Earthweek: A Diary of a Planet

Greenhouse Gas Archive
Samples from the world’s deepest ice core reveal that levels of
carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for global warming, are
now 27 percent higher than at any other point in the last 650,000

Greenhouse Gas Archive

Samples from the world’s deepest ice core reveal that levels of carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for global warming, are now 27 percent higher than at any other point in the last 650,000 years. “We have added another piece of information showing that the time scales on which humans have changed the composition of the atmosphere are extremely short compared to the natural time cycles of the climate system,” lead author Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern’s Physics Institute wrote in the journal Science.

Analysis of the CO2, trapped in tiny bubbles in the ancient Antarctic ice, showed that at no point did levels get anywhere close to today’s CO2 concentrations of around 380 parts per million. Greenhouse gas levels began to rise during the coal-burning Industrial Revolution, and surged recently as more countries became industrialized and placed more cars on the road.

Chinese Toxic Disaster

Four million residents of the northeast Chinese city of Harbin were without drinking water as a highly toxic slick arrived down the waterway referred to as their “mother river.” Explosions at a PetroChina plant upstream on Nov. 13 sent massive amounts of benzene into the Songhua River, which carried the carcinogenic chemical to the industrial city and eventually into neighboring Far East Russia. Chinese officials dispatched 1,000 tons of activated carbon to be used in Harbon’s water treatment facilities, and to be dumped directly into the spill as it passed. The river was rapidly freezing over, and Russian environmentalists said the full effects of the spill on wildlife might not be known until after the spring thaw.

Wild Bird Warnings

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that killing wild birds around cities in countries affected by bird flu is useless and may actually distract attention from the campaign to contain the disease among poultry. The warning followed reports that wild birds in Vietnam were being killed in Ho Chi Minh City as a precautionary measure. FAO spokesman Juan Lubroth said wild bird species found in and around cities are different from the wetland waterfowl that have been identified as carriers of the avian influenza virus.

Tropical Cyclones

The record-breaking 2005 hurricane season in the North Atlantic came to an end as tropical storm Delta wreaked unprecedented damage to Spain’s Canary Islands. The first such storm to ever strike the popular tourist destination killed at least seven people and knocked out power to thousands of homes.

Tropical Storm Epsilon formed in the mid-Atlantic.

India’s southern coast near Madras was on alert as Cyclone Baaz approached from the Bay of Bengal.


An eruption of Mount Karthala in the Comoros Indian Ocean archipelago spewed toxic ash over the island of Grand Comore, leaving 120,000 people without safe drinking water. The ash infiltrated homes, shops and offices as well as contaminating water in cisterns during the peak of the dry season.

The British Antarctic Survey reported that satellite images show an eruption in the remote South Sandwich Islands has extended the shoreline of Montagu Island by 50 acres during the past month alone. The eruption on the uninhabited island began in 2001.


The most powerful quake to strike central China’s Jiangxi province in 60 years killed at least 16 people and sent half a million others huddling in the streets in fear of aftershocks. The magnitude 5.7 shaking destroyed about 150,000 homes and injured nearly 8,000 people.

A sharp temblor centered near the Iranian port of Banda Abas killed 10 people and injured 70 others.

Earth movements were also felt in northern and central New Zealand, the Northern Mariana Islands, the southern Philippines, Taiwan, northwest Sumatra, Russia’s Buryatia republic, southwest Pakistan, southeastern Turkey and south-central Alaska.

Singing Iceberg

German scientists monitoring seismic events in Antarctica say their equipment has uncovered what they term a “singing iceberg.” The German Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, publishing the discovery in the journal Science, says the sounds from iceberg B-09A are far too low in pitch to be heard by human ears. But they resemble a swarm of bees or an orchestra warming up when played at a higher speed. The sounds led the researchers to the 31-by-19-mile iceberg, which had become stuck on the seabed. They said water rushing through its crevasses and tunnels at high pressure caused the iceberg to sing. – By Steve Newman

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