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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 143693 times)
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« Reply #630 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:51 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

Global warming: What happens if the sun loses its spots?

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / August 21, 2013 at 6:16 pm EDT

What would happen to global warming if the sun quit producing sunspots for a few decades?

The question is of more than passing interest to climate scientists as they ponder the prospect that the sun may be about to enter such a period.

The coming flip of the sun's magnetic field in a few months marks the peak of the current sunspot cycle – one that has produced the fewest sunspots in at least 100 years, and perhaps the last 200 years.

Peering at trends – or in some cases, the lack of them – in the sun's behavior during the run-up to the current cycle's peak, some solar physicists increasingly are considering the possibility that the sun may be on the verge of a "grand solar minimum," comparable to a 70-year period running from the early 17th century into the early 18th century, when the sun produced no sunspots at all.

That period, known as the Maunder Minimum, coincided with the Little Ice Age, when the climate in the Northern Hemisphere cooled significantly.

In the most detailed look yet at the impact a similar event might have on global warming, researchers from the US and Australia have concluded that a 50-year grand minimum in sunspot activity likely would reduce global average temperatures during the period by a few tenths of a degree Celsius, but that the warming trend would resume once solar activity returns to normal.

"What if we went into another Maunder Minimum? Would that actually stop global warming"? asks Gerald Meehl, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who led the team that conducted the study. "The short answer is: No. It slows it down for a while. But the minute the sunspots come back and the solar output goes back up, the temperature pops back up" close to where it would have been if the sun spots hadn't taken a powder, and the warming trend resumes.

The notion that the sun could be heading for a grand minimum hit the headlines two years ago, when three research teams using independent measures suggested that the next sunspot cycle's activity could be substantially lower than the current cycle's.

One sign: A fairly steady decline in the strength of the spots' magnetic fields over a 13-year-period. If the trend is to continue, scientists said, they anticipated a spotless sun by around 2022.

"We still see a decrease in the sunspot magnetic fields," says Matt Penn, a researcher with the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, who took part in the study. "The results are consistent with what we presented in 2011. It seems the trend is continuing along that line" leading to a cut-off in sunspot production.

More recently, research has suggested that the strength of the suns' magnetic field during one solar minimum – when the field is at its strongest – is a harbinger of the size of the peak for the next sunspot maximum. Over the past three sunspot cycles, those fields at solar minimum have been getting weaker, with the weakest appearing during the most recent minimum.

Given these trends, "I don't see how we're going to get fields any stronger this time around than they were" prior to the current solar maximum, known as cycle 24, says David Hathaway, a solar physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Hunstville, Ala. "It looks like cycle 25 might be smaller yet."

"My suspicion: If you think this cycle's bad, wait for then next one," he says.

Meanwhile, over the past decade climate scientists have evolved a better understanding of how – between the valleys and peaks of the sunspot cycle – a tiny increase in the energy the sun radiates toward Earth can affect climate.

Two mechanisms have emerged that can have a measurable effect, especially regional climate. The center of action for both is the tropical Pacific, and to a lesser extent, the North Atlantic, Dr. Meehl explains.

Most of the change in the sun's output is in the form of ultraviolet radiation. A top-down mechanism warms the stratosphere, as increased UV radiation stimulates the production of ozone, which releases heat. This heating changes circulation patterns in the stratosphere, which in turn alter circulation patterns in the troposphere below, where weather happens.

The other process is bottom up, where even smaller changes in visible light reach the sea in the relatively cloudless subtropics to set off a chain of changes in rainfall and wind patterns.

In each case, these changes can have effects far beyond the tropical Pacific, leading to changes in regional climate that are more pronounced than the direct affect of the slight increase in the sun's output. And they work in tandem.

During solar minimum, when the sun's output declines, these processes shut down, cooling the climate by a few tenths of a degree.

For the first time, Meehl and colleagues explored the impact of a grand solar minimum with a model that encompasses the top-down and bottom-up processes in the same model.

They assumed a 50-year sunspot hiatus presumed to run from 2020 to 2070. They used the solar cycles between 1965 and 2008 as their "normal" scenario, and temperature data from 1986-2005 as their temperature base. And both approaches used atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations that reach twice preindustrial levels by about 2070, then stabilize.

The team found that between 2026 and 2035, global average temperatures in the experiment would increase 0.80 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) with normal solar activity, but only 0.64 degrees C. assuming sunspots went into a long hibernation.

By 2040, the pace of warming begins to pick up in the grand-minimum scenario. Between 2065 and 2080, after the grand minimum ends, warming has reached 1.47 degrees C above 1986-2005 levels with normal solar activity and 1.32 degrees C in the grand-minimum scenario.

Other researchers have performed similar experiment with similar models with similar results, the team acknowledges. But this work appears to capture the full extent of the effects, from initial cooling to the resumption of warming.

The results were published in May in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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« Reply #631 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:48 AM »

Ancient banyan tree in Hong Kong succumbs to fungus, development

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 23, 2013 22:04 EDT

AFP – A 400-year-old banyan tree in Hong Kong will be cut down, authorities said Friday, after being hit by a fungal disease brought on when a park development starved its roots of oxygen and nutrients.

Nestled in the heart of the city in Kowloon Park, the tree, Hong Kong’s oldest Chinese banyan, has been infected with the deadly brown root rot disease that authorities fear could spread to others nearby.

A third of the tree collapsed in a 2007 typhoon, but the enormity of it still amazes passersby as they walk near its towering trunk, 22 metres high (72 feet) with a crown spread of 27 metres.

“No other banyan tree was as old as this one, none was as big as this one,” chair of Hong Kong University geography department Jim Chi-yung told AFP, explaining that it had existed during the time of the Qing Dynasty.

But authorities were left with no choice but to fell the giant tree, fondly known as ‘King Banyan’, because of the risk it posed to others in the vicinity, he added.

“It has become a locus of disease spread we don’t want it to affect other trees in the vicinity or in the district,” Jim, who also served on a government expert panel that made the decision said.

The tree was diagnosed with the infection in 2009 and other trees in the area were also found infected with earlier this year, a government spokeswoman said.

“It is considered that the tree has little chance of recovery,” she said, adding that it will be removed in September.

The disease was brought on by “improper park design” where the tree’s roots were buried with additional soil and concrete to make the portion of the park level in 1989, blocking it from air supply, water and nutrients, Jim said.

“Burying trees with compacted soil and concrete will not give you a strong tree,” he said.

“The whole saga is avoidable and unnecessary,” Jim added. “It is a very sad picture.”

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« Reply #632 on: Aug 25, 2013, 07:24 AM »

Greenpeace ship defies Russia, enters Arctic route to protest against oil drilling

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 24, 2013 8:33 EDT

Greenpeace has deployed its icebreaker through an Arctic shipping route to protest against oil drilling in the fragile ecosystem, defying Russian authorities, the group said Saturday.

The Russian transportation ministry immediately accused the Dutch-flagged vessel of “crudely” violating Russian and international law.

Earlier this week Greenpeace said Russia had refused the permission to enter the Northern Sea Route on several occasions citing concerns about the icebreaker’s ability to withstand thick ice.

The global environmental group has called the move “a thinly veiled attempt to stifle peaceful protest.”

In defiance of the Russian authorities, the Greenpeace said its ship Arctic Sunrise entered the Northern Sea Route early Saturday to protest plans by the country’s top oil firm Rosneft and its US partner ExxonMobil to drill near the Russian Arctic National Park.

“We refuse to let illegal attempts by the Russian government stop us from exposing dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic.

“The Russian Arctic National Park is a special place full of rare and threatened Arctic wildlife, and faces an infinitely greater threat from reckless oil companies than a fully equipped Greenpeace icebreaker,” Christy Ferguson, a Greenpeace Arctic campaigner aboard the ship, was quoted as saying in the group’s statement.

“If Rosneft and ExxonMobil bring in offshore drilling platforms they will risk catastrophic blowouts and spills that could devastate the region,” said Ferguson, adding that the two oil giants “rely on secrecy and evasion.”

The Arctic Sunrise was heading to the Kara Sea where several vessels contracted by Rosneft and ExxonMobil are conducting seismic testing to prepare for offshore drilling.

Vladimir Chuprov, head of the Russian energy unit at Greenpeace, said the icebreaker was so far moving forward unhindered.

“According to reports from the vessel, there are no military ships or border guard vessels in the field of view,” he said on Echo of Moscow radio.

“Nor are there any radio signals which would hinder the ship’s movement.”

Russian officials have said the ship owner was violating Russian law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The transportation ministry sent a letter to the foreign ministry with a request to get in touch with the Netherlands’ maritime authorities with the aim of influencing the owner of the vessel on behalf of the flag state,” a spokeswoman told AFP.

“By being in the Northern Sea Route waters the vessel presents a serious threat to the environment.”

The Russian foreign ministry did not immediately react.

Greenpeace said the plans to drill in the protected ecosystem were in contravention of Russia’s own environmental laws.

Established in 2009, the natural park is home to endangered species such as the bowhead whale and a major breeding ground for polar bears.

Rosneft, headed by one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest confidants, Igor Sechin, said its offshore exploration and drilling were “absolutely safe.”

“High-technology solutions which will be used to implement the Arctic projects are capable of ensuring maximum environmental safety of the works,” the company said in a statement sent to AFP.

Rosneft added it was open to monitoring by independent observers.

Both Russia and the United States hope that the global warming gradually melting the Arctic sea ice will help them tap the vast oil and natural gas resources believed to be buried in the region.

Pig Putin has pledged to turn the Northern Sea Route into a key shipping artery, part of the Kremlin’s bid to mark out its stake over the energy-rich Arctic.

The 60-year-old Russian strongman has made much of his concern for the wildlife and projects to protect endangered species and was in the past pictured kissing animals and fish.

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« Reply #633 on: Aug 26, 2013, 06:40 AM »

Scientists reveal excess atmospheric carbon dioxide causes rapid ocean acidification, threatens species

By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
Sunday, August 25, 2013 16:52 EDT

Experts claim current rate of change is likely to be more than 10 times faster than it has ever been in Earth’s history

Rapidly rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are causing a potential catastrophe in our oceans as they become more acidic, scientists have warned.

Hans Poertner, professor of marine biology at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, and co-author of a new study of the phenomenon, told the Guardian: “The current rate of change is likely to be more than 10 times faster than it has been in any of the evolutionary crises in the earth’s history.”

Seawater is naturally slightly alkaline, but as oceans absorb CO2 from the air, their pH level falls gradually. Under the rapid escalation of greenhouse gas emissions, ocean acidification is gathering pace and many forms of marine life – especially species that build calcium-based shells – are under threat.

Poertner said that if emissions continue to rise at “business as usual” rates, this would be potentially catastrophic for some species. Acidification is just one of a broader range of the problems facing the oceans and the combination of different effects is increasing the threat. Poertner said: “We are already seeing warm water coral reefs on a downslide due to a combination of various stressors, including [rising] temperature. Ocean acidification is still early in the process [but] it will exacerbate these effects as it develops and we will see more calcifying species suffering.”

However, the process of acidification takes decades and the worst effects on some species could still be avoided if emissions are urgently reduced. “The ocean is changing already, mostly due to temperature – acidification will exacerbate those effects,” Poertner said.

Evidence from prehistoric ocean life provides a comparison. “The [effects observed] among invertebrates resembles those seen during the Permian Triassic extinctions 250m years ago, when carbon dioxide was also involved. The carbon dioxide range at which we see this sensitivity [to acidification] kicking in are the ones expected for the later part of this century and beyond.”

Oceans are one of the biggest areas of focus for current climate change research. The gradual warming of the deep oceans, as warmer water from the surface circulates gradually to lower depths, is thought to be a significant factor in the earth’s climate. New science suggests that the absorption of heat by the oceans is probably one of the reasons that the observed warming in the last 15 years has been at a slightly slower pace than previously, and this is likely to form an important part of next month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

The IPCC report, the first since 2007, will provide a comprehensive picture of our knowledge of climate change. It is expected to show that scientists are at least 95% certain that global warming is happening and caused by human activity, but that some uncertainties remain over the exact degree of the planet’s sensitivity to greenhouse gas increases.

The new study, entitled Inhospitable Oceans, published on Monday in the peer-review journal Nature Climate Change, was based on examinations of five key components of ocean eco-systems: corals, echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans and fish. All were found to be adversely affected by acidification: crustaceans were more resilient, while corals, molluscs and echinoderms were worst affected. The direct effects on fish were less clear.

Astrid Wittmann, co-author of the paper, said species with low resilience could be outcompeted by those that were more vulnerable to acidification, and that further studies were needed, particularly on plants and plankton, which were left out of this research. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #634 on: Aug 26, 2013, 06:43 AM »

<b<Another Delay Looms For Keystone XL Pipeline

By CleanTechnica
Monday, August 26, 2013 8:31 EDT

It’s been another bad week for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. It began with the release of a slew of negative comments from the Department of the Interior on a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project, and ended up with a report from our friends over at Bloomberg News, who received word that a State Department internal review of that same EIS contractor won’t be concluded until January.

Though Keystone is far from the only dubious fossil fuel project in the works, it has become the poster child for #fossilfuelfail partly because it is a Canadian project that crosses into the US, thus requiring approval from the Obama Administration through the State Department. It is State’s handling of the EIS that has fostered the current mess.
The Keystone XL Draft EIS

To recap the issues briefly, the Keystone XL pipeline will bring notoriously “dirty” tar sands oil from Canada, down through the US midwest to Gulf Coast refineries, where it is bound for the export market. Though touted as an essential job-creating project, the pipeline will create only a few dozen permanent positions in the US while potentially contributing to higher, not lower fuel prices in some states.
Keystone XL pipeline faces another delay

Slow going by tarotastic.

The pipeline would cross hundreds of waterways on its long route to the Gulf Coast. Lending credence to the environmental concerns of critics, the diluted bitumen or “dilbit” that the pipeline would convey has already proven to be a much thornier cleanup issue than conventional crude oil, as illustrated by a major 2010 Enbridge dilbit spill in the Kalamazoo River, and more recently by this year’s smaller but devastating Exxon dilbit spill in a residential community in Mayflower, Arkansas.

With that in mind, when the State Department released a strikingly mild draft EIS for the Keystone project for public comment earlier this year, the document was bound to come under intense scrutiny.
Problems With The Keystone EIS

Aside from numerous comments submitted by non-government groups, the US Environmental Protection Agency weighed in with an unusually harsh though politely worded assessment of the document, smacking it down for using outdated methodology, introducing off-topic arguments, and failing to address the unique nature of dilbit.

This week, the Department of the Interior became the second federal agency to issue a fail to the EIS, for its failure to address the impacts of Keystone on National Parks including habitat conservation as well as recreation.

Interior’s comments are highly detailed but can be summarized thusly: the EIS simply blows off any potential for long term or permanent impacts.

Who Prepared the Keystone EIS?

When the EIS was first released, word quickly spread through the blogosphere that the document was prepared by the consulting firm ERM, which apparently has financial ties to the oil industry in general and specifically to  TransCanada, the Canadian company that owns the proposed pipeline. Consequently a number of environmental groups asked State to investigate the contract for potential conflict of interest, which it did.

That brings us up to this week’s word from the State Department’s internal watchdog. On Friday, our friends over at Bloomberg News reported that State is also reviewing another EIS contract from February 2012, which will be combined in a report on the current one. Bloomberg received an email statement from an agency spokesperson to the effect that the report would not be concluded until January 2014.

Our friends over at The Hill followed up with a reminder that in theory at least, the State Department could go ahead and approve the pipeline before the report is completed and released to the public.

However, approval ahead of the report seems pretty unlikely, given that State is currently helmed by former Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who has a long record of forceful statements on the urgent need for climate action under his belt.
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« Reply #635 on: Aug 26, 2013, 06:44 AM »

Environmentalists warn plan to link Red Sea with Dead Sea could have dire consequences

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 26, 2013 6:19 EDT

A plan to link the Red Sea with the shrinking Dead Sea could save it from total evaporation and bring desalinated water to thirsty neighbours Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.

But environmentalists warn that the “Red-Dead” project could have dire consequences, altering the unique chemistry of the landmark inland lake at the lowest point on earth.

Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur said on Monday that his government had decided to press ahead with the 980-million dollar project which would give the parched Hashemite kingdom 100 million cubic metres (3.5 billion cubic feet) of water a year.

“The government has approved the project after years of technical, political, economic and geological studies,” Nsur told a news conference.

Under the plan, Jordan will draw water from the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern end of the Red Sea to the nearby Risheh Height, where a desalination plant is to be built to treat water.

“The desalinated water will go south to (the Jordanian town of) Aqaba, while salt water will be pumped to the Dead Sea,” Nsur said.

The Dead Sea, the world’s saltiest body of water, is on course to dry out by 2050.

It started shrinking in the 1960s when Israel, Jordan and Syria began to divert water from the Jordan River, the Dead Sea’s main tributary.

Israel and Jordan’s use of evaporation ponds for extracting valuable minerals from its briny waters has only exacerbated the problem.

With a coastline shared by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, the Dead Sea’s surface level has been dropping at a rate of around a metre a year. According to the latest available data form Israel’s hydrological service, on July 1, it stood at 427.13 metres (about 1,400 feet) below sea level, nearly 27 metres lower than in 1977.

Under the plan most of the desalinated water would go to Jordan, with smaller quantities transferred to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

But Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) and other environmental groups have called on the three partners to reject it on environmental grounds.

The main concern, they say, is that a large influx of water from the Red Sea could radically change the Dead Sea’s fragile ecosystem, forming gypsum crystals, and introducing red algae blooms.

In addition, leakage from the pipeline could contaminate groundwater along its route through southern Israel’s Arava Valley.

The Israeli ministry of environmental protection says that studies so far leave “vast uncertainty” and it is calling for a pilot project to be run on a limited scale to study the potential implications.

But critics contend that a small-scale pilot might not carry enough water to trigger the effects that it is intended to examine.

And for the Palestinians, the joint project raises more basic political issues such as Israel allowing them to develop that part of the shore which lies within the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“We would like to be in this cooperative project,” says Shaddad Al-Attili, head of the Palestinian Water Authority. “We would like to be treated equally as well as the Jordanians and the Israelis, we would like to benefit from the outcome.

“But before all of that we would like to get access to the Dead Sea, not only to get water and to swim in the sea, but also to build hotels and to develop a tourist area.”

The Dead Sea’s mineral-rich waters and mud are considered therapeutic, while visitors love the novelty of floating in the brine which does not allow a person to sink. Israelis operate a number of tourist hotels and beaches along the western shoreline.

FoEME has called on the three partners to endorse a set of integrated actions including water recycling and conservation, rehabilitation of the lower Jordan River and even importing water from Turkey — one of three alternatives in a World Bank study that is estimated to be cheaper and have much less environmental impact than the Red-Dead option.

Prime Minister Nsur said Jordan wanted water to supply its northern regions, while Israel needs water in the south.

Jordanian officials say the 500,000 Syrian refugees that Jordan is hosting are stretching its meagre water resources.

The majority of refugees are living in the north, particularly the Zaatari camp, home to about 130,000 Syrians.

Jordan had initially agreed in principle to build, along with the Palestinians and Israelis, a $11-billion pipeline from the Red Sea to resolve the problem.

But Water Minister Hazem Nasser said that due to the high cost of that project Jordan had decided to opt for its alternative plan, “which we call the ‘first phase’.”

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

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« Reply #636 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:04 AM »

Bubonic plague outbreak feared in central Asia

Health officials on alert after teenager who ate infected barbecued marmot dies and three others are admitted to hospital

Alec Luhn in Moscow, Tuesday 27 August 2013 14.48 BST   

Health officials fear an outbreak of bubonic plague in central Asia after a teenage boy died from the disease and three more were admitted to hospital in Kyrgyzstan.

Temirbek Isakunov, a 15-year-old from a mountain village near the border with Kazakhstan, reportedly died from the disease last week after eating an infected barbecued marmot. Kyrgyzstan's emergency ministry said a young woman and two children from a different village who came into contact with Isakunov were hospitalised on Tuesday with the high fever and swelling around the neck and armpits characteristic of bubonic plague, local news outlets reported.

A total of 131 people, including 33 medical personnel, have been quarantined, although none of them have yet exhibited symptoms of the disease, the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda in Kyrgyzstan reported. The health ministry continues to find and quarantine people who came into contact with the teenager, according to its director.

Kazakhstan has stepped up its border control with Kyrgyzstan and is operating quarantine points in light of the possible outbreak, the news agency Tengrinews reported. The Kazakh health ministry is searching out people who might have come into contact with the dead teenager, and is also determining where animal carriers of the disease might be moving between the two countries, according to a ministry official.

The bacteria that cause bubonic plague are typically transmitted from rodents to humans via flea bites but can also be contracted through direct contact with infected tissue.

Some local authorities in Russia have also grown wary over the incident, since citizens of Kyrgyzstan do not need a visa to enter the country and, according to the newspaper Izvestiya, more than 500,000 Kyrgyz work in Russia. According to TV news report in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, checkpoints in the airport there are inspecting all those arriving from countries with a high bubonic plague risk.

A Russian public health official said cases of bubonic plague were registered in Kazakhstan every year, and the disease existed naturally in parts of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia, Izvestiya reported.

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« Reply #637 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:25 AM »

Ecuador police clash with protesters over Amazon reserve oil drilling plan

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 7:33 EDT

Police in Ecuador clashed with ecologists and indigenous people protesting plans to open up a huge Amazon reserve to oil drilling.

Four protesters were detained for a few hours but later released, Interior Minister Jose Serrano said on Tuesday.

President Rafael Correa had announced a plan to declare the Yasuni National Park off limits to drilling in exchange for millions of dollars from other countries, but dumped the scheme earlier this month.

He said he gave up because little money had been offered.

The reserve is said to hold 920 million barrels of oil.

The protesters want a national referendum on whether to drill in the unspoilt area.

Organizers said hundreds of people took part in marches in the capital city Quito and in Cuenca in the south.

Carlos Perez, leader of an indigenous movement called Ecuarunari, said police had fire rubber bullets and there were around 12 people hurt.

Authorities gave no figure, nor would the Red Cross.

The interior minister said newspaper reports that police had used tear gas and rubber bullets were wrong and demanded a rectification.

Correa says he is open to a referendum on drilling in the reserve and challenged protest organizers to come up with the 60,000 signatures needed to prompt one.

The oil believed to be lying under the Yasuni is equivalent to 20 percent of the total reserves of Ecuador, OPEC’s smallest member.

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« Reply #638 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:33 AM »

Climate change could turn Greenland green by 2100

The world's most sparsely populated country could be covered by swaths of forests instead of barren ice sheet, experts say

Press Association, Wednesday 28 August 2013 06.00 BST   

Climate change could bring about the greening of Greenland by the end of the century, scientists predict.

Today only four indigenous tree species grow on the island, confined to small areas in the south. Three-quarters of Greenland, the world's most sparsely populated country, is covered by a barren ice sheet.

But by the year 2100 swaths of verdant forest could be covering much of its land surface, according to experts.

"Greenland has .. the potential to become a lot greener," said lead scientist Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, from Aarhus University in Denmark. "Forest like the coastal coniferous forests in today's Alaska and western Canada will be able to thrive in fairly large parts of Greenland, for example, with trees like sitka spruce and lodgepole pine.

"It will provide new opportunities for the Greenlanders."

The research showed that with expected levels of warming a majority of 44 species of North American and European trees and bushes will be able to thrive in Greenland.

Many species could already flourish in Greenland today, according to the analysis published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

One reason for the island's lack of current greenery is the slow speed at which forests expand by themselves. Computer simulations show it could take more than 2,000 years for Greenland's indigenous trees to spread to every area blessed with a suitable climate in 2100.

Despite this handicap, a key species such as the Arctic dwarf birch could be established over more than 400,000sqkm – an area almost the size of Sweden – by the end of the century.

The transformation is likely to alter Greenland's ecosystem, leading to the loss of Arctic animals and plants.

On the other hand there could be significant commercial possibilities linked to forestry, agriculture and tourism. Humans could play an active role in the greening of Greenland by helping to speed up the spread of new plant species, says Prof Svenning.

"People will often plant utility and ornamental plants where they can grow; it lies in our human nature," he said. "Such plantings could get a huge impact on the future Greenlandic nature as a source of dissemination. This certainly has positive aspects."

A warmer Greenland would also be much more vulnerable to invasive species, he added. "If imports and planting of species will take place without any control you may get a very chaotic and Klondyke-like development," Prof Svenning warned.

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« Reply #639 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:37 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

How tiny plankton could give global warming a significant boost

A new study suggests that as oceans become more acidic, plankton could produce less of a compound that is key to cloud formation. Clouds help keep earth cool.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / August 27, 2013 at 6:05 pm EDT

Global warming may get a nudge from its "evil twin," ocean acidification.

That possibility is raised in a new study that suggests that the activities of a tiny plankton – affected by the growing acidity of the world's oceans – could raise average global temperatures by as much as 1 degree Fahrenheit above current estimates.

The study, published Sunday in Nature Climate Change, represents a first cut at the issue and so faces a range of uncertainties. Trends in greenhouse-gas emissions, for example, could impact the findings.

Still, the work is "important" and "unique," says Richard Feely, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

"I don't think any of the previous modeling includes the effect of acidification on biological feedbacks" to the atmosphere, says Dr. Feely, who was not a member of the research team.

This "biological feedback" involves a compound produced by the plankton, called (rather unmercifully) dimethylsulfoniopropionate. Mercifully, scientists have reduced the name to the acronym: DMSP.

DMSP breaks down into forms that, once they reach the atmosphere, are readily converted into tiny aerosol particles. These aerosols, in turn, serve as the seeds for thick, low-level clouds over the ocean – clouds that are effective at reflecting sunlight back into space.

Lab and field experiments have shown that when seawater becomes more acidic, planktons' output of DMSP drops. The potential effect on cloud formation globally could be significant. By the end of the century, reduced cloud cover from this feedback could raise projected global average temperatures from 0.23 to 0.48 degrees Celsius (roughly 0.4 to 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the research team led by Katharina Six, with the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg.

Sulfur-based gases are the primary raw materials for aerosols that stimulate cloud formation, Feely says. Bacteria in the ocean break down DMSP into two byproducts, one of which is dimethyl sulfide (DMS) – said to be the atmosphere's single largest source of sulfur. DMS also is responsible for the smell of the sea as you approach the beach.

"It's really quite important to have a good sense of that," says Feely of the processes and effects of DMS on global climate.

Acidification occurs as the oceans take up a significant portion of the rising levels of carbon dioxide that human activities emit. No one expects the seas to mimic battery acid. But while the changes are undetectable to anyone wading in the surf from one year to the next, they are daunting to marine organisms that have adapted to a very narrow range of pH levels, a measure of relative acidity, in seawater.

The study published Sunday grew out of earlier field studies of ocean acidification in the Arctic, explains Stephen Archer, a senior scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine. His work focuses on how the ocean and atmosphere exchange gases and is a member of the team reporting these latest results.

Acidification is happening at the fastest pace in the cold seas at high latitudes. The relationship between plankton and DMSP production under acidic conditions could be important to melt-season cloud formation and climate change in the region. Dr. Archer and colleagues conducted the field studies in a fjord on the coast of Spitsbergen island to address the question as a part of the European Project on Ocean Acidification.

The results showed a significant decline in DMSP/DMS production, which ran counter to what models were producing. This raised the question of the potential effect globally, leading to the latest study, which uses the Spitsbergen data.

Archer acknowledges that this study represents a test-of-concept exercise for the feedback, based on a region where acidification is most pronounced. And at this stage, it's difficult to take into account any adaptation the organisms might undergo to survive in more acidic waters.

He and colleagues are preparing to look at similar DMSP processes in tropical and sub-tropical waters to get a more representative geographic sample and to get a better understanding of the mechanisms that lead to the feedback.

"If we could really understand the mechanisms behind that response ... we could more robustly predict what's going to happen" as ocean pH changes, he says.

"We've got the funding to do that; hopefully we can improve on what we've done," he says.

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« Reply #640 on: Aug 29, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Berliners' co-op aims to take over and run electricity grid of city

Successful bid by Citizen Energy Berlin for Vattenfall network will boost renewables and plough back profits, says activists' group

Suzanne Goldenberg in Berlin, Wednesday 28 August 2013 16.52 BST   

Arwen Colell was cycling down a Berlin street one afternoon when a friend from her choir group called her and said: "We should buy the electrical grid." The idea was not out of the blue. Germany's energy transition, from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewables, has lined rooftops with solar panels. But it was another ambition to run Berlin's distribution network.

Colell did not hesitate. "We should definitely do it," she said. "Good idea."

Since that conversation in 2011, Colell and her friend, who are in their mid-20s, have built a movement aimed at putting the city grid under citizens' control when the system goes on sale next year. The grid is owned by the Swedish firm Vattenfall.

The co-operative founded by the two students, Citizen Energy Berlin, has recruited around 1,000 members, each paying a minimum of €500 (£430) a share. It has raised €5.4m (£4.6m).

The fundraising has some distance to go. A Berlin civic report valued the system at €800m; Vattenfall claimed it is worth €3bn. And the co-operative faces stiff competition from other bids, including one from Vattenfall.

The Berlin senate will make a decision next year, based on financial resources and capacity to manage the grid. The winner will run the system from 2015 to 2035.

Taking control of the grid is an idea whose time has come. Activists in Hamburg and other cities have launched similar campaigns to regain control of their local grid. In the Black Forest region, a residents' co-operative in Schönau has been running the grid since the 1990s. "Schönau is showing us the way," said Colell.

There is broad support in Germany for the goals of the energy transition, or energiewende: cutting coal usage and phasing out nuclear reactors by 2022, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The plan is to cut the country's emissions by 40% by the end of the decade, and by up to 95% by 2050.

Germany generates a quarter of its electricity from renewable energy. On one bright sunny day in June, wind and solar provided 60% of its power needs.

However, the transition is patchy – with some parts of the country still dependent on highly polluting brown coal – and Germans bear the cost with high electricity bills.

The Berlin grid, the country's largest, gets more than 90% of its electricity from coal. That is much too high if Germany is to meet its climate-change goals, or the renewable targets of its energy transition, Colell said.

"We need this element of strengthening the voice of citizens in the landscape of energy utilities. It is still very much divided up between the big energy companies. Citizens do not really have a strong voice."

She said big firms such as Vattenfall had failed to move fast enough on renewables or energy efficiency, and were unsuited to more decentralised generation of electricity from rooftop solar and small-scale wind projects.

About 40% of Germany's renewable energy is generated by small-scale producers. Farmers alone provide 11%, and there is a growing movement of energy-producing co-operatives – a four-fold rise since 2009 to 735 – most of which generate solar power.

But the big four energy companies between them produce just 6.5% of the country's renewable electricity.

If Berliners bought back their grid, Colell said, they could put profits back into the system and speed the take-up of renewables and deployment of smart metres.

The idea of control has strong attraction for some Berliners. For Annette Jensen, who recently moved into a new flat in Berlin, regaining local control of the grid was critical.

Jensen's was one of the first passive buildings in the city. Its four levels of insulation, triple-paned windows and array of solar panels on the roof means that residents could, on sunny days, be selling power to the grid.

"After the financial crisis, we wanted to put what small money we had into a flat, we didn't want to be dependent on some big energy company," Jensen said.

Research based on a study trip organised by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, the Heinrich Boll Foundation and German foreign ministry.

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« Reply #641 on: Aug 29, 2013, 07:05 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

The cost of being the world's No.1 uranium producer

Kazakhstan's industry has skyrocketed in the past 10 years. But what could that mean for the environment?

By Ben Arnoldy, Staff writer / August 28, 2013 at 12:09 pm EDT
Astana, Kazakhstan

If you make a toxic mess under one of the most isolated parts of the planet, does it matter if you don't clean it up? Does it make a difference if that mess will be there for thousands of years?

Scientists are asking those questions as Kazakhstan has steadily risen to become the world's No. 1 uranium producer, surpassing such nations as the United States, Canada, and Australia, which require more cleanup.

Rather than employing miners to haul rock up to the surface, mine operators in Kazakhstan have embraced a newer – and generally cleaner – process by which a chemical solution is injected down a pipe to dissolve the underground uranium deposits and then is sucked back up to the surface.

This in situ leach (ISL) method avoids making a mess above ground, but leaves toxic levels of heavy metals in the ground water. In the US, companies using the method have tried for years and failed to return ground water to its pre-mining state.

In Kazakhstan, a country that has seen the disastrous effects of the Soviet Union's use of nuclear testing and waste disposal, officials with the state-owned uranium company, Kazatomprom, express no concern about the legacy of its rapidly expanding use of ISL mining. They argue that natural processes will clean the mine site.

Scientists studying the effects of ISL doubt how quickly mine sites can self-cleanse. This uncertainty appears to be little known to both Kazakhstan's nuclear industry and fledgling environmentalists.

In the near term, the stakes do not appear high: Kazakhstan's uranium mines are mostly located in deserted areas of an already sparsely populated country. But as the US learned in its own uranium-rich Southwest, population patterns and land use can change, potentially deferring an expensive cleanup or rendering some water resources unusable.

"Kazakhstan is a growing country and the pollution could persist for up to thousands of years, and you just don't know in the future if people might live in the area," says Brian Reinsch, an environmental scientist researching ISL remediation methods in Kazakhstan.

It could take natural processes between tens to thousands of years depending on the conditions at each mine site, says Dr. Reinsch. Active remediation efforts can shorten the time substantially, removing the uncertainty that comes with such longtime horizons.
Drinking water

ISL mining in many parts of the world involves some treatment of the solution that is left behind in the ore-bearing aquifers. If untreated, the solution could contain arsenic and cadmium at levels thousands of times higher than drinking water standards, says Gavin Mudd, an environmental engineer at Monash University in Australia. Arsenic can also be absorbed by plants, leaving the water unusable for irrigating crops.

Over time, the contaminated water will gradually spread laterally – often at paces as slow as a meter per year – beyond the mining site. ISL mine sites are chosen in areas where there are barriers like clay above and below the ore deposit to prevent water from seeping vertically into new aquifers with higher quality water.

But the clay layer is not entirely continuous, nor is it certain the mining acid wouldn't dissolve the clay, according to Reinsch. Furthermore, the mining process treats the ore-bearing aquifer like a pincushion, drilling holes all over the area. These are plugged up. But there is uncertainty about the spread of contamination over the long haul.

"Even if we were monitoring for five or 10 years, that's nowhere near enough. We need literally hundreds of years of data of watching these sites to show yes, they are stable," says Dr. Mudd.

Kazatomprom officials say they don't share this doubt. "It's the other way around," says senior manager Kalilallo Baytasov, who notes companies must set aside funds in case cleanup is needed. "We extract … uranium from the formation and send it to atomic reactors, so we are actually purifying the subsoil from heavy metals."

'Unique capability of self-restoration'

In 2012, Kazakhstan accounted for 35 percent of global uranium production, garnering $1.54 billion in uranium sales for Kazatomprom. China bought more than half of it.

The company claims that "it has been unambiguously proved" that southern areas of Kazakhstan have "a unique capability of self-restoration."

But Susan Hall, a geologist with the US Geological Survey, says: "When I question them about what kind of work they've done to prove this concept, I don't get a clear response."

Jerry Grandey, a former mining executive, experienced in international ISL projects argues that active remediation may not be required here given the water quality. "Generally, the water in Kazakhstan is unsuitable for most uses including drinking water and agriculture," he says. Nevertheless, he says, the water should be monitored. He adds, cleanup is more important in the US, where the surrounding water often has agricultural and industrial uses.

Some US wells have been cleaned enough for the water to be deemed fit for its pre-mining uses.

But no site in the US has been entirely returned to pre-mining conditions, says Dr. Hall. The difficulty has led to some soul-searching among regulators, she adds, who will ask: "Would natural processes just take care of it? Is it a wasted effort?... We don't have the data to know."

Out in the Kazakh desert, the French uranium company AREVA is funding Reinsch to find a better way. He is planning to send food down the mine pipes to more quickly grow the population of natural microbes that help clean the sites.

Hall cautions that such bioremediation sometimes only works temporarily.

But Reinsch is optimistic, saying that if the technique works, Kazakhstan has an opportunity to show the world how it's done: "If you ... can reduce the risk significantly, then why not? It's kind of like what your mother told you: Clean up after yourself."

• Ben Arnoldy traveled to Kazakhstan on a trip organized by the International Reporting Project.

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« Reply #642 on: Aug 29, 2013, 07:35 AM »

Swedish Engineers Invent ‘Nano Gas’ That ‘Instantly Neutralizes’ Carbon Pollution

By Planetsave
Thursday, August 29, 2013 8:01 EDT

The old saying “fighting fire with fire” may be true or not depending upon the situation, but if someone told you the best way to fight (carbon-based) gas is with another gas, you might raise a skeptical eyebrow or two. But that’s exactly what a Swedish engineering company is claiming: successful capture of carbon from carbon-based greenhouse gases via the use of a hydrogen-based gas.

Calling their gas a ‘hydro-nano’ gas (or hydrogen-atomic nano gas, HNG), the Sweden-based HydroInfra Technologies claims their technology “instantly neutralizes carbon fuel pollution emissions.”

The company also states that its HNG is safe and cost effective (those claims, together with the anti-pollution factor, makes this a “triple bottom line” type solution). HydroInfra is currently exploring ways to bring its technology to the marketplace. The company has already signed on to a joint venture to convert ships (which transport fossil fuel and emit carbon in the process) to using HNG.

If all the claims are true and field testing goes well, this could be a real ‘game-changer’ in the carbon sequestration game (though, as always, one must still store/contain the neutralized carbon products somehow). It may also disrupt current and planned  ‘carbon credit’ schemes.

Not one for understatement or subtlety, Daniel Behr of HydroInfra offered a press statement, partly quoted here:

 “…given the massive amount of fossil fuel pollution emissions by power plants, shipping and other industry sectors, HNG provides a real solution and is already being hailed as one of the most effective and exciting green technologies the world has yet seen.”

The HNG technology was developed by former Volvo engineer Sven Erik and was based upon the Nobel Prize-winning research on hydrogen atoms and diatomic alkali by Yuan Tseh Lee (whom Erik met at a Nobel ceremony several years ago).

The company also plans to offer its technology to coal- or oil-burning power plants around the world, stating that inserting HNG into the exhaust system has been proven to completely reduce pollution emissions to zero. Governments eager to meet or exceed their reduction targets are also on their list.

Here in the US, it has been estimated (see: Space Daily) that some 1,200 power plants are scheduled to be shuttered due to high CO2 (and other) emissions. If implemented here in the US, these plant closings could be avoided, temporarily avoiding a potential power demand crisis that might ensue in some regions.* (see note below)

How the Technology Works

The HydroInfra technology is basically a type of “scrubbing technology” utilizing three stages or phases of gas processing: hot, dry, and wet (in that order). The HNG  is added first to the stock (burned) fuel and then the emitted gas passes through the three phases, each successively reducing the pollutant content, with the final ‘wet’ phase eliminating any residual polluting emissions.

Here is a diagram of the process (Credit: HydroInfra Technologies): (see below)

How HNG Works

* While almost any technological solution to CO2 emission would seem welcome, any successful scheme or technology that “scrubs” and/or sequesters Carbon fuel emissions will encourage the continued burning of said fuels, and, hence the continued extraction of these fuels from their sources. These extraction processes are highly polluting in their own right (as with the Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada) and come at a sometimes steep environmental cost (e.g., Exxon Valdez, BP oil spills)

Some  source material (including quotes, diagram) for this post came from the August 11, 2013, Wall St. Cheat Sheet article: ‘This New Gas May Eliminate All Carbon Emissions’ by Joao Peixe

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« Reply #643 on: Aug 30, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Marshall Islands sounds warning on climate change

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 30, 2013 5:31 EDT

The Marshall Islands has warned that the clock is ticking on climate change and the world needs to act urgently to stop low-lying Pacific nations disappearing beneath the waves.

Marshalls Foreign Minister Phillip H. Muller issued a plea for action as he prepares for next week’s Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), which includes some of the countries most affected by the rising seas blamed on global warming.

“We want to work as hard as we can to see if there is a possibility of having our islands continue to exist,” Muller told AFP in a telephone interview from the capital Majuro late Thursday.

“That’s why we’re calling for urgent action from our friends around the world. The longer we wait, I’m afraid we may reach the point of no return.”

The centrepiece of next week’s summit in the Marshall Islands will be the signing of the Majuro Declaration, which Muller said was an attempt to reinvigorate the international community’s stalled efforts to address climate change.

He said the declaration would set concrete, achievable goals on emissions reductions and climate change mitigation measures for the 15 member states of the PIF, which is mostly made up of developing nations.

Muller said the PIF wanted to set an example to the rest of the world and it would take the declaration to the United Nations in late September and urge other countries to adopt it.

“This is a real issue for us. We’re already experiencing some of the impacts of climate change,” he said.

“So I think morally and practically we are the ones that need to rise up and say ‘something’s got to be done’, not just in rhetoric and in meetings, but in real terms.”

He said the Marshalls, a nation of 55,000 people made up of 29 atolls standing an average two metres above sea level, were on the frontline of climate change.

Areas of the country have been suffering from drought for most of the year, record king tides inundated Majuro in June and rising seas have eroded seawalls and causeways, as well as turning drinking water brackish and causing crops to fail.

Asked when the world needed to act, Muller replied: “It should have been yesterday.”

He was optimistic climate change could be contained, but only if immediate action is taken.

“Waiting for another few days, or a year or two, isn’t good enough,” he said.

“We need to re-energise the international community and make them aware that there are countries that may not be in existence much longer.”

He said the peoples of the Pacific did not want to become climate change refugees, forced from their homes by the encroaching sea.

Kiribati, a PIF member, has already announced plans to purchase 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of land in Fiji to provide food for the tiny nation and possibly act as a new island home.

Muller said the Marshall Islanders feared they too might have to make plans to flee if nothing is done to halt climate change.

“We love our country, our culture and our islands,” he said. “We’re hoping that we won’t have to relocate, that’s a choice that we don’t want to make.”

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« Reply #644 on: Aug 30, 2013, 07:37 AM »

Valley as deep as the Grand Canyon lies beneath Greenland

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 29, 2013 17:15 EDT

A huge canyon twice the size of the longest river in Britain and as deep as the Grand Canyon lies beneath the ice sheet in Greenland, scientists said Thursday.

Prior to the establishment of the ice sheet some four million years ago, the canyon is believed to have been a major pathway for water from the interior of the land mass to the coast.

Even today, the deep river channel — which originates in the center of Greenland and terminates at its northern coast — transports sub-glacial meltwater to the edge of the ice sheet and then into the ocean.

“A 750-kilometer (460-mile) canyon preserved under the ice for millions of years is a breathtaking find in itself, but this research is also important in furthering our understanding of Greenland’s past,” said David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey.

“This area’s ice sheet contributes to sea level rise and this work can help us put current changes in context.”

Scientists found the canyon using airborne radar data, much of which came from a NASA mission called Operation IceBridge, which used radio waves that traveled through the ice to measure the depth of the bedrock.

The Greenland sub-ice canyon is about twice as long as the River Severn in Britain, which extends 350 kilometers.

Michael Studinger, Operation IceBridge Project Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, described the finding as “quite remarkable.”

“It shows how little we still know about the bedrock below large continental ice sheets.”

The study was published in the US journal Science.

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