NUCLEAR OPTION: Things are looking bleak for the Senate's climate bill, the Washington Post reports today, despite renewed efforts from the Obama administration and Senate Democrats in recent weeks to solidify support. Democrats are still deeply divided on the economic costs of cutting the country's greenhouse gas emissions, leaving the bill's supporters to cast around for Republican backup. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., have forged a high-profile bipartisan partnership, but other Republican support for the cap-and-trade bill has been sparse. Kerry, Graham and Joe Liebermann, I-Conn., are now pushing nuclear power as an olive branch to the GOP, but few are biting and some worry the move could further alienate undecided Democrats. Still, with the bill headed for committee debate this week, Kerry and Graham will meet with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Obama climate advisor Carol Browner on Wednesday in hopes of crafting some kind of compromise. "There is nowhere near 60 votes for a nuclear power bill on its own," Graham tells the Post. "There's not 60 votes for a cap-and-trade bill as it's currently constructed." Combining the two measures, he says, is "the only way you'll get to 60 votes." (Source: Washington Post)
SMOKE ON THE WATER: A giant fire is burning in the Timor Sea some 150 miles off Australia's northwest coast, the latest problem to arise from a long-running oil leak at an oil rig there. No injuries were reported in the fire, and rig operator PTTEP Australasia has evacuated all nonessential workers, although the company says it's unsure how the blaze began. An estimated 400 barrels of oil have been leaking from the West Atlas rig daily since a fissure sprung open on Aug. 21, producing an oil slick that now streams for thousands of miles across empty ocean and has been blamed for fish kills and oily clumps as far away as Indonesia. PTTEP Australasia has already spent $177 million cleaning up the 10-week spill, and is currently mixing 4,000 barrels of heavy mud to pour down the well in an attempt to stop the fire. The company could face up to $1.1 million in fines if found to have breached environmental laws in connection with the spill, with an executive officer facing up to seven years in jail. (Sources: Associated Press, Sydney Morning Herald)
CROSSING THE LINE: Peru's ancient Nazca people are famous today for making "geoglyphs," or enormous line drawings spread across 50 miles of an arid plateau and fully visible only from the air above. But while making lines is their claim to fame, new research suggests their society's downfall began when they started crossing an ecological line: By heavily deforesting the Ica Valley of its native huarango tree, the Nazca left the plain wide open for devastating floods brought on by an oversized El Niño. The valley was once densely forested with huarangos — slow-growing trees that can live longer than 1,000 years and send roots 180 feet underground — and the trees' high-quality wood helped the Nazca flourish for hundreds of years, until they suddenly vanished around 600 A.D. The relatively rapid loss of trees on the valley floor allowed El Niño to flood the area with strong rains, according to the new study, wiping out the Nazca and leaving only their ambiguous lines for us to interpret. "They died out because they destroyed their natural ecosystem," one of the study's authors says. "As the population expanded, they put in too many fields and didn't protect the landscape. The El Niño wiped away society." (Sources: Los Angeles Times, Independent)
MAGNETIC "EYESIGHT": Migrating birds have magnetic particles in their nostrils, which has led many scientists over the years to theorize that they follow their noses to navigate along Earth's magnetic field. But a German researcher recently tested that theory by cutting different nerves in the brains of two groups of robins — one group lost nerves that process magnetic compass information from pigments in their eyes, while another group lost their trigeminal nerve, which relays signals to the brain from the magnetic particles in their nostrils. Surprisingly, when both groups' magnetic navigation was then tested, only the robins whose optical nerves were cut had trouble finding north, suggesting birds have some kind of magnetic "eyesight" that they use to navigate long distances on their continent-spanning migrations. "The results raise the distinct possibility that this part of the visual system enables birds to 'see' magnetic compass information," the researchers write. (Source: New Scientist)
SWINE CLUE: Scientists have decoded the DNA of the domestic pig, offering hope for a swine flu vaccine for swines, in addition to a range of other potential benefits for both people and pigs. Similarities in size and body composition make pigs excellent lab stand-ins for humans, serving in studies ranging from heart disease to skin disorders, and one biomedical researcher calls them "the ideal animal to look at lifestyle and health issues in the United States." But with the H1N1 virus at the top of mind this flu season — the USDA reported last week that six pigs in Minnesota caught H1N1, most likely from people at a state fair — perhaps the most buzzworthy result could be the eventual creation of an H1N1 vaccine for pigs. (Source: AP)
THE CUT OF YOUR JIB: Anger-prone people may tip their hand even before they lose their temper, according to a new study that indicates facial structure telegraphs our emotive tendencies. The faces of young boys and girls tend to have similar width-to-height ratios — the distance between the right and left cheeks compared with the space from upper lip to mid-brow — but the WHR increases in boys once they hit puberty, and seems to correlate with their aggressiveness. Previous studies have shown than hockey players with high WHRs earn more penalty points per game than low-WHR players, but the new study found that we all may have an innate ability to decode WHR in a split second: Volunteers were able to accurately predict a person's tendency toward angriness simply by glancing at a picture of his or her face, even just for 39 milliseconds. (Source: ScienceDaily)
Want to receive the day's eco-news in your inbox? Click here to sign up for the Daily Briefing newsletter.
Photo (climate-bill protest): ZUMA Press
Photo (Australia oil rig): AP/uBC/CH7/CH9, POOL via APTN
Photo (Nazca lines): ZUMA Press
Photo (pig): John Foxx/Getty Images
The opinions expressed by MNN Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of MNN.com. While we have reviewed their content to make sure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, MNN is not responsible for the accuracy of any of their information.