Earthweek: A Diary of a Planet

Which Way Is North
Earth’s magnetic north pole has begun moving so rapidly during
the past several decades that it could drift from Arctic Canada to
Siberia within the next 50 years.
By Steve Newman

Which Way Is North

Earth’s magnetic north pole has begun moving so rapidly during the past several decades that it could drift from Arctic Canada to Siberia within the next 50 years. The movement could mean that residents of Alaska will no longer be able to see the vivid northern lights, which will become more visible in Northern Europe and Russia. Oregon State University paleomagnetist Joseph Stoner told the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco that the shift may be part of a normal oscillation, and the magnetic north pole will eventually migrate back toward Canada.

Monkey Boom

Hong Kong officials announced their alarm at the rapid increase in the number of monkeys in the former British colony even as its human population is in decline. The South China Morning Post reports the monkey population is nearing 2,000 and rising at a rate of about 6 percent a year. The mischievous primates live mostly in the port’s rural parks, where experts say the hikers who feed them are helping the population to grow at three times the normal rate. Primate expert Jane Goodall, on a five-day visit to Hong Kong, told the newspaper: “Monkeys here are taking too much of the wrong food, such as human food, which is usually fatty and bad for their health.”

Bengal Cyclone

Cyclone Fanoos weakened to tropical depression strength just before moving ashore on India’s southeastern coast. Rail transportation was disrupted as the storm dumped widespread heavy rainfall across the state of Tamil Nadu.


Vanuatu’s Mount Manaro Volcano spewed thousands of tons of additional ash over Ambae island, keeping about 5,000 people away from their homes. Heat and fumes from the eruption have made several people ill, including children. In a tribal gesture of appeasement, chiefs from Ambanga village say they were planning to toss a large boar’s tusk into one of the mountain’s crater lakes and offer apologies to the god Tagaro, whom they believe may have been angered.

Southern Alaska’s Augustine Volcano belched sulfurous steam over the mouth of Cook Inlet, prompting reports of “rotten egg” smells from people in several nearby communities. The mountain last erupted in 1986 and has been under a yellow alert since November 29.

Australian Spring Storms

The latest in a series of severe storms to strike eastern Australia killed three people and left three others recovering from lightning strikes. Residents of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland mopped up after heavy rain, high winds and lightning caused widespread blackouts, damage and weather-related road accidents. It was the 17th severe storm to strike the region during past seven weeks.


A powerful earthquake that rocked a wide area of the Indian subcontinent injured at least 10 people and wrecked nearly 200 houses around the epicenter in northeastern Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province. The magnitude 6.7 shaking triggered panic among survivors of October’s tremor that killed more than 70,000 people in northern India and Pakistan.

Earth movements were also felt in India’s Himalayan state of Uttaranchal, Fiji and other islands of the South Pacific, eastern Papua New Guinea, New Zealand’s North Island, Japan’s Hokkaido Island, eastern Turkey, eastern Romania, western Scotland and the Aleutian Islands.

Himalayan Chill

The most bitter wintertime cold wave to sweep across northern India in five years killed at least 15 people and caused further misery for those who lost their homes in the devastating October earthquake. All schools in the Jammu and Kashmir capital of Srinagar were closed for the rest of December after the mercury dipped to 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Many communities have ordered that bonfires be burned on street corners to keep people warm.

Early Hibernation

More than 450 Chinese alligators in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province have fallen into deep hibernation one week earlier than usual due to a bitter chill that descended on the region. “They will spend a considerable amount of time hibernating within complex burrows in the banks of their ponds to escape climate extremes,” said Wang Zhenwei, a technician with the Zhejiang-based Chinese Alligator Village. Most crocodilians live in the tropics, but the Yangtze alligator lives in a northern latitude and is the only hibernator of its species, according to Zhenwei. The species has been listed as one of the most endangered creatures in the world with only a few hundred remaining in the wild.