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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 144324 times)
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« Reply #15 on: Jul 18, 2012, 06:15 AM »

Originally published Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 7:51 PM
Huge iceberg breaks free from Greenland's Petermann Glacier

The separation along Greenland's northwest coast, which took place Monday, represents the second major calving event for the Petermann Glacier in the past three years.

By Juliet Eilperin
The Washington Post

A chunk of ice twice the size of Manhattan has parted from Greenland's Petermann Glacier, a break researchers at the University of Delaware and Canadian Ice Service attributed to warmer ocean temperatures.

The separation along Greenland's northwest coast, which took place Monday, represents the second major calving event for the glacier in the past three years.

In August 2010, the Petermann Glacier lost an area of roughly 97 square miles, compared with the 46 square miles that just split off this week.

Andreas Muenchow, an associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware, said the glacier's end point is now at "a location where it has not been for at least 150 years."

"The Greenland ice sheet is changing rapidly before our eyes," Muenchow said in an interview, adding that while "no individual glacier will be the canary in the coal mine" recent warming has transformed the overall ice sheet.

Ted Scambos, the lead scientist for the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, said scientists will now be monitoring whether the glacier's flow rate will accelerate "because of its loss of this chunk of ice at the front of it."

The Petermann Glacier's flow accelerated between 10 and 20 percent after the 2010 calving event, Muenchow said, adding researchers were still waiting to see if that was a short-term increase or would persist over time.

Polar researcher Jason Box of Ohio State University noted that the 2010 calving was "the largest in the observational record for Greenland."

He correctly predicted last summer that the piece that just broke off, about half the size, was on the brink.

Box could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
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« Reply #16 on: Jul 18, 2012, 06:30 AM »

Geoengineers to release planet-cooling gas into New Mexico atmosphere

By Martin Lukacs, The Guardian
Tuesday, July 17, 2012 14:14 EDT

Two Harvard engineers are planning to spray thousands of tonnes of sun-reflecting chemical particles into the atmosphere to artificially cool the planet, using a balloon flying 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The field experiment in solar geoengineering aims to ultimately create a technology to replicate the observed effects of volcanoes that spew sulphates into the stratosphere, using sulphate aerosols to bounce sunlight back to space and decrease the temperature of the Earth.

David Keith, one of the investigators, has argued that solar geoengineering could be an inexpensive method to slow down global warming, but other scientists warn that it could have unpredictable, disastrous consequences for the Earth’s weather systems and food supplies. Environmental groups fear that the push to make geoengineering a “plan B” for climate change will undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Keith, who manages a multimillion dollar geoengineering research fund provided by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, previously commissioned a study by a US aerospace company that made the case for the feasibility of large-scale deployment of solar geoengineering technologies.

His US experiment, conducted with American James Anderson, will take place within a year and involve the release of tens or hundreds of kilograms of particles to measure the impacts on ozone chemistry, and to test ways to make sulphate aerosols the appropriate size. Since it is impossible to simulate the complexity of the stratosphere in a laboratory, Keith says the experiment will provide an opportunity to improve models of how the ozone layer could be altered by much larger-scale sulphate spraying.

“The objective is not to alter the climate, but simply to probe the processes at a micro scale,” said Keith. “The direct risk is very small.”

While the experiment may not harm the climate, environmental groups say that the global environmental risks of solar geoengineering have been amply identified through modelling and the study of the impacts of sulphuric dust emitted by volcanoes.

“Impacts include the potential for further damage to the ozone layer, and disruption of rainfall, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions – potentially threatening the food supplies of billions of people,” said Pat Mooney, executive director of the Canadian-based technology watchdog ETC Group. “It will do nothing to decrease levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or halt ocean acidification. And solar geoengineering is likely to increase the risk of climate-related international conflict – given that the modelling to date shows it poses greater risks to the global south.”

A scientific study published last month concluded that solar radiation management could decrease rainfall by 15% in areas of North America and northern Eurasia and by more than 20% in central South America.

Last autumn, a British field test of a balloon-and-hosepipe device that would have pumped water into the sky generated controversy. The government-funded project – Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (Spice) – was cancelled after a row over patents and a public outcry by global NGOs, some of whom argued the project was a “Trojan horse” that would open the door to full-scale deployment of the technology.

Keith said he opposed Spice from the outset because it would not have improved knowledge of the risks or effectiveness of solar geoengineering, unlike his own experiment.

“I salute the British government for getting out and trying something,” he said. “But I wish they’d had a better process, because those opposed to any such experiments will see it as a victory and try to stop other experiments as well.”

The Guardian understands that Keith is planning to use the Gates-backed fund to organise a meeting to study the lessons of Spice.

© Guardian News and Media 2012
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« Reply #17 on: Jul 20, 2012, 06:50 AM »

Sea rise threatens ‘paradise’ Down Under

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 20, 2012 8:00 EDT

When Elaine Pearce left Sydney for the seaside peace of Old Bar 12 years ago she was assured her new house was a solid investment, with a century’s worth of frontage to guard against erosion.

But three neighbours have already lost their homes to the rising ocean and there are scores more at risk as roaring seas batter the idyllic beachside town, ploughing through 40 metres (131 feet) of foredune in just eight years.

“I wanted water frontage, and frontage I’m going to get,” Pearce joked.

Property values have dived along her once exclusive cul-de-sac, with homes once worth Aus$1.5 or Aus$2 million (US$1.5 or $2 million) now abandoned and offered for Aus$300,000. Weathered ‘For Sale’ signs dot the sidewalk.

Insurers will not cover homes for erosion and long-time local resident Allan Willan said the banks were even struggling to sell off the land on which the repossessed homes stand.

“They can’t even give it away,” said Willan, who estimates that another five metres of frontage could “easily” be lost in the next storm period.

“If it continues at this rate in seven years it’s going to be at the front door.”

Old Bar is the most rapidly eroding and at-risk piece of coast in populous New South Wales state, losing an average one metre of seafront every year and far outstripping other areas in terms of property at risk.

Andrew Short, director of Sydney University’s coastal studies unit and a government planning advisor, said the 4,000-person town was among the worst erosion sites in Australia, with huge volumes of sand routinely lost in storms.

Currently there are 14 similar “hot-spots” along the densely populated NSW coast — a region home to some 5.8 million Australians — with about 100 properties at risk.

But Short said “many hundreds of properties, if not thousands” would be at risk in the next 50-100 years as sea levels rise due to climate change, with planning authorities factoring in a one-metre increase over the next century.

Australia’s government estimates that more than Aus$226 billion in commercial, industrial and residential property and road and rail infrastructure is at risk from erosion and inundation by 2100.

That forecast includes 274,000 homes.

Old Bar has been in the grip of an unprecedented storm period, in terms of both frequency and strength, and University of New South Wales oceanographer Matthew England said it was a trend likely to intensify.

“The sea level rise is one thing, but we’re expecting storms to become more intense and storm surges are what really hits these low-lying coastal communities,” said England.

England said a one-metre sea level rise could “really quickly” become four metres during a wild weather event, bringing “a really incredible rise of water right up the coast that just can do huge amounts of damage”.

Even with a 50 centimetre sea-level rise the government has warned that severe weather events currently considered to be once in a century, such as the major flooding of Brisbane in 2010, would happen several times a year by 2100.

More than 30 people died and tens of thousands of homes were swamped in the floods that swept across northern Australia and peaked in Brisbane, forcing Australia’s third-largest city to a standstill for several days.

Major cities were expected to face profound challenges from erosion and inundation, with the government warning in a 2009 report that Sydney’s airport faced closure in the next 100 years due to its low-lying waterfront location.

Ports, hospitals, power stations and other critical infrastructure were also deemed to be at risk.

Short said the issue was at a “tipping point” in the public’s consciousness, with new local planning guidelines showing future sea level projections and requiring people to take measures such as elevating their property.

In the longer term, authorities faced a mammoth task to counter the problem, with roads, drainage systems and other infrastructure also needing lifting, he added.

England said Australia “certainly stands to be hit with massive increased costs” from sea level rise, with 85 percent of its population living near the coast and insurance and liability battles already looming in the courts.

“We’ve seen some properties already across the New South Wales coast being devalued by as much as 50 percent because of their vulnerability to storm surges,” he said.

“And we’re only at the very start of the projected trend from human-induced climate change.”

The residents of Old Bar are banking on a government lifeline to help them build a Aus$10 million artificial reef offshore to protect their dwindling beach.

For her part, Pearce has little doubt about the cause: “Climate change. It’s worldwide, isn’t it.”
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« Reply #18 on: Jul 21, 2012, 03:03 PM »

Scientists Propose Dumping Hundreds of Tons of Iron into Ocean to “Stop Global Warming”
Anthony Gucciardi
Natural Society / News Report
Published: Saturday 21 July 2012

In an attempt to ‘stop global warming’, scientists have been experimenting with dumping several tons of iron into the Antarctic ocean in order to potentially fertilize the development of plankton. Despite raising a multitude of red flags raised from leading scientific organizations and health watch organizations, a new study is now calling for the practice to be even further extended as a worldwide ‘geo engineering’ strategy to alter the climate via dumping hundreds of tons of iron dust into the ocean. Previous research found that by dumping the heavy metal into oceans worldwide it could not only devastate the marine life population, but deplete oxygen levels and explode the growth of certain unwanted organisms.

The implementation began with a California-based company known as Planktos, a self-described private ‘eco restoration’ company. While the wide scale iron dumping experiment was halted due to lack of funding, some are still calling for the plan to be followed through. Using a 115-foot ship, the company team members aimed to travel over 200 miles west of the Galápagos Islands and ultimately dump a hundred tons of iron dust into international water.

As iron can stimulate plankton growth (organisms which absorb CO2), it has been touted to be a method of artificial engineering the climate with great effectiveness. In fact, one scientist named John Martin said in 1980 that a “half tanker of iron” could cause an ice age.  Planktos sought to dump excessive amounts of iron into the ocean, capture carbon, and then sell carbon credits to companies looking to ‘offset’ their global emissions. A mission that ultimately collapsed.

But now Planktos’ CEO Russ George and some ‘environmental scientists’ are back in the saddles and looking to revisit the concept that involves selling off potentially millions (if not billions) of dollars of outlandish carbon credits to major corporations. An operation that while not only risky in regards to what we know might happen, but also what we don’t know that may happen. As detailed in a UNESCO report, it is documented that such tinkering with the ocean’s natural regulation is quite risky. The report states:

    “Large-scale fertilization could have unintended (and difficult to predict) impacts not only locally, e.g. risk of toxic algal blooms, but also far removed in space and time. Impact assessments need to include the possibility of such ‘far-field’ effects on biological productivity, sub-surface oxygen levels, biogas production and ocean acidification.”

For now, the plan has no set date or confirmation. If the organizations and individuals backing this plan get their way, however, hundreds of tons of iron may soon be dumped into the earth’s oceans without properly identifying the risks associated with the process.

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« Reply #19 on: Jul 22, 2012, 07:23 AM »

Arctic wilderness faces pollution threats as oil and gas giants target its riches

By Robin McKie, The Observer
Sunday, July 22, 2012 7:00 EDT

Melting ice caps, the influx of trawlers and tourists, and Shell’s £4bn investment to drill for fossil fuels in the Chukchi Sea all raise fears

It is home to a quarter of the planet’s oil and natural gas reserves, yet humans have hardly touched these resources in the far north. But in a few days that could change dramatically if Shell receives approval to drill for oil in the Arctic.

The company has invested $4bn to set up exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea, north of the Bering Straits. Once permission is given by the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, – possibly in a few weeks – exploration will begin using wells in Arctic waters.

And that will bring trouble. Environment campaigners say that drilling could have terrible effects on the waters and wildlife of the Arctic. “It took a vast effort to clean up the recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico,” said John Sauven of Greenpeace. “There are no such resources to stop a spill in the Chukchi. The consequences could be devastating and very long lasting.”

But Shell rejects this claim. It has an oil spill response capability that includes barges, helicopters, booms, and other equipment should anything happen, said an official. Drilling will be safe.

Exploiting the Arctic’s vast oil reserves is just one cause of environmental unease, however. The far north is melting and far faster than predicted. Global temperatures have risen 0.7C since 1951. In Greenland, the average temperature has gone up by 1.5C. Its ice cap is losing an estimated 200bn tonnes a year as a result. And further rises are now deemed inevitable, causing the region’s ice to disappear long before the century’s end.

As a result, global powers are beginning to look to the region for its gas and oil, minerals, fish, sea routes and tourist potential. All were once hidden by ice. Now it is disappearing, raising lucrative prospects for Arctic nations, in particular Russia, the US, Canada, Norway and Denmark, which controls Greenland. Large-scale investment could bring riches to areas of poverty, it is argued. However, development could destroy pristine ecosystems and the ways of life for people like the Inuit of Greenland and the Sami of Scandinavia.

One example is highlighted by Professor Callum Roberts, a York University marine biologist. An ice-free Arctic could be stripped of its rich fisheries in a matter of years, he told the Observer. “There are significant fish resources under the Arctic ice at present. But as that ice disappears, that protection will be removed and we can expect a rush from fishing fleets to exploit them. They have already stripped the North Atlantic of its cod, ling and other fish. Now they have their eyes on the Arctic.”

Currently only one fishing ground in the Arctic is protected: the area around the Bering Straits, where the US has imposed a moratorium. Elsewhere there is nothing to stop fleets moving in as ice disappears. “The north polar seas have provided fish like the cod with a last refuge. That may not last much longer.”

Other changes are less worrying. Two new sea routes have opened up as ice has retreated: the Northwest Passage across the northern edge of Canada and the Northern Sea Route across Russia. The latter is seen as the most promising. Instead of heading south, and through the Suez canal, to get to western Europe, ships from east Asia can sail through the Bering Straits and slip along the coast of Siberia, shaving a third off their journey. In 2010, four ships took this route. Last summer, this increased to 34, with many more expected this year.

Then there is tourism. Today, thanks to that disappearing ice, you can follow the route John Franklin took on his doomed 1845 expedition. Adventure Canada, a tour company, operates a cruise ship that can carry up to 200 people through the islands of northern Canada where Franklin and his men becoming trapped by ice and turned to cannibalism in a bid to survive. The voyage begins in Greenland and ends in Coppermine, in western Canada, at a price of $7,000-$17,000 a head. in western Canada. “We have had the market much to ourselves since we started in 2008, but this year we have found other companies have started sniffing around,” said Rebecca Burgum of Adventure Canada.

However, it is the prospect of oil drilling that causes most unease. Apart from Shell, Norway’s Statoil, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Russia’s Rosneft have all revealed plans to drill in the Arctic. Given the huge amounts of hydrocarbons there, this enthusiasm is not surprising. But there are dangers in drilling in the far north that do not exist elsewhere, warns a recent report by the insurance market Lloyds, Arctic Opening: Opportunity and Risk in the High North. In particular, there is the problem of drilling through the permafrost, which could warm up and destabilise a well’s foundations, “potentially leading to a blowout”. In addition, icebreakers are in short supply along with Arctic-class mobile rigs that could drill relief wells in the event of a spill. In short, great caution will be needed before the Arctic oil industry moves from exploration to full production by the end of the decade.

Changes are certainly coming to the Arctic. Indeed, if some scientists are correct, it could be transformed at a far quicker rate than politicians or businessmen realise. Most follow current advice that it will take at least a couple of decades for the Arctic tolose its ice. However, Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge, believes that it will take much less time. “I think it could be gone in summer in four years. It sounds unlikely but that is what the figures indicate,” he told the Observer from Longyearbyen, in Svalbard, in Norway’s northern Arctic archipelago.

Wadhams has just completed a study of ice thickness. Using robot submarines, he has made detailed measurements of the depths of ice sheets, while aircraft have surveyed the heights of these floes. “Our work indicates that Arctic ice has lost 70% of its volume in the past 30 years thanks to global warming. If you extrapolate, it means it could disappear completely for a month or two in summer by 2016. Certainly it is going to go sooner rather than later.”

The consequences for the planet will be grim. Without the white brilliance of the ice to reflect sunlight back into space, it will warm even more. Seabed temperatures will rise and methane deposits will melt, evaporate and bubble into the atmosphere. “We can already see plumes appearing in many areas,” said Wadhams. “Given that methane is a particularly powerful greenhouse gas, that again will accelerate global warming.” Finally, the ice sheets of Greenland, no longer insulated by sea ice around its shores, will melt faster, raising sea levels. “In effect, we are at the mercy of events up here,” said Wadhams.

© Guardian News and Media 2012

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« Reply #20 on: Jul 24, 2012, 07:19 AM »

U.S. drought could trigger global food crisis

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Monday, July 23, 2012 13:45 EDT

America’s drought threatens a recurrence of the 2008 global food crisis, when soaring prices set off riots and unrest to parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, food experts warn.

Corn prices reached an all-time high on Friday, as the drought expanded across America, trading at $8.24 a bushel on the Chicago exchange. Soybeans were also trading at record levels.

The US department of agriculture meanwhile predicted there would be less corn coming onto global markets over the next year, because of a sharp drop in US exports.

America is the world’s largest producer of corn, dominating the market. Corn is also connected to many food items – as feed for dairy cows or for hogs and beef cattle, as a component in processed food – expanding the impact of those price rises.

That means the effects of the drought will travel far beyond the mid-western states baking under triple-digit temperatures, said Robert Thompson, a food security expert at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs.

“What happens to the US supply has an immense impact around the world. If the price of corn rises high enough, it also pulls up the price of wheat,” he said.

He went on: “I think we are in for a very serious situation worldwide.”

Some analysts are predicting a repetition of the 2008 protests that swept across Africa and the Middle East, including countries like Egypt, because of food prices.

In 2008, the food shock was due to rising prices for rice and wheat. This time, it’s because of corn and soybean, and there were no signs of shortfall in rice or wheat production.

But the full effects of the American drought will likely take several months to emerge. Its severity will be determined by a number of additional risk factors.

Global grain stocks have reached a new low, with the US and other countries running down their reserves. “There are no reserves of these foods in the US anymore,” said Sophia Murphy, a fellow at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

That means there is no room for manoeuvre for countries forced to import grains.

Thompson also warned that countries could make matters worse by stockpiling – putting further pressure on prices. That was the pattern during the 2008 food crisis when Russia, Ukraine, India and Argentina all cut off grain exports.

It was unclear as well whether America’s demand for ethanol would further limit the amount of corn on the world market. About 40% of America’s corn is used for ethanol – which helps drive up the price of corn, analysts say. But there were some reports that American ethanol plants were in shutdown across the mid-west, because high corn prices made production uneconomic.

“What’s difficult is that we see a drought happen today but people really are going to be feeling that six months from now, possibly a year from now,” said Marie Brill, a policy analyst at ActionAid.

But she said it was already clear the reduced supply and high prices of corn and soybean were set to cause serious hardship – especially among poor people in poor countries which depend on imported grain.

Countries that are net importers of corn be hit the hardest including South Korea, Japan, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador and Columbia. Much of East Africa will be badly affected, she said.

Even those African countries that produce their own corn will suffer because they are locked into the higher global prices, she said. West Africa is already in food crisis. “If supply is as awful as the US government is predicting we’re going to see another round of high prices and another increase in hunger,” Murphy said.

© Guardian News and Media 2012


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« Reply #21 on: Jul 24, 2012, 07:19 AM »

Research: Climate change drives rise in food poisoning

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, July 23, 2012 9:36 EDT

Research published Sunday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change claims that warning sea levels in the Baltic Sea are strongly linked to recent blooms of the Vibrios bacteria group, which have corresponded with an uptick in humans reporting foodborne illnesses in northern Europe.

And while the study notes that the Baltic Sea is “the fastest warming marine ecosystem examined so far anywhere on Earth,” scientists also found that other temperate and even cooler regions, like Peru, Chile, Israel, the U.S. Pacific northwest and northwest Spain, have all seen growth in Vibrios infections after warmer weather.

But in the Baltic, scientists found their strongest evidence: tracing satellite data tracking sea levels, and medical data tracking Vibrios infections, the scientists found that in warmer years the number of infections spiked as much as 200 percent.

Vibrios bacteria can incubate in seafood like shellfish and plankton and tend to cause a variety of illnesses, from the relatively common gastroenteritis, or inflammation that causes vomiting and diarrhea, to the horrifying pain of cholera, which can reach epidemic levels if not properly treated by medical professionals.

Because projected warning trends would seem to indicate the likelihood of booming Vibrio populations along European coastal areas in the coming decades, scientists recommend development of new reporting systems across Europe to track outbreaks of Vibrio infections and correlations with local climate. Development of such systems could help scientists predict the global spread of other diseases similarly influenced by weather systems.

“Focussing efforts on areas with high population density, for example St. Petersburg, Stockholm and the southern Baltic coastline, and expanding the risk analysis to other regions undergoing rapid warming such as the Pacific northwest, the Sea of Okhotsk and the East China Sea may represent the most fruitful approach to predict areas where new Vibrio infections are likely to emerge,” they wrote.
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« Reply #22 on: Jul 26, 2012, 06:52 AM »

NASA warns 97 percent of Greenland ice sheet surface melted in four days

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 9:28 EDT

The Greenland ice sheet melted at a faster rate this month than at any other time in recorded history, with virtually the entire ice sheet showing signs of thaw.

The rapid melting over just four days was captured by three satellites. It has stunned and alarmed scientists, and deepened fears about the pace and future consequences of climate change.

In a statement posted on Nasa’s website on Tuesday, scientists admitted the satellite data was so striking they thought at first there had to be a mistake.

“This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?” Son Nghiem of Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena said in the release.

He consulted with several colleagues, who confirmed his findings. Dorothy Hall, who studies the surface temperature of Greenland at Nasa’s space flight centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, confirmed that the area experienced unusually high temperatures in mid-July, and that there was widespread melting over the surface of the ice sheet.

Climatologists Thomas Mote, at the University of Georgia, and Marco Tedesco, of the City University of New York, also confirmed the melt recorded by the satellites.

However, scientists were still coming to grips with the shocking images on Tuesday. “I think it’s fair to say that this is unprecedented,” Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told the Guardian.

The set of images released by Nasa on Tuesday show a rapid thaw between 8 July and 12 July. Within that four-day period, measurements from three satellites showed a swift expansion of the area of melting ice, from about 40% of the ice sheet surface to 97%.

Zwally, who has made almost yearly trips to the Greenland ice sheet for more than three decades, said he had never seen such a rapid melt.

About half of Greenland’s surface ice sheet melts during a typical summer, but Zwally said he and other scientists had been recording an acceleration of that melting process over the last few decades. This year his team had to rebuild their camp, at Swiss Station, when the snow and ice supports melted.

He said he was most surprised to see indications in the images of melting even around the area of Summit Station, which is about two miles above sea level.

It was the second unusual event in Greenland in a matter of days, after an iceberg the size of Manhattan broke off from the Petermann Glacier. But the rapid melt was viewed as more serious.

“If you look at the 8 July image that might be the maximum extent of warming you would see in the summer,” Zwally noted. “There have been periods when melting might have occurred at higher elevations briefly – maybe for a day or so – but to have it cover the whole of Greenland like this is unknown, certainly in the time of satellite records.”Lora Koenig, another Goddard glaciologist, told Nasa similar rapid melting occurs about every 150 years. But she warned there were wide-ranging potential implications from this year’s thaw.

“If we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome.” she told Nasa.

The most immediate consequences are sea level rise and a further warming of the Arctic. In the centre of Greenland, the ice remains up to 3,000 metres deep. On the edges, however, the ice is much, much thinner and has been melting into the sea.

The melting ice sheet is a significant factor in sea level rise. Scientists attribute about one-fifth of the annual sea level rise, which is about 3mm every year, to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

In this instance of this month’s extreme melting, Mote said there was evidence of a heat dome over Greenland: or an unusually strong ridge of warm air.

The dome is believed to have moved over Greenland on 8 July, lingering until 16 July. © Guardian News and Media 2012

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« Reply #23 on: Jul 26, 2012, 07:17 AM »

Drought will bring about higher food prices, U.S. warns

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:50 EDT

The US government acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that the drought now covering two-thirds of the country will lead to significantly higher food prices.

The catastrophe in the corn belt, which has seen crops decimated by extreme heat and prolonged drought, will have ripple effects throughout the food system, the department of agriculture said in its food price outlook.

US consumers can expect to pay up to 4.5% more for beef because corn, which is used for cattle feed, will be in such tight supply, the report said.

Chicken and turkey were also projected to rise by up to 4.5%, and the price of eggs will also go up, but by about 2%.

Cooking oil, which is produced by the most devastated crops – corn and soybean – is projected to rise by 4.5% as well.Cattle, US drought, Indiana

Supermarket shoppers will probably notice the higher prices with chicken first, because they have a shorter lifespan. Food price inflation for other items, such as cereal and baked goods, will begin working their way through the system in 2013, the report said.

“The transmission of commodity price changes into retail prices typically takes several months to occur, and most of the impact of the drought is expected to be realised in 2013,” Richard Volpe, the USDA’s food economist, wrote in a note accompanying the forecast.

Some economists have even predicted a temporary drop in beef prices, with ranchers bringing their animals to slaughter sooner rather than paying higher prices for feed.

But the report warned: “The full extent of the drought and its effects on commodity prices are as yet unknown.”

The report was the first indication from the government of the sweeping effects of the drought. Corn and soybean – the favoured crops in the rich, dark soil of the midwest – were the primary casualties of this drought.

Corn and soybean prices both set record highs this week at the Chicago board of trade. Prices for corn have gone up 50% just in the last three months.

Corn, used for animal feed, processed food, and as a fuel in the manufacture of ethanol is a pillar of the agricultural economy.

Economists and food security experts have been warning that the drought would have widespread impacts for consumers in the US and globally, because so many countries rely on imported grains.

“You are talking about a real bite out of family budgets,” said Ernie Goss, an agricultural economist at Omaha’s Creighton University, who was speaking before the release of the government projections. “As far as the election goes this is not good news for President Obama – even though he certainly bears no responsibility for the weather.”

Two-thirds of the country – including its most productive acres in the midwest – is now in drought. The agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, said last week that 78% of this year’s corn crop was in areas affected by the drought.

Officially, 1,369 counties in 31 states are disaster zones, after the USDA further expanded the designation on Wednesday. © Guardian News and Media 2012
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« Reply #24 on: Jul 26, 2012, 07:23 AM »

Weather Extremes Leave Parts of U.S. Grid Buckling

Travis Long/The News & Observer, via Associated Press
Published: July 25, 2012

WASHINGTON — From highways in Texas to nuclear power plants in Illinois, the concrete, steel and sophisticated engineering that undergird the nation’s infrastructure are being taxed to worrisome degrees by heat, drought and vicious storms.

On a single day this month here, a US Airways regional jet became stuck in asphalt that had softened in 100-degree temperatures, and a subway train derailed after the heat stretched the track so far that it kinked — inserting a sharp angle into a stretch that was supposed to be straight. In East Texas, heat and drought have had a startling effect on the clay-rich soils under highways, which “just shrink like crazy,” leading to “horrendous cracking,” said Tom Scullion, senior research engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. In Northeastern and Midwestern states, he said, unusually high heat is causing highway sections to expand beyond their design limits, press against each other and “pop up,” creating jarring and even hazardous speed bumps.

Excessive warmth and dryness are threatening other parts of the grid as well. In the Chicago area, a twin-unit nuclear plant had to get special permission to keep operating this month because the pond it uses for cooling water rose to 102 degrees; its license to operate allows it to go only to 100. According to the Midwest Independent System Operator, the grid operator for the region, a different power plant had had to shut because the body of water from which it draws its cooling water had dropped so low that the intake pipe became high and dry; another had to cut back generation because cooling water was too warm.

The frequency of extreme weather is up over the past few years, and people who deal with infrastructure expect that to continue. Leading climate models suggest that weather-sensitive parts of the infrastructure will be seeing many more extreme episodes, along with shifts in weather patterns and rising maximum (and minimum) temperatures.

“We’ve got the ‘storm of the century’ every year now,” said Bill Gausman, a senior vice president and a 38-year veteran at the Potomac Electric Power Company, which took eight days to recover from the June 29 “derecho” storm that raced from the Midwest to the Eastern Seaboard and knocked out power for 4.3 million people in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

In general, nobody in charge of anything made of steel and concrete can plan based on past trends, said Vicki Arroyo, who heads the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, a clearinghouse on climate-change adaptation strategies.

Highways, Mr. Scullion noted, are designed for the local climate, taking into account things like temperature and rainfall. “When you get outside of those things, man, all bets are off.” As weather patterns shift, he said, “we could have some very dramatic failures of highway systems.”

Adaptation efforts are taking place nationwide. Some are as huge as the multibillion-dollar effort to increase the height of levees and flood walls in New Orleans because of projections of rising sea levels and stronger storms to come; others as mundane as resizing drainage culverts in Vermont, where Hurricane Irene damaged about 2,000 culverts. “They just got blown out,” said Sue Minter, the Irene recovery officer for the state.

In Washington, the subway system, which opened in 1976, has revised its operating procedures. Authorities will now watch the rail temperature and order trains to slow down if it gets too hot. When railroads install tracks in cold weather, they heat the metal to a “neutral” temperature so it reaches a moderate length, and will withstand the shrinkage and growth typical for that climate. But if the heat historically seen in the South becomes normal farther north, the rails will be too long for that weather, and will have an increased tendency to kink. So railroad officials say they will begin to undertake much more frequent inspection.

Some utilities are re-examining long-held views on the economics of protecting against the weather. Pepco, the utility serving the area around Washington, has repeatedly studied the idea of burying more power lines, and the company and its regulators have always decided that the cost outweighed the benefit. But the company has had five storms in the last two and a half years for which recovery took at least five days, and after the derecho last month, the consensus has changed. Both the District of Columbia and Montgomery County, Md., have held hearings to discuss the option — though in the District alone, the cost would be $1.1 billion to $5.8 billion, depending on how many of the power lines were put underground.

Even without storms, heat waves are changing the pattern of electricity use, raising peak demand higher than ever. That implies the need for new investment in generating stations, transmission lines and local distribution lines that will be used at full capacity for only a few hundred hours a year. “We build the system for the 10 percent of the time we need it,” said Mark Gabriel, a senior vice president of Black & Veatch, an engineering firm. And that 10 percent is “getting more extreme.”

Even as the effects of weather extremes become more evident, precisely how to react is still largely an open question, said David Behar, the climate program director for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “We’re living in an era of assessment, not yet in an area of adaptation,” he said.

He says that violent storms and forest fires can be expected to affect water quality and water use: runoff from major storms and falling ash could temporarily shut down reservoirs. Deciding how to address such issues is the work of groups like the Water Utility Climate Alliance, of which he is a member. “In some ways, the science is still catching up with the need of water managers for high-quality projection,” he said.

Some needs are already known. San Francisco will spend as much as $40 million to modify discharge pipes for treated wastewater to prevent bay water from flowing back into the system.

Even when state and local officials know what they want to do, they say they do not always get the cooperation they would like from the federal government. Many agencies have officially expressed a commitment to plan for climate change, but sometimes the results on the ground can be frustrating, said Ms. Minter of Vermont. For instance, she said, Vermont officials want to replace the old culverts with bigger ones. “We think it’s an opportunity to build back in a more robust way,” she said. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency wants to reuse the old culverts that washed out, or replace them with similar ones, she said.

Ms. Arroyo of Georgetown said the federal government must do more. “They are not acknowledging that the future will look different from the past,” she said, “and so we keep putting people and infrastructure in harm’s way.”

Matthew L. Wald reported from Washington, and John Schwartz from New York.
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« Reply #25 on: Jul 26, 2012, 07:58 AM »

26 July 2012 - 14H39 

Central African countries to monitor Congo forests

AFP - Ten Central African countries have agreed to take part in a regional initiative to monitor the Congo Basin, one of the world's largest primary rainforests, the UN's food agency said Thursday.

"A new regional initiative will help 10 Central African countries to set up advanced national forest monitoring systems," the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) announced.

The 10 countries are Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe, it said.

The 200 million hectares (494 million acres) or so of forests are second only to the Amazon rainforest in size, supporting the livelihoods of some 60 million people.

"The main threats to these forests include land-use change, unsustainable logging and mining," the FAO said.

The monitoring project would be managed in conjunction with the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC).

"The rates of forest cover change and the subsequent emissions from deforestation ... remain poorly understood partly due to the lack of up-to-date, accurate information on the current state of forests in the region," it said.

The gross deforestation annual rate in the Congo Basin was 0.13 percent between 1990 and 2000, but it doubled in the period of 2000-2005, COMIFAC data showed.

The monitoring system was crucial to improving the protection of forests and sustainable management, the FAO's forestry expert Eduardo Rojas said.

The agency said it would provide remote sensing technologies to so the countries can estimate forest cover and track changes, as well as estimate the amount of carbon stocks their forests contain.

* congo.jpg (15.69 KB, 245x163 - viewed 523 times.)
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« Reply #26 on: Jul 26, 2012, 08:00 AM »

 26 July 2012 - 14H22 

Scientists find Grand Canyon-sized rift under Antarctic ice

AFP - Scientists have discovered a rift the size of the Grand Canyon hidden under the Antarctic ice sheet, which they say is contributing to ice melt and a consequent rise in the sea level.

The rift, some 1.5 kilometres (one mile) deep, 10 kilometres wide and 100 kilometres long, was found by researchers using radar to measure the subglacial topography, glaciologist Robert Bingham told AFP.

"If you imagine the Grand Canyon but filled with ice and then even that whole feature is then also uniformly beneath another kilometre of ice," is how he described the feature whose magnitude he said was a "surprise" to the team.

Scientist believe a shrinking West Antarctic Ice Sheet is responsible for about 10 percent of climate-change-induced sea level rise, which if unchecked threatens to flood many coastal cities within a few generations.

The sheet, a huge mass of ice up to four kilometres thick that covers the land surface and stretches into the sea, is melting faster than any other part of Antarctica.

But scientists' sketchy knowledge of the sub-surface topography has made it difficult to predict the exact rate and extent of ice sheet loss, said the study published in Nature.

The newly discovered valley, formed long before the region was covered by ice, is believed to be part of a wider West Antarctic rift system, "which we've known exists but we don't know where it goes," said Bingham.

"We are now getting a better idea that parts of this rift system actually go ... further west than we previously knew about."

The type of rift found under the Ferrigno Ice Stream is caused when a continental plate starts to tear apart -- like the large lakes that fill rift systems in parts of East Africa today.

"It is the shape of the rift that contributes to the fact that the region is vulnerable to ice melt," Bingham explained of the Antarctic discovery.

"Because the rift is there it means that the ice is both deeper and slopes inland as you move away from the sea and both of those conditions make this a vulnerable topography to ice thinning effects" by allowing warm sea water to flow inland along a trough created by the rift to attack the ice on the coastline.

Bingham said the find showed that not only modern climate factors but also geology is contributing to ice loss.

"I think where it changes our view just ever so slightly is that this issue is traditionally conceptualised as a modern effect of global warming, and what we see is that that modern effect is actually superimposed on a very ancient geological evolution.

"It helps us to appreciate that the whole process is something that occurs over many cycles of time."

Scientists had only visited the region once before, over 50 years ago, in 1961.

This time, experts from the University of Aberdeen and the British Antarctic Survey conducted three months of fieldwork in 2010.

"We targeted the area because we knew from satellite measurements that there was ice thinning taking place," said Bingham.

"When we did the survey and we found this rift, that actually was a surprise that it was much, much deeper and preconditioned to this thinning than we expected."

The only way to find such a valley covered by an ice sheet is by using radar on the spot, he added.
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« Reply #27 on: Jul 27, 2012, 06:56 AM »

For those that study geodetics it is interesting to note the the Pluto transit in Capricorn correlates to the mid-west of the USA. The article below mentions that this drought is the worst since 1988. That is exactly when Uranus went into Capricorn correlating to the same phenomena.

U.S. ‘extreme drought’ zones triple in size

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 27, 2012 7:04 EDT

The drought in America’s breadbasket is intensifying at an unprecedented rate, experts warned, driving concern food prices could soar if crops in the world’s key producer are decimated.

The US Drought Monitor reported a nearly threefold increase in areas of extreme drought over the past week in the nine Midwestern states where three quarters of the country’s corn and soybean crops are produced.

“That expansion of D3 or extreme conditions intensified quite rapidly and we went from 11.9 percent to 28.9 percent in just one week,” Brian Fuchs, a climatologist and Drought Monitor author, told AFP.

“For myself, studying drought, that’s rapid. We’ve seen a lot of things developing with this drought that were unprecedented, especially the speed.”

Almost two thirds of the continental United States are now suffering drought conditions, the largest area recorded since the Drought Monitor project started in 1999.

“If you are following the grain prices here in the US, they are reflecting the anticipated shortages with a price increase,” Fuchs said.

“In turn, you’re going to see those price increases trickle into the other areas that use those grain crops: cattle feed, ethanol production and then food stuffs.”

In some rural areas, municipal water suppliers are talking about mandatory restrictions because they have seen such a dramatic drop in the water table that they fear being unable to fulfill deliveries to customers, Fuchs said.

“Things have really developed over the last two months and conditions have worsened just that quick and that is really unprecedented,” he added.

“Definitely exports are going to suffer because there is going to be less available and the markets are already reflecting that.

“It’s anticipated that this drought is going to persist through the next couple of months at least and conditions are not overly favorable to see any widespread improvement.”

President Barack Obama’s administration has opened up protected US land to help farmers and ranchers hit by the drought and encouraged crop insurance companies to forgo charging interest for a month.

Officials have said the drought will drive up food prices since 78 percent of US corn and 11 percent of soybean crops have been hit and the United States is the world’s biggest producer of those crops.

The current drought has been compared to a 1988 crisis that cut production by 20 percent and cost the economy tens of billions of dollars.

The US Department of Agriculture issued retail price forecasts Wednesday for 2013 and they already showed an impact from the drought, with consumers expected to pay between three and four percent more for their groceries.

“The 2013 numbers reflect higher-than-average inflation which is partly a function of the drought and the higher crop prices,” said Ephraim Leibtag of the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

“The drought effects are starting now at the farm and agricultural level.

“Those things take two to 12 months to work through the system. So you’ll see some effects as early as the fall (autumn) in terms of the grocery stores and restaurants, certainly later in the year and into 2013.”

The full impact of the drought on food prices won’t be known for months.

“It’s too early to tell as we don’t know how much of the crop is going to be lost and how much higher corn and soybean prices will go,” Leibtag said.

“We are not forecasting major impacts on retail food at this point. If the drought gets worse or corn and soybean prices rise even more, that would start to have a bigger impact.”

Even before the last week, farmers were telling AFP they may have to cut their losses — chopping down fields of half-mature, earless corn to feed the stalks to cattle.

Weather forecasters predicted no respite.

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« Reply #28 on: Jul 29, 2012, 04:51 AM »


Please sign the petition to stop the Shell drilling in the Arctic:

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« Reply #29 on: Jul 30, 2012, 07:04 AM »

Canadian intelligence report sees threat from ‘radicalized environmentalist faction’

By Muriel Kane
Sunday, July 29, 2012 20:05 EDT

An intelligence assessment from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that describes environmental activsts as posing a significant threat of violence has drawn an immediate rebuttal from Greenpeace Canada, which is cited by name in the assessment.

A heavily-censored copy of the classified report — which also covers ordinary criminal activities involving ports and waterways — was obtained by the Canadian Press under that nation’s Access to Information Act. Compiled last September by the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency, it warns of potential dangers to offshore oil platforms and shipments of hazardous matarials from “a growing radicalized environmentalist faction within Canadian society that is opposed to Canada’s energy sector policies.”

“Tactics employed by activist groups are intended to intimidate and have the potential to escalate to violence,” the report claims. It notes specifically that “Greenpeace is opposed to the development of Canada’s Arctic region, as well as Canada’s offshore petroleum industry,” and points to examples of “trespassing, mischief, and vandalism,” including recent actions by Greenpeace vessels off the coast of Greenland.

Greenpeace, in response, suggested that the assessment was simply telling the conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper what it wants to hear.

“We’re peaceful and non-violent,” Greenpeace Canada’s campaigns director Yossi Cadan stated. “We are taking direct actions, but it’s never violent. … There is a difference between breaking the law and criminal activities.”

Cadan suggested that it is not the environmental movement but the government that is growing more extreme, to the point where anybody who challenges government policy on subjects such as exploitation of the Alberta tar sands “has become an enemy in many ways.”

The Harper government’s policies have recently faced growing opposition within Canada. On June 4, a number of environmental and social justice websites were deliberately blacked out as a protest against a budget that would weaken environmental protections.

On July 10, leading scientists marched through the capital city of Ottawa in their white lab coats to protest the government’s “ideological agenda to develop the Canadian economy based on the extraction of oil out of the Alberta tar sands as quickly as possible and sell it as fast as it can, come hell and high water, and eliminate any barriers that stand in their way.”

Cadan believes that the government has decided to attack its opponents in an attempt to distract voters from the real problems, but he insists that “it’s not going to work because we are going to continue and focus on the environmental issues.”
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