Science & Nature
Giraffes, rarer than elephants,
put on extinction watch list
photo taken Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, a giraffe walks across the savannah
in Amboseli national park, Kenya, as the highest mountain in Africa
Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is seen in the background. Statuesque
giraffes, overlooked because they seem to be everywhere, are now
vulnerable to disappearing off the face of the Earth according to
biologists who create the world’s extinction watch list, at a
biodiversity meeting in Mexico Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Khaled
- The giraffe, the tallest land animal, is
now at risk of extinction, biologists say.
Because the giraffe
population has shrunk nearly 40 percent in just 30 years, scientists put
it on the official watch list of threatened and endangered species
worldwide, calling it “vulnerable.” That’s two steps up the danger
ladder from its previous designation of being a species of least
concern. In 1985, there were between 151,000 and 163,000 giraffes but in
2015 the number was down to 97,562, according to the International Union
for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
At a biodiversity
meeting Wednesday in Mexico, the IUCN increased the threat level for 35
species and lowered the threat level for seven species on its “Red List”
of threatened species, considered by scientists the official list of
what animals and plants are in danger of disappearing.
The giraffe is the
only mammal whose status changed on the list this year. Scientists blame
worries about elephants, Earth has four times as many pachyderms as
giraffes, said Julian Fennessy and Noelle Kumpel, co-chairs of the
specialty group of biologists that put the giraffe on the IUCN Red List.
They both called what’s happening to giraffes a “silent extinction.”
giraffes are everywhere,” said Fennessy, co-director of the Giraffe
But they’re not,
Fennessy said. Until recently, biologists hadn’t done a good job
assessing giraffes’ numbers and where they can be found, and they have
been lumped into one broad species instead of nine separate subspecies.
“There’s a strong
tendency to think that familiar species (such as giraffes, chimps, etc.)
must be OK because they are familiar and we see them in zoos,” said Duke
University conservation biologist Stuart Pimm, who wasn’t part of the
work and has criticized the IUCN for not putting enough species on the
threat list. “This is dangerous.”
shrinking living space as the main culprit in the declining giraffe
population, worsened by poaching and disease. People are moving into
giraffe areas especially in central and eastern Africa. Giraffe numbers
are plunging most in central and eastern Africa and are being offset by
increases in southern Africa, he said.
This has fragmented
giraffe populations, making them shrink in size with wild giraffes gone
from seven countries - Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi,
Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal, said Kumpel of the Zoological Society
The IUCN says 860
plant and animal species are extinct, and another 68 are extinct in the
wild. Nearly 13,000 are endangered or critically endangered. The next
level is vulnerable, where giraffes were placed, followed by near
threatened and least concerned.
The status of two
snake species worsened. The ornate ground snake, which lives on the tiny
island of Saint Lucia, deteriorated from endangered to critically
endangered. The Lacepede’s ground snake of Martinique, which was already
critically endangered, is now considered possibly extinct, pending
confirmation, as is the trondo mainty, a river fish in Madagascar.
But there is also
good news for some species. The Victoria stonebasher, a freshwater fish
in Africa, went from being considered endangered to least concerned with
a stable population. And an African plant, the acmadenia candida, which
was declared extinct, has been rediscovered and is now considered
endangered. Another freshwater fish, ptychochromoides itasy, which
hadn’t been seen since the 1960s, has been rediscovered in small numbers
in Africa’s Sakay River and is now considered critically endangered.
for the Conservation of Nature:
Russia: Space ship malfunctions,
breaks up over Siberia
Moscow (AP) -
An unmanned Russian cargo spaceship heading to the International Space
Station broke up in the atmosphere over Siberia on Thursday due to an
unspecified malfunction, the Russian space agency said.
The Progress MS-04
cargo craft broke up at an altitude of 190 kilometers (118 miles) over
the remote Russian Tuva region in Siberia that borders Mongolia,
Roscosmos said in a statement. It said most of spaceship’s debris burnt
up as it entered the atmosphere but some fell to Earth over what it
called an uninhabited area.
reported seeing a flash of light and hearing a loud thud west of the
regional capital of Kyzyl, more than 3,600 kilometers (2,200 miles) east
of Moscow, the Tuva government was quoted as saying late Thursday by the
Interfax news agency.
The Progress cargo
ship had lifted off as scheduled at 8:51 p.m. (1451 GMT) from Russia’s
space launch complex in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to deliver 2.5 metric tons
of fuel, water, food and other supplies. It was set to dock with the
space station on Saturday.
Roscosmos said the
craft was operating normally before it stopped transmitting data 6 ½
minutes after the launch. The Russian space agency would not immediately
describe the malfunction, saying its experts were looking into it.
This is the third
botched launch of a Russian spacecraft in two years. A Progress cargo
ship plunged into the Pacific Ocean in May 2015, and a Proton-M rocket
carrying an advanced satellite broke up in the atmosphere in May 2014.
But both Roscosmos
and NASA said the crash of the ship would have no impact on the
operations of the orbiting space lab that is currently home to a
six-member crew, including three cosmonauts from Russia, two NASA
astronauts and one from the European Union.
Orbital ATK, NASA’s
other shipper, successfully sent up supplies to the space station in
October, and a Japanese cargo spaceship is scheduled to launch a full
load in mid-December.
Get used to heat records; study predicts
far more in future
- The United States is already setting twice
as many daily heat records as cold records, but a new study predicts
that will get a lot more lopsided as man-made climate change worsens.
conditions, without extra heat-trapping gases from human activity, the
nation should set about the same number of hot and cold records over the
course of several years. But that’s not happening and it’s steadily
getting worse, scientists said.
If and when the
nation warms another 4.5 degrees (2.5 degrees Celsius), expect there to
be around 15 heat records for every cold one, the new study in Monday’s
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicts. That
warming can be as early as 50 years from now if greenhouse gas emissions
- from the burning of coal, oil and gas - continue at their recent pace
or a century away if carbon pollution slows down, said study lead author
Gerald Meehl, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric
“This climate is on
a trajectory that goes somewhere we’ve never been. And records are a
very easy measure of that,” said study co-author Claudia Tebaldi, who’s
also at the atmospheric center in Boulder, Colorado.
They used records
from the nation’s weather stations for their statistical calculations.
After an earlier
study in 2009, Meehl and Tebaldi looked further in the past and into the
future. In the Dust Bowl hot 1930s, there were 1.1 hot records for every
cold. After a couple decades of more cold records and an even one-to-one
ratio in the 1980s, the number of high heat marks left cold in the dust.
So far in the 2010s
there have been 2.2 hot records for every cold, including six hot
records for every cold this year, Meehl said.
Looking at records
is important because people don’t feel shifts in average temperature,
but they do notice shifts in extremes like this, Meehl said.
“These results are
not surprising,” University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall
Shepherd said in an email. “And it further points to the notion that
‘extremes’ not averages get our attention. In life we get alarmed when
we have a fever, not when our temperature is near the 98.6 average. We
are setting Earth on course for high fever events to be quite common.”
Best weather satellite ever
built rockets into space
provided by United Launch Alliance shows a United Launch Alliance (ULA)
Atlas V rocket carrying GOES-R spacecraft for NASA and NOAA lifting off from
Space Launch Complex-41 at 6:42 p.m. EST at Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (United Launch Alliance via AP)
Cape Canaveral, Fla.
(AP) - The most advanced weather satellite ever
built rocketed into space Saturday night, Nov. 19, part of an $11 billion
effort to revolutionize forecasting and save lives.
This new GOES-R
spacecraft will track U.S. weather as never before: hurricanes, tornadoes,
flooding, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires, lightning storms, even solar
flares. Indeed, about 50 TV meteorologists from around the country converged
on the launch site along with 8,000 space program workers and guests.
“What’s so exciting is
that we’re going to be getting more data, more often, much more detailed,
higher resolution,” NBC’s Al Roker said. In the case of tornadoes, “if we
can give people another 10, 15, 20 minutes, we’re talking about lives being
Think superhero speed
and accuracy for forecasting. Super high-definition TV, versus
“Really a quantum leap
above any satellite NOAA has ever flown,” said Stephen Volz, the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s director of satellites.
“For the American
public, that will mean faster, more accurate weather forecasts and
warnings,” Volz said earlier in the week. “That also will mean more lives
saved and better environmental intelligence” for government officials
responsible for hurricane and other evacuations.
Airline passengers also
stand to benefit, as do rocket launch teams. Improved forecasting will help
pilots avoid bad weather and help rocket scientists know when to call off a
NASA declared success 3
1/2 hours after liftoff, following separation from the upper stage.
The first in a series
of four high-tech satellites, GOES-R hitched a ride on an unmanned Atlas V
rocket, delayed an hour by rocket and other problems. NOAA teamed up with
NASA for the mission.
The satellite - valued
by NOAA at $1 billion - is aiming for a 22,300-mile-high equatorial orbit.
There, it will join three aging spacecraft with 40-year-old technology, and
become known as GOES-16. After months of testing, this newest satellite will
take over for one of the older ones. The second satellite in the series will
follow in 2018. All told, the series should stretch to 2036.
GOES stands for
Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. The first was launched in
GOES-R’s premier imager
- one of six science instruments - will offer three times as many channels
as the existing system, four times the resolution and five times the scan
speed, said NOAA program director Greg Mandt. A similar imager is also
flying on a Japanese weather satellite.
Typically, it will
churn out full images of the Western Hemisphere every 15 minutes and the
continental United States every five minutes. Specific storm regions will be
updated every 30 seconds.
Forecasters will get
pictures “like they’ve never seen before,” Mandt promised.
lightning mapper, meanwhile, will take 500 snapshots a second.
GOES program - $11 billion in all - includes four satellites, an extensive
land system of satellite dishes and other equipment, and new methods for
crunching the massive, nonstop stream of expected data.
interestingly enough, delayed the launch by a couple weeks. As the hurricane
bore down on Florida in early October, launch preps were put on hold.
Matthew stayed far enough offshore to cause minimal damage to Cape
Canaveral, despite some early forecasts that suggested a direct strike.