Sirens blared throughout Minot, N.D., Wednesday afternoon, warning residents that a record flood was about to invade the fourth-largest city in North Dakota. By sunrise today, roughly 12,000 people — a third of Minot's population — had fled, leaving it up to levees and Mother Nature to spare their homes. The Souris River is already more than 6 feet above flood stage, USA Today reports, and it's expected to shatter a 130-year-old record when it crests early next week. "I feel we've done everything that we possibly could have," says Mayor Curt Zimbelman. "This is really going to be an extended fight."

Minot's fight is also part of a broader battle raging across the U.S. this year, TIME reports. Record snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains, combined with months of wild spring thunderstorms, has left some of the country's largest rivers too swollen for their banks. Historic floods have finally died down along the Mississippi River, but the Missouri is still inundating several Midwestern communities, and now the Souris is wreaking havoc in Minot. Plus, as TIME points out, yet another wave of dangerous floods is looming over California, as summer weather finally melts away an enormous snowpack in the Rockies. "They've had one of the largest snowpacks they've ever seen," says Mary Mullusky of the National Weather Service, adding that heavy rainfall is now complicating matters across the country. "We're in this repetitive cycle where we're basically getting, over some areas of the Missouri, an inch to an inch and a half of rain every two to three days, so the soils aren't draining and the rivers aren't getting lower."

Snow depths in California this winter were the fifth-highest in 60 years, and a cool spring has kept a lot of that snow from melting until now. The snow therefore contains twice the water it historically has in many parts of the state, creating violent river flows and out-of-nowhere waterfalls as temperatures creep into the 90s and even 100s. While much of the nation's attention will remain on the Souris and Missouri rivers in the coming days, some officials in California worry they could be next in a chaotic year for floods. "Our concerns over the next two weeks are that the reservoirs are filling," says Jon Ericson, chief of hydrology at the California Department of Water Resources. "It's really an issue of how fast the water comes off the mountains."

(Sources: CNN, USA Today, TIME)


The godfather of global warming activism has lost his patience with President Obama, calling him out for neglecting the climate crisis via a 7,000-word essay in Rolling Stone. Al Gore largely blames the news media and fossil-fuel industries for enabling this inaction — using a homespun pro-wresling analogy to make his point — but he focuses much of his frustration toward the White House.

Any serious effort to address climate change will require forceful American leadership, Gore writes, yet he says the current administration has failed to provide that. "President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis," Gore argues. "He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public." The essay acknowledges some progress, such as new fuel-efficiency standards, but blames Obama for holding his tongue about the broader threats posed by global warming.

"In spite of these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change," Gore writes. "After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority." A White House spokesman responded Wednesday with a written statement: "The president has been clear since Day 1 that climate change poses a threat domestically and globally, and under his leadership we have taken the most aggressive steps in our country's history to tackle this challenge."

(Sources: MNN, Rolling Stone, New York Times)


Scientists now have the strongest evidence yet of a saltwater ocean somewhere other than Earth, according to a new study in the journal Nature. Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, appears to have a salty sea beneath its icy surface, the study's authors report, opening the floodgates for speculation about what else might be under there.

The discovery is based on observations made five years ago, when scientists first reported that mysterious plumes spraying up from Enceladus' surface are made of water vapor and ice particles. After more closely analyzing samples of those ice particles collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, they can now take their conclusions even deeper. The plumes are apparently fed by a saltwater reservoir just below the surface, says German astrophysicist Frank Postberg, but that reservoir is likely fed by an even larger, deeper ocean. "We discovered that the plume is stratified in a composition of ice," Postberg tells the New York Times. "And the lower you go, the more salt-rich ice grains you find. We imagine that between the ice and the ice core there is an ocean of depth, and this is somehow connected to the surface reservoir."

Enceladus may not be a stereotypical alien world — it's a small, ice-covered moon, measuring just 300 miles wide — but an ocean would give it substantial E.T. cred, researchers say. Life has been found living beyond the reach of sunlight in Earth's oceans, so it could plausibly exist on Enceladus, too, or many other moons and planets with secret seas. "Enceladus is a tiny, icy moon located in a region of the outer solar system where no liquid water was expected to exist because of its large distance from the sun," the European Space Agency's Nicolas Altobelli tells the Washington Post. "This finding is therefore a crucial new piece of evidence showing that environmental conditions favorable to the emergence of life may be sustainable on icy bodies orbiting gas giant planets."

(Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, PhysOrg)


Even if you exercise, eating potatoes and certain other foods could be stacking the deck against your weight-loss efforts, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard University. While it's little surprise that dietary choices influence weight gain, the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reveals significant flaws in the idea that exercise and limited calorie intake are enough to melt away the pounds. 

"The conventional wisdom is simply, 'Eat everything in moderation and just reduce total calories' without paying attention to what those calories are made of," lead author and Harvard public health researcher Dariush Mozaffarian tells the Washington Post. "All foods are not equal, and just eating in moderation is not enough." The study is based on data gathered over two decades from more than 12,000 U.S. adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s, the Post reports, and highlights major differences in how certain foods and drinks (in addition to sleep, exercise and other behavioral habits) can affect weight gain. It's not just French fries and tater tots that cause problems, for instance — any kind of potatoes, including those baked and boiled, were singled out. Adding just one extra serving of potatoes to your daily diet adds about 1 pound every four years, the study shows, possibly due to how the starchy tuber affects insulin levels.

The study isn't just a big spud-bashing spree, though. It also found that every extra serving of nuts prevents more than half a pound of weight gain, for example, while adding a serving of yogurt keeps off nearly a full pound every four years. But some obesity experts are skeptical of its conclusions. "To attempt to isolate the effect of specific foods on weight changes is fraught with problems," Johns Hopkins' Lawrence Cheskin tells the Post. "One is that people may conclude that if they simply stop eating X, they will reduce the chance of weight gain. This is unlikely, and a false conclusion. Similarly, it is likely more a result of people who eat fruit being more health-conscious than fruit per se causing less weight gain."

(Sources: Washington Post, Wall Street Journal)


Canada establishes its first national park, "Logan's Run" is released, and more.

Russell McLendon

Want to receive the day's eco-news in your inbox? Click here to sign up for the Daily Briefing newsletter.

Photo (flooding in Minot, N.D., on June 22): ZUMA Press

Photo (Gore and Obama in 2008): Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Photo (ice jets spraying up from Enceladus): NASA

Photo (pile of potatoes): XAMAX/ZUMA Press

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

Daily Briefing: Thurs. 6/23/2011
Floods may hit Calif. next, study ranks fattening foods, alien ocean found, and more.