This Week on Earth: February 15-21


By Jamie Leventhal and Jamie Schmid

Sealing the Leak

Equipment and machinery is seen on a ridge above a natural gas well known as SS25 in Southern California Gas Company's vast Aliso Canyon facility. Pressure on the company has been mounting as residents of nearby Porter Ranch deal with the odor resulting from a leak at the well which was discovered on October 23. 12/14/2015

California’s largest methane leak was finally plugged up on Thursday, four months after the leak was first detected.

Officials say that the leak has been permanently capped by using a cement plug to stop the flow of methane gas from underground. The gas leak caused untold amounts of environmental damage, and caused over 6,600 Californian residents to relocate due to health concerns from the methane.

Many of these residents are expected to move back this week, but some are concerned that another leak could happen at a different facility. According to the Los Angeles Times, “As many as 39 of the site's 115 wells were developed prior to 1954, and lawmakers say they need to be brought up to modern standards.”


Selfish Selfies

Beachgoers in Argentina pulled a rare Franciscana dolphin onto dry land last week, causing the baby dolphin to die of dehydration.

A tourist dragged the dolphin out of the water, and soon a crowd of people surrounded them, taking pictures and selfies of the sea mammal. Franciscana, or La Plata dolphins are smaller than other species and more susceptible to dehydration. The dozens of people at the scene were so excited to take pictures with the dolphin that they didn’t realize it was dying. Some even took pictures with it after it died.

There are only an estimated 30,000 Franciscana dolphins left in the oceans today, and the species is considered vulnerable to extinction.


Strongest Ever Cyclone Hits Fiji


Cyclone Winston hit land on February 21st, travelling across Fiji with Category 5 winds. These winds can be over 157 mph, causing catastrophic damage. The National Hurricane Center states that Category 5 winds destroy homes and can cause power outages for months. Winston reached Fiji’s most populous island with winds of 180 mph.

What's the big deal? Winston is strongest storm to ever fall upon the island and the strongest tropical cyclone to ever hit the Southern Hemisphere. Furthermore, Winston holds second place for the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall on the planet. Why is cyclone Winston such a strong storm? The answer may be El Niño, but scientists may never know for sure.

“This is another painful reminder of why global action on climate change is so urgent and vital. At just one degree of warming experienced today, vulnerable countries continue to bear the brunt of record breaking storms, flooding and weather extremes,” said Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman of the Philippines Climate Change Commission in a press release.

The cyclone is expected to stay strong into the beginning of this week, and then slowly start to weaken.


What’s Really in Your Waterproof Jacket?


We love our waterproof North Faces, L.L. Bean boots, and Canada Gooses. In the dead of winter, water resistant clothing becomes a necessity- if you don’t want to walk around freezing and soaked.

But here's a not so fun fact: the chemicals used to make nonstick cookware are the same chemicals used to make your favorite winter jacket. That’s right, the coating that makes an egg scramble without sticking to the sides of the pan also has a place in your closet.

These chemicals are called perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and they escape into the atmosphere and the water system during the clothing manufacturing process. A small amount of the PFCs can additionally rub off on your skin. PFCs have been show to cause cancer, kidney damage, and reproductive problems in rats. As little as 1 teaspoon in 1,000 Olympic swimming pools could cause these problems in one's body.

However, boycotting water resistant clothing may not be the answer. It is always good to be aware as a consumer, and know what your favorite winter gear is made of.

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