COALITION OF THE DRILLING: The Obama administration plans to dramatically expand U.S. offshore oil and gas drilling, potentially opening up large swaths of the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to a practice that has been largely banned for more than 20 years. The proposal, to be announced Wednesday morning by President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, would end a longstanding moratorium on offshore drilling from northern Delaware to central Florida, and would also expand operations off the Gulf Coast and launch energy exploration into the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic Ocean. Alaska's ecologically sensitive Bristol Bay would stay off-limits, but the plan includes few other concessions to environmentalists and coastal residents, who aren't likely to be pleased about the idea of new oil rigs sprouting off American shores. But Obama hinted at the possibility during his State of the Union address in January, when he mentioned the need to make "tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development." And the administration's goal is not just improving U.S. energy security, but also offering an olive branch to skeptical lawmakers in hopes they'll support congressional climate legislation. The Senate is expected to take up a climate bill in the coming weeks, its last chance before senators begin shifting their focus to midterm elections. (Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times)

HIGH FLOOD PRESSURE: People throughout the Northeastern United States are battling fierce floodwaters today, following a persistent rainstorm that lingered over the region for days. Nowhere is the flooding worse than in Rhode Island, where President Obama has declared a state of emergency and Gov. Donald Carcieri has warned people to stay off the roads until the waters recede. "We are very concerned about flooding on the highways," Carcieri said Tuesday night, after parts of his state were blasted with up to 8 inches of rain in about a day. "None of us alive have seen the kind of flooding we are experiencing now." Sections of Interstate 95 have been closed going both directions through Rhode Island, and officials are warning that the worst may be yet to come — the Pawtuxet River (pictured) had risen 12 feet above flood stage as of 7 a.m., and forecasters say it may rise several more inches before cresting later in the day. Elsewhere in New England, however, some surging rivers aren't expected to crest until Thursday or Friday. The recent rains across the region followed another storm that hit two weeks ago, helping break monthly rainfall records in Boston, Providence, R.I., and parts of New York and New Jersey. (Sources: Associated Press, CNN)

AMPHIBIAN SEISMOLOGISTS: If you ever see a crowd of toads frantically hopping in one direction, it might not be a bad idea to join them. According to a new study in the Journal of Zoology, common toads can apparently sense earthquakes days before they happen, allowing them to flee their colony well before the ground actually starts shaking. The study is based on observations of a population of toads that abandoned their breeding colony three days before a magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck L'Aquila, Italy, in April 2009. Such behavior is highly unusual, especially for male toads, which normally stay active in large numbers at breeding sites until spawning has wrapped up. Spawning had barely begun before the L'Aquila quake, yet 96 percent of the colony's male toads had disappeared five days before any seismic activity began, and two days later, there were no breeding pairs remaining. While their method of sensing the danger is unclear, the biologist who made the discovery suggests they may have been tipped off by disruptions in the ionosphere, which some scientists have linked to the release of radon gas prior to an earthquake. "I've spoken to seismologists who said there were a lot of gases released before the earthquake, a lot of charged particles," she says. "Toads and amphibians are very sensitive to changes in environmental chemistry, and I think these gases and charged particles could have been detected by the toads." (Sources: Guardian, BBC News)

BREAKFAST EPIPHANIES: Resisting bacon at breakfast may not be as wise as it seems, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Obesity. In fact, eating meals high in fat early in the day seems to calibrate the body to be better able to metabolize fat throughout the day, as compared with eating carbohydrate-rich meals first thing in the morning. Researchers with the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that mice had normal metabolism all day if they ate a high-fat meal after waking up, while those eating carb-heavy breakfasts and high-fat lunches and dinners ended up gaining weight, getting fatter, becoming less tolerant of glucose and showing other signs of metabolic syndrome. "The first meal you have appears to program your metabolism for the rest of the day," says the study's lead author. "This study suggests that if you ate a carbohydrate-rich breakfast it would promote carbohydrate utilization throughout the rest of the day, whereas, if you have a fat-rich breakfast, you have metabolic plasticity to transfer your energy utilization between carbohydrate and fat." That may be true, but just be careful that your fatty breakfasts don't turn into a bacon addiction. (Source: e! Science News)

Russell McLendon

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Photo (offshore oil rig): Jupiter Images

Photo (Pawtuxet River flooding): Stew Milne/AP

Photo (common toad): U.S. Bureau of Land Management

Photo (breakfast meats): Jupiter Images

Daily Briefing: Wed. 3/31/2010
U.S. eyes offshore oil, floods threaten R.I., toads predict earthquakes, and more.