Monday, October 29, 2007

"Snakes awake in hot winter"

SNAKES have stayed active through winter in Tasmania for the first time.

Climate change as a result of global warming is probably to blame for snakes shunning their normal dormant period, says herpetologist Ian Norton.

"We've had people sighting snakes throughout the winter period," Mr Norton said. "This is going to continue in the years ahead if the climate-change trend keeps on."

Since the official snake season started in September, the Reptile Rescue service has had 36 call-outs to retrieve unwanted visitors from homes.

"We can't keep up with demand," Mr Norton said...

Tasmania has three types of snake -- the tiger, copperhead and white-lipped.

Parks and Wildlife said snakes were unlikely to attack unless threatened.

Cat owners should attach bells to collars to prevent cats bringing snakes home.

"Peak Oil And Famine: Four Billion Deaths"

At some point in the early years of the 21st century, there will be a clash of two giant forces: overpopulation and oil depletion. That much has been known for a long time. It is also well known that population must eventually decline in order to match the decline in oil production. A further problem, however, is that it will be impossible to get those two giant forces into equilibrium in any gentle fashion, because of a matter that is rarely considered: that in every year that has gone by — and every year that will arrive — the population of the earth is automatically adjusted so that it is almost exactly equal to its carrying capacity. We are always barely surviving. Population growth is soaring, whereas oil production is plunging. If, at the start of any year, the world’s population is greater than its carrying capacity, only simple arithmetic is needed to see that the difference between the two numbers means that mortality will be above the normal by the end of that year. In fact, over the course of the 21st century there will be about 4 billion deaths (probably about 3.6, to be more precise) above normal.

Let us refer to those 4 billion above-normal deaths as "famine deaths," for lack of a better term, since "peak oil" in terms of daily life is really "peak food." There will, of course, also be famines for other reasons. It is also true that warfare and plague will take their toll to a large extent before famine claims those same humans as its victims.

The increase in the world’s population has been rather simple: from about 1.6 billion in 1900 to about 6.1 billion in 2000 [9]. A quick glance at a chart of world population growth shows a line that runs almost horizontally for thousands of years, and then makes an almost vertical ascent as it approaches the year 2000. As Gordon and Suzuki said in 1990, "more people have been added to the Earth during the past 40 or 50 years than have been added since the dawn of man"...

Another point to keep in mind is that the relation between population and oil production is one of cause and effect. The skyrocketing of population is not merely coincident with the skyrocketing of oil production. It is the latter that actually causes the former. With abundant oil, a large population is possible — ignoring, of course, the fact that environmental degradation may eventually wipe out those human numbers anyway. Without abundant oil, on the other hand, a large population is not possible...

Incidentally, carrying capacity does not increase in direct proportion to the number of barrels of oil per person, because as the population goes up there is more strain on the environment. As a result, we were comfortable enough with 1 barrel per person in 1940, but less comfortable with 4 barrels per person in 1990...

Human population will collapse in any year in which there is a difference between the initial population and the carrying capacity...

The famine deaths do not become zero until nearly the end of the 22nd century, when the population reaches about 1 billion, with almost no oil left, duplicating the conditions of the year 1900 or earlier...

"Update on Colony Collapse Disorder"

It was a mystery that left scientists around the world buzzing for answers. Last year a mysterious and deadly plague silently worked its way through bee colonies, leaving millions of dead bees in its wake. The killer was coined as CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder. It had moved in suddenly and unexpectedly, and left so few clues, experts could not crack the case.

Luckily this past September, there was a big break in the case. A team of scientists led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Pennsylvania State University, The Pennsylvanis State Department of Agriculture and Columbia University linked CCD with a virus imported from Australia, IAPV or Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. Over the past three years, genetic tests on bees collected from stricken colonies around the U.S. found the virus in 96 percent of bees from hives affected by Colony Collapse Disorder.

IAPV had not historically been present in U.S. bees. In fact, it was only discovered in Israel in 2004, the same year American beekeepers started importing packaged bees from Australia. "Before that, nobody knew to look for it," says Jeff Pettis of the United States Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory. "As people began to look for it, it was found in China, Australia and the U.S."

Though the discovery of IAPV was indeed a big break, the case of CCD was not closed. Scientists have much to learn about how IAPV affects colonies and how it may have brought on CCD. Future studies will tell researchers if they are dealing with just one strain of the virus or if there are other strains to look for. "Discovering the IAPV was a lead but not the end of the story. We're looking at IAPV as a marker. It's there. It's present in colonies but viruses by themselves are not known to be that dangerous," says Pettis. Pettis and other scientists believe that CCD is not caused by one single factor, but by a whole host of forces including pesticides, parasites, poor nutrition, and stress. Any of these may leave bees vulnerable to infection and make IAPV lethal. "We know all of those things have affected bees in the past," says Pettis. "We have to look at combinations of factors."

Researchers at Penn State University and the USDA are planning a complicated set of experiments where they stress bees in certain ways and evaluate the effect on their health. The tests will hopefully indicate whether IAPV causes CCD by itself or if it is triggered by other pathogens and stresses.

Some studies on IAPV have already brought positive news. Israeli researchers say there is a possibility that IAPV-resistant bees can be bred. A third of bees sampled in Israel have incorporated the virus into their genome. In experiments, almost 20% of these bees survived when injected with IAPV.

While the work is ongoing and answers are sought, until the government declares otherwise, the nation's borders remain open for bees. Packaged bees are being brought in from Australia, which has yet to report cases of CCD colonies. Though researchers are still searching for answers, they are considering whether stressors that disproportionately affect U.S. bees such as pesticides, poor nutrition or pests like varroa mites might trigger the virus, making it virulent.

Last year, imports from Australia and New Zealand made up only 5 percent of the bees needed just for almond pollination (though almond pollination represents half of our need for honeybee pollination services).

Case closed? Not yet; but at least the prime suspect is now in custody. In the meantime, beekeepers must take measures to keep bees as healthy as possible. The goal now is improved nutrition, reduced stress, and better overall health for bees...


Growing flowers for bees... (the bees have been abuzz over the red salvia in my wildflower garden)

...Choose flowers that bloom successively over the spring, summer, and fall seasons such as coreopsis, Russian sage, or germander in order to provide pollen and nectar resources to the native bees of all seasons. If you're not sure what to choose, you can always check with a local garden center for their advice on "bee-friendly" florals. To improve bee visitation, the garden should contain large patches of like flowers planted in close proximity to one another. Diversity is a key factor in keeping bee gardens buzzing. Researchers have found that more bees will be drawn to gardens with ten or more species of attractive plants.

As you diversify your garden, keep part of it wild because bees prefer that to a manicured space. Go for a "planted by nature" effect rather than a perfectly pruned garden. Remember: bees don't discriminate between weeds and cultivated flowers, so let those dandelions grow...

"China birth defects soar due to pollution"

BEIJING (Reuters) - Birth defects in Chinese infants have soared nearly 40 percent since 2001, a government report said, and officials linked the rise to China's worsening environmental degradation.

The rate of defects had risen from 104.9 per 10,000 births in 2001, to 145.5 in 2006, affecting nearly one in 10 families, China's National Population and Family Planning Commission said in a report on its Web site (

Infants with birth defects now accounted for "about 4 to 6 percent of total births every year," the family planning agency said. Of these, 30 percent would die and 40 percent would be "disabled."

The World Health Organization estimates about 3 to 5 percent of children worldwide are born with birth defects.

China's coal-rich northern province of Shanxi, a centre of noxious emissions from large-scale coke and chemical industries, had the highest rate of defects, Xinhua news agency said in a report carried by Monday's Beijing News.

"The incidence of birth defects is related to environmental pollution," the newspaper quoted An Huanxiao, director of Shanxi's provincial family planning agency, as saying.

"The survey's statistics show that birth defects in Shanxi's eight large coal-mining regions are far above the national average," An said.

The report said about 2 to 3 million babies are born in China with "visible defects" every year, and a further 8 to 12 million would develop defects within months or years after birth.

Officials had also linked high defect rates to poor, rural areas, and regions that suffered "high rates of illness." About 460,000 Chinese die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water, according to a World Bank study....

Friday, October 26, 2007

"The edge of oblivion... 25 primates"

From the Guardian...

Sri Lanka's Horton Plains slender loris has been seen just four times since 1937. Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey was not found in an exhaustive six-year study ending in 1999 and there have been no definite sightings since. Vietnam's golden-headed langur and the Hainan gibbon in China both number in the dozens.

These are the primate species on the edge of oblivion and, according to a report commissioned by three leading conservation charities, scores of others of our closest relatives are poised to suffer the same fate. It names the top 25 species most in need of help but concludes that 114 primate species are also close to extinction.

The 25 species most at risk include two of our closest great ape cousins, the Cross River gorilla of Cameroon and Nigeria and the orang-utan from Sumatra. Miss Waldron's colobus also makes it on to the list, although more by hope than expectation. Conservationists declared it officially extinct in 2000, but a photograph taken since then of a similar-looking creature has been tentatively identified by scientists.

The document was compiled by 60 leading primatologists from the world conservation union, the International Primatological Society and Conservation International. The list includes 11 species from Asia, seven from Africa, four from Madagascar and three from South America...

"You could fit all the surviving members of these 25 species in a single football stadium; that's how few of them remain on Earth today," said Russell Mittermeier, the president of Conservation International.

"The situation is worst in Asia, where tropical forest destruction and the hunting and trading of monkeys puts many species at terrible risk. Even newly discovered species are severely threatened from loss of habitat and could soon disappear."

...Common problems are habitat loss due to logging for timber or oil and mineral extraction, plus bushmeat hunting. The two issues are related because roads cut through tropical forests for logging trucks help give hunters easier routes to wildlife. "Every additional access to remove areas increases the access to hunters," Dr Heymann added.

Another problem is habitat destruction to make space for biofuel plantations such as oil palm. Developed economies such as the US and Europe are pledging to use more sustainable energy sources to combat climate change, but this is having a knock-on effect on tropical wildlife. "It is creating a huge market and now in several countries politicians are thinking of converting tropical forest areas to palm plantations," he said.

"Massive bird die-off tied to invasive snails"

FRENCH ISLAND, Wis. — Circling high over Lake Onalaska, two eagles fought over an American coot in one of the eagles’ talons.

The eagle lost its grip, and the coot plunged into the water near Broken Gun Island. It bobbed to the surface but made little effort to escape as the eagles swooped overhead.

“He’s probably sick and they know it. It’s easy pickings around here,” said Calvin Gehri, a biological technician with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s La Crosse District.

The dying coot would soon join the thousands of dead waterfowl Gehri and other refuge staff have collected along the shores of the Mississippi between Dresbach, Minn., and northern Iowa.

More than 25,000 birds — mostly coots and scaup — have died on the upper Mississippi River since 2002 as a result of eating faucet snails that carry an intestinal parasite, according to federal wildlife officials. From 2005 to 2006, there was a 16-fold increase in bird deaths in pools 8 and 9. Last fall, there were an estimated 5,000 bird deaths in the area between La Crescent, Minn., and MacGregor, Iowa.

Faucet snails are found along the Mississippi between Nelson, Wis., and Fulton, Ill., but the highest concentration of the infected snails is in the La Crosse region. More recently, they’ve been found downriver as well.

Wildlife experts are trying to figure out how to get rid of the snails without affecting native snails. Last year, the FWS tried covering underwater rocks with sand and gravel in an attempt to reduce the snails’ habitat.

"U.N. food expert seeks moratorium on biofuels"

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food called on Friday for a five-year moratorium on biofuels, saying it was a "crime against humanity" to convert food crops to fuel.

Biofuels are driving up food prices at a time when there are 854 million hungry people in the world and every five seconds a child under 10 dies from hunger or disease related to malnutrition, Jean Ziegler said.

Fears over climate change have boosted the demand for alternative fuels, but the rise of biofuel has been criticized by some who say it squeezes land needed for food.

Ziegler said cereals prices had already soared, putting pressure on African states that have to import food.

"It's a crime against humanity to convert agriculturally productive soil into soil which is producing food stuff which will be burned into biofuel," he told a news conference...

"Prozac 'found in drinking water'"

From the BBC

Traces of the antidepressant Prozac can be found in the nation's drinking water, it has been revealed.
An Environment Agency report suggests so many people are taking the drug nowadays it is building up in rivers and groundwater...

The newspaper says environmentalists are calling for an urgent investigation into the evidence.

It quotes the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman, Norman Baker MP, as saying the picture emerging looked like "a case of hidden mass medication upon the unsuspecting public".

He says: "It is alarming that there is no monitoring of levels of Prozac and other pharmacy residues in our drinking water."

Experts say the anti-depression drug gets into the rivers and water system via treated sewage water...

In the decade leading up to 2001, the number of prescriptions for antidepressants went up from nine million per year to 24 million per year, says the paper.

"Five Easy Ways to Go Organic"

From the New York TImes...

...So how do you make your organic choices count? Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene, whose new book “Raising Baby Green” explains how to raise a child in an environmentally-friendly way, has identified a few “strategic” organic foods that he says can make the biggest impact on the family diet.

1. Milk: “When you choose a glass of conventional milk, you are buying into a whole chemical system of agriculture,'’ says Dr. Greene. People who switch to organic milk typically do so because they are concerned about the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry....

2. Potatoes: Potatoes are a staple of the American diet — one survey found they account for 30 percent of our overall vegetable consumption. A simple switch to organic potatoes has the potential to have a big impact because commercially-farmed potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables. A 2006 U.S.D.A. test found 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested...

3. Peanut butter: More acres are devoted to growing peanuts than any other fruits, vegetable or nut, according to the U.S.D.A. More than 99 percent of peanut farms use conventional farming practices, including the use of fungicide to treat mold, a common problem in peanut crops....

4. Ketchup: For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake. About 75 percent of tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomatoes, including juice, tomato paste and ketchup...

5. Apples: Apples are the second most commonly eaten fresh fruit, after bananas, and they are also used in the second most popular juice, after oranges, according to Dr. Greene. But apples are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. The good news is that organic apples are easy to find in regular grocery stores.


I find it pretty easy to find economical whole wheat, organic pasta and cereal. So I would add that to the list.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Creating Our Own Hell on Earth"

Climate Warming Causes Drought Fueled Mega-Fires
by Tom Turnipseed

Five years ago my wife and I discontinued using our lawn irrigation sprinkler system. Now we only water our small vegetable garden. Facing evidence of climate change, we are trying to do our part to save water.

With water supplies rapidly shrinking, Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia declared a state of emergency for 85 counties and asked President Bush to declare it a major disaster area on October 20, 2007. A drought of historic proportions is affecting Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, as well as parts of North and South Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia. Meanwhile, drought is feeding a fiery fiasco in California.

In the past five days, parts of southern California have become out-of-control, raging infernos as another hot dry summer turns dehydrated forests into combustible tinder‑boxes. On October 21, 2007, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley reported that “recently there has been an enormous change in Western fires. In truth, we’ve never seen anything like them in recorded history. It appears we’re living in a new age of mega-fires — forest infernos ten times bigger than the fires we’re used to seeing.” According to the number of acres burned, 7 of the 10 busiest forest fire seasons in the United States have occurred since 1999 based on records going back 47 fire seasons to 1960.

Pelley said last year’s was the worst in recorded history, and this year is already a close second, with two months to go. More than eight million acres have already burned this year. After 30 years of fighting fires, Tom Boatner is now the chief of fire operations for the federal government. He says, “A fire of this size and this intensity in this country would have been extremely rare 15, 20 years ago, but they’re commonplace these days, Ten years ago, if you had a 100,000 acre fire, you were talking about a huge fire. And if we had one or two of those a year, that was probably unusual. Now we talk about 200,000 acre fires like it’s just another day at the office. It’s been a huge change.”

Pelley also talked with Tom Swetnam, a fire ecologist at the University of Arizona. Swetnam has the largest collection of tree rings in the world, that go back 9,000 years, with each one of those rings capturing one year of climate history.

Swetnam says recent decades have been the hottest in 1,000 years, with a dramatic increase in fires high in the mountains, where fires were rare in the past. “As the spring is arriving earlier because of warming conditions, the snow on these high mountain areas is melting and running off. So the logs and the branches and the tree needles all can dry out more quickly and have a longer time period to be dry. And so there’s a longer time period and opportunity for fires to start. The fire season in the last 15 years or so has increased more than two months over the whole Western U.S.,” Swetnam says.

Swetnam contends that climate change — global warming — has increased temperatures in the West about one degree and that has caused four times more fires. Swetnam and his colleagues published those findings in the journal “Science,” and the world’s leading researchers on climate change have endorsed their conclusions.

Pelley mentioned to Boatner that there are a lot of people who don’t believe in climate change. Boatner replied, “You won’t find them on the fire line in the American West anymore. Cause we’ve had climate change beat into us over the last ten or fifteen years. We know what we’re seeing, and we’re dealing with a period of climate, in terms of temperature and humidity and drought that’s different than anything people have seen in our lifetimes.”...

"U.N. says world in dire straits"

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Two decades after a landmark report sounded alarm bells about the state of the planet and called for urgent action to change direction, the world is still in dire straits, a U.N. agency said on Thursday.

While the U.N. Environment Program's fourth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4) says action has been successfully taken in some regions and on some problems, the overall picture is one of sloth and neglect.

"The global trends on climate, on ozone, on indeed ecosystem degradation, fisheries, in the oceans, water supplies ... are still pointing downwards," UNEP head Achim Steiner said in a short film accompanying the report's release.

The 540-page report calls for emissions of climate warming greenhouse gases to be cut by between 60 and 80 percent, and notes that 60 percent of the world's ecosystems have been degraded and are still being used unsustainably....

Two decades after former Norwegian premier Gro Harlem Brundtland warned that the survival of humankind was at stake, GEO-4 finds that three million people die needlessly each year from water-borne diseases in developing nations -- mostly children under five.

Fishing capacity is nearly four times more than is sustainable, species are becoming extinct 100 times faster than fossil records show, and 12 percent of birds, 23 percent of mammals and over 30 percent of amphibians face extinction.

UNEP deputy head Marion Cheatle told a London news conference the world had suffered five mass extinctions in its history and was now undergoing a sixth.

The report, drawn together by 388 scientists and vetted by 1,000 others, praises international treaties on saving the ozone layer, desertification and biodiversity and actions in some cities on urban atmospheric pollution.

But it describes as "woefully inadequate" the global response to problems such as cutting emissions of carbon gases from power and transport that scientists say will boost average temperatures by up to four degrees Celsius this century...

Region by region the report highlights the good and the bad -- and in most cases the bad is winning.

In Africa it is land degradation exacerbated by climate change and conflicts, while in the Asia and Pacific air pollution is the major threat to life and in Europe it is profligate consumption and overuse of carbon-based energy.

In Latin America it is massive social inequality and deforestation, while in North America it is rising carbon emissions and urban sprawl and in the Middle East it is wars, poverty and growing water scarcity.

“Nature Deficit Disorder”

"Children Detach From Natural World As They Explore The Virtual One"

by Peter Fimrite

Yosemite may be nice and all, but Tommy Nguyen of San Francisco would much prefer spending his day in front of a new video game or strolling around the mall with his buddies.

What, after all, is a 15-year-old supposed to do in what John Muir called “the grandest of all special temples of nature” without cell phone service?

“I’d rather be at the mall because you can enjoy yourself walking around looking at stuff as opposed to the woods,” Nguyen said from the comfort of the Westfield San Francisco Centre mall.

In Yosemite and other parks, he said, furrowing his brow to emphasize the absurdly lopsided comparison, “the only thing you look at is the trees, grass and sky.”

The notion of going on a hike, camping, fishing or backpacking is foreign to a growing number of young people in cities and suburbs around the nation, according to several polls and studies.

State and national parks, it seems, are good places for old folks to go, but the consensus among the younger set is that hiking boots aren’t cool. Besides, images of nature can be downloaded these days.

It isn’t just national forests and wilderness areas that young people are avoiding, according to the experts. Kids these days aren’t digging holes, building tree houses, catching frogs or lizards, frolicking by the creek or even throwing dirt clods.

“Nature is increasingly an abstraction you watch on a nature channel,” said Richard Louv, the author of the book “Last Child in the Woods,” an account of how children are slowly disconnecting from the natural world. “That abstract relationship with nature is replacing the kinship with nature that America grew up with.”

A lot of it has to do with where people live - 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, where the opportunities for outdoor activity apart from supervised playgrounds and playing fields are limited.

But Louv said the problem runs deeper. Wealthy suburban white youngsters are also succumbing to what he calls “nature deficit disorder.”

“Anywhere, even in Colorado, the standard answer you get when you ask a kid the last time he was in the mountains is ‘I’ve never been to the mountains,’ ” Louv said. “And this is in a place where they can see the mountains outside their windows.”...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Blurring the boundaries - Pacific and Atlantic"

The melting of Arctic sea ice is blurring the biological boundaries between Pacific and Atlantic.

It was in May 1999, during routine monitoring, that the tiny diatom was first found drifting in the ocean currents. Not an unusual observation on a plankton survey, only the species was in the wrong ocean. The north-west Atlantic was thick with phytoplankton of a Pacific species on its first visit for 800,000 years.

"We were very familiar with the species in the Pacific," says Chris Reid, professor of oceanography at the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAFHOS) in Plymouth, UK, who led the survey. "But we had never seen it in the Atlantic before — it took a while for us to realise the significance."

Reid's explanation — based on analyses of sea ice coverage — is that Neodenticula seminae migrated from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Arctic as a direct consequence of the Arctic's diminishing ice cover. Melting of ice is now opening up the Northwest Passage between the Arctic and Pacific Oceans during summer and could result in a seasonal ice-free state in the region as the climate continues to warm.

The threat is made all the more acute by recent satellite data which show the extent of Arctic sea ice at its lowest since satellite recording began in the early 1970s. With sea ice coverage reaching just 4.14 million km2 in September1, the route was more open this summer than in 1998 when Neodenticula slipped through. If Reid is correct, it is the first species to have become established via this trans-Arctic pathway for thousands of years and a sobering reminder of the extent to which our climate is changing.

Since its arrival, the diatom, commonly found in the most northerly reaches of the Pacific and the Bering Sea, has colonized the Labrador Sea between Greenland and Canada, as reported by Reid and colleagues in the September issue of Global Change Biology2. "An [ice] gate was opened in 1998 which has probably been closed for thousands of years and then it closed again immediately afterwards," he explains. "[The plankton] would have moved through the Bering Strait, through the [normally icy] Canadian archipelago and [south] into Baffin Bay." The completely open seawater in the summer months of that year — blown by winds accelerating the general east-west current flow — would have provided ideal conditions for the phytoplankton to grow and proliferate, he argues...

The true significance of the event lies not in the single species introduction but in a barrier being breached between the two oceans. Viable pathways through the Arctic ice mean that many more Pacific species could follow suit, posing a threat to northern north Atlantic species by competing for resources and potentially playing havoc with the ecosystem.

Although phytoplankton are among the ocean's smallest denizens, their size belies their impact. The phytoplankton species Coscinodiscus wailesii, which invaded the North Sea from the Indian and Pacific Oceans, for example, displaces indigenous species given the right conditions. And as many native phytoplankton feeders find it unpalatable, its presence has knock-on effects throughout the entire food web. "This is the trickle before the flood," says Reid, describing plankton as a "tremendous indicator" of what is happening in the ocean. "We could well see a complete reorganization of the fauna of a large part of the northern north Atlantic."

...Neodenticula's journey may also reveal new evidence for the unprecedented nature of today's warming climate. Fossil records show the only other time the species appeared in the north Atlantic was between 1.2 million and 800,000 years ago, introduced during an interglacial period. "It died out probably because of severe cooling," explains Reid, adding that oddly there is also no evidence of its presence in the north Atlantic during the Pliocene 'trans-Arctic interchange' of about 3.5 million years ago, when there was a huge extinction as Pacific species invaded the Atlantic....

Southern California Fires

"Around 1,000 homes, 300,000 acres burned in San Diego County, Supervisor Ron Robert says"

News from San Diego...

Seasonal wind gusts drive flames across S. California

The devastating firestorms whipping through San Diego County are being fueled by Santa Ana winds with a ferocity rarely seen in this region.

It was worse elsewhere in Southern California. A gust of 112 mph was recorded two days ago at Laguna Peak, north of Los Angeles. Locally, gusts in Potrero, near the deadly Harris fire, peaked at 69 mph.

“For San Diego County to see gusts up to 60 mph, that's a major event,” said National Weather Service forecaster Brandt Maxwell.

There may be more to come. Although winds are expected to start easing this afternoon, it is early in the Santa Ana season.

Santa Anas are fairly common in October, but the prime months are December and January. No one is saying the winter winds will be as strong as this week's blasts, but they should be more frequent, said Stuart Seto, a forecaster in the weather service's Oxnard office....

Exacerbating the situation are the fires themselves. Fires can create their own winds, Seto said. The bigger a fire gets, the more oxygen it needs to feed itself, which can increase wind speeds even more.

Orange and San Diego counties call for more evacuations overnight

Wind-whipped firestorms destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses in Southern California on Monday, the second day of its onslaught, and more than half a million people in San Diego County were told to evacuate their homes.

The gale-force winds turned hillside canyons into giant blowtorches from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. Although the worst damage was around San Diego and Lake Arrowhead, dangerous fires also threatened Malibu, parts of Orange and Ventura counties, and the Agua Dulce area near Santa Clarita. New evacuations came overnight in Orange and San Diego counties, as the menacing winds refused to abate.

Late Monday night, new blazes threatened homes near Stevenson Ranch and in Soledad Canyon in northern Los Angeles County. The Soledad Canyon fire burned multiple mobile homes and evacuations were underway, fire officials said.

On Monday, near Malibu, where fire Sunday had burned into the center of town, the focus was in the hills, where firefighters on the ground and in the air were trying to prevent flames from marching across Las Flores Canyon and into Topanga Canyon.

"It's trying to move toward Topanga Canyon, parallel to the coastline," said Manhattan Beach Battalion Chief Frank Chiella, near the Rambla Pacifico area. Firefighters were attempting to stay ahead of the fire and funnel it toward the ocean.

"If you let it get wide, that's a lot more homes it could take out," Chiella said. "We're doing what we can to keep it from getting bigger; we've only lost one home today."

Related Stories
- Buckweed fire becomes top priority
- Road closures and evacuations
- Malibu's past is laced with blazes
- Windblown soot, gas and dust pose threats
- Firefighters hold their ground in Lake Forest
- Planning ahead and knowing what to take
- What your fire insurance and FEMA can do
- Massive evacuations ordered as onslaught of fires spreads
- Malibu residents see beauty in the face of destruction
- Fires in Malibu ignite rage on the Web
- First-time homeowner ready to 'go down with his ship'
- In Topanga Canyon, watching, waiting . . . writing
- Local TV dials into fire news
- Disaster relief groups seek volunteers
- In San Diego, echoes of the 2003 disaster
- Shaken but vowing to rebuild
- Life in fire zone carries on close to normal
- San Diego at the mercy of flames once again
- Control is elusive on many fronts

Sea Level Rise

Google map showing Sea Level Rise aroung the world. You can set it to various meters worth of rise to see what the effects will be. In the US - besides Florida - North Carolina and Louisiana won't fare very well.

...other maps

...more maps

What is affected with 1 meter of rise (what scientists are currently predicting for this century)? The Netherlands.... Bangladesh... Thailand... Alaksa.... (actually for those places - change is here....)

From Greenpeace "...according to the UK Royal Society a one metre sea level rise could flood 17 percent of Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries, displacing tens of millions of people and reducing its rice-farming land by 50 percent."

For more, see this article,
Sea-level rise in Bangladesh and The Netherlands, One phenomenon, many consequences" ....from Germanwatch.

The Maldives have been getting hit...."With only a one metre sea level rise some island nations, such as the Maldives, would be submerged. Already, two of the islands that make up Kiribati (a Pacific island nation) have gone under the waves, and in early 2005 others were inundated by a high spring tide that washed away farmland, contaminated wells with saltwater, and flooded homes and a hospital."

From Salon "Many of the 33 islands that make up the Republic of Kiribati are facing severe erosion. On Tarawa, MacKenzie says, a long causeway connecting the main part of Tarawa to the islet of Betio has had the effect of changing the circulation in the lagoon and, subsequently, the shape of the coastline. He also says that on Tarawa and the outer islands, manmade sea walls often have the unintended consequence of pushing sand away from the beaches, weakening an important buffer against tidal surge.

But sea walls and causeways are, unfortunately, minor players compared with the greater force affecting the people of Kiribati: global climate change.

MacKenzie authored a World Bank report on the social impacts of climate change here, and he directs the Kiribati branch of the University of South Pacific. He says that in addition to noticing the erosion, people have begun complaining of hotter temperatures, less variety and quantity of fish, changes in wind patterns, and the contamination of fresh groundwater by saltwater from the Pacific Ocean -- evidence of rising sea levels.

A previous World Bank report found that up to 80 percent of North Tarawa, as well as more than 50 percent of the densely populated South Tarawa, could be under water by 2050 as a result of global warming. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which represents the consensus on climate science, agrees that Kiribati is highly vulnerable. Stretching over 2.1 million square miles of ocean midway between Australia and Hawaii, Kiribati comprises only 504 square miles of land, making the country less than half the size of Rhode Island. The IPCC report predicts that a one-meter rise in sea level could wipe out 63 of those square miles.

Sea-level rise is "by far the greatest threat to small island states," according to the IPCC, and due to rising sea levels, "beach erosion and coastal land loss, inundation, flooding, and salinization of coastal aquifers and soils will be widespread."


Rising seas, sinking land threaten Thai capital

KHUN SAMUT CHIN, Thailand (AP) -- At Bangkok's watery gates, Buddhist monks cling to a shrinking spit of land around their temple as they wage war against the relentlessly rising sea.

A Thai Buddhist monk walks along a dam constructed to hold back the approaching sea.

During the monsoons at high tide, waves hurdle the breakwater of concrete pillars and the inner rock wall around the temple on a promontory in the Gulf of Thailand. Jutting above the water line just ahead are remnants of a village that has already slipped beneath the sea.

Experts say these waters, aided by sinking land, threaten to submerge Thailand's sprawling capital of more than 10 million people within this century. Bangkok is one of 13 of the world's largest 20 cities at risk of being swamped as sea levels rise in coming decades, according to warnings at the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change held here.

"This is what the future will look like in many places around the world," says Lisa Schipper, an American researcher on global warming, while visiting the temple. "Here is a living study in environmental change."...

"If the heart of Thailand is under water everything will stop," says Smith Dharmasaroja, chair of the government's Committee of National Disaster Warning Administration. "We don't have time to move our capital in the next 15-20 years. We have to protect our heart now, and it's almost too late."...

"You notice that every highway, road and building which has no foundation pilings is sinking," says Smith. "We feel that with the ground sinking and the sea water rising, Bangkok will be under sea water in the next 15 to 20 years -- permanently."

Once known as the "Venice of the East," Bangkok was founded 225 years ago on a swampy floodplain along the Chao Phraya River. But beginning in the 1950s, on the advice of international development agencies, most of the canals were filled in to make roads and combat malaria. This fractured the natural drainage system that had helped control Bangkok's annual monsoon season flooding.

"It's the only city in the world where a car has collided with a boat," says Smith, recalling a deluge where residents commuted by rickety boats down roads flanked by high-rises.

As head of Thailand's meteorological department in 1998, Smith warned with little success that the country's southwest coast could face a deadly tsunami. He was proven right.

He urges that work start now on a dike system of more than 60 miles -- protective walls about 16 feet high, punctured by water gates and with roads on top, not unlike the dikes long used in low-lying Netherlands to ward off the sea. The dikes would run on both banks of the Chao Phraya River and then fork to the right and left at the mouth of the river...

About half a mile of shoreline has already been lost over the past three decades, in large part due to the destruction of once vast mangrove forests. The abbot, Somnuk Attipanyo, says about a third of the village's original population was forced to move.

The top of a broken concrete water storage tank protrudes from the muddy sea, which swirls around rows of electricity pylons and telephone polls now stuck offshore.

The monastery grounds are less than a tenth of their original size, and the waterlogged temple is regularly lashed by waves that have forced the monks to raise its original floor by more than three feet. Among a group of villagers attending morning prayers at the temple, 45-year-old shrimp farmer Rakiet Phinlaphak looks toward the watery horizon from the promontory and says, "I have seen the sea rising higher since I was a child."

And from Alaska....

"Arctic Alaska villages caught in slow-motion disaster onslaught"

GLOBAL WARMING: Spiraling costs to move imperiled coastal communities pit needs against limited resources.

The cost of relocating villages that face extinction in the next decade or so -- sooner if the wrong storm hits the wrong place at the wrong time -- is staggering. Even by Alaska standards.

• Moving Newtok, a Bering Sea coast town of 315 being squished and swamped by two rivers, could cost as much as $130 million. Or $412,000 per person.

• Moving Shishmaref, a strip of sand in the Chukchi Sea that's home to about 600 people, could cost as much as $200 million. Or $330,000 per person.

• Moving Kivalina, a shrinking barrier island in the Chukchi that last month saw most of its 380 residents run for safety from the season's first storm, could cost as much as $125 million. Or $330,000 per person.

Meanwhile, millions more are needed to protect people and facilities threatened by catastrophic erosion until they move....

"These communities are at the front line of global warming and we have to be cognizant of two factors. One is, they were here before the bulk of the rest of us were. And also, what we decide to do there is going to set precedents and trends for how we're going to react to the same issues on thousands of miles of coastline in the rest of the country."

In Newtok, state and federal grants are being piecemealed together to gradually move the town to a safer location. The village is pitching in, too, with labor and money.

It negotiated a land trade to acquire a new town site on Nelson Island, and in 2000 the Newtok Traditional Council hired a contractor to help plan the move. Residents are currently building a couple of homes at the new site, but they don't have all the heavy equipment they need.

Tom said one of the biggest obstacles is the lack of a single agency or group to be in charge of planning. Stevens said it's imperative to choose a single agency for that job -- and to give it authority over others when it comes to making and carrying out plans.

Meanwhile, Cox said, three groups -- the Corps of Engineers, Village Safe Water and DOT -- are working together in Newtok...

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Carbon output rising faster than forecast..."

From The

Scientists warned last night that global warming will be "stronger than expected and sooner than expected", after a new analysis showed carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere much faster than predicted.

Experts said that the rise was down to soaring economic development in China, and a reduction in the amount of carbon pollution soaked up by the world's land and oceans. It also means human emissions will have to be cut more sharply than predicted to avoid the likely effects...

Dr Le Quere said: "We are emitting far more than anticipated when the IPCC scenarios were drawn up in the late 1990s." Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning has risen by an average 2.9% each year since 2000. During the 1990s the annual rise was 0.7%.

The new study explains abnormally high carbon dioxide measurements highlighted by the Guardian in January. At the time, scientists were puzzled why dozens of measuring stations across the world were showing a CO2 spike for 2006, the fourth year in the last five to show a sharp increase in the greenhouse gas.

Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is measured in parts per million (ppm); from 1970 to 2000, the concentration rose by about 1.5ppm each year; since 2000 the annual rise has leapt to an average 1.9ppm.

The new study, published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), says three processes have contributed to this increase: growth in the world economy, heavy use of coal in China, and a weakening of natural "sinks" - forests, seas and soils that absorb carbon.

Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project, which carried out the research, said: "In addition to the growth of global population and wealth, we now know that significant contributions to the growth of atmospheric CO2 arise from the slowdown of natural sinks and the halt to improvements in the carbon intensity of wealth production."

The overall growth of the economy is the only one of the three factors accounted for in scientists' forecasts of climate change, which means the growth in atmospheric CO2 is about 35% larger than they expected...

Scientists assume about half of human carbon emissions are reabsorbed into the environment, but computer models predictincreased temperatures will reduce this effect...

"Save Raw Almonds"

From the American Association of Health Freedom

Like many, AAHF was appalled by the recent USDA decision that all raw almonds sold as of September 1, 2007 would have to be pasteurized (including organic almonds) while still be labeled as “raw”. Watch our PSA!

The new protocols require all raw almonds grown and sold in North America to be pasteurized, thereby killing off any wayward bacteria. How? By quick-steaming the nuts, or spraying them with propylene oxide (PPO), a chemical so nasty that it was banned by both the National Hot Rod and American Motorcycle Racing Associations, where it had been used as a fuel before being deemed too dangerous. PPO is also a carcinogen. For these and other reasons, most countries, including the EU, ban imported nuts treated with PPO.

We have joined with the Organic Consumers Association and the Cornucopia Institute among other groups to make a change.

We are currently working with Congress to address this issue and requesting the USDA to do a minimum 180-day suspension for a full review and to reopen public comments. We will also be asking for an organic exemption as well as truth in labeling.

For more see: Organic Consumers Association - "USDA Demand that Raw Almonds Be Pasteurized Drives Consumers Nuts"

"The Hippies Were Right!"

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

Green homes? Organic food? Nature is good? Time to give the ol' tie-dyers some respect...

Go ahead, name your movement. Name something good and positive and pro-environment and eco-friendly that's happening right now in the newly "greening" America and don't say more guns in Texas or fewer reproductive choices for women or endless vile unwinnable BushCo wars in the Middle East lasting until roughly 2075 because that would defeat the whole point of this perky little column and destroy its naive tone of happy rose-colored sardonic optimism. OK?

I'm talking about, say, energy-efficient light bulbs. I'm looking at organic foods going mainstream. I mean chemical-free cleaning products widely available at Target and I'm talking saving the whales and protecting the dolphins and I mean yoga studios flourishing in every small town, giant boxes of organic cereal at Costco and non-phthalates dildos at Good Vibes and the Toyota Prius becoming the nation's oddest status symbol. You know, good things.

Look around: we have entire industries devoted to recycled paper, a new generation of cheap solar-power technology and an Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth" and even the soulless corporate monsters over at famously heartless joints like Wal-Mart are now claiming that they really, really care about saving the environment because, well, "it's the right thing to do" (read: It's purely economic and all about their bottom line because if they don't start caring they'll soon be totally screwed on manufacturing and shipping costs at/from all their brutal Chinese sweatshops).

There is but one conclusion you can draw from the astonishing (albeit fitful, bittersweet) pro-environment sea change now happening in the culture and (reluctantly, nervously) in the halls of power in D.C., one thing we must all acknowledge in our wary, jaded, globally warmed universe: The hippies had it right all along. Oh yes they did.

You know it's true. All this hot enthusiasm for healing the planet and eating whole foods and avoiding chemicals and working with nature and developing the self? Came from the hippies. Alternative health? Hippies. Green cotton? Hippies. Reclaimed wood? Recycling? Humane treatment of animals? Medical pot? Alternative energy? Natural childbirth? Non-GMO seeds? It came from the granola types (who, of course, absorbed much of it from ancient cultures), from the alternative worldviews, from the underground and the sidelines and from far off the goddamn grid and it's about time the media, the politicians, the culture as a whole sent out a big, wet, hemp-covered apology....

Of course, true hippie values mean you're not really supposed to care about or attach to any of this, you don't give a damn for the hollow ego stroke of being right all along, for slapping the culture upside the head and saying, See? Do you see? It was never about the long hair and the folk music and Woodstock and taking so much acid you see Jesus and Shiva and Buddha tongue kissing in a hammock on the Dog Star, nimrods.

It was, always and forever, about connectedness. It was about how we are all in this together. It was about resisting the status quo and fighting tyrannical corporate/political power and it was about opening your consciousness and seeing new possibilities of how we can all live with something resembling actual respect for the planet, for alternative cultures, for each other. You know, all that typical hippie crap no one believes in anymore. Right?

"FDA seizes $71k in herbal tea products..."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, continuing its campaign of censorship against truthfully-described herbal supplements, seized $71,000 worth of Charantea herbal supplements last week in a raid involving U.S. Marshals. The company, Fulllife Natural Options, was accused by the FDA of marketing an "unapproved drug" due to the truthful marketing claims that accurately describe the blood sugar lowering effects of the product's main ingredient: Bitter Melon fruits.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there is no such thing as an herb, food or supplement that has any biological activity whatsoever on the human body (other than simply providing calories), and any person who dares to make such a claim is immediately considered to be in violation of the FDA's authority. Any substance that has any therapeutic effect whatsoever on the human body is considered by the FDA to be a "drug" and must be approved as such -- a lengthy process costing about $800 million and requiring the favor of an agency that practically works for Big Pharma.

The FDA is well known for its censorship efforts against nutritional supplements. Earlier this year, the agency sent threatening letters to 29 cherry growers, warning them to remove all links to scientific literature describing the anti-inflammatory effects of phytonutrients found in cherries. Merely linking to such studies from a web page, the FDA warned, instantly transformed cherries into drugs requiring FDA approval. The FDA believes that the dissemination of scientific information about the health benefits of fruits, vegetables and plants simply cannot be tolerated.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Right Whales Remain At Risk"

Proposal to slow ship speeds in effort to save endangered sea mammals stalled in agency fight.

Sixteen months ago, a federal agency proposed slowing ships in certain East Coast waters to 10 knots or less during parts of the year to save the North Atlantic right whale, one of the world's most endangered marine mammals, from extinction.

Nine months later, officials at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the situation was so dire that the loss of one more pregnant female might be the death knell for the species, whose surviving population numbers fewer than 400.

Today, however, the rule remains the subject of intense debate among senior White House officials, and the toll keeps rising: Since NOAA published the proposed rule, researchers have found three of the whales dead from ship strikes, and another two suffering from propeller wounds.

The question of how best to protect right whales - which got their name as the "right whale" to kill in the heyday of whaling because they floated after being harpooned - has proved vexing to regulators, since attempts to protect them have economic consequences for powerful political constituencies, including international shipping interests and Maine lobstermen.

"Dioxin Pollution Leads to More Baby Girls - Study"

More girls than boys are born in some Canadian communities because airborne pollutants called dioxins can alter normal sex ratios, even if the source of the pollution is many kilometers away, researchers say.

Dioxin exposure has been shown elsewhere to lead to both higher cancer rates and the birth of more females.
Researchers at the IntrAmericas Centre for Environment and Health say their findings, released this month, confirm the phenomenon in Canada.

The study also reveals the health risks of living within 25 km (15.5 miles) of sources of pollution -- a greater distance than previously thought, they said.

Normally, 51 percent of births are boys and 49 percent are girls. But the ratio was reversed -- with as few as 46 males born for every 54 females -- in Canadian cities and towns where parents were exposed to pollutants from sources such as oil refineries, paper mills and metal smelters, according to the study.

"If you find an inverted sex ratio, and want to know what causes it, look for sources of dioxin," said James Argo, a medical geographer who headed the study, which was published in a journal of the American Chemical Society.

"In every one of those cities where those industries are found ... there was a higher probability of female births to male births," Argo said in an interview.

The large-scale burning of municipal and medical waste is the primary source of dioxins in Canada, but they are also created by fuel and wood burning, electrical power generation, and in the production of iron and steel.

Since more females were born in the 90 communities studied, more breast, uterine, cervical and ovarian cancers were observed among them than other forms of cancer, Argo said...

Friday, October 19, 2007

"The meltdown of Greenland's way of life"

Seen from the air, Greenland's massive ice cap is clearly taking a beating.

Lakes and ponds of open water are scattered across its cracking surface, some feeding streams that vanish into moulins - drain-like cavities about 40 feet across that pierce the bottom of mile-thick ice. Approaching the edge of the ice, mountain summits poke out like islands. Glaciers tumble toward the sea, where this year they discharged ice at an unprecedented rate in this self-governing province of Denmark. Melting at the top of the ice sheet was the greatest ever recorded, 150 percent more than average, according to a new NASA-sponsored study.

"The rate of melting is just phenomenal," said Robert Correll, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, an international scientific monitoring project. "We're adding freshwater to the ocean at a much more rapid rate than predicted" by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent estimates, which are based on data through 2005.

Studies show that Greenland is undergoing a rapid meltdown, one with severe consequences for global sea-level rise and the 56,000 people who live on the world's largest island. Scientists report that glaciers draining the ice cap are picking up speed, while Arctic sea ice shrank this summer to its smallest extent on record, defying computer models that suggested such changes would not occur for decades....

In Ilulissat, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the town's 4,500 residents have seen the changes firsthand.

The Jakobshavn glacier, a 3-mile-wide, nearly 1 mile-thick tongue of ice that pours into the sea next to the town, has been picking up speed for years. A decade ago it flowed at between 2 and 21/2 miles a year, filling Disko Bay with icebergs that, in turn, attracted tourists. This year it flowed 9 miles - 61/2 feet an hour - adding enough freshwater to the oceans daily to meet the annual needs of any of the world's mega cities, according to Correll.

The icebergs haven't harmed Ilulissat residents, who are enjoying an economic boom fueled by tourism and fishing. Local fishermen ply the waters in and around the decomposing glacial front, pulling up enough halibut to keep the town's two fish plants running round-the-clock, seven days a week.

"We fish right by the icebergs," said Karl Thumassen, a local fisherman. "It was better 20 years ago, but it's still pretty good."
The lack of sea ice is another serious matter.

No roads connect Greenland's main towns - the island is too rugged, harsh and sparsely populated to make them feasible - meaning the prime modes of travel are by air (prohibitively expensive) or sea. In winter, ship travel is dangerous, so in central and northern Greenland, most people travel across the frozen sea by dog sled.

But in Ilulissat, the sea hasn't frozen solid for nearly a decade, wiping out the livelihoods of the country's subsistence hunters and isolating thousands more throughout the long, dark Arctic winter.

"It's as if somebody came to you and said, 'We're going to take your car away in mid-September and give it back to you in May or June,' " said Minik Rosing, a Greenland-born geologist at the University of Copenhagen who discovered the earliest evidence of life on Earth in Greenland's rocks. "It's a massive disruption to the way you live and perceive yourself."

Ilulissat's 5,000 sled dogs - who outnumber town residents - have been out of work for so long, their owners have exiled them to a lonely plain on the edge of town, where they bark and howl between meals. In the far north, hunters say they have a hard time feeding their dogs, which normally dine on seal and polar bear scraps. In 2004, the government had to airlift dog food to the northern settlement of Qaanaq to prevent mass starvation...

In the far south, where a more temperate climate allows limited farming, the growing season is getting longer, and new areas are opening up for cultivation.

"It will be very exciting to see how the land will change in the next 20 years," said Tommy Maro, the mayor of Qaqortoq, the region's principal town. "Maybe we will have more sheep farmers, more green areas, more things we can grow."

Potato farming has expanded in size and area, with spuds now grown in the capital, Nuuk, which is just 185 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Near the southern village of Qassiarsuk, farmers say they succeeded in growing broccoli for the first time this year...

A milder climate, he says, will require a new generation of southern Greenlanders to take up agriculture...

As for sea-level rise, Correll said most scientists in the field would argue that it will be "the upper part of a meter" (3 feet 3 inches) this century, roughly twice the current estimates, though nobody knows exactly how the Greenland ice sheet will behave as water intrudes underneath.

"Ships' CO2 'twice that of planes'"

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from shipping are twice the level of aviation, one of the maritime industry's key bodies has said.

A report prepared by Intertanko, which represents the majority of the world's tanker operators, says emissions have risen sharply in the past six years.

Previous International Maritime Organisation estimates suggested levels were comparable with those of planes.

Some 90,000 ships from tankers to small freighters ply the world's oceans.

Clampdown considered

Intertanko says its figures are the most realistic estimation of the current levels of CO2 from ships.

It says that growth in global trade coupled with ships burning more fuel to deliver freight faster has contributed significantly to the increase.

Dragos Routa, the technical director of Intertanko, told the BBC the figures were a work in progress but the levels of emissions had risen sharply.

While there are few accurate measures and even fewer restrictions on the amounts of carbon dioxide that ships can emit at present, governments in many parts of the world are considering a clampdown as part of their efforts to tackle global warming.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Increasingly Acidic Oceans

Acid Oceans From Carbon Dioxide Will Endanger One Third Of Marine Life, Scientists Predict

The world’s oceans are becoming more acid, with potentially devastating consequences for corals and the marine organisms that build reefs and provide much of the Earth’s breathable oxygen.

Acidity from the gradual buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is dissolving into the oceans. Scientists fear it could be lethal for animals with chalky skeletons -- like the ones that make up coral reefs, such as Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

The acidity is caused by the gradual buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, dissolving into the oceans. Scientists fear it could be lethal for animals with chalky skeletons which make up more than a third of the planet’s marine life.

“Recent research into corals using boron isotopes indicates the ocean has become about one third of a pH unit more acid over the past fifty years. This is still early days for the research, and the trend is not uniform, but it certainly looks as if marine acidity is building up,” says Professor Malcolm McCulloch of CoECRS and the Australian National University.

“It appears this acidification is now taking place over decades, rather than centuries as originally predicted. It is happening even faster in the cooler waters of the Southern Ocean than in the tropics. It is starting to look like a very serious issue.”
Corals and plankton with chalky skeletons are at the base of the marine food web. They rely on sea water saturated with calcium carbonate to form their skeletons. However, as acidity intensifies, the saturation declines, making it harder for the animals to form their skeletal structures (calcify).

“Analysis of coral cores shows a steady drop in calcification over the last 20 years,” says Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of CoECRS and the University of Queensland. “There’s not much debate about how it happens: put more CO2 into the air above and it dissolves into the oceans.

“When CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you put calcification out of business in the oceans.” (Atmospheric CO2 levels are presently 385 ppm, up from 305 in 1960.)

“It isn’t just the coral reefs which are affected – a large part of the plankton in the Southern Ocean, the coccolithophorids, are also affected. These drive ocean productivity and are the base of the food web which supports krill, whales, tuna and our fisheries. They also play a vital role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could break down.”

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said an experiment at Heron Island, in which CO2 levels were increased in the air of tanks containing corals, had showed it caused some corals to cease forming skeletons. More alarmingly, red calcareous algae – the ‘glue’ that holds the edges of coral reefs together in turbulent water – actually began to dissolve. “The risk is that this may begin to erode the Barrier of the Great Barrier Reef at a grand scale,” he says.

Warming turns Barrier Reef acidic

WATERS around the Great Barrier Reef are becoming acidic at a higher-than-expected rate.

Ocean acidification, a side-effect of global warming, occurs when excess carbon dioxide dissolves into the ocean and becomes carbonic acid.

It is potentially devastating for the marine environment, affecting corals, crustaceans and plankton in particular.

Professor Malcolm McCulloch of the Australian National University said the findings were worrying.

"It appears this acidification is now taking place over decades rather than centuries as originally predicted." he said.

Researchers studied a type of reef coral called porites off Cairns and found pH levels were falling faster than previously thought, meaning acidity levels were increasing....

Coral reefs and plankton were the basis of the marine food chain and drove ocean productivity, the University of Queensland's Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said.

"Scientists discover rare marine species" (Jellyfish)

An unnamed deep-sea jellyfish

An aequorea jellyfish

Another jellyfish

A juvenile boxfish
From Yahoo news: Scientists exploring a deep ocean basin in search of species isolated for millions of years found marine life believed to be previously undiscovered, including a tentacled orange worm and an unusual black jellyfish.

Project leader Dr. Larry Madin said Tuesday that U.S. and Philippine scientists collected about 100 different specimens in a search in the Celebes Sea south of the Philippines.

Madin, of the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said the sea is at the heart of the "coral triangle" bordered by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia — a region recognized by scientists as having a high degree of biological diversity.

The deepest part of the Celebes Sea is 16,500 feet. The team was able to explore to a depth of about 9,100 feet using a remotely operated camera.

"This is probably the center where many of the species evolved and spread to other parts of the ocean, so it's going back to the source in many ways," Madin told a group of journalists, government officials, students and U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney and her staff...

Madin said the specimens they collected included several possibly newly discovered species. One was a sea cucumber that is nearly transparent which could swim by bending its elongated body. Another was a black jellyfish found near the sea floor.

The most striking creature found was a spiny orange-colored worm that had 10 tentacles like a squid, Madin said. "We don't know what it is ... it might be something new," he said.

"Deadly Bacteria Found to Be More Common"

From the The New York Times

Nearly 19,000 people died in the United States in 2005 after being infected with virulent drug-resistant bacteria that have spread rampantly through hospitals and nursing homes, according to the most thorough study of the disease’s prevalence ever conducted.

The government study, which is being published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that such infections may be twice as common as previously thought, according to its lead author, Dr. R. Monina Klevens.

If the mortality estimates are correct, the number of deaths associated with the germ, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, would exceed those attributed to H.I.V.-AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema or homicide each year.

By extrapolating data collected in nine places, the researchers estimated that 94,360 patients developed an invasive infection from the pathogen in 2005 and that nearly one of every five, or 18,650 of them, died. The study points out that it is not always possible to determine whether a death is caused by MRSA or merely accelerated by it.

The authors, who work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautioned that their methodology differed significantly from previous studies and that direct comparisons were therefore risky. But they said they were surprised by the prevalence of serious infections, which they calculated as 32 cases per 100,000 people.

In an accompanying editorial in the medical journal, Dr. Elizabeth A. Bancroft, an epidemiologist with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, characterized that finding as “astounding.”

The prevalence of invasive MRSA — when the bacteria has not merely colonized on the skin, but has attacked a normally sterile part of the body, like the organs — is greater, Dr. Bancroft wrote, than the combined rates for other conditions caused by invasive bacteria, including bloodstream infections, meningitis and flesh-eating disease.

The study also concluded that 85 percent of invasive MRSA infections are associated with health care treatment. Previous research had indicated that many hospitals and long-term care centers had become breeding grounds for MRSA because bacteria could be transported from patient to patient by doctors, nurses and unsterilized equipment.

“This confirms in a very rigorous way that this is a huge health problem,” said Dr. John A. Jernigan, the deputy chief of prevention and response in the division of healthcare quality promotion at the disease control agency. “And it drives home that what we do in health care will have a lot to do with how we control it.”

...The bacteria can be brought unknowingly into hospitals and nursing homes by patients who show no symptoms, and can be transmitted by contact as casual as the brush of a doctor’s lab coat. Highly opportunistic, they can enter the bloodstream through incisions and wounds and then quickly overwhelm a weakened immune system.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Brain Eating Amoeba in Tucson Water

Recent tests have shown that a brain-eating amoeba is in Tucson's water supply, but experts say the microscopic bug doesn't pose any health risks.

Tucson Water chlorinates its well water before distribution, killing the amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri before the water hits taps. But the amoeba's presence in our underground water source _ probably as a result of biodegradable oil used in pumps _ is a surprise to some researchers. The amoeba is usually found in surface water such as rivers and lakes.

"The organism is everywhere," said Charles Gerba, a microbiology professor with the University of Arizona's Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science. "It feeds on bacteria."

Naegleria fowleri made headlines recently when it killed a 14-year-old boy who had gone swimming in Lake Havasu last month.

The amoebas enter the body through the nose and travel to the brain, where they feed until the person dies. The only way to get infected is to snort water. A person can drink water that has Naegleria fowleri and never be infected.

The amoeba lives in soil and is often present in warm bodies of water, particularly hot springs and lakes. Pools, if not chlorinated properly, can become homes to the microbes Tucson Water joined Maricopa County cities in a study of well water in 2005 to determine the amoeba's presence in drinking water and develop treatment to eliminate any potential health risks.

The study, which is being led by Gerba, was sparked, in part, by the deaths of two Peoria boys in 2002 from the organism.

Gerba and others sampled 35 Tucson Water wells and initially found some presence of the bug in 12 of the wells. Those 12 wells were resampled and five were confirmed to have the bug.

A year passed, and the 12 wells were sampled again. Eleven came out clean, and one well needs to be resampled because of an error, Gerba said, adding that the inconsistency in testing is common with Naegleria.

While Tucson Water chlorinates its groundwater before distribution, Gerba said he was concerned about private wells that aren't necessarily chlorinated.

There were roughly 250 private wells in the greater Tucson area in 2004, state records show. Researchers also sampled 20 private wells, but they found no presence of Naegleria.

The discrepancy has led Gerba to think Naegleria fowleri is showing up in the Tucson Water wells because of biodegradable oil that's used as a lubricant for pumps.

Pumping capacity in private wells is much smaller, and, as such, the pumps don't rely on engines, he said.

Naegleria was discovered in the 1960s and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tracked only several hundred cases worldwide.

Between 1995 and 2004, 23 people in the United States were infected by Naegleria fowleri, according to the CDC.

"Treat water as precious commodity"

Editorial from the

Don't wash that car. Don't even think about washing that car. In fact, a dirty, dusty car needs to become a point of pride, at least for the next few months.

Throughout much of the South, including virtually all of Alabama, a lingering drought has city and rural water officials scrambling to come up with contingency plans in case water levels continue to fall.

And that's a distinct possibility, with weather authorities saying the drought-plagued Southeast is likely to remain drier than average due to a developing La Niña weather pattern.

"La Niña is here, with a weak-to-moderate event likely to persist through the winter," said Michael Halpert, head of forecast operations at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "The big concern this winter may be the persistence of drought across large parts of the already parched South."

In Georgia, the huge Lake Lanier could become so dry within 90 days that it could no longer be a source of water for communities. The lake provides water to more than 3 million people.

The governor of Georgia has asked Georgians to take shorter showers, and many restaurants will only serve water to customers who ask for it.

Alabama is downstream from Georgia, so any problems Georgia has with water supplies affects much of this state as well. Already Alabama is at loggerheads with Georgia over the release of water from Allatoona Lake in north Georgia. Reduced releases of water from the lake affect water flow into the Coosa River in Alabama and eventually the Alabama River as well.

That had Gov. Bob Riley predicting "serious environmental damage to the state of Alabama, and it has the high likelihood of causing serious disruptions to Alabama's public water supply, electric power grid and industrial workforce."

Meanwhile, falling lake levels from the extended drought are threatening municipal water supplies in several Alabama communities, including Gadsden, Centre and Alexander City. Alexander City on the Tallapoosa River began taking emergency measures recently to make sure it can continue to pump water out of Lake Martin.

The Central Elmore Water and Sewer Authority, which serves most of central Elmore County, is spending $350,000 to ensure that it can continue to pump water from Lake Martin as falling water levels drop below the authority's intakes. The authority has also raised water rates for large residential users -- those who use more than twice the average amount for residences.

In Alabama, 91 percent of the state's land area is under at least an extreme drought, and 58 percent is under exceptional drought conditions -- the worst level. All of Montgomery, Autauga and Elmore counties are in the exceptional drought category, as are all of the counties contiguous to Montgomery County.

Weather officials say it would take months of higher than normal rainfall to offset the effects of the drought, and there is nothing to indicate such rainfall is in the offing in the near future.

Until the drought ends, we urge readers not to consider a lawn that is deep, dark green as something beautiful, but as something wasteful. Businesses need to control their automatic sprinklers, many of which are set to run each evening whether they are needed or not. Check pipes and faucets for leaks. While we would not recommend forgoing showers -- things aren't that bad yet -- it would be a good idea not to linger in the shower longer than necessary.

In other words, start treating water as if it is something precious, because it is.

Monday, October 15, 2007

"Mysterious seal deaths linked to chems"

By Doug Fraser

• In the 1960s it was DDT and PCBs; now brominated flame retardants, or BFRs, are causing alarm.

• All three chemical compounds are very resistant to being broken down by sunlight, heat, moisture and other factors in the natural environment.

• Modern chemists are looking to make new compounds that have a so-called fuse, an Achilles' heel that breaks the compound down into more natural, biodegradable components.

It's a great irony of the modern world that attempts to make us safer sometimes make us less so.

Fire causes billions of dollars in damage every year and kills thousands. Plastic items like small electronic gear and building materials are petroleum-based and would be very flammable if not for chemicals added during the manufacturing process known as brominated flame retardants, or BFRs.

When will it end?

But researchers are now finding that these chemicals have entered our food chain and might have a role in the recent deaths of hundreds of seals — and could ultimately be harming people as well.

"The highest levels (of BFRs) in the world are in the U.S., 10 to 40 times higher than Asia and Europe," said Susan Shaw, an environmental toxicologist attempting to solve the mysterious deaths of as many as 1,000 otherwise healthy adult harbor seals and gray seals along the New England coastline over the past three years.

The National Marine Fisheries Service declared two "unusual mortality events" for seals, one in 2004 and one in 2006. The declaration releases funding allowing a greater level of tissue sampling. Since 2006, researchers have sampled nearly 500 animals, most of which were dead. The die-off appears to be tailing off, with only 35 animals reported in 2007, but investigators have yet to find a clear cause, said NMFS spokeswoman Teri Frady.

Shaw said her analysis of harbor seal tissue samples from Maine, Cape Cod and New York showed high BFR levels.

"They are loaded with chemicals," Shaw said. Some evidence suggests BFRs could disrupt thyroid hormones and cause psychological and other long-term disorders, including cancer.

BFRs were an ingenious chemical discovery back in the 1960s. The bromine in the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) that are known collectively as BFRs combines aggressively with hydrogen atoms, robbing fire of an essential ingredient. That's why bromine is used in chemical fire extinguishers. By combining bromine ethers with highly flammable plastic, such commonplace items as computer housings, mattress foam and chairs now contain a built-in fire suppressant that helps them meet fire codes.

"The chair you're sitting in is probably 5 percent BFR," said Christopher Reddy, a chemical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. BFRs make up between 5 and 50 percent of the material in our household products. Their molecules mimic one of the essential molecules produced by our thyroid gland.

"Think of them as keys into the keyhole of some molecular process in the body," Reddy said. "It throws a wrench into the system."

Unfortunately, BFRs do not stay put. They are constantly entering the environment as molecules sloughed off the material, or when BFR-containing items are broken up during disposal. They've been found everywhere, from remote Arctic regions to whales that stay far out to sea.

BFRs are extremely stable. They linger in dust, or travel with water, ultimately winding up in the ocean. There they latch on to microscopic plankton and start up the food chain, as bigger fish eat smaller fish with the chemicals stored in fatty tissue. At the top, are large predators, like seals, and us, eating cod, hake, pollock, and other large fish...

Alternatives do exist. There are three plastics that are self-extinguishing, but don't contain BFRs. Natural flame-resistant materials like leather, metal and glass could also be used, and design changes to products could make them less flammable. The BFR industry has already phased out the two most toxic forms of the chemical, but is resisting a ban on the most prevalent compound, known as deca-BDE....

"Gore Derangement Syndrome"


On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street Journal’s editors couldn’t even bring themselves to mention Mr. Gore’s name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people they thought deserved the prize more.

And at National Review Online, Iain Murray suggested that the prize should have been shared with “that well-known peace campaigner Osama bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore’s stance.” You see, bin Laden once said something about climate change — therefore, anyone who talks about climate change is a friend of the terrorists.

What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?

Partly it’s a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around President Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore were, I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of illegitimacy from the Bush administration.

And now that Mr. Bush has proved himself utterly the wrong man for the job — to be, in fact, the best president Al Qaeda’s recruiters could have hoped for — the symptoms of Gore derangement syndrome have grown even more extreme.

The worst thing about Mr. Gore, from the conservative point of view, is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as the “ozone man,” but three years later the scientists who discovered the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, “the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” And so it has proved.

But Gore hatred is more than personal. When National Review decided to name its anti-environmental blog Planet Gore, it was trying to discredit the message as well as the messenger. For the truth Mr. Gore has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate isn’t just inconvenient. For conservatives, it’s deeply threatening.

Consider the policy implications of taking climate change seriously.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.

The solution to such conflicts between self-interest and the common good is to provide individuals with an incentive to do the right thing. In this case, people have to be given a reason to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, either by requiring that they pay a tax on emissions or by requiring that they buy emission permits, which has pretty much the same effects as an emissions tax. We know that such policies work: the U.S. “cap and trade” system of emission permits on sulfur dioxide has been highly successful at reducing acid rain.

Climate change is, however, harder to deal with than acid rain, because the causes are global. The sulfuric acid in America’s lakes mainly comes from coal burned in U.S. power plants, but the carbon dioxide in America’s air comes from coal and oil burned around the planet — and a ton of coal burned in China has the same effect on the future climate as a ton of coal burned here. So dealing with climate change not only requires new taxes or their equivalent; it also requires international negotiations in which the United States will have to give as well as get.

Everything I’ve just said should be uncontroversial — but imagine the reception a Republican candidate for president would receive if he acknowledged these truths at the next debate. Today, being a good Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully foreigners, not negotiate with them.

So if science says that we have a big problem that can’t be solved with tax cuts or bombs — well, the science must be rejected, and the scientists must be slimed. For example, Investor’s Business Daily recently declared that the prominence of James Hansen, the NASA researcher who first made climate change a national issue two decades ago, is actually due to the nefarious schemes of — who else? — George Soros.

Which brings us to the biggest reason the right hates Mr. Gore: in his case the smear campaign has failed. He’s taken everything they could throw at him, and emerged more respected, and more credible, than ever. And it drives them crazy.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Gore worthy of honour" (Nobel Peace Prize)

From the Toronto Star

No one would have been surprised to see the United Nations' Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change win a Nobel prize for science. After all, over the past two decades, the panel of top scientists from more than 100 countries has confirmed with steadily increasing certainty the scale of global warming.

But yesterday the panel was awarded the Nobel prize for peace, jointly with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore.

The peace prize was the appropriate prize because as Gore said in his reaction to the announcement, "We face a true planetary emergency ... It is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level."

And no one has done more to raise that consciousness than Gore. He has worked tirelessly since making his documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, to publicize the threat of global warming and the supporting body of evidence produced by the UN panel.

As the Nobel committee put it in its citation of Gore, "He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted."

The committee skipped over a Canadian nominee for the prize, Inuit leader Sheila Watt-Cloutier, who was thrilled her nomination drew attention to the impact climate change is having in the Arctic.

While Gore and the UN panel can be proud of their award, the greatest reward they could receive for their efforts is for people everywhere to demand that their politicians give the issue all the attention it deserves. Nowhere is that more important than in the United States.

But that seems to be changing, thanks to Gore. With polls showing a majority of Americans now in favour of government action to prevent a calamitous rise in temperatures, Janet Larsen, research director at the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, says there is a good chance that voters will "not elect anyone to office who does not ... make a firm commitment to do what we need to do to stop global warming."

The Nobel prize is confirmation that Gore and the panel have done their job. Now governments everywhere must start to do theirs.

Water Emergency in Adelaide Australia

EMERGENCY plans have been prepared to supply Adelaide with spring water for drinking as experts warn the drought is forcing us to consider extreme measures.

Spring water suppliers yesterday said they had talks with SA Water about the feasibility of delivering water in either bottles or tankers to households if Adelaide's water crisis dramatically worsened.

SA Water last night said discussions with suppliers were held as part of "contingency planning" in case mains water became undrinkable because of poor quality.

Australian of the Year Tim Flannery, a climate change expert, said Adelaide was at a "significant risk" of a water crisis within the next six to 12 months, because of salinity and toxic algal blooms in the River Murray.

SA Water insists Adelaide will not run out of water but says contingency plans are essential to ensure the water supply, "including in times of drought".

...In the event of a water supply emergency, Mr Bailey said tankers would deliver water to drop-off points for householders to fill large bottles. In less severe cases, bottles would be distributed.

Adelaide University Professor Mike Young said the situation in SA was "much, much worse than many people realise". The Wentworth Group member and former CSIRO chief research scientist said SA Water had a responsibility to develop "contingency plans for the worst conceivable event".

"The scary thing is that what seemed to be totally inconceivable is now starting to look quite conceivable," Professor Young said.

"If next year is the same as last year and this year, there are no options left to get water out of the River Murray. The River Murray will collapse, that is the reality." Professor Young warned if present conditions continued, "we could end up with a system where we can't drink the water".

Problems with China's Three Gorges Dam

MIAOHE, China — Earlier this year, on a slope far above the mighty Yangtze River, Qu Wanfu felt the earth give way. Terrified, she dashed into her house.

"The earth was moving down the hillside," Qu recalled.

Luckily, the landslide stopped, saving this village of about 50 households from careening into the muddy waters of the Yangtze, the largest river in Asia, in a gorge far below.

A few bends downriver, the Three Gorges Dam, said to be the world's biggest civil works project, spans a mile and a half across the Yangtze. Nearly a year and a half after it was completed, the government still touts the $26 billion dam as a showcase project that limits disastrous seasonal flooding and generates vast amounts of electricity.

But authorities now admit that the dam is generating major problems. It's created a huge — and heavy — reservoir pressing against the mountains along the Yangtze, making them more prone to landslides. The deep reservoir stretches upriver about 370 miles, impeding the natural flushing action of the river and trapping pesticides, fertilizer and raw sewage. Downriver from the dam, water flows cleaner and faster, adversely affecting aquatic species adapted to sediment in the river.

Authorities are finally letting reports of the dam's problems reach the public in an apparent bid to pre-empt criticism should disaster unfold. And it's disaster that the official Xinhua news agency forewarned of in an unusually blunt report two weeks ago during a forum on the environmental consequences of the project.

"If no preventive measures are taken, the project could lead to catastrophe," the Sept. 26 Xinhua report said, paraphrasing unnamed "officials."

The report cited Tan Qiwei, the vice mayor of Chongqing, a sprawling city at the head of the reservoir, as saying that slopes along the Yangtze had collapsed in 91 places and a total of 22 miles of land along the river had caved in.

"We cannot take the problems too seriously. We should never sacrifice our environment in exchange for a flash of economic prosperity," Wang Xiaofeng, the head of the executive office of the State Council Three Gorges Project Construction Committee, told state media....

To make way for the reservoir, authorities relocated about 1.3 million people, moving them away from the rising river and allowing 100 or so towns to submerge slowly under floodwaters rising more than 500 feet. As new landslides loom, more relocations are taking place.

Now, it's the turn of the 300 or so residents of Miaohe, who dwell on a high mountain slope dotted with dwarf orange trees and fields of corn and sweet potatoes.

Mud-brick homes in Miaohe cracked when the first landslide hit April 11. The earth moved for a few seconds, then stopped. The ground shook again the next night, residents said, leaving 21 homes damaged. Afterward, officials ordered residents to move into a mountain tunnel a mile away for safety.

"We were forced to live in the tunnel for three months," said Han Yong, a 31-year-old farmer. "It's really wet and noisy in there."

...Han, the Miaohe resident, said the dam had been her village's bane: "There were no landslides before the dam was built."