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Earthwatch: Diary of the Planet

March 06, 1997

Return to Bikini

Four elderly women who were evacuated from Bikini Atoll more than 50 years ago returned home to begin the ceremonial process of cleaning up the still radioactive island. They had not been back since the U.S. Navy took them to the island of Kili in 1946 so a series of nuclear bombs could be exploded at Bikini. Decades of efforts by the American government to decontaminate the atoll have led to the recent announcement that radioactivity is well within internationally accepted levels. The island has been saturated with potassium fertilizer to prevent coconut palms and other plants from absorbing radioactive cesium 137 from the ground.

Tropical Storms

Weak tropical cyclone Ita brought high surf and gales to Australia's northeastern coast. Tropical cyclone 27S passed harmlessly off the coast of Western Australia. Cyclone Karlette lost force over the cool waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

Drought Migration

The severe drought plaguing Kenya has caused a massive migration of the country's famed flamingos. The number of the birds at Lake Nakuru has fallen to about 6,000 compared to the 1 million to 3 million counted just three months ago. Wildlife officials say the flamingos have flown to lakes in the Rift Valley.

Volcanoes

Vietnamese scientists investigated reports of land sinking by as much as 10 feet near a long-extinct volcano in the central highlands province of Gia Lai. Several thousand square yards of land used for coffee crops around Ham Rong (Dragon's Mouth) volcano were covered with small cracks. The ground began sinking during last year's rainy season. Underground gas movement is suspected.

Further rumblings in California's Sierra Nevada prompted the second low-level volcano watch near the Mammoth Lakes ski area during February. Later analysis indicated the ground at the Long Valley Caldera did not appear to be distorted by the quake, implying that volcanic activity was not the cause.

Earthquakes

A severe temblor struck southwest Pakistan, killing at least 45 people and injuring many others in Baluchistan province bordering Iran and Afghanistan. In northwestern Iran, at least 900 people were killed by a powerful quake that wrecked 40 villages near the Caspian Sea. Quakes also hit China's Xinjiang region, northern Iran, Bosnia, southern Spain, parts of Japan, the Kuril Islands, southeast Colombia, coastal Peru, the Peruvian Andes and the Southern California desert.

Euro Winter

The second winter storm to strike Europe within a week killed eight people and caused scores of accidents, from England to Germany. Hurricane-force winds tore across Sweden and Denmark, uprooting trees, bringing down power lines and wreaking havoc on ferry, rail and road traffic.

Additional Sources: U.S. Climate Analysis Center, U.S. Earthquake Information Center and the World Meteorological Organization.

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