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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 143694 times)
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« Reply #30 on: Jul 30, 2012, 07:14 AM »

Koch-funded climate scientist: I was wrong, humans are to blame

By Jonathan Terbush
Sunday, July 29, 2012 14:16 EDT

The founder and director of a climate change study project funded heavily by the Koch brothers, who last year reversed course and said he believed global warming was real, has gone one step further, writing in a weekend op-ed in the New York Times that he is now convinced the phenomenon is caused by humans.

In a piece titled, “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic,” Richard A. Muller, a University of California, Berkley physicist who founded the Berkley Earth Surface Temperature study (BEST) wrote that his, “total turnaround, in such a short time,” was driven by a new report from the group that concluded for the first time that global warming is a man-made problem. That revelation brings Muller essentially full circle from his stance a few years ago, when he criticized other global warming studies as flawed and questioned whether the Earth was even warming abnormally, dangerously fast at all.

“Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted,” Muller wrote. “I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes.”

The BEST study, he wrote, found that the Earth had warmed by about two and a half degrees over the past 250 years, with the bulk of that spike occurring in the past 50 years. Moreover, he found that, “essentially all of this increase” was likely due to greenhouse gas emissions, a point climate change believers have accepted as fact for years.

To arrive at that conclusion, the group mapped the past two and a half centuries of global temperatures against various events, like solar flares and volcanic eruptions, and found that the temperature swings most closely corresponded to levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide whose historical levels could be measured in arctic ice. Further, they also examined possible methodological problems skeptics cite about past studies, such as questions about the scope and selectivity of data, ultimately determining that those questions did not impact their finding.

“These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does,” Muller wrote.

Muller’s conversion is particularly notable because his research had been heavily bankrolled by the Koch’s, who have a well-documented history of financing climate change denial. A Greenpeace report earlier this year found that the Koch’s had given nearly $61.5 million since 1997 to groups denying climate change. The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation donated $150,000 to the BEST study, more than any other single organization.
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« Reply #31 on: Jul 31, 2012, 06:55 AM »

Richard Muller: Get rid of coal power to halt global warming

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, July 30, 2012 23:48 EDT

Richard Muller, a physics professor at University of California-Berkeley, said Monday that the only way to prevent global warming was to stop using coal for power.

“I think there are two key things that we can do,” he told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “One of them is a global effort towards energy efficiency and conservation. I think that is realistic. But the biggest thing is — and this will be controversial — the biggest thing is a switch away from coal and to the one thing that can replace it in the poor countries that are going to produce most of the carbon dioxide, natural gas. We have to make fracking clean so that countries such as China and India can switch. Natural gas produces one third the carbon dioxide of coal for the same energy. If we don’t do this, I don’t think we have a chance.”

Muller was previously a climate change skeptic. But after years of researching the topic, he is now convinced the phenomenon is both real and caused by humans.

Muller insisted it was possible to using fracking, a controversial method of mining natural gas, in a way that did not produce environmentally harmful effects like contaminating groundwater.

“It requires more than $3 million fines,” he said. “But clean fracking, the technology there, is something that is achievable and something we really have to aim at, because nothing else can be afforded by the poor countries.”
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« Reply #32 on: Jul 31, 2012, 06:57 AM »

Environmental activist: ‘Up to the people’ to stop fracking

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, July 30, 2012 22:29 EDT

Josh Fox, an environmental activist and director of Gasland, on Monday said that public pressure could prevent the controversial mining practice known as fracking.

“I have to believe that this is up to the people,” he said on Current TV’s Viewpoint. “When these great environmental laws were passed in the ’70s, it was because we had millions of people in the streets on the first Earth Day. And this is still up to the people. And this is just beginning.”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals deep underground, triggering small explosions that drive gas pockets upwards.

The energy industry defends fracking as a safe method of natural gas extraction, but the U.S. Geological Survey and others in the energy industry believe that fracking, or deep underground liquid injection similar to fracking, can cause earthquakes. Others near fracking wells have detected high levels of methane in their water supplies, including several cases where water was so volatile it could be set on fire.

Fox said there was evidence that one in five of fracking wells had leaks, allowing dangerous contaminants like benzene to seep into the groundwater.

“You’re committing yourself to centuries of water treatment,” he said.
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« Reply #33 on: Aug 02, 2012, 07:41 AM »

Drilling discovers ancient Antarctic rainforest

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 2, 2012 7:27 EDT

Drilling of the seabed off Antarctica has revealed that rainforest grew on the frozen continent 52 million years ago, scientists said Thursday, warning it could be ice-free again within decades.

The study of sediment cores drilled from the ocean floor off Antarctica’s east coast revealed fossil pollens that had come from a “near-tropical” forest covering the continent in the Eocene period, 34-56 million years ago.

Kevin Welsh, an Australian scientist who travelled on the 2010 expedition, said analysis of temperature-sensitive molecules in the cores had showed it was “very warm” 52 million years ago, measuring about 20 degrees Celsius (68 F).

“There were forests existing on the land, there wouldn’t have been any ice, it would have been very warm,” Welsh told AFP of the study, published in the journal Nature.

“It’s quite surprising, because obviously our image of Antarctica is that it’s very cold and full of ice.”

Welsh said higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were thought to be the major driver of the heat and ice-free conditions on Antarctica, with CO2 estimates of anywhere between 990 to “a couple of thousand” parts per million.

CO2 is presently estimated at about 395ppm, and Welsh said the most extreme predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would see ice again receding on Antarctica “by the end of the century”.

“It’s difficult to say, because that’s really controlled by people’s and governments’ actions,” said Welsh, a paleoclimatologist from the University of Queensland. “It really depends on how emissions go in the future.”

Welsh described the findings as “very significant” in understanding future climate change, particularly given how important Antarctica and the “very large” volume of water stored on its surface would be for the entire planet.

“It shows that if we go through periods of higher CO2 in the atmosphere it’s very likely that there will be dramatic changes on these very important areas of the globe where ice currently exists,” he said.

“If we were to lose a lot of ice from Antarctica then we’re going to see a dramatic change in sea level all around the planet.”

Even a few metres of sea level rise would inundate “large portions of the habitable land around coasts of many major countries and low-lying regions”, he added.

The ice on east Antarctica is 3-4 kilometres (1.9-25 miles) thick, and is thought to have formed about 34 million years ago.

Welsh said there would also be major impacts to global temperatures were the ice to recede, because it is an integral cooling mechanism for the planet, regulating the temperature by reflecting the sun’s energy into space.
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« Reply #34 on: Aug 04, 2012, 06:49 AM »
August 3rd, 2012

GREENLAND RESEARCH: Climate models wrong

The Greenland ice-cap is not melting quicker, but in bursts.

Danish researchers are calling for the models used it forecast sea level rise to be changed after their research shows that Greenland’s ice-cap is not melting more quickly, but rather in bursts.

The group’s research, which has been published this week in the Science magazine, shows that the speed at which Greenland’s ice-cap melts, rises and falls in different periods.

“It’s controversial and probably also the reason that Science decided to publish it as it moves us along in understanding the dynamism of the ice-cap,” Natural History Museum Research Chief Kurt Kjær tells

Up to now scientists have believed that Greenland’s ice was melting faster and have used the hypothesis in developing many of the climate models that are now used to calculate future sea-water levels.

“The bottom line is that it’s not going to happen as quickly as people have feared,” Kristian Kjeldsen who is another of the researchers tells TVA.

By studying aerial photographs of northwest Greenland back to the 1980s, as well as more recent satellite photographs, the researchers mapped the ice-cap over the past 30 years.

This showed that Greenland’s glaciers lost large amounts of ice between 1985 and 1992, but that they then stabilised so much that the losses stopped over 10 years.

In 2004 the dynamic ice mass loss began again and has continued until now – but the researchers believe that the current losses will also stop.

“We can see that the dynamic ice mass loss is not in constant acceleration as we have believed until now. The rapid loss that we currently have is a periodic event,” Institute of Space Research and Technology Shfaqat Abbas Khan tells

The researchers believe that the current models must be updated if they are to be able to forecast accurately.

“If the new results are not incorporated in the climate models, we may overestimate sea level rise,” Khan says.

The team says it cannot dismiss the idea that climate change can intensify the periodic thaw.

“I believe that there have been other dynamic losses in Greenland during all eras. But we don’t know yet whether global warming has intensified them,” says Kurt Kjær.

Foto: JOACHIM ADRIAN (arkiv)

* Indlandsis_i_Gr_nla_664635x.jpg (13.37 KB, 470x313 - viewed 192 times.)
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« Reply #35 on: Aug 05, 2012, 06:56 AM »

Ecuador court orders Chevron to pay $19 billion

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 5, 2012 3:47 EDT

An Ecuadoran court has ordered US oil firm Chevron to pay some $19 billion — a billion dollars more than an original order — by Monday for environmental damage.

Attorney Juan Pablo Saenz said the plaintiffs could organize embargoes if Chevron does not comply with the order from a court in the northeastern Amazonian province of Sucumbios.

The complaint stems from years of unchecked pollution in the Amazon attributed to Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001.

Chevron has called the judgement a “product of bribery, fraud,” saying it was “illegitimate” and not enforceable after plaintiffs filed lawsuits in Canada and Brazil to go after the company’s assets in third countries.

Plaintiffs say Chevron has virtually no assets in Ecuador that could be seized.

The US oil firm Texaco contaminated large areas of Ecuador’s Amazon jungle when it operated in the region from 1964 to 1990, a decade before being acquired by Chevron, according to indigenous groups and local farmers.

After years of litigation, an Ecuadoran court in February 2011 ordered the company to pay $18 billion in damages, a ruling upheld by Ecuador’s Supreme Court in March.

Chevron, which has appealed the ruling, has accused the Ecuadorian judge who ruled on the case of fraud and breach of trust.
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« Reply #36 on: Aug 05, 2012, 06:58 AM »

Climate change to blame for extreme heat: NASA scientist

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 5, 2012 3:44 EDT

Human-driven climate change is to blame for a series of increasingly hot summers and the situation is already worse than was expected just two decades ago, a top NASA scientist said on Saturday.

James Hansen, who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote in the Washington Post that even his “grim” predictions of a warming future, delivered before the US Senate in 1988, were too weak.

“I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic,” Hansen wrote.

“My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.”

Hansen and his colleagues have published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences an analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, revealing a “stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers,” he wrote.

Describing “deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present,” Hansen said the analysis is based not on models or predictions, “but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened.”

The peer-reviewed study shows that global temperature has been steadily rising due to a warming climate, about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) in the past century, and that extreme events are more frequent.

The study echoes the findings of international research released last month that climbing greenhouse gas emissions boosted the odds of severe droughts, floods and heat waves in 2011.

Hansen said the European heat wave of 2003, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and massive droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change.

“And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now,” he said.

Another well-known US scientist and former skeptic of global warming, Richard Muller, last week made a very public turnaround, saying that a close look at the data had convinced him that his beliefs were unfounded.

“Call me a converted skeptic,” wrote Muller, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, in an op-ed in the New York Times.
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« Reply #37 on: Aug 05, 2012, 07:01 AM »

Mass grave reveals how volcano caused global catastrophe

By Dalya Alberge, The Observer
Sunday, August 5, 2012 3:09 EDT

Scientists search for the explosive source of a disaster that wiped out almost a third of Londoners in 1258

When archaeologists discovered thousands of medieval skeletons in a mass burial pit in east London in the 1990s, they assumed they were 14th-century victims of the Black Death or the Great Famine of 1315-17. Now they have been astonished by a more explosive explanation – a cataclysmic volcano that had erupted a century earlier, thousands of miles away in the tropics, and wrought havoc on medieval Britons.

Scientific evidence – including radiocarbon dating of the bones and geological data from across the globe – shows for the first time that mass fatalities in the 13th century were caused by one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the past 10,000 years.

Such was the size of the eruption that its sulphurous gases would have released a stratospheric aerosol veil or dry fog that blocked out sunlight, altered atmospheric circulation patterns and cooled the Earth’s surface. It caused crops to wither, bringing famine, pestilence and death.

Mass deaths required capacious burial pits, as recorded in contemporary accounts. In 1258, a monk reported: “The north wind prevailed for several months… scarcely a small rare flower or shooting germ appeared, whence the hope of harvest was uncertain… Innumerable multitudes of poor people died, and their bodies were found lying all about swollen from want… Nor did those who had homes dare to harbour the sick and dying, for fear of infection… The pestilence was immense – insufferable; it attacked the poor particularly. In London alone 15,000 of the poor perished; in England and elsewhere thousands died.”

There does not seem to have been any explanation at the time; it was probably assumed to be a punishment from God. London’s population at the time was around 50,000, so the loss of 15,000 would have radically changed the city.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the volcano’s exact location has yet to be established. Mexico, Ecuador and Indonesia are the most likely areas, according to vulcanologists, who found evidence in ice cores from the northern hemisphere and Antarctic and within a thick layer of ash from Lake Malawi sediments. The ice core sulphate concentration shows that it was up to eight times higher than Indonesia’s Krakatoa eruption of 1883, one of the most catastrophic in history.

Some 10,500 medieval skeletons were found at Spitalfields market, the site of the Augustinian priory and hospital of St Mary Spital, and the remains suggest there may have been as many as 18,000. The excavation between 1991 and 2007 by the Museum of London Archaeology (Mola) was the largest ever archaeological investigation in the capital. It was a member of that team, osteologist Don Walker, who discovered the link with a volcano. The findings will be revealed in Mola’s report, to be published on Monday.

Vulcanologist Bill McGuire said: “This was the biggest eruption in historic times. It may have brought the temperatures down by 4C, a huge amount.”

© Guardian News and Media 2012

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« Reply #38 on: Aug 06, 2012, 06:30 AM »

Study: Current heatwave likely to show global warming is ‘scientific fact’

By Arturo Garcia
Sunday, August 5, 2012 14:02 EDT

A new study by the man called the “godfather of global warming” says there’s no getting around it: the heat wave pounding most of the country – and the world – is the result of man-made global warming.

“This is not some scientific theory,” NASA scientist James Hansen told the Associated Press. “We are now experiencing scientific fact.”

Hansen’s latest study, which he collaborated on with Retoo Ruedy and Makiko Sato released this past January, focused on record temperature rises in Texas, Oklahoma, Europe and the Middle East between 2003 and 2011, the latter two caused thousands of deaths. The study was published Saturday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In each case, Hansen and his team concluded that the drastic increase in record highs in recent years – temperatures now likely to occur at least once every 10 days, as opposed to once every 300 days in the time from the 1950s to the 1980s – can be traced to global warming. In a column for The Washington Post Friday, Hansen intimated it might not stop there.

“Once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now,” Hansen wrote. “These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring. They are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.”
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« Reply #39 on: Aug 06, 2012, 07:13 AM »

Midwest Heat Wave 2012: Thousands Of Fish Die In Hot Weather

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Thousands of fish are dying in the Midwest as the hot, dry summer dries up rivers and causes water temperatures to climb in some spots to nearly 100 degrees.

About 40,000 shovelnose sturgeon were killed in Iowa last week as water temperatures reached 97 degrees. Nebraska fishery officials said they've seen thousands of dead sturgeon, catfish, carp, and other species in the Lower Platte River, including the endangered pallid sturgeon. And biologists in Illinois said the hot weather has killed tens of thousands of large- and smallmouth bass and channel catfish and is threatening the population of the greater redhorse fish, a state-endangered species.

So many fish died in one Illinois lake that the carcasses clogged an intake screen near a power plant, lowering water levels to the point that the station had to shut down one of its generators.

"It's something I've never seen in my career, and I've been here for more than 17 years," said Mark Flammang, a fisheries biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "I think what we're mainly dealing with here are the extremely low flows and this unparalleled heat."

The fish are victims of one of the driest and warmest summers in history. The federal U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states are experiencing some form of drought, and the Department of Agriculture has declared more than half of the nation's counties — nearly 1,600 in 32 states — as natural disaster areas. More than 3,000 heat records were broken over the last month.

Iowa DNR officials said the sturgeon found dead in the Des Moines River were worth nearly $10 million, a high value based in part on their highly sought eggs, which are used for caviar. The fish are valued at more than $110 a pound.

Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, said the sturgeon kills don't appear to have reduced the supply enough to hurt regional caviar suppliers.

Flammang said weekend rain improved some of Iowa's rivers and lakes, but temperatures were rising again and straining a sturgeon population that develops health problems when water temperatures climb into the 80s.

"Those fish have been in these rivers for thousands of thousands of years, and they're accustomed to all sorts of weather conditions," he said. "But sometimes, you have conditions occur that are outside their realm of tolerance."

In Illinois, heat and lack of rain has dried up a large swath of Aux Sable Creek, the state's largest habitat for the endangered greater redhorse, a large bottom-feeding fish, said Dan Stephenson, a biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

"We're talking hundreds of thousands (killed), maybe millions by now," Stephenson said. "If you're only talking about game fish, it's probably in the thousands. But for all fish, it's probably in the millions if you look statewide."

Stephenson said fish kills happen most summers in small private ponds and streams, but the hot weather this year has made the situation much worse.

"This year has been really, really bad — disproportionately bad, compared to our other years," he said.

Stephenson said a large number of dead fish were sucked into an intake screen near Powerton Lake in central Illinois, lowering water levels and forcing a temporary shutdown at a nearby power plant. A spokesman for Edison International, which runs the coal-fired plant, said workers shut down one of its two generators for several hours two weeks ago because of extreme heat and low water levels at the lake, which is used for cooling.

In Nebraska, a stretch of the Platte River from Kearney in the central part of the state to Columbus in the east has gone dry and killed a "significant number" of sturgeon, catfish and minnows, said fisheries program manager Daryl Bauer. Bauer said the warm, shallow water has also killed an unknown number of endangered pallid sturgeon.

"It's a lot of miles of river, and a lot of fish," Bauer said. "Most of those fish are barely identifiable. In this heat, they decay really fast."

Bauer said a single dry year usually isn't enough to hurt the fish population. But he worries dry conditions in Nebraska could continue, repeating a stretch in the mid-2000s that weakened fish populations.

Kansas also has seen declining water levels that pulled younger, smaller game fish away from the vegetation-rich shore lines and forced them to cluster, making them easier targets for predators, said fisheries chief Doug Nygren of the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Nygren said he expects a drop in adult walleye populations in the state's shallower, wind-swept lakes in southern Kansas. But he said other species, such as large-mouth bass, can tolerate the heat and may multiply faster without competition from walleye.

"These last two years are the hottest we've ever seen," Nygren said. "That really can play a role in changing populations, shifting it in favor of some species over others. The walleye won't benefit from these high-water temperatures, but other species that are more tolerant may take advantage of their declining population."

Geno Adams, a fisheries program administrator in South Dakota, said there have been reports of isolated fish kills in its manmade lakes on the Missouri River and others in the eastern part of the state. But it's unclear how much of a role the heat played in the deaths.

One large batch of carp at Lewis and Clark Lake in the state's southeast corner had lesions, a sign they were suffering from a bacterial infection. Adams said the fish are more prone to sickness with low water levels and extreme heat. But he added that other fish habitat have seen a record number this year thanks to the 2011 floods.

"When we're in a drought, there's a struggle for water and it's going in all different directions," Adams said. "Keeping it in the reservoir for recreational fisheries is not at the top of the priority list."

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« Reply #40 on: Aug 07, 2012, 07:12 AM »

Long-dormant New Zealand volcano erupts

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, August 7, 2012 6:09 EDT

A New Zealand volcano suddenly erupted after lying dormant for more than a century, spewing an ash plume that disrupted flights and closed highways, officials said Tuesday.

The Mount Tongariro volcano, in the middle of North Island, erupted just before midnight (1200 Monday GMT) in the first significant activity at the site since 1897, the official monitoring body GNS Science said.

Witnesses in the area, which was used as a backdrop for the Mount Doom sequences in “The Lord of the Rings” movies, reported “flame-like explosions and a cloud of ash coming from a new hole in the side of the mountain”.

“There were rocks being thrown out. It was like thunder and lightning and fireworks. It was spectacular,” local resident David Bennett told Fairfax Media.

Police reported no injuries or damage from the eruption.

Civil Defence said it did not result in any lava flows but sent a cloud of ash 20,000 feet (6,100 metres) into the atmosphere, forcing the cancellation of dozens of domestic flights.

While Civil Defence officials did not order any evacuations, they advised residents beneath the cloud to stay indoors with windows and doors sealed.

They said late Tuesday that the immediate threat had passed, but added “an eruption could occur at Tongariro at any time with little or no warning”.

Volcanologists admitted the eruption took them by surprise, with no seismic activity recorded at the slumbering volcano before it rumbled back to life.

Prime Minister John Key said authorities were watching the situation closely.

“Civil Defence and others will continue to monitor the situation and if we believe it presents more significant risks then obviously we’ll make sure that everyone’s well and truly notified of that,” he told reporters.

New Zealand lies on the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire”, where the Earth’s tectonic plates collide, making it a hotspot for earthquakes and volcanic activity.

One of the country’s deadliest disasters occurred in 1953, when debris from an eruption at Mount Ruapehu, also in the central North Island, downed a rail bridge, leading to a train derailment that claimed 151 lives.

Mount Tarawera, in the same area, erupted in 1886, with a death toll estimated at 120-150 people.

Rangipo farmer Dave Allen said the Mount Tongariro eruption woke him with “an almighty bang” and he looked out of his window so see explosions on the side of the mountain, before fleeing his home.

“It was an amazing sight…(but) I didn’t hang around to see how beautiful it was going to get in case it all came flying down the mountain on top of us,” he told AFP.

“We turned all the power off and grabbed a couple of neighbours and their kids and went off to a meeting point.”

Air New Zealand said the eruption affected domestic flights to Gisborne, Rotorua, Taupo, Napier and Palmerston North but most services were back to normal late Tuesday.

The CAA said international flights were not expected to be disrupted, as they cruise above 20,000 feet.

Police said several highways in North Island were initially closed due to poor visibility and reopened Tuesday morning.

GNS Science volcanologist Michael Rosenberg said volcanic activity could continue for weeks.

“This eruption caught us by surprise. We’ve been monitoring the area after earthquakes, but we didn’t expect this,” he told TVNZ.

“This might just be a quiet period and we should expect it to start again at any time. So we are watching things very closely.”
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« Reply #41 on: Aug 09, 2012, 07:02 AM »

Originally published August 8, 2012 at 8:30 AM | Page modified August 8, 2012 at 3:23 PM
July was hottest recorded month in U.S. history

This probably comes as no surprise: Federal scientists say July was the hottest month ever recorded in the Lower 48 states, breaking a record set during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

AP Science Writer

This probably comes as no surprise: Federal scientists say July was the hottest month ever recorded in the Lower 48 states, breaking a record set during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

And even less a surprise: The U.S. this year keeps setting records for weather extremes, based on the precise calculations that include drought, heavy rainfall, unusual temperatures, and storms.

The average temperature last month was 77.6 degrees. That breaks the old record from July 1936 by 0.2 degree, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Records go back to 1895.

"It's a pretty significant increase over the last record," said climate scientist Jake Crouch of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. In the past, skeptics of global warming have pointed to the Dust Bowl to argue that recent heat isn't unprecedented. But Crouch said this shows that the current year "is out and beyond those Dust Bowl years. We're rivaling and beating them consistently from month to month."

Three of the nation's five hottest months on record have been recent Julys: This year, 2011 and 2006. Julys in 1936 and 1934 round out the top five.

Last month also was 3.3 degrees warmer than the 20th century average for July.

Thirty-two states had months that were among their 10 warmest Julys, but only one, Virginia, had the hottest July on record. Crouch said that's a bit unusual, but that it shows the breadth of the heat and associated drought.

For example in 2011, the heat seemed to be centered mostly in Oklahoma and Texas. But this summer "the epicenters of the heat kind of migrated around. It kind of got everybody in the action this month," Crouch said.

The first seven months of 2012 were the warmest on record for the nation. And August 2011 through July this year was the warmest 12-month period on record, just beating out the July 2011-June 2012 time period.

But it's not just the heat that's noteworthy. NOAA has a measurement called the U.S. Climate Extreme Index which dates to 1900 and follows several indicators of unusually high and low temperatures, severe drought, downpours, and tropical storms and hurricanes. NOAA calculates the index as a percentage, which mostly reflects how much of the nation experience extremes. In July, the index was 37 percent, a record that beat the old mark for July last year. The average is 20 percent.

For the first seven months of the year, the extreme index was 46 percent, beating the old record from 1934. This year's extreme index was heavily driven by high temperatures both day and night, which is unusual, Crouch said.

"This would not have happened in the absence of human-caused climate change," said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

Crouch and Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said what's happening is a double whammy of weather and climate change. They point to long-term higher night temperatures from global warming and the short-term effect of localized heat and drought that spike daytime temperatures.

Drought is a major player because in the summer "if it is wet, it tends to be cool, while if it is dry, it tends to be hot," Trenberth said.

So the record in July isn't such a big deal, Trenberth said. "But the fact that the first seven months of the year are the hottest on record is much more impressive from a climate standpoint, and highlights the fact that there is more than just natural variability playing a role: Global warming from human activities has reared its head in a way that can only be a major warning for the future."

Here are some more numbers unlikely to provide cold comfort. The coolest July on record was in 1915. The coldest month in U.S. history was January 1979 with an average temperature of 22.6 degrees.


Originally published Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 4:44 PM
Farmers trying to adapt to climate change

Scientists are working on a new generation of hardier animals and plants that are engineered to survive, and even thrive, in intense heat, with little rain.

The Associated Press


Cattle are being bred with genes from their African cousins who are accustomed to hot weather. New corn varieties are emerging with larger roots for gathering water in a drought. Someday, the plants may even be able to "resurrect" themselves after a long dry spell, recovering quickly when rain returns.

Across American agriculture, farmers and crop scientists have concluded that it's too late to fight climate change. They need to adapt to it with a new generation of hardier animals and plants specially engineered to survive, and even thrive, in intense heat, with little rain.

"The single largest limitation for agriculture worldwide is drought," said Andrew Wood, a professor of plant physiology and molecular biology at Southern Illinois University.

On his Kansas farm, Clay Scott is testing a new kind of corn called Droughtguard as his region suffers through a second consecutive growing season with painfully scarce precipitation.

"These are products I really need," Scott said. "I couldn't be any happier that they are working on these products."

The urgency is also evident in Texas, where rainfall has been below normal since 1996. Crops and pastures were decimated in 2011 by a searing drought, and some got hit again this year. Ranchers have sold off many animals they couldn't graze or afford to feed. Cattle inventory, at 97.8 million head as of July 1, is the smallest since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began a July count in 1973.

At least one rancher is now breeding cattle with genes that trace to animals from Africa and India, where their ancestors developed natural tolerance to heat and drought.

Ron Gill, a rancher who also heads the animal-science department at Texas A&M University, said research has been under way for years to develop cattle that can withstand heat and grow on lower-quality forage.

Last year, he started incorporating into his herd Beefmaster cattle, a cross between Brahman cattle, which originated in India, and European breeds that include Herefords and Shorthorns. He's also experimenting with the appropriately named Hotlanders, a Texas breed developed for its heat tolerance using genetics from Senepol cows bred in the Virgin Islands.

As ranchers replenish their livestock, the advice from experts is to breed drought tolerance into herds.

"We're telling people, 'Regardless of what you have to buy to restock, your future breeding programs need to target this new normal and re-establish a different paradigm than what we've had in the past,' " Gill said.

It's no different for farmers in the nation's Corn Belt, who are confronting a drought that stretches from Ohio west to California and from Texas north to the Dakotas. Only in the 1930s and the 1950s has a drought covered more of the United States, according to the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

Nearly half of the nation's corn crop is in poor or very poor condition, as well as a third of soybeans.

The damage would be much worse without the crop-science advancements of the past 40 years, said Andrew Wood, a professor of plant physiology and molecular biology at Southern Illinois University.

"This year's just terrible, but 20 years ago these crops would have been completely burned up," said Scott, who also grows wheat and raises cattle in Ulysses, Kan. "This year we're going to grow a decent crop even with drought."

Until a few years ago, most research was designed to improve the plant's overall resistance to a variety of threats, including insects, weeds and diseases. But the effort also helped instill drought tolerance, said Roger Elmore, extension corn specialist at Iowa State University.

Now crop scientists want to go even further. In seed laboratories, they are developing corn varieties with larger roots to absorb more water and smaller tassels that save more of the plant's energy for making kernels. The new strains also have leaves that use less water for transpiration, the process that releases excess moisture after photosynthesis.

Wood is studying resurrection plants — mosses and ferns that dry up and look dead after being deprived of water for weeks but spring back to life when watered. The goal is to isolate genes that allow those plants to recover quickly from drought and transfer those traits to crops such as corn.

"We don't want to turn corn into a cactus," Wood said. His perfect plant would tolerate mild drought and, when it finally rains, quickly resume "normal biology and output."

Developed by St. Louis-based Monsanto and German-based BASF, Droughtguard is a combination of the best drought-tolerant seed.

Scott is among about 250 corn growers who are testing the variety on 10,000 acres from South Dakota to Texas. His final judgment will come at harvest time, but he's encouraged by what he sees in the field.

"Pollination looks excellent, ear-fill is good," he said. "I'm excited to see what the yield looks like."

It's not clear yet how far this kind of engineering can be pushed and whether seeds can be developed to endure the most severe droughts.

"When you get so severe, basically nothing does well," said David Lobell, an environmental earth-systems science professor at Stanford University.

While corn is the most studied and engineered grain, it isn't the only crop getting attention.

New Mexico State University scientists are working on more drought-tolerant varieties of alfalfa to improve the nation's hay crop, which is critical for feeding dairy and beef cattle. Shortages have contributed to the widespread livestock sell-off.

At South Dakota State University, plant-science professor Bill Berzonsky, announced last week the development of a new, hard winter wheat variety he expects will outperform older seeds. It's not promoted as a drought-resistant product, but the wheat, known as Ideal, is designed to be planted in drier areas of the Dakotas, with better yield and more disease resistance.

Weather forecasters are working on their own climate-adaptation strategies, with the goal of helping farmers choose which crops to plant and when.

Eventually, meteorologists might be able to offer more precise seasonal forecasts that predict the number of days of continuous rain or days suitable for field work.

"These are the kinds of things that have a disproportionately large influence on farming," said Gene Takle, director of Iowa State University's Climate Science Program.

The National Weather Service predicted months in advance that June and July would be hot and dry in Iowa, Takle said.

"What could we have said back in March that would have given farmers some actionable information to cope with this?" he said.
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« Reply #42 on: Aug 09, 2012, 07:04 AM »

NASA scientist warns of mass extinction from global warming

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, August 8, 2012 21:44 EDT

James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned Wednesday that human-made climate change could lead to the deaths of millions of species.

“If we continue with business as usual this century, we will drive to extinction 20 to 50 percent of the species on the planet,” he told Current TV host Eliot Spitzer. “We are pushing the system an order of magnitude faster than any natural changes of climate in the past.”

In a recently published study, Hansen and his team concluded that the drastic increase in record high temperatures in recent years could be directly traced to human-made climate change, particularly the increase in greenhouse gases.

“If we want to stabilize the climate at levels not much warmer than it is now, we need to begin to reduce emissions now, within the next few years,” he told Spitzer. “We’re gonna have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and that is not as difficult as you think. If we would just make fossil fuels pay for their true cost to society, we could begin to move to different energies and energy efficiency.”
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« Reply #43 on: Aug 09, 2012, 07:21 AM »

August 8, 2012

Profits on Carbon Credits Drive Output of a Harmful Gas


RANJIT NAGAR, India — When the United Nations wanted to help slow climate change, it established what seemed a sensible system.

Greenhouse gases were rated based on their power to warm the atmosphere. The more dangerous the gas, the more that manufacturers in developing nations would be compensated as they reduced their emissions.

But where the United Nations envisioned environmental reform, some manufacturers of gases used in air-conditioning and refrigeration saw a lucrative business opportunity.

They quickly figured out that they could earn one carbon credit by eliminating one ton of carbon dioxide, but could earn more than 11,000 credits by simply destroying a ton of an obscure waste gas normally released in the manufacturing of a widely used coolant gas. That is because that byproduct has a huge global warming effect. The credits could be sold on international markets, earning tens of millions of dollars a year.

That incentive has driven plants in the developing world not only to increase production of the coolant gas but also to keep it high — a huge problem because the coolant itself contributes to global warming and depletes the ozone layer. That coolant gas is being phased out under a global treaty, but the effort has been a struggle.

So since 2005 the 19 plants receiving the waste gas payments have profited handsomely from an unlikely business: churning out more harmful coolant gas so they can be paid to destroy its waste byproduct. The high output keeps the prices of the coolant gas irresistibly low, discouraging air-conditioning companies from switching to less-damaging alternative gases. That means, critics say, that United Nations subsidies intended to improve the environment are instead creating their own damage.

The United Nations and the European Union, through new rules and an outright ban, are trying to undo this unintended bonanza. But the lucrative incentive has become so entrenched that efforts to roll it back are proving tricky, even risky.

China and India, where most of the 19 factories are, have been resisting mightily. The manufacturers have grown accustomed to an income stream that in some years accounted for half their profits. The windfall has enhanced their power and influence. As a result, many environmental experts fear that if manufacturers are not paid to destroy the waste gas, they will simply resume releasing it into the atmosphere.

A battle is brewing.

Disgusted with the payments, the European Union has announced that as of next year it will no longer accept the so-called waste gas credits from companies in its carbon trading system — by far the largest in the world — essentially declaring them counterfeit currency. That is expected to erode their value, but no one is sure by how much.

“Consumers in Europe want to know that if they’re paying for carbon credits, they will have good environmental effects — and these don’t,” Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, said in an interview.

Likewise, the United Nations is reducing the number of credits the coolant companies can collect in future contracts. But critics say the revised payment schedule is still excessive and will have little immediate effect, since the subsidy is governed by long-term contracts, many of which do not expire for years.

Even raising the possibility of trimming future payments “was politically hard,” said Martin Hession, the immediate past chairman of the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism’s executive board, which awards the credits. China and India both have representatives on the panel, and the new chairman, Maosheng Duan, is Chinese.

Carbon trading has become so essential to companies like Gujarat Fluorochemicals Limited, which owns a coolant plant in this remote corner of Gujarat State in northwest India, that carbon credits are listed as a business on the company Web site. Each plant has probably earned, on average, $20 million to $40 million a year from simply destroying waste gas, says David Hanrahan, the technical director of IDEAcarbon, a leading carbon market consulting firm. He says the income is “largely pure profit.”

And each plant expects to be paid. Some Chinese producers have said that if the payments were to end, they would vent gas skyward. Such releases are illegal in most developed countries, but still permissible in China and India.

As the United Nations became involved in efforts to curb climate change in the last 20 years, it relied on a scientific formula: Carbon dioxide, the most prevalent warming gas, released by smokestacks and vehicles, is given a value of 1. Other industrial gases are assigned values relative to that, based on their warming effect and how long they linger. Methane is valued at 21, nitrous oxide at 310. HFC-23, the waste gas produced making the world’s most common coolant — which is known as HFC-22 — is near the top of the list, at 11,700.

The United Nations used the values to calibrate exchange rates when it began issuing carbon credits in 2005 under the Clean Development Mechanism. That system grants companies that reduce emissions in the developing world carbon credits, which they are then free to sell on global trading markets. Buyers of the credits include power plants that need to offset emissions that exceed European limits, countries buying offsets to comply with the Kyoto Protocol — an international environmental treaty — and some environmentally conscious companies that voluntarily offset their carbon footprint.

Since the United Nations program began, 46 percent of all credits have been awarded to the 19 coolant factories, in Argentina, China, India, Mexico and South Korea. Two Russian plants receive carbon credits for destroying HFC-23 under a related United Nations program.

“I was a climate negotiator, and no one had this in mind,” said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It turns out you get nearly 100 times more from credits than it costs to do it. It turned the economics of the business on its head.”

Destroying the waste gas is cheap and simple, but it is hard to know exactly how much any one company has earned from doing so, since the market price for carbon credits has varied considerably with demand — from about $9 to nearly $40 per credit — and they can be sold at a discount through futures contracts.

The production of coolants was so driven by the lure of carbon credits for waste gas that in the first few years more than half of the plants operated only until they had produced the maximum amount of gas eligible for the carbon credit subsidy, then shut down until the next year, United Nations reports said. The plants also used inefficient manufacturing processes to generate as much waste gas as possible, said Samuel LaBudde of the Environmental Investigation Agency, an organization based in Washington that has long spearheaded a campaign against what he called “an incredibly perverse subsidy.”

Michael Wara, a law professor at Stanford University, has calculated that in years when carbon credits were trading at high prices and coolant was dirt-cheap because of the oversupply, companies were earning nearly twice as much from the credits as from producing the coolant itself.

The United Nations, recognizing the temptation for companies to jump into the lucrative business, has refused since 2007 to award carbon credits to any new factories destroying the waste gas. And last November, it announced that in contract renewals, factories could claim credits for waste gas equivalent only to 1 percent of their coolant production, down from 3 percent. The United Nations believes that eliminates the incentive to overproduce, said Mr. Hession, the former Clean Development Mechanism board chairman.

Even with these adjustments, credits for destroying waste gas this year remain the most common type in the United Nations system, which rewards companies for reducing all types of warming emissions. Eighteen percent of credits in 2012 will go to the 19 coolant plants, compared with 12 percent to 2,372 wind power plants and 0.2 percent for 312 solar projects for the carbon dioxide emissions avoided by the clean energy they produce.

In India, coolant plants received about half of the United Nations carbon credits awarded to companies in that country, for destroying their waste gas, during the system’s first five years. They accrued the power and money to fight efforts to roll back the subsidy.

Compared with Indian representatives, Chinese diplomats have shown greater willingness at international meetings to consider altering the subsidy for waste gas credits, said Stephen O. Andersen, a former United States Environmental Protection Agency official who is now with the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development in Washington. That is because China has a more centrally controlled economy and because it is developing an industry based on newer coolants. “It’s easier for them to put the national interest before the interest of one manufacturing sector,” he said.

A bigger question is just how much the European Union’s decision to disallow, as of next year, the waste gas credits in its immense carbon trading system will decrease their value.

Banks and companies holding such credits have been rushing to cash them in or sell them. And the potential devaluation of the carbon credits has an impact in other industrialized nations, since the carbon credit projects involve foreign sponsors and investors, who sometimes received carbon credits in exchange for services or financing.

The Gujarat project was financed by Rabobank of the Netherlands and the Sumitomo Corporation of Japan.

A coolant factory in Monterrey, Mexico, that receives carbon credits is 49 percent owned by Honeywell. Goldman Sachs bought many of its carbon credits.

Such credits are likely to have some continued value, because they can be used in other environmental programs that allow their use, like voluntary ones through which companies offset the emissions generated by having a conference or travelers opt to pay a fee to offset the emissions from an airplane flight.

Mr. LaBudde, of the Environmental Investigation Agency, who has long campaigned against the subsidy, said he hoped that no one would buy these “toxic” credits that “have no place in carbon markets” and that they would quickly disappear. In its latest annual report, Gujarat Fluorochemicals acknowledged that its carbon credits “may not have a significant market” starting next year because European companies have previously been their primary buyers.

Mr. Hanrahan, of IDEAcarbon, said that the credits could, at the very least, be sold at a low price to traders who see the possibility for marginal profit in a way similar to the market for junk bonds. Even if all the proposals to make the carbon trade far less valuable succeeded, the 19 factories certified to generate carbon credits by destroying the waste gas could earn $1 billion from that business over the next eight years, according to projections by IDEAcarbon.

And even as the economics shift, one big environmental question remains: Without some form of inducement, will companies like Gujarat Fluorochemicals continue to destroy the waste gas HFC-23? Already, a small number of coolant factories in China that did not qualify for the United Nations carbon credits freely vent this dangerous chemical. And atmospheric levels are rapidly rising.

Elisabeth Rosenthal reported from Gujarat State, India, and Andrew W. Lehren from New York.
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« Reply #44 on: Aug 12, 2012, 06:05 AM »

Arctic ocean losing 50% more summer ice than predicted

By Robin McKie, The Observer
Saturday, August 11, 2012 18:55 EDT

Sea ice in the Arctic is disappearing at a far greater rate than previously expected, according to data from the first purpose-built satellite launched to study the thickness of the Earth’s polar caps.

Preliminary results from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 probe indicate that 900 cubic kilometers of summer sea ice has disappeared from the Arctic ocean over the past year.

This rate of loss is 50% higher than most scenarios outlined by polar scientists and suggests that global warming, triggered by rising greenhouse gas emissions, is beginning to have a major impact on the region. In a few years the Arctic ocean could be free of ice in summer, triggering a rush to exploit its fish stocks, oil, minerals and sea routes.

Using instruments on earlier satellites, scientists could see that the area covered by summer sea ice in the Arctic has been dwindling rapidly. But the new measurements indicate that this ice has been thinning dramatically at the same time. For example, in regions north of Canada and Greenland, where ice thickness regularly stayed at around five to six meters in summer a decade ago, levels have dropped to one to three meters.

“Preliminary analysis of our data indicates that the rate of loss of sea ice volume in summer in the Arctic may be far larger than we had previously suspected,” said Dr Seymour Laxon, of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London (UCL), where CryoSat-2 data is being analyzed. “Very soon we may experience the iconic moment when, one day in the summer, we look at satellite images and see no sea ice coverage in the Arctic, just open water.”

The consequences of losing the Arctic’s ice coverage, even for only part of the year, could be profound. Without the cap’s white brilliance to reflect sunlight back into space, the region will heat up even more than at present. As a result, ocean temperatures will rise and methane deposits on the ocean floor could melt, evaporate and bubble into the atmosphere. Scientists have recently reported evidence that methane plumes are now appearing in many areas. Methane is a particularly powerful greenhouse gas and rising levels of it in the atmosphere are only likely to accelerate global warming. And with the disappearance of sea ice around the shores of Greenland, its glaciers could melt faster and raise sea levels even more rapidly than at present.

Professor Chris Rapley of UCL said: “With the temperature gradient between the Arctic and equator dropping, as is happening now, it is also possible that the jet stream in the upper atmosphere could become more unstable. That could mean increasing volatility in weather in lower latitudes, similar to that experienced this year.”

CryoSat-2 is the world’s first satellite to be built specifically to study sea-ice thickness and was launched on a Dniepr rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on 8 April, 2010. Previous Earth monitoring satellites had mapped the extent of sea-ice coverage in the Arctic. However, the thickness of that ice proved more difficult to measure.

The US probe ICESat made some important measurements of ice thickness but operated intermittently in only a few regions before it stopped working completely in 2009. CryoSat was designed specifically to tackle the issue of ice thickness, both in the Arctic and the Antarctic. It was fitted with radar that can see through clouds. (ICESat’s lasers could not penetrate clouds.) CryoSat’s orbit was also designed to give better coverage of the Arctic sea.

“Before CryoSat, we could see summer ice coverage was dropping markedly in the Arctic,” said Rapley. “But we only had glimpses of what was happening to ice thickness. Obviously if it was dropping as well, the loss of summer ice was even more significant. We needed to know what was happening – and now CryoSat has given us the answer. It has shown that the Arctic sea cap is not only shrinking in area but is also thinning dramatically.”

Sea-ice cover in the Arctic varies considerably throughout the year, reaching a maximum in March. By combining earlier results from ICESat and data from other studies, including measurements made by submarines traveling under the polar ice cap, Laxon said preliminary analysis now gave a clear indication of Arctic sea-ice loss over the past eight years, both in winter and in summer.

In winter 2004, the volume of sea ice in the central Arctic was approximately 17,000 cubic kilometers. This winter it was 14,000, according to CryoSat.

However, the summer figures provide the real shock. In 2004 there was about 13,000 cubic kilometers of sea ice in the Arctic. In 2012, there is 7,000 cubic kilometers, almost half the figure eight years ago. If the current annual loss of around 900 cubic kilometers continues, summer ice coverage could disappear in about a decade in the Arctic.

However, Laxon urged caution, saying: “First, this is based on preliminary studies of CryoSat figures, so we should take care before rushing to conclusions. In addition, the current rate of ice volume decline could change.” Nevertheless, experts say computer models indicate rates of ice volume decline are only likely to increase over the next decade.

As to the accuracy of the measurements made by CryoSat, these have been calibrated by comparing them to measurements made on the ice surface by scientists including Laxon; by planes flying beneath the satellite’s orbit; and by data supplied by underwater sonar stations that have analyzed ice thickness at selected places in the Arctic. “We can now say with confidence that CryoSat’s maps of ice thickness are correct to within 10cm,” Laxon added.

Laxon also pointed out that the rate of ice loss in winter was much slower than that in summer. “That suggests that, as winter starts, ice is growing more rapidly than it did in the past and that this effect is compensating, partially, for the loss of summer ice.” Overall, the trend for ice coverage in Arctic is definitely downwards, particularly in summer, however – a point recently backed by Professor Peter Wadham, who this year used aircraft and submarine surveys of ice sheets to make estimates of ice volume loss. These also suggest major reductions in the volume of summer sea ice, around 70% over the past 30 years.

“The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to the impact of global warming,” said Rapley. “Temperatures there are rising far faster than they are at the equator. Hence the shrinking of sea-ice coverage we have observed. It is telling us that something highly significant is happening to Earth. The weather systems of the planet are interconnected so what happens in the high latitudes affects us all.”

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