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SCIENCE FILE / An exploration of issues and trends
affecting science, medicine and the environment

Earthwatch: A Diary of the Planet

November 19, 1998

Rising Sea Level

The long-predicted rise in ocean levels due to global warming appears to be already affecting some low-lying islands of the Pacific Ocean. The Samoa-based Inter-government Agency told reporters that some culturally and spiritually important sites in the island chain were crumbling into the ocean. Farmers on many atolls are being forced to move their crops to what higher ground is available. Salt water has begun to seep into low-lying fields, making them too saline to grow staple crops such as taro, pulaka and yams. Fishermen have reported that some small islets, once used for navigation, have entirely disappeared.

Oil Spill Victims

Hundreds of birds on Germany's northern coast have been coated with oil from the wrecked Italian-owned freighter Pallas, according to German environmental officials. The 10,000-ton freighter caught fire in rough weather in the North Sea in late October and has leaked about 10 tons to 15 tons of oil. The resulting oil slick has killed 135 birds and has made at least 1,500 others ill. Four ships have been trying to remove the oil from around the Pallas, and barriers have been erected near the wreck to prevent the leakage from spreading.

Record Floods

Torrential rainstorms produced unprecedented flooding across a wide area of Eastern Europe from Ukraine to Hungary. Ukraine's western Carpathian region was one of the hardest hit areas, with more than 100 towns and villages flooded by days of heavy rainfall.

Earthquakes

Metropolitan Tokyo was struck by a moderate earthquake that caused tall buildings to sway and forced the temporary closure of the region's bullet train service.

Earth movements were also felt in southeastern Australia, two points in eastern Indonesia, northern Afghanistan, northwest Iran and along the Alaska-Yukon border.

Early Winter

One of the most intense winter-like storms on record roared across the Northern Plains and the upper Midwest, producing a rare combination of tornadoes, blizzard conditions and hurricane-force winds. Long stretches of interstate highways were closed by snowdrifts.

Eruptions

Nicaraguan officials issued an alert, saying that the San Cristobal volcano was dangerously active and could soon erupt. The 6,000-foot San Cristobal, one of the largest and most active volcanoes in Nicaragua, is located in Chinandega province, which was devastated by mudslides during Hurricane Mitch's rampage across Central America.

Japan's Mt. Me-Akan erupted for the first time in two years Monday, sending a plume of smoke 160 feet above the volcano.

*

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

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