Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Ayles Ice Shelf Collapse

Ancient ice shelf breaks free from Canadian Arctic

Montreal: A giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has snapped free from Canada`s Arctic, scientists said.

The mass of ice broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) south of the North Pole, but no one was present to see it in Canada`s remote north.

Scientists using satellite images later noticed that it became a newly formed ice island in just an hour and left a trail of icy boulders floating in its wake.

Warwick Vincent of Laval University, who studies Arctic conditions, traveled to the newly formed ice island and could not believe what he saw.

"This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years. We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead," Vincent said Thursday.

In 10 years of working in the region he has never seen such a dramatic loss of sea ice, he said.

The collapse was so powerful that earthquake monitors 250 kilometers (155 miles) away picked up tremors from it.

The Ayles Ice Shelf, roughly 66 square kilometers (41 square miles) in area, was one of six major ice shelves remaining in Canada`s Arctic...

Using US and Canadian satellite images, as well as data from seismic monitors, Copland (head of the new global ice lab at the University of Ottawa) discovered that the ice shelf collapsed in the early afternoon of August 13, 2005.

"What surprised us was how quickly it happened," Copland said. "It`s pretty alarming.

"Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur that it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly, but the big surprise is that for one they are going, but secondly that when they do go, they just go suddenly, it`s all at once, in a span of an hour."

Within days, the floating ice shelf had drifted a few miles (kilometers) offshore. It traveled west for 50 kilometers (31 miles) until it finally froze into the sea ice in the early winter.

The Canadian ice shelves are packed with ancient ice that dates back over 3,000 years. They float on the sea but are connected to land.

Derek Mueller, a polar researcher with Vincent`s team, said the ice shelves get weaker and weaker as the temperature rises. He visited Ellesmere`s Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in 2002 and noticed it had cracked in half.

"We`re losing our ice shelves, and this a feature of the landscape that is in danger of disappearing altogether from Canada," Mueller said. "In the global perspective Antarctica has many ice shelves bigger than this one, but then there is the idea that these are indicators of climate change."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Meat and the New York Times

Editorial in the New York Times. (I think that a lot more people could easily eat a lot less meat - contrary to what they suggest.)

Meat and the Planet

Published: December 27, 2006
When you think about the growth of human population over the last century or so, it is all too easy to imagine it merely as an increase in the number of humans. But as we multiply, so do all the things associated with us, including our livestock. At present, there are about 1.5 billion cattle and domestic buffalo and about 1.7 billion sheep and goats. With pigs and poultry, they form a critical part of our enormous biological footprint upon this planet.

Just how enormous was not really apparent until the publication of a new report, called “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Consider these numbers. Global livestock grazing and feed production use “30 percent of the land surface of the planet.” Livestock — which consume more food than they yield — also compete directly with humans for water. And the drive to expand grazing land destroys more biologically sensitive terrain, rain forests especially, than anything else.

But what is even more striking, and alarming, is that livestock are responsible for about 18 percent of the global warming effect, more than transportation’s contribution. The culprits are methane — the natural result of bovine digestion — and the nitrogen emitted by manure. Deforestation of grazing land adds to the effect.

There are no easy trade-offs when it comes to global warming — such as cutting back on cattle to make room for cars. The human passion for meat is certainly not about to end anytime soon. As “Livestock’s Long Shadow” makes clear, our health and the health of the planet depend on pushing livestock production in more sustainable directions.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Going with the Flow

"The Climate Is Changing And I Have To Change Along With It"

Hecate writes: I won't hate the warming planet. I won't cry over the lost plants. I will love this Earth in whatever stage she finds herself, however she changes, whatever she does to try and balance things out.

I don't want to find myself - like some people that I notice - who want to pretend that it makes no difference what they do. They intend to consume as much as ever. On the other hand - it can be depressing to see extreme changes and death and destruction to species. New species are found, others are lost. Some will be lost before they are ever found (by people).

It is amazing to think that in my life are such catastrophic changes as the Arctic Ice melting. Every day there are more and more stories about how odd it is - how warm so far into December. Plants blooming all over the place. I always hate it when plants bloom too early and then don't bloom in the spring. The fruit trees were all in bloom the first time we saw the house where we live now. But in the few years since then - it has been sporadic, at best.

But Hecate is right - if you love nature - you love it - even when there are upheavals. Going with the flow.

"As for middle-class women..."

"As for middle-class women, some ardently took up the cause of liberty, such as Mme Roland and Lucile Desmoulins. One of them who had a profound influence on the course of events was Charlotte Corday when she assassinated Marat. There was some feminist agitation. Olympe de Gouges proposed in 1789 a "Declaration of the Rights of Woman," equivalent to the "Declaration of the Rights of Man," in which she asked that all masculine privilege be abolished; but she perishes before long on the scaffold."

The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir

See also:


I Blame the Patriarchy

The "rules":

1. Go to the nearest book in your reach and turn to page 123.
2. Go to the fifth sentence of the book.
3. Copy the next three sentences... (or 4, if you can't stop at 3)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Concern over Europe 'snow crisis'" (lack of snow)


Ski resorts across the European Alps are becoming increasingly worried as current bad snow conditions threaten the all important Christmas holiday period.

This autumn has been one of the worst on record with high temperatures and little snowfall....

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned that many low-level resorts could soon be unviable and predicted warmer temperatures in the future.

Already banks are refusing to offer loans to resorts under 1,500 metres as they fear for their future snow cover. Germany is threatened the most, followed by some Austrian and Italian resorts....


Temperatures in Moscow sank to minus 29C this time last year
Nobody knows what to make of it. This is the middle of December in a country known for the severity of its winters.

There's not a snowflake to be seen.

Red Square should be covered in white by now. It's not. Its cobblestones are as stubbornly damp and grey as the skies overhead.

There would normally be ice on the Moskva River. There's none...

It is not just the people who are confused. Russia's wildlife is not sure what time of year it is. Hibernation has been put off.

"The brown bears are half-asleep," says Natalia Istratova, a spokeswoman for Moscow Zoo. "They haven't gone into their dens yet."

Snakes and other reptiles have yet to move to their winter quarters. Traditional winter pastimes of skiing and ice-fishing have had to wait.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


We have a big, old, dead tree in our yard that often has crows hanging around in it. Or at least in the summer you'll often see them there.

I never really thought about where they were when they weren't here - but there is a good chance that they go to Terre Haute.

Terre Haute is about 45-50 miles away - and in the winter - that is where the crows go. There is reported to be app. 58,000 of them there this winter.

The birds like areas such as Terre Haute that are surrounded by farmland where they can find food, said Kevin McGowan, with the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. Cities also provide lighting and are warmer than rural areas.

According the Wabash Valley Audubon Society: The crows roost in the city from December to March, which coincides with the crow hunting season (late) in Indiana (Indiana's 2006-2007 Hunting Season). So, crows may be coming into the city to avoid hunters. Crows are the only Indiana "game" animal with no daily limit.

But according to another article - there is also a crow season in July and August - so that doesn't really explain it. I think they just like it there. One article compared it to college students going to Panama City. And that may be as close as anything.

In recent years, Terre Haute’s crow population was the third highest in North America, according to the annual Christmas Bird Count by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

""America Loses Another War..."

"Iraq: a shameful ass-whupping, or just a pathetic trouncing? Ugly disgrace? Choices, choices"

By Mark Morford

The good news is, we're all back in harmony. All back on the same page. No more divisiveness and no more silly bickering and no more nasty and indignant red state/blue state rock throwing because we're finally all back in cozy let's-hug-it-out agreement: The "war" in Iraq is over. And what's more, we lost. Very, very badly

...What's left is one lingering, looming question: How do we accept defeat? How do we deal with the awkward, identity-mauling, ego-stomping idea that, once again, America didn't "win" a war it really had no right to launch in the first place? After all, isn't this the American slogan: "We may not always be right, but we are never wrong"?

It's still our most favorite idea, the thing our own childlike president loves to talk most about, burned into our national consciousness like a bad tattoo: We always win. We're the good guys. We're the chosen ones. We're the goddamn cavalry, flying the flag of truth, wrapped in strip malls and Ford pickups and McDonald's franchises. Right?

Wrong. If Vietnam's aftermath proved anything, it's that we are incredibly crappy losers. We deny, we reject, we evade and ignore and refuse responsibility until it becomes so silly and surreal even the staunchest warmonger has to cringe in embarrassment. At this point, it seems nearly impossible for America to accept defeat with anything resembling perspective and dignity and the understanding that maybe, just maybe, we ain't all that saintly and ain't all that perfect and maybe God really isn't necessarily on our side after all, because if God took sides she wouldn't actually be, you know, God....


For more serious information on Iraq see Dahr Jamail's dispatches.

"Castles in the Sand"

I agree with this opinion piece in the New York Times, today.

It sounds like the Army Corps of Engineers/Government approach is to think of coast line development like a diposable paper cup that is used briefly, tossed away, another replaces it, gets tossed away and so on. It serves the interest of developers - but not of the public - nor of the wildlife. I think that any such coastlines - where the developments have been destroyed - should be made into National Parks.


AT this year’s meeting of the Geological Society of America, which took place in Philadelphia in October, representatives of the United States Army Corps of Engineers presented proposals to re-engineer the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Some 200 coastal and marine scientists attended the meeting; most of them were stunned by the scope, expense and sheer wastefulness of the projects the corps is considering.

The corps’ proposals include a large seawall to protect parts of Bay St. Louis on the coast along with storm surge gates, similar to those that the British use on the Thames, to close off local bays. One particularly awe-inspiring proposal calls for reconfiguring the Mississippi Gulf Islands to approximate their circa 1969, pre-Hurricane Camille length and width, while adding sufficient sand to the islands to achieve elevations of roughly 20 feet. These barrier islands are part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and include designated wilderness areas. The proposed project would dump an estimated 50 million cubic yards of sand on the national seashore solely to protect redevelopment of the mainland coast.

At the very least, these proposals would cost billions of dollars to realize, aside from the environmental damage that would ensue. Yet as the corps acknowledged at the Geological Society meeting, its proposed “coastal improvements” would not provide protection from the kind of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes that have destroyed coastal Mississippi twice in the past 37 years. So what, exactly, is the point?

The corps’ failure to devise a rational redevelopment plan points to the futility of trying to maintain coastal development in such an unstable place. A realistic appraisal would conclude that the long-term outlook for coastal development there is bleak. Yet the corps, urged on by developers, seems determined to wage a quixotic fight....Rather than use a creative, flexible approach to redevelopment on a vulnerable, changing coast, the corps is commanding nature to behave itself....

The time has come to step back from this extraordinarily hazardous shoreline, perhaps to replace the blocks of destroyed buildings with rows of protective dunes in a seashore park. We should not rebuild on the shoreline of vulnerable areas like the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We certainly shouldn’t be doing it with federal dollars or destroying a National Seashore in order to provide a false sense of security for redevelopment.

If the corps follows through on its proposals, the United States will once again miss an opportunity to respond sensibly to the threat of global warming.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"World's Largest Landfill Gas Power Plant" (Korea)

The world’s largest landfill gas (LFG) power plant was completed and went into operation in Inchon Tuesday.
The plant is run on the gas that is generated from construction and other garbage buried in the land.

The Ministry of Environment said that the 50 megawatt (MW) plant is expected to reap more than 50 billion won in combined profits a year by selling the electricity, replacing reliance on imported oil for energy and reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

About 340,000 MWh’s of electricity will be supplied to more than 180,000 households in the metropolitan area, making 16.9 billion won in profit a year. The electricity supplement will replace 500,000 barrels of heavy oil imported a year, which costs around 20 billion won. Also the plant will reduce 1.37 million tons of greenhouse gas that is produced during the thermal power generation procedure of burning the heavy oil.

Also, the technique is considered a clean development mechanism. If the greenhouse gas reduction is approved by the United Nations, Korea will gain 13.7 billion won worth of certified emission reductions (CERs) in the world gas emission market. The country is now pushing to register the mechanism with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"Revealed: Wonders of the deep"

About 2,000 researchers contributed to the 80-nation "Census of Marine Life". A total of 20 species, from sharks and sea lions to albatrosses, were equipped with satellite tags, while sonar equipment swept the seas for unusual water disturbances, potentially indicating a new phenomenon. Robotic cameras were also used.

THE sighting of eight million fish swarming in a school the size of Manhattan qualified as the most abundant find in the census.

Fish counters making observations off the New Jersey coast used focused sound scans to examine oceanic areas 10,000 times larger than had been previously possible. The scan updates instantaneously, revealing the movements of the island-sized swarms....

TRACKING tagged sooty shearwaters by satellite, census researchers mapped the small birds' 40,000-mile journey searching for food in a giant figure of eight over the Pacific Ocean, from New Zealand via Polynesia to Japan, Alaska and California and back.

Making the longest migration ever recorded electronically in only 200 days, the charcoal grey birds averaged a surprising 350km daily.

In some cases, a breeding pair made the entire journey together....

THE hottest thermal vent was discovered 3km below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. It is belching out fluids at an unprecedented 407C - a temperature which can easily melt lead.

Scientists want to study the deep-sea eco-system of plants and animals living in a "halo" around the vent, to discover how, surrounded by near-freezing water, their chemistry allows them to withstand heat pulses that approach boiling point - up to 80C.

Shrimps, mussels and clams were seen on the walls of the vent chimney....

"SLOAN the squid", a new species capable of chewing its own food, was found by deep-sea investigators in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Sloan (Promachoteuthis sloani) was among 80,000 organisms - covering 354 families, genera and species - found. It has become the reference specimen for the new species....

THE richest find in terms of biodiversity was 20,000 forms of bacteria in a single litre of sea water.

Microbe hunters took samples from the Atlantic and Pacific, including from an eruptive fissure 1,500 metres deep on a seamount in the Pacific.

DNA studies showed most of the different kinds of bacteria were unknown and likely to be rare globally....

THE deepest sampling in the census took place 5km below the surface of the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic.

Experts from 14 nations caught rare, but diverse, zooplankton living in the ocean's deepest depths, in a sophisticated net called the Mocness....

CENSUS-takers in the Southern Ocean discovered a unique and astonishing community of marine life shrouded beneath 700m of ice, about 200km from open water.

During three lengthy cruises, sampling yielded more new than familiar species.

Among the scores of species found was a rare jellyfish, possibly cosmetirella davisi, which was filmed swimming with its tentacles raised....

THE oldest creature found by census seamount researchers was a shrimp believed to have become extinct around 50 million years ago.

The female creature was found alive and well 400 metres under the sea on an underwater peak during an expedition to the Chesterfield Islands, north-west of New Caledonia.

Neoglyphea neocaledonica was nicknamed "Jurassic shrimp" by its discoverers. It is about 5in long and has been described as "halfway between a shrimp and a mud lobster"....

Arctic Ice

There is a news story out suggesting that the rate of the Arctic ice melting is faster than anticipated. "Ice at North Pole could be gone by 2040, scientists warn - Dire news on global warming as Geophysical Union meets in S.F."

(Apparently some people had been holding out for 2080 or 2100).

I did a search and noticed that an article I put up in August - from Edmonton - suggested there may only be a couple of decades - which put the date at more like 2036 or so then. Maybe these scientists are just catching up. It was quite a warm summer and fall - so maybe the earlier prediction no longer seems so far fetched.


From the new article:

Sea ice that for centuries has covered much of the High Arctic has been shrinking at a record pace due to global warming, and as winter began last month in the oceans surrounding the North Pole, larger stretches of open water remained free of ice than ever before, climate scientists reported Monday.

The extent of Arctic sea ice is a key signal of the world's warming rate, and its effects are widespread: Immensely valuable fisheries shift from the coasts of one continent to another, algae and plankton disappear in some areas and increase in others, Arctic wildlife becomes endangered, and torrents of fresh water from melting ice alter the salinity of seas far to the south.

Where only a few months ago experts were predicting that if the present rate of warming continues unchecked there could be no sea ice left in the Arctic by the end of this century, the latest climate calculations indicate the seas there could well be totally ice-free by 2040, the specialists warned.

The latest assessment of global warming and its effects came at the opening of the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting in San Francisco, where more than 15,000 scientists are gathering at Moscone Center this week to present new data from their research in topics as varied as earthquakes, weather, oceanography and space research....

With Arctic air temperatures increasing more rapidly than ever before, sea ice diminishing, permafrost thawing, and trees and shrubs increasing across the tundra, a "tipping point" when the changes become irreversible may well be at hand, said Larry Hinzman of the University of Alaska.

The "tipping point" is manifest in the rapid decrease of the Arctic's sea ice cover, according to Mark Serreze of the Snow and Ice Data Center. Satellites in 2005 measured the smallest extent of sea ice ever recorded, he said, and after the summer melt period, the ice returned at the slowest rate ever.

This year is even more alarming, Serreze said. Although the extent of sea ice was not as limited as it was in 2005, he said, by the end of last November, satellite measurements showed that the ice had failed to extend as widely as the previous year and was more than 772 square miles shy of its average extent, he said.

In 20 years, Serreze said, the extent of Arctic sea ice will be reduced by 80 percent. "And that could be another tipping point. It is no longer recovering as it should, and if it reaches a critical level, it may never recover at all."

Monday, December 11, 2006

"How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic"

At Grist "is a complete listing of the articles in "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic," a series by Coby Beck containing responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming." All sorted by topics.

(Click on the title of this post to get there.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

"Are Humans Totally Stupid? "

"Either we're hell-bent on self-destruction, or we truly care about the planet. Or, you know, both..."

By Mark Morford

They say that when gas prices drop, SUV sales surge.
Conversely, they say that when gas prices jump above three bucks a gallon and hover there for a while and everyone is slapped upside the head once again with the painful and obvious reminder that oh yeah we are in the midst of a brutal and losing war over waning petroleum deposits and we are heating up the planet like maniac monkeys and we are really really not paying close enough attention to what all those hurricanes and eroded glaciers and crying trees are trying to tell us, well, that's when our conscience finally kicks in and more people consider buying a Prius and maybe an organic salad, just in case.

It's just incredibly easy, in this painful, tragicomic age of Bush, to take the pessimist's view and think we are, as evidenced by the rather dimwitted formula above, simple as rocks. Stupid, even. Ignorant, reactionary, shortsighted as a Republican rubbing himself with a wad of tobacco lobbyist cash. Is it not obvious?

In other words, it's incredibly easy to believe, given the current planetary circumstances, that we really just don't give much of a damn, that simple decision-making equations like the above prove that we are a rather thoughtless species, reacting only to the most primitive of market forces while remaining hell-bent on serving our most immediate needs and screw the planet and screw the long view and screw what kind of burned-up oil-depleted storm-ridden water-deprived world your kids will be facing in a mere 25 years, just save me a few bucks on a tank of Saudi gas and let's call it an environment.

Sure we care, but we don't really care. Not enough to make significant or permanent change, not enough to radically refocus our agenda to a degree that might affect our mall-addicted oil-bloated American lifestyles. Buy a hybrid when gas prices soar? Pure economics, for most. Saves a few citizens from emphysema and removes a few million pounds of toxic chemicals from the air and hence in 2004 alone Prius drivers did the job of 9,478,000 trees? Just a bonus, really.

It's an ongoing and eternal question spawned of the jaded, pessimistic spirit: Just how stupidly self-destructive are we? How much longer can we possibly survive before we simply consume and waste and blow ourselves to smithereens? After all, the experts tell us that every culture prior to ours -- that is, all those that eventually turned into gluttonous warmongering insanely wasteful empires -- they all imploded. Every single one. Wiped themselves out, burned themselves up, abused their resources to death. Put it this way: If history is any lesson at all, we are just incredibly, deliciously doomed....

Al Gore was on "Oprah" recently, doing his "Inconvenient Truth" thing. Oprah herself extolled everyone in the "Oprah" universe to buy and watch Gore's DVD. This is powerful. This is the mainstreaming of a very big idea. Will it make a difference? Will anyone really care? Sure they will. Global warming is in the news more than ever and people sense there's a severe problem and no matter what the naysayers and the idiot skeptics and the pasty enviro-hating Republican Congressmen say, people just know. They get it. Storms and hurricanes and bizarre heat waves and glaciers gone? Something's amiss and it ain't just Mother Nature's menopause. Are those big smokestacks really any different than giant cigarettes, jammed into nature's mouth? Nope. You just gotta learn to see it that way.

(As it is Morford shares the page with a bunch of car advertisements).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

No Snow for Austrian Biathlon

For the Austrian village of Hochfilzen it was a disaster. As it prepared to welcome the world's best cross-country skiers and shooters for a biathlon event this weekend there was a problem: no snow.

With climate experts confirming that the Alps are in the grip of the warmest temperatures for 1,300 years villagers borrowed some snow from a nearby mountain, trucking in snow from Grossglockner, Austria's highest peak, 20 miles away. Over five days lorries deposited the snow in the village, allowing a 6-metre wide by 45cm deep (20ft x 17inch) track.

"There's normally snow here. Unfortunately this year it didn't arrive in time," Martin Frieder, the town's tourist office spokesman said, adding: "Last winter we had 8.7 metres of snow."

An unseasonably warm autumn has wreaked havoc in Alpine ski resorts, postponing the winter season in Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Instead of snow all around, most slopes are still covered in green grass.

Yesterday climate experts confirmed that the warm temperatures - including 22.4C recorded last week in Grenoble, the capital of the French Alps - were unusual.

"We are experiencing the warmest period in the Alpine region in 1,300 years," said Reinhard Böhm, a climatologist at Austria's Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics. "It will undoubtedly get warmer in the future."

The lack of snow has also affected ski resorts further afield, with all 31 skiing areas in Spain and Andorra closed, said the newspaper El País.

Andrea Händel, of the German Alpine Association in Munich, said it is too warm for artificial snow machines to work. Snow is now forecast within days.

"Massive fish kill confirmed"

NATIONAL environment authorities have confirmed the death of more than 450,000 kilograms of fish in two eastern China's cities in August was a result of pollution after a neighboring province opened a sluice to release sewage and industrial waste water.

So far no scheme on how to compensate the fishermen suffering the loss has been finalized, an Anhui Province-based newspaper reported yesterday.

On August 29, Yongcheng County in central China's Henan Province, which is in the upriver area of Anhui's Huaibei and Suzhou cities, opened its Zhangqiao sluice to release water after industrial waste and sewage had been stored for a long time.

The polluted water flooded the downriver Huaibei's Tuohe River and Suzhou's Xinbian River, killing the large number of fish in the two rivers, the report said.

Local fishermen report more than 450,000 kilograms of fish died in the pollution.

Preliminary estimates showed the pollution resulted in financial losses of more than three million yuan (US$375,000).

New Study on Effects to Phytoplankton

A new study of the oceans suggests that phytoplankton -- the vital first link in the food chain of the seas -- will be hugely affected by global warming.

Fisheries in the tropics and mid-latitudes could be badly hit by the loss of these micro-organisms as a result of warmer waters, the paper implies.

Phytoplankton grow in the upper layers of the ocean, needing light as well as nitrogen, phosphate and iron to grow. These nutrients come from the cold deep ocean, and are brought to the surface by currents.

Oregon State University botanist Michael Behrenfeld and colleagues pored over nearly a decade's-worth of satellite data to see how these tiny, unsung plants of the ocean surface respond to shifts in temperature.

The NASA satellite SeaWiFS uses sensors to record light that is reflected back by the ocean. Banks of phytoplankton can be spotted because they contain chlorophyll, which absorbs red and blue parts of the light spectrum.

Behrenfeld's "map" of phytoplankton found that the mass underwent two big changes over the study period.

In 1997-98, phytoplankton increased, matching a period when the El Nino effect was in reverse and the seas were relatively colder. Production of phytoplankton then declined from 1999 to 2004 as El Nino went back into an extended warming cycle. There was then a rise from 2005 to 2006.

The scientists say the results clearly link the sea's surface temperature with the abundance of phytoplankton, and thus provide an excellent indicator of what could happen in a warming climate.

Their paper appears in Thursday's issue of Nature, the weekly British science journal.

...In the future, higher temperatures and an influx of fresh water from precipitation and melting ice may help dampen the currents, which would thus spur phytoplankton growth...

"Ecosystems are complex and nonlinear... and unexpected phenomena may arise as we push the planet into this unknown climate state," said Doney.

Phytoplankton are not just an essential first link in the food chain on which other ocean lifeforms depend.

They also absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere as part of photosynthesis -- so any disruption to this process could accelerate the climate-change mechanism.

Roughly 100 million tonnes of carbon are gobbled up each day by phytoplankton, according to the Behrenfeld study.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Signs of Energy"

(Editorial in today's New York Times)

It seemed to take forever, but the Bush administration has finally agreed to a strict timetable for establishing new energy efficiency standards for nearly two dozen commercial and residential appliances over the next five years. The agreement is good news for the environment. It is also a tribute to the persistence of 15 states, the Natural Resources Defense Council and various consumer groups that sued the Energy Department for failing to comply with longstanding Congressional mandates.

By some estimates, the new standards — covering items like dishwashers, ovens, clothes dryers, and heating and air-conditioning systems — could eventually save the amount of energy used by 12 million households, eliminate the need to build dozens of power plants and significantly cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas.

Congress ordered the Energy Department to make periodic updates in efficiency standards for appliances as part of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. The Clinton administration strengthened standards for 10 appliances. But no new standards have been issued since 2001. In 2004, under pressure from manufacturers, the Bush administration actually tried to weaken standards for commercial air-conditioners, only to be rebuked by the courts.

In some cases, the technology already exists to meet stronger standards; the trick is to get manufacturers to incorporate them across the board. In other cases, the new standards would drive technology forward.

Tomma Abts wins the Turner Prize 2006

It's only the third time a woman has won in its twenty two year history. Abts's work is deliberately modest - paintings on canvas always nineteen inches by fifteen....

Working consistently within the small portrait frame of 48x38cm, Abts' art is characterised by abstract geometric shapes and numerous layers of paint, repetitively worked at to achieve a depth in her work that is both physically and expressively driven.

Such tensions are the essence of her paintings which are regarded as struggling between illusion and reality and the artist enjoys the uncertainty that these responses bring.

"I work inside- out, so to say, and the shapes are almost negative shapes," she says.

"I start with nothing really, I make no sketches before I start the painting, I work directly onto the canvas," Abts says.

Monday, December 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

....can now be seen online (click on the title).

Of course it's better to buy or rent it - but it is something that everyone should see somehow or other.

"Over 1,000 dead or missing in Philippine mudslides"

The Red Cross sent out an urgent plea for water, food and medicine Monday as Philippine officials said more than 1,000 people were dead or missing after mudslides swallowed whole villages.

The government's National Disaster Coordinating Centre (NDCC) in its evening report Monday confirmed 450 dead from the mudslides around Mayon volcano triggered by typhoon rains.

It listed a further 599 people as missing in the rest of the Bicol region.

Executive officer Glenn Rabonza said more than one million people had been affected by the disaster, with damage to property alone estimated at about 274 million pesos (5.53 million dollars).

The deadly mudslides were triggered by torrential rains from super typhoon Durian, which mixed with volcanic ash on the slopes of the Mayon volcano...

Meanwhile - "Indonesian 'mud volcano' could flow for years"

It could be years before a massive "mud volcano" which has forced thousands of people to flee their homes stops flowing, Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said on Monday.
A gas well near Surabaya in East Java operated by Lapindo Brantas Inc. has spewed steaming mud since May, submerging villages, industries and agricultural land.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared the area a disaster zone after the "mud volcano" inundated more than 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of land in Sidoarjo district and displaced some 13,000 people.

"As I speak, we have not gotten to the stage that we can stop the flow, so what is assigned to my ministry is to try to prevent further destruction...," Witoelar told a Jakarta Foreign Correspondents' Club lunch.

"At this moment, if I'm not mistaken, it's close to 200,000 cubic metres a day, it's beyond any pumps or dykes to be contained," he said of the mud flow....

"Throwaway Economy In Trouble"

"One of the distinctly unhealthy economic trends over the last half-century has been the emergence of a throwaway economy," writes Lester Brown, President of Earth Policy Institute, in his book Plan B 2.0. (Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble )First conceived following World War II as a way of providing consumers with products, it soon came to be seen also as a vehicle for creating jobs and sustaining economic growth. The more goods produced and discarded, the reasoning went, the more jobs there would be.

What sold throwaways was their convenience. For example, rather than washing cloth towels or napkins, consumers welcomed disposable paper versions. Thus we have substituted facial tissues for handkerchiefs, disposable paper towels for hand towels, disposable table napkins for cloth ones, and throwaway beverage containers for refillable ones. Even the shopping bags we use to carry home throwaway products become part of the garbage flow.

The throwaway economy is on a collision course with the earth's geological limits. Aside from running out of landfills near cities, the world is also fast running out of the cheap oil that is used to manufacture and transport throwaway products. Perhaps more fundamentally, there is not enough readily accessible lead, tin, copper, iron ore, or bauxite to sustain the throwaway economy beyond another two or three generations. Assuming an annual 2-percent growth in extraction, U.S. Geological Survey data on current economically recoverable reserves show the world has 18 years of reserves remaining for lead, 20 years for tin, 25 years for copper, 64 years for iron ore, and 69 years for bauxite.

The cost of hauling garbage from cities is rising as nearby landfills fill up and the price of oil climbs. One of the first major cities to exhaust its locally available landfills was New York. When the Fresh Kills landfill, the local destination for New York's garbage, was permanently closed in March 2001, the city found itself hauling garbage to landfill sites in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and even Virginia - with some of the sites being 300 miles away.

Given the 12,000 tons of garbage produced each day in New York and assuming a load of 20 tons of garbage for each of the tractor-trailers used for the long-distance hauling, some 600 rigs are needed to move garbage from New York City daily. These tractor-trailers form a convoy nearly nine miles long-impeding traffic, polluting the air, and raising carbon emissions. This daily convoy led Deputy Mayor Joseph J. Lhota, who supervised the Fresh Kills shutdown, to observe that getting rid of the city's trash is now "like a military-style operation on a daily basis."

...The challenge is to replace the throwaway economy with a reduce-reuse-recycle economy. For cities like New York, the challenge should be less what to do with the garbage and more of how to avoid producing it in the first place.

"Flowers in Alps, Bears Can't Sleep as Winter Waits"

Flowers are blooming on the slopes of Alpine ski resorts and bears are having trouble hibernating in Siberia amid a late start to winter that may be a portent of global warming.

Rare December pollen is troubling asthma sufferers as far north as Scandinavia, sales of winter clothing are down and Santa Claus is having to reassure children his sleigh will take off on Christmas Eve, snow or no snow.

From Ottawa to Moscow, temperatures have been way above average at the start of the winter in the northern hemisphere -- with exceptions including a rare snowstorm in Dallas, Texas.

Like many places, Austria has had the mildest autumn since records began and many ski resorts have delayed the season's start. Snow cannons are idling on green slopes that would usually be pistes, shrinking the billion-dollar winter business.

"The mountain peaks are shining white -- but not white enough that we can expect skiers to go there," said Martin Ebster, tourism director of St. Anton in the Arlberg ski resort, which postponed the season start to next weekend.

Meteorologists have recorded the azure trumpet-shaped Alpine gentian flower as high as 1,100 metres (3,609 ft) in the Austrian Alps, and the vernal forsythia in some valleys.