Try to visit this island and you may not leave alive

Try to visit this island and you may not leave alive

In this Nov. 14, 2005, file photo, clouds hang over North Sentinel Island, in India’s southeastern Andaman and Nicobar islands. (AP Photo/Gautam Singh, File)

Sometimes paradise is better off lost: Off the coast of India in the Bay of Bengal, a Manhattan-size island called North Sentinel Island boasts a deep green canopy of trees, stretches of sandy beaches, coral reef barriers—and a population that’s decidedly hostile to outsiders, who aren’t likely to live long.

As Wackulus explains, the isolated indigenous tribe, one of the last of its kind on Earth, almost always attacks visitors. A little digging uncovered this story: After a night of drinking in 2006, two fishermen drifted too close to the island and were killed by the Sentinelese, who’ve lived there for 60,000 years.

A helicopter sent to recover their bodies was halted by tribesmen’s arrows, theTelegraph reported at the time; the air generated by the copter’s rotors revealed their bodies in shallow graves.

One of the earliest known encounters a century earlier ended when a convict who’d escaped from the neighboring Andaman Islands ended up on the island with his throat slit, the New York Times reported in 2012.

In 1967, the Sentinelese—a Stone Age people but for the metal-tipped arrows carved from wrecked ships—hid from an Indian government expedition, during which a marker was placed on the island, declaring it part of India.

Indian anthropologist TN Pandit’s visits in the late 1980s and early 1990s proved more exciting. He left gifts of coconuts, knives, cloth, mirrors, and once a live pig.

The native hunter-gatherers—believed to number between 50 and 400—killed the pig and buried it in the sand, but only insulted Pandit’s group. “They would turn their backs to us and sit on their haunches as if to defecate,” he told theIndependent.

India has since established a 3-mile exclusion zone around the island to protect both outsiders and the natives from disease. Survival International argues it’s all for the best as the natives are “extremely healthy, alert, and thriving.” They have fire and are believed to dine on fish, fruits, tubers, wild pigs, lizards, and honey.

(This video reportedly shows the first contact with an isolated tribe.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Set Foot on This Island and You May Not Leave Alive

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Red Sea parts for 2 new islands

Sholan

A 2011 satellite photo of the eruption that created Sholan Island. (Jónsson et al., Nature Communications)

Two volcanic islands recently born in the Red Sea have yielded stunning images, providing scientists with new insights about a little-known rift in Earth’s crust.

Both islands emerged in the Zubair Archipelago, a small chain of volcanic islands, owned by Yemen, that rise from the Red Sea between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The first of the new islands, now called Sholan Island, appeared in December 2011. The second island, called Jadid, surfaced in September 2013.

The Red Sea is an enormous crack in the Earth’s crust called a rift, where the African and Arabian tectonic plates are tearing apart at about 0.4 inches per year. At a rift, the crust stretches apart slowly over centuries, like a piece of taffy candy, but it also sometimes suddenly splits when the strain becomes too great. For instance, in 2005, in nearby Afar, Ethiopia, giant fissures and fiery lava flows appeared in the rift zone after a series of earthquakes. [See Images of Another ‘New’ Volcanic Island Birthed in Japan]

The new volcanic activity that formed these islands in the Red Sea could herald a rifting episode akin to that seen in Afar, said study co-author Sigurjón Jónsson, a geophysicist at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.

“The segment of the plate boundary that goes on land in Afar has been looked at as the main boundary, but this new activity tells us the other branch in the Red Sea is still quite active,” Jónsson told Live Science. “We will have to follow it in the years to come and see how it continues.”

The chain of volcanic islands in the Zubair Archipelago marks another branch of the same rift zone, one that has been quiet for nearly 150 years. (Yemen’s Jabal al-Tair Island erupted in 2007, killing several people at a naval base.) [The 10 Biggest Volcanic Eruptions in History]

The two eruptions in the Red Sea were heralded by swarms of small earthquakes triggered by magma squeezing through long, narrow cracks in the Earth’s crust. The magma-filled cracks are called dykes, and are at least 6 miles long, the researchers reported May 26 in the journal Nature Communications. The islands are both less than 0.6 miles wide.

Researchers Wenbin Xu and Joël Ruch, also of King Abdullah University, estimated the size of the dykes by measuring small changes in surface height as shown by satellite images snapped before and after the eruptions.

When the molten rock finally broke through to the seafloor, violent steam explosions tossed lava into the air. The tiny, sand-size lava fragments built up the islands. Over time, the fragments, called tuff, cemented into a hard rock similar to sandstone, Jónsson said. Waves have since eaten away about 30 percent of Sholan Island, the first to erupt.

Similar earthquake swarms have rattled the region for years, the researchers noted. The seismic shaking could mean that magma had been tunneling underground for up to a decade before the volcanic islands appeared, the researchers said.

“We may not be over this period of heightened activity,” Jónsson said. “If you look at all these swarms, we think the area was undergoing a rifting episode for a period of several years or more.”

The new islands are far from towns and villages, and are unlikely to disrupt air traffic with large ash explosions, Jónsson said. Ships traversing the Gulf of Suez could also easily divert around the islands, he said.

 

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The planet has just 2 giant forests left

The planet has just 2 giant forests left

In this Sept. 15, 2009, file photo, a deforested area is seen near Novo Progresso, in Brazil’s northern state of Para. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, file)

To see the Earth’s ecology forest for its trees, first we have to acknowledge there aren’t many large, intact forests around. In fact, according to a new study published in Science Advances, there are only two such continuous forests left: in South America and Africa, Christian Science Monitor reports.

“There are really only two big patches of intact forest left on Earth—the Amazon and the Congo—and they shine out like eyes from the center of the map,” study leader Nick Haddad tells the New Yorker.

The rest of the wooded areas on Earth are fragmented by everything from roads and man-made developments to natural events such as wildfires, the EPA notes.

About 70% of the world’s forested areas are situated within a half-mile of the actual forest edge, per the Monitor. The result of so many fragmented habitats is “ruinous,” notes the New Yorker.

This study found that broken-up areas on average lose half their plant and animal species within two decades, the Monitor reports. “Once a forest disappears, the resulting area is more exposed and experiences greater extremes of temperature, humidity, and wind,” co-author Douglas Levey tells the Monitor.

To make things worse, Levey adds, intruding species find their way into the disrupted habitat as well. All is not doomed, though: Because fragmentation often happens very slowly, it’s possible to reconnect forest “clumps” by planting linking trees, Levey says: “It’s never too late to preserve what we already have.” (The Amazon’s biggest alleged “deforester” was recently arrested.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Earth Has Just 2 Giant Forests Left

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The planet has just 2 giant forests left

The planet has just 2 giant forests left

In this Sept. 15, 2009, file photo, a deforested area is seen near Novo Progresso, in Brazil’s northern state of Para. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, file)

To see the Earth’s ecology forest for its trees, first we have to acknowledge there aren’t many large, intact forests around. In fact, according to a new study published in Science Advances, there are only two such continuous forests left: in South America and Africa, Christian Science Monitor reports.

“There are really only two big patches of intact forest left on Earth—the Amazon and the Congo—and they shine out like eyes from the center of the map,” study leader Nick Haddad tells the New Yorker.

The rest of the wooded areas on Earth are fragmented by everything from roads and man-made developments to natural events such as wildfires, the EPA notes.

About 70% of the world’s forested areas are situated within a half-mile of the actual forest edge, per the Monitor. The result of so many fragmented habitats is “ruinous,” notes the New Yorker.

This study found that broken-up areas on average lose half their plant and animal species within two decades, the Monitor reports. “Once a forest disappears, the resulting area is more exposed and experiences greater extremes of temperature, humidity, and wind,” co-author Douglas Levey tells the Monitor.

To make things worse, Levey adds, intruding species find their way into the disrupted habitat as well. All is not doomed, though: Because fragmentation often happens very slowly, it’s possible to reconnect forest “clumps” by planting linking trees, Levey says: “It’s never too late to preserve what we already have.” (The Amazon’s biggest alleged “deforester” was recently arrested.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Earth Has Just 2 Giant Forests Left

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Oregon’s mysterious ‘disappearing lake’ explained

lost-lake-oregon

One of two lava tubes that drain the water from Lost Lake, turning it into a meadow during the dry summer months. (YouTube Screenshot of “Lava tube draining Lost Lake”)

During the rainy fall and winter, most Oregonians probably don’t give much thought to Lost Lake, a shallow lake surrounded by pine trees that sits near a highway.

But drivers might do a double take during the summer. During the dry months, the 85-acre lake vanishes and turns into meadow.

The reason? Two hollow lava tubes at the bottom of the lake are constantly draining the lake dry, much like a bathtub left unplugged. [Images: One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth]

“The lakebed begins to fill in the late fall, when the amount of rain coming in starts exceeding the ability of the lava tubes to drain off the water,” said Jude McHugh, a spokeswoman for the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. “And it continues to fill all winter long in a series of rain or snowstorms.”

As the rainy season peters out, the 9-foot-deep lake loses its water source, and water disappears down the lava tubes until it’s gone, McHugh said. The lake’s watery boom-and-bust cycle repeats itself every year, she added.

Lava tubes aren’t uncommon in Oregon. The state is home to the towering Cascades, a range of mountains and active volcanoes that extends from southern British Columbia to Northern California.

When lava streams flow down a volcano the outside crust cools as it makes contact with air. Hot lava continues to flow under the hardened crust, “kind of like a subway tunnel,” McHugh said.

After the hot lava drains away, a hollow tube remains. Some lava tubes become a unique ecosystem for animals and others attract tourists. Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California has “all kinds of lava tubes,” McHugh said. “Little guys literally a foot  across, and ones you can walk in that are just massive.”

But Lost Lake, located about 130 miles southeast of Portland, sports just two small lava tubes. The lake likely formed about 3,000 years ago, when lava flowing from a volcanic vent blocked a river channel and created the lake, McHugh said.

“Several small streams feed into the lake intermittently, but the lava tube drain holes are the only known outlets,” McHugh said.

It’s not entirely clear where the drained lake water goes, but researchers have an idea. It likely falls down the lava tubes and seeps through layers of cracked volcanic rock as groundwater, McHugh said.

Lost Lake sits on volcanic rock that formed about 12,000 years ago, she said. When this “young” rock formed, it was filled with gas bubbles that left behind pores as they escaped into the atmosphere. The lava also cracked and fissured as it flowed over the terrain, she said.

It takes roughly seven to 10 years for water to filter down through all those cracks and pores, McHugh said.

“Here in western Oregon, it pops out at the valley floor and supplies drinking water and important habitat for humans, fish and all kinds of species,” she said. “That water that fell today, there’s some kid that’s going to be born tomorrow that’s going to be drinking it when he’s 10.”

However, people aren’t always respectful of lava tubes. At Lost Lake, some people have tried to plug the drainage holes and have also thrown trash into the lake over the years, McHugh said.

“We do not want to interfere with natural processes, and we very much discourage that,” McHugh said. What’s more, even if a plug did work, the lake would likely overflow and flood the nearby highway, she said.

 

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Mount Everest shrank as Nepal quake lifted Kathmandu

MountEverest.jpg

This undated photo provided by Alpenglow Expeditions, Mount Everest is seen from a base camp on the northern Tibetan side of the mountain. (Adrian Ballinger/Alpenglow Expeditions via AP)

The first good view of the aftermath of Nepal’s deadly earthquake from a satellite reveals that a broad swath of ground near Kathmandu lifted vertically, by about 3 feet, which could explain why damage in the city was so severe. The data also indicate the tallest mountain in the world, Mount Everest, got a wee bit shorter.

The new information comes from Europe’s Sentinel-1A radar satellite. Scientists are racing to interpret the Sentinel data, which were made available April 29 just hours after the satellite passed over Nepal. The preliminary data can help guide relief efforts on the ground by identifying areas that were damaged or hit by landslides.

Researchers detected the vertical shift in the ground by comparing before-and-after radar images from the satellite using a technique that produces an image called an interferogram. The resulting images have rainbow-colored areas that represent the movement of the ground between the times each radar image was taken. Each colorful fringe on the European Space Agency’s Nepal interferogram reflects about 1 inch of vertical movement. The results will be refined in the coming weeks, as scientists further analyize the images and additional data from satellites become available. [See Images of the Kathmandu Uplift & Other Nepal Quake Effects]

According to the early analysis, a region 75 miles long by 30 miles wide lifted upward by as much as 3 feet during the earthquake, said Tim Wright, a geophysicist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. This uplift peaked only 10 miles from Kathmandu, even though the city was relatively far from the earthquake’s epicenter.

“That’s one of the reasons why Kathmandu has so much damage,” Wright told Live Science.

The radar images reveal that some of the world’s tallest peaks — including Mount Everest — dropped by about 1 inch, according to the nonprofit UNAVCO, a geoscience research consortium. That’s because the Earth’s crust relaxed in the areas north of the Kathmandu, after the earthquake released pent-up strain.

Still, on the whole, the Himalayas continue to grow to stupendous heights, studies show. Some parts of the Himalayas are rising about 0.4 inches every year, due to the ongoing collision between the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates.

“This is only one earthquake, and the overall tectonics give you uplift of the mountains,” Wright said.

The new data from the satellite also confirm what researchers had detected from seismometers: The fault involved in the earthquake ruptured eastward, out from the earthquake epicenter, Wright said. “Presumably, much of the damage will be to the east of the epicenter,” he said.

The April 25 earthquake struck on a shallowly-dipping thrust fault that angled only 10 degrees from the surface. The structure of this fault meant the damage was spread over an area of more than 5,600 square miles.

In size and structure, the magnitude-7.8 earthquake compares most closely to temblors on subduction zones, said Rich Briggs, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado. “We don’t often see a big, broad bulge at the surface like we see with this one,” Briggs said.

Scientists plan to continue monitoring ground changes in Nepal. For instance, the fault did not break all the way up to the Earth’s surface, which may mean that some strain that built up prior to the earthquake still needs to be unleashed. The fault could release this energy with more earthquakes or by slowly shifting without triggering major temblors — a phenomenon called creep. Further studies will also help researchers understand how the earthquake stressed other faults on either side of the rupture.

“I think this will give us our clearest insight into the workings of the faults along the Himalayan front,” said Stephen Hicks, a seismologist at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom.

 

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Source of Antarctica’s eerie ‘bleeding glacier’ found

BLOOD_FALLS

Blood Falls, Antarctica. (Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation)

Antarctica’s Dry Valleys are the most arid places on Earth, but underneath their icy soils lies a vast and ancient network of salty, liquid water filled with life, a new study finds.

The Dry Valleys are almost entirely ice-free, except for a few isolated glaciers. The only surface water is a handful of small lakes. Inside the canyons, the climate is extremely dry, cold and windy; researchers have stumbled upon mummified seals in these gorges that are thousands of years old.

Yet there is life in this extreme landscape. For instance, bacteria living under Taylor Glacier stain its snout a deep blood red. The rust-colored brine, called Blood Falls, pours into Lake Bonney in the southernmost of the three largest Dry Valleys. The dramatic colors offer shocking relief to senses overwhelmed by the glaring white ice and dull brown rocks. [The 10 Driest Places on Earth]

Now, for the first time, scientists have traced the water underneath Taylor Glacier to learn more about the mysterious Blood Falls. In the process, the researchers discovered that briny water underlies much of Taylor Valley. The subsurface network connects the valley’s scattered lakes, revealing that they’re not as isolated as scientists once thought. The findings were published April 28 in the journal Nature Communications.

“We’ve learned so much about the dry valleys in Antarctica just by looking at this curiosity,” said lead study author Jill Mikucki, a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Blood Falls is not just an anomaly, it’s a portal to this subglacial world.”

Mikucki led an international research team that tested a newly developed airborne electromagnetic sensor in Taylor Valley. The flying contraption is a large, six-sided transmitter suspended beneath a helicopter. The instrument creates a magnetic field that picks up conductivity differences in the ground to a depth of about 1,000 feet.

“Salty water shone like a beacon,” Mikucki said.

The researchers found liquid water underneath the icy soil in Taylor Valley, stretching from the coast to at least 7.5 miles inland. The water is twice as salty as seawater, the scientists reported. There is also briny water underneath Taylor Glacier as far back as the instrument could detect, about 3 miles up the glacier, the researchers said. Eventually, the ice was too thick for the magnetic field to penetrate.

“This study shows Blood Falls isn’t just a weird little seep,” Mikucki told Live Science. “It may be representative of a much larger hydrologic network.”

Water underneath Taylor Valley could have turned extremely salty in two ways: The brines could be due to freezing and evaporation of larger lakes that once filled the valley. Or, ocean water may have once flooded the canyons, leaving remnants behind as it retreated. The new findings will help researchers pin down the valley’s aquatic history.

“I find it a very interesting and exciting study because the hydrology of the Dry Valleys has a complicated history and there’s been very little data abut what’s happening in the subsurface,” said Dawn Sumner, a geobiologist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study.

Scientists are also intrigued by the new results because the Dry Valleys are considered one of the closest analogs to Mars that are located on Earth. Similar briny groundwater could have formed on Mars when the planet transitioned from having liquid water to a dry environment, Sumner said.

Finally, the findings may change views of Antarctica’s coastal margins, Mikucki said. Now that scientists know Taylor Valley’s groundwater seeps into the ocean, further research may reveal that coastal regions are important nutrient sources for Antarctica’s iron-depleted seas, she said.

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Dinos died here: Getting to the core of asteroid impact mystery

asteroid-impact-dinosaurs

A giant space rock that slammed into Earth 65.5 million years ago is blamed for killing off the dinosaurs. (Painting by Donald E. Davis.)

The catastrophic asteroid crash blamed for the demise of the dinosaurs also left a gaping scar in the Earth. That sprawling crater made 65.5 million years ago may hold the answers to many mysteries surrounding the space-rock event.

Now, scientists plan to drill 5,000 feet below the surface of the Chicxulub crater in Mexico to bring up a giant core — and delve 10 million to 15 million years into the past. The endeavor would result in the first offshore core taken from near the center of the crater, which is named for a nearby seaside village located on the Yucatán Peninsula.

An international team of scientists met last week in Mérida, Mexico, located within the 125-mile-wide Chicxulub crater, to discuss their plans for the drilling project, slated to start in spring 2016. [Crash! The 10 Biggest Impact Craters on Earth]

Why now? “The Chicxulub impact crater has been a remarkable scientific opportunity for the 20 years since it’s been discovered,” said Sean Gulick, of The University of Texas at Austin Institute for Geophysics. And, for the first time, scientists have subsurface images from the offshore part of the crater, so they can pinpoint a spot for sampling. They chose a spot along the crater’s peak ring — a ring of mountainlike structures around the center of the crater.

By sampling there, the researchers can get a clearer picture of ancient biological and geological processes.

Scientists think that, when a big rock smashes into Earth at high enough velocities, the collision causes the crust temporarily to act sort of like a liquid, first forming a so-called transient crater (like the indentation that forms on a lake surface after a rock is thrown in), and the center rebounds, or splashes, upward and then outward. “We think the peak ring is the record of the material that rebounded and splashed outward,” Gulick told Live Science.

All of these ideas are based on models and aren’t necessarily what happened. “We’ve never gotten a rock back from a peak ring to know if that’s correct,” Gulick said.

The researchers also hope to find details about the process that weakened the granite of the crust to get it to flow like a liquid, Gulick noted. “We don’t understand that process,” he said.

Chicxulub is also the only impact crater on Earth linked to a mass extinction event. As such, the samples could provide more information about that extinction and what came after it. More recent layers of rock could yield traces of life, which would provide clues about how long it took for life to return to the area, he said.

The roughly $10 million project is a collaboration between the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (part of the International Ocean Discovery Program) and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program.

Gulick and Joanna Morgan, of Imperial College London, will lead the team of scientists.

 

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How barley allowed humans to reach new heights

How barley allowed humans to reach new heights

File photo of a field of barley. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Scientists know that humans were kicking around the lower altitudes of the Tibetan Peninsula around 10,000 years ago. Permanent settlements, however, didn’t show up in the harsh higher altitudes until 3,600 years ago.

What happened that allowed ancient settlers to survive in a region nicknamed the “roof of the world”? They discovered barley, reports Science. Analysis of charred seeds suggests that humans figured out around that time that barley could be grown at 11,000 feet—unlike their previous staple of millet, reports theWashington Post.

“As barley is frost-hardy and cold-tolerant, it grows very well on the Tibetan Plateau even today,” archaeologist Dongju Zhang of China’s Lanzhou University tells Reuters.

“Therefore, barley agriculture could provide people enough—and sustained—food supplies even during wintertime.” The discovery was probably a “lucky accident,” say the researchers, given that barely had been first domesticated in a different part of Asia.

Scientists think that Tibetans had acquired genes to survive in high altitudes tens of thousands of years ago, but they still needed to a crop to make that survival possible—and barley did the trick.

(Archaeologists think ancient settlers in Peru were at even higher altitudes.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: How Did Humans Conquer ‘Roof of the World’? Barley

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Mysterious, wavelike cloud hugs Grand Teton mountains (Photo)

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Jackie Skaggs snapped this stunning photo of a lenticular cloud embracing the summit of the Grand Teton Range from the park’s headquarters in Moose, Wyoming, on Feb. 12, 2015. (Jackie Skaggs snapped this stunning photo of a lenticular cloud embracing the summit of the Grand Teton Range from the park’s headquarters in Moose, Wyoming, on Feb. 12, 2015.)

A bizarre sheet of clouds embraced the highest peak in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming last week, enchanting even the park’s most seasoned visitors.

The clouds looked like a billowing handkerchief or an ocean’s wave crashing into the mountain. The clouds were so strange they even surprised park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs.

“I’ve lived here for almost 40 years, and honestly, I’ve never seen something last that long and take so many different shapes,” Skaggs told Live Science. [See photos of the craziest-looking clouds]

Skaggs first spotted the clouds on her morning drive to work. “I watched it the whole drive up and then stood there for about 20 minutes before coming into the building because I couldn’t leave it,” Skaggs said.

In the late morning, Skaggs was once again pulled from work to watch the majestic clouds. But this time, she grabbed a camera and snapped the above photo of their unique shape. The clouds finally dissipated in the afternoon, she said.

Chris Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, thinks the formations are lenticular clouds. These clouds form when waves of moist, fast-moving air run into the surface of a mountain. The mountain’s jagged topography forces the air upward, which cools and condenses the air, transforming it into a cloud.

They can look like one large, lens-shaped cloud (often mistaken for a UFO); stacks of pancakes atop one another; or an undulating wave, like the one last week.

“These mountains definitely have a magical, spiritual aura about them,” Skaggs said. Their jagged peaks rise as high as 13,775 feet above sea level. But without any foothills to obstruct the view, they stand mighty and tall. The Teton Range is part of the Rocky Mountains, which stretch more than 3,000 miles across western North America, from British Columbia, Canada, to New Mexico.

 

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