9,000 Flee ‘Unprecedented’ Wildfires on Spain's Gran Canaria Island
Wildfires raging on Gran Canaria, the second most populous of Spain's Canary Islands, have forced around 9,000 people to evacuate.
The fires, which started Saturday, have entered the Tamadaba Natural Park, where some of the island's oldest pine forests grow. Authorities called it an "an unprecedented environmental tragedy," as BBC News reported Monday.
We have finished processing several versions of today’s #Sentinel2 🇪🇺🛰 acquisition over Gran Canaria’s #IFValleseco… https://t.co/escVnDMboQ— Copernicus EMS (@Copernicus EMS)1566247220.0
Firefighters are struggling to control the blazes due to high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity.
"The fire is not contained nor stabilised or controlled," Canary Islands President Angel Victor Torres told reporters Sunday, as BBC News reported.
So far, the flames have consumed an estimated 10,000 hectares (approximately 24,700 acres), AFP reported Tuesday. A crew of 1,000 firefighters and others are battling the blaze, making it the biggest firefighting mobilization in the history of the Canary Islands, Agriculture Minister Luis Planas told AFP.
🔴BREAKING NEWS |The fire in Gran Canaria Island continues without control has a perimeter 75 kilometers and it is e… https://t.co/CBlKCl8Kqu— Joel Vega, PhD (@Joel Vega, PhD)1566260897.0
The mobilization included 14 water-dropping planes or helicopters, but in some places flames rose so high — up to 160 feet — that neither ground crews nor planes could approach.
WWF wildfire expert Lourdes Hernandez described the conditions to AFP:
"The virulence of the fire, the speed at which flames spread, the intensity of the fronts, mean that more extreme weather conditions are generated inside the fire and embers leap sometimes hundreds of metres away," she said.
"That's what is known as firestorms. And they're blazes that cannot be approached and cannot be extinguished" by firefighting forces.
The current fire is the third to ignite in the mountainous region of Gran Canaria in 10 days. Another fire on the island earlier this month forced 1,000 people to evacuate and consumed more than 1,000 hectares (approximately 2,471 acres), CNN reported.
Hernandez told AFP that scientists attributed the speed of the fires to the climate crisis.
But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Earth Observatory, which shared satellite imagery of the fires Tuesday, said that the change in fire behavior in the Canary Islands could also be attributed to a change in fire management practices.
NASA satellite images track the spread of wildfires on Gran Canaria.NASA Earth Observatory
Since the middle of the twentieth century, fires on the archipelago have gotten less frequent, but more intense. A smaller number of fires burn roughly as much area as a larger number did before.
University of La Laguna scientist José Ramón Arévalo said this was largely because successful efforts to suppress smaller fires led to a build-up of material that then ignites larger ones. The twin pressures of development and tourism contributed to this increased fire suppression.
Authorities hope to have more success battling the current blaze due to a drop in temperatures and 50 mile-per-hour wind gusts, CNN reported Tuesday.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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