Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Wind Powers 40% Of Spain" (briefly)

Wind power is breaking new records in Spain, accounting for just over 40 percent of all electricity consumed during a brief period last weekend. As heavy winds lashed Spain on Saturday evening wind parks generated 9,862 megawatts of power which translated to 40.8 percent of total consumption. Between Friday and Sunday wind power accounted for an average of 28 percent of all electricity demand in Spain. Spain’s wind power generation equaled that of hydropower for the first time in 2007.

In July the government approved legislation that will allow offshore wind parks to be set up along the nation’s vast coastline in an effort to boost the use of renewable energy sources. While more expensive than land-based wind farms, offshore wind parks can take advantage of stronger, steadier coastal breezes.

Spain, which along with Germany and Denmark, is among the three biggest producers of wind power in the 27-nation European Union, is aiming to triple the amount of energy it derives from renewable sources by 2020.

Ice shelf 'hangs by a thread'

From the Sydney Morning Herald

A MASSIVE ice shelf bigger than Greater Sydney has begun to collapse in Antarctica under the pressure of climate change, new satellite images reveal.

The disintegration of the 13,680-square-kilometre Wilkins Ice Shelf began on February 28 when a large iceberg fell away. This triggered a runaway impact this month, according to scientists from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, when 570 square kilometres of the shelf crumbled.

The most recent satellite images taken by the centre on Easter Sunday show the ice shelf is hanging on by a single strip of ice, six kilometres wide, strung between two islands on the south-west Antarctic Peninsula....

In the past 50 years, the temperature in the western Antarctic Peninsula has risen almost three degrees, or 0.5 degrees each decade.

"The collapse underscores that the Wilkins region has experienced an intense melt season," Dr Scambos said. "Regional sea ice has all but vanished, leaving the ice shelf exposed to the action of the waves." ...

"The ice shelf is hanging by a thread," David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey, said.

One of Australia's leading Antarctic scientists, Dr Ian Allison, who examined the new data yesterday, said the collapse was an indication of how quickly change can happen in the polar regions when a critical point is reached.

"This area is showing extreme warming," Dr Allison said, "The climate models all predict that with anthropogenic [human induced] warming the biggest increases are going to occur in the polar regions. And the biggest warmings we are seeing are in the Arctic and the Antarctic peninsula area."

Dr Allison said it was likely the Wilkins Ice Shelf would hold on now because winter was approaching but it would continue its collapse next January. "I expect about one-third of the ice shelf to go fairly quickly next season," he said....

Dr Allison said it was significant that the warmer temperatures were now having an effect closer to the main ice mass of the frozen continent.

If larger ice shelves start disappearing and melting starts accelerating, he said, there could be significant sea level rise over the next century.

Five more degrees further south is the start of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, much of which lies on rock below sea level. The director of the British Antarctic Survey, Chris Rapley, said if this were to disintegrate, it would raise global sea level by about five metres. He has already described the West Antarctic sheet as an "awakened giant".

Scientists have calculated that the sheet is losing about 132 billion tonnes of ice a year.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Chemical Reactions That Create Smog Found

From UCSD News:

“This study provides us with additional insight into the chemistry of urban ozone production,” said Amitabha Sinha, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC San Diego who headed the research team. “It shows us that the chemistry of urban ozone is even more complicated than we initially assumed. With improved knowledge of how ozone is produced, we should be in a better position to control the air quality of large urban areas across the United States as well as around the world.”

Urban ozone levels peak in the afternoon hours of large cities after being generated through a complex series of chemical reactions involving the interaction of sunlight with hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides from automobile exhaust. Ozone production is initiated when hydroxyl radicals, OH, are produced from water vapor. Atmospheric chemists had long assumed that the lion’s share of the OH involved in urban ozone production is generated when ultraviolet radiation with wavelengths less than 320 nanometers dissociates ambient ozone to form excited oxygen atoms, which, in turn, react with water vapor to produce hydroxyl radicals. These OH radicals subsequently attack hydrocarbons and the resulting products combine through a series of chemical reactions with nitric oxide, NO, to produce nitrogen dioxide, NO2, and eventually ozone, O3.

Sinha’s team found in laboratory experiments that another chemical reaction also plays a significant role in urban OH radical production—perhaps comparable to that from the reaction of excited oxygen atoms with water vapor under certain conditions. This new mechanism involves reactions between water vapor and NO2 in electronically “excited states,” produced when NO2 absorbs visible light between the wavelengths of 450 to 650 nanometers.

German scientists first proposed this method of producing OH radicals in 1997. Their measurements, however, did not detect any OH radicals being formed and, as a result, they suggested that the reaction would play a fairly insignificant role in the atmosphere.

The more recent measurements by the UC San Diego team suggest that this method of OH radical production occurs at a rate that is ten times faster than previously estimated. And because radiation in the 450 to 650 nanometers wavelength range is not filtered out as effectively in the lowest portion of the atmosphere as the ultraviolet radiation in the vicinity of 320 nanometers that generate OH radicals from water vapor and ozone, Sinha and other atmospheric scientists believe it’s likely to have a major role in the formation of smog.

“Identifying the sources of atmospheric OH radical production is important to understanding how to control the ozone problem, since it is the reaction of OH radicals with hydrocarbons that ultimately leads to urban ozone,” Sinha said. “The chemistry of urban ozone production is complicated and it just got bit more complicated with the addition of this new source of OH radicals.”

"We're all doomed!"

Or most people are doomed. Lovelock speaks of the coming changes. Loss of cropland, etc.

This is the beginning and the end of the article....

The weather forecast for this holiday weekend is wildly unsettled. We had better get used to it.
According to the climate change scientist James Lovelock, this is the beginning of the end of a peaceful phase in evolution.

By 2040, the world population of more than six billion will have been culled by floods, drought and famine....

The secret is to adapt as best we can - and to take the long view. The Earth is elderly, 3.5 billion years old and with another 500 million to go. The sun has another five billion years to go, before it turns into a "white dwarf" - a lump of rock.

"It is like the flashlight on a torch," explains Lovelock. "The battery will eventually run out. Everything is mortal. I would not want everlasting life for myself or for the Earth.

"We are about to take an evolutionary step and my hope is that the species will emerge stronger. It would be hubris to think humans as they now are God's chosen race."

I pretty much agree that this will probably be the case. Although I think adapting includes everyone consuming less - or at least those who have the money to consume much.

Adapting can also include renewable sources of energy, better transportation modes, etc. But I agree with Lovelock that the current number of people on the earth is not sustainable. Nor is the current mode of living except for a small number. I expect that there will always be some who live fairly well. Though food and resources will be scarce. Lifetimes will probably be shorter, etc.

"The $200 billion bail-out for predator banks..."

The $200 billion bail-out for predator banks and Spitzer charges are intimately linked

By Greg Palast

...This week, Bernanke’s Fed, for the first time in its history, loaned a selected coterie of banks one-fifth of a trillion dollars to guarantee these banks’ mortgage-backed junk bonds. The deluge of public loot was an eye-popping windfall to the very banking predators who have brought two million families to the brink of foreclosure.

Up until Wednesday, there was one single, lonely politician who stood in the way of this creepy little assignation at the bankers’ bordello: Eliot Spitzer.

Who are they kidding? Spitzer’s lynching and the bankers’ enriching are intimately tied.

How? Follow the money.

The press has swallowed Wall Street’s line that millions of US families are about to lose their homes because they bought homes they couldn’t afford or took loans too big for their wallets. Ba-LON-ey. That’s blaming the victim.

Here’s what happened. Since the Bush regime came to power, a new species of loan became the norm, the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage and its variants including loans with teeny “introductory” interest rates. From out of nowhere, a company called ‘Countrywide’ became America’s top mortgage lender, accounting for one in five home loans, a large chunk of these ‘sub-prime.’

Here’s how it worked: The Grinning Family, with US average household income, gets a $200,000 mortgage at 4% for two years. Their $955 monthly payment is 25% of their income. No problem. Their banker promises them a new mortgage, again at the cheap rate, in two years. But in two years, the promise ain’t worth a can of spam and the Grinnings are told to scram - because their house is now worth less than the mortgage. Now, the mortgage hits 9% or $1,609 plus fees to recover the “discount” they had for two years. Suddenly, payments equal 42% to 50% of pre-tax income...

‘Steering,’ sub-prime loans with usurious kickers, fake inducements to over-borrow, called ‘fraudulent conveyance’ or ‘predatory lending’ under US law, were almost completely forbidden in the olden days (Clinton Administration and earlier) by federal regulators and state laws as nothing more than fancy loan-sharking.

But when the Bush regime took over, Countrywide and its banking brethren were told to party hearty – it was OK now to steer’m, fake’m, charge’m and take’m.

But there was this annoying party-pooper. The Attorney General of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who sued these guys to a fare-thee-well. Or tried to....

Instead of regulating the banks that had run amok, Bush’s regulators went on the warpath against Spitzer and states attempting to stop predatory practices. Making an unprecedented use of the legal power of “federal pre-emption,” Bush-bots ordered the states to NOT enforce their consumer protection laws.

Indeed, the feds actually filed a lawsuit to block Spitzer’s investigation of ugly racial mortgage steering. Bush’s banking buddies were especially steamed that Spitzer hammered bank practices across the nation using New York State laws.

Spitzer not only took on Countrywide, he took on their predatory enablers in the investment banking community. Behind Countrywide was the Mother Shark, its funder and now owner, Bank of America. Others joined the sharkfest: Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup’s Citibank made mortgage usury their major profit centers. They did this through a bit of financial legerdemain called “securitization.”

What that means is that they took a bunch of junk mortgages, like the Grinning's, loans about to go down the toilet and re-packaged them into “tranches” of bonds which were stamped “AAA” - top grade - by bond rating agencies. These gold-painted turds were sold as sparkling safe investments to US school district pension funds and town governments in Finland (really).

When the housing bubble burst and the paint flaked off, investors were left with the poop and the bankers were left with bonuses. Countrywide’s top man, Angelo Mozilo, will ‘earn’ a $77 million buy-out bonus this year on top of the $656 million - over half a billion dollars – he pulled in from 1998 through 2007...

Then, on Wednesday of this week, the unthinkable happened. Carlyle Capital went bankrupt. Who? That’s Carlyle as in Carlyle Group. James Baker, Senior Counsel. Notable partners, former and past: George Bush, the Bin Laden family and more dictators, potentates, pirates and presidents than you can count.

The Fed had to act. Bernanke opened the vault and dumped $200 billion on the poor little suffering bankers. They got the public treasure – and got to keep the Grinning’s house. There was no ‘quid’ of a foreclosure moratorium for the ‘pro quo’ of public bailout. Not one family was saved – but not one banker was left behind.

Every mortgage sharking operation shot up in value. Mozilo’s Countrywide stock rose 17% in one day. The Citi sheiks saw their company’s stock rise $10 billion in an afternoon.

And that very same day the bail-out was decided – what a coinkydink! – the man called, ‘The Sheriff of Wall Street’ was cuffed. Spitzer was silenced.... Naming and shaming and ruining Spitzer – rarely done in these cases - was made at the ‘discretion’ of Bush’s Justice Department.

Or maybe we should say, 'indiscretion.'

19 Years Ago The Exxon Valdez Ran Aground

The case for Exxon to pay the $2.5 billion punitive settlement was heard by the Supreme Court in late February where Exxon argued that it would serve no "public purpose" for them to pay that amount. Last year Exxon posted earnings over $40.6 billion.

Exxon related articles:

"It's cruel. It's absolutely cruel" said Jennifer Gibbins, a clean-water activist who lives in Cordova, a small fishing town whose industry was almost completely wiped out by the oil spill. Decades later, the herring still haven't returned....

’The Exxon spill didn’t just threaten the environment; it caused immense harm to the livelihoods of commercial fishermen from Alaska, Washington and elsewhere, as well as to Native Alaskans who fished in those waters ...

’All of those individuals and associated businesses are still waiting to be made whole nearly 20 years after the Valdez spill... All states must be able to protect their coastlines from toxic spills by punishing reckless behavior. Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, January 31 2008

On March 24 1989 some 11 million gallons of crude oil leaked from the ruptured hull of the Exxon Valdez in to the Prince William Sound, Alaska. In less than two months the oil had spread over 450 miles. Thousands of fish as well as other animals died immediately, an estimated 250,000–500,000 seabirds, 2,800–5,000 sea otters, 12 river otters, 300 seals, 22 orcas and 250 bald eagles- the full impact will never be known. The initial cleanup took three years with a cost of $2.1 billion.

The repaired Exxon Valdez was renamed the SeaRiver Mediterranean and, although banned from Alaskan waters, is still carrying oil around the world.

Exxon's Deadly Legacy Lives on for Fishermen

.....While all the fisheries were adversely affected by the spill, the most profoundly affected continues to be herring. When the ExxonValdez oil spill took place, the herring fishers had been preparing for the spring season to commence. As a result of the spill, the fishery was closed and we were entrenched in months and months of crisis management. Over the next several years the herring fishery fluctuated and then in 1993 there was a complete and unprecedented crash. Since that time, the herring population has not recovered and the fishery has remains closed to this day. Our herring permits and our gear are not only useless, they are worthless.

Fishermen such as myself have lost the equity we built, which was also our means of creating a retirement. I still carry the original debt and loan payments to the Alaska Division of Investments compounding at two to three times the original amount. In order to avoid bankruptcy, I have entered into an agreement with the State requiring me to sell my seine boat and permits and relinquish my entire punitive settlement. In a best case scenario, where the award is upheld at $2.5 billion plus interest, I will meet the debt owed to the State but loose my remaining fishing assets. Any reduction of punitive damages will result in a shortfall which will likely make bankruptcy inevitable.

In 2007, the Prince William Sound Science Center published a scientific paper linking the ExxonValdez oil spill to the herring crash. Scientific studies indicate that exposure to relatively low concentrations of ExxonValdez oil can compromise adult herring's immune systems and make them susceptible to disease. However, at the time of the trial, not all of the damages were quantified. On September 20, 1991 the State of Alaska and the Federal Government arranged to settle out of court with Exxon for a figure close to a billion dollars for compensation for the environmental damage, restitution for injuries to the fish, wildlife and lands of the spill region. By settling with Exxon, the State and Federal Government eliminated any leverage the fishermen had.

Countless motions and almost twenty years later we have finally neared the conclusion of Exxon's efforts to evade its responsibility. However, the plaintiff's faith in the Government as well as the judicial system has been permanently eroded. In light of the United States Supreme Court perceived inclination to reduce the punitive damages, our hearts are heavy. With a further judgment reduction, total amounts in many peoples claims will not even scratch those monies owed to the State. It is frustrating to think that upon conclusion of this trial many of us will be going bankrupt, our lives ruined again in this endless nightmare.

Why Exxon Won't Produce More

Oil fell nearly $5, to $104 per barrel, Mar. 19, on news of a government report showing slackening demand. Not long ago, a $5 drop would have been an astonishing plunge that shook the trading establishment. These days? Nah, that's just the ho-hum daily volatility in the oil market. But how is it that crude can still trade above $100 a barrel, three times what it sold for at the start of the decade, despite a very wobbly economy?

If you want to understand that, it helps to listen in to ExxonMobil's (XOM) presentation to analysts in New York City in early March. Halfway through the three-hour meeting, Exxon management flashed a chart that showed the company's worldwide oil production staying flat through 2012.

The Calculus of "Acceptable Investment Return"

Texas-based Exxon is the largest publicly traded company in the energy business. In fact, it's the most profitable company in the history of capitalism, earning a record $40.6 billion on sales of $404 billion last year. Yet even with prices at the pump near all-time highs, Exxon isn't planning on producing any more oil four years from now than it did last year. That means the company's oil output won't even keep pace with its own projections of worldwide oil demand growth of 1.2% a year.

"We don't start with a volume target and then work backwards," Tillerson explained. Instead, he said, his team examines the available investment opportunities, figures out what prices they'll likely get for that output down the road, and places their bets accordingly. "It really goes back to what is an acceptable investment return for us," Tillerson said. In other words, producing incremental barrels just to ease prices for consumers is not part of the company's calculations. Last year, ExxonMobil led the industry with a return on capital of 32%....

Exxon plans on bringing new fields online in Russia, the Middle East, and Africa over the next four years but they won't be enough to generate growth beyond what the company is losing due to the maturation of its fields in the North Sea and Alaska, the nationalization of its fields in Venezuela, and volumes lost due to those production sharing agreements with other countries....

Venezuelans burn Exxon "Judas" in Easter ritual

CARACAS (Reuters) - In a political take on a popular Easter ritual, hundreds of Venezuelans cheered at the burning of an "Judas" effigy symbolizing oil giant Exxon Mobil, which last week lost a battle with the South American nation...

A British judge last Tuesday lifted a $12 billion freeze on Venezuelan assets awarded to Exxon, dealing a blow to the oil giant in its fight with the OPEC nation over President Hugo Chavez's nationalization crusade....

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"In Europe, Women Finding More Seats at the Table"

From The New York Times

As the homeland of strong female figures, from former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland to the character Nora in “A Doll’s House,” Norway seemed the natural place for a law requiring companies to fill 40 percent of corporate board seats with women by 2008.

The country has met the goal since the law’s passage in 2003, in part through the efforts of people like Elin Hurvenes, the founder of the Professional Board Forum, which helps women meet the institutional and wealthy investors who have a say when it comes to picking Norway’s boards.

Some companies have embraced the change. Domstein, a seafood company that never had a woman on its board, named Hanne Refsholt, the chief executive of Norway’s largest cooperative dairy, as its chairman.

But Ms. Hurvenes said it never would have happened without the penalties that threatened to shut companies down if they did not comply. In 1993, women held 3 percent of corporate board seats; in 2002, it was 6 percent. “If organic growth is 3 percent every 10 years,” Hurvenes said, “it would have taken 100 years to get to 40 percent.”

For women eager to gain a seat in the boardroom, the good news from Norway and elsewhere in Europe is that a growing number of companies are searching for women with qualifications, talent and tact to serve as outside, or nonexecutive, directors.

“The general consensus today is that diversity is very good,” said Krister Svensson, who runs CMi, a mentoring program in Brussels for executives preparing to be directors or chief executives. This year Mr. Svensson has five women in his nonexecutive director mentoring program; last year he had none.

There is, Mr. Svensson said, a new paradigm for corporate governance: “If you have 12 gray-haired men average age 65 on a board, they tend to think about business prospects and strategy from the same perspective. But if you put a 45-year-old from a hot company and a woman and an international representative on the board, the quality of the debate will deepen.”...

But the reality is that the proportion is still small. Specialists say it is constrained by the small number of women who have reached the so-called corner suite level, as well as a deep-rooted desire to preserve traditional male networks and the chemistry and comfort level that go with them.

That is why Norway’s five-year process has raised expectations among women seeking board seats throughout Europe.

Since women and men often network in different circles, Ms. Hurvenes’s company, sponsored by corporations like Norsk Hydro and Telenor, offered a forum for companies to meet women who were interested in filling board seats. Women are often less vocal about asking for a higher position, and Ms. Hurvenes encouraged them to use the contacts they made. She called the new law “the largest transfer of power to women since they got the vote.”

Now Norway’s initiative is being followed elsewhere. In Spain, the Socialist-dominated Parliament has passed legislation calling for 40 percent board participation by women by 2015, although so far it does not have the kind of enforcement measures that accompanied the Norwegian law...

One obstacle to appointing more women is a persistent preference among companies to have either sitting or retired chief executives on their boards.

“A sitting C.E.O. is perceived to have great value because he or she is facing the same issues and complexities at their own companies,” said Herminia Ibarra, a professor at Insead, the international business school with campuses in Singapore and Fontainebleau, France. “The number of women is restrained by the small number of people who have reached that level.”

For the candidates, snagging that first directorship, like making that first million, is the hardest. It usually requires not only qualifications, but strong recommendations from people on the board or in their network and creating a perception that one is a team player....

For women whose credentials do not automatically put them high on the list of director candidates, Ms. Ibarra of Insead suggested additional networking, writing articles and accepting speaking engagements to gain a higher profile.

Possible "Water Wars"

From The Independent (UK)

The world faces a future of "water wars", unless action is taken to prevent international water shortages and sanitation issues escalating into conflicts, according to Gareth Thomas, the International Development minister.

The minister's warning came as a coalition of 27 international charities marked World Water Day, by writing to Gordon Brown demanding action to give fresh water to 1.1 billion people with poor supplies. "If we do not act, the reality is that water supplies may become the subject of international conflict in the years ahead," said Mr Thomas. "We need to invest now to prevent us having to pay that price in the future."

His department warned that two-thirds of the world's population will live in water-stressed countries by 2025. The stark prediction comes after the Prime Minister said in his national security strategy that pressure on water was one of the factors that could help countries "tip into instability, state failure or conflict".

The coalition of charities has appealed for a global effort to bring running water to the developing world and supply sanitation to a further 2.6 billion people. It said international action was needed to prevent competition for water destabilising communities and escalating into conflicts.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The First Day of Spring

Yesterday - the first day of Spring and I was cleaning up the gardens with the help of my puppy, Zuma.

Easter Gorilla

A gorilla carrying an Easter basket at the Cincinnati Zoo, Thursday, March 20, 2008.
(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Carbon Capture...Another Great Green Scam

by George Monbiot

...The government seeks to bamboozle us by arguing that the new power stations will be “CCS ready”, meaning that one day, in theory, they could be retrofitted with the necessary equipment. But even this turns out to be untrue. In January, Greenpeace obtained an exchange of emails between E.ON, the company hoping to build the new plant - yes, the same E.ON that broadcasts footage of fluttering sycamore keys, suggesting that its dirty old habits have gone with the wind - and Gary Mohammed, the civil servant drawing up the planning conditions.

Mohammed begins by sending an email of such snivelling obsequiousness that you can almost smell the fear on it. “Drafting the conditions for Kingsnorth. If possible I would like to cover CCS … I admit this suggested condition could be without justification and premature but no harm in trying to gauge your opinion.” (This “suggested condition” was actually government policy. Who’s running this country?) E.ON replied by claiming that the secretary of state “has no right to withhold approval for conventional plant” (in fact he has every right). All it would allow the government to specify was that the potential for CCS “will be investigated”. Mohammed wrestled with his conscience for all of six minutes before replying. “Thanks. I won’t include. Hope to get the set of draft conditions out today or tomorrow.”

This exchange took place in mid-January, a few days before the European commission published a proposed directive specifying that all new coal-fired stations must be CCS ready. Mohammed must have known that he was helping E.ON to win approval for the plant before the directive comes into force next year.

You might by now be beginning to derive the impression that carbon capture and storage is not the green panacea ministers have suggested. But you haven’t heard the half of it. Even if it does become a viable means of disposing of carbon dioxide, new figures suggest that it’s likely to enhance rather than reduce our total emissions.

For the companies bidding for contracts to bury the gas, one technique is more attractive than the others. This is to pump it into declining oil fields. The gas dissolves into the remaining oil, reducing its viscosity and pushing it into the production wells. It’s called enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The oil the companies sell offsets some of the costs of carbon storage.

A few weeks ago, the green thinker Jim Bliss roughly calculated the environmental costs of this technique. He used as his case study the scheme BP proposed but abandoned last year for pumping CO2 into the Miller Field off the coast of Scotland. It would have buried 1.3m tonnes of CO2 and extracted 40m barrels of oil. Taking into account only the four major fuel products, Bliss worked out that the total carbon emissions would outweigh the savings by between seven and 15 times.

So has the government ruled out enhanced oil recovery? Not a bit of it. Its memo about the demonstration project says that Hutton’s department “will want to ensure that the treatment of EOR and non-EOR projects are dealt with on a level playing-field basis”. Another document suggests that it favours this technique: enhanced oil recovery will lead to “increased energy security, domestic revenue and employment”. But, the government notes, this will have to happen before the North Sea’s oil infrastructure is dismantled. “Now is the perfect opportunity to realise the significant opportunities offered by CCS.”

Like biofuels and micro wind turbines, carbon capture and storage turns out to be another great green scam. It will come too late to prevent runaway climate change; the government has no intention of enforcing it; and even if it had, the technique is likely to boost our carbon emissions...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Accelerated Composites

Accelerated Composites (AC) is a private company of 15 employees based in San Diego, California that has created the Aptera - in protoype form now - a three-wheel, two-passenger hybrid that that gets 230 miles per gallon (they are aiming for 330 mpg). The company was founded in 2006 by Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony, who have backgrounds in composites, biotechnology, aerodynamics and finance.

The 3-wheeled vehicle that partly resembles a plane or a bird without wings - is catorgorized as a motorcycle. It will only be available in California when it is first introduced. The company is shooting for some sort of roll out later in 2008.



Rats and Bamboo Flowers

SATEEK, India - About a million people in India's north-eastern state of Mizoram are facing famine after a plague of rats ate the region's entire paddy crop, officials and aid agencies said on Monday.

Hordes of rats have swept through the forests of Mizoram, home to just under a million tribespeople, feasting on the fruits of wild bamboo, which flowers every 48 years.

Experts say that the rich protein content of the bamboo fruits increases the rats' reproductive power, and, when they finished off the fruits, the rats turned their attention to farmers' crops.

The last time the bamboo flowered was in 1959 -- and the armies of rats that came in its wake decimated paddy fields across the region, leading to severe food shortages.

In 2007, the government hoped to be better prepared. But the rats could not be stopped because of bad planning and alternative rice supply plans went wrong, aid agencies said.

They said a majority of villagers were now surviving on wild roots, yam and sweet potatoes with either no supply or no money to buy to their staple food -- rice.

"Conditions of widespread food shortage and hunger prevail in all eight districts of Mizoram," said a report by international aid agency Actionaid.

"The government is reluctant to accept that the situation is rapidly slipping out of its control."

Local people call the famine which follows bamboo flowering "mautum", which means "bamboo death" in the local language. In 1959, New Delhi brushed off local warnings of a famine as tribal superstition....

Mizoram needs around 15,000 metric tonnes of rice a month, but only about one-fifth of that was available now at subsidised rates....

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Recent Glacier Headlines

Lost glaciers start countdown to climate chaos - Guardian, UK
For centuries, writers, painters and photographers have been drawn to the wild and seemingly indestructible beauty of glaciers. More practically, they are a vital part of the planet's system for collecting, storing and delivering the fresh water that billions of people depend on for washing, drinking, agriculture and power.

Now these once indomitable monuments are disappearing. And as they retreat, glacial lakes will burst, debris and ice will fall in avalanches, rivers will flood and then dry up, and sea levels will rise even further, say the climate experts. Communities will be deprived of essential water, crops will be ruined and power stations which rely on river flows paralysed.

As a result, people will have to change their lifestyles, their farming, even move their homes, says Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). He also fears the problem could exacerbate tensions over inadequate supplies between neighbouring states and countries, possibly spilling over into conflict....

Glacier ice loss at record levels - Independent, UK
Glaciers are shrinking at record rates and many could disappear within decades, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said yesterday. Scientists measuring 30 glaciers around the world found ice loss reached record levels in 2006, the most recent year for which data are available.

The most severe loss was recorded at Norway's Breidalblikkbrea glacier, which shrank 3.1m (10.2ft). On average, glaciers shrank by 1.5m. "The figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight," said Wilfried Haeberli, director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service, which conducted the study...

Melting glaciers bigger cause of rising sea levels than estimated - Livemint, India
Bangalore: Melting ice from Himalyan glaciers and other global ice sheets has contributed more to the rise in the global sea level over the past 80 years than was previously estimated, increasing the need for an effective global emission control regime.

...researchers from the National Central University in Taiwan report that the contribution of ice melt is higher than previously thought because earlier calculations have left out the contribution of water reservoirs that, it turns out, have been responsible for a drop in sea level by 30mm over the past 50 years.

India’s glaciers are melting fast and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific body meant to study climate change, warned in 2007 that if steps were not taken to check this, there was a likelihood of water shortage in rivers (when needed) and flooding of coastal regions...

“The concept is simple,” says the lead researcher from the National Central University of Taiwan team, Benjamin F. Chao. “We know that the global sea level (GSL) has been rising at 1.8mm/year over the past century, accelerating in the last decade. We also know that people have been building reservoirs impounding large quantity of water behind artificial dams, but we don’t quite know how much negative impact these dams have had on GSL rise.”

Report warns of Asian water shortages - UPI
The report said "an increasing shortage of water, which is both a key resource for agriculture and a strategic resource for electricity generation, is already noticeable" in central Asia.

The glaciers in Tajikistan lost a third of their area in the second half of the 20th century, while Kyrgyzstan has lost over a 1,000 glaciers in the last four decades, the report said.

'Glaciers atop great lakes shrinking rapidly' - Independent Online, South Africa

Nairobi - Glacier's atop one of Africa's tallest mountains are melting at an alarming rate and are likely to disappear in the next 30 years, the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) said on Monday.

The Rwenzori Mountains, which straddle the border between Uganda and Congo, are one of Africa's three mountains that are capped by a thick layer of ice. But like Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya further north, Rwenzori's glaciers are also shrinking.

"The impact of melting of glaciers was felt by the team when it discovered that the route leading from Congo to Uganda used a glacier that no longer exists, forcing the team to open a new route," said Marc Languy, head of WWF's Great Lakes region programme.

"However, the impact is more severe on wildlife and the vegetation that can not adapt to the new condition fast enough," he said after an expedition to photograph the glaciers, 5 119 metres above sea level.

The streams that trickle down the mountains provide water to some 2 million people and are the centrepiece of Congo's Virunga National Park, home to the world's few hundred remaining mountain gorillas. Both are listed as United Nations World Heritage Sites....

Global Warming Hits Tropical Glaciers in the Andes - NPR
"Tropical glaciers" may sound like an oxymoron, but these unique ice floes are dotted throughout Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. The high altitudes of the Andes in South America contain 70 percent of the world's tropical glaciers. Scientists say global warming is quickly destroying these glaciers, including Zongo, near La Paz, Bolivia.

In Pictures: The Shrinking Glaciers of Switzerland - EcoWorldly, San Francisco

Friday, March 14, 2008

Moshi - the Cat Goddess

This morning - I listened to a lecture by Martin Rossman, MD on UCTV about guided imagery and stress management. He encourages people to allow themselves to relax just as cell phones that need to be recharged. While people could meditate on a flame or their breath, for instance - he encourages people to imagine some nice, relaxing place. To imagine the sights, smells, sounds, feel - to use ones senses. I think it's probably just as well to keep it simple.

Another thing that he suggests is to have a mental discussion with an "inner guide" which would be like prayer if you believed in God. He suggested imagining someone who was full of love and wisdom - it could be a goddess figure or whatever. So after the show - I figured that I would try that. I imagined a woman in a robe sitting across a fire from me. Meanwhile our cat, moshi, was sitting on a stool or chair and moving so that the chair was rocking. This went on for like 10 minutes - for awhile it seemed like a distraction - and then I decided that Moshi is a cat goddess.

She had some good advice about various people and things. And then she got down off her stool and came over and let me pet her (which is VERY unusual on her part) just a little bit. She thinks that Abby (our aging dog) would like having a puppy around. I forgot to ask her how she would like it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Salmon fishing called off


Unprecedented collapse in fish population forces cancellation among West Coast states

Early season salmon fishing off the coasts of California and most of Oregon was shut down Wednesday by federal regulators responding to an unprecedented collapse of salmon populations along the West Coast.

The actions affect commercial and recreational fishing seasons either underway or scheduled to open in the coming weeks. When they meet again next month, regulators are likely to close the bigger fishing seasons that come later in the year....

The actions were in response to major declines in salmon populations that were especially pronounced in California's Sacramento River fall run of chinook salmon, which produced more than 80 percent of the salmon caught off the California coast.

Last year's return of spawning adults was less than 90,000, the second lowest figure on record. Worse, the number of returning two-year-olds -- a key predictor of the 2008 return -- was a record low, meaning this year is likely to be much worse.

On Tuesday, scientists informed the council that even without any salmon fishing at all, the return of Sacramento River fall run was expected to be fewer than 60,000, or less than half of the minimum target set by regulations...

Agency scientists for the most part have blamed a shift in ocean conditions along the West Coast for the problems...

"The Pope rules out feminist theology"

(Thanks to radical goddess thealogy...)

If the Pope et al. think that using gender neutral terms for God invalidates the religion - I hope more people move to a different religion.

The Vatican has cracked down on feminist interpretations of the liturgy, ruling that God must always be recognised as Our Father.

In a move designed to counter the spread of gender-neutral phrases, the Holy See said that anyone baptised using alternative terms, such as "Creator", "Redeemer" and "Sanctifier" would have to be re-baptised using the traditional ceremony.

The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith said yesterday: "These variations arise from so-called feminist theology and are an attempt to avoid using the words Father and Son, which are held to be chauvinistic."

Instead, it said that the traditional form of "Father, Son and Holy Ghost" had to be respected.

The alternative phrases originated in North America and started to become popular only in the past few years.

The new phrases are particularly popular in the Church of England. It was recently reported that guidelines to bishops and priests advised them to avoid "uncritical use of masculine imagery".

The Catholic Church and the Church of England are split over feminist issues.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Pope, met in Rome last year, but admitted that the ordination of women priests was a "serious obstacle" to closer ties.

The Pope, who wrote the latest ruling, has been a strong opponent of feminism in the Catholic Church.

In his book, The Ratzinger Report, he wrote: "I am, in fact, convinced that what feminism promotes in its radical form is no longer the Christianity that we know; it is another religion."...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Charmed-Strange Mesons


High-energy physicists devoted to recreating the conditions at the beginning of the universe have for the first time observed a new way to produce those basic particles of atoms, protons and neutrons.

Confirming a decades-old prediction, the physicists with the CLEO collaboration say they observed a rare and extremely short-lived subatomic particle with the unusual name of “charmed-strange meson” decay into a proton and anti-neutron...

The Cornell Electron Storage Ring accelerator, or CESR, collides electrons with positrons at energies ranging from 3 to 5 billion electron volts — producing many short-lived, elementary and rare particles of interest to physicists. CLEO, the large experimental detector designed to detect the accelerator collisions, is a joint project of nearly two dozen institutions in the U.S., Canada and England.

Among the products of the CESR collisions are the charmed-strange mesons, which exist for less than one-trillionth of a second before decaying into other more stable particles. Although charmed mesons have been studied for 30 years, no one had ever observed one decaying into a proton or neutron, as theory had predicted. This is notable because about 10 percent of all the collisions in the accelerator produce protons and neutrons.

Yelton did not detect the anti-neutron directly but rather inferred its presence from data on energy and momentum of other particles.

All told, he found 13 instances of charmed-strange mesons decaying into protons and anti-neutrons, retrieving and identifying those events from data on millions and millions of different collisions and their aftermaths...

“Observation of these rare decays has the promise of increasing our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of how the world is put together,” he said...

The Goat and the Tree and Murkum

Click on image to see Animation of Goat - determined to be the oldest known animation sequence - painted on an ancient Iranian earthenware bowl discovered in a grave at the 5200-year-old Burnt City.

The image is of a goat jumping up to eat the leaves of a tree.

From The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies:

The image is a simple depiction of a tree and wild-goat (Capra aegagrus) also known as 'Persian desert Ibex', and since it is an indigenous animal to the region, it would naturally appear in the iconography of the Burnt City.

The wild goat motif can be seen on Iranian pottery dating back to the 4th millennium BCE, as well as jewellery pieces especially among Cassite tribes of ancient Luristan. However, the oldest wild goat representation in Iran was discovered in Negaran Valley in Sardast region, 37 kilometers from Nahok village near Saravan back in 1999. The engraved painting of wild goat is part of an important collection of lithoglyphs dating back to 8000 BCE.

However, wild goat representation with a tree is associated with Murkum, a mother goddess who was worshipped by all the Indo-Iranian women of the Haramosh valley in modern Pakistan, which culturally had closer ties with Indus and subsequently the Burnt City civilisations, than Mesopotamia, which could had influenced the ancient potter who made this unique piece.

The Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization authorities (Iran) are insisting that it a depiction of the 'Assyrian Tree of Life’ even though it was created 1000 years before the Assyrian civilization. That is one way that goddess related imagery goes unrecognized or is lost.

(also posted at ...M's Impressions...)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Precision Cosmology

From Sky and Telescope

...In just the last decade or so, astronomers working in a remarkable specialty have determined — with high accuracy — such things as the date of the Big Bang, the amount and makeup of all the matter and energy in the universe, the large-scale shape of space, and how cosmic structure (galaxy clusters, galaxies, stars) grew and evolved from the very beginning to now, and why.
Along the way, researchers have confirmed some key predictions of the "inflationary universe" theory of how the Big Bang itself erupted from a much larger, underlying pre-existence, which could be producing inconceivable numbers of other, separate big-bang universes all the time.

This has become possible not by conventional astronomy, but by analyzing the cosmic microwave background radiation that covers the entire sky. This weak radio glow is literally the white light emitted by the still-white-hot universe as it stood just 380,000 years after the Big Bang. The light has been redshifted down into the microwave part of the spectrum (by a factor of 1,091) by the expansion of space since that time.

Dozens of experiments have mapped tiny, telltale irregularities in the microwave background, working at various scales and pointing at various parts of the sky. But the most important instrument now doing this work is the orbiting Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). It is mapping the background radiation's temperature and polarization across the entire celestial sphere, and at a wide variety of angular scales: from large (many degrees wide, constellation-size) to nearly as small as the resolution of the human eye.

As time goes on, WMAP has continued to sharpen its picture...

• The universe is 13.73 ± 0.12 billion years old. That's an uncertainty of only 0.9% now (at the 68-percent confidence level). Astronomy books in your public library probably say the universe is "between 10 and 20" billion years old.

• The Hubble constant, the rate of the universe's expansion today, is 70.1 ± 1.3 kilometers per second per megaparsec. Books in your library probably say it's "between 50 and 100." These refinements affect everything else. For instance:

• The sum total of everything in the universe consists of the following: matter made of atoms ("baryonic matter") 4.6% ± 0.15%, nonbaryonic dark matter 23% ± 1%, dark energy 72% ± 1.5%. We know almost nothing about what the dark matter and dark energy are, but we do know quite well now how much of each is out there.

• All this matter and energy adds up, within just 1% uncertainty, to exactly enough to make space "flat," as inflationary-universe theories predict. That is, empty space on the largest cosmic scales is just like the ordinary space right around you: having no overall curvature or weird geometry. This also implies that space extends infinitely far beyond our visible horizon, equally in all directions, as best we can tell...

• The behavior of the mysterious dark energy is becoming clearer. Its "equation of state," a parameter known as w, equals –1 to a precision of 6%. That's the best determination of it yet. This implies that dark energy is not something that spreads out as space expands, the way particles in space would, but is something inherent to spacetime itself — so that one cubic centimeter of space always contains the same amount of it no matter how greatly space has expanded. This matches Albert Einstein's idea of a "cosmological constant" from the 1920s (referred to by the Greek letter Λ) and argues against the dark energy being a sort of physical substance that has been proposed, dubbed "quintessence." ...

• WMAP also finds concrete evidence for a "cosmic neutrino background" filling space. The neutrinos (weak, extremely low-mass particles) came from nuclear reactions in the dense matter that filled the universe in the Big Bang's first few minutes. By the time of the visible microwave background, 380,000 years later, neutrinos still amounted to 10% of all matter and energy in the universe, compared to their vanishingly small proportion today.
In addition, the three types of neutrinos that exist have masses that can add up to no more that 0.61 electron volt, agreeing with laboratory experiments.

• The cosmic "dark ages" — the era between when the Big Bang cooled and the first stars formed (an era when the universe became so cold that molecular-hydrogen snowflakes may have formed) — began ending around cosmic age 400 million years (redshift 11). This change is known as the "reionization era." The date fits in with evidence that's been coming from more normal astronomical methods. (Reionization apparently was, however, a drawn-out affair, happening by fits and starts in different places.)

Everything in the universe, now and long ago. The top chart shows the constituents today. The bottom one shows the composition just 380,000 years after the Big Bang, when the microwave background radiation broke free.
The relative composition changed greatly as the universe expanded. Dark matter and baryonic matter ("atoms") just thinned out as the universe expanded, like ordinary gases. But photons and neutrinos also lose energy in expanding space, so their energy density decreased faster than the matter. They're an insignificant portion now. Meanwhile, the proportion of dark energy increased with the increasing volume of space.

NASA / WMAP Science Team

The results also are providing the best data yet for examining the astonishing burst of growth in the first trillionth of a second of the universe, when ripples in space itself may have been created.

“Doomsday ark” on the moon?

This may be a good thing to do - but it would seem like it would also be good to bury several on the earth - they would be easier to get to.

From the Timesonline (UK)

IF civilisation is wiped out on Earth, salvation may come from space. Plans are being drawn up for a “Doomsday ark” on the moon containing the essentials of life and civilisation, to be activated in the event of earth being devastated by a giant asteroid or nuclear war.

Construction of a lunar information bank, discussed at a conference in Strasbourg last month, would provide survivors on Earth with a remote-access toolkit to rebuild the human race.

A basic version of the ark would contain hard discs holding information such as DNA sequences and instructions for metal smelting or planting crops. It would be buried in a vault just under the lunar surface and transmitters would send the data to heavily protected receivers on earth. If no receivers survived, the ark would continue transmitting the information until new ones could be built.

The vault could later be extended to include natural material including microbes, animal embryos and plant seeds and even cultural relics such as surplus items from museum stores.

As a first step to discovering whether living organisms could survive, European Space Agency scientists are hoping to experiment with growing tulips on the moon within the next decade.

According to Bernard Foing, chief scientist at the agency’s research department, the first flowers - tulips or arabidopsis, a plant widely used in research - could be grown in 2012 or 2015.

“Eventually, it will be necessary to have a kind of Noah’s ark there, a diversity of species from the biosphere,” said Foing.

Tulips are ideal because they can be frozen, transported long distances and grown with little nourishment. Combined with algae, an enclosed artificial atmosphere and chemically enhanced lunar soil, they could form the basis of an ecosystem.

The first experiments would be carried out in transparent biospheres containing a mix of gases to mimic the earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide given off by the decomposing plants would be mopped up by the algae, which would generate oxygen through photosynthesis.

The databank would initially be run by robots and linked to earth by radio transmissions. Scientists hope to put a manned station on the moon before the end of the century.

The databank would need to be buried under rock to protect it from the extreme temperatures, radiation and vacuum on the moon. It would be run partly on solar power. The scientists envisage placing the first experimental databank on the moon no later than 2020 and it could have a lifespan of 30 years. The full archive would be launched by 2035.

The information would be held in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish and would be linked by transmitter to 4,000 “Earth repositories” that would provide shelter, food, a water supply for survivors.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Jelly Propulsion

This is a good article on Jellyfish propulsion from

I've read where supposedly "Jellyfish Don't Swim" - because they can be moved so much by the currents. But I would call their movements swimming.

...But jet propulsion is actually older than the Flintstones. It's a standard means of locomotion for jellyfish, the earliest animals to swim the seas using muscles. Jellies have been jet-propelling for at least 550 million years, yet only recently have scientists begun to understand how the challenges of moving in fluid have shaped jellyfish evolution.

This Scyphozoan jellyfish, with its UFO-shaped bell, moves to a slower rhythm than its smaller, rocket-shaped relatives. New studies link jellyfish means of locomotion to body size and shape.

Jellyfish invented muscle-powered movement, a feat that allowed them to diversify into a number of ecological nooks and crannies. But jelly muscles are relatively meager and the jet-pack method of motion requires serious strength. That has presented a mystery about how some species of jellyfish can get so big. New studies have begun to explain how enormous gelatinous creatures muster the strength to swim. The answers may lead to novel designs for underwater vehicles and are prompting scientists to rethink how to harness energy from wind currents...

...the research team filmed some broad, UFO-shaped jellies known as moon jellyfish, or Aurelia aurita, in shallow waters of the Adriatic Sea and in a saltwater lake on the Adriatic island of Mljet. Again, the scientists used dye to visualize the animals' wakes. The researchers immediately noticed that these jellies didn't zip to and fro, but meandered, using a leisurely half-jet, half-paddle approach. Like their rocket-shaped relatives, these broader, flatter jellies moved by contracting their meager muscles, squeezing water from their bells into a swirling vortex behind them. But when a moon jellyfish relaxed, postsqueeze, and water rushed in to refill its bell, the dye revealed a second vortex forming at the bell's edge. Dabiri realized that this second vortex was swirling in the opposite direction of that of the first, like water swirling inward at the edge of a bowl pushed down into a basin of water. The collision of these opposing, swirling masses of water was providing enough thrust to propel the moon jellyfish forward...

Dabiri crunched the numbers again, incorporating bell dimensions and the force of the second vortex into his equations. His new model, published with Colin and Costello in the June 2007 Journal of Experimental Biology, suggests that broad jellies, no matter how big, should be able to generate enough force to swim, albeit via a gentle, slow paddle, not a jet. And because of the superior elasticity of a jelly's gooey cellular matrix, the critter doesn't use extra energy to generate the second vortex. It's like a spring that's been compressed and wants to recoil, says Dabiri. "The relaxation phase is essentially for free."

Dabiri is impressed by the fancy footwork of these broad jellies and by how they've managed with the hand (or tentacles) that they've been dealt...

Young jellies are also limited in terms of purposeful movement. They begin life as small larvae dispersed by currents and eventually settle on the bottom of the sea. The majority then grow into polyps, small finger- or pear-shaped lumps. Some species have polyps that can crawl around a bit, but mostly they stay put, waiting for something tasty to stumble into their tentacles. This was life in the 'burbs for Cnidarians, until the day, roughly 550 million years ago, that a polyp ancestor of today's jellies grew a little bud that broke off and got into the swim of things. Called medusans, these free jellies are the adult jellyfish that marinelife fans know and love (or fear). Almost all of today's jellies still begin as larvae, become polyps, and eventually medusans, free to roam the seas.

It's likely that the first free-floating jellies were the only swimmers in the ancient seas, says Collins. There would have been algae and coral larvae and such floating around, and eventually ancient versions of lobsters and other marine arthropods. But the highways were basically clear. No sharks. No fish. Certainly no people. The jellies had the pool to themselves...

Of course, jellies may have done it first, but most animals have since figured out how to generate force by contracting muscles, points out Edwin DeMont of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. But many creatures use two muscles where jellies use one. Human biceps and triceps, for example, pair up so that when one contracts, the other pulls back to rest. The equivalent in jellies is the springy, postsqueeze expansion of their goo...

"Jellyfish exhibit coming to Akron"

Why just 3 years?


Display to open June 7 in Komodo Kingdom

Imagine hundreds of jellyfish rhythmically moving to the sea-like sounds of a pipe organ.

That's what visitors will see when the Akron Zoo opens a new exhibit — the only one of its kind in Ohio — on June 7.

In filling a rotating exhibit space in its Komodo Kingdom building, the zoo wanted to provide ''something different for the people of Northeast Ohio that they've never seen before,'' marketing director Dave Barnhardt said Thursday.

The exhibit — Jellies: Rhythm in the Blue — is under construction, with five of the 10 aquarium tanks already built.

When all the tanks are complete, they will house seven different species — moon jellies, Pacific sea nettles, blue blubbers, umbrella jellies, Japanese Sea nettles, upside down jellies and comb jellies.

The hundreds of jellyfish will be brought in from aquariums throughout the country over the next several weeks.

''We're real excited because this is going to be the largest jellyfish exhibit ever created at a zoo in Ohio,'' Barnhardt said. ''And it's something drastically different than what we've ever had before.

''Our main aquatic animal has been the penguin and we've never had jellyfish.''

Barnhardt said the jellyfish's rhythmic movements ''are very intriguing to people. We'll have specially designed lighting and music and there will be a real artsy feel to the entire exhibit.''

Barnhardt said the jellyfish exhibit is scheduled to be at the zoo for three years.

Balloons banned to save wildlife

From the Telegraph (UK)

Portsmouth City Council has banned helium balloons because they kill wildlife such as turtles, dolphins and seabirds.
The latex material can block animals' guts when swallowed, or wildlife can get tangled up in strings or ribbons.

Now the city council has banned mass balloon releases taking place on its land, including schools.

Councillor Jason Fazackarley, the executive member for the environment, said: "I am not a killjoy.

"Balloons may look nice but once they are released into the atmosphere, whoosh, they are gone.

"Then they might choke some innocent turtle to death. They think it is a jellyfish and eat it and die horribly and slowly."

He added: "I am not talking about banning balloons from people's houses, parties, or community halls."

Helen Somerset-How, of the Rainbow Centre in nearby Fareham, which raised £1,000 for children with cerebral palsy last September by launching balloons, said: "We sold each balloon for five pounds which raised funds for us. What else are we supposed to do - cut a ribbon? That's nothing compared to the fun and visual impact of a balloon race."

More Jellyfish

More about the problem of more jellyfish. Signs of the times.

Article from the Guardian(UK).

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, scientists in Spain are warning that the plagues of jellyfish that have been the scourge of Mediterranean swimmers in recent years will return this summer.

In November, scientists at the Barcelona-based Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM) began studying the life cycles of jellyfish off the Costa Brava, and were alarmed to detect large numbers of the Pelagia noctiluca, commonly known as the "mauve stinger", growing in the winter, ready for an assault on Spain's beaches.

The study revealed that jellyfish proliferate throughout the year, not just in the summer. Between November and January, scientists discovered 30 colonies, or blooms, ranging in size from four to 10 jellyfish per cubic metre of water, all along the Catalan coast.

According to Josep-María Gili, research professor at the ICM, these groups were born last autumn, and the summer tides will carry them inland from deeper waters, causing the plagues that have seen millions of jellyfish wash up on Spain's beaches in recent years. "The problem seen on the beaches is not the main concern for scientists," said Professor Gili, "For us the major worry is the global disequilibrium in the sea caused by over-fishing."

As a result of over-fishing, the jellyfish do not have to face their usual predators and competitors, which usually regulate population growth. Numbers of large fish such as swordfish and red tuna, which eat jellyfish, have been drastically reduced by bad fishing practices, as have the smaller fish, such as sardines and whitebait, which compete for food with the stingers.

Global warming has also brought about the ideal conditions for jellyfish to breed: mild temperatures, little rain and a lack of the usual winter rainstorms. Plagues of jellyfish are nothing new - they often recur in cycles of up to 10 years, but recently, these cycles have become ever shorter, and the blooms more widespread and populous.

According to Gili, the recent growth in jellyfish numbers "is a message from the sea that something is wrong. People need to realise that fish, especially adult fish, play an important role in the sea - they are the principal carnivores. We must change the laws about over-fishing and the type of fishing."

The problem is not restricted to the Mediterranean. "Spectacular growth has been found in jellyfish populations in Japan, Namibia, Alaska, Venezuela, Peru, Australia ... this is an international ecological problem," Gili said...

Dr Reyes Tirado, at the Greenpeace research laboratories in Exeter, said the plagues were not just caused by over-fishing: "Our activities on land also play a big part ... overloading of coastal waters with nutrients both from sewage and from agricultural fertiliser runoff are also important," she said. "Excess nutrients can have disastrous effects on estuaries and coasts, causing blooms of harmful algae and helping jellyfish populations to increase.

"Add to these factors the warmer waters and changing marine currents caused by climate change and the problem of jellyfish invasions seems set to get much worse in the future."

More info @ the Independent (UK)

And from - Jellyfish Population Worries Fish Industry in Namibia:

As the effects of climate change continue to impact on major industries in the world, the Namibian fishing industry could become one such casualty.

The ever-presence of jellyfish in Namibian waters, which feed on fish eggs of commercial species, has had the line ministry worried. .

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"Running the Numbers"

This is pretty cool artwork - attempting to show the quantity of consumption in this country...

First image depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes - 60x120"- /second a detail.

An American Self-Portrait

This series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 410,000 paper cups used every fifteen minutes. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. The underlying desire is to emphasize the role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

My only caveat about this series is that the prints must be seen in person to be experienced the way they are intended. As with any large artwork, their scale carries a vital part of their substance which is lost in these little web images. Hopefully the JPEGs displayed here might be enough to arouse your curiosity to attend an exhibition, or to arrange one if you are in a position to do so. The series is a work in progress, and new images will be posted as they are completed, so please stay tuned.

~chris jordan, Seattle, 2007


Some of his other images:

Plastic Cups, "Depicts one million plastic cups, the number used on airline flights in the US every six hours."

Barbie Dolls, "Depicts 32,000 Barbies, equal to the number of elective breast augmentation surgeries performed monthly in the US in 2006."

Plastic Bags, "Depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every five seconds."

Handguns, "Depicts 29,569 handguns, equal to the number of gun-related deaths in the US in 2004."

Cigarettes, "Depicts 65,000 cigarettes, equal to the number of American teenagers under age eighteen who become addicted to cigarettes every month."

Paper Cups, "Depicts 410,000 paper cups, equal to the number of disposable hot-beverage paper cups used in the US every fifteen minutes."

Cans Seurat, "Depicts 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds."

"Feds' plans to 'flush' Grand Canyon stirs concerns"

From the LAtimes

The Grand Canyon is about to take a bath, and National Park Service officials who oversee the natural wonder are worried.

Federal flood control managers, led by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, this week plan to unleash millions of cubic feet of water from behind Glen Canyon Dam to "flush" the huge canyon bottom with a simulated springtime flood.

Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Geological Survey specialists say the 60-hour "blowout," followed by a series of smaller flows this fall, are needed to scour accumulated sand off the Colorado River bottom, then gradually restore sandy beaches and side pools for endangered species and campers.

The flows begin today, and a massive release is set for Wednesday in a media event with Kempthorne.

At its peak volume, 41,500 cubic feet per second of water will burst from tubes at the bottom of the dam, temporarily reducing flows to hydroelectric turbines. The experiment will not affect power or water supplies to customers, officials said.

National park officials said that 10 years of research at a cost of $80 million had shown that the flooding as planned could irreparably harm the national park's ecology and resources.

Grand Canyon National Park Supt. Steve Martin said he was given a day to formulate comments to a cursory environmental assessment of the project. In those comments, he wrote that statements by the Bureau of Reclamation used to justify the flows' timing were "unsubstantiated." Far from restoring crucial sand banks and other areas, the flows could destroy habitat, Martin said....

Erosion has been a major problem since Glen Canyon was dammed for hydroelectric power and water storage in the 1960s. Congress passed the Grand Canyon Preservation Act in 1992 to address ecological problems caused by holding back massive amounts of sediment-laden spring runoff.

The first flush of the Grand Canyon, in 1996, was a mixed success at best, scientists concluded, with some spots more eroded than they were before.

A second flush, in 2004, was slightly more successful, restoring sand and sediment levels about 20 miles downstream of the dam...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"Want to Save a Coral Reef? Bring Along Your Crochet Needles"

From the New York Times

The exotically shaped creatures that began to sprout silently all over the cozy lecture hall were soon spilling onto empty chairs and into women’s laps and shopping bags. When fully grown, these curiously animate forms will find a home as part of a mammoth version of the Great Barrier Reef. But at the moment they were emerging at a remarkable pace from the rapidly flicking crochet hooks wielded by members of the audience.

This environmental version of the AIDS quilt is meant to draw attention to how rising temperatures and pollution are destroying the reef, the world’s largest natural wonder, said Margaret Wertheim, an organizer of the project, who was in Manhattan last weekend to lecture, offer crocheting workshops and gather recruits. The reef is scheduled to arrive in New York City next month.

As she explained to the 40 people, nearly all women, who had gathered at New York University on Saturday, “This has grown from something that was a little object on our coffee table” to an exhibition that, so far, spreads over 3,000 square feet. And that was before the addition of that day’s catch.

Ms. Wertheim, a science writer, and her twin sister, Christine, who teaches at the California Institute for the Arts, came up with the idea of creating a woolly homage to the reef about two and a half years ago. The Wertheims, 49, grew up in Queensland in Australia, where the approximately 135,000-square-mile reef — and the billions of tiny organisms that it comprises — is located. But the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef (more on that in a moment), is much more than a warning about global warming. It marks the intersection of the Wertheims’ various passions: science, mathematics, art, feminism, handicrafts and social activism.

For that reason the project has attracted a wide range of participants, including the Harlem Knitting Circle (which arrived with 10 members), a student from a Westchester high school’s environmental science club who had never crocheted before, a geoscientist and a former mathematics teacher and sheep farmer in Australia who creates algorithms to calculate the length of yarn she’ll need before spinning and dying the wool from her own sheep. In Chicago, where the exhibition appeared a few months ago, about 100 women contributed to the reef.

News of the project has been all over the online knitting and crochet world, which is how Njoya Angrum, the founder of the Harlem Knitting Circle, and Barbara H. Van Elsen of the New York City Crochet Guild discovered it.

“It pushes the boundaries of crochet, using different materials,” said Ms. Van Elsen, who wore to the gathering a bright orange yellow and green necklace that she had crocheted. “Exploring texture and color, it frees you up.”

It’s also “the greatest way to get people really aware of what’s going on in the world,” she added.

For Ms. Wertheim, a lithe woman with a no-nonsense attitude and closely cropped black and gray hair, the project embodies the “beauty and creativity that comes out of scientific thinking,” what she refers to as “conceptual enchantment.” As it turns out, the gorgeously crenellated, warped and undulating corals, anemones, kelps, sponges, nudibranchs, flatworms and slugs that live in the reef have what are known as hyperbolic geometric structures: shapes that mathematicians, until recently, thought did not exist outside of the human imagination....

Dutch Mosquitoes


De Telegraaf, always good for a shock-horror headline, writes, "The mosquitoes are coming! Experts predict a summer of plagues". According to the populist daily, the residents of the island of Schiermonnikoog view the coming summer with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they long for lazy days in the sunshine, and on the other they fear a repeat of the almost biblical proportions of last summer's mosquito plague. The owner of a luxury hotel on the island says, "I saw the first swarms of mosquitoes last week and I almost fell off my bike with shock".

According to one Dutch mosquito expert, climate change means that mosquitoes are here to stay and "we will have to get used to it". According to an environmental researcher, the entire country will experience plagues of mosquitoes. He also warned that diseases previously only found in the tropics would start cropping up in the Netherlands, as tropical mosquitoes are able to survive here due to the warmer, wetter climate.

"On thin ice in the Arctic"

From (Richmond, VA)

CHARLOTTESVILLE - The polar bear has become the furry face of climate change in the Arctic.

The bear is deserving, but other animals -- particularly the walrus and a living sausage called the ribbon seal -- are in even worse peril, a University of Virginia researcher says.

"Polar bears are very familiar to people," said G. Carleton Ray, "but actually they are not as endangered as these seals and walruses."

Ray, 79, has been studying animals in the Bering Sea region since the late 1950s. His wife and fellow marine ecologist, Jerry McCormick-Ray, 64, has been working there since the early 1980s. She concentrates on clams -- the favorite dish of the walrus -- and other small animals living on the sea floor.

Scientists say global warming is particularly apparent in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, where research indicates floes of sea ice are increasingly melting away.

Polar bears, walruses and ribbon seals use sea ice as platforms for reproducing and feeding. If the ice disappears, doesn't remain long enough or becomes too thin, the animals' numbers could drop drastically as the parents don't adequately reproduce and abandoned youngsters starve.

Polar bears could potentially persist in much lower numbers on land, Ray said.

"The point is, these guys are totally dependent on the sea ice," he said of the seals and walruses. "That's it."

The Rays' research included a five-week trip to the Bering Sea last spring, supported by the National Science Foundation, aboard the 420-foot Coast Guard icebreaker Healy.

In the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Russia just south of the Arctic Circle, sea ice normally disappears in summer. But research has shown a "distinct trend" in ice loss from March through June, Ray said.

That's when the seals and walruses are giving birth and nursing their young, Ray said.

On his computer in his U.Va. office, Ray showed satellite images of the disappearing ice.

"It is melting earlier by about three weeks, and it is forming later by about three weeks," compared with the 1980s, Ray said.

Because polar bears and even walruses can live on land somewhat, Ray doesn't believe they will become extinct. Ribbon seals, however, never go on land. Ray called their extinction a "distinct possibility" if warming trends continue....

Walruses root around on the sea floor for clams, worms and other food. That rooting appears to release nutrients that feed tiny plants, which in turn feed tiny animals such as shrimplike krill, which are eaten by whales, seals, fish, and diving seabirds called auklets.

That chain reaction may contribute to making the Bering Sea, which to an outsider appears barren and hostile to life, a lush realm that rivals tropical rainforests in biological richness.

"It's probably one of the most productive places on Earth," said McCormick-Ray, also a U.Va. researcher.

The melting of sea ice could aid shipping, fishing, tourism and oil exploration. That would be good for commerce but probably disastrous, in terms of oil spills and pollution, for that little-understood ecosystem, the Rays said...

Monday, March 03, 2008

More migratory birds flocking to northern Alabama

I expect that this sort of thing is happening all over. We've had shifts of this sort. It's quite exciting for the birders - new birds showing up and all.

From The Birmingham News:

...Since the 1960s, the number of the birds in the reservoirs and refuges in northern Alabama have almost flip-flopped. Almost every species' numbers are either climbing steeply or dwindling.

And other birds are appearing for the first time. Pelicans, terns and gulls by the thousands now winter north of Birmingham.

"When I was a boy growing up in Decatur, a gull, a pelican - those were all seashore birds," said Keith Hudson, the state's nongame biologist for the northern half of Alabama.

Now, the one-time beach birds spend the winter in the reservoirs of the Tennessee River or at Decatur's Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

And they are joined by nearly every fish-eating bird or duck found in northern Alabama. Almost all are on the increase during the winter.

On the other end of the food chain, the numbers of tiny seed-eating sparrows also are soaring. The exception is the once-common house sparrow, which is in steep decline at Wheeler. Wildlife biologists don't know why.

Nor do they have any idea why robins have multiplied almost by 10. Or why an annual winter bird count at Wheeler finds that Eastern bluebirds have increased from an average of seven in the 1970s to 282 in the past decade.

But they have some educated guesses: It's likely that recent warm winters have trained some migrating birds to stop in Alabama instead of Florida and the Gulf Coast, experts agree.

And there's no question left in birding circles that at least some water birds are rebounding after the United States' 1972 ban of DDT, which entered the food chain through fish.

Nationally, populations of birds known to be most affected by DDT are now fully recovered.

Both the bald eagle and the brown pelican have been removed from the Endangered Species List in the South after they were almost exterminated by DDT....

Birds such as red-cockaded woodpeckers and Bachman's sparrows, which are reliant on one type of pine forest all year, may be the global losers among birds.

"It's going to be harder for some of these birds to adapt than others," Duncan said. "Especially the ones that have very specific habitats, if their habitats are being hammered."

Okla. fight over poultry waste escalates

COLCORD, Okla. (AP) - In a region that produces billions of pounds of the nation's poultry, part of doing business for the past half-century was trying to ignore the smelly waste dropped by the birds.

Now, the chickens have come to roost, as Oklahoma wants a federal judge to stop 13 Arkansas-based poultry companies from dropping any more chicken litter in a once-pristine watershed.

The preliminary injunction request is part of the state's 2005 lawsuit against the $2 billion poultry operation here — including Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat producer, Cargill Inc., George's Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc._ for polluting with chicken waste, which contains bacteria, antibiotics, growth hormones and harmful metals.

The Oklahoma-Arkansas region supplies roughly 2 percent of the nation's poultry and is one of several regions nationally where the industry is most concentrated.

At stake is a practice thousands of farmers have employed for years: Taking the ammonia-reeking stuff — clumped bird droppings, bedding and feathers — and spreading it on their land as cheap fertilizer.

However inexpensive, decades of mass-dumping of the litter has wreaked havoc in the 1-million-acre Illinois River watershed, turning it into a murky, sludgy mess, environmentalists say.

If a judge orders an end to disposing the waste here, the ruling could lead to similar environmental lawsuits nationwide against the industry, which produced more than 48 billion pounds of chicken in 2006...

Oklahoma estimates more than 345,000 tons of poultry waste are produced annually in the river valley, with the bulk of that tonnage disposed of in the same area. More than 1,800 poultry houses are in the region, most of them in Arkansas.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said while the industry spends tens of millions of dollars on self-promotion — such as the $75 million "Powered by Tyson" campaign — its decision not to properly dispose of the bird waste is about the bottom line.

"They could burn it as energy, process it and pelletize it, they can even properly compost it until the pathogens are dead," Edmondson said. "And they have chosen economically not to."

(The poultry industry) defends poultry litter's use as an organic fertilizer, and add that Oklahoma and Arkansas state laws already regulate land application of the waste.

Six-legged 'Hexapus' Found

LONDON (AFP) - British marine experts have found what they claim is a world first -- a six-legged octopus, or "hexapus," whom they have christened Henry.

The unique sea creature, which has two limbs fewer than a normal octopus, is believed to be the result of a birth defect rather than an accident, say his keepers at the Blackpool Sea Life Centre in northwest England.

"We've scoured the Internet and talked to lots of other aquariums and no-one has ever heard of another case of a six-legged octopus," said supervisor Carey Duckhouse.

Henry was discovered in a lobster pot off the north Wales coast two weeks ago, and was one of eight creatures that Sea Life staff picked up from a local marine zoo there -- where staff hadn't noticed his missing legs.

It was only when he attached himself to the inside of a glass tank that Sea Life staff noticed he was two limbs short of a full set. Octopuses are renowned for having three hearts and blue blood, but not usually six legs.

"He's a lovely little thing," said a spokeswoman, adding that he will go on display to the public later this month.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

"My Forbidden Fruits (and Vegetables)"

A farmer from Rushford, Minnesota outlines some of the problems with subsidies - and how they (intentionally) work against local growers.

By JACK HEDIN OP-ED in the New York Times

IF you’ve stood in line at a farmers’ market recently, you know that the local food movement is thriving, to the point that small farmers are having a tough time keeping up with the demand.

But consumers who would like to be able to buy local fruits and vegetables not just at farmers’ markets, but also in the produce aisle of their supermarket, will be dismayed to learn that the federal government works deliberately and forcefully to prevent the local food movement from expanding. And the barriers that the United States Department of Agriculture has put in place will be extended when the farm bill that House and Senate negotiators are working on now goes into effect.

As a small organic vegetable producer in southern Minnesota, I know this because my efforts to expand production to meet regional demand have been severely hampered by the Agriculture Department’s commodity farm program. As I’ve looked into the politics behind those restrictions, I’ve come to understand that this is precisely the outcome that the program’s backers in California and Florida have in mind: they want to snuff out the local competition before it even gets started.

Last year, knowing that my own 100 acres wouldn’t be enough to meet demand, I rented 25 acres on two nearby corn farms. I plowed under the alfalfa hay that was established there, and planted watermelons, tomatoes and vegetables for natural-food stores and a community-supported agriculture program.

All went well until early July. That’s when the two landowners discovered that there was a problem with the local office of the Farm Service Administration, the Agriculture Department branch that runs the commodity farm program, and it was going to be expensive to fix.

The commodity farm program effectively forbids farmers who usually grow corn or the other four federally subsidized commodity crops (soybeans, rice, wheat and cotton) from trying fruit and vegetables. Because my watermelons and tomatoes had been planted on “corn base” acres, the Farm Service said, my landlords were out of compliance with the commodity program.

I’ve discovered that typically, a farmer who grows the forbidden fruits and vegetables on corn acreage not only has to give up his subsidy for the year on that acreage, he is also penalized the market value of the illicit crop, and runs the risk that those acres will be permanently ineligible for any subsidies in the future. (The penalties apply only to fruits and vegetables — if the farmer decides to grow another commodity crop, or even nothing at all, there’s no problem.)

... The federal farm program is making it next to impossible for farmers to rent land to me to grow fresh organic vegetables.

Why? Because national fruit and vegetable growers based in California, Florida and Texas fear competition from regional producers like myself. Through their control of Congressional delegations from those states, they have been able to virtually monopolize the country’s fresh produce markets....