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 31 
 on: Feb 08, 2016, 06:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Noaa and Nasa team up to investigate strongest El Niño on record

Two agencies’ survey via land, sea and air will hopefully help improve weather forecasts and models that predict the longer-term impact of climate change

2/8/2016
AFP

America’s two leading climate science agencies are conducting an unprecedented survey via land, sea and air to investigate the current El Niño event and better understand its impact on weather systems that have brought both parched and soaking conditions to North America.

The project, which will conclude in March, will deploy resources from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) and Nasa to analyze one of the strongest El Niños on record. El Niño is a periodic phenomenon in which parts of the eastern Pacific warm, causing a ripple effect for weather around the world.

Noaa’s Gulfstream IV research plane and its ship Ronald H Brown will collect data from the vast stretch of the Pacific ocean where El Niño climate events are spawned. Nasa will deploy its Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, which is able to fly at 65,000ft for 30 hours at a time.

It is hoped that instruments dropped from aircraft, supported by weather balloons, will help improve weather forecasts and models that predict the longer-term impact of climate change. The scientists will coordinate with researchers based in Honolulu and the Pacific island of Kiribati, around 1,340 miles south of Hawaii.

“This has never been done with a major El Niño,” said Randall Dole, a senior scientist at Noaa’s Earth Sciences Research Lab.

“A field campaign ordinarily takes years to plan and execute. But we recognized what an important opportunity we had and everyone worked hard to pull this mission together.”

Noaa said it was conducting the rapid assessment due to heightened interest over El Niño’s impact upon California, which is in the midst of a historic four-year drought. El Niño brought a slew of rain to California in December and January, prompting warnings to residents not to let their guard down in an unprecedented water conservation push.

California’s Folsom Lake, which was nearly depleted by the drought, is nearing capacity; Lake Tahoe has been replenished by around 28bn gallons of water since December.

The precipitation has proved a boon for ski resort operators, with the water content of Sierra Nevada’s snowpack standing at 130% of normal for this time of year. Californians have also marveled at strange sightings of tropical fish, with several warm-water sea snakes washing up on the state’s beaches in recent months.

Felicia Marcus, chair of California’s state water resources control board, said: “We are hopeful that we are turning the corner on this drought.”

However, 64% of the state remains in extreme drought conditions, with 11 of its 12 largest water reservoirs below historical capacity averages.

While California has received some welcome rain, other parts of the US have experienced exceptionally dry and mild conditions. According to Noaa, only 5.7% of the Great Lakes’ surface was covered by ice as of 3 February, a huge drop on 2015, when 50% of the lakes’ surface was frozen.

The impact of El Niño has perhaps been most pernicious in Africa, with Zimbabwe declaring a state of emergency this week over a drought that has ravaged much of the south of the continent. An estimated 26% of Zimbabwe’s population, around 2.4 million, are now considered food insecuytre due to dying cattle and failed crops.

 32 
 on: Feb 08, 2016, 06:55 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Mark Ruffalo tells Cameron his UK fracking push is an 'enormous mistake'

Actor records video message to the UK prime minister accusing him of going back on his word by failing to respect public opposition to fracking

Press Association
Monday 8 February 2016 06.01 GMT

David Cameron is making an enormous “legacy mistake” by going all-out for fracking in the UK, the actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo has warned.

The actor, who is famous for his role as the Hulk in the Avenger films and who stars in Spotlight about the Boston Globe’s investigation into Catholic child abuse, is a prominent anti-fracking campaigner who lobbied successfully for a ban on the controversial technology in New York.

“Mr Cameron, you’re making an enormous mistake, and it’s a legacy mistake. Because there’s no fracking that can be done safely,” he said on a recent visit to the UK.

Ruffalo also accused Cameron of going back on his word by saying he would respect public opinion on hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting shale gas and oil that has boomed in the US over the last decade.

“Your people don’t want it. You’ve already told them once before that if they didn’t want it, you wouldn’t push them to take it, and you’re turning back on your word, sir. And what is a politician if he’s not credible,” he said in a filmed interview with green group, Friends of the Earth.

More people in the UK oppose fracking than support it, compared to renewable energy which enjoys extremely high levels of public support, government polling found last week. It revealed that: “those who know more about fracking tend to be more likely to oppose it.”

Ruffalo said the prime minister should heed the implications of the Paris agreement, a historic deal agreed last month at UN talks to curb carbon emissions, and push instead for renewable energy.

“Today we are at the precipice of a renewable energy revolution. This is the new economy,” he said. “This is where all new wealth is going to be created. This is where new jobs are going to be created.”

Since taking power last May, the government has axed or watered down a swath of green measures, including cutting solar and wind subsidies, ending favourable taxation for electric cars, and putting a carbon tax on carbon-free electricity generation.

Ruffalo, who has made similar calls on Barack Obama to ban fracking in the US, said that Cameron should honour the will of the British people. By doing so he would become a “true and honest” leader by leaving the fossil fuels in the ground, as scientists have called for to avoid dangerous global warming.

However, his plea is unlikely to move Cameron who has said fracking is important for energy security and economic growth. His government has aggressively promoted the nascent shale industry and was shown last week to be considering changing rules to take fracking planning applications out of local authorities’ hands.

An appeal hearing begins next week for shale explorer Cuadrilla, over its applications for two fracking sites in Lancashire, which were rejected by the county council last summer. The rejection was quickly followed by the government promising to “fast track” fracking applications.

A separate planning decision on a fracking site in North Yorkshire, at Kirby Misperton, was expected this month by the county council but has been delayed to March at the earliest.

Donna Hume, senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The government admits that the more people know about fracking, the more they oppose it. That’s why Mark Ruffalo, who has seen the impacts of fracking first-hand, doesn’t want Lancashire to suffer the same impacts as so many states in the US.”

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “We are backing shale because it’s good for our energy security and will help create jobs and growth.

“There is no question that we need natural gas in the UK and if just 10% of the estimated gas in shale rock could be recovered, it would be enough to meet our energy demand for almost 40 years. We are encouraging safe exploration so we can know for certain how much is there and how much we can get out of the ground.”

 33 
 on: Feb 08, 2016, 06:52 AM 
Started by SpeakNow - Last post by SpeakNow
I found the original post from 2011 concerning Pluto crossing the Ascendant in Capricorn and was going to reply but received the "Warning: this topic has not been posted in for at least 120 days.
Unless you're sure you want to reply, please consider starting a new topic." Unsure if I should go ahead and reply to that one or to start a new topic...

Just had a question concerning children going through the transit. Is there anything specific about this evolutionary aspect concerning children? Other than simply the added intensity of having a 12th house Pluto, of course Smiley

Please let me know if I should simply respond in that thread instead of starting a new one. Thanks!

 34 
 on: Feb 08, 2016, 06:47 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
A dog is for life … not just for sunny weather

Michele Hanson

Canines everywhere are down in the dumps as their walks have been curtailed by fair-weather owners. So if you’re not up to the job, get a cat

Monday 8 February 2016 11.05 GMT
AFP

It’s been a tough year for some dogs. The weather has been so wet and ghastly, their owners just can’t bear to take their pets out for a walk, and so, according to animal behaviourists, more dogs than ever have been stuck mainly indoors and are now “chronically” bored, depressed, unsettled and “in need of therapy”.

Thank heavens the owners have managed to get their dogs to the therapist, probably by car, or most of us wouldn’t even know this was going on. I don’t want to show off, but I knew this already, and so did the more robust dog-owners, because if you go for a dog walk in the rain, sleet, wind and mud, the parks are almost deserted, but if you go out on a sunny morning, they’re like Oxford Street in the sales.

What are those crowds of fair-weather owners up to with their dogs? Perhaps just doing a quick trek around the mud-free pavements so that their dogs can at least relieve themselves, and then it’s back indoors to go stir crazy. Or perhaps they let their dog out into the garden, or out into the street by itself for a crap, like the bad-tempered, hefty chap who passed my front gate last week, clutching a big studded leather harness. Had I seen his dog? He asked. “It’s a white staffie. I let him out, he hasn’t come home.” He couldn’t be fagged to take his dog out, and it wasn’t even raining. I pity that dog if it does go home. How I longed to punch that man in the chops, but I didn’t, because he was much bigger than me, and anyway, violence is never the answer.

Did he and all those sunny-day walkers have a little think before they got a dog? Did they find out anything about dogs? Forget the compulsory parenting/citizenship/English-for-Muslim-women lessons. Compulsory how-to-look-after-your-dog lessons would be much more useful. Then we might not have pavements littered with excrement, or thousands of bored, wretched, pent-up, disturbed and maddened dogs, or 7,227 hospital admissions for dog bites, like we had from March 2014 to February 2015.

I don’t mind lecturing at mandatory classes for future dog owners. I could tell students how wonderful it is having a dog, how forgiving, loving, loyal, sensitive, clever and amusing they are. And that a major plus about having a dog is that they encourage you to get fresh air and exercise, which is good for your mental and physical health. If you wake up and see grey skies, drizzle and dreariness, you’ll find once you get out, it’s not as bad as it looks. There are birds still singing, romantic mists, shrubs and plants looking and smelling lovely, you have space and relative peace, or company if you want it. It is all rather bracing and uplifting, as long as you wear lovely warm gloves, boots and a raincoat.

Best of all, you can watch your beautiful dog, racing and gambolling about, because that’s what dogs like to do: sniff everything, exert themselves, track and chase things, or stand under a bush and scratch their backs (like mine does), play with other dogs, have a varied, interesting and sometimes thrilling life, and feel happy, which is almost guaranteed to perk you up too.

But there is a downside. Dogs are not always sensible. Mine adores eating fox excrement, others like to stab themselves in the throat playing with sticks, or swallow stones, and need costly operations. They tend to vomit, slobber, empty their bowels several times daily, sometimes messily, and have the odd fight. And you must robustly mop up and deal with all of it. While I’ve been writing this, and not paying attention, mine has just torn her bed to pieces, and now she’s crying because it’s time for her afternoon walkie.

And she has a tumour on her liver, is on steroids, drinks and wees gallons, has a sore chin and sore toes, has to wear boots in the mud and needs eye drops twice daily, because she’s very old now, and when dogs get older, like us, they need more and more care. They cost a fortune in food, vets’ fees and insurance, and minders if you’re away. Even when they’re well, they need an awful lot of your time, attention and love, and walkies every day, rain or shine. If you don’t fancy any of this, get a cat. Dog owning is not for cissies.

 35 
 on: Feb 08, 2016, 06:45 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Shell shock: Perth zoo 'ecstatic' after stolen endangered tortoise returned

Critically endangered tortoise hydrated after being dumped at police station in backpack and checked at veterinary hospital
The radiated tortoise stolen from Perth zoo

Australian Associated Press
Sunday 7 February 2016 04.14 GMT

A critically endangered tortoise stolen from Perth zoo last week has been returned to its home after being dumped at a police station in a backpack.

The 10-year-old radiated tortoise was taken on Monday night or early Tuesday morning, with staff fearing for its safety as the creatures are often killed for their shells, which are turned into ornaments and sold on the black market.

On Sunday, a Perth zoo spokeswoman said the animal had been dumped at Kensington police station overnight and returned to the zoo after being checked at Murdoch veterinary hospital.

“We’re ecstatic that it’s back,” she said. “It wasn’t in the best condition. It was covered in faeces so obviously whoever had it didn’t know how to care for it appropriately.”

She said the tortoise was being hydrated, given recent hot weather, and was otherwise in good health.

The spokeswoman said the facility’s security system would be reviewed.

“We did have two that were stolen a couple of years ago and we completely stepped up security within that area but unfortunately whoever took it managed to circumvent that security,” she said.

“So the tortoise won’t be on display until we’re 100 per cent happy with that area.”

It was highly unlikely the thieves would be caught, she said.

“For us, the focus wasn’t prosecution of the person – we just really wanted to get the animal back.”

 36 
 on: Feb 08, 2016, 06:43 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
How can wind energy and Africa’s vultures co-exist?

Wind farms are one of the solutions to Africa’s energy crisis, but they have the potential to jeopardise threatened bird species such as eagles and vultures

AFP
2/8/2016

Many people see wind energy as one of the key solutions to meeting Africa’s growing energy demand and mitigating climate change. As a result, wind farms are already under construction or are being planned in many countries across sub-Saharan Africa. But wind farms can pose real threats to bird species, and they have the potential to jeopardise threatened bird populations.

So far, the biggest impact of inappropriately sited wind turbines has been on populations of large birds of prey, in particular eagles and vultures. In some extreme cases turbines have led to the death of hundreds of the birds as they collide with the turning blades.

Europe and America provide useful lessons

Wind energy has the advantage of being an established energy source. But we also know from experiences in Europe and the US that inappropriately sited wind farms can have a devastating impact on the environment.

For example, hundreds of raptors are killed each year, including relatively large numbers of golden eagles at the wind farm at Altamont Pass, California. Turbines at the Smøla Island wind farm in Norway have also had a terrible effect on white-tailed eagles.

Africa has the opportunity to benefit from lessons learned in Europe and North America. Experiences there can help ensure that wind farms are not placed in areas likely to conflict with vulnerable bird populations. They can also advance our knowledge on how wind farms can be constructed in a sustainable way without destroying the very species they hope to ultimately protect from the negative impacts of climate change.

Lesotho is a prime site

Lesotho is the only independent state to lie entirely above 1,000m elevation and is one of the poorest countries on the planet. It is a prime location for wind energy production which has the added advantage of bringing in much needed revenue and creating jobs.

But the Lesotho mountains also lie at the centre of the bearded vulture population in southern Africa, a species particularly vulnerable to the impact of wind farms.

Bearded vultures are classified within this region as critically endangered. They have declined by at least 30% over the last few decades. Only around 100 pairs remain. The main causes of the decline are linked to poisoning and collisions with power lines.

Lesotho currently has no wind farms but large scale developments are being planned in the Letseng and Oxbow areas. The Letseng project, consisting of 42 turbines, has already been approved. There are also longer-term plans for multiple wind farms made up of 4,000 turbines generating around 6,000 megawatts throughout the Lesotho highlands.

Minimising the impact

This can be achieved in two ways.

The first is ensuring that wind farms are not developed in areas where vulnerable species occur. This can be done by building sensitivity maps that highlight the best and worst locations at a very broad scale of where to place wind farms within a country. A map like this has been successfully completed for South Africa by BirdLife South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

The second approach aims to ensure that, where wind farms and vulnerable species do overlap, turbines are sited in the most appropriate locations to decrease the risk of collision. This approach is difficult because it requires detailed information on the habitat use of species which is only rarely available.

But this kind of data would make it possible to build predictive models which could be applied across a species’ range to identify inappropriate locations for turbines.

31 bird-years of vulture data

In our new study, we applied this second approach to identify high use areas for the bearded vulture in Lesotho and neighbouring provinces in South Africa. Our aim was to provide a tool that would allow developers to site wind farms in locations least damaging to bearded vultures.

We took advantage of tracking data collected from 21 bearded vultures fitted with solar-powered GPS satellite tags. Between 2007 and 2012 these tags generated the equivalent of 31 bird-years of data logging the vultures’ location, altitude and speed every hour during daylight.

Working with a spatial ecologist, we used the data to construct models that predicted which areas would be most intensively used by bearded vulture. Separate models were built for territorial adults and sub-adults because they behave differently.

Next we refined these models incorporating the probability of flying at heights that place the birds at risk of collision. This is less than 200m. Our final model combined probability of being at risk height and allowed the generation of a risk map covering the entire southern Africa range of the species.

We tested the use of the map with the two proposed wind farms and explored their levels of risk relative to other sites within the species range. We found that the two proposed wind farms were very poorly sited, particularly the one at Letseng. This reinforced the findings of another study which suggested that fatalities from the wind farm could substantially increase the decline rate of this species.

The map is freely available to wind farm developers and can be used to guide future development. Based on the information it provides we hope wind farms will be sited away from high intensity areas used by bearded vultures. The map’s high resolution (90m x 90m) also means it can help guide the placement of individual turbines.

The model was built to test the feasibility of creating such a tool. We are now confident that this can be a useful approach to help other species threatened by wind farms.

Arjun Amar is a senior lecturer at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at University of Cape Town.

This article was first published on The Conversation.

 37 
 on: Feb 08, 2016, 06:41 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
RSPB plans ‘bat-friendly’ wind turbines at Bedfordshire HQ

The charity, known for its opposition to turbines, claims to have commissioned a model that will not threaten local pipistrelle and noctule bats

Telegraph
2/8/2016

It is renowned for its opposition to the installation of wind turbines across the nation. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the machines’ blades pose too much of a threat to local species in many areas.

But now the RSPB has joined the opposition. The organisation has agreed to the construction of an 800kW wind turbine at Sandy in Bedfordshire – the site of its headquarters and one of its most important nature reserves.

Known simply as The Lodge, the reserve is home to woodpeckers, nuthatches, nightjars, hobbies and several other important species, but now those birds will have to share their heathland home with a 100-metre tower fitted with 53-metre blades.

However, the RSPB insists that the turbine – which was installed last week and can supply enough power for dozens of homes – has been positioned to minimise any impact on local wildlife. More importantly, it has been designed to switch off automatically whenever wind conditions reach levels that might threaten local wildlife, in particular the populations of pipistrelle and noctule bats found in the area.

“Climate change is going to have a huge impact on Britain’s bird population and we have to do our bit to reduce carbon emissions,” said Martin Harper, RSPB director of conservation. “This turbine will generate energy equivalent to more than half the electricity we use at all our 127 sites in the UK. More to the point, we are going to do it in a way that poses no threat to the local wildlife.”

The turbine, on a ridge at one edge of the RSPB site near Sandy, has been built by the renewable energy company Ecotricity. Surveys carried out by the company over the past two years suggest the likelihood of local breeding birds colliding with blades is low. “However, our monitoring did detect periods of bat activity at certain times at the site. Noctules and pipistrelles tend to feed there at dawn and dusk when wind speeds are low,” said Harper. “So we will turn off the wind turbine half an hour either side of sunrise and sunset when wind speeds are below seven metres per second. We will take a little hit in terms of electricity generation potential, but it should protect the noctules and pipistrelles. Essentially, we have bat-proofed our turbine.”

However, the RSPB has emphasised that it is still strongly opposed to many of the wind turbine projects being built or planned in the UK. In particular, it believes the Hornsea Project One offshore wind farm – a massive array of turbines whose construction off the east Yorkshire coast was last week confirmed by Dong Energy – is likely to lead to unacceptably high deaths of kittiwakes and gannets.

“We support the principles of renewable energy,” said Harper. “But in some cases we believe the siting of a turbine array could lead to unnecessary deaths of birds. One of those is the Hornsea wind farm. However, it should be noted that we have been involved in a total of 1,031 wind turbine applications in the UK over the years and have maintained objections to only 49 of these. That is less than 5% of proposed projects. So it would be wrong to say we are diehard opponents of wind energy. Far from it.”

 38 
 on: Feb 08, 2016, 06:38 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Extreme Research Shows How Arctic Ice Is Dwindling

What happens when the planet loses some of its ability to cool itself?

Story by Andy Isaacson
Photographs by Nick Cobbing
2/8/2016
National Geographic

The sea ice that blankets the Arctic Ocean isn’t the unbroken white mantle depicted in maps. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of restless floes that are constantly colliding, deforming, and fracturing from the force of wind and ocean currents. Last February I stood shivering on the deck of the Lance, an old Norwegian research vessel, as it picked a path through a labyrinth of navigable fractures. A barren white plain of ice and snow extended to the horizon in every direction. The ship’s steel hull shuddered and screeched as it plowed through floating chunks of jagged ice. The Lance was seeking a solid patch of ice to attach to—the last one had shattered—so that it could resume its erratic drift across the frozen sea, charting the fate of Arctic sea ice by going with the floe.

The Norwegians have done this before, more than a century ago, when polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen and the Fram were locked in pack ice for nearly three years during a vain attempt to drift across the North Pole. But the Arctic is a different ocean now. The air above it has warmed on average about 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century, more than twice the global average. Much less of the ocean is covered by ice, and much more of that ice is thinner, seasonal ice rather than thick, old floes. A feedback loop with far-reaching consequences has taken effect: As white ice is replaced in summer by dark ocean water, which absorbs more sunlight, the water and air heat further—amplifying the ongoing thaw.

“The Arctic warms first, most, and fastest,” explains Kim Holmén, the long-bearded international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), which operates the Lance. Climate models predict that by as early as 2040 it will be possible in summer to sail across open water to the North Pole.

Arctic sea ice helps cool the whole planet by reflecting sunlight back into space. So its loss inevitably will affect the climate and weather beyond the Arctic, but precisely how remains unclear. Better forecasts require better data on sea ice and its shifting, uneven distribution. “Most scientific cruises to the Arctic are conducted in summer, and this is where we have the most field data,” says Gunnar Spreen, an NPI sea-ice physicist I met on board the Lance. “The continuous changes that occur from winter into spring are a huge gap in our understanding.”

Life on Ice

Researchers from the Lance work and play in bone-chilling cold.

On the Lance’s five-month mission its rotating crew of international scientists would investigate the causes and effects of ice loss by monitoring the ice across its entire seasonal life cycle—from the time when it formed in winter until it melted in summer.

A few days after photographer Nick Cobbing and I joined the ship by icebreaker and helicopter from Longyearbyen, on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago—the base for NPI’s Arctic operations—the Lance steamed to 83 degrees north, just west of Russian territory. The scientists singled out a half-mile-wide floe of predominantly seasonal ice that they hoped to study. The crew tethered the vessel to the floe with nylon ropes attached to thick metal poles driven into the ice. They shut off the main engine. Isolated and in near darkness, we began our wayward drift and our month-long shift in the ice desert.

Like homesteaders, the scientists established camps on the floe, pitching tents and laying electric cables. Physicists like Spreen mapped the ice topography with lasers and recorded the thickness and temperature of the snow on top. Oceanographers bored a hole through the ice to gather data about the water and the currents. Meteorologists erected masts carrying instruments to collect weather data and measure greenhouse gases. Biologists searched for ice algae, which look like dirt and live on the underside of the ice and in the channels of trapped brine left after newly formed sea ice expels salt. In a few weeks, after the returning sun cast aside the cloak of polar night and began filtering through the melting floe, the scientists would watch the ecosystem awaken.

Temperatures regularly plunged to 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Scientists had to contend with numb fingers, snapped cables, and crippled electronic instruments, along with the danger of roving polar bears. “This is really extreme science,” one researcher said.
“The Arctic really is the canary showing that climate change is real.”

—Oceanographer James Overland

In 2007 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the impacts of climate change in the Arctic over the next century “will exceed the impacts forecast for many other regions and will produce feedbacks that will have globally significant consequences.” Nearly a decade later this grim forecast is already being borne out. Probably no region has been more affected by climate change than the Arctic. Permafrost is thawing, and the land is greening, as tree lines creep north and shrubs and grasses invade the tundra. Certain populations of polar bears, walruses, and caribou have suffered significant declines. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) oceanographer James Overland says, “The Arctic really is the canary showing that climate change is real.”

Since 1979, when satellite records began, the Arctic has lost more than half its volume of ice, which has diminished in both overall area and thickness. The frozen area shrinks to its annual minimum in September, at summer’s end. In September 2012 its extent was just half the average during the 1980s and ’90s. The maximum ice extent in winter, usually reached in March, also is declining, though at a slower rate; its average thickness has decreased by half. What was once mostly a layer of 10- to 13-foot-thick ice floes that lingered for years—perennial ice—has given way to large tracts of thinner, less reflective ice that forms and melts during a single year. Sea-ice coverage has always fluctuated naturally, but there’s little doubt among scientists that man-made greenhouse gases are now accelerating its decline. “Old, thick sea ice was a global reservoir for cold, but that is now changing,” Overland says.

Since satellites began regularly measuring Arctic sea ice in 1979, it has declined sharply in extent and thickness.

An entire ecosystem is melting away. The loss of sea ice may take a toll on some of the photosynthesizing organisms that fuel the marine food chain—single-celled algae that live under the ice and bloom in the spring when the light returns. Changes in the magnitude and timing of these blooms, as winter ice retreats faster and earlier, may throw off the life cycle of tiny, fatty zooplankton called copepods, which eat the algae and are in turn eaten by arctic cod, seabirds, and bowhead whales. For marine mammals such as the polar bear, Pacific walrus, and ringed seal, the loss of hundreds of thousands of square miles of sea ice has already been devastating. “It’s like someone took the floor out from under you,” says Kristin Laidre, a polar scientist at the University of Washington.

The assumption is that later this century, without a home field, these animals will simply lose all competitive advantage. Killer whales, for example, are likely to replace polar bears as the top marine predators, as bears retreat to the dwindling remnants of summer sea ice. Though polar bears sometimes spend time on land, where lately a few have been hybridizing with grizzlies, Ian Stirling of the University of Alberta, a leading polar bear expert, dismisses any notion that they could survive long-term on land as “wishful thinking.” Ice-free conditions are likely to draw in other competitors—zooplankton (maybe less fatty and nutritious ones), fish, seals—from more temperate waters.

The upshot of all this, as ecologist Ian Stirling bluntly puts it: “The Arctic marine ecosystem as we know it now will no longer exist.”

Ice loss is also making the Arctic even more vulnerable to ocean acidification, another effect of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide. Cold water absorbs more CO₂ than warm water does, and more cold water is now open to the air. As the water acidifies, it loses carbonate. Within the next 15 years it may no longer contain enough for animals such as sea snails and Alaska king crabs to construct and maintain their calcium-carbonate shells.

The upshot of all this, as Stirling bluntly puts it: “The Arctic marine ecosystem as we know it now will no longer exist.”

Warmer air above the ocean basin is projected to spill down over the surrounding coasts of Russia, Alaska, and Canada, causing feedback effects as far as 900 miles inland, including accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet and large emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from thawing tundra. IPCC models forecast that the total loss of summer sea ice may in itself cause one-third of the warming of the Northern Hemisphere and 14 percent of total global warming by the end of the century.

How a rapidly warming Arctic will influence weather across the hemisphere is a bit hazier. Atmospheric scientists Jennifer Francis at Rutgers University and Steve Vavrus at the University of Wisconsin have suggested that people in the continental United States already may be feeling the effects of melting Arctic sea ice—especially in the past two winters in the east, which made “polar vortex” household words.

The polar vortex is the mass of cold air that’s normally confined over the Pole by the polar jet stream—the high-altitude, fast-moving torrent of air that snakes around the Pole from west to east. The jet stream draws most of its energy from the contrast in temperature and pressure between the frigid air to its north and the warmer air to the south. As sea-ice loss amplifies the warming in the Arctic, the Francis theory goes, that contrast is reduced, weakening the jet stream’s westerly winds. It becomes a lazier, more sinuous river, with large meanders that extend far to the south and north. Because the meanders advance slowly across the map, whatever weather they enfold persists for a long time. During the past two winters the wavier pattern allowed Arctic air and extreme snow to beset New England and drought to linger over California. The melting Arctic may be affecting weather elsewhere too. Korean researchers have linked extreme winters in East Asia to air-circulation changes caused specifically by ice loss in the Barents-Kara Sea.

It’s a neat theory, but parts of it remain “fuzzy,” Francis admits. Also, many researchers who study atmospheric dynamics aren’t buying it. A more plausible explanation for the wavier jet stream and the southward excursions of the polar vortex, some of them argue, is the influence of the tropical Pacific, which is a far more powerful source of heat than the Arctic. It will take years of data gathering and modeling to settle the debate.

In any case, as the warming of the planet continues, cold spells of any kind will become less common. Even if sharp limits on greenhouse gas emissions are adopted over the next 20 years, the decline of sea ice will continue for decades. “We’re on a one-way trip and not going back,” says Overland. A further rise of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Arctic is all but assured by mid-century, he says, enough to keep the ocean ice free for at least two months of the year, enough to change the seasons there—“enough to affect everything.”

In late June, during the final phase of their expedition, the scientists aboard the Lance awoke to discover that the latest ice floe they’d attached to was disintegrating too. They scrambled to salvage their gear before it became flotsam. It was time to pack up anyway. The vessel by that point had spent 111 days in the ice, tethered to different floes for several weeks at a time—logging altogether some 4,000 nautical miles across the Arctic. Polar bears had crossed its path, sometimes pausing to play with the scientists’ strange-looking electronic instruments. Storms had bulldozed huge blocks of ice high against the ship, elevating it above the surface. The Lance’s crew had bested the researchers in a soccer match on the floe. Over the next couple of years the 68 scientists involved will be hunkered in their warm labs, making sense of all the data they gathered.

One morning in March, under a dusky blue sky, I had joined Gunnar Spreen and another NPI researcher, Anja Rösel, on one of their periodic forays to measure changes in the ice floe’s thickness. We each wore insulated armor—jumpsuit, balaclava, goggles, gloves, mittens over the gloves. The scientists brought along a snow-depth probe, a GPS device, and an orange plastic sled carrying the ice-thickness instrument, which works by inducing an electric current in the seawater below. I carried a flare gun and a .30-06-caliber rifle: bear protection. Following a mile-long path staked by bamboo poles, we trudged over dunelike snowdrifts and pressure ridges—slabs of sea ice pushed up by colliding floes—that looked like crumbling stone walls. Every few feet Spreen stopped and plunged the depth gauge into the snowpack until it beeped to indicate that the measurement was complete.

Arctic warming seemed an abstract concept that day—I couldn’t really feel my toes—but across the icescape, Spreen saw evidence of change. “This is an unusual amount of snow,” he noted. Two feet of it lay beneath our moon boots, twice the amount in a typical year. One data point doesn’t make a trend, but this one was consistent with model forecasts: As sea ice shrinks, the extra heat and water vapor released from the open water into the lower atmosphere should generate more precipitation.

More snow falling on a glacier on land would be a good thing, because that’s how glaciers grow—by accumulating layers of snow so thick that the stuff at the bottom gets compressed into ice. But sea ice forms when cold air freezes seawater, and snow falling on top of it acts as an insulating blanket that slows the growth of the ice. As it happened, two weeks after my walk with Spreen, the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado announced that Arctic sea ice had already reached its maximum extent for the winter in late February—much earlier than usual. It was the lowest maximum the satellites had ever recorded.

 39 
 on: Feb 08, 2016, 06:31 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Will Global Warming Heat Us Beyond Our Physical Limits?

If we don’t cut greenhouse gases, it’s not just storms and rising seas we’d have to worry about. The heat alone could kill a lot of us.

By Cheryl Katz, National Geographic
2/8/2016
National Geographic

If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, rising temperatures and humidity wrought by global warming could expose hundreds of millions of people worldwide to potentially lethal heat stress by 2060, a new report suggests.

The greatest exposure will occur in populous, tropical regions such as India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. But even in the northeastern United States, as many as 30 million people might be exposed at least once a year to heat that could be lethal to children, the elderly, and the sick, according to the new study.

It’s the first study to look at future heat stress on a global basis, says Ethan Coffel, a PhD candidate in atmospheric sciences at Columbia University, who presented the results on Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Coffel and his colleagues used climate models and population projections to estimate how many people could face dangerous heat in 2060—assuming that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise sharply on a “business-as-usual” course.

The findings are based on forecasts of “wet bulb” temperatures, in which a wet cloth is wrapped around a thermometer bulb. Whereas standard thermometer readings measure air temperature, a wet bulb measures the temperature of a moist surface that has been cooled as much as possible by evaporation.
Picture of heatwave victim receiving medical attention

Last June in Pakistan, a heat wave killed more than 450 people in the port city of Karachi, where this man received medical treatment. Temperatures stayed around 113°F (45°C) for three days.
Photograph by SHAHZAIB AKBER, EPA

That reading depends on both the heat and the humidity of the surrounding air. It’s generally much lower than the dry-bulb temperature, and it’s a better indicator of the humid heat that humans and other large mammals find hardest to deal with.

The normal temperature inside the human body is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 37 degrees Celsius. Human skin is typically at 35°C. When the wet-bulb temperature of the air exceeds that level, it becomes physically impossible for the body to shed its own metabolic heat and cool itself, especially by evaporating sweat. Even a fit individual would be expected to die from such heat within six hours.

Today, even in Earth’s hottest, muggiest spots, the wet-bulb temperature does not rise above 31°C. (The highest dry-bulb temperature ever recorded is 56.7°C, or 134°F.)

But a study published in October by MIT researchers found that by 2100, in Persian Gulf cities such as Abu Dhabi or Dubai, the 35°C threshold of human survival may occasionally be exceeded—again, assuming that greenhouse emissions continue to rise unabated.

Where Heat, Humidity, and People Intersect

In practice, wet-bulb temperatures below the 35°C threshold are dangerous for children, the elderly, people with heart or lung problems—or anybody actively working outside. By the 2060s, according to Coffel and his colleagues, 250 million people could be experiencing 33°C at least once a year. As many as 700 million could be exposed to 32°C. For many people, those conditions could be lethal.

“You have a large portion of the world that’s very densely populated and potentially at risk,” says Coffel. “Populations which right now work primarily outdoors and have very little access to air conditioning. It’s hard to function outdoors in those kinds of temperatures.”

The MIT study concluded that wet-bulb temperatures of 32°C or 33°C could be expected to arise later this century in Mecca, for example, where they might sometimes coincide with the Hajj, when millions of pilgrims pray outdoors all day long.

But as rising temperatures push more moisture into the atmosphere, particularly near warming oceans, spells of extreme heat and humidity will become more frequent and intense in many parts of the world. Even residents of cities like New York and London could encounter future temperatures that are near the limits of what their bodies can tolerate, according to the Columbia researchers.

“Local ocean temperatures can be a really big driver for the extent of these high heat and humidity events,” says co-author Radley Horton of Columbia. “How far inland away from the coasts will we see some of these really deadly high heat and humidity events penetrate? Will this impact where people are able to live?”

Bryan Jones, a postdoctoral fellow at the City University of New York who also studies future heat exposures but was not part of the Columbia study, said its “projections of exposure to extreme heat stress seem very reasonable. In fact, they may even be conservative, depending on how populations in West Africa, India, and Southeast Asia are distributed in the coming decades.”

Heat Is Already A Big Killer

Heat already kills more people than any other form of extreme weather. In the past decade, heat waves that featured wet-bulb temperatures between 29°C and 31°C have caused tens of thousands of deaths in Europe, Russia, and the Middle East.

Last summer more than 2,300 died from extreme heat in India, where air temperatures reached 122°F. High humidity and temperatures topping 116°F also proved deadly in Egypt this year. And work stopped for several summer days in Iraq while thermometers hovered around 120°F.

Air conditioning protects those who have access to it and can afford it. The spread of high-heat-stress events is likely to produce a surge in demand, says Horton. Air conditioners don’t function as efficiently in humid conditions, however—and as long as the electricity for them is generated with fossil fuels, they add to the underlying problem.

The other approach to coping with dangerous heat, Coffel says, is “reorganizing your society, like when you work outside, like giving people the day off when it’s hot.”

Neither air-conditioning nor staying inside is an option for other large mammals, which are affected by climbing heat and humidity in much the same way as humans. The impact on them is a “wild card,” says Horton. Little research has been done.

 40 
 on: Feb 08, 2016, 06:27 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Famous Giant Turtle Dies—Only Three Left on Earth

The death of Cu Rua, long revered in Vietnam, brings the critically endangered Yangtze giant softshell turtle one step closer to extinction.

Photograph by ChinaFotoPress, Getty
By Scott Duke Harris
2/8/2015
National Geogrpahic

HANOI, Vietnam—We were packed inside a small taxi—me, my wife, our three kids—and heading past postcard-perfect Hoan Kiem Lake (map) when I noticed a crowd at the water’s edge. On a hunch I directed the cabbie to pull over. 
 
This was early 2011. We worked our way to the water and saw the magnificent, 360-pound (160-kilogram) turtle the Vietnamese call Cu Rua, or “Great Grandfather Turtle,” making a rare public appearance.

Its dark gray-brown head, nearly the size of our toddler’s, was raised above the muddy, polluted water as the 4-foot-long (1.2-meter-long) beast cruised slowly near shore, seemingly struggling to breathe.

Days after, authorities initiated an effort to clean up Hoan Kiem and help Cu Rua, a critically endangered Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei).

And it seemed to work until January 20, when Cu Rua died—leaving only three of the world's largest freshwater turtle species left on Earth.

Last Hope

The stately Cu Rua (pronounced “koo zu-ah”), which was estimated to be more than a hundred years old, had become a distinguished citizen in this city of four million.

Any glimpse of the reclusive Cu Rua was considered good luck, and the grief over his death is widespread.

“It is almost impossible to put into words the significance of this loss,” says Peter Pritchard, a turtle researcher and founder of the Florida-based Chelonian Research Institute. 

Between the 1970s and 1990s, hunting devastated populations throughout China’s Yangtze River and Vietnam’s Red River valleys. Urban development has also damaged the species' habitat.

Now the species has dwindled to three. A male and female live in captivity in Changsa Zoo in China's southern Hunan Province, but the two haven't yet mated.

Naturalist Carlos Romero discusses the rare and ancient Galápagos giant tortoise, which has made its home on Ecuador's Galápagos Islands for millions of years.

The only known wild individual lives about 37 miles (60 kilometers) west of Hanoi in a lake called Dong Mo.

The species is so elusive that determining sex is difficult, and no one knows whether it's a male or female, says Timothy McCormack, director of the Hanoi-based Asian Turtle Program.

But there are efforts underway to find out if the Dong Mo animal is male. If he is, scientists hope to bring him to China and attempt to mate him with the zoo female.

"Something of a Miracle"
   
“To rebuild a population from three animals would be something of a miracle, but certainly not impossible,” says Pritchard.

Like other large soft-shelled turtles, the species lays several dozen eggs in a clutch, he explains.

“With careful husbandry, the majority of these may produce viable adult turtles.”

And it's been done before.

On the Galápagos Islands, scientists have bred the Galápagos giant tortoise, which had been in rapid decline, in captivity since 1971. The program has produced more than 2,000 offspring, and the species is again thriving, he says.

If mating doesn't work, the conservationists' last hope is that other tortoises may still be lurking undiscovered in the wild.   
 
Irreplaceable
 
There's also talk in Vietnam of moving the Dong Mo turtle to Hoan Kiem—for sentimental reasons.

The desire is understandable, says McCormack. Vietnam folklore tells of how a heroic turtle returned a lost sword to a 15th century emperor, enabling him to liberate Vietnam from Chinese invaders. Hoan Kiem translates to "Lake of the Restored Sword."
 
This legend is celebrated at Hoan Kiem with a ghostly white Turtle Tower shrine, erected in the 1880s on an island at one end of the lake.

At the opposite end, a bridge leads to Ngoc Son Temple, where Cu Rua’s former turtle companion, killed in a botched capture attempt in the 1980s, is on display.

Already, there are plans to preserve Cu Rua's remains and display them there.
 
But moving the Dong Mo turtle to Hoan Kiem it would a terrible idea, conservationists say, because the risk of pollution and trauma could compromise its use in the breeding program.

Besides, “could any other turtle replace such an iconic figure?” Pritchard asks. “The answer is a resounding no.”

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