NASA discovers new risk factor for deadly quake-caused mudslides - The Weather Network - Canadanewsmedia
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NASA discovers new risk factor for deadly quake-caused mudslides – The Weather Network

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Hillside agriculture such as rice fields increase the risk of landslides during earthquakes, reads a new study from scientists affiliated with NASA.

That’s based on research into the aftermath of the September 2018 earthquake that struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The Magnitude 7.5 tremor struck at a relatively shallow depth and triggered a tsunami. Some 4,300 people were killed (according to the final count in the Jakarta Post), about half in the city of Palu.

Many of the dead were killed in the large-scale mudslides that occurred as a result of liquefaction — the process by which shaking from an earthquake causes moist, loose soil to effectively flow like a liquid. However, the scientists say liquefaction typically happens on flat land, where the water table stabilizes at a relatively shallow level, rather than hillside terrain, prompting them to investigate.


A man picks through the wreckage after the 2018 earthquake in Palu. Credit: European Union/Pierre Prakash, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

They found the hillsides where the mudslides took place were being used for agriculture, specifically rice cultivation, which requires a lot of water brought in by an aqueduct. That raised the water table high enough to make liquefaction more likely in the 2018 quake.

“If there hadn’t been intensive irrigation, the landslides wouldn’t have happened,” Kyle Bradley, one of the lead authors of the paper, said in a release from NASA. “This is a human-caused hazard, and it can have a human solution. We can’t mitigate the hazard of ground shaking on Palu, but the agricultural practices can be updated based on this new understanding.”

Aside from better farming practices and planning, planting more trees, and specific types of trees, can help. The researchers found that areas much further downhills where coconut palms had been planted didn’t experience liquefaction, as they require less water and don’t raise the water table as much. In fact, they help slow the mudslides when they reached areas where were planted.

Indonesia landslide
In this map, red and yellow pixels show damage from mudslides, and the blue line marks the route of the irrigation aqueduct. The terrain slopes downhill from right to left. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JAXA

Bradley says a cause for concern is that many earthquake-prone areas feature rice cultivation, raising the risk of deaths in the event of a tremor.

“If an engineer had gone to Palu and evaluated the system from first principles, they would likely have been able to identify this risk,” he said. “I hope this study is an impetus for people to go and study these other places.”

The study was published in Nature Geoscience last month.

WATCH BELOW: ANIMALS THAT PREDICT EARTHQUAKES

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China's huge mysterious extinct ape 'Giganto' was an orangutan cousin – The Province

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WASHINGTON — Genetic material extracted from a 1.9 million-year-old fossil tooth from southern China shows that the world’s largest-known ape – an extinct creature dubbed “Giganto” that once inhabited Southeast Asia – was an oversized cousin of today’s orangutans.

The findings, announced on Wednesday, shed light on a species, called Gigantopithecus blacki, that has been shrouded in mystery because its fossil remains are so sparse – just a collection of teeth and remnants of several lower jaws.

By some estimates, Gigantopithecus reached up to 10 feet (3 meters) tall, making it not only the largest-known ape but the biggest primate, the mammalian group that includes lemurs, monkeys, apes and humans.

Scientists were able to obtain genetic material – dental enamel proteins – from a broken molar with thick enamel discovered in Chuifeng Cave in China’s Guangxi region. The researchers concluded the tooth may have belonged to an adult female.

“Our data, for the first time, provides independent molecular evidence that the closest living relative of Gigantopithecus is the modern orangutan,” said University of Copenhagen molecular anthropologist Frido Welker, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.

“Not only do proteins survive, but they survive in sufficient quantities to enable resolving the evolutionary relationships between Giganto and extant great apes,” Welker added, referring to the group that includes orangutans, gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees.

The orangutan and Gigantopithecus evolutionary lineages split about 12 million years ago, the researchers said.

“A long-unresolved issue comes to a solution,” said paleoanthropologist and study co-author Wei Wang of Shandong University in China. “Its origin and evolution have puzzled paleoanthropologists for more than half a century.”

It marked the first time that genetic material this old has been recovered from a fossil found in a warm, humid environment – conditions usually inhospitable to such preservation. The researchers expressed hope the same technique can be used on other fossils, perhaps including species in the human evolutionary lineage.

Wang said Gigantopithecus may have had an orangutan-like appearance and most likely was a ground-dweller, unlike orangutans, which spend most of their time in trees. It likely had a plant-based diet, perhaps eating sweet foods like fruit in forested environments, judging from the cavities seen in its teeth, Wang said.

Gigantopithecus appeared roughly 2 million years ago and went extinct about 300,000 years ago for reasons not fully understood. Wang said environmental and climate changes may be to blame.

Our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared about 300,000 years ago in Africa, only later reaching Southeast Asia, meaning it is unlikely the two species met. Wang saw no evidence of other now-extinct human species playing a role in the Gigantopithecus demise.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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China's huge mysterious extinct ape 'Giganto' was an orangutan cousin – Windsor Star

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WASHINGTON — Genetic material extracted from a 1.9 million-year-old fossil tooth from southern China shows that the world’s largest-known ape – an extinct creature dubbed “Giganto” that once inhabited Southeast Asia – was an oversized cousin of today’s orangutans.

The findings, announced on Wednesday, shed light on a species, called Gigantopithecus blacki, that has been shrouded in mystery because its fossil remains are so sparse – just a collection of teeth and remnants of several lower jaws.

By some estimates, Gigantopithecus reached up to 10 feet (3 meters) tall, making it not only the largest-known ape but the biggest primate, the mammalian group that includes lemurs, monkeys, apes and humans.

Scientists were able to obtain genetic material – dental enamel proteins – from a broken molar with thick enamel discovered in Chuifeng Cave in China’s Guangxi region. The researchers concluded the tooth may have belonged to an adult female.

“Our data, for the first time, provides independent molecular evidence that the closest living relative of Gigantopithecus is the modern orangutan,” said University of Copenhagen molecular anthropologist Frido Welker, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.

“Not only do proteins survive, but they survive in sufficient quantities to enable resolving the evolutionary relationships between Giganto and extant great apes,” Welker added, referring to the group that includes orangutans, gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees.

The orangutan and Gigantopithecus evolutionary lineages split about 12 million years ago, the researchers said.

“A long-unresolved issue comes to a solution,” said paleoanthropologist and study co-author Wei Wang of Shandong University in China. “Its origin and evolution have puzzled paleoanthropologists for more than half a century.”

It marked the first time that genetic material this old has been recovered from a fossil found in a warm, humid environment – conditions usually inhospitable to such preservation. The researchers expressed hope the same technique can be used on other fossils, perhaps including species in the human evolutionary lineage.

Wang said Gigantopithecus may have had an orangutan-like appearance and most likely was a ground-dweller, unlike orangutans, which spend most of their time in trees. It likely had a plant-based diet, perhaps eating sweet foods like fruit in forested environments, judging from the cavities seen in its teeth, Wang said.

Gigantopithecus appeared roughly 2 million years ago and went extinct about 300,000 years ago for reasons not fully understood. Wang said environmental and climate changes may be to blame.

Our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared about 300,000 years ago in Africa, only later reaching Southeast Asia, meaning it is unlikely the two species met. Wang saw no evidence of other now-extinct human species playing a role in the Gigantopithecus demise.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Mercury spotted passing between Sun & Earth in rare 30-year event – TweakTown

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Just this past Monday, astronomers viewed Mercury sliding past the face of our Sun in quite a rare celestial event.

Astronomers equipped themselves to see the most inner-planet in our solar system go in-between Earth and the Sun. From the above image, we can see a tiny black dot, that’s Mercury in comparison to the size of the Sun. US, Canada, and Central and South America managed to get the transition for around 5.5 hours, while Asia and Australia only got a brief show.

Why is this a rare transition? Due to the orbit of Mercury, astronomers don’t expect to this occur until 2032, and North America, in particular, won’t be able to see it again until 2049. Unfortunately, there was some weather coverage in Maryland for NASA solar astrophysicist Alex Young, he said “It’s a bummer, but the whole event was still great. Both getting to see it from space and sharing it with people all over the country and world.” A set of images have been provided in the entirety of this article.

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