Earthweek: A Diary of the Planet 6.21.05

Food Chain Shuffle
The entire marine food chain off Atlantic Canada is being
restructured due to the collapse of large fish stocks more than a
decade ago, according to a report in the journal Science.
Food Chain Shuffle

The entire marine food chain off Atlantic Canada is being restructured due to the collapse of large fish stocks more than a decade ago, according to a report in the journal Science. Co-author Ken Frank, of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, says the virtual disappearance of cod and other large species such as haddock, flounder and hake led to what he terms a “cascade effect.” Once the larger predators like cod declined, the smaller herring, shrimp and snow crab underwent a population explosion. The lowest members of the food chain, zooplankton and algae, are now being depleted at a faster rate because the thriving smaller fish are feeding on them more. The report raises concerns that the new environment will slow, if not prevent, the full recovery of cod stocks – once the economic lifeblood of the region.

Drought Breaker

Much of drought-stricken eastern Australia received heavy rainfalls, boosting spirits of farmers who have suffered through the worst dry spells in a generation. Forecasters say more rain is likely to fall where it is needed most. Last month’s rainfall across western New South Wales was the lowest on record for May, and many areas have yet to recover from last year’s “big dry.”

Season’s First

The Gulf Coast was drenched by the first tropical feature of the Atlantic hurricane season. While Tropical Storm Arlene quickly lost force after making landfall on the Florida Panhandle, it carried heavy rain northward through the Tennessee Valley and Great Lakes.

Polio Returns

Indonesia’s first polio outbreak in a decade has infected 46 children with the crippling disease. The number of infected children continued to rise even after the government launched a massive immunization drive as the first cases appeared in late May. Polio was eliminated from Indonesia nine years ago, but is believed to have been brought back in by migrant workers or Islamic pilgrams returning from Mecca. Most of the cases have been in Java.

Rising Tide

Bangladesh’s largest coastal island has been eroded to half of its former size during the past 40 years by rising sea levels, researchers say. Mohammad Shamsuddoha, of the non-governmental organization The Coast Trust, says river currents surrounding Bhola have been increased due to the higher Bay of Bengal levels, increasingly eating away at it and other nearby estuary islands. The loss of land area has left about half a million people homeless, and Shamsuddoha says Bhola will disappear entirely in about 40 years if the trend continues.


A powerful temblor in far northern Chile killed five people when buildings collapsed, while six others died when a rock slide struck their vehicle.

• A Pacific tsunami alert was issued briefly after a magnitude 7.2 quake struck off California’s northwestern coast.

• Earth movements were also felt in Southern California, the Aleutian Islands, central Ecuador, Taiwan, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, Iran’s Fars province and Crete.

Stalled Monsoon

A sudden halt in the advance of India’s annual monsoon rains in the south of the country left a searing heat wave in place over much of the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Officially, at least 55 people died of heat-related causes in the eastern state of Orissa during two days that saw temperatures soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. But relief workers say 245 perished of dehydration or sunstroke.

The monsoon season is critical to India’s farming economy, and further delays in its drenching rainfall could cause massive losses to agriculture. In April, India’s Meteorological Department predicted a 75 percent probability of ample monsoon rainfall.

Stinging Invasion

A population explosion of poisonous caterpillars in central Germany has led authorities to close schools and kindergartens, and to dispatch exterminators dressed in head-to-toe gear.

Oak processionary caterpillars were once confined to southern and central Europe, but climate change and an unusually warm and dry 2003 caused them to multiply by the thousands in Germany’s Hesse state.

Any contact with the insects’ stiff-haired spines can cause skin rashes, eye infections and asthma attacks, according to a spokesman for the infested town of Dreieich. Hairs are often blown in the wind, increasing the chance they will come in contact with humans. The caterpillars prefer sunlight to shade, which is why they have gathered in great numbers around Dreieich’s schoolyards and parks, officials say.

– By Steve Newman

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