Earthweek: a diary of the planet
Monarchs in peril Though declining monarch butterfly populations from Mexico to eastern Canada have received the most attention in recent years, scientists at Washington State University Vancouver say western populations are now at greater risk of extinction. “In the 1980s, 10 million monarchs spent the winter in coastal California. Today there are barely 300,000,” said biologist Cheryl Schultz. The exact causes of the decline are unknown, but Schultz fears habitat destruction and pesticide use across the West, where the monarchs breed, are the likely culprits.
Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano produced a stunning yet benign burst of lava that flowed into the ocean on the Big Island’s southeastern coast. Local helicopter pilots and tour operators posted breathtaking scenes of the ongoing eruption, which has drawn large crowds of visitors this month. The lava hasn’t threatened any structures and is part of an
island-building process that is expanding the size of the Big Island.
Tropical cyclones Record-setting Hurricane Irma extended its path of catastrophic destruction from the Leeward Islands during the previous week to Cuba, Florida and other parts of the southeastern United States, killing at least 70 people and leaving millions without power. At the end of the week, Hurricane Jose was spinning in the open waters of the Atlantic, but there was concern that it could be headed for the U.S. Atlantic Coast. In other storms, two people died along Mexico’s
Gulf Coast when Category 2 Hurricane Katia roared ashore. Typhoon Doksuri produced deadly flooding around the Philippine capital of Manila before taking aim on Vietnam. And Typhoon Talim was bearing down on southern Japan late in the week.
World of plastics Americans could be ingesting up to 660 particles of plastic each year in salt, seafood and other foods they eat. Researchers from the State University of New York at Fredonia found that the sea salt used in menus around the world has joined other edibles now increasingly being contaminated with plastic pollution. “Not only are plastics pervasive in our society in terms of daily use, but they are pervasive in the environment,” said lead researcher Sherri Mason. “Plastics are ubiquitous, in the air, water, the seafood we eat, the beer we drink, the salt we use — plastics are just everywhere.”
Beaches on England’s picturesque Cornwall Coast had to close after an unprecedented number of Portuguese manof-war washed ashore. The floating colonies of tiny organisms working together have tentacles that reach up to 165 feet in length and can deliver an extremely painful — even fatal — sting. The Cornwall Wildlife Trust says the foreign invaders were blown in by strong southwesterly winds. The warm-water creatures typically live far out to sea.
Earth was bombarded by a stream of charged particles from the largest solar storm in eight years. The burst in the solar wind overwhelmed the planet’s protective geomagnetic field and reached the ground at some high-latitude locations. The solar flare responsible for the storm erupted on Sept. 6, and produced aurora displays and high-frequency radio blackouts two days later on Earth.
Nearly 100 people perished in southern Mexico as the country’s strongest quake in 85 years wrecked thousands of buildings in Oaxaca and Chiapas states. In addition, earth movements were felt in Japan’s Akita prefecture, New Zealand’s Canterbury region, southeastern Idaho and along the southern Indiana-Illinois border.