Not only was there a full moon on March 27, but an extremely high tide of 8.9 feet (the record tide height for this spot is 9.8 feet) peaked at 4:44 a.m. — about 30 minutes before a 700-foot section of cliff tumbled into Puget Sound. (Also of note, the tidal coefficient was a “very high” 103, and it was an excellent day for fishing.)
The Whidbey landslide occurred a few miles down the beach from one of my favorite hiking spots, Fort Ebey State Park. The bluffs there are spectacular, almost spiritual; I often visualize them when I’m swimming laps or doing yoga. It’s humbling to remember that these remnants of ancient glaciers are works of erosive art in progress, continually buffeted by the elements, undermined by underground springs percolating through pockets of gravel, and at the mercy of “earth tides” caused by the moon’s gravitational pull. The human impulse is to climb them, build our houses topside, pretend these great earthen plinths will last forever.
Growing up on Whidbey, I often witnessed micro landslides on the beautiful bluffs as I played on the beach: sudden dribbles of loose earth trickling down, small bursts of rocks bouncing down the slope. Apropos of nothing, it seemed. My parents now live on a nearby island, in a house a few hundred feet from the edge of a cliff. As they gaze out at their awe-inspiring view, they seem unperturbed by what might lurk beneath them. This, despite a slow landslide in 1990 that did a number on a neighboring beach community up the road. (A local blog, Fidalgo Island Crossings, recaps that geologic event nicely.) Their attitude seems to be, hey, why worry? It’s not like we built our house over some sinkhole in Florida.
Next time you find yourself transfixed by one of those indoor water walls, run away. It turns out that they can be giant bacteria incubators flinging droplets of toxins into the air. One such wall, intended to calm visitors at a Wisconsin hospital, infected dozens with Legionnaire’s Disease. Oops.
“An Outbreak of Legionnaires Disease Associated with a Decorative Water Wall Fountain in a Hospital,” a study published in the online journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, traces the source of a mysterious and large uptick in Legionnaires’ disease cases. NPR’s Audie Cornish spoke with the lead author, Thomas Haupt, respiratory disease epidemiologist for the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.
Pesticides and pollutants are related to a 450 percent increase in the risk of spina bifida and anencephaly in rural China, according to scientists at The University of Texas at Austin and Peking University, as reported on Science Daily.
Their study, published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the result of a more than decade-long collaboration between Richard Finnell, professor of nutritional sciences and director of genomic research at the Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, and a team of researchers in Shanxi, a province in northern China that mines and burns a lot of coal — and has a high prevalence of neural tube defects. The researchers screened placentas of affected babies and stillborns and found high levels of persistant organic pollutants (POPs). These compounds, says Finnell, “cause cell death” and are evidence that these pollutants are related to an increase in birth defects.