What Does U.S. Look Like With 10 Feet of Sea Level Rise?
By Climate Central
Tuesday, May 13, 2014 15:46 EDT
New research indicates that climate change has already triggered an unstoppable decay of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The projected decay will lead to at least 4 feet of accelerating global sea level rise within the next two-plus centuries, and at least 10 feet of rise in the end.
What does the U.S. look like with an ocean that is 10 feet higher? The radically transformed map would lose 28,800 square miles of land, home today to 12.3 million people.
These figures come from Climate Central research published in 2012, analyzing and mapping every coastal city, county and state in the lower 48 states. (A next generation of research is currently under way.)
More than half of the area of 40 large cities (population over 50,000) is less than 10 feet above the high tide line, from Virginia Beach and Miami (the largest affected), down to Hoboken, N.J. (smallest). Twenty-seven of the cities are in Florida, where one-third of all current housing sits below the critical line — including 85 percent in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Each of these counties is more threatened than any whole state outside of Florida – and each sits on bedrock filled with holes, rendering defense by seawalls or levees almost impossible.
By the metric of most people living on land less than 10 ft above the high tide line, New York City is most threatened in the long run, with a low-lying population count of more than 700,000. Sixteen other cities, including New Orleans, La.; Norfolk, Va.; Stockton, Calif.; Boston, Mass.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Jacksonville, Fla.; are on the list of places with more than 100,000 people below the line. (Much of New Orleans is already below sea level, but is protected at today’s level by levees.)
Climate Central’s enhanced analysis paints a much more detailed pictured for completed states. For example, more than 32,000 miles of road and $950 billion of property currently sit on affected land in Florida. Threatened property in New York and New Jersey totals more than $300 billion. And New England states all face important risks.
The predicted sea level rise will take a long time to unfold. The numbers listed here do not represent immediate or literal threats. Under any circumstances, coastal populations and economies will reshape themselves over time. But the new research on West Antarctic Ice Sheet decay — and the amount of humanity in the restless ocean’s way — point to unrelenting centuries of defense, retreat, and reimagination of life along our coasts.
Honey bees crucial to many crops still dying at worrisome rate: USDA
Sunday, May 18, 2014 5:34 EDT
Honey bees, crucial in the pollination of many U.S. crops, are still dying off at an worrisome rate, even though fewer were lost over the past winter, according to a government report issued on Thursday.
Total losses of managed honey bee colonies was 23.2 percent nationwide for the 2013-2014 winter, according to the annual report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the “Bee Informed Partnership,” a group of honeybee industry participants.
The death rate for the most recent winter, October 2013 through April 2014, was better than the 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-2013, but worse than the 21.9 percent in 2011-2012, the report said. Previous surveys found total colony losses averaged 29.6 percent over the last eight-year span.
Over the past few years, bee populations have been dying at a rate the U.S. government says is economically unsustainable. Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans, including apples, almonds, watermelons and beans, according to government reports.
Scientists, consumer groups and bee keepers say the devastating rate of bee deaths is due at least in part to the growing use of pesticides sold by agrichemical companies to boost yields of staple crops such as corn.
They pointed to a study issued on May 9 by the Harvard School of Public Health that found two widely used neonicotinoids — a class of insecticide — appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, particularly during colder winters.
“With the damning evidence mounting, pesticide companies can no longer spin their way out of this crisis,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer who specializes in food issues.
Monsanto Co, DuPont, Syngenta AG, Bayer AG and other agrichemical companies say the bees are being killed by other factors, such as mites. Bayer and Syngenta make the pesticides in question, while Monsanto and DuPont have used them as coatings for the seed they sell.
Monsanto-owned BeeLogics, a bee health company, is one of the collaborators in the partnership with USDA that issued the report on Thursday, which appeared to lay much of the blame for die-offs on the “varroa mite,” an Asian bee parasite first found in the United States in 1987.
“Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee heath has become,” said Jeff Pettis, research leader at the USDA’s agricultural research service.
Pettis said viruses, parasites, nutrition problems and pesticides are all factors.
Last year, the European Union said it would ban neonicotinoids used for corn and other crops, as well as on home lawns and gardens. Similar constraints in the United States could cost manufacturers millions of dollars.
The survey results reported are based on information self-reported by U.S. bee keepers. About 7,200 bee keepers who managed 564,522 colonies in October 2013, responded to the survey. Those bee keepers represent 21.7 percent of the country’s 2.6 million colonies.
In January, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would fund more than $450,000 in research projects to reduce the use of pesticides that may harm honeybees
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City. Editing by Andre Grenon)
Saudi Arabia reports five new MERS deaths, toll now 168
May 18, 2014, 11.47 AM IST
The health ministry said the total number of infections in the kingdom from the coronavirus since it first appeared in 2012 now stood at 529 people.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has reported five new deaths from the MERS respiratory virus, bringing the death toll in the world's worst-hit country to 168.
In its latest tally, issued on Saturday, the health ministry said the total number of infections in the kingdom from the coronavirus since it first appeared in 2012 now stood at 529 people.
Among the latest fatalities were two men aged 67 and 55 and an 80-year-old woman in Jeddah, the port city where a spate of cases among staff at King Fahd Hospital last month led to the dismissal of its director and the health minister.
In addition, a 71-year-old man and another aged 77 died in Riyadh and Medina respectively, the ministry website reported.
Other nations including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and the United States have also recorded cases, mostly in people who had been to the desert kingdom.
The World Health Organisation carried out a five-day inspection visit to Saudi Arabia this month and pinpointed breaches in its recommended infection prevention measures as being partly responsible for the spike in hospital infections.
MERS is considered a deadlier but less transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that appeared in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.
Like SARS, it appears to cause a lung infection, with patients suffering coughing, breathing difficulties and a temperature. But MERS differs in that it also causes rapid kidney failure.
Foreign Doctors, Nurses in Saudi Arabia Could Take MERS Global
MAY 18, 2014, 8:07 A.M. E.D.T.
NEW YORK — The biggest risk that Middle East Respiratory Syndrome will become a global epidemic, ironically, may lie with globe-trotting healthcare workers.
From Houston to Manila, doctors and nurses are recruited for lucrative postings in Saudi Arabia, where MERS was first identified in 2012. Because the kingdom has stepped up hiring of foreign healthcare professionals in the last few years, disease experts said, there is a good chance the MERS virus will hitch a ride on workers as they return home.
"This is how MERS might spread around the world," said infectious disease expert Dr Amesh Adalja of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre.
It can take five to 14 days for someone infected with MERS to show symptoms, more than enough time for a contagious person to fly to the other side of the world without being detectable. Healthcare workers "are at extremely high risk of contracting MERS compared to the general public," Adalja said.
The threat has attracted new attention with the confirmation of the first two MERS cases in the United States. Both are healthcare workers who fell ill shortly after leaving their work in Saudi hospitals and boarding planes bound west.
About one-third of the MERS cases treated in hospitals in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah were healthcare workers, according to the World Health Organisation.
Despite the risk, few of the healthcare workers now in, or planning to go to, Saudi Arabia are having second thoughts about working there, according to nurses, doctors and recruiters interviewed by Reuters.
Michelle Tatro, 28, leaves next week for the kingdom, where she will work as an open-heart-surgery nurse. Tatro, who typically does 13-week stints at hospitals around the United States, said her family had sent her articles about MERS, but she wasn't worried.
"I was so glad to get this job," she told Reuters. "Travel is my number one passion."
So far, international health authorities have not publicly expressed concern about the flow of expatriate medical workers to and from Saudi Arabia.
"There is not much public health authorities or border agents can do,” said infectious disease expert Dr Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota. "Sure, they can ask people, ‘did you work in a healthcare facility in Saudi Arabia,’ but if the answer is yes, then what?"
Healthcare workers are best placed to understand the MERS risk, Osterholm said, and "there should be a heightened awareness among them of possible MERS symptoms."
Neither the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to questions about whether they were considering monitoring healthcare workers returning to the United States.
In the last few years, the number of expatriates working in Saudi Arabia has soared, said Suleiman Arabie, managing director of Houston, Texas-based recruiting firm SA International, with thousands now working in the kingdom.
About 15 percent of physicians working in the kingdom are American or European, and some 40 percent of nurses are Filipino or Malaysian, according to estimates by recruiters and people who have worked in hospitals there.
The majority of U.S.-trained medical staff are on one- or two-year contracts, which results in significant churn as workers rotate in and out of Saudi medical facilities.
The Saudi government is building hundreds of hospitals and offering private companies interest-free loans to help build new facilities. Its healthcare spending jumped to $27 billion (16 billion pounds) last year from $8 billion in 2008. Building the hospitals is one challenge, staffing them with qualified personnel is another.
Arabie's firm is trying to fill positions at two dozen medical facilities in Saudi Arabia for pulmonologists, a director of nursing, a chief of physiotherapy and scores more.
Doctors in lucrative, in-demand specialties such as cardiology and oncology can make $1 million for a two-year contract, recruiters said.
Nurses' pay depends on their home country, with those from the United States and Canada earning around $60,000 a year while those from the Philippines get about $12,000, recruiters said. That typically comes with free transportation home, housing, and 10 weeks of paid vacation each year. For Americans, any income under about $100,000 earned abroad is tax-free, adding to the appeal of a Saudi posting.
One Filipina nurse, who spoke anonymously so as not to hurt her job prospects, told Reuters that she was "willing to go to Saudi Arabia because I don't get enough pay here." In a private hospital in Manila, she made 800 pesos (about $18 / 10.8 pounds) a day.
"I know the risks abroad but I'd rather take it than stay here," she said. "I am not worried about MERS virus. I know how to take care of myself and I have the proper training."
None of Arabie's potential candidates "have expressed any concern" about MERS. Only one of the hundreds of professionals placed by Toronto-based medical staffing firm Helen Ziegler & Associates Inc. decided to return to the United States because of MERS, it said, and one decided not to accept a job in Jeddah she had been hired for.
Recruitment agencies in Manila have also continued to send nurses to the kingdom since the MERS outbreak, said Hans Leo Cacdac, the head of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. The government advises that returning workers be screened for MERS, Labour and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said this week.
Expat healthcare workers now working in Saudi Arabia feel confident local authorities are taking the necessary steps to combat the spread of MERS in hospitals.
"Just today they came and put up giant posters in our hospital on MERS," said Dr Taher Kagalwala, a paediatrician originally from Mumbai who works at Al Moweh General Hospital in a town about 120 miles from Tai'f city in western Saudi Arabia
"I have not heard of or seen any healthcare workers looking to leave their jobs or return to their countries because of the MERS panic. If it was happening, there would have been gossip very soon."
(Reporting by Sharon Begley; additional reporting by Manuel P. Mogato in Manila and Zeba Siddiqui in Mumbai,; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Ross Colvin)
Illinois resident tests positive for MERS virus: CDC
Saturday, May 17, 2014 16:38 EDT
A resident in Illinois who had close contact with a patient in Indiana who is the first known U.S. case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, has tested positive for the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday.
The Illinois resident did not seek or require medical care and is reported to be feeling well, but officials involved in investigating the first case have been monitoring his health since May 3, the CDC said.
The first confirmed case of MERS was discovered in Indiana in early May and the second, in Florida, on May 11.
(Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Lisa Shumaker
Future Ice Melt Patterns In Antarctica
Saturday, May 17, 2014 8:45 EDT
One of the main impacts of climate change is sea level rise, brought about through melting of the world’s ice sheets and glaciers, as well as through thermal expansion of the oceans. The vast majority of world’s fresh water is locked up in the massive ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland. Of the two, Antarctica is by far the larger, holding about twelve times as much ice as Greenland. While the antarctic continent has not yet contributed a great deal to rising sea levels, it has the potential to eclipse the contribution from all other sources in the coming decades and centuries.
According to the results of the international Bedmap 2 project, which were published in 2013, the volume of ice covering the antarctic continent is approximately 26.5 million cubic kilometers (6.5 million cubic miles), which would be enough to raise world sea levels by around 58 m (190 feet) were it all to melt. If we exclude the comparatively small Antarctic Peninsula region, Antarctica can be divided into two major ice sheets, which between them cover almost the entire continent. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, holds enough ice to raise sea levels by approximately 4.3 meters (14 feet) should it all melt. However this is dwarfed by the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains enough ice to potentially raise sea levels by 53.3 meters (175 feet). These two ice sheets are separated by the Transantarctic Mountain Range; a chain of mountains which straddles the continent between the Ross and Weddell Seas.
Antarctica’s location means that it is subject to very different climatic influences and weather patterns than those affecting the Arctic. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is a clockwise flow which occurs in the Southern Ocean. Because there are no significant landmasses to impede its flow, this current circles the continent of Antarctica, and effectively acts to keep colder waters near to the edges of the continent. Associated patterns of atmospheric circulation also help to isolate the Antarctic continent from major weather systems originating at temperate latitudes. The combined effect of these influences causes the climate of Antarctica to be considerably cooler than it would otherwise be.
The coast of the antarctic continent is buffered by a number of floating ice shelves, two of which, the Ross, and the Filchner-Ronne shelves are similar in size to Spain and California respectively. These two massive ice shelves are located between East and West Antarctica, on either side of the continent, and reach ice thicknesses of between 500 and 800 meters (1,650 and 2,600 feet). Other, smaller ice shelves are found all around the coastline of Antarctica. Unlike sea ice, which is seasonal, the ice shelves of Antarctica are semi-permanent features, which play an important role in regulating the transfer of ice from the continental interior to the ocean. Because they are floating, ninety percent of their mass is hidden below the ocean. Sections of the ice shelves often break away to form massive tabular icebergs, many of which are the size of small cities. The largest of these, Iceberg B-15, which broke off from the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000, was 295 km (183 miles) long and had a surface area of 11,000 km2 (4,200 square miles).
Warming of the Antarctic Peninsula
While ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns provide a buffer between the Antarctic and the southern temperate latitudes, the effects of climate change are now becoming apparent in a number of regions. This is especially true for the Antarctic Peninsula, a narrow sliver of land which extends towards the tip of South America, and which represents the most northerly part of Antarctica. This peninsula is mountainous and is the only part of Antarctica which experiences significant summer snow melt. Temperatures here have warmed by an average 2.8 °C (5 °F) since records began fifty years ago, making it the fastest warming area in the southern hemisphere.
The key vulnerability of the antarctic ice sheet is believed to the response of the floating ice shelves to increased ocean temperatures. Since their ice is already floating, the presence or absence of floating ice shelves does not directly affect sea levels. However ice shelves serve an important role in that they act as a buffer, slowing the flow of ice from the continental interior into the sea. Since this ice originates on land, its melting directly contributes to rising sea levels. Without the damping effect of ice shelves, transportation of ice via ice streams and outlet glaciers would likely be considerably greater, causing sea levels to rise faster.
The effects of ice shelf collapse were dramatically demonstrated in early 2002, when a large part of the Larsen B ice shelf, some 3,250 km2 (1,270 square miles) in area disintegrated over a 35 day period. Larsen B is located on the Antarctic Peninsula, at a more temperate latitude than most other ice shelves in Antarctica. Nonetheless, the almost overnight breakup of such a major ice shelf caused shock amongst scientists. This event graphically illustrated how climate change can cause non-linear responses to occur in natural systems.
Though the exact causes of the breakup of Larsen B are unknown, the most widely accepted theory is that a period of unseasonably warm weather lead to the development of meltwater ponds on surface of the ice shelf. The water in these ponds forced its way down through natural cracks in the ice, and the weight of the water allowed them to propagate to the base of the ice shelf, weakening the entire structure and ultimately leading to the break up. Comparatively warm ocean temperatures likely compounded this effect through enhanced melting of the ice shelf from beneath, helping to weaken the overall structure. In the wake of the Larsen B collapse, satellite observations showed that the speeds of glaciers flowing into the affected area were between two and eight times faster than they had been prior to the collapse.
The Stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet
While increased melting in the Antarctic peninsula region shows how regional temperatures are changing, the potential contribution from this region to increased sea levels is comparatively small. Of more concern to scientists is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If this ice sheet did not exist West Antarctica would consist of a number of islands, with much of the region being below sea level. This is in marked contrast to the East Antarctic Ice sheet, which is mostly land based. It is this fact that makes scientists believe that the destabilization of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is a distinct possibility.
Pine Island Glacier
The key area of concern are six major glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea, and particularly the massive Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers. The Pine Island Glacier drains some ten percent of West Antarctica, and satellite observations have determined that its drainage basin provides a greater net contribution of ice to the ocean than any other glacial drainage basin anywhere in the world. Pine Island Glacier is approximately 250 km (156 miles) long and is over 2 km (1.25 miles) thick in places. It is extremely remote, and it is difficult for scientists to access this region, since the glacier is heavily crevassed and there are no research bases located anywhere within 1,000 km (625 miles).
Unlike most other major glaciers in Antarctica, the Pine Island Glacier is not constrained by a large ice shelf. There is a comparatively small ice shelf into which the glacier flows, which extends some 50 km (30 miles) into the ocean. This does provide a certain amount of buffering, however flow rates are still considerably faster than those of most other major antarctic glaciers, which flow into much larger and more stable ice shelf regions. Close to the point where it enters the ocean the Pine Island Glacier flows at over 4 km (2.5 miles) per annum, making it one of the fastest-moving glaciers in Antarctica.
As with glaciers in Greenland, one of the main concerns scientists have for glacier stability is the retreat of the grounding line; the point where a glacier flowing into the ocean loses contact with its bed and starts to float. This is a response to warmer ocean temperatures at depth, which causes melting of the glacier from underneath. As the grounding line retreats, warm water from the deep ocean can penetrate further under the glacier, thereby extending the melting of the base further up the glacier. Flow rates increase as the ice thins from beneath, since the glacier is no longer held back by contact with its bed. Faster flow rates in turn further increase the thinning of the glacier. As the thickness of a marine-terminating glacier decreases, there is less weight of ice pressing down on the glacier bed, so an increased area of the glacier begin to float, leading to further retreat of the grounding line. This cycle is a classic example of a positive feedback loop, which arises as a result of warmer ocean temperatures at the base of the glacier.
In spite of the influence of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, warmer ocean temperatures are starting to affect some coastal regions of the Antarctic. The Amundsen Sea is one area which has seen significant ocean warming over the last few years, and this has caused the floating section of the Pine Island Glacier to thin by an estimated 5-7 meters (16-23 feet) per year in recent years, mainly as a result of melting at the base of the glacier.
The glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea share a number of characteristics which make them particularly vulnerable to increased ocean temperatures. Unlike most other antarctic glaciers, glacier beds in this region are below sea level over the entire catchment, and tend to slope inward towards the continent, which means that the maximum depth of each glacier bed occurs many kilometers upstream of current grounding lines. This renders these glaciers particularly vulnerable to the effects of grounding line retreat. All six affected glaciers also have very shallow surface inclinations, meaning that if warm ocean water is able to penetrate far under them, it could potentially cause large areas of the glacier to start floating.
Pine Island viewA recently released study has concluded that the major glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea are in the initial phases of an unstoppable retreat, which will eventually lead to the destabilization of this region of West Antarctica. These glaciers collectively contain enough ice to raise sea levels by at least 1.2 m (4 feet), and their loss could potentially affect the rest of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, ultimately resulting in sea level rises of more than 3 m (10 feet). The study is based on twenty years of radar satellite observations, which were used to determine the changing positions for the grounding lines of all six glaciers. This information was combined with Bedmap 2 data, which provided details of the topography of the glacier beds. A parallel study, which used computer modelling, estimated the potential time frame of destabilization at between 200 and 500 years into the future. Although destabilization of this region is now believed to be all but inevitable over the longer term, this study suggests that the contribution to sea level from these glaciers over the next century will be no more than a few centimeters, with the bulk of the sea level rise occurring after this period.
Potential Problems in East Antarctica
So far the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has shown little sign of change, and scientists believe that it is generally stable at present. This is likely due to the fact that the base of this ice sheet lies above sea level in most areas, and also because ocean temperatures are generally cooler than those around West Antarctica. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet is estimated to be between thirty and forty million years old. It is believed to have formed under warmer climatic conditions than those of the current day, when atmospheric CO2 levels were much higher than at present. This makes it likely that the majority of ice currently locked up in Antarctica will remain there for the foreseeable future, even under more extreme warming scenarios. The elevation of the continental interior, and its location over the south pole mean that temperatures remain at many degrees below the freezing point year round, and this is unlikely to change over any timeframe meaningful to us. Nonetheless, some coastal regions of East Antarctic are vulnerable to the effects of increased ocean temperatures, and these have the potential to impact sea levels in a significant way.
There are parts of East Antarctica which do lie below sea level, and these potentially contain enough ice to raise sea levels by 19 m (63 feet) should they all melt. While this possibility is considered unlikely, a recent study identified an area known as the Wilkes Basin as potentially being vulnerable to the effects of ocean warming. This area is currently protected from destabilization by a number of small ice plugs, which prevent ocean water from reaching the basin. If warmer ocean temperatures were to cause these plugs to disappear, destabilization of the Wilkes Basin could potentially contribute 3-4 m (10-13 feet) to global sea levels. This is not seen as an immediate threat, but the authors suggest that it is a distinct possibility over timescales of more than a century. Historical records suggest that this may have happened during the Pliocene, around four million years ago. There are other threats too, such as the potential collapse of coastal ice shelves, and the corresponding increase in ice transport to the ocean.
Awakening the Sleeping Giant
Melting of ice from Antarctica currently contributes only about a tenth of the annual increase to global sea levels, less than the amount of melt from the world’s glaciers, and also less than the amount from the Greenland ice sheet. Antarctica’s current contribution to sea level is about 0.25 mm (0.01 inches) out of an average rise of about 3 mm (0.1 inches) per year. However the potential for widespread melting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and also of parts of East Antarctica make it likely that this picture will change in the future. Predicted rises in sea level over the 21st century range between 0.5 m and 2 m (1.6 – 6.6 feet), and it appears likely that Antarctica will become an increasingly important contributor over this period.
However it is the medium-term picture which is of particular concern. Because of its size, the glacial dynamics of Antarctica have a high degree of built-in inertia. Changes which appear small at present will likely cause non-linear responses in the future. The probable destabilization of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the possible destabilization of the Wilkes Basin region of East Antarctica, are likely to raise sea levels by several meters over the coming centuries. Much of this future sea level rise is already locked in, and cannot be avoided even if we manage to keep the rise in global temperature below the often talked about two degree threshold.
Though slow to wake up, Antarctica is truly a sleeping giant. In the coming centuries it is likely that ice melt from the antarctic continent will significantly exceed that from all other sources, including Greenland. Increased sea levels may not affect our lives dramatically at present, but our descendants will have to live with consequences we can only begin to imagine. Once started, unstable melting of the Antarctic is likely to continue for hundreds, or even thousands of years, until a new equilibrium is reached. This is the consequence of our carbon intensive way of life, and even if we were to stop emitting CO2 tomorrow our legacy will endure for thousands of years into the future.
Climate Change Threatens Fish Living Near the Equator
By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network
LONDON – Lying in a hot bath may be a pleasant experience, because you can always get out when you’ve had enough. For some of the fish that swim in equatorial seas, though, that is not an option: climate change threatens to make the water not just uncomfortable, but unendurable.
An international team of researchers based in Australia reports in Global Change Biology that the rapid pace of climate change is threatening the future of some of the fish which live near the Equator.
Over a 14-day period the team tested four species of damsel fish and two of cardinal fish. They say: “Our results indicate that low-latitude reef fish populations are living close to their thermal optima and may be more sensitive to ocean warming than higher-latitude populations.”
“Our studies found that one species of fish could not even survive in water just 3°C warmer than it lives in now”, says the lead author of the study, Dr. Jodie Rummer from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University in Queensland.
Dr. Rummer and her colleagues studied six common species living on coral reefs near the Equator. She says many species in this region experience only a very narrow range of temperatures throughout their lives, and so are probably adapted to perform best at those temperatures.
The world’s oceans are projected to warm by 2-3°C by the end of this century. “Such an increase in warming leads to a loss of performance”, Dr. Rummer said. “Already, we found four species of fish are living at or above the temperatures at which they function best.”
The team measured the rates at which fish use oxygen across different temperatures – at rest and during maximal performance. The results showed that in warmer water fish lose their ability to perform properly. In the wild this would limit activities crucial to survival, such as evading predators, finding food, and finding the energy to breed.
With many of the Earth’s equatorial wild populations now living close to their thermal limits, there will be serious consequences if some – like the fish the researchers studied – cannot adapt to the speed at which the oceans are warming.
The response of many species to increasing warmth is to migrate to somewhere that suits them better, which could help to drain the equatorial oceans of fish which play a key role there. Dr. Rummer suggests there will be declines in fish populations as species move away from the Equator to find refuge in areas with more agreeable temperatures.
“This will have a substantial impact on the human societies that depend on these fish,” she says. Many developing countries are in the equatorial zone, and fish are central to the livelihoods and survival of millions of people, including many in Indonesia and south-east Asia.
With rapid climate change, the scientists say, understanding the link between an organism and its environment is crucial to developing management strategies to conserve biodiversity and to allow the sustainable use of marine fisheries. This is especially urgent for ensuring food security for people.
Alex Kirby, a former BBC environment correspondent, is a founding journalist of Climate News Network. Climate News Network is a news service led by four veteran British environmental reporters and broadcasters. It delivers news and commentary about climate change for free to media outlets worldwide.
Taming the floods, Dutch-style
What Britain can learn from the Netherlands about defending against floods and adapting to climate change
Damian Carrington in Noordwaard polder
theguardian.com, Monday 19 May 2014 07.00 BST
It is 100 days since David Cameron visited the submerged Somerset levels at the peak of the winter floods that devastated swathes of England and hundreds of broken flood defences have now been repaired thanks to £270m of emergency funding from government. But in the Netherlands, also battered by the record deluge but relatively unscathed, an ongoing multibillion-euro programme continues to reshape the watery nation, with none of the political storm whipped up in the UK.
Hard-won reclaimed land – polders – are being given back to rivers and meanders are being cut back into flood plains, all as part of a back-to-nature approach that is reversing centuries of battling against water, in favour of finding ways to live with it.
The Netherlands is a land of waterways and a quarter is below sea level, with 60% of its people in flood-risk areas. There is deep experience of what it takes to deal with flooding, in both financial and human terms.
Jan Kant is the fourth generation of his family to farm the Noordwaard polder in the heart of the giant four-river delta than dominates the south of the Netherlands. “I am attached to this area,” he says simply. But, with his sons who now run the business, he is about to move away. The dykes protecting Kant's low-lying fields are about to be broken and the area flooded, to take 30cm off the river level that threatens the nearby town of Gorinchem.
The intensification of downpours by climate change is the underlying reason and Kant is now philosophical about losing his farm: “Living in an area like this, we may have had to move someday anyway.”
Another 10 farmers and 24 other families are having to make way as the river takes possession of its flood plain once more. The project is the biggest of 34 “Room for the River” (RR) projects across the Netherlands, costing €2.3bn (£1.9bn) and set to finish in 2015.
But discussions with the locals began more than a decade ago, led by Raalf Gaastra, the stakeholder manager for the Noordwaard polder RR project.
“People have made their own choices: they can stay in an area that could now be flooded tomorrow, because they like the area, or they can leave,” he says. Those who stay are helped to build new homes, raised on high mounds, those who don't are bought out at market rates. “The first discussion is not easy, but once one house has decided to go people start to follow,” says Gaastra.
Vic Gremmer, the local residents' spokesman, is staying and moving to a new house. “Being forced to move so other people can keep their feet dry is acceptable,” he says. “The key is to make us safe and compensate us properly.”
The disruption is enormous: new bridges, roads, pipes and repositioned dykes are all in construction, leaving great muddy tracks across the flat green and blue landscape.
“Sometimes it feels like the work takes ages,” says Gremmer. But the nature-lover is excited by the prospect of new waterworld and the ospreys it will support. “I can't wait to see what it looks like.”
Building works at the Noordwaard polder, one of the key areas of the National Dutch project Ruimte voor de Rivier (Room for the River), 2 March 2014. A bridge site at the Noordwaard polder. Photograph: Courtesy Werry Crone/Noordwardpolder RR project
The Noordwaard polder is strikingly similar to the Somerset Levels in the south-west of England, down to the locals initial insistence that river dredging was the key. But Kant, Gremmer and the rest were eventually persuaded that annual dredging was not a sustainable solution.
Visiting the Noordwaard polder, David Rooke, director of flood and coastal risk at the UK's Environment Agency, says: “It's exactly the same issue as the Somerset Levels, exactly the same. But [in England] there is not €2.3bn to solve the problem.” Projects like Room for the River have also gone ahead in other countries, such as Germany and China. In England and Wales, which together have actually a 50% greater area of land below sea level than the Netherlands, the last Labour government began a similar project, called “Making room for water.”
"But then there was a change of government and a change of policy," says Rooke. After the coalition cut annual flood defence spending by 25% on taking office in 2010.
In the Hague, at the Rijkswaterstaat, the national water management agency which runs the Room for the River programme, director of safety Roeland Allewijn, says over €16bn has already committed for flood defences up to 2028. “We call this relatively short term.
“There is huge political and public awareness that we need to spend a lot of money on this,” he says. “It is reasonably easy for us to get government spending on this.” This stems back to the national disaster in February 1953, when a North Sea storm overwhelmed the coast and killed 1,850 Dutch people.
The sea remains as major flood threat to the Netherlands and on the windy coast, not far from the major cities of Rotterdam and the Hague, a €75m government-backed experiment is taking place. A new crescent-shaped peninsula, 4 miles long, has been created just in front of the sandy beach. The idea is that rather than having to replenish the beach every year to protect the coast, the waves and currents will wash the 20m cubic metres of sand used to create the peninsula into place: the project is called the “sand motor”.
The new peninsula has already been stretched to 5.5 miles in its first two years, and has provided a new site for recreation including hunting for the fossil mammoth teeth hidden in the ice-age sand dredged from offshore.
“There was not a big need to show a cost-benefit,” says Jaap Flikweert, an engineer at Royal Haskoning DHV. “There was a lot of vision: it's very Dutch.” Flikweert is now examining how the sand motor might be used in the UK, and has identified coastal locations off the low-lying counties of Lincolnshire and Suffolk, both places hammered by the winter's storms.
Paul Cobbing, chief executive of the UK's community-led National Flood Forum, says the British approach is different: “In the UK, the cost-benefit analysis would have had to be foremost to get anyway near Treasury funding.”
The sand motor's primary aim is to guard against the rise in sea levels being driven by climate change, and global warming is always the first reason cited by Dutch engineers for the huge flood defence improvements being undertaken. There is no debate about its impact, according to Peter Glas, president of the Dutch Association of Regional Water Boards, the 23 elected bodies that raise €2.5bn a year in flood defence taxes and have defended communities for many centuries. “I don't even enter into discussions about carbon dioxide,” he says. “I see sea level rising, I see the land falling and I see millions of people in need.”
Aidan Kerr, a flooding expert at the Association of British Insurers and formerly at the Environment Agency, does not see the same attitude in the UK, where environment secretary Owen Paterson is widely regarded as a climate sceptic. “There is concern about the extent to which climate change projections are being taken into account,” he says. “The EA has done work on the impact of climate change. But this is not being taken into account as a benchmark for funding.”
Water Boards president Glas is also chairman of the local De Dommel water board in another part of the delta region. Here long, sinuous meanders have just been dug through fields to recreate the natural winding form of the Esse Stroom, slowing the rush of water towards populated areas downstream and creating more room for water. The Esse was part of the huge 1995 floods and closed the A2 motorway which runs from Amsterdam to Milan, causing over €6bn of economic damage.
The new meanders, and fields newly opened to floodwaters, account for about 6% of the total 150,000 hectare area of the De Dommel water board and will be able to store 20m tonnes of water. The EA in England has also restored meanders at Stockton-on-Tees and in Oxfordshire, but on a much smaller scale. Such back-to-nature projects, like another pilot scheme in north Somerset, challenge centuries of accepted wisdom that rivers must be straightened and water flow speeded up. “It can be a leap of faith for local communities,” said Rooke, noting that the early results in Somerset look promising.
Mark van de Wouw, hydrologist at the De Dommel waterboard, looks at the newly cut meanders in the Esse and says: “It is a small sacrifice to save a massive cost if a city floods downstream.”
Van de Woew visited No 10 Downing Street in February as part of a Dutch delegation that advised on the UK's flood response. “The biggest difference was a difference of culture. In the Netherlands, we have a totally different approach to the problem: people here expect to pay bills for flood defences.”
Flikweert agrees: “Flooding in the UK is more difficult to treat because it is more diverse. So in the Netherlands you have a simpler problem with more money, compared to a more difficult problem with less money in the UK.”
The Sand Motor peninsula seen in July 5, 2011. By building the Sand Motor (also known as Sand Engine), a peninsula on the coast near Ter Heijde, we try to find out whether nature can spread sand along the coast for us. Between March 2011 and November 2011, Rijkswaterstaat and the provincial authority of Zuid-Holland created the hook-shaped peninsula. It extends 1 km into the sea and is 2 km wide where it joins the shore. The Sand Motor peninsula on 5 July 2011. Tonnes of sand was dumped in the sea on the coast near Ter Heijde to create a hook-shaped peninsula. It extended 1km into the sea and was 2km wide where it joined the shore. Photograph: Courtesy Joop van Houdt/Rijkswaterstaat
NC Republicans want prison time for revealing what frackers are pumping into the ground
By Arturo Garcia
Monday, May 19, 2014 19:16 EDT
Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have introduced a bill that would make it a felony to disclose the chemicals used in fracking operations outside of emergency situations, Energywire reported.
The “Energy Modernization Act,” (PDF) as the bill is called, would punish revealing fracking mix information with prison terms of “a few months,” in addition to civil penalties. While it would allow officials with the state emergency management office to gather that information for planning purposes and provide it for medical and firefighting personnel as necessary, first responders might also be forced to sign confidentiality agreements to protect that information.
Otherwise, however, those details would be classified as trade secrets, which companies like ex-Vice President Dick Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton, have argued should be maintained in order to protect their business. However, fracking opponents have said that public disclosure of the chemicals used in the process is necessary to gauge how much damage it can do to local land and water supplies. Twenty states currently have laws on the books requiring companies to reveal what chemicals they use.
Mother Jones reported that the bill does not mention whether fire or health officials would face imprisonment if they disclose their dealing with fracking ingredients with their own colleagues.
“I think the only penalties to fire chiefs and doctors, if they talked about it at their annual conference, would be the penalties contained in the confidentiality agreement,” legal expert Hannah Wiseman was quoted as saying. “But [the bill] is so poorly worded, I cannot confirm that if an emergency responder or fire chief discloses that confidential information, they too would not be subject to a felony.”
The bill, introduced by GOP Sens. Andrew Brock, Eldon “Buck” Newton, and Bob Rucho, would also bar local governments from instituting their own anti-fracking rules and limit the amount of water testing done before starting a new fracking operation.
Earlier this month, officials with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) challenged the Mining & Energy Commission when it attempted to pass a rule requiring companies to make their fracking chemicals public record, following a complaint by Halliburton.
This past February, federal officials launched an investigation into the activities at Duke Energy — former employer of Gov. Pat McCrory (R) — after DENR blocked two lawsuits against the company and instead negotiated two settlement offers totalling less than $100,000. The offers were later withdrawn.
NASA forced to retreat as rising sea levels threaten operations
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 20, 2014 20:51 EDT
Sea level rise is threatening the majority of NASA’s launch pads and multi-billion dollar complexes famous for training astronauts and launching historic missions to space, scientists said Tuesday.
From Cape Canaveral in Florida to mission control in Houston, the US space agency is busily building seawalls where possible and moving some buildings further inland.
Five of seven major NASA centers are located along the coast. Experts say that proximity to water is necessary for safety and logistics when launching rockets and testing spacecraft.
Many NASA centers have already faced costly damage from encroaching water, coastal erosion and potent hurricanes, said a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Perhaps the most iconic launchpad lies in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center, the lift-off point for the Apollo missions to the Moon and many space shuttle flights over the past three decades.
“According to NASA’s planning and development office, rising sea levels are the single largest threat to the Kennedy Space Center’s continued operations,” said the report, which also listed various historic sites across the United States that also are threatened by sea level rise.
They include the Statue of Liberty in New York, the first permanent British colony in North America at Jamestown Island in Virginia, and historic Charleston, South Carolina.
“This really is just the tip of the iceberg,” said UCS director of climate impacts Adam Markham.
“We need to make adaptation a national priority and bring resources where they are needed.”
- Building ‘New Town’ -
One key NASA site that is succumbing to rising seas is Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, where 16,000 rockets have launched and where sea level has surged nine inches (23 centimeters) since it opened in 1945.
Others are Ames Research Center in San Francisco, which has experienced increasingly intense storms that have flooded some of its buildings in recent years, and Langley Research Center in Virginia, a $3.5 billion facility with specialized wind tunnels for simulating flight.
“Retreat is the way to go here, because you just can’t like, get up and move. The infrastructure is too great,” Russell De Young of the NASA science directorate at Langley told AFP.
“They are tearing down buildings that are at the water’s edge and building new structures as far back as we can against the fence of the property line,” he said.
The new complex is aptly named “New Town.”
De Young is among a handful of NASA employees who are tasked with monitoring climate change and analyzing the impacts it would have on NASA facilities.
President Barack Obama in 2009 called on all government agencies to take steps to prepare for climate change.
De Young said the space agency, like other government agencies with facilities on the coast, are trying to make incremental changes over the coming decades.
“This is not imminent,” he said, noting that the forecast at Langley, which is in Hampton, Virginia, is for a five-foot (1.5-meter) sea level rise from the 1980s through the year 2100.
Still, there is concern for a facility he said was built on a marsh and is gradually sinking from its current position six to 10 feet above sea level — even as waters around it are rising.
“With sea level rise you can always manage it, but if a hurricane hits us, that is what worries us. The combination of the two is a devastating blow that we dread,” said De Young.
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi sustained $760 million in damage, the UCS report said.
Hurricane Ike smashed into Texas in 2008, damaging 160 buildings at Johnson Space Center and destroying the homes of 250 employees.
“Such damage may become more common as the climate changes: as sea surface temperatures warm, there is more energy to drive tropical storm winds,” the report said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
New Film Destroys TransCanada’s Sunny Keystone PR Campaign
May 20, 2014
by Joshua Holland
TransCanada’s PR team offers dozens of videos featuring happy “straight talk” — in both English and French — about its Keystone XL pipeline.
In them you’ll meet the smiling TransCanada environmental specialist who says she grew up in Nebraska, and has nothing but “great respect for the people who live here.” They’ll introduce you to a multicultural group of hardworking men in hardhats who will tell you about how much pride they take in building the pipeline. And then there’s the weatherbeaten farmer who grins slyly as he recalls the hard bargain he drove before agreeing to sell the company a right-of-way across his land.
In one video, a narrator intones, “Next to your family, we know there’s nothing closer to your heart than your land. We’re TransCanada, and we understand how you feel about your land. We’ve worked with thousands of landowners in the US and Canada.”
But a new film that premiered at the South by Southwest film festival paints a portrait of a company that uses eminent domain — and the threat of exorbitant litigation costs – to bully landowners into giving way to the Keystone pipeline.
Above All Else, a documentary directed by John Fiege, follows the story of David Daniel, a man who ran away to join the circus in his youth and then, after a career working as a high-wire artist, settled down with his family on a quiet plot of land in Texas.
Daniel became an “accidental activist” when TransCanada chose his property to become part of the route of the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline.
“Like most people, I was just trying to plow through life,” he says. Then one day, he woke up to find a series of surveyor’s stakes crossing his land. A month later, he received a letter from TransCanada asking permission to conduct the survey. He hadn’t given much thought to oil pipelines or the controversy over Keystone, he says, “until it literally came to my doorstop.”
At first, David Daniel just wanted some answers about what would be flowing across his property. He says that when he told TransCanada’s attorney that he had some questions, he brusquely replied, “All I need to know about you is which pile to put you in: the cooperative pile or the uncooperative f—ing pile.”
Daniel reached out to his neighbors, many of whom he learned had been similarly pressured by TransCanada. In this clip, Susan Scott explains how she ended up giving TransCanada permission to run the pipeline across her property.http://vimeo.com/95882600
A frustrated David Daniel decides he isn’t going to take it sitting down. Rather, he’ll confront TransCanada from high above. He’s joined by a group of young people who risk their bodies fighting the construction of the pipeline. Daniel uses his experience rigging circus acts to build a little community in the trees — and right in the path of the bulldozers. It’s a bit like Occupy the Canopy.
“They love having fights in courtrooms,” says one of the activists. “They don’t want to have a fight in rural East Texas, in 100-degree weather, in the woods. That’s our turf, and that’s where we’re having this fight.”
The film builds toward a final showdown between this ragtag group of activists in the woods and the Canadian oil giant.
Daniel says, “The whole fight from day one has been about protecting my family.” He had seen for himself the dangers inherent in transporting tar sands crude through a high pressure pipeline, as this clip shows.http://vimeo.com/95882606
Before taking to the trees, Daniel had pinned his hopes on the Obama administration denying approval for the project. In this clip, Daniel, along with some of his neighbors from rural East Texas, are arrested protesting Keystone XL in front of the White House.http://vimeo.com/95882602
Above All Else is a film about a guy with a quirky skill set trying to protect his family’s homestead. But it’s also about how a Canadian company uses its political and legal muscle to lay a pipeline through Americans’ properties so it can ship the dirtiest crude to the Texas Gulf Coast, where much of it will be exported to Asian markets.
“When you go up against bullies and try to challenge them honestly, what do they do?” asks Daniel at a low point in his struggle. “They just punch you, and that’s what they’ve done.”
Watch the trailer: http://vimeo.com/95882610
Above All Else is currently on the festival circuit. We’ll update this post when it hits theaters.
Mutant virus experiments risk unleashing global pandemic, study warns
By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Wednesday, May 21, 2014 21:41 EDT
Benefits of scientific testing in the area are outweighed by risks of pathogenic strains spreading round world, say researchers
Public health experts have warned that controversial experiments on mutant viruses could put human lives in danger by unleashing an accidental pandemic.
Several groups of scientists around the world are creating and altering viruses to understand how natural strains might evolve into more lethal forms that spread easily among humans.
But in a report published on Tuesday, researchers at Harvard and Yale universities in the US argue that the benefits of the work are outweighed by the risk of pathogenic strains escaping from laboratories and spreading around the world.
They calculate that if 10 high-containment labs in the US performed such experiments for 10 years, the chance of at least one person becoming infected was nearly 20%. If an infected person left the laboratory, the virus might then spread more widely.
“We are not saying this is going to happen, but when the potential is a pandemic, even a small chance is something you have to weigh very heavily,” said Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard School of Public Health, who wrote the report with Alison Galvani, an epidemiologist at Yale.
The report threatens to reignite a crisis in science that erupted in 2012 when a US biosecurity panel ruled that two separate studies on mutant bird flu were too dangerous to publish. They described the creation of new mutant strains that spread among ferrets – a proxy for humans – held in neighbouring cages. One fear was that the recipe for the pathogens might fall into the hands of bioterrorists.
Those studies, led by Ron Fouchier at Erasmus medical centre in Rotterdam, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin-Madison respectively, were eventually published after months of delays. Other researchers have now begun similar experiments.
Both Fouchier and Kawaoka criticised the latest report, published in Plos Medicine, and said their work had full ethical, safety and security approval, with the risks and benefits taken into account.
Last year, the US government, which funds most of the controversial work, revised its guidelines for “dual-use research of concern”, or DURC. Under the new rules, work can be funded if the potential benefits are substantial and the risks considered to be manageable.
But Lipsitch said there was no evidence that the risks and benefits had been weighed up properly. “To my knowledge, no such thing has been done, but funding for these experiments continues,” he said.
Lipsitch said that the US government and other funding bodies must commission comprehensive risk assessments from independent experts before deciding which studies to support.
Lipsitch and Galvani are most concerned about what are called gain-of-function studies, which aim to create highly virulent strains of viruses in secure laboratories so their genetic codes can be studied. Mutations that make a respiratory virus lodge in the throat, for example, can make the virus more transmissible through coughing.
The rational for gain-of-function studies is twofold. If scientists can work out which mutations make a virus more dangerous to people, they can improve surveillance by looking out for those mutations in natural strains. The work might also help to steer vaccine development. But Lipsitch argues that neither justification stands up: surveillance is not good enough to use the information, and vaccine developers can do without it, he says.
Rather than creating dangerous viruses in high-containment laboratories, Lipsitch and Galvani urge scientists to pursue alternative routes, for example, comparisons of seasonal human flu strains and other respiratory viruses that have jumped from animals into humans. These are not only safer, the authors claim, but the studies are scientifically sound, because they do not rely on small numbers of animals.
The report was roundly rejected by Fouchier and Kawaoka, two of the leading scientists in gain-of-function studies. Fouchier said the authors were wrong on both points they made – that alternative experiments could provide answers about the transmissibility of viruses, and that the risk of an outbreak or pandemic was high.
“The research agenda they propose is important and currently ongoing, but alone will never lead to solid conclusions about mammalian adaptation and transmission: the proof of the pudding will need to come from gain-of-function studies using infectious viruses. This is why the department of health and human services has approved our research, taking into account all ethical, safety and security issues, and weighing the risks of the research against the benefits,” Fouchier said.
He said the authors had misinterpreted published data to arrive at their risk of someone picking up a virus in the laboratory. “The truth is that scientific research has never triggered a virus pandemic.” Lipsitch and Galvani point out that a flu strain that spread around the world from 1977 to 2009 was probably released in a laboratory accident.
Kawaoka was similarly unimpressed with the report. “The authors imply that gain-of-function studies are going on without proper reviews. This is not so and suggests they do not understand how highly regulated this work is and the approvals and planning required to conduct this research,” he said. “This commentary lists many experiments they think we should be doing. We are doing many of those experiments already.”
Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said that scientists working on the controversial virus studies should be less defensive. “There are times when we have to open up and face our critics. Marc is articulating what many of us feel is obvious,” he said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
West Antarctic ice collapse 'could drown Middle East and Asia crops'
America's corn belt could face yield declines of more than 25% by mid-century as climate change takes hold, report warns
theguardian.com, Thursday 22 May 2014 10.43 BST
The collapse underway of a large part of the Antarctica ice sheet could devastate global food supply, drowning vast areas of crop lands across the Middle East and Asia, according to new research.
The report, Advancing Global Food Supply in the Face of a Changing Climate, urges the Obama Administration to step up research funding– especially in developing countries – to help make up a projected gap in future food supply.
It also warns America's corn belt could face yield declines of more than 25% by mid-century - unless there are new advances in agriculture to compensate for hotter temperatures, changing rainfall and more aggressive weeds and pests under climate change.
The report, due to be released at a high-level conference in Washington DC on Thursday, is the first to factor in the effects of the slow-motion collapse of the Western Antarctica ice sheet on future food security.
Two independent studies last week warned the retreat of the Western Antarctica ice sheet was unstoppable – and could lead to sea-level rise of up to four metres over the coming centuries.
Those rising seas would displace millions of people from low-lying coastal areas - and wipe out rice-growing areas across Asia, Gerald Nelson, a University of Illinois economist and author of Thurday's report, said.
"That sea-level rise would take out half of Bangladesh and mostly wipe out productive rice regions in Vietnam," Nelson told The Guardian. "It would have a major effect on Egyptian agricultural areas."
The projected levels of sea-level rise, due to the retreat of ice in West Antarctica, pose a far greater threat to future food supply even than that envisaged in the United Nations' IPCC report in March, Nelson said.
"A sea level rise of three metres over the next 100 years is much more likely than the IPCC thought possible," the report said.
In terms of absolute land loss, China would be at risk of losing more than 3 million hectares. Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar could lose more than 1 million hectares, the report said.
The potential loss of viable crop land underscores the urgent need for new breakthrough technologies to increase agricultural productivity to keep pace with growing world population, the report said.
"Agriculture is a huge world-wide industry that requires stable weather, 'or else', and we might just be entering the 'or else' period," Dan Glickman, agriculture secretary under Bill Clinton and a co-chairman of the conference, told The Guardian.
"The question is: 'are we doing the right kind of research at our universities, at the department of agriculture, or in the private sector to deal with those changes? We need more and more applied research to help us move those numbers up. That is the real challenge for scientists."
The increasing agricultural yields of the last 50 years have already slowed down or plateaued – even before climate change is taken into account. By mid-century, those declines will make it increasingly difficult for farmers to maintain the increases in crop yields needed to feed a growing population.
According to some computer models included in the report, projected growth in yields in America's corn belt could drop by 25% by 2050– unless there are breakthroughs in agricultural research – because of higher temperatures, uncertain rainfall, and more aggressive weeds and pests under climate change.
"We have got to figure out how to get plants to continue performance when average temperatures go up, and we don't know how to do that," Nelson said. "We need 60% more food generally, and this will make it harder to get there," he said.
Ecuador: Permit Issued for Drilling in Amazon Reserve
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MAY 22, 2014
Ecuador’s government has issued an environmental permit for oil drilling in a pristine Amazon reserve that President Rafael Correa initially offered to exempt from exploration if rich countries would pay his government. Mr. Correa abandoned that effort last year because of insufficient interest and has spurned pleas by environmentalists to spare the Yasuni reserve. This month, Ecuador’s electoral council declared invalid a petition seeking to prevent drilling in the 6,500-square-mile Amazon reserve. The environment minister, Lorena Tapia, said Thursday on state television that with the signing of the permit, camps and access roads could now be built. Production could begin as early as 2016. Two indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation inhabit Yasuni, which the United Nations declared a biosphere reserve in 1989.
New malaria vaccine traps the disease inside the blood cells it infects
Thursday, May 22, 2014 21:32 EDT
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Scientists seeking a vaccine against malaria, which kills a child every minute in Africa, have developed a promising new approach intended to imprison the disease-causing parasites inside the red blood cells they infect.
The researchers said on Thursday an experimental vaccine based on this idea protected mice in five trials and will be tested on lab monkeys beginning in the next four to six weeks.
Dr. Jonathan Kurtis, director of Rhode Island Hospital’s Center for International Health Research, said if the monkey trials go well, a so-called Phase I clinical trial testing the vaccine in a small group of people could begin within a year and a half.
Using blood samples and epidemiological data collected from hundreds of children in Tanzania, where malaria is endemic, by Drs. Patrick Duffy and Michal Fried of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the researchers pinpointed a protein, dubbed PfSEA-1, that the parasites need in order to escape from inside red blood cells they infect as they cause malaria.
The researchers then found that antibodies sent by the body’s immune system to take action against this protein managed to trap the parasites inside the red blood cells, blocking the progression of the disease.
Scientists have struggled for years to create an effective vaccine against malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that the U.N. World Health Organization estimates kills 627,000 people a year, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It’s profoundly important to develop an effective malaria vaccine,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, calling the study “a novel and different type of an approach toward a vaccine.”
“Since the malaria parasite has such a complex replication cycle, there are multiple points in that replication cycle that are vulnerable to interference by an antibody or some response that can be induced by a vaccine,” Fauci told Reuters.
‘A BURNING HOUSE’
Microscopic malaria parasites are carried in the saliva of female mosquitoes and enter a person’s bloodstream through the insect’s bite. The parasites pass through the liver and infect red blood cells. They replicate wildly in these cells and cause them to rupture, flooding the body with more and more parasites.
Two existing approaches to vaccine development have sought to block the parasites from entering the liver or red blood cells. The new approach instead tries to bottle them up inside the red blood cells – or, as Kurtis put it, “trap them inside a burning house.”
If the parasites remain trapped, they can be harmlessly gobbled up in the spleen by immune system cells called macrophages, Kurtis said.
The researchers developed a vaccine that targeted PfSEA-1 and tried it on mice. In five experiments, vaccinated mice that were exposed to malaria had parasite levels four times lower than unvaccinated mice and survived twice as long afterward.
The researchers then looked at blood samples from some of the Tanzanian children. Roughly one in 20 had naturally occurring levels of the antibodies that target PfSEA-1, and among these children there were no cases of severe malaria.
The researchers also examined blood samples from 138 boys and men from a malaria-endemic area of Kenya. Those with detectable levels of naturally occurring antibodies to PfSEA-1 had 50 percent lower parasite levels than those who did not.
Kurtis expressed hope about the prospects of a vaccine targeting this protein, but said the best future vaccine likely would combine this approach with others to attack the parasite on several fronts. He noted that there is currently no licensed vaccine for human parasitic infection.
The study was published in the journal Science.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by James Dalgleish)
[Image: An UPDF medic takes care of a malnourished child with malaria in a hospital in Bor, in this March 15, 2014 file photo. By Andreea Campeanu for Reuters/Files]
Human-Impact On Amazon Via Deforestation, Logging, And Fires, Is Greatly Underestimated, Research Finds
Friday, May 23, 2014 6:35 EDT
The Amazon rainforest is taking a much worse beating from human-activity than was previously estimated, according to new research from an international group headed by Lancaster University.
With said gross underestimation of human impact, the researchers also found that carbon loss is being grossly underestimated well.
The underestimation is due to previous models not fully taking into account the great losses caused by selective logging and surface wildfires — up to 54 billion tonnes of carbon yearly lost yearly, just from the Brazilian Amazon. That’s roughly the equivalent to 40% of the whole, world-wide yearly carbon loss from large-scale deforestation, and its accompanying effects.
This research represents the biggest-ever study exploring the subject — “estimating above and below-ground carbon loss from selective logging and ground level forest fires in the tropics, based on data from 70,000 sampled trees and thousands of soil, litter and dead wood samples from 225 sites in the eastern Brazilian Amazon.”
Lancaster University provides more:
The forest degradation often starts with logging of prized trees such as mahogany and ipe. The felling and removal of these large trees often damages dozens of neighbouring trees. Once the forest has been logged, the many gaps in the canopy means it becomes much drier due to exposure to the wind and sun, increasing the risk of wildfires spreading inside the forest.
The combination of selective logging and wildfires damages turns primary forests into a thick scrub full of smaller trees and vines, which stores 40% less carbon than undisturbed forests. So far, climate change policies on the tropics have effectively been focusing on reducing carbon emissions from deforestation only, not accounting for emissions coming from forest degradation.
Lead researcher Dr Erika Berenguer from Lancaster University explained thusly: “The impacts of fire and logging in tropical forests have always been largely overlooked by both the scientific community and policy makers who are primarily concerned with deforestation. Yet our results show how these disturbances can severely degrade the forest, with huge amounts of carbon being transferred from plant matter straight into the atmosphere.”
Second author, Dr Joice Ferreira from Embrapa in Brazil, echoed that: “Our findings also draw attention to the necessity for Brazil to implement more effective policies for reducing the use of fire in agriculture, as fires can both devastate private property, and escape into surrounding forests causing widespread degradation. Bringing fire and illegal logging under control is key to reaching our national commitment to reducing carbon emissions.”
The new findings are set to published in the journal Global Change Biology on June 3.
Kind of makes you want to hug a tree, doesn’t it?
Tidal Power — GE & Others Looking To Harness The Power Of The Moon
Tidal power, or, to put it another way, the power of the moon, is certainly a powerful energy source. The tidal fluctuations caused by the movement of the massive body of the moon is worth tapping, right?
Many have of course tried — and are currently trying — but the effective utilization of the energy source has remained somewhat elusive. Currently, though, a number of interesting projects/approaches are being pursued by a number of different companies and/or governments — which seems to suggest a good future for the technology.
In particular, Scotland has been noted as possessing significant tidal resources that could meet up to 50% of its energy needs, according to recent research.
Mark Baker, a marine-energy business manager at GE Power Conversion, recently commented on the subject: “Some UK locations have significant tidal head ranges. They offer a tantalizing energy generation potential.”
GE Power Conversion is currently in the process of testing out new tidal turbine generators and “other underwater technology in turbines standing on the sea floor near the Orkneys in Scotland and at Ramsey Sound in Pembrokeshire, Wales.”
According to Baker, this testing process is going quite well and GE is now looking to scale up “to a large array of tidal turbines planned for the bottom of the Pentland Firth, a narrow channel that separates the Orkneys from the northern tip of Scotland.”
GE Reports provides a bit more information:
The turbines resemble large aircraft propellers submerged in 180 to 240 feet of water. They stand in strategic “pinch points” of the firth, where the tides rush in and out at the highest speeds.
Engineers can capture energy from the vertical and horizontal movements of the tides. Some teams have also used buoys that generate electricity from the up and down movement of the waves. But “it happens to be roughly an order of magnitude more difficult to mount and maintain equipment on the surface of the sea,” Baker says. “Companies have put in wave systems only to find them dashed upon the rocks.”
According to Baker, tidal power generation arrays will become much more common in the coming years, as the benefits of the technology are realized on a larger scale.
“Tidal lagoon power stations could soon also become a reality in the UK. They are capable of utility-scale power generation.”
It certainly seems that he is correct on that count — as recent/upcoming projects like 320 MW Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon Project have begun to show. The $1.2 billion project is currently set to begin construction in 2015, with a completion date likely to be sometime in 2018.
If the project is deemed successful, current plans are for the development of four more projects in other lagoons — which when all taken together would provide up to 10% of the UK’s domestic electricity needs. Probably a good idea considering that the UK is about to run out of fossil fuel reserves.
As far as related projects elsewhere in the world go — in the US, just last August the Energy Department announced over $16 million in funding for new ocean energy projects, something that is apparently already beginning to bear fruit.
As it stand currently, the US is underwriting the development of 17 different tidal and wave energy demonstration projects, with current estimates (from the DOE) being that there are up to 1,400 terawatt hours of potential tidal energy generation per year — enough to provide a very substantial portion of the country’s energy needs.
“Wave and tidal energy represent a large, untapped resource for the United States and responsible development of this clean, renewable energy source is an important part of our all-of-the-above energy strategy,” Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson commented in a statements elevated last year.
EU’s effort to develop a purpose-designed generator for wave energy extraction — the MAGNETIDE Project — continues to move forward as well. The researchers working on the project recently revealed that they had reduced the total cost of the system while increasing the efficiency by up to 30%. Pretty big gains — which were made possible via the utilization of new Powder Injection Moulding technology.
The MAGNETIDE Project is scheduled to wrap up sometime next year, when the researchers should have the first prototypes of the new generators ready. These prototypes will then be tested in real-world locations, in areas with strong tidal currents.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEcGpXCz9ps