This Week On Earth: January 29 - February 4


We’re Losing More Trees to Deforestation than to Climate Change

Tropical forests all over the world are experiencing drastic deforestation. These forests are important ecosystems that can regulate the water balance and ensure soil protection.


A large portion of dry forests, characterized by a dry season during part of the year, are found in southwestern Ecuador. These forests, in the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena region, are destroyed for more arable and pasture land. However the effects of climate change worsen as trees are cleared, since there are less to absorb the excess CO2 in the atmosphere.

Scientists from the Technical University of Munich and Thünen-Institute analyzed the forest losses from deforestation and from climate change. Their findings in Ecuador showed that while climate change would likely lead to more displacement of species, deforestation was predicted to result in the loss of more dry forests.

An unexpected outcome is the displacement of various tree species in different directions. The future mixing of tree species will have unknown effects on the stability of other forest ecosystems.

This Mexican Salamander Holds a Genetic Secret

Scientists have been breeding the axolotl, a Mexican amphibian, in laboratories for over 150 years. They have discovered that the salamander’s genome has 32 million base pairs, ten times the size of the human genome, making it the largest one ever sequenced.

The axolotl possesses the ability to regrow amputated limbs, heal wounds without producing scar tissue, and regenerate damaged internal organs. Among one of its most impressive capabilities, the salamander can heal a crushed spinal cord.

These abilities make the axolotl of great scientific interest. According to the New York Times, researchers are now looking into its genome in the hopes of possibly manipulating the salamander for its regenerative qualities in the future, such as possibly helping amputees regrow lost limbs.

Oil Clumps Wash Ashore in Southern Japan

Black clumps of oil that have washed ashore on the island of Amami-Oshima may be the result of an Iranian tanker that sank about three weeks ago.

The Amami-Oshima island is part of a chain that includes Okinawa, known for its pristine beaches and reef systems.

The sunken tanker and washed-up oil clumps are raising worries about damage to the local marine ecosystem.

The tanker was transporting condensate, a type of highly flammable crude oil. This condensate, along with the ship’s bunker fuel, the oil that powers the ship’s engines, will likely be spilled during the tanker’s sinking.

Both bunker fuel and condensate are extremely toxic and poisonous to marine animals, which are plentiful in the East China Sea.

Japan’s environment ministry reported last month it predicted little chance that the spill from the tanker, carrying about 1 million barrels of condensate, would reach the country’s shores.

The government in Japan created a special unit to monitor the oil spill to determine the exact cause and extent of the damage. In the affected areas, authorities have launched clean up operations.