CHILE EARTHQUAKE: Aftershocks continue rumbling in Chile today, undermining efforts to survey the damage and rescue survivors following Saturday's magnitude-8.8 earthquake. The official death toll has risen to more than 700, but countless victims remain trapped in rubble and rescue workers have yet to reach many fallen buildings. The earthquake was the fifth-largest on record, striking 60 miles off Chile's coast along the same fault that caused the strongest quake ever measured in 1960. Saturday's quake was "part of an elite class of earthquakes," a geologist tells the AP, explaining that it was a "megathrust," much like the magnitude-9.1 Sumatran quake that triggered deadly tsunamis in 2004. While Chile's temblor was smaller, and most of the tsunami warnings across the Pacific didn't bear out, it did spur 7-foot-high waves that devastated several towns along Chile's coastline. In Haiti, which is still recovering from a magnitude-7.0 quake on Jan. 12, people received news of Chile's quake with both empathy and concern, worrying it might distract from their own ongoing disaster. Others wondered if the two tremors are part of a trend. "It's earthquake time," one Haitian tells the WSJ. "It started in Haiti, went to Chile ... maybe Mexico is next. I don't know. But it's going around." Scientists say there's no sign the quakes are related, pointing out the faults are far enough apart that stress from one wouldn't affect the other. (Sources: Reuters, Associated Press, New York Times, Wall Street Journal)
IN FARM'S WAY: The United States has come a long way in cutting back on the manmade pollution that helped inspire the first Earth Day nearly 40 years ago, but as the [skipwords]Washington[/skipwords] Post reports today, the country is ironically now facing a flood of much more natural pollution — manure. While U.S. sulfur dioxide emissions have fallen 56 percent since 1970, and sewage plants' output is now 45 percent cleaner, the rise of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, has replaced many synthetic villains of the '70s with the earthier problem of animal waste. Manure emits methane (a greenhouse gas), fouls groundwater supplies and now washes 60 percent more nitrogen into waterways than it did in the '70s, creating 230 "dead zones" like those in Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. "Manure is no longer manure," one farmer tells the Post. "Manure is a toxic waste now." (Source: Washington Post)
COW POWER: Manure may be the 21st century's new pollution problem, but the Los Angeles Times reports today that the brown stuff also has a green lining — renewable energy. California's Central Valley hosts about 1.6 million dairy cows that produce 192 million pounds of manure daily, and some farmers there have begun using methane gas from their cows' waste to generate electricity, eliminating the methane as a greenhouse pollutant and often producing enough power to run their entire farms and more. But just as these farmers seem to have solved a major pollution problem, state regulators are refusing to issue permits for such "dairy digester" systems, arguing that the technology creates its own new pollution — nitrogen oxides — and must be overhauled before they'll approve it. "California has about four times as much potential for emission reductions and energy generation as the next-largest dairy state," an EPA official tells the LA Times. "I know the regulations are much more strict in California. But there's so much potential there." (Source: Los Angeles Times)
TROUBLED WATERS: Streams, rivers and lakes across the United States are largely cleaner now than they were several decades ago, but the [skipwords]New York[/skipwords] Times reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has thrown a monkey wrench into efforts to maintain that progress. When Congress first drafted the Clean Water Act, it limited federal regulations to "the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters," which officials tended to interpret broadly, often including small streams and large wetlands. But two Supreme Court decisions have changed that approach, defining waterways that are confined to one state, sometimes go dry or don't link to larger water system as non-navigable. Critics say this narrow definition has allowed many polluters to claim the Clean Water Act doesn't apply to them, and often forced regulators to concede. "We are, in essence, shutting down our Clean Water programs in some states," an EPA lawyer tells the Times. "This is a huge step backward. When companies figure out the cops can't operate, they start remembering how much cheaper it is to just dump stuff in a nearby creek." (Source: New York Times)
SMALL SOUNDS: What does swine flu sound like? Do bacteria make noises as they swish around in a petri dish? A team of British researchers are hoping such sounds will soon become readily accessible thanks to their new small-scale listening device, which is sort of like a microscope for sound. Scientists could use this micro-ear to eavesdrop on a new drug as it disrupts a virus or bacterium, similar to how a mechanic listens to a car's engine, potentially opening up a whole new world of tiny sounds that humans would normally never hear. While the device is still in development, the researchers hope to soon begin using it to listen in on flagella — the flailing motors that bacteria use to propel themselves around — which they say should make for a good test run. "It's truly exploratory in that we expect and hope we will hear something interesting," says the project's lead researcher, "but we really don't know." (Source: BBC News)
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Photo (earthquake damage in Talca, Chile): Robert Candia/AP
Photo (farm runoff): EPA
Photo (cow): USDA
Photo (oil on water): Jupiter Images
Photo (S. aureus bacteria): National Institutes of Health
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