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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 55474 times)
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« Reply #105 on: Oct 18, 2012, 07:22 AM »


Re-insurer: Climate change played a role in natural disaster spike

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 17, 2012 15:19 EDT

Climate change played a role in a nearly five-fold jump in weather-related natural disasters in North America over the last 30 years, Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, said on Wednesday.

North America saw the world’s biggest increase in natural catastrophes between 1980 and 2011, ahead of Asia which had a four-fold rise and ahead of Africa, where such disasters grew 2.5 times, the company said in a study.

“Anthropogenic climate change is believed to contribute to this trend, though it influences various perils in different ways,” Munich Re said in a written statement.

“Climate change particularly affects formation of heatwaves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity,” it said.

And it said the view that weather extremes were becoming more frequent and intense in various regions due to global warming was in keeping with current scientific findings.

The North American continent is exposed to tropical cyclones, thunderstorms, winter storms, tornadoes, wildfires, drought and flood, it said.

One reason is the lack of an east-west mountain range to separate hot from cold air, it added.

Insured losses from weather catastrophes in North America for the three decades until 2011 came to $510 billion, of which $62.2 billion resulted from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the costliest US catastrophe ever.

Peter Roeder, Munich Re board member responsible for the US market, said climate change-related increases in hazards were not automatically reflected in premiums and that risk managers should adapt.

“In order to realise a sustainable model of insurance, it is crucially important for us as risk managers to learn about this risk of change and find improved solutions for adaptation but also mitigation,” he said in the statement.
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« Reply #106 on: Oct 19, 2012, 07:06 AM »

Russia hints plans to quit environmental Kyoto Protocol

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 18, 2012 15:19 EDT

Russia on Thursday hinted that it may refuse to sign up to a new round of targeted carbon cuts that could see the Kyoto environmental protection treaty extended beyond its end of 2012 expiry date.

“One has to admit that we never got any real commercial gain from the Kyoto Protocol,” news agencies quoted Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as telling a government meeting.

“That does not mean that we have to try and drag it (the treaty) out any further,” Medvedev added.

European diplomats at the May G8 summit in France said that Russia along with Japan and Canada had confirmed plans not to join the second round of carbon cuts.

Russia ratified the treaty in 2004. It has since argued that its terms harm developing nations.

Medvedev noted that he had said on repeated occasions in the past that “if the world community fails to agree on Kyoto, we would wave it goodbye.”

He said he was thinking of extending the treaty’s terms with EU nations alone.

“But considering our uneasy relations with the European Union, I am not sure how likely this scenario will be,” he said.

A range of EU nations are probing Russian energy natural gas giant Gazprom for price-fixing and other unfair practices under its new Energy Charter Treaty.

Medvedev did not explain his reasoning beyond the mention of Russia’s failure to tap into the profits it could have earned had it sold other nations unused carbon emission credits from its domestic producers.
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« Reply #107 on: Oct 19, 2012, 07:07 AM »

30 environmental groups press for Antarctica marine haven

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 18, 2012 16:08 EDT

Thirty environmental groups on Thursday issued a joint appeal for upcoming talks on establishing protected zones in the seas off East Antarctica to widen the scope of the marine haven.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA), gathering WWF, Greenpeace, Oceans 5 and other groups, said the plan had to be expanded given the importance of Antarctica’s biodiversity.

“We are calling on (the meeting) to support the establishment of the world’s largest network of marine reserves and marine protected areas in the ocean around Antarctica as a legacy for future generations,” said AOA chief Steve Campbell.

Twenty-four countries plus the European Union (EU) are to take part in a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, or CCAMLR.

Running from Tuesday until November 1, the meeting will debate proposals by Australia, France and the EU to set up a protected marine habitat off the coast of East Antarctica.

AOA said it was lobbying for additional areas to be added to this, including the East India and Prydz Gyre seamounts.

The region is home to big populations of penguins, seals and whales and also has unique seafloor features that nurture early links in the food chain, it said.

The CCAMLR was set up in 1982 with the goal of conserving Antarctic marine life in the face of rising demands to exploit krill, a key component in the ecosystem.

It permits fishing provided it is carried out “in a sustainable manner and takes account of the effects of fishing on other components of the ecosystem”.
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« Reply #108 on: Oct 19, 2012, 07:09 AM »


UN: World governments not on track to achieve temperature targets

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 18, 2012 11:27 EDT

Governments are “not on track” to achieve a target of keeping the average global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the UN climate chief said Thursday.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told a forum in Singapore that the world was moving in the right direction, but not fast enough.

“Even if governments were to comply with all the mitigation pledges that are on the table, it will still only provide 60 percent of the effort that is necessary to keep global average temperature rise to under two degrees,” she said.

“It is also well known that governments have agreed to review this target to 1.5 degrees should the science demand more drastic action. Frankly… we are not on track.”

World leaders agreed in December 2009 to the Copenhagen Accord, which introduced a plan to cap the rise in temperatures to below two degrees to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

“We are clearly moving toward a low-carbon economy. What we’re not doing is we’re not moving with the speed and at the scale that the science demands,” Figueres said.

Her predecessor Yvo de Boer said in March that the target was already out of reach. It was set by a core group of countries in the final stormy hours at the Copenhagen Summit and became enshrined at Cancun, Mexico a year later.

More and more scientists are warning that the objective is slipping away without radical, early cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.
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« Reply #109 on: Oct 19, 2012, 07:10 AM »

European lawmakers look to foie gras ban

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 18, 2012 16:10 EDT

A group of European lawmakers has joined animal rights campaigners in a bid to ban the production and sale of foie gras across the 27-nation European Union to halt the “torture” of ducks and geese.

Animal Equity, part of an international campaign to “raise awareness on the torture of thousands of ducks and geese on foie gras farms in five EU countries,” welcomed the move by eight prominent MEPs.

“We want to help European consumers to open their eyes and ask the European Commission (for) a law,” to ban not only the production but also the import and sale of foie gras, said MEP Andrea Zanoni.

The MEPs’ call for a ban followed a bid by French producers, backed by the country’s agriculture minister, to defend the gourmet food at the European parliament. Some 35,000 people are involved in foie gras production in France.

Currently, farming of animals to produce foie gras is banned in 22 EU nations — excepting Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Hungary and Spain — but not the import or sale of what campaigners dub as “torture in a tin.”

In Britain, former James Bond star Roger Moore has been calling for its ban with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) while the US state of California banned it in July.

Foie gras is made by force-feeding grain to ducks or geese to produce a fatty enlarged liver.
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« Reply #110 on: Oct 19, 2012, 07:24 AM »


Saudi Arabia reveals plans to be powered entirely by renewable energy

By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
Friday, October 19, 2012 8:17 EDT

World’s biggest oil producer says it wants to make a 100% switch from fossil fuels to clean energy

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer, has plans to become 100% powered by renewable and low-carbon forms of energy, according to an influential member of the royal family.

But the process is likely to take decades, and some observers are sceptical as to whether it is any more than window-dressing.

Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, founder of the King Faisal Foundation and one of the state’s top spokesmen, told the Global Economic Symposium in Brazil that he hoped the kingdom might be powered entirely by low-carbon energy within his lifetime – he is 67 – but that he thought it was likely to take longer.

However, he insisted Saudi was moving ahead with investment in renewable energy, nuclear power and other alternatives to fossil fuels and that it could use its vast oil reserves for other goods, such as plastics and polymers.

“Oil is more precious for us underground than as a fuel source,” he said. “If we can get to the point where we can replace fossil fuels and use oil to produce other products that are useful, that would be very good for the world. I wish that may be in my lifetime, but I don’t think it will be.”

Joss Garman, political director of Greenpeace, said: “It speaks volumes that a Saudi prince can see the benefits of switching to clean energy sources when [UK chancellor] George Osborne seemingly cannot, but Saudi Arabia will only truly be a green economy when it leaves its fossil fuels in the ground.”

Saudi Arabia’s energy use is almost entirely from fossil fuels at present, with about two-thirds coming from oil and the remainder from gas. The state produces close to 12m barrels of oil a day, representing more than 12% of world crude production, and has about one-fifth of the world’s oil reserves, according to the US government’s Energy Information Administration. Energy use per person within the kingdom is also high by world standards, because energy prices are kept so low.

As Prince Turki noted, however, the kingdom has vast potential for using solar power. “The cost of solar energy is now 15% of what it was 20 years ago,” he noted. Saudi Arabia has also signed memoranda of understanding – though no final deal as yet – with Argentina over nuclear energy.

But despite his commitment to advancing renewable energy in the Middle East, Prince Turki – who served as director of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services for more than 20 years and has also been an ambassador to the UK and the US – was also clear that the rest of the world was likely to continue to rely on fossil fuels for many years to come. “No country can ban itself from any one form of energy,” he said.

One of the other potentially important technologies for Saudi Arabia is carbon capture and storage, as depleted oil fields could be used as storage for compressed carbon dioxide, but it has so far made little progress. The prince said the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology should be seen as an international effort rather than the responsibility of single countries.

Nebjsa Nakicenovic, deputy chief of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, said CCS was likely to be a vital technology around the world. Though he acknowledged there could be problems, as the technology is still unproven, he warned: “Do not discount CCS.”

On renewables, Nakicenovic said the world should aim to generate 30% of energy from sustainable renewable sources by 2030. That would represent more than a doubling of current renewable energy usage, because although on paper about 15% of energy now comes from renewable sources, this includes a large amount of biomass – mostly wood, dung and other waste – burned in developing countries. Much of this is unsustainable, and requires a significant use of resources in foraging for firewood. “So [the target] is very ambitious, but doable,” he said.

© Guardian News and Media 2012
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« Reply #111 on: Oct 20, 2012, 07:02 AM »


Brits develop synthetic fuel that scrubs carbon from the atmosphere

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, October 19, 2012 12:02 EDT

Engineers in London said this week that they’ve developed a new type of synthetic vehicle fuel that’s created out of water and thin air, literally by pulling carbon molecules out of the atmosphere and recycling them.

Speaking to a conference this week put on by the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers, researchers with Air Fuel Synthesis, Ltd. said they’ve successfully married a synthetic fuel production technique that dates back to World War II with modern atmospheric carbon capture and sequestration methods.

The resulting product, they said, works in all current vehicles, can be blended with conventional fuels, and just might be a game changer for human energy and the fight against climate change if it’s ever produced on a large enough scale.

“We haven’t broken the Second Law of Thermodynamics or anything,” Air Fuel Synthesis spokesperson Graham Truscott told Raw Story. “We take carbon, we combine it with hydrogen, put it in a reactor to make methanol, then we take the methanol and put that in another reactor to make petrol. The processes of making synthetic petrol from carbon are well known and have been around for many, many years. The Germans were doing it during the Second World War. The South Africans were doing it during the apartheid years. But they were taking their carbon source from coal. We’re taking our carbon source from the atmosphere.”

That’s been a goal of many scientists over the years, and significant investment has been poured into London-based research on nanomaterials that attract carbon molecules in the atmosphere. Researchers hope that these materials will not only be able to aid in the production of carbon-neutral fuels, but could also be useful in helping prevent carbon emissions from major polluters like coal plans and oil refineries.

Similar techniques are being applied by several pioneering U.S. companies as well, which see atmospheric carbon as a potentially lucrative source of energy amid ever-declining supplies of easily obtained oil. One such company is New York-based Global Thermostat, which created a technology that enables industrial polluters to capture excess carbon for use in other products, like cement or plastic. Another company, California-based Carbon Sciences, is converting natural gas into a fuel stock for cars, and they say the same thing can be done with atmospheric carbon.

Still, neither company has gotten as far as Air Fuel Synthesis in the production of a liquid fuel that’s ready to be built out and produced on a large scale. “We’ve found opportunity to create intellectual property in areas of our process, and we think we’re the first people in the world to go all the way from capturing the carbon in the atmosphere and turning it into petrol,” Truscott said.

The drawback, of course, is that the process of creating this synthetic fuel is quite energy intensive, so it doesn’t get nearly as far toward its goal of being carbon neutral if the electricity used to synthesize atmospheric carbon into gas comes from burning fossil fuel. It’s also expensive: the team only produced about five liters of their synthetic fuel, at a cost of about $1 million for the whole project. But that’s not the point, they say.

Air Fuel Synthesis thinks the tripping points of cost and efficiency can be overcome by using renewable sources to like solar and wind to drive production, and they aim to prove it by building a large commercial plant within the next two years that will turn out up to a ton of carbon neutral fuel every day. They say their first target is the motor sports industry, which could benefit from a cleaner fuel.

“Air capture technology ultimately has the potential to become a game-changer in our quest to avoid dangerous climate change,” Dr. Tim Fox of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers said in a media advisory. “What was just a smart idea in the minds of a handful of academics a few years ago is now a proven, engineered method for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and making a useful product.”
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« Reply #112 on: Oct 22, 2012, 06:36 AM »



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22 October 2012 - 07H00 

Uranium mining ban lifted in Australia's Queensland

AFP - Australia's mineral-rich Queensland state reversed a decades-long ban on uranium mining on Monday, citing rekindled interest in the nuclear fuel after Canberra gave the go-ahead to exports to India.

Uranium has not been dug in Queensland since the 1982 closure of the major Mary Kathleen mine, while mining for it was outlawed by the state government in 1989.

But Premier Campbell Newman said the national government's overturning of an export ban to India last year and Prime Minister Julia Gillard's recent talks in the subcontinent about resuming the trade prompted a rethink.

Queensland's known deposits of uranium, a key input in nuclear power generation, have been conservatively estimated as being worth Aus$10 billion (US$10.3 billion).

"The Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just been in India selling the benefits of Australian-produced uranium to India, prompting many in the community to ask about the industry's potential in Queensland," Newman said.

"It's been 30 years since there was uranium mining in this state, and in that time Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia have carved out successful uranium industries that deliver jobs and prosperity to their regions."

Mines Minister Andrew Cripps said the policy shift would not extend to nuclear energy production or waste disposal.

Queensland is already a major coal mining region and has a burgeoning gas industry as well as significant deposits of lead, zinc and silver.

Australia does not use nuclear power but it is the world's third-ranking uranium producer behind Kazakhstan and Canada, exporting 6,888 tonnes of oxide concentrate in 2010 worth more than Aus$600 million.

It also has the world's largest uranium reserves, holding 31 percent of the global total, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Japan, the United States and European Union account for the majority of Canberra's exports of the nuclear fuel, with smaller shipments to South Korea, China, Canada and Taiwan.

National Resources Minister Martin Ferguson last year described uranium as a "key industry" for Australia, estimating that total output would double within four years and quadruple within two decades.

Neighbouring New South Wales state overturned its quarter-century ban on uranium exploration in February. Victoria is now the only Australian state with a total ban on uranium mining or exploration.
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« Reply #113 on: Oct 22, 2012, 06:37 AM »


Scientists confirm water extraction helped trigger deadly 2011 quake in Spain

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 21, 2012 18:46 EDT

Massive extraction of groundwater helped unleash an earthquake in southeastern Spain last year that killed nine people, injured at least 100 and left thousands homeless, geologists said on Sunday.

The finding adds a powerful piece of evidence to theories that some earthquakes are human-induced, they said.

Seismologists were surprised by the May 11, 2011 earthquake which happened two kilometres (1.2 miles) northeast of the city of Lorca.

The quake struck in the Eastern Betics Shear Zone, one of Spain’s most seismically active regions, where there has been a large number of moderate-to-large temblors over the last 500 years.

But the May event was unusual because it was so devastating and yet so mild — only 5.1 magnitude — in terms of energy release.

Researchers led by Pablo Gonzalez of the University of Western Ontario in Canada probed the mystery.

Reporting in the journal Nature Geoscience, they found that the quake occurred at a very shallow depth, of just three kilometres (1.8 miles), so the shockwave swiftly reached the surface with little to dampen it on the way.

The quake also happened on a complex but dormant fault that ripped open after water had been extensively pumped out of a neighbouring aquifer, causing a domino effect of subterranean stresses, they said.

Gonzalez’ team first used ground-radar imaging by the European satellite Envisat to build a map of how terrain around Lorca changed before and after the quake.

The picture confirmed that the event had occurred on the so-called Alhama de Murcia fault, which slipped between five and 15 centimetres (two and six inches).

They then investigated the Alto Guadalentin Basin, an aquifer lying just five kms (three miles) south of the fault, where they found widespread evidence of subterranean subsidence from water extraction.

Between 1960 and 2010, the level of groundwater from this aquifer fell by at least 250 metres (812 feet), according to records from local wells.

A computer model put together by the team suggests what happens: lowering of the water table caused part of the crust, located next to the Alhama de Murcia fault, to break.

This led to an “elastic rebound” of the crust that in turn cranked up horizontal pressure on the fault, bringing it that much closer to rupture.

The investigation adds to anecdotal evidence that human activities, ranging from exploration for shale gas, quarrying and even water reservoirs, can cause quakes.

“Our results imply that anthopogenic [man-made] activites could influence how and when earthquakes occur,” said the study.

In a commentary, Jean-Philippe Avouac, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) said water extraction at Lorca probably accelerated a natural process of stress accumulation rather than unleashed the earthquake by itself.

Even so, “the consequences are far-reaching,” said Avouac.

He pointed to carbon storage, a still-experimental technique in which carbon dioxide from a fossil-fuel power station is pumped into underground caverns rather than released to the atmosphere, where it would add to global warming.

“For now, we should remain cautious of human-induced stress perturbations, in particular those related to carbon dioxide sequestration projects that might affect very large volumes of crust,” said Avouac.

“We know how to start earthquakes, but we are still far from being able to keep them under control.”
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« Reply #114 on: Oct 23, 2012, 07:30 AM »

Study proves pesticide exposure linked to bumblebee colony failures

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 21, 2012 19:15 EDT

Chronic exposure to pesticides has a bigger knock-on effect on bees than conventional probes suggest, according to a new study on Sunday touching on the mysterious collapse of bee colonies.

Biologists at the University of London carried out an exceptional field study into bumblebees exposed to two commonly used agricultural insecticides.

They sought to mimic what happens in a real-life setting, where different crops are sprayed with different pesticides at different dosages and times.

Because bees get their food both from sprayed crops and wild plants, such variations make it hard to calculate the insects’ total exposure to the chemicals.

In addition, very little is known about what happens to bees once they return to the colony after foraging, possibly passing on pesticide-laden food to larvae.

A team led by Richard Gill monitored 40 bumblebee colonies, tagging 259 bees with radio frequency identification (RFID) to time exactly when the insects left home or returned.

The colonies were divided into four groups.

Three were allowed to access feeder boxes, set up in the path of their nest boxes, that had a sugary syrup spiked with imidacloprid insecticide and/or a filter paper laced with another agricultural chemical, gamma-cyhalothrin.

The bumblebees were not constrained to visit the treated material — they could forage freely in the surrounding landscape for pollen and nectar.

The fourth group of colonies was a “control” or comparison group that did not have the feeder boxes.

In the colonies exposed to imidacloprid, fewer adult workers emerged from larvae and a higher proportion of foragers failed to return to the nest, the investigators found.

In those exposed to gamma-cyhalothrin, there was a higher death rate among worker bees.

And colonies that were exposed to both kinds of pesticides were likelier to fail.

The experiment was exceptionally long and detailed, the scientists say.

It lasted four weeks, whereas current guidelines test pesticides on bees for only up to 96 hours.

In addition, it looked at what happened when bees were exposed to two chemicals at the same time and at the changes in a colony’s social structure.

“Our findings have clear implications for the conservation of insect pollinators in areas of agricultural intensification, particularly social bees, with their complex social organisation and dependence on a critical threshold of workers,” says the study, published in Nature.

Beekeepers in Europe, North America and elsewhere are worried by so-called colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon which has been blamed on mites, a virus or fungus, pesticides or a combination thereof.

Bees are vital because they account for 80 percent of plant pollination by insects. Without them, many crops would be unable to bear fruit or would have to be pollinated by hand.

Another big concern is for honeybees given their commercial value.

Bumblebees too are important pollinators, but their colonies are far smaller than those of honeybees, usually with just a few dozen workers, which made it far easier for Gill to follow them.

Outside scientists who commented on the study hailed its innovation but noted that bumblebees could not be directly compared with honeybees, as they were biologically different.

“This new work adds another substantial boulder to the rapidly growing mound of evidence which now points to a significant and worrying impact of these chemicals on our wild bumblebees,” David Goulson, a professor of biology at Stirling University in Scotland, told Science Media Centre.

But, he cautioned, the impact remains “rather poorly understood.”
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« Reply #115 on: Oct 23, 2012, 07:32 AM »

Scientists report whale making human voice sounds

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 22, 2012 18:59 EDT

WASHINGTON — US marine biologists puzzled by human-like sounds coming from the whale and dolphin tank of an aquarium concluded they were actually coming from a whale.

Anecdotal reports of whales sounding like people are not new. But in this case in San Diego, California, scientists for the first time recorded the utterances, did an acoustic analysis and were surprised to find a rhythm similar to that of human speech, Sam Ridgway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation reported Monday.

The sounds marked quite a feat: whales make sounds via their nasal tract, unlike people, who use their larynx. So this particular white whale had to make some tricky muscular and blowhole adjustments.

“Such obvious effort suggests motivation for contact,” said Ridgway, the main author of a study featured in the journal Current Biology. “The sounds we heard were clearly an example of vocal learning by the white whale.”

The whale, named NOC, died five years ago.

Ridgway says that back in 1984, he and others started hearing sounds near the whale and dolphin enclosure that recalled two people speaking in the distance, too far away to be understood.

The sounds were later traced to one particular white whale when a diver in its tank came to the surface because he thought he heard colleagues tell him to do so.

NOC had lived among dolphins and other white whales and had often been in the presence of humans.

The whale made human-like sounds for around four years until it reached the age of sexual maturity, Ridgway said.


* Beluga-whale-via-AFP.jpg (35.56 KB, 615x345 - viewed 73 times.)
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« Reply #116 on: Oct 24, 2012, 07:31 AM »

NASA tracks X-class solar flare many times larger than Earth

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 13:39 EDT

The sun burped on Monday, triggering a spectacular eruption many times larger than Earth that NASA cameras were fortunately able to track in exquisite detail.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory said the flare, recorded just after 11 p.m. EST, was the seventh “X-class” solar flare recorded this year.

It hit a peak of X1, the weakest on the scale, while the strongest flare this cycle hit X6.9 in August of last year.

X-class flares can send massive plumes of radiation toward Earth, which can sometimes cause interference with radio and GPS signals.

NASA said the interference from Monday’s flare was mild and went away after a short time.

This video was published to YouTube by NASA on October 23, 2012.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=N3idSmR0ZYk
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« Reply #117 on: Oct 27, 2012, 06:13 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/26/2012 06:08 PM

Norway's New Foreign Minister: 'Exploitation of Arctic Resources Will Happen'

The Arctic is changing at a breathtaking pace, which has oil and gas companies flocking to the region. SPIEGEL ONLINE talks to Norway's new Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide about the dangers of resource extraction and China's role in the High North.

September 16, 2012 was a historic date. According to the statistics of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the US, Arctic sea ice shrank to cover an area of just 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) on that day. It was the lowest coverage measured since the beginning of satellite observations in 1979 -- some 760,000 square kilometers lower than the previous record minimum in 2007. The extent of the shrinkage indicates that the Arctic is changing at a breathtaking pace; a new ocean is opening up.

At the same time, interest in both shorter shipping routes through the far north and Arctic mineral deposits is growing. Norway is one of the five countries bordering the Arctic that can benefit from their proximity to the region's presumed riches. The decades-long exploitation of oil and natural gas in waters further south has made the country extremely wealthy -- and hungry for more. At the same time, polar countries like Norway have to deal with increasing pressure from politicians and environmental groups, which complain about the risks of resource extraction and would like to see them remain untapped.

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Norway's new Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide talks about the politics of resource extraction in the region.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Minister Eide, do you see yourself as representing a reckless country?

Eide: No, not at all. On the contrary.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: An environmental committee of the British parliament recently called drilling for oil and natural gas in the Arctic a "reckless gold rush."

Eide: The exploitation of Arctic resources will happen. It has always been our key policy to make sure that the rules are clear, both on who owns what and on how to exploit resources. The Arctic is not special in legal terms; it is just an ocean. The area is of course ecologically vulnerable. But it is possible to have responsible drilling.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some European politicians and environmentalists find it too risky and demand a moratorium on drilling there.

Eide: Our technology has moved away from the traditional offshore platforms. Now most installations are sub-sea, where there is no weather and the conditions are very stable. When drilling is done responsibly, there should be no problems. The Russians, the Canadians, the Americans and all other countries must apply the highest standards.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Antarctic is protected by a special treaty. In the Arctic, the coastal states object to a similar pact. Could you imagine certain parts of the region being protected as an environmental sanctuary under international law?

Eide: Some people have the misconception that the Arctic is similar to the Antarctic, a common heritage of mankind. But whilst the Antarctic is a continent, the Arctic is an ocean. And it is governed by the law of the sea. It is an area of opportunity. Sometimes it is helpful to contrast what's going on in the Arctic with the South China Sea. This attractive area has no agreement on the rules of the game. In the Arctic there is very little room for violent conflict and a lot of room for cooperation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So, what about an environmental sanctuary in the High North?

Eide: We need no specific rules like the ones that apply to Antarctica. The Arctic is not something completely unique compared to other waters. The Law of the Sea applies, and is also adequate to meet environmental concerns.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The fate of the Arctic affects the whole planet. Do you understand that non-Arctic states also want to have a say in the region?

Eide: The Arctic is an ocean that connects three of the most dynamic regions in the world, East Asia, Europe and North America. It is becoming increasingly clear that it is not the end of the map. There is an incredible increase in the interest from East Asian countries.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So far, the five Arctic coastal states have shown little willingness to accept additional players at the table.

Eide: The coastal states have some issues that only concern themselves. We are talking mainly about territorial claims in the Arctic. For all other questions, the main forum is the Arctic Council with eight members and many observers. Norway, more than other members, is open to the idea of increasing the number of observers.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The European Union has long sought to become a permanent observer to the Arctic Council -- so far without success. Among other countries, Canada vetoed the plan. Will the EU's demand be granted approval at the next meeting?

Eide: The question is under discussion -- and it requires consensus. But Norway would like to see this happen.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: For a long time, the Arctic Council did not pass binding rules. But recently it passed a search and rescue treaty, and an agreement on oil spill response is on the way. Will the council also agree on binding requirements for oil and natural gas producers?

Eide: We are discussing it. But let us not overburden the Arctic Council with too many issues that can be solved in other existing bodies like the International Maritime Organization, for instance. There is also a big difference between oil and natural gas. Gas does not present the same local environmental dangers as oil.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The CEO of the French company Total has proposed a ban on drilling for oil in the Arctic, but not for natural gas. Would this be an option?

Eide: We have developed the most advanced technology for subsea drilling in the Arctic. It is much safer than it used to be. People still have this vision of Exxon Valdez or the Gulf of Mexico or our Norwegian oil accidents in the 1970s. But the new technology makes operations much more secure.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What Shell is planning to do in Alaska is classical drilling with platforms, not subsea production.

Eide: I am saying that it is possible to produce in a more modern way. That does not mean that everybody does it. In general, every concerned country should exploit the resources only in a way that it can manage. If you do not have the appropriate technology, you should not pursue exploitation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Russia has shown intense interest in the Arctic, while the US has remained largely passive. Will Russia become a hegemonic power around the North Pole?

Eide: Half of the Arctic is bordering Russia. By definition it is the biggest player when one looks at the coastline. We would of course be concerned were Russia to establish a broad hegemony in the Arctic. This is one of the reasons why we want to make sure that there are international agreements and organizations in place.

SPIEGEL ONLIEN: And what about China? This summer, the country sent its ice-breaker Snow Dragon through the ocean.

Eide: We used to have a very good dialogue with China on Arctic issues. Now this has stopped for a variety of reasons. But it is not that we have issues with China; it's the other way around. We welcome China in the Arctic; it is as welcome to sail in international waters as everybody else. But this case also shows why we need clear rules. And it is one of the reasons why I think that Russia will continue to support the law of the sea. The alternative is that a number of powerful states would exploit resources in a way that everyone, including Russia finds acceptable.
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« Reply #118 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:04 AM »

Originally published October 27, 2012 at 3:05 PM | Page modified October 27, 2012 at 3:25 PM

Dead Sea water loss continues at record rate

The Dead Sea dropped a record 4.9 feet over the last 12 months because of industry use and evaporation, the Hydrological Service of Israel said.

By Gwen Ackerman
Bloomberg News

JERUSALEM — The Dead Sea is shrinking at a record rate, prompting calls for Israel and Jordan to stop fertilizer makers from siphoning so much of the water whose restorative powers have attracted visitors since biblical times.

The salty inland lake bordering the nations dropped a record 4.9 feet over the last 12 months because of industry use and evaporation, the Hydrological Service of Israel said. That's the steepest Dead Sea decline since data-keeping started in the 1950s. Half the drop was caused by Israel Chemicals and Jordan's Arab Potash Co., said Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of the Friends of Earth Middle East.

"This is unacceptable and speaks to the urgency of the need to force industry to change their extraction process," Bromberg said in an interview from Tel Aviv.

The makers of potash, a raw material for fertilizer, are competing for water with a centuries-old tourism industry on the Dead Sea, Israel's most crowded leisure destination last year with 857,000 visitors. That's more packed than Tel Aviv and Eilat's beach resorts, the Tourism Ministry said.

It isn't only pumping causing the degradation of the Dead Sea, a biblical refuge for King David. Agriculture diverts water for crops from the Jordan River that feeds into the Dead Sea, adding to a decline that's created potentially life-threatening sinkholes by the shore.

On the north shore of the Dead Sea, spas offer the medicinal benefits of mud baths and mineral springs. Those wanting to bob in waters about 10 times as salty as the ocean must either ride in a cart for several minutes or take a hike that's a little longer.

Dead Sea Works, owned by Israel Chemicals, denied any increased pumping, saying it has used 150 million to 170 million cubic meters a year from the sea for two decades.

"The main reason for the declining sea level is the increased usage of the water that used to flow to the Dead Sea in the past, especially from the Jordan River, by all countries in the region," the company said in an emailed statement.

It's already paying to use Dead Sea water through royalties it said have doubled since the beginning of the year, Dead Sea Works said. Israel Chemicals agreed in December that royalty payments on potash production above certain levels would double to 10 percent.

"Charging the Dead Sea Works per water usage by cubic meter will not affect the pumping volume since the amount of pumping is a function of the evaporation ponds' surface area and changing climate conditions alone," it said.

"We're keen on doing all possible to preserve the Dead Sea, which is shrinking annually," Issa Shboul, spokesperson of Jordan's Ministry of Environment, said by phone.

"We regularly request the potash companies and other companies that benefit from the Dead Sea water for their business to adopt the latest technological advances to reduce the negative impact on the Dead Sea level," Shboul said.

Israel's Environment Ministry said it's working on a proposal with the government that examines the use of all resources, including phosphates and mineral water.

Israel allocated $223 million this year to rehabilitate and develop the Dead Sea's tourism potential.

About one-third of the Dead Sea's surface area has disappeared, and sinkholes are increasingly common as the waters shrink amid drought, agricultural diversion, largely from the Jordan River, and pumping to extract minerals for fertilizers.

Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli policymakers, under the auspices of the World Bank, have been examining various plans to halt the Dead Sea's decline. These include two tunnels and a pipeline that may cost as much as $10 billion. These would transfer water about 110 miles from the Red Sea and brine from desalination plants to keep Dead Sea levels stable.

Preliminary reports from the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Program have shown that mixing seawater, desalination brine or both with Dead Sea water entails risks, especially when amounts exceed 300 million cubic meters a year.

Major parts of the study are expected to be completed and posted online by the end of the month, according to an official with knowledge of the report. These include drafts of final reports on alternatives, feasibility and environmental assessments.

More can be done to stop the deterioration to an area home to rare wildlife including leopards, ibex and the griffon vulture, Bromberg said.

"We are calling on Jordan and Israel to introduce legislation that would require Dead Sea waters to have a price, with pumping rates and licensed, monitored meters," he said. "All other sources of water are extracted under license."
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« Reply #119 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:17 AM »

October 27, 2012

Casualties of Toronto’s Urban Skies

By IAN AUSTEN
IHT

TORONTO — In the shadow of the massive black towers of a bank’s downtown headquarters here was an almost indistinguishable puff of dark gray fluff on the sidewalk.

It was the body of a golden-crowned kinglet, an unlucky one, that had crashed into the iconic Toronto-Dominion Center building somewhere above.

There is no precise ranking of the world’s most deadly cities for migratory birds, but Toronto is considered a top contender for the title. When a British nature documentary crew wanted to film birds killed by crashes into glass, Daniel Klem Jr., an ornithologist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., who has been studying the issue for about 40 years, directed them here, where huge numbers of birds streaking through the skies one moment can be plummeting toward the concrete the next.

“They’re getting killed everywhere and anywhere where there’s even the smallest garage window,” Professor Klem said. “In the case of Toronto, perhaps because of the number of buildings and the number of birds, it’s more dramatic.”

So many birds hit the glass towers of Canada’s most populous city that volunteers scour the ground of the financial district for them in the predawn darkness each morning. They carry paper bags and butterfly nets to rescue injured birds from the impending stampede of pedestrian feet or, all too often, to pick up the bodies of dead ones.

The group behind the bird patrol, the Fatal Light Awareness Program, known as FLAP, estimates that one million to nine million birds die every year from impact with buildings in the Toronto area. The group’s founder once single-handedly recovered about 500 dead birds in one morning.

Toronto’s modern skyline began to rise in the 1960s, giving it a high proportion of modern, glass-clad structures, forming a long wall along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. That barrier crosses several major migratory flight paths, the first large structures birds would encounter coming south from the northern wilderness.

Though those factors make Toronto’s buildings particularly lethal, Professor Klem was quick to say that the city also leads North America when it comes to addressing the problem.

After years of conducting rescue and recovery missions and prodding the city to include bird safety in its design code for new buildings, FLAP has recently begun using the courts to help keep birds alive. It is participating in two legal cases using laws normally meant to protect migratory birds from hunting and industrial hazards to prosecute the owners of two particularly problematic buildings.

Briskly walking on a recent morning with a volunteer bird patrol, Michael Mesure, who founded FLAP 19 years ago, pointed out many examples of killer buildings. As he neared one particularly troublesome spot, on the eastern edge of the financial district, he pointed to a gaggle of sea gulls sitting in trees across the street from an office building. They were waiting, he said, to dine on the smaller birds maimed or killed by the building.

The building has a glass facade that disorients birds by reflecting the surrounding trees. Perceiving the reflection as habitat, birds zoom at it full throttle without regard for the danger.

The victims are largely songbirds. Perhaps because of familiarity, the urbanites of the bird world, like house sparrows, pigeons and gulls, are much less prone to crashing into glass, Professor Klem said.

All the birds collected by FLAP, dead or alive, go into paper bags. Though there were no survivors that recent morning, the merely stunned or frightened would have been released in a park near the shore of Lake Ontario. The injured would have been taken to one of two animal rehabilitation centers outside the city.

The dead birds, with the location of their deaths marked on their bags, first end up in a freezer at FLAP’s headquarters, which is part of a sympathetic city councilor’s offices. Although the autumn migration was barely under way, the freezer was already close to full. Its contents ranged from owls to hummingbirds, and the vividness of their plumage was generally offset by the gruesomeness of their smashed heads.

“If the people were colliding with buildings at the same rate birds are, this issue would have been dealt with a long time ago,” Mr. Mesure said. “There’s a detachment in society about this.”

One especially effective, if unpopular, method of reducing the threat to birds, Mr. Mesure said, is simply to cover the outside of windows up to the height of adjacent trees with the finely perforated plastic film often used to turn transit buses into rolling billboards. The film can be printed with advertising or decorative patterns, although the group has found that a repetitive pattern of small circles made from the same adhesive plastic is both effective and less likely to prompt aesthetic objections.

For new buildings, the solution can be as simple as etching patterns into its glass. A German glass company is also developing windows that it hopes can take advantage of the ability of birds to see ultraviolet light, by including warning patterns that are invisible to humans.

But even after nearly two decades of drawing attention to the problem, Mr. Mesure acknowledged that the threat to birds was still rarely considered by architects and developers. Along the morning search route was a hotel that was one of the last buildings approved before Toronto’s new rules took effect. Its extensive use of irregularly shaped reflective glass will most likely make it “quite lethal to birds,” Mr. Mesure said.

Wryly, he also noted a statute at its base depicting a dragon covered in small birds.

The first decision in the court cases, which both involve office complexes outside downtown, is expected on Nov. 15. Though the charges were brought under federal and provincial laws, the cases are being prosecuted by Ecojustice, a nonprofit environmental law group, rather than the government, which Canadian law permits.

The effect of the cases is already obvious at Consilium Place, a suburban complex of three office towers involved in the first prosecution. Consilium sits between a river valley that is a major migratory bird resting spot and Lake Ontario. The location and the reflective glass exterior on two of the buildings, which is helpful in reducing heating and air-conditioning costs, but deceiving to birds, make it consistently among the city’s most dangerous structures for birds, Mr. Mesure said.

The former owner, Menkes, consistently rejected proposed solutions on the basis of cost and aesthetics, he said. “We tried to get them engaged in this issue and really didn’t get anywhere.”

Menkes declined to comment for this article. But since the complex was sold this year, the new owner, Kevric Real Estate, has begun to apply a pattern of small white dots on the windows. While far from complete, the measure was already having an effect. A freezer for storing dead birds, which the new landlord had placed in an underground parking garage, contained only a dozen remains, far fewer than usual during a migratory period.

In the case of the Toronto-Dominion Center, however, the birds are also running up against aesthetic concerns. The soaring 1967 towers are the last major work of the modernist master Mies van der Rohe. The property’s owner, Cadillac Fairview, said that it recently applied a dot-pattern film on the windows to protect birds, but used a black pattern apparently to avoid detracting from the architect’s minimalist design. Because they blend in, Mr. Mesure said, the black dots are ineffective as a warning for birds.

The company declined an interview request, but in a statement said, “Bird protection is a matter we take seriously.” The activists’ final stop that morning made it clear that buildings do not have to be skyscrapers to be lethal. A dead chickadee and red-breasted nuthatch lay at the base of a small industrial building that featured mirrored blue glass that reflected an adjacent woodlot. As Paloma Plant, a FLAP employee, picked up the two dead birds, waves of chickadees swept overhead, narrowly avoiding collision.

“When you go through the freezer and it’s constant dead birds, it gets to you after awhile,” Ms. Plant said, holding the two casualties in her palms.


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