With the world seemingly shrinking as communication and travel becomes easier and faster it’s refreshing to know we can still be amazed by this beautiful blue planet we inhabit. Only last week scientists announced the discovery of a canyon in Greenland that’s 750km long and up to 800m deep making it almost twice as long as the Grand Canyon. It was discovered by bouncing radio waves from planes flying overhead to map the rock underneath the ice.
The canyon is buried by the Greenland ice sheet which in places is 3kms thick; the pressure from this huge mass of ice above it has squashed central Greenland to 200m below sea level whereas before it was 500m above sea level. Loving facts and figures I took out a calculator and a Bic biro to conduct further research. Assuming roughly that the blunt end of a biro is 1cm square and that the biro was buried vertically at the bottom of the canyon it would have the equivalent of 276 kilo bags of sugar precariously balanced on top of it.
Knowing that it would take 10,000 biros pointing straight down to fill a square metre and that the canyon is 6km wide and 750km long that’s a hell of a lot of sugar to buy at the supermarket for the purposes of my virtual experiment. No wonder the Greenland’s crust has been pushed down 700m.
The UK is affected by this ‘springboard’ effect too, after the last glaciers left 20,000 year ago Scotland has been slowly bouncing back with some parts predicted to elevate another 10cms over the next 100 years. This will help counteract any sea level rises from global warming. This is not so good for England and Wales as they are at the other end of this geological See Saw and they will possibly drop 5cm in the same time period. This means any average sea level rises will be felt much more down south.
Nepal in the Himalayas has over 1300 peaks with the two most famous being Everest and Annapurna. About a 1000 have never been climbed by Westerners at least, possibly the odd yeti has had a pop. Amazingly lots of these mountains don’t have names and the Nepalese government has decided to honour Hilary and Tensing who were the first to scale Everest in May 1953 by naming a mountain after each of them. Two French climbers who first climbed Annapurna, Herzog and Lachenal are also being honoured in the same way. In a bid to promote tourism an extra 165 mountains measuring up to 7999 metres high will be opened up to climbers from next Spring.
In the mountainous forests that cover Ecuador and Colombia a new species of mammal has been discovered. The Olinguito has a teddy bear like face, is the same size as a small cat and the smallest relative in the racoon family. It eats fruit and only comes out at night. Amazingly a female was captured in 1967 and was mistaken for another species called the Olingo. The poor lady was swapped from zoo to zoo for years as she refused to breed with all her potential male suitors as scientists thought she was just being fussy.
In the Maluku archipelago a new species of rat has been discovered and named the Spiny Boki Mekot. This area is where the naturalist Sir Alfred Russel Wallace wrote in 1858 to Charles Darwin about his thoughts on evolution and natural selection. The area is called Wallacea after him. Its likely that the first ever mammals came from here, slowly migrating east or west over the millennia and evolving differently into the Asian or Australasian species we have today.
More scarily a BBC natural history unit whilst filming a programme called Lost land of the Volcano entered the extinct cone of Mount Vosavi in Papua New Guinea. Quite possibly they were the first humans ever to venture there as the animals they encountered were not at all fazed by their presence. I say scarily as they discovered a rat measuring over 80cms from tip to tail so about the size of a cat. All in all the scientists think they have discovered 40 new species of fauna there including a tree climbing kangaroo, a giant caterpillar and a fanged frog. Finally a variation can be made on the the old ‘wide mouth frog joke!’
Not quite so cuddly and considerably smaller at just a millimetre across, a new species of water beetle was recently discovered living right under the scientists’ noses; a river flows through the campus of Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines and the newly named Hydraena Ateneo has always lived there minding its own business amongst the rotting vegetation.