Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ash, Ants, Frost & Soccer

Today’s topics include the lingering effects of Volcán Puyehue, the weather, Argentine soccer, and Argentine ants, some of which overlap.

Puyehue Update: Buenos Aires & Chile
Buenos Aires almost never gets cold and snowy but, yesterday at least, it was cold and ashy - once again, the fallout from Chile’s Volcán Puyehue postponed all flights from the international airport at Ezeiza and the city airport Aeroparque. Flights resumed early this morning, but the cold wave continues. According to the Buenos Aires daily Clarín, nighttime temperatures will fall below freezing, and low readings will continues throughout the week.

Meanwhile, from the Chilean city of Puerto Varas, Franz Schirmer informs me that, while the highway to Argentina remains closed, the scenic and slightly more southerly bus-boat-bus Cruce Andino (pictured above, at Petrohué) to San Carlos de Bariloche remains open, with discount prices. The problem is that, with Bariloche’s airport closed because of Puyehue’s ashfall, there’s no easy way to get out of Bariloche. The ash has played havoc with Bariloche’s ski season, a topic on which I’ll have more next week, but the ski area at Volcán Osorno (pictured below), overlooking Franz’s Petrohué Lodge, is open for business. Osorno, fortunately, has not erupted since 1869.

River Plate Demoted
No, the Río de la Plata hasn’t gotten any shorter - at roughly 4,900 km it’s still the world’s eighth-longest river and, on the South American continent, second only to the Amazon. It’s almost equally shocking, though, that the Club Atlético River Plate, one of Argentina’s iconic soccer teams, suffered such a terrible season that it’s flowed downstream to Division B of the Asociación de Fútbol Argentina - roughly comparable to demoting the New York Yankees to the Class AAA International League.

Argentine soccer, of course, is plagued with violence, and River fans were not happy, with many incidents leading up to and after the demotion (occasioned by their tying a playoff game with Belgrano of Córdoba, which earned promotion). According to The Guardian, many deplorable incidents occurred in the course of River’s descent, including intimidation of a referee and firebombing of the house of one of River’s directors (damage was minimal, and nobody was hurt). Only yesterday, after a telephone warning, police evacuated the AFA’s downtown headquarters as they removed a bomb from an adjacent downtown bar.

The Ant Wars
About a year ago, I wrote about the historic invasion of Argentine ants, which spread across the United States by rail from the port of New Orleans, and now form colossal colonies that stretch the length of California. I can see them in my Oakland backyard any day but, fortunately, they’ve stayed out of the house recently.

In most parts of the state, Argentine ants have overwhelmed native ants, but Stanford biology professor Deborah Gordon and a group of her undergrads have learned that at least one species is fighting back: the California winter ant, so called because it stays active in cold weather, confronts individual invaders with a poison that literally stops them dead - in lab tests, a single drop had a 79 percent kill rate. Unfortunately, according to Gordon, the Argentine ants benefit from disturbed (i.e. urban) environments with sheltered winter quarters, and still outnumber the natives by far.

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