Scientists warn thawing soil could suddenly unleash deadly pathogens unseen in centuries

May 8, 2017 by  
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Humans have fought viruses for centuries. We struck a temporary winning blow with the discovery of penicillin, but now we’re watching bacteria develop antibiotic resistance . But what if we were exposed to viruses that have been dormant for millennia? As climate change melts permafrost , the frozen soil could suddenly release ancient, deadly bacteria and viruses that humanity hasn’t had to deal with for thousands of years. 2016 saw a case of an illness trapped inside ice being released to harm people . A 12-year-old boy died and around 20 people were hospitalized with anthrax in August 2016 in the Siberian tundra. Researchers think the anthrax came from a reindeer that died more than 75 years ago and was trapped under permafrost, but when that permafrost thawed in a 2016 heat wave, the anthrax was released. And researchers fear this may not be the last time such an event occurs. Related: Dramatic disintegration of Canada permafrost threatens huge carbon release Jean-Michel Claverie, an evolutionary biologist at France’s Aix-Marseille University, told the BBC, “Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark. Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past.” Over a million reindeer perished due to anthrax in the early 20th century. Most of their carcasses rest near the surface in 7,000 burial grounds in Russia. But even more than the anthrax, researchers fear other diseases that might be lurking in the permafrost. Scientists found pieces of RNA from the Spanish flu in bodies buried in the Alaskan tundra in mass graves. They think the bubonic plague and smallpox could hide in Siberian permafrost. But some bacteria won’t come back to life. So some people argue we should be more concerned about threats we know for sure climate change will unleash. Claverie says there’s a non-zero probability dormant microbes could come back to life and harm us. He told the BBC, “How likely that is is not known, but it’s a possibility. It could be bacteria that are curable with antibiotics, or resistant bacteria, or a virus. If the pathogen hasn’t been in contact with humans for a long time, then our immune system would not be prepared.” Via the BBC Images via NPS Climate Change Response on Flickr and Pixabay

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Scientists warn thawing soil could suddenly unleash deadly pathogens unseen in centuries

World officials entreat Trump to stay in Paris agreement

May 8, 2017 by  
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President Donald Trump’s policies don’t just impact the United States. As climate change grows increasingly dangerous, executive orders on the Clean Power Plan and fossil fuel development in a top greenhouse gas-producing country have consequences for other countries as well. The Guardian spoke with world leaders, some of whom were involved in the 2015 Paris climate deal , who agree it would be disastrous if Trump were to pull America out of the historic agreement. Trump threatened to pull out of the Paris agreement on the campaign trail, and has yet to follow through. But he’s taken shots at the environment anyway, by rolling back pollution rules including Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. He could make a decision on the agreement as soon as this week, and former Brazilian environment minister Izabella Teixeira, instrumental in Paris, said the situation reminds her of when George W. Bush pulled away from Kyoto protocol. Related: ExxonMobil exhorts White House to keep Paris agreement Former head of climate policy in Uruguay Ramón Méndez, who was present in Paris in 2015, said it was an extraordinarily strong shock to hear of Trump rolling back the Clean Power Plan. He said of all the policies the president has pursued, this one holds the worst consequences for the rest of the world. He also told The Guardian if the U.S. leaves the Paris agreement, “it will make it harder for other countries to maintain their ambitions.” Trump advisers reportedly can’t decide if pulling out of the agreement would be worth the diplomatic fallout sure to follow. But United Nations environment chief Erik Solheim pointed to an economic fallout as well. He told Reuters , “The future is green. Obviously if you are not a party to the Paris agreement, you will lose out. And the main losers of course will be the people of the United States itself because all the interesting, fascinating new green jobs would go to China and to the other parts of the world that are investing heavily in this.” Even if Trump doesn’t back out of the agreement, he still needs to take action. Peking University expert Zhang Haibin told The Guardian the president could pursue a semi-withdrawal instead: “I think the greater likelihood is that Trump will end up not pulling out of the pact but instead adopting a passive approach towards it [and] meeting none of its commitments.” Via The Guardian Images via Wikimedia Commons and Michael Vadon on Flickr

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Massive iceberg draws tourists to tiny Canadian town

April 19, 2017 by  
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A new natural attraction drew scores of tourists to a small town of around 500 people in Newfoundland, Canada over Easter weekend. A massive iceberg appeared near the coast, and photographers dashed to the area to snap pictures. The Southern shore highway close to Ferryland filled with traffic over the weekend as tourists came to view the impressive iceberg. The Newfoundland coast area is commonly called iceberg alley due to the ice blocks that float down during the spring from the Arctic , but this particular huge iceberg might stay right where it is, according to Ferryland Mayor Adrian Kavanagh, who told The Canadian Press it’s the biggest one he’s ever seen in the area. Related: Naturally striped Antarctic icebergs are almost too beautiful to be real Usually just the tip of an iceberg is visible, with the rest of the mass beneath the waves, so many run aground when they float near the coast. Local Don Costello told CBC News the iceberg probably won’t be moving unless winds keep blowing because it’s stuck on shallow ground. He estimated the iceberg’s highest point is roughly 150 feet. The BBC reported more icebergs are drifting through iceberg alley than is normal for this point in the year, with hundreds of icebergs in the Atlantic. This particular iceberg has moved around some and broken apart, but it appears it’ll stick around for a while. That’s good for tourism – a tour operator told CBC News they’re happy when the icebergs are grounded, and his company is receiving dozens of online bookings every day. Iceberg tourism season technically hasn’t even started – there are a few weeks to go. Costello told CBC News, “I met a couple of people and they were looking for somewhere to get a bowl of soup or a sandwich or something, and there’s only two places here…and they don’t open until the 24th of May.” Via the BBC and CBC News Images via Randy Wheeler on Facebook , Fantasy RV Tours on Facebook , and Alison Thorne on Facebook

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At least 60 dead in Ethiopian garbage "landslide"

March 14, 2017 by  
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At least 60 people are dead after a mountain of trash collapsed at a dump in Ethiopia on Saturday night. The “landslide” at Koshe Garbage Landfill, which lies just outside the country’s capital of Addis Ababa, claimed mostly women and children, according to officials . With dozens still reportedly still missing, the final death toll could be even higher, they added. Around 150 people were present when the landslide occurred, a resident told the Associated Press . Several makeshift houses, inhabited by some of the landfill’s permanent residents, are now submerged under tons of refuse. Many of those who live at the 50-year-old landfill are scavengers who sort through the dross for items to sell. Others are there because it’s all they can afford. “My mother and three of my sisters were there when the landslide happened. Now I don’t know the fate of all of them.” Tebeju Asres, who lived at the site, told AP. Koshe, which means “dirty” in the local Amharic language, has experienced smaller collapses that killed two or three people, but nothing on this scale. Related: Ethiopia announces plans to build massive 1000MW geothermal power plant About 300,000 tons of waste from the capital’s 4 million people are deposited every year at Koshe, officials say. The city has been working to turn the garbage into a source of clean energy since 2013, when it began construction on what will be Africa’s first waste-to-energy plant when completed. The Koshe waste-to-energy center, which has $120 million invested in it, is expected to generate 50 megawatts of electricity. “In the long run, we will conduct a resettling program to relocate people who live in and around the landfill,” Diriba Kuma, mayor of Addis Ababa, told AP. Via BBC News Photo by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia Aid

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At least 60 dead in Ethiopian garbage "landslide"

SpaceX is sending two private citizens to the moon next year

February 28, 2017 by  
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Since humans first walked on the moon in 1969, many people have gazed up at the night sky and longed to do the same. Leave it to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to make those dreams reality. SpaceX announced yesterday they’ll be sending two tourists, who have reportedly paid the company quite a bit of money up front, to the moon. The groundbreaking mission could happen as soon as 2018. SpaceX didn’t say who the two private citizens are, although, according to Musk, they aren’t Hollywood celebrities. The two unnamed travelers will start with fitness and health tests, and commence training this year. According to SpaceX, “…these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration.” Related: Watch Elon Musk’s emotional rollercoaster during successful SpaceX Falcon 9 landing They’ll be aboard a Crew Dragon, or Dragon Version 2, which has not yet ventured to space. Dragon capsules have made their way to the International Space Station (ISS), but the crew version of the vessel, with life-support equipment, won’t blast off until the end of this year, in an unmanned demonstration mission to the ISS. A manned mission could come early in 2018, before the tourists journey to the moon from the exact launch pad Apollo missions utilized near Cape Canaveral. According to the BBC, the moon trip could be at least six to seven days long. SpaceX said in a statement, “This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years and they will travel faster and further into the Solar System than any before them.” This historic trip will also serve as a stepping stone for the company on their target of sending humans to Mars . NASA released a statement on SpaceX’s announcement, saying they commend their “industry partners for reaching higher.” Musk and SpaceX said the moon mission wouldn’t be possible without the agency. Via SpaceX and the BBC Images via SpaceX on Flickr ( 1 , 2 )

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Ancient microbes survive inside massive cave crystals for 50,000 years

February 20, 2017 by  
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Scientists have found strange, ancient microbes in Mexico’s Naica crystal caves that could be around 50,000 years old. Although the caves are so hot they’ve been described as hell – while also being so magical they’ve been described as Fairyland – the microbes have survived for thousands of years trapped in crystals . A biologist who studied the microbes referred to them as super life. Scientists discovered 40 different microbe strains and some viruses in the caves. The microbes are so bizarre that even their closest relatives are genetically 10 percent different, which is about as far away as mushrooms and humans, according to NASA Astrobiology Institute director Penelope Boston, who recently presented the research. The dormant microbes survived on minerals like manganese and iron. Related: Researchers discover that architecture has an impact on which microbes thrive around you The Naica caves are a great example of an extreme environment. Found by miners only around 100 years ago, the caves were isolated from the rest of the world for centuries until a mining company commenced drilling. According to Phys.org, some of the caves are as colossal as cathedrals , and are covered in crystals. But the magnificent caves are so sweltering the researchers could work for just about 20 minutes before retreating to a cool room around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They wore inexpensive space suits and kept ice packs on their bodies. The find doesn’t claim the prize for oldest extreme life – years ago scientists wrote about living microbes trapped in salt and ice that may be around half a million years old. But Boston told the BBC the microbes her team found are extraordinary because “they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases” and scientists can add the recently found microbes “to this atlas of possibilities that we can apply to different planetary settings.” The findings draw on nine years of research, but have not yet been published in a journal. Boston aims to run more genetic tests on the microbes, but did present the find at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston, Massachusetts late last week. Via the BBC and Phys.org Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Researchers want new protections for cheetahs amid race to extinction

December 28, 2016 by  
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Cheetahs are racing towards extinction a lot faster than previously thought, according to the BBC. Because the magnificent cats are far-ranging, often straying outside protected areas, they face dramatic habitat loss and there are only around 7,100 left in the wild. Researchers are now arguing cheetahs should no longer be classified as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, but as endangered . Around the world, diminishing cheetah populations are raising alarm among researchers. Cheetah populations plummeted from 1,200 to only 170 during 16 years in Zimbabwe. In Iran, it’s thought a group of less than 50 cheetahs survives. Asian cheetahs are nearly gone, according to the BBC. Related: Illegal Wild Cheetah Trade for Luxury Pets is Pushing Species to Extinction, CITES Report Sarah Durant of the Zoological Society of London, lead author on a study cited by BBC published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the cheetah’s dilemma, said , “Given the secretive nature of this elusive cat, it has been difficult to gather hard information on the species, leading to its plight being overlooked. Our findings show that the large space requirements for the cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought.” As 77 percent of the cheetah’s habitat is outside protected reserves and parks, they’ve suffered from habitat loss and prey loss. They clash with humans who are developing the land on which the animals used to live. Illegal cheetah cub trafficking isn’t helping either. The Cheetah Conservation Fund says 1,200 cheetah cubs have been trafficked during the last 10 years from Africa, but a heartbreaking 85 percent perished during the voyage. The study authors called for the IUCN to categorize the cheetah as endangered, instead of vulnerable, and for a “paradigm shift in conservation”. They argued for “incentive-based approaches” to encourage local people to protect cheetahs beyond setting aside protected areas. Another study author, Kim Young-Overton of Panthera, said, “The take-away from this pinnacle study is that securing protected areas alone is not enough.” Via the BBC Images via Wikimedia Commons and Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr

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Severe flooding in Vietnam wreaks havoc as Typhoon Sarika threatens further destruction

October 17, 2016 by  
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Severe flooding caused a wave of destruction and death in Vietnam . At least 21 people have perished in the country, and thousands of homes are completely underwater. Even as the country struggles to recover, Typhoon Sarika threatens even more devastation. Heavy rains caused the flooding, but according to local media, water rushing out from hydropower reserves made the flooding worse. One provincial official told local news organization VnExpress “dam operators should have informed locals properly in advance” and that water levels rose quickly after water flowed out from hydropower plants. Related: 21 rare one-horned Indian rhinos drown in monsoon flooding The Quang Binh province has been hit the hardest; there, around 11 people perished. Crops were damaged and floods carried away livestock. Over 70,000 homes were damaged by the flood in the stricken province, and in the nearby province of Ha Tinh, floods damaged nearly 25,000 homes. Some locals were trapped, and the government commanded military and police to rescue citizens. A major north-south rail transport was also affected by the floods. Conditions could worsen if Typhoon Sarika strikes the country. Vietnam’s weather bureau is predicting the typhoon will hit the northern part of the country possibly on Wednesday , and could lead to landslides and more flooding. Tran Le Dang Hung, a disaster official, told the AP, “We are worried. We have instructed district governments to outlet plans for evacuating people.” Typhoon Sarika caused at least two deaths in the Philippines over the weekend, and displaced over 150,000 people. According to meteorologists , the 2016 monsoon season in Asia has been one of the most extreme seasons in years. El Niño only worsened the weather. Hundreds of people have died in India, Nepal, China, and Pakistan. Millions have had to leave their homes. Via the BBC and The Guardian Images via S B on Flickr and screenshot

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Severe flooding in Vietnam wreaks havoc as Typhoon Sarika threatens further destruction

World’s longest, deepest rail tunnel opens after almost 20 years of construction

June 1, 2016 by  
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After nearly two decades of construction, the world’s longest tunnel is now ready to carry cargo and passengers on a route that cuts right through the Swiss Alps. The 35-mile high-speed Gotthard base tunnel snatched the title of world’s longest and deepest tunnel upon its opening, and now connects northern and southern Europe. Swiss officials celebrate the high-speed rail as a major advancement for European transportation. The new tunnel in Switzerland is actually two tunnels, each with a single line of tracks for high-speed trains, running side by side for the length of the route. Prior to today’s opening, the longest tunnel in the world was the 33.5-mile Seikan rail tunnel in Japan. The Gotthard base tunnel, at 35 miles long, edged out Seikan to take the top slot, and also wins the designation of being the deepest rail tunnel on Earth. At its deepest point, the rail line runs nearly 1.5 miles under the mountains. Related: Chinese-funded $13.8B railway to slice through Nairobi National Park Just a year ago, the tunnel’s route was traveled by a million heavy cargo trucks, hauling goods across the continent. That inventory will now be transported by rail, hopefully saving time and energy costs. Although the new record-holding tunnel officially opens today, commercial rail schedules won’t begin until December. Rail officials celebrated the $10 billion tunnel’s completion with an inaugural run by two trains , one on each track, heading opposite directions. Aboard the trains were government and rail authorities, as well as members of the public who won tickets in a contest. Nine tunnel miners killed during the long construction period were also memorialized during the opening ceremony. Via BBC Images via Niedax

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World’s longest, deepest rail tunnel opens after almost 20 years of construction

Vicious Fish Chomped Off Swimmer’s Fingers and Toes in Argentina

December 27, 2013 by  
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Argentinean bathers enjoying a Christmas day dip in the appropriately named Parana River got more than they bargained for when a school of carnivorous fish attacked about 70 swimmers. Lifeguards near the river located in Rosario, about 185 miles north of Buenos Aires , blamed the attack on the flesh-eating palometa fish, a type of piranha native to South America. Many swimmers complained of mild discomfort from bite marks while others had deep wounds on their extremities . Paramedic Alberto Manino reported to the Associated Press that some people, including seven children, lost entire digits. The Director of Rosario lifeguards, Federico Cornier said the attack was highly unusual, “This is not normal. It’s normal for there to be an isolated bite or injury, but the magnitude in this case was great… this is an exceptional event.” Via BBC NEWS Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: Argentina , Buenos Aires , carnivorous fish in Argentina , fish bit off fingers and toes in Argentina , Palometa fish , parana river , Piranha attack in Argentina , Rosario        

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