A global blast
The shock wave from the Feb. 15 meteor explosion over Russia was so intense that it traveled around the planet twice, according to new research. The finding was made by examining data from a global network of instruments designed to detect nuclear blasts. Writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers say they looked at ultralow frequency acoustic waves, known as infrasound, and found the Chelyabinsk fireball caused the most powerful event ever recorded by the network. Alexis Le Pichon, from the Atomic Energy Commission in France, and colleagues determined that the energy of the explosion was equivalent to 460 kilotons of TNT. This makes it the most energetic natural event reported since the 1908 Tunguska meteor in Siberia.
Whaling on trial
Australian government lawyers argued in the world court that Japan’s annual whale hunt is nothing more than commercial slaughter of the marine mammals under the guise of science. Australia’s case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague is countered by Japan’s claims that its hunts are legal under a 1946 convention that allows limited catches for scientific research. But Australia argues that killing whales for research “only makes sense if there is a question that needs to be answered ... a meaningful question.” They say that Japan is merely enabling its whaling fleet to kill for the purpose of putting whale meat on Japanese dinner plates. Commercial whaling was halted in 1986 under an international moratorium. But Japan, Iceland and Norway have continued to conduct limited whaling expeditions despite a demonstrated lack of demand in the marketplace for whale meat.
Climate of fire
Scientists warn that catastrophic wildfires, like the one that killed 19 firefighters in Arizona, are part of a new “normal” for the environment of the American West. Arizona has warmed faster than any other state since 1970, with temperatures rising at a rate of 0.72 degree Fahrenheit per decade. Climate expert Gregg Garfin of the University of Arizona points to a decade from 2001 to 2010 when his state was the hottest on record in both spring and summer. He says warmer winters have caused that season’s precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow, allowing streams and the soil to dry out more quickly when spring’s arid heat arrives. This makes it easier for dry vegetation to burst into flames.
Summer of hunger
A second consecutive wet, cool and unsettled summer across Britain has wiped out large populations of bees, moths and butterflies, according to a new National Trust report. It warns that the drop in the number of winged insects could cause birds and bats to go hungry for the remainder of this year. “Insect populations have been really very low. Then when they have got going, they’ve been hit by a spell of cool, windy weather ... so our environment is just not bouncing with butterflies or anything else,” said Matthew Oates, a National Trust naturalist.
Typhoon Rumbia became the second tropical cyclone to strike South China’s Hainan Island in less than two weeks with high winds and flooding rains. The storm later made landfall on the Chinese mainland.
— Hurricane Dalila churned the eastern Pacific off Mexico.
At least 24 Indonesians were killed and more than 250 others were injured when a powerful earthquake destroyed homes near the northwestern tip of Sumatra.
— Italy’s western Tuscany region was jolted by the second moderate quake within a 10-day period, causing slight damage to some homes and roads near the epicenter.
Bullet Earth movements were also felt in western Nepal, eastern Afthanistan, Taiwan and southern Oklahoma.
Cicada swan song
The 17-year emergence of the Brood II cicadas during the past few weeks has been disappointing to some in the eastern United States, while others there say the insect’s songs have been deafening. Entomologists say the cicadas’ distribution this year has been spotty, but it’s still been a good year for the arthropod’s rare mating season. While some neighborhoods or communities from North Carolina to New England have experienced cicada songs so loud they kept humans up at night, other no-show areas nearby have remained quiet. Brood II is only one of several broods that emerge once every 13 or 17 years in various regions. The songs of Brood II are now fading and will soon fall silent until 2030. But in 2021, Brood X, or the Great Eastern Brood, will emerge in far greater concentrations across a wide area from Chicago and Memphis, eastward to the Appalachians and the Atlantic coast of New Jersey and Long Island. Some of its greatest concentrations at that time are expected to be in northern Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
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