeii@Madre

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The exhibition Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica (“Pompei@Madre. Archaeological Matter“) – curated by Massimo Osanna, Director of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, and Andrea Viliani, Director of Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina of Naples, with the curatorial coordination for the modern section by Luigi Gallo – is based on a rigorous research activity resulting from unprecedented institutional collaboration between the Madreand the Archaeological Park / Pompeii Superintendence, the most important archaeological Italian site and one of the most visited worldwide.

Based on a comparison and discussion of respective research methodologies, disciplinary fields and collections, Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica consists in studying the potential multiple relationships between archaeological heritage and artistic research, creating a dialogue between extraordinary but little-known and rarely displayed archaeological material from Pompeii and modern and contemporary artworks.

The exhibition, presented in a large part of the exhibition spaces of the Madre museum, is divided into two chapters:

  • Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica (third floor): November 19th 2017 – April 30th 2018
  • Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica: The Collections (ground floor and first floor): November 19th 2017 – September 24th 2018

 

Into the Volcano: Werner Herzog

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In an unnerving documentary, images of throbbing magma are spliced with stories of the people living with the threat of spectacularly destructive eruptions

 On the edge … Oppenheimer, left, and Herzog in Vanuatu. Photograph: Peter Zeitlinger/Netflix

With Into the Inferno, Werner Herzog returns to the subject of active volcanoes, for which he has long had an intense, horrified fascination. There is a nihilistic awe with which he presents his primeval images of churning red lava and throbbing magma, pulsing beneath the Earth’s crust with their terrible destructive power. He loves to fly over volcanoes in a helicopter and look down directly into the boiling epicentre. It triggers a kind of Kurtzian horror. Or perhaps ecstasy.

Despite the title, however, Herzog does not explicitly compare volcanoes to hell. The nearest he comes to theology is a final monologue, delivered in his unmistakable rasp: “It is a fire that wants to burst forth and it could not care less about what we are doing up here. This boiling mass is just monumentally indifferent to scurrying roaches, retarded reptiles and vapid humans alike.” He also interviews a tribal community elder in Vanuatu, who lives in the shadow of a volcano and professes he is mesmerised by the fiery liquefaction of lava in which he sees a vision of the world’s end: “Everything will melt, the stones, the trees, everything, like water …”