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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 144956 times)
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« Reply #1110 on: Jun 29, 2014, 05:57 AM »

Ancient ocean currents linked to intense Ice-Age cycles

By International Business Times
Saturday, June 28, 2014 12:53 EDT

About 950,000 years ago, ocean circulation slowed drastically and remained weak for 100,000 years, when the Earth skipped the warmer interval between ice ages.NASA

A new study of deep ocean sediments has helped scientists determine why ice-age cycles became longer -- switching from 41,000-year cycles to 100,000-year cycles -- and more intense nearly 900,000 years ago.

According to the study results published in the journal Science, the deep ocean currents responsible for the movement of heat around the globe may have stalled at that time because of increasing ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere, which might have contributed to longer ice-age cycles.

“The oceans started storing more carbon dioxide for a longer period of time,” Leopoldo Pena, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, or LDEO, and the study’s lead author, said in a statement carried by the U.S. National Science Foundation. “Our evidence shows that the oceans played a major role in slowing the pace of the ice ages and making them more severe.”

According to scientists, the slowing currents boosted carbon-dioxide storage in the oceans, leading first to less CO2 in the atmosphere and then to colder temperatures.

As part of their study, the researchers reconstructed the past strength of ocean currents by sampling deep-sea sediments collected from the coast of South Africa, where powerful currents originating in the North Atlantic Ocean pass on their way to Antarctica.

Over the last 1.2 million years, scientists said, these ocean currents strengthened during warm periods and weakened during ice ages. But, nearly 950,000 years ago, ocean circulation slowed drastically and remained weak for 100,000 years, when the Earth skipped the warmer interval between ice ages.

While the Earth’s orbit around the sun is partly related to longer ice-age intervals, scientists also believe that advancing glaciers in North America also could have triggered the slowdown in deep ocean currents by helping in the formation of thicker, longer-lasting ice on the bedrock.

“Our discovery of such a major breakdown in the ocean circulation system was a big surprise,” Steven Goldstein, a geochemist at LDEO and the study’s co-author, said in the statement. “It allowed the ice sheets to grow when they should have melted, triggering the first 100,000-year cycle.”

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« Reply #1111 on: Jun 29, 2014, 06:58 AM »

Scientists scramble to find out why sea stars are wasting away

A mysterious wasting syndrome is wiping out sea stars along the entire West Coast, with a new flareup in Washington hitting hard this month and walloping Oregon waters previously unaffected.

By Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times

A mysterious killer is wiping out sea stars along the entire West Coast of North America, with 20 species affected.

Called Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, the outbreak hitting the coast from Alaska to Mexico was first reported from Olympic National Park last summer, and has continued to take out sea stars with merciless efficiency. Entire ecosystems may reshuffle as the top predators of the near shore succumb. And as summer brings us all out to the beach, a beloved sea creature, the first many children touch or draw, is dissolving before our eyes.

Katie Pyne and Haila Schultz, student researchers at the University of Puget Sound, were shocked as they surveyed sea stars at Alki beach this week. “It’s just melting,” Pyne said of a purple sea star disintegrating before her eyes. The smell of rotting flesh filled the cove along a jetty, and sea stars dripped from the rocks, in a slow-motion fall to their deaths.

Lisa Keith of West Seattle, a volunteer beach naturalist with the Seattle Aquarium, was sickened by the devastation of the sea star communities at Constellation Beach in south Alki. “As a beach lover, it was disturbing, everything was so gooey and drippy and falling off the rocks and turning into bacterial mats, I thought I would just leave the beach,” Keith said.

“They are falling apart right in front of you, it is a little shocking.”

Affected sea stars typically first contort and twist, and white lesions appear on their bodies. Their usually firm, meaty bodies deflate and waste away. Arms fall off and walk off on their own. The animal loses its ability to hold onto rocks or pilings. Its body falls apart in pieces, and finally dissolves. Within weeks, only a ghostly white print will remain, and then nothing at all. Entire communities are wiped out, as if they never existed, notes West Seattle diver Laura James, whose underwater videos vividly document the devastation of the disease.

“It’s a complete decline of sea stars at all of our dive sites and beaches,” James said. “We got hit really hard last year starting at about June, and everything here got wiped out. Now it is hitting places it didn’t before, in the San Juans, and Hood Canal.”

She sees a loss not only of biodiversity, but a beloved animal. “In addition to the environmental impact, there is this human issue, which is almost more important to me,” James said. “They are that ambassador to the underwater world.”

Cracking the mystery

Experts seeking to understand the outbreak use words not often heard from scientists: unprecedented, scary, disgusting, heart wrenching.

“This event is unprecedented, we have never seen a wasting event of this magnitude, and we really don’t know what is going to happen,” said Drew Harvell, a marine epidemiologist from Cornell University based at Friday Harbor Labs and part of a nationwide team of researchers working to crack the mystery of what’s causing the die-off. “ We don’t know the why of this event yet,” Harvell said. Is it a bacterial infection? Is it triggered by warming waters? A virus? Some combination of the three?

“I am very concerned about warming waters, we are seeing more sickness in warmer waters, and we are at record temperatures. It is a bad mix, a kind of perfect storm.”

Scientists are honing in on the culprit.

“We are making progress,” Harvell said. “We have evidence there are infectious agents involved in this, and evidence that there is temperature sensitivity, but how it fits together is still a mystery.”

Scientists are reaching out for help, asking citizens to take note of where they see dying starfish when they are out on the beaches this summer. “There is nothing we can do to stop this,” Harvell said. “But if we learn all we can from this, we may be able to spot the next thing, or identify places of resiliency to consider for future marine reserves.”

Bruce Menge, professor of marine biology at Oregon State University, Corvallis, said while Oregon was unscathed last year, sea stars are taking a beating there now, with up to 80 percent of some populations wiped out. “It is kind of a frantic time for us,” Menge said. “ Scientists love these kinds of mysteries, but it is a heart wrenching thing to see this kind of die-off.”

Keystone predators

The consequences could be far-reaching. Sea stars are keystone predators, determining the distribution and composition of the ecological community they dominate.

The sunflower star is a master of the subtidal zone. Growing as big as a garbage can lid and cruising along at three feet a minute on as many as 24 legs outfitted with 15,000 tube feet with shell-crushing suction power, it is a carnivore to be reckoned with. Snails slither for their lives, and even spiny sea urchins are demolished when Pycknopodia helanthoides goes on the hunt.

Because of their dominant role in the ecosystem, the devastation of sea star populations could lead to a reshuffling of the food web and restructuring of entire communities, in what ecologists call a “cascade effect.”

That’s already under way in the waters of Howe Sound, off Vancouver Island, notes Jeffrey Marliave, vice president of marine science at the Vancouver Aquarium. The die-off of sea stars in Howe Sound has led to an explosion of its favorite prey, green sea urchins, whose populations now are devouring seaweed that spot prawns need for nursery grounds in their first year of life.

“We are seeing zero counts of prawn,” Marliave said. “This cascade effect is bigger than the die-off, it is affecting the whole ecosystem.

“We have to be very humbled by this, there is no quick explanation to this, and there won’t be.”

Population correction

Marliave doesn’t point the finger to human causes, at least not yet. Populations of sea star were so dense he says he was not surprised to see a correction. “We went for a good decade with incredible overpopulation, the crowding was incredible,” Marliave said. “I’ll confess at first I was thinking, ‘Hallelujah, something finally is controlling them.’ But this is a little overboard, it is scary how badly things are going.”

Staff at the Seattle Aquarium were among the first to notice the die-off last fall, when even the sea stars in its tanks, which live in recirculating water from Puget Sound, started to sicken. Staff veterinarian Lesanna Lahner has been collecting samples for analysis by scientists from Cornell ever since.

“We have seen massive die-offs, pretty much 100 percent mortality under our pier, we have never seen anything at this scale. It’s unprecedented and we are very concerned, its pretty scary,” Lahner said. One bright light is the large number of young sea stars burgeoning this year. “We are hoping they will grow up and not die as soon as they get to be adults.”

Some scientists wonder if the die-off is a sign of things to come. With climate change, will a warmer ocean be a sicker one?

Carolyn Friedman, professor in the school of aquatic and fisheries sciences at the University of Washington, says while what’s killing the sea stars isn’t yet understood, with other animals, temperature has been part of the sickness equation.

Whether abalone in California or oysters on the east coast, when waters warm it stokes the metabolism of both the animals and the pathogens that sicken them, in an arms race that turns lethal for the animal. Warming of just one degree can trigger massive mortality events taking out 99 percent of the black abalone she studies in California, Friedman noted.

Yet temperature didn’t kick off the outbreak in Oregon, where Menge notes water temperatures have been normal even where sea stars are dying in droves. So whether temperature is involved in the sea stars’ plague is not yet clear.

As the outbreak rages, divers returning to local waters are often dismayed.

Jan Kocian of Freeland, 66, has made diving his hobby. The seawall full of sea stars near his home were doing OK, despite the dire reports he was hearing all around him. “Then about two months ago, the dying started in earnest,” Kocian said. “Now it is a very sad sight. You have a lot of empty areas, and here and there a hanging sunflower star, and on the sea floor, just arms by themselves. About 80 percent on my last dive were sick, and basically you will see a pile of goo. An arm here, and arm there. It hurts, because it was so beautiful before.”

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« Reply #1112 on: Jun 30, 2014, 05:49 AM »

Flawed Saudi Response Fueled Outbreak of MERS, Middle East Virus

JUNE 29, 2014

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — As the virus tore through the city’s largest hospital, jumping from bed to bed and afflicting scores of people, terror filled the wards.

Some doctors and nurses refused to treat the sick or stopped coming to work altogether. Patients panicked. One surgeon recalled a man with a broken limb trying to flee the emergency room so he would not catch it, too.

“Everyone was afraid,” the surgeon, Dr. Mohammed Ahmed, said of the spike in cases this spring.

It was the darkest hour since the new illness, known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, first appeared in Saudi Arabia late in 2012. In all, more than 700 cases have been documented in 20 countries, nearly all of them linked to Saudi Arabia. More than 250 people have died.

The sudden spread of a mysterious and fatal new virus is reminiscent of the early days of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a related disease that appeared in dozens of countries and killed more than 770 people, principally in Asia in 2003.

MERS circulates most heavily in a region that is the nexus for Islam. This port city, Jidda, is the arrival point for most of the two to three million pilgrims who make the hajj to Mecca each year. Riyadh, the Saudi capital, has had the second-largest outbreak after Jidda, and cases have also appeared in Mecca. The hajj will not take place until October, but many Muslims travel to Mecca during the holy month of Ramadan, which most Muslims began observing on Sunday. And off-season pilgrims have already spread the disease to Iran, Jordan and Algeria.

Saudi officials know how urgently they need to beat the disease, and they say they now have the latest outbreak under control. But the fact that the number of cases and deaths have more than tripled since the end of 2013 has led health experts to cite grave flaws in the way this ultraconservative and staunchly private monarchy has handled the crisis.

King Abdullah fired the country’s health minister and his deputy in April, leaving experts wondering whether the shake-up would bring greater transparency and international cooperation. “In the U.S., when you have a crisis like the Veterans Administration scandal, the new head is in front of the TV cameras explaining what the new plan is,” said Dr. Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a veterinary organization that tracked the disease in animals. “There is no tradition of openness in Saudi Arabia.”

A World Health Organization panel said this month that the surge in cases that began in April had fallen off, but that “the situation remains serious” and that hospital outbreaks should be investigated for breaches in safety protocols.

“I am not saying we’re not worried, but this is something that can be controlled,” said Hanan Balkhy, executive director for infection prevention and control at Saudi Arabia’s National Guard hospitals. “If this were Ebola, I would go the king myself and tell him, ‘We need to isolate the kingdom.’ ”

Both SARS and MERS are coronaviruses, named for their shapes. Both are thought to have originated in bats and then spread through other animals to people. But while SARS circulated in obscure forest animals like palm civets that are eaten in southern China, MERS infects camels, which are common in the Middle East. MERS seems to jump more easily to humans, possibly in raw camel milk, but it spreads less readily between people than SARS did.

One theory gaining popularity is that MERS cases peak in the spring because camel calves are born at that time. So until a human or veterinary vaccine is developed, people in contact with camels must be careful, especially in the spring.

Yet the outbreak this year suggested that lapses in the kingdom’s health system played a bigger role in spreading the virus than camels did. Most of the hundreds of new infections were linked to hospitals, dialysis clinics or other health facilities, and many were among staff members. Two health workers from Saudi clinics were hospitalized in Indiana and Florida.

The greatest number of new cases was at the King Fahd Hospital in Jidda. Doctors said a mix of bad management, crowding and lax hygiene helped spread the virus there.

The outbreak came during the busiest time of year, when many Saudis were on vacation, leading to more car accidents, sports injuries and other mishaps, doctors said. New emergency patients were registered in a crowded area, and hospital rooms meant for four people often held 12.

Suspected MERS cases were not always identified and isolated, and patients unwittingly spread the virus around the hospital — one in the cardiac ward, and another among dialysis patients, according to Dr. Ahmed Ragab, chief of the hospital’s intensive care unit.

“If one patient came in with the virus, all the others would get it, because they were all next to each other,” Dr. Ragab said.

Some medical staff members were lax with sanitary measures, not wearing masks or infrequently sanitizing their hands. Many fell ill.

When the king fired the health minister, Abdullah al-Rabeeah, in April, he gave the job to the labor minister, Adel Fakieh, who is known for bypassing the kingdom’s bloated and inefficient bureaucracy. Mr. Fakieh enlisted McKinsey & Company, the corporate consulting firm, and opened a command center in Jidda to track cases.

The changes at the top soon filtered down to the King Fahd Hospital, where Dr. Imad al-Jahdali became director in May.

“The scene at the time was panic, from the public and from the media,” Dr. Jahdali recalled. “King Fahd Hospital was the spotlight for everything.”

He divided the hospital in two, with one half exclusively for MERS patients. Anyone with a fever and breathing problems is quickly isolated for testing.

The disease has been surrounded by controversy since it came to light, when an Egyptian microbiologist, Ali Mohammed Zaki, sent a sample from a Jidda hospital to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. Dutch researchers patented the new virus and named it after their center, enraging Saudi officials, who considered the action intellectual property theft. They fired Dr. Zaki and petitioned the W.H.O. for a new name for the virus.

Scientists from 18 universities or health agencies in eight countries were recruited to work on the virus. Egos began clashing, especially as teams raced to publish results. Two rivals published the genomes of viruses from the same patient and his camel in separate academic journals.

Some researchers accused the Saudi deputy minister of health, Ziad Memish, of duplicity and bad management, saying he hampered progress, while others said he was made a fall guy for an outbreak beyond his control.

Dr. Memish, described recently in The Lancet, the British medical journal, as “the father of mass gatherings medicine” for his work on protecting pilgrims, denied accusations that he took credit for the work of others or kept sloppy records. But he acknowledged occasionally switching cooperation from one team to another, bruising feelings.

“Some collaborations began and prospered; some did not,” Dr. Memish said by email. “That’s the way science and life progresses, sometimes.”

One recent afternoon, a family brought an old woman with a nasty cough to King Fahd Hospital. She was immediately wheeled into an isolation room. Dr. Jahdali watched proudly as health workers blocked her relatives from following, so they would not get sick. Confirmed cases go to a special wing where rooms with tight sliding glass doors hold one patient each and nurses wear gloves and snug-fitting masks.

Whether Saudi Arabia can get the virus under control will depend, experts said, on how effectively such measures can be applied nationally — not an easy task in a country of long distances and weak government oversight of some health centers.

The number of new cases reported nationally appears to be falling, with about 200 in May and only 27 since then, the health ministry said.

“The most direct cause of this improvement — after, of course, the blessing of Allah — is the stringent implementation of infection control in hospitals,” said Tariq Madani, who heads the health ministry’s MERS task force.

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« Reply #1113 on: Jun 30, 2014, 05:54 AM »

How the world is turning tropical right before our eyes

By The Conversation
Monday, June 30, 2014 7:03 EDT
By Sandra Harding, James Cook University

Our Tropical Future: A new report on the State of the Tropics has revealed rapid changes in human and environmental health in the Earth’s tropical regions. That report and this four-part series – based on the work of 12 universities and research institutions worldwide – explains trends in population growth, health and the environment, and the challenges for diverse nations such as Myanmar to manage those changes.

More than 2000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle declared that there were three zones of the world – the Frigid Zone, the Temperate Zone and the Torrid Zone – and only one of these, the Temperate Zone, was a place where civilised human beings could live.

Fast forward to 2014. The Tropics are now home to four out of every 10 people alive on earth today, as well as 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Some of the most pressing issues of our time – including rapid population growth, rising obesity rates, reducing poverty, and the need to preserve vital freshwater and forests – are all playing out in Aristotle’s Torrid Zone.

As our new report on the State of the Tropics reveals, by 2050, 60% of the world’s children will be living in a tropical part of the world, shown in the map below. Whether you live in the Tropics or not, it’s a vast and diverse region that no one can afford to ignore any more.

Launched by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar over the weekend, with simultaneous events in Singapore, Townsville and Cairns, the State of the Tropics report shows where life is getting better, but also where the biggest challenges for the future lie. Its findings include:

    Life expectancy has increased across all regions of the Tropics in the past 60 years, but is still well below that of the rest of the world.
    The rate of adult obesity in the Tropics is lower than the rest of the world, but increasing at a faster rate.
    Globally, extreme poverty has declined by almost 50% since the early 1980s, but more than two-thirds of the world’s poorest people live in the Tropics.
    Education is patchy: adult literacy rates have increased faster in the
    Tropics than the rest of the world, but are still considerably lower. And despite those improvements, the number of illiterate adults in the Tropics is growing.
    The Tropics has just over half of the world’s renewable water resources (54%), yet almost half its population is considered vulnerable to water stress.

A race around the world’s centre

The Tropics are an extraordinarily diverse region, covering an area surrounding the equator between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer that includes parts or all of countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

It also takes in parts of nations that often don’t see themselves as belonging to the Tropics, including southern China.

Of all the world’s developed countries, Australia has the largest tropical landmass. That places Australia at the intersection of two great axes of global growth: the Asian axis that everyone recognises as vitally important to the world’s future, and the Tropical axis that is now being revealed.

Three years ago, 12 universities and research institutions from around the world, dedicated to the Tropics through either their location or their mission, determined it was time to take a fresh look at the Tropics.

With this in mind, our group set the parameters of an historic report on the State of the Tropics.

Our main aim was to answer a very simple question: is life in the Tropics getting better? But we also had a geopolitical goal in mind too, which was to change the way the world views itself.

Seeing the world anew

In viewing the world more recently as a set of dichotomies – north/south, east/west, developing/developed, Asian/the rest – Aristotle’s powerful lateral notion of the world in general and the Tropics in particular have been consigned to obscurity.

But even today, among many people living outside the Tropics the word still evokes some of the negative sentiments that Aristotle popularised all those years ago.

Directly or more subtly influenced by Aristotle, Western philosophers and explorers over the centuries have overwhelmingly portrayed the Tropics as a place of pestilence: inhospitable, disease-ridden and backward.

Writing some centuries after Aristotle, Pliny the Elder riffed on these themes. The Torrid Zone was full of human troglodytes who ate vipers and men who moved like serpents. Ancient Indian geographers described the Tropics as a place inhabited by evil daemons, as a gulf like that between the living and the dead.

Later literature reflected these themes as well. Consider Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Becalmed in the tropics, the sea boiled like a pot, throats were parched, and slimy things crawled upon the slimy sea.

Beyond pestilence and paradise

Yet some Iberian explorers saw the Tropics as places of great wonder. For them, the Tropics represented the completion of the world: it was the Garden of Eden, a world lost when Adam and Eve were cast out.

You can hear and see the wonder of exploring paradise in 18th century poet Rafael Landivar’s exultation of plants and animals, and a century later in the beautiful art works of Paul Gauguin.

There is much more to the rich history of the Tropics and it is fascinating to dwell there. But given 21st century statistics, it is well past time that we rediscover the Tropics, and the power of Aristotle’s lateral conception of the world.

To do so means charting the Tropics, not in ships, but through data on the region’s power and potential.

And we need to understand it not through an outdated Western lens that lurched between pestilence and paradise, but to consider it as a vitally important place where most of the world’s children will be living by 2050.

The trends we have identified in this State of the Tropics report demand the attention of global policy makers, as they show how the Tropics will, to a large extent, determine our global future.

The world is changing: we all know that. The news is it is changing in ways that defy current conceptions of our world. There is every good reason to be gripped by the power and potential of the Tropics, and what it means for global development.

The Tropics was lost, but now is found.

The Conversation

Professor Sandra Harding is Chair of Universities Australia and Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University, which produced the State of the Tropics report together with 11 other universities and research institutions worldwide.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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« Reply #1114 on: Jul 01, 2014, 07:05 AM »

Basis for EPA clean power plan cuts a ‘mystery’

By Climate Central
Monday, June 30, 2014 14:47 EDT

Texas emits more carbon dioxide from electric power plants into the atmosphere than any other state, and Washington State is one of the least CO2-emitting states in the country.

But Texas may have to slash a smaller amount of its emissions under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, while Washington State would have to cut the highest percentage of CO2 emissions of any state in the U.S.

How the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached the Clean Power Plan’s CO2 emissions reduction goal for each state is somewhat mysterious, experts say, with answers buried in a complex formula that doesn’t clearly detail why each state would have to slash its carbon dioxide emissions to a certain level under the plan.

The Clean Power Plan, unveiled June 2, is the Obama administration’s plan to require states to find ways to slash CO2 emissions from existing power plants that operate on fossil fuels. The goal is for the U.S. as a whole to see its fossil fuel-fired power plant CO2 emissions reduced to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Texas’ power plants emitted 232.3 million metric tons of CO2 in 2012 — more than double the CO2 emissions of the three other biggest CO2 emitters: Florida, Indiana and Pennsylvania, EPA data show. And, Texas leads the nation in overall greenhouse gas emissions.

The Clean Power Plan calls for Texas to cut its existing power plant CO2 emissions by about 39 percent by 2030, reducing its 2012 emissions rate from 1,298 pounds of CO2 emissions per megawatt hour to 791 pounds.

Likewise, the plan calls for Indiana to slash its power plant emissions by 20 percent, Pennsylvania by 32 percent and Florida by 38 percent. All of those cuts are about average for EPA state emissions cuts goals.

But the EPA is calling for the biggest cuts in power plant CO2 emissions to come from a state with one of the tiniest carbon footprints — Washington State.

Washington ranks near the bottom of the list of greenhouse gas emitting states and has a power plant CO2 emissions rate of only 763 pounds per megawatt hour — the nation’s fifth lowest behind California, Maine, Idaho and Vermont.

Washington’s power plants emitted about 6.1 million metric tons of CO2 in 2012. Only Idaho and Maine emit less CO2 from their power plants, and Vermont isn’t included in the Clean Power Plan because it has no power plants running on fossil fuels.

The reasons the Clean Power Plan calls for Washington and more polluting states such as South Carolina to cut more CO2 emissions than Texas are complicated and based on the four “building blocks” the EPA used to calculate each state’s unique emissions cut goal.

The first two “building blocks” include how much the EPA believes each state can reasonably make its coal-fired power plants more efficient and increase the use of natural gas-fired power plants as a way to offset the use of coal. Another block asseses a state’s ability to increase the use of energy sources that emit no CO2, including wind, solar and nuclear. The last building block considers how consumers can use energy more efficiently, helping to reduce electric power demand.

Using those four factors, the EPA used publicly available energy data to create the formula it used to set each state’s emissions reduction goal.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easier for one state or more difficult for another (to reduce emissions),” EPA acting assistant administrator Janet McCabe said in a statement. “It just means that each state’s goal reflects its potential to reduce pollution from its own unique starting point.”

According to an analysis by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, or C2ES, the EPA is calling for Texas to reduce 20 percent of its CO2 emissions by displacing its use of coal plants with more frequent use of combined-cycle natural gas-fired power plants.

Despite being the nation’s biggest CO2 emitter, Texas is already ahead of other states in producing electricity from sources other than coal. Texas produces more wind power than any other state, and natural gas is the state’s chief source of electricity.

The EPA wants to see the state reduce its CO2 emissions by about 9 percent by using even more renewables and by an additional 20 percent by using more natural gas for power generation. Reductions in consumer power demand and increases in energy efficiency account for about 5.5 percent of Texas’ CO2 emissions reduction goal.

The agency is calling for Washington State to increase its use of renewables enough to account for nearly 20 percent of its CO2 emissions reduction goal. The state already uses more hydropower than any other state, and coal power makes up only a tiny share of its total electricity generation. Most of the goal would be achieved by using more natural gas to produce electricity.

EPA officials did not answer questions about how the agency arrived at each state’s CO2 emissions reduction goal. EPA Media Relations Director George Hull told Climate Central that EPA officials and scientists can speak to journalists about technical details of the plan only on “background,” a practice of providing information that cannot be quoted directly or attributed to a specific source.

Doug Vine, C2ES senior energy fellow, said the EPA’s reasoning for setting differing CO2 emissions goals for each state is based on many factors, but ultimately, it’s unclear how the agency reached its conclusions.

“To explain how different states wound up with different targets, I think it’s a little bit of a mystery,” he said.

The general strategy the EPA used to reach each state’s goal is fairly clear, he said. Using its own data, the EPA factored in how each coal-fired power plant could be managed better to become more efficient, and how some states can use more renewables and their natural gas power plants more often. Natural gas-fired power plants often supplement coal power at times of high electricity demand.

“They’re not being used 24/7,” Vine said. “In some states, they’re being used less than 50 percent of the time. They’re setting what they believe is a realistic goal: You can use natural gas plants up to 70 percent of the time.”

But some states, such as Kentucky, which would need to cut only 18 percent of its CO2 emissions to meet its goal, have very few natural gas power plants available to them.

“Kentucky is nearly 98 percent coal,” Vine said. “They don’t have a lot of opportunity to make that switch.”

South Carolina, which would have to reduce its emissions by about 51 percent under the Clean Power Plan, has nuclear reactors expected to become operational by 2019, and Washington has a coal-fired power plant likely to be shuttered by then — all possible factors in the EPA’s CO2 reduction goal calculations, Vine said.

With Washington using so much hydropower, Texas using so much wind power and others using so much coal power with few alternatives at their disposal, each state has a different starting point for reducing emissions that makes sense on paper but seems “skewed” when considering a state’s overall CO2 emissions, he said.

“Those things will have to be worked through,” he said. “There’s still a fair amount of mystery in there.”

Barring delays caused by legal challenges, the EPA is expecting to finalize the Clean Power Plan by mid-2015. Public comments are being taken until October after public hearings on the plan scheduled throughout the country in July.

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« Reply #1115 on: Jul 02, 2014, 06:16 AM »

Caribbean coral reefs ‘will be lost within 20 years’

Major report warns that loss of grazing fish due to pollution and overfishing is a key driver of region’s coral decline

Jessica Aldred, Wednesday 2 July 2014 08.44 BST   
Most Caribbean coral reefs will disappear within the next 20 years, primarily due to the decline of grazers such as sea urchins and parrotfish, a new report has warned.

A comprehensive analysis by 90 experts of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at nearly 100 Caribbean locations since 1970 shows that the region’s corals have declined by more than 50%.

But restoring key fish populations and improving protection from overfishing and pollution could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to the impacts of climate change, according to the study from the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the United Nations Environment Programme.

While climate change and the resulting ocean acidification and coral bleaching does pose a major threat to the region, the report – Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012 – found that local pressures such as tourism, overfishing and pollution posed the biggest problems.

And these factors have made the loss of the two main grazer species, the parrotfish and sea urchin, the key driver of coral decline in the Caribbean.

Grazers are important fish in the marine ecosystem as they eat the algae that can smother corals. An unidentified disease led to a mass mortality of the sea urchin in 1983 and overfishing throughout the 20th century has brought the parrotfish population to the brink of extinction in some regions, according to the report.

Reefs where parrotfish are not protected have suffered significant declines, including Jamaica, the entire Florida reef tract from Miami to Key West, and the US Virgin Islands. At the same time, the report showed that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that are home to big populations of grazing parrotfish. These include the US Flower Garden Banks national marine sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire – all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish.

The Caribbean is home to 9% of the world’s coral reefs, but only around one-sixth of the original coral cover remains. The reefs, which span 38 countries, are vital to the region’s economy and support the more than 43 million people, generating more than US$3bn annually from tourism and fisheries and much more in other goods and services.

According to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies could help the reefs recover. “The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of IUCN’s global marine and polar programme. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”

Reefs that are protected from overfishing, as well as other threats such as excessive coastal pollution, tourism and coastal development, are more resilient to pressures from climate change, according to the authors.

“Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline,” said Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior adviser on coral reefs. “We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”
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« Reply #1116 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:01 AM »

Leaked documents cast doubt on Ecuador's commitment to forest plan

Government appeared to be preparing plans for power plant while pursuing high-profile scheme not to exploit oil under Yasuni national park

David Hill   
The Guardian, Wednesday 2 July 2014 14.12 BST   

Ecuador’s government was moving to install a power plant to exploit oil fields under the iconic Yasuni national park at the same time as pursuing a high-profile international scheme not to exploit the oil, according to government documents seen by the Guardian.

Plans to install the plant further undermine claims by the government that it was seriously pursuing the “Yasuni-ITT Initiative” – a pioneering scheme to leave the oil in the ground in return for financial compensation from international donors.

The Yasuni national park is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and home to indigenous peoples, some living in what Ecuador’s constitution law calls “voluntary isolation.” The ground-breaking initiative, publicly endorsed by the government in 2007, was widely praised by green and human rights groups and had been seen around the world as a novel attempt to protect forest and people. It was formally abandoned by the government last August after just 0.37% of the financial target was received from donors.

But the existence of a behind-the-scenes plan in 2010 to build energy infrastructure to power a drilling operation there casts doubt on the government’s commitment to the Yasuni-ITT initiative.

“In my opinion, these documents show that the government was actually preparing the extraction of the oil at the same time that it was officially promoting the opposite,” says Carlos Larrea, from the University Andina Simón Bolivar, who worked as an adviser between 2007 and 2011 to the government’s team promoting the Yasuni-ITT Initiative.
Tiputini River and rainforest, Yasuni National Park, Amazon, Ecuador, Tiputini River and rainforest, Yasuni national park. Photograph: Pete Oxford/Corbis

In February, the Guardian uncovered evidence that in 2009 the Ecuadorian government was negotiating a secret $1bn deal with a Chinese bank that would have allowed Chinese companies to explore the ITT and neighbouring fields for oil.

But the government vigorously denied the claims, saying the document describing the deal was “fraudulent”.

Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK, Juan Falconí Puig, said, “Yasuni was never up for negotiation,” and that the suggestion that the government was in negotiations with the Chinese “wrongly implies that Ecuador was never serious in making the scheme work.” He said the scheme was eventually dropped in 2013 with “a heavy heart”.

The new documents consist of a 17-page summary of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for a proposed power plant and subtransmission lines, together with a letter from the environment ministry and state oil firm PetroEcuador to council members in the Aguarico district inviting them to a meeting on 26 March 2010 to discuss a draft version of the EIA.

The EIA summary’s introduction states: “Petroproduccion [then a PetroEcuador subsidiary] is launching the oil production project named Ishpingo, Tiputini and Tambococha, which involves the installation of a thermoelectric generator system and subtransmission lines to each one of the five oil well platforms, with a capacity of 76 megawatts thermal generation in order to supply electricity to the ITT fields.”

It continues: “The station will supply and distribute electricity via 69.2 kilovolts sub-transmission lines, which will permit operations at, and the extraction of oil from, the Tiputini Shell 1, Tiputini Minas 1, Tambococha 1, Ishpingo 2-4 and Ishpingo 3-1 well platforms.”

“All this shows that the decision to exploit ITT was taken from the beginning and that it was advancing in parallel with the initiative to leave the oil underground,” said Alexandra Almeida, from Ecuadorean NGO Acción Ecologica.

“This is one more evidence that plan B [to exploit the oil] was actually the only plan and they were keeping this information under the rug,” said Carlos Andres Vera, a journalist who has investigated the Yasuni issue extensively.

The EIA summary, which makes no mention of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative or the indigenous people in “voluntary isolation” or a supposedly “intangible zone” established to protect them, was written by a Quito-based consultancy called VVP, whose legal representative is named as Vinicio Valarezo Peña. Valarezo Peña, who previously worked for the environment ministry, told the Guardian that the EIA had been approved by the ministry and was “conducted in full compliance with all the applicable laws”.

The letter to the Aguarico councilors was signed by PetroEcuador representative Carmen Peralvo Guzman and environment ministry representative Carlos Villon Zambrano. Peralvo Guzman said she didn’t attend the 26 March meeting but she confirmed that there had been a plan to build power plants.

Sociologist Mesias Robalino is named in the PetroEcuador and environment ministry letter as the 26 March meeting’s “facilitator” and confirmed that he attended. Robalino said that the meeting focused more on how to exploit the ITT oil fields rather than the power plant itself.

In a statement a spokesperson for the environment ministry said that the process to obtain the environmental permits to build the power plant was begun in 2009 – by state oil company PetroAmazonas – but was subsequently abandoned.

“In 2009 Petroamazonas requested that the environment ministry begin the environmental regulation process for an electrical power plant in the Yasuni national park, within the framework of possible oil exploitation in the region. But given that it was to be located in a protected area, the project was rescinded and abandoned,” he said.

PetroEcuador declined to comment.

Despite the public promotion of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative by the government, there was always a “plan B”.

In March 2007, the energy ministry referred to leaving “the door open” to exploitation, and an agreement signed with the United Nations Development Programme in 2010 in which it agreed to establish a fund to collect donations acknowledged that Ecuador could “default” and decide “to initiate oil prospecting in the Yasuni ITT oil fields.”

The president, Rafael Correa, and other government representatives consistently maintained “plan B” was a back-up option in case insufficient compensation was raised – and that it concerned the Tiputini and Tambococha fields only, not Ishpingo.

“In 2008 there was an attempt to create a project called TT, that’s to say, to introduce the idea that the crude could be extracted from Tiputini and Tambococha,” says Alberto Acosta, former energy minister under Correa and one of his opponents in the 2013 presidential elections. “Ishpingo would not be subject to any such extraction.”

On 6 March 2010 – just two days before the letter to Aguarico’s council members about the power plant and exploiting all three fields – Ecuadorean newspaper Hoy reported Correa saying: “We would never want to use [plan B], but if necessary we will,” and that the plan “is now TT, not ITT.”

On 5 August 2011 another Ecuadorean newspaper, El Comercio, reported Correa saying studies for “plan B” were being carried out but the “intention is not to touch” Ishpingo. Crucially, the new document explicitly includes Ishpingo.

Almeida says the government continued to back the Yasuni-ITT initiative because it was politically difficult to drop. “Carrying on with the negotiating team and the initiative to leave the oil under the ground was only a strategy to avoid losing popularity ahead of the February 2013 [presidential] elections,” he said. “When the government abandoned it in August 2013 it lost popularity, as evidenced in the February 2014 local elections when Alianza Pais lost a huge number of local governments.”
Yasuni national park - a timeline

1989 Yasuni declared a Unesco biosphere reserve.

2007 Mounting pressure from environmentalists and scientists leads to president Rafael Correa to launch the Yasuni ITT initiative.

2008 Correa sets up a trust fund for the initiative.

2010 Ecuadorian government and the UN Development Programme agree to open an international trust fund. Initial donors include environmentalists (Al Gore), film stars (Leonardo DiCaprio, Ed Norton) and countries (Germany, Spain, France, Sweden and Switzerland).

July 2013 Correa forms a commission to evaluate the initiative, which concludes the funds raised are insufficient.

August 2013 Correa uses presidential executive order to officially liquidate ITT.

October 2013 UNDP trust agree to reinvest or return money to donors. To date US$2m returned so far.

May 2014 Ecuador National Electoral Council rejects petition for a referendum on opening Yasuni national park for oil exploration, citing too few valid signatures.

Nishad Karim

• This headline of this article was amended on 3rd July 2014. It had originally stated that the proposed power plant would be cited in the forest.

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« Reply #1117 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:25 AM »

Fear and ignorance as ebola 'out of control' in parts of west Africa

As death toll from latest outbreak of world’s deadliest virus climbs to 467, health workers battle misinformation and mistrust in effort to contain the disease

Monica Mark in Lagos
Wednesday 2 July 2014 13.34 BST

When ebola first struck Pujeh, a village deep in Sierra Leone’s forested interior region, residents did what they always do when a mysterious illness brings death: they consulted the traditional healer. But the elderly herbalist soon caught one of the world’s most contagious diseases, and then became a source for spreading it as visitors streamed in.

By the time officials had pinpointed Pujeh as a hotspot for the disease months later, dozens had died. “The people living in these areas said there’s no such thing as ebola,” said a district doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They have their traditional beliefs and their traditional cures and they look up to their traditional leaders. Until we can bring the traditional leaders onside, it will be very difficult to convince them that ebola even exists.”

As the death toll from the latest outbreak of the world’s deadliest virus climbed to 467 – far exceeding the previous most lethal outbreak which killed 254 people in Congo – officials and health workers are battling a surge of infections propelled by misinformation and doubt about the disease’s existence on one side, and mistrust of scandal-hit governments on the other.

Following a World Health Organisation warning that the illness is “out of control” in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, west African health ministers on Wednesday began a two-day summit in Ghana’s capital of Accra to discuss ways to strengthen regional co-operation. The global health body has also warned four other west African countries – Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali and Guinea Bissau – to prepare for the possible arrival of travellers carrying the virus.

Some government officials have disputed the WHO’s statement, saying the increasing death toll is a sign of better surveillance. “We are not saying everything is okay but there are fewer people dying in silence now, which is a good thing – the more we can identify when and where there are fatalities, the better we can prevent further cases,” health ministry official Sakouba Keita said from Guinea’s capital of Conakry.

The country has been the hardest hit by the virus, which first appeared there in February, before spreading through the tropical forests that sprawl into Liberia and Sierra Leone. More disturbingly, it has also jumped to all three countries’ densely-populated capitals.

“This is different from other cases just by the fact it’s a cross-border epidemic. Previous outbreaks have been very localised, which makes them easier to isolate and contain. Now for the first time, it’s also affecting urban areas,” said Dr Nestor Ndayimirije, Liberia’s WHO representative who has handled epidemics in several other countries.

Ebola was first identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan in 1976, which suffered simultaneous outbreaks of different strains miles apart.

It was named after Congo’s Ebola river, where its most lethal mutation – the Zaire strain – infected 318 people and killed 280.

Described by virologists as a “molecular shark”, ebola is believed to be hosted by the fruit bat, a delicacy in Guinea and Liberia. The current strain is at least the fifth mutation since its discovery in 1976. Diagnosis is often complicated by the fact symptoms mirror those of malaria, common in the region, including fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. Victims sometimes have horrific internal and external bleeding and most die of shock or multiple organ failure, although chances of survival increase dramatically if adequate treatment is received early on. No cure exists for ebola but confirmed cases are first quarantined before undergoing intensive rehydration therapy. Due to its high contagion rate, medical workers should wear head-to-toe biohazard suits even when dealing with dead patients.

Weak public health systems have also undermined attempts to halt the disease. Sierra Leone and Liberia are both recovering from decades of back-to-back civil wars, while half a century of dictatorship in Guinea ended in 2010.

Daily reports from Liberia’s ministry of health provide a glimpse of just how big the hurdles are. On the eve of the regional summit, two suspected cases from Voinjama had travelled to the capital Monrovia – but specimens hadn’t been collected because “the county laboratory supervisor could not be found,” internal notes said.

The report also warned of an acute shortage of thermometers among a team dispatched to trace those who might have been in contact with suspects. Many of them feared taking temperatures in case they were exposed to the disease or attacked by locals, it added.

But an alarmingly wide spread is partly down to geography. “The deaths have been increasing because of traditional burial rites in that region,” said Tolbert Nyenswah, Liberia’s deputy chief medical officer. The Kissi ethnicity, found in all three countries, traditionally keep their dead at home for several days, and mourners touch the deceased’s head frequently before burial.

Ebola has a fatality rate of up to 90% and is transmitted through contact with fluids of infected people or animals, like urine, sweat, blood and saliva, even after death.

A doctor in Sierra Leone said patients’ families often attempted to break them out of treatment centres – often successfully. “Some of them are in denial and that it is something they can treat at home, and faith healers are one of the problems for us. When you have patients disappearing like that, you don’t know where the virus will appear next.”

When trader Fiya Lasana was diagnosed with suspected ebola in a clinic in Sierra Leone’s Kailahun district, he was put under quarantine. But convinced he had only malaria, he slipped out. Days later he returned, weak and dazed, for treatment. “My family tried prayers, but that didn’t work, so I returned,” said Lasana, who was declared ebola-free after eleven days.

Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, on Monday issued a warning on state radio that anyone suspected of holding ebola patients in homes or churches would be prosecuted.

The disease has also revealed alarming mistrust between citizens and public office holders in a region with shocking corruption levels.

Ebola was initially viewed as a government conspiracy to depopulate Sierra Leone’s Kailahun district, and fierce resistance to the arrival of health workers culminated in the stoning of a Doctors Without Borders vehicle. In Liberia, many remain adamant the outbreak is a hoax from government officials seeking to distract from a series of recent scandals, or for health officials to rake in public funds.

“I will say this loud, the government of Liberia has come up with a new strategy to divert the Liberian people’s mind,” student Alfred Randall said. “We understand the issue of ebola, ebola is real, we agree the virus is a very terrible virus, but ebola is not in Liberia,” he said.

Health workers at the frontline of the battle – often the first to die – face other challenges. Last week, riots broke out and an ambulance was attacked as family members fought to reclaim a victim’s corpse from a hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone’s third largest city. On the same day, a three-man burial team was chased out of the Liberian town of Banjol where they went to bury a victim. “We need to find a special place to bury these corpses, if not, the bodies will keep piling up on us,” a member of the team said, adding that families often refused to come forward to identify dead relatives for fear of catching it.

Officials and several hundred researchers who have poured into all three countries have scrambled to disseminate public information, seen as key to containment.

But when the outbreak first began, popular text messages circulating in Guinea said an antidote could be found in a concoction of hot chocolate, coffee, milk, raw onions and sugar.

“Ebola, ebola, ebola. I hear it everywhere,” said Adama Sherry from behind her market stall in Sierra Leone’s Tombo, a fishing village as yet unaffected by the virus. Sherry admitted she couldn’t list the symptoms, causes or precautions.

Nearby, a local school had recently emptied out when word spread of routine blood tests being carried out – rumour had it that the needles would infect children with ebola.

Liberia’s health ministry has begun putting images of ebola-ravaged corpses in newspapers and on television. “They are very graphic but it is working – people are starting to see that ebola is not just a spiritual thing that you can cure through going to church,” Nyenswah, the deputy chief medical officer, said.

Ironically, survivors often face a “second disease” of stigmatisation. Aissata Bangoura’s family have refused to speak to her since her husband died in March, even though she has been declared virus-free.

“During my husband’s wake, I was left standing by myself. People I have known my whole life didn’t want to approach me. As far as they’re concerned, I’m a widow and a leper,” she said.

• Donal MacCrann in Tombo, Sierra Leone and Wade Williams in Monrovia, Liberia contributed to this report

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« Reply #1118 on: Jul 04, 2014, 05:39 AM »

Using the material choking Russian lakes for sustainable water technologies

Science turns legacy of poor Soviet agricultural practices into opportunities for purification, better irrigation and healthier lakes

Bernie Bulkin, Thursday 3 July 2014 13.28 BST   
The poor environmental practices of the former Soviet Union and other eastern European states over many decades is well documented. While these were most glaring for industrial plants and mines, they also spread to agriculture.

One of the lesser-known disasters came from a lack of systems thinking in irrigation. To create vast new areas of irrigated agriculture, the wetlands around lakes were drained to provide water for newly created farms. The unintended consequence was that where water, carrying oxygen, used to flow from the surrounding wetlands into the lake , now the net flow was directed away from the lake.

Lakebeds became desperately short of oxygen, while nutrients, probably from fertiliser runoff, were plentiful at the surface, leading to algae growth. Algae and other organic matter have a high biological oxygen demand and these large blooms further depleted the oxygen content of the lake. The jelly-like material on these eastern European lakebeds is known as sapropel (from the Greek sapros and pelos, meaning putrefaction and mud, respectively), and there is a lot of it.

Sapropel, though very rich in organic material such as algae, humic acid, and some living bacteria, is mostly waterand, luckily, can be easily pumped out. Removal of sapropel helps restore the lake to a place where many species can live. The challenge, however, is to find a use for it.

Romanian billionaire Dinu Patriciu has suggested using it as fuel, and this may yet prove to be commercially viable. But removing the large quantities of water takes energy; the challenge is to work out how to produce more energy than is consumed in retrieving the sapropel from the lakebed.

Another, and very different, approach is being taken by Zander Corporation, a Lancaster-based company. Zander has developed two classes of products from sapropel, which they call AgriZan and ClearEarth. These address several very important needs.

Tests by Zander, and engineers at Stopford Engineering, have shown that ClearEarth has strong binding properties for heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead and mercury. Industrial waste water contaminated with these metals, or water leaching from waste dumps, can be cleansed by flowing through ClearEarth. Further experiments have demonstrated that ClearEarth is a good bioremediation medium (using biological organisms to solve environmenal problems) for soils contaminated with hydrocarbons such as diesel or motor oil. Bioremediation is well established and regulated across Europe for such applications, and a new, effective material is likely to find a ready market.

Equally interesting is the application of AgriZan to improve efficiency of delivering water and nutrients to seeds and young plants. When seeds are growing, they demand water from their surroundings. Even very efficient drip irrigation systems waste water, and most conventional irrigated agriculture is worse, mainly because water is provided whether the plant needs it or not. With a material like sapropel, the water is bound as if in a sponge, and is provided to the plant when it needs it. Nutrients are similarly held and provided on demand. Tests on this material show that its effectiveness in soil seems to last over a very long period, several growing seasons.

It is through this sort of systems thinking – turning the unintended consequences of Soviet agricultural practice into an opportunity for efficient agriculture, wastewater treatment, and bioremediation, while restoring lakes to health – that good science enables environmental sustainability to move forward.

Bernie Bulkin is a director of Ludgate Investments and of HMN Colmworth. He was chair of the Office of Renewable Energy for the UK government from 2010-2013, and a member of the UK Sustainable Development Commission. He was formerly chief scientist of BP.

The water hub is funded by SABMiller. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.

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« Reply #1119 on: Jul 04, 2014, 06:33 AM »

New mosquito-borne virus gaining foothold on American soil thanks to climate change

By Scott Kaufman
Thursday, July 3, 2014 11:59 EDT

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a mosquito-borne virus once confined to Asia and Africa is making its way to American shores.

Chikungunya first arrived in the Western Hemisphere last year, where it sickened over 250,00 people in the Caribbean. One-hundred and twelve Americans who traveled there were also stricken by the virus, which causes severe fevers and joint pains.

The CDC claims that the symptoms are very similar to another mosquito-borne disease, dengue fever — and like dengue fever, the only available treatment is to alleviate the symptoms via fever reducers and pain medicine.

The initial fever typically lasts between two to five days, followed by a longer period of time — sometimes, up to years — of often crippling musculoskeletal pain. The word chikungunya is thought to originate in the Makonde language, spoken in the south eastern part of African, and means “that which bends up,” a reference to the contorted postures that individuals inflicted with the disease often adopt.

Roger Nasci of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told NPR that “we are worried about chikungunya in the U.S. In fact, we expect that over the course of the next months or years — as this virus spreads through the American tropics, and we see more travelers coming into the U.S — we will see local transmission.”

Since June 11, 2014, at least 44 cases of chikungunya have been reported in the Southeastern United States, with at least 42 confirmed cases in Florida.

Researchers from Yale wrote in The Courant that climate change may be responsible for the virus’s appearance.

“The Asian tiger mosquito has evolved to continue breeding despite the shorter day length of autumn,” they wrote. “This translates into more generations per season, more mosquitoes and more time to transmit the virus along the East Coast. The situation is reminiscent of 1999, when West Nile virus first appeared in New York City.”

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« Reply #1120 on: Jul 05, 2014, 06:43 AM »

German Proposal Seeks to Sharply Curtail Fracking

JULY 4, 2014

BERLIN — Germany’s ministers for energy and the environment are seeking a ban on shale gas and oil drilling over the next seven years because of worries that the practice could pollute drinking water and damage the environment.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had planned to introduce legislation in the autumn to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, bringing an end to a de facto moratorium on the practice.

But Barbara Hendricks, minister for the environment and a member of the Social Democratic Party, part of the governing coalition, said at a news conference on Friday that a framework of key points on the legislation agreed to with Sigmar Gabriel, the economy and energy minister, would result in the “strictest regulations we have ever set.”

“There will be no fracking for economic purposes in Germany in the near future,” Ms. Hendricks said. But she said that shale drilling could be used for exploration.

Ms. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats have yet to weigh in on the proposal by the energy and environment ministers.

Opposition to fracking runs deep in Germany. Worries that shale extraction can pollute drinking water and damage the environment have turned public opinion against the practice, even though many people are facing rising electricity prices, a result of Germany’s decision to wean itself off nuclear energy and focus more on renewable sources.

Yet business leaders also worry that Germany risks jeopardizing its position as an industrial leader if it refuses to consider exploring its shale-gas reserves.

In an editorial published in the Rheinische Post newspaper on Thursday, Ulrich Grillo, president of the Federation of German Industries, warned against ignoring the potential of Germany’s natural gas reserves.

“We will not gain knowledge by bans or by waiting,” Mr. Grillo wrote. “It is time that politicians give the technological advances a chance within responsible measures. The ball is in the politicians’ court to create the necessary security for citizens and investors.”

Germany is largely dependent on Russia for its natural gas supplies. But the Federal Natural Resources Agency, a government organization, has estimated that Germany has 2.3 trillion cubic meters, or 81 trillion cubic feet, of shale gas, enough to supply domestic consumption for about 30 years.

The proposed regulations would uphold bans on drilling in areas near water sources, though conventional oil and gas drilling would be allowed.
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« Reply #1121 on: Jul 05, 2014, 07:13 AM »

Power-to-gas energy storage could help displace use of fossil fuels

By Tim Smedley, The Guardian
Friday, July 4, 2014 9:20 EDT

The intermittent nature of renewable energy makes storage vital. Power-to-gas technology promises a solution to surges in power supply that would otherwise be wasted

The intermittent nature of renewable power generation has long been a potential barrier to a low-carbon future.

Electricity only generated when the wind blows or the sun shines isn’t always needed at that exact time. As more intermittent power comes online, the grid has to turn down more energy. Between October 2011 and March 2013, 224GW hours of potential energy were turned down from UK wind farms alone (receiving £7.6m of the total £170m curtailment and balancing payments in 2013 – effectively being paid for energy that could have been generated, but isn’t).

Surges of renewable energy are rejected in favour of the low and steady hum of nuclear, coal and gas. This problem can only be solved by effective energy storage. Batteries can only keep small amounts. Electric vehicles could potentially, en masse, add up to one big storage capacity, but it is unlikely any time soon. Pumped hydro is the current front-runner, using excess energy to pump water up a slope and release it back down again when needed, but it requires very specific topography (ie hills and space for large lakes).

There’s another solution, which avoids all those issues – turning the excess electricity, through electrolysis of water, into renewable hydrogen gas.

Hydrogen has long been produced through energy-intensive electrolysis (the other equally unsustainable method being to extract it from natural gas). However UK firm ITM Power has pioneered a new system of electrolysis which can connect to the grid and work instantaneously with surges in power supply that would otherwise be wasted, creating high-pressure hydrogen as a fuel or injecting it directly from the electricity to the gas grid.

“Power-to-gas energy offers an enormous tank that we can store renewable power in, and it’s called the gas grid”, says Graham Cooley, CEO of ITM Power. His “electolyzer” has been up and running since 2013 in Frankfurt as part of the government-backed Thüga Group. Other companies are beginning to move into this field too. The Energiepark Mainz in the German city of Mainz also houses a power-to-gas electrolysis scheme backed by the federal government, gas firm Linde and Siemens, able to produce up to 200 tonnes of hydrogen per year.

“It is both a storage medium and a highly versatile product in its own right”, states Christoph Stiller, head of energy production and storage, in the Linde Group annual report. Yet, in the UK, while ITM has contracts to build hydrogen re-fuelling stations in the Isle of Wight and London, the specific concept of power-to-gas energy storage is yet to catch on.

The reason why has very little to do with engineering, and a lot to do with policy and economics. Renewable electricity is subsidised in the form of feed-in tariffs (FITs); hydrogen, however, is not. Even if the electricity is not used, the grid still pays providers for producing it. “Also the price of gas per unit of energy is much lower than the price of electricity for the same unit of energy”, informs John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Centre. “There are benefits to this from an overall system and efficiency level, but you are essentially competing with the price of natural gas in a pipeline coming over from Russia.”

Cooley argues that he just wants a level playing field. He has asked the Department of Energy and Climate Change for the same FITs offered for biogas to be attached to renewable hydrogen. “Today, you can do power-to-gas energy storage in the UK and all over Europe”, says Cooley. “All you need is an equivalent tariff structure as bio-methane.” This is already the case, he says, in some other EU countries. The response from DECC? “Well, the response was the Renewable Heat Incentive is not going to be reviewed until 2017,” he says. “We would expect hydrogen to be included in that review. But there doesn’t seem to be the level of urgency that we would have expected.”

Loughhead agrees that power-to-gas offers exciting possibilities. “It means that you can use everything that comes out of your wind turbine, for example, even if there is no demand for electricity at the time, and what you turn it into is displacing the use of fossil fuels. This gives you an additional level of operational flexibility. Because you can offer hydrogen to go into the natural gas grid – which you can do typically up to 10% before your burners need to be altered – this offers the operator of a wind turbine a second market.”

He believes that a change in tariff structure “could give an incentive” but suggests the simple reason it hasn’t happened is “there’s just not enough demand to give any attention to it at the moment. It’s such an early stage and the volumes are so small.”

Whether power-to-gas will form a big part of future energy storage lies less in the gas grid and more in other outlets for hydrogen, argues Loughead. “As we de-carbonise our energy system, are we going to find there is a role for hydrogen-fuelled cars? If so, that will mean an increasing demand for hydrogen.” Generating it from surplus electricity could solve several problems at once.

The technology and innovation living hub is funded by BT. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.

Join the community of sustainability professionals and experts. Become a GSB member to get more stories like this direct to your inbox © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #1122 on: Jul 06, 2014, 05:16 AM »

Dark snow: The troubling phenomenon that is accelerating glacier melting

By John Vidal, The Observer
Saturday, July 5, 2014 13:01 EDT

When American geologist Ulyana Horodyskyj set up a mini weather station at 5,800m on Mount Himlung, on the Nepal-Tibet border, she looked east towards Everest and was shocked. The world’s highest glacier, Khumbu, was turning visibly darker as particles of fine dust, blown by fierce winds, settled on the bright, fresh snow. “One-week-old snow was turning black and brown before my eyes,” she said.

The problem was even worse on the nearby Ngozumpa glacier, which snakes down from Cho Oyu – the world’s sixth highest mountain. There, Horodyskyj found that so much dust had been blown on to the surface that ability of the ice to reflect sunlight, a process known as albedo, dropped 20% in a single month. The dust that was darkening the brilliant whiteness of the snow was heating up in the strong sun and melting the snow and ice, she said.

The phenomenon of “dark snow” is being recorded from the Himalayas to the Arctic as increasing amounts of dust from bare soil, soot from fires and ultra-fine particles of “black carbon” from industry and diesel engines are being whipped up and deposited sometimes thousands of miles away. The result, say scientists, is a significant dimming of the brightness of the world’s snow and icefields, leading to a longer melt season, which in turn creates feedback where more solar heat is absorbed and the melting accelerates.

In a paper in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team of French government meteorologists has reported that the Arctic ice cap, which is thought to have lost an average of 12.9bn tonnes of ice a year between 1992 and 2010 due to general warming, may be losing an extra 27bn tonnes a year just because of dust, potentially adding several centimetres of sea level rise by 2100. Satellite measurements, say the authors, show that in the last 10 years the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet has considerably darkened during the melt season, which in some areas is now between six and 11 days longer per decade than it was 40 years ago. As glaciers retreat and the snow cover disappears earlier in the year, so larger areas of bare soil are uncovered, which increases the dust erosion, scientists suggest.

Research indicates that the Arctic’s albedo may be declining much faster than was estimated only a few years ago. Earlier this year a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that declining Arctic albedo between 1979 and 2011 constituted 25% of the heating effect from carbon dioxide over the same time.

According to Danish glaciologist Jason Box, who heads the Dark Snow project to measure the effect of dust and other darkening agents on Greenland’s ice sheet, Arctic ice sheet reflectivity has been at a near record low for much of 2014. Even a minor decrease in the brightness of the ice sheet can double the average yearly rate of ice loss, seen from 1992 to 2010.

“Low reflectivity heats the snow more than normal. A dark snow cover will thus melt earlier and more intensely. A positive feedback exists for snow in which, once melting begins, the surface gets yet darker due to increased water content,” says Box on his blog. Both human-created and natural air pollutants are darkening the ice, say other scientists.

Nearly invisible particles of “black carbon” resulting from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels from diesel engines are being swept thousands of miles from industrial centres in the US, Europe and south-east Asia, as is dust from Africa and the Middle East, where dust storms are becoming bigger as the land dries out, with increasingly long and deep droughts. Earlier this year dust from the Sahara was swept north for several thousands miles, smothered Britain and reached Norway.

According to Kaitlin Keegan, a researcher at Dartmouth College in the US state of New Hampshire, the record melting in 2012 of Greenland’s northeastern ice-sheet was largely a result of forest fires in Siberia and the US.

Any reduction in albedo is a disaster, says Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Oceans Physics Group at Cambridge University.

He said: “Replacing an ice-covered surface, where the albedo may be 70% in summer, by an open-water surface with albedo less than 10%, causes more radiation to be absorbed by the Earth, causing an acceleration of warming. “I have calculated that the albedo change from the disappearance of the last of the summer ice in 2012 was the equivalent to the effect of all the extra carbon dioxide that we have added to the atmosphere in the last 25 years,” he says.

UlyanaHorodyskyj, who is planning to return to the Himalayas to continue monitoring dust pollution at altitude, said she had been surprised by how bad it was.

“This is mostly manmade pollution,” she said. “Governments must act, and people must become more aware of what is happening. It needs to be looked at properly.” © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #1123 on: Jul 06, 2014, 06:54 AM »

Canadian energy company buys town’s silence over proposed tar sands pipeline

By Tom Boggioni
Saturday, July 5, 2014 22:48 EDT

A small town in Canada has agreed to withhold comment on a proposed pipeline project in return for just enough money to buy the town a rescue truck, Think Progress is reporting.

In return for $28,200, officials from the town of Mattawa in Ontario will not have any comment on the Energy East tar sands pipeline project proposed by energy giant TransCanada Corp.

According to the terms of the deal, Mattawa will “not publicly comment on TransCanada’s operations or business projects” for five years.

The town has indicated that money would go towards the purchase of an emergency vehicle.

The Energy East pipeline is the most expensive pipeline project TransCanada has ever proposed; larger than the proposed Keystone XL project.

Should it be approved, Energy East would transport about 1.1 million barrels of tar sands crude, compared to the controversial Keystone project which would carry 830,000 barrels per day from Canada down to refineries in Texas.

Andrea Harden-Donahue, an advocate on energy and climate issues with the Council of Canadians, called the agreement a “gag order.”

“This is a gag order,” she told Bloomberg News. “These sorts of dirty tricks impede public debate on Energy East, a pipeline that comes with significant risks for communities along the route.”

TransCanada representatives insist that the agreement with Mattawa is aboveboard and is not intended to chill debate.

“The language in the agreement was designed to prevent municipalities from feeling obligated to make public comments on our behalf about projects that did not impact them and about which they had no experience or knowledge,” TransCanada spokesman Davis Sheremata said. “We are looking at amending our contract language to ensure communities know they and their staff retain the full right to participate in an open and free dialogue about our projects.”

Mattawa Mayor Dean Backer has called the assertion that town has agreed to a gag order with TransCanada Pipelines a “huge misunderstanding”.

“There is definitely no gag order. It’s totally out of context,” Backer told BayToday.

Backer added “We will be at the energy hearings. We have a million questions we want to ask.”

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« Reply #1124 on: Jul 07, 2014, 06:15 AM »

Fracking responsible for 22,900 percent increase in Oklahoma earthquakes since 2008

By Scott Kaufman
Sunday, July 6, 2014 11:19 EDT

A study published in July 4, 2014 issue of Science determined that the surge in earthquake activity in what had been tectonically calm Oklahoma is a direct result of hydrofracking and waste-water injection.

Before 2008, Oklahoma averaged one earthquake with a magnitude of 3.0 or greater every year. To date in 2014, the state has witnessed more than 230 such tectonic events.

One of the study’s co-authors, Cornell University’s Geoffrey Abers, told Nature that “it is really unprecedented to have this many earthquakes over a broad region like this.”

“Most big sequences of earthquakes that we see are either a main shock and a lot of aftershocks or it might be right at the middle of a volcano in a volcanic system or geothermal system,” he added, “so you might see little swarms but nothing really this distributed and this persistent.”

Abers and his colleagues analyzed the data on rate and volume of liquids being used in waste-water injection sites and compared it to the physical properties of the rock into which it was injected. They found that a small number of waste-water injection sites could be responsible for the large increase in earthquake activity state-wide.

“The risk of humans inducing large earthquakes from even small injection activities is probably high,” Abers said about a 5.7 magnitude earthquake in Prague, Oklahoma in March. Now he has evidence proving that “ome of these earthquakes are as much as 20 miles away from what seems to be the primary wells that are increasing the pressure.”

Researchers believe that the earthquakes are caused by “overpressuring” a fault system. Injecting too much waste-water into the ground causes tectonically stable areas to “slip,” resulting not only in a single earthquake, but a redistribution of pressures along the entire fault system — which is what Abers and his team believe is happening Oklahoma.

“I think this rate of earthquake increase in the midcontinent is really extraordinary and is continuing, but this isn’t the last word on this in any means,” Abers said.

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