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Local News - Victoria

Wild winds in warmest night since March, as bushfire burns near Ballarat


With an overnight minimum of 18.8 degrees in the city, it was the warmest city night since March 29.

Winds will persist throughout Tuesday morning and the temperature will rise to about 20 degrees before a cold front causes the wind to ease and temperature to drop.

“We’re expecting some showers around the metro area until the early afternoon, then easing in the evening,” Chris Arvier, senior forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology, said.

A severe wind warning is in place for areas including Ballarat, Geelong, Melbourne, Wonthaggi, Bacchus Marsh and Falls Creek.

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The wind may make firefighting efforts more difficult near Ballarat where two fires are burning about 20km away from one another.

A bushfire 10km south of Buninyong is not yet under control. The fire is travelling from near River Road, Grenville in a southerly direction towards Mt Mercer. An advice warning has been issued for the localities of Cargerie, Elaine, Enfield, Grenville and Mount Mercer.

“There is currently no threat to communities, but you should continue to stay informed and monitor conditions,” a VicEmergency warning reads.

In Canadian, a suburb in the east of Ballarat, a grass and scrub fire is under control. Residents in the localities of Canadian, Mount Clear, Mount Helen, Navigators and Warrenheip have been advised to monitor the conditions.



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Local News - Victoria

Water supply contaminated after night of wild weather


Water should be boiled as a precaution for drinking, brushing your teeth, food preparation, making baby formula, ice, or bathing infants in the 88 suburbs including Epping, Doncaster, Croydon, Coburg North, Craigieburn, Mernda and Ringwood.

Meanwhile, thousands of people are still without power on Friday, while residents in Belgrave woke up to crushed cars and fallen-in roofs.

Photo of house damage at Apsley Rd in Belgrave.

Photo of house damage at Apsley Rd in Belgrave.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Power company AusNet, which services the east of the state, recorded more than 83,00 outages at 6.30pm. A total of 121,000 AusNet customers were impacted and around 50,000 people woke up without power on Friday morning.

The wild weather brought a tree down on the corner of Spencer and Hawke streets in Melbourne's north.

The wild weather brought a tree down on the corner of Spencer and Hawke streets in Melbourne’s north.

A spokeswoman said it could take days for some homes to get the power back on.

Meanwhile, United Energy, which provides electricity to Melbourne’s inner south-east and the Mornington Peninsula had more than 40,000 properties without power, more than 2000 of which were still without power early on Friday morning.

West of Melbourne, Powercor and CitiPower had more than 14,000 customers affected on Thursday night.

What Melbourne's east looked like on the VicEmergency app just before 10pm on Thursday night.

What Melbourne’s east looked like on the VicEmergency app just before 10pm on Thursday night.Credit:VicEmergency

The State Emergency Service received 1184 calls for help in the 12 hours to 6.30am, including 403 calls between 7.30pm and 8.30pm.

More than 1010 of the calls overnight were for trees down, mostly in Belgrave, Lilydale and Emerald, south-east of Melbourne.

On Friday, Premier Daniel Andrews said the Department of Health and Human Services will urgently update its advice to allow for affected residents to seek help during the power outage and storm damage.

“This is not an ordinary storm event because of course, it occurs in the midst of very strict coronavirus rules,” he said.

He said DHHS advice had been updated. ”That is not an invitation for people to do things that don’t need to be done but we do recognise that with the volume of work and even though the SES do an amazing job, there will be other needs that will need to be met by perhaps a family member,” he said.

“We know and understand this is unique and we don’t want those coronavirus rules to make it any harder, but we just have to find that balance point and I am confident that we can.”

Mr Andrews urged residents to in the 88 suburbs impacted by the now-fixed Yarra Valley Water issue to boil their water to avoid getting sick.

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Australian News

NSW’s wild weather threatens Wamberal homes due to beach erosion


A number of beachfront homes in NSW are facing further collapse after suffering more damage from a weekend of battering rain and wild surf as residents brace for flash flooding in the state’s south.

“It’s pretty scary stuff,” Ron told news.com.au before the recent sotrms, as he walks his dog along Ocean View Drive.

“It’s all anyone talks about around here. That and COVID.

“My home is behind the surf club so if that goes, I’ll know I’ll be next.”

RELATED: ‘Evacuate now’: Wild weather lashes Sydney

Ocean View Drive, in the beachside suburb of Wamberal about 100 kilometres north of Sydney, is a pleasant, but not flashy, residential street the kind you might find in many parts of Australia.

A collection of tidy apartment blocks and stand-alone houses – some snazzy, others less so – line the road. A hairdresser and cafe hug the corner.

But the closer you get, cracks – many literal – appear. Some of the houses are barricaded behind fencing and stern keep out signs; SES warning tape draped over the gates like Christmas tinsel.

And then there’s the 72 metre high crane in the middle of the road. It’s nosily, yet delicately, hauling aloft wire bags, each one containing four tonnes of rocks.

A deep, thunderous rumble echoes down the street as the bags crash onto the beach below the stricken homes. It’s a desperate stop-gap attempt to stop the homes from falling into the sea.

But the next storm has already hit.

On Sunday, new pictures emerged showing further cracks and erosion to the houses due to the state’s wild weather over the weekend. Three NSW towns were evacuated due to flooding fears and a severe weather warning for damaging winds and damaging surf was issued for people in metropolitan Sydney, Illawarra and parts of mid north coast, Hunter, south coast and Central Tablelands regions.

Residents in low-lying areas of Sussex Inlet and those within Moruya’s CBD area, on the state’s far south coast, were being directed to leave by the SES as flooding was expected.

Some houses have already partially slid down towards the beach, victims of a relentless series of fierce low pressure systems that have pounded the New South Wales coast this year.

Three weeks ago as another storm hit, 18 households were given just hours to evacuate. Five homes remain sealed off.

Everyone agrees a decision needs to be made about Ocean View Drive. But what that decision is – and who pays for it – has caused tension for years, decades even.

‘THIS STORM WAS DIFFERENT’

Resident Gordon Cahill says Ron, like the other locals, have reason to be scared.

“On some blocks it’s just 30 metres from high tide to Ocean View Drive,” he tells news.com.au from the granny flat his teenage daughter Matilda now calls home after they had to evacuate their home last month. He is kipping in a caravan next door.

“If the dune goes, Ocean View Drive is gone. This is a main road; it has gas and NBN and on the other side of the road are 400 homes that are less than five metres above sea level.

“People say you should do nothing, that all these rich bastards on the beach deserve it. But that’s not the whole story.”

Mr Cahill’s family have lived here for 35 years. They moved in some years after a huge storm in 1978 that sent several houses into the Pacific.

“Everyone has a place that feels like home, for me it’s where I can smell the salt.”

The favourite room of his house, one of the oldest overlooking the sea, wasn’t a room at all but the deck.

“We would have coffee there, have friends for dinner on beautiful summers night and, if a storm rolled up, we’d wait for the big warm drops of rain to come crashing down.

“But the storm in July was a different to the last couple. In 2010 there were big waves, up to 13 metres.

“This time the biggest wave was seven metres, but they were more frequent,” said Mr Cahill.

RELATED: Beach homes partially collapse

“They were these huge white-water rolls, racing in and grabbing huge handfuls of sand and sucking it out. There was 20cms of sand going every time, two or three times per minute.”

Then he noticed his beloved deck was rising up to meet the house, see sawing and buckling as the ground beneath it shifted.

“That’s when I thought it was a bit of a problem. I was worried it would crack one of the cantilevers beneath the house. So, in 90 km/h winds, I hung out and with my chainsaw cut off the deck.

“My house is on top of the dune and used to have a slope at both sides, Now it’s a slope on one side and a cliff on the other. I’m luckier than some; two doors up their kitchen is now in the ocean”.

HOMES SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN BUILT

University of New South Wales coastal erosion researcher Dr Mitchell Harley said this year Wamberal has been pounded by a trio of storms, two of which were the fifth and sixth most severe the area had ever seen.

“It’s been a triple whammy of storms. The first stripped away a lot of the sand and that’s made it vulnerable to more recent storms.”

In a tweet from last month he said what was happening at Wamberal was “like watching a disaster movie in slow-mo”.

It wasn’t so much that the shore was receding, Dr Harley told news.com.au, but rather that the coastline was “dynamic” where large storms strip away the sand and carry it out to sea only to bring the sand back again in calmer conditions.

“You shouldn’t build houses on sand dunes. The problem in Wamberal is the dunes were zoned as residential 100 years ago when we knew a lot less about how beaches change so we now we’re dealing with the consequences of poor planning decisions.

“One option is a managed retreat, where you accept these legacy issues will only get worse. The council could buy the properties and turn it into parkland but that’s very expensive,” he said.

“A properly designed sea wall will protect these homes and everything behind it but it’s also very expensive.”

Dr Harley said he wasn’t convinced the entire street was at threat from the ocean. But if sea levels did rise, that was a possibility.

NOT A ROW OF MILLIONAIRES

A 2017 report prepared for the NSW Government similarly found that while Ocean View Drive was unlikely to be permanently flooded, it could become choked by sand if the dune was allowed to fail.

However, a rise in sea level could result “in the inundation of many, if not most properties surrounding Terrigal lagoon and the loss of Wamberal beach”.

The report looked at various sea defences, from rubble mounds to a full sea wall and sand replenishment, and costed them at between $5 and $14 million. A planned retreat was by far the cheapest option.

Mr Cahill bristled at the notion that all the homeowners were rich and should pay for the work themselves.

“There are some people with ludicrous amounts of money here. But this is not a string of multi-millionaires. I’ve been in a position I’ve had to sell stuff just to eat.

“There are people who moved into a family home or used every penny and worked off their arses to be here.”

He said a house had sold for $4 million once. “But now the properties are probably worthless until it’s all fixed,” he said.

“Would I put in a proportion of paying for a solution? Yes. Would I pay all of it? No. It should be proportional given people use the beach and there are houses and amenities down Ocean View Drive that we need to protect,” said Mr Cahill.

‘THIS WAS PREVENTABLE’

He’s most angry at Central Coast Council, and its predecessor councils, which he claimed have prevaricated and done little to find a solution for the entire strip leading to piecemeal shoring up jobs.

His house was built with boulders in front which Mr Cahill insists has left the property structurally sound despite its precarious position. But his neighbours were only able to bring in extra sand to protect their homes and the sheer number of recent storms swept that way.

“I watched 35 years of council incompetence and it’s just not fair. We have been denied the right to build a one in 100-year protection for our homes and this storm was not even that. This was preventable.

“Everyone feels like they are banging their hands against a large concrete wall – yet we’re not allowed to build one.”

Central Coast Council did not answer specific questions from news.com.au but pointed to press statements including one from last week detailing the placing of 1800 tonnes of basalt rocks on Wamberal Beach.

“The success of this response will hold us in good stead as we plan further recovery works and a longer-term solution at both locations,” Council CEO Gary Murphy said.

The NSW Government has also set up the Wamberal Taskforce to figure out a permanent resolution to the problem.

“The taskforce is the only hope we have,” said Mr Cahill.

He, his daughter and two dogs are waiting to be told when they can re-enter their home. But he wants back in at some point.

“I want to live her until the end of my days. The house has good bones, she hasn’t moved, she doesn’t want to fall over. You don’t knock down a place that’s determined to stay and I’m going to respect that.”

benedict.brook@news.com.au | @BenedictBrook





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Evacuation warning issued for Sussex Inlet as wild weather lashes state


An evacuation warning has been issued for Sussex Inlet on NSW’s south coast as wild weather continues to lash the state.

The NSW SES issued the evacuation warning for a number of streets in the coastal town, advising anyone living there to “leave now and move to safety”.

“Additional impact may be seen with the influence of wave and wind action,” the SES advised.

“Residents in this area should remain alert. Residents should relocate personal possessions to a safe place.

“Leave now, leave the high danger area and move to safety.

“Once floodwater enters low lying areas of Sussex Inlet, properties will be flooded above floor level, road access will be lost, sewerage lines and power to the area may be lost. If you remain in the area you may be trapped, and it may be too dangerous for NSW SES to rescue you.”

The SES is advising anyone at the following addresses to evacuate now:

  • Wunda Ave – numbers 5, 8, 10, 11, and 13
  • Elmoos Avenue, numbers 52, 54 and 60
  • Jacobs Street, number 120
  • Poole Avenue, number 4
  • River Road, numbers 155, 266, 270
  • Cater Crescent, number 4
  • Banksia Street, number 9
  • Fairview Avenue, number 9

The Shoalhaven region, two hours south of Sydney, has been hit worst by the low pressure system.

The low pressure system had made its way down from Queensland, hammering the far north of NSW before smashing the Central Coast, the Hunter Region and Sydney.

The Illawarra region received the brunt of the storm last night before it moved south, cutting power and causing localised flooding.

By Tuesday afternoon, Ulladulla on NSW’s south coast had been lashed by wind gusts of 113km/h and 96km/h in Kiama and Sussex Inlet.

The Bureau of Meteorology warned on Tuesday night that while the heavy rain may be easing, it still forecast flooding to peak again tomorrow.

Moderate flood warnings have also been issued for Canowindra, in the central west of NSW.

However the rain was welcomed out west with parts of the state’s drought-ravaged regions receiving close to 25mm.

Tamworth recorded a reasonable 31mm of rain while Dubbo caught 20mm of the showers.

Wild weather also lashed parts of Sydney almost 100mm falling on Sydney overnight.

The severe storms caused thousands of homes to lose power with emergency Endeavour Energy crews making their way down to the Shoalhaven to safely restore power by Wednesday morning.



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Bureau of Meteorology warns of wild weather for east coast of Australia


Potentially severe storms are on track to hit the east coast of Australia, bringing damaging winds and rain over the next week.

The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a low-pressures system to develop over the next couple of days, which is anticipated to hit the New South Wales south coast and the Victorian East Gippsland.

Rain and battering winds are predicted across Sydney for the next three days, with more than 20mm of rain expected on Monday.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Sydney is expected to be battered by southerly wind gusts of up to 40km/h, set to bring large coastal waves and swells.

The onslaught of wild weather will plunge the harbour city to temperatures as low as nine degrees celsius in the coming week.

BOM meteorologist Dr Adam Morgan said there was still an array of possible forecast scenarios, but the worst of the weather would be felt on Monday and Tuesday.

“These are weather systems that can impact communities through flash flooding, damage to trees and property and coastal erosion,” he said.

“Beach conditions will be dangerous right along the coast.”

Dr Morgan also noted the NSW south coast is likely to experience the brunt of the storm cell.

According to BOM, the NSW town of Eden is expected to dumped with up to 80mm of rain, with the possibility of a thunderstorm in the area.

Victoria’s East Gippsland area is expected to miss the full force of the storm, scheduled only to receive an estimated 10mm to 30mm of rain on both Monday and Tuesday.

“With south coast and Eastern Gippsland landscapes still recovering after the summer bushfires, next week’s weather could see some serious impacts,” Dr Morgan said.

Rain is expected to hit Melbourne on Sunday and Monday, with the Victorian capital expected to hit a top temperature of 13 degrees tomorrow.

Sydney will hit a maximum of 19 degrees on Sunday, while patchy showers and maximum of 24 degrees is expected for Brisbane.

Adelaide is tipped to experience a shower or two on Sunday, with a maximum temperature of 14 degrees celsius.

Perth will have a sunny Sunday with an top of 21 degrees, while Hobart is forecast for showers and a maximum of 12 degrees.

Showers and a maximum of 13 degrees are predicted for Canberra and Darwin will be mostly sunny with a top temperature of 33 degrees.



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Australia, New Zealand’s winning bid to host 2023 Women’s World Cup sends fans wild


Aussie and Kiwi football fans are celebrating after Australia and New Zealand won their joint bid to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

The winning bid was announced in the early hours of Friday morning, following a tight vote among FIFA delegates.

“We did it! We are hosting the 2023 FIFAWWC!” Australia’s Matildas exclaimed on Twitter.

New Zealand’s Football Ferns also rejoiced at the news, tweeting: “Still awake and very, very excited in Auckland”.

The trans-Tasman bid was up against Colombia, which was reportedly argued by UEFA, the powerful ruling body of European football, as the better place to help drive change for women’s football.

MORE: What you need to know about the tournament

But Australia and New Zealand received the highest score in FIFA’s technical evaluation – earning 4.1 out of five in the report compared to Colombia’s 2.8.

The joint bid was also considered more commercially lucrative – a compelling factor for FIFA.

“The opportunity to play in a home FIFA Women’s World Cup is something every footballer dreams of and I am looking forward to seeing those dreams come true,” Matildas captain Samantha Kerr said.

“Playing for the Matildas in Australia will be the highlight of my career and an opportunity to inspire girls, both in Australia and New Zealand, and all over the world to play football.

“We have seen great progress in the women’s game and Australia-New Zealand will take the game to a whole new level.”

Football Ferns captain Ali Riley, who shared an emotional photo of herself on Twitter with tears in her eyes, also said it was a “truly special” moment.

“To lead the Football Ferns in a home FIFA Women’s World Cup in New Zealand will be truly special and inspire a new generation of Football Ferns,” she said.

Bleary-eyed fans who stayed up to watch the announcement described the win as “overwhelming”.

“Not often I’m awake and in tears at 2am, but this did it and these are happy tears,” one woman wrote on Twitter.

“In disbelief over how far we’ve come. From having to beg to be allowed to play a ‘boy’s sport’ to getting the 2023 FIFAWWC. This means everything and it’s almost overwhelming.”

“Unbelievable places, full of amazing people! This one will be epic. Congratulations … let the dreaming commence,” another wrote.

The Sydney Opera House and Auckland’s Sky Tower were lit up on Thursday to celebrate the joint bid.

It will be the first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in the Asia-Pacific region, and the first ever to be held in the southern hemisphere.

– With wires



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Business

How Star Trek can explain the stockmarket’s wild swings


A short explanation for those who are not familiar with the Star Trek TV and film franchise: Mr. Spock is the science officer and second in command aboard the starship USS Enterprise; his mother was human while his father was a Vulcan, a race that managed to save itself from violence and war only by turning to hyper-rationalism. Spock’s human half, of course, is emotional and irrational and his logical side struggles to keep it under control.

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Once you think of Mr. Market as Mr. Spock, the raging disconnect between the economy and equity prices becomes easier to grasp. Consider the following points:

Investors are rational

Much of the time, markets are understandable and make intuitive sense to investors. When the economy is expanding and profits are rising, so do stocks. If the economy tanks, shares plunge. There are long periods when stocks meander higher, reflecting positive developments in technology, taxes and inflation. This is the Vulcan logic of equities, reflecting investors’ rational, quantitative calculations of value.

Investors are irrational

Sometimes, markets seem to bounce from giddiness to panic almost overnight. It is especially obvious at turning points: Recall the March 2000 dot-com highs, when new companies were trading at 100 times earnings. Or the March 2009 financial-crisis lows, when prices were cut in half and selling was indiscriminate. The points where groupthink takes over the crowd, where emotions run rampant and greed and fear can overwhelm investors – that’s the human half at work.

It is rare to hear someone asked a question about a market move and not give a detailed after-the-fact explanation. Few are willing to admit that they really don’t know or that many market moves are simply random.

The Nobel Prize committee recognised these two opposite forces in 2013. [By awarding the Nobel Prize to both Eugene Fama and Robert Shiller, the committee acknowledged this schism. Fama’s thesis was that the pricing mechanism of markets were so efficient that they were difficult (if not impossible) to beat; Shiller’s data overwhelmingly showed that markets could be as irrational as the humans who traded in them. Bubbles form, prices detach from reality, then crash.

Most recently, we’ve seen this with day traders buying bankrupt companies because their prices are rising while others sell quality holdings at very low prices because others have also done so. Irrational investors create opportunities for those few who recognise this.

Markets are efficient

The volume of information is so enormous, it can never be fully grasped by one person. Yet prices reflect all of what is known, which gets communicated to all participants through the impact of buying and selling.

The Star Trek series has some lessons investors can heed.

The Star Trek series has some lessons investors can heed.Credit:CBS

Price, in other words, is the most efficient collective probability bet about the future. Very rational, indeed.

Markets are very inefficient

Efficient, yes, except when those efficient expressions turn out to be wildly wrong. Note this is not when a trade turns out to be a money-loser. Rather, it’s when the analytical framework underlying the trade turns out to be completely unfounded.

This is where our emotional half sends the rational half off the rails. Rather than describing markets as efficient, it is more accurate to describe markets as efficient except when they’re not.

Most investors do not know they don’t know:

Most explanations of recent market behaviour reflect hindsight bias detailing what everyone now knows. It is rare to hear someone asked a question about a market move and not give a detailed after-the-fact explanation. Few are willing to admit that they really don’t know or that many market moves are simply random.

Here, Mr. Spock is quite different. He often notes his lack of understanding with a simple response of “fascinating.” His logic and ego control allow the admission of not knowing. He is subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect much less than most. Investors often get into trouble when they imagine they have an understanding about things they don’t.

Spock’s mixed human-Vulcan heritage was a great plot device that allowed Star Trek to subtly comment on the human condition, exploring the tension between logic and emotion, between our intellectual capacities and our baser drives.

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Investors who recognise and take account of the Spock market will better understand what is going on, and – one can hope – use it to guide their actions for better results.

Ritholtz is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is chairman and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and was previously chief market strategist at Maxim Group. He is the author of “Bailout Nation.”

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Wild hummingbirds see a broad range of colors humans can only imagine


To find food, dazzle mates, escape predators and navigate diverse terrain, birds rely on their excellent color vision.

“Humans are color-blind compared to birds and many other animals,” said Mary Caswell Stoddard, an assistant professor in the Princeton University Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Humans have three types of color-sensitive cones in their eyes – attuned to red, green and blue light – but birds have a fourth type, sensitive to ultraviolet light. “Not only does having a fourth color cone type extend the range of bird-visible colors into the UV, it potentially allows birds to perceive combination colors like ultraviolet+green and ultraviolet+red – but this has been hard to test,” said Stoddard.

Most birds have 4 color cone types in their eyes. While human cones can detect blue, green, and red light, birds have a fourth cone that can detect UV. Birds can potentially see many colors humans cannot, including several nonspectral colors made by combining widely separated parts of the light spectrum. UV+red is a nonspectral color because it mostly stimulates cones sensitive to UV and red light. Using field experiments, we demonstrated that wild hummingbirds can perceive a variety of nonspectral colors.

Infographic by the Stoddard Lab, Princeton University

To investigate how birds perceive their colorful world, Stoddard and her research team established a new field system for exploring bird color vision in a natural setting. Working at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Gothic, Colorado, the researchers trained wild broad-tailed hummingbirds (Selasphorus platycercus) to participate in color vision experiments.

“Most detailed perceptual experiments on birds are performed in the lab, but we risk missing the bigger picture of how birds really use color vision in their daily lives,” Stoddard said. “Hummingbirds are perfect for studying color vision in the wild. These sugar fiends have evolved to respond to flower colors that advertise a nectar reward, so they can learn color associations rapidly and with little training.”

Stoddard’s team was particularly interested in “nonspectral” color combinations, which involve hues from widely separated parts of the color spectrum, as opposed to blends of neighboring colors like teal (blue-green) or yellow (green-red). For humans, purple is the clearest example of a nonspectral color. Technically, purple is not in the rainbow: it arises when our blue (short-wave) and red (long-wave) cones are stimulated, but not green (medium-wave) cones.

While humans have just one nonspectral color – purple, birds can theoretically see up to five: purple, ultraviolet+red, ultraviolet+green, ultraviolet+yellow and ultraviolet+purple.

A hummingbird hovers near a flower

To other birds, this male’s magenta throat feathers likely appear as an ultraviolet+purple combination color.

Photo by David Inouye, University of Maryland-College Park

Stoddard and her colleagues designed a series of experiments to test whether hummingbirds can see these nonspectral colors. Their results appear June 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research team, which included scientists from Princeton, the University of British Columbia (UBC), Harvard University, University of Maryland and RMBL, performed outdoor experiments each summer for three years. First they built a pair of custom “bird vision” LED tubes programmed to display a broad range of colors, including nonspectral colors like ultraviolet+green. Next they performed experiments in an alpine meadow frequently visited by local broad-tailed hummingbirds, which breed at the high-altitude site.

Each morning, the researchers rose before dawn and set up two feeders: one containing sugar water and the other plain water. Beside each feeder, they placed an LED tube. The tube beside the sugar water emitted one color, while the one next to the plain water emitted a different color. The researchers periodically swapped the positions of the rewarding and unrewarding tubes, so the birds could not simply use location to pinpoint a sweet treat. They also performed control experiments to ensure that the tiny birds were not using smell or another inadvertent cue to find the reward. Over the course of several hours, wild hummingbirds learned to visit the rewarding color. Using this setup, the researchers recorded over 6,000 feeder visits in a series of 19 experiments.

The experiments revealed that hummingbirds can see a variety of nonspectral colors, including purple, ultraviolet+green, ultraviolet+red and ultraviolet+yellow. For example, hummingbirds readily distinguished ultraviolet+green from pure ultraviolet or pure green, and they discriminated between two different mixtures of ultraviolet+red light – one redder, one less so.

“It was amazing to watch,” said Harold Eyster, a UBC Ph.D. student and a co-author of the study. “The ultraviolet+green light and green light looked identical to us, but the hummingbirds kept correctly choosing the ultraviolet+green light associated with sugar water. Our experiments enabled us to get a sneak peek into what the world looks like to a hummingbird.”

Even though hummingbirds can perceive nonspectral colors, appreciating how these colors appear to birds can be difficult. “It is impossible to really know how the birds perceive these colors. Is ultraviolet+red a mix of those colors, or an entirely new color? We can only speculate,” said Ben Hogan, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton and a co-author of the study.

“To imagine an extra dimension of color vision – that is the thrill and challenge of studying how avian perception works,” said Stoddard. “Fortunately, the hummingbirds reveal that they can see things we cannot.”

“The colors that we see in the fields of wildflowers at our study site, the wildflower capital of Colorado, are stunning to us, but just imagine what those flowers look like to birds with that extra sensory dimension,” said co-author David Inouye, who is affiliated with the University of Maryland and RMBL.

four researchers stand next to a sign at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

The research team studied hummingbirds at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado. The high-altitude site, at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, is home to many broad-tailed hummingbirds. The research team included (from left): Prof. Mary “Cassie” Stoddard; Cole Morokhovich of the Class of 2020; Harold Eyster, a Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia; and postdoctoral research associate Ben Hogan. Stoddard, Eyster and Hogan are authors on the paper appearing this week in PNAS.

Photo courtesy of the researchers

Finally, the research team analyzed a data set of 3,315 feather and plant colors. They discovered that birds likely perceive many of these colors as nonspectral, while humans do not. That said, the researchers emphasize that nonspectral colors are probably not particularly special relative to other colors. The wide variety of nonspectral colors available to birds is the result of their ancient four color-cone visual system.

“Tetrachromacy – having four color cone types – evolved in early vertebrates,” said Stoddard. “This color vision system is the norm for birds, many fish and reptiles, and it almost certainly existed in dinosaurs. We think the ability to perceive many nonspectral colors is not just a feat of hummingbirds but a widespread feature of animal color vision.”

Wild hummingbirds discriminate nonspectral colors,” by Mary Caswell Stoddard, Harold N. Eyster, Benedict G. Hogan, Dylan H. Morris, Edward R. Soucy and David W. Inouye, appears June 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1919377117). Their research was supported by Princeton University, the Princeton Environmental Institute, a Sloan Research Fellowship, and a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering.

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IOC warns Tokyo Olympics will have to be scrapped if delayed beyond 2021

The head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, has warned that the Tokyo Games would have to be scrapped if the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for them to take place next year, writes Justin McCurry in Tokyo.

But Bach added that the IOC was committed to holding the Olympic Games in the Japanese capital next year, even though the outbreak could force organisers to take precautions, including quarantining athletes.

The IOC and the Tokyo Olympic organising committee announced in March that the Games, which were due to open this July, would have to be postponed by a year due to the global spread of the virus.

Bach told the BBC on Thursday he agreed with Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who said last month that holding the Games would be “difficult” unless the pandemic was contained before they are due to begin on 23 July next year.

Bach said Abe had made it clear to him that, as far as Japan was concerned, next year was “the last option”. He said:


Quite frankly, I have some understanding for this, because you can’t forever employ 3,000 or 5,000 people in an organising committee. You can’t every year change the entire sports schedule worldwide of all the major federations. You can’t have the athletes being in uncertainty.

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Tokyo’s most senior prosecutor and an ally of the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is to resign after a weekly magazine revealed he had gambled illegally and ignored official advice on containing the spread of coronavirus, writes Justin McCurry in Tokyo.

Hiromu Kurokawa, head of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, drew widespread criticism after the Shukan Bunshun claimed he had played mahjong for money with newspaper reporters on 1 May and 13 May, while the capital was in the midst of an ongoing coronavirus state of emergency.

The games reportedly took place at the Tokyo home of an employee of the conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper. The Kyodo news agency said on Thursday that Kurokawa “intends to step down” over the incident.

Japanese officials have urged people to remain at home, work remotely and socially distance themselves on trips to buy food and medicine or when taking exercise, but to avoid unnecessary outings during the state of emergency.

Kurokawa, 63, could face criminal charges for allegedly wagering money on mahjong. Japan’s criminal code bans most forms of gambling, with publicly organised horse racing, and races involving bicycles, boats and motorbikes the only exceptions in the sports world.

He was recently at the centre of a row over an attempt by Abe’s government to raise the retirement age for prosecutors to 65 – a move critics saw as an attempt to keep Kurokawa on and promote him to the post of prosecutor general when the incumbent retires in July.

The government abandoned the idea following a wave of criticism, including rare interventions from outraged Japanese celebrities.

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William Haseltine, the groundbreaking cancer, HIV/AIDS and human genome projects researcher, has said the best approach to the pandemic is to manage the disease through careful tracing of infections and strict isolation measures whenever it starts spreading.

He said that while a vaccine could be developed, “I wouldn’t count on it”, and urged people to wear masks, wash hands, clean surfaces and keep a distance.

The United States and other countries has not done enough to “forcibly isolate” people exposed to the virus, Haseltine said, but praised China, South Korea and Taiwan’s efforts to curb infections. Haseltine said the US, Russia and Brazil – which rank first, second and third for infections – have done the worst.










Confirmed cases worldwide pass 5 million

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A 10-minute home saliva test for coronavirus is under development in a deal struck between the billionaire co-founder of online fashion brand BooHoo and a Cambridge-based firm.

The antigen test, which would be available to buy, will look similar to a pregnancy test but will use a saliva sample rather than urine, and is designed to give a result within 10 minutes:





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Brent crude rebounds from 20-year low; US oil up 20 per cent in wild trade


On Wednesday Brent rose $US1.04, or 5.4 per cent, to settle at $US20.37 a barrel. Earlier in the session, the global benchmark fell to $US15.98, its lowest level since June 1999.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for June delivery gained $US2.21, or 19.1 per cent, to settle at $US13.78 a barrel.

“By no means does this suggest that a price bottom has been placed since the supply/demand forces that drove negative crude pricing this week remain very much intact,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said.

Since the start of the year, Brent has fallen about 65 per cent, while WTI has dropped around 75 per cent.

The world’s major oil producers, led by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, attempted to wrest control of spiralling inventories by announcing a collective cut of 9.7 million barrels per day in supply in early April. But those cuts will come too slowly to offset rising inventories, which hit 518.6 million barrels in the United States last week, just 3 per cent off an all-time record, the Energy Department said.

“If storage continues to increase at the end of the day, which seems likely considering all these Saudi barrels knocking at the door, then we are going to get to maximum storage sometime in the not-so-distant future,” said Bob Yawger, director of futures at Mizuho in New York.

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Saudi Arabia on Tuesday said it was ready to take extra measures with other producers, and Iraq made similar comments. The next formal meeting of OPEC and allies, the group known as OPEC+, is scheduled for June.

Even without another formal agreement, decreasing storage capacity and falling demand could force producers to cut more. An OPEC source told Reuters it was “logical” to expect the market to force more cuts on OPEC+ producers.

US crude inventories rose by 15 million barrels last week, in line with analysts’ expectations, though some had predicted a build of more than 20 million barrels.

US petrol stocks rose by just 1 million barrels, less than expected, while product supplied, a proxy for demand, increased modestly for the first time in weeks.

This week the front-month US contract fell below zero for the first time ever ahead of its Tuesday expiry as panicking traders paid customers to take oil off their hands so they would not have to take delivery with nowhere to store the surplus.

Inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for WTI are nearly full, at almost 60 million barrels, with much of the rest leased already.

Reuters/Daily Telegraph London

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