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SCIENCE FILE | Earthwatch: A Diary of the Planet

November 21, 1996


A volcano on a remote island just off Papua New Guinea erupted with a plume of ash, a shower of stones and a river of lava that flowed into the sea. An estimated 7,000 villagers on Manam Island were on standby for possible evacuation. There were no reports of injury or damage.

Pacaya volcano, near Guatemala City, also spewed ash and lava. The volcano sent a cloud of smoke about 2,000 feet into the air when it rumbled to life. Nearby villagers were briefly evacuated.


Several villages along the coast of Peru were wrecked by a 45- second temblor that killed at least 22 people and left 9,000 others homeless. Hours after the quake, aftershocks were still rumbling through the hardest- hit town of Nazca, where local hospitals were overflowing with the injured.

Earth movements were also felt in eastern China, southern Japan, New Zealand's North Island, Burma, northwest Nepal, Cyprus, northern Greece, southwest England and southern Alaska.

Tropical Storms

Philippine President Fidel Ramos declared a state of calamity in 14 provinces and eight cities ravaged by tropical storm Ernie. The storm's torrential rains were responsible for 16 deaths in the Philippines and at least two others in Taiwan.

Typhoon Dale skirted some remote islands of southern Japan, then lost force as it moved over the cooler waters of the Pacific.

Argentine Desert

A vast area of southern Argentina has become part of an expanding desert, primarily as a result of human activities, according to a recent Argentine government study. Satellite surveillance revealed that more than one- third of Patagonia is affected by desertification. The study says that the newly arid lands have degraded to the point that "their use to man is practically nil," and the damage is economically "irreversible." The region produces oil and coal, and has an extensive cattle industry.

Early Arrival

The first gray whales of the winter migration season where spotted more than a month early in Magdelena Bay on the Pacific coast of Baja California. Most of the marine mammals, which migrate almost 6,000 miles from the Arctic to coastal Mexico to give birth, arrive between January and March.

Lake-Effect Show

Arctic air streaming over the Great Lakes produced an unusually long outbreak of heavy snow in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. More than three feet of wet snow fell in some places, snarling traffic and triggering power failures because of downed trees and power lines. Two jetliners skidded off the icy runway at the Cleveland airport during the wintry weather.

Additional sources: U.S. Climate Analysis Center, Hong Kong Royal Observatory, U.S. Earthquake Information Center and the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.

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