Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cold weather eases flood threat in Fargo


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At Fargo - the previous record flood stage was 40.1 (flood stage is 18.0') - the Red River topped the record yesterday - is expected to stay above the record through tomorrow.

FARGO, North Dakota (Reuters) - Residents of the flood-swollen Red River Valley got a break from the weather on Saturday as cold temperatures prevented more winter thaw from swamping the city and flood barriers held, officials said.

Hundreds of National Guard troops, local residents and volunteers continued to reinforce and raise sandbagged barriers and floodwalls. They had been bracing for a record crest on Saturday but awoke instead to a slightly lower water level.

"The river is cresting. That's good news," said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker. "Everyone thinks it's over. It's not over until the river gets down maybe 6, 7 feet."

Cold weather froze flood waters in the fields around this metropolitan area of 175,000 people, keeping spring melt from adding to the flooded river, said Mike Hudson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fargo.

The Red River Valley is an important farming region for spring wheat and sugar beets, although spring planting is still weeks away. Wet soil could delay some seeding, which for wheat and corn can go well into May. U.S. wheat prices fell on Friday as snowstorms in the Plains aided needed soil moisture.

The river's level has continued to drop since midnight CDT and was 40.61 feet at 1:15 p.m. CDT on Saturday, down from 40.82 feet. The temperature was 21 degrees F (minus 6 Celsius) just before 1 p.m.

The river had been forecast to crest on Saturday at 42 feet before freezing temperatures caused the weather service to revise its forecast. The river should stay at its current level or drop over the next three to four days, the NWS said.

Hudson said ice jams could cause the river to rise or fall half a foot to one foot in the next 24 hours, but the freezing temperature looked set to keep run-off stalled for a while.
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Also - from north of the border... "Cool weather buys flood fighters a bit more time"

Last week, four rural municipalities just north of Winnipeg — St. Andrews, St. Clements, East St. Paul and West St. Paul — declared states of emergency as flooding washed out roads and submerged yards.

Steve Strang, the reeve of the Rural Municipality of St. Clements, northeast of Winnipeg, said in previous spring floods rural communities have had enough time to deal with flooding before the Red River crests.

This year, because of the a rapid freeze-thaw cycle, everything is happening at once. Strang said the outlook for property owners is grim once the weather warms up and water starts to flow again.

"All that snow is sitting on the ground and it's all going to start flowing again," said Strang. "And now we've got a river that's rising and our ditches are starting to back up because the level within the ditch is equal to that of the river, so if it's not going to flow into the river, where's it going to go? This is a huge concern."

Despite all of the new precipitation and the record flood levels in Fargo, N.D., the peak level predicted for Winnipeg itself has so far remained on par with that of the 1979 flood, which is considered the second-worst in the region.

Friday, March 27, 2009

"Global Capitalism: The Suicide Version"

By William Pfaff / from Truthdig.com:

The globalization of the international economy launched by the United States as an accidental policy of the Clinton administration has since been much lauded as benefiting (some of) the poor of the world by drawing them into the international capitalist system. This is not actually what it was designed to do.

It has proved, like the god Janus, to have two aspects. The second face now has been revealed. Economic globalization has, as its second result, impoverished (some of) the rich of the world.

The free market originated in 19th century Britain in what is called by historians the Great Transformation. As the English political philosopher John Gray describes it in “False Dawn,” a prophetic book (in 1998) on the destructive effects of globalization, that transformation tore from their local roots the economic markets that since medieval times and before had been tied to communities, and had evolved through the needs and adaptations of those communities and their immediate neighbors.

Because of their origins, these markets were constrained by the need to maintain social cohesion. In mid-Victorian England, in part because of the development of transportation and communications, these community-rooted markets—“embedded in society and subject to many kinds of regulation and restraint”—were destroyed.

They were replaced by deregulated markets that ignored social and communitarian constraints, and functioned only according to the rules that suited themselves. Because of their inter-communication and interaction, they no longer set prices according to what the farmer, artisan and community could bear. The free market created a new economy in which the prices of all goods, including labor—or, probably one should say, labor above all—were set or changed without regard to the effects upon local society. Welcome to the world of capitalism “red in tooth and claw.”

This was the capitalism that provoked the critiques and analyses of the great classical economists of the Scottish and British Enlightenments, generally read today (in Washington think tanks) chiefly in order to justify injustice, and in deliberate disregard of the social responsibility that was part of the work of such men as Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

This was the capitalism that gave birth to the Communist Manifesto, in which Marx and Engels wrote: “All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. ... Everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.” It provoked socialism and every variety of radical and religious reform meant to restore human values to economic life. Over the years, this version of capitalism was civilized, or half-tamed, until the arrival of globalization.

With globalization, technology once again was eagerly used to destroy existing capitalism by repeating the two crimes of assassination that had destroyed the pre-capitalist economy: the use of technology to expand markets so widely as to destroy existing national and international regulations; and, second, once again making labor a commodity.

Labor was no longer a social or economic “partner” in manufacturing, industry and business, which meant a human collaborator. Labor became simply a “cost,” to be reduced as far as possible, or to be eliminated.

This was rationalized with two contestable euphemisms. The first was that a progressive process had been set in motion by which the profits of globalization would “trickle down” so as to benefit the entire workforce.

This is unimaginable if labor is a commodity of unlimited supply, as it tends to be today—a specific characteristic of globalization. Destroyed was the power that labor had possessed when industry was forced to hire from a given pool of workers in a given location.

In addition, the tendency of globalization is to exploit a given workforce until it no longer has a margin of survival (Ricardo’s “iron law of wages”), and then move on. See Rust Belt industry and trailer-home former towns.

The second of the three self-destroying (indeed suicidal) qualities of globalization has proved to be the inner dynamism driving it to expand by means of the division, subdivision and quasi- universalization of the distribution of risk until this process broke through the barrier of professional dissimulation. This means that the risk has no accountability, because it is effectively unidentifiable—which was the unconscious or unavowed purpose of the process.

This is what has happened in international finance, where the accepted and normal framework of exchange between risk and responsibility, which is inherent in capitalism, has become indecipherable. Neither banks, the international financial institutions nor governments—and certainly not investors—are capable of assigning value to certain tradable paper or commodities, so that economic exchange comes to a halt. Today we stand on the brink of that fatality.

The third suicidal quality of globalized capitalism has been its creation of an organization of greed and individual acquisition of power that, because of the internationalization of the global economic system, has become not only unconscionable but unassessable. There is no assessable value in it. Thus the literally irrational pursuit of objectively meaningless rewards by some of those captains of finance now on the way to jail....

"Arctic meltdown is a threat to humanity"

From the newscientist.com:

I AM shocked, truly shocked," says Katey Walter, an ecologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. "I was in Siberia a few weeks ago, and I am now just back in from the field in Alaska. The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling up out of them."

The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling out of them
Back in 2006, in a paper in Nature, Walter warned that as the permafrost in Siberia melted, growing methane emissions could accelerate climate change. But even she was not expecting such a rapid change. "Lakes in Siberia are five times bigger than when I measured them in 2006. It's unprecedented. This is a global event now, and the inertia for more permafrost melt is increasing."

...The danger is that if too much methane is released, the world will get hotter no matter how drastically we slash our greenhouse gas emissions. Recent studies suggest that emissions from melting permafrost could be far greater than once thought. And, although it is too early to be sure, some suspect this scenario is already starting to unfold: after remaining static for the past decade, methane levels have begun to rise again, and the source could be Arctic permafrost.

What is certain is that the Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth. While the average global temperature has risen by less than 1 °C over the past three decades, there has been warming over much of the Arctic Ocean of around 3 °C. In some areas where the ice has been lost, temperatures have risen by 5 °C.

This intense warming is not confined to the Arctic Ocean. It extends south, deep into the land masses of Siberia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Scandinavia, and to their snowfields, ice sheets and permafrost. In 2007, the North American Arctic was more than 2 °C warmer than the average for 1951 to 1980, and parts of Siberia over 3 °C warmer. In 2008, most of Siberia was 2 °C warmer than average...

The rapid warming in the Arctic means that a global temperature rise of 3 °C, likely this century, could translate into a 10 °C warming in the far north. Permafrost hundreds of metres deep will be at risk of thawing out.

This is where things go global. The Arctic is not just a reflective mirror that is cracking up. It is also a massive store of carbon and methane, locked into the frozen soils and buried in icy structures beneath the ocean bed.

A quarter of the land surface of the northern hemisphere contains permafrost, permanently frozen soil, water and rock. In places, deep permafrost that formed during the last ice age, when the sea level was much lower, extends far out under the ocean, beneath the seabed. Large areas of permafrost are already starting to melt, resulting in rapid erosion, buckled highways and pipelines, collapsing buildings and "drunken" forests...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"EPA Delays Hundreds of Mountaintop Mining Permits"

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Environmental Protection Agency put hundreds of mountaintop coal-mining permits on hold Tuesday to evaluate the projects' impact on streams and wetlands.

The decision by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson targets a controversial practice that allows coal mining companies to dump waste from mountaintop mining into streams and wetlands.

Between 150 and 200 applications for new or expanded surface coal mines, many mountaintop removal operations, are pending before the federal government. EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy said the agency does not expect problems with the overwhelming majority of permits.

The permits are issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency that has been criticized by environmental groups and has been sued for failing to thoroughly evaluate the environmental impact of mountaintop removal.

Under the Clean Water Act, companies cannot discharge rock, dirt and other debris into streams unless they can show that it will not cause permanent damage to waterways or the fish and other wildlife that live in them.

Last month, a three-judge appeals panel in Richmond, Va., overturned a lower court's ruling that would have required the Corps to conduct more extensive reviews. The appeals court decision cleared the way for a backlog of permits that had been delayed until the lawsuit was resolved.

The EPA's action on Tuesday could leave those permit requests in limbo a little longer.

Ginger Mullins, regulatory branch chief for the Corps' Huntington District, which covers portions of Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, said the EPA reviews will delay approval of projects.

''It will take more time,'' said Mullins.

The EPA said in a statement that it would be actively involved in the review of the long list of permits awaiting approval by the Corps, a signal that the agency under the Obama administration will exercise its oversight.

The EPA has the authority to review and veto any permit issued by the Corps under the Clean Water Act, but under the Bush administration it did that rarely...

Mountaintop mines in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee produce nearly 130 million tons of coal annually -- about 14 percent of the nation's power-producing coal -- which in turn generates electricity for 24.7 million U.S. customers, according to industry estimates.

The low-sulfur, high-energy coal produced from those mines is not easily replaced. The industry has long maintained that eliminating mountaintop mining will lead to increased imports from countries that have far fewer environmental safeguards...
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It's hard to imagine more environmental damage than what mountian-top removal does. The whole environment is obliterated.

I know the tar sands are also a mess - but I don't know that they are worse.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Opportunity for 2 degrees lost"

By GEORGE MONBIOT in the Canberra Times:

Quietly in public, loudly in private, climate scientists everywhere are saying the same thing: it's over.

The years in which more than 2degrees of global warming could have been prevented have passed, the opportunities squandered by denial and delay.

On current trajectories we'll be lucky to get away with 4degrees.

Mitigation (limiting greenhouse gas pollution) has failed, now we must adapt to what nature sends our way. If we can.

This was the repeated whisper at the climate change conference in Copenhagen earlier this month.

It is more or less what Bob Watson, the environment department's chief scientific adviser, has been telling the British government.

It is the obvious, if unspoken, conclusion of scores of scientific papers.

Recent work by scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, for instance, suggests that even global cuts of 3per cent a year, starting in 2020, could leave us with 4 degrees of warming by the end of the century.

At the moment, emissions are heading in the opposite direction at roughly the same rate.

If this continues, what does it mean? Six? Eight? Ten degrees? Who knows?

Faced with such figures, I can't blame anyone for throwing up their hands. But before you succumb to this fatalism, let me talk you through the options.

Yes, it is true mitigation has so far failed. Sabotaged by Bill Clinton, abandoned by George W. Bush, attended halfheartedly by the other rich nations, the global climate talks have so far been a total failure.

The targets they have set bear no relation to the science and are negated anyway by loopholes and false accounting.

Nations such as Britain, which is meeting its obligations under the Kyoto protocol, have succeeded only by outsourcing it's pollution to other countries....

As professor Helm says, ''there is not much in the study of human nature and indeed human biology to give support to the optimist''.

But we cannot abandon mitigation unless we have a better option, but we don't.

If you think our attempts to prevent emissions are futile, take a look at our efforts to adapt.

Germany is spending $US600million ($A871million) on a new sea wall for Hamburg and this money was committed before the news came through that sea-level rises this century could be two or three times as great as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted.

The Netherlands will spend $3.19billion on dykes between now and 2015 and again, they are likely to be inadequate.

The UN suggests rich countries should be transferring between $72billion and $109billion per year to poor countries now, to help them cope with climate change.

But nothing like this is happening...

Alaska's Redoubt Volcano is Erupting

"A fourth explosion rocked long-threatening Mount Redoubt at 1:39 a.m. today after three eruptions earlier in the night sent an ash cloud an estimated 50,000 feet into the air, the Alaska Volcano Observatory reported."

Redoubt is across Cook Inlet from Soldotna & Homer, is southwest from Anchorage.

Alaska Volcanic Observatory

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Jellyfish News 3/2009


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From the Pocono Record:

"What jellyfish can tell us about climate change"

An East Stroudsburg University professor has studied a delicate sea creature off Japan's coast, and shed new light on how climate change is disrupting the ocean's food chain.

"This is the first clear link between an animal we know is threatened by ocean acidification and a variety of deep-sea species," said Jay Hunt, assistant professor of biology at ESU, describing his research...

An East Stroudsburg University professor has studied a delicate sea creature off Japan's coast, and shed new light on how climate change is disrupting the ocean's food chain.

"This is the first clear link between an animal we know is threatened by ocean acidification and a variety of deep-sea species," said Jay Hunt, assistant professor of biology at ESU, describing his research...

Ocean water has been growing more acidic because of higher concentrations in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide produced by humans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says acid levels in the Earth's oceans are higher now than any time in the last 800,000 years, and possibly in the last 20 million years....

The oceans absorb about one-third of human-caused carbon emissions, according to NOAA.

Acidic ocean water has already affected sea life, from hearty sea corals to the shells of open ocean snails called pteropods, which swim on the surface. The shells of these snails are made out of calcium carbonate, which is starting to dissolve from the acid.

Hunt and his fellow researchers observed a startling cascade effect, noting that the young red paper lantern jellyfish roost in the shells of these snails. As the snails have started to wilt from acidic oceans, it has left young red paper lantern jellyfish vulnerable.

"If that snail goes, the red lantern goes. If the red lantern goes, maybe the sea spider and shrimp will go. We just don't know," Hunt said. "If we're not careful, we may well hinder some network of species that does impact us."

Hunt and his fellow researchers were caught off guard by the speed with which acidic water affected creatures on the ocean surface, which, in turn, rippled thousands of feet below...

Hunt and his fellow researchers wrote in the Journal that their findings suggest that the number of species now threatened by ocean acidification will go beyond current predictions. "The effects of ocean acidification will not stop at the surface waters or with animals with calcium carbonate shells or skeletons," they wrote, "but will spread from the surface to the depths of the oceans faster than was expected."
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Also - if you want to have a jellyfish aquarium:

From the New York Times:

How to Avoid Liquefying Your Jellyfish

Jellyfish are 95 percent water. They have no bones. They drift along at the mercy of the current. So guess what happens when you put them into a traditional fish tank?

“They’re going to get sucked up into the filter and liquefied,” said Alex Andon, the founder of a start-up company called Jellyfish Art.

Mr. Andon’s company makes specialized aquariums that allow people to keep jellyfish in tanks — sans liquefication. He pops up in our story about recession-era entrepreneurs, prompting us to veer away from the usual lineup of Internet obsessions and learn more about the technology of jellyfish tanks.

Mr. Andon says that a couple of decades ago, scientists figured out how to build tanks – known as Kreisel tanks – that use a special water-flow process to protect jellyfish. When the creatures drift near the pumps and filters, the tank delivers a current of water that washes the jellyfish in the other direction.

Sounds simple, and it can be — relatively. But Mr. Andon says that the technology can take getting used to, and that hobbyist discussion groups on the Internet often include conversations about tank-building efforts gone awry.

“It ends in frustration and people killing tons of jellyfish,” he said...

Another key challenge, Mr. Andon says, is getting the proper food for jellyfish. Research labs and the like feed them live plankton. But that’s impractical for domesticated jellyfish, he says. So he’s been growing algae — on his roof and in his bedroom — and freezing it to provide his customers with frozen jellyfish snacks.

“It’s a huge pain for people to feed their jellyfish,” he said. “I’m growing it for them.”

"The Big Takeover"....(Wall Street)

Good Article by MATT TAIBBI in Rolling Stone

The global economic crisis isn't about money - it's about power. How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution...

It's too long to post - too much to excerpt - but recommended reading.

'Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo'


Cuckoo: Down by 37%

'Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo' by Michael McCarthy (£16.99) is published by John Murray on 2 April.

From the independent.co.uk:

The cuckoo is vanishing. But its loss isn’t merely a wildlife tragedy – it’s the clearest possible sign that the natural world is changing for ever.

In two or three weeks' time, you should be hearing it if you get out into the countryside – the unmistakable two-note call, perhaps the most distinctive sound in all of the natural world, that tells you spring is well and truly under way. Even people who have never heard the real thing know the call of the cuckoo.

It's partly its sheer musicality, for those two abrupt, liquid notes – cuck-coo! – form an exact musical interval in a way hardly any other bird calls do: it is a descending minor third. At its simplest, in the key of C major, it is G to E. (And C major, you may be interested to learn, is a favourite cuckoo key.)

It's partly also its ethereal, disembodied nature. The cuckoo is a shy, secretive bird. You don't often glimpse it, you simply hear it, so you can't see where the call is coming from; but it also has a sort of ventriloquial quality, so you can't hear where it's coming from, either. It doesn't seem to come from anywhere. It exists, disembodied, in the landscape, in a quite magical way, captured by Wordsworth, who called it "the wandering voice".

Put them together – perfect musicality and a mysterious, floating resonance – and you have something unique: there is nothing else like the wandering voice in nature. And when, down the years, it was paired, as an aural signal, with the eagerly awaited change of the turning year, the coming of spring, it's not an exaggeration to say that in Europe it became one of the most significant, evocative sounds in human life. It produced a stream of folklore in every country, sayings and stories, proverbs and legends; it inspired composer after composer, from Handel in his The Cuckoo and the Nightingale to Beethoven in his Pastoral Symphony, to Saint-SaĆ«ns in his Carnival of the Animals, to Delius with On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring.

In Britain, it was firing musical imaginations more than six centuries before Frederick Delius; the cuckoo inspired the oldest extant song in English, "Sumer is icumen in" (with its rousing chorus of "Lhude sing cuccu!") written in about 1250, probably by a monk in Reading Abbey. And in this country it did still more: it triggered what is perhaps the most celebrated newspaper correspondence in history, the "first cuckoo" letters to The Times, those succinct missives from gentlemen who, for a century or so, from about 1840 to 1940, laid claim to being the first to hear the double note echo across the woods and fields in any given year.

These engaging pronouncements – sometimes challenged, sometimes topped by rivals – are evidence above all of the real elation produced by hearing the call, the supreme signal of the soft days coming again and the burgeoning of new life, usually in the first two weeks of April. From about the 10th onward, say. A typical date would be 14 April. Two or three weeks from now, you should be hearing it.
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Go to the link to hear a recording of a cuckoo and some other birds.

"Antarctic Ice Close To Melting Tipping Point"

SYDNEY - A large part of the ice covering West Antarctica could be lost if greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase only slightly from today's levels and ocean temperatures continue to rise, a study released on Thursday says.

Another related study said if the West Antarctic ice sheet collapsed and the East Antarctic ice sheet continued to melt at its marine margins, global sea level would rise seven meters from today's level.

Antarctica stores about 90 percent of the world's freshwater.

Both studies, published in the journal Nature, are a result of extensive drilling into the seafloor under the Ross Ice Shelf by a team of New Zealand, Italian, American and Germany scientists.

The floating ice shelf won't elevate sea levels if melts because it is already displacing water. The real threat comes when the ice sheet behind, which is below sea level, is exposed to the ocean.

The 50-plus core samples, down to 1.2 kilometers (0.7 mile), allowed the scientists to study how previous periods of rising carbon dioxide affected ocean temperatures, ice movements and sea levels.

The cores showed the West Antarctic ice sheet in the Ross Embayment area collapsed and reformed every 40,000 years. It has collapsed 38 times in the past 5 million years.

"Most of it sits below sea level and is very vulnerable to rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures," Tim Naish, Director of Victoria University's Antarctic Research Center in Wellington, said in a briefing on the drilling study....

Stone Age Words

From timesonline.co.uk:

A “time traveller’s phrasebook” that could allow basic communication between modern English speakers and Stone Age cavemen is being compiled by scientists studying the evolution of language.

Research has identified a handful of modern words that have changed so little in tens of thousands of years that ancient hunter-gatherers would probably have been able to understand them.

Anybody who was catapulted back in time to Ice Age Europe would stand a good chance of being intelligible to the locals by using words such as “I”, “who” and “thou” and the numbers “two”, “three” and “five”, the work suggests.

More nuanced conversation would be more of a challenge. The analysis of language evolution suggests that none of the adjectives, verbs and nouns used in modern languages would have much in common with those used then.

Mark Pagel, of the University of Reading, who leads the research, said that it was nonetheless becoming possible to create a rudimentary Stone Age phrasebook made up of the oldest known words.

“If a time traveller wanted to go back in time to a specific date, we could probably draw up a little phrasebook of the modern words that are likely to have sounded similar back then,” he told The Times. “You wouldn’t be able to discuss anything very complicated, but it might be enough to get you out of a tight spot.”

Dr Pagel’s research also predicts which parts of modern vocabulary are likely to survive into English as it will be spoken 1,000 years in the future, and which will die out.

By the year 3000, words such as “throw”, “stick”, “dirty”, “guts” and “squeeze” could easily be gone. These already differ greatly between related languages, such as English and German, and are good candidates to evolve into new forms.

Dr Pagel has tracked how words have changed by comparing languages from the Indo-European family, which includes most of the past and present languages of Europe, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. All are derived from the same root and have many linguistic similarities.

The word “water”, for example, is wasser in German, eau in French and aqua in Italian and Latin. Although each is slightly different, they share a similar sound that shows them to share a common linguistic ancestor.

By comparing these languages, it is possible to work out how and when they diverged, and to trace the evolutionary history of individual words.

Dr Pagel has recently been able to track the evolutionary history of Indo-European back almost 30,000 years, using a new IBM supercomputer. He said that some of the oldest words were well over 10,000 years old.

As the original Indo-European language is thought to date back no more than 9,000 years, Dr Pagel believes that some of the longest-lived words have an even more venerable history. “I can say with confidence that there are sounds or words that predate Indo-European,” he said. “If you look at ‘thou’, ‘I’ and ‘who’, we can now tell they are probably at least 15,000 to 20,000 years old. The sounds used then for these meanings were probably very similar to those used today.”

Dr Pagel’s work has shown that the pace at which words evolved depends on how they are used. Numerals are the slowest to change, followed by pronouns, probably because they are used extremely often and have a very precise and important meaning...

Parakeets Gone Wild (in Connecticut)

From the New York Times:

West Haven, CT - IT’S spring, and monk parakeets, the small green birds from South America that have proliferated in Connecticut and other parts of the region, are building their huge nests in utility poles and lighting fixtures here — rebuilding, really, after their nests were torn down by utility workers last fall.

United Illuminating, the utility company, is in the midst of its twice-yearly campaign to remove the bulky nests, which they say can cause power failures and electrical fires.

West Haven is not the only battleground in the efforts to keep the birds out of utility poles and other lighting fixtures, a struggle that has pitted the utility companies and municipal agencies against animal-rights activists since the parakeets found a home in towns in the region beginning in the 1970s. In a recent survey, United Illuminating said it had counted 75 monk nests in 17 towns on its electrical poles.

In Stamford, the parks department has worked with animal advocates to build platforms as an alternative nesting site near lights in Cummings Park, where the parakeets have built nests. So far, just a few birds have moved to this alternative housing.

The exotic birds would not be so noticeable among the area’s many species of winged creatures were it not for the size of their nests and where they choose to build them. A typical nest provides a home for about 20 pairs of birds and can weigh as much as 440 pounds, officials said. The material from one nest, mostly twigs, can fill the back of a city pickup truck, they said.

Attempts to get the birds off power and lighting fixtures have proved difficult. In 2005, United Illuminating captured a number of birds and then turned them over to United States Department of Agriculture officials, who euthanized them. That caused an outcry among animal-rights advocates. Friends of Animals, a Darien-based group, sued United Illuminating to stop further killing of the birds. The suit was dismissed by a Superior Court judge last summer, but the group has filed an appeal.

Al Carbone, a spokesman for United Illuminating, said the campaign to remove the nests, which costs the utility company between $60,000 and $70,000 annually, has not proved effective. The birds like the warmth of the transformers, Mr. Carbone said, and keep returning even when their nests have been torn down once. On a recent tour of parts of West Haven, Mr. Carbone pointed out several of the nests, some the size of basketball hoops, along shoreline utility poles.

Company workers remove the nests in late March and early April, before the mating season begins, and again in the fall, typically October, well after any eggs are hatched, officials said...

Organic Industry Structure

What you think might be a small company - might not be.

Go to link to see who owns what, who bought whom.

Beetles Imported into the U.S. to Kill Invasive Tree Doing Too Good a Job


From Scientific American:

A foreign beetle imported to attack invasive trees in the U.S. Southwest may have brought its own culinary agenda. Researchers in Utah and Arizona are sounding the alarm about salt cedar leaf beetles, which were imported from Kazakhstan several years ago to control invasive tamarisk trees.

"Now that the beetle is spreading to large areas, we need to start looking for unexpected consequences of defoliation and death of the tamarisk," says Philip Dennison, a geographer at The University of Utah and lead author of a study warning of the unintended risks published this month in the online edition of the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

Tamarisk trees, native to Europe and Asia, were first planted in the U.S. in the early 1800s as ornamentals and to stabilize soil, especially on riverbanks. The trees took off, and now dominate 1.6 million acres (650,000 hectares) of mostly riverside habitat throughout the Southwest. Dense tamarisk stands have crowded out native trees like cottonwoods and willows. And tamarisk gets a bad rap for being thirsty enough to drop water tables and dewater small streams—although the new research says the rep may be undeserved. Tamarisk was first identified as a pest around 1900, and biologists since the 1940s have implemented various control strategies, including herbicides, manual removal, and defoliation by goats and beetles. Total cost estimates approach $100 million for the decades-long efforts.

Beginning in 2001 biologists in nearly all southwestern states—with input and funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)—released the beetles in tamarisk thickets.

The program has been "spectacularly successful, one of the most successful biological control projects ever in the U.S.," says Jack Deloach, an entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) research arm, the Agricultural Research Service.

But Dennison and his co-authors are now proposing that officials put on the brakes, based on satellite monitoring in 2006 and 2007 of 56 beetle-treated areas in southern Utah. The researchers report that beetles have been dutifully stripping the tamarisk of their needles but that some of the immediate effects are worrisome.

As it turns out, tamarisk trees have a silver lining, Dennison says. Their sprawling branches, which are covered with long, pliable needlelike leaves, provide coveted cover for native birds. Among them the endangered willow flycatcher, which routinely nests in the tamarisk thickets that replaced the willow trees there. Salt cedar beetles were originally kept out of Arizona and New Mexico to protect the flycatcher, but researchers report that the beetles are now creeping from Utah's Virgin River into flycatcher habitat in southern Utah and northern Arizona. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a Tucson, Ariz.–based conservation group, has filed a notice of intent to sue the USDA and APHIS to halt the beetle program, charging that the bugs have gotten out of hand and are threatening the endangered birds.

Nate Ament, a restoration ecologist with the nonprofit Tamarisk Coalition in Grand Junction, Colo., says the greatest risk to streamside ecosystems comes in tamarisk's wake. The new satellite data show tamarisk-related water loss is lower than previously believed. If tamarisk trees are killed off by the beetles, newer weedy arrivals—like Russian knapweed, Russian olive and pepperweed—could hammer the water supply even more.

"We really emphasize revegetation with native trees as a crucial component of the restoration process," Ament says.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Global Forum Seeks To Avert Water Crisis"

ISTANBUL (Reuters)- Government ministers from 120 countries, scientists and campaigners meet in Istanbul this week to discuss how to avert a global water crisis and ease tensions between states fighting over rivers, lakes and glaciers.

Nearly half of the world's people will be living in areas of acute water shortage by 2030, the United Nations warned last week, and an estimated 1 billion people remain without access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The world's population of 6.6 billion is forecast to rise by 2.5 billion by 2050. Most of the growth will be in developing countries, much of it in regions where water is already scarce.

As populations and living standards rise, a global water crisis looms unless countries take urgent action, the international body said.

"Water is not enough of a political issue," said Daniel Zimmer, associate general of the World Water Council, one of the organisations behind the World Water Forum.

"One of the targets is to make politicians understand that water should be higher up on their domestic agenda and care that it is a necessity for the welfare, stability and health of their populations."

Because of the lack of political attention, hundreds of millions of people remain trapped in poverty and ill health and exposed to the risk of water-related disasters, the UN warns.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said water scarcity is a "potent fuel for wars and conflict."

Water shortages have been named as a major underlying cause of the conflict in Darfur in western Sudan. Water is also a major issue between Israel and its Arab neighbours, and the states of Central Asia, one of the world's driest places, where thirsty crops such as cotton and grain remain the main source of livelihood...

Other subjects on the agenda for the talks from March 16-22 will be how to avert catastrophic floods and droughts as climate patterns change, and how the global financial crisis threatens to hit large-scale water infrastructure projects within the next several years.

"Virus, Crisis: Perfect Storm Hits Chile Salmon Industry"

PUERTO CHACABUCO (Reuters) - A deadly fish virus and scarce credit have clobbered the salmon sector in Chile, the world's No. 2 producer, and industry workers like Cecilia Leue are panicked.

Packing choice cuts of bright orange Atlantic salmon at a plant in the town of Puerto Chacabuco in Chilean Patagonia, dressed from head to toe in white plastic overalls, Leue has watched the industry shed 6,000 jobs since infectious salmon anemia (ISA) emerged in 2007. She worries she could be next

"Fish is the only industry here. The issue of the ISA virus worries us a lot," the 20-year-old said through a mask.

"Scarce work because of the ISA virus affects us all," she added, stacking packets of salmon destined for a supermarket in Germany. "We are all worried how the market will react."

Leue and a team of around 650 workers wash, decapitate, gut, section and pack around 110 tonnes of Atlantic salmon a day.

Chile exported a record 445,000 tonnes of salmon and trout in 2008, worth just under $2.4 billion, up sharply from 2007 levels of 397,000 tonnes as salmon farmers harvested fish early to avoid ISA, which is like a deadly flu or cold for the most common Salar species, or Atlantic salmon.

But Chile's leading industry association, SalmonChile, expects output to fall around 30 percent in 2009 to around 320,000 tonnes because early harvesting will mean production gaps this year and sees similar output levels in 2010.

It expects to see a recovery in 2011. Salmon is one of Chile's main exports after copper, fruit and wood pulp.

Demand for salmon is firm on international markets and prices are near record highs despite the impact of the global crisis, industry officials say, but the crisis is closing avenues to financing needed to combat the virus.

DOUBLE-WHAMMY

"We call it the perfect storm," said Emilio Rodriguez, who heads operations for Acuinova Chile in the Chacabuco area, part of the Pescanova group which is one of Chile's top 10 producers. "The industry is being pounded on two sides."

"You have the outside world, which will not finance you in times of (global) crisis ... and to that you have to add the sanitary crisis affecting the industry."

Atlantic salmon takes three years to grow from egg to adult, so early harvest means producers miss out on harvesting fully-grown fish later in the cycle.

"We know it is a crisis which is going to last all of 2009 and part of 2010," said Rodriguez, whose company has turned increasingly from Atlantic salmon to other species like Cojo salmon favored in Japan and trout, to which ISA is not fatal.

World No. 1 seafood producer, Norway's Marine Harvest, the biggest industry player in Chile, said last month a "dramatic" deterioration in Chile meant it would no longer be able to break even in that market this year. It expects sales volumes will fall to 30,000 tonnes in 2009.

Chile's salmon industry has faced a series of fish diseases in recent years, as well as algae...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Probe: Federal Agency Ignores Health Hazards"

AP- Officials supposed to protect public near toxic sites deny risks, report says

The federal agency charged with protecting the public near toxic pollution sites often obscures or overlooks potential health hazards, uses inadequate analysis and fails to zero in on toxic culprits, congressional investigators and scientists say.

A House investigative report says officials from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry "deny, delay, minimize, trivialize or ignore legitimate health concerns."

Local communities have voiced frustration and confusion at findings by the agency that are challenged by outside scientists or are ambiguous about whether people living near industrial pollution or toxic dumps or breathe foul-smelling air have reason to worry.

"Time and time again ATSDR appears to avoid clearly and directly confronting the most obvious toxic culprits that harm the health of local communities throughout the nation," said the report from the House Science and Technology investigations and oversight subcommittee.

The health agency declined to comment, saying its director, Howard Frumkin, would address the criticisms when he appears at a hearing before the House science panel Thursday.

By law the health agency, a branch of the Health and Human Services Department, assesses health hazards at polluted sites designated under the Superfund cleanup law, and those of concern to local communities. It frequently faces residents who expect environmental answers for a host of illnesses, which science can't always provide.

But the agency's critics also include some of its own scientists, including toxicologist Christopher De Rosa, who told Congress last year that his bosses minimized the health risk of formaldehyde in trailers provided for survivors of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

Congressional investigators reviewed ATSDR health studies and interviewed scientists and community activists across the country for the House report, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

It accuses Frumkin of letting scientific integrity lag behind political expediency and uncomplicated conclusions. Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller, D-N.C., said the problems "threaten the health and safety of the American public. Fixing ATSDR requires a cultural shift of the agency." ...

Among issues raised by other scientists:

• Ronald Hoffman, a professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, uncovered a high incidence of a blood cancer in northeast Pennsylvania while working with the health agency's scientists. The research identified an elevated incidence of polycythemia vera, including four cases on a mile-long stretch of road near a former toxic waste company.


Although an abstract by Hoffman and his colleagues said there was significant evidence linking the cancer to environmental causes, agency officials publicly rejected the idea and unsuccessfully pressured Hoffman in 2007 to withdraw from a conference where he was to present the findings.

• Henry Cole, an environmental consultant and former senior scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, said a four-year study into residents' complaints of foul odors and health ailments near an Ohio waste plant, Perma-fix of Dayton, used insufficient sampling to conclude in December that none of the 100 compounds exceeded safe levels.


Nor did it incorporate lawsuit and regulatory information that could have broadened the result beyond ATSDR's sole recommendation that Perma-fix should check for an odor source and mitigate it if possible. That left residents frustrated. "They come in with a very narrow focus and oftentimes they don't come up with anything" to help the community, Cole said in another interview.

"Battery that 'charges in seconds'"

From the BBC:

A new manufacturing method for lithium-ion batteries could lead to smaller, lighter batteries that can be charged in just seconds.

Batteries that discharge just as quickly would be useful for electric and hybrid cars, where a quick jolt of charge is needed for acceleration.

The approach only requires simple changes to the production process of a well-known material.
The new research is reported in the scientific journal Nature.

Because of the electronic punch that they pack, gram for gram, lithium-ion batteries are the most common rechargeable batteries found in consumer electronics, such as laptops.

However, they take a long time to charge; researchers have assumed until now that there was a speed limit on the lithium ions and electrons that pass through the batteries to form an electrochemical circuit.

Gerbrand Ceder, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, and his colleagues used a computer simulation to model the movements of ions and electrons in a variant of the standard lithium material known as lithium iron phosphate.
The simulation indicated that ions were moving at great speed.

"If transport of the lithium ions was so fast, something else had to be the problem," Professor Ceder said.
That problem turned out to be the way ions passed through the material.

They pass through minuscule tunnels, whose entrances are present at the surface of the material.

However, the team discovered that to get into these channels, the ions had to be positioned directly in front of the tunnel entrances - if they were not, they could not get through.

The solution, Ceder discovered, was to engineer the material such that it has a so-called "beltway" that guides the ions towards the tunnel entrances.

A prototype battery made using the new technique could be charged in less than 20 seconds - in comparison to six minutes with an untreated sample of the material.

Most commercial batteries use a material made up of lithium and cobalt, but lithium iron phosphate does not suffer from overheating - something that has affected laptop and mp3 player batteries in a number of incidents.

Even though it is cheap, lithium iron phosphate has until now received little attention because lithium cobalt batteries can store slightly more charge for a given weight.

However, the researchers found that their new material does not lose its capacity to charge over time in the way that standard lithium ion batteries do.

That means that the excess material put into standard batteries to compensate for this loss over time is not necessary, leading to smaller, lighter batteries with phenomenal charging rates.

What is more, because there are relatively few changes to the standard manufacturing process, Professor Ceder believes the new battery material could make it to market within two to three years.

"Global temperatures 'will rise 6C this century'"

For people following this - it looked like the 2007 IPCC conference was being too optimistic /not realistic. (There has since been a lot of "things are worse than expected' comments.) This time - it looks like the conference better reflects the science.

From the timesonline.co.uk:

Surging global greenhouse gas emissions mean the world now faces likely temperature rises of up to 5-6C this century, according to the scientist leading the international Climate Congress in Copenhagen this week.

Professor Katharine Richardson, who chaired the scientific steering committee for the conference, said it was now almost impossible for the world to achieve the UN target of preventing global temperature rise exceeding 2C.

"We can forget about the 2C"," said Richardson in an interview. "We are now facing the situation where we have to avoid a 5-6C rise in temperature."

Richardson said her comments were based on sifting through hundreds of science research papers submitted to the congress. Details of the research are being presented to delegates this week and will be used in a report for the UN.

Her comments were not the only bad news to emerge on the first day of the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change (IPCC) in Copenhagen. Other researchers warned that sea levels are now rising 50% faster than suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 report.

It means the world’s oceans could rise by a metre or more over the next century and that low-lying coastal areas will be at risk of inundation with hundreds of millions of people displaced, especially in developing countries.

Some of those attending the Copenhagen meeting have dubbed it “the end of the world conference” because the latest research emerging on climate change is so alarming...

The warnings on temperature rise are linked to the surge in greenhouse gas emissions over the last decade. Currently humanity generates the equivalent of about 50 billion tonnes of CO2 a year through burning fossil fuels, agriculture, deforestation and other processes.

In its last report the IPCC made over-cautious assumptions about how these emissions would rise in future – and concluded it would be possible to prevent a total global temperature rise of more than 2C compared with pre-industrial times.

It has since emerged that these assumptions were misplaced and that emissions have grown at around 3 % a year – about twice as fast as the IPCC’s worst case scenario...

Dr John Church of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, told the conference, sea level rise by 2100 could be in the range of about one meter, or possibly more.

The warning comes from new research into the behaviour of glaciers and ice sheets, especially in Greenland. It had been thought the main effect of global warming was simply to melt them.

However, the new research shows that as water melts it sinks down to the bedrock under the glaciers and lubricates them, so that their movement to the sea accelerates sharply.

This has turned out to be a much more powerful effect than simple melting and means the IPCC, whose 2007 report projected a sea level rise of 18 - 59 cm by 2100, must once again revise its earlier findings...

The point of the Copenhagen meeting is to draw together all the latest science on climate change in preparation for the UN negotiations planned for this December at which politicians will try to draw up a replacement for the Kyoto treaty on reducing greenhouse gases, which expires in 2012.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"World Population to Hit 7 Billion in 2012"

UNITED NATIONS – The world's population will hit 7 billion early in 2012 and top 9 billion in 2050, with the vast majority of the increase coming in the developing countries of Asia and Africa, according to a U.N. estimate released Wednesday.

Hania Zlotnik, director of the U.N. Population Division, said that "there have been no big changes" from the previous estimate in 2006.

"We are still projecting that by 2050 the population of the world will be around 9.1 billion," she said at a news conference. "The projections are based on the assumption that fertility that is now around 2.56 children per woman is going to decline to about 2.02 children per woman in the world."

Zlotnik said if fertility remained about where it is now, then world population would reach 10.5 billion by 2050. If fertility fell even more than expected, to about 1.5, then the population would only increase to 8 billion by mid-century, she said.

Population growth will remain concentrated in the most populous countries through 2050. Nine nations are expected to account for half the projected increase: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, the U.S., Congo, Tanzania, China and Bangladesh, the report said.

In sharp contrast, the populations of 45 countries or regions are expected to decline at least 10 percent over the same period. Those include Russia, Japan, Italy, South Korea, Cuba, Ukraine and many other countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, the U.N. said.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Ticks - March 6th

I was out walking in the fields and woods for a little while today. I was thinking to myself that this was the time of year when it's starting to get warm out - but the flowers are not out yet - but neither are the ticks. That's 'supposed to be' part of the enjoyment. No worries. (At least it used to be...).

So I was sitting on a log and here is this hungry tick crawling on my hand - trying to get attached before I could get it off.

One of my dogs had a tiny tick larvae or something a couple weeks ago and I hoped it was a fluke. But apparently - ticks aren't hibernating or whatever they used to do - nearly as long.

I remember - it seems not that long ago - that we didn't have to worry about ticks until May. Those were the days.

"Let's all get wet"

Mark Morford asks some good questions. There is much to be done. Let's get going...

It's pouring rain and water's gushing everywhere. You call this a drought?

As I write these words, rain is hammering my apartment building and rivers of fresh water -- hundreds or perhaps thousands of gallons per minute -- are gushing down the streets and the sidewalks, filling rain gutters, overwhelming the storm drains and rinsing the City relatively clean, and you think, ahh yes, rain, bring it on, so healthy, so good, so desperately needed.

Maybe you also think: Surely all that water is going somewhere helpful, yes? Surely at least some of those drains feed into some grand network of reservoirs and tanks that, in turn, replenish the supply and nourish the community and come back through our taps and get recycled for irrigation, and it's all glorious and helpful, right?

Wrong.

Truth is, the vast majority of that glorious water is merely flushed away by a system of conduits and drainage pipes and sent straight out into the bay, all in an effort to avoid urban flooding because, well, we are simply not equipped to handle too much of it at once.

Meanwhile, I read the same dire stories as you. Despite the rain, despite weeks of snow and storms and pounding amounts of water crashing down on the region for hours on end, we are still in very serious drought conditions. Long-starved state reservoirs aren't even half full. The governor declared a state of emergency. The Colorado River is long overtaxed, lakes are drying up, the besieged Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta is being siphoned off at a record pace. We do not, they say, have nearly enough water. And it's getting worse.

It seems to prompt one ridiculously obvious, but still increasingly urgent question: How can this be? How is it that tens of thousands of gallons of fresh water are pouring through the city streets right now, but we are only able to capture and use but a fraction? Why do we not have better systems in place? Why is this not more imperative?....

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"Combining pesticides makes them more deadly for fish"

This is not surprising to me (and I imagine to a lot of people). And yet it says this was surprising to scientists??? (I'm surprised).

From the Seattletimes:

Common agricultural pesticides that attack the nervous systems of salmon can turn more deadly when they combine with other pesticides, researchers have found.

Scientists from the NOAA Fisheries Service and Washington State University were expecting that the harmful effects would add up as they accumulated in the water. They were surprised to find a deadly synergy occurred with some combinations, which made the mix more harmful and at lower levels of exposure than the sum of the parts.

The study looked at five common pesticides: diazinon, malathion, chlorpyrifos, carbaryl and carbofuran, all of which suppress an enzyme necessary for nerves to function properly.

The findings suggest that the current practice of testing pesticides - one at a time to see how much is needed to kill a fish - fails to show the true risks, especially for fish protected by the Endangered Species Act, the authors concluded in the study published Monday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

"We need to design new research that takes into effect the real-world situation where pesticides almost always coincide with other pesticides," co-author Nathaniel Scholz, a research zoologist at the NOAA Fisheries Service Northwest Fisheries Science Center, said from Seattle...

Last year, NOAA Fisheries issued findings under the Endangered Species Act that diazinon, malathion and chlorpyrifos jeopardize the survival of all 28 species of Pacific salmon listed as threatened or endangered in the West.

The three chemicals, found by the U.S. Geological survey to contaminate rivers throughout the West, interfere with salmon's sense of smell, making it harder to avoid predators, locate food and even find their native spawning streams and reproduce. At higher concentrations, they kill fish outright.

NOAA Fisheries and EPA must evaluate 34 more pesticides by 2012 under terms of a settlement reached in a lawsuit brought by Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides and others.

In the study, scientists combined the pesticides two at a time at various concentrations, then exposed juvenile coho salmon in tanks for four days. Many of the fish died outright.

Fish that survived were killed, and their brains analyzed for the levels of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which allows impulses to move between neurons in the brain. In every fish, the levels of the enzyme were below the level considered healthy.

Earlier research found that lower levels of the enzyme affected the ability of fish to feed and swim, which would affect their ability to survive, Scholz said.

The researchers suggested that the reason harmful affects of combinations of chemicals were greater was that they also suppressed another enzyme, which helps the body rid itself of toxins...

Another new avenue for research will be how pesticides combine with other water quality problems, such as warm water, to harm salmon, Scholz said.

(....and people, perhaps???....)