Volcano

The island where one woman reigned as a “queen” over 30-odd Japanese soldiers who refused to believe that WWII had ended.

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Anatahan. NOAA (Public Domain)
Kazuko Higa, the “Queen of Anatahan” in 1952. 朝日新聞社 (Public Domain)
A small boat approaches Anatahan to rescue Kazuko Higa in June 1950. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (Public Domain)
The Anatahan volcanic field in 1990 Jack Lockwood, U.S. Geological Survey (Public Domain)
Volcano eruption on the island Anatahan, 2003 NOAA (Public Domain)

Anatahan, in the Northern Mariana Islands, only measures around 13 square miles, with one of the archipelago’s most active volcanoes at its very center. Spanish missionaries first encountered the island in 1668, evacuated most of the local Chamorro population, and established a large coconut plantation, exporting around 125 tons yearly at the end of 19th century. But the island would be nothing out of the ordinary if not for the the strange story of the “Queen of Anatahan” and her 30-odd men.

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The Spanish sold Anatahan plantation to the Germans in 1899, who then sold it to Japan after World War I. The Japanese revamped the plantation and sent along Kikuichiro Higa to oversee about 45 Chamorro workers. Kikuichiro then appointed a deputy overseer, Shoichi Higa, who came to the with his 28-year-old wife just before the start of the Second World War.

The war mostly passed by Anatahan, despite the fact that Americans and Japanese were waging war all around it. Still, Shoichi Higa grew fearful for his sister, who lived on Saipan approximately 65 nautical miles to the south. He left to find her, promised to return within a month but never came back. His wife, Kazuko, soon grew lonely and “married” her husband’s boss, Kikuichiro Higa.

Life for the newlyweds went on uneventfully until 1944, when one June morning three Japanese vessels were bombed by U.S. planes not far from the island. The vessels sunk and 31 Japanese sailors swam to safety on Anatahan, where they were welcomed by Kikuichiro, the overseer, and Kazuko, the…

Earth’s mantle may be hotter than thought

Earth's mantle
HOT STUFF Temperatures in Earth’s mantle are higher than previously thought, results from a new experiment suggest.

Temperatures across Earth’s mantle are about 60 degrees Celsius higher than previously thought, a new experiment suggests. Such toasty temperatures would make the mantle runnier than earlier research suggested, a development that could help explain the details of how tectonic plates glide on top of the mantle, geophysicists report in the March 3 Science.

“Scientists have been arguing over the mantle temperature for decades,” says study coauthor Emily Sarafian, a geophysicist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and at MIT. “Scientists will argue over 10 degree changes, so changing it by 60 degrees is quite a large jump.”

The mostly solid mantle sits between Earth’s crust and core and makes up around 84 percent of Earth’s volume. Heat from the mantle fuels volcanic eruptions and drives plate tectonics, but taking the mantle’s temperature is trickier than dropping a thermometer down a hole.

Scientists know from the paths of earthquake waves and from measures of how electrical charge moves through Earth that a boundary in the mantle exists a few dozen kilometers below Earth’s surface. Above that boundary, mantle rock can begin melting on its way up to the surface. By mimicking the extreme conditions in the deep Earth — squeezing and heating bits of mantle that erupt from undersea volcanoes or similar rocks synthesized in the lab — scientist can also determine the melting temperature of mantle rock. Using these two facts, scientists have estimated that temperatures at the boundary depth below Earth’s oceans are around 1314° C to…