Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Juneau Forced To Cut Energy Use

(Reuters) Residents of Juneau, Alaska's capital city, have been forced to cut energy use since a series of avalanches wiped out transmission towers and electrical lines, cutting off all power from the area's hydroelectric system.

The extensive damage has forced Juneau to rely on costly electricity from backup generators fueled by diesel, which is at all-time high prices. Electricity from the generators cost nearly five times as much as power from the hydroelectric dam.

Avalanches rumbled down the mountainsides two weeks ago at the Snettisham hydroelectric dam about 25 miles (40 kilometres) southeast of Juneau, a city of about 30,000.

Alaska Electric Light and Power Co, the local utility, said the area is expected to rely on the backup diesel generators for three months because it is not safe for workers to go fix the damage.

Unlike other parts of the energy-rich state, Juneau has no source of natural gas and relies almost exclusively on the area's hydroelectric system for most of its power.

Without drastic reductions in energy use, a typical Juneau family could be facing electric bills of over $1,000 a month for the next three months, said Tim McLeod, president of the Alaska Electric Light and Power Co.

Low-income Juneau residents and several businesses that struggle through the tourism off-season might be crippled by skyrocketing electricity bills, said House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula.

Juneau city leaders and the city's legislators are seeking state and national disaster declarations that would pave the way for assistance to the needy, said Kerttula. (

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

..."Reno earthquakes keep shaking"

(AP) Scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno are scrutinizing seismic readings and studying damage at residents' homes to try to figure out what's happening beneath the earth's surface under a northwest Reno neighborhood rocked by a seemingly endless string of earthquakes...

...the shaking is unusual, seismologists say, because the intensity of the quakes has increased over the past few weeks. Generally, earthquakes tend to occur and are followed by smaller aftershocks.

In this case, the earth's rumblings have continued unabated, with barely negligible bumps occurring often minutes apart, followed by occasional larger shakers.

It's impossible to know if the temblors are foreshocks of a bigger quake to come, or aftershocks of what has been, experts said.

Up until April 15, sizable quakes that could be felt were occurring about once every third day.

Then, the rate increased, with about three, 2.0 or larger incidents occurring daily.

On April 24, when the first 4.2 quake was registered, "all of a sudden we were seeing 20 (of the magnitude) 2s and larger per day," said state geologist Jon Price.

"This is an exceptionally vigorous sequence of earthquakes," Price said.

During the past week alone, more than 500 occurrences have been recorded.

Most recently, two measuring 3.1 and 3.2 in magnitude occurred around 11 p.m. Monday. Another 3.1 was recorded at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.

The largest so far was a 4.7 quake that was registered at 11:40 p.m. Friday. It was preceded 11 seconds earlier by a 3.3 quake, and followed 3 minutes later by one registering 3.4.

The temblors sent goods flying off shelves, cracked walls, broke glass and collapsed part of a water flume west of Reno. There were no injuries.

They are mostly shallow, occurring just beneath the surface to within a mile or two...

Mapping of the quakes shows they are clustered around the Mogul and Somersett neighborhoods in northwest Reno, in an area about 2.5 miles long and 1/3 of a mile wide...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bats & White-nose Syndrome

The old Greeley Talc Mine sits high on a hillside above the banks of the White River.

It's the only place in the Green Mountain National Forest where bats are known to be hibernating.

The U.S. Forest Service hopes it's remote enough that the hundreds of bats inside will be protected from a mysterious disease.

"In this particular cave, we have not found the effects of white nose syndrome yet," said Rob Hoelscher, a wildlife biologist with the USFS.

White nose syndrome is a fungus that's been found in hibernating bat populations, killing an estimated 90 to 95 percent of bats in affected areas. It has spread to at least 25 sites in the Northeast, including sites in Vermont, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Hoelscher said it's a significant concern...

"This bat in particular is exhibiting that very characteristic white nose syndrome," said Scott Darling, a bat biologist for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, as he pulled a dead, emaciated bat from a sealed plastic bag. It was one of several bats found last week in the old Elizabeth Mine in Strafford. Before then, the disease had not been detected east of the Green Mountains.

"The fact that it has spread so rapidly is obviously disconcerting to us," he said.

Darling added that bats are a major predator of insects, so white nose syndrome isn't just a problem for bats.

"When you do the math and make the calculations of some 500,000 bats being affected by white nose syndrome," he explained, "that adds up to literally 2 billion insects per night that won't be eaten by those bats."...

Another article: On a freefall toward extinction

Bats have been dying by the thousands recently in the Northeastern United States. No one knows why, and it may be months, perhaps years, before the cause is determined.

Meanwhile, scientists predict that this summer there will be a population explosion of insects, which bats normally eat in large quantities. Greater numbers of beetles and moths could mean severe and costly losses for farmers and timber producers. There could also be bigger swarms of mosquitoes and other biting bugs, which will mean more discomfort for all of us.The perplexing bat affliction is called white-nose syndrome. Bat biologists have called it the “gravest threat to bats ever known.” Whether its cause is eventually found to be a toxic substance in the environment, a newly emergent infectious disease, lack of food, or something else, it’s clear that this latest blow to bats — and it is only the latest in a long list of injuries — could bring about the regional disappearance of one or more species. We may even lose certain species altogether.

The plight of the bats signals an unhealthy, deteriorating environment — one that we all share. Though biologists don’t believe the white-nose syndrome is a contagion that directly threatens people, from a broader perspective we all ought to worry when the natural balance of things has been so altered that bats are dying out before our eyes.

We live in an era when the words “endangered” and “extinct” have become sadly commonplace. Nonetheless, the sudden, wholesale death of wintering colonies of bats has captured headlines nationwide, and shaken biologists used to dealing with species on the downward slope.

One of the species affected is the Indiana bat, which is on the federal endangered species list. While it is estimated to have once numbered in the millions throughout its range in eastern North America, its global population was estimated last year at approximately 500,000. The reasons for its decline are disturbance and destruction of its wintering sites (caves and abandoned mines), loss of summer habitat (forests), and, probably, the use of pesticides and other toxic substances...

"Stem Rust Never Sleeps"

From New York Times
WITH food prices soaring throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, and shortages threatening hunger and political chaos, the time could not be worse for an epidemic of stem rust in the world’s wheat crops. Yet millions of wheat farmers, small and large, face this spreading and deadly crop infection.

The looming catastrophe can be avoided if the world’s wheat scientists pull together to develop a new generation of stem-rust-resistant varieties of wheat. But scientists must quickly turn their attention to replacing almost all of the commercial wheat grown in the world today. This will require a commitment from many nations, especially the United States, which has lately neglected its role as a leader in agricultural science.

Stem rust, the most feared of all wheat diseases, can turn a healthy crop of wheat into a tangled mass of stems that produce little or no grain. The fungus spores travel in the wind, causing the infection to spread quickly. It has caused major famines since the beginning of history. In North America, huge grain losses occurred in 1903 and 1905 and from 1950 to ’54.

During the 1950s, I and other scientists, first in North America and later throughout the world, developed high-yielding wheat varieties that were resistant to stem rust and other diseases. These improved seeds not only enabled farmers around the world to hold stem rust at bay for more than 50 years but also allowed for greater and more dependable yields. Indeed, with this work, global food supplies rapidly increased and prices dropped.

From 1965 to 1985, the heyday of the Green Revolution, world production of cereal grains — wheat, rice, corn, barley and sorghum — nearly doubled, from 1 billion to 1.8 billion metric tons, and cereal prices dropped by 40 percent.

Today, wheat provides about 20 percent of the food calories for the world’s people. The world wheat harvest now stands at about 600 million metric tons.

In the last decade, global wheat production has not kept pace with rising population, or the increasing per capita demand for wheat products in newly industrializing countries. At the same time, international support for wheat research has declined significantly. And as a consequence, in 2007-08, world wheat stocks (as a percentage of demand) dropped to their lowest level since 1947-48. And prices have steadily climbed to the highest level in 25 years.

The new strains of stem rust, called Ug99 because they were discovered in Uganda in 1999, are much more dangerous than those that, 50 years ago, destroyed as much as 20 percent of the American wheat crop. Today’s lush, high-yielding wheat fields on vast irrigated tracts are ideal environments for the fungus to multiply, so the potential for crop loss is greater than ever...

The Bush administration was initially quick to grasp Ug99’s threat to American wheat production... But more recently, the administration has begun reversing direction. The State Department is recommending ending American support for the international agricultural research centers that helped start the Green Revolution, including all money for wheat research. And significant financial cuts have been proposed for important research centers, including the Department of Agriculture’s essential rust research laboratory in St. Paul.

This shocking short-sightedness goes against the interests not only of American wheat farmers and consumers but of all humanity. It is tantamount to the United States abandoning its pledge to help halve world hunger by 2015...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mountain Top Removal

I saw an article from Mud, WV on this in the paper the other day and while I've known about it for awhile and seen it when I've flown over areas that are decimated by it - it is still one of the most depressing things. It's such a concrete example of how the American Lifestyle is destroying nature in our own backyard. Energy to power our conveniences seen as so necessary that people justify destroying entire mountains along with all of the wildlife, animals, trees, ferns, and flowers, streams, insects and all that goes with it. Surely people could be cutting back on their usage instead of resorting to this.

This article quoted Roy Carter as saying the Midwest and South were the users of the power generated by the destruction of the mountains. Another article referred to Washington D.C. and their increased population and energy use.

This site ->
has a way for people to input their zip code and see what connection their local power plant has to mountain top removal.

Carter speaks out against Mountain Top Removal:
In the coalfields of central Appalachia, the ridge tops themselves are being forever leveled by a coal mining practice known as mountain top removal. In the past two decades more than 470 mountains have been decapitated, more than 1,000 miles of headwater streams have been filled, and more than a million acres of hardwood forests have been stripped from an area the size of Delaware, all for the purpose of extracting cheap fuel for coal fired power plants in the Midwest and South, power plants whose pollutants cause premature deaths, hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular complications, asthma attacks, and the further deterioration of the forests in our own Blue Ridge mountains. In the name of economic development and job creation, large coal corporations in Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee are sapping the economic future of coalfield mountain communities.

W.Va. town copes with mountaintop mining:

MUD, W.Va. - This is a place where moving mountains is no longer a figure of speech. Here, among the steep green Appalachians, mining companies are moving mountaintops off their pedestals to get the kind of coal that Washington needs.

It happened here, on a ridgeline called Sugar Tree Mountain, where locals once hunted for squirrels and puckery sour grapes. Then, the top was scraped off to expose the black seams in its innards, leaving a rock-strewn plateau.

"It used to be West Virginia," said Vivian Stockman, an environmental activist. "And now it's Mars."

Though this isolated mine is more than 400 miles from Washington, the two places share a powerful connection: coal. The D.C. region, with its need for electricity skyrocketing, has been steadily burning more coal, buying almost a third of its supply from this part of Appalachia.

And that, analysts and environmentalists said, means that Washington's air conditioners and iPods have helped drive the region's "mountaintop" mining.

The coal industry and the Bush administration say the benefits of these mines, measured in jobs and energy, outweigh the damage.

But in West Virginia, where mining opponents can face back-roads intimidation, some neighbors say that Washington area residents might not know the true cost of their power.

"We have to go through a lot for them to get their electric," said Lucille Miller, who picked the grapes on the vanished mountain.

The links that bind the suburbs of Washington to the mines of West Virginia can be traced through federal energy records. The Washington Post analyzed almost four years of data, showing where the six coal-fired power plants across the region bought their supply.

The records make one thing clear: The plants have been buying a lot more coal. Total purchases were more than 40 percent higher in 2006 than in 2004. The increase came as the Washington region's demand for electricity grew 18 percent since 2001, driven by population growth and an increasingly wired culture. D.C. area plants do not send their electricity straight to local homes, but feed it into the regional power grid.

Records also show that about 32 percent of the coal the plants bought came from one kind of mine in this corner of Appalachia - a "surface" operation, where miners do not have to tunnel.

The region, where southern West Virginia meets Virginia and Kentucky, is home to the vast majority of mountaintop mines in the United States.... (more)

And then there is the Tar Sands

project up in Canada which is destroying forests for oil....

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More on the Arctic Ice Melt

By Ed Struzik, Canwest News Service
Ice was the last thing David Barber was worried about when he and an international team of scientists made plans last year to have their research icebreaker frozen into the Beaufort Sea for the winter.

But when the Amundsen sailed into the western Arctic in November, the ice that normally begins to take hold in October hadn't even begun to gel.

"Even by mid-December, the southern Beaufort Sea was still wide open," said Barber, a University of Manitoba sea ice physicist and chief scientist aboard the Amundsen. "That's over a month longer than the time freeze-up normally occurs."

Barber and his colleagues got an even bigger surprise when they sailed north into M'Clure Strait, the main channel connecting the Northwest Passage to the western Arctic. The strait is legendary as a gateway for thick, rock-hard, multi-year ice that piles in from the Beaufort Sea, but Barber and his colleagues found nothing but clear sailing.

"It was surreal," he said. "The weeks spent on the ship were some of the most remarkable of my career. The multi-year pack ice had migrated about 150 miles (240 kilometres) north from where it has traditionally been located. So the ice-associated, high-pressure system that traditionally forms over the southern Beaufort at this time of year was displaced.

"All that cyclonic activity that was drawn in by the warm, open water not only made for some rough sailing, it also put more heat into the air, keeping the local climate warmer than usual."

Barber isn't alone in wondering whether this winter signals the climatic tipping point that many scientists have been anticipating. That's the moment in time when sea ice in the Arctic becomes so thin and vulnerable that the ice produced each winter can no longer keep up with the spring and summer melts.

Many scientists now believe that when this happens, the world will enter a new era of global change -- one that no one really understands, but that will likely have an enormous impact on the climate of the rest of the world. (more)

"Ontario to ban use of pesticides"

I think they need to ban the use for golf courses, as well.

TORONTO - Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is expected to use Earth Day today to introduce legislation banning the cosmetic use of pesticides across the province.

McGuinty promised a ban in the last election but he is expected to go one step farther today by prohibiting not only the use but the sale of pesticides for cosmetic purposes.

"There is a lot of consciousness being raised about environmental health issues and I think accordingly this is a really exciting step forward," Minister of Health George Smitherman said Monday.

The new legislation would apply to lawns, gardens, parks and schoolyards but will not apply to agriculture, according to the province.

Pesticides needed to address public health issues such as the West Nile virus will also be exempt from legislation.

Golf courses will also be exempt from the new rules but will be required to develop plans to limit the environmental impact of pesticides, the province said.

Environment Minister John Gerretsen said the proposed legislation has received "tremendous support" during public consultations with 90 per cent of submissions in favour of a ban.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

AquaJelly and AirJelly (Two robotic jellyfish)

A Design News editor was lucky enough to watch two robotic jellyfish swim and fly at the Hannover Fair in Germany. These two robots, AquaJelly and AirJelly, made by Germany-based Festo company, are using 8 tentacles based on fish fins for propulsion.

The AquaJelly has 11 infrared light-emitting diodes and communicates with a central station by using the short-range radio standard ZigBee. AquaJellies also can collaborate to solve a large problem by autonomously picking single. Obviously, the AirJelly has a somewhat different body to float into the air, a helium-filled balloon. Markus Fischer, Head Of Corporate Design at Festo, says these robots ‘will be very useful in the factory of the future.’

You can see above several Festo’s AquaJellies robots. (Credit: Festo) This image was picked from a Festo’s document, Bionic Learning Network: Inspired by nature, which gives more details about the AquaJelly. “AquaJelly is an artificial autonomous jellyfish with an electric drive and an intelligent, adaptive mechanical system. AquaJelly consists of a translucent hemisphere and eight tentacles used for propulsion. At the centre of the AquaJelly is a watertight, laser-sintered pressure vessel. This comprises a central, electric drive, two lithium-ion-polymer batteries, the charge control device and the servo motors for the swashplate.”...

NAS Panel Confirms That Ozone Kills

This is important for the whole "Cost/benefit" nonsense. Detriments must all be denied so benefits can be denied.

Short-term exposure to smog, or ozone, is clearly linked to premature deaths that should be taken into account when measuring the health benefits of reducing air pollution, a National Academy of Sciences report concluded Tuesday.

The findings contradict arguments made by some White House officials that the connection between smog and premature death has not been shown sufficiently, and that the number of saved lives should not be calculated in determining clean air benefits.

The report by a panel of the Academy's National Research Council says government agencies "should give little or no weight" to such arguments.

"The committee has concluded from its review of health-based evidence that short-term exposure to ambient ozone is likely to contribute to premature deaths," the 13-member panel said.

It added that "studies have yielded strong evidence that short-term exposure to ozone can exacerbate lung conditions, causing illness and hospitalization and can potentially lead to death."

The White House Office of Management and Budget, which in its review of air quality regulations has raised questions about the certainty of the pollution and mortality link, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

"The report is a rebuke of the Bush administration which has consistently tried to downplay the connection between smog and premature death," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington-based advocacy organization.

Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the Academy's findings "refutes the White House skepticism and denial" of a proven link between acute ozone exposure and premature deaths. Such arguments have been used to diminish the health benefits of reducing air pollution, she said.

The Academy panel examined short-term exposure — up to 24 hours — to high levels of ozone, but said more studies also were needed on long-term chronic exposure where the risk of premature death "may be larger than those observed in acute effects studies alone."

Ground-level ozone is formed from nitrogen oxide and organic compounds created by burning fossil fuels and is demonstrated often by the yellow haze or smog that lingers in the air. Ozone exposure is a leading cause of respiratory illnesses and especially affects the elderly, those with respiratory problems and children.

While premature death from ozone exposure is greater among individuals with lung and heart disease, the report said such deaths are not restricted to people who are at a high risk of death within a few days...

One such case involves the EPA's decision last month to toughen the ozone health standard, reducing the allowable concentration in the air.

When the cost-benefit analysis was being prepared in connection with the rulemaking, the OMB argued there is "considerable uncertainty" in the association between ozone levels and deaths.

As a result, the EPA issued a wide cost-benefit range from an annual net societal cost of $20 billion to a savings of $23 billion, depending largely on whether one takes into account lives saved from ozone-related premature deaths.

OMB officials also have objected to the EPA quantifying ozone-related mortality benefits in new emissions standards for lawn mowers and other small engines that release large amounts of ozone-forming pollution.

In response, the EPA removed "all references to quantified ozone benefits" in the proposed rule, according to an e-mail sent by EPA to the OMB. The small engine regulation is awaiting final action.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Food shortages....

Food shortages: how will we feed the world? (From Telegraph (UK))

The era of cheap food is over. In Britain, a standard white loaf costs more than £1, grocery bills are driving up inflation and land prices are going through the roof. But steep rises in the price of staples such as wheat and rice are having an even bigger impact on poor countries.

In Cameroon, 24 people have been killed in food riots since February, while in Haiti, protesters chanting, "We're hungry" forced the prime minister to resign this month.

In the past month, there have been food riots in Egypt, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Madagascar.

The World Bank now believes that some 33 countries are in danger of being destabilised by food price inflation, while Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, said that higher food prices risked wiping out progress towards reducing poverty and could harm global growth and security...

Bob Watson, the chief scientist at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, puts the rise in the price of commodity crops such as wheat down to a number of factors: higher demand for grain to feed livestock in China, where increasing affluence means more people want to eat meat; drought in Australia for three years, meaning it has had to import wheat; market jitters brought on by the sight of several countries stopping exporting grain; speculators seeing a chance to make money; and, of course, the sudden extra demand for food crops such as maize for use in biofuels, in both Europe and the United States...

Food represents about 10 to 20 per cent of consumer spending in the rich world, but as much as 60 to 80 per cent in developing countries, many of which are net food importers, according to Henri Josserand, of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Bob Zoellick, president of the World Bank, calculates that food inflation could push 100?million people back into poverty, wiping out the gains of a decade of economic growth.

Food Riots Begin: Will You Go Vegetarian? (From

As food riots break out around the globe, vegetarianism seems like more than a way of being kind to animals. It's about eating as efficiently as possible, so that grains destined for livestock will reach people instead... It takes an estimated five pounds of grain to produce a single pound of beef...

In the last month, something largely ignored by the public but long predicted in organizational white papers and academic studies has come to pass: widespread food shortages. Ballooning prices. Outright riots. Neighbor fighting neighbor. Countries scrambling to feed themselves, export partners be damned.

Even before this crisis, food experts said the world could not feed itself in coming decades if growing populations in developing countries insisted on a meat-rich western diet. That time may already have arrived -- and largely without climate-change induced agricultural disruption. Add droughts and years of failing harvests, and things get seriously scary...

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Running Out of Planet to Exploit"


Nine years ago The Economist ran a big story on oil, which was then selling for $10 a barrel. The magazine warned that this might not last. Instead, it suggested, oil might well fall to $5 a barrel.

In any case, The Economist asserted, the world faced “the prospect of cheap, plentiful oil for the foreseeable future.”

Last week, oil hit $117.

It’s not just oil that has defied the complacency of a few years back. Food prices have also soared, as have the prices of basic metals. And the global surge in commodity prices is reviving a question we haven’t heard much since the 1970s: Will limited supplies of natural resources pose an obstacle to future world economic growth?

How you answer this question depends largely on what you believe is driving the rise in resource prices. Broadly speaking, there are three competing views.

The first is that it’s mainly speculation — that investors, looking for high returns at a time of low interest rates, have piled into commodity futures, driving up prices. On this view, someday soon the bubble will burst and high resource prices will go the way of

The second view is that soaring resource prices do, in fact, have a basis in fundamentals — especially rapidly growing demand from newly meat-eating, car-driving Chinese — but that given time we’ll drill more wells, plant more acres, and increased supply will push prices right back down again.

The third view is that the era of cheap resources is over for good — that we’re running out of oil, running out of land to expand food production and generally running out of planet to exploit.

I find myself somewhere between the second and third views...

In retrospect, the commodity boom of 1972-75 was probably the result of rapid world economic growth that outpaced supplies, combined with the effects of bad weather and Middle Eastern conflict. Eventually, the bad luck came to an end, new land was placed under cultivation, new sources of oil were found in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea, and resources got cheap again.

But this time may be different: concerns about what happens when an ever-growing world economy pushes up against the limits of a finite planet ring truer now than they did in the 1970s.

For one thing, I don’t expect growth in China to slow sharply anytime soon. That’s a big contrast with what happened in the 1970s, when growth in Japan and Europe, the emerging economies of the time, downshifted — and thereby took a lot of pressure off the world’s resources.

Meanwhile, resources are getting harder to find. Big oil discoveries, in particular, have become few and far between, and in the last few years oil production from new sources has been barely enough to offset declining production from established sources.

And the bad weather hitting agricultural production this time is starting to look more fundamental and permanent than El Niño and La Niña, which disrupted crops 35 years ago. Australia, in particular, is now in the 10th year of a drought that looks more and more like a long-term manifestation of climate change...

But rich countries will face steady pressure on their economies from rising resource prices, making it harder to raise their standard of living. And some poor countries will find themselves living dangerously close to the edge — or over it.

Don’t look now, but the good times may have just stopped rolling.

Jet stream...moving northward

The jet stream — America's stormy weather maker — is creeping northward and weakening, new research shows. That potentially means less rain in the already dry South and Southwest and more storms in the North.

And it could also translate into more and stronger hurricanes since the jet stream suppresses their formation. The study's authors said they have to do more research to pinpoint specific consequences.

From 1979 to 2001, the Northern Hemisphere's jet stream moved northward on average at a rate of about 1.25 miles a year, according to the paper published Friday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The authors suspect global warming is the cause, but have yet to prove it.

The jet stream is a high-speed, constantly shifting river of air about 30,000 feet above the ground that guides storm systems and cool air around the globe. And when it moves away from a region, high pressure and clear skies predominate.

Two other jet streams in the Southern Hemisphere are also shifting poleward, the study found.

The northern jet stream "is the dominant thing that creates weather systems for the United States," said study co-author Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Stanford, Calif. "Bascially look south of where you are and that's probably a good guess of what your weather may be like in a few decades."

The study looked at the average location of the constantly moving jet stream and found that when looked at over decades, it has shifted northward. The study's authors and other scientists suggest that the widening of the Earth's tropical belt — a development documented last year — is pushing the three jet streams toward the poles...

A rate of 1.25 miles a year "doesn't sound like much, but that works out to about 18 feet per day," Caldeira said. "If you think about climate zones shifting northward at this rate, you can imagine squirrels keeping up. But what are oak trees going to do?

"We are seeing a general northward shift of all sorts of phenomena in the Northern Hemisphere occurring at rates that are faster than what ecosystems can keep up with," he said....

"The Greenland Factor"

As the island's ice sheets melt, lakes form, then disappear. Scientists investigated: Turns out the melting's glacial speed is increasing...

Greenland isn't just a huge ice-covered island. It is also a crucial factor in how global warming may reshape the world. If all the ice and snow on Greenland were to melt, the oceans would rise 20 feet...

So how fast is Greenland melting? To figure that out scientists have been clocking the speed at which ice sheets are sliding to the sea, and have shown that the speed has increased. New research published Apr. 17 in the online journal Science Express explains how this actually occurs. Here's what happens: Big lakes of meltwater form on the surface of the ice in the summer. The pressure from the water then creates cracks in the ice sheet that go all the way down to bedrock, more than half a mile below. The water then gushes down through the ice in a cataclysmic flow rivaling Niagara Falls.

Down at the bedrock, the water actually lifts up the massive ice sheet and acts like grease, doubling the speed of the glaciers' journey over the bedrock to the sea. "It matters," says Richard Alley, professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, and an ice-sheet expert: "It is not 'run for the hills, we are doomed,' but this tells us that loss of the Greenland ice could happen in centuries, not millennia."

The new research proves a theory proposed by Alley and others. Scientists had been puzzled by the fact that the glaciers on Greenland seemed to be moving at an increasing speed (though at less than a tenth of a mile per year, the pace is glacial). The researchers already knew, from observations and calculations, that Greenland's ice is slowly shrinking simply from melting. That process is slow, however. "It would take a lot of centuries to melt the whole thing," says Alley. Yet if the glaciers also started sliding faster to the sea, the loss of ice could be more rapid.

In poring over satellite images, researchers noticed that large lakes form on the surface of the glaciers during the summer. Those lakes then suddenly disappear. "We see these things come and go," says Sarah Das, glaciologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass. One possibility was the lakes simply drain into rivers on the surface. Or, scientists theorized, the water might generate enough pressure to crack the 3,000-foot-thick ice all the way to bedrock, pouring down through the ice.

A team led by Das and Ian Joughin of the University of Washington set out to prove which idea was correct. They flew to an area of glaciers with lakes, and set up camp on the ice. Then they installed an array of instruments. They put sensors in a lake 2½ miles wide to measure the changes in the amount of water it held. They deployed seismometers to detect rumbles in the ice, and put global-positioning units on the ice to chart its movement. They left the instruments in place when they left the study area, and waited.

It wasn't a long wait. "The lake drained about 10 days after we were there," Das says. When they went back, gathered up the instruments, and began to look at the data, it was clear that the crack theory was correct. The water had indeed rushed down to the bedrock. It had spread out under the ice, and raised the huge ice sheet by more than three feet. But there was a also a surprise: It happened in a relative flash. "The entire lake drained in about two hours," says Das. "It was a much more catastrophic drainage than we expected." The volume of water flowing down to bedrock matched the torrent over Niagara Falls. That realization led the team to ditch plans to explore other, still-intact lakes aboard a rubber boat. "We decided we'd leave the boat in its crate," laughs Das.

The data also showed that as the water flowed underneath it, the glacier did indeed speed up, doubling its velocity. That doesn't mean Greenland's ice is about to fall into the sea, since the glaciers move pretty slowly to begin with. But it does mean that the ice will disappear faster than just from melting alone, cutting the time from thousands of years to hundreds...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Melting causes lake in Chile to empty"

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP)- Melting ice in southern Chile caused a glacial lake to swell and then empty suddenly, sending a "tsunami" rolling through a river, a scientist said Thursday. No one was injured in the remote region.

Glacier scientist Gino Casassa said the melting of the Colonia glacier, which he blamed on rising world temperatures, filled the Cachet Lake and increased pressure on the ice sheet.

The water bored a 5-mile tunnel through the glacier and finally emptied into the Baker River on April 6.

"The remarkable thing is that the mass of water moved against the current of the river," Casassa told The Associated Press by telephone from the Center for Scientific Studies in the southern city of Valdivia. "It was a real river tsunami."

The lake was nearly full again by late Wednesday, he said.

Casassa said temperatures were unusually high during the recent Southern Hemisphere summer...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"...Seahorses reach Thames"

From the Timesonline (UK)

FOR 18 months it has been a closely guarded secret. Seahorses, the exotic creatures from tropical waters, are alive and well in the Thames estuary.

The fish once thought to pull Neptune’s chariot in some enchanted realm can do the same for Old Father Thames now that the river’s waters are so much cleaner.

The Zoological Society of London discovered the colony in 2006 but decided to keep quiet until legislation could be put in place to protect the seahorses. They live in the river’s estuary, between Essex and Kent.

Scientists have greeted their arrival as an indicator of the increasing purity of the river’s water. Fifty years ago they declared the river biologically dead - killed by the pollution that was the product of industrialisation and urban growth.

Environmentalists, however, will point out that the arrival of the seahorse is also a sign of ecological changes linked to global warning...

The short-snouted seahorses in the Thames are commonly found around Africa and the Mediterranean and only occasionally near the southern coasts of Britain. Their usual habitat is shallow coastal waters rich in weeds and plant life, although they can be found as deep as 100ft.

There are an estimated 30 species of seahorse worldwide but only two are found around Britain. Both the short-snouted and long-snouted seahorse can be found off the south coast; only occasionally have isolated individuals been identified as far north as the Thames estuary...

Last year, however, juvenile seahorses of both the short-snouted and long-snouted species were found in the marina at Brighton, East Sussex. This was the first evidence to suggest the fish were actually breeding in British waters.

Monday, April 07, 2008

"Call for curbs on Antarctic ships"

From the BBC

Environmental campaigners are calling for greater restrictions on shipping around Antarctica in order to prevent damage to its unique ecosystems.

More tourists than ever before are visiting Antarctica, some in ships not designed for the harsh conditions.

Campaigners say the sinking of the M/S Explorer last year was a wake-up call.

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) is asking the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to strengthen its rules.

"The IMO is the only body that can agree stringent vessel standards, equipment and procedures in order to protect human life and the marine environment for all vessels using Antarctic waters," said James Barnes, ASOC's executive director.

ASOC and its allies are calling for the banning from Antarctic waters of ships that use heavy oil as fuel. They want to see tighter restrictions on the discharge of sewage and grey water, and a requirement that all vessels entering the region are strengthened to withstand icy conditions.

So enticing is the lure of the White Continent that Antarctic tourism has grown about five-fold in the last 15 years.

Figures from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators suggest that 37,552 tourists visited Antarctica during 2006-07, the majority arriving by sea...

Antarctica is the unique home to several varieties of penguin, an important base for others such as seals, and a vital feeding ground for whales.

"It's fragile, hostile at times, yet staggeringly beautiful," said Vassili Papastavrou, a biologist with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) which is backing ASOC's bid.

"You just don't get such abundance of wildlife in an undisturbed environment anywhere else in the world."

1,500 New Solar Homes in Sacramento, CA


Nearly 1,500 solar-powered, super energy-efficient SolarSmart homes will be built in the Sacramento area in an agreement between utility, SMUD and homebuilder Woodside Homes. The deal is the largest to date between any utility and homebuilder in the United States.

In the agreement, the latest SMUD has signed with what is becoming a long list of homebuilders, SMUD provides funding to buy down the cost of solar and energy efficiency equipment in all the homes.

The 1,487 homes contracted in the Woodside Homes deal will be built starting this year in subdivisions near Rancho Cordova. They are expected to be completed in 2012.

Residents of these SolarSmart homes may save as much as 60 percent annually on their electric bills through the energy-efficient features and the solar roof tiles that generate electricity. SolarSmart homes also boast many energy efficiency measures to help customers reduce their bills year-round. The energy efficiency measures include efficient HVAC systems, radiant barriers in attics, added insulation, duct sealing and energy-efficient compact fluorescent lighting...

The homes also deliver environmental benefits. They have a smaller “carbon footprint” than conventional new homes. Carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced. Cumulatively, the 1,487 SolarSmart homes could reduce carbon emissions that are equivalent to taking about 700 cars off the road or planting about 1,000 acres of trees.

Water Problems

From ENN (Reuters)

Spanish region may ship water to relieve drought
Spain's northeast Catalonia region will need to import water by ship and train from May to ensure domestic supplies if the current drought persists, the regional government said in a report.

The report, sent to Reuters on Friday, said rainfall in all but one of Catalonia's 15 river basins was below emergency levels for the year so far.

"Forecasts show that if scant additions to reservoirs continue as they have in the past 11 months, resources need to be brought in by ship during May to prevent cuts in domestic supply," the report said.

Plans are for seven boats to come in May to regional capital Barcelona, at first from nearby port Tarragona, then from French port Marseille. A further three ships may arrive in August from a desalination plant in southern Spanish port Carboneras.

The Generalitat, or regional government, estimated that upgrading port facilities to handle water would cost 35.2 million euros ($55.30 million), and the cost of chartering 10 ships 44 million euros.

Contacts have also been made with state rail company Renfe to charter trains to carry water, but the Generalitat provided no timetables or financial details in its plans.

Catalonia is home to 7.2 million people, or 16 percent of Spain's population, and its capital Barcelona is the country's second city.

Spain needs water to irrigate crops to reduce its dependence on imported grain, and to drive hydroelectric power stations.
Currently, however, hydroelectric reservoirs are just 57.8 percent full and reservoirs for consumption, including agriculture, are 41.4 percent full....


Saudi plans to import wheat to save water
Saudi Arabia’s plan to start importing wheat and end a massive grain self-sufficiency programme it launched more than two decades ago will weaken the Kingdom’s food security and aggravate a painful Arab farm gap.

The Gulf Kingdom, the world’s richest in oil resources and one of the poorest in terms of water, said this week it would begin importing wheat at the start of 2009 and gradually eliminate a 25-year grain programme that has allowed it to be self sufficient but drained its scarce desert water wealth.

“We have decided that the first imported shipment of wheat will enter the country at the beginning of 2009,” said Saleh bin Mohammed Al Suleiman, director-general of Saudi’s Grain Silos and Flour Mills Organization...

Suleiman estimated the Kingdom’s wheat demand at nearly 2.7 million tonnes in 2007, adding that almost all the demand in 2007 and the previous years had been met through local production.

In January, Saudi Arabia announced plans to import wheat and cut purchases from local farmers by 12 per cent a year to conserve water, following reports about an alarming decline in underground resources...


Vt. lawmakers told of water crisis ahead
Lawmakers studying legislation that would protect Vermont's ground water heard dire warnings yesterday from a Canadian author about a worldwide shortage of fresh water that she said could worsen exponentially in the coming years.

"It's going to surpass energy as a national security issue for the United States," said Maude Barlow, an Ottawa-based environmentalist and author of the books "Blue Gold" and "Blue Covenant."

"There are alternative forms of energy, but we haven't yet found an alternative to water," Barlow told a joint hearing of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee and the House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources.

The Senate has passed, and the House panel is soon to take up, legislation that would declare the ground water under Vermont a public trust.

That's a legal doctrine that the legislation's backers say could provide protections for the state's underground aquifers essentially by restricting individual users from sucking them dry.

Barlow lauded the Senate for passing the bill and said she hopes the House will follow suit.

But she said that even with a new law in place, Vermont might be targeted by litigation brought under the North American Fair Trade Agreement saying the state's efforts to limit water withdrawals interfere with international trade in bottled water.

"The bottled water companies are everywhere in New England."...

Senator Virginia Lyons, Democrat of Chittenden and chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said the idea of a public trust as applied to a lake is that someone with a home on the shore can use the lake, but can't take all the water from it.

Sets up new permitting and reporting requirements. Commercial and industrial users would have to report withdrawals of more than 20,000 gallons per day and obtain a state permit for those larger than 57,600 per day.

Exempts all but the largest farms, which would have to report to the Agency of Agriculture if they withdraw more than 50,000 gallons per day...

Problems in Lessening Pollution

Chesapeake Bay cleanup progress lags
Population growth is undermining modest gains in the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, according to regional reports released yesterday.

Furthermore, pollution decreases in most of the bay's major tributaries are still too small to prevent Virginia and its bay-state neighbors from missing a federal deadline to improve water quality.

The reports by the Chesapeake Bay Program, of which Virginia is a part, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, add to the drumbeat of warnings that the bay can't be saved at the current pace...


Chinese pollution quietly takes toll in Japan
Mount Zao is whipped every year by wet winds from across the Sea of Japan (East Sea) that form layers of ice and snow that shine like crystals. The Japanese call them "juhyo," or ice trees.

Skiiers from Japan and other Asian nations regularly fly to the 1,600-metre (5,280-foot) mountain just for a glimpse of the juhyo, which local people describe as little monsters for their intricate twisted shapes.

Fumitaka Yanagisawa, an assistant professor of Yamagata University who has studied the juhyo for nearly two decades, warns that the frost is increasingly mixed with acid, spelling danger for the trees' future.

This year he recorded the highest yet levels of acid, "which could have severe ramifications on the eco-system," he said.
Looking at satellite data, he and another professor, Junichi Kudo of Tohoku University, concluded that the acid in the trees came from sulfur produced at factories in China's Shanxi province...

Mount Zao is only one example of pollution hitting Japan from China, where factory emissions are causing international concern as its economy soars ahead.

Some schools in southern Japan and South Korea have occasionally curbed activities because of toxic chemical smog from China's factories or sand storms from the Gobi Desert caused by rampant deforestation...

From the

Difficulties in reducing air pollution
A warning from environmentalists that Connecticut is in danger of falling short on its goal to reduce air pollution should underline the fact that a double-barreled problem is at least partially responsible: lack of support from the federal government on one side and from individuals on the other.

According to a Connecticut Climate Coalition report, the state's aim of returning pollution to its 1990 level is being impeded by motor vehicle emissions, which increased by 20 percent between 1990 and 2005. That occurred as pollutants emitted by industrial and commercial sources went down, including a 12.2 percent decline from electric power plants.

For their part, state officials have been trying to address the problem with better mass transit, including a massive investment in railroad improvements to reduce commuter reliance on personal vehicles. There are good arguments that Connecticut should have started such initiatives long before it did, and that the pace of improvements, including such basic requirements as increasing the amount of commuter parking at railroad stations, has lagged.

But that aside, the coalition, joined by the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that driving patterns have been largely responsible to putting pollution reduction "off track." They have included an overall trend toward purchase of fuel-consuming sport-utility vehicles, as well as living patterns that require longer drives between home and work.

From the

Philippine rivers destroyed by pollution
Fifty rivers in the Philippines have been destroyed because people are using them to dump their rubbish, leaving some ecologically dead, an official said Wednesday.

Of the country’s 421 major rivers and 20 large river basins, 50 are “highly degraded because of man’s abuse and neglect,” Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Joselito Atienza said in a statement. “History tells us that rivers have played an important role in the country’s economic growth. Yet, we have disregarded this and continue to dirty our rivers and lakes by turning them into giant septic tanks and trash bins,” he added.

One of the ecologically dead rivers is the Pasig which bisects Manila. The government has been relocating thousands of squatters from its banks, but those who remain “continue to throw their domestic waste into the river,” he said. Atienza said 53 percent of the pollution in Philippine rivers is due to domestic waste.

"It’s About Laws, Not Light Bulbs"

An editorial from the New York Times

The issue of climate change is now in a sad state of political and legislative suspension, awaiting an election, a new president and a new Congress.

The first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic decision ordering the regulation of greenhouse gases came and went last week without any action by the administration, forcing state governors and other plaintiffs in the case to return to court to compel a response.

In the Senate, Joseph Lieberman continued to speak hopefully of getting a veto-proof majority for a bill he is co-sponsoring with John Warner to start capping emissions across the entire economy. Yet time is running short to get such an ambitious program right, and in any case, there is no movement in the House.

As it has for years, America’s inertia remains in sharp contrast to the work by Europe, which took an early lead in efforts to curb global warming by establishing the world’s most comprehensive carbon management system. Recently, Europeans pledged to cut emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. More important, they proposed to tighten the rules for allocating pollution allowances to make emitters pay the government for these allowances instead of getting them for free. This would eliminate the windfall profits that plagued the system in the beginning while raising large sums of money to invest in new and cleaner ways of producing energy.

The Lieberman-Warner bill would also set ambitious targets, establish a system of tradeable allowances and require investments in new technologies. The difference is that Europe’s program is in business, whereas America’s best ideas are still on paper.

Therein lies the motivation for Al Gore’s latest climate change initiative. Though the next occupant of the White House will improve on President Bush — all three major-party candidates have endorsed federal limits on greenhouse gases — Mr. Gore is taking no chances. Last week he announced a three-year, $300 million campaign to build awareness of the dangers of climate changes and light a fire under Washington.

Mr. Gore’s ambition is not just to change individual behavior by getting people to buy energy-saving light bulbs: it is to change policy. Whether he can compete with the public’s preoccupations with war and the economy is unclear, but it is certainly worth the effort.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"'Kyoto II' Climate Talks Open In Bangkok"

BANGKOK - The first formal talks in the long process of drawing up a replacement for the Kyoto climate change pact opened in Thailand on Monday with appeals to a common human purpose to defeat global warming.

"The world is waiting for a solution that is long term and economically viable," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said in a video address to the 1,100 delegates from 163 nations gathered in Bangkok.
The week-long meeting stems from a breakthrough agreement in Bali last year to start negotiations to replace Kyoto, which only binds 37 rich nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of five percent from 1990 levels by 2012.

U.N. climate experts want the new pact to impose curbs on all countries, although there is wide disagreement about how to share the burden between rich nations, led by the United States, and developing countries such as China and India.

It will also be crucial to work out how big industries, such as power generators, airlines and steel makers will play their part in tackling rising emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.

The United Nations climate panel says it is crucial for greenhouse gas emissions to peak in the next 10-15 years and then fall sharply if the world is to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

No major decisions are likely from the Bangkok talks, which are intended mainly to establish a timetable for more talks culminating in a United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen at the end of next year. Delegates said Monday's talks would be merely procedural...

However, environmental groups are keeping a close eye on Bangkok for signs of sustained commitment by rich and poor countries alike to minimising global warming by curbing emissions...

Spurring on negotiators will be last year's landmark acceptance at U.N. climate panel talks that humans are almost certainly to blame for changes to the weather system that will bring higher sea levels and more heatwaves, droughts and storms.

One major issue to be tackled is the reluctance of big developing nations such as India and China to agree to any measures that might curb their rapid industrialisation.

Negotiators will also have to work out how to deal with the United States -- the only rich nation not to have signed up to Kyoto -- given that President George W. Bush will be leaving the White House after November's election.

"The USA needs to ratify Kyoto. If they do not, they should not be allowed a voice in the discussions on future commitments under the Kyoto Protocol," Greenpeace said in a statement...

BIrds with Deformed Beaks

This seems so outrageous one might wonder if it were an April fools joke - but the story was in yesterday's edition of the and it seems to be legit.

In his back yard in Fremont, Nikos Anton spotted a house sparrow that seemed to be toting a twig in its beak.

But when he looked a little closer, Anton saw the "stick" was actually the grotesquely misshapen and overgrown top half of the bird's beak.

"Look at that!" he said, pointing to his pictures of the bird. "It's like an elephant trunk. ... It's a very odd thing happening here in Seattle."

This photo show the beaks of a red-tailed hawk - normal on left, long-billed deformity in the photo on the right.

This "long-billed syndrome" has been recorded in about 160 birds by a Skagit County researcher, mostly in Western Washington and southern British Columbia and mostly since 2000. It's also documented in more than 2,100 birds in Alaska, where the phenomenon seems to have started affecting lots of birds in the early 1990s.

Researchers say the weird beaks appear to be concentrated in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, although reports are coming in from farther south -- from Southern California in one case earlier this month.

What's the cause? That remains a mystery. A small band of puzzled, poorly funded scientists is scrambling to find answers. Could it be chemicals? Something genetic? A disease? Maybe a combination? Could it affect humans?

Whatever the cause, researchers are left profoundly unsettled by the mysterious "long-billed syndrome."

"It's really tragic," said Bud Anderson of the Falcon Research Group, based in Skagit County. "It's grotesque. It's horrible. It makes me want to puke."

When affected birds are brought into wildlife-rehabilitation centers, their feathers often are dirty and matted, because a misshapen beak inhibits preening. For the same reason, they often are infested with feather lice.

And sometimes they're starving. Birds need to eat a lot every day, and they use their beaks much as we would use our hands. So what rehab centers are often left with is a dirty, cold, hungry and miserable bird. Many die...

Most affected birds in Western Washington are red-tailed hawks. Second on the list are crows. Others include the sparrow in Fremont, black-capped chickadees, Steller's jays, northern flickers and a raven. Also involved are a variety of songbirds, as well as woodpeckers and seabirds, including gulls and one common murre.

In Alaska, by far the majority are black-capped chickadees. ................................
But the syndrome has been seen in at least 28 other species there, including starlings, Steller's jays, magpies, robins and sparrows......