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Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 21 July 1916
I had no intention of commenting upon a highly sensational account of a “Lady’s Thrill” which appeared in one of the papers, but when it was copied into several others I felt that it was time to protest. The account stated that a lady, when bathing at Bull Bay, in Anglesey, was chased by a ferocious “sea lion.” The sea lion, which we may see diving, swimming, and catching fish which are thrown to it in the fine tank at Belle Vue, is commercially the most important of the fur-bearing seals; it inhabits the Pacific – and the Pacific only. Seal hunters do not care much about bathing in icy seas, but even if they did I doubt if the sea lion would attack a man in the water.
What apparently did happen at Bull Bay was that a grey seal reared its head out of the water and looked at the lady when she was bathing. Perhaps it yawned and showed its teeth, for they do not, as a rule, “project over the sides.” Possibly, too, seeing something with which it was unfamiliar in the water, and not suspecting the presence of a human being so far from the shore, it swam nearer for closer inspection. At any rate, there is no recorded instance that I know of, of the timid grey seal swimming after and attacking any bather.Continue reading...
“Although I found the remains of this ancient settlement fascinating, I was constantly distracted by the array of birds along the beach”
From the way the bird was moving, it was obvious she was distressed. One wing held out at an awkward angle, tail fanned, she piped loudly to attract my attention. But I knew that despite appearances, this ringed plover was not injured, but using all her wiles to lure me away from her nest.
Moments later, we found the object of her concern: a tiny chick, so well hidden amongst the stones and pebbles we almost trod on it, before beating a hasty retreat.Continue reading...
There are few frontiers in the world that can still be said to be unexplored. One of these terra incognita is the land beneath Antarctica’s ice sheets. Buried under kilometres of ice is a fascinating realm of canyons, waterways and lakes, which is only now being mapped in detail.
There are more than 400 known lakes in this harsh environment, and more are being discovered as technology advances. This water beneath the ice lubricates the interface between the ice sheet and its rocky bed, and thus controls the flow and behaviour of the ice itself.
Under such a large volume of ice, how is it possible for water to exist at all without freezing? The answer is pressure: when a large weight of ice is pushed onto water, it can stay liquid at temperatures well below the normal freezing point. What’s more, the large body of ice actually insulates the bed and protects it from the very cold air temperatures above.
The liquid water is created by heat from the Earth’s interior and from the friction generated as ice flows over the bedrock, which can melt the underside of the ice sheet. It is this water that flows into the subglacial lake basins and eventually into the ocean.The network of lakes beneath Antarctica’s ice. Zina Deretsky/US NSF/Wikimedia Commons Huge water features
A tour around this subglacial landscape would take you first to the largest lake under the ice: Lake Vostok. At 12,500 square kilometres and with an average depth of 430 metres, Lake Vostok is the world’s sixth-largest lake by volume, but as it lies beneath some 3.5km of ice, it’s not easy to visit.You can’t see it, but it’s there: Lake Vostok’s location in East Antarctica. NASA
Using ice-penetrating radar and seismic techniques, scientists have mapped Lake Vostok to understand its origins. They have found that it may be up to 15 million years old. The lake has circulation patterns driven by freezing and thawing of the overlying ice, and even has small lunar tides.
Lake Vostok was discovered decades ago, but what is thought to be the second-largest lake under the ice sheet was first observed only this year. It is in Princess Elizabeth Land, East Antarctica, known as the “last pole of ignorance” because until recently it was virtually unmapped.Map of subglacial lake locations and ice thickness. NSIDC (Blakenship et al., 2009; Smith et al., 2012) Dynamic environments
So far our tour has focused on the central regions of Antarctica, where ice and water are relatively stable. In contrast, at the ice sheet’s dynamic edges near the coast we find fast-flowing regions called ice streams. Many of these have subglacial lakes in their catchments.
Tens to hundreds of kilometres in length, these lakes are short-lived, growing and draining over a period of just a few years. Evidence of this drainage process comes from satellite measurements of the height of the ice sheet. The surface can be seen to rise and fall, as the lake swells and then ebbs away again.
So far, at least 130 of these “active” lakes have been discovered. More are being found every year.
One example is Lake Whillans, in West Antarctica. Covering about 60 square km, it’s small in comparison with the gigantic Lake Vostok, but is by no means insignificant. In January 2013, a US research expedition drilled into the lake, extracting clean samples that were later found to contain microbial life.
Such life thrives in this harsh environment without sunlight for photosynthesis. Instead, the microbes depend on the oxidation of methane and ammonia, derived from sediments that are hundreds of thousands of years old. This momentous discovery of life in such a harsh and unforgiving environment may provide scientists with critical information on the development of marine life cycles.First view of the bottom of Antarctica’s subglacial Lake Whillans. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Wikimedia Commons Loose underpinnings
The water beneath the ice creates a mysterious and fascinating subglacial world, but it is also important because it lubricates the bed of the ice sheet and controls how fast the ice can flow. Where there is sediment under the ice, liquid water can make the ground unstable, while in other areas high pressure allows the ice to float on a pillow of liquid water. In both cases this reduces the friction at the base, allowing the ice to flow faster.
As scientists, we want to predict how the ice sheet will react to a warming climate. To do that, it is essential to pin down the role of water in the current flow rates of Antarctic ice. These fascinating lake and canyon features are therefore not only intriguing, but also play a crucial part in the future of the icy continent.
Christine Dow receives funding from the University of Waterloo and from a Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) fellowship.
Felicity Graham is funded by the Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative for Antarctic Gateway Partnership.
Sue Cook works for the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, which is funded through the Australian Government Department of Industry and Science.
- Officials say a dead whale keeps floating to the southern coast
- The humpback whale’s body has already been towed back to sea twice
Officials say a dead whale that keeps floating to the southern California coast after being towed out to sea may have returned to the shoreline again.
Encinitas lifeguards say a whale body that came ashore Saturday at Grandview beach had been decaying in the water for about two weeks, KABC-TV reports.Continue reading...
Yew Tree Heath, New Forest Below me, the heath drops steadily away through hectares of heather, with patches of grey-green gorse and burgeoning bracken
To seek a commanding view of Yew Tree Heath, I climb a wartime relic. In 1939, an anti-aircraft battery was set up here, with a control centre whose mound offers me the view that I’m after. The tree-line has etched the horizon for millennia. It still does where the chimneys of Marchwood’s industry have not intruded with jagged fingers of concrete, and huge metallic structures are not rearing over it like an alien army poised to attack.
Below me, the heath drops steadily away through hectares of heather, with patches of grey-green gorse and burgeoning bracken, segmented by gritty footpaths. Nearby, two bronze age burial mounds have watched over this ground from long before it was heathland.Continue reading...
The week’s top environment news stories and green events. If you are not already receiving this roundup, sign up here to get the briefing delivered to your inboxContinue reading...
Haunting images taken by photographer Keow Wee Loong, who with two friends sneaked into the exclusion zone to explore four towns that were abandoned after the 2011 nuclear disasterContinue reading...
Three endangered Persian leopard cubs are intended to reintroduce the species to the Sochi area but new plans for a ski trail put the future of the reserve and the animals at risk
Three Persian leopard cubs have been released into the Sochi area of Russia’s western Caucasus, a day after Unesco threatened to deem the area a “world heritage site in danger” because of a planned ski resort expansion.
Persian leopards once prowled across the Caucasus mountains in great numbers but poaching, poisoning and human encroachment wiped out the species in Russia, in the early 20th century.Continue reading...
New environment minister, Andrea Leadsom, faces problem of paying the retrospective fines on top of dealing with the end of EU farming subsidies
British taxpayers will still be paying fines to the EU over the mishandling of farming subsidies after the country has left the bloc, the National Audit Office warned on Friday.
At least £660m has already been paid in fines, owing to delays in implementing the rules of the common agricultural policy in the six years to 2013. More fines will follow for the intervening years, as they are levied retrospectively, and leaving the EU does not absolve the UK from responsibility.Continue reading...
A Bengal tiger with her cubs, osprey chicks and a forest lit up by thousands of fireflies are among this week’s pick of images from the natural worldContinue reading...
Free-market red tape slashers are pitched against ministers backing a clean, green economy as the UK’s best long term bet. But who will win out?
The cast has changed following Theresa May’s reshuffle, but the play remains the same. It’s a struggle pitching free-market red tape slashers against those backing a clean, green economy as the UK’s best long term bet. The big question is whether this performance will have a different ending.Continue reading...
Toxic fumes may be the primary cause of skin ageing in polluted cities such as London, New York and Beijing, scientists say
Air pollution is prematurely ageing the faces of city dwellers by accelerating wrinkles and age spots, according to emerging scientific research.
The effects of toxic fumes on skin are being seen in both western cities, such as London and New York, as well as in more visibly polluted Asian cities and in some cases may be the primary cause of ageing. The pollution is also being linked to worsening skin conditions such as eczema and hives.Continue reading...