Saturday, September 29, 2007

Researcher finds lake boiling with methane

From: University of Alaska Fairbanks

Last month, UAF researcher Katey Walter brought a National Public Radio crew to Alaska’s North Slope, hoping to show them examples of what happens when methane is released when permafrost thaws beneath lakes.

When they reached their destination, Walter and the crew found even more than they bargained for: a lake violently boiling with escaping methane.

“It was cold, wet and windy. We were dropped off in the middle of nowhere by a helicopter and paddled out to a huge methane plume in the middle of the lake with no idea what to expect, how strong the bubbling plume would be, whether or not our raft would stay afloat, how dangerous it would be to breath the gas,”said Walter, an assistant professor in UAF’s Institute of Northern Engineering and International Arctic Research Center. “The violent streams of bubbles made the lake appear as if it were boiling, but the water was pretty cold.

A story on the field excursion was scheduled to air on NPR’s afternoon newsmagazine "All Things Considered" Monday, Sept. 10, 2007.Walter studies methane emissions from arctic lakes, especially the connection between thawing permafrost and climate change. As permafrost around a lake’s edges thaws, the organic material in it--dead plants and animals--can enter the lake bottom, where bacteria convert it to methane, which bubbles into the atmosphere, sometimes in a spectacular fashion.

Walter said this summer’s fieldwork indicates that methane hotspots, such as the one she and the crew experienced, can come from various sources, not just thawing permafrost. Her next goal is to identify and quantify the sources of the methane hotspots around Alaska.

“It is unlikely that this methane plume was related to permafrost thaw,” said Walter, adding that the methane boiling out of the lake was more likely related to natural gas seepage. “Should large quantities of methane be released from methane hydrates, for instance, in association with permafrost thaw, then we could have large sudden increases in atmospheric methane with potentially large affects on global temperatures.”

Walter’s project is one of many at UAF happening as part of the International Polar Year, an international event that will focus research efforts and public attention on the Earth’s polar regions.


CONTACT: Katey Walter, assistant research professor, at (907) 474-6095 or via e-mail at Sandra Boatwright, INE publications, at 474-7209 or via e-mail at


Impact of Arctic heat wave stuns climate change researchers

From: Queen's University

New Queen's-led International Polar Year project already revising forecasts

KINGSTON, Ont. – Unprecedented warm temperatures in the High Arctic this past summer were so extreme that researchers with a Queen’s-led climate change project have begun revising their forecasts.

“Everything has changed dramatically in the watershed we observed,” reports Geography professor Scott Lamoureux, the leader of an International Polar Year project announced yesterday in Nunavut by Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl. “It’s something we’d envisioned for the future – but to see it happening now is quite remarkable.”

One of 44 Canadian research initiatives to receive a total of $100 million (IPY) research funding from the federal government, Dr. Lamoureux’s new four-year project on remote Melville Island in the northwest Arctic brings together scientists and educators from three Canadian universities and the territory of Nunavut. They are studying how the amount of water will vary as climate changes, and how that affects the water quality and ecosystem sustainability of plants and animals that depend on it.

The information will be key to improving models for predicting future climate change in the High Arctic, which is critical to the everyday living conditions of people living there, especially through the lakes and rivers where they obtain their drinking water.

Other members of the research team include, from the Queen’s Geography Department: Paul Treitz, Melissa Lafreniere and Neal Scott; Myrna Simpson and Andre Simpson from U of T; and Pierre Francus from INRS-ETE, Quebec. Linda Lamoureux of Kingston’s Martello School will work with the scientists to develop learning tools for schools in the north.

From their camp on Melville Island last July, where they recorded air temperatures over 20ºC (in an area with July temperatures that average 5ºC), the team watched in amazement as water from melting permafrost a metre below ground lubricated the topsoil, causing it to slide down slopes, clearing everything in its path and thrusting up ridges at the valley bottom “that piled up like a rug,” says Dr. Lamoureux, an expert in hydro-climatic variability and landscape processes. “The landscape was being torn to pieces, literally before our eyes. A major river was dammed by a slide along a 200-metre length of the channel. River flow will be changed for years, if not decades to come.”

Comparing this summer’s observations against aerial photos dating back to the 1950s, and the team’s monitoring of the area for the past five years, the research leader calls the present conditions “unprecedented” in scope and activity. What’s most interesting, he says, is that their findings represent the impact of just one exceptional summer.

“A considerable amount of vegetation has been disturbed and we observed a sharp rise in erosion and a change in sediment load in the river,” Dr. Lamoureux notes. “With warmer conditions and greater thaw depth predicted, the cumulative effect of this happening year after year could create huge problems for both the aquatic and land populations. This kind of disturbance also has important consequences for existing and future infrastructure in the region, like roads, pipelines and air strips.”

If this were to occur in more inhabited parts of Canada, it would be “catastrophic” in terms of land use and resources, he continues. “It would be like taking an area the size of Kingston and having 15 per cent of it disappear into Lake Ontario.”

The Queen’s-led project is working with other IPY research groups including: Arctic HYDRA, an international group investigating the impact of climate change on water in the Arctic; Science Pub, a Norwegian group working on broad research from science to public education about the impacts of global warming; and CiCAT, a University of British Columbia-led group of 48 researchers investigating the impacts of climate change on tundra vegetation.

International Polar Year (IPY) is the largest-ever international program of coordinated scientific research focused on the Arctic and Antarctic regions and the first in 50 years.

For more information about International Polar Year, see:

Study: Global Warming Effecting North America's Northernmost Arctic Lake

From: Paul Schaefer, ENN
Quebec, Canada - Analyses conducted by researchers from Université Laval’s Center for Northern Studies reveal that aquatic life in Ward Hunt Lake, the continent’s northernmost lake, is affected by climate change.

Ward Hunt Lake is a body of water located on a small island north of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, has undergone major transformations within the last two centuries. The speed and range of these transformations—unprecedented in the lake’s last 8,000 years—suggest that climate change related to human activity could be at the source of this phenomenon.

The researchers’ conclusions are based on the analysis of a sediment core extracted in the center of Ward Hunt Lake in August 2003. This 18 centimeter long sediment core containing algae pigments and diatom remnants was used by the researchers as a biological archive in order to determine the diversity and abundance of aquatic life-forms in the lake over the last 8,450 years.

Analysis of the deepest layers of sediment revealed a very small number of algae as well as only minor variations in concentration. However, the top two centimeters of the core, which correspond to the last 200 years, showed abrupt changes in the lake’s algae population: during that period, chlorophyll a concentration, a pigment found in every species in the lake, increased by a factor of 500. A type of diatom typical of very cold environments also made its first appearance during the same period.

“The absence of diatoms and the low pigment concentration below the top 2.5 centimeters of the core suggest that the lake was permanently frozen in the past,” explains lead author and Center for Northern Studies researcher Dermot Antoniades.

Located on the 83rd parallel in the Quttinirpaaq (meaning “top of the world” in Inuktitut) National Park, Ward Hunt Island is completely surrounded by ice. The lake itself is permanently covered by a 4-meter layer of ice, except for a small peripheral zone that thaws out during a few weeks every summer. “This is of course an extreme environment for living organisms, but our data indicate that current conditions make the lake a more favorable location for algae growth than it was in the past,” points out Antoniades. “We cannot claim with certainty that these changes were brought on by human activity, but natural variations observed over the last millennia were never so abrupt and extensive,” concludes the researcher.

In addition to Warwick Vincent and Reinhard Pienitz, the article is co-authored by Catherine Crawley from the University of Toronto, Marianne Douglas from the University of Alberta, Dale Andersen from the Center for the Study of Life in the Universe (USA), Peter Doran at the University of Illinois in Chicago (USA), Ian Hawes from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (New Zealand), and Wayne Pollard from McGill University.

This study was conducted as part of the ArcticNet program, which brings together scientists and managers in the natural, human health and social sciences with their partners in Inuit organizations, northern communities, federal and provincial agencies and the private sector to study the impacts of climate change in the coastal Canadian Arctic.

- Université Laval

Increasing Atmospheric Moisture Tied To Human Activities

From: Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
Published September 29, 2007 05:43 PM

LIVERMORE, Calif. –Observations and climate model results confirm that human-induced warming of the planet is having a pronounced effect on the atmosphere’s total moisture content.

Those are the findings of a new study appearing in the Sept. 17 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“When you heat the planet, you increase the ability of the atmosphere to hold moisture,” said Benjamin Santer, lead author from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Program for Climate Modeling and Intercomparison. “The atmosphere’s water vapor content has increased by about 0.41 kilograms per square meter (kg/m²) per decade since 1988, and natural variability in climate just can’t explain this moisture change. The most plausible explanation is that it’s due to the human-caused increase in greenhouse gases.”

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

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

“This is the first identification of a human fingerprint on the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere,” Santer said.
“Fingerprint” studies seek to identify the causes of recent climate change and involve rigorous comparisons of modeled and observed climate change patterns. To date, most fingerprint studies have focused on temperature changes at the Earth’s surface, in the free atmosphere, or in the oceans, or have considered variables whose behavior is directly related to changes in atmospheric temperature.

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

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

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

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

The Livermore authors included Karl Taylor, Peter Gleckler, Jim Boyle and Stephen Klein.

More Information:

  • Identification of Human-Induced Changes in Atmospheric Moisture Content, PNAS, September 25, 2007 (

  • Climate Models Consistent with Ocean Warming Observations. LLNL news release, June 18, 2007 (

  • LLNL news release: Researchers Link Human Activities to Rising Ocean Temperatures in Hurricane Formation Regions (

  • Tropopause Height Becomes Another Climate Change "Fingerprint" S&TR March 2004 (

  • LLNL's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (

  • LLNL’s Public Affairs Office (

Oncoming starvation in the third world thanks to drought, biofuels and low grain stocks.

The Age, Melbourne, Australia

IN THE 1970s it was "stagflation", the simultaneous combination of economic stagnation and high inflation. Now, in the noughties, we have "agflation" — price inflation of agricultural products, especially grains and related foodstuffs. Just last week, while announcing the Federal Government's aid package to drought-hit farmers, former deputy prime minister and Nationals leader John Anderson warned of a global food shock.

"This comes at a time of unprecedented concerns globally of very low grain stocks. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we will see a food shock in the next few years," said Mr Anderson. "We talk about oil shocks. We have gone on assuming that the supermarket shelves will always be loaded … this affects everyone from the farmers right through to those people who are dependent on countries like Australia to feed them."

It's a neat analogy. In the 1970s there was stagflation and oil shocks; in the 21st century, agflation and food shocks. Nor is it confined to Australia. "Bread leads the big food price hike" was the headline in London's Sunday Times earlier this month, detailing the doubling of grain prices and the flow-on from that: more expensive bread, pasta, noodles, barley and, because animal feed is grain-based, more expensive meat.

The Independent was even more bearish, headlining "The fight for the world's food": "Population is growing. Supply is falling. Prices are rising. What will be the cost to the planet's poorest?"

With agflation, economists are blaming the rocketing economies of India and China on the demand side; on the supply side, drought in the world's breadbaskets — possibly driven by climate change — and diversion of grain into biofuels in the United States are the main culprits. "As these two forces combine they are setting off warning bells around the world," said The Independent. "It has even revived discussion of the work of the 18th-century British thinker Robert Malthus. He predicted the growth of the world's population would outstrip its ability to produce food, leading to mass starvation."

Terry Sheales, from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, said all grain-producing countries — Australia, Canada, the US and Europe — had suffered drought, cutting output. At the same time importers, such as Egypt, had placed early orders, spiking demand.

"The wheat situation is very serious, as you can see from how prices have escalated. They're about 30 per cent higher compared to last year," said Dr Sheales. "Stocks at the start of the year were pretty low, around 117 million tonnes, (and) overall the expectation is that stocks will be run down further."

Wheat supplies have hit a 26-year low, pushing prices to a record $US9.16 ($A10.35) a bushel last week. Despite the drought, an Australian crop of 13 to 14 million tonnes is tipped, which is better than last year.

The high price is a mixed blessing for farmers: those whose crop has withstood the drought will do very well, those without a crop won't having anything to sell.

But consumers are suffering, their plight worsened by shortages of other grains. The US decision to encourage biofuel made of corn has sent prices of that crop rocketing to $US157 ($A177) a tonne. That in turn has prompted farmers to grow corn at the expense of other crops, including soybeans, pushing up their price as well.

"We haven't had this emphasis on producing biofuels before. That's a new important added factor in the world grains market," said Dr Sheales.

Monash University economist Robert Brooks said: "A number of the large agricultural producers have been in drought conditions for a long time (but) the question that's triggered a lot of the agflation concern is … fuel substitution."

Agflation was, however, "a new term for something that's gone around a bit". "Agricultural prices and production goes through cycles at different points in time … the extrapolation from that — the old Malthus stuff — has been proved wrong many times."

John Freebairn, of Melbourne University, said the American policy of encouraging biofuels was "rather stupid". "It's taking corn and wheat and sugar away from food so the price gets ramped up on consumers, and burning biofuels creates nearly as much greenhouse gas as burning petroleum."

But no economist The Sunday Age spoke to thought there was a looming catastrophe. Markets tend to be self-correcting, as high prices induce suppliers to produce more and encourage consumers to look for substitutes. "We went through this in the mid-'70s, where we had a big boost in prices and then prices went down again, especially in real terms," said Dr Sheales.

Professor Brooks said: "Most of the previous Malthus-style predictions have been proven wrong by significant technological improvements in agricultural production. GM (genetically modified) crops are just a continuation on a theme that's run for a long time. Anything that leads to a technological improvement in agricultural production deals with supply-side issues."

Nevertheless, according to the United Nations' most recent food report, of the world's 6.7 billion people, a billion are undernourished. The UN has two hunger objectives, the World Food Summit Target and the Millennium Development Goal, which aim to halve the number of undernourished people to 500 million by 2015, from a world population of 7.4 billion. How much of a hurdle will agflation be?

If climate change really sets in, said Professor Freebairn, "it is going to require big changes in the way we organise food production". But that was not necessarily a problem. "The technological potential (of GM) is quite enormous (and) if food really went expensive we'd shift from resource-intensive meat products and become more fruit and vegetable types."

The major obstacle to feeding the developing world, he said, remained political and not economic. "If you look at China and India, I think you can be optimistic… if you look at Africa and Latin America it's easy to be pessimistic. They're just not going to get their economic house in order."

Europeans angry after Bush climate speech 'charade'

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

Ewen MacAskill in Washington

The Guardian, UK

Saturday September 29 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The most inspiring example of leadership this week was the speech on Monday at the UN by Arnold Schwarzenegger."

The governor of California is already putting into action in the state policies to reduce carbon emissions.

Other European governments expressed similar sentiments.

Although many of those attending had predicted the conference would break up without significant agreement, there had been hopes that Mr Bush, in search of a legacy, might produce a surprise. Instead, he stuck to his previous position, shunning mandatory caps in favour of clean coal, nuclear power and developing clean energy technology.

In contrast with the early years of his presidency when he expressed scepticism about climate change and whether humans were responsible, Mr Bush acknowledged yesterday "energy security and climate change are two of the great challenges of our time. The United States takes these challenges seriously."

He added: "Our guiding principle is clear: we must lead the world to produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and we must do it in a way that does not undermine economic growth or prevent nations from delivering greater prosperity."

Instead of mandatory caps, he emphasised a need to shift to clean coal, nuclear energy and new clean technology. He also proposed a new international technology fund but did not say how much the US would put into it. He reiterated a need for Americans to shift from oil to ethanol for their cars. "We're working to develop next-generation plug-in hybrids that will be able to travel nearly 40 miles without using a drop of gasoline. And your automobile doesn't have to look like a golf cart," he said.

Elizabeth Bast, of Friends of the Earth, described the conference as a diversion. "We have heard it before. He put a huge emphasis on technology and does not speak to binding targets, and there is a great emphasis on coal and nuclear energy," she said.

Many US states have embarked on their own programmes, with California leading the way. The governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has signed a law requiring a 25% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, with penalties for industries that do not comply. California's three biggest utilities must produce at least 20% of their electricity using renewable sources by 2010.

Changing face of farming: the new beasts of old England

Changing face of farming: the new beasts of old England

These may be hard times for Britain's farmers, but one part of the agricultural sector is thriving. Emily Dugan reports on the continuing and lucrative boom in alternative livestock
The snootier sibling of the llama, the alpaca has become the must-have animal to farm in Europe. This week their soft, strong wool has attracted the investment of the former Young's pubs man James Young, who plans to rear the animals deep in the Sussex countryside. Not content with a bog-standard alpaca, the former brewer has plumped for a £1m collection of suris: the most desirable – and most potentially lucrative – breed.

The suri alpaca has wool of such high quality that it is bred to pedigree standards. With monitored bloodlines, the animals are in short supply. Young's herd of just 250 is already the largest in Britain. But any hope of a boom in the alpaca trade is hampered by their breeding habits; the suri gives birth to a paltry one baby a year.

They are, however, tipped as Britain's next great luxury wool provider. Young's business partner in the venture is Tim Hey, whose parents have been farming alpacas in Tasmania for the past 15 years, knew that the suris had luxury potential.

"The fibre is very lustrous," says Hey. "It's softer and warmer than cashmere and more hard-wearing. The Japanese even spin it into silk and the finest suits on Bond Street are already made from alpaca fibres."

Crocodiles, Cambridgeshire

A croc is probably the last animal you would expect to see at a family farm in the Fens. But the Johnson family disagree. Firm in the belief that there is an untapped market in Britian, the farmers have started a crococile breeding programme. Beginning with just eight of the sharp-toothed reptiles, they plan to sell the meat in their farm shop.

The largest of their reptiles so far is a fearsome 8ft monster known as Cuddles, and they hope to breed many more. Farmer Andy Johnson believes business is on the up. "Crocodile meat is a small market now but I think the demand for alternative meats will grow in the next few years", he says.

Elk and bison, Wiltshire

They used to stampede across the plains of the Wild West, but bison are now a common sight in the distinctly tamer fields of Wiltshire. Lord and Lady Seaford run the country's oldest bison farm, Bush Farm Bison Centre, and have bred the beasts for 15 years. They have also stocked elk venison for 10 years.

"My husband is a conventional farmer but he fell in love with bison when he watched Vanishing Prairie at the age of eight", says Lady Seaford. "He made a bet with his friends at agricultural college that by 50 he would have a herd of them, and he has."

The Seafords even breed raccoons but they are mainly to delight children visiting the farm.

Wild boar, Somerset

No longer confined to the pages of Asterix books, wild boar have made a comeback in British cuisine and farmers are cashing in on the trend. Spit-roasted boar is back in vogue, often as the centrepiece at weddings or medieval-themed parties.

Wild boar meat is a top seller at Barrow Boar Farm in Yeovil and co-owner Allen Ward says it is because of its unique taste. "It is a completely different meat from pork", he adds. "It has more of a gamey flavour and less fat."

Locusts, South Yorkshire

Their association with plagues is unfortunate but breeding locusts, right, has proved lucrative for the Live Foods farm near Sheffield. The insects are bred in giant tanks at a rate of 120,000 a week, before being shipped off (still alive) across the country.

Live Foods also rears one million crickets a week. Its major clients are pet shops, which use the bugs to feed their reptiles, and Chinese restaurants, where they are considered a delicacy.

Ostrich, Leicestershire

The tender meat and precious skins of ostrich have made them a popular choice for European farmers, and they are reared as far north as Poland.

Steve and Cathy Brewin have farmed the birds at Bisbrooke, near Rutland, since the 1990s. "I read an article in Farmer's Weekly that gave me the idea", said Mr Brewin. "They're not too difficult to farm and the meat quality is incredible. You just have to give them appropriate shelter, and then it's not that different to other farming."

Water buffalo, Hampshire

Long before Jamie Oliver raved about the joys of its flavoursome mozzarella, the water buffalo was becoming one of the most sought-after bovines in Britain. The venture was so promising that former Formula One driver Jody Scheckter decided to raise them, breeding more than 1,000 on his farm at Laverstone Park, Hampshire. He sells buffalo milk to Waitrose and makes his range of ice cream and mozzarella.

However, he reckons running a buffalo business is more exhausting than racing. "It's a faster pace here than it ever was on the track," he says. "Now I'm a team manager at the farm. All I had to do then was drive."

UK To Airlines: Green Up Or Else

From: Paul Schaefer, ENN

London, -- The United Kingdom told airlines to green up, or else, and soon. The government acted decisively today to safeguard the proposed European aviation emissions trading scheme and urged the international aviation community to take greater action to address aviation emissions.

Secretary of State for Transport Ruth Kelly, said: "We want to work with our international partners to achieve a global solution to this global problem.  If international negotiations deliver an effective solution then we will have achieved our goal through co-operation.  But I am also clear that the UK, and the environment, cannot wait for ever. That is why we are reserving the right - if an international solution is not found - to act in the wider global interest by extending the EU emissionstrading scheme to all flights arriving and departing from the European Union. My European colleagues and I will continue to spare no efforts in trying to reach an agreed way forward.  This way we will show true global leadership - encouraging international consensus, while ensuring we are able to take tough measures to tackle climate change if others are unwilling or unable to do so."

At the ICAO Assembly, delegates from other countries expressed their wish to move forward on the basis of an international consensus, but insisted on an approach that would have effectively prevented the EU from introducing an emissions trading scheme for non-EU flights.

Ms Kelly added: "We are committed to ensuring effective international action to deal with the environmental impact of international aviation. But the debate in ICAOhas hardly progressed in the past three years. ICAO has not lived up to the leadership role given to it by the Kyoto Protocol. That is a very great failing that should concern us all and we may pursue these issues in other international fora."

Hurricane Lorenzo hits Mexico, 3 dead

From Reuters

From: Alejandro Juarez,

Hurricane Lorenzo hits Mexico, 3 dead
NAUTLA, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane Lorenzo crashed into Mexico's Gulf coast on Friday, killing three people in a mudslide and knocking out power to 85,000 homes.

In the coastal fishing town of Nautla, Lorenzo's 80 mph (130 kph) winds ripped off bits of roofs, blew down trees and scattered debris in the streets.

"It hit us hard and there is an incredible amount of rain," said Mayra Castro, 29, a waitress who spent the night mopping up water that leaked into her house through windows and under doors.

The heavy rains caused a mudslide that killed three people in a village in the Sierra Madre mountains of Puebla state, a state government spokesman said.

Torrential rain also fell on the already waterlogged coffee-growing state of Veracruz but there were no early reports of damage to the crop.

Lorenzo made landfall overnight close to Nautla as a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest rank on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, and quickly lost power, becoming a tropical depression with winds of 25 mph (35 kph). Around 100,000 on the coast were evacuated.

The storm was not seen affecting Mexico's oil production, which is centered to the southeast of the landfall area.

The storm knocked down three power transmission lines leaving 85,000 homes along the coast without electricity, the Federal Electricity Commission said.

Lorenzo was the third hurricane to hit Mexico in the last few weeks after Dean and Henriette pounded its Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

Much of Veracruz state, especially north of Tuxpan, is flooded after weeks of relentless rain. Tuxpan is primarily a grain port but also home to a large Navy fleet.

Oil ports in the Mexican part of the Gulf of Mexico were all open to shipping, although some reported large sea swells.

Another tropical storm, Karen churned through the Atlantic some 780 miles_ east of the Windward Islands. A tropical depression also formed in the far eastern Atlantic and was about 245 miles southwest of the Cape Verde islands.

With Lorenzo, the 2007 Atlantic storm season has generated four hurricanes, including Humberto, which startled coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana this month by unexpectedly strengthening into a hurricane before landfall.

A giant Category 5 hurricane, Dean, swiped Jamaica and then plowed into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in August, killing at least 27 people. Another one, Felix, tore into Central America, killing at least 130 people in Nicaragua.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gutsy Equador Proposes A Lid On Oil

From: Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News

Little countries can find the strength to do big things that big countries fear to do.

For the good of itself, for the good of the planet, the South American country of Ecuador has proposed to keep the lid on nearly one billion barrels of oil under its Yasuni National Park.

Despite the fact that Ecuador depends on one-third of its budget from oil exports, there will be no oil extraction, no oil exploration from the ITT oil field under Yasuni. Under the YasunÌ-ITT Initiative the country will forgo the stream of revenues the oil would provide. Ecuador will be the first country in the world to deliberately leave significant oil reserves underground - and those revenues - for the betterment of the planet while seeking to build a sustainable green economy.

There is of course mention of compensation by other nations for its efforts to keep potential greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. By leaving the oil underground Ecuador would, in effect, be sequestering the equivalent of 436 million tons of carbon dioxide.

To date global carbon dioxide emissions from Ecuador amount to less than a half-percent of the existing rise in emissions from pre-industrial levels. Highly industrialized countries have contributed over fifty percent of the atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions.

Ecuador thinks those industrialized countries should step forward, show some strength, and assume stronger targets for greenhouse gas reductions and greater commitments of support to initiatives that combat additional increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Yasuni National Park is home to at least two indigenous tribes that live in voluntary isolation in one of the most biodiverse places on earth. It is a unique and treasured place that Ecuador wants to leave just as it is.

Compare Yasuni with another treasured place, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), while comparing the attitudes of the Ecuadorian government and the US toward oil.

A few votes in Washington could lead to drilling in ANWR even though the eventual greenhouse gas emissions will contribute to the flooding of some of the nation’s own cities. Leadership in Quito would rather leave Yasuni’s oil in the ground, continue to build its nation with less dependence on oil and do its part to keep other nations’ cities from being inundated by rising oceans.

Ecuador’s long term vision is that the YasunÌ-ITT Initiative, which could include Ecuador accepting fair compensation for its efforts, will underwrite the implementation of its National Development Plan.

Under that Plan the nation will prioritize the use of renewable energy, build efficient transportation systems, attempt to eradicate poverty and provide universal access to quality healthcare and education. The Plan also includes promotion of ecotourism and sustainable development for Ecuador’s Amazonian region. Ecuador is also the home of the Galapagos Islands.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa presented the Yasuni-ITT Initiative at a United Nations meeting of world leaders on global climate change.


National Government of Ecuador (Spanish)

Yasuni National Park

Britain to start phasing out high energy lightbulbs

From: Jeremy Lovell, Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will begin phasing out energy-guzzling incandescent lightbulbs early next year in favor of low energy varieties as part of its battle against climate change, the environment ministry said on Thursday.

The aim of the as yet voluntary deal with the major makers, retailers and energy utilities is to cut up to five million tonnes of climate warming carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2012 by cutting electricity demand.

"I am delighted that major companies have said they are prepared to help deliver this ambitious timetable and offer products which will help their own customers play their part in combating climate change," Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said.

"But there are many more energy hungry gadgets on sale in shops that waste too much energy. That's why I want to see today's initiative widened," he added, urging retailers to stop stocking low energy efficiency products.

Low energy florescent lightbulbs use about 20 percent of the electricity needed by incandescent ones and are seen as part of the solution to global warming.

The Energy Saving Trust, a quasi-governmental advisory group on energy efficiency, said lighting accounted for 10-15 percent of household electricity and that low energy lightbulbs were the second most popular energy saving activity after recycling.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the plan earlier this year while he was finance minister.

At this stage it has to remain a voluntary agreement to prevent it contravening European Union competition laws.

Environment groups welcomed the plan as a step in the right direction but called on the government to be more ambitious.

"We think the government needs to go further and introduce tough mandatory efficiency standards rather than relying on weak voluntary initiatives," said Greenpeace director John Sauven.

"For every year of delay in getting rid of these bulbs, five million tonnes of C02 are emitted into the atmosphere, unnecessarily," he added.

The government is in the final stages of putting together a Climate Change Bill that, in its initial draft, had a target of cutting national CO2 emissions by 60 percent by 2050.

Green groups and many parliamentarians have urged that the final bill, expected by November, have an 80 percent cut as its target, with annual reduction targets on the way there.

Earlier this week Brown told his ruling Labour Party's annual conference that he would ask a committee of climate experts to be created by the bill to examine whether a tougher target was necessary.

Green group attacks oil giant on climate research

Alison Benjamin
Guardian, UK

Exxon animation
A still taken from the Exxon Files' online video

An environmental group today took aim at ExxonMobil with the launch of an online video attacking the oil giant's green credentials.

The Exxon Files, from Friends of the Earth Europe, sets out claims that the US-based corporation funds climate change deniers in Europe and the US.

The animated video, which spoofs the X-Files TV series, features two fictional agents - Deny Fully and Rexx Tiller, of the Federal Bureau of Inconvenience - who are hired by ExxonMobil to hide the truth about the negative environmental impact of its business.

To achieve this they secretly fund scientists, thinktanks and lobbyists sceptical about climate change.

Christine Phol, a campaigner for FoE Europe, said: "ExxonMobil invests millions of euros funding thinktanks and lobbyists committed to blocking internationally agreed policies to combat climate change whilst at the same time spending major sums on advertising designed to present itself as an environmentally responsible company."

The group wants viewers of the video to register their support online for a planned complaint to Belgian authorities over Exxon adverts at Brussels airport.

In the ads, Exxon claims to be reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. But FoE Europe said data from the company's corporate citizenship report showed Exxon's CO2 emissions increased by 8.7m metric tons from 2003 and 2006.

Paul de Clerck, another FoE Europe campaigner, said the adverts were one example of ExxonMobil's "deliberately misleading advertising campaign".

"The 'greening' of oil giant Exxon is nothing more than a slick public relations exercise," he said. "Instead of spending millions of manipulating the facts, they should make real efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

An ExxonMobil spokesman rejected the criticism. He said: "The recycling of this type of discredited conspiracy theory only diverts attention from the real challenge at hand: how to provide the energy needed to sustain and improve global living standards while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

He said ExxonMobil was taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and was also "supporting research into technology breakthroughs and participating in constructive dialogue on policy options".

Citing examples, he said the company was working with car manufacturers on programmes that could lead to fuel economy improvements, and partnering with the European Commission to study carbon capture and storage technologies.

ExxonMobil has been criticised in the past for backing organisations that are sceptical about climate change. Last year the Royal Society called on Esso, the UK arm of ExxonMobil, to withdraw support for dozens of groups that have "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence".

Australian grains chief warns of global wheat crisis

Philip Hopkins
The Age, Melbourne, Australia
Selling forward, going backwards.

Selling forward, going backwards.
Photo: James Davies

AS GLOBAL wheat prices continue to break records, Victoria's grains chief has warned of a crisis that could put the state's wheat sector back a decade.

Wheat surged to a record $US9.16 ($A10.48) a bushel early yesterday as Ukraine said it would cut exports, and importers elsewhere sought more supplies, squeezing worldwide inventories already at a 26-year low.

Wheat futures in Chicago reached as high as $US9.3925 a bushel and have more than doubled in the past year.

In Victoria, growers, grain companies and marketers are preparing for a crucial meeting next week to discuss the dire situation facing many grain farmers hit by the dry weather and their hedging arrangements.

Victorian Farmers Federation grains group president Geoff Nalder said farmers had made losses last year from the drought.

Now, many growers had sold their crop forward on expectations of a good harvest, and now faced potential ruin as the dry weather destroyed the grain in their paddocks. They would still have to meet their contract commitments.

"This is really serious," Mr Nalder said. "It will set the industry back a decade."

Mr Nalder said it appeared 50 per cent of Victorian grain producers had taken some form of forward position. This was up to 80 per cent in some areas.

But it was unclear what percentage of their crop these farmers had sold forward. "The usual advice is never go beyond 50 per cent," he said.

Mr Nalder said it could be different this year because farmers had hoped to reap rewards after last year's drought.

The season had started well, and official forecasts were for a wet spring, so farmers had sold forward their crop earlier this year when prices were comparatively high, he said.

The meeting in Birchip next Friday will bring together farmers, grain companies and legal representatives, with some growers talking about launching a class action against the grain companies.

Mr Nalder said the concept of hedging had been growing in farmers' minds for the past four or five years, and had been strongly promoted by banks and marketers.

"A contract is a contract. But a problem shared is a problem halved," he said.

Australian Crop Forecasters head Ron Storey said he did not think any company could forgive a contract. "Companies are not just buying grain — they bought and sold it," he said. "But they also do not want to bite the hand that feeds them. They want to see good, profitable farmers."

Mr Storey said farmers would have gone into a contract with their eyes open.

"The grains trade is well governed. A verbal contract is a contract," he said.

While many farmers could be affected, Mr Storey said he did not believe their output would constitute a significant proportion of the entire crop.

Australian farmers who had a crop and had not sold too far forward would reap the benefits of high prices.

ProFarmer analyst Richard Koch said Australia was the last major exporting nation with a crop problem.

The international market was expecting an Australian wheat crop of 12-16 million tonnes.

"We believe it will be difficult for the Australian crop to move under 13 to 14 million tonnes, which makes the crop better than last year," he said. Mr Koch said Australia only needed to help the world out with exports until mid-2008.

Despair over Greek fire aftermath

Rare species of animals and plants lost in flames
·Anger rises as developers move in on stricken areas

Helena Smith in Athens
Friday September 28, 2007
The Guardian, UK

Two percent of the surface area of Greece was destroyed by forest fires this summer, including some of Europe's lushest nature reserves. The extent of the damage wrought by the infernos is much larger than initially thought, with rare species of reptiles, mammals and endemic plants being lost, according to the conservation group WWF.

"The destruction by far exceeds our expectations, and is more dramatic and extensive than we imagined," Dimitris Karavellas, who heads the WWF in Greece, said. "These fires were not only the worst on record, they ravaged everything. Very few patches of life, patches that are now refuges for various animal species, were left behind," he said.

Aided by satellite maps, environmentalists have established that in six weeks the flames consumed roughly one-tenth of the country's forests, with large swaths of land inside EU-protected areas also being burned. Among the designated areas was Mount Taygetos, one of Greece's most spectacular nature reserves, which had just begun to recover from devastating blazes in 1998.

The destruction - exacerbated by the hottest summer in 50 years - will doubtless worsen if a winter of heavy rainfall follows, Mr Karavellas said.

The group's grim assessment came a month after fires erupted in the southern Peloponnese, killing 67 men, women and children, many of whom were burned alive as they tried to flee the flames.

The report's release will put further pressure on the recently re-elected conservative government, the popularity of which was badly hit by accusations of ineptitude during the conflagrations.

Alongside mounting anger over the scale of the damage, indignation is rising over the rehabilitation methods officials are resorting to in affected areas. "Everyone, it seems, wants to exploit the situation economically," Nikos Bokaris, the president of the Panhellenic Union of Foresters, said in an interview. "I have been to the stricken region and seen with my own eyes that there is absolutely no coordination of relief efforts. The confusion that allowed the fires to rage uncontrollably is now raging uncontrollably in those areas."

Greeks have been incensed by evidence that investors, scenting profit, are moving in to the Peloponnese, one of the last parts of Greece to have escaped mass tourism.

Ecologists point to a deal that paves the way for construction on up to 10 miles of virgin coastline around the southern seaside town of Zacharo. The deal, signed by the former deputy finance minister Petros Doukas and the mayor of Zacharo, Pantazis Chronopoulos, appears to have gone through, despite the region being on a list of protected sites drawn up by the EU.

The approximately 6,000 people who were made homeless by the fires have also been encouraged to ignore otherwise stringent environmental rules when they apply for housing subsidies. In the absence of a land registry and forest maps, Greeks invariably have been able to build with impunity in areas that would normally be protected.

Trail of destruction

· 300,000 hectares were burnt.

· 30,000 hectares of this were within protected areas.

· Seven designated nature reserves were affected.

· 55% of the razed area consisted of forests and other areas of vegetation.

· Habitats of rare species of golden jackals and red deer were among those destroyed.

· The fires caused a severe degradation of soil and water balance, increasing the risk of flooding.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Arctic sea ice reaches record minimum - 22% loss since 2005

By Mark Rainer
26 September 2007

On September 16, the Arctic sea reached its minimum extent for 2007 at 4.13 million square kilometers, breaking the record set on September 21, 2005 of 5.32 million square kilometers. The difference between the previous record and the present one, 1.19 million square kilometers, represents roughly the same area as Texas and California combined. It is a 22 percent loss in extent since 2005.

Every year Arctic sea ice extent grows during the winter months and shrinks during the summer months. At the end of the summer melt season, usually in September, the sea ice reaches a minimum.

This summer saw an unprecedented rates of loss, with large portions of the Arctic opening up that were previously covered by perennial (permanent) sea ice. The Northwest Passage—the sea route across the Arctic Ocean along the northern coast of North America—has opened as a consequence, and several small islands have been discovered.

Contributing to the record losses this year were unusually clear skies in the Arctic during June and July, and high-pressure patterns bringing warm air into the Arctic. The dramatic loss of ice cover this season is also the result of longer-term trends and processes in effect since the 1970s and before.

Global warming is a primary driver of the climate change in the Arctic. Warmer global temperatures caused by greenhouse gasses have accelerated the melting process. The melting process itself is enhanced by the ice-albedo feedback effect—surfaces covered by ice are replaced by open water, which absorbs more solar radiation, which in turn causes warmer global temperatures.

The melting of Arctic ice is also evident in the thinning of ice that has not melted. Earlier this month, scientists at the German-based Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research reported that large areas of sea ice are presently only one meter thick—a thinning of approximately 50 percent since 2001. Scientists speculate that the replacement of older thicker perennial sea ice with newer thinner ice began in 1970s. Maintenance of the older thicker ice is essential to the stability of perennial sea ice cover.

Measurements of sea ice thickness have been less systematic then sea ice extent. Most large-scale measurements have come from the sonar of military submarines. Nonetheless, there has been a significant observable decline in sea ice thickness seen in this data and other measurements. Using data from submarine cruises, Drew Rothrock, a scientist at the University of Washington, and others estimated that sea ice thickness declined an average of 1.3 meters over the past 30 to 40 years.

Another factor in the decline of sea ice is change in the phase of Arctic oscillation, a see-saw pattern of alternating atmospheric pressure at polar and mid-latitudes. The positive phase produces a strong polar vortex and shifts the mid-latitude jet stream northward. From 1989 to 1995, the Arctic oscillation entered a strong positive pattern that is thought to have flushed out older thicker sea ice from the Arctic.

There is debate among scientists about the amount of sea ice cover that can be expected in the future. A study by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from earlier this month estimates that the sea will shrink by 40 percent by 2050. The climate models accepted for the study, however, only took into account observations from 1979 through 1999. The study does not take into account the more rapid decline in sea ice extent seen in the past seven years, and in particular the very rapid decline witnessed this year.

However Mark Serreze, a scientist at the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, recently told the Associated Press that based on the latest observations, summer Arctic sea ice could disappear completely by 2030.

The projections of future sea ice extent have a strong impact on the modeling of features of the Arctic, such as the future polar bear population. A series of studies released by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) this month gives projections of the future polar bear populations. The study notes that the overriding factor in determining the projections is the decline in ice habitat—the decline in sea ice extent.

The USGS study estimates a loss of two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population within 50 years based on more conservative models of sea ice loss. The study predicts the extinction of 19 polar bear populations by 2050, and another three by 2075. As striking as these figures may be, in actuality the extinction of all polar populations could occur much sooner, taking into account the more rapid decline in sea ice seen recently.

The USGS study was produced at the request of the secretary of the interior to aid the US Fish and Wildlife Service in determining whether the polar bear should be considered an endangered species. This decision, which will be made in January, will affect other federal agencies in activities such as the approval of oil and gas leases.

The decline in sea ice extent this year signals a shift that is taking place in the climate system. The rapidity with which the ice is melting, exceeding previous projections, is an indication that global warming could have even more severe and immediate consequences than current models project.

Diplomats accuse Bush of attempting to derail UN climate conference

·President goes ahead with own environment meeting
·Fear that US will again reject limit on emissions

President George Bush was yesterday criticised by diplomats for attempting to derail a UN initiative on climate change by pressing ahead with his own conference, which starts in Washington today.

One European diplomat described the US meeting as a spoiler for a UN conference planned for Bali in December. Another, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, claimed that the US conference was merely a way of deflecting pressure from other world leaders who had asked at the G8 summit this year for the US to make concessions on global warming.

They predicted that Mr Bush, who is to address the meeting tomorrow, will stress the need to make technological advances that can help combat climate change but will reject mandatory caps on emissions.

The British government shares the frustration of other European governments with the lack of urgency on the part of the Bush administration. The British assessment of Mr Bush's conference is reflected in the level of representation - Phil Woolas, a junior environment minister.

Mr Bush invited 15 countries, plus all EU members.

The highest-ranking representative from outside the US is the German environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel. He said yesterday he did not expect the US or other nations attending the conference to budge. "One cannot expect concrete results."

One of those attending said the conference reflected "political hardball" on the part of the Bush administration, aimed at undermining the UN, for which it holds long-term suspicion. Another said the conference was aimed at domestic politics, with Mr Bush seeking headlines and television coverage implying that he was doing something about climate change while, in fact, doing almost nothing.

There was criticism too from within the US. Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, described the conference as "a sidelight, not a process that leads to anything". He accused the White House of seeking "an alternative to a binding treaty ... you're seeing the Bush administration make this up as they go along."

European diplomats say they detect a change in recent months in the Bush administration, with some - though not necessarily Mr Bush - accepting that humans are responsible for climate change. But they add that this has not so far turned into a willingness to abandon resistance to mandatory limits on emissions or reliance on fossil fuels.

Connie Hedegard, the Danish environment minister, who is attending the conference, told members of Congress that she and other European leaders "are getting a bit impatient, not on our own behalf, but on behalf of the planet".

She added: "We need the support of the US. China, India and the other industrialising countries, they will not do anything unless the US is moving."

John Ashton, the special envoy of the British foreign secretary, David Milliband, told the UN Foundation on Tuesday that he and others would judge the conference on whether it produced a concrete commitment rather than a voluntary pledge.

"The question on the mind of everybody heading into those meetings ... will be, is this talking about talking, or deciding about doing?" he told the audience.

Kristen Hellmer, of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in an interview with the Washington Post that the president did not object to other countries committing themselves to mandatory curbs on carbon emissions but rejected that strategy for the US. Mr Bush preferred a "portfolio" of approaches that included higher efficiency standards for appliances and alternative fuels.

In New York, at the annual Clinton Global Initiative conference, Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, joined Bill Clinton to announce plans by Florida Power & Light to build a solar power plant as part of a $2.4bn (£1.19bn) clean energy programme. "This is a huge deal for America and I think potentially a huge deal for people all around the world who want to do this," Mr Clinton said.

Indonesia urges incentives for forest conservation

From: Reuters

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Indonesia, host of a major climate change conference in December, called on rich countries on Tuesday to compensate poor states which preserve their rainforests to soak up greenhouse gases.

"Countries that seek to enhance their carbon sinks -- through forestation, afforestation, avoided deforestation -- should be given incentive and rewarded fairly for doing so," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the U.N. General Assembly.

Speaking a day after a one-day high-level U.N. meeting on climate change, Yudhoyono said he was optimistic about a meeting scheduled in Bali, Indonesia, for December aimed at jump-starting talks to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to curb climate-warming emissions.

But he said the 189 countries that are expected to gather in Bali for the U.N.-led conference must "think outside the box" to forge a consensus on tackling global warming.

"While the developing countries strive to protect and enhance their environment and its biodiversity, the developed countries must extend support," Yudhoyono said.

"They must lighten the burden of developing countries in carrying out that immense task -- through incentives and the transfer of environmentally sound technology," he added.

Indonesia has mobilized nations with most of the world's tropical rainforests -- Brazil, Cameroon, Congo, Costa Rica, Gabon, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea -- ahead of the Bali talks to get rich countries to pay the world's tropical nations not to chop down rainforests.

China warns of catastrophe from Three Gorges Dam

From: Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's huge Three Gorges Dam hydropower project could spark environmental catastrophe unless accumulating threats are quickly defused, senior officials and experts have warned.

The dam in southwest China, the world's biggest hydropower project, has begun generating electricity and serving as a barrier against seasonal flooding threatening lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Xinhua news agency reported late on Tuesday, citing a forum of experts and officials.

But even senior dam officials who have often defended the project as an engineering wonder and ecological boon now warn that areas around the dam are paying a heavy, potentially calamitous environmental cost.

"There exist many ecological and environmental problems concerning the Three Gorges Dam," the senior officials were quoted as saying. "If no preventive measures are taken, the project could lead to catastrophe."

The $25 billion dam, whose construction flooded 116 towns and hundreds of cultural sites, is still a work in progress, but state media have said it could be completed by the end of 2008, just after the Beijing Olympic Games.

Wang Xiaofeng, director of the administrative office in charge of building the dam, told the forum that it was time to face up to the environmental consequences of constructing the massive concrete wall across the country's biggest river.

"We absolutely cannot relax our guard against ecological and environmental security problems sparked by the Three Gorges Project," Wang told the meeting, according to Xinhua.

"We cannot win passing economic prosperity at the cost of the environment."


Wang cited a litany of threats, especially erosion and landslides on steep hills around the dam, conflicts over land shortages and "ecological deterioration caused by irrational development".

The strikingly frank acknowledgement of problems comes weeks before a congress of the ruling Communist Party that is set to consolidate policies giving more attention to environmental worries after decades of unfettered industrial growth.

Wang revealed that Premier Wen Jiabao had used a cabinet meeting earlier this year to discuss the environmental problems surrounding the dam.

Tensions over residents resettled to steep hills where good farmland is scarce had been reduced and water quality in the dam was "generally stable", Xinhua said.

But the officials and experts were worried about the landslides threatening densely populated hill country.

"Regular geological disasters are a severe threat to the lives of residents around the dam," senior engineer Huang Xuebin told the forum.

Huang described landslides into the dam waters making waves dozens of meters high that crashed into surrounding shores, creating even more damage.

The dam has displaced 1.4 million people and is retaining huge amounts of sediment and nutrients, damaging fish stocks and the fertility of farmland downstream, researchers say.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Heavy rain cripples South West Bengal, India

Bahrain Tribune

Kolkata (IANS)
The death toll from three days of incessant rainfall in southern West Bengal touched 10 with a youth dying of electrocution in Kolkata yesterday afternoon, even as the districts reeled under a flood-like situation despite a let-up in the downpour.
The police said a youth died at Ultadanga in north Kolkata after he came in contact with a live electric wire, which had got detached from its post and fell into a waterlogged area.
Many low-lying areas in southern, central and north Kolkata went under knee-deep water, while adjoining districts, Howrah, Hooghly and East Midnapore are threatened with flood situation with the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) releasing huge volume of rainwater from the Panchet and Mithan dams.
Official sources said the DVC is releasing 350,000 cusec of water to reduce pressure on its dams. According to media reports, the situation in Burdwan, Birbhum and Hooghly districts also worsened after DVC released its water. The Damodar and Ajoy rivers are flowing above the danger level.
About 40,000 people have been affected in the deluge in southern Bengal. The West Bengal government has sanctioned Rs. 80 million for relief to the flood-affected people in the state.
Meanwhile, Alipur met officials said there was no further forecast of heavy rain in the state. A low-pressure belt, which intensified into a depression over west central Bay of Bengal, which caused the downpour, moved towards Madhya Pradesh yesterday. The met office however predicted some more light to medium rainfall in Kolkata and its neighbouring district, in the next 48-hours.
Train services had virtually collapsed in Howrah and Sealdah divisions.

Flattened by hurricane, Mosquito Coast faces hunger

Destruction of rainforest heralds long-term misery for impoverished villagers

Rory Carroll in Li-Dakura, Nicaragua
The Guardian UK

A man stands outside his ruined house in Sahsa
A man stands outside his ruined house in Sahsa. Photograph: Susan Schulman

It is no longer a rainforest but a tree cemetery. As far as the eye can see there are uprooted, bare and broken trunks. The canopy, a roof of foliage so lush you could walk over it, is gone. The few remaining bits of green are no bigger than broccoli.

This is the aftermath of Hurricane Felix along Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast. A smell of decay shrouds the landscape. Crops and livestock have vanished into swamps. So much earth and debris have washed into rivers that they resemble caramel sludge.

Downriver the destruction worsens. Houses built on stilts lean drunkenly and have gaping holes. Many have missing roofs and walls. When you reach the ocean you see they have been spun into the air, Wizard of Oz-style, before smashing and splintering.

Three weeks ago the world watched the hurricane howl towards central America and braced for the worst. It was category five, a monster storm, and a cataclysm seemed inevitable.

But the hurricane changed course and missed big population centres. Instead of cities and tourist resorts it hit this remote wilderness, home to a few fishing and farming communities. A few dozen casualties were reported. The story seemed to be over. The world's gaze shifted elsewhere.

A tour through the affected region last week however showed that for Miskito Indians, one of the most impoverished and isolated communities in the Americas, the story is just beginning. Up to 160,000 people are facing an ecological and humanitarian crisis - and it is getting worse.

"It's very possible the aftermath will kill more than the hurricane itself," said Heriberto Cespedes, a surgeon at the main hospital in Puerto Cabezas. "I think in one or two weeks the avalanche of sickness will begin."

The residents of hundreds of shattered villages are at risk from hunger, exposure, contaminated water and disease spread by rats and mosquitoes, according to relief agencies. Infants have started succumbing to malaria, dengue and diarrhoea.

The longer term fear is that the destruction of the forests - 1.5m hectares (nearly 6,000 square miles) were shredded, including conservation areas - will pollute the water supply and damage the region's economy and ecology for generations. "The few trees that are standing don't even have leaves or branches," said Jaime Guillen, of the Rainforest Alliance, an advocacy group. "The forests are the principal livelihood of the indigenous communities. This environmental disaster risks turning into permanent damage."

Of all the figures prompted by Felix - more than 100 confirmed dead, more than 80% of homes destroyed or damaged, more than 15 years for forests to recover, a UN emergency appeal for nearly $40m - the most striking is the speed of the winds, 160mph. Previous hurricanes wrought devastation through rains, floods and landslides but in the case of Felix it was mainly the extraordinary force of the wind. It churned the Atlantic into a maelstrom that engulfed unprepared coastal communities.

The wind and waves came so fast that about 80 lobster fishermen from Li-Dakura and nearby villages had no time to make for land. Some clung to cayos, flimsy shacks on stilts in the sea, others lashed skiffs together. Neither strategy worked. The cayos and skiffs were obliterated. At least 30 drowned, with bodies washing as far north as Honduras. The survivors clung to debris for two days before being rescued.

"I'm scared to go back out," said Anpinio Adams, 32, gazing out to sea from an uprooted tree trunk. "But there's nothing else for us here, just lobsters."

In fact for the next few months there is not even that. The sea is so contaminated, not least by human remains, that there is a moratorium on lobster fishing.

Nicaragua's Sandinista government, backed by aid from the US, Cuba and Venezuela, among others, has mounted an energetic but at times uncoordinated relief effort. Suspicion of official corruption and mismanagement has prompted some ordinary Nicaraguans to buy aid and deliver it themselves to the coast.

Li-Dakura had received some water and food from the government but no materials to improvise shelters. "This hurricane has hit me up bad, I can't do anything," said Rodney Badin, 75, a barefoot, haunted figure in the shell of his home. He lost two sons, two daughters and a grandson to the storm. His most immediate needs were food, clothes and a blanket. "Something to wrap me up."

As it surged inland Felix weakened to category three but even then it retained enough force to topple mahogany and other hardwood trees and exposed their pale Medusa-like roots.

From the air the landscape resembles a vast, chaotic lumber yard. The tangled wreckage of one forest was so dense that villagers in Sahsa could not even search for missing relatives who had been panning for gold. "There's no way in, we can't reach them," said Bernaldo Lopez, 50, a distraught farmer.

If enough seeds and tools were supplied the maize and manioc crops which had been wiped out could be replanted within six months, said Dr Gerardo Antonio Gutiérrez, of Acción Medica Cristiana. "But the forests are like deserts. They could take one or two generations to recover." The region still bore scars from 1988's Hurricane Joan, he added.

Trees crushed houses and the region's basic infrastructure but experts warn that the more serious damage could come from rotting, putrid vegetation seeping into the water table.

"The trees are sacred to us," said Edith Morales, a relief coordinator. "And now they're dead. And making things worse." She shook her head. "We never imagined this."

11 new species discovered in remote Vietnam

By Emily Beament

The independent, UK

Two types of butterfly and a red-spotted snake are among 11 new species discovered in tropical forests in Vietnam, it was revealed yesterday.

The species, which include five orchids and three other plants, are exclusive to the remote forests in the Annamites Mountains of Thua Thien Hue, commonly known as Vietnam's "green corridor".

Another 10 kinds of plant, including four orchids, are still being examined and are also thought to be new species.

The discoveries have come in the same province where several mammal species were discovered in the 1990s, and could represent the "tip of the iceberg" said Chris Dickinson, WWF's chief technical adviser in the area.

"You only discover so many new species in very special places and the 'green corridor' is one of them," he added.

The new snake is called the white-lipped keelback and has a yellow-white stripe along its head with red dots covering its body. It lives by streams and catches frogs and other small animals.

Three of the new species of orchid have no leaves and live on decaying matter, like fungi, while the other new plants include an aspidistra with almost black flowers, and a yellow-flowered species of arum with funnel shaped leaves.

One of the new butterflies, which is among eight to have been discovered in the province since 1996, is a skipper which has quick, darting flight habits. All the new species were discovered in the past two years.

But the WWF warned that endangered species in the area, which is one of the last remaining lowland wet evergreen forests in the south-east Asian country, are under threat from illegal logging, hunting, extraction of natural resources and development.

The "green corridor" is home to many threatened plants and animals, including one of the world's most endangered primates, the white-cheeked crested gibbon, the WWF says.

It is also considered to be the best place to conserve the Saola – a unique type of wild cow which was discovered by scientists only in 1992.

Hoang Ngoc Khanh, director of Thua Thien Hue provincial forest protection department, said: "The area is extremely important for conservation and the province wants to protect the forests and their environmental services, as well as contribute to sustainable development."

Climate shift is biggest security risk: Australia

From: Rob Taylor -Reuters
Published September 25, 2007 07:50 AM

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Climate change, not war or terrorism, will be the century's biggest security challenge with China unlikely to be able to feed its vast and growing population as a result, Australia's top policeman has warned.

With predictions climate shift could slash agricultural output in Asia, and bring more droughts and flooding, climate refugees "in their millions" may be on the move within decades, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said.

China, its population tipped to reach 1.5 billion from the current 1.3 billion by 2030, had particular challenges, Keelty said, although instability would hit the entire Asia-Pacific.

"We could see a catastrophic decline in the availability of fresh water. Crops could fail, disease could be rampant and flooding might be so frequent that people, en masse, would be on the move," Keelty said in a speech late on Monday.

"Even if only some and not all of this occurs, climate change is going to be the security issue of the 21st century."

Climate shift and a growing population mean China could face a food shortfall of 100 million metric tons by 2030, the country's top meteorological official said recently.

Temperature rises of up to 3 percent, rising sea levels and shrinking glacial runoff is expected to reduce runoff into major Chinese river arteries like the Yangtze and Pearl, while land for grain and rice production could be reduced by 30 per cent.

"In their millions, people will look for new land and they'll cross borders to do it," Keelty said.

"The existing cultural tensions may be exacerbated as large numbers of people undertake a forced migration."

Police, Keelty said, would struggle to cope with the impact of global warming and should be involved in the regulation of emerging carbon trading schemes, which could open the door to corruption on a massive scale.

Australia, along with the United States, has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which requires 36 industrial nations to cut greenhouse emissions, arguing the pact would unfairly impact its energy export-reliant economy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

California seabirds dying in record numbers

Dead murres, auklets washing ashore with little in their stomachs

Originally published Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Common murres have been washing ashore along the West Coa... Tufted puffins such as this one are among the birds that ... Field biology intern Heather Lapin holds a rhinoceros auk...

West Coast seabirds are dying, apparently from a lack of food -- and some researchers think the phenomenon may be linked to global climate change.

This is the third year that scientists have found unusually large numbers of marine birds -- mainly common murres, but also rhinoceros auklets and tufted puffins -- washed up on beaches in California, Oregon and Washington. In 2005, the first year of the phenomenon, large numbers of Cassin's auklets also died.

Hannah Nevins, the coordinator for Moss Landing Marine Laboratories beach survey program, said 253 dead murres were recovered on 11 Monterey Bay beaches during the first week of March. During the past nine years, an average of nine dead birds were collected on the same beaches during the same week, she said.

About 180,000 breeding murres live along the West Coast, so it is unlikely the recent spate of deaths is enough to drastically harm the overall population.

"But if this continues for multiple years, then we could have real problems," Nevins said.

Most of the casualties were young birds that had just gone through their first winter.

"They were all in poor condition, and generally had empty stomachs," she said. "Either they were not finding food, or they were unable to capture the food they did find."

Bill Sydeman, the director of marine ecology at PRBO Conservation Science, a Bay Area group that specializes in avian research, said the deaths are worrisome because it now appears they are not isolated events. In the two past years, the winter deaths were followed by less successful breeding at the Farallon Islands, one of the West Coast's most productive seabird rookeries, he said.

"I would not be surprised to see the same thing this year," Sydeman said.

Sydeman said the trend appears to be linked to changes in the California Current -- a vast oceanic stream that delivers cold, nutrient-rich water from the Gulf of Alaska to the continental West Coast. Plankton thrives in this water, forming the basis of a food web that sustains everything from small fish to whales.

Fluctuations in the current in recent years appear to have resulted in regions of warmer water that support less plankton, Sydeman said. That can also reduce upwelling, a seasonal phenomenon that results in the replacement of warmer water along the Pacific Coast with cold, nutrient-laden offshore water.

Yet Howard Freeland, a research scientist with the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, British Columbia, said the California Current generally has remained strong during the past two years, though he said there have been some fluctuations.

But Julia Parrish, an associate professor in the school of aquatic and fisheries science at the University of Washington, said the North Pacific Ocean appears to be in major flux. During the past two years, she said, offshore upwelling did not begin off the continental Pacific Coast until summer, two months later than usual.

That was bad news for the birds because the warm water provided them little food during the height of the breeding season, Parrish said.

The once generally predictable North Pacific currents, she said, are "swinging like a pendulum." For example, in summer 2006, an unexpected "super upwelling" happened off the Oregon coast, sucking in vast quantities of abyssal water that was so low in oxygen that a temporary dead zone formed along the coast.

In typical years, said Parrish, very few horned puffins -- a bird that breeds in Alaska and winters offshore as far south as California -- are found dead on West Coast beaches.

"But during the last three years, we have found tens of them each season," she said. "That may not seem like a lot, but it is very significant, considering past statistics. More of them may be dying, or the currents may be shifting so that more are washed up on the beach instead of sinking. We don't know - but we do know things are changing, and that there are casualties."

Sydeman said the anomalies could be linked to global climate change.

"What's clear is that during the past decade, there's much more variability out there than there was during the preceding 40 years," he said.

"That probably causes some disability in the ecosystem to recover from human-caused impacts such as pollution, coastal development and fishing," he said.

Affected populations

For the third year in a row, large numbers of seabirds are dying off the California coast -- probably due to starvation. Scientists think fluctuating currents in the North Pacific are delaying or weakening the influx of cold, nutrient-rich water to the coastal areas of the western continental United States, resulting in less zooplankton and fewer small fish, the staple of marine birds.

Common murre: Duck-size, penguin-like birds that nest on rocky ledges along the California coast. They consume small fish and krill, and have suffered from population declines even before the recent die-offs.

Cassin's auklet: A small seabird that feeds heavily on krill and nests in burrows or crevices. They breed from Alaska to Baja, including the Farallones. Although these birds had a large die-off in 2005, scientists are also worried about them this year.

Rhinoceros auklet: Larger than the Cassin's auklet and smaller than the common murre, this bird is distinctive for a small "horn" on its bill. It eats krill and small fish and breeds largely in Alaska and northern British Columbia, though some are found year-round in Washington, Oregon and California.

Horned puffin: A distinctively marked bird that generally stays out to sea, the horned puffin subsists on small fish. Dead puffins seldom wash up on beaches; recent discoveries of horned puffin carcasses in Oregon have led to worries that mortality for the species may be increasing.

Source: Chronicle research

E-mail Glen Martin at


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