News & Current Affairs

January 31, 2009

Australia counts heatwave deaths

Australia counts heatwave deaths

The Australian authorities fear about 20 people have died as a result of one of the worst heatwaves in 100 years to hit the south-east of the country.

Most of them were elderly people who had been struggling in the heat.

The heatwave has also caused power outages in Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city.

Extreme temperatures of more than 40C (104F) have hit the south-eastern states of Victoria and South Australia in the past three days.

If the high temperatures continue into Sunday, it will equal the worst heatwave that south-eastern Australia has witnessed in 100 years.

Already, it has caused disruption, destruction and death.

Map

In Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, health officials reported more than 20 sudden deaths, most of them elderly people overcome by the baking temperatures of over 40C who had suffered strokes and heart attacks.

Raging wildfires have ripped through the Gippsland region of neighbouring Victoria, and at least 10 homes have been destroyed near the rural town of Boolarra.

In Melbourne, the state capital, the heatwave has meant disruption to transportation services and power outages.

Trains have been cancelled because the rail lines have buckled in the heat.

An explosion at an electrical substation left over 300,000 homes without power.

Some traffic lights in the city have stopped working, so too the signals in parts of the rail network.

 


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November 18, 2008

Woolly rhino’s ancient migration

Woolly rhino’s ancient migration

Woolly rhino spread west into Europe during a cold snap

The 460,000-year-old skull of a woolly rhino, reconstructed from 53 fragments, is the oldest example of these mighty, ice age beasts ever found in Europe.

The extinct mammals reached a length of three-and-a-half meters in adulthood and, unlike their modern relatives, were covered in shaggy hair.

Details of the work appear in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

The team says the find from Germany fills a gap in our understanding of how these animals evolved.

First on the scene

“This is the oldest woolly rhinoceros found in Europe,” said Ralf-Dietrich Kahlke, from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Weimar, Germany.

He added: “It gives us a precise date for the first appearance of cold-climate animals spreading throughout Asia and Europe during the ice ages.”

Ralf-Dietrich Kahlke (l) and Frederic Lacombat (r) examine the skull

The skull was pieced together from 53 fragments

The skull was discovered around 1900, in a gravel pit at the foot of the Kyffhauser mountain range near the city of Bad Frankenhausen.

The 53 fragments were only recently put together by Dr Kahlke and his colleague Frederic Lacombat, from the Crozatier Museum in Puy-en-Velay, France.

After examining the reconstructed cranium, they assigned the specimen to Coelodonta tologoijensis, an Asian woolly rhino species that had not previously been described in Europe.

Woolly rhino (Coelodonta) first appeared about 2.5 million years ago in the northern foothills of the Himalayas.

And for much of their evolutionary existence, these mammals were confined to steppe environments in continental Asia.

The key was their diet, which started off being rather mixed – including the leaves of shrubs and trees.

But as conditions became increasingly arid, the woolly rhino evolved into a specialist in browsing for steppe food that grew nearer to the ground.

Coelodonta skull from Bad Frankenhausen, Germany

Changes in the animals’ anatomy enabled them to tolerate cold, arid conditions

The animals probably migrated from Asia into East and Central Europe when cold, arid conditions held sway between 478,000 and 424,000 years ago.

Their territorial advances were paralleled by changes in anatomy.

“Analysis of the Frankenhausen specimen shows that Coelodonta tologoijensis… carried its head low along the ground and had a lawnmower-like mouth with a huge set of grinding teeth,” said Mr Lacombat.

“As the climate became colder, these animals became more efficient at utilising the available food.”

The researchers propose that the species represented at Bad Frankenhausen, C. tologoijensis, was ancestral to the “true” woolly rhino, C. antiquitatis, which was common across Eurasia during ice ages.

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