Sunday, 20 May 2018

Cougar kills cyclist in Washington State, USA.

A cyclist has died after being attacked by a Cougar (or Mountain Lion, or Puma), Puma concolor, to the northeast of Snoqualmie, in King County, Washington, on Saturday 19 May 2018. The dead man was one of two mountain bikers who apparently disturbed the animal while out cycling, and who were initially able to drive off the Cougar by making themselves look larger and waving their arms about. However the Cat returned and attacked one of the men, causing his companion to dismount and try to tackle it. When the Cougar turned on him the man fled on foot (generally considered the worse course of action since Cougars can easily outpace us and typically attack prey from behind), leaving his injured friend to escape and seek help. The man's body was later found by trackers from the Washington Dapartment of Fish & Wildlife, who shot and killed the animal. The injured man was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center, where his condition is now described as satisfactory.

Officers from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife with the body of a Cougar, which was tracked and shot after killing a cyclist on 19 May 2018. Seattle Times.

Cougars were formerly found throughout the Americas, with the exception of northern Canada and Alaska, however they are now largely restricted to the western parts of North America, where Human populations are lower and more of their original habitat remains. Nevertheless, Cougars are not thought to be a particularly threatened species, with a population of about 2100 adults in Washington State alone, where the population is 'controled' by licenced hunting. 

Attacks on Humans by Cougars are extremely rare, with less than a hundred fatalities recorded in the United States since 1890, and only a single other recorded fatality in Washington State in the last 94 years. The most recent Cougar-related fatality in the US was in New Mexico in 2008.

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Saturday, 19 May 2018

Rosaliella svalbardensis: A new species of Ostracod from methane cold seeps on the western Svalbard margin.

Ostracods are small Crustaceans with a bivalved body plan; their body is sandwiched laterally between two large valves, with the animal using its legs to generate a current through the shell, enabling it to feed, and in many cases swim (check). Ostracods are small (seldom much over a millimetre) and can be very abundant, making them common fossils in many deposits. They also often have distinctive shell ornamentation, enabling the identification of species from valves alone, and are both fast-evolving and sensitive to a range of environmental conditions, making them useful in both biostratigraphy (dating rocks using fossils) and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. Methane cold seeps are considered to be important environments for understanding past climate change, as methane hydrates (ice deposits with trapped methane) form extensive deposits in Arctic regions, which are thought to release large amounts of methane during times of rapid global warming, which, since methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, makes identifying methane seeps importanr for understanding past climate change. Since Ostracods are known to inhabit methane cold seeps, they are a potential useful tool for identifying past cold seep deposits, though at the moment Ostracods from these environments are little studded.

In a paper published in the Journal of Micropalaeontology on 5 January 2018, Moriaki Yasuhara of the School of Biological Sciences and Swire Institute of Marine Science at the University of Hong Kong, Kamila Sztybor and Tine Rasmussen of the Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate at the Arctic University of Norway, Hisayo Okahashi, also of the School of Biological Sciences and Swire Institute of Marine Science at the University of Hong Kong, Runa Sato, again of the School of Biological Sciences and Swire Institute of Marine Science at the University of Hong Kong, and of the Department of Marine Biosciences at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, and Hayato Tanaka of the Research Center for Marine Education at the University of Tokyo, describe a new species of Ostracod from methane cold seeps on the western Svalbard margin.

The new species is named Rosaliella svalbardensis, where 'Rosaliella' honours Rosalie Maddocks of the University of Houston for her work on Ostracods from chemosynthetic environments, and 'svalbardensis' means 'from Svarlbad'. The species is 642-680 μm in length, with a reticulated surface covered in clusters of pores. Such clusters of pores have been areas where chemosynthetic Bacteria are found, and have been suggested to be used to house symbionts. 

Scanning electron microscopy images of Rosaliella svalbardensis. (a)–(e) Adult, female, 0–1 cm depth. (f)–(j) Adult, female, 0–1 cm depth. (k)–(n) Adult, female, 0–1 cm depth. (o)–(q) Adult, female, 0–1 cm depth. (a), (c), (f), (h), (l), (n), (o) Lateral views. (b), (d), (e), (g), (i), (j), (k), (p), (q) Internal views. Scale bars: 1mm for (a), (b), (f), (g), (l), (m), (o), (p); 100 μm for (d), (i); 50 μm for (c), (e), (h), (j), (k), (n), (q). 1mm scale bar in the middle part of the figure. Other scale bars in each panel. Yasuhara et al. (2018).

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Landslide destroys home in Roanoke County, Virginia.

A family of three were forced to flee their home when it slid off its foundations and slid about six metres down a hillslope after being hit by a mudslide on Friday 18 May 2018. The family were sleeping in the home in the town of Vinton in the east of the county, when the property began to shift, at about 4.45 am local time. The family were able to escape through a hoke that opened up in a brick wall as the property moved.

The scene of a landslide in Roanoke County, Virginia, which shifted a house off its foundations and six metres downslope. Roanoke County Fire and Rescue.

The incident happened after several hours of heavy rain in the area, which appears to have destabilized exposed sediment on a construction site upslope of the home. Landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall.

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Magnitude 5.3 Earthquake beneath Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

The Japan Meteorological Agency recorded a Magnitude 5.3 Earthquake at a depth of about 50 km, beneath Chiba Prefecture on Honshū Island, slightly after 12.10 pm Japan Standard Time (slightly after 3.10 am GMT) om Thursday 17 May 2018. There are no reports of any damage or casualties associated with this event, people have reported feeling it across most of central and eastern Honshū.

Map showing the location of the 17 May 2018 Chiba Prefecture Earthquake, and areas where the event was felt. Japan Meteorological Agency.

Japan has a complex tectonic situation, with parts of the country on four different tectonic plates. Eastern Honshū area lies on the boundary between the Pacific, Eurasian and Philipine Plates, where the Pacific Plate is passing beneath the Eurasian and Philipine Plates as it is subducted into the Earth. This is not a smooth process; the rocks of the two plates constantly stick together, only to break apart again as the pressure builds up, causing Earthquakes in the process. 

The movement of the Pacific and Philippine Plates beneath eastern Honshū. Laurent Jolivet/Institut des Sciences de la Terre d'Orléans/Sciences de la Terre et de l'Environnement.

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. The international non-profit organisation Earthquake Report is interested in hearing from people who may have felt this event; if you felt this quake then you can report it to Earthquake Report here.

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Thursday, 17 May 2018

Zimbabwean bride marries five days after loosing arm to Crocodile.

Zimbabwean bride Zanele Ndlovu, 25, married fiance Englishman Jamie Fox, 27, in a chapel at the Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo, five days after being attacked by a Nile Crocodile, Crocodylus niloticus, while the couple were canoeing on the Zambezi River. The 5 m animal leaped onto the boat unexpectedly from clear water, seizing Ms Ndlovu by the arm and rolling, a method which uses the Crocodile's mass to inflict maximum damage on it's prey. The couple were hauled from the water by employees of the boating company and airlifted to hospital, but the arm could not be saved.

Zanele Ndlovu, at her wedding on 5 May 2018, five days after losing an arm in a Crocodile attack. AP.

The Zambezi is home to a large population of Nile Crocodiles, Crocodylus niloticus, which are popular with tourists. Nile Crocodiles are large animals, reaching about five meters in length, and are ambush predators capable of taking large prey, including, on occasion, Humans. The animals are thought to be at their most dangerous around September on the Zambezi, when the water is lowest, and females are guarding eggs buried in nests by the river, however they can clearly be dangerous at other times of year if provoked.

Nile Crocodiles are considered to be of Least Concern under the terms of the  International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of  Threatened Species, but are still protected in many countries, due to historic hunting which decimated populations in many areas. However, the rising number of attacks on Humans by the animals has led to calls for regulated hunting to be introduced to control the population.  

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Asteroid 2018 JG3 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2018 JG3 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 1 093 000 km (2.85 times the average  distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.73% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 2.30 pm GMT on Friday 11 May 2018. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would not have presented a significant threat. 2018 JG3 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 12-38 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 12-38 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to explode in an airburst (an explosion caused by superheating from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is greater than that caused by simply falling, due to the orbital momentum of the asteroid) in the atmosphere between 30 and 12 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.

The calculated orbit of 2018 JG3. Minor Planet Center.

2018 JG3 was discovered on 14 May 2018 (three days after its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey, which is located in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2018 JG3 implies that it was the 82nd asteroid (asteroid G3) discovered in the first half of May 2018 (period 2018 J).
2018 JG3 has a 777 day orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 9.66° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.81 AU from the Sun (i.e. 81% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 2.49 AU from the Sun (i.e. 249% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, and more distant from the Sun as the planet Mars). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). This means that the asteroid has occasional close encounters with the Earth, with the last having occurred in December 2015.
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