Beijing's Bacterial Smog, Black Market Cigarettes, and an Avalanche!

Beijing's smog, the West's drought, Alaska's avalanche, and everybody's cigarettes are part of this week's landscape reads.

The Microbial Ecosystem of Beijing's Smog

Bacteria are everywhere, and the dark smog of Beijing is no exception. Scientists have published the most detailed study of air bacteria yet, finding 1,300 species in the city's smog, most of them benign but a few responsible for allergies and respiratory illness. [Nature]

Exporting Water to Asia, Through Hay

The drought-stricken West exports 50 billion gallons of water to Asia every year—in the form of alfalfa hay grown from the water of the Colorado river then fed to livestock in Asia. This piece in National Geographic takes a look at "virtual water exports," and how we might incentive farmers to sell their water Stateside rather than use it to grow alfalfa. [National Geographic]

Tracking Black Market Cigarettes With A "Litter Study"

Is the tax on cigarettes too high? To answer this question, one needs to look no further than the ground, which in cities is littered with empty cigarette packs. In a "litter study," unwanted trash reveals the secrets of cigarette smugglers. [Boston Globe]

The Avalanche That Dumped 40 Feet of Snow On The Only Road To An Alaskan City

Of all the weird weather this winter, this has to rank among the most apocalyptic: an avalanche blanketed 2,000 feet of the Richardson Highway, the only road into the coastal town of Valdez, sealing it from the outside world. The avalanche also created a "snow dam" that backed up a lake, which made clearing the snow dangerous, lest a deluge followed. [Anchorage Daily News]

Top photo: A scene from the avalanche that cut off an Alaskan city. AP Photo/Alaska DOT&PF