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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 145294 times)
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« Reply #570 on: Jul 23, 2013, 05:47 AM »

Reemergence of the bumblebee delights and perplexes scientists

By Reuters
Monday, July 22, 2013 19:07 EDT

By Jonathan Kaminsky

OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) – A North American bumblebee species that all but vanished from about half of its natural range has re-emerged in Washington state, delighting scientists who voiced optimism the insect might eventually make a recovery in the Pacific Northwest.

Entomologists and bee enthusiasts in recent weeks have photographed several specimens of the long-absent western bumblebee – known to scientists as Bombus occidentalis – buzzing among flower blossoms in a suburban park north of Seattle.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Rich Hatfield, a biologist for the Oregon-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which documents and reports such findings.

“It gives us hope that we can do some conservation work, and perhaps the species has a chance at repopulating its range,” he told Reuters this week.

The multiple sightings, including observations of several queens, are evidence of western bumblebee colonies in the area, although it hardly proves the species has returned in force and or that it will thrive in the region, Hatfield said.

Last year, a single western bumblebee, recognized by its distinctive white-banded bottom, was discovered by an insect enthusiast in her mother’s garden in suburban Brier, Washington. It was the first sighting in Washington state west of the Cascades in well over a decade.

Her sighting was confirmed earlier this month as more than an isolated incident when Will Peterman, 42, a freelance writer-photographer and self-described “bee nerd” from Seattle, ventured into a park in Brier to capture his own shots of Bombus occidentalis foraging in blackberry bushes for nectar and pollen.

He returned on Sunday with a group of University of Washington entomologists to conduct a more thorough canvass of the park and surrounding areas. While the group failed to locate a nest – hives are dwellings for domesticated honeybees – they identified and photographed at least three queens.

Hatfield said the queen bees observed in the park would normally be expected to go into hibernation soon, then produce offspring next year.

The mood among the scientists accompanying him was “almost giddy,” Peterman said. “This is grounds for optimism in a story that has been really bleak.”


Bombus occidentalis is one of four wild North American bumblebee species whose populations began to plummet two decades ago, while honeybees – commercially bred for the most part – have undergone less precipitous declines, Hatfield said.

Scientists have cited a number of likely factors for bumblebee declines, including parasites, pesticides and habitat fragmentation.

Until the mid-1990s, the western bumblebee was among the most common bees in the Western United States and Canada, where it was valued as a key pollinator for tomatoes and cranberries.

It has since virtually disappeared from about half its historic range, a vast stretch of the West Coast from central California to southern British Columbia, although its population remains relatively robust in the Mountain West.

Scientists are not certain what caused North American bumblebee populations to crash.

But a leading theory advanced by Robbin Thorp, a retired entomology professor at the University of California at Davis, points to efforts to commercially cultivate colonies of western bumblebees in Europe starting in the mid-1990s.

American-bred western queens shipped to Europe likely were exposed there to a fungus that might have spread and devastated wild North American bumblebee populations when infected European-bred bees were transported back to the United States, Hatfield said.

The discovery of the bees near Seattle could mean a population resistant to the fungus has emerged, he said. The bees may also be part of a population never exposed to the fungus or that originated in a distant colony to the east.

(Editing by Steve Gorman, Douglas Royalty and Peter Cooney)

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« Reply #571 on: Jul 24, 2013, 08:02 PM »

If you have 20 minutes to watch this video I think you may find it helpful for to you understand what we are on the verge of experiencing as species. It is about the sea ice melting in the arctic and as the ice melts and the seas warm due to man made co2 emissions we then expose that area, because of the ice melt, to the heat and because of the heat we now have the release of methane that has been stored by the ice on the ocean floor and in the tundra since before human beings lived on the planet as we know them. The thing that is alarming to me and I think should be alarming to every person on the planet is what it means to release this stored methane.

From a NOAA article:

"methane is 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a 100-year timescale, and 105 times more potent on a 20-year timescale. If just one percent of the permafrost carbon released over a short time period is methane, it will have the same greenhouse impact as the 99 percent that is released as carbon dioxide."

The total amount of methane in the current atmosphere is about 5 gigatons, the amount of methane stored in the arctic shelf is 100's to 1000's of gigatons. Multiply that with the fact that methane is at least 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and you get a very unhappy math equation.

This video talks about a hyperfeedback effect of warming that will be generated with warming of the arctic.

As the media talks about sea levels rising and 3 degree temperature increases without discussing anything else they diminish the conversation to someone looking at their thermometer and deciding that they can live with it being 90 degrees instead of 87 degrees and this has the effect of diminishing and dismissing climate change to a subject that is not worth doing anything about. Combine that with the absurdity of conservatives in congress and around the world who are literally blind to science and in charge of policy creation versus what actually needs to happen and we have a very unhappy picture being painted.

I think we are just beginning to see a tiny preview of some effects of this but I also think that this preview from floods to backwards jet streams to heatwaves will be looked back on as a 'tease'. I think what we are in for is far more profound than any of the previews mother nature has shown us.
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« Reply #572 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:10 AM »

Gulf oil spill: Halliburton to plead guilty to destroying evidence

Contractor to plead guilty over deleted computer simulations testing methods used to cement Deepwater Horizon well

Reuters, Friday 26 July 2013 07.20 BST   

Halliburton has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the US department of justice said on Thursday.

The government said Halliburton's guilty plea was the third by a company over the spill and would require the world's second-largest oilfield services company to pay a maximum US$200,000 statutory fine.

Halliburton also agreed to three years' probation and to continue co-operating with the criminal probe into the 20 April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Court approval of the deal is required. Houston-based Halliburton also made a separate, voluntary $55m payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the justice department said.

Edward Sherman, a Tulane University law professor, said the plea could suggest weakness in Halliburton's position in negotiating a settlement over spill-related liabilities. "Their willingness to plead to this may also indicate that they'd like to settle up with the federal government on the civil penalties," he said. "It may indicate a softening of their position."

Halliburton said in a statement that it pleaded guilty to the misdemeanour charge and confirmed the plea agreement's terms.

The disaster caused 11 deaths and triggered the largest US offshore oil spill following the rupture of the Macondo oil well, which was 65% owned by BP. Halliburton had earlier provided cementing services to help seal the well.

According to the government Halliburton recommended to BP that the Macondo well contain 21 centralisers – metal collars that can improve cementing – but BP chose to use six. The government said that during an internal probe into the cementing after the blowout Halliburton ordered workers to destroy computer simulations that showed little difference between using six and 21 centralisers.

Efforts to locate the simulations forensically were unsuccessful, the government said.

BP and Transocean Ltd, which owned the drilling rig, have previously entered guilty pleas over other aspects of the Gulf oil spill and agreed to pay respective criminal fines of $1.26bn and $400mn. Both declined to comment on the Halliburton plea.

Halliburton, BP and Transocean are also defendants in a federal civil trial that began in February to apportion blame and set damages for the oil spill.

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« Reply #573 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:12 AM »

Hot summer bestows solar power bounty on Britain

Long sunny spells and a surge in people installing PV panels results in record level of solar power generation

John Vidal   
The Guardian, Friday 26 July 2013   

Weeks of strong sunshine across much of Britain and a surge in photovoltaic (PV) panels installations has resulted in the record generation of solar power, according to figures from government and the industry.

There are now over 450,000 solar installations, almost all on household roofs, which together have a capacity of 2.7GW. On a sunny day solar power is able to generate around 2% of UK demand over a 24-hour period. But because solar panels generate electricity in peak daylight hours, this is the equivalent of around 6% of all electricity needed in Britain between 10am and 5pm.

According to calculations by the Solar Trade Association, record amounts of electricity will have been generated in the recent heatwave, with solar overtaking wind power for the first time. In the past year, more than 100,000 households installed solar despite the so-called feed in tariff subsidy being slashed by the government.

"The UK generated around 16,000MWh on Tuesday compared to 9,900MWh of wind. The total consumption of electricity on this relatively calm day was 766,987MWh," said Ray Noble, PV specialist at the Solar Trade Association.

"These few sunny weeks have shown that the solar resource in Britain is phenomenal," said Leonie Greene, communications director of the association.

"We now have a very large number of domestic installations and around one-third of the solar electricity generated now comes from utility-sized solar fields. But there are still very few medium-sized commercial or industrial installations. If the government backed these they would see enormous payback."

The Met Office said it was too early to say whether British sunshine records will be broken in July. But they released figures showing that England and Wales received over 75% of the long-term monthly average for July in the first two weeks of the month. Wales received more hours of sunshine both in June and in the first two weeks of July than any other region in Britain.

The blazing summer has resulted in more solar records falling across Europe. In Germany, which has more solar capacity than any other country in the world, the 1.3m installations generated nearly 40% of the country's daytime electricity demand on 7 July."

"Germany is now light years ahead of the UK and benefitting. Within a decade, many German towns and cities could be substantially 'off-grid' [or self sufficient] and will be taking the grid system out of the hands of the private energy companies," said Alan Simpson, former Labour MP and now independent adviser on renewable energy after a fact-finding tour of German renewable industries.

"Whereas in Britain, nearly all installations face south to capture peak sunshine, in Germany the problem now is to avoid massive peaks in the middle of the day. They now need to come up with west-facing panels to spread the electricity generated across the day".

According to Simpson, solar power in Germany may have "grid parity" by 2017. "That is the point when solar will be generating electricity at wholesale prices."

"Solar power can now be generated for 10 eurocents per kilowatt-hour. That is a very good price," said Bernhard Beck, chief executive of German solar power plant builder Belectric. "We are approaching the costs of generation from new conventional power stations".

• This article was amended on 26th July 2013. It originally referred to the UK generating 16 MWh of solar energy. The correct figure is 16,000MWh. This has been changed.

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« Reply #574 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:16 AM »

Trapped whale fails to move Queensland to scrap shark nets

Environmentalists call for nets to be removed after humpback whale is freed on Sunshine Coast

Oliver Milman, Friday 26 July 2013 09.40 BST   
Link to video: Humpback whale tangled in Noosa shark net

The Queensland government has rejected calls to scrap shark safety nets at beaches after a humpback whale was freed after becoming entangled within one of the nets on the Sunshine Coast.

A large adult male humpback, estimated to be about nine metres long, became enmeshed within a shark net around 800 metres off the coast of Noosa on Friday morning.

A team from the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol was able to cut the whale, which weighs around eight tonnes, free after the net wrapped around one pectoral fin and its tail. Rescuers said that the whale remained calm and sea conditions were good, aiding its release.

The incident, the first entrapment of a whale in shark nets this migration season, prompted the Australian Marine Conservation Society to demand nets be removed from Queensland's coast.

Nets and drumlines, situated near 85 beaches to protect swimmers, snared a total of 713 sharks last year, according to Queensland government data. Nets and drumlines were erected by the state government following a spate of shark attacks on humans prior to 1962.

But the nets are blamed for unintentionally trapping other creatures, with the AMCS pointing to freedom of information-obtained analysis from 2009 that shows seven dugongs, 36 sea turtles, 90 dolphins and two humpback whales were caught and killed by shark nets in the prior five years.

The state government said that 35 whales have been trapped in shark nets since 2000, with 32 freed and three dying.

"These nets catch a whole range of life," said Darren Kindleysides, director of the AMCS. "Western Australia looked at a shark net program, but decided it wasn't the route to go down because of the environmental impact."

"There are other alternatives to protect beachgoers. The state could increase beach surveillance and flyovers which are more environmentally friendly."

"The bottom line is that these nets give a perceived sense of safety. The nets have big gaps where the sharks can swim through, so it's not really a barrier, it's just a large fishing net to kill sharks. There is little sense to them."

The AMCS wants Queensland, at a minimum, to remove nets during the winter migration season, as NSW – the only other state to routinely use nets – does.

However, Jeff Krause, manager of Queensland's shark control program, said that the nets would remain in place to ensure the safety of swimmers.

"While shark control equipment does not provide an impenetrable barrier between swimmers and sharks, it is effective in reducing the overall number of sharks in the area, making it a safer place to swim.

"Since the start of the program over 50 years ago, there has been one shark fatality at a shark control beach in Queensland.

"Shark control equipment remains in place throughout the year as sharks are active along the Queensland coastline year round, and Queensland's beaches are also a regularly popular destination for swimmers even during winter. Human safety must come first and that's why we're committed to this program."

Krause added that all nets are fitted with electronic devices to ward off whales and deploy bait that doesn't attract dolphins or turtles.

Environmentalists consider humpback whales a conservation success story. The creatures were nearly hunted to extinction until a ban on killing them in 1963 allowed their numbers to rebound. There are now around 14,000 that undertake the annual winter migration from Antarctic waters to the warmer Coral Sea waters and then back again, in order to breed.

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« Reply #575 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:45 AM »

UK failing to protect the Arctic from drilling, warn MPs

The green watchdog accused ministers of 'complacency' for allowing projects to go ahead with too little risk assessment

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Saturday 27 July 2013

The coalition government is failing to protect the Arctic from drilling for oil and gas, by allowing new projects to go ahead with too little scrutiny of their potential risks, the UK's parliamentary green watchdog has warned. The MPs urged a moratorium on Arctic drilling, which the coalition has so far rejected, and called on David Cameron to revisit the Arctic, where early in his leadership of the opposition he famously was photographed with huskie dogs.

MPs on the influential environmental audit select committee accused ministers of "complacency" and warned that companies embarking on drilling in the region could not guarantee that they would be able to clean up an oil spill without it causing drastic damage to a pristine landscape. They found that there was a lack of oil spill response mechanisms that have been proven to be effective in the harsh conditions of the Arctic, where freezing temperatures can make oil stickier and harder to clean, and adverse weather can prevent crews from reaching affected areas for months at a time. They examined the case of the Kulluk incident at the beginning of this year, when one of Shell's vessels ran aground in Alaska, although there was no spillage and the vessel was moved to safety. At the time, a critical report by the US government found that Shell's safety procedures were not up to scratch, and the company was not properly prepared for potential accidents in the region. Shell has decided not to drill in the region this year, as a result. In its report on Saturday, the committee found: "This case shows that oil companies and regulators are not yet in a position to demonstrate that they can ensure that oil and gas activities will be undertaken in the safest possible way in the Arctic."

The committee also pointed out that the world already has more existing oil and gas reserves than we can afford to burn if we are to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change, as many experts have pointed out. That fact alone made exploring new reserves in the Arctic "needlessly risky" whatever the short-term financial benefits to companies, the MPs decided.

Joan Walley, chair of the committee, said: "This government is complacently standing by and watching new oil and gas drilling in the region, even though companies like Shell cannot prove they could clean up an oil spill in such harsh conditions. [And] the government has failed to provide a coherent argument to support its view that exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic is compatible with avoiding dangerous climate destabilisation."

She said that the Kulluk incident had "reinforced the case for a moratorium" on Arctic drilling, and failing that a much more stringent regulatory regime to make drilling companies liable for any damage to the landscape or marine environment arising from their activities.

Sea ice in the Arctic last year suffered its most drastic shrinkage since records began, leading to renewed fears of a "tipping point" leading to runaway global warming, because the retreating ice leaves dark areas of sea absorbing more heat, in place of the light-reflecting snow cover. Lower levels of ice cover have also been tentatively linked to an increase in the frequency of wetter, duller summers in the UK and northern Europe. The extent of sea ice loss this year will not be known until the depth of the thaw, in September, but early indications are that it could be on a similar scale as last year. Summers in the Arctic could be ice-free as soon as 2025, according to projections from the Met Office, and perhaps sooner according to other estimates.

The loss of ice has prompted a flurry of interest among companies and governments eager to use the normally frozen seas as a quicker passage for cargo vessels, linking Asia, the US and Europe with shorter shipping and trade routes. It could also allow for an easier exploitation of the oil and gas resources of the region, which are believed to be substantial, but which cannot be confirmed until further exploration has taken place.

Walley condemned this rush: "The rapidly disappearing Arctic sea ice should be a wake-up call for this government to tackle climate change, not pave the way for a corporate carve up of the region's resources."

Saturday's report from the environmental audit committee follows an assessment by the committee last year of how the coalition could protect the Arctic, and what the committee described as a disappointing response by the government. According to the committee, ministers "failed to grasp the urgency of action needed, or to set out an enhanced role for the UK in Arctic matters".

A Shell spokesman said: "Shell understands the uniqueness and importance of the Arctic, but gas and oil production from the Arctic and sub-Arctic is not new. To meet growing global energy demand and to keep energy affordable for consumers, investment in gas and oil production will be essential for many decades to come. We believe that continued dialogue between the energy industry and a range of stakeholders about responsible operations in the Arctic is fundamental. We value engagement with the UK government to ensure concerns are fully addressed."

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« Reply #576 on: Jul 28, 2013, 07:17 AM »

Each degree of global warming might ultimately raise global sea levels by more than 2 meters

Posted on 27 July 2013
by John Hartz

The following article is a reprint of a press release posted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) on July 15, 2013

Greenhouse gases emitted today will cause sea level to rise for centuries to come. Each degree of global warming is likely to raise sea level by more than 2 meters in the future, a study now published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows. While thermal expansion of the ocean and melting mountain glaciers are the most important factors causing sea-level change today, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will be the dominant contributors within the next two millennia, according to the findings. Half of that rise might come from ice-loss in Antarctica which is currently contributing less than 10 percent to global sea-level rise.

“CO2, once emitted by burning fossil fuels, stays an awful long time in the atmosphere,” says Anders Levermann, lead author of the study and research domain co-chair at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Consequently, the warming it causes also persists.” The oceans and ice sheets are slow in responding, simply because of their enormous mass, which is why observed sea-level rise is now measured in millimeters per year. “The problem is: once heated out of balance, they simply don’t stop,” says Levermann. “We’re confident that our estimate is robust because of the combination of physics and data that we use.”

The study is the first to combine evidence from early Earth’s climate history with comprehensive computer simulations using physical models of all four major contributors to long-term global sea-level rise. During the 20th century, sea level rose by about 0.2 meters, and it is projected to rise by significantly less than two meters by 2100 even for the strongest scenarios considered. At the same time, past climate records, which average sea-level and temperature changes over a long time, suggest much higher sea levels during periods of Earth history that were warmer than present.

For the study now published, the international team of scientists used data from sediments from the bottom of the sea and ancient raised shorelines found on various coastlines around the world. All the models are based on fundamental physical laws. “The Antarctic computer simulations were able to simulate the past five million years of ice history, and the other two ice models were directly calibrated against observational data – which in combination makes the scientists confident that these models are correctly estimating the future evolution of long-term sea-level rise,” says Peter Clark, a paleo-climatologist at Oregon State University and co-author on the study. While it remains a challenge to simulate rapid ice-loss from Greenland and Antarctica, the models are able to capture ice loss that occurs on long time scales where a lot of the small rapid motion averages out.

If global mean temperature rises by 4 degrees compared to pre-industrial times, which in a business-as-usual scenario is projected to happen within less than a century, the Antarctic ice sheet will contribute about 50 percent of sea-level rise over the next two millennia. Greenland will add another 25 percent to the total sea-level rise, while the thermal expansion of the oceans’ water, currently the largest component of sea-level rise, will contribute about 20 percent, and the contribution from mountain glaciers will decline to less than 5 percent, mostly because many of them will shrink to a minimum.

“Continuous sea-level rise is something we cannot avoid unless global temperatures go down again,” concludes Levermann. “Thus we can be absolutely certain that we need to adapt. Sea-level rise might be slow on time scales on which we elect governments, but it is inevitable and therefore highly relevant for almost everything we build along our coastlines, for many generations to come.”

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« Reply #577 on: Jul 29, 2013, 06:47 AM »

Weird Fuzzy Compound Could Be Next Big Fuel Cell Catalyst

By CleanTechnica
Sunday, July 28, 2013 5:56 EDT

Viewed up close, tungsten sulfide looks like a bunch of sea urchins moshing at a foam party, but this chemical compound could become the next workhorse of the hydrogen fuel cell field. A team of researchers from Rutgers University is on track to develop nanoscale sheets of tungsten sulfide as a low cost replacement for platinum catalysts in fuel cells, and that could help push the electric vehicle market out of reliance on expensive lithium-ion batteries and into a more affordable format. No worries for Tesla EV fans, though, at least not yet. The research is still in its early stages and meanwhile the nation’s EV battery charging network has been skyrocketing.

A Low Cost Hydrogen Fuel Cell Catalyst

Just last week we were talking about the affordability obstacles faced by hydrogen fuel cells, and the catalyst is the big one. Currently the catalyst of choice is platinum, so the hunt has been on for low-cost alternatives.

Tungsten sulfide (WS2) is of interest because of its inorganic nanotube structure, and it is already in use as a catalyst in reactions such as hydrodesulfurization. It occurs naturally in tungstenite, which is a rare mineral, but it can also be synthesized in a variety of ways.

According to the Rutgers team, WS2 is among a group of compounds that are promising, but lack efficiency due to their relatively low number of active sites.

To increase the number of sites and boost their activity level, the team took a page out of the graphene book. Graphene is a superstrong “miracle material” only one atom thick, originally obtained through a crude form of exfoliation. The team that discovered graphene literally lifted a layer from the surface of a chunk of graphite with sticky tape.

The exfoliation process used by the Rutgers team was somewhat more sophisticated, but the idea was similar: take a chunk of bulk material and lift a nanoscale sheet from the surface.

As described by writer Belle Dumé in, the result was a structure never studied before, a sheet of WS2 only three atoms thick with the tungsten atom wedged between the sulphur atoms (keep in mind that graphene consists only of carbon, therefore a single-atom layer is possible in graphene but not in WS2).

So far, tests have shown that the WS2 sheets produce a level of catalytic activity far greater than would be expected, given how extremely thin they are. The obvious result is that very little of the compound would be needed to coat a surface, resulting in lower costs.

Fuel Cells VS Batteries

As for whether fuel cells or batteries will eventually dominate the EV market, the jury is still out. If costs keep dropping for both formats, the result could be a far more diverse and flexible vehicle market than petroleum fuel currently permits, with both commercial and individual buyers being able to tailor their choices more precisely to their actual driving patterns.

The Obama Administration has been betting on both sides, though so far in terms of research dollars batteries seem to be winning out, with the Administration providing a hefty boost to EV battery research through the JCESR initiative. A more modest effort has gone into fuel cell electric vehicle development, through the public-private H2USA initiative as well as a number of Department of Defense and DOE programs.

On the other hand, one focus of JCESR is on new flow battery technology, and other formats such as zinc-air are coming close to commercialization, so the payout for that initiative won’t necessarily fall to lithium-ion batteries alone.

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« Reply #578 on: Jul 29, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Earthquakes can release sub-sea pockets of methane

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, July 28, 2013 14:56 EDT

Earthquakes can rip open sub-sea pockets of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, according to a study by German and Swiss scientists published on Sunday.

Quake-caused methane should be added to the list of heat-trapping carbon emissions that affect the world’s climate system, although the scale of this contribution remains unclear, they said.

The evidence comes from cores of sediment drilled from the bed of the northern Arabian Sea during a research trip by marine scientists in 2007.

One of the cores has now been found to contain methane hydrates — a solid ice-like crystalline structure of methane and water — only 1.6 metres (5.2 feet) below the sea floor.

Also uncovered were tell-tale signatures from water between sediment grains, and concentrations of a mineral called barite.

Together, these suggested that methane had surged up through the sea bed in recent decades.

“We started going through the literature and found that a major earthquake had occurred close by, in 1945,” said David Fischer from the MARUM Institute at the University of Bremen.

“Based on several indicators, we postulated that the earthquake led to a fracturing of the sediments, releasing the gas that had been trapped below the hydrates into the ocean.”

Their search names the culprit as an 8.1-magnitude quake, the biggest ever detected in the northern Arabian Sea.

It ruptured a shallow gas reservoir at a location called Nascent Ridge, according to their paper, appearing in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Over a likely period of decades, around 7.4 million cubic metres (261 million cubic feet) of methane — equivalent roughly to 10 large natural-gas tankers — belched to the surface, the authors calculate.

This estimate is conservative, they stress, adding that there could well be other sites in the area that were breached by the quake.

Greenhouse gases have both natural and man-made sources.

Identified natural sources include volcanic eruptions, which disgorge heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as cooling sulphur dioxide particles, and methane from land and thawing permafrost.

The biggest human source is CO2, from the burning of coal, gas and oil, and methane caused by deforestation and agriculture.

Methane has become a rising concern in the global warming equation because it is 25 times more effective than CO2 in trapping solar heat, although it is also shorter-lived.

According to estimates published last week in Nature, the leakage of 50 billion tonnes of methane from the thawing shoreline of the East Siberian Sea — part of the Arctic Ocean, which is one of the Earth’s hot spots for warming — would inflict costs almost as big as the world’s entire economic output.

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« Reply #579 on: Jul 30, 2013, 05:56 AM »

More than 1,700 U.S. cities will be partially underwater by 2100: study

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Monday, July 29, 2013 18:33 EDT

More than 1,700 American cities and towns – including Boston, New York, and Miami – will have significant populations living below the high-water mark by the end of this century, a new climate change study has found.

Those 1,700 towns are locked into a watery future by greenhouse gas emissions already built up in the atmosphere, the analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday found. For nearly 80 of those cities, the watery future would come much sooner, within the next decade.

“Even if we could just stop global emissions tomorrow on a dime, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Gardens, Hoboken, New Jersey will be under sea level,” said Benjamin Strauss, a researcher at Climate Central, and author of the paper. But dramatic cuts in emissions – much greater than Barack Obama and other world leaders have so far agreed – could save nearly 1,000 of those towns, by averting the sea-level rise, the study fund.

“Hundreds of American cities are already locked into watery futures and we are growing that group very rapidly,” Strauss said. “We are locking in hundreds more as we continue to emit carbon into the atmosphere.”

Those 1,700 cities would have 25% of their populations living below the high-water mark by 2100. Some 79 cities and towns with a combined population of 835,000 would be staring down those waters by 2023. About half of the population of Fort Lauderdale, Hoboken, and Palm Beach, would be living below the high tide line by 2023.

The list of cities at risk by 2100 spanned Sacramento, California – which lies far from the sea but would be vulnerable to flooding in the San Joaquin delta – and Norfolk, Virginia. The latter town is home of America’s largest navy base, whose miles of waterfront installations would be at risk by the 2040s. The Pentagon has already begun actively planning for a future under climate change, including relocating bases.

About half the population of Cambridge, MA, across the Charles River from Boston and home to Harvard and MIT, would fall below sea-level by the early 2060s, the study found. Several coastal cities in Texas were also vulnerable.

But the region at highest risk was Florida, which has dozens of towns which will fall below the high water mark by century’s end. Miami would be significantly under water by 2041, the study found. Half of Palm Beach with its millionaires’ estates along the sea front would be below the high water line by the 2060s. Other cities such as Fort Lauderdale were already well below sea-level.

“Pretty much everywhere it seems you are going to be under water unless you build a massive system of dykes and levees,” Strauss said. The study drew on current research on sea-level rise, now growing at 1ft per decade.

A recent study, also published in PNAS by the climate scientist Anders Levermann found each 1C rise in atmospheric warming would lead eventually to 2.3m of sea-level rise. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #580 on: Jul 31, 2013, 06:28 AM »

Mark Butler approves iron ore mine in Tasmanian devil's stronghold

Environment minister gives go-ahead for project that court halted amid concerns for tumour-threatened species

Oliver Milman, Wednesday 31 July 2013 05.20 BST   

The federal environment minister, Mark Butler, has given the go-ahead to a controversial mine that the courts halted amid concerns it could drastically affect the last stronghold of the Tasmanian devil.

Butler said he had granted approval to Shree Minerals to proceed with its iron ore mine at Nelson Bay River in the north-west of Tasmania, subject to 30 conditions.

However, the Save the Tarkine campaign group, which successfully convinced the federal court to block the mine two weeks ago, said it would launch a further legal challenge, claiming that Butler had not taken the time to make a full assessment of the mine's impact.

The federal court had ruled that Tony Burke, the previous environment minister, had erred by failing to properly consult departmental advice relating to the mine's adverse implications for the Tasmanian devil.

Around 80% of the Tasmanian devil population has been ravaged by a facial tumour disease, with the last remaining tumour-free population found in the Tarkine, where the mine is to be located.

Conditions placed on the mine by Butler include a ban on travel to and from the site outside daylight hours to reduce the chance of devils being run over by trucks. Shree employees will also have to get to the mine via a bus, rather than travel there in their own cars.

Shree will have to monitor devil populations and contribute $350,000 to the Save the Tasmanian Devil program. The company will have to pay $48,000 for each devil killed, as well as fund the eradication of feral dogs and cats should a spotted-tailed quoll, another endangered marsupial, die.

Butler has also demanded that Shree put $400,000 towards research into four rare orchids found in the vicinity of the mine.

"I have imposed conditions that I am confident will protect those species," Butler said.

"These conditions include a range of avoidance and mitigation measures that will reduce the likely impacts. Where significant residual impacts remain likely, however, the company must take other action to compensate for the impacts, known as offsets.

"These conditions will ensure that there are strong environmental protections in place for a development with significant economic potential for north-west Tasmania."

Scott Jordan, head of the Save the Tarkine group, told Guardian Australia that Butler's decision was rushed and would be challenged in court.

"They've fast-tracked the mine with a window dressing reassessment that contains most of the conditions of the previous approval," he said. "Today's decision is a decision in favour of extinction of the Tasmanian devil."

"The minister has had 10 days where he hasn't done a reassessment, he's just got a briefing and met with a bunch of stakeholders not relevant to the decision. The departmental advice is clear that this mine would introduce disease to devils in their last disease-free area in Tasmania.

"It's a great concern that this advice has been ignored. We'll be getting our legal team to go through this as this decision doesn't address the massive failure identified by the federal court."

The mine has been strongly backed by the state Labor government, the Coalition and resources industry. It's estimated that the $20m project will employ around 70 people in an area that has struggled, compared with the rest of Australia, to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.

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« Reply #581 on: Jul 31, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Overpicking threatens Greek herbs

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 8:11 EDT

Forestry officials on the Greek island of Crete have slapped a five-year ban on the collection of a variety of wild herbs snipped to near-extinction, the state-run ANA agency said.

The forestry department of Hania, one of the island’s main towns, placed restrictions on picking sage, marjoram, oregano and sideritis, better known as Cretan mountain tea, in protected areas.

The department has outlawed the piecemeal uprooting of the plants until the end of 2018.

Special permission is required for commercial collection, and an allowance of up to 500 grammes is made “for personal use”.

And Cretan dittany, a therapeutic plant prized since antiquity that is exclusive to the island, is off the table altogether.

“The mass collection of these aromatic plants, also for purposes of trade, threatens them with extinction,” the forestry department said.

The herb-based Cretan diet has long been considered one of the healthiest in the Mediterranean basin and a contributing factor to the islanders’ traditional longevity.

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« Reply #582 on: Aug 01, 2013, 06:35 AM »

Marshall Islands claims ‘climate catastrophe’ in the Pacific will soon ‘wipe it off the map’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 1, 2013 7:44 EDT

The Marshall Islands has warned of a Pacific “climate catastrophe” that will wipe it off the map without decisive action on global warming, saying the next 12 months are critical.

Tony de Brum, minister in assistance to the Marshall Islands’ president, is in Australia making the case for a major climate declaration at the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum it will host in September which he has insisted US Secretary of State John Kerry must attend.

De Brum hopes the so-called Majuro Declaration can be presented to the United Nations General Assembly to help renew global efforts on emissions reduction as the Pacific region confronts rising seas and growing numbers of so-called climate refugees.

“Our hosting of the forum comes at the cusp of the most important geopolitical period for the region since World War II,” de Brum told reporters at a briefing in Sydney Thursday, adding the next 12 months “are critical to addressing climate change”.

“Business as usual will lead to a climate catastrophe and time is running out.

“We feel very strongly that if (Kerry) does not attend it would be a slap in the face and like the United States would be reversing its so-called pivot to the Pacific,” he added.

De Brum said the tiny Pacific atoll of 55,000 people, which stands at an average of just two metres above sea level, was already feeling the impacts of global warming with an unprecedented seven-month drought in the north and a devastating king tide earlier this year triggering disaster declarations.

“During my lifetime I have seen an island in the lagoon of Majuro atoll, the capital centre of the Marshall Islands, disappear from the surface of the Earth,” he said.

“We do not have scientists measuring this that and the other, we have experienced first-hand the effects of climate change… It is not something that is down the road or at the turn of the century.”

De Brum said the Marshalls government was already ferrying food and drinking water to 13 outer island communities due to drought-linked shortages that were threatening the export of copra, the dried-out flesh of coconuts from which oil is extracted, which underpinned its economy.

There had also been a “marked increase” in what he described as climate refugees from neighbouring Kiribati and Tuvalu and he said the government expected similar movements out of the Marshalls itself in coming years, with a two-metre sea level rise predicted by the World Bank before the end of the century.

“This would fundamentally alter the world as we see it and be the end of my country, the end of Kiribati, the end of Tuvalu and many other countries like it.”

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« Reply #583 on: Aug 01, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Nepal bans chicken sales after bird flu outbreak

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 1, 2013 7:19 EDT

Nepal on Thursday banned the sale of chicken after health workers found cases of bird flu at several poultry farms on the outskirts of the capital Kathmandu, officials said.

Officials at Kathmandu District Animal Health Office said the government had imposed a week-long ban on the supply and sale of poultry products to prevent the H5N1 virus from spreading to humans.

“We have taken this decision to save both human lives as well as the industry,” said Bolraj Acharya, the head of the office.

He said authorities could extend the ban unless the virus was under control within a week, adding that security forces had been deployed in markets to enforce the restrictions.

“We have also sent surveillance teams in the poultry farms. They will report to us if there’s any violation of the ban,” Acharya said.

Since the latest outbreak of bird flu two weeks ago, health workers have culled 220,000 chickens and destroyed more than 400,000 eggs at 30 affected farms, said Bijay Kant Jha, the head of the government-run Directorate of Animal Health.

“This is the biggest outbreak in Nepal so far,” he said.

Nepal’s first outbreak of bird flu in poultry was in January 2009.

H5N1, a common strain of bird flu, killed 377 people globally from 2003 until July 5 this year, according to the World Health Organisation.
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« Reply #584 on: Aug 01, 2013, 06:52 AM »

Congo's rare mountain gorillas could become victims of oil exploration

WWF warns of environmental disaster and permanent conflict if British firm begins drilling for oil inside Virunga national park

John Vidal, Thursday 1 August 2013 09.26 BST   
Link to video: Congo's Virunga national park under threat from oil exploration – video

The Virunga national park, home to rare mountain gorillas but targeted for oil exploration by a British company, could earn strife-torn DR Congo $400m (£263m) a year from tourism, hydropower and carbon credits, a WWF report published on Thursday concludes.

But if the Unesco world heritage site that straddles the equator is exploited for oil, as the Congolese government and exploration firm Soco International are hoping, it could lead to devastating pollution and permanent conflict in an already unstable region, says the conservation body.

Congo has allocated oil concessions over 85% of the Virunga park but Soco International is now the only company seeking to explore inside its boundaries. This year Unesco called for the cancellation of all Virunga oil permits.

Soco, whose board of 10 directors have wide experience with oil companies working in conflict areas including Exxon, Shell and Cairn, insist that their operations in Congo would be confined to an area in the park known as Block V, and would not affect the gorillas.

Soco chairman, Rui de Sousa, said: "Despite the views of WWF, Soco is extremely sensitive to the environmental significance of the Virunga national park. It is irrefutable that oil companies still have a central role in today's global energy supply and a successful oil project has the potential to transform the economic and social wellbeing of a whole country.''

He added: "The park has sadly been in decline for many years officially falling below the standards required for a world heritage site. The potential for development just might be the catalyst that reverses this trend.''

However Raymond Lumbuenamo, country director for WWF-Democratic Republic of the Congo, based in Kinshassa, said that security in and around the park would deteriorate further if Soco went ahead with its exploration plans.

"The security situation is already bad. The UN is involved with fighting units and the M23 rebel force is inside the park. Oil would be a curse. It always increases conflict. It would attract human sabotage. The park might become like the Niger delta. Developing Virunga for oil will not make anything better."

"The population there is already very dense, with over 350 people per sqkm. When you take part of the land (for oil) you put more pressure on the rest. Oil would not provide many jobs, people would flood in looking for work," he said.

One fear is that the area is seismically active and another eruption of one of the volcanoes in the park could damage oil company infrastructure and lead to oil spills in the lakes. "Virunga's rich natural resources are for the benefit of the Congolese people, not for foreign oil prospectors to drain away. Our country's future depends on sustainable economic development," said Lumbuenamo.

"For me, choosing the conservation option is the best option. We can always turn back. Once you have started drilling for oil there's no turning back," he said.

But Raymond accepted that while the gorillas were safe at present, the chances of the park generating its potential of $400m a year were remote. "It would be difficult to make the kind of money that the report talks of. Virunga used to be a very peaceful place and can be again. The security situation right now is bad. The UN is involved with fighting units. Its not as quiet as it used to be."

According to the WWF report, complied by Dalberg Global Development Advisers, ecosystems in the park could support hydropower generation, fishing and ecotourism and play an important role in providing secure water supplies, regulating climate and preventing soil erosion.

The park, Africa's oldest and most diverse, is home to over 3,000 different kinds of animals, but is now heavily populated with desperately poor people, many of whom fled there after the Rwanda massacre in 1994.

"In all, the park could support in the region of 45,000 permanent jobs. In addition, people around the world could derive an immense value from simply knowing that the park is well managed and is safe for future generations," says the report.

"Virunga represents a valuable asset to DR Congo and contributes to Africa's heritage as the oldest and most biodiverse park on the continent," the report says. "Plans to explore for oil and exploit oil reserves put Virunga's potential value at risk," it says.

"This is where we draw the line. Oil companies are standing on the doorstep of one of the world's most precious and fragile places, but we will not rest until Virunga is safe from this potential environmental disaster," said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of WWF International. "Virunga has snow fields and lava fields, but it should not have oil fields."

In June, the Uesco world heritage committee called for the cancellation of all Virunga oil permits and appealed to concession holders Total SA and Soco International Plc not to undertake exploration in world heritage sites. Total has committed to respecting Virunga's current boundary, leaving UK-based Soco as the only oil company with plans to explore inside the park.

Last year, the UK government expressed concerns about the prospect of oil exploration within the park. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The UK opposes oil exploration within Virunga national park, a world heritage site listed by Unesco as being 'in danger'. We urge any company involved, and the government of DR Congo to respect the international conventions to which it is a signatory."

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