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  • 08/15/12--04:59: The World's Biggest Insects
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    Paul Clerkin with false catshark, a large and elusive deep-sea species. (Paul Clerkin)

    By Andrea Mustain

    A two-month fishing expedition to the Indian Ocean has turned up hundreds of strange deep-sea sharks, and several are likely new to science.

    At least eight new species could be among the fishy haul, said Paul Clerkin, a shark ecology graduate student at California's Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

    Clerkin joined the commercial fishing venture in March and April of this year, in hopes that the vessel's massive trawling nets might pluck sharks from the deep sea. He was not disappointed.

    "I tell people I have a ton of sharks, and they keep thinking I'm joking," Clerkin said. "It was an actual ton. I brought back 350 sharks." [See some of the sharks]

    The sharks were caught as bycatch from depths of approximately 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) from a region of undersea mountains, or seamounts, about a week's journey south of the island of Mauritius.

    Day after day, the ship's nets brought up dozens of bizarre sharks from the deep - some dainty, some enormous, nearly all of them rare or entirely new species.

    "They don't look like the classic great whites you'll see on Shark Week," Clerkin said. "I think they're more interesting." Weird features abound: knifelike snouts, moonlike eyes and at least one shark with a curved, serrated spine emerging from its back.

    Among the largest was a false catshark, a pointy-faced fish about 10 feet (3 m) long. Although it's a known species, it's a notoriously elusive one.

    "It was exciting because I knew they were really rare, and the chance of seeing them was pretty small," Clerkin told OurAmazingPlanet. Yet after a while, he said, he began to think the species isn't nearly as rare as the literature suggests.

    "We actually caught a lot - close to 35," he said, adding that it's likely humans simply haven't explored the parts of the ocean where false catsharks live. "I think it shows there's a lot we don't understand about sharks," he said.

    Clerkin is taking between 80 and 90 measurements from each shark, a time-consuming task, and is also sending off genetic samples for comparison.

    If the any of the species are indeed new, Clerkin gets to name them. He said he'll likely name some of the sharks for his science mentors. "And maybe I'll name one after my mom," he said.

    Reach Andrea Mustain at amustain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow her on Twitter @AndreaMustain. Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanet and on Facebook.

    In Images: The Fantastic Fishes of Shark Island
    Images: 17 Amazing Sea Creatures You've Never Heard Of
    On the Brink: A Gallery of Wild Sharks

    Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Blue Whales Put on Rare Show

     

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    A supraglacial lake over the Greenland ice sheet in the Kangerlussuaq area photographed on July 21, 2012. The lake feeds a stream that will deliver meltwater to the low elevations where it will either flow to the ocean on the surface or dive into the ice to contribute to a hydrological pipeline of sorts. (Marco Tedesco)

    By Jeanna Bryner

    On Aug. 8, the Greenland ice sheet shattered a seasonal record, with more cumulative melting since record-keeping began more than three decades ago, new research finds.

    Greenland's melting season usually begins in June, when the first puddles of meltwater emerge, and lasts through early September, when temperatures begin to cool. This year, a full four weeks before the end of the melt season, the ice sheet had shed more water than the record reached during the full season in 2010.

    "With more yet to come in August, this year's overall melting will fall way above the old records. That's a Goliath year - the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979," said study researcher Marco Tedesco, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at The City College of New York.

    To calculate Greenland ice-sheet melting, Tedesco and his colleagues used data collected by microwave satellite sensors, as part of the U.S. Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, across the Greenland ice sheet. [Giant Ice: Photos of Greenland's Glaciers]

    The results showed extreme melting in nearly every region of Greenland, including the west, northwest and northeast. Particularly, melting occurred at high elevations, where, in most years, the snow and ice melt for a few days, at most. This year, that melting has already continued for two months, Tedesco found.

    "Part of the meltwater will refreeze and part of the meltwater will run off to create streams and eventually take off into the sea and contribute to sea-level rise or the hydrological cycle," Tedesco told LiveScience during an interview.

    The meltwater that puddles up on the surface of Greenland can also percolate through the snow and into the ice, lubricating that ice and possibly speeding its journey into the sea.

    This meltwater record is different from one announced in mid-July, when NASA satellite images showed that over just a few days, nearly all of the veneer of surface ice atop Greenland's massive ice sheet had thawed, breaking a more than 30-year record.

    Most of that ice, however, refroze rather than running off into the ocean or creating streams within or on top of the ice sheet, Tedesco said.

    "The melting in terms of how much water was produced is relatively small," Tedesco said of the July event.

    As for the cause of the new meltwater record, Tedesco points to warming temperatures. He added that scientists are looking into whether or not this warming is part of a larger pattern of global warming.

    "We have to be careful because we are only talking about a couple of years and the history of Greenland happened over millennia," Tedesco noted in a statement.

    He added to LiveScience, "It's no doubt that the warming of the Arctic and whatever is related to that is responsible at least for triggering the melting mechanism at the beginning of the season and providing enough gas to keep it going."

    Tedesco is referring to a feedback that occurs when snow melts away, leaving bare ice, which is darker and absorbs more heat (called a high albedo) than the brighter snow.

    Overall, southern Greenland is going through changes, with the ice sheet thinning at its edges and steams and lakes growing atop its glaciers.

    Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    On Ice: Stunning Images of Canadian Arctic
    Image Gallery: One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth
    In Photos: Glaciers Before and After

    Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Breathtaking Photos of Antarctica

     

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    (AP)

    Wet and unsettled weather conditions will continue in the Midwest as a cold front with waves of low pressure push through the region. Showers and thunderstorms are anticipated near the system as it progresses eastward, from the Upper Great Lakes through the Ohio Valley and into the Mid-Mississippi Valley.

    Parts of the Ohio Valley through the Mid-Mississippi Valley and the Ozarks are at slight risk of damaging wind and severe hail from the mid-afternoon through mid-evening.

    Temperatures in the lower 48 states Wednesday have ranged from a morning low of 32 degrees at West Yellowstone, Mont. to a high of 102 degrees at Pecos, Texas.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Electrifying Photos of Lightning Bolts

     

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    (NOAA)

    MIAMI (AP) - Tropical Storm Gordon has formed in the Atlantic but is expected to move away from the United States.

    Gordon's maximum sustained winds early Thursday are near 40 mph (65 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center says some strengthening is forecast over the next two days and Gordon could become a hurricane over the weekend.

    Gordon is centered about 585 miles (940 kilometers) east of Bermuda and is moving north-northeast near 14 mph (22 kph).

    The storm's forecast track shows it moving farther east in the Atlantic over the next few days and the hurricane center says those in the Azores should monitor its progress.

    Meanwhile in the Pacific, Tropical Depression Hector is weakening and is expected to become a remnant low later in the day.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    (AP)

    SUTTONS BAY, Mich. (AP) - Apple-picking, a cherished autumn tradition, is off to an early start in the Northeast and Upper Midwest as growers deal with aftershocks from wacky spring weather that hammered fruit crops.

    A series of below-freezing nights in April zapped buds that had sprouted during a rare summerlike stretch the previous month, decimating cherries, peaches and other tree fruits. While some apple orchards escaped relatively unscathed, many are producing only a small fraction of their normal output and some are coming up empty.

    Michigan was hit especially hard. A harvest of perhaps 3 million bushels is expected, down from the usual 23 million or so, said executive director Diane Smith of the Michigan Apple Committee. The prolonged drought hasn't helped matters but isn't a leading cause of the drop-off, because apple trees have deep roots well-suited to reaching groundwater, she said.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the nationwide yield will be about 14 percent below last year's and the smallest since 1986. A slight uptick in Washington, the top apple producer, and other Western states will help grocers compensate for the decline east of the Mississippi.

    Across the Great Lakes region, which includes four of the nation's top 10 apple-growing states - New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio - fruit that survived is ripening weeks earlier than usual. It's happening in parts of New England as well. For people who enjoy visiting orchards to pick apples or stopping by a farm market to buy a bushel and a jug of cider on a crisp fall weekend, the message from growers is simple: If you wait too long, you may lose out.

    "Keep an eye on your source and as soon as they get (apples), better get what you need because they will go fast," said Alan Spinniken, owner of Eagle View Farms near Suttons Bay, where a crew of migrant workers began stripping trees of a variety called "Early Gold" this week.

    It's a sign of the times that Spinniken, a fourth-generation fruit farmer in Michigan's northwestern Lower Peninsula, feels fortunate despite losing about a third of his crop.

    "I've got some neighbors with nothing," he said, sifting through a large crate of yellow-skinned apples, many misshapen and unusually small.

    Early Golds will go to a processor and become applesauce. Spinniken expects his fresh-market varieties -McIntosh, Ida Red, Rome - to ripen by mid-September, at least two weeks ahead of schedule.

    Bob Gregory, who runs nearby Cherry Bay Orchards, plans to begin harvesting next week. His crop is a mixed bag, with Galas and Honey Crisps doing reasonably well but Jonagolds and McIntoshes languishing.

    "This is the worst of the worst that we've ever seen in 42 years of farming," said Gregory, who expects perhaps two-thirds of a normal crop.

    Damage is heavier in southwestern Michigan, the state's top apple-producing region, where 25 to 30 percent is a respectable showing this year. Joe Klein anticipates getting 5,400 bushels from his orchard 15 miles north of Grand Rapids, only about 7 percent of his normal harvest. His slimmed-down crew of pickers is getting started about three weeks early.

    Some farm market operators are buying apples from neighbors or even other states so their fall customers won't go without. But people who prefer to pick their own may be out of luck.

    Erwin Orchards in Oakland County, just northwest of Detroit, announced on its website the orchard was bare. "This is unlike any other season we have had in our U-Pick history," it said, adding that "we should be able to obtain enough apples so that we can have apple cider available for your enjoyment."

    In New York, the second-ranking apple producer after Washington state, harvesting is under way in the Hudson Valley - up to two weeks earlier than usual.

    Pickers started harvesting Paula Reds and Ginger Golds last week on Karen Resinger's farm in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

    "The season is early, and I think everything is going to be picked out early," she said.

    Farmers who fared best during the April freeze tended to have orchards on higher ground, where the air was slightly warmer than in valleys, said Amy Irish-Brown, a Michigan State University extension educator.

    Those who could afford it placed huge fans or propane heaters amid their trees. Some even hired helicopters to hover above the orchards, hoping the breezes they kicked up would push warm air closer to the ground - enough to raise the temperature just a degree or two.

    "Sometimes that's all you need to prevent a total crop loss," Irish-Brown said.

    Even as orchard operators salvage what they can, fickle weather remains a concern.

    Steve Louis began harvesting early varieties this month on his farm 60 miles northwest of Madison, Wis. Thanks to its hilltop location, he's doing considerably better than the statewide average yield, expected to be perhaps 80 percent below normal. But his apples have suffered from the drought and storms are a constant threat.

    "I was talking to a big grower in Pennsylvania who had a nice crop ... but then a hailstorm went through and took it out," Louis said. "It's like Mother Nature is not going to stop until it's all gone this year."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    Aug. 16, 2012


    On the left, ice fills Parry Channel on July 17. At right, on Aug. 3 the same region has dramatically less ice. (NASA Earth Observatory)

    Rapid summer ice melting may lead to opening of the famous Northwest Passage this year. The Canadian Arctic waterway connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans has historically been locked by ice, but this year could be different. In late July, 79 percent of the passage is usually covered in ice; this year ice covered only 33 percent. By early August, satellite images showed the Parry Channel (a part of the passage connecting Buffin Bay and the Beaufort Sea) nearly ice-free.

    In 2007, ice in the Arctic hit a record low, and the Northwest Passage opened for the first time since recording began in 1978. Although the passage will likely open for the second time, it will not necessarily be navigable. Satellites may not be able to detect thin sea ice that could still prevent the safe passage of ships.

    The ice is expected to return come early winter, and the sea route will be blocked anew. Experts say long-term opening of the passage, which would provide a navigable shipping and travel route, could happen sometime between 2030 and 2080.


    RELATED ON SKYE: Breathtaking Photos of Antarctica

     

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    A beautiful, two-minute introduction to the sport of kitesurfing.

     

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    In this July 20, 2011 file photo, a hiker takes a photo from the top of Vernal Falls in Yosemite. (AP)

    TRACIE CONE, Associated Press

    FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - One boy died and another was missing after they were swept away along a popular but treacherous boulder-strewn stretch of the Merced River, Yosemite National Park officials said Thursday.

    The two victims were part of a family visiting from Southern California that was hiking near the Vernal Fall Footbridge. Group members were cooling off in the river Wednesday when a current carried the boys away.

    A 10-year-old boy was pronounced dead around 3 p.m. Wednesday. Park visitors were able to pull him from the river about 150 yards downstream, but efforts to resuscitate him failed.

    Authorities were still searching for a 6-year-old boy who is missing and presumed dead.

    The names of the boys were not immediately released.

    The bridge is a vantage point on the Mist Trail where Vernal Fall first comes into view. The location was the site of tragedy last summer when three Central California friends cooling off in a pool above the fall were swept to their deaths.

    Two of their bodies were discovered months later lodged under boulders near the site where the 10-year-old was found.

    The Merced River runs through the heart of Yosemite Valley, and the Mist Trail to the fall is one of the most popular and sometimes perilous hikes in the park. The river falls 317 feet straight down to a narrow gorge filled with boulders the size of cars then descends another 400 feet by the time it reaches the bridge. Even when the rest of the river is moving slowly, the drop in elevation and narrow channel cause the water to move swiftly.

    The boys were part of group of about 15 extended family members who made the short hike to the bridge, park spokesman Scott Gediman said. While signs at the trailhead warn that the river can be dangerous, people often are drawn to the water's edge.

    "We've got a low water year this year, and around the banks it's only 8 to 10 inches deep, but once you get our further we have a swift current and it gets deeper," Gediman said. "They both got swept away by the current."

    The Mist Trail remained open during search and rescue operations but portions might be closed depending upon developments.

    A 57-year-old man drowned two weeks ago in the Merced River when he was pinned under a rock, and another person died in June on the South Fork of the river near the Wawona area on the south end of the park.

     

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    A plane that will be used for aerial spraying is rolled onto the tarmac for a news conference in Dallas, Thursday, Aug. 16. (AP)

    SARAH KUTA,Associated Press

    DALLAS (AP) - The last time Dallas used aerial spraying to curb the mosquito population, Texas' Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, Mission Control in Houston was launching Gemini missions and encephalitis was blamed for more than a dozen deaths.

    But for the first time in more than 45 years, the city and county planned Thursday to resume dropping insecticide from the air to combat the nation's worst outbreak of West Nile virus, which has killed 10 people and caused at least 200 others to fall ill.

    "I cannot have any more deaths on my conscience because we did not take action," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

    Although commonplace in other major cities, the efforts are provoking a debate in the Dallas area between health officials trying to quell disease risk and people concerned about insecticidal mist drifting down from above.

    Nearly half of all West Nile cases in the United States so far this year are in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the trend continues, 2012 will be the worst West Nile year in state history.

    The hot, dry weather across the nation's midsection has created ideal conditions for some species of mosquito. The heat speeds up their life cycle, which accelerates the virus replication process. And during a drought, standing water can quickly turn stagnant when it's not flushed away by rain or runoff.

    In a coincidence Thursday, a Texas jury further south in DeWitt County awarded nearly $1 million to a Union Pacific employee who says he contracted West Nile virus while on the job after Hurricane Ike in 2008. Attorney Michael Sheppard said railroad worker Billy Nami, 62, lost more than half his cognitive function after being infected.

    Both the mayor and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins have declared a state of emergency and voiced their support for an aerial defense. Yet even with the threat of infection, the spraying has sparked widespread opposition from people who fear the chemicals could be harmful.

    "It's something new there that has not been used in quite a number of years," said Dr. Roger Nasci of the CDC, explaining the public's worries. "Anything novel comes with that unknown factor."

    Because of the severity of the outbreak, the Texas Health Department is stepping in to oversee the effort and to pay for it.

    "This year is totally different from the experience Texas has had in the past," state Health Commissioner Dr. David Lakey said. "If it's nuisance mosquitoes, we ask the city or county to pay part of that. But in the midst of this disease outbreak, it's easier for us to go ahead and do it."

    A national spraying company called Clarke was set to deploy two to five Beechcraft King Air twin-engine planes late Thursday night for three hours of spraying. One county-wide application costs about $1 million. A second application is possible if the first attempt does not kill enough mosquitoes.

    Critics have also questioned whether the approach is scientifically proven to reduce West Nile cases. But at least one study in California concluded that the odds of infection are about six times lower in treated areas than those that are untreated.

    Still, some residents fear the chemicals could harm their children, pets and useful insects such as honeybees and ladybugs.

    The chemical released from the planes, synthetic pyrethroid, mimics a naturally occurring substance found in chrysanthemums. The Environmental Protection Agency has said that pyrethroids do not pose a significant risk to wildlife or the environment, though no pesticide is 100 percent safe.

    About eight-tenths of an ounce of chemical is applied per acre, said Laura McGowan, a Clarke spokeswoman.

    The insecticide's common name is Duet Dual-Action Adulticide. The label says it's toxic to fish and other types of aquatic life, and it contains distilled petroleum.

    In states like California and Florida, aerial spraying is a "run-of-the-mill" response to West Nile, McGowan said.

    When the mosquito population gets to be a certain level, "they automatically go up," she said. "They do it as a matter of course."

    Kelly Nash, who lives in Dallas and works for an environmental consulting firm, questions whether the county is advocating for a controlled oil spill.

    "One ounce an acre doesn't sound like much, but we will spray at least 2,000 gallons all over the city," Nash said. "A 2,000-gallon oil spill would be significant. I'm concerned that we're breeding resistant mosquitoes that next time will have Dengue fever or something worse."

    Harris County, which includes humid, mosquito-filled Houston, has used aerial spraying once a year since 2002, the year the virus was first detected in Texas. The county uses ground spraying first and moves to aerial spraying as the virus spreads.

    "We can't be everywhere at all times," Mosquito Control Director Dr. Rudy Bueno said. "Aerial treatment is a way to supplement what we do on the ground."

    Most people infected with West Nile virus won't get sick, but about one in 150 people will develop the severe form of the illness. Symptoms include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.

    Jordan Conner, 14, spent eight days in intensive care with the most severe form of West Nile virus. Her mother, Ebonie Conner of Arlington, said she doesn't approve of aerial spraying and wishes local leaders would do more to educate the community.

    "We've been desensitized to West Nile virus," Conner said. "It's been ingrained in us that it affects older people and infants. I think they need to pass out insect repellent, mention it in back-to-school drives."

    Lane Robson, who runs up to 30 miles a week around White Rock Lake near her home in Lakewood, said aerial spraying seems like the right decision. But on spraying day, she plans to run indoors on a treadmill just to be safe.

    Robson, 55, remembers the last time Dallas officials resorted to aerial spraying. She was 9, and her mother told her to stay inside.

    "You have to weigh the good and the bad," Robson said. Spraying "is the lesser of two evils."

     

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    (AP)

    A cold front moving through the Eastern US will produce more showers and thunderstorms on Friday. This system will advance southeastward and move over the Ohio River Valley and Mid-Mississippi River Valley, reaching into the Tennessee Valley and Lower Mississippi River Valley. This system will pull in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, allowing for more thunderstorms to develop.

    Some of these storms may turn severe across the Tennessee Valley with main threats of strong winds, large hail, and periods of heavy rainfall. At the same time, the northern side of this system will pull moisture in from the Atlantic Ocean and produce scattered showers across the Northeast, moving into the Mid-Atlantic states in the evening.

    Behind this cold front, noticeably cooler temperatures will return to the Midwest, Ohio River Valley, and Mid-Mississippi River Valley as flow from the north continues. This will pull cool air in from Canada, allowing for highs to range in the 70s across the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes, and Mid-Mississippi River Valley.

    Meanwhile in the West, an area of low pressure slides up the West Coast and allows of onshore flow to continue. This will keep temperatures slightly cooler across most of California. In the north, a ridge of high pressure strengthens over the Pacific Northwest and keeps the region warm and dry. Expect high heat advisories and dangerous fire weather conditions will remain in effect on Friday. In the Southwest, monsoonal moisture will maintain thunderstorm activity across Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of southern California.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Thursday have ranged from a morning low of 32 degrees at West Yellowstone, Mont. to a high of 101 degrees at Zapata, Texas.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Electrifying Photos of Lightning Bolts

     

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    Chilean Coast Pounded by Giant Waves

    Monstrous waves off the coast of Llollea, Chile wreaked havoc on the town, flooding streets, and causing a ship to wreck just offshore, prompting a rescue operation.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 U.S. Cities Most at Risk from Rising Sea Levels

     

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    By Andrea Mustain

    A research vessel testing its underwater mapping equipment recently made a remarkable discovery: the wreck of the Terra Nova, the famed ship that took British explorer Robert Falcon Scott on his fateful voyage to Antarctica a century ago.

    The ship was discovered off the coast of Greenland on July 11. A crew aboard the Falkor, a research vessel operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute (as in Eric Schmidt of Google fame), was testing the ship's acoustic sonar, when they spotted something unusual emerging from the seafloor data - a long, narrow shape that resembled a ship's hull.

    A quick check of the length revealed it matched that of the Terra Nova: about 190 feet (57 meters), said Victor Zykov, Schmidt Ocean Institute's director of science.

    "It was extremely exciting," Zykov told OurAmazingPlanet.

    Although it was a surprise, the find wasn't a total accident. Researchers and crew aboard the ship chose the ocean region near Greenland because the exaggerated seafloor topography offered just the sort of challenge needed to test the ship's equipment.

    One of the Falkor's crew knew quite a bit about Terra Nova's history, and suggested they cover the area where the storied ship disappeared in 1943.

    The three-masted ship, with a single funnel rising from the wooden deck, was built in 1884. It ferried Scott and his men to Antarctica in 1910, and remained there for nearly three years, sailing away from the continent without Scott - and the four men who died at his side - in 1913. [Images from Scott's Last Expedition]

    Three decades later, the Terra Nova was being used as a work ship by a seal fishery. In September 1943, it began to take on water. All the men on board were saved, but the ship disappeared into the frigid sea.

    The Falkor crew sent a camera overboard to take a closer look at the wreck, and the images sent back from the seafloor further confirmed their suspicions. A video revealed a single funnel, a bridge and masts that appear to match the build of the Terra Nova.

    Zykov said his organization has been asked to keep the exact location and depth of the Terra Nova secret for now, to prevent anyone from disturbing the wreck.

    Scott's ill-fated attempt to become the first man to reach the South Pole, a trek that claimed his life, is known as the Terra Nova expedition, named for the ship that carried him there.

    Reach Andrea Mustain at amustain@techmedianetwork.com, or follow her on Twitter @AndreaMustain. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    Race to the South Pole in Images
    Image Gallery: Shipwreck Alley's Sunken Treasures
    Infographic: Antarctica - 100 Years of Exploration

    Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Blue Whales Put on a Rare Show

     

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    Researchers examine the internal anatomy of the largest Burmese python found in Florida to date. (AP Photo/University of Florida, Kristen Grace)

    By Matt Sedensky

    WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - The biggest Burmese python ever caught in Florida - 17 feet, 7 inches long and 164½ pounds - was found in Everglades National Park, the University of Florida announced this week.

    The snake was pregnant with 87 eggs, also said to be a record. Scientists said the python's stats show just how pervasive the invasive snakes, which are native to Southeast Asia, have become in South Florida.

    "It means these snakes are surviving a long time in the wild," said Kenneth Krysko, a snake expert at the Florida Museum of Natural History, where the euthanized snake was brought. "'There's nothing stopping them and the native wildlife are in trouble."

    The python had feathers in its stomach that scientists plan to use to identify the types of wildlife it was eating.

    "A 17½-foot snake could eat anything it wants," Krysko said.

    Tens of thousands of Burmese pythons are believed to be living in the Everglades, where they thrive in the warm, humid climate. While many were apparently released by their owners, others may have escaped from pet shops during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and have been reproducing ever since.

    The snakes kill their prey by coiling around it and suffocating it. They have been known to swallow animals as large as deer and alligators.

    Authorities have taken repeated steps to try and reduce the python problem, banning their importation and allowing them to be hunted. But those efforts have done little to reduce the population.

    In and around Everglades National Park alone, some 1,825 Burmese pythons were found between 2000 and 2011.

    Rob Robins, a biologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said the snakes are very hard to catch, and that since they have established themselves in the Everglades, they will be virtually impossible to eradicate.

    "I think you're going to see more and more big snakes like this caught," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Biggest Insects

     

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    A screengrab from underwater video shows a semicircle at top (the fender?) and a round object off to right. (TIGHAR)

    Pieces of Amelia Earhart's plane might have been located in the depths of the waters off Nikumaroro island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati, according to a preliminary review of high-definition video taken last month at the uninhabited coral atoll believed to be Earhart's final resting place.

    Carried out by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating the last, fateful flight taken by Earhart 75 years ago, the underwater search started on July 12 and relied on a torpedo-shaped Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV).

    The AUV collected a volume of multi-beam and side-scan data, while the ROV, capable of reaching depths of 3,300 feet, produced hours upon hours of high-definition video.

    PHOTOS: Amelia Earhart's Fate Reconstructed


    Plagued by a number of technical issues and a difficult environment, the hunt did not result in the immediate identification of pieces from Earhart's Lockheed Electra aircraft.

    "Early media reports rushed to judgement in saying that the expedition didn't find anything," Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News.

    "We had, of course, hoped to see large pieces of aircraft wreckage but as soon as we saw the severe underwater environment at Nikumaroro we knew that we would be looking for debris from an airplane that had been torn to pieces 75 years ago, Gillespie said.

    As they returned from the data collection trip at the end of July, TIGHAR researchers began reviewing and analyzing all of new material recovered from the site.

    TIGHAR's findings are detailed in "Finding Amelia Earhart: Mystery Solved?" a Discovery Channel documentary that airs Sunday, Aug. 19 at 10 PM ET/PT

    PHOTOS: Inside the Search for Amelia Earhart

    "I have thus far made a cursory review of less than 30 percent of the expedition's video and have identified what appears to be an interesting debris field," TIGHAR forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman told Discovery News.

    Located distinctly apart from the debris field of the SS Norwich City, a British steamer which went aground on the island's reef in 1929, the site contains multiple objects. Several appear consistent with the interpretation made by Glickmann of a grainy photograph of Nikumaroro's western shoreline.

    Shot by British Colonial Service officer Eric R. Bevington in October 1937, just three months after Amelia's disappearance on July 2, 1937, the photo revealed an apparent man-made protruding object on the left side of the frame.

    Get Full Coverage of the Amelia Earhart story here.

    Forensic imaging analyses of the picture found the mysterious object consistent with the shape and dimension of the upside-down landing gear of Earhart's plane.

    "The Bevington photo shows what appears to be four components of the plane: a strut, a wheel, a wom gear and a fender. In the debris field there appears to be the fender, possibly the wheel and possibly some portions of the strut," Glickman said.

    Recovering the objects is TIGHAR's next goal.

    "If further analysis continues to support the hypothesis that we have found the object that appears in the 1937 Bevington Photo, we'll certainly want to recover it," Gillespie said.

    Meanwhile, a parallel investigation into a little jar recovered on Nikumaroro in a previous expedition might provide further circumstantial evidence that Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan made an emergency landing on the island's flat coral reef and eventually died there as castaways.

    NEWS: Earhart's Anti-Freckle Cream Jar Possibly Found

    "Scientists have found traces of mercury on the interior surface of the little jar that we suspect once contained Dr. Berry's Freckle Cream," Gillespie said.

    The new round of testing was prompted by Greg George, a chemist who read Discovery News story on the cosmetic jar.

    The purpose of mercury in ointments was for bleaching the skin. Indeed, Dr. C. H Berry's Freckle Ointment was marketed in the early 20th century as a concoction guaranteed to make freckles fade.

    "It is well documented that Amelia had freckles and disliked having them," Joe Cerniglia, the TIGHAR researcher who first spotted the freckle ointment as a possible match, told Discovery News.

    "The only product sold in the ointment jar that we know contained mercury was Dr. C. H. Berry's Freckle Ointment. Documentation I collected shows this product historically contained anywhere from 9.8 to 12 percent ammoniated mercury, depending on the year it was produced," Cerniglia said.

    TIGHAR admitted it is not possible to link the ointment pot directly to Amelia Earhart.

    "We can not exclude the possibility that someone brought a jar of American women's freckle cream to a British-administered island where nobody had freckles -- but it doesn't seem very likely," Gillespie said.

    The jar was found broken in five pieces and one of the fragments was collected far from the others amongst some turtle bones.

    "It shows signs of having been used as a cutting tool -- so the jar does seem to have been associated with the castaway who died there," Gillespie said.

    "The question, therefore, would seem to be whether the castaway who had a jar of American women's freckle cream was someone other than Amelia Earhart. We don't know who that would be," he added.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Where's Amelia Earhart's Plane?

     

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    Saturday, Aug. 25, 10:55 a.m. ET

    Wearing a Dominican Red Cross T-shirt, a boy walks through a flooded street after Tropical Storm Isaac hit in Barahona, Dominican Republic, on Saturday. (AP)

    PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Tropical Storm Isaac swept across Haiti's southern peninsula early Saturday, bringing flooding and at least three deaths while adding to the misery of a poor nation still trying to recover from the terrible 2010 earthquake.

    The storm was heading toward eastern Cuba and forecasters said it poses a threat to Florida Monday and Tuesday, just as the Republican Party gathers for its national convention in Tampa. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said a hurricane warning is in effect for the Florida Keys and for the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach south to Florida Bay.

    At least three people were reported dead. A woman and a child died in the town of Souvenance, Sen. Francisco Delacruz told a local radio station. A 10-year-old girl died in Thomazeau when a wall fell on his, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti's Civil Protection Office. She said as many as 5,000 people were evacuated because of flooding.

    Many, however, stayed and suffered.

    In the shantytown of Cite Soleil, just north of Port-au-Prince, about 300 homes had either their roofs blown off or sitting in three feet of water, according to Rachel Brumbaugh, operation manager for the U.S. nonprofit group World Vision.

    "From last night, we're in misery," said Cite Soleil resident Jean-Gymar Joseph. "All our children are sleeping in the mud, in the rain."

    More than 50 tents in a quake settlement collapsed, forcing people to scramble through the mud to try to save their belongings.

    Forecasters said Isaac could dump as much as eight to 12 inches and even up to 20 inches of rain on Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as produce a storm surge of up to 3 feet.

    Isaac was centered about 95 miles east-southeast of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, early Saturday, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. It was moving northwest at 14 mph. Tropical force winds extended nearly 200 miles from the storm's center.

    Forecasters said the storm was likely to march up the Gulf of Mexico, offshore of Florida's west coast, as a hurricane on Monday, just as the Republican National Convention is scheduled to start. Tampa was within the storm's possible strike zone, but the most likely course would carry it toward landfall on the Florida Panhandle late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

    Cuba declared a state of alert Friday for six eastern provinces and five central provinces were put on preliminary watch. Vacationers in tourist installations of those regions were evacuated.

    State television began an all-day transmission of news about the storm on Saturday.

    Radio Baracoa, from the city of Baracoa on the northern coast of eastern Cuba, reported that high seas began topping the city's seawall Friday night. Reports said lower than normal rains had left reservoirs well below capacity and in good shape to absorb runoff.

    In Port-au-Prince, a city of some 3 million ringed by mountains, authorities and aid workers tried to evacuate people from a tent camp to temporary shelters.

    In the Dominican Republic, authorities said they evacuated nearly 3,000 people from low-lying areas, and at least 10 rural settlements were cut off by flooding, according to Juan Manuel Mendez, director of rescue teams. Power was out in parts of the capital, Santo Domingo, but there were no reports of injuries.

    Organizers of next week's Republican National Convention in Tampa were monitoring storm developments, and authorities said there were no plans to cancel the convention.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Remembering Hurricane Andrew, 20 Years Later

     

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    Saturday, Aug. 25, 10:14 p.m. ET

    A resident loads sandbags in his pick-up truck in anticipation of possible floods generated by tropical storm Isaac in Tampa, Florida, Friday. (Getty Images)

    TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Floridians, tourists and thousands of visitors for the Republican National Convention were warned Saturday to prepare for Tropical Storm Isaac, which is expected to strengthen to a hurricane by the time it reaches the Florida Keys.

    While there were few signs of the approaching storm in Tampa, convention officials called off most events until after the storm passes. They planned to convene briefly as planned on Monday, then delay most of the schedule until Tuesday afternoon.

    Streets were already shut down around the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to accept his party's presidential nomination Thursday night. Law enforcement milled about downtown, and some protests already were under way. One group protesting homelessness and the housing crisis "took over" a foreclosed home by cleaning the yard and planned to help a homeless couple move in.

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, declared a state of emergency and canceled his plans to attend convention events on Sunday and Monday.

    A hurricane warning had been issued for the Florida Keys, and officials warned tourists to leave. Forecast models show Isaac likely won't hit Tampa head-on, but it could lash the city with rain and strong winds just as the convention ramps up.

    "I told some of my Democratic friends, 'We are the storm, baby, we are the thunder,'" said Steve Linder, whose business is planning all events for the Michigan delegation. Linder added, smiling, "and it ain't gonna stop until November."

    Dianne Joachim of New Richmond, Wis., was in town for her first convention and vowed not to let Isaac ruin it.

    "I just figure God's got this," she said as she arrived at her downtown hotel.

    Scott said during a media briefing that delegates were being told how to stay safe during a storm, and officials were ready for storm surge, bridge closures and other problems that could arise during the convention. He also said he was in close communication with local, state and federal agencies, as well as convention officials.

    "We are a hospitality state. We know how to take care of people and we want to ensure their safety," the governor said.

    Isaac was blamed for at least three deaths after dousing flood-prone Haiti and was expected to scrape eastern Cuba on Saturday. It was forecast to hit the Keys late Sunday or early Monday, and it then could bring stormy conditions to Florida's west coast before moving to the Panhandle.

    Isaac was expected to pass over the Keys as a hurricane late Sunday or early Monday. A steady stream of cars moved north along the Overseas Highway on Saturday, but officials said there were no major problems as some evacuated. At spots of higher ground along the highway, the only road connecting the Keys, dozens of people parked their cars to escape flooding.

    At The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, workers were moving recovering turtles from outdoor tanks inside, and hospital founder Richie Moretti said warnings were being taken seriously. He noted Hurricane Wilma in 2005 was initially expected to hit as a Category 1 storm, too.

    "It took out the motel, the hospital, the docks, and all the boats. So, I don't take anything for granted. If there's a storm coming, I don't care what number they give it. We're going to batten down and be ready," he said.

    Volunteers carried in supplies at shelters throughout the Keys. On Duval Street, the famed tourist strip in Key West, many shops were boarded up. Bands of light rain moved through and passersby crowded under umbrellas and wore ponchos and slickers.

    "The weather sucks, but on Tuesday it'll be nice," said an optimistic Kelly Calhoun, a 30-year-old speech therapist at the start of a weeklong vacation to Key West with family. "We got all the essentials: booze and food."

    Yet the storm was days away from the Florida Panhandle. It was sunny and breezy on the beach Saturday in Pensacola, with people out strolling and playing in the sand. Condo associations told people to move furniture inside, but full-scale preparations hadn't yet begun. Waves weren't yet big enough for surfers.

    When the storm hits, strong winds will be "enough to knock you over" and produce severe thunderstorms, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

    Storm surge and tornadoes also are possible when Isaac hits, and winds could topple power lines and lead to lengthy power outages, Feltgen said. The Panhandle already has had a wet summer, so potential flooding was especially possible there.

     

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    (Getty Images)

    TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Republican officials abruptly announced plans Saturday night to scrap the first day of their national convention, bowing to the threat of Tropical Storm Isaac as it bore down menacingly on Florida.

    "The safety of those in Isaac's path is of the utmost importance," tweeted Mitt Romney, his formal nomination as presidential candidate pushed back by a minimum of 24 hours from Monday night to Tuesday.

    The announcement was made as convention-goers flocked to the Tampa Bay area by the planeload for what had been scripted as four days of political pageantry and speechmaking with a purpose - to propel Romney into the fall campaign against President Barack Obama.

    Officials said they hoped to begin laying out a revised schedule on Sunday.

    Romney campaigned in battleground Ohio during the day, pledging to help female entrepreneurs and innovators who are eager to create small businesses and the jobs that go with them. It was an economy-themed countdown to a convention taking shape in a city already bristling with security - and bracing for a possible hurricane.

    "Women in this country are more likely to start businesses than men. Women need our help," said the Republican presidential challenger, eager to relegate recent controversy over abortion to the sidelines and make the nation's slow economic recovery the dominant issue of his convention week.

    Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chairman, told reporters on an early evening conference call that no state delegations had changed their travel plans because of the storm. "Everyone is planning on being here and we hope we are up and running and expect all of our delegates to be here," he said.

    Yet with rain and high winds in the forecast, and with the threat of a storm surge and possible flooding, convention organizers said they were making contingency plans to move delegates who have been booked into beachfront hotels to other locations if necessary.

    "Our first priority is ensuring the safety of delegates, alternates, guests, members of the media attending the Republican National Convention, and citizens of the Tampa Bay area," convention CEO Bill Harris said in an emailed announcement that followed private conversations involving Romney's campaign, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office, security officials and others.

    The announcement said that while the convention would officially be gaveled into session on Monday as scheduled, the day's events would be cancelled until Tuesday.

    The announcement made the GOP convention the party's second in a row to be disrupted by weather. Four years ago, the delegates gathered in St. Paul, Minn., but Hurricane Gustav, slamming the Gulf Coast, led to a one-day postponement.

    In that case, party officials rewrote their script to make President George W. Bush's speech into a video appearance, and to cancel plans for Vice President Dick Cheney to appear before the delegates. Both men were unpopular at the time.

    Four years later, there was no immediate sign that Romney's forces would do anything other than squeeze two nights' of platform programming into one. Nor did it appear the postponement would cost them much in political terms, since the television networks had already announced they would not be carrying any of Monday's events live.

    Despite the disruption, Priebus said, "we are optimistic that we will begin an exciting, robust convention that will nominate the Romney-Ryan ticket."

    Plans had called for the convention to open Monday with quick ratification of a conservative platform expected, followed by Romney's nomination in a traditional roll call of the states timed for network evening news coverage.

    Barring further postponements it will end Thursday with his prime-time acceptance speech, which aides hope will propel him into a successful fall campaign and, eventually, the White House.

    The polls made the race a close one, narrow advantage to Obama, as two weeks of back-to-back conventions approached. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on television ads, with hundreds of million more to come, almost all of it airing in a small group of battleground states expected to settle the election.

    The list included Florida as well as North Carolina, where the Democratic National Convention will be held in one week's time.

    Scott declared a state of emergency earlier in the day as the storm approached the Florida Keys, more than 400 miles from Tampa. Forecasters said it was on a track to head west of the convention city, but predicted strong winds and rain at a minimum on Monday as the delegates were to board buses for their first trip to the hall.

    "We are a hospitality state. We know how to take care of people and we want to ensure their safety," Scott said.

    Apart from weather concerns, a heavy security presence was already in evidence. Miles of fencing were designed to create a secure zone around a tract of land that included the convention hall, the hotel where Romney will stay and a nearby convention center where journalists and others worked.

    Obama did his best to intrude on the Republican unity tableau.

    In an interview with The Associated Press, he accused Romney of holding "extreme positions" on economic and social issues, while pledging a willingness on his own part to agree to "a whole range of compromise" with Republicans if he is re-elected.

    He did not elaborate, but his pledge seemed designed to appeal to independents and other voters who say they are tired of seemingly perpetual campaign bickering and Washington gridlock.

    Plans for Vice President Joe Biden to campaign in Florida were cancelled, also because of the threat posed by the storm.

    But Romney said Obama's entire campaign rested on his ability to persuade people to ignore his record and listen instead to his rhetoric.

    "It is not his words people have to listen to. It's his action and his record," he said in his appearance in Powell, Ohio. "And if they look at that, they'll take him out of the office and put people into the office who'll actually get America going again."

    Romney's speech included an appeal to women made on economic grounds rather than on the basis of social issues like abortion, the sort of approach the Republican hopes will eat into Obama's polling advantage among female voters.

    "I want to make sure that we help entrepreneurs and innovators. I want to speak to the women of America who have dreams, who begin businesses in their homes, who begin businesses out in the marketplace, who are working at various enterprises and companies," he said.

    Romney envisioned an economic resurgence fueled by abundant energy, expanded trade and a skilled workforce. If that happens, "America is going to surprise the world. We're going to stand out as a shining city on a hill in part because of our extraordinary economy," he said to the cheers of an estimated 5,000 supporters.

    Romney's determination to turn the attention to the economy follows two weeks of controversy over Medicare, courtesy of Obama's campaign, as well as abortion, the result of a comment by Rep. Todd Akin, the party's candidate in a Senate race in Missouri.

    Romney joined an unsuccessful effort by party leaders to force Akin to quit his race after he said women who are raped rarely become pregnant, a view unsupported by medical evidence.

    He also fought back hard in recent days in person and television advertising against Obama's allegations that he and running mate Ryan would remake Medicare in a way that would undermine the health of future seniors.

     

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