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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 146465 times)
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« Reply #375 on: Mar 29, 2013, 07:41 AM »

March 28, 2013

Study Links 2011 Quake to Technique at Oil Wells


A damaging earthquake in central Oklahoma two years ago most likely resulted from the pumping of wastewater from oil production into deep wells, scientists say.

The magnitude 5.7 quake, which destroyed more than a dozen homes and injured two people, was one in a series that occurred in November 2011 in an oil-producing area near Prague, Okla. The researchers said the quakes occurred near wells where wastewater had been injected into porous rock for two decades.

“The link is pretty compelling,” said Heather M. Savage, a geophysicist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, and an author of a paper on the quake published online this week by the journal Geology. “The aftershocks show that the first fault that ruptured comes very close to one of the active wells.” The first quake then touched off the others, including the largest one, the researchers said.

The findings are the latest to link earthquakes to underground disposal of wastewater from oil and gas production. Most of those quakes have been minor, causing little or no damage; the 5.7 quake is the largest in the United States to be connected to disposal wells.

The National Academy of Sciences has called for more research into links between quakes and well activities.

Last year, a well in Youngstown, Ohio, that was used to dispose of waste fluids from the production method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was shut down after scientists showed a link to a series of small earthquakes in the area. The Oklahoma oil wells used more conventional production techniques, said the new study’s lead author, Katie M. Keranen, a seismologist at the University of Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Geological Survey, a state agency whose mandate includes promoting “the wise use of Oklahoma’s natural resources,” took issue with the findings. In a statement, it noted that earthquakes had occurred regularly in the state, including some of magnitude 4.0, and added, “The interpretation that best fits the current data is that the Prague earthquake sequence was the result of natural causes.”

Pumping of wastewater continues at the wells in the area, and minor quakes still occur, but the authors of the new paper said it was not possible to say whether those smaller quakes were related to the disposal wells.

The researchers said that although the wastewater injection at the wells started in the early 1990s, data showed that injection pressures were increased beginning about a decade ago. Dr. Keranen said that was an indication that pressure down in the rock was rising when it became filled with water. The pressure would have reduced stress on the fault, causing it to slip.

But Steve Horton, a researcher at the University of Memphis who studied a series of quakes in Arkansas in 2010 and 2011 that were linked to disposal wells, said that in most cases the time between the start of wastewater disposal and the occurrence of earthquakes was much shorter.

“Even if the earthquakes just started five years ago, that would still be quite a long time,” he said.

That is why the researchers could not say definitively that the disposal led to the quakes, Dr. Horton said, adding, “What they said is as much as they could say, given the data.”
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« Reply #376 on: Mar 29, 2013, 07:43 AM »

March 28, 2013

Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms


BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees en masse for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.

A conclusive explanation so far has escaped scientists studying the ailment, colony collapse disorder, since it first surfaced around 2005. But beekeepers and some researchers say there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor.

The pesticide industry disputes that. But its representatives also say they are open to further studies to clarify what, if anything, is happening.

“They looked so healthy last spring,” said Bill Dahle, 50, who owns Big Sky Honey in Fairview, Mont. “We were so proud of them. Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy. We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before.”

In a show of concern, the Environmental Protection Agency recently sent its acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and two top chemical experts here, to the San Joaquin Valley of California, for discussions.

In the valley, where 1.6 million hives of bees just finished pollinating an endless expanse of almond groves, commercial beekeepers who only recently were losing a third of their bees to the disorder say the past year has brought far greater losses.

The federal Agriculture Department is to issue its own assessment in May. But in an interview, the research leader at its Beltsville, Md., bee research laboratory, Jeff Pettis, said he was confident that the death rate would be “much higher than it’s ever been.”

Following a now-familiar pattern, bee deaths rose swiftly last autumn and dwindled as operators moved colonies to faraway farms for the pollination season. Beekeepers say the latest string of deaths has dealt them a heavy blow.

Bret Adee, who is an owner, with his father and brother, of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota, the nation’s largest beekeeper, described mounting losses.

“We lost 42 percent over the winter. But by the time we came around to pollinate almonds, it was a 55 percent loss,” he said in an interview here this week.

“They looked beautiful in October,” Mr. Adee said, “and in December, they started falling apart, when it got cold.”

Mr. Dahle said he had planned to bring 13,000 beehives from Montana — 31 tractor-trailers full — to work the California almond groves. But by the start of pollination last month, only 3,000 healthy hives remained.

Annual bee losses of 5 percent to 10 percent once were the norm for beekeepers. But after colony collapse disorder surfaced around 2005, the losses approached one-third of all bees, despite beekeepers’ best efforts to ensure their health.

Nor is the impact limited to beekeepers. The Agriculture Department says a quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees. Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices.

Almonds are a bellwether. Eighty percent of the nation’s almonds grow here, and 80 percent of those are exported, a multibillion-dollar crop crucial to California agriculture. Pollinating up to 800,000 acres, with at least two hives per acre, takes as many as two-thirds of all commercial hives.

This past winter’s die-off sent growers scrambling for enough hives to guarantee a harvest. Chris Moore, a beekeeper in Kountze, Tex., said he had planned to skip the groves after sickness killed 40 percent of his bees and left survivors weakened.

“But California was short, and I got a call in the middle of February that they were desperate for just about anything,” he said. So he sent two truckloads of hives that he normally would not have put to work.

Bee shortages pushed the cost to farmers of renting bees to $200 per hive at times, 20 percent above normal. That, too, may translate into higher prices for food.

Precisely why last year’s deaths were so great is unclear. Some blame drought in the Midwest, though Mr. Dahle lost nearly 80 percent of his bees despite excellent summer conditions. Others cite bee mites that have become increasingly resistant to pesticides. Still others blame viruses.

But many beekeepers suspect the biggest culprit is the growing soup of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that are used to control pests.

While each substance has been certified, there has been less study of their combined effects. Nor, many critics say, have scientists sufficiently studied the impact of neonicotinoids, the nicotine-derived pesticide that European regulators implicate in bee deaths.

The explosive growth of neonicotinoids since 2005 has roughly tracked rising bee deaths.

Neonics, as farmers call them, are applied in smaller doses than older pesticides. They are systemic pesticides, often embedded in seeds so that the plant itself carries the chemical that kills insects that feed on it.

Older pesticides could kill bees and other beneficial insects. But while they quickly degraded — often in a matter of days — neonicotinoids persist for weeks and even months. Beekeepers worry that bees carry a summer’s worth of contaminated pollen to hives, where ensuing generations dine on a steady dose of pesticide that, eaten once or twice, might not be dangerous.

“Soybean fields or canola fields or sunflower fields, they all have this systemic insecticide,” Mr. Adee said. “If you have one shot of whiskey on Thanksgiving and one on the Fourth of July, it’s not going to make any difference. But if you have whiskey every night, 365 days a year, your liver’s gone. It’s the same thing.”

Research to date on neonicotinoids “supports the notion that the products are safe and are not contributing in any measurable way to pollinator health concerns,” the president of CropLife America, Jay Vroom, said Wednesday. The group represents more than 90 pesticide producers.

He said the group nevertheless supported further research. “We stand with science and will let science take the regulation of our products in whatever direction science will guide it,” Mr. Vroom said.

A coalition of beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups sued the E.P.A. last week, saying it exceeded its authority by conditionally approving some neonicotinoids. The agency has begun an accelerated review of their impact on bees and other wildlife.

The European Union has proposed to ban their use on crops frequented by bees. Some researchers have concluded that neonicotinoids caused extensive die-offs in Germany and France.

Neonicotinoids are hardly the beekeepers’ only concern. Herbicide use has grown as farmers have adopted crop varieties, from corn to sunflowers, that are genetically modified to survive spraying with weedkillers. Experts say some fungicides have been laced with regulators that keep insects from maturing, a problem some beekeepers have reported.

Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives.

“Where do you start?” Dr. Mussen said. “When you have all these chemicals at a sublethal level, how do they react with each other? What are the consequences?”

Experts say nobody knows. But Mr. Adee, who said he had long scorned environmentalists’ hand-wringing about such issues, said he was starting to wonder whether they had a point.

Of the “environmentalist” label, Mr. Adee said: “I would have been insulted if you had called me that a few years ago. But what you would have called extreme — a light comes on, and you think, ‘These guys really have something. Maybe they were just ahead of the bell curve.’”

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« Reply #377 on: Mar 29, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Germany pledges to help Greece develop renewable energy

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 28, 2013 15:23 EDT

The German government is to help Greece develop its renewable energy sector under an agreement signed Thursday by the two countries and an EU taskforce for the debt-laden country.

The accord, which entails German cash and advice, aims “to improve the general conditions for the development of renewable energies in Greece”, a German environment ministry statement said.

“In Greece the production costs of solar power per kilowatt-hour are currently still clearly higher than here, despite considerably stronger sunlight,” it added.

Berlin will provide 250,000 euros ($319,000) of a one-million-euro budget earmarked for the initial phase of the project, with the European Commission stumping up the rest.

In 2010 the Commission set up a taskforce, to which EU countries contribute with expertise in different areas, to help Greece carry out reforms following its first request for financial aid from its European partners.

In Germany renewable energy is subsidised and currently makes up 20 percent of the country’s electricity production.

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« Reply #378 on: Mar 31, 2013, 07:45 AM »

A glorious winter, but the Alps face a warmer world – bringing huge change

Under Mont Blanc's glittering peak, mountain guides and scientists tell the same story: the Alps are warming, the evidence of climate change is clear and the golden years of ski tourism will soon be past

Kim Willsher in Chamonix
The Observer, Sunday 31 March 2013   

From his office in the alpine ski resort of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, meteorologist Gilles Brunot is looking out at snow-capped peaks washed with spring sunshine, resplendent under a pale blue sky.

Much of northern Europe is pining for spring, but nobody here is complaining about the weather. Why would they? First, a surprisingly clement autumn brought the hikers and climbers in droves. Then, seamlessly, winter arrived with early snowfall in November that has been topped up regularly until last week, delighting the skiers.

Fabulous for the tourist industry, of course. And as the snow accumulates on the ski slopes, 2013 hardly seems to be adding to the body of evidence of global warming. Deep in the Alps, however, scientists are observing, monitoring and reporting the effects of changing climate patterns: there may not be many more golden years like this.

Brunot has only to click on his computer to generate the information that gives cause for concern. Up springs a graph that charts average temperatures in the alpine town of Annecy since the late 19th century. Since 1987 there has been no average annual temperature below 9.6C. Today the average is around 10.8C. A yellow line showing the rise in average temperatures rises as steeply as one of the Mont Blanc peaks outside the scientist's window.

Some interpreters of the graph have argued that the temperature rise was due to the town's growth, so researchers looked at average temperatures in the Swiss village of Jungfrau, at an altitude of 3,800m. They found the same results, said Brunot.

"We are finding the same rises in temperature in the high mountains, showing it is not linked to conglomerations. This is much more than the overall average change in the planet of around 0.75C. It is true that the average is worked out including the water covering the Earth, and of course the sea warms up less than the continents, but it is still very high.

"We are also seeing less snow in lower lying areas of under 1,000m. Around 40% less over the last 50 years. At higher altitudes 2,000m and above there is no evolution. The level at which precipitation turns from snow to rain appears to have dropped by 200m."

Brunot clicked up another graph of snowfall at under 1,000m altitude in the Alps. The slope is gentle but testifies to a clear decline. "What this evidence shows is that since the 1990s there has been a rapid rise in temperatures in the mountains and since the 1960s there has been a slower, but evident, trend of less snow at lower altitudes," he said.

"The indicators that the Alps are warming up is clear. These findings are worrying, very worrying – maybe not for right now but for the second half of the century.

"Chamonix probably has less to worry about because many of its pistes are over 2,000m, but ski resorts at lower altitudes, from 1,500m downwards, do have to worry. Things for them are going rapidly down. I would say it is hard to deny the facts that the mountains are warming up; it's the cause that is disputed. Is it a natural process or man-made?"

Chamonix, one of France's oldest ski resorts and host of the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924, sits in a valley overseen by massive peaks: the Aiguilles Rouges to the south and Mont Blanc, which rises to more than 4,800m, to the north.

For physical proof of how far the Alpine glaciers are shrinking, the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), 20 minutes by mountain train from Chamonix, is both breathtaking and worrying. Locals say this magnificent glacier, the longest and largest in the western Alps, used to pass just below the old 1960-built telecabin lift that plunges into the valley from Montenvers at 1,919m altitude.

Today, visitors, skiers and climbers must trek down a further 380 steps from the telecabin stop to reach the shallower, ghostly blue ice. Along the way, yellow plaques point out the level. In the last 20 years it has lost 65m in depth and since 1996 300m in length.

Victor Saunders, a British mountain guide who has lived in Chamonix for 15 years, said the Alpine landscape had changed during that time "without a shadow of doubt".

"I have climbed glaciers in every continent including Antarctica and can say the glaciers have been shrinking rapidly over the last 10 years on every single one. It is clear the glaciers are in recession, though of course 15 years is a tiny time frame in geological terms.

"If the temperatures go up by 1C, then the glaciers recede uphill by almost 100m so it is really very visible. People who live and work in the mountains are very aware of climate change."

Another British mountain guide, Southampton-born Andy Perkins, who first came to Chamonix as a 20 year-old-student more than 30 years ago, pointed to one of the peaks above Chamonix. "When I first came here there was snow on those trees halfway down the mountain. Today the whole idea seems ridiculous.

"My clients used to ask me if I saw evidence of climate change in the mountains but today they don't even bother to ask because there's so much evidence. Those who come back regularly can see it for themselves. I would say the lower level resorts, and even those up to 2,000m, are looking at a limited lifespan. Probably not in my lifetime, but not that far off.

"As a mountain guide I have also noticed massive variations in the weather conditions, which means it's much less predictable. You used to be able to count on going ice-climbing in January but I was doing so at 1,400m this year and it rained. Local people said it hadn't rained in January for 25 years, and it showed the freezing level in the mountain was rising."

An elderly local, who has spent his life in Chamonix, and who overheard the guide, said later: "You used to be able to count on several days of snow for every one day of rain. Now it's much more evenly spread."

Last year, the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc Valley authorities introduced a climate and energy action plan, the first in the French Alps. It is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the area by 22% by 2020. Among the proposed measures is a ban on the most polluting lorries using the nearby Mont Blanc tunnel. Their passage has led to spikes in air pollution in the valley to match those in Paris.

The plan acknowledges that temperatures have risen in Chamonix by 1.5C in the last 75 years and that the accumulation of fresh snow has halved in the last 40 years, accelerating the melting of the glaciers on the Mont Blanc massif.

"The changes in climate will have a major impact on the valley's main economic activities (tourism and leisure); less snow on low-altitude ski slopes, and the risk of increased pressure on high-altitude ski slopes," it says. Natural habitats, river patterns, forests and agriculture might be "radically transformed or disrupted" and it warns of an increase in hazards such as avalanches, floods and landslides.

François-Régis Bouquin, a director in the mayor's office in Chamonix, said: "People who were born in Chamonix tell us we haven't had a winter with so much snow for 15 years. But they also say there is much less snow now than there was, and if you've lived your whole life in the mountain you see these things. And there are places that don't get snow at all any more. In the long term it's very worrying."

Edoardo Cremonese, a climate change scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency of Aosta Valley, on the Italian side of the Alps, admitted that with fresh snow dusting the region it might not seem a good time to talk about global warming. "People do not understand climate change; they think it means weather, but climate change is not about the amount of snow falling.

"What we have seen is that the Alps and Alaska are the areas most greatly impacted in terms of temperature rises. In these areas we have seen a rise of between 1.8C and 2.5C, double the observed global rate. For those who are sceptical about climate change, I would say this is not speculation, this is fact. The question we as scientists have to establish is why this is happening in the Alps in particular."

He said: "The impact of global warming on the Alps will be certainly felt by 2050, maybe 2040 according to climate models, so we are talking about maybe 20-30 years. Politicians need to take decisions now to face the challenges; 75% of the people I know [in the Alps] work in tourism and this will be a great challenge. This is no time to be sceptical: it is everyone's future we are talking about."
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« Reply #379 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:15 AM »

Arctic ‘greening’ seen through global warming

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 31, 2013 15:51

Land within the Arctic circle is likely to experience explosive “greening” in the next few decades as grass, shrubs and trees thrive in soil stripped of ice and permafrost by global warming, a study said on Sunday.

Wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 52 percent by the 2050s as the so-called tree line — the maximum latitude at which trees can grow — shifts hundreds of kilometres (miles) north, according to computer simulations published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said Richard Pearson of the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

The Arctic has become one of the world’s ‘hotspots’ for global warming. Over the past quarter-century, temperatures there have been rising roughly twice as fast as in the rest of the world.

“These impacts would extend far beyond the Arctic region,” Pearson said in a statement. “For example, some species of birds seasonally migrate from lower latitudes and rely on finding particular polar habitats, such as open space for ground-nesting.”

In a separate study also published on Sunday, Dutch scientists said that iceshelves in Antarctica — another source of worry in the climate equation — have in fact been growing thanks to global warming.

Meltwater that runs off the Antarctic mainland provides a cold, protective “cap” for iceshelves because it comes from freshwater, which is denser than seawater, the team from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute said.

Iceshelves are the floating blankets of ice that extend from the coast. They are fed by glaciers that move ice down from the icesheet and towards the sea.

The freshwater acts as a cold coating for the underside of the iceshelf, cocooning it from warmer seas, according to their study, appearing in the journal Nature Geoscience.

This would explain an apparent anomaly: why sea ice around Antarctica has been growing, reaching the greatest-ever recorded extent in 2010, it suggested.

Other scientists, asked to comment on the work, concurred that the phenomenon was one of several unexpected impacts from global warming, a hugely complex interplay of land, sea and air.

If confirmed, it does not detract from the broader trend — and source of concern — from warming, they said.

“This is a major, new piece of work with wide implications for assessing Antarctica’s ice mass in the coming decades,” said palaeo-climatologist Valerie Masson-Delmotte of France’s Laboratory for Climate and Environmental Science (LCSE).

She pointed to a worrying rise in sea levels in 2011 and 2012, due partly to expansion of the ocean through warming and through glacier runoff, coming from mountains and also from Greenland and Antarctica, the two biggest sources of land ice on the planet.

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« Reply #380 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:18 AM »

Shocking: Tar sands oil flows through Arkansas neighborhood’s streets

By Stephen C. Webster
Sunday, March 31, 2013 22:06 EDT

Video published to YouTube on Sunday evening purports to show tar sands oil flowing through the streets of an Arkansas neighborhood following an Exxon-Mobil pipeline rupture on Friday.

“So that is a pipeline that has busted and has flooded the neighborhood, and is going all the way to a drain at the end of the street,” the cameraman explains as he drives down a neighborhood street coated on one side with a thick stream of black liquid.

“The smell is unbelievable,” he says. “Incredible. That is oil.”

It’s not just any oil, either: it’s tar sands, a heavy, gritty and more toxic type of oil that is particularly difficult to transport and even more difficult to clean out of water sources.

An Exxon-Mobil pipeline rupture that affected Montana in 2011 also happened along a line that ran tar sands, which experts say can corrode the inside of pipelines because of its heavy grit and harsh chemical additives that keeps the oil viscus enough to flow.

The Obama administration is currently considering granting a permit to the Keystone XL project, which would run a tar sands pipeline from Canada all the way through to the Texas Gulf coast. A recent State Department report claimed the pipeline would have “no significant effect” on the environment.

This video was published to YouTube on Sunday, March 31, 2013.

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« Reply #381 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:29 AM »

Gold and poaching bring murder and misery to Congolese wildlife reserve

Powerful supporters in security forces accused of complicity in brutal attacks by militia in Democratic Republic of the Congo

Pete Jones in Bunia
The Guardian, Sunday 31 March 2013 15.30 BST   

Early on a Sunday morning last summer, the villagers of Epulu awoke to the sounds of shots and screaming. In the eastern reaches of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that can often mean another round of violence and ethnic murder is under way. In this case, however, something even more horrific was afoot.

The village was under attack from a feared militia. In this case, the gunmen were motivated not by tribal rivalry but by land, gold and ivory. The village is situated inside a nature reserve in the Ituri rainforest, an area covering 5,000 square miles that is supposed to be off limits to hunters and gold prospectors. The militia, led by a former elephant poacher called Paul Sadala, has terrorised communities inside the reserve since 2012, employing methods brutal even by the grisly standards of this part of the world.

"The attacks were absolutely terrifying," said Justin Oganda, a representative of the residents of Epulu who remain displaced in Mambasa, about 50 miles away. By the end of that day in June, the militiamen had murdered, raped, burned people alive and even eaten the flesh and heart of one of their victims. "To have killed so many people, to burn them alive, the cannibalism … Mentally they cannot be normal," Oganda added.

As ever with Congo, it is not just a simple tale of victims and villains. Sadala, who goes by the nom de guerre Morgan, and his "Mai Mai Morgan" gunmen are thought to have powerful supporters in the security forces who enable their lucrative illegal trade in ivory and smuggled gold. Some local people with an eye on the gold in the ground beneath their feet tacitly support Morgan, who improbably also likes to be called Chuck Norris.

"There is complicity between [Morgan] and certain elements within the army," said Jefferson Abdallah Pene Mbaka, the MP for Mambasa. "With the support of certain army authorities [Mai Mai Morgan] have increased their poaching activities. The sale of ivory is organised by these figures in the army." Many people in the region believe soldiers have orders not to arrest Morgan.

Morgan's principal targets are those who operate and police the Unesco-recognised world heritage site known as the Okapi wildlife reserve, or by its French acronym, RFO. The laws of the reserve forbid the hunting of endangered species, especially elephants and okapi, and the exploitation of its gold reserves.

The headquarters of the park rangers is in Epulu, the village targeted in the attack last June. "Their goal was to kill all the guards, but most of us escaped," said Captain Benjamin Kalimutima Lulimba, a park ranger living in Epulu. "They murdered two guards, Fiston and Badus, and the wife of a guard called Amisi. They tied up Badus and Amisi's wife, put them inside a tyre and burned them alive. Then they cut and ate part of Fiston's leg, and they cut out his heart and ate it."

A group of militia fighters then broke off and moved towards the okapi zoo in the rangers' compound. The zoo had been established 25 years ago to house a small number of the timid and endangered okapis that are the familiar image of Congo's diverse fauna. Morgan's men slaughtered 13 of the 14 okapis there, and wounded the 14th so gravely it later died from its injuries. For Rosmarie Ruf, a conservationist with Gilman International Conservation (GIC) and co-founder of the zoo, this was the brutal end to a lifetime's work. "Twenty-five years of work is gone," said Ruf, sitting metres from the empty okapi pen as the Epulu river rushed past. "All that effort, all that money. It's my life which has been … I don't want to say ruined, but here now I'm standing in front of nothing."

The suspicion is that at least some of Morgan's booty winds up 280 miles south-west of Epulu, in the hands of the Congolese army. At the end of 2012 the United Nations group of experts on Congo issued a report that accused Congolese general Jean Claude Kifwa in the provincial capital, Kisangani, of giving "arms, ammunition, uniforms and communication equipment to Mai Mai Morgan in exchange for ivory".

Kifwa has vigorously denied any link to the militia, but one of Morgan's fighters, captured and held in prison in the district capital, Bunia, confirmed the trade with figures in Kisangani. "Morgan sent gold and ivory to Kisangani and our weapons came from there," said Basomaka Abundu, who took part in Morgan's attack on Mambasa in January.

Despite the brutality of the attacks, many reserve dwellers express sympathy for Morgan, with some even confessing to outright support for him. "I am behind Morgan," said an 18-year-old in a small village not far from Epulu who refused to give his name. "Because Morgan is here the rangers cannot patrol and we are free to dig for gold. But I wouldn't support him if he came here and burned our homes."

Most people, however, have a more nuanced position, saying that although revolted by his methods, they support his stated desire to see the size of the reserve reduced and more rights given to locals to hunt and dig.

"The forest is where we find what we need to survive," said Matope Mapilanga, the leader of a Pygmy community on the edge of the reserve. "[The park authorities] have cut our land, there is now a part we cannot access. It has worsened in the last few years, since the RFO got bigger. We would prefer that the people of the RFO weren't in our forest. We feel like the big non-governmental organisations and the rangers have privileged the animals over the people."

The conservationists remain unconvinced, though. "The people who say they support Morgan are just those people who want to dig gold and exploit timber," said Robert Mwinyihali, the project leader for Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) work in the Ituri rainforest. WCS has given financial backing to the park rangers and the Congolese Wildlife Authority's work in the reserve. "There are laws in Congo about the exploitation of resources," said Mwinyihali. "These people can either respect those laws, or they can ignore them and commit criminal acts."

WCS and GIC's support for the park rangers has led to accusations that they are partly responsible for the militarisation of the conflict. However, Mwinyihali said the biggest problem was the absence of effective intervention by the Congolese state, which meant NGOs and the park rangers had had to fulfil roles that should be the government's responsibility: for example, bringing in armed guards to track Morgan. Bernard Iyomi Iyatshi, the director of park rangers, complained about a lack of government funds for his anti-poaching operations.

Mwinyihali also accused the Congolese government of doing little to reconcile the park authorities and local communities. As mutual resentment and misunderstanding grows, Morgan and other armed groups are able to exploit the toxic atmosphere and continue their poaching, digging and savage attacks.

"There are no job opportunities created by government investment here," said Mwinyihali. "This has led to this crisis, where people have no option but to want to dig for gold. This leads to the conflict with the park authorities, and then it is only a small step to people taking up arms and joining militias."

Despite being a member of the ruling party, Mbaka is an outspoken critic of the government's policy, or lack of it, in the region. "Swaths of the park are inaccessible, there's just no infrastructure," he said. "It's an absolute scandal, there's potentially so much wealth here. It also means it is difficult to track and stop men like Morgan."

Even if Morgan is caught, people fear that his powerful backers in the army will find another militia to continue poaching and stealing gold. Back in Mambasa, Justin Oganda thinks carefully when asked what could resolve the crisis. "Really, we need to discourage the international markets for ivory and smuggled gold," he said. "That would help. Until then, these armed groups will keep coming to kill the animals and take the minerals."

The growth in the global ivory trade has had a devastating impact on the African elephant population. An estimated 17,000 elephants were killed for their ivory by poachers in 2011, and while there are no definitive statistics for 2012, poaching is thought to be on the rise.

On 14 March a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) conference issued a warning to the eight countries most heavily implicated in the ivory trade; they have until July 2014 to formulate and implement plans to reduce the trade in ivory or face sanctions.

The supply countries named are Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, but the problem in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is significant. The population of elephants in eastern Congo has fallen by about 50% over the past decade due to poaching and conflicts in the region.

About 70% per cent of the ivory from slaughtered African elephants goes to China, another of the countries warned by Cites. The price of ivory has rocketed. Cites reported that the price more than doubled between 2004 and 2010, from about $300 to $700 (£198 to £462) a kilogramme. An Associated Press investigation in 2010 claimed ivory was being sold in China for $1,800 a kilogramme.

The endangered and protected okapi is also hunted in the Ituri rainforest. Rosmarie Ruf, of Gilman International Conservation, estimated that in the 1990s there were 5,000 okapis in the rainforest. Ten years later that figure had fallen to 3,400. The current population is not known but a similar drop in the next 10 years would be disastrous.

Research for this article was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

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« Reply #382 on: Apr 02, 2013, 08:23 AM »

April 1, 2013

On the Montana Range, Efforts to Restore Bison Meet Resistance


HELENA, Mont. — Free-roaming wild bison, once vital to the history, culture and ecology of the high plains and then hunted nearly to oblivion, are back at the center of a new debate as they compete with cattle for space on Montana’s vast grasslands.

For the last 15 years, environmentalists and Indian tribes have worked to restore herds of American bison to portions of their former home here. But that effort has not gone over well with some in this state, which is now dominated by cattle that eat the rich grasses that the bison once consumed. This time around, the undeclared competition for rangeland is playing out in courts, the State Capitol and the news media.

New legislation to limit the bison’s numbers is under consideration in the State Legislature, stirring deep and old feelings. It is clear that wild bison, which once grazed freely by the millions before they were reduced to a handful in the 1800s, remain an emotional symbol.

“It was ‘wipe out the buffalo, starve the Indians and put them on reservations’ ” during the slaughter, said Mark Azure, director of the Fish and Wildlife Department at Fort Belknap, where members of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes reside. Both tribes once hunted bison on the high plains of Montana.

As the animals return, Mr. Azure said, some people here have renewed a traditional way of life, bringing back old ceremonies and stories. “It’s hard to describe, but seeing the animal outside, you feel things inside — a connection to our ancestors,” Mr. Azure said.

For now the only wild, free-ranging herds of bison in the region are in Yellowstone National Park. While there are many more bison in the state, they are owned, fenced in and considered livestock, not wildlife.

The goal of tribes, conservation groups and others is to restore wild herds using bison culled from the 4,000 or so animals in the Yellowstone herd, which are descendants of the handful who survived the 19th-century slaughter, and are considered genetically pure. Wild bison are a keystone species and graze in ways that create patches of habitat for other wild prairie species, like birds.

The debate over this restoration plan is heating up here as legislators who represent livestock-growing regions have tried to block the introduction of new herds with several bitterly contested bills.

One bill, introduced by State Senator John Brenden, a Republican and a leading opponent of wild herds, would allow landowners to shoot bison that wander onto their property, prevent the transfer of the animals anywhere in the state and create a new bison hunting season.

Another would require the permission of commissioners before bison could be brought to their county, a third would redefine the term “wild buffalo” to make it much harder to create new herds, and a fourth would make the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks liable for damages caused by bison. Critics say the bills would end their plans for new wild herds.

Which is exactly the point, Senator Brenden said. “Why do you want to spread this creeping cancer, these woolly tanks, around the state of Montana?” he asked. “Trying to bring back the buffalo in big herds across Montana is like bringing back dinosaurs. And who wants dinosaurs in Montana? I certainly don’t.”

Montana tribes have made known their opposition to the bills. In mid-March, Indians from around the state held a pipe ceremony on a bison-hide robe in support of the restoration projects, filling the Capitol rotunda with drumming and singing.

Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat who fought for the transfer of bison to Indian reservation land, believes the battle comes down to a competition for grass. “These cattlemen make a great part of their living off subsidized grazing,” he said. While the federal government charges $1.38 to graze a cow and calf for a month, private landowners charge $22. “Buffalo are a large animal that could become active competition” for cheap grazing on federal land, Mr. Schweitzer said.

What to do with Yellowstone bison that wander away from the park has long been a quandary. For many years hundreds of the massive animals have been killed by state officials and hunters, or hazed back into the park. Many people here, including Mr. Schweitzer, consider such treatment an outrage and have sought alternatives.

One solution was to repatriate wild bison to the plains. In 2010 Ted Turner received 83 Yellowstone bison on his Montana ranch, the first to be located outside of the park. Last year 61 bison were moved by the tribes to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, with the help of environmental groups and federal and state agencies.

But as soon as the animals were moved, bison opponents went to court and received an injunction to prevent further transfers. The injunction has been appealed to the Montana Supreme Court by environmental groups and will be heard next month. If it is lifted, bison will be loaded on trucks and start rolling out of Yellowstone to new homes around the state. The wild bison in the park are quarantined, tested and certified free of disease before they are moved.

Nonetheless, some ranchers say they are concerned about brucellosis, an infectious bacteria-borne disease carried by some of the Yellowstone bison that some fear could infect cattle.

Trampled fences are another concern. “When bison are hungry they move,” said Representative Kerry White, a Republican who is a partner in a family ranch. “Free-roaming bison will walk right through a fence,” he said, and when they leave the reservation, there is often no one to round them up.

Nonetheless, a restoration is taking place in one vast area, and it has been controversial with some ranchers, even though the acreage has been purchased or leased. The American Prairie Reserve in northern Montana has 250 bison on some 273,000 deeded and leased acres.

The reserve is contiguous to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife refuge, which is about a million acres. The goal of some conservation groups is some three million acres with a large roaming herd of bison filling their ancient ecological role on the prairie.

“The effort is to restore wild bison to the grassland on a landscape level,” said Tom France, a wildlife advocate with the National Wildlife Federation, who opposes the Montana legislation because it would make their efforts more difficult. “And it will give us a sense of what once was.”

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« Reply #383 on: Apr 03, 2013, 06:17 AM »

Economist: World headed towards climate change catastrophe

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 2, 2013 17:24 EDT

The author of an influential 2006 study on climate change warned Tuesday that the world could be headed toward warming even more catastrophic than expected but he voiced hope for political action.

Nicholas Stern, the British former chief economist for the World Bank, said that both emissions of greenhouse gas and the effects of climate change were taking place faster than he forecast seven years ago.

Without changes to emission trends, the planet has roughly a 50 percent chance that temperatures will soar to five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages in a century, he said.

“We haven’t been above five degrees Centigrade on this planet for about 30 million years. So you can see that this is radical change way outside human experience,” Stern said in an address at the International Monetary Fund.

“When we were at three degrees Centigrade three million years ago, the sea levels were about 20 some meters (65 feet) above now. On sea level rise of just two meters, probably a couple of hundred million people would have to move,” he said.

Stern said that other effects would come more quickly including the expansion of deserts and the melting of Himalayan snows that supply rivers on which up to two billion people depend.

Even if nations fulfill pledges made in 2010 at a UN-led conference in Cancun, Mexico, the world would be on track to warming of four degrees (7.2 Fahrenheit), he said.

Stern’s 2006 study, considered a landmark in raising public attention on climate change, predicted that warming would shave at least five percent of gross domestic product per year.

Despite the slow progress in international negotiations, Stern saw signs for hope as a number of countries move to put a price on greenhouse gases.

“My own view is that 2013 is the best possible year to try to work and redouble our efforts to create the political will that hitherto has been much too weak,” Stern said.

Stern said that French President Francois Hollande was keen for nations to meet their goal of sealing an accord in 2015 in Paris.

Stern also voiced hope that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, long a prominent voice on climate change, would become more active after this year’s elections.

US President Barack Obama has vowed action on climate change after an earlier bid was thwarted by lawmakers of the rival Republican Party, many of whom reject the science behind climate change.

Emissions have risen sharply in recent years from emerging economies, particularly China.

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« Reply #384 on: Apr 03, 2013, 07:36 AM »

04/03/2013 12:19 PM

CO2 Emissions: Can Europe Save Its Cap-and-Trade System?

By Nils Klawitter

Europe's cap-and-trade system for reducing the release of greenhouse gases is broken, but not everybody wants to fix it. Industry has profited immensely from the plummeting prices of CO2 emissions certificates, and from lax checks on questionable environmental projects undertaken overseas.

Saving the climate? It doesn't seem all that difficult at first glance. All you have to do is fly from Germany to Zambia once in a while, as the German energy giant RWE's environment protection team does. It has made frequent trips to the capital Lusaka in recent years to distribute a total of 30,000 small stoves -- RWE's contribution to a good cause.

The stoves were intended to help poor families cook in a more environmentally friendly way. Biomass was to replace charcoal as cooking fuel. In an advertising brochure for RWE, the company that "travels around the world to help our climate" touts the campaign with the slogan "New Cooking Pots -- Less CO2." But RWE doesn't seem to have included such factors as air travel and the production of the stoves in its calculations.

Besides, the project wasn't entirely altruistic, because RWE will receive credits for its effort. The stoves in Lusaka are expected to save 1.5 million tons of CO2 by 2020, and in return, RWE's coal-fired power plants would be allowed to emit 1.5 million tons elsewhere. This sale of indulgences is called a "Clean Development Mechanism" (CDM). With such questionable projects in emerging and developing countries, which even include the renovation of coalmines in China, European companies can simply calculate away about 20 percent of their emissions.

In the end, the flood of such projects undermines the entire emissions trading system. "The most important tool of climate protection no longer works," says Eva Filzmoser of Carbon Market Watch in Brussels. Four years ago, the Austrian national began a solo effort to take a closer look at the emissions trading market. She still believed in the idea at the time. But Filzmoser found herself confronted with an industry that had grown to a volume of $90 billion almost overnight, an industry complete with certifiers, forecasters, dealers and hackers, who trafficked in certificates and created more and more absurd projects.

'A Big Flop'

They included the supposed cleanup of African garbage dumps, as well as the retrofitting of old coolant factories in China, which only seemed to be in operation because they yielded climate certificates.

It is because of Filzmoser and her staff of five employees that, starting in May, at least the most questionable of these projects will no longer be approved by the United Nations Climate Change secretariat. "The trade has turned into a big flop," she says, "a system of fraud."

The European Commission estimates that 1.7 billion tons in excess pollution rights were on the market in late 2012. Because of this oversupply, the price of emitting a ton of CO2 plummeted to only €4. The CDM projects were not the only reason for the price drop. Because of overly optimistic economic forecasts prior to the economic crisis and the correspondingly generous allotments, many of the 11,000 power plants and factories in Europe required to participate in emissions trading are now sitting on a mountain of unused certificates.

In recent years, they were allowed to save their certificates for the so-called third trading period, during which emissions reduction allowances are to slowly be reduced. This third period began in early 2013 and is supposed to last until 2020. The emissions trade, as well as the simultaneous gradual capping of emission rights in every country, is designed to reduce CO2 emissions in energy-intensive industries by 21 percent from 2005 to 2020. In the entire EU, this step is expected to achieve a 20 percent reduction relative to 1990 emissions levels.

To reach the target, however, many companies don't have to do anything at all, and not just because the cushion of their accumulated certificates often keeps them going for years. The EU will soon have reached its not overly ambitious emissions reduction targets because of the economic slowdown. As production dropped, many smokestacks were simply shut down.

Given such conditions, coal is seeing a renaissance that was hardly thought possible. Because certificates are so cheap, it is much more cost-effective to pollute the air with coal-fired power plants than switch to more environmentally friendly energy generation technologies.

Industry Outraged

To address the problem, European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard has proposed a drastic step: She wants to temporarily cut supply by remove 900 million emissions certificates from the system. The proposal is known as backloading. Not too long ago Hedegaard, from Denmark, was still convinced that the system was working "very well," but now she says: "It is not wise to deliberately continue to flood a market that is already oversupplied."

The industry lobby in Brussels is making a show of being outraged. The general director of BusinessEurope, one of the most powerful lobbying groups, wrote to European Parliament President Martin Schulz to demand a debate on backloading. For each of its counterproposals, the industry also presented supporters from the parliament, most of them liberal and center-right members from Germany and Poland.

The lobbyists' fight doesn't seem to be lost yet. While the Environment Committee voted in favor of backloading, the Industry Committee opposed it. The critical vote is planned for mid-April.

But industry's anti-backloading front in Brussels doesn't seem to be unanimous. Some companies have changed sides, like Düsseldorf-based energy giant E.on. In a joint memorandum with the non-profit public policy group Germanwatch, the company said it supported backloading. "Emissions trading is dead," E.on CEO Johannes Teyssen said last year. Nothing, he added, shows more clearly that the system has lost its effectiveness than the fact that brown coal is currently winning out in the competition with other energy sources.

Unlike pure production operations, energy groups like E.on could pass on almost any price to their customers, says Gordon Moffat of the European Confederation of Iron and Steel Industries. "Emissions trading seems tailor-made for the energy sector."

E.on's environmental forays are merely "industry interests disguised as climate protection," says Holger Krahmer, a member of the European Parliament for Germany's pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP). But German industry could hardly find a more fawning supporter than the Leipzig liberal, who is also his party's environmental policy spokesman.

A Deathblow to the System

Krahmer believes that climate protection threatens "civil liberties" and "fundamental human rights." What exactly those rights are isn't quite clear, not even in his booklet on the politics of climate policy. Backloading, at any rate, will be nothing but another deathblow to the poorly designed emissions trading system, says Krahmer.

Krahmer, however, questions even the assumption that CO2 emissions can in fact cause the earth's temperature to rise. There is, he says, simply no reason to price emissions.

Both Krahmer and FDP Chairman Philipp Rösler are unimpressed with government arguments that low prices for emissions certificates have threatened funding for many projects associated with the country's shift away from nuclear power and toward green energy, known as the Energiewende. "Ongoing interventions discredit the emissions trade," says Krahmer.

Green Party politician Bas Eickhout, however, believes that the system has already been discredited by lazy compromises with lobbyists. "What we get is typically European, a Swiss cheese perforated with compromises," says the Dutch politician. Letting a little air out of the inflated certificate trade isn't enough, he adds. Instead, he argues for a tightening of climate targets and, like Commissioner Hedegaard, wants to remove at last 900 million certificates from the market. But Eickhout wants them removed permanently.

That's because a new flood of emissions rights is about to hit the market, this time from Russia and Ukraine. European countries are also allowed to trade their certificates with these countries. The compensation options in Ukraine have developed phenomenally, says a local analyst. From January 2012 to March 2013 alone, he says, inspectors issued 185 million certificates for extracting coal from old waste heaps.

Spontaneous Combustion

In return for that many certificates, the Ukrainians would have had to extract an improbable five million tons of high-quality coal from scrap heaps in the last five years, the Ukrainian edition of Forbes calculated. The dubious climate argument is that the extracting activity (which had often been planned years in advance and, therefore, not actually eligible for certificates) prevents spontaneous combustion of the waste coal.

According to the Ukrainian analyst, the TÜV Rheinland technical inspection organization likes to certify these supposed climate-protection projects. One such case is in the Donetsk region, where TÜV retroactively certified a few million certificates for one of these waste-heap projects in late 2012. TÜV employees traveled to Ukraine from China to perform the inspection. A spokesman said that they had experience with Chinese Clean Development Mechanism projects that are "closely related" to the Ukrainian projects.

TÜV claims that performing a "retroactive" inspection within a few weeks in December 2012 covering the period from 2008 to 2012 is completely normal. Questions regarding the validity of the assumption that much of the coal in the waste heaps would have spontaneously combusted absent these measures went unanswered by TÜV Rheinland.

RWE's Zambia project is similarly dubious. Eva Filzmoser of Carbon Market Watch heard about it again recently. Employees with the project had reported to her that almost two-thirds of the stoves could no longer be found. In addition, the farmers hired to provide combustible biomass were only able to harvest a ton of bushes per months, and not the 1,000 tons needed.

Nevertheless, the TÜV Süd technical inspection organization credited the project with more than 43,000 tons in CO2 savings. The Munich-based inspectors, who had already been temporarily suspended by the UN because of lax inspections, characterize their work as "successful verification." But a former employee on the project says that no more than 10,000 tons are realistic. Perhaps RWE senses that the former employee is right, because the company has only sold a small share of the certificates so far. They fetched significantly more than the normal trading price -- because of the special quality of the project.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #385 on: Apr 03, 2013, 08:41 AM »

Aerial Footage of AR Oil Spill Details What They Don’t Want You to Know About Keystone

By: Sarah Jones
Apr. 2nd, 201

On March 29th, Exxon Mobile’s Pegasus  pipeline burst in Mayflower, Arkansas, flooding a residential neighborhood with thousands of barrels of heavy crude oil.  Many reports suggest the media is being kept away from the site. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is opening an investigation into the spill, which he says has “damaged private property and Arkansas’s natural resources”.

This amazing aerial footage of the Arkansas oil spill was captured by video journalist Adam Randall.  Here is the video:

The Youtube info: “Tens of thousands of gallons of oil have flooded some of the streets and yards of Mayflower, Arkansas. The Exxon tar sands oil spill is small taste of what we would see if the Keystone XL Pipeline is approved. The media is largely being kept away from this spill. In the video you can see that Exxon’s plan to clean it up consists mostly of hoses and paper towels. Go to and to learn more and lend your support to the fight of people over profit.”

This footage certainly gives a different sense of the magnitude of the spill, compared to the close up pictures of the spill that are being shown in media coverage.

CNN  reported:

     Exxon Mobil met with displaced residents over the weekend to explain how they can make claims for losses. “If you have been harmed by this spill then we’re going to look at how to make that right,” Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing told them.

    None of the estimated 12,000 barrels of oil that spilled has made it to nearby Lake Conway, a local drinking water source, Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson told KATV Sunday said.

It looks like the water we see in this video is contaminated, but it’s unclear how that water is related to the neighborhood’s drinking water.  Still, would you feel comfortable drinking water or taking a shower in that neighborhood?

Residents say they were evacuated from their homes, and  told it may be up to two weeks before they can return to them. Most of them say they had no idea the pipeline was beneath their homes. Residents also expressed concern over the impact of the spill on their property values.

It’s not as if the oil company can foresee this kind of thing, apparently. An Exxon Mobil spokesman told  CNN affiliate KARK that  the company’s recent inspections showed no red flags for this section.

So that kind of makes you wonder why, on March 30th, Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) drill, baby, drilled TransCanada’s  controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, saying it was a “no brainer”.  Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has been pressuring President Obama to approve work on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans have falsely claimed it will provide 100,000 American jobs, but  after reports contradicted this claim, Boehner now uses the qualifier, “indirect jobs“. To make matters worse, those “indirect”  jobs were figured over the course of 100 years. In reality:

    The reality is that according to the State Department, Keystone XL will only create 6,000 direct jobs with only 10%-15% of those workers being hired locally.

Last week,  17 Senate Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the Keystone pipeline. It’s a no-brainer, apparently. Unless you live near it. Let’s see. It won’t bring very many jobs– around 6,000 and of those, only 10-15% will be local hires — and there’s no way of flagging potential ruptures that can turn into environmental disasters. What are we getting out of Keystone, exactly?
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« Reply #386 on: Apr 05, 2013, 07:05 AM »

April 4, 2013

In Sign of Warming, 1,600 Years of Ice in Andes Melted in 25 Years


Glacial ice in the Peruvian Andes that took at least 1,600 years to form has melted in just 25 years, scientists reported Thursday, the latest indication that the recent spike in global temperatures has thrown the natural world out of balance.

The evidence comes from a remarkable find at the margins of the Quelccaya ice cap in Peru, the world’s largest tropical ice sheet. Rapid melting there in the modern era is uncovering plants that were locked in a deep freeze when the glacier advanced many thousands of years ago.

Dating of those plants, using a radioactive form of carbon in the plant tissues that decays at a known rate, has given scientists an unusually precise method of determining the history of the ice sheet’s margins.

Lonnie G. Thompson, the Ohio State University glaciologist whose team has worked intermittently on the Quelccaya ice cap for decades, reported the findings in a paper released online Thursday by the journal Science.

The paper includes a long-awaited analysis of chemical tracers in ice cylinders the team recovered by drilling deep into Quelccaya, a record that will aid scientists worldwide in reconstructing past climatic variations.

Such analyses will take time, but Dr. Thompson said preliminary evidence shows, for example, that the earth probably went through a period of anomalous weather at around the time of the French Revolution, which began in 1789. The weather presumably contributed to the food shortages that exacerbated that upheaval.

“When there’s a disruption of food, this is bad news for any government,” Dr. Thompson said in an interview.

Of greater immediate interest, Dr. Thompson and his team have expanded on previous research involving long-dead plants emerging from the melting ice at the edge of Quelccaya, a huge, flat ice cap sitting on a volcanic plain 18,000 feet above sea level.

Several years ago, the team reported on plants that had been exposed near a meltwater lake. Chemical analysis showed them to be about 4,700 years old, proving that the ice cap had reached its smallest extent in nearly five millenniums.

In the new research, a thousand feet of additional melting has exposed plants that laboratory analysis shows to be about 6,300 years old. The simplest interpretation, Dr. Thompson said, is that ice that accumulated over approximately 1,600 years melted back in no more than 25 years.

“If any time in the last 6,000 years these plants had been exposed for any five-year period, they would have decayed,” Dr. Thompson said. “That tells us the ice cap had to be there 6,000 years ago.”

Meredith A. Kelly, a glacial geomorphologist at Dartmouth College who trained under Dr. Thompson but was not involved in the new paper, said his interpretation of the plant remains was reasonable.

Her own research on Quelccaya suggests that the margins of the glacier have melted quite rapidly at times in the past. But the melting now under way appears to be at least as fast, if not faster, than anything in the geological record since the end of the last ice age, she said.

Global warming, which scientists say is being caused primarily by the human release of greenhouse gases, is having its largest effects at high latitudes and high altitudes. Sitting at high elevation in the tropics, the Quelccaya ice cap appears to be extremely sensitive to the temperature changes, several scientists said.

“It may not go very quickly because there’s so much ice, but we might have already locked into a situation where we are committed to losing that ice,” said Mathias Vuille, a climate scientist at the State University at Albany in New York.

Throughout the Andes, glaciers are now melting so rapidly that scientists have grown deeply concerned about water supplies for the people living there. Glacial meltwater is essential for helping Andean communities get through the dry season.

In the short run, the melting is producing an increase of water supplies and feeding population growth in major cities of the Andes, the experts said. But as the glaciers continue shrinking, trouble almost certainly looms.

Douglas R. Hardy, a University of Massachusetts researcher who works in the region, said, “How much time do we have before 50 percent of Lima’s or La Paz’s water resources are gone?”
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« Reply #387 on: Apr 05, 2013, 07:07 AM »

Pee all and end all: Nepal posits new approach to the compost question

Research suggests applying urine to compost produces taller and more fruitful plants than chemical fertilisers

Smriti Mallapaty in Kathmandu for SciDev, part of the Guardian development network, Friday 5 April 2013 12.05 BST   

Human urine is superior to urea, a common nitrogen-rich mineral fertiliser, according to the results of a study carried out in a farmer's field outside Nepal's capital city.

Researchers who tested the effects of applying different combinations of urine, compost and urea on sweet pepper, Capsicum annuum, found that urine synergises best with compost. Urine for the study was sourced from mobile public toilets in the city and compost prepared from cattle manure.

Results of the study, published in Scientia Horticulturae, showed that urine-compost mixtures produced the tallest plants and bore the most fruit.

A "synergistic effect" was attributed to several factors including reduced nitrogen loss and enhanced availability of organic carbon in the soil. "Human urine could be a viable alternative to chemical fertilisers for sustained crop production," the study suggests.

Blending urine with compost minimises the risk of salt accumulation, said Debendra Shrestha, lead author of the study and researcher at Tribhuvan University's institute of agriculture and animal science.

In Nepal, where collection and use of farmyard manure is common, farmers apply urine directly to the soil. "We need to start moving towards the application of urine in combination with compost," Shrestha told SciDev.Net.

Surendra Pradhan, post-doctoral fellow at the west Africa office of the International Water Management Institute, Ghana, has also tested combinations of urine with poultry manure and with human faeces to address the problem of disposing of sanitary waste.

"Urine alone is not a long-term solution," said Pradhan, who has published several papers on urine as fertiliser.

Urine lacks sufficient organic matter to sustain plant growth for more than a few years, but provides faster-releasing nutrients that complement slow-release nutrients from compost, which has a higher content of organic matter and beneficial microbes.

Pradhan, who is developing a business model to make urine more competitive, said marketing urine and compost mixtures may be difficult because of cultural factors. "I hardly think compost and urine can compete with mineral fertiliser."

Apart from farmers being reluctant to handle their own urine, commercially available mineral fertilisers often have the advantage of being subsidised by the government, Pradhan told SciDev.Net.

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« Reply #388 on: Apr 05, 2013, 07:39 AM »

South African game reserve poisons rhino's horns to prevent poaching

Radical scheme will inject horns with parasiticides and pink dye in bid to safeguard rhino numbers

David Smith in Johannesburg, Thursday 4 April 2013 18.14 BST   

A game reserve in South Africa has taken the radical step of poisoning rhino horns so that people risk becoming "seriously ill" if they consume them.

Sabi Sand said it had injected a mix of parasiticides and indelible pink dye into more than 100 rhinos' horns over the past 18 months to combat international poaching syndicates. More than 200 rhinos have been poached so far this year in South Africa, driven by demand in the far east, where horn ground into powder is seen as a delicacy or traditional medicine.

"Consumers of the powdered horn in Asia risk becoming seriously ill from ingesting a so-called medicinal product, which is now contaminated with a non-lethal chemical package," said Andrew Parker, chief executive of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association, a group of private landowners in Mpumalanga province.

The "toxification" process involves tranquilising a rhino, drilling a hole in its horn then injecting the dye and parasiticides generally used to control ticks on animals such as horses, cattle and sheep; it is toxic to humans. "It'll make [people] very ill – nausea, stomach ache, diarrhoea – it won't kill them," Parker continued. "It will be very visible, so it would take a very stupid consumer to consume this."

Asked if he had any moral qualms about harming potentially naive consumers, Parker replied: "The practice is legal. The chemicals are available over the counter. We are advertising it, doing a media run now and putting up signs on our fences. If somebody does consume it, they won't die and hopefully word will spread that you shouldn't take rhino horn."

The dye can be detected by airport scanners as well as when the horn is ground into a powder.

Up to 1,000 rhinos will die this year, Parker said, so bold action was necessary. "Despite all the interventions by police, the body count has continued to climb. Everything we've tried has not been working and for poachers it has become a low-risk, high-reward ratio. By contaminating the horn, you reduce the reward and the horn becomes a valueless product.

"If the poacher hacks off the horn, he'll immediately see it's contaminated. We're saying to the poachers: 'Don't bother coming to Sabi Sand. You're wasting your time.'"

But the scheme got a mixed reception from Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network. Tom Milliken, its rhino programme coordinator, said it could act as a deterrent in areas where it is highly publicised but "is impractical in situations involving free-ranging animals in large areas, places like Kruger national park with 20,000 sq km. Thus, like dehorning, it probably has the effect of displacing poaching intensity to other areas, not stopping it altogether."

Milliken, author of a report on rhino-horn consumption in Vietnam, also expressed concerns about the end-user market: "One wonders if unscrupulous dealers in these markets will not simply employ some means to 'bleach' them to back to a 'normal' appearance and continue raking in high profits."

"These dealers are already perpetuating fraud on so many levels in the interest of windfall profits, so it's hard to imagine that they will suddenly be bothered about putting potentially toxic horns into circulation. The prospect of human suffering deters few criminals and that's what we are dealing with here."

South Africa National Parks has backed the initiative but spokesman Ike Phaahla admitted that it would be "virtually impossible" to apply the process to all the rhinos in national parks because of lack of resources.

The government said this week that 203 rhinos have been killed by poachers so far this year, including 145 in Kruger park. Sixty suspected poachers have been arrested.

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« Reply #389 on: Apr 05, 2013, 07:54 AM »

Biofuel breakthrough turns virtually any plant into hydrogen

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, April 4, 2013 16:32 EDT

Researchers at Virginia Tech announced Thursday that their latest breakthrough in hydrogen extraction technology could lead to widespread adoption of the substance as a fuel due to its ease of availability in virtually all plant matter, a reservoir previously impossible to tap.

The new process, described by a study in the April issue of the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie, uses a cocktail of 13 enzymes to strip plant matter of xylose, a sugar that exists in plant cells. The resulting hydrogen is of an such a “high purity” that researchers said they were able to approach 100 percent extraction, opening up a potential market for a much cheaper source of hydrogen than anything available today.

“The potential for profit and environmental benefits are why so many automobile, oil, and energy companies are working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as the transportation of the future,” study author and Virginia Tech assistant professor Y.H. Percival Zhang said in an advisory. “Many people believe we will enter the hydrogen economy soon, with a market capacity of at least $1 trillion in the United States alone.”

The rise of such an alternative fuel could seriously disrupt the pollution-producing industries that run on oil and natural gas, and potentially spark a new industrial emphasis on growing plants with high levels of xylose in their cells. The environmental benefits of that potential future are twofold: the plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping in small part to address the climate crisis, and the resulting portable fuel only outputs water when burned.

Beyond hydrogen fuel cells in cars and industrial equipment, U.S. space agency NASA says that hydrogen in its super-cold liquid form makes an ideal fuel for space exploration due to its low molecular weight and extremely high energy output. If plants could be grown on a space station traveling to a distant solar system some day, it is possible future breakthroughs could lead to an onboard system that actually renders more fuel mid-flight.

Of course, there are potential downsides to Zhang’s enzyme cocktail, namely in the costs of production on a large scale, questions about disposal of the enzyme goo and remaining carbon, and the likelihood of endless legal battles over who owns patents on which enzymes or combinations thereof. Nevertheless, if the world is to move forward into a renewable energy future, this is still a pretty big step.


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