Discovered: Borneo orangutans exhibit Ebola-like antibodies; NOAA's post-Sandy map of the East Coast; climate change could curtail Indian monsoons; bat-proofing wind turbines.
Orangutans in Southeast Asia test positive for Ebola-like viruses. So far, no primates outside of Africa have shown signs of infection from certain strains of Ebola, the category of scary viruses that periodically spill over into humans with fatal consequences. But now, researchers led by Chairul Anwar Nidom of Indonesia's Airlangga University have detected Ebola-like antibodies in blood samples taken from 353 orangutans living in two Borneo nature reserves. The scientists aren't sure how these viruses found their way into the 65 healthy apes there, and some Ebola experts wonder whether this might be an entirely new filovirus, one closely related to but not stemming from Ebola. "There could be filoviruses in nature that do not cause disease in primates," notes the University of Texas Medical Branch's Thomas Geisbert. "I don't think you can say for sure that any virus associated with antibodies in these animals is the same as the African filoviruses." Uncertainty remains about the infections, but scientists remain cautious. Containment is step one in preventing Ebola-like infections from becoming pandemics, so you can bet epidemiologists will be watching Southeast Asian orangutans closely. [New Scientist]
NOAA flies over the East Coast to map Sandy damage. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we all looked at the slideshows. The ones with the harrowing photos of flattened houses, flooded streets, and blacked-out cityscapes. But those were mostly taken at or near ground-level, not giving us a view of the total scope of destruction. Now, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have taken to the sky to map the aftermath of Sandy. Flying at 5,000-foot altitudes, equipped with high-resolution cameras, the researchers surveyed the East Coast in order to help responders on the ground. This is decidedly not an exercise in "disaster porn," as the agency made clear in this announcement: "Aerial imagery is a crucial tool used by federal, state, and local officials as well as the public when responding to natural disasters. Many areas may be inaccessible due to the volume of debris." That's a shot of the hard-hit Seaside Heights section of the Jersey shore below. You can take a look at the interactive map for yourself here. [Scientific American]
Monsoon season threatened by climate change. The term "monsoon" doesn't exactly call to mind stable climates. But in India, these torrential rainy seasons are crucial—without them, staple crops like rice, wheat, and corn wither. Remember when the global price of rice spiked to 30-year highs back in 2009? Yeah, that happened because of a drier-than-usual monsoon. Keeping that in mind, a new study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research showing that climate change could cause monsoon seasons to fail more frequently in years to come is troubling. "In the past century the Indian monsoon has been very stable. It is already a catastrophe with 10 percent less rain than the average," says researcher Anders Levermann. By 2150, they predict that Indians will witness a lack of monsoon once every five years unless measures are taken to reduce man-made global warming. [Chicago Tribune]
Bats keep running into wind turbines. No, they're not suicidal—these bats are just victims of wind turbine designs that fail to account for local wildlife impact. Stirling University researchers are now suggesting new, bird-friendly designs that ecologists, planning officials, and renewable energy proponents can all agree on. Lead researcher Kristy Park says:
Micro-turbines are fast becoming a common sight within the UK and elsewhere in Europe and the United States. However, in spite of the rapid growth in numbers, there has been little study of their possible impact on wildlife, which could include collisions of birds and bats with the turbines, or disturbance effects.