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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 143210 times)
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« Reply #210 on: Jan 10, 2013, 08:07 AM »

Fears for a dozen killer whales trapped in Canada ice

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 10, 2013 4:45 EST

Twelve killer whales could be in imminent danger after getting trapped by ice in the Hudson Bay off the shore of northern Quebec, the Canadian broadcaster reported.

Video posted on the CBC website showed the giant sea mammals taking turns to breathe by popping up through a small patch of open water amid fields of white ice.

But Tommy Palliser, who traveled from the small Inuit village of Inukjuak, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from where the whales are trapped, said the hole is shrinking, creating a dangerous situation for the creatures who live underwater but need air to survive.

The federal government is sending a team of experts Thursday to investigate whether and how the whales can be saved.

Inukjuak mayor Peter Inukpuk called for the government to send an icebreaker to create a route for the whales to open water.

It should be possible, he told CBC, saying the Hudson Bay only froze over two days earlier and the ice is “not thick, thick as in previous years.”

He said the whales appear to be aware of their predicament.

“It appears from time to time that they panic,” he said.

“Other times they are gone for a long time, probably looking for another open space, which they are not able to find.”

But a department of fisheries official said it would be costly and complicated to send an icebreaker — since the machines are being used extensively and are not nearby. And even if one is sent, it may not arrive in time.

Experts told the broadcaster it is not uncommon to find whales trapped in a frozen sea, a situation that can often lead to death for the animals.

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« Reply #211 on: Jan 10, 2013, 08:19 AM »

Newly discovered colony of penguins receives first human visitors

Experts from Belgian research station in Antarctica are first to visit and photograph 9,000-strong emperor penguin colony

Press Association, Thursday 10 January 2013 09.00 GMT   
A previously unknown colony of about 9,000 emperor penguins has received its first human visitors.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and US colleagues discovered the colony from satellite images.

The birds' gave away their location by leaving faecal stains on the ice.

Three experts from Belgium's Princess Elisabeth Antarctica polar research station have now become the first people to visit and photograph the colony.

They travelled to the site on Antarctica's Princess Ragnhild coast in early December.

The expedition leader, Alain Hubert, said: "I knew from last year's satellite study that there could potentially be an emperor colony east of Derwael ice rise.

"Because we were operating not far from this the satellite location, I decided to force the way and try to access this remote and unknown place.

"The surprise was even more than all I could have expected or dreamed about: I realised while counting the penguins that this was a very populated colony.

"It was almost midnight when we succeeded in finding a way down to the ice through crevasses and approached the first of five groups of more than a thousand individuals, three-quarters of which were chicks. This was an unforgettable moment."

Hubert and Soete had been studying ice loss 30 miles (50km) from the colony at a remote site 150 miles from the Princess Elisabeth research station.

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« Reply #212 on: Jan 10, 2013, 09:50 AM »

Almost half of the world’s food thrown away, report finds

By Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian
Thursday, January 10, 2013 5:35 EST

Figures from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers show as much as 2bn tonnes of food never makes it on to a plate

As much as half of all the food produced in the world – equivalent to 2bn tonnes – ends up as waste every year, engineers warned in a report published on Thursday.

The UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) blames the “staggering” new figures in its analysis on unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free and Western consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food, along with “poor engineering and agricultural practices”, inadequate infrastructure and poor storage facilities.

In the face of United Nations predictions that there could be about an extra 3 billion people to feed by the end of the century and growing pressure on the resources needed to produce food, including land, water and energy, the IME is calling for urgent action to tackle this waste.

Their report, Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not, found that between 30% and 50% or 1.2-2bn tonnes of food produced around the world never makes it on to a plate.

In the UK as much as 30% of vegetable crops are not harvested due to their failure to meet retailers’ exacting standards on physical appearance, it says, while up to half of the food that is bought in Europe and the US is thrown away by consumers.

And about 550bn cubic metres of water is wasted globally in growing crops that never reach the consumer. Carnivorous diets add extra pressure as it takes 20-50 times the amount of water to produce 1 kilogramme of meat than 1kg of vegetables; the demand for water in food production could reach 10–13 trillion cubic metres a year by 2050.

This is 2.5 to 3.5 times greater than the total human use of fresh water today and could lead to more dangerous water shortages around the world, the IME says, claiming that there is the potential to provide 60-100% more food by eliminating losses and waste while at the same time freeing up land, energy and water resources.

Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the IME, said: “The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used to feed the world’s growing population – as well as those in hunger today. It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food.”

In order to prevent further waste, governments, development agencies and organisation like the UN “must work together to help change people’s mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers,” the IME said.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[A dumpster full of rotten fruit and vegetables outside a supermarket via]

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« Reply #213 on: Jan 11, 2013, 09:15 AM »

January 10, 2013

Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide


WORCESTER, England — Britons may remember 2012 as the year the weather spun off its rails in a chaotic concoction of drought, deluge and flooding, but the unpredictability of it all turns out to have been all too predictable: Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.

Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing — minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting — that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.

Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.

“Each year we have extreme weather, but it’s unusual to have so many extreme events around the world at once,” said Omar Baddour, chief of the data management applications division at the World Meteorological Organization, in Geneva. “The heat wave in Australia; the flooding in the U.K., and most recently the flooding and extensive snowstorm in the Middle East — it’s already a big year in terms of extreme weather calamity.”

Such events are increasing in intensity as well as frequency, Mr. Baddour said, a sign that climate change is not just about rising temperatures, but also about intense, unpleasant, anomalous weather of all kinds.

Here in Britain, people are used to thinking of rain as the wallpaper on life’s computer screen — an omnipresent, almost comforting background presence. But even the hardiest citizen was rattled by the near-biblical fierceness of the rains that bucketed down, and the floods that followed, three different times in 2012.

Rescuers plucked people by boat from their swamped homes in St. Asaph, North Wales. Whole areas of the country were cut off when roads and train tracks were inundated at Christmas. In Megavissey, Cornwall, a pub owner closed his business for good after it flooded 11 times in two months.

It was no anomaly: the floods of 2012 followed the floods of 2007 and also the floods of 2009, which all told have resulted in nearly $6.5 billion in insurance payouts. The Met Office, Britain’s weather service, declared 2012 the wettest year in England, and the second-wettest in Britain as a whole, since records began more than 100 years ago. Four of the five wettest years in the last century have come in the past decade (the fifth was in 1954).

The biggest change, said Charles Powell, a spokesman for the Met Office, is the frequency in Britain of “extreme weather events” — defined as rainfall reaching the top 1 percent of the average amount for that time of year. Fifty years ago, such episodes used to happen every 100 days; now they happen every 70 days, he said.

The same thing is true in Australia, where bush fires are raging across Tasmania and the current heat wave has come after two of the country’s wettest years ever. On Tuesday, Sydney experienced its fifth-hottest day since records began in 1910, with the temperature climbing to 108.1 degrees. The first eight days of 2013 were among the 20 hottest on record.

Every decade since the 1950s has been hotter in Australia than the one before, said Mark Stafford Smith, science director of the Climate Adaptation Flagship at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

To the north, the extremes have swung the other way, with a band of cold settling across Russia and Northern Europe, bringing thick snow and howling winds to Stockholm, Helsinki and Moscow. (Incongruously, there were also severe snowstorms in Sicily and southern Italy for the first time since World War II; in December, tornadoes and waterspouts struck the Italian coast.)

In Siberia, thousands of people were left without heat when natural gas liquefied in its pipes and water mains burst. Officials canceled bus transportation between cities for fear that roadside breakdowns could lead to deaths from exposure, and motorists were advised not to venture far afield except in columns of two or three cars. In Altai, to the east, traffic officials warned drivers not to use poor-quality diesel, saying that it could become viscous in the cold and clog fuel lines.

Meanwhile, China is enduring its worst winter in recent memory, with frigid temperatures recorded in Harbin, in the northeast. In the western region of Xinjiang, more than 1,000 houses collapsed under a relentless onslaught of snow, while in Inner Mongolia, 180,000 livestock froze to death. The cold has wreaked havoc with crops, sending the price of vegetables soaring.

Way down in South America, energy analysts say that Brazil may face electricity rationing for the first time since 2002, as a heat wave and a lack of rain deplete the reservoirs for hydroelectric plants. The summer has been punishingly hot. The temperature in Rio de Janeiro climbed to 109.8 degrees on Dec. 26, the city’s highest temperature since official records began in 1915.

At the same time, in the Middle East, Jordan is battling a storm packing torrential rain, snow, hail and floods that are cascading through tunnels, sweeping away cars and spreading misery in Syrian refugee camps. Amman has been virtually paralyzed, with cars abandoned, roads impassable and government offices closed.

Israel and the Palestinian territories are grappling with similar conditions, after a week of intense rain and cold winds ushered in a snowstorm that dumped eight inches in Jerusalem alone.

Amir Givati, head of the surface water department at the Israel Hydrological Service, said the storm was truly unusual because of its duration, its intensity and its breadth. Snow and hail fell not just in the north, but as far south as the desert city of Dimona, best known for its nuclear reactor.

In Beirut on Wednesday night, towering waves crashed against the Corniche, the seaside promenade downtown, flinging water and foam dozens of feet in the air as lightning flickered across the dark sea at multiple points along the horizon. Many roads were flooded as hail pounded the city.

Several people died, including a baby boy in a family of shepherds who was swept out of his mother’s arms by floodwaters. The greatest concern was for the 160,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon, taking shelter in schools, sheds and, where possible, with local families. Some refugees are living in farm outbuildings, which are particularly vulnerable to cold and rain.

Barry Lynn, who runs a forecasting business and is a lecturer at the Hebrew University’s department of earth science, said a striking aspect of the whole thing was the severe and prolonged cold in the upper atmosphere, a big-picture shift that indicated the Atlantic Ocean was no longer having the moderating effect on weather in the Middle East and Europe that it has historically.

“The intensity of the cold is unusual,” Mr. Lynn said. “It seems the weather is going to become more intense; there’s going to be more extremes.”

In Britain, where changes to the positioning of the jet stream — a ribbon of air high up in the atmosphere that helps steer weather systems — may be contributing to the topsy-turvy weather, people are still recovering from the December floods. In Worcester last week, the river Severn remained flooded after three weeks, with playing fields buried under water.

In the shop at the Worcester Cathedral, Julie Smith, 54, was struggling, she said, to adjust to the new uncertainty.

“For the past seven or eight years, there’s been a serious incident in a different part of the country,” Mrs. Smith said. “We don’t expect extremes. We don’t expect it to be like this.”

Reporting was contributed by Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem; Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Tzur Hadassah, Israel; Fares Akram from Gaza City, Gaza; Ellen Barry and Andrew Roth from Moscow; Ranya Kadri from Amman, Jordan; Dan Levin from Harbin, China; Jim Yardley from New Delhi; Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon; Matt Siegel from Sydney, Australia; Scott Sayare from Paris; and Simon Romero from Rio de Janeiro.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 11, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the organization for which Omar Baddour works. It is the World Meteorological Organization, not association.

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« Reply #214 on: Jan 11, 2013, 09:17 AM »

Astronomers spot biggest structure in the universe

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 11, 2013 9:04 EST

Astronomers on Friday said they had observed the largest structure yet seen in the cosmos, a cluster of galaxies from the early Universe that spans an astonishing four billion light years.

The sprawling structure is known as a large quasar group (LQG), in which quasars — the nuclei of ancient galaxies, powered by supermassive black holes — clump together.

The discovery in the deep Universe was made by a team led by Roger Clowes at the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute at Britain’s University of Central Lancashire.

It would take a spaceship travelling at the speed of light four thousand million years to get from one end of the cluster to the other.

To give a sense of scale, our galaxy (the Milky Way) is separated from its nearest neighbour, the Andromeda galaxy, by two and a half million light years.

“While it is difficult to fathom the scale of this LQG, we can say quite definitely it is the largest structure ever seen in the entire Universe,” Clowes said in a press statement issued by Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

“This is hugely exciting, not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the Universe.”

The paper appears in a RAS journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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« Reply #215 on: Jan 11, 2013, 09:19 AM »

Red-dust sunset as west Australia braces for cyclone

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 11, 2013 7:17 EST

Western Australians were bracing for a cyclone with residents warned to batten down for storms and destructive winds gusting up to 140 kilometres per hour (90 mph).

Cyclone Narelle was estimated to be 525 kilometres (325 miles) north of Exmouth and 505 kilometres north-west of Karratha near the Pilbara mining region and moving southwest at 13 kilometres per hour.

“Although there is no immediate danger you need to start preparing for dangerous weather and keep up to date,” the Western Australia department of fire and emergency services said in an alert.

Images posted by Perth Weather Live showed a towering red dust storm over the ocean ahead of the cyclone.

A huge wall of reddish cloud, topped off with billowing white rose up from the ocean.

Tug boat worker Brett Martin, who captured the fearsome pictures 25 nautical miles from the town of Onslow, reported conditions were glassy and flat before the storm hit late Wednesday.

But when the wild weather arrived, the swell lifted to two metres, winds increased to 40 knots and visibility was reduced to 100 metres.

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Austen Watkins told the West Australian newspaper the stunning view was created as wind and rain caused the storm to dump the sand and dust it had ingested while passing Onslow.

Western Australia’s Pilbara region is an important resources hub, with major iron ore and gas facilities. Cyclones are common in northern and western Australia during the warmer months of summer.

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« Reply #216 on: Jan 12, 2013, 08:51 AM »

Originally published January 11, 2013 at 8:51 PM | Page modified January 11, 2013 at 9:38 PM

Climate change moving faster than predicted

The draft report sums up what has become increasingly apparent: The country is hotter than it used to be, rainfall is becoming more intense and erratic and rising seas and storm surges threaten U.S. coasts.

By Neela Banerjee
Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – The effects of climate change driven by human activity are spreading through the United States faster than had been predicted, increasingly threatening infrastructure, water supplies, crops and shorelines, according to a review of climate science and its effects by a federal-advisory committee.

A draft of the Third National Climate Assessment delivers a bracing picture of environmental changes and natural disasters that mounting scientific evidence indicates is fostered by climate change: heavier rains in the Northeast, Midwest and Plains states that have overwhelmed storm drains and led to flooding and erosion; sea-level rise that has battered coastal communities; drought that has turned much of the West into a tinderbox.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report says. “Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer.”

The draft report — more than 1,000 pages compiled by more than 300 experts during the past three years — sums up what has become increasingly apparent: The country is hotter than it used to be, rainfall is becoming both more intense and erratic, and rising seas and storm surges threaten U.S. coasts.

It arrives days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its annual State of the Climate Report, which noted that 2012 was the hottest year on record.

Together, the two major reports and a year of drought, wildfires, floods and freak storms have teed up for President Obama the chance to take substantial steps on climate change, environmentalists said.

The report explicitly addresses the most controversial question in climate change, saying that consumption of fossil fuels by humans is the main driver of climate change.

The report adds that the changes are already exacting an economic toll: “Infrastructure across the U.S. is being adversely affected by phenomena associated with climate change, including sea-level rise, storm surge, heavy downpours and extreme heat.”

The report details 13 airports that have runways that could be inundated by rising sea level. It mentions that thawing Alaskan ground means 50 percent less time to drill for oil.

And overall it says up to $6.1 billion in repairs need to be made to Alaskan roads, pipelines, sewer systems, buildings and airports to keep up with global warming.

Sewer systems across America may overflow more, causing damages and fouling lakes and waterways because of climate change, the report said.

With the White House working on so many economic, foreign and domestic policy fronts, it remains unclear if the president will use the scientists’ findings and the evidence to speak up more on climate.

The White House declined to comment on the climate report because it had not had a chance to review it. It also would not comment on specific on any specific efforts Obama might make to address climate change.

The National Climate Assessment report does not offer policy proposals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions or to help specific communities adapt to climate change.

Instead, it details the risks they face.

The final assessment will be issued in early 2014, and public comment on the draft will be accepted until April 12.

Material from The Associated Press and The Washington Post is included in this report.
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« Reply #217 on: Jan 12, 2013, 08:53 AM »

6 million volunteers clean up garbage worldwide

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 11, 2013 10:56 EST

More than six million volunteers from 96 countries collected an unprecedented 100,000 tonnes of garbage last year as part of a global, web-driven clean-up campaign, cyber-environmentalists said Friday.

“Last year the most astonishing numbers of volunteers attended clean-ups in Sweden, Bulgaria and in Slovenia,” Tiina Urm, spokeswoman for World Cleanup 2012 told AFP.

Nearly 700,000 Swedes, 322,000 Bulgarians and 265,000 Slovenians turned out to clear trash, often illegally dumped garbage, pinpointed with special software using Google Maps.

“In the last five years seven million volunteers have attended our clean-up actions,” Urm said.

The Let’s Do It! campaign started in 2008 in Estonia, where organisers created special software to map and photograph over 10,000 illegal garbage dumps across the Nordic nation of 1.3 million people.

In what proved an unexpected success, over 50,000 volunteers collected 10,000 tonnes of illegal garbage from roadsides, forests and towns in just five hours.

Backers of the clean-up campaign say the world is drowning in 100 million tonnes of illegally dumped trash.

A global cyber-environmentalist meeting to be held in Tallinn in February will focus on ways to expand the global clean-up.

Pictures, data and maps about World Cleanup 2012 are available on
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« Reply #218 on: Jan 12, 2013, 08:55 AM »

Poachers hack apart 2-month-old rhino with axes and machetes

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 11, 2013 12:34 EST

A two-month old rhino was hacked at least 18 times with axes and machetes when she got too close to poachers cutting off her slain mother’s horn in South Africa, a conservation NGO said Friday.

“The poor baby had obviously tried to return to its mother while the poachers were removing her horn and they slashed at her face with a panga and an axe repeatedly in order to chase her away,” said Karen Trendler of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

The baby rhino had “18 very deep lacerations across her face, one which cuts right through her stump and the other through her skull,” but was said to be “doing remarkably well”.

Poachers slaughtered a record 668 rhinos in South Africa last year as demand on the Asian black market for their horns continued to surge.

Some think the material, which is of the same material as human nails, has medicinal values.

Those claims have been widely discredited.

The female calf is being cared for at a special orphanage for baby rhinos near Mokopane 250 kilometres (150 miles) north of Pretoria, Trendler told AFP.

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« Reply #219 on: Jan 13, 2013, 08:07 AM »

Originally published Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Beijing air pollution goes from ‘crazy bad’ to ‘beyond belief’

What phrase is appropriate to describe Saturday’s jaw-dropping air-pollution reading, when all of Beijing looked like an airport smokers’ lounge?

The New York Times

BEIJING — One Friday more than two years ago, an air-quality monitoring device atop the U.S. Embassy in Beijing recorded data so horrifying that someone in the embassy called the level of pollution “Crazy Bad” in an infamous Twitter post. That day the Air Quality Index, which uses standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had topped 500, which was supposed to be the top of the scale.

So what phrase is appropriate to describe Saturday’s jaw-dropping reading of 755 at 8 p.m., when all of Beijing looked like an airport smokers’ lounge? Though an embassy spokesman said he did not have comparative data, Beijing residents who follow the Twitter feed said the Saturday numbers appeared to be the highest recorded since the embassy began its monitoring system in 2008.

The embassy’s @BeijingAir Twitter feed said the level of toxicity in the air was “Beyond Index,” the terminology for levels above 500; the “Crazy Bad” label was used just once, in November 2010, by an embassy employee. According to the EPA, levels between 301 and 500 are “Hazardous,” meaning people should avoid all outdoor activity. The World Health Organization has standards that judge a score above 500 to be more than 20 times the level of particulate matter in the air deemed safe.

In online conversations, Beijing residents tried to make sense of the latest readings.

“This is a historic record for Beijing,” Zhao Jing, a prominent Internet commentator who uses the pen name Michael Anti, wrote on Twitter. “I’ve closed the doors and windows; the air purifiers are all running automatically at full power.”

Other Beijing residents online described the air as “post-apocalyptic,” “terrifying” and “beyond belief.”

The municipal government reported levels as high as 478 Saturday in central Beijing, according to The Associated Press. It was not clear why that number was lower, but even that level is considered hazardous according to EPA standards. (By comparison, the air-quality index in New York City, using the same standard, was 19 at 6 a.m. Saturday.)

Pollution levels in Beijing had been creeping up for days, and readings were regularly topping 300 by midweek. The interior of the gleaming Terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital International Airport was filled with a thick haze Thursday. The next day, people working in office towers in downtown Beijing found it impossible to make out skyscrapers just a few blocks away. Some city residents scoured stores in search of masks and air filters.

It was unclear exactly what was responsible for the rise in levels of particulate matter, beyond the factors that regularly sully the air in Beijing. Factories operating in neighboring Hebei province ring the city of more than 20 million. The number of vehicles on Beijing’s streets has been multiplying at an astounding rate. And Beijing sits on a plain flanked by hills and escarpments that can trap pollution on days with little wind.

Xinhua, the state news agency, reported Dec. 31 that Beijing’s air quality had improved for 14 years straight, and the level of major pollutants had decreased.
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« Reply #220 on: Jan 13, 2013, 08:09 AM »

As Australia heatwave hits new high, warning that bushfires will continue

As crews battle 'atrocious conditions' fire chiefs say that lives have been saved by better ways of predicting outbreaks

Alison Rourke   
The Observer, Saturday 12 January 2013 15.48 GMT    

Australia's heatwave set a new high of almost 50C as authorities warned that large uncontrolled bushfires would continue to threaten areas in the south-east of the country.

Meanwhile, in remote Moomba, a gas exploration and processing town in the outback of South Australia, the temperature hit 49.6C by mid-afternoon, making it the hottest of the two-week spell, and 48.6C in the town of Bourke, 500 miles north-west of Sydney.

In other parts of New South Wales (NSW) authorities fought nearly 100 bushfires with many still out of control. Fire crews also fought blazes in Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. In the south, firefighters struggled to control a massive bushfire near the town of Cooma, that has burned through 10,000 hectares. In the late afternoon an emergency alert was issued indicating that danger from fire was imminent.

NSW rural fire service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the last week had presented some of the "most atrocious" fire-fighting conditions he had seen in 30 years. "When it comes to fire, this week will be recognised as one of the worst, if not the worst danger weeks NSW has ever experienced," he added.

Around 350,000 hectares of land has been destroyed and thousands of livestock have been lost. Many blazes have been grass fires which travel two or three times faster than an average bushfire. They are easy to start and spread quickly, particularly as there has been plenty of grass on the ground following two wet summers in 2011-12.

Fitzsimmons paid tribute to the fire crews' efforts in preventing major losses: "To come through those conditions with the minimum amount of property being reported as damaged or destroyed and no loss of life is an extraordinary testament to the fire-fighting effort on the ground and the strategies used."

Many fires began on Tuesday when large areas of the state were given a fire danger rating of "catastrophic", the highest possible level. High temperatures and strong winds fanned the flames of 140 fires across the state. "We've never seen conditions like that and never want to see them again," said Fitzsimmons.

Garry Morgan, chief executive of the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre, said big improvements in the way bush fires could be predicted, the direction they were likely to take and their spread had been significant in protecting lives and livelihoods. "If we'd had these fires eight years ago, we'd have had a big loss of life. It's been an amazing outcome."

Australia is one of the top three bush-fire-prone places in the world, along with the west coast of the US and France's Mediterranean coast. Improvements in weather prediction and communications have helped to change the authorities' ability to manage outbreaks.

"We can tell people where the smoke is heading, how far away the fire is and when to get out of their houses," said Morgan. "There's no doubt the messaging to communities about the dangers is much better too."

Fitzsimmons said there had to be "a demonstrable shift and an improvement to the way that communities engaged and warned" after the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, which claimed the lives of 173 people and shocked the nation. "There was a very deliberate decision made to improve our systems and our language to make sure we put out a clear and simple set of messages and instructions [to the public]."

In the past week the Rural Fire Service has had an unprecedented number of hits on its website, Facebook page, Twitter account.

The heatwave of the past two weeks has been a key factor in the scale of the week's fires. On Monday, the country experienced its hottest day on record, with an average high temperature across the continent of 40.3C, surpassing the 1972 record of 40.1C. The third-hottest day on record was on Tuesday.

The first nine days of 2013 have recorded average maximum temperatures of more than 39C, making the length, severity and extent of the heatwave unprecedented, according to the climate commission's special report on the heat wave.

The scorching conditions have come at the end of the hottest four-month period on record. Seven of the 20 hottest days by average maximum have been registered just this month. A delayed northern monsoon has meant that there has been less moisture and cloud cover over the continent, leaving a huge inland area to bake for most of the past two weeks.

The danger is likely to last for some time according to Fitzsimmons. "In the short term, over the next week, there is nothing in the forecast that demonstrates any meaningful substantial rain will fall. Until we get some, we will have a landscape susceptible to fire," he said.

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« Reply #221 on: Jan 13, 2013, 08:11 AM »

US scientists in fresh alert over effects of global warming

US National Climate Assessment reveals that severe weather disruption is going to be commonplace in coming years

Robin McKie, science editor, Saturday 12 January 2013 21.16 GMT      

Global warming is already having a major impact on life in America, a report by US government scientists has warned. The draft version of the US National Climate Assessment reveals that increasing storm surges, floods, melting glaciers and permafrost, and intensifying droughts are having a profound effect on the lives of Americans.

"Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience," states the report.

Health services, water supplies, farming and transport are already being strained, the assessment adds. Months after superstorm Sandy battered the east coast, causing billions of dollars of damage, the report concludes that severe weather disruption is going to be commonplace in coming years. Nor do the authors flinch from naming the culprit. "Global warming is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels," it states.

The uncompromising language of the report, and the stark picture that its authors have painted of the likely effects of global warming, have profound implications for the rest of the world.

If the world's greatest economy is already feeling the strain of global warming, and is fearful of its future impact, then other nations face a very worrying future as temperatures continue to rise as more and more greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere.

"The report makes for sobering reading," said Professor Chris Rapley, of University College London. "Most people in the UK and US accept human-induced climate change is happening but respond by focusing attention elsewhere. We dismiss the effects of climate change as 'not here', 'not now', 'not me' and 'not clear'.

"This compelling new assessment by the US experts challenges all four comforting assumptions. The message is clear: now is the time to act!"

Bob Ward, of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, at the London School of Economics, said: "For those outside the US, this report carries a brutal message because it shows that even the world's leading economy cannot simply adapt to the impacts of climate change. The problem clearly needs concerted international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to avoid the worst potential consequences."

The national climate assessment, written by a team of 240 scientists, is required every four years by US law. The first was written in 2000, though no report was issued while George W Bush was president. The next came out in 2009. The latest is only a draft version and will be revised after comments by other scientists and the public.

However, observers have noted that the 2013 version is far more uncompromising in its language. "The bluntness reflects the increasing confidence we have in the science and day-to-day realities of climate change," said one of its authors, Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Centre at Texas Tech University.

The report highlights, among other things, that 13 American airports have runways that could be inundated by rising sea levels, and that billions of dollars will be needed to repair Alaskan roads, pipelines, sewer systems, buildings and airports where melting permafrosts are disrupting the landscape. These are problems that will not just affect the US. They will be repeated across the planet.

Environmental groups are now hoping that the report will revitalise the debate over climate change in the US and stimulate the administration of Barack Obama into taking action over an issue that has been put on the backburner. "There is so much that is already happening today," said Hayhoe. "This is no longer a future issue. It's an issue that is staring us in the face today."
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« Reply #222 on: Jan 13, 2013, 08:14 AM »

Draft report from NCA makes clear link between climate change and extreme weather as groups urge Obama to take action

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Friday, January 11, 2013 21:24 EST

Future generations of Americans can expect to spend 25 days a year sweltering in temperatures above 100F (38C), with climate change on course to turn the country into a hotter, drier, and more disaster-prone place.

The National Climate Assessment, released in draft form on Friday , provided the fullest picture to date of the real-time effects of climate change on US life, and the most likely consequences for the future.

The 1,000-page report, the work of the more than 300 government scientists and outside experts, was unequivocal on the human causes of climate change, and on the links between climate change and extreme weather.

“Climate change is already affecting the American people,” the draft report said. “Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense including heat waves, heavy downpours and in some regions floods and drought. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting.”

The report, which is not due for adoption until 2014, was produced to guide federal, state and city governments in America in making long-term plans.

By the end of the 21st century, climate change is expected to result in increased risk of asthma and other public health emergencies, widespread power blackouts, and mass transit shutdowns, and possibly shortages of food.

“Proactively preparing for climate change can reduce impacts, while also facilitating a more rapid and efficient response to changes as they happen,” said Katharine Jacobs, the director of the National Climate Assessment.

The report will be open for public comment on Monday.

Environmental groups said they hoped the report would provide Barack Obama with the scientific evidence to push for measures that would slow or halt the rate of climate change – sparing the country some of the worst effects.

The report states clearly that the steps taken by Obama so far to reduce emissions are “not close to sufficient” to prevent the most severe consequences of climate change.

“As climate change and its impacts are becoming more prevalent, Americans face choices,” the report said. “Beyond the next few decades, the amount of climate change will still largely be determined by the choices society makes about emissions. Lower emissions mean less future warming and less severe impacts. Higher emissions would mean more warming and more severe impacts.”

As the report made clear: no place in America had gone untouched by climate change. Nowhere would be entirely immune from the effects of future climate change.

Some of those changes are already evident: 2012 was by far the hottest year on record, fully a degree hotter than the last such record – an off-the-charts rate of increase.

Those high temperatures were on course to continue for the rest of the century, the draft report said. It noted that average US temperatures had increased by about 1.5F since 1895, with more than 80% of this increase since 1980.

The rise will be even steeper in future, with the next few decades projected for temperatures 2 to 4 degrees warmer in most areas. By 2100, if climate change continues on its present course, the country can expect to see 25 days a year with temperatures above 100F.

Night-time temperatures will also stay high, providing little respite from the heat.

Certain regions are projected to heat up even sooner. West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware can expect a doubling of days hotter than 95 degrees by the 2050s. In Texas and Oklahoma, the draft report doubled the probability of extreme heat events.

Those extreme temperatures would also exact a toll on public health, with worsening air pollution, and on infrastructure increasing the load for ageing power plants.

But nowhere will see changes as extreme as Alaska, the report said.

“The most dramatic evidence is in Alaska, where average temperatures have increased more than twice as fast as the rest of the country,” the draft report said. “Of all the climate-related changes in the US, the rapid decline of Arctic sea ice cover in the last decade may be the most striking of all.”

Other regions will face different extreme weather scenarios. The north-east, in particular, is at risk of coastal flooding because of sea-level rise and storm surges, as well as river flooding, because of an increase in heavy downpours.

“The north-east has experienced a greater increase in extreme precipitation over the past few decades than any other region in the US,” the report said. Between 1958 and 2010, the north-east saw a 74% increase in heavy downpours.

The midwest was projected to enjoy a longer growing season – but also an increased risk of extreme events like last year’s drought. By mid-century, the combination of temperature increases and heavy rainfall or drought were expected to pull down yields of major US food crops, the report warned, threatening both American and global food security.

The report is the most ambitious scientific exercise ever undertaken to catalogue the real-time effects of climate change, and predict possible outcomes in the future.

It involved more than 300 government scientists and outside experts, compared to around 30 during the last such effort when George W Bush was president. Its findings were also much broader in scope, Jacobs said.

There were still unknowns though, the report conceded, especially about how the loss of sea ice in Greenland and Antarctica will affect future sea-level rise.

Campaign groups said they hoped the report would spur Obama to act on climate change in his second term. “The draft assessment offers a perfect opportunity for President Obama at the outset of his second term,” said Lou Leonard, director of the climate change programme for the World Wildlife Fund. “When a similar report was released in 2009, the Administration largely swept it under the rug. This time, the President should use it to kick-start a national conversation on climate change. ”

However, the White House was exceedingly cautious on the draft release, noting in a blogpost: “The draft NCA is a scientific document—not a policy document—and does not make recommendations regarding actions that might be taken in response to climate change.”
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« Reply #223 on: Jan 14, 2013, 08:46 AM »

Tens of millions could face droughts and floods due to carbon emissions: report

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 13, 2013 13:33 EST

Tens of millions of people may be spared droughts and floods by 2050 if Earth-warming carbon emissions peak in 2016 rather than 2030, scientists said on Sunday.

Climate researchers in Britain and Germany said emission cuts now would delay some crippling impacts by decades and prevent some altogether.

By 2050, an Earth heading for warming of 2-2.5 degrees Celsius (3.6-4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 could have two very different faces, depending on the route taken to get there, said their study published in the journal Nature Climate Change

Policies that cap Earth-warming carbon emissions in 2016 and then reduce them by five percent per year could see between 39 and 68 million people spared exposure to a higher risk of water shortages by 2050, Nigel Arnell of the University of Reading told AFP.

This is the best-case scenario, though.

In contrast, if emissions peak in 2030 and fall by five percent annually, the number who escape this risk drops to between 17 and 48 million.

Similarly, about 100-161 million people would avoid a higher risk of river flooding on the 2016-peak scenario.

This compares to 52-120 million people if emissions peak 14 years later, said Arnell, director of the university’s Walker Institute on climate change.

“Basically in 2050, the 2030-peaking policy has about half to two-thirds of the benefit than the best (2016) policy,” even though both lead to a similar temperature peak of about 2-2.5 deg C by 2100, he said.

“You may hit the same (temperature) point at the end of the century but… the mayhem that’s been caused on the way to that point is different under the different pathways.”

Under a scenario without any emissions curbs, temperatures could rise as much as 4-5.5 deg C, said the new paper which claimed to be the broadest assessment yet of the benefits of avoiding climate change impacts.

Global average warming of 4 deg C would see almost a billion people have less water in 2100 than they have now, and 330 million will be at greater risk of river flooding, Arnell told a pre-release press conference.

A peak in 2016 seems unlikely, with the world’s nations aiming to adopt a new global climate pact by 2015 for entry into force only five years later.

The latest round of UN climate talks that concluded in Doha, Qatar in December failed to set pre-2020 emissions cuts for countries that have not signed up to the Kyoto Protocol that seeks to curb warming, even as scientists warned the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere continues to rise.

Three of the world’s four biggest polluters — China, the United States and India — are among those with no binding emission limits, which cover countries responsible for only about 15 percent of the world’s carbon pollution.

Many scientists believe that Earth is set for warming that will be far above the United Nations’ 2 deg C target on pre-industrial levels.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions won’t avoid the impacts of climate change altogether of course, but our research shows it will buy time to make things like buildings, transport systems and agriculture more resilient to climate change,” said Arnell.
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« Reply #224 on: Jan 14, 2013, 08:48 AM »

Fire threatens top Australian telescope site Siding Spring Observatory

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 13, 2013 9:30 EST

Australia’s top research observatory home to several telescopes used by scientists from around the world was under threat from wildfires on Sunday as hot weather and lightning storms stoked scores of new blazes.

The Rural Fire Service (RFS) of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, issued an emergency warning for an out-of-control fire raging towards the Siding Spring Observatory, a remote global research facility.

“About a dozen isolated properties at Mt Woorut, including Siding Spring Observatory, may come under threat,” the RFS said.

“This is a large and dangerous bush fire… Police have evacuated the area around Siding Spring. Firefighters and waterbombing aircraft are on scene.”

Siding Spring, a mountain-top site in the Warrumbungle ranges about 500 kilometres (310 miles) north-west of Sydney, houses 10 operating telescopes run by Australian, Polish, British, Korean and American researchers.

Administered by the Australian National University’s research school of astronomy and astrophysics, Siding Spring is the nation’s major optical and infrared observatory and one of the top facilities of its kind in the world.

A university spokeswoman said all observatory personnel had been confirmed as “safely evacuated and accounted for”.

“The university is working closely with the NSW Rural Fire Service and monitoring the situation,” she told AFP.

Crews were battling difficult conditions, with temperatures in the area in excess of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahreheit) and hot north-westerly gusts blowing at about 60 kilometres (37 miles) per hour.

The fire was burning across a four-kilometre front, with a strong southerly change later in the evening expected to complicate containment efforts.

A partner observatory at Canberra’s Mount Stromlo was destroyed by wildfires in January 2003 that killed four people and razed more than 500 homes.

Five telescopes, residences and more than a dozen buildings were ruined in the Mount Stromlo inferno, forcing the termination of a number of major projects including a digital survey of the southern hemisphere’s skies.

Large parts of Australia have sweltered under extreme heat in the past week, sparking hundreds of wildfires that have destroyed more than 100 homes.

In the northern state of Queensland train services were halted Sunday due to fears that tracks would buckle under scorching heat that has seen bitumen road surfaces melt in some towns.

The RFS said lightning storms started about 40 new fires overnight in northern NSW, fanned by strong winds, though most were in remote areas and not a threat to properties.

By Sunday evening there were 134 fires burning across NSW, 43 of which were out of control, according to the RFS.

Wildfires are a common threat in arid Australia, particularly in the hotter months between December and February, and the government’s Climate Commission has warned that global warming will increase the fire risk.

Some 173 people were killed and more than 2,000 homes destroyed during the so-called Black Saturday firestorm in 2009, Australia’s worst natural disaster of modern times.

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