Tuesday, 8 July 2014

At least three dead following Mexico Earthquake.

At least three people have died and several dozen more have been injured, following an Earthquake in the southeast of the Mexican state of Chiapas slightly after 6.20 am local time (slightly after 11.20 am GMT) on Monday 7 July 2014.. The quake was recorded as a Magnitude 6.9 event at a depth of 60 km by the United States Geological Survey, and was felt across the Mexican States of Chiapas, Veracruz, Tobasco and Compeche as well as in neighbouring Belize. The worst of the damage, however, is reported to have occurred in Guatemala, where the event triggered a series of landslides and building collapses. The dead are reported to include a newborn baby killed by a collapsing ceiling at a hospital in San Marcos, Guatemala.

A resident of San Pedro, Guatemala, begins clearing debris away from his home. Oliver de Ros/Associated Press.

Southern Mexico is located on the southernmost part of the North American Plate. To the south, along the Middle American Trench, which lies off the southern coast off Mexico, the Cocos Plate is being subducted under the North American Plate, passing under southern Mexico as it sinks into the Earth. This is not a smooth process, and the plates frequently stick together then break apart as the pressure builds up, causing Earthquakes on the process.

The approximate location of the 7 July 2014 Chiapas Earthquake. Google Maps.

See also...


The United States Geological Survey Recorded a Magnitude 5.0 Earthquake at a depth of 74.2 km in the east of Esculinta...



The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 6.4 Earthquake at a depth of 24 km, roughly 15 km to the north of the...




The Middle American Trench, in which the Cocos Plate is subducted beneath the North American Plate, runs parallel to the south coast of Mexico. Like many subduction zones, this feeds a chain of...



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Monday, 7 July 2014

Exxon Mobile facility in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, occupied by protestors.

An ExxonMobil terminal on the Quo Iboe River in Akwa Ibom State has been occupied by protestors complaining at the oil company's failure to carry out environmental remediation work and pay compensation to local communities promised after a series of spills in the area. The occupation, which began on Sunday 6 July 2014, was reportedly triggered by an incident on Thursday 3 July in which a storage tank at the facility was struck by lightning, resulting in a fire and oil flowing into the river.

The approximate location of the ExxonMobil terminal on the Quo Iboe River. Google Maps.

The dispute began on 13 August 2012, when a major spill at the site covered about 35 km on shoreline,  which ExxonMobil reportedly originally denied and then promised to clean up and pay compensation to local communities.  Community leaders in the area have complained that only a minimal effort was made to deal with the spill, and no compensation was ever paid. A number of smaller spills have been reported since this initial incident, but local communities report having received no compensation from ExxonMobil.

See also...


Members of the Ikarama community in the northeast of Bayelsa State, Nigeria, have reported that a mixture of natural gas and crude...



A major spill has been reported in the Nembe Kingdom area of Bayelsa State, Nigeria, with oil covering mangrove swamps, rivers and commercial waterways. The spillage appears to have originated near to the Shell-owned Well 62, early on the morning of Friday 12...



The Nigerian National Oil Spill Detection and Response...

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Fungal Parasites from the gardens of Leafcutter Ants.

Leafcutter Ants harvest vegetation from the tropical rainforests of South and Central America, which they then carry back to their nests and use as feed in fungal farms. Each species of Ant has its own unique species of food-fungus, and it is thought that the symbiotic relationship between the two has driven evolution within the group. The farms of the Ants are also infected by parasitic Fungi of the genus Escovopsis, which requires that the Ants constantly tend their farms, weeding out the parasitic Fungus before it overwhelms the colony. To date only two species have been described in the genus Escovopsis but it is thought that the group is more diverse, and it has been suggested that these parasites may be host specific, with each species of Ant having a species of parasitic Fungi that targets its nest.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS One on 20 December 2013, a team of scientists led by Juliana Augustin of the Departamento de Entomologia at the Universidade Federal de Viçosa, describe four new species of parasitic Fungi collected from the gardens and middens (external waste tips where unwanted material from the nests is dumped) of Leafcutter Ants from a tract of remnant subtropical Atlantic rainforest in Minas Gerais State, Brazil. Three of these parasites were placed in the genus Escovopsis, but one was considered sufficiently different to merit the erection of a new genus.

The first new species described is named Escovopsis moelleri, in honour of AFW Moeller, who first described and illustrated Fungi from the genus Escovopsis from Leafcutter Ants’ nests in 1893, although he did not formally name them. Escovopsis moelleri was originally isolated from the fungal gardens of the Leafcutter Ant Acromyrmex subterraneus molestans, and subsequently also found within colonies of Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus. Colonies of Escovopsis moelleri were fast-growing, reaching 5-6 cm in diameter on agar in 7 days at 25˚C. Spores developed on distinctive areal hyphae. 

Escovopsis moelleri, after 7 days on oatmeal agar, in 9 cm a diameter plate, at 25˚C. Augustin et al. (2013).

Escovopsis moelleri. (A–B) Growth habit, note stolons (long arrow) formed at the colony edge with rhizoids (short arrows) developing on the agar surface; (C–D) Details of conidiogenesis showing early development of the clavate vesicles (C, scale bar is 10 μm), and, a later stage covered with swollen, short-necked phialides (D, scale bar is 20 μm). Augustin et al. (2013).

Escovopsis moelleri. (A–D) Older stages of vesicle development showing darkening conidia with thickened rugose walls and apical caplike structures (arrows); note the short-lived or evanescent vesicle (D). All scale bars are 10 μm. Augustin et al. (2013).

 
Escovopsis moelleri: Details of conidiogenesis and spore morphology, as revealed by Critical-Point Drying SEM. (A) Branching and vesicle formation (scale bar is 10 μm); (B) detail of conidial morphology, with ornamentation and apical cap (arrows) (scale bar is 2 μm). Augustin et al. (2013).

The second new species described is named Escovopsis microspora, in reference to its small spores. It was originally isolated from nests of the Ant Acromyrmex subterraneus molestans, and subsequently also found in the nests of Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus and Acromyrmex niger. Colonies of Escovopsis microspora were fast-growing, reaching 4.5-5.5 cm in diameter on agar in 7 days at 25˚C. Spores developed on distinctive areal hyphae. 

Escovopsis microspora, after 7 days on oatmeal agar, in 9 cm a diameter plate, at 25˚C. Augustin et al. (2013).

Escovopsis microspora. (A–B) Details of conidiogenesis with clavate vesicles and swollen, short-necked phialides producing chains of conidia (scale bar is 20 μm); (C–D) Older evanescent vesicles with dark spores (scale bar is 10 μm); (E) Inset, showing conidial ornamentation (scale bar is 5 μm). Augustin et al. (2013).

The third new species described is named Escovopsis lentecrescens, in reference to its slow growth rate. Escovopsis lentecrescens was only isolated from the gardens of the Ant Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus. Colonies grew very slowly on agar, with no perceptible growth after 7 days at 25˚C, producing a 6-7mm diameter colony after 14 days and a 15-17 mm colony after 21 days.

 
Escovopsis lentecrescens, after 7 days on oatmeal agar, in 9 cm a diameter plate, at 25˚C. Augustin et al. (2013).

Escovopsis lentecrescens. (A–D) Stages of conidiogenesis, resulting in evanescent heads (D, arrow), all scale bars are 20 μm; (E–F) Paratype, faster-growing strain with more evanescent heads (scale bar is 10 μm), inset (G) showing detail of spore veil or coat (scale bar is 2 μm). Augustin et al. (2013).


The final new species is placed in a separate genus, Escovopsioides, meaning ‘similar to Escovopsis’, and given the specific name nivea, in reference to the snow white colouration of its colonies. Escovopsioides nivea was originally found growing on the middens and in the gardens of the Ant Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus, and subsequently also found in colonies of Acromyrmex subterraneus molestans and Acromyrmex niger. Colonies of Escovopsioides nivea were fast-growing, reaching 6-7 cm in diameter on agar in 7 days at 25˚C. 

Escovopsioides nivea, after 7 days on oatmeal agar, in 9 cm a diameter plate, at 25˚C. Augustin et al. (2013).

Escovopsioides nivea. (A–B) Conidiophores bearing both terminal and intercalary vesicles with few cylindrical, subulate phialides tapering gradually to a long neck region, and hyaline, thin-walled conidia (inset, C)—distinguished from the sphaerical darker aleurioconidia (B, left above inset); (D) Aleurioconidia emerging directly from hyphae; (E) Chlamydospores sensu lato formed in glistening white chains or ropes, densely guttulate. All scale bars are 10 μm. Augustin et al. (2013).

Details of conidiogenesis and spore morphology, as revealed by Critical-Point Drying SEM. (C) Escovopsioides nivea, chains of chlamydospores sensu lato revealing cryptic surface ornamentation or mucilaginous deposit (scale bar is 10 μm); (D–F) Escovopsioides nivea, (D) showing both terminal vesicle and phialides produced laterally on slight swelling (arrow) (scale bar is 10 μm). Augustin et al. (2013).

This study confirms the theory that parasitic weedy fungi in the gardens of Leafcutter Ants are more diverse than previously thought, but disproves the idea that the parasitic fungi are host specific, with each species of fungi apparently being able to infest the nests of any Ant.

The method of transmission of the parasitic Fungi has been a mystery for some time. When young Queen Ants leave their parent colony to start new colonies of their own they carry with them a supply of food fungus with which to start a new farm, but have never been found carrying the weedy fungi, suggesting that these are somehow transmitted from established colony to established colony rather than from parent colony to offspring colony. Augustin et al. suggest that this may be linked to the midden-building habit of the Ants; many related species of Ant build middens in underground chambers, which are then sealed off, isolating the waste. However Leafcutter Ants build midden heaps outside their nests, where waste, including material infected with weedy fungi, are placed. This enables the weedy fungi to produce spores outside the nest, with can then be more widely distributed, either by water or air, infecting workers of other Leafcutter Ant colonies or settling on leaves likely to be collected by such workers, and thereby reaching new Ant nests.

See also…

 How the Piñuela affects soil communities in its native environment.

The Piñuela, Bromelia pinguin, is a ground dwelling Bromeliad widely farmed in Central America and the Caribbean both for its fruit and its hedge forming ability. It naturally forms dense clumps spiney growth, unusual in rainforests, where finding two plants of the...


 A new species of Earthstar Fungus from the Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary of northeast Thailand.

Earthstars (Geastrales) are distinctive Macro-fungi...


 Two new species of Amphisphaerid Fungi from southern China.

The Amphisphaerid Fungi (Amphisphaeriaceae) are a group of Ascomycetes found In South America, New Zealand and Eurasia. They are predominantly plant pathogens, with some species being considered serious agricultural pests. They are also a source of chemically novel metabolites, which makes even non-pathogenic species of interest as...


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Asteroid 177049 (2003 EE16) passes the Earth.

Asteroid 177049 (2003 EE16) passed by the Earth at a distance of about 14 460 000 km (37.61 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon), slightly after 9.50 pm GMT on Tuesday 1 July 2014. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would have presented a serious threat. 177049 (2003 EE16) has an estimated equivalent diameter of 220-680 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 220-680 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be predicted to be capable of passing through the Earth's atmosphere relatively intact, impacting the ground with an energy equivalent to about 300-15 500 megatons of TNT (roughly 17 500-912 000 times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb). Such an event would result in a crater between 3.25 and 9 km across, cause devastation on a global scale and would have the potential to affect the climate globally for decades to centuries after the impact event.

The calculated orbit of 177049 (2003 EE16). JPL Small Body Database Browser.

177049 (2003 EE16) was discovered on 3 March 2003 by the University of Arizona's Kitt Peak-Spacewatch Project at the Steward Observatory in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2003 EE16 implies that it was the 405th asteroid (asteroid E16) discovered in the first half of March 2003 (period 2003 E), while the designation 177049 indicates that it was the 177049th asteroid discovered overall - asteroids are not generally given this longer designation for some time after discovery, to avoid false detections.

177049 (2003 EE16) has a 617 day year orbital period and an eccentric orbit that takes it from 0.54 AU from the Sun (i.e. 0.54 % of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, considerably inside the orbit of Venus) to 2.29 AU from the Sun (i.e. 229% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, considerably outside the orbit of 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 close encounters between the asteroid and Earth are fairly common, with the last thought to have happened in February 2013 and the next predicted in August 2019. As an asteroid on an Earth-orbit crossing trajectory which is large enough to cause serious harm should it collide with Earth it is also classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid.

See also...


Asteroid 2011 UZ255 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 9 942 000 km (25.86 times the average distance between the Earth and...



Asteroid 2014 MV18 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 2 758 000 km (7.17 times the average distance between the Earth and...



Asteroid 2013 XM24 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 16 920 000 km (44.01 times the average distance between the Earth and...


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Magnitude 3.1 Earthquake in Grant County, Oklahoma.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 3.1 Earthquake at a depth of 2.4 km in southern Grant County, Oklahoma, slightly after 10.20 am local time (slightly after 3.20 pm GMT) on Sunday 6 July 2013. There are no reports of any damage or casualties associated with this event, though it is likely to have been felt locally.

The approximate location of the 6 July 2014 Grant County Earthquake. Google Maps.

Oklahoma is naturally prone to Earthquakes, particularly in the southwest of the state, near the Meers Fault Zone, but since 2009 has suffered a sharp increase in the number of small quakes in the central and northeast parts of the state. While most of these quakes have been quite small, a few have been large enough to potentially cause problems, and any unexplained increase in seismic activity is a cause for concern. 

In a paper published in the journal Geology on 26 March 2013, a team of geologists led by Katie Keranen of the ConocoPhillips School of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Oklahoma linked one of the largest of these quakes, a Magnitude 5.7 event in November 2011 which caused damage locally and was felt across 17 states, to the practice of pumping liquids (usually brine) into injection wells, which is common in the hydrocarbons industry and used to displace oil or gas, which can then be extracted from nearby extraction wells (where this is done in bursts at pressure to intentionally break up rock it is called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking). Significantly they suggested that the practice could lead to quakes years or even decades after the actual injection.

Witness accounts of quakes can help geologists to understand these events and the rock structures that cause them. If you felt this quake (or if you were in the area but did not, which is also useful information) you can report it to the USGS here.

See also...


The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 3.3 Earthquake at a depth of 4.4 km in southwest Grant County...



The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 3.6 Earthquake at a depth of 5.0 km in northern Lincoln County...



The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 4.0 Earthquake at a depth of 5.2 km in eastern Logan County...


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Two injured in British Columbia landslide.

Two people were injured when part of a cliff collapsed onto Highway 97 in British Columbia, about 6 km north of Summerland, at about 11.30 am local time on Sunday 6 July 2014. The pair, thought to be a couple in their 60s from Alberta, were taken to a local hospital for treatment for non-life-threatening injuries. The incident happened when a 20 m section of cliff collapsed onto the road, apparently driving the couple's SUV into the central reservation.

The scene of the 6 July 2014 British Columbia landslide. Kelowna Daily Courier.

The precise cause of the incident is unclear at this time, however it is understood that a nearby section of the same road was closed by a landslide that covered all four lanes with debris in 2008, which lead to the closure of the road while about 30 000 cubic meters of cliff was removed by blasting. This new incident raises serious questions about the stability of the cliff above the road, an the situation is currently being assessed by geotechnical engineers. 

The approximate location of the 6 July 2014 British Columbia Landslide. Google Maps.

See also...


Six homes have temporarily been evacuated after a landslide partially blocked the Cedar River in Mapple Valley, Kent County, Washington State, at about 10.30 am local time on Saturday 10 May 2013. The landslide dislodged a triangular section of hillside, roughly 100 m high and 100 m wide at the base, depositing a large volume of rocks and mud, plus several mature trees, into the river. The floodwater...



Three people are known to have died, and several more are in critical conditions, following a landslide near the town of Oso in Snohomish...



A major landslip occurred on Whidbey Island, Washington State, at...

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Sunday, 6 July 2014

Asteroid 2011 UZ255 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2011 UZ255 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 9 942 000 km (25.86 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon), at about 8.15 pm GMT on Tuesday 1 July 2014. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would have presented a real threat. 2011 UZ255 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 43-140 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 43-140 m in diameter), and an object towards the upper end of this range would be predicted to be capable of passing through the Earth's atmosphere relatively intact, impacting the ground with an energy equivalent to about 68 megatons of TNT (roughly 4000 times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb). Such an event would result in a crater about 2.25 km across, cause devastation over a wide area around the impact site and would have the potential to affect the climate globally for several years.

The calculated orbit of 2011 UZ255. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

2011 UZ255 was discovered on 30 October 2011 by the University of Arizona's Kitt Peak-Spacewatch Project at the Steward Observatory in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson.. The designation 2011 UZ255 implies that it was the 6400th asteroid (asteroid Z255) discovered in the second half of October 2011 (period 2011 U).

2011 UZ255 has a 1062 day year orbital period and an eccentric orbit that takes it from 0.86 AU from the Sun (i.e. 86% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 3.22 AU from the Sun (i.e. 322% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, more than twice the distance at which Mars orbits the Sun). 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). Close encounters between the asteroid and Earth are fairly common, with the last thought to have happened in October 2011 and the next predicted in November 2040.

See also...


Asteroid 2014 MV18 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 2 758 000 km (7.17 times the average distance between the Earth and...



Asteroid 2013 XM24 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 16 920 000 km (44.01 times the average distance between the Earth...




Asteroid 1994 CJ1 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 13 570 000 km (35.29 times the average distance between the Earth and the...


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