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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 143435 times)
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« Reply #180 on: Dec 21, 2012, 09:53 AM »

Originally published December 20, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Page modified December 20, 2012 at 2:02 PM

In the USA...
2012 another weather record-setter, fits climate forecasts

AP Science Writer

As 2012 began, winter in the U.S. went AWOL. Spring and summer arrived early with wildfires, blistering heat and drought. And fall hit the eastern third of the country with the ferocity of Superstorm Sandy.

This past year's weather was deadly, costly and record-breaking everywhere - but especially in the United States.

If that sounds familiar, it should. The previous year also was one for the record books.

"We've had two years now of some angry events," said Deke Arndt, U.S. National Climatic Data Center monitoring chief. "I'm hoping that 2013 is really boring."

In 2012 many of the warnings scientists have made about global warming went from dry studies in scientific journals to real-life video played before our eyes: Record melting of the ice in the Arctic Ocean. U.S. cities baking at 95 degrees or hotter. Widespread drought. Flooding. Storm surge inundating swaths of New York City.

All of that was predicted years ago by climate scientists and all of that happened in 2012.

"What was predicted was there would be more of these things," said Michel Jarraud, secretary general for the World Meteorological Organization.

Globally, five countries this year set heat records, but none set cold records. 2012 is on track to be the warmest year on record in the United States. Worldwide, the average through November suggests it will be the eighth warmest since global record-keeping began in 1880.

July was the hottest month in record-keeping U.S. history, averaging 77.6 degrees. Over the year, more than 69,000 local heat records were set - including 356 locations in 34 states that hit their highest-ever temperature mark.

America's heartland lurched from one extreme to the other without stopping at "normal." Historic flooding in 2011 gave way to devastating drought in 2012.

"The normal has changed, I guess," said U.S. National Weather Service acting director Laura Furgione. "The normal is extreme."

While much of the U.S. struggled with drought that conjured memories of the Dust Bowl, parts of Africa, Russia, Pakistan, Colombia, Australia and China dealt with the other extreme: deadly and expensive flooding.

But the most troubling climate development this year was the melting at the top of the world, Jarraud said. Summer sea ice in the Arctic shrank to 18 percent below the previous record low. The normally ice-packed Arctic passages were open to shipping much of the summer, more than ever before, and a giant Russian tanker carrying liquefied natural gas made a delivery that way to prove how valuable this route has become, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Also in Greenland, 97 percent of the surface ice sheet had some melting. Changes in the Arctic alter the rest of the world's weather and "melting of the ice means an amplifying of the warming," Jarraud said.

There were other weather extremes no one predicted: A European winter cold snap that killed more than 800 people. A bizarre summer windstorm called a derecho in the U.S. mid-Atlantic that left millions without power. Antarctic sea ice that inched to a record high. More than a foot of post-Thanksgiving rain in the western U.S. Super Typhoon Bopha, which killed hundreds of people in the Philippines and was the southernmost storm of its kind.

The United States has had "some quiet years while the rest of the world was quite wild," but that's not the case this year, Arndt said. Insurance giant Munich Re in a report this fall concluded: "Nowhere in the world is the rising number of annual natural catastrophes more evident than in North America."

In 2011, the United States set a record with 14 billion-dollar weather disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a preliminary count of 11 such disasters this year. And NOAA's official climate extreme index, which tallies disasters and rare events like super-hot days, is on pace to set its own record.

Arndt points to the geographic heart of America, the Mississippi River, as emblematic.

On May 6, 2011, the Mississippi River at New Madrid, Mo., crested at its highest point on record. Less than 16 months later on Aug. 30, 2012, the same spot on the river was more than 53 feet lower, hitting an all-time low water mark.

The U.S. went through the same lurching extremes on tornadoes. Those storms killed 553 people last year, Furgione said. This year began with many tornadoes, then in April they just stopped. April to November, normal tornado season, saw the fewest F1 or stronger tornadoes in the U.S. ever.

"Every year is bringing different types of extreme weather and climate events," NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco said. "All storms today are happening in a climate-altered world."

Not everything is connected to man-made global warming, climate scientists say. Some, like tornadoes, have no scientifically discernible connection. Others, like the East Coast superstorm, will be studied to see if climate change is a cause, although scientists say rising sea levels clearly worsened flooding. They are more convinced that the heat waves of last summer are connected to global warming.

These are "clearly not freak events," but "systemic changes," said climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute in Germany. "With all the extremes that, really, every year in the last 10 years have struck different parts of the globe, more and more people absolutely realize that climate change is here and already hitting us."

In 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen, sometimes called the godfather of global warming science, ran computer models that predicted the decade of the 2010s would see many more 95-degree or hotter days and much fewer subfreezing days. This year made Hansen's predictions seemed like underestimates. For example, he predicted that in the 2010s Memphis would have on average 26 days of more than 95 degrees. This year there were 47.

Scientists - both those studying global warming and those studying hurricanes - have warned for more than a decade about a hurricane with big storm surge hitting New York City and flooding the subways. That happened with Sandy. Though it was never a major hurricane, it stretched across nearly 1,000 miles in the U.S., bringing storm surges, power outages to millions and even snow. Sandy killed more than 125 people in the United States and at least 70 in the Caribbean.

For decades, scientists have predicted extensive droughts from global warming. This year, the drought of 2012 was so extensive that nearly 2,300 counties - in almost every state - were declared agriculture disasters. At one point this summer more than 65 percent of the Lower 48 was suffering from drought.

And with lack of water, came fire, something also mentioned as more likely in scientific reports about global warming. Fire season in the United States came earlier than normal and lasted longer, officials said. Nearly 9.2 million acres - an area bigger than the state of Maryland - have been burned by wildfire, the third most since accurate recordkeeping began in 1960.

"Take any one of these events in isolation, it might be possible to yell `fluke!' Take them collectively, it provides confirmation of precisely what climate scientists predicted would happen decades ago if we proceeded with business-as-usual fossil fuel burning, as we have," Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said in an email. "And this year especially is a cautionary tale. What we view today as unprecedented extreme weather will become the new normal in a matter of decades if we proceed with business-as-usual."

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« Reply #181 on: Dec 21, 2012, 09:55 AM »

12/21/2012 01:38 PM

'Coal-aholics':  Poland Wages War on Efforts to Save the Climate

By Joel Stonington

Poland is addicted to coal. That is the message the country has been sending both domestically and internationally as Warsaw prepares to host the global climate summit next year. In Europe, the Poles are isolated in their fight for looser emissions reduction goals and against fixes to the EU's cap-and-trade system.

It is not everyday that a small legal practice receives a visit from a domestic security agency. So Tomasz Wlodarski, the director of Environmental Law Service Poland, said he was surprised when Poland's equivalent of the FBI paid him a visit in the fall. Even stranger, the officers asked for nothing that hadn't been previously published about the organization.

"Harassment is a big word," said Wodarski, "But these are actions that may cause people to feel pressure."

His organization was not the only one to have been called on. And government officials have done their part via the press. In October, Poland's Treasury Minister Mikolaj Budzanowski criticized an anti-coal environmental organization by telling a local newspaper that the NGO "should accept that there are limits to its activities," and that "they have exceeded their limit." Those statements caused about two dozen NGOs to write a scathing letter to Prime Minister Donald Tusk regarding what they called an "unprecedented attack" on Polish society, according to the European news website EurActiv.

The apparent pressure on environmental groups, while concerning, does not seem inconsistent with Warsaw's approach to issues relating to climate change. On Monday, coal-dependent Poland continued its virtually solitary opposition to a widely-supported -- and badly needed -- short-term fix for Europe's carbon-trading system, the continent's flagship policy in the fight against global warming. Such obstreperousness, however, has not led to Poland's being internationally ostracized. On the contrary, even as the country helped block Europe's ability to present a unified front at the recent climate change conference in Doha, Poland was chosen to host the next conference in 2013.

It is a decision which seems destined to make next year's conference, aimed at fashioning a global pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, just as unsuccessful as in years past.


The pessimism is born of Poland's ongoing addiction to coal -- and of the government's own interest in the status quo. Recently, Tusk told a press conference that "energy is the key to politics." And in Poland, there is little difference between the two. Despite communism having crumbled almost two-and-a-half decades ago, much of the energy industry in Poland remains under government control. Though many of the largest energy companies have been ostensibly privatized, the Polish treasury often retains a significant stake.

"There is a vested interest in maintaining the current power system, so the renewable energy system is too dispersed to benefit the right players in the system," said Michael LaBelle, a professor at Central European University in Budapest who teaches energy policy. "They are coal-aholics, that's the best term to use, it's horrible but it's true."

Poland is the 10th largest consumer of coal in the world and produces 92 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the World Coal Association. And despite EU targets for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, Poland is pressing forward with plans replace old coal plants with massive new ones.

That doesn't mesh well with Europe's CO2 emissions reduction plans. As Europe's emissions trading system grows and becomes more comprehensive, carbon should get more expensive. But Poland has responded by both fighting against making fixes to the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) -- which has been crippled by chronically low prices for emissions certificates -- and against more ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions. Warsaw has also pushed to get extra pollution allowances for new and existing plants.

"This is a situation in Poland, now, where the government is pushing state-owned companies to build new coal-fired power stations," said Marcin Stoczkiewicz, a lawyer with ClientEarth, a leading environmental law organization in Europe. "Sometimes those investments are not developing in line with environmental law, especially with EU environmental law."

'An Attack on Our Organization'

ClientEarth has not made too many friends in the Polish government. While Stoczkiewicz said his organization's offices in the Polish capital have not been visited by the police, the group was the target of Treasury Minister Budzanowski's October comments.

"This represented an attack on our organization and other civil organizations," Stoczkiewicz said. "The climate of the conversation changed. It seems that the government is trying to push for coal, for dirty investments, even if they are investments which break the law."

The push is also an international one. This year, Poland has twice vetoed new greenhouse gas reduction targets. And while those vetoes may ultimately be circumvented, Poland is also standing in the way of making the European Emissions Trading System work. The system involves gradually lowering the number of carbon emissions certificates on the open market, thus slowly making it more expensive to release carbon into the atmosphere. But the market is currently glutted, leading to a price-per-ton of emissions of just €7.13 on Friday, well below where it needs to be to act as a disincentive.

There is a united front across Europe -- one that includes not just leading European politicians, but also large utility companies and oil firms including Shell -- which agrees that a fix is necessary. And a short-term fix, involving the temporary reduction of emissions systems on the market, is on the table.

Poland, though, is not part of that broad front. On Monday, Poland claimed that the proposal to amend the ETS, known as "back-loading," would cost the country more than €1 billion over the next seven years, according to the news site European Voice. It is a statement consistent with Poland's outspoken stance that the ETS should not be tampered with, even as the need to fix the system has become more urgent.

The Limit?

"The Emissions Trading System is working as a tax with the highest burden on countries like Poland," Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec said in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We are already at the limit of what our industry and citizens can pay."

Still, it seems unlikely that Poland can avoid facing up to the problem on the long term. Even as CO2 emissions are currently cheap, the price will almost certainly rise in the future, putting pressure on Poland to lower its own output of the pollutant. The current situation, which sees the country relying on power from dirty, Soviet-era coal-fired power plants that have long since been paid for and are cheap to operate, cannot continue indefinitely.

Yet a greater emphasis on natural gas, which is cleaner than coal despite still being a fossil fuel, is problematic for the country. Much of Europe's supply of natural gas comes from Russia, a country that Poland historically distrusts. What willingness exists in Poland to pursue natural gas is focused primarily on drilling for shale gas in the country.

More Coal Plants on the Way

And when it comes to developing renewable energies, there is frustration in the environmental community. Many say that Poland's stance on renewable energy seems to come more from ideological issues than from a studying long-term economics and viability. Julia Michalak, a policy officer for Climate Action Network Europe, said that the strong mining lobby aligned with government combined with Warsaw's emphasis on energy security add up to a policy of blocking and fighting climate policy from Brussels.

"What is needed is a very robust and detailed analysis of both costs and benefits," Michalak said. "So far I haven't seen it."

Coal, in short, appears to be Warsaw's only strategy when it comes to energy. And the Polish government is moving forward with major investments in coal-fired power plants, planning to spend €24 billion in the energy sector over the next eight years with much of that earmarked for 11,300 megawatts of new coal plants -- an amount equivalent to Israel's peak electricity usage during a heat wave.

"Our economy is dependent on electricity produced by coal," said Stoczkiewicz. "This is the fact. But the policy should be to change this bad energy mix and try to find cleaner sources of energy."

Such a change, though, doesn't seem to be in the country's near future.

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« Reply #182 on: Dec 24, 2012, 09:32 AM »

Antarctic ice sheet warming faster than thought: study

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, December 23, 2012 15:20 EST

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, whose melt may be responsible for 10 percent of the sea-level rise caused by climate change, is warming twice as quickly as previously thought, a study said Sunday.

A re-analysis of temperature records from 1958 to 2010 revealed an increase of 2.4 degrees Celsius (36.3 degrees Fahrenheit) over the period — three times the average global rise.

The increase was nearly double what previous research had suggested, and meant this was one of the fastest-warming regions on Earth, according to paper co-author David Bromwich of the Byrd Polar Research Center.

“Our record suggests that continued summer warming in West Antarctica could upset the surface balance of the ice sheet, so that the region could make an even bigger contribution to sea-level rise than it already does,” he said.

Scientists believe the shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is responsible for about 10 percent of global warming-related sea-level rise, which if unchecked threatens to flood many coastal cities within a few generations.

The sheet, a huge mass of ice up to four kilometres (2.5 miles) thick that covers the land surface and stretches into the sea, is melting faster than any other part of Antarctica.

Data records kept at Byrd Station in the central West Antarctic had been incomplete.

Since being established in 1957, the research station has not been consistently occupied and has seen frequent power outages, especially during the long polar night, when its solar panels cannot recharge.

Bromwich and a team from several US-based research institutions used weather data from different sources to plug holes in the Byrd data and corrected calibration errors.

The updated log was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“Aside from offering a more complete picture of warming in West Antarctica, the study suggests that if this warming trend continues, melting will become more extensive in the region in the future,” said Bromwich.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 had projected sea level rise of 18 to 59 centimetres (seven to 23 inches) worldwide by the year 2100.

But a study by the US National Research Council said in June the actual rise could be two to three times higher, with polar ice-cap melt speeding up the process.

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« Reply #183 on: Dec 24, 2012, 09:33 AM »

Southwest will have less surface water over next decade, says study

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, December 23, 2012 16:22 EST

Southwestern areas of the United States, reeling from its worst drought in 50 years, may have 10 percent less surface water within a decade due to global warming, a study said Sunday.

While rainfall is forecast to increase over northern California in winter and the Colorado River feeding area, warmer temperatures will outstrip these gains by speeding up evaporation, leaving the soil and rivers drier, a research paper said.

Texas will likely be dealt a double blow with declining rainfall and an increase in evaporation, said the paper based on weather simulations and published in Nature Climate Change.

Overall for the area, “annual mean runoff in 2021-2040 is projected to be 10 percent less than in the second half of the 20th century,” co-author Richard Seager of Columbia University told AFP.

This “is a very significant decline given the stress on Colorado River-based water resources” for agriculture and household use, he added.

Runoff is rainfall not absorbed by the soil, running overland or in rivers.

According to the paper, California obtains most of its water from snow on the Sierra Nevada mountain range, while the Colorado River is fed from tributaries created by melting winter snowfall and summer rainfall.

The river provides water to seven US states and Mexico.

Texas, for its part, uses water from rivers and groundwater within its own borders, said the paper.

Average annual runoff for the region overall should drop by about 10 percent, and about 25 percent in spring for the Colorado tributary headwaters.

“Drying intensifies as the century advances,” added the paper.

“These projected declines in surface-water availability for the coming two decades are probably of sufficient amplitude to place additional stress on regional water resources.”
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« Reply #184 on: Dec 24, 2012, 09:35 AM »

Chile issues top-level red alert for volcano

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, December 23, 2012 19:00 EST

Chile issued a top-level red alert Sunday for its Copahue volcano, in the south on the Andean border with Argentina, as it rumbled to register a greater potential threat.

The National Emergency Office issued a red alert but did not order evacuations as no towns are in the current risk area.

“The intensity of seismic signals suggests the eruption in progress is on the smaller side (but) we are not ruling out the possibility that the activity could turn into a larger-scale eruption,” the Geology and Mining Service said in a statement.

While the 2,965-meter (9,700 foot) volcano straddles the two countries’ border, its crater, where most of the activity was under way, leans toward the Argentine side, experts told AFP.

And population in the area is sparse: about 500 people live in Copahue, a tourist town famous for its spa waters, about 900 in the town of Caviahue and an estimated 800 more in local indigenous Mapuche communities.

The June 2011 eruption of Chile’s Puyehue volcano interfered with air travel in much of the southern cone of South America and as far away as Australia.

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« Reply #185 on: Dec 27, 2012, 08:41 AM »

Study: Coral reefs decimated by Chinese economic boom

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 23:00 EST

China’s economic boom has seen its coral reefs shrink by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years, according to a joint Australian study, with researchers describing “grim” levels of damage and loss.

Scientists from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology said their survey of mainland China and South China Sea reefs showed alarming degradation.

“We found that coral abundance has declined by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years on coastal fringing reefs along the Chinese mainland and adjoining Hainan Island,” said the study, published in the latest edition of the journal Conservation Biology.

“On offshore atolls and archipelagos claimed by six countries in the South China Sea, coral cover has declined from an average of greater than 60 percent to around 20 percent within the past 10-15 years,” it added.

Coastal development, pollution and overfishing linked to the Asian giant’s aggressive economic expansion were the major drivers, the authors said, describing a “grim picture of decline, degradation and destruction”.

“China’s ongoing economic expansion has exacerbated many wicked environmental problems, including widespread habitat loss due to coastal development, unsustainable levels of fishing, and pollution,” the study said.

Coral loss in the South China Sea — where reefs stretch across some 30,000 square kilometres (12,000 square miles) — was compounded by poor governance stemming from competing territorial claims.

Some marine parks aimed at conservation had been established but study author Terry Hughes said they were too small and too far apart to arrest the decline in coral cover.

“The window of opportunity to recover the reefs of the South China Sea is closing rapidly, given the state of degradation revealed in this study,” he said.

The South China Sea is strategically significant, home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in resources.

China claims most of the sea including waters close to the shores of its neighbours. Rival claimants include Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, and tensions over the issue have flared in recent years.
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« Reply #186 on: Dec 31, 2012, 08:49 AM »

Brazil pledges to clean up decades of pollution for Olympics

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, December 30, 2012 19:52 EST

Near Rio’s future 2016 Olympic village the Marapendi lagoon emits a foul stench from waters that have been turned into a cesspool by unfiltered sewage from surrounding upscale condominiums.

Brazil has pledged the athletes will see a much different sight when they descend on the country for the Summer Games in four years.

The government pledged to clean-up the decades of pollution in its bid to host the Olympics, in a two-year project estimated to cost $300 million and slated to start early next year.

The municipality has also vowed to build four sewage treatment stations in local rivers at a cost of $68 million.

But it will be an uphill battle.

Waste from area lagoons could fill Rio’s iconic Maracana stadium seven times over, according to experts.

“The sewage dumped into the lagoon comes from the residences of the wealthy who do not provide proper treatment,” fumed biologist Mario Moscatelli during a dawn tour of the area.

Until five years ago, untreated sewage was dumped directly into the water system.

A treatment network has since been implemented and been made mandatory, but today the water utility network still only covers 60 percent of area homes.

“Some object because it requires costly work,” conceded Marlene Ramos, president of the Rio de Janeiro Environment Institute.

Today, dead fish can be seen floating in the fetid waters.

– “The lagoon is my lifeline” –

In early December, four tons of fish died in the lagoon because of the pollution and the heatwave that has brought 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) temperatures to the Southern Hemisphere this summer, Moscatelli explained.

The lagoon has also shrunk considerably. In some areas, the waters measure only a few centimeters deep, where it used to have 12-meter (40-foot) depth.

Waste sedimentation impedes navigation, and, in addition to killing fish, the lack of oxygen threatens other species such as herons, ducks, cabybaras and caimans who flee pollution.

And wildlife aren’t the only ones to suffer from the lagoon’s ruin.

“The lagoon is my lifeline,” said Ricardo Herdy, owner of the EcoBalsas company, which shuttles local residents, as well as offers aquatic sports classes as well as educational and ecological tours.

“I cannot develop projects as nobody wants to cruise dirty waters reeking of rotten fish,” he complained.

He confessed that he has considered closing down his business.

But local residents remember happier days for this ecosystem in the densely populated western Barra da Tijuca district.

“Up until 1985, I would fish in this lagoon. There were plenty of fish and shrimp. You did not have to go out to sea,” said Sergio Borel, who has been fishing in the area for 40 years.

“That changed when they began building these apartment buildings,” he said, though he holds on to hope the lagoon can come back.

“I hope that one day I will be able to fish shrimp here again,” Borel said.

Biologist Moscatelli hasn’t lost faith either.

“There is no question that a solution can be found to depollute the lagoon. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

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« Reply #187 on: Jan 01, 2013, 08:47 AM »

David Attenborough first to capture on film newly-discovered Galapagos pink iguana

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 1, 2013 4:26 EST

Veteran British nature broadcaster David Attenborough is to show the first filmed sighting of the rare pink iguana, in a television series on the Galapagos Islands which begins Tuesday.

The 86-year-old filmed the rare Conolophus Marthae iguana in June last year for his new series “Galapagos 3D”, which goes out on Britain’s Sky television.

It was only identified as a separate species in recent years and it will be the first time the creature has been seen on screen.

It was filmed on the island of Isabela in the volcanic Ecuadoran archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.

“It was a privilege to see it,” said Attenborough.

“It’s a remarkable thing in this day and age when you think about the number of scientists per square metre in the Galapagos, and yet suddenly we have discovered a new species.

“A little periwinkle or something which nobody has identified before is one thing, but this is more than that: it’s a large, pink iguana.”

Series executive producer Geffen added: “When he finally came face-to-face with the iguana it was just one of the most extraordinary moments that I’ve ever experienced: here was the world’s greatest naturalist coming face-to-face with a new species.

“In the footsteps of Charles Darwin but almost 200 years later, David Attenborough was capturing the rare species on film for the first time.”

Attenborough celebrated 60 years with the BBC last year in a career that has seen him win many awards and the respect of the scientific community.

Watch Anthony Geffen chat with David Attenborough about the discovery of the pink iguana in this video uploaded to YouTube below:

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« Reply #188 on: Jan 02, 2013, 08:38 AM »

Documentary filmmaker invites Estonians to visit his 14 man-made lakes

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 1, 2013 16:00 EST

It started as a whim, but snowballed into a life-long passion.

Estonian Tonu Tamm has dedicated the past two decades of his life to his obsession of creating artificial lakes.

Surrounded by water in the south of the small Baltic republic, his enthusiasm is infectious as he insists everyone should do their bit for the environment and take tiny steps that help bring calm to a troubled world.

“People might think it’s very hard to make a lake, but you just need a suitable landscape and some knowledge, including about dams,” the 71-year-old told AFP.

“It all started in the spring of 1981. After spending all our summers from 1966 to 1980 on wild nature trips to Siberia, where I made several TV documentaries, I decided with my wife Tiiu-Mall to buy a summer cottage in Estonia,” he explained.

At the time, Estonia was under Soviet rule. As in other communist-bloc states, escape to the countryside was one way for urban dwellers to forget the political sloganeering of daily life.

Despite the Soviet command economy, it was still possible to buy a cottage or exchange a city apartment for one.

“The plan was just to have a cottage to relax at weekends and retire when we got old. But when we arrived here, for one day only, the beauty of nature stunned us so much that we decided to stay forever,” Tamm said.

Having loved the lakes he saw on his travels, he dreamed of having one near his new home.

“So I decided to make a lake myself. And suddenly making lakes just became part of my life,” he explained.

After the nation of 1.3 million regained its independence peacefully in 1991, it became possible to buy privatised land and homes in exchange for coupons issued for the number of Soviet-era working years in a family.

Tamm gradually expanded his holding to 250 hectares (618 acres), turning fields into 14 lakes which cover 39 hectares in total.

The biggest lake covers 10 hectares and is 400 metres (1,300 feet) long, and has gradually filled with fish.

“People like how Tonu Tamm and his family have put nature at work in Leigo,” Sirje Laansoo, a 50-year-old cosmetologist from the capital Tallinn, told AFP.

“Whenever we go there with family, they have a magic feeling, and that’s what attracts people to return,” she said.

The biggest lake is where he indulges his other passion: classical music.

Tamm built two concert stages and now draws thousands of music lovers to an annual festival which he launched in 1998 — as well as the likes of star conductors Neeme and Paavo Jarvi, who hail from Estonia and perform for free.

“We make a decent income from farm tourism because people like to have various celebrations or just a quiet vacation here. But the festival, which takes a huge amount of work to organise, generally brings in less money than we invest,” Tiiu-Mall Tamm told AFP.

“But we keep on, because the music festival and gratitude of people attending and performing has brought so much meaning to our lives,” she added.

Her husband already has his sights on something new.

“I dream of a day when Swan Lake will be danced on the lake, with a stage slightly below water level,” he said.

“The key to happiness is creativity,” he added.

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« Reply #189 on: Jan 02, 2013, 11:16 PM »

(the Milky Way is one of billions of galaxies)

Milky Way Contains At Least 100 Billion Planets, New Analysis Finds

The Milky Way contains at least 100 billion planets, or enough to have one for each of its stars, and many of them are likely to be capable of supporting conditions favorable to life, according to a new estimate from scientists at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California (Caltech).

That specific figure of 100 billion planets has been suggested by earlier, separate studies, but the new analysis corroborates the earlier numbers and may even add to them, as it was conducted on a single star system — Kepler 32 — which contains five planets and is located some 1,000 light years away from Earth in between the patch of sky found between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, where NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope is pointed.

In fact, the new star census estimate, which came after scientists verified three of the five planets around the star Kepler 32, is strictly conservative, according to the Caltech astronomers who developed it after studying the Kepler 32 system.

“There’s room for these numbers to really grow,” said Jonathan Swift, a Caltech astronomer who is the lead author on a paper on the new findings, in a phone interview with TPM. “They’re not going to shrink. Our calculation is new in the sense that we are making the calculation of planets in compact systems around the most populous type of stars in the galaxy.”

Swift and his colleagues used Kepler data collected outside of the space telescope’s main mission, which is to hunt for Earthlike planets around Sun-like stars. But the Kepler telescope, which can detect the relatively minute fluctuations in light from faraway stars when orbiting planets pass in front of them, also picks up a few of the brighter types of a smaller type of star known as a red dwarf. The Caltech astronomers and colleagues from the University of Notre Dame and University of Chicago were able to focus on one of these types of stars, Kepler 32, and study it in greater detail.

The paper outlining the find was published Wednesday in the Astrophysical Journal.

Aside from providing a more accurate picture of the makeup of our galaxy, Swift and his colleagues’ findings indicate that most of the planets outside of our Solar System formed in star systems very different from our own, much closer to their parent stars, but with similar potentials for supporting life.

Red dwarfs like Kepler 32 are thought to make up about 75 percent of the total stars in the entire galaxy, but can’t be seen by the naked eye here on Earth or most telescopes because they are so faint.

“You can think of them as the ‘Silent Majority’ of the galaxy,” said John Johnson, an assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech who also participated in the study and was a co-author on the paper.

Red dwarfs are cooler, less dense, and less luminous stars than our own Sun. The specific star Swift looked at, Kepler 32, is about half the mass and half the radius of the Sun.

But that turns out to be a bonus when it comes to the capacity for Kepler 32 and other red dwarf systems to have conditions favorable to life. Because the stars are so much smaller and cooler than the Sun, the habitable zone — the area where any orbiting planets have surface temperatures amenable to liquid water — is much closer than in our own Solar System.

“The outermost planet in the Kepler 32 system is just a tenth distance Earth to our Sun,” noted Swift. “But it could still be amenable to liquid water because it is just inside edge of habitable zone.”

That said, in this particular case, the planet is likely to be similar to Neptune — comprised primarily of ice and gas with some rock mixed in.

“We think it lacks a solid surface,” said Johnson, “I probably wouldn’t recommend going there on vacation.”

But overall, the chances of life on such planets are good, because they and their parent stars are likely to be much older and longer-lasting than Earth’s Sun, between two and 10 billion years. That’s because they sip less fuel over time.

So in the future, when Earth’s Sun begins to run out of fuel after another 4 billion years, any intelligent life still on the planet would do well to migrate to a system like Kepler 32.

“This star will be there when the last Sun-like stars die,” Johnson concluded.

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« Reply #190 on: Jan 03, 2013, 10:11 AM »

Astronomers discover origins of gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 2, 2013 14:37 EST

Astronomers using the most advanced land telescope in the world said on Wednesday they had unlocked knowledge about how formidable “gas giant” planets such Jupiter and Saturn come into being.

These vast but uninhabitable worlds are created by gobbling up gas and dust that envelope young stars in a murky disc, they believe.

The evidence comes from observations of a youthful star called HD 142527 which is located more than 450 light years from Earth.

Stars are born from a cloud of cosmic gas and dust, which surrounds the star for millions of years after it bursts into light.

Around HD 142527, the astronomers found an intriguing gap in the dusty disc, and they believe this was carved out by newly-forming gas giants.

The planets absorb the debris into their expanding mass as they circle the star, according to the investigation, appearing in the journal Nature.

The planets also feast on gas that streams across the gap from the outer zone of the disc to the inner zone, which helps to feed the infant star.

“Astronomers have been predicting that these streams must exist, but this is the first time we’ve been able to see them directly,” said University of Chile astronomer Simon Casassus.

Casassus’ team used the Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimetre Array, or ALMA, a hi-tech telescope still under construction at the European Southern Observatory’s site in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

By observing light at submillimetre wavelengths, ALMA is impervious to glare in the infrared or visible-light part of the spectrum.

Using it, the team spotted two dense streams of gas flowing across the gap, as well as residues of gas within the gap itself.

“We think that there is a giant planet hidden within (the gap), and causing each of these streams,” said Casassus’ colleague, Sebastian Perez.

“The planets grow by capturing some of the gas from the outer disc, but they are really messy eaters. The rest of it overshoots and feeds into the inner disc around the star.”

The gap itself is huge. It starts at about 10 astronomical units (AUs) from the star — meaning, 10 times the distance of our Earth from the Sun — and ends at more than 140 AUs. The putative planets probably lie at around 90 AUs from the star.

In a separate paper, also published by Nature, astronomers using a radio telescope in Parkes, Australia said that an outpouring of gas and charged particles from the centre of the Milky Way is a byproduct of the birth of new stars.

The mysterious energy was first detected in 2010, but only now has it been mapped.

The outflow contains about a million times the energy of an exploding star, and extends 50,000 light years — about half the diameter of our galaxy — and may play a role in generating the Milky Way’s magnetic field.

The energy blast would be lethal for life on Earth, but there is no danger as the jets are moving in a completely different direction to our home.

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« Reply #191 on: Jan 03, 2013, 10:14 AM »

Scientists mapping Great Barrier Reef discover corals at depths never before thought possible

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 3, 2013 7:20 EST

Australian scientists mapping the Great Barrier Reef have discovered corals at depths never before thought possible, with a deep-sea robot finding specimens in waters nearly as dark as night.

A team from the University of Queensland’s Seaview Survey announced the unprecedented discovery 125 metres (410 feet) below the surface at Ribbon Reef, near the Torres Strait and at the edge of the Australian continental shelf.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, chief scientist on the project, told AFP that coral had previously only been shown to exist to depths of 70 metres and the finding could bring new understanding about how reefs spawn and grow.

“What’s really cool is that these corals still have photosynthetic symibionts that supposedly still harvest the light,” Hoegh-Guldberg told AFP.

“It’s interesting to know how they can handle such low light conditions — it’s very deep dusk, you can barely make out much at the bottom.”

Researchers were particularly interested in how the coral reproduced at such depths. Shallow corals mate in a synchronised spawning event triggered by the moon which Hoegh-Guldberg said would be “very hard to see” at 125m.

“We don’t know the answer to that yet, they may be doing very different things to what shallow water corals do,” he said.

The deep water corals had been found to have weathered storms on the reef much better than those closer to the surface and he said the team was also looking at how ocean acidification and warming was impacting deeper reefs.

Hoegh-Guldberg said the team had been lucky to be able to dispatch the diving robot — unusually calm conditions had allowed their ship to stop on the windward side of the reef where large waves typically prevent access.

“No one’s ever seen these places. It’s pretty rare on the planet today,” he said.

The survey has had a number of successes, with checks under way on a number of specimens Hoegh-Guldberg said were thought to be new species records for Australia “and may even be completely new to science”.

“It’s just showing that we do have rich communities that can reach into the deep water,” he said. “We are yet to discover many corners of the Earth.”

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« Reply #192 on: Jan 04, 2013, 08:29 AM »

Tehran governor shuts down city over pollution

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 3, 2013 16:00 EST

Schools, universities and government offices in the Iranian capital will be closed on Saturday for the second time in a month because of high air pollution, Tehran governor Morteza Tamadon said Thursday.

Emergency services also advised residents to avoid unnecessary travel in the city, the ISNA news agency reported.

Tamadon said a pollution committee took the decision after smog failed to dissipate over the past three days, the Mehr news agency reported.

“Closure is not the solution but it is the best decision, considering the prolonged high level of pollution indicators,” he said, adding that current level of pollution was expected to last another three days.

Only emergency and health services would report for work, he said.

A similar measure was taken on December 3 when air pollution blanketed Tehran, with former health minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi urging residents to leave the city.

On Thursday, vice president for environmental protection Mohammad Javad Mohammadizadeh told state television that traffic restrictions would also be applied.

Tamadon said all sports activities would also be suspended until early next week.

Blamed mainly on bumper-to-bumper traffic, the pollution is a constant woe for the eight million residents of a city wedged between two mountains which trap fumes over Tehran.

Western sanctions on fuel imports have also forced Iran to rely on domestic production of petrol of a lower grade, and therefore more polluting, than in many other countries.

Efforts by officials to boost public transport, including extending the metro and establishing lanes for buses only, have barely dented the problem because of the growing number of cars, many of which are old and inefficient.

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« Reply #193 on: Jan 04, 2013, 08:31 AM »

‘Black Beauty’ meteorite could yield Martian secrets

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 3, 2013 19:38 EST

A fist-sized meteorite nicknamed “Black Beauty” could unlock vital clues to the evolution of Mars from the warm and wet place it once was to its current cold and dry state, NASA said Thursday.

Discovered in Morocco’s Sahara Desert in 2011, the 11-ounce (320-gram) space rock contains 10 times more water than other Martian meteorites and could be the first ever to have originated on the planet’s surface or crust.

After more than a year of intensive study, a team of US scientists determined the meteorite formed 2.1 billion years ago during the beginning of the most recent geologic period on Mars, known as the Amazonian, NASA said.

The abundance of water molecules in the meteorite — about 6,000 parts per million, 10 times more than other known rocks — suggests water activity persisted on the Martian surface when it was formed.

It is generally accepted that Mars had abundant water early in its existence — scientists ponder if life might once have existed there — but the nature of its evolution to a cold and dry place remains a mystery.

“Many scientists think that Mars was warm and wet in its early history, but the planet’s climate changed over time,” lead scientist Carl Agee, whose study was published in “Science Express,” told

Known technically as NWA (Northwest Africa) 7034, “Black Beauty” is made of cemented fragments of basalt, a rock that forms from rapidly cooled lava.

“Perhaps most exciting is that the high water content could mean there was an interaction of the rocks with surface water either from volcanic magma, or from fluids from impacting comets during that time,” co-author Andrew Steele said.

“It is the richest Martian meteorite geochemically and further analyses are bound to unleash more surprises.”

Unlike most Martian meteorites, it is thought to be from the planet’s surface, not deeper inside, as its chemistry matched surface rocks NASA has studied remotely via Mars rovers and orbiting satellites.

“Researchers theorize the large amount of water contained in NWA 7034 may have originated from interaction of the rocks with water present in Mars’ crust,” NASA said.

“The meteorite also has a different mixture of oxygen isotopes than has been found in other Martian meteorites, which could have resulted from interaction with the Martian atmosphere.”

More than 100 Martian meteorites have been discovered on Earth to date but most come from three meteorites: Shergotty, Nakhla, and Chassigny.

NWA 7034 has unique characteristics and it took scientists several months to ascertain that it did indeed come from Mars and not another planet, or from an asteroid belt.

“The age of NWA 7034 is important because it is significantly older than most other Martian meteorites,” said Mitch Schulte, program scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA headquarters in Washington.

“We now have insight into a piece of Mars’ history at a critical time in its evolution.”

Agee echoed those comments.

“This Martian meteorite has everything in its composition that you’d want in order to further our understanding of the Red Planet,” he said, noting that it “tells us what volcanism was like on Mars two billion years ago”.

“It also gives us a glimpse of ancient surface and environmental conditions on Mars that no other meteorite has ever offered,” Agee added.

It was not until the 1980s that scientists were able to determine the origin of meteorites by analyzing small pockets of atmospheric gas trapped inside.

Gases are released by heating the rock in a laboratory and then analyzed and compared, in this case, to the information gathered by probes orbiting Mars or on its surface.

The latest probe, the Curiosity rover — the most sophisticated ever sent to another planet — has since August been searching for signs the planet was ever suitable for microbial life.

“The contents of this meteorite may challenge many long held notions about Martian geology,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

“These findings also present an important reference frame for the Curiosity rover as it searches for reduced organics in the minerals exposed in the bedrock of Gale Crater.”

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« Reply #194 on: Jan 05, 2013, 09:54 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

What's going on around Andromeda? Curious structure puzzles scientists

Scientists have found 13 dwarf galaxies orbiting the Andromeda galaxy in what appears to be a fairly narrow ring. That makes no sense according to current models of galaxy formation.

By By Pete Spotts, Staff writer   
posted January 4, 2013 at 7:33 pm EST

Thirteen dwarf galaxies are playing a cosmic-scale game of Ring Around Andromeda, forming an enormous structure astronomers have never seen before and are hard-pressed to explain with current theories of how galaxies form and evolve.

According to current theories, the small galaxies, which contain as many as a few tens of billions of stars each, should be randomly arranged around the Andromeda galaxy.

Instead, they orbit Andromeda within a plane more than 1 million light-years across and about 30,000 light-years thick. For comparison, the latest estimates of Andromeda's girth put its diameter at more than 220,000 light-years.

The ring, if it can be called that, represents "the largest organized structure in what we call the local group of galaxies," says Michael Rich, a research astronomer at the University of California at Los Angeles and a member of the team reporting the results in the Jan. 3 issue of the journal Nature. The local group consists of more than 54 galaxies, including dwarfs, about 10 million light-years across.

Such rings don't appear when astrophysicists run their models of galaxy evolution, or when they model the local group's formation, he says. In addition, Andromeda and the Milky Way, the two most massive galaxies in the group, appear to be headed for a collision in about 4.5 billion years. The two galaxies are but 2.5 million light-years away and closing.

"Given all of this, we don't have a clear explanation for why this structure exists," Dr. Rich says.

Coming up with an explanation will be challenging. Andromeda was the only galaxy close enough to make the observation possible. But researchers would like to find more of these extended rings.

Larger numbers would provide increasingly rigorous real-world tests of any explanations scientists devise, notes Chris Stoughton, an astronomer at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., who was not a member of the team that discovered the ring.

In particular, he says, an understanding of these structures could help researchers unravel the mysteries of dark matter – a form of matter that provides the cocoons in which galaxies form and grow, as well as the scaffolding along which galaxies are distributed in the cosmos.

Dark matter earned its "dark" label because it emits no light or any other form of directly detectable radiation. Its presence is inferred by its gravitational effect on the matter astronomers can see.

**The team discovering the rings – led by Rodrigo Ibata of the Strasbourg Astronomical Observatory in France and Geraint Lewis at the University of Sydney in Australia – identified 27 dwarf galaxies in all orbiting Andromeda, also called M31. Thirteen of the dwarf galaxies shared a common orbital plane around Andromeda, and one was offset from the plane of M31's spiral arms by a significant degree.

Other teams had seen hints of the structure in the past, but this new work appears to build the most convincing case.

"They found a beautiful structure ... and did a very nice job of data analysis," Dr. Stoughton says.

Based on the distance from M31, the dwarfs orbit once every 5.5 billion years, the team estimates. Moreover, the stars in the dwarf galaxies are old, suggesting that if the dwarfs formed where they are, "the structure is ancient."

Dr. Ibata's team has offered up two broad explanations for the presence of Andromeda's ring of dwarfs.

One posits that M31's gravity attracted a group of dwarf galaxies in a single event, and perhaps the team just caught a lucky viewing angle as the dwarfs filed filament-like into the gravitational grasp of their new mistress.

The other is that they formed in place during the merger of two ancient gas-rich galaxies – a process that can form coherent streamers of stars in lesser mergers. Or perhaps during M31's birth, smaller halos of gas-bearing dark matter were captured by the more massive halo in which M31 formed.

Each explanation has problems, however, the researchers say.

With galactic 13 dwarfs on the same quest, the research appears to have put Ibata and his team their own unexpected journey.

**The discovery is a result of the Pan-Andromeda Archaeological Survey, an international effort at galactic exploration – focusing on M31. The team made its optical observations with the 4 meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Studies of the dwarfs' motions required a sensitive spectrometer bolted to the back of one of two 10-meter telescopes at the Keck Observatory, which shares the same summit.

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