Sunday, 16 December 2018

Leopard captured after attacks on livestock in Maharashtra State, India.

A Leopard has been captured by the Indian Forest Service following a series of attacks on livestock in the village of Pimpri Budruk in the Pune District of Maharashtra State, India. The village has suffered a series of attacks on Goats, Calves, and Dogs over the past month, but until now the culprit was unidentified. Then at about 5.30 pm local time on Friday 14 December 2018 a local woman spotted the Leopard drinking from a stream near the village, and the Forest Service was called in to deal with the animal. After some discussion with the local population it was decided that capturing the Leopard was the best option, and the animal, a female estimated to be about five years old, was shot with a tranquiliser dart and taken to a rescue centre in Manikdoh.

Veterinarians from the Indian Forest Service and Wildlife SOS examine a Leopard captured near a village in Pune District, Maharashtra on 14 December 2018. Asian News International/Twitter.

Leopards are considered to be Vulnerable under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, with the Indian subspecies, Panthera pardus fusca, considered to be particularly vulnerable due to India's rapidly rising Human population, which has resulted in agriculture and other Human activities expanding into many former wilderness areas. For this reason the Indian Forest Service usually try to relocate Leopards that come into conflict with Humans to more remote areas, preferably within national parks, though the extent to which local people co-operate is variable.

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Seven killed in accident at Chinese coal mine.

Seven workers have died and another three have been injured, one of them seriously, in an accident at the Fengchun Coal Mine at Chongqing in southwest China, on Saturday 16 December 2018. The incident happened slightly after 6.05 pm local time, when a skip containing coal came free and tumbled down a coal shaft. The mine owners, the Chongqing Energy Group, have suspended operations at all of their coal mines pending an enquiry into the incident.

The approximate location of the Fengchun Coal Mine. Google Maps.

China gains 70% of its energy from coal-burning power stations, which places the country under great pressure to maintain coal supplies. This has led to a poor safety record within the mining sector, particularly in the private sector, where there is a culture of seeking quick profits in poorly regulated (and often officially non-existent) mines. State owned mines are often thought to be better regulated, but still compare badly to mines in other parts of the world.

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Eruption on Mount Soputan, Sulawesi.

The Volcanological Survey of Indonesia has reported a major new eruption on Mount Soputan, a highly active stratovolcano (cone-shaped volcano made up of layers of ash and lave) on northern Sulawesi. The agency began to detect seismic events (tremors) beneath the volcano at about 5.00 pm local time on Saturday 15 December 2018, which increased slowly overnight, with minor eruptive activity beginning at about 1.00 am, with lava fountains beginning at about 3.10 am. At about 5.40 am the volcano began to erupt far more energetically, producing an ash column that rose to about 8.8 km above sealevel.

An ash column over Mount Soputan, Sulaweisi, on the morning of Sunday 16 December 2018. Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana.

Soputan is a small volcano in the Tondano Caldera located near the eastern tip of the northern arm of Sulawesi. The volcanoes of the northern arm of Sulawesi are located at the southern end of the Sangihe Volcanic arc, where an extension Molucca Sea Plate is being subducted beneath an extension of the Eurasian Plate, sometimes called the Sangihe Plate. As this happens part of the subducting plate is melted by the heat of the Earth's interior, and rises up through the overlying plate as liquid magma, forming volcanoes at the surface. About 320 km to the east, the Molucca Plate is also being subducted beneath an extension of the Philippine Plate, sometimes called the Halmahera Plate, producing a second chain of volcanoes in the Halmahera Islands. At some point in the future the Molucca Plate will vanish and the two volcanic arcs will meet.

The subduction zones beneath Sulawesi and the surrounding islands. Hall & Spakman (2015).

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Magnitude 5.6 Earthquake off the east coast of Taiwan.

The Taiwan Central Weather Bureau reported a Magnitude 5.6 Earthquake at a depth of 30.3 km roughly 54 kn off the coast of Hualian County in eastern Taiwan slightly after 5.20 am local time on Sunday 16 December 2018 (slightly after 9.20 pm GMT on Saturday 15 December). There are no reports of any damage or casualties associated with this event, but it was felt across much of northern Taiwan.

 The approximate location of the 16 December 2018 Hualian Earthquake. USGS.

Taiwan has a complex tectonic setting, lying on the boundary between the Eurasian and Philippine Plates, with the Eurasian Plate being subducted beneath the Philippine Plate in the South and the Philippine Plate being subducted beneath the Eurasian in the East. Subduction is not a smooth process even in simple settings, with plates typically sticking together as pressure from tectonic expansion elsewhere builds up, then suddenly breaking apart and shifting abruptly, causing Earthquakes.

The motion of the tectonic plates beneath Taiwan. The University of Memphis.

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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Saturday, 15 December 2018

Nemotelus nartshukae: A new species of Soldier Fly from Mongolia.

Soldier Flies, Stratiomyidae, are a group of True Flies, Diptera, with a global distribution. The adults are rather inactive, and do not stay far from the environments where the larvae are found, in wetlands, damp soil or similar. Soldier Flies are rather variable in both size and shape, though they always have antennae with three segments, and are often metallic green in colour.

In a paper published in the journal Acta Entomologica Musei Nationalis Prague on 26 November 2018, Rudolf Rozkošný and Jaromir Vaňhara of the Department of Botany and Zoology at Masaryk University, describe a new species of Soldier Fly from Mongolia.

The new species is placed in the genus Nemotelus, and given the specific name nartshukae, in honour of Emilia Nartshuk of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Science, for her work on Soldier Flies. The species is described from three specimens, a male collected from the Dalbay Valley in northern Mongolia, and a male and a female collected from a salt lake in Hovd Province. These flies are 6.5-6.7 mm in length, and black in colour with large eyes and yellow markings on their legs.

Nemotelus nartshukae, abdomens detached. (17) Male, lateral view; (18) male, dorsal view; (19) female, lateral view; (20) female, dorsal view. Both specimens without abdomen. Igor Malenovský in Rozkošný & Vaňhara (2018).

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Comet 46P/Wirtanen approaches the Earth.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen will make its closest approach to the Earth on Sunday 16 December 2018, reaching a distance of 0.077 AU from the Earth (7.7% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, or 11 588 000 km). At this distance the comet will be naked eye visible, having a magnitude of 3, although it will be better seen with a telescope or binoculars, close to the belt of Orion, making it easy to find for even amateur astronomers, and easily visible from both hemispheres.

Comet 46/Wirtanen seen from Alberta, Canada, on 6 December 2018. Alan Dyer/Amazing Sky.

46P/Wirtanen was discovered on 17 January 1948 by Carl Wirtenen, working at the Lick Observatory in . The name 46P/Wirtanen implies that it is a periodic comet (P/) (all comets are, strictly speaking, periodic since they all orbit the Sun, but those with periods longer than 200 years are considered to be non-periodic), that it was the 46th comet (comet 3) discovered and that it was discovered by the Wirtenen.
The orbit and current position of Comet 46P/Wirtenen. The Sky Live 3D Solar System Simulator.
46P/Wirtenen has an orbital period of 1987 days (5.44 years) and a highly eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 11.7° to the plain of the Solar System, that brings it from 1.06 AU from the Sun at perihelion (106% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun); to 5.13 AU from the Sun at aphelion (5.13 times as far from the Sun as the Earth or roughly the distance at which Jupiter orbits). As a comet with a period of less than 20 years with an orbit angled at less than 30° to the plane of the Solar System, 46P/Wirtenen is considered to be a Jupiter Family Comet.

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Merostachys mexicana: A new species of Bamboo from Mexico.

Bamboos, Bambusoideae, are evergreen woody plants within the Grass Family, Poaceae. They are large for Grasses. with most species being shrubby, and some rainforest species forming tree-sized plants reaching over 30 m in height. This is particularly remarkable, as each Bamboo stem will reach this size in a single growing season (usually less than four months), with new shoots being produced from an underground rhizome (root-like stem) each growing season, and persisting for several years. In order to do this Bamboos have become the fastest growing plants on Earth, with speeds of up to a milimetre every 90 seconds recorded (which comes out at 4 cm per hour) over a meter in a day. Bamboos flower unfrequently, with many species able to go through many years of vegetative growth, before suddenly going through a flowering episode, co-ordinated over a wide area, to enable sexual reproduction; the most extreme example of this being a Chinese species, Phyllostachys bambusoides, which flowers only once every 130 years.

The genus Merostachys comprises 52 species of woody, rhizomatous Bamboos from Central and South America. The genus reaches its maximum diversity in the Atlantic rainforests of Brazil, where 41 of the known species are found, with nine described species from the rest of South America, and two from Central America, found in the montane cloud forests and rainforests of Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

In a paper published in the journal Phytotaxa on 13 March 2018, Eduado Ruiz-Sanchez of the Departamento de Botánica y Zoología at the Universidad de Guadalajara, Lynn Clark of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology at Iowa State University, Teresa Mejía-Saulés of the Red de Biología Evolutiva at the Instituto de Ecología, and Francisco Lorea-Hernández of the Red de Biodiversidad y Sistemática at the Instituto de Ecología, describe a new species of Merostachys from southern Mexico.

The new species is named Merostachys mexicana, in reference to the country where it was discovered. It is a rhizomatous Bamboo, with visible stems growing at intervals from the underground rhizome. These erect stems reach 6-10 m in height, with a basal diameter of 1-2 cm. They grow erect originally, then adopting a climbing habit. Nodes are 30-45 cm apart, and produce leaves 25-35 cm in length or 10-25 flowering branches 20-56 cm long.

Merostachys mexicana. (A) Culm segment showing a culm leaf with its reflexed blade. (B) Internode showing two nodes and bud. (C) Detail of the apsidate (fan-shaped) early bud development. (D) Culm fragment showing the node and hollow culm with thin walls. (E) Culm fragment showing flowering branches. (F) Foliage leaf complement. (G) Inflorescence showing paired spikelets. (H) Spikelet lateral view showing the lower and upper glumes and lemma. Daniel Barba in Ruiz-Sanchez et al. (2018).

Merostachys mexicana was found growing at two locations, one in Tabasco State, and one in Chiapas, within the El Triunfo National Reserve, in montane cloud forests at altitudes of 1000 and 2080 m above sealevel, respectively. The montane cloud forests of Mexico are an important biodiversity hotspot, but are also a threatened environment, now covering less than half of their original extent. Due to the very small known population of the species, and its being found in a threatened environment, Ruiz-Sanchez et al. recommend that the species be treated as Critically Endangered under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Merostachys mexicana. (A) New erect shoots, showing culm leaves. (B) Foliage leaves. (C) Abaxial side of the foliage leaf complement showing the marginal stripe (white arrow). (D) Foliage leaf complement showing the fimbriae (white arrow). (E) Old inflorescences. (F). Remnant new inflorescence showing spikelets and stamen. (G) Nucoid caryopsis (white arrow). Ruiz-Sanchez in Ruiz-Sanchez et al. (2018).

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