Wednesday 28 February 2018

Ziwaya-Tripoli pipeline closed off due to fire.

An oil pipeline connecting the Zawiya Refinery in Libya to the capitol, Tripoli, has been closed down following an explosion and fire in the Joudaim District that broke out on Monday 26 February 2018. The pipeline supplies about two thirds of the fuel used in Tripoli, prompting fears of shortages when the news was released, but the Brega Oil Marketing Company, which operates the pipeline and supplies fuel in the city, has assured customers that it has sufficient reserves to maintain supplies until the pipeline is repaired.

Libyan firefighters tackle an oil fire near Zawiya. Libyan Observer.

Libya has suffered a number of serious oil fires in recent years, caused by a combination of a decaying infrastructure, and deliberate attacks linked to political instability in the North African Country. However on this occasion the cause of the fire appears to have been more mundane; the buried pipeline was apparently struck by a farmer while ploughing a field, resulting in a leak that ignited causing the explosion and subsequent fire. Nobody is thought to have been injured in the incident.

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Avalanches kill three in Washington State.

Three people have been confirmed dead following two avalanche incidents in Washington State this week. Joseph Simenstad, 32, from Issaquah in King Country died after being buried along with his wife, Sable, and Josh Winter, 24, while snowboarding near Mirror Lake, west of Cle Elum in Kittitas County, on Saturday 24 February 2018. The following day Declan Ervin, 17, and Niko Suokko, 18, both from Bellevue in King County, were caught in a second avalanche near Snoqualmie Pass in King County.

The scene of an avalanche that killed a man and injured two other people near Mirror Lake, Washington, on 24 February 2018. Kittitas County Sheriff's Department.

Avalanches are caused by the mechanical failure of snowpacks; essentially when the weight of the snow above a certain point exceeds the carrying capacity of the snow at that point to support its weight. This can happen for two reasons, because more snow falls upslope, causing the weight to rise, or because snow begins to melt downslope, causing the carrying capacity to fall. Avalanches may also be triggered by other events, such as Earthquakes or rockfalls. Contrary to what is often seen in films and on television, avalanches are not usually triggered by loud noises. Because snow forms layers, with each layer typically occurring due to a different snowfall, and having different physical properties, multiple avalanches can occur at the same spot, with the failure of a weaker layer losing to the loss of the snow above it, but other layers below left in place - to potentially fail later.

Diagrammatic representation of an avalanche, showing how layering of snow contributes to these events. Expedition Earth.

Northwestern North America have seen a number of avalanche related incidents this winter, largely due to high levels of snowfall. This is, in turn caused by warmer conditions over the Pacific, which leads to higher rates of evaporation over the ocean, and therefore higher rates of precipitation over North America, which falls as snow in cooler upland regions. There are further concerns that as the climate warms in the coming months, the thawing of this snow will lead to further dangerous avalanches.

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Antipathozoanthus obscurus, Antipathozoanthus remengesaui, & Antipathozoanthus cavernus: Three new species of Parazoanthid Soft Coral from the Indo-Pacific region.

Parazoanthid Corals are colony forming Soft Corals noted for their tendency to grow on other benthic filter feeding animals, typically Sponges but sometimes Corals or other organisms, a form of facultative parasitism in which the Parazoanthid benefits from currents generated by the larger organism, while at the same time covering part of its surface, reducing the host’s ability to feed itself. Parazoanthids usually lack symbiotic Algae, and inhabit dark environments such as marine caves and deep sea cold seeps, where there are few predators, but also little food and limited natural currents, and thereby rely on their host’s ability to generate a current to survive.

In a paper published in the journal ZooKeys on 29 December 2017, Hiroki Kise of the Molecular Invertebrate Systematics and Ecology Laboratory at the University of the Ryukyus, and the Palau International Coral Reef Center, Takuma Fujii, also of the Molecular Invertebrate Systematics and Ecology Laboratory at the University of the Ryukyus, and of the Research Center for Island Studies Amami Station of Kagoshima University, Giovanni Diego Masucci and Piera Biondi, again of the Molecular Invertebrate Systematics and Ecology Laboratory at the University of the Ryukyus, and James Davis Reimer, once again of the Molecular Invertebrate Systematics and Ecology Laboratory at the University of the Ryukyus, and the Palau International Coral Reef Center, and of the Tropical Biosphere Research Center of the University of the Ryukyus, describe three new species of Parazoanthid Soft Coral from the Indo-Pacific region. All are placed in the genus Antipathozoanthus, which gets its name from its habit of overgrowing Antipatharian (Black) Corals.

The first new species described is given the name Antipathozoanthus obscurus, meaning ‘dark’ in reference to the dark environments in which it was found. The species was found in caves and crevices on reefs at depths of between 3 and 15 m, and, unusually, grew on a rocky, non-living substrate, where it was possibly able to survive due to strong currents generated by tidal action, which may have carried planktonic food into the caves. Polyps of this species reach 5-10 mm in height, with an oral disk that opens to a similar size in diameter, and have between 26 and 32 brown or orange tentacles. These polyps are connected by stolons which form a mesh-like network. The whole is covered by an encrustation of sand and other particles up to 8 mm in size. The species was found in the Okinawa Islands of Japan, and around Al Wajh Shaybarah on the Red Sea Coast of Saudi Arabia, which suggests a far wider distribution, probably encompassing the entire Indian Ocean and Western Pacific, and possibly further afield. 

Specimen of Antipathozoanthus obscurus. Collected from Cape Bise, Motobu, Okinawajima Island, Japan (26°42'34.4"N, 127°52'49.2"E) at a depth of 5 m by James Davis Reimer. Kise et al. (2017).

The second species described is named Antipathozoanthus remengesaui, in honour of Tommy Esang Remengesau, Jr., the current president of the Republic of Palau, for his support of marine research and conservation in Palau. This species was found growing on colonies of Corals of the genus Antipathes growing around the entrances to caves at depths of between 9 and 40 m, at Kagoshima (Japan) and Palau in the Pacific Ocean, in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and around Al Wajh Shaybarah on the Red Sea Coast of Saudi Arabia. Polyps of this species are white in colour and reach 3-8 mm in height, with oral disks up to 8 mm in diameter, surrounded by 40-42 pinkish, translucent tentacles up to 4 mm in length. These polyps are solitary, or only weakly connected by a poorly developed coenenchyma. This species also tends to develop a coating of sand particles, though these tend to be smaller, at 1-3 mm.

Antipathozoanthus remengesaui, colony connected by poorly developed coenenchyma with white polyps on Antipathes sp., collected from Blue Hole, Palau (7°8'29.4"N, 134°13'23.3"E) at a depth of 23 m by James Davis Reimer. Kise et al. (2017).

The final species described is named Antipathozoanthus cavernus, in reference to its habit of living in caves. This species was found growing on colonies of the Coral Myripathes around cave entrances and on steep slopes at depths of between 19 and 39 m in Kagoshima and the Maldives. Polyps of this species reach 3-10 mm in height and have an orange oral disk 4-15 mm in diameter, surrounded by 32-40 translucent tentacles up to 5 mm in length. The polyps are connected by a highly developed coenenchyma, and again the colony is coated in sand and other particles 1-8 mm in size. 

Antipathozoanthus cavernus polyps connected by highly developed coenenchyme with orange ring around oral disk, collected from Siaes Tunnel, Palau (7°18'54.8"N, 134°13'13.3"E) at a depth of 39 m by James Davis Reimer. Kise et al. (2017).

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Monday 26 February 2018

Magnitude 7.5 Earthquake kills at least 31 in Papua New Guinea.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 7.5 Earthquake at a depth of 35.0 km, roughly 89 km to the southwest of the city of Porgera, in Enga Province in  central Papau New Guinea, slightly before 3.45 am on Sunday 25 February 2018, local time (slightly before 5.45 pm on Saturday 24 February GMT). At least 31 people have died as a result of this Earthquake, with over 300 more being injured, largely as a result of a series of landslides triggered by the event, which occurred in the mountainous interior of the island.

A landslide blocking a road in the interior of Papua New Guinea following the 25 February 2018 Earthquake. Baundo Mereh/Storyful.

The north coast of Papua New Guinea is located on the southern margin of the South Bismarck Plate, close to its boundary with the Australian Plate, which underlies most of the Papuan mainland. The Australian Plate is being subducted beneath the South Bismarck along the Bismark Range of Mountains in central Papua, this is not a smooth process, with the rocks sticking together, then moving sharply as the pressure builds up enough to break them apart, which can also lead to Earthquakes in the region.

 The approximate location of the 25 February 2018 Enga Province Earthquake. USGS.

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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Sunday 25 February 2018

Eruption on Mount Ebeko.

The Kamchatkan Volcanic Eruption Response Team has reported an eruption on Mount Ebeko, a 1156 m volcano on the northern end of Paramushir Island in the Kuril Archipelago, on Saturday 24 February 2018. The eruption produced an ash column about 2 km high, and led to ashfalls in the town of Severo-Kurilsk. A warning has been issued to aviation in the area. Ebeko is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril group, with frequent small eruptions and lava flows, though large eruptions are unusual.

The approximate location of Mount Ebeko. Google Maps.

The Kuril Archipelago runs from the northwestern tip of Hokkaido to the southern tip of the Kamtchatka Peninsula. It marks the southern margin of the Okhotsk Plate, which underlies the Sea of Okhotsk, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Sakhalin Island and Tōhoku and Hokkaidō in Japan. Along this southern margin the Pacific Plate is being subducted beneath the Okhotsk Plate in the Kuril Trench. As the Pacific Plate sinks under the Okhotsk Plate it is partial melted by the resultant friction and the heat of the Earth's interior. Some of the melted material then rises up through the overlying Okhotsk Plate as magma, fuelling the volcanoes of the Kuril Archipelago.

 Simple diagram showing the subduction of the Pacific Plate beneath the Okhotsk Plate along the Kuril Trench. Auburn University.

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Saturday 24 February 2018

Declining Ammanoid diversity before the End Permian Extinction in Tethyan limestones from Iran.

The End Permian Extinction is the most severe extinction event known in the fossil record, with something like 96% of all species found before the event dying out without any decedents. The cause of this event has long been mysterious, though it is now generally thought to be associated with environmental degradation caused by the eruption of flood basalts in the Siberian Traps Igneous Province. However some researchers in the field have suggested that the model of a sudden extinction at the End of the Permian is itself incorrect, and caused by over-reliance on sections which average fossils from too long a time interval to estimate diversity before the extinction event, leading to an overestimation of that diversity, and therefore the scale of the final extinction, arguing that there was a long term decline in biodiversity running up to the End of the Permian.

In a paper published in the journal Geology on 24 January 2018, Wolfgang Kiessling of the GeoZentrum Nordbayern at the Universität Erlangen−Nürnberg, Martin Schobben of the Museum für Naturkunde at the Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science, and the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, Abbas Ghaderi of the Department of Geology at the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Vachik Hairapetian of the Department of Geology at the Isfahan (Khorasgan) Branch of the Islamic Azad University, and Lucyna Leda and Dieter Korn, also of the Museum für Naturkunde at the Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science, examine the diversity of fossil Ammanoids in two deepwater limestone sections from the ancient Tethys Ocean, which today outcrop at Julfa in East Azerbaijan Province in northwest Iran and Baghuk Mountain in Isfahan Province in central Iran.

Ammanoids are an extinct group of Cephalopod Molluscs which appeared during the Devonian and had external shells superficially similar to the living Nautiloids, though they are in fact more closely related to Coleoids (Octopus, Squid and Cuttlefish). The most noted group of  Ammanoids were the often large and conspicuous Ammonites, which survived until the End Cretaceous extinction, but there were a number of other groups, several of which died out in the End Permian Extinction. Ammanoid species are typically fairly easy to tell apart by their shell ornamentation, and the group was prone to high rates of species turnover, making them useful to biostratigraphers (scientists that use fossils to date rocks).

Paratirolites kittli, an Ammanoid from the Late Permian of Iran. Leonova (2016).

Kiessling et al. examined the top 4 m of the limestone at both locations, which is thought to represent a time of steady deposition lasting about 700 000 years (earlier portions of the deposits are thought to have had less even sedimentation rates, and were therefore excluded from the study. They found that rather than a single extinction event at the end of the period, a number of separate pulses of extinction were recorded, suggesting a long term break-down in environmental conditions leading up to the End of the Permian, rather than a single extinction-triggering event at the end of the period. This was further supported by the nature of the Ammanoids closest to the End of the Permian, which were both smaller than earlier specimens, and had simpler ornamentation, resembling juveniles of the earlier species, something which is also likely to be a sign of environmental stress.

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Seneciobracon novalatus: A new species of Braconid Wasp from Cretaceous Burmese Amber.

Braconid Wasps are a hyper-diverse group of parasitoid Wasps (Wasps with larvae that live inside the body of another Arthropod, slowly consuming it as they grow), with over 21 000 described species alive today, and many more species being described all the time. The Braconids have an excellent fossil record during the Cainozoic, with many modern groups found early in this period, suggesting that they probably first appeared and diversified early in the Cretaceous. However, specimens from the Cretaceous are much rarer, making the early history of the group hard to understand.

Cretaceous ‘Burmese Amber’ has been extensively worked at several sites across northern Myanmar (though mostly in Kachin State) in the last 20 years. The amber is fairly clear, and often found in large chunks, providing an exceptional window into the Middle Cretaceous Insect fauna. This amber is thought to have started out as the resin of a Coniferous Tree, possibly a Cypress or an Araucaria, growing in a moist tropical forest. This amber has been dated to between 105 and 95 million years old, based upon pollen inclusions, and to about 98.8 million years by uranium/lead dating of ash inclusions in the amber. 

The new species is named Seneciobracon novalatus, where ‘Seneciobracon’ means ‘Old Man Braconid’ and ‘novalatus’ means ‘new wing’. The species is described from a single female specimen, 2 mm in length, from a piece of amber from the Hukawng Valley in Kachin State, northern Myanmar. This species is thought not to belong to any living Braconid group, but rather to a previously unknown, extinct lineage, and is therefore placed in its own separate subfamily, named the Seneciobraconinae.

Photographs of female of Seneciobracon novalatus, in mid-Cretaceous amber from northern Myanmar. (A) Specimen in right lateral view as preserved. (B) Inset detail of pterostigmal region of forewing, depicting small costal cell. Engel et al. (2018).

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Woman bitten by Shark in Botany Bay, New South Wales.

Several beaches in New South Wales, Australia, have been temporarily closed after a woman was bitten by a Shark while swimming off Little Congwong Beach in the Kamay Botany Bay National Park on Friday 23 February 2018. The unnamed 55-year-old woman was attacked around dusk by a Great White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias, 27.-3.2 m in length, which bit her once on the leg before retreating. She is being treated in St George Hospital in Sydney, but is not thought to have received any dangerous injuries.

Woman being rushed from Little Congwong Beach by paramedics after being bitten by a Shark on 23 February 2018. Channel 9.

Despite their fearsome reputation, attacks by Sharks are relatively rare, with no recorded events near Botany Bay in at least 25 years. Most attacks on Humans by Great White Sharks are thought to be mistakes. The species feeds principally on Marine Mammals, which we superficially resemble when we enter the water, gaining the majority of their nutrition from the thick adipose (fat) layers of these animals, which we lack. Due to this, when Great Whites do attack Humans these attacks are often broken off without the victim being consumed. Such attacks frequently result in severe injuries, but are seldom immediately fatal, with victims likely to survive if they receive immediate medical attention.

A Great White Shark striking at prey. Brandon Cole/NPL.

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