Earthweek: Diary of a planet 3.15

Tsunami Pollution
Toxic and radioactive waste, washed onto Somalia’s coastline by
the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami, has caused an outbreak of illness
in the chaotic African nation.
Tsunami Pollution

Toxic and radioactive waste, washed onto Somalia’s coastline by the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami, has caused an outbreak of illness in the chaotic African nation. The U.N. Environment Program announced that containers of the hazardous materials had been dumped off the Somali coastline in the past, and were ruptured by the massive ocean wave. It said villagers began reporting a wide range of medical problems — such as acute respiratory infections, dry coughing, mouth bleeds, hemorrhages, unusual skin disorders and breathing difficulties — after the waste washed ashore. Observers say the country’s warlords were paid large amounts of cash to allow the waste to be dumped.

Tropical Cyclones

Australia’s Cape York Peninsula was battered by high winds as Cyclone Ingrid moved ashore from the Coral Sea. Only light damage was reported after the storm made landfall.

n Tropical Storm Rae formed briefly around the Cook Islands, and Cyclone Willy became a threat to shipping off northwestern Australia late in the week.

Pollen Relief

As Japan braces for what may be its worst allergy season on record, the country’s Forestry Agency says it has developed a new type of pollen-free cedar to replace the main source of springtime misery. This year’s allergy season is predicted to be especially acute due to last summer’s record heat, which will lead to a surge in pollens. About 67 percent of Japan is covered with trees, and the government encouraged the planting of fast-growing cedars as part of reconstruction after World War II. The Forestry Agency now plans to start distributing saplings of a newly discovered cedar that does not produce pollen. But allergy suffers could have to wait a generation for the new trees to begin replacing the current sniffle-causing culprits.

Earthquakes

A sharp magnitude 5.3 tremor in South Africa’s Free State killed one miner and forced the evacuation of thousands of others from the deep gold mines in the area. Seismologists say that mining operations probably contributed to the seismic activity, which also damaged several buildings around Klerksdorp.

n The strongest in a swarm of seven moderate quakes in northeastern Taiwan injured at least three people and caused buildings to shake violently.

n Earth movements were also felt in southern Japan, southeastern Iran and northwestern Washington state, as well as in Quebec and neighboring areas of New England.

Eruptions

A fresh explosion within Mount St. Helens sent a plume of ash soaring nearly seven miles above Washington state and Montana. Aircraft were diverted around the plume, and vulcanologists say the 30-minute outpouring may have been triggered by a partial collapse of a lava dome in the crater, which has grown hundreds of feet since the volcano became active again last September.

n A swarm of more than 3,700 earthquakes off Vancouver Island prompted a team of U.S. and Canadian scientists to search the seabed for a possible new volcanic eruption beneath the Pacific Ocean.

Dolphin Deaths

Marine biologists and volunteers in the Florida Keys worked to save a group of rough-toothed dolphins, which beached themselves near where the U.S. Navy had just used sonar during military exercises. At least 23 of the nearly 70 marine mammals have died since they became stranded around Marathon Key. Some scientists theorized that loud bursts of sonar could have caused the deepwater dolphins to surface too quickly and become disoriented due to sudden decompression. The Naval Submarine Forces unit, which was conducting the exercises with Navy SEALs near Key West just before the beachings, said it was cooperating with marine mammal experts to determine if their use of two kinds of sonar could have been a factor.

Giant Croc Rescue

A giant crocodile, said to have eaten more than 80 people in eastern Uganda, was captured alive, then quickly moved to a crocodile farm to save it from an angry mob that wanted to kill it. Five Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers waited with local fishermen for the crocodile to appear in a three-night vigil on the shores of Lake Victoria. They then captured the one-ton reptile with nets, ropes and cables near the town of Lugaga. UWA spokesman Moses Mapesa believes the 16-foot croc is about 60 years old. Ugandan authorities say recent deadly crocodile attacks are due to an increased human population and activities that have encroached on the reptiles’ territory.

– By Steve Newman

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