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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 145062 times)
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« Reply #120 on: Oct 29, 2012, 07:08 AM »

Modern alchemy leaches gold from water

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 28, 2012 10:08 EDT

SAINT-PIERRE-LES-NEMOURS, France — A small French start-up company is selling a technology with a hint of alchemy: turning water into gold.

It does so by extracting from industrial waste water the last traces of any rare — and increasingly valuable — metal.

“We leave only a microgramme per litre,” according to Steve van Zutphen, a Dutchman who founded Magpie Polymers last year with a fellow 30-year old Frenchman Etienne Almoric.

“It’s the equivalent of a sugar lump in an Olympic swimming pool.”

Magpie Polymers operates from slightly shabby premises at a factory at Saint-Pierre-les-Nemours 80 kilometres (50 miles) southeast of Paris.

But it is at the leading edge of technology with a procedure developed at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique in 2007.

The process is based on the use of tiny pellets of plastic resin through which waste water is pumped. Gold, platinum, palladium and rhodium, the world’s most precious metals, little by little stick to the pellets and are thus separated from the waste water.

A single litre of this patented resin can treat five to 10 cubic metres of waste water and recover 50 to 100 grammes of precious metal, equivalent to “3,000 to 5,000 euros ($3,900 to $6,500),” Almoric said.

Mobile phones, catalytic converters and countless other everyday products contain these precious metals.

But once they are scrapped, the problem lies in retrieving the particles of precious metals.

“What is complicated is that the amounts are infinitesimal, so hard to recover,” according to Steve van Zutphen.

Once they have been separated and crushed some industrial waste products have to be dissolved with acid in water. Then the metals in the water have to be recovered whether they are valuable or not.

“There are many technologies to get metal from water that have existed since the 19th century. But there comes a moment when existing technologies are no longer effective or become too expensive,” van Zutphen said.

The chief markets to which the two entrepreneurs are looking are the “refiners”: specialists in the recovery of precious metals, such as British firm Johnson Matthey, the Anglo-French company Cookson-Clal and Boliden of Sweden.

But the technology could also be of interest to mining groups or large water treatment companies such as French Veolia or Suez Environnement.

The timing is good. The economic crisis has revived interest in gold, and thanks to rising demand for platinum and similar metals, combined with increasing shortages, prices have soared. As platinum mines become exhausted, half the metal used worldwide is already recycled.

Magpie’s technology can also be used to leach out harmful metals such as lead, mercury, cobalt, copper and uranium.

“Obviously the amounts are much bigger. The problem is that nobody wants to pay for something that has no value,” said Almoric.

Tougher environmental standards, which would further tighten the rules of waste recovery for businesses, could add further strength to the Magpie model.

The young start-up has already taken on six staff and hopes for a turnover of a nearly a million euros next year and 15 million euros in four years’ time. It has just raised half a million euros from the Fonds Lorraine des Materiaux (51-percent owned by the Caisse des Depots-Region Lorraine, 49 percent by ArcelorMittal).

Magpie does not give the names of its chief clients but is already present in “France, England, Belgium and Switzerland” and soon in Germany and Spain.
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« Reply #121 on: Oct 31, 2012, 06:14 AM »

October 30, 2012

Mythic Salamander Faces Crucial Test: Survival in the Wild


MEXICO CITY — Aztec legend has it that the first axolotl, the feathery-gilled salamander that once swarmed through the ancient lakes of this city, was a god who changed form to elude sacrifice.

But what remains of its habitat today — a polluted network of canals choked with hungry fish imported from another continent — may prove to be an inescapable threat.

“They are about to go extinct,” said Sandra Balderas Arias, a biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico working to conserve axolotls in the wild.

The loss of this salamander in its habitat would extinguish one of the few natural links Mexicans still have with the city that the Aztecs built on islands in a network of vast mountain lakes. Its extinction in the wild could also erase clues for scientists studying its mystifying traits.

Despite their precarious future in freshwater, axolotls (pronounced axo-LO-tuhls) have long flourished in aquariums. They have been bred successfully behind glass over the past century, raised as exotic pets or as laboratory specimens for scientists investigating their extraordinary ability to regrow a severed limb or tail.

The Mexican axolotl is an odd-looking salamander with a flat head and spiked feet, unusual because it often spends its entire life in the so-called larval stage, like a tadpole, without ever moving to land. “It grows and grows in the same shape, and has the capacity to reproduce,” said the biologist Armando Tovar Garza. “We don’t really know why it doesn’t change.”

Its gaze seems to captivate as its gills slowly beat. In Julio Cortázar’s short story “Axolotl,” the narrator is transfixed — “I stayed watching them for an hour and left, unable to think of anything else” — and experiences his own metamorphosis.

The Aztecs and their descendants consumed axolotls as part of their diet, and the amphibians are still stirred into a syrup as a folk remedy for respiratory ailments.

But in their only home, the canals of Xochimilco in the far south of the city, the axolotls’ decline has been precipitous. For every 60 of them counted in 1998, researchers could find only one a decade later, according to Luis Zambrano, another biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Gliding on a flat-bottomed boat through the canals where the Aztecs once farmed floating gardens, but where cinder block houses now dump their waste and students toss their beer cans during parties, Mr. Tovar described the threats. “The axolotl is suffering on two fronts,” he said, as pounding music and the smell of sewage filled the air. “One is the water quality. It’s not improving.”

Then, as dimples appeared on the still surface of the canal, like raindrops before a deluge, another researcher leaned over and the axolotl’s second challenge became evident. “See how the water is moving? All of those circles?” asked the researcher, Leonardo Sastre Baez, who monitors fishing. “Those are the tilapias.”

That resilient fish was introduced over 20 years ago, along with carp, in an effort to support Xochimilco’s fishermen. “The government thought, ‘If people can’t work, at least they can eat,’ ” Mr. Sastre said. But the tilapias reproduce faster than they can be caught, and they feed voraciously on the plants where the axolotls lay their eggs.

Mexicans’ taste for axolotls has endured, generating some strong reactions from Europeans over the years. The naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt wrote in the 19th century that the Mexicans he observed lived “in great want, compelled to feed on roots of aquatic plants, insects and a problematical reptile called axolotl.”

Others would disagree with the interpretation.

“Have you ever eaten frogs?” asked Roberto Altamirano, president of the fishermen’s association, who ate axolotls as a child and is now working to save them. “Well, that’s what it tastes like. Somewhere between fish and chicken.”

The dire conditions in Xochimilco have generated debate among biologists. Some are adamant that the axolotl should be preserved only in its environment, but others are convinced it can survive only if new populations are introduced elsewhere.

“It’s not about just rescuing the axolotl, it’s about rescuing the whole system of Xochimilco,” Dr. Zambrano said.

Axolotls were once at the top of the food chain — eating insects, worms, crustaceans and even small fish — and their continued survival in the canals is a sign that the ecosystem of Xochimilco can endure as well. Finding them a new home would be tantamount to giving up, Dr. Zambrano argued.

“That’s like saying, ‘to rescue polar bears, we’re going to have them in zoos,’ ” he said. “Or, ‘let’s build them a really cold refuge in the Amazon.’ ”

Dr. Zambrano’s solution is two-pronged. First, he is promoting traditional methods of agriculture because he believes that Aztec practices provide an alternative to the polluting pesticides and fertilizers that many farmers in Xochimilco have adopted. He has found a few farmers willing to help his work, and in a twist, his team is grinding up tilapia to make organic fertilizer.

He is also creating a series of small tilapia-free sanctuaries by blocking off the entrances to certain canals. After placing trackers on test axolotls, the team was surprised to see how lively they were in the wild. “In the lab, they become really still, and here they are very active,” Mr. Tovar said. “They’re more awake.” The axolotls have also been growing faster in the sequestered canals.

Another team of researchers has begun testing for a new home far from the multiplying troubles of Xochimilco, in an artificial lake in Tecámac, about an hour outside Mexico City.

“We could see that putting axolotls in there would be like sending them to the slaughterhouse,” said Ms. Balderas, the biologist, referring to Xochimilco. “If we look somewhere else, we might be able to give them a better life, like the one they had before.”

Ms. Balderas and her student assistant, Marlen Montes Ruiz, are monitoring laboratory-bred axolotls to see if they are capable of hunting water bugs and other prey and coping in the wild after being pandered to for so long. So far, they say, axolotls have adapted well and have even become adept at hiding from the researchers, just as the ancient god eluded his captors. It can take hours to fish out all of the axolotls on measuring day.

As Ms. Montes lowered a female axolotl back into the test pond, it began to undulate its tail. Her fingers loosened around its torso and the creature slipped under the water, through a green spot of sun, and then blended into dark brown.

“There are a lot of water bugs; it’ll be O.K.,” she said. “They really do get lost here.”

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« Reply #122 on: Nov 01, 2012, 07:06 AM »

Pacific sharks see mass decline despite fishing, finning limits over soup demand

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 31, 2012 19:00 EDT

Pacific stocks of the oceanic whitetip shark, a favourite of fin soup enthusiasts, sank by as much as 17 percent a year between 1995 and 2010 despite catch and finning limits, a study said Wednesday.

And the north Pacific blue shark, also sought after by Asian chefs, showed a worrying population decline of about five percent per year, according to the research published in the journal Conservation Biology.

Using data collected by onboard observers of catches in the western and central Pacific over a 15-year period, the study also revealed a decline in shark size — a key indicator of overfishing.

“These results… heighten concerns for the sustainability of Pacific shark populations,” said a statement.

The drop in whitetip sharks represented a “severe decline” for a species that does not reproduce quickly, study co-author Shelley Clarke told AFP.

“It was also very surprising to see a sharp decline for North Pacific blue fin sharks which are relatively much more productive than the oceanic whitetip sharks”.

The research was conducted by the oceanic fisheries programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) — a regional intergovernmental body.

The findings suggest that bans on finning — the practice of slicing the fins off a living shark and dumping it back into the water to die — were not helping to reduce the numbers being killed.

This was “likely due to a combination of poor enforcement and increasing markets for shark meat,” said the statement.

The oceanic whitetip, which lives in tropical waters, is the only shark species subject to catch limits in the Pacific.

According to conservation group WWF, about 73 million sharks are killed every year, mainly for their fins.

Hong Kong imports about 10,000 tonnes per year, most of which is re-exported to mainland China as the demand for shark fin soup continues to grow and the number of threatened species has soared from 15 in 1996 to more than 180 in 2010.

Shark fin soup is viewed as a delicacy by many in Asia and is traditionally served at wedding parties and business banquets in Hong Kong, which handles around 50 percent of the global fin trade.

Sharks are slow-growing and maturing animals, and produce relatively few young, making them particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

“These findings underscore conservationists’ messages that most finning bans are not properly enforced, and alone are not sufficient to reverse shark population declines,” said Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International.

The United States banned finning in its waters in 2000 and several American states have banned the trade in shark fins.

The European Union has had a finning ban since 2003, but in March endorsed even tighter shark fishing rules that would force fishermen to bring sharks to port intact.
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« Reply #123 on: Nov 02, 2012, 07:06 AM »

Outrage as Antarctic ocean sanctuary talks end in failure

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 1, 2012 23:19 EDT

SYDNEY — Conservation groups expressed outrage after resistance led by China and Russia stymied efforts to carve out new marine sanctuaries and protect thousands of species across Antarctica.

Hopes were high that a reserve covering 1.6 million square kilometres (640,000 square miles) would be green-lighted for the pristine Ross Sea, the world’s most intact marine ecosystem.

Nations led by Australia and the European Union also wanted 1.9 million square kilometres of critical coastal area in the East Antarctic safeguarded.

But two-week-long talks at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), made up of 24 countries and the European Union, at Hobart in Australia ended without resolution.

Instead, CCAMLR will hold an intercessional meeting in Germany in July after China, Russia and Ukraine raised concerns about fishing restrictions which saw the talks fail, officials said.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance, made up of 30 international organisations including the Pew Environment Group, WWF, and Greenpeace, said on Friday it was hugely disappointed.

“CCAMLR members failed to establish any large-scale Antarctic marine protection at this meeting because a number of countries actively blocked conservation efforts,” said alliance official Steve Campbell.

An official at the meeting told AFP she felt it was as much a show of political power by China and Russia as fishing restrictions.

“I think there was a little bit of ‘Don’t tell us what we can or can’t do’, as well as keeping their options open,” the official said.

Farah Obaidullah from Greenpeace accused CCAMLR of behaving more like a fisheries organisation than one dedicated to conservation of Antarctic waters.

“If there is a glimmer of hope to be pulled from the ruins, it is in the redoubling of the commitment to create marine protected areas expressed by most CCAMLR members,” Obaidullah said.

“The question now is whether countries like Russia, China and the Ukraine will come to the next meeting prepared to meet their conservation commitments.”

The Antarctic region is home to big populations of penguins, seals and whales found nowhere else on Earth, and also has unique seafloor features that nurture early links in the food chain, according to environmental groups.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance said climate change was affecting the abundance of important food sources for penguins, whales, seals and birds while growing demand for seafood was seeing greater interest in the Southern Ocean.

CCAMLR was established in 1982 with the goal of conserving marine life in the face of rising demands to exploit krill, a shrimp-like creature which is an important source of food for species in the Antarctic.

While the commission permits fishing, it must be carried out “in a sustainable manner and take account of the effects of fishing on other components of the ecosystem”.

The push for protection in Hobart was widely supported by A-list personalities, with Leonardo DiCaprio launching a petition ahead of the meeting urging the creation of the largest marine sanctuary in the Antarctic ocean.

It has so far been signed by more than one million people, including fellow actors Ed Norton and Mark Ruffalo, entrepreneur Richard Branson and bands Linkin Park and Maroon 5.

Gerry Leape, senior officer at the Pew Environment Group, called the outcome a “resounding disappointment for conservation”.

“In 2011, participating countries agreed to work together to protect and conserve the unique marine life that thrives in the ocean surrounding Antarctica,” he said.

“Instead, they are heading home and leaving the door wide open to unchecked commercial fishing in these special areas.”
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« Reply #124 on: Nov 02, 2012, 07:12 AM »

11/02/2012 10:42 AM

Klondike in Lapland: Mining Companies Swarm to Finland's Far North

By Renate Nimtz-Köster

Mining companies are flocking to northern Finland as new deposits of gold, nickel and other minerals promise vast profits. But the area's fragile wetland ecosystem is paying the price. Conservationists are so far fighting a losing battle.

Riikka Karppinen used to catch pike as long as her arm here. She and her brother would spend days exploring the marshy wilderness. It was eight years ago, when Riikka was just 10 years old, that she saw the first red sticks stuck into the ground. To begin with, there were only a few but before long there were hundreds. "No one cared much back then," Riikka Karppinen recalls.

In the mean time, though, the red markers have given way to the machines. "You can hear the noise of the drills day and night," says Karppinen. Anglo American (AA), one of the world's biggest mining companies, went treasure hunting in Finnish Lapland, 120 kilometers north of the Polar Circle. And deep below the marshlands of Viiankiaapa are nickel deposits that AA has hailed as the find of the century.

Karppinen's childhood paradise has now become a symbol of the rush for precious metals and minerals that has overcome the entire country. Foreign mining companies are flocking to Finland to mine its treasures. Here, in some of the oldest rock formations in Europe, lie reserves of valuable raw materials, with geologists describing the ore deposits as among the richest in the world.

Hoping for new jobs and investment, the Finnish government is welcoming prospectors, identifying and mapping the deposits and generously granting data and mining rights at cheap prices, even in sensitive areas. Gold, nickel and uranium hunters are even reaching into tourist and conservation areas in the country.

Some 40 companies are now carrying out hundreds of exploration projects across the country. The town of Sodankylä in Lapland is essentially surrounded by mining claims with several mines already in operation -- and their tailings seeping toxins into surrounding lakes and rivers.

Growing Resistance

Long-suffering as Finns may be, resistance is growing. Fifty-three companies in the tourist sector are protesting against a huge gold mine in Kuusamo in north-eastern Finland, where Australian company Dragon Mining is conducting test drilling in full view of a popular ski resort. Containing 4.9 grams per ton of rock, the gold content is high, but so is the uranium content. Much of the radioactive element would likely end up in nearby lakes during processing. Moreover, vast quantities of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are released when the ground's peat layers are dug up during drilling.

"The cost to the environment will exceed the profits from the gold mines," warns the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.

"The extent of the mining operations is gigantic and pollution is inevitable," says geologist Matti Saarnisto, pointing out that Lapland's waters are in danger of being contaminated with toxic elements such as arsenic, uranium as well as sulfates, cyanides and phosphates. Saarnisto and economics professor Olli Tahvonen are also critical of the sell-out of mining rights and are calling for a mining tax on the exploitation of raw materials. Their demand recently found spiritual support, with the Lutheran Church agreeing at its meeting of bishops that Northern Finland should not be reduced to a "colony," whose natural riches are plundered by international companies, with no regard for the environment.

Finland was an enthusiastic participant in the "Natura 2000," an ecological network of protected areas founded by the European Union. It includes 66 square kilometers of Viiankiaapa, a region home to exceptional biodiversity, including 90 bird species ranging from the delicate red-necked phalarope to the mighty wood grouse. Twenty-one endangered birds and nine endangered plant types can be found among the wide variety of the marshy reserve's flora and fauna.

"How can a mine have been allowed to open in a nature reserve like this one?" asks Riikka Karppinen. "We will never be able to recover what's being destroyed." She was a 17-year-old schoolgirl when she began her campaign against Anglo American -- which Lapland's leading newspaper Lapin Kansa compared to David's battle with Goliath. Karppinen enlisted the support of newspaper editors and politicians and made the 12-hour train trip to Helsinki 13 times. Since she was always top of the class, her teachers didn't mind giving her permission to miss school. Her parents were also on her side, even her father Juha, who himself works in a gold mine.

No Answers

Karppinen initially found her meetings with parliamentarians and ministers exciting, but that soon gave way to frustration. "No one really gave me any answers," she says. Even Paula Lehtomäki from the Center Party, who was environment minister at the time, did nothing but try to mollify her.

Later, Lehtomäki came under fire when her family bought hundreds of thousands of euros worth of shares in the Talvivaara mining company, Europe's largest nickel mining business, shortly after it applied for a permit to begin extracting uranium. To this day, a connection between Lehtomäki and the purchase has never been proven.

A referendum recently put a temporary stop to the plans to extract uranium. Opened in 2008, Talvivaara is one of the few mines that is largely Finnish-owned, but it has turned from a showcase project into a disaster. First it emerged that the building permit was granted before the mine's environmental sustainability had been established. Then the concentration of sulphates and manganese in nearby lake water was discovered to be several hundred times higher than permissible. The water couldn't even be used in saunas, holidaymakers complained about the foul stench and dead birds and fish were found floating on the water's surface. Earlier this year, a mine worker died from hydrogen sulfide poisoning.

The mine also failed to create the number of jobs expected, with only 130 locals finding work in Talvivaara. Some 500 people in the region, meanwhile, are employed in the tourism sector.

Soot-Black Crater

For the time being, these problems still lie ahead of Viiankiaapa. But a glimpse of the wetland's potential fate can be had at the Kevitsa nickel mine, 40 kilometers further north-east: a devastated, soot-black crater landscape where every year enormous trucks and cranes dig up some 5.5 million tones of rock which then gets crushed, separated and treated with chemicals. The tailings end up hidden behind vast dams.

Kevitsa is operated by the Canadian mining company First Quantum. Concern is etched on the face of mine director Andrew Reid, who sent the first load of nickel and copper to Canada for smelting in August: at a record high early last year, the price of nickel has since dropped dramatically and markets are looking volatile, with supply having far outstripped demand for some time now. Reid no longer rules out closure.

But the mood at Sodankylä's city hall remains euphoric. Twenty mining companies are now operating in the area. "A new application arrives almost every day," says local politician Veikko Virtanen. "We can't produce maps fast enough." He's confident that there's enough room in Lapland for tourism and mines to exist side-by-side. According to his calculations, the area could develop much like Dawson City in Klondike, with the population swelling from its current size of 1,680 to over 20,000 by 2020. A new kindergarten has already opened and a skating rink is currently under construction.

Opposite city hall, it's hard to find the Anglo American sign. For now the team's offices are still modest. But offices, laboratories and storerooms are currently under construction. According to project leader Bo Långbacka, exploration into depths of up to one kilometer will take another three to four years. In mining, he says, one needs to be patient.

Långbacka explains that rock samples, extracted with diamond drills from depths of 500 meters, have a nickel content of 4 percent. A new drilling method helps protect the environment, including the water, he stresses.

A Top Priority

His boss is Jim Coppard, who is in charge of the whole Arctic region at AA. He describes the project as the "apex of my career." The two men like to joke that ore has seniority rights: it formed about 2 billion years ago whereas the marshland "only" came into being 7,000 years ago. The EU's Natura 2000 project is only 15 years old. But Coppard is quick to point out that of course, working together with locals is a top priority.

Those locals are not making life easy for AA at the moment, protesting that the company has breached agreements. Officially, they are only allowed to drill when there is frost and snow so that the ground is not damaged by the heavy machines. But Karppinen has film footage of toppled trees and vehicle tracks indicating that AA was also working in fall. "Moreover, the drilling permit approved by the government ran out on August 17," she says. "But no one in Helsinki is doing anything."

In a Sodankylä café, she talks about her plans for the future. When she finishes school in early December, she's hoping to run as a Green party candidate and reinvigorate city hall. Then she'll be heading to Helsinki to do voluntary military service.

An elderly woman approaches Karppinen's table. She shakes her hand. "It's wonderful what you're doing for us," she says. "You have my support."

Translated from the German by Jane Paulick

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« Reply #125 on: Nov 03, 2012, 06:55 AM »

Militant anti-whaling activist to continue campaign despite arrest threats

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 3, 2012 1:30 EDT

Militant conservationist and Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson will join this year’s campaign against Japanese whalers despite an Interpol notice for his arrest, the group said Friday.

The Canadian national has not been seen since he skipped bail in Germany in July on charges stemming from a high-seas confrontation over shark finning in 2002 but he has pledged to lead the fight against the harpoonists.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is due to kick off its annual campaign against the whalers on Monday, with four ships and more than 100 international crew readying for the southern hemisphere summer pursuit.

“It is expected Captain Paul Watson would appear in command of one of the vessels when the action begins,” said Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker vessel.

The environmentalists begin their campaign Monday with the Steve Irwin, previously captained by Watson, leaving the southern Australian port of Williamstown skippered by Indian Siddharth Chakravarty.

The Bob Barker, currently in Sydney, is due to leave later in November, while Sea Shepherd has not revealed the location of its two other ships, new mystery vessel the Sam Simon and the Brigitte Bardot.

“The plan is for our fleet to meet the whaling fleet in the North Pacific off Japan,” Hammarstedt said in a statement.

“We are planning to take the battle pretty much up to Japan itself.

“We are keeping the location and identity of our new vessel, the Sam Simon, a secret with our hope that the first time the whalers see the Sam, is when she comes into view on the slipway of the factory processing ship, the Nisshin Maru, effectively shutting down their illegal whaling operations.”

The Japanese whalers usually set off around December, with Sea Shepherd ships departing Australia to harass them in the Southern Ocean soon after.

This year, the activists plan to steam north and head them off early.

“We are going to try and intercept them as quickly as possible, and try to make this the first year they get zero kills,” Sea Shepherd’s Australian director Jeff Hansen said.

Hansen said he did not know how Watson would join the fleet, saying information was only on a “need to know basis”.

But there is a quote from Watson, who claims the charges against him are part of a “politically motivated” attempt led by Japan to put an end to his efforts against whaling, included on the latest statement.

“We have never been stronger and the Japanese whalers have never been weaker, we need to take advantage of our strengths and their weaknesses and we need to bring this campaign home — to Japan,” Watson said.

Watson, who for years has harassed Japan’s whale hunt, was arrested in Germany in May for extradition to Costa Rica over the shark finning incident in 2002.

Commercial whaling is banned under an international treaty but Japan has since 1987 used a loophole to carry out “lethal research” in the name of science — a practice condemned by environmentalists and anti-whaling nations.

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« Reply #126 on: Nov 03, 2012, 06:57 AM »

New species of three-fingered frog discovered in Brazil

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 3, 2012 2:30 EDT

On a trek across this Atlantic rainforest reserve in southern Brazil, biologist Michel Garey recalled how on his birthday in 2007 he chanced upon what turned out to be a new species of tiny, three-fingered frogs.

“I was doing research with two friends on a hilltop in the reserve and I stumbled into this unusual frog with only three fingers,” he told a small group of reporters this week on a tour of Salto Morato, a nature preserve owned by Brazil’s leading cosmetic firm Boticario.

“It happened on February 14, 2007: My birthday. What a treat!” he said.

But it was not until June this year that the discovery of this new species — Brachycephalus tridactylus — was officially established. A report on his finding was published in Herpetologica, a quarterly international journal focusing on study and conservation of amphibians and reptiles.

“At the time I was doing some other work related to ecology and I figured I could wait as no one else doing frog research would have access to the area,” Garey said.

“It took me 18 months from early 2011 to collect seven of the new frogs, go to museums to compare them with other species, realize that they were new, write my paper and have it published in the journal.”

The tiny brachycephalus tridactylus was found at an altitude of around 900 meters (3,000 feet). Its most striking feature is the absence of a fourth finger, which Garey attributes to an evolutionary process rather than to environmental effects.

The frog, which measures less than 1.5-centimeters in length, is mostly orange with olive-gray spots and dots on its body.

Garey said the male frog makes around 30 mating calls a day, sounds he described as “a single short note that decreases in dominant frequency from beginning to end.”

Garey said he could not estimate the frog population, but plans to do so in a future research project.

The frog is part of 43 amphibian species found in this 2,253-hectare (5,567-acre) reserve, located in Guaraquecaba, the easternmost city in the southern state of Parana.

Experts estimate around 950 amphibian species live across Brazil and more than 6,700 around the world.

Amphibians — cold-blooded animals such as frogs, toads, salamanders and newts — are increasingly threatened by climate change, pollution, and the emergence of a deadly and infectious fungal disease, which has been linked to global warming.

One-third of the known species are threatened with extinction, according to the Global Amphibian Assessment, an extensive survey of the world’s amphibian species. More than 120 species are believed to have gone extinct since 1980.

Frogs spend part of their life in water and on land, so understanding their complex life cycle is crucial because they can serve as “bioindicators of environmental quality”, said Garey.

Frogs “have permeable skin which make them more susceptible to ultra-violet radiation and their body temperatures change with the environment,” Garey said.

“As larvae in the water, they eat various organisms such as algae and as adults they eat insects. The larvae are also eaten by fish while the adults are eaten by cobras and mammals,” he added. “So they are having a cascade effect in the food chain.”

Garey is able to recognize different species by the male’s distinctive mating calls.

During a night foray into the soggy forest, Garey suddenly bolted into a nearby pond and snatched an unsuspecting bright green frog known as phyllomedusa distincta after hearing its tell-tale call.

Garey’s interest in frogs began 10 years ago, when he was 19 and studying biology.

Today he is a post-doctorate fellow at Paulista State University in Sao Paulo state. His research is funded by the Boticario foundation, a non-profit body which has already sponsored 800 conservation projects, including research and environmental education programs all over Brazil.

Salto Morato, created in 1994, protects a significant area of Brazil’s dwindling Atlantic rainforest. In November 1999, the reserve was declared a natural heritage site by UNESCO.

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« Reply #127 on: Nov 05, 2012, 07:55 AM »

11/05/2012 12:24 PM

Contaminated Aquifers: Radioactive Water Threatens Middle East 

By Markus Becker

The Middle East and North Africa suffer from water shortages and pump millions of liters a day from ancient aquifers. But the water contains high levels of naturally-occurring radioactive contamination. Experts fear this will increase the cancer risk for millions of people.

True masters of water management once lived in the desert of what is now Jordan. It took the Nabataeans only a few decades to carve the city of Petra out of sandstone cliffs. In addition to crafting now world-famous decorative tomb facades, they built a sophisticated system of water pipes and cisterns, which made it possible for the city to exist in the dry wilderness in the first place -- more than 2,000 years ago.

Today trucks rumble through Jordan to supply the population with drinking water. The water sloshing back and forth in their tanks is often thousands of years old, pumped from fossil groundwater reservoirs that filled up when the region wasn't as dry. Millions of cubic meters of water are now being pumped from such aquifers every day in the Middle East and North Africa. The next hydraulic engineering project is currently underway in Jordan, at a cost of $1.1 billion (€850 million). Starting in the spring of 2013, about 100 million cubic meters a year will be pumped out of the Disi aquifer in the country's south, in addition to the 60 million cubic meters a year already being taken from the aquifer today. The water will then be pumped through pipelines to the capital Amman, some 325 kilometers (203 miles) away.

But radiation experts warn of an invisible danger. Tests have revealed that the water contains high levels of naturally occurring radioactivity, with samples exhibiting radiation levels well above World Health Organization (WHO) radiation guidelines. The health risk doesn't just affect Jordan, but virtually all of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Radioactivity Up to 30 Times Higher than Safety Standards

An explosive study on the problem was published in February 2009, but it has only attracted attention in the professional world until now. A team working with geochemist Avner Vengosh of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, had tested radioactivity levels in 37 samples from the Disi aquifer. According to the findings, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the water from the aquifer, which is about 30,000 years old, is up to 30 times as radioactive as the WHO considers safe.

The radioactivity is caused by natural uranium and thorium that can occur in sedimentary rock. Their decay products include radium, which can cause bone cancer if it enters the human body. Two isotopes, radium-226 and radium-228, with half-lives of 1,600 years and less than six years, respectively, are especially dangerous.

Using Vengosh's data, the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) has now calculated the magnitude of the health risk. According to its estimates, a person who drinks two liters of water a day from the Disi aquifer is exposed to radiation levels of between 0.99 and 1.53 millisieverts a year, or 10 to 15 times as much as WHO considers safe. According to the BfS, if we assume that the population receives an average annual dose of one millisievert and has an average life expectancy of 70 years, the radioactive drinking water will increase the normal number of deaths by four people per 1,000. When this estimate is extrapolated to the roughly two million residents of Amman, who are to be supplied with drinking water from the Disi aquifer in the future, it comes to about 8,000 additional deaths. The calculation only applies to the absorption of radium that occurs when people drink the water, without taking into account other ways in which radiation can enter the body, such as when the water is used to irrigate fields and radiation becomes concentrated in vegetables.

Similar Geological Conditions Across the Region

Jordan is only a small part of the problem. The same geological conditions that make the water from the Disi aquifer radioactive prevail in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa. "The problem probably applies to all sandstone aquifers in the region," says Vengosh, which means that it affects hundreds of millions of people.

Only 10 percent of the Disi aquifer passes through Jordanian territory. The rest is in Saudi Arabia, where it's called the Saq aquifer. BRGM, the French national geological service, took samples from 64 locations in the aquifer. According to its 144-page report published in 2008, radioactivity levels were generally well above the WHO guidelines. "The problem of radioactive contamination of the groundwater is complex and probably widespread," the French geologists conclude. "It must be studied as quickly as possible, because of its potentially critical consequences." In its research, the BRGM encountered a strange phenomenon: Contamination with radionuclides appears to be especially high in places where the water level in the aquifers is declining the most precipitously. While the reasons are unclear, say the French scientists, the water threatens to become "unfit for both human consumption and agricultural use."

Underground Aquifers Vital for the Region

This is a worrisome conclusion, since fossil groundwater is now essential for the survival of agriculture in the region. According to the BRGM, the amount of water being pumped from the Saq aquifer increased more than fourfold from 1985 to 2005, from about two billion to more than 8.7 billion cubic meters per year. Saudi Arabia already derives about half of its water from aquifers.

Israel also pumps water from fossil reservoirs to irrigate its fields in the Negev Desert, and Egypt has pumped fossil groundwater in oases since the 1980s. But Libya operates the world's largest pumping operation, the "Great Man-Made River." Every day, about 1.6 million cubic meters of water are pumped from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, at a rate of more than 18,500 liters per second. When it is finished, the massive system of wells, pipelines and reservoirs is expected to conduct 6.5 million cubic meters of water a day from the desert to Libya's coastal cities. It's water they urgently need. Their own aquifers are now so heavily depleted that they are becoming brackish as a result of seawater infiltration, a problem that also plagues other coastal cities in the region.

Saudi Arabia, at least, is treating fossil groundwater and removing radioactive particles, says Christoph Schüth of the Technical University of Darmstadt in western Germany. But elsewhere, especially in rural parts of North Africa, the situation is "problematic." The quality of the groundwater from the Nubian Sandstone system, says Schüth, has presumably been "studied only very incompletely," and Libya lacks water-treatment technologies. "In principle," say Schüth and his colleagues, "this affects many sandstone aquifers." They published the results of their research in 2011 in the International Journal of Water Resources and Arid Environments.

Experts See Jordan 's Plan as Wishful Thinking

The Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) doesn't see the radiation as a problem, claiming that its tests produced much lower results than those of the US experts. The MWI engineers also plan to dilute the water with water from sources with no radioactivity, which they say will reduce the annual radiation exposure to 0.4 millisieverts.

But even that dose, which would still be four times as high as the WHO standard, will be very difficult to achieve. According to an internal document produced by Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), the Jordanians measured radioactivity levels in a part of the Disi aquifer where radium activity is especially low. Most of the water, however, is to be obtained from a part of the aquifer where radiation levels are much higher. According to the BGR, it would take the addition of at least one billion cubic meters of non-contaminated water a year to bring exposure to levels below the WHO standard. It is unclear where this much water would come from, and the MWI did not respond when asked about the issue. The ministry is also unwilling to say whether Jordan plans to treat the water the way Saudi Arabia does. Officials say that they cannot provide any specific information at the moment, because they must first conduct more analysis and collect more data.

First Signs of Genetic Damage

This is surprising, given the Jordanians' contractual obligations. One of the largest financial backers of the Disi project is the European Investment Bank (EIB), which approved loans totaling $225 million in May 2009. In its contracts with the EIB, Amman pledged to begin testing the water from every well during the construction phase, and to submit regular reports. If Jordan failed to fulfill this obligation, "the EIB could revoke the loan in an extreme situation," warns a bank spokeswoman.

In early November, the EIB was still waiting for the complete report, which the Jordanians were supposed to submit at the end of September. They have already provided the bank with readings for about half the wells, which, according to the EIB, show that the average annual dose of radioactivity "is still above the allowed limit."

There are already initial signs of the possible health consequences. In 2010, King Saud University examined 10 men who change filters in underground wells. Their blood was found to contain 11 times as much chromosomal damage than that of controls, it said in an article in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry. These changes in genetic material can lead to cancer and illnesses in offspring.

Still, the use of fossil water could end up being the lesser of two evils. Although some of the water contains high radiation levels, it is otherwise considered very clean and free of bacteria. "What would happen if people consumed water of lesser biological quality instead?" asks Clemens Walther of the Institute for Radioecology and Radiation Protection at the University of Hanover in northern Germany. According to Walther, this would lead to more deaths than those resulting from radiation, partly from elevated numbers of dangerous diarrheal disease in children.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #128 on: Nov 07, 2012, 08:19 AM »

Sick bird study could point to bird flu clues

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 3:00 EST

House finches avoid sick members of their own species, scientists said in a finding that could be useful for tracking the spread of diseases like bird flu that also affects humans.

Laboratory tests showed that the house finch, a particularly social North American species, was able to tell the difference between sick and healthy fellow birds and tended to avoid those that were unwell.

This was the first time that avoidance of sick individuals, already observed in lobsters and bullfrog tadpoles, has been shown in birds, according to a paper published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, on Wednesday.

“In addition, we found variation in the immune response of house finches, which means that they vary in their ability to fight off infections,” co-author Maxine Zylberberg of the California Academy of Sciences told AFP.

“As it turns out, individuals who have weaker immune responses and therefore are less able to fight off infections, are the ones who most avoid interacting with sick individuals.”

This all meant that there were differences between individual birds’ susceptibility to disease, the time it would take them to recuperate and their likeliness to pass on the disease.

“These are key factors that help to determine if and when an infectious disease will spread through a group of birds,” said Zylberg — and how quickly.

“This becomes particularly important for us in trying to figure out and predict when and how infectious diseases that affect both birds and ourselves … will spread through wild bird populations and end up in areas where wild birds and humans interact extensively, creating the opportunity for these diseases to cross over from birds to humans.”

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, spreads from live birds to humans through direct contact.

It causes fever and breathing problems and has claimed 359 human lives in 15 countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, from 2003 to August of this year, according to the World Health Organisation.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #129 on: Nov 08, 2012, 08:13 AM »

November 7, 2012

Laos Breaks Ground for Controversial Mekong Dam


BANGKOK — Laos formally began building a controversial hydroelectric dam on the Mekong River on Wednesday, despite comments from the country’s prime minister that the project had been delayed.

“We held the groundbreaking ceremony today,” said Rewat Suwanakitti, the deputy managing director of Xayaburi Power, the company leading the project. “The Lao authorities told us that we could begin construction.”

The dam is the first of several planned for the river, and is being built despite concerns that the dam will irreparably harm fish stocks, which are an important food source for millions of people in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Electricity produced by the Xayaburi dam, named for the surrounding province in Laos, will be exported to Thailand, and Laotian officials say they are counting on billions of dollars in revenue from the project.

The prime minister of Laos, Thongsing Thammavong, told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that the project was awaiting further study. But at the dam site, preliminary work has already reached an advanced stage. The Thai construction company in charge of building the dam, CH. Karnchang, has been carving roads through the jungle to the remote site and putting equipment in place for two years.

The groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday included senior officials from the Laotian government and diplomats from Vietnam and Cambodia, Mr. Rewat said.

Environmentalists have accused Laos of ignoring criticism of the dam and pushing ahead with construction. The governments of Vietnam and Cambodia, which are downstream from the site, have called for a delay until environmental concerns are addressed.

The State Department said on Monday that it was concerned that neighboring countries had not reached a consensus on the dam and that the severity of its environmental impact was still unknown.
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« Reply #130 on: Nov 08, 2012, 08:14 AM »

Obama stokes expectations of climate change action in second term

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 19:16 EST

Barack Obama’s invocation of “the destructive power of a warming planet” in his victory speech has stoked expectation that he will act on climate change in his second term.

Environmental campaigners are already mobilising to hold the president to that promise.

They argued Obama’s re-election, amid the devastation of superstorm Sandy, was a clear mandate for action on climate change, in stark contrast to Mitt Romney, who turned sea-level rise into a laugh line in the biggest speech of his political career.

Campaigners put Obama on immediate notice, calling an 18 November demonstration at the White House to demand he scrap the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

“In the wake of hurricane Sandy, as the warmest year in American history draws to a close, as the disastrous drought lingers on in the midwest, everyone is looking for ways to make a real difference in the fight to slow climate change,” said an open letter from and the Sierra Club.

But a strategic decision by the White House in 2009 to downplay climate change, and Obama’s avoidance of the issue during the campaign, makes it tricky for the president to now claim that he was elected to act on the issue.

The Republicans’ continued control of the House of Representatives will also continue to limit Obama’s scope for action.

However, environmental campaigners said Sandy – and an endorsement from New York city mayor, Michael Bloomberg, due to Obama’s position on climate change – create public space for the president to act.

“Of course president Obama certainly did not take up the cause in the way we had hoped but he has indicated in numerous events and in the New Yorker and Rolling Stone that climate will be a top priority for his second term,” said Bets Taylor, president of the climate strategy firm Breakthrough Solutions. “There is reason to feel hope. We moved from silence to a growing mandate for action.”

A number of newly elected Democrats in the Senate and the House of Representatives also owe their victories, in part, to support from environmental campaign groups, giving greens more allies in Congress.

The president has a chance early on to show he intends to deliver on climate change.

The first big decision will be on the Keystone XL pipeline, a project designed to expand production of the Alberta tar sands by pumping crude to Texas refineries. The administration is due to make its decision early next year and many believe that Obama will approve the pipeline.

Environmental groups will also be watching whether Obama continues to fight to keep tax credits for the wind industry during the lame duck session of Congress. Their expiry at the end of the year has hurt the industry, leading to lay-offs. Obama has said he will continue to fight $46bn in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

Then there are appointments. Obama came to the White House in 2009 with a green “dream team” including Nobel laureate, Steve Chu, as energy secretary. Obama will have to make new appointments in his second term.

He must also decide whether to resurrect the post of White House climate adviser, which has been empty since early 2011 when Carol Browner stepped down. That could help push policies blocked by Congress.

Now that Obama has a second term, the Environmental Protection Agency is also expected to move more aggressively on tightening rules on mercury and carbon dioxide emissions.

But the environmental community will be looking for Obama to deliver the big changes that will move America towards a low-carbon future – and protect the country from the extreme weather, rising seas and other consequences of future climate change.

At its most ambitious, that would involve some kind of carbon tax – an option that is now a topic of discussion at a number of Washington thinktanks, including the conservative American Enterprise Institute. © Guardian News and Media 2012
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« Reply #131 on: Nov 08, 2012, 08:44 AM »

Humans caused Great Barrier Reef collapse: study

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 16:15 EST

The long-term ollapse of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia can be directly attributed to farming runoffs from European settlements, a study published Tuesday claimed.

The study, published in Tuesday’s edition of The Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to connect soil and sediment filled with toxic chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides prior to the decades of climate-driven decline seen in the Great Barrier Reef, one of the largest living structures on the planet.

The study finds that the effect of this pollution basically stopped an important type of fast-growing coral, called Acropra, from growing in damaged areas, preventing the reef from repairing itself after major disturbances like storms or damage by boats dragging anchors.

“There was a very significant shift in the coral community composition that was associated with the colonization of Queensland,” marine biologist and co-author John Pandolfi told Live Science. “They just weren’t able to come back after the 1950s.”

Although human activities near the reef are currently managed by the Australian government, they don’t yet have any regulations on farming runoff, which the study’s authors recommend. “Any kind of measures that are going to improve the water quality should help those reefs to recover,” Pandolfi reportedly said.
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« Reply #132 on: Nov 09, 2012, 08:04 AM »

Climate change ‘likely to be more severe than some models predict’

By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
Thursday, November 8, 2012 23:09 EST

Climate change is likely to be more severe than some models have implied, according to a new study which ratchets up the possible temperature rises and subsequent climatic impacts.

The analysis by the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that climate model projections showing a greater rise in global temperature were likely to be more accurate than those showing a smaller rise. This means not only a higher level of warming, but also that the resulting problems – including floods, droughts, sea level rise and fiercer storms and other extreme weather – would be correspondingly more severe and would come sooner than expected.

Scientists at the NCAR published their study on Thursday in the leading peer-reviewed journal Science. It is based on an analysis of how well computer models estimating the future climate reproduce the humidity in the tropics and subtropics that has been observed in recent years. They found that the most accurate models were most likely to best reproduce cloud cover, which is a major influence on warming. These models were also those that showed the highest global temperature rises, in future if emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase.

John Fasullo, one of the researchers, said: “There is a striking relationship between how well climate models simulate relative humidity in key areas and how much warming they show in response to increasing carbon dioxide. Given how fundamental these processes are to clouds and the overall global climate, our findings indicate that warming is likely to be on the high side of current projections.”

Extreme weather has been much in evidence around the globe this year, with superstorm Sandy’s devastating impact on New York the most recent example. There has also been drought across much of the US’s grain-growing area, and problems with the Indian monsoon. In the UK, one of the worst droughts on record gave way to the wettest spring recorded, damaging crop yields and pushing up food prices.

The new NCAR findings come just weeks ahead of a crucial UN conference in Doha, where ministers will discuss the future of international action on greenhouse gas emissions. The ministers will have to take the first steps to a new global climate treaty, to kick in from 2020, but so far have shown little sign of urgency.

The next comprehensive study of our knowledge of climate change and its effects will come in 2014, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes its fifth assessment report. Before that, next September, the first part of the report will deal with the science of climate change and predictions of warming.

There has already been increasing evidence of a warming effect this year – the Arctic’s summer ice sank to its lowest extent and volume yet recorded, and satellite pictures showed that surface ice melting was more widespread across Greenland than ever seen in years of observations. Experts have predicted that the Arctic seas could be ice-free in winter in the next decade.

The International Energy Agency warned earlier this year that on current emissions trends the world would be in for 6C of warming – a level scientists warn would lead to chaos. Scientists have put the safety limit at 2C, beyond which warming is likely to become irreversible.

Given this year’s extreme weather, the results of the NCAR may not surprise some. But for scientists, narrowing down the uncertainties in climate models is a key activity. “The dry subtropics are a critical element in our future climate,” Fasullo says. “If we can better represent these regions in models, we can improve our predictions and provide society with a better sense of the impacts to expect in a warming world.” © Guardian News and Media 2012

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« Reply #133 on: Nov 09, 2012, 08:22 AM »

Collapse of Maya civilization tied to drought: study

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 8, 2012 20:14 EST

WASHINGTON — A long catastrophic drought led to the collapse of Maya culture, a new study said Thursday, confirming a controversial hypothesis linking its demise to climate change.

The study, published in Friday’s issue of the journal “Science,” involved an international team of researchers.

“The rise and fall of Mayan civilization is an example of a sophisticated civilization failing to adapt successfully to climate change,” said James Baldini of Britain’s Durham University.

“Periods of high rainfall increased the productivity of Maya agricultural systems and led to a population boom and resource overexploitation.”

The progressively drier climate that followed led to the depletion of resources, which in turn sparked political destabilization and war, he noted in a statement.

Then, “after years of hardship, a nearly century-long drought from 1020 sealed the fate of the Classic Maya,” Baldini added.

The researchers came to their conclusion after reconstructing a record of weather in the Maya region — which includes parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras — over the past two thousand years.

They did so by using chemical and mineral analyses of stalagmite layers found in Belize’s Yok Balum cave situated about a mile (1.5 kilometers) from the Classic Period Maya site of Uxbenka and near other major Maya centers that were impacted by the same climate conditions.

Stalagmites are formed in caves by the continuous dripping of calcareous water, which allows for the measurement of precipitation over time.

Considering the Maya kept a meticulous record of political events by inscribing them on stone monuments, the authors of the study were able to “chart how increases in war and unrest were associated with periods of drought,” according to the statement.

The statement also said the role of climate change in the fall of the Maya civilization had previously been suggested but considered controversial “due to dating uncertainties in previous climate records.”

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« Reply #134 on: Nov 10, 2012, 08:00 AM »

Study: Climate change fulfilling most dire predictions

By Stephen C. Webster

A NASA-funded climate study released Thursday said climate models that more accurately project relative humidity and cloud cover are more reliable in predicting the overall rate of change — a revelation that, disturbingly, means the planet’s changing climate is fulfilling scientists’ most dire predictions.

In the study, published in the latest edition of the journal Science, the National Center for Atmospheric Research said when compared to data provided by cutting-edge NASA satellites, the top 16 climate models worldwide were most accurate when they tracked relative humidity instead of cloud cover, both of which have a profound impact on how climate fluctuates.

Unfortunately, the study said that models tracking relative humidity show climate change is following the most dangerous track in current projections.

“There is a striking relationship between how well climate models simulate relative humidity in key areas and how much warming they show in response to increasing carbon dioxide,” scientist John Fasullo said in an advisory. “Given how fundamental these processes are to clouds and the overall global climate, our findings indicate that warming is likely to be on the high side of current projections.”

Models predict the globe will warm between 3 and 8 degrees of warming on average over the next century, although some areas will be harder hit than others. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says these changes will reduce snowfall and ice cover, increase the acidity of the oceans, heighten the intensity of storms and cause sea levels to rise, making many populated coastal areas uninhabitable.

By 2040, the EPA’s “higher emissions scenario” projects average temperatures between 4-7 degrees hotter than the baseline average climate from 1961-1979. In the longer term, the EPA warns that Americans can expect to face temperatures up to 11 degrees hotter than average by the century’s end, leaving many parts of the country with temperatures over 90 degrees for nearly six months a year.

“If we continue with business as usual this century, we will drive to extinction 20 to 50 percent of the species on the planet,” leading NASA climate scientist James Hansen said in August. “We are pushing the system an order of magnitude faster than any natural changes of climate in the past.”

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