Wednesday, January 31, 2007

U.S. Gets a 'C-' on Protecting Oceans

The United States made modest progress on protecting its oceans last year, but still needs to boost funding for desperately needed reforms, a commission on ocean policy said Tuesday.

Overall, the U.S. earned a "C-" grade from the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a collaboration between the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the privately funded Pew Oceans Commission. That was a slight improvement over a "D+" grade on the commission's report card for 2005.

President Bush last week proposed an 8 percent increase in the $1.75 billion federal budget for coastal and marine conservation programs including $8 million in for management of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would get most of the additional $143 million budget request...

But strides made last year to safeguard the nation's imperiled oceans were undercut by a lack of funding at all levels of government, the panel warned. Education, research and international leadership also need to be substantially improved, the commission said...

Oceans should also play a central role in the national debate over climate change, the panel noted.

"Addressing climate change is a high priority for most Americans, and although the climate and oceans are inexorably intertwined, the critical role oceans play in climate change is seldom addressed," said James Watkins, a retired Navy admiral who heads the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and co-chairs the Joint Initiative.

See also:

Public Opinion on Global Warming

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has been holding hearings on the Bush Administration's "orchestrated campaign to mislead the public about climate change".

At the House hearing, two private advocacy groups produced a survey of 279 government climate scientists showing that many of them say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at downplaying the climate threat. Their complaints ranged from a challenge to using the phrase "global warming" to raising uncertainty on issues on which most scientists basically agree, to keeping scientists from talking to the media.

The survey and separate interviews with scientists "has brought to light numerous ways in which U.S. federal climate science has been filtered, suppressed and manipulated in the last five years," Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the committee.

Grifo's group, along with the Government Accountability Project, which helps whistle-blowers, produced the report.

Drew Shindell, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that climate scientists frequently have been dissuaded from talking to the media about their research, though NASA's restrictions have been eased.

Prior to the change, interview requests of climate scientists frequently were "routed through the White House" and then turned away or delayed, said Shindell. He described how a news release on his study forecasting a significant warming in Antarctica was "repeatedly delayed, altered and watered down" at the insistence of the White House.

These articles were found linked at the

Global Warming: A Divide on Causes and Solutions

Pew Center: Less Than Half of Americans Believe in Human-Induced Warming

The unusual weather affecting the nation this winter may have reinforced the widely held view that the phenomenon of rising temperatures is real (77% of Americans believe that), but the public continues to be deeply divided over both its cause and what to do about it. But there is considerably less agreement over its cause, with about half (47%) saying that human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels, is mostly to blame for the earth getting warmer.

Moreover, there are indications that most Americans do not regard global warming as a top-tier issue. In Pew's annual list of policy priorities for the president and Congress, global warming ranked fourth-lowest of 23 items tested, with only about four-in-ten (38%) rating it a top priority. A survey last year by the Pew Global Attitudes Project showed that the public's relatively low level of concern about global warming sets the U.S. apart from other countries. That survey found that only 19% of Americans who had heard of global warming expressed a great deal of personal concern about the issue. Among the 15 countries surveyed, only the Chinese expressed a comparably low level of concern (20%).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 10-15 among 1,708 Americans, finds a majority (55%) saying that global warming is a problem that requires immediate government action. But the percentage of Americans expressing this view has declined a bit since August, when 61% felt global warming was a problem that required an immediate government response...

The political divisions are still greater over the issue of whether global warming is a problem that requires immediate government action. About half of moderate and liberal Republicans (51%) express this view, compared with just 22% of conservative Republicans. The differences among Democrats are somewhat smaller; 81% of liberal Democrats, and 61% of moderate and conservative Democrats, say global warming is a problem that requires immediate government action.

There also are striking educational differences in partisans' views of global warming. Among Republicans, higher education is linked to greater skepticism about global warming -- fully 43% of Republicans with a college degree say that there is no evidence of global warming, compared with 24% of Republicans with less education.

But among Democrats, the pattern is the reverse. Fully 75% of Democrats with college degrees say that there is solid evidence of global warming and that it is caused by human activities. This is far higher than among Democrats with less education among whom 52% say the same. Independents, regardless of education levels, fall in between these partisan extremes.


My guess about the difference in Democrats and Republicans - the college educated and not have reversed opinions - is that the college educated of both groups may be more likely to read the news - only they are reading different news. Republicans may be more likely to read the Wall Street Journal and such things which would be more likely to downplay the human element and problem in general - people who don't want to hold corporations and human activities (like consumerism) accountable. Democrats with college degrees are probably more likely to read other news sources which are more open to criticizing the corportae model - and it's resulting problems.

Another article about the upcoming IPCC report shows reason to be concerned by the way the report downplays the issue - that will cause people to be less concerned than they might be.

Melting ice means global warming report all wet, say some experts who warn it'll be even worse

Scientists Criticize Upcoming IPCC Report as Understated

Later this week in Paris, climate scientists will issue a dire forecast for the planet that warns of slowly rising sea levels and higher temperatures.

But that may be the sugarcoated version.

Early and changeable drafts of their upcoming authoritative report on climate change foresee smaller sea level rises than were projected in 2001 in the last report. Many top U.S. scientists reject these rosier numbers. Those calculations don't include the recent, and dramatic, melt-off of big ice sheets in two crucial locations:

They "don't take into account the gorillas Greenland and Antarctica," said Ohio State University earth sciences professor Lonnie Thompson, a polar ice specialist. "I think there are unpleasant surprises as we move into the 21st century."

Michael MacCracken, who until 2001 coordinated the official U.S. government reviews of the international climate report on global warming, has fired off a letter of protest over the omission...

The early versions of the report predict that by 2100 the sea level will rise anywhere between 5 and 23 inches (12.7 to 58 centimeters). That's far lower than the 20 to 55 inches (51 to 140 centimeters) forecast by 2100 in a study published in the peer-review journal Science this month. Other climate experts, including NASA's James Hansen, predict much bigger sea level rises...

In the past, the climate change panel didn't figure there would be large melt of ice in west Antarctica and Greenland this century and didn't factor it into the predictions. Those forecasts were based only on the sea level rise from melting glaciers (which are different from ice sheets) and the physical expansion of water as it warms.

But in 2002, Antarctica's 1,255-square-mile (3,250-square-kilometer) Larsen B ice shelf broke off and disappeared in just 35 days. And recent NASA data shows that Greenland is losing 53 cubic miles (221 cubic kilometers) of ice each year twice the rate it was losing in 1996.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bohemia Lies by the Sea, 1996

By Anselm Kiefer (German, born 1945)

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Stonehenge builders' houses found"

Archaeologists say they have found a huge ancient settlement used by the people who built Stonehenge.
Excavations at Durrington Walls, near the legendary Salisbury Plain monument, uncovered remains of ancient houses.

People seem to have occupied the sites seasonally, using them for ritual feasting and funeral ceremonies.

In ancient times, this settlement would have housed hundreds of people, making it the largest Neolithic village ever found in Britain.

The dwellings date back to 2,600-2,500 BC, the same period that Stonehenge was built.
"In what were houses, we have excavated the outlines on the floors of box beds and wooden dressers or cupboards," said archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University.

He said he based this on the fact that these abodes had exactly the same layout as Neolithic houses at Skara Brae in Orkney, which have survived intact because - unlike these dwellings - they were made of stone.

The researchers have excavated eight houses in total that belonged to the Durrington settlement. But they have identified many other probable dwellings using geophysical surveying equipment.

The archaeologists think there could have been at least one hundred houses.

Each one would have measured about 5m (16ft) square: "fairly pokey", according to Professor Parker Pearson.

The dwellings were made of wood, with a clay floor and central hearth. The archaeologists found 4,600-year-old rubbish covering the floors of the houses.

"We've never seen such quantities of pottery and animal bone and flint."
The Sheffield University researcher thinks the settlement was probably not lived in all year round. Instead, he believes, Stonehenge and Durrington formed a religious complex used for funerary rituals.

Professor Parker Pearson believes it drew Neolithic people from all over the region, who came for massive feasts in the midwinter, where prodigious quantities of food were consumed. The bones were then tossed on the floors of the houses.

"The rubbish isn't your average domestic debris. There's a lack of craft-working equipment for cleaning animal hides and no evidence for crop-processing," he said.

"The animal bones are being thrown away half-eaten. It's what we call a feasting assemblage. This is where they went to party - you could say it was the first free festival."

The Durrington settlement has its own henge, this one made of wood. This ancient circle was discovered in 1967 - long before any houses were excavated.

Both henges line up with events in the astronomical calendar - but not the same ones.

Stonehenge is aligned with the midwinter solstice sunset, while the Durrington timber circle is aligned with the midwinter solstice sunrise. They were complementary, said Mike Parker Pearson.

This fits nicely with the idea of a feast held in midwinter, which is in turn supported by analysis of pig teeth found at the site.
"One of the things we can tell from the pig teeth we've looked at is that most of them have been slaughtered at nine months. And we think they are farrowing in Spring," he said.

"It's likely there's a midwinter cull and that ties in with our midwinter solstice alignments at Durrington and Stonehenge."

U.N. agency wants emergency climate summit

NAIROBI - The U.N. environment agency pressured Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday to call an emergency climate summit amid dire reports about the risks from global warming.

A summit, tentatively planned for September, would focus on the hunt for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on cutting greenhouse gases widely blamed for forecasts of more heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

U.N. environment agencies are lobbying Ban to play a leading role in helping governments battle climate change after Kyoto expires in 2012. But he stopped short on Tuesday of endorsing his officials' proposal for a summit of some 20 key leaders.

"I know the Kenyan government has proposed to have such a summit. I'm going to discuss that with the president (Kenya's Mwai Kibaki)," he told reporters during a brief visit to a Nairobi slum.

"Climate change is one of the most important issues that the international community must address before 2012. I will work very closely with members of the United Nations to discuss this," he added.

Ban discussed the summit plans in Nairobi with Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP). Earlier this month Ban also met Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Secretariat.

"This is a critical year and we must bring developed and developing countries together toward a conclusion," said Steiner's spokesman Nick Nuttall.

On Friday, the broadest scientific study of the human effect on the climate is set to conclude there is at least a 90 percent chance that human activities, mainly burning fossil fuels, are to blame for most of the warming in the last 50 years...

The biggest challenge of the post-Kyoto era is to entice non-participants like the United States, China, India, South Africa and Brazil to join to make the process more effective.

The last annual U.N. meeting of about 100 environment ministers in Nairobi in November made little progress on finding ways to broaden the protocol after it runs out.

Monday, January 29, 2007

"Indonesia may lose 2,000 islands..."

JAKARTA - Indonesia could lose about 2,000 islands by 2030 due to climate change, the country's environment minister said on Monday.

Rachmat Witoelar said studies by U.N. experts showed that sea levels were expected to rise about 89 centimetres in 2030 which meant that about 2,000 mostly uninhabited small islets would be submerged.

"We are still in a better position. Island countries like Saint Lucia, Fiji and the Bahamas would likely disappear," he told Reuters.

Indonesia, which consists of 17,000 islands, has been trying to avert such a scenario by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and switching to bio-fuels, he said.

"We are optimistic it can be prevented. Switching to bio-fuels is not only good for the environment but also will benefit us economically considering the volatile state of oil prices," he said.

Biofuels can be substituted for fossil fuels and are seen as a way to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases which are believed to contribute to global warming...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Snow in Tucson, Ice in San Antonio

There has been some wild weather out West this year. We got about 3 inches of snow the other day - here in Southern Indiana - it's been pretty mild here so far this year.

Snow paints Tucson white, ice snarls traffic

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - The worst of rare snow that painted mountains and yards white was over Monday for most of southeastern Arizona, but frigid hard-freeze temperatures from a winter storm that pushed across the state were expected to make an overnight encore.

Ice on the heels of rain, sleet and snow snarled traffic across much of the lower part of the state Monday.

The National Weather Service said temperatures were expected to dip to 28 degrees in the Tucson area, 24 in Douglas, 23 in Sierra Vista, 22 in Nogales and 18 in Bisbee, where some 8 inches of snow fell Monday.

An additional inch was expected around Douglas, but the storm was headed southeast from there.

Light snows fell across much of the region Sunday night and early Monday, with up to 3 inches of snow in some parts of Tucson.

Texas, Okla. shiver in grip of latest winter storm

SAN ANTONIO - A bone-rattling blast of sleet and snow kept Texas and Oklahoma residents shivering in its icy grip, while a blizzard north of Los Angeles caused big-rigs to jackknife.

At least 65 storm-related deaths have been reported in nine states since Friday, including 10 in Texas and 23 in Oklahoma. The Alamo was closed Wednesday, as was a 300-mile stretch of Interstate 10 in Texas from Fort Stockton to San Antonio.

Much of the brunt of the latest Southern storms was to move east Thursday - but the reprieve may be short-lived. Another barrage was to bring up to 8 inches snow to the Plains by late Friday...

Snow accumulations were light by some other regions' standards - the Dallas area topped out at 3 inches - but hundreds of airline flights were canceled and tens of thousands of electricity customers lost power...

No place in Oklahoma has been harder hit than McAlester, where many stores were operating on generator power. At the E-Z Mart, store manager Becky Clayton was selling out of bags of ice, soda, water and potato chips. With most restaurants and cafes closed down here, customers also made a run on her deli...

Ice coated power lines throughout McAlester, and nearly 1,000 linemen, tree-trimmers and support workers from Kansas, Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee were there Wednesday to repair the damage...

Freezing rain and some snow showers were reported across South Carolina early Thursday morning as some school districts delayed the start of classes.

In California, a four-night cold snap wiped out as much as three-quarters of the state's citrus and harmed virtually every other winter crop, from avocados to flowers.

"CEOs plead for mandatory emissions caps"

Chief executives of 10 major corporations urged Congress on Monday to require limits on greenhouse gases this year, contending voluntary efforts to combat climate change are inadequate.

The call for immediate action came on the eve of President Bush ‘s State of the Union address in which he is expected to reiterate that the industry on its own is making progress in curtailing the growth of heat-trapping emissions without the need of government intervention.

"We can and must take prompt action to establish a coordinated, economy-wide market-driven approach to climate protection," the executives, part of a coalition called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, said in a letter to the president.

Members of the group include chief executives of Alcoa Inc., BP America Inc., DuPont Co., Caterpillar Inc., General Electric Co., and Duke Energy Corp.

Many of the companies already have voluntarily moved to curb greenhouse emissions, they said. But the executives also said they do not believe voluntary efforts will suffice.

Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said the group intends to push the issue in Congress, urging lawmakers to address climate change as soon as possible. She said she expects other major corporations to join in the call.

In the letter, the executives urged Congress to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation should cut these releases 10 percent below today‘s levels within a decade and at least 60 percent by 2050, according to the action plan. Releases of carbon dioxide, the principal heat-trapping gas, has been increasing an average of 1 percent a year.

The first days of the new Democratic-controlled Congress have seen a rush of legislation introduced to address climate change, all of which have some variation of a cap-and-trade approach to dealing with climate change.

Essentially such a mechanism would have mandatory limits of greenhouse gas emissions, but would allow companies to trade emission credits to reduce the cost. Companies that can‘t meet the cap could purchase credits from those that exceed them or in some case from a government auction.


Note: I don't think it makes sense for companies (or people) to be able to "buy" the right the pollute - but it's interesting that CEOs are demanding action.

I also noted that the AP article only used the term "climate change" - instead of "global warming" (I tried googling the news article with "10 corporations, global warming" and nothing came up). Some people still think that that is some kind of important distinction - even if what is happening is that the overall temperature of the earth and the atmosphere is rising - giving way to climate disruptions.

'Heat Mining' as energy source

MIT-led panel backs 'heat mining' as key U.S. energy source

A comprehensive new MIT-led study of the potential for geothermal energy within the United States has found that mining the huge amounts of heat that reside as stored thermal energy in the Earth's hard rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the electricity the United States will need in the future, probably at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact.

An 18-member panel led by MIT prepared the 400-plus page study, titled "The Future of Geothermal Energy." Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, it is the first study in some 30 years to take a new look at geothermal, an energy resource that has been largely ignored.

The goal of the study was to assess the feasibility, potential environmental impacts and economic viability of using enhanced geothermal system (EGS) technology to greatly increase the fraction of the U.S. geothermal resource that could be recovered commercially.

Although geothermal energy is produced commercially today and the United States is the world's biggest producer, existing U.S. plants have focused on the high-grade geothermal systems primarily located in isolated regions of the west. This new study takes a more ambitious look at this resource and evaluates its potential for much larger-scale deployment.

"We've determined that heat mining can be economical in the short term, based on a global analysis of existing geothermal systems, an assessment of the total U.S. resource and continuing improvements in deep-drilling and reservoir stimulation technology," said panel head Jefferson W. Tester, the H. P. Meissner Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT.

"EGS technology has already been proven to work in the few areas where underground heat has been successfully extracted. And further technological improvements can be expected," he said....

In its report, the panel recommends that:

• More detailed and site-specific assessments of the U.S. geothermal energy resource should be conducted.

• Field trials running three to five years at several sites should be done to demonstrate commercial-scale engineered geothermal systems.

• The shallow, extra-hot, high-grade deposits in the west should be explored and tested first.

• Other geothermal resources such as co-produced hot water associated with oil and gas production and geopressured resources should also be pursued as short-term options.

• On a longer time scale, deeper, lower-grade geothermal deposits should be explored and tested.

• Local and national policies should be enacted that encourage geothermal development.

• A multiyear research program exploring subsurface science and geothermal drilling and energy conversion should be started, backed by constant analysis of results.

IPCC Report

I don't know what's up with government officials being able to edit it. I don't want their edited version. I want the version from the scientists. Arrrrggggh.

Report has 'smoking gun' on climate

...The first phase of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is being released in Paris next week. This segment, written by more than 600 scientists and reviewed by another 600 experts and edited by bureaucrats from 154 countries, includes "a significantly expanded discussion of observation on the climate," said co-chair Susan Solomon, a senior scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She and other scientists held a telephone briefing on the report Monday.

That report will feature an "explosion of new data" on observations of current global warming, Solomon said.

Solomon and others wouldn't go into specifics about what the report says. They said that the 12-page summary for policymakers will be edited in secret word-by-word by governments officials for several days next week and released to the public on Feb. 2. The rest of that first report from scientists will come out months later....

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Jellyfish victims double"

From Australia's Sydney Morning Herald:

TWICE as many swimmers were stung by jellyfish last year as in 2005 and the stingers may become even more common because of global warming, an expert warns.

The marine stinger adviser to Surf Life Saving, Dr Lisa-Ann Gershwin, said warmer seas might result in longer jellyfish seasons and larger jellyfish populations.

A Surf Life Saving NSW spokesman said 13,000 people were treated for marine stings in 2005, but that jumped to 26,000 last year.

Dr Gershwin said a study in the Gulf of Alaska had yielded "quite staggering" data to suggest global warming would affect jellyfish. She said the adaptive power of jellyfish must be taken into account.

"Jellyfish have been around for 600 million years," she said. "They have perfected the art of survival and are very good at taking advantage of changing conditions."

If the conditions brought on by global warming suited jellyfish, Dr Gershwin had no doubt populations would flourish...

Mr Hogben agrees there might be some truth in the theory that global warming would affect jellyfish populations.

"You don't see any bluebottles in winter," he said, "so it seems entirely possible that if waters heat up, the bluebottles will stick around for longer."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Comet McNaught

At there are a lot of cool photos of Comet McNaught from the Southern Hemisphere.

We may still be able to see part of the tail in the Northern Hemisphere. The brightest comet in 40+ years. "The comet has been dubbed the Great Comet of 2007."

More at and SOHO.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Yes! No!"

Yes! No! (by Mary Oliver )

How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No! The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

"Jellyfish Surge Endangers Fish Stocks"

From the Guardian:

British fish stocks are threatened by an unusual consequence of global warming: a dramatic rise in jellyfish numbers, scientists warned yesterday. Warmer ocean temperatures have seen jellyfish populations surge in the North Sea and scientists fear they may soon dominate at the expense of other marine life. Many of the jellyfish species feed directly on fish larvae or the plankton and tiny crustaceans that make up the larvae's staple diet, before they are big enough to hunt more substantial prey. Research by marine biologists shows that as ocean temperatures rise over the next century jellyfish populations will continue to grow, putting renewed pressure on fish stocks already devastated by overfishing.

The predictions bode particularly badly for cod stocks, which have plummeted through over-exploitation by fisheries. Cod larvae hatch in waters that are rich in plankton but these are also feeding grounds for the jellyfish.

Martin Attrill, a marine ecologist at Plymouth University's marine institute, analysed more than 40 years of records on marine organisms. They showed that jellyfish numbers have risen in line with a warming of the oceans caused by a meteorological process called the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO). When the NAO is positive high air pressures build up over the Azores and bring warmer water to the seas around Europe.

"Looking ahead over the next 50 to 100 years, all climate projections expect the North Sea to become warmer, so jellyfish will become more common in our waters," said Professor Attrill, whose study appears in the journal Limnology and Oceanography.

"Storm Wreaks Havoc in Northern Europe"

"The worst storm in years"

The fierce North Sea storm "Kyrill," with hurricane-force winds of up to 191 kph (118 mph), roared through Germany on Thursday, as schools and businesses closed so that childrens and workers could seek safety in their homes...

In the afternoon the storm reached parts of Germany, forcing the cancellation of more than 150 flights across the country. At the country's busiest airport, Frankfurt International, takeoffs and landings were at half of their normal capacity.

And with large sections of its network damaged by the storm, German national railway Deutsche Bahn ceased service on all long-distance trains. The decision came after an Intercity train in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, on its way to the popular coastal resort of Sylt, struck an uprooted tree....

Within just a few hours, the storm killed three people in Germany, caused significant damage and power outages in parts of the country. With a large number of trucks turned over by the wind, autobahns have also been closed. Ferry services to the Frisian islands has also been stopped....

Along the North Sea coast, flood warnings have been issued. The German Weather Service has also warned of heavy rain, flash floods and landslides across the country. During the next 24 hours, heavy rains of as much as 50 to 70 liters per square meter are feared....

Elsewhere in Europe, the situation isn't much calmer. Seven people were killed in Britain as wind gusts of up to 159 km/h (99 mph) hit the country, according to Reuters. The 62,000-ton ship "MS Napoli" sank off the coast of Cornwall, London Heathrow cancelled more than 120 flights, and the Eurostar rail service between London and Paris was disrupted after an electrical cable holder fell onto the tracks near the French city of Lille....

After ravaging Europe, the storm is expected to continue its path to the southeast -- with forecasts that it will strike Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria Friday.

Drought in Albania

KUKES LAKE - The long-submerged ruins of the old town of Kukes have re-emerged because of lack of rain.

Caked mud encrusts Albania's Fierza power dam.

For a second year boats lie high and dry on banks terraced by the receding water levels.

"Some people started working the land they lost to the lake in the 1970s," said Kukes resident Fatime.

It is the clearest evidence yet that Albanians are in for a further spell of power blackouts.

Meteorologists say only one third of the average quantity of rain fell in the area from September to December. It was the worst dry spell since 1915 when a rainless summer caused famine.

The re-surfacing of old Kukes means water levels at the Fierza dam further west are now just seven metres from the point where the turbines must be stopped.

About 90 percent of Albania's power comes from three schemes on the Drini River of which Fierza is the biggest.

On a normal day noise from the turbines would be too loud to make yourself heard. But now only one is turning...

Coupled with "miscalculations" about how much power Albania should have imported to deal with ever-increasing consumption, the drought means power cuts of up to 12 hours a day....

Temperature Anomalies...

Graphic from the National Climatic Data Center. From Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog WunderBlog:

The average global temperature for December 2006 was +0.72°C (+1.30°F) above normal, beating out 2003's record of +0.70°C/1.26°F, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Much of the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Siberia recorded their warmest December ever. Below normal temperatures were recorded in the Middle East and northern Africa, but over 80% of the world’s land areas were warmer than average--and not just a little above average! The swath of temperatures more than 5°C (9 °F) above average covering most of the world’s land mass north of 40° north latitude is unprecedented in size in the wintertime historical record, going back to at least 1900.

Record winter warmth in one part of the Northern Hemisphere is usually due to a sharp bend in the jet stream that creates a ridge of high pressure, allowing a warm southerly flow of air into the region. Adjacent regions have a compensating trough of low pressure that brings cold, northerly winds and below normal temperatures. This was certainly the case in January 2006, when the U.S. experienced its warmest January on record. Asia and Europe experienced a brutally cold January. Moscow hit -40°, its coldest temperature since 1979. Parts of Portugal saw their first snow since 1954. Siberia reached -70° F.

Enter December 2006. Again, record warmth was observed over the U.S. and Canada. A compensating cooler than normal area was present over the Gulf of Alaska and western Siberia, but it was very weak. There was almost no cold Arctic air present anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, which is unprecedented in the historical record (going back at least 100 years). What’s the cause of this unusual pattern? Part of the blame probably rests with the late-freezing Arctic ice this year. More open water than ever recorded pumped abnormal heat and moisture into the air, retarding the formation of the usual cold air masses. At an interesting talk titled “Extremes and El Nino” given by Dr. Gerald Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research today, he showed that both El Nino and increasing greenhouse gases are probably part of the reason, as well. He averaged together the wintertime temperature anomalies for El Nino events for the 1970s through 1990s, and came up with a plot that showed the typical pattern we expect--a warm winter over Canada and the northern U.S., and cold over Europe and Asia. Next, he showed a climate model simulation of a wintertime El Nino event run using the levels of greenhouse gases that we have now. The model simulation showed wintertime warmth extending into Asia and Europe during El Nino years, much like the pattern in Figure 1, thanks to the increase in greenhouse gases over the past 30 years.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"The Warming of Greenland"

From the New York Times

Maps of the region show a mountainous peninsula covered with glaciers. The island’s distinct shape — like a hand with three bony fingers pointing north — looks like the end of the peninsula.

Now, where the maps showed only ice, a band of fast-flowing seawater ran between a newly exposed shoreline and the aquamarine-blue walls of a retreating ice shelf. The water was littered with dozens of icebergs, some as large as half an acre; every hour or so, several more tons of ice fractured off the shelf with a thunderous crack and an earth-shaking rumble.

All over Greenland and the Arctic, rising temperatures are not simply melting ice; they are changing the very geography of coastlines. Nunataks — “lonely mountains” in Inuit — that were encased in the margins of Greenland’s ice sheet are being freed of their age-old bonds, exposing a new chain of islands, and a new opportunity for Arctic explorers to write their names on the landscape.

“We are already in a new era of geography,” said the Arctic explorer Will Steger. “This phenomenon — of an island all of a sudden appearing out of nowhere and the ice melting around it — is a real common phenomenon now.”...

With 27,555 miles of coastline and thousands of fjords, inlets, bays and straits, Greenland has always been hard to map. Now its geography is becoming obsolete almost as soon as new maps are created....

The sudden appearance of the islands is a symptom of an ice sheet going into retreat, scientists say. Greenland is covered by 630,000 cubic miles of ice, enough water to raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

Carl Egede Boggild, a professor of snow-and-ice physics at the University Center of Svalbard, said Greenland could be losing more than 80 cubic miles of ice per year.

He discovered an island himself a year ago while flying over northwestern Greenland. “Suddenly I saw an island with glacial ice on it,” he said. “I looked at the map and it should have been a nunatak, but the present ice margin was about 10 kilometers away. So I can say that within the last five years the ice margin had retreated at least 10 kilometers.”....

“The general thinking until very recently was that ice sheets don’t react very quickly to climate,” said Martin Truffer, a glaciologist at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. “But that thinking is changing right now, because we’re seeing things that people have thought are impossible.”

A study in The Journal of Climate last June observed that Greenland had become the single largest contributor to global sea-level rise....

There is no consensus on how much Greenland’s ice will melt in the near future, Dr. Alley said, and no computer model that can accurately predict the future of the ice sheet. Yet given the acceleration of tidewater-glacier melting, a sea-level rise of a foot or two in the coming decades is entirely possible, he said. That bodes ill for island nations and those who live near the coast...

"Charging Towards the Big Melt"


BROOKLIN, Canada, Jan 15 (IPS) - Record retail store sales during the holiday season in North America is one reason 2007 is predicted to be the hottest year on record. And it's well past time that people began to connect the dots between what they buy and the resulting environmental impacts such as global warming, experts say.

In other words, consumption has consequences: big, nasty environmental consequences that inflict suffering mainly on the world's poor.

That North Americans, and to a lesser extent Europeans, are profligate consumers is well known. If everyone consumed like North Americans we'd need five planets to support us -- only three planets are necessary if we all lived like Europeans, according to the World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet Report.

The world collectively overshot the Earth's capacity to support us in 1984, the report notes. In the 22 years since reaching that crucial tipping point, rates of consumption of resources have accelerated. Not just in North America and Europe but China and India, not to mention other parts of Asia and Latin America.

While this ever-accelerating consumption of resources the sign of a healthy global economy according to economists, it has also resulted in climate change, amongst many other environmental and social ills.

"People don't appreciate that their purchases have real environmental impacts," said Monique Tilford, acting executive director of the Centre for a New American Dream (CNAD), a Maryland group promoting environmentally and socially responsible consumption.

"They also don't think their individual actions make much of a difference," Tilford told IPS.

A Chinese-made computer desk that can be bought for 40 or 50 dollars at a U.S. or European retail store is likely to be the product of illegal clear-cutting in Indonesian rainforests. Such clear-cutting not only fuels crime syndicates, it results in the loss of biodiversity, releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and drives indigenous people off their lands.

"We need to shift people to become environmentally and socially conscious consumers," said Tilford.

That means buying less stuff, and also being willing to spend more on products that are better for the environment or societies in other countries....

CNAD started a Responsible Purchasing Network for state and local governments in 2000 which has been successful in creating a large market for environmentally-friendly products, Tilford said....

"The Mentally Ill, Behind Bars"

From the New York Times

...According to a study released by the Justice Department in September, 56 percent of jail inmates in state prisons and 64 percent of inmates across the country reported mental health problems within the past year.

Though troubling, none of this should come as a surprise. Over the past 40 years, the United States dismantled a colossal mental health complex and rebuilt — bed by bed — an enormous prison. During the 20th century we exhibited a schizophrenic relationship to deviance.

After more than 50 years of stability, federal and state prison populations skyrocketed from under 200,000 persons in 1970 to more than 1.3 million in 2002. That year, our imprisonment rate rose above 600 inmates per 100,000 adults. With the inclusion of an additional 700,000 inmates in jail, we now incarcerate more than two million people — resulting in the highest incarceration number and rate in the world, five times that of Britain and 12 times that of Japan.

What few people realize, though, is that in the 1940s and ’50s we institutionalized people at even higher rates — only it was in mental hospitals and asylums. Simply put, when the data on state and county mental hospitalization rates are combined with the data on prison rates for 1928 through 2000, the imprisonment revolution of the late 20th century barely reaches the level we experienced at mid-century. Our current culture of control is by no means new.

The graph on the left — based on statistics from the federal Census Bureau, Department of Health and Human Services and Bureau of Justice Statistics — shows the aggregate rate of institutionalization per 100,000 adults in the United States from 1928 to 2000, as well as the disaggregated trend lines for mental hospitalization on the one hand and state and federal prisons on the other.

The numbers include only state and county mental hospitals. There were many more kinds of mental institutions at mid-century, ones for “mental defectives and epileptics” and the mentally retarded, psychiatric wards in veterans hospitals, as well as “psychopathic” and private mental hospitals. If we include residents of those facilities, from 1935 to 1963 the United States consistently institutionalized at rates well above 700 per 100,000 adults — with highs of 778 in 1939 and 786 in 1955. It should be clear why there is such a large proportion of mentally ill persons in our prisons: individuals who used to be tracked for mental health treatment are now getting a one-way ticket to jail.

Of course, there are important demographic differences between the two populations. In 1937, women represented 48 percent of residents in state mental hospitals. In contrast, new prison admissions have consistently been 95 percent male. Also, the mental health patients from the 1930s to the 1960s were older and whiter than prison inmates of the 1990s.

But the graph poses a number of troubling questions: Why did we diagnose deviance in such radically different ways over the course of the 20th century? Do we need to be imprisoning at such high rates, or were we right, 50 years ago, to hospitalize instead? Why were so many women hospitalized? Why have they been replaced by young black men? Have both prisons and mental hospitals included large numbers of unnecessarily incarcerated individuals?

Whatever the answers, the pendulum has swung too far — possibly off its hinges....

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The physics of climate modeling

From Jan. 07 Physics Today

The physics in climate models can be divided into three categories. The first includes fundamental principles such as the conservation of energy, momentum, and mass, and processes, such as those of orbital mechanics, that can be calculated from fundamental principles. The second includes physics that is well known in theory, but that in practice must be approximated due to discretization of continuous equations. Examples include the transfer of radiation through the atmosphere and the Navier–Stokes equations of fluid motion. The third category contains empirically known physics such as formulas for evaporation as a function of wind speed and humidity.

For the latter two categories, modelers often develop parameterizations that attempt to capture the fundamental phenomenology of a small-scale process. For instance, the average cloudiness over a 100-km2 grid box is not cleanly related to the average humidity over the box. Nonetheless, as the average humidity increases, average cloudiness will also increase. That monotonic relationship could be the basis for a parameterization, though current schemes are significantly more complex than my example.

Given the nature of parameterizations among other features, a climate model depends on several expert judgment calls. Thus, each model will have its own unique details. However, much of the large-scale behavior projected by climate models is robust in that it does not depend significantly on the specifics of parameterization and spatial representation.

The most interesting behavior of the climate system is emergent. That is, the large-scale phenomena are not obvious functions of the small-scale physics but result from the complexity of the system. For instance, no formula describes the Intertropical Convergence Zone of tropical rainfall, which arises through a combination of the seasonal cycle of solar radiation, the properties of moist convection, Earth's rotation, and so on. Emergent qualities make climate modeling fundamentally different from numerically solving tricky equations.

Climate modeling is also fundamentally different from weather forecasting. Weather concerns an initial value problem: Given today's situation, what will tomorrow bring? Weather is chaotic; imperceptible differences in the initial state of the atmosphere lead to radically different conditions in a week or so. Climate is instead a boundary value problem—a statistical description of the mean state and variability of a system, not an individual path through phase space. Current climate models yield stable and nonchaotic climates, which implies that questions regarding the sensitivity of climate to, say, an increase in greenhouse gases are well posed and can be justifiably asked of the models. Conceivably, though, as more components—complicated biological systems and fully dynamic ice-sheets, for example—are incorporated, the range of possible feedbacks will increase, and chaotic climates might ensue....

Exxon Update

A change of heart/action... or not?

Exxon update 1/9/07

We have a bit of a PR problem on global warming, ExxonMobil admits

ExxonMobil has promised investors it will "soften" its public image in an attempt to rid itself of a reputation as the green campaigners' public enemy number one.

However, the chairman and chief executive, Rex Tillerson, made clear to a select group of Wall Street fund managers and analysts that the oil company would not be changing its position on global warming, it would just try to explain it better.

From 1/11/07 ( as posted on

Exxon Acknowledges Climate Change, cuts CEI's funding

In an interview reported in the Wall Street Journal today, Kenneth Cohen began to shift Exxon's corporate positioning on climate change, accepting the reliability of the science and announcing that Exxon has stopped funding climate change deniers like the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

Cohen also told the WSJ that Exxon is expecting regulatory action soon and wants to be part of the discussion.

"Exxon wants any regulation to be applied across "the broadest possible base" of the economy, said Jaime Spellings, Exxon's general manager for corporate planning. Exxon says avoiding a ton of carbon-dioxide emissions is, with certain exceptions, less expensive in the power industry than in the transportation sector. Though solar energy remains expensive, reducing a ton of emissions by generating electricity from essentially carbon-free sources such as nuclear or wind energy is cheaper than reducing a ton of emissions through low-carbon transportation fuels such as ethanol."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dead Porpoises on Scottish Beaches

Are the dead porpoises on Scottish beaches more evidence of global warming?

HARBOUR porpoises are starving to death in the North Sea as a result of rising water temperatures, scientists have revealed.

Climate change has resulted in a dramatic decline in the numbers of sandeels - a major part of the staple diet of the porpoises.

Marine scientists have recorded a significant rise in the percentage of porpoise deaths due to malnutrition. They are also becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of the declining sandeel populations on other species such as the bottle-nosed dolphin and the minke whale, believing this could jeopardise the future of Scotland's booming whale-watching sector.

The potential crisis was highlighted yesterday in a study by a team of scientists from Aberdeen University and the Scottish Agricultural College in Inverness, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Previous reports have already revealed that seabird populations around Scotland's coast have been seriously hit by the decline in sandeel numbers.

But, unlike seabirds that only eat sandeels, it had always been assumed that harbour porpoises and other cetaceans would simply switch to eating other fish species when sandeel numbers fell, without suffering any ill-effects. The study, however, suggests that this is not the case.

Sandeels are anchovy-like fish which spend most of their lives buried in the sand before emerging for a few months in the spring when they become a vital food source.

Separate studies have found the number of sandeels living to adulthood falls during warmer winters, when they grow at too fast a rate to be supported by the available food.

The percentage of stranded harbour porpoises on the North Sea coast of Scotland found to have died as result of malnutrition has risen from 5 per cent to 33 per cent in the past six years....

2006 - Warmest on Record in the US

(Also in the UK).

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration "Affirms Human Influence on Climate".

A lot of government scientists have said it.

But until yesterday, it appeared that no news release on annual climate trends out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Bush White House had said unequivocally that a buildup of greenhouse gases was helping warm the climate.

The statement came in a release that said 2006 was the warmest year for the 48 contiguous states since regular temperature records began in 1895. It surpassed the previous champion, 1998, a year heated up by a powerful episode of the periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean by El Niño. Last year, another El Niño developed, but this time a long-term warming trend from human activities was said to be involved as well.

“A contributing factor to the unusually warm temperatures throughout 2006 also is the long-term warming trend, which has been linked to increases in greenhouse gases,” the release said, emphasizing that the relative contributions of El Niño and the human influence were not known.

A link between greenhouse gases and climate change was also made in a December news conference by Dirk Kempthorne, the secretary of the interior, as that agency proposed listing polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Still, the climate agency’s shift in language came as a surprise to several public affairs officials there. They said they had become accustomed in recent years to having any mention of a link between climate trends and human activities played down or trimmed when drafts of documents went to the Commerce Department and the White House for approval.

From another article:

According to preliminary data from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, North Carolina, 2006's annual average temperature in the contiguous U.S. was 55°F (13°C)—the warmest since monitoring began in 1895.

That's 2.2°F (1.2°C) above the 20th century average and 0.07°F (0.04°C) warmer than 1998, the previous record holder.

The high temperatures contributed to a record U.S. wildfire season, deadly heat waves, and persistent severe droughts in a number of locations, along with many other climate anomalies.

According to NCDC, an unusually warm December tipped the scales.

Springlike conditions in much of the country made it the fourth warmest December on record, with five states experiencing their warmest Decembers and no state having temperatures below average, the NCDC report says.

The report adds that 2006 was the sixth warmest year globally, with temperatures 0.94°F (0.52°C) above average.

For a more global assessment see this.

Also: The Antarctic ozone hole reached record size in September 2006. (Photo courtesy NASA)

“From September 21 to 30, 2006, the average area of the ozone hole was the largest ever observed, at 10.6 million square miles,” said Paul Newman, atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The size and persistence of the 2006 ozone hole area with its record ozone mass deficit of 40.8 megatons can be explained by the continuing presence of near-peak levels of ozone-depleting substances in combination with a particularly cold stratospheric winter, the WMO said.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Union of Concerned Scientist's Report on Exxon

Scientists' Report Documents ExxonMobil’s Tobacco-like Disinformation Campaign on Global Warming Science

Oil Company Spent Nearly $16 Million to Fund Skeptic Groups, Create Confusion

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 3–A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists offers the most comprehensive documentation to date of how ExxonMobil has adopted the tobacco industry's disinformation tactics, as well as some of the same organizations and personnel, to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue. According to the report, ExxonMobil has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.

"ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Director of Strategy & Policy. "A modest but effective investment has allowed the oil giant to fuel doubt about global warming to delay government action just as Big Tobacco did for over 40 years."
(more at link - including copies of the report)

From Exxon:

“We find some of them persuasive and enlightening, and some not,” ExxonMobil spokesman Dave Gardner said. “But there is value in the debate they prompt if it can lead to better informed and more optimal public policy decisions.”

"Optimal public policy decisions" for Exxon is what. (Assuming "they" don't care about the planet they are living on).


In other news:

As reported in an article entitled: Global Warming is Here. Now What? - a group of 1300 scientists who participated in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report that The world's economy appears to be robust, but masks an approaching crisis -- the sustainability of future generations "can no longer be taken for granted....

Examining 24 major ecosystems that support human life, scientists found that 15 are "being pushed beyond their sustainable limits," toward a change that will be "abrupt and potentially irreversible." Humanity's genius at economic development has taxed our ecosystems to the point where we face "imminent ecological and economic crises."

Economically, the world is booming. Steel, aluminum, vehicle production and Gross World Product set records in 2005, as did Internet usage and cell phones. Unfortunately, the production of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the main greenhouse gas, is also booming -- 2004 measured the highest annual increase ever....

Vanishing Penguins

A lone Emperor Penguin

There were several million African penguins in the nineteenth century. In 1930 there were still over a million birds. In 2004 there were app. 60,000 breeding pairs but 30,000 have died since then.

One recent article attibutes most of that to the collapse of the fish population - and with some of the fish moving to other areas. The penguins keep to their nesting grounds. The number of plankton have gone down - some say due to global warming - and that would also be a factor. There have also been poisonous algae blooms, oil spills and the disruption of wildlife in general by human activities.

African West Coast Fish Crisis

The marine ecosystem off the West Coast has taken a severe knock with the disappearance of the sardine stocks - the major food source for thousands of seabirds - and the African penguin population has dropped to the lowest level ever recorded.

In the Western Cape overall, 20 000 African penguins have disappeared from the breeding colonies since 2004, and 10 000 have disappeared in Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape in the last three years.

In Namibia, where sardine stocks appear to have collapsed, the situation is critical....Seals are reported to be starving..."In Namibia, the seabird populations are going down the tubes. The sardines appear to have been almost wiped out and the whole system appears to have changed. The jelly fish have increased and they eat the fish eggs and larvae, which means fewer fish, and if there are no fish, the seabirds don't breed. I'm not sure if it's possible ever to reverse what's happened in Namibia. It looks as if, in the long-term, we're going to lose the whole lot, the birds and the fish - at least as an economically viable industry," Williams said.

Rob Crawford, ornithologist at Marine and Coastal Management, said the Namibian gannet and African penguin population had declined by 90 percent in the last 50 years...

Biologists baffled as millions of penguins vanish

Millions of the birds are disappearing in a "sinister and astonishing" phenomenon that is baffling biologists.

In just six years their numbers have fallen from 600,000 to 420,000 in the Falkland Islands - one of its few remaining strongholds - according to the latest survey by Falklands Conservation.

The decline equates to a drop of about 30 per cent, although the Falklands population is thought to have dipped by about 85 per cent since 1932, when there were more than 1.5 million birds...

"It's an astonishing decline, the populations have just crashed over the last few decades and we really don't know why. It's quite sinister, we have got millions of penguins just disappearing."


Numbers of Penguins by species with information mostly gleaned from Pete & Barb's Penguin Pages. Most of the numbers seem to be estimates as of 2004.

Adelie penguins breed all round the Antarctic continent. The total breeding population is app. 2,500,000 pairs in 193 colonies. (David Ainley)

African penguins breed on the coast of South Africa and Namibia and on off shore islands. The total breeding population in 2004 was estimated as 58,636 pairs. (Now 45,000 ?)

Chinstraps breed on sub-Antarctic islands and on the Antarctic Peninsula. There are some 780 known chinstrap colonies. The total breeding population is app. 7,500,000 pairs.

Emperors breed on the fast ice all round the Antarctic continent. The total breeding population is app. 200,000 pairs.

Erect-crested penguins breed on 2 sub-Antarctic Islands south of New Zealand,  the Antipodes and Bounty Islands. App. 175,000 breeding pairs.

Fiordland penguins breed on the south west coast of South Island, New Zealand and on Stewart Island. App. 2,500 to 3,000 pairs. 

Galapagos penguins breed on the Galapagos Islands on the equator (and on the north coast of Isabela Island!). app. 1,000 pairs.

Gentoos breed on many sub-Antarctic Islands. The total breeding population is app. 300,000 pairs.

Humboldt penguins breed on the west coast of South America and on off shore islands. The total breeding population is app. 3,000 pairs.

King penguins breed in large colonies on many sub-Antarctic islands. Currently there are more than 80 known colonies. The total breeding population is app.1,000,000+ pairs.

Little penguins breed on the coasts of Southern Australia and Tasmania as well as in New Zealand and the Chatham Islands East of New Zealand. The total breeding population is app.  250,000 and 400,000 breeding pairs.

Macaroni penguins breed on sub-Antarctic Islands south of the Americas and Africa. The total breeding population is app. 6,000,000 pairs.

Magellanic penguins breed on the east and western coasts of Chile and Argentina in South America, and on off shore islands and in the Falkland Islands. The total population is app. 1,000,000+ breeding pairs. 

Rockhoppers breed on more or less every sub-Antarctic Island. There are major colonies on the Falkland Islands (E. c. chrysocome - 420,000 pairs on 12 islands), Macquarie Island, Marion and Prince Edward Islands and Kerguelen Island (E. c. filholi - 800,000? pairs on 8 islands). E. c. moseleyi (350,000 pairs on 2 island groups) breed in smaller colonies on Tristan da Cunha, Gough and Amsterdam Islands.

Royal penguins breed only on Macquarie Island. The breeding population is app. 75,000 to 160,000 pairs and is decreasing.

Snares penguins only breed on Snares Island to the south of New Zealand. Currently the breeding population is estimated at 23,350 pairs.

Yellow-eyed penguins breed on the East coast of New Zealand's South Island and on sub-Antarctic Islands to the south of New Zealand, notably Enderby Island in the Auckland Islands. There are app. 1,200 to 2,000 breeding pairs.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Snakes May Predict Earthquakes


Beijing: China has come up with an earthquake prediction system which relies on the behavior of snakes, state media said on Thursday, two days after two quakes struck off neighboring Taiwan.

The earthquake bureau in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi autonomous region in southern China, had developed its system using a combination of natural instinct and modern technology, the China Daily newspaper said.

Experts at the bureau monitor snakes at local snake farms via video cameras linked to a broadband Internet connection. The video feed runs 24 hours per day.

"Of all the creatures on Earth, snakes are perhaps the most sensitive to earthquakes," bureau director Jiang Weisong was quoted as saying.

Jiang said snakes, a popular restaurant dish in the south in the winter, could sense an earthquake from 120 km (70 miles) away, three to five days before it happens. They respond by behaving strangely.

"When an earthquake is about to occur, snakes will move out of their nests, even in the cold of winter," Jiang was quoted as saying.

"If the earthquake is a big one, the snakes will even smash into walls while trying to escape."

Happy (Hot) New Year!

World faces hottest year ever, as El Niño combines with global warming in today's The Independent (UK).

A combination of global warming and the El Niño weather system is set to make 2007 the warmest year on record with far-reaching consequences for the planet, one of Britain's leading climate experts has warned.

As the new year was ushered in with stormy conditions across the UK, the forecast for the next 12 months is of extreme global weather patterns which could bring drought to Indonesia and leave California under a deluge.

The warning, from Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, was one of four sobering predictions from senior scientists and forecasters that 2007 will be a crucial year for determining the response to global warming and its effect on humanity.

Professor Jones said the long-term trend of global warming - already blamed for bringing drought to the Horn of Africa and melting the Arctic ice shelf - is set to be exacerbated by the arrival of El Niño, the phenomenon caused by above-average sea temperatures in the Pacific.

Combined, they are set to bring extreme conditions across the globe and make 2007 warmer than 1998, the hottest year on record. It is likely temperatures will also exceed 2006, which was declared in December the hottest in Britain since 1659 and the sixth warmest in global records.

Professor Jones said: "El Niño makes the world warmer and we already have a warming trend that is increasing global temperatures by one to two tenths of a degrees celsius per decade. Together, they should make 2007 warmer than last year and it may even make the next 12 months the warmest year on record."

...Dr (Jim) Hansen (of NASA) said: "We just cannot burn all the fossil fuels in the ground. If we do, we will end up with a different planet.

"I mean a planet with no ice in the Arctic, and a planet where warming is so large that it's going to have a large effect in terms of sea level rises and the extinction of species."

His call for action is shared by Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, who said that 2006 had shown that the "discussion is now over" on whether climate change is happening. Writing in today's Independent, Sir David says progress has been made in the past year but it is "essential" that a global agreement on emissions is struck quickly. He writes: "Ultimately, only heads of state, working together, can provide the new level of global leadership we need to steer the world on a path towards a sustainable and prosperous future. We need to remember: action is affordable - inaction is not."

...El Niño, or "the Christ child" because it is usually noticed around Christmas, is a weather pattern occurring every two to seven years. The last severe El Niño, in 1997 and 1998, caused more than 2,000 deaths and a worldwide damage bill of more than £20bn.

...A significant rise in sea temperature leads to an El Niño event whereas a fall in temperature leads to La Niña.

The cause of the phenomenon is not fully understood but in an El Niño "event" the pool of warm surface water is forced eastwards by the loss of the westerly trade winds. The sea water evaporates, resulting in drenching rains over South America, particularly Peru and Ecuador, as well as western parts of the United States such as California.

Parts of the western Pacific, including Indonesia and Australia, suffer drought. The effects can last for anything from a few weeks to 18 months, causing extreme weather as far afield as India and east Africa.


update (1/4):

Much of the Eastern half of the US (from Missouri to Maine) are experiencing temperatures app. 20 degrees above normal for this time of year. The warm air coming up from the Gulf seems to be keeping the Canadian air to the north and west.

In Canada - there is talk of having "American air" instead of Arctic Air - it's raining in Winnipeg and people are golfing in Montreal.

Meanwhile Western Australia was being dumped with 3+feet of rain (1/4) in the state's largest summer storm in almost 30 years. Now there are floods after all their droughts.

In Europe - it has finally started snowing in the Alps, at least.