Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Potential Anthropogenic Tipping Elements in the Earth System"

(#s 1&16-tipped / #2-in limbo / the rest stable)
From the The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

1 Arctic Sea Ice Loss
As sea ice melts in a warming climate, it exposes a dark ocean surface, which absorbs more solar radiation and thus amplifies the warming. Over the last 30 years the area covered by sea ice has decreased significantly. This is also bad news for many species, like seals or polar bears, which depend on that ice for hunting and breeding. Time Frame: ~ 100 yr.

2 Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet
Greenland’s ice sheet is melting due to the extraordinary warming of the Arctic region. Recent observations sug- gest an accelerated destabilization also due to melt-water lubrication effects. The complete collapse of the Greenland ice sheet would cause a global sea level rise of 7 m. Time Frame: Unknown due to highly non-linear processes. Current estimates: 300–1000 yr.

3 Methane Escape from Thawing Permafrost Regions and Continental Shelves
Huge amounts of methane, which is a highly potent greenhouse gas, could be released by global warming. On the one hand, terrestric methane will emanate from thawing permafrost areas in Siberia and Northern America. On the other hand, ‘methane ice’ assembled by natural processes over millions of years off many coasts might be activated by changing ocean temperatures and currents. Time Frame: ~ 1000 yr.

4 Boreal Forest Dieback
Northern boreal forests account for almost one third of the global forest inventory. They are declining in a warming climate because of enhanced disturbance stress through fires, pests, and storms. At the same time, their regenerative capabilities are diminished by temperature and water stress as well as direct human interference (logging, fragmentation, etc.). The dieback would trigger massive release of carbon dioxide, which in turn enhances climate change as well as significant losses in biodiversity. Time Frame: ~ 50–100 yr.

5 Suppression of Atlantic Deep Water Formation
The warm Atlantic surface ocean current is responsible for the benign climate in Northwestern Europe. This gre- at ‘conveyor belt’ is ultimately driven by cold and dense water sinking to the bottom of the North Atlantic off the coasts of Greenland and Labrador. A warming climate leads to an increased freshwater flow into the ocean, thus decreasing the water’s density and slowing down the deep water formation. Time frame: ~ 100–500 yr.

6 Climatic Change-Induced Ozone Hole over Northern Europe
Particularly Northern Europe could face a climate change-induced ozone hole. Global warming at the bottom of atmospheric strata implies cooling in the stratospheric “roof”. This cooling induces ice cloud formation which in turn provides a catalyst for ozone destruction. Time Frame: ~ 10–1000 yr.

7 Darkening of the Tibetan Plateau
As the snow cover of the Tibetan territory melts due to global warming, the exposed dark rock surface will amplify regional warming through increased absorption of solar radiation. As a side effect, the freshwater supply for many Asian countries, which depend on glacier melt water, will be reduced. Moreover, it is possible that the darkening of the Tibetan plateau could affect the Indian monsoon system. Time Frame: ~ 50–100 yr.

8 Disruption of Indian Monsoon
Up to 90% of India’s precipitation is provided by the regular summer monsoon. Carbon dioxide as well as aerosols play a key role in this highly variable system. Air pollution, land-cover change and greenhouse gas emissions could bring about a roller-coaster succession of intensified and weakened monsoons in South Asia causing extreme droughts and floods. Time Frame: 30–100 yr.

9 Re-Greening of the Sahara and Sealing of Dust Sources
Vegetation could re-appear due to higher precipitation in the Sahel region, but this greening of the Sahara may be overridden by intensive land-use, especially grazing. If the re-greening happened, it could seal major sources of dust that is blown across the Atlantic and fertilizes South American ecosystems. Time Frame: ~ 50 yr.

10 West African Monsoon Shift
The West African monsoon is affected both by heavy deforestation in coastal areas and increasing sea-surface temperatures. The future of this monsoon system is still uncertain. Global warming may bring about a doubling of dry years in the Sahel by the end of the century or a complete monsoon collapse, both of which would have profound large-scale impacts. Time Frame: ~ 50–100 yr.

11 Dieback of Amazon Rainforest
A large fraction of precipitation in the Amazon basin is recycled evaporation water. The reduction of regional rainfall in a warming climate, intimately connected to El Niño/Southern Oscillation, as well as forest fragmentation due to human activity could bring the forest cover to a critical threshold. Amazon dieback would have profound influence on the global climate and at the same time result in a huge loss of biodiversity. Time Frame: ~ 50–100 yr.

12 Change in Southern Pacific Climate Oscillation
Although uncertainties are large, some climate models predict an increased frequency and/or intensity of El Niño conditions in the Southern Pacific. The impacts of such a change in the oceanic oscillation patterns would be felt around the globe, especially in the form of droughts in South-East Asia and many other regions. Time Frame: Rapid changes possible in 10-100 yr.

13 Disruption of Marine Carbon Pump
This “pump” acts as a sink for both natural and anthropogenic excess CO2. There is a risk of a decline of this sink caused by increased ocean acidification and stratification owing to rising atmospheric CO2 levels. The acidification impedes floating and fixed organisms, such as plankton algae and corals, to build their skeletons, which bind carbon. Time Frame: unknown.

14 Suppression of Antarctic Deep Water Formation and Nutrients Upwelling
Similar to the North Atlantic, convection of water masses in the Southern ocean can be suppressed by freshwater inflow from melting ice. If there is a critical threshold, it has not been assessed so far. The resulting decline of nutrients would reduce krill, which marks the basis of the marine food chain. Time Frame: ~ 100 yr?

15 Collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet
Although assumed to be not as vulnerable as the Green- land Ice Sheet, a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could be initiated within this century. Warming oceans result in melting of offshore ice shelves, which currently impede the out-flow of the continental ice masses be- hind. Furthermore, the warm water could be undercutting the ice sheet and yield further separation from the bedrock, thus accelerating the decay. The complete ice sheet collapse would raise the global sea level by 4-5 m. Time frame: ~ 300–1000 yr.

16 Antarctic Ozone Hole
Already strongly perturbed by humanity’s emissions of chlorofluorocarbons in the past, the protective ozone layer is believed to be regenerating after these chemicals have been banned. Yet strong interactions between stratospheric ozone depletion and global warming may widen the ozone hole over the Antarctic once again. Time Frame: ~ 10–100 yr.

"Kohl's Activates Largest Rooftop Solar Rollout in U.S. History"


Kohl's Department Stores flipped the switch on a rooftop solar energy system at its Laguna Niguel store as part of the largest planned U.S. photovoltaic solar rollout to date.

Michael R. Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, joined Kohl's to celebrate this significant step toward the building of solar electric systems at 63 of Kohl's 80 California locations, which will total approximately 25 megawatts (MW). At completion, Kohl's solar program will represent approximately 15 percent of California's photovoltaic installations to date.

Kohl's is working closely with the State of California to help meet the goals set by Governor Schwarzenegger and the Public Utility Commission. Under the 2007 California Solar Initiative (CSI) program, the state expects to build solar power systems totalling 3,000 MW of solar power by 2017. At 25 MW, the total projected capacity of the Kohl's solar systems will be larger than that of the top five largest completed photovoltaic systems in the United States combined.

California PUC President Peevey said, "This marks another milestone in meeting California's commitment to lead the nation in producing and using clean renewable energy. Solar is an important part of California's goals in doing what is right for our businesses, citizens and the environment. I commend Kohl's for its leadership."

Once completed, Kohl's use of solar power will generate more than 35 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of renewable energy annually, the equivalent of powering an estimated 3,087 California homes. Additionally, in the first full year of operation, Kohl's clean energy output will offset more than 28 million pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas directly linked to global climate change. Over the span of 20 years, Kohl's solar deployment will prevent in excess of 515 million pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

"Today's activation marks a significant milestone for Kohl's. Through our solar introduction, we're further extending our commitment to green power and making a significant contribution to California's renewable energy goals," said Ken Bonning, Kohl's executive vice president of logistics.

Kohl's rooftop solar photovoltaic systems are being built under an agreement with SunEdison, North America's largest solar energy services provider. Under the agreement, SunEdison manages the rooftop solar energy systems in exchange for Kohl's commitment to purchase energy from SunEdison. In total, more than 138,000 solar panels are expected to be used when Kohl's solar installations are complete in 2008.

"Kohl's has chosen to use renewable energy to demonstrate environmental stewardship and contribute to a healthier environment in the communities in which they operate. We applaud Kohl's leadership in finding a financially viable solution to deploying clean solar energy in a meaningful way," said SunEdison CEO Tom Rainwater.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Europeans angry after Bush climate speech 'charade'"

· US isolated as China and India refuse to back policy
· President claims he can lead world on emissions

George Bush was castigated by European diplomats and found himself isolated yesterday after a special conference on climate change ended without any progress.

European ministers, diplomats and officials attending the Washington conference were scathing, particularly in private, over Mr Bush's failure once again to commit to binding action on climate change.

Although the US and Britain have been at odds over the environment since the early days of the Bush administration, the gap has never been as wide as yesterday.

Britain and almost all other European countries, including Germany and France, want mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse emissions. Mr Bush, while talking yesterday about a "new approach" and "a historic undertaking", remains totally opposed.

The conference, attended by more than 20 countries, including China, India, Britain, France and Germany, broke up with the US isolated, according to non-Americans attending. One of those present said even China and India, two of the biggest polluters, accepted that the voluntary approach proposed by the US was untenable and favoured binding measures, even though they disagreed with the Europeans over how this would be achieved.

A senior European diplomat attending the conference, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting confirmed European suspicions that it had been intended by Mr Bush as a spoiler for a major UN conference on climate change in Bali in December.

"It was a total charade and has been exposed as a charade," the diplomat said. "I have never heard a more humiliating speech by a major leader. He [Mr Bush] was trying to present himself as a leader while showing no sign of leadership. It was a total failure."

John Ashton, Britain's special envoy on climate change, who attended the conference, said: "It is striking here how isolated the US has become on this issue. There is no support among the industrialised countries for the proposition that we should proceed on the basis of voluntary commitments....

Thursday, September 27, 2007

(UK) "Chain stores to end sale of traditional lightbulbs"

Most major retailers will no longer stock traditional lightbulbs by 2011, the environment secretary, Hilary Benn, told the Labour party conference in Bournemouth today.

But environmental campaigners quickly pointed out that the initiative is voluntary, and incandescent bulbs will still be available from smaller retailers and from online shops.

Several major retailers, including Asda, B&Q, Homebase, IKEA, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Morrison's, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose, have agreed to stop restocking traditional 150-watt bulbs from next January.

One hundred-watt bulbs will be phased out in 2009 and 40w bulbs the following year. The announcement follows the more stringent pledges made by the governments of Brazil, Venezuela and Australia.
Low-energy lightbulbs use 80% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and Mr Benn said the move would save 5m tonnes of carbon dioxide each year and help Britain meet its 2050 target of reducing carbon emissions by 60%."We will now review whether we need a stronger target," he told the conference.

But Greenpeace said the announcement fell far short of Australia's pledge to phase out high-energy lightbulbs by 2010. "There's nothing to stop smaller corner shops from stocking them," said a spokesman. "Compared to Australia's mandatory commitment, it's significantly less strong."

....Earlier, Ruth Kelly, the transport secretary, told the conference that Britain's railways would "double in size" over the next decade, promised to make the train ticketing structure simpler and said local councils would have more power over buses to avoid "wasteful competition of the kind that brought Manchester's traffic to a halt last year".

Rod Eddington's transport study had showed "we simply can't build our way out of road congestion", Ms Kelly added. "I am working round the clock to strike a deal on Crossrail - a challenge that has eluded governments for generations, but is now within our grasp."

She indicated there would be no attempt to limit people's access to cheap flights, despite suggestions by Ken Livingstone's environmental advisor yesterday that people ought be prevented from taking frivolous flights. The government would be "enabling individuals to choose how to reduce their own carbon footprint", Ms Kelly said.

She also promised more cycling training for schoolchildren.

"Warming linked to 'unprecedented' algae growth in Arctic lake"

MONTREAL (AFP) — Global warming is believed to be softening the harsh Arctic environment, causing the algae population in Canada's northernmost lake to spike over the past two centuries, researchers said Wednesday.

The team, led by Laval University scientists Warwick Vincent and Reinhard Pienitz, found aquatic life in Ward Hunt Lake, located on island north of Ellesmere Island, increased 500-fold during the period.

The changes occurred at a speed and range "unprecedented in the lake's last 8,000 years," the researchers said in a statement.

And, they say, the likely culprit is "climate change related to human activity."

The findings, to appear in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on September 28, are based on an analysis of an 18-centimeter (seven-inch) sediment core plucked from the lake's center in August 2003.

Its layers, the researchers said, chronicle the diversity and abundance of aquatic life in the lake over the last 8,450 years.

The deepest layers of sediment revealed a very small number of algae as well as only minor variations in concentration, but the top two centimeters (0.8 inches), corresponding to the last 200 years, showed an abrupt increase in the lake's algae population, they said.

"This is of course an extreme environment for living organisms," said lead author Dermot Antoniades of the Center for Northern Studies.

"But our data indicate that current conditions make the lake a more favorable location for algae growth than it was in the past."

"We cannot claim with certainty that these changes were brought on by human activity, but natural variations observed over the last millennia were never so abrupt and extensive," he said.

Located on the 83rd parallel in the Quttinirpaaq (meaning "top of the world" in Inuktitut) National Park, Ward Hunt Island is completely surrounded by ice.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Europe to U.S.: Hurry on Global Warming"

WASHINGTON European officials encouraged U.S. senators on Tuesday to move quickly to pass legislation that would commit the United States to mandatory reduction of carbon emissions to slow global warming.

The officials including Germany's Environment Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, and his Danish counterpart, Connie Hedegaard, met with members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to discuss legislation under consideration in the U.S. Congress.

The European officials were in the United States in part to attend a daylong conference on the issue Monday at the United Nations. That meeting was aimed at adding new urgency to international talks ahead of the annual U.N. climate treaty conference scheduled for December in Bali, Indonesia. The White House is sponsoring its own environmental forum this week.

The officials expressed optimism that Congress is considering several bills that would move the United States closer to European commitments on emission limits.

"It is our impression from being here that things are moving in the U.S.," Hedegaard said in a press conference after the meeting.

But she said Europe was losing patience with the United States because the Bush administration continues to reject mandatory caps agreed to by 175-nations under the Kyoto Protocol negotiated in 1997.

"You cannot just have voluntary goals, you have to have mandatory targets," she said.

The pact requires 36 industrial nations to reduce the heat-trapping gases emitted by power plants and other industrial, agricultural and transportation sources. Kyoto set relatively small target reductions averaging 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The Europeans and others hope to initiate talks for an emissions-reduction agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. To try to spur global negotiations, the European Union, which must reduce emissions by 8 percent under Kyoto, has committed unilaterally to a further reduction of at least 20 percent by 2020.

Some Europeans had expressed fears ahead of Monday's talks in New York that the White House would use its forum this week to launch talks rivaling the U.N. climate treaty negotiations.


The U.S. was represented at the event by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. She said “Put simply, the world needs a technological revolution. Existing energy technologies alone will not meet the global demand for energy while also reducing emissions to necessary levels.”

Schwarzenegger and Gore also spoke at the U.N. summit.

"Sentinels for a lost world"

A gentoo penguin
It is ominous for humans, too, that fewer and fewer penguin chicks are being born or are surviving as climate change ruins their environment, writes Andrew Darby.

Some of climate's best canaries are turning out to be penguins. Down the mine, an upturned songbird in a cage was the first warning of a deadly gas seep. Above ground, an age of fossil fuels later, there are different silences.

In the sub-Antarctic, king penguins fledge fewer chicks if the parents must forage in warming seas. Rising waters are swamping limited nesting space for African penguins in Namibia. And because climate change's legacy varies capriciously, little penguins in Bass Strait seem to do better when the water temperature is up.

But it's on the the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula that the signal is clearest. The raucous cacophony of Adelie penguins has disappeared from the landscape as colonies collapse.

"On top of a single high rock I see an unbearably poignant tableau," recounts the science writer Meredith Hooper, as she witnesses the demise of a colony.

"One fluffy chick is standing, very still, on its pebble nest, with one adult. A skua stands next to them. Waiting. Death openly in attendance."

Ocean temperatures off the peninsula's west coast are up 1 degree in 50 years. Annual mean temperatures on the peninsula have warmed 3 degrees - or 10 times the global rate. There, scientists have discovered that humans are making weather - ozone depletion and greenhouse gases have strengthened the westerly winds.

It was in this part of the world, too, that the 3250-square kilometre Larsen B iceshelf, stable for 12,000 years, collapsed so spectacularly over just eight days in early 2002.

Earlier that summer, 160 kilometres west across the peninsula from Larsen B, Hooper had arrived at the US Palmer station, with longtime Adelie biologist Bill Fraser, who concluded the breeding season at Palmer had gone to hell.

Adelies breed in summer on the few outcrops of Antarctic rock. In 2001-02 on an island cluster near Palmer, the rookeries were at first buried under repeated snowfalls. Then in high summer came the rarest of polar weather: rain.

Hooper, who describes in her book The Ferocious Summer, just published, what happens, watched as the snowstorms belted in. "If birds stand up to shift position, snow falls on the eggs to melt into a puddle. Eggs are crushed or kicked out of nests as birds try to deal with the snow. Or the eggs lie cold, flooded out."

Then after the surviving chicks fledged, the rain came. "Cold doesn't affect the chicks. It's the rain, soaking their down, forcing them to shiver, using up vital calories in an attempt to keep warm."

Reproduction in the Palmer study area collapsed. An average long-term breeding success rate of 1.34 chicks per pair was measured by Fraser as collapsing to 0.55 chicks. On one of the islands, Litchfield, 1000 pairs of Adelies nested 50 years ago. That summer in 2002, 12 chicks hatched - all to be taken by the crowding, predatory skuas.

"There are no sounds but the wash of the sea, the occasional calls of skuas," Hooper observed. "Every penguin is gone, the nests are abandoned. Listen to the silence. The silence of absence. The sound of failure."

Trouble for the Adelies did not end at the breeding colony. These are birds of the pack ice. Underneath it, swimming in meagre twilight, they find their food in winter. But along the western edge of the Antarctic peninsula, there is also a decline in sea ice.

Adelies are being displaced from their former ranges by more adaptable penguins usually seen in the sub-Antarctic: chinstraps and gentoos.

Hooper caught sight of a lone gentoo standing on the stubby station pier at Palmer. "I used to joke that gentoos were estate agents checking out potential property," Hooper ruminated. "Now here is a gentoo. Symbolically waiting."

These are real-time climate changes, not predictions for the future. They are unfolding in a matter of a few years. In Hobart this month at the sixth International Penguin Conference, as more scientists reported their worries, the birds' value as sentinels for climate change became clearer.

"Studies Reveal Dire Meltdown in Arctic"

The opening of the fabled Northwest Passage and the recent announcement that Arctic Sea ice has reached a new record summer low are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Polar problems, so to speak.

Two new studies by scientists who keep an eye on sea ice melt have provided further evidence that the Arctic is currently suffering the brunt of global warming's effects, with the ice becoming thinner and winter ice also beginning to decline.

Ice melt in the summer is a normal phenomenon: As summer temperatures heat up the Northern Hemisphere, Arctic sea ice begins to melt, and its edge retreats and covers less of the North polar region. When temperatures begin to drop again in the winter, the ice reforms.

But in recent years, rising air and ocean temperatures, fueled by global warming, have caused more and more ice to melt each summer, with ice extent reaching a record low on Sept. 16 this year, according to the University of Colorado at Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Winter sea ice, on the other hand, had remained fairly steady—until now.

Winter decline

A new study examining satellite measurements of the winter sea ice covering the Barents Sea (located north of Scandinavia) over the past 26 years has shown that the ice edge has recently been retreating in the face of rising sea surface temperatures, said study leader Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University.

Her research, detailed in a recent issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, showed that the warming waters in the Barents Sea—which have risen about 3 degrees Celsius since 1980—are to blame for the reduction in winter ice cover. Two factors contribute to the warming of the Barents Sea: warming Atlantic waters funneled in by the Gulf Stream and solar heating of the open ocean as ice melts in the summer, both of which make it harder for new ice to form in the winter.

The latter factor, known as the ice-albedo feedback, has been predicted by climate models and works like this: As ice melts in the summer, the open ocean warms up as it absorbs the solar radiation that the ice would normally reflect back to space; as global temperatures rise, more ice melts, so the ocean absorbs more heat, and less ice re-forms the next winter, which just keeps the cycle going.

Francis says that this retreat of the winter ice edge is "another piece of evidence that the ice-albedo feedback is appearing in the real world and not just in the model world."

A retreating ice edge isn't the only problem plaguing the Arctic sea ice. It's also getting thinner.

Younger and thinner

Julienne Stroeve of the NSIDC used satellite data that tracked the movement of the sea ice over the last 30 years to estimate the age of the ice—the older the ice, the thicker it is. Newly formed ice (about 1 or 2 years old) will only be about 1 meter thick, whereas ice that is closer to 5 years old will be between 2 and 3 meters thick.

Ice thickness is key to the survival of sea ice, because thinner ice vanishes much faster in the summer than thicker ice.

Stroeve and her colleagues found that while most of the Arctic sea ice in the 1980s was around 5 years old (with some sections even climbing up to 9 or 10 years old), the oldest ice the researchers can find now is only 2 or 3 years old. All the 10-year-old ice has melted away.

"The ice is getting a lot younger in the Arctic," said Stroeve. "Much more of the Arctic is about 1 meter thick."

The warming ocean is again to blame for the sea ice's woes.

Sea ice isn't static, but rather is pushed around by Arctic winds, Stroeve explained. These winds push the sea ice through places where the ocean water has warmed and the sea ice simply melts away.

Ice-free by 2015?

...In another study that came out earlier this year, Stroeve compared current measurements of sea ice melt with the predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's models—and what she found gave her cause for worry.

"We're about 30 years ahead of where the climate models say we should be," Stroeve told LiveScience.

Stroeve, Francis and others will be keeping a close eye on the sea ice this winter, as the new record summer low may mean a record low winter ice extent this year as well, thanks to the ice-albedo feedback.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Arctic Vault to Safeguard Seeds

LONGYEARBYEN, Svalbard - In a cavern under a remote Arctic mountain, Norway will soon begin squirrelling away the world's crop seeds in case of disaster.

Dynamited out of a mountainside on Spitsbergen island around 1,000 km (600 miles) from the North Pole, the store has been called a doomsday vault or a Noah's Ark of the plant kingdom.

It is the brainchild of a soft-spoken academic from Tennessee who is passionate about securing food for the masses, and will back up seed stores around the world that are vulnerable to loss through war or disaster.

A 20-metre (66-foot) long concrete entrance, still under scaffolding, juts out of the snow-dusted mountain above the coal-mining town of Longyearbyen.

It is reached by a switchback road rising to 120 metres above sea level, offering spectacular views of the fjord below and snow-capped Arctic mountains beyond.

Visitors descend through the mouth of a gently sloping 40-metre steel tube into the frosty cavern which smells of new cement and is dotted with portable lamps as work progresses for February's opening.

"There aren't going to be any better storage conditions than what we will provide here," founder Cary Fowler told reporters during a recent visit to the site in the Svalbard archipelago off northern Norway. "This is a safety deposit box, like in a bank, where you put your valuables."

Although this is one of the world's most northerly settlements, an electric freezer will be used to keep the seeds in the three-chambered concrete-lined vault at minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 Fahrenheit).

If the power fails, permafrost will still keep them frozen, but not as deeply.

The project is at the heart of an effort by Fowler's foundation, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, to safeguard strains of 21 essential crops, such as wheat, barley and rice.

Rice alone exists in about 120,000 different varieties.

Ultimately, it is part of the world battle against hunger, as crop insecurity mainly hurts poor nations....


The aim is to preserve genetic diversity, needed by plant breeders in the future to produce varieties able to adapt to challenges like climate change....

If such a store had existed 10 years ago, he said, the seeds would have been needed about once a year as seed collections have been wiped out -- for instance by a typhoon in the Philippines and war in Iraq and Afghanistan....

Eventually, the vault will have capacity for around 4.5 million bar-coded seed samples and it hopes in its first year to collect half a million.

Not all seeds can be stored by freezing. Banana, the world's fourth or fifth most valuable crop, is one example.

"The longest viability under these conditions would be that of sorghum -- about 19,500 years," Fowler said. Other varieties will need to be replaced more frequently.

"We're trying to capture the diversity not just between different species but within different species -- that's the basis for evolution," said Fowler, an official of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation but his own boss at the Trust.

"Extinction happens when a species loses the ability to evolve."


Norway is contributing some 50 million crowns (US$8.6 million) to build the cavern, a sum which Development Aid Minister Erik Solheim said was a pittance for what is gained.

"I consider it a development issue ... Poor African countries have fewer resources to protect their genetic heritage than rich countries," he told Reuters at the site.

The Gates Foundation, the philanthropic giant created by the founder of Microsoft, has given a US$30 million grant to Fowler's effort, including money for packaging seeds in their countries of origin and shipping them to the vault.

Some of Gates' money has gone to develop a new style of seed packet, a small silver-coloured pouch made of a special foil and layers of other advanced materials to keep seeds dry and frozen -- the "Rolls Royce of seed packets", Fowler said....

Friday, September 21, 2007

"Increase In Atmospheric Moisture Tied To Human Activities"

Observations and climate model results confirm that human-induced warming of the planet is having a pronounced effect on the atmosphere's total moisture content. Those are the findings of a new study appearing in the Sept. 17 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "When you heat the planet, you increase the ability of the atmosphere to hold moisture," said Benjamin Santer, lead author from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Program for Climate Modeling and Intercomparison.

"The atmosphere's water vapor content has increased by about 0.41 kilograms per cubic meter (kg/m²) per decade since 1988, and natural variability in climate just can't explain this moisture change. The most plausible explanation is that it's due to the human-caused increase in greenhouse gases."

More water vapor - which is itself a greenhouse gas - amplifies the warming effect of increased atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. This is what scientists call a "positive feedback."

Using 22 different computer models of the climate system and measurements from the satellite-based Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I), atmospheric scientists from LLNL and eight other international research centers have shown that the recent increase in moisture content over the bulk of the world's oceans is not due to solar forcing or gradual recovery from the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. The primary driver of this 'atmospheric moistening' is the increase in carbon dioxide caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

"This is the first identification of a human fingerprint on the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere," Santer said.

"Fingerprint" studies seek to identify the causes of recent climate change and involve rigorous comparisons of modeled and observed climate change patterns. To date, most fingerprint studies have focused on temperature changes at the Earth's surface, in the free atmosphere, or in the oceans, or have considered variables whose behavior is directly related to changes in atmospheric temperature.

The water vapor feedback mechanism works in the following way: as the atmosphere warms due to human-caused increases in carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons, water vapor increases, trapping more heat in the atmosphere, which in turn causes a further increase in water vapor.

Basic theory, observations and climate model results all show that the increase in water vapor is roughly 6 percent to 7.5 percent per degree Celsius warming of the lower atmosphere.

The authors note that their findings, when taken together with similar studies of continental-scale river runoff, zonal-mean rainfall, and surface specific humidity, point toward an emerging human-caused signal in the cycling of moisture between the atmosphere, land and ocean.

"This new work shows that the climate system is telling us a consistent story," Santer said. "The observed changes in temperature, moisture, and atmospheric circulation fit together in an internally- and physically-consistent way."

Methane powered runaway global warming - 55m/yrs ago

Methane released from wetlands turned the Earth into a hothouse 55 million years ago, according to research released Wednesday that could shed light on a worrying aspect of today's climate-change crisis.

Scientists have long sought to understand the triggers for an extraordinary warming episode called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which occurred about 10 million years after the twilight of the dinosaurs.

Earth's surface warmed by at least five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) in just a few hundred or a few thousand years. The Arctic Ocean was at 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit) -- about the same as a tepid bath -- before the planet eventually cooled.

Richard Pancost, a researcher at Britain's University of Bristol, seized an opportunity to dig, literally, into this mystery.

Excavation of a site in southeast England to set down the Channel Tunnel rail link exposed layers of sediment from a bog that had existed at the time of the PETM.

Pancost's team sifted through the dirt to measure the carbon isotope values of hopanoids, which are compounds made by bacteria.

They found that levels of these isotopes suddenly fell at the onset of the PETM, yielding a signature that can only be explained if the bugs dramatically switched to a diet of methane, a powerful, naturally-occurring greenhouse gas.

Reporting in the British journal Nature, Pancost believes that the methane had remained locked up in the soil for millions of years before warming released it into the atmosphere.

As atmospheric methane levels rose, so too did Earth's temperature as a result of the famous "greenhouse" effect. In turn, that released more methane, and so on.

In other words, it was a vicious circle (a "positive feedback" in scientific parlance), in which warming begat warming.

The study has relevance because of the gigatonnes of methane locked in the Siberian permafrost today.

With the permafrost slowly retreating as a result of global warming, some experts fear a threshold whereby this huge stock of greenhouse gas may also be released, unleashing unstoppable climate change.

But the temperature at which this could happen is unknown and the mechanisms by which the methane is released are unclear.

Meanwhile - "Dinosaur find shows early social behavior"

The fossilized remains of six young dinosaurs found together in a "nursery" at a site in China show these animals had started forming social groups much earlier than previously thought, scientists said on Thursday.

The find sheds light on the life of the beaked dinosaur Psittacosaurus and on the origins of social behavior in its descendents, including the horned Triceratops, said Paul Barrett, a paleontologist at Britain's Natural History Museum, who led the study...

Psittacosaurus was a small herbivore that lived in China, Mongolia, Siberia and Thailand about 130 million to 100 million years ago. It was an early relative of Triceratops and Protoceratops.

The largest of the young dinosaurs, probably aged one-and-a-half to three-years old when they died, measured about 50 centimeters (1.6 feet) from the tip of the nose to its tail and weighed about a kilogram (2 lbs). Adults were about 2 meters long and weighed up to 30 kilograms.

The age range of the fossils suggested they came from different eggs, laid by different parents, he said. The remains formed a nursery with babies from at least two different parents, he added.

The baby dinosaurs were probably killed in a volcanic mudflow, but the way the researchers discovered them, lying side by side, indicates they lived in a herd, Barrett said.

"These animals had left the nest and were already hanging out with each other," he said.

"The Chemical That Must Not Be Named"

by Stephen Leahy

Delegates from 191 nations are on the verge of an agreement under the Montreal Protocol for faster elimination of ozone-depleting chemicals, but the United States insists it must continue to use the banned pesticide methyl bromide....

MONTREAL - Even as another enormous ozone hole forms over the Antarctic this week, the rest of the world appears to be giving in to U.S. demands despite the fact that the use of methyl bromide in developed countries was supposed to have been completely phased out by Jan. 1, 2005 under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

‘It’s a black mark on this meeting. It is the chemical that must not be named,’ said David Doniger, climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defence Council, a U.S. environmental group.

‘There is a powerful lobby group of strawberry and vegetable growers in Washington,’ Doniger told IPS.

Methyl bromide is a highly toxic fumigant pesticide which is injected into soil to sterilise it before planting crops. It is also used as a post-harvest decontaminant of products and storage areas. Although it is highly effective in eradicating pests such as nematodes, weeds, insects and rodents, it depletes the ozone layer and poses a danger to human health.

While alternatives exist for more than 93 percent of the applications of methyl bromide, some countries such as the U.S., Japan and Israel claimed that because of regulatory restrictions, availability, cost and local conditions, they had little choice but to continue its use as a pest control. And so despite the ban, the Montreal Protocol allows ‘critical use exemptions’ for countries to continue to use banned substances for a short period of time until they can find a substitute.

In 2006, the United States received an exemption to use 8,000 tonnes of methyl bromide, compared to 5,000 tonnes for the rest of the developed world combined.

At the 19th Meeting of the Parties here in Montreal, the committee reporting on methyl bromide use reported ‘excellent progress’ in the continuing phase-out of the chemical and that not many applications for critical use exemptions had been received. The notable exception continues to be the U.S., which has applied for 6,500 tonnes for 2008 and 5,000 tonnes for 2009, even as the rest of the developed world has dropped significantly to just 1,900 and 1,400 tonnes, respectively.

The delegate from Switzerland expressed concern that some countries were asking for large amounts and that 40 percent of the stocks were not being used for critical uses. The United States maintains a large inventory of methyl bromide in excess of 8,000 tonnes, but the U.S. representative said these would be used up by 2009.

Emissions of methyl bromide have an immediate impact on the ozone layer, noted Janos Mate of Greenpeace International.

‘Scientists think it has three to 10 times the impact of other chemicals,’ Mate told IPS.

The ozone layer will be at its ‘most delicate’ over next few decades before it begins to significantly recover. Climate change is slowing this recovery, and the impacts are not fully understood, he said.

The ozone layer is the part of the atmosphere 25 kilometres up that acts as a shield protecting life on Earth from damaging ultraviolet rays, which can cause sunburns, skin cancer and cataracts. The rays can also harm marine life.

In the past two years, ozone holes larger than Europe have opened over the Antarctic and Southern Ocean. The World Metrological Organisation reported this week that the hole is back and bigger than ever. And it could grow larger as spring returns to the southern hemisphere.

Climate change appears to playing a role in the formation of these holes. Paradoxically, as the Earth warms at the surface, in the polar regions the upper atmosphere is getting colder, creating just the right conditions for chemicals like chlorine and bromine to destroy ozone...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Antibiotic Runoff"

One of the persistent problems of industrial agriculture is the inappropriate use of antibiotics. It’s one thing to give antibiotics to individual animals, case by case, the way we treat humans. But it’s a common practice in the confinement hog industry to give antibiotics to the whole herd, to enhance growth and to fight off the risk of disease, which is increased by keeping so many animals in such close quarters. This is an ideal way to create organisms resistant to the drugs. That poses a risk to us all.

A recent study by the University of Illinois makes the risk even more apparent. Studying the groundwater around two confinement hog farms, scientists have identified the presence of several transferable genes that confer antibiotic resistance, specifically to tetracycline. There is the very real chance that in such a rich bacterial soup these genes might move from organism to organism, carrying the ability to resist tetracycline with them. And because the resistant genes were found in groundwater, they are already at large in the environment.

There are two interdependent solutions to this problem, and hog producers should embrace them both. The first solution — the least likely to be acceptable in the hog industry — is to ban the wholesale, herdwide use of antibiotics. The second solution is to continue to tighten the regulations and the monitoring of manure containment systems. The trouble, of course, is that there is no such thing as perfect containment.

The consumer has the choice to buy pork that doesn’t come from factory farms. The justification for that kind of farming has always been efficiency, and yet, as so often happens in agriculture, the argument breaks down once you look at all the side effects. The trouble with factory farms is that they are raising more than pigs. They are raising drug-resistant bugs as well.

One language dies out about every two weeks

When every known speaker of the language Amurdag gets together, there's still no one to talk to.

Native Australian Charlie Mangulda is the only person alive known to speak that language, one of thousands around the world on the brink of extinction.

From rural Australia to Siberia to Oklahoma, languages that embody the history and traditions of people are dying, researchers said Tuesday.

While there are an estimated 7,000 languages spoken around the world today, one of them dies out about every two weeks, according to linguistic experts struggling to save at least some of them.

Five hotspots where languages are most endangered were listed Tuesday in a briefing by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and the National Geographic Society.

In addition to northern Australia, eastern Siberia and Oklahoma and the U.S. Southwest, many native languages are endangered in South America — Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia — as well as the area including British Columbia, and the states of Washington and Oregon.

Losing languages means losing knowledge, says K. David Harrison, an assistant professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College.

"When we lose a language, we lose centuries of human thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, the unknown and the everyday."

As many as half of the current languages have never been written down, he estimated.

That means, if the last speaker of many of these vanished tomorrow, the language would be lost because there is no dictionary, no literature, no text of any kind, he said...

The hot spots listed at Tuesday's briefing:

• Northern Australia, 153 languages. The researchers said aboriginal Australia holds some of the world's most endangered languages, in part because aboriginal groups splintered during conflicts with white settlers. Researchers have documented such small language communities as the three known speakers of Magati Ke, the three Yawuru speakers and the lone speaker of Amurdag.

• Central South America including Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia — 113 languages. The area has extremely high diversity, very little documentation and several immediate threats. Small and socially less-valued indigenous languages are being knocked out by Spanish or more dominant indigenous languages in most of the region, and by Portuguese in Brazil.

• Northwest Pacific Plateau, including British Columbia in Canada and the states of Washington and Oregon in the U.S., 54 languages. Every language in the American part of this hotspot is endangered or moribund, meaning the youngest speaker is over age 60. An extremely endangered language, with just one speaker, is Siletz Dee-ni, the last of 27 languages once spoken on the Siletz reservation in Oregon.

• Eastern Siberian Russia, China, Japan — 23 languages. Government policies in the region have forced speakers of minority languages to use the national and regional languages and, as a result, some have only a few elderly speakers.

• Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico — 40 languages. Oklahoma has one of the highest densities of indigenous languages in the United States. A moribund language of the area is Yuchi, which may be unrelated to any other language in the world. As of 2005, only five elderly members of the Yuchi tribe were fluent.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Severe flooding hits one million Africans
Flooding in the Teso district of Uganda

Severe flooding across east, central and west Africa has destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, killing at least 250 people, and washing away much of the continent's most fertile farmland. More rain is expected and aid agencies are warning that the need for food, shelter and medicine in the affected regions is urgent.

By last night at least 15 countries across Africa were thought to be affected by the flooding, from Senegal in the west to Kenya in the east. West Africa has suffered most with deaths recorded in Burkina Faso, Togo, Mali and Niger.

Ghana has been hardest hit, with an estimated 400,000 affected, many of whom are now homeless. At least 20 people have died and the floods have also washed away much of the region's crops and livestock. The country's Information Minister, Oboshie-Sai Cofie, said: "It is a humanitarian disaster. People have nowhere to go."

There are fears that the worst is yet to come as those affected by flooding fall prey to water- borne diseases such as cholera. United Nations spokeswoman for humanitarian affairs, Stephanie Bunker, said: "The situation is bad and more rain is likely."

Bangladesh flood death toll crosses 1,000
DHAKA: The death toll from flooding this year in impoverished Bangladesh crossed 1,000 on Saturday with a further 2.5 million people displaced or marooned by rising river waters, officials said.

The Brahmaputra and the Ganges began swelling again early this week, bursting their banks and submerging thousands of villages again in more than a third of the country, the government flood centre said.

The government’s health department said in the last two days 23 people have died in the low-lying nation, mostly drowning in swirling flood water, taking this year’s monsoon death toll to 1,023. More than 2.5 million people have been marooned or displaced by the new flooding, while crops across two million acres (800,000 hectares) of land have been completely or partially damaged, the centre said.

The centre said the flooding situation would improve in the northern districts, but the receding water would submerge more areas in the central and southern region.

Fed by heavy rains and melting glaciers in the Himalayas, the Brahmaputra River and the Ganges were flowing around 100 centimetres (40 inches) above danger levels in the central region, the centre said.

Typhoon Nari Wreaks Havoc in Jeju and Southwest
At least 20 people are presumed dead or missing after Nari pounded southern areas Sunday accompanied by gusts of up to 150 km an hour.

According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, Korea's highest mountain, Halla, saw 556 millimeters of rain on Sunday alone, the highest daily rainfall since Korea began keeping records in 1927.

The storm flooded more than 200 households on the island, swept away hundreds of cars, wiped out roads and wrecked ships at anchor.

With all ferries and flights to and from the island suspended Sunday some 20,000 travelers on Jeju were socked in overnight. Limited air traffic only resumed before noon Monday at Jeju International Airport....

Nari's exit doesn't spell the end to the havoc as authorities are warning of flooding in the southeastern provinces of Gyeongsang with water levels in the lower Nakdong River feared to reach sea level.

Yet another lashing is expected as tropical storm Wipha moves north from Japan's Okinawa. The storm measuring at 975 millibars at its center is churning northwest at 112 km per hour toward China.

Strong winds and rain are expected again in Korea starting Wednesday as the storm passes by Taiwan and hits Shanghai on Thursday.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Monks (etc.) records help test climate change

EINSIEDELN, Switzerland - A librarian at this 10th century monastery leads a visitor beneath the vaulted ceilings of the archive past the skulls of two former abbots. He pushes aside medieval ledgers of indulgences and absolutions, pulls out one of 13 bound diaries inscribed from 1671 to 1704 and starts to read about the weather.

"Jan. 11 was so frightfully cold that all of the communion wine froze," says an entry from 1684 by Brother Josef Dietrich, governor and "weatherman" of the once-powerful Einsiedeln Monastery. "Since I've been an ordained priest, the sacrament has never frozen in the chalice."

"But on Jan. 13 it got even worse and one could say it has never been so cold in human memory," he adds.

Diaries of day-to-day weather details from the age before 19th-century standardized thermometers are proving of great value to scientists who study today's climate. Historical accounts were once largely ignored, as they were thought to be fraught with inaccuracy or were simply inaccessible or illegible. But the booming interest in climate change has transformed the study of ancient weather records from what was once a "wallflower science," says Christian Pfister, a climate historian at the University of Bern.

The accounts dispel any lingering doubts that the Earth is heating up more dramatically than ever before, he says. Last winter — when spring blossoms popped up all over the Austrian Alps, Geneva's official chestnut tree sprouted leaves and flowers, and Swedes were still picking mushrooms well into December — was Europe's warmest in 500 years, Pfister says. It came after the hottest autumn in a millennium and was followed by one of the balmiest Aprils on record.

"In the last year there was a series of extremely exceptional weather," he says. "The probability of this is very low."

The records also provide a context for judging shifts in the weather. Brother Konrad Hinder, the current weatherman at Einsiedeln and an avid reader of Dietrich's diaries, says his predecessor's precise accounts of everything from yellow fog to avalanches provide historical context.

"We know from Josef Dietrich that the extremes were very big during his time. There were very cold winters and very mild winters, very wet summers and very dry summers," he says, adding that the range of weather extremes has been smaller in the 40 years he has recorded data for the Swiss national weather service.

"That's why I'm always cautious when people say the weather extremes now are at their greatest. Without historical context you lose control and you rush to proclaim every latest weather phenomenon as extreme or unprecedented," Hinder says.

Most historians and scientists delving deep into archives seek accounts of disasters and extreme weather events. But the records can also be used to obtain a more precise temperature range for most months and years that goes beyond such general indicators as tree rings, corals, ice cores or glaciers.

Such weather sources include the thrice-daily temperature and pressure measurements by 17th-century Paris physician Louis Morin, a short-lived international meteorological network created by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1653, and 33 "weather diaries" surviving from the 16th century. In Japan, court officers kept records of the dates of cherry blossom festivals, which allow modern scientists to track the weather of the time.

Early records often are only discovered by chance in documents that have survived in centuries-old European monasteries like Einsiedeln, or in the annals of rulers, military campaigns, famines, natural hazards and meteorological anomalies. In Klosterneuberg near Vienna an unidentified writer notes a lack of ice on the Danube in 1343-1344 and calls the winter "mild," while the abbot of Switzerland's Fischingen Monastery laments the late harvest of hay and corn in the summer of 1639 when "there was hardly ever a really warm day."

Scores of similar clues are pieced together year by year to determine temperature ranges, says Pfister, whose team of four uses old "weather reports" to work back as far as the 10th century.

Pfister has found that from 1900 to 1990, there was an average of five months of extreme warmth per decade. In the 1990s, that number jumped to an unprecedented 22 months. The same decade also had no months of extreme cold, in contrast to the half-millennium before.

Even in the last major global warming period from 900 to 1300, severe winters were only "somewhat less frequent and less extreme," Pfister says. Over the past century, temperatures have gone up an average of 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is often attributed to the accumulation of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere.

Global warming is one of the world's top issues today because of fears of massive hurricanes and flooding. For most of history, though, it was the fate of farms and the fear of famine that encouraged careful weather observation.

The Einsiedeln abbots — princes within the Holy Roman Empire until 1798 — were powerful leaders who ruled over large swaths of central Switzerland's mountainous terrain. Agriculture was the primary source of income for the region and natural disasters such as floods and avalanches posed an omnipresent threat...

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Bush aide says warming man-made"

The US chief scientist has told the BBC that climate change is now a fact. (That's big of him)

Professor John Marburger, who advises President Bush, said it was more than 90% certain that greenhouse gas emissions from mankind are to blame.

The Earth may become "unliveable" without cuts in CO2 output, he said, but he labelled targets for curbing temperature rise as "arbitrary"...

"Ice loss opens Northwest Passage"

The most direct route through the Northwest Passage has opened up fully for the first time since records began, the European Space Agency (Esa) says.

Historically, the passage that links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic has been ice-bound.

But the agency says ice cover has been steadily shrinking, and this year's drop has made the passage navigable.

The findings - based on satellite images - have raised concerns about the speed of global warming.


The Northwest Passage is one of the most fabled sea routes in the world - a short cut from Europe to Asia through the high Arctic.

Recent years have seen a marked shrinkage in its ice cover, but this year it was extreme, Esa says.

It says this made the passage "fully navigable" for the first time since monitoring began in 1978.

"We have seen the ice-covered area drop to just around 3m sq km (1,2 sq miles)," Leif Toudal Pedersen of the Danish National Space Center said.

He said it was "about 1m sq km (386,000 sq miles) less than the previous minima of 2005 and 2006".

"There has been a reduction of the ice cover over the last 10 years of about 100, 000 sq km (38,600 sq miles) per year on average, so a drop of 1m sq km (386,000 sq miles) in just one year is extreme," Mr Pedersen said.

The Northeast Passage through the Russian Arctic has also seen its ice cover shrink and it currently "remains only partially blocked," Esa says.

'Battle for Arctic'

Scientists have linked the changes to global warming which may be progressing faster than expected.

The opening of the sea routes are already leading to international disputes.

Canada says it has full rights over those parts of the Northwest Passage that pass though its territory and that it can bar transit there.

But this has been disputed by the US and the European Union.

They argue new route should be an international strait that any vessel can use.

"Lake pollution in SW China worsening"

KUNMING -- The pollution in lakes in southwest China's Yunnan province, some of which have already seen several blue algae outbreaks, is actually getting worse, Chinese researchers and lake protection experts say.

"Urban population, agriculture and industrial use are guzzling most of the water resources, particularly in the densely-populated central areas in the province. The portion of water that should have been spared to maintain the local ecology has been reduced to the lowest possible amount," said Ma Hongqi, a veteran expert with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Plateau lakes like Dianchi Lake, near Kunming, capital of Yunnan, have been shrinking and are being suffocated by a massive influx of pollutants, he said.

In 1999, about 58 million cubic meters of untreated waste water was poured into Dianchi Lake. The figure nearly doubled to reach 97 million cubic meters in 2004 and is still rising, said Guo Huiguang, former director of the provincial environmental sciences research institute.

The Dianchi Lake, covering more than 300 square kilometers, started to suffer from blue algae blooms in 1999 and the latest blue algae outbreak this year has forced Kunming to replace the lake with a reservoir as its source of drinking water for its 1.5 million residents.

"We have been seeing a rise in phosphorous substances and chemical oxygen demand (COD), a measure of water pollution, in the lake, and the chances of algae bloom outbreaks are still very high," Guo said.

Li Huiyu, a resident who lives near the lake, said, "Sometimes there is a stinky smell coming from the lake and it gets worse in summer.

"If you put the water in a bottle, at first it's green, then it turns blue, and in a few days, it just goes black," he added.

Declining water quality is also being seen in Xingyun Lake, Qilu Lake and Yilong Lake, which, combined, cover more than 100 square kilometers.

In July, the province announced a plan to spend 8.4 billion yuan (1.1 billion U.S. dollars) to tackle pollution in Dianchi Lake, the largest freshwater lake on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, in a bid to restore the size of the lake by reversing land reclamation, planting more trees around the water and setting up more sewage treatment plants.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"'Killer bees' descend on New Orleans"

MERAUX, La. - Africanized honeybees, a fierce hybrid strain sometimes referred to as "killer bees," appear to have established themselves in the New Orleans area, the state agriculture commissioner said.

A swarm of the bees was captured about five miles from where demolition workers found a colony of Africanized bees in January, commissioner Bob Odom said Tuesday.

The most recent find was close enough to the earlier find that the bees might have come from the same colony. But they might also have flown ashore from a passing ship or barge, Odom said in a news release.

"Although the exact source can't be identified, we have to assume Africanized honeybees are now established in the area and people should be careful when working outside," Odom said.

The Department of Agriculture and Forestry keeps traps along a north-south line through the state and at all deepwater ports to monitor the bees, which are smaller and more aggressive than the European honeybees raised for honey.

"Because Africanized bees have been labeled 'killer bees' for years, there's an idea around that they are bigger than European honeybees," Odom said. "The truth is they're actually smaller but a lot fiercer."

They have the same venom as honeybees, but attack in groups. Experts recommend that anyone confronted with Africanized bees find cover quickly.

Africanized bees are the result of an experiment to increase honey production in Brazil. A swarm escaped a lab in 1957 and headed north. When they mated with native strains, the offspring were as aggressive as the African parents.

They reached Texas in 1990 and have spread west to California and east to Florida. They were first found in Louisiana in Caddo Parish, in June 2005, and identified the following month. They have moved steadily east since then, and were most recently found near Pecan Island and Turkey Creek.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Man-made chemicals blamed as many more girls than boys are born in Arctic"

Twice as many girls as boys are being born in some Arctic villages because of high levels of man-made chemicals in the blood of pregnant women, according to scientists from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (Amap).

The scientists, who say the findings could explain the recent excess of girl babies across much of the northern hemisphere, are widening their investigation across the most acutely affected communities in Russia, Greenland and Canada to try to discover the size of the imbalance in Inuit communities of the far north.

In the communities of Greenland and eastern Russia monitored so far, the ratio was found to be two girls to one boy. In one village in Greenland only girls have been born.
The scientists measured the man-made chemicals in women's blood that mimic human hormones and concluded that they were capable of triggering changes in the sex of unborn children in the first three weeks of gestation. The chemicals are carried in the mother's bloodstream through the placenta to the foetus, switching hormones to create girl children.

Lars-Otto Reierson, executive secretary for Amap, said: "We knew that the levels of man-made chemicals were accumulating in the food chain, and that seals, whales and particularly polar bears were getting a dose a million times higher than that existing in plankton, and that this could be toxic to humans who ate these higher animals. What was shocking was that they were also able to change the sex of children before birth."

The sex balance of the human race - historically a slight excess of boys over girls - has recently begun to change. A paper published in the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences earlier this year said that in Japan and the US there were 250,000 boys fewer than would have been expected had the sex ratio existing in 1970 remained unchanged. The paper was unable to pin down a cause for the new excess of girls over boys.

The Arctic scientists have discovered that many of the babies born in Russia are premature and the boys are far smaller than girls. Possible links between the pollutants and high infant mortality in the first year of life is also being investigated.

Scientists believe a number of man-made chemicals used in electrical equipment from generators, televisions and computers that mimic human hormones are implicated. They are carried by winds and rivers to the Arctic where they accumulate in the food chain and in the bloodstreams of the largely meat- and fish-eating Inuit communities....

Dr Reierson said the accumulation of DDT, PCBs, flame-retardants and other endocrine disrupters has been known for some time and young women had been advised to avoid eating some Arctic animals to avoid excess contamination and possible damage to their unborn children.

Dr Reierson, said blood samples from pregnant women were subsequently matched with the sex of their baby. Women with elevated levels of PCBs in their blood above two to four micrograms per litre and upwards were checked in three northern peninsula's in Russia's far east - the Kola, Taimyr and Chukotka - plus the Pechora River Basin...

Aqqaluk Lynge, the former chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference who hails from Greenland, said: "This is a disaster, especially for some 1,500 people who make up the Inuit nations in the far north east of Russia.

"Here in the north of Greenland, in the villages near the Thule American base, only girl babies are being born to Inuit families.

"The problem is acute in the north and east of Greenland where people still have the traditional diet.

"Mediterranean's rich marine life under threat: study"

Climate change has warmed up the Mediterranean Sea and threatens its rich animal and plant life, Italy's Institute of Marine Research (ICRAM) warned in a new report Tuesday.
The alarm bell came a day before the start of a national conference on climate change in Rome.

The experts said a cold current emanating from the Gulf of Trieste off northern Italy, which allowed the waters of the Adriatic and the Mediterranean to mix, had vanished since 2003 due to warming.

This threatened to turn the Adriatic Sea into a salt lake with no marine life, it said.

The body said the warming of the Mediterranean Sea prevented the mixing of waters and could lead to the disappearance of micro-algae crucial to the marine food chain.

Temperature rises of 0.4 degrees Centigrade could "alter up to 50 percent of the species," it said.

Italy's Environment Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio on Monday termed the situation "a national crisis."

He is due to inaugurate Wednesday's conference along with Jacques Diouf, the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The conference will also discuss the melting of Alpine glaciers, drought, desertification and the choking of the lagoon at Venice and in the northern Adriatic.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


--disc1 makes protein that helps new neurons integrate into our neural network

How the gene that has been pegged as a major risk factor for schizophrenia and other mood disorders that affect millions of Americans contributes to these diseases remains unclear. However, the results of a new study by Hopkins researchers and their colleagues, appearing in Cell this week, provide a big clue by showing what this gene does in normal adult brains.

It turns out that this gene, called disc1, makes a protein that serves as a sort of musical conductor for newly made nerve cells in the adult brain, guiding them to their proper locations at the appropriate tempo so they can seamlessly integrate into our complex and intertwined nervous system. If the DISC1 protein doesn’t operate properly, the new nerves go hyper.

"DISC1 plays a broader role in the development of adult nerves than we anticipated," says Hongjun Song, Ph.D., an associate professor at Hopkins’ Institute for Cell Engineering. "Some previous studies hinted that DISC1 is important for nerve migration and extension, but our study in mice suggests it is critical for more than that and may highlight why DISC1 is associated with multiple psychiatric disorders."

"Almost every part of the nerve integration process speeds up," adds fellow author Guo-li Ming, M.D., Ph.D., also an associate professor at ICE. "The new nerves migrate and branch out faster than normal, form connections with neighbors more rapidly, and are even more sensitive to electrical stimulation."

While it may not be obvious why high-speed integration would be detrimental, Song notes that because of the complexity of the brain, timing is critical to ensure that new nerves are prepared to plug into the neural network.

Ming, Song and their collaborators at the National Institutes of Health and UC Davis tracked the abnormal movements of the hyperactive nerve cells by injecting a specially designed virus into a part of a mouse brain known as the hippocampus -a region important for learning and memory and therefore quite relevant to psychiatric disorders. The virus would only infect newly born cells and would both knock down the expression of the disc1 gene and make the nerves glow under a microscope.

Combined with other recent Hopkins research that successfully engineered mouse models that have abnormal DISC1 and can effectively reproduce schizophrenia symptoms such as anxiety, hyperactivity, apathy and altered senses, these current findings teasing out the normal role of this protein may help unravel the causes for this complex disease

Song and Ming add that their studies in the hippocampus - one of the few places where new nerves are made in the adult brain - might answer why symptoms typically first appear in adults despite the genetic basis of many psychiatric illnesses. They plan on continuing their mouse work to try and find those answers.

"As Brazil's rain forest burns down, planet heats up"

TAILANDIA, Brazil — ...As vast tracts of rain forest are cleared, Brazil has become the world’s fourth-largest producer of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, after the United States, China and Indonesia, according to the most recent data from the U.S.-based World Resources Institute.

And while about three-quarters of the greenhouse gases emitted around the world come from power plants, transportation and industrial activity, more than 70 percent of Brazil’s emissions comes from deforestation.

Burning and cutting the forest releases hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that the vegetation had trapped. Those gases collect in the atmosphere, prevent heat from escaping and help raise the Earth's temperature.

Keeping greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere has become crucial to saving the planet from catastrophic climate change, scientists say. However, stopping the destruction of the vast Amazon rain forest means confronting the region’s lawlessness and persuading Brazilian (farmers) to leave the forest alone.

“Brazil has a huge amount of forest that’s still there, and that means Brazil has a much greater role in terms of future deforestation,” said Philip Fearnside, a research professor at Brazil’s National Institute for Amazon Research. “Any changes that happen here have great influence on whether the Earth gets warmer.”

The 1.5-million-square-mile Brazilian Amazon, larger than the entire nation of India, contains more than 40 percent of the world’s rain forests, and about a fifth of it already has disappeared, mostly in an "arc of deforestation” along the forest’s southern and eastern edges.

Every year, another chunk of forest the size of Connecticut or larger disappears as farmers, illegal loggers and others clear jungle, mostly without government approval. Violent clashes over land are common, as are murders of environmentalists.

Stopping the destruction means persuading people such as wood merchant Francisco de Assis to give up selling illegal lumber extracted from the rain forest around the northern Brazilian town of Tailandia.

The town, little more than a wide spot on the highway a decade ago, has grown into a 54,000-person city of sawmills, bars and hastily built shacks. It also has Brazil’s seventh-highest homicide rate.

“This business is keeping people alive,” de Assis said on a recent afternoon as he led potential buyers through just-cleared jungle. “But I don’t think there’ll be any wood left here in a few years.”

The effects of the Amazon’s continued destruction could be especially severe in southern Brazil, where much of the country’s agriculture, industry and population is based. About 40 percent of the precipitation there comes from moisture evaporated off the rain forest’s thick tree cover. Cutting back more of the Amazon could mean starving the area of water.

“The hydroclimatic cycle of the Amazon really depends on having forest there,” said Thomas Lovejoy, president of the U.S.-based H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. “It’s all rolled into one big picture, which in the end comes down to what happens to the forest.”

Veteran diplomat Sergio Serra, who in April was named Brazil’s first ambassador in charge of global warming issues, said his country is doing its part by, among other things, strengthening enforcement of environmental laws and creating vast forest reserves.

As a result, he said, the rate of deforestation in the Amazon dropped by about 50 percent from August 2004 to July 2006. Environmentalists said lower global prices for soybeans grown in the Amazon, as well as tougher enforcement, help explain the drop.

“Brazil is conscious of its responsibilities,” Serra said. “We are already combating the problem with more vigor, and that led to this significant decline.”

....Any plan to crack down on deforestation, however, depends on the government’s ability to enforce its laws, which farmers said is practically nonexistent in much of the jungle...

That means land owners such as Dario Bernardes who want to go green often find themselves at the mercy of the jungle’s notorious lawlessness.

Bernardes tried switching to sustainable forestry in 1994 on his 57,700-acre ranch near Tailandia and even won certification from the international Forest Stewardship Council, meaning he could export the wood as higher priced, forest-friendly lumber.

All that untouched land, however, proved too great a temptation, and armed loggers poured in last year and devastated the property. Federal officials said they'd visited the area and seized illegal wood but couldn’t stop the loggers from returning...

“We tried doing this the right way, but we received no support at all,” Bernardes said. “If this continues, I don’t give the Amazon 50 more years.”

Friday, September 07, 2007

..."ice caps melting faster than predicted"

The Greenland ice cap is melting so quickly that it is triggering earthquakes as pieces of ice several cubic kilometres in size break off.

Scientists monitoring events this summer say the acceleration could be catastrophic in terms of sea-level rise and make predictions this February by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change far too low.

The glacier at Ilulissat, which supposedly spawned the iceberg that sank the Titantic, is now flowing three times faster into the sea than it was 10 years ago.

Robert Correll, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, said in Ilulissat today: "We have seen a massive acceleration of the speed with which these glaciers are moving into the sea. The ice is moving at two metres an hour on a front 5km [3 miles] long and 1,500 metres deep. That means that this one glacier puts enough fresh water into the sea in one year to provide drinking water for a city the size of London for a year."

Prof Correll is visiting Greenland as part of a symposium of religious, scientific, and political leaders to look at the problems of the island, which has an ice cap 3km thick containing enough water to raise worldwide sea levels by seven metres.

Today leaders of Christian, Shia, Sunni, Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist and Jewish religions took a boat to the tongue of the glacier for a silent prayer for the planet. They were invited by Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Prof Correll, director of the global change programme at the Heinz Centre in Washington, said the estimates of sea level rise in the IPCC report were conservative and based on data two years old. The predicted rise this century was 20cm to 60cm, but it would be at the upper end of this range at least, he said, and some believed it could be two metres. This would be catastrophic for European coastlines.

He had flown over the Ilulissat glacier and "seen gigantic holes in it through which swirling masses of melt water were falling. I first looked at this glacier in the 1960s and there were no holes. These so-called moulins, 10 to 15 metres across, have opened up all over the place. There are hundreds of them."

He said ice-penetrating radar showed that this melt water was pouring through to the bottom of the glacier creating a lake 500 metres deep which was causing the glacier "to float on land. These melt-water rivers are lubricating the glacier, like applying oil to a surface and causing it to slide into the sea. It is causing a massive acceleration which could be catastrophic."

The glacier is now moving at 15km a year into the sea although in surges it moves even faster. He measured one surge at 5km in 90 minutes - an extraordinary event.

Veli Kallio, a Finnish scientist, said the quakes were triggered because ice had broken away after being fused to the rock for hundreds of years. The quakes were not vast - on a magnitude of 1 to 3 - but had never happened before in north-west Greenland and showed the potential for the entire ice sheet to collapse....

"Turbulence Key to Planet Formation..."

Swirling eddies and chaotic vortices are crucial to the formation of new planets, suggests a counterintuitive new study.

Such turbulence is vital to helping planets go from "toddler" to "teenage" size by helping rocks and boulders stick together, the computer simulation hints.

A few scientists recently suspected that turbulence might help in planet formation, but no one had showed in detail how that might work until now.

"We were the first to model how interacting boulders move around in this turbulence," said Anders Johansen of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, who led the research team that made the new findings. The study appeared last week in the journal Nature.

The research showed that turbulence could create "planetesimals," or planetary precursors, very quickly—in only seven orbits around a star, or around just a hundred years.

New solar systems form from a swirling disk of dust and gas surrounding a central star. (Related: "Planet-Forming Disk Spotted Around Dead Star" [April 5, 2006].)

As the matter swirls around, microscopic bits of dust hit each other and stick together. Gradually they can gather into rocks and boulders, around a yard (a meter) across.

"We have a pretty good grasp of this [process]," Johansen said.

But explaining how matter forms bigger clumps—up to planetesimals about a kilometer across—has eluded scientists.

"That has been known to be a big problem for the last 30 years," Johansen said.

Part of the issue is that when larger boulders collide with each other, "they don't stick to each other very well, but are likely to destroy each other when they collide," Johansen said.

And around this size, the rocks would begin to experience drag from the gas around them.

In the new computer model, scientists studied what would happen if this disk of orbiting matter does not spin calmly around but instead has turbulence stirring things up.

Although researchers haven't figured out for sure what might cause such turbulence, they're confident that there would be a fair amount of it in the disks surrounding young stars.

The turbulence has high-pressure areas where boulders tend to accumulate, the simulation revealed.

Once a few boulders get stuck together in such locations, the formation can help other boulders stick too, since they shield each other from the gas.

The areas also help the boulders resist the headwind from the gas around them, like "drafting" racers...

Gravity would then pull the boulders closer together, until they gradually collapsed into planetesimals a couple of hundred miles (a few hundred kilometers) across.

Planetesimals that large would attract even more rocks with their gravity, allowing them to grow into full-fledged planets...

"It's kind of ironic," Throop said. "We're used to explaining things on the size of galaxies, and on really small scales the size of light waves.

"In planetesimal formation, however, the tricky part is these medium-sized grains," around a yard (a meter) across, he added.

This new study is "a big step," Throop said, toward figuring out how budding planetesimals pass through their "toddler" stage and grow to full-size planets.

"Asteroid Smashup May Have Wiped Out the Dinosaurs"

The rock that blasted a 110-mile-wide crater in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula and probably killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago may owe its origin to the breakup of an asteroid nearly as big as the crater itself.

Using computer simulations, researchers reconstructed the trajectories of several thousand asteroids between Mars and Jupiter that are clustered near a 25-mile-wide rock called 298 Baptistina.

They report that this so-called Baptistina family must have come from the collision of a roughly 40-mile-wide asteroid with one measuring about 110 miles wide—the parent of 298 Baptistina—some 160 million years ago.

The explosion would have showered the space around Earth and the moon with asteroids, doubling the overall rate of Earth and lunar impacts for the next 100 million years or so. Among the shower would hurtle dozens of "dinosaur killer" asteroids six miles wider or larger, approximately one of which should have struck Earth, according to results published in Nature.

"The one crater that sticks out is the Chicxulub Crater," says William Bottke, assistant director of space studies at the Southwest Research Institutein Boulder, Colo., and lead author of the Nature report describing the findings.

Many researchers believe that whatever meteorite or comet punched out the crater in the southern tip of Mexico probably flung up a cloud of dust that killed 75 percent or more of plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs, by choking off the sunlight that supports the food chain. The die-off, known as the K-T extinction, was the biggest mass extinction of the last 250 million years.

Bolstering their statistical argument, Bottke and his colleagues cite ground-based chemical scans of 298 Baptistina that indicate it consists of a substance similar to carbonaceous chondrite, a rare material found in some asteroids...

The chondrite, which is rich in water and carbon compounds, cropped up in samples dug from beneath Chicxulub. However, Bottke and colleagues note that it turns up in fewer than 30 percent of the usual assortment of near-Earth asteroids and comets—the other possible source of a dinosaur killer.

Based on the estimated frequency of Earth impacts from such objects, his group concluded there is more than a 90 percent likelihood that the Chicxulub Crater resulted instead from the Baptistina hail.

The researchers say the same bombardment may also have blasted the 53-mile-wide lunar crater Tycho, formed about 109 million years ago during the shower's calculated peak.

"Climate change challenging gardeners to plant smarter"

NEW MARKET, Virginia (AP) -- Don't look now, but the early signs of climate change have already landed with a thud in our backyards.

In many backyards, conventional reel mowers are replacing gas-powered models that contribute to global warming.

Gardeners across the country have to adapt, the sooner the better, said Todd Forrest, vice president for horticulture and living collections with the New York Botanical Garden.

"That means planting smarter and planting for the future," he said. "The first thing gardeners can do is understand they'll have to live with elevated temperatures, including higher nighttime temperatures. In winter, they'll have less snowfall. Those two changes will have a significant impact on what we can grow."


-- Plants are greening earlier and blooming sooner. They're also lasting longer because of extended growing and frost-free seasons. Heat waves are more intense and frequent, speeding evaporation and drying soils.

-- Birds and butterflies are breeding and migrating earlier.

-- Many wildlife and plant species are extending their ranges to higher elevations and more extreme latitudes.

"This is a visible and conscious thing in my lifetime," Spencer said. "We're growing apples in Anchorage now and we've never been able to do that before."

A gradual warming -- generally attributed to greenhouse gas emissions produced by burning fossil fuels -- has been charted for several decades. But the climate's unpredictability is increasing, too.

"The weather is bouncing back and forth at a wild rate," Spencer said. "That's leading to a lot of variability and uncertainty ... Changes in the salmon runs and berry seasons, for example."

For starters, gardeners across the country should "take a hard look at bending (hardiness) zones to bring new plants into their yards," said Forrest....

Keep an eye on plants that need cold and may suffer as winters get warmer, said David Wolfe, a professor of plant ecology at Cornell University and a climate change adviser to the New York Botanical Garden.

"Fruit crops all require some duration of cold winter temperatures to bloom and to produce fruit the following spring and summer," Wolfe said. As temperatures warm, he said, "apple and berry growers, among others, may have to change crops or at least some varieties."

Prepare to set aside larger chunks of leisure time for weeding. Warmer days and nights will speed the maturity of any foods we grow -- and also help along many aggressive weeds like kudzu, garlic mustard, poison ivy and purple loosestrife.

Gardeners also should bone up on pest control. New types of biting insects and plant pests, including locusts, gypsy moths, bagworms, and disease-carrying aphids and mites, may accompany any significant temperature rise...

Since erratic precipitation patterns are expected to bring droughts followed by deluges, consider planting succulents to survive dry periods. And add rain gardens -- shallow depressions containing water-tolerant plants -- to absorb the flow from heavy downpours....

Finally, prepare soil properly, minimizing tillage to avoid losing valuable organic matter and over-aerating healthy soil. Experts suggest planting trees and shrubs as windbreaks, shelter for wildlife and to help hold moisture. Recycle lawn clippings and select grasses with relatively low nitrogen and water needs (Fescues over Kentucky bluegrass, for example).

Mow higher to promote better root growth. Use compost to amend poor soils. Recycle. And buy native plants, which are better suited to survive.

"Oregon coast awash with dead sharks"

NEWPORT, Ore. -- A number of young sharks are washing up dead on Oregon's beaches this summer but researchers are unsure why.

The dead-shark reports started in mid-August, said Bill Hanshumaker, public marine education specialist at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

"I've had more reports this summer than I've had since 1993," Hanshumaker told The (Portland) Oregonian.

But researchers have more questions than answers.

One theory is that warmer water this summer lured tuna and other baitfish closer to shore, and the sharks followed. When the sharks die farther offshore, their remains are usually consumed. But when they die close in, they are more likely to wash up.

There have been reports from California of dead sharks testing positive for encephalitis, which can be caused by viral, bacterial or protozoan infections, said Jim Burke, director of animal husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

Two salmon shark carcasses washed ashore this week, said Keith Chandler, general manager of the Seaside Aquarium, bringing the count there to seven. Two soupfin sharks also were found in the area.

The sharks are usually reported as baby great whites but almost always turn out to be young salmon sharks, which have a similar body but not serrated teeth....

"It's much too early to speculate," Burke said. "Salmon sharks give live birth right along the coastal area so we often see newborn juvenile sharks wash up. This year there definitely have been quite a few more than usual. It's hard to tell if there have been more born or if there is something gone wrong. "

Eco Plastic Formed with Water & Plantsc

By Tom Shelley @

By grinding up natural cellulose-containing materials with water, it is possible to produce a mouldable polymer. It can be made from a wide range of normally waste materials, and spray moulded or formed into commercial products with mechanical properties similar to those of hard wood. The material contains no toxic materials and is completely recyclable, sustainable and biodegradable.

The first commercial factory producing the material in bulk goes on stream this month. The Zelfo process was invented in Europe in 1992 and patented in early 2000 by an Austrian team now based in New South Wales in Australia. The principle inventor was Martin Ernegg, now the company’s technical director.

It relies on the fact that wet cellulose fibres stick to each other, as in the manufacture of paper and papier maché. “The material is cost effective in some specific applications,” says managing director Paul Benhaim. “Our current business model means Zelfo is best suited for objects with runs of 1 to 10,000 – any more than that, and regular plastics usually beat us.”

The material cannot be injection moulded, but can be formed using relatively low cost tooling – hence its suitability for short to medium production runs. The cellulose-containing material is ground up with water and optional natural additives, such as plant-based pigments. The material may then be spray moulded or pressed to shape. Several moulding processes can be used, which may involve pressure and interim drying and reshaping, according to the product being manufactured. A pre-coating may be applied after which the moulding is dried slowly to the required density and stiffness.


This could be good stuff for my "planet" making. I would like to find something other than the acylic polymers that I use.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wildflower Project

(Updated again)

This top photo was taken June 1 - about a month after I planted the wildflower seeds. I planted a clover path to make it easier to walk around in the wildflowers. It took off pretty well.

This next photo was taken on June 23 - 3 weeks later. Quite a few of the wildflowers were blooming at that point.

These next 2 were taken on July 14 - 3 more weeks.

It's going pretty well. It helps to cut down on weeds to have many desirable plants growing fairly close together.

We've been getting a number of hummingbirds eating from the flowers, as well as goldfinches. And bees and butterflies, of course.

These last 2 photos were taken around September 2 - about 7 weeks after the 2 previous photos. The hummingbirds at full swing these days. They love the little red flowers (that unfortunately don't show up in the larger view). And the few cosmos and such that are hanging on. I have sugar water out as well - but it's much more fun seeing them flit around from flower to flower - stopping to rest on various dried out plants.

It has really been drying out around here. There had been nearly no rain during August - with highs mostly in the 90 - 100 range. I was out east during the worst of it (enjoying highs in the 60s).

Since I've been back - I was trying to keep some of the trees that I had planted earlier this year from dying with some occasional watering. I think we've lost a lot of them.

Yesterday, it seemed that our well water must be getting low. After quite a bit of watering (between trees and wildflowers and vegetables) - the water from our faucets was coming in rather cloudy.

Here it is September 6th and we finally got a little rain today. I hope we get more soon - we need about 5 inches or more. Crops like corn around here are all dried up. Some may be able to be harvested - but it's surely not growing anymore.