Friday, March 28, 2008

AArctic Melting May Lead To Expanded Oil Drilling

from: , Worldwatch Institute, More from this Affiliate


More than half of the Arctic Ocean was covered in year-round ice in the mid-1980s. Today, the ice cap is much smaller. Alarming evidence of this warming trend was released last week when the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released satellite evidence that perennial Arctic ice cover, as of February, rests on less than 30 percent of the ocean.

"The rate of sea-ice loss we're observing is much worse than even the most pessimistic projections led us to believe," says Carroll Muffett, deputy campaigns director with Greenpeace USA. For the first time in recorded history, this past summer the entire Northwest Passage between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans was ice-free, according to scientists.

In the eyes of oil and gas companies, like U.S-based Arctic Oil & Gas Corp., these open waters are potential treasure chests. As the Arctic Ocean resembles less like a gigantic ice sheet and more an ocean of frigid water, energy companies are racing to profit from the melting sea.

Arctic Oil & Gas Corp., an exploration company, has claimed exclusive rights to develop oil resources in the Arctic Ocean. On Tuesday, the group invited major companies from Canada, Norway, and Denmark to explore the Arctic abyss. "It simply doesn't get any bigger than this in the oil patch," CEO Peter Sterling said in a statement.

However, Arctic Oil & Gas Corp. does not yet have official rights to its claim. Development rights in the Arctic Ocean are heavily disputed between the United States, Russia, Canada, and Norway. All four countries are debating how far their continental shelf extends into the ocean and therefore grants them rights to drill. "We're like Lewis and Clark, exploring an area that could significantly increase the area of the U.S.," said David Balton, the U.S. State Department's deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries.

But the potential is still unknown. Modern technology has not accurately assessed the magnitude of oil or gas reserves below the polar caps, Balton said.

In the seas north of Russia and Alaska, expanded oil-and-gas development is already under way. The U.S. Department of Interior last month sold a record-breaking $2.6 billion in development bids throughout the Chukchi Sea, just above the Bering Strait. Additional sales are scheduled for 2010 and 2012.

As companies move into the Arctic to search for energy reserves or to create new shipping lanes, the potential environmental impacts could be huge. Balton acknowledged that shifting ice and coastal erosion makes exploration and development risky. "It's definitely a dangerous area to maneuver. An oil spill would be really hard to clean up," he said.

A report issued by the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service said that in addition to possible damage from lengthy pipelines and onshore facilities construction, "commenters expressed attendant concerns about the inability to clean up an oil spill in broken-ice conditions."

Polar bears, now threatened due to climate change, would face further stress if the Arctic is developed, due to increased contact with humans, Greenpeace's Muffett said.

Some environmentalists argue that the proposal to list the polar bear as threatened on the Endangered Species Act has been delayed to allow the Chukchi drilling plans to continue.

Ben Block is a staff writer at the Worldwatch Institute who covers everything environmental for Eye on Earth. He can be reached at

U.S. West warming faster than rest of world: study

From: Reuters


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The U.S. West is heating up at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the world and is likely to face more drought conditions in many of its fast-growing cities, an environmental group said on Thursday.

By analyzing federal government temperature data, the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that the average temperature in the 11-state Western region from 2003-07 was 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit (0.94 degrees Celsius) higher than the historical average of the 20th century.

The global average increase for the same period was 1.0 degrees Fahrenheit (0.55 degrees Celsius).

In the Colorado River Basin, which supplies water to big and fast-growing cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Denver, the average temperature rose 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.21 degrees Celsius), the U.S. group said.

Most of the river's water comes from melting snow in the mountains, and climate scientists predict hotter temperatures will reduce the snowpack and increase evaporation, the NRDC said in a statement.

"Global warming is hitting the West hard," said Theo Spencer of the NRDC. "It is already taking an economic toll on the region's tourism, recreation, skiing, hunting and fishing activities."

Study author Stephen Saunders of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization said there were signs of the economic impacts throughout the West.

"Since 2000 we have seen $2.7 billion in crop loss claims due to drought. Global warming is harming valuable commercial salmon fisheries, reducing hunting activity and revenues, and threatening shorter and less profitable seasons for ski resorts," he said.

The report is available online at

(Reporting by Mary Milliken; Editing by Bernie Woodall)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Massive ice shelf on verge of breakup

  • Story Highlights
  • A large chunk of the Wilkins ice shelf in Antarctica broke away last month
  • Only a narrow strip of ice is protecting the shelf from further breakup
  • "I didn't expect to see things happen this quickly," scientist says
  • Ice shelves are floating ice sheets attached to the coast

(CNN) -- Some 220 square miles of ice has collapsed in Antarctica and an ice shelf about the size of Connecticut is "hanging by a thread," the British Antarctic Survey said Tuesday, blaming global warming.


Scientists say the size of the threatened shelf is about 5,282 square miles.

"We are in for a lot more events like this," said professor Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Scambos alerted the British Antarctic Survey after he noticed part of the Wilkins ice shelf disintegrating on February 28, when he was looking at NASA satellite images.

Late February marks the end of summer at the South Pole and is the time when such events are most likely, he said. Video Watch aerial footage of the area »

"The amazing thing was, we saw it within hours of it beginning, in between the morning and the afternoon pictures of that day," Scambos said of the large chunk that broke away on February 28.

The Wilkins ice shelf lost about 6 percent of its surface a decade ago, the British Antarctic Survey said in a statement on its Web site

Another 220 square miles -- including the chunk that Scambos spotted -- had splintered from the ice shelf as of March 8, the group said.

"As of mid-March, only a narrow strip of shelf ice was protecting several thousand kilometers of potential further breakup," the group said.

Scambos' center put the size of the threatened shelf at about 5,282 square miles, comparable to the state of Connecticut, or about half the area of Scotland. See a map and photos as the collapse progressed »

Once Scambos called the British Antarctic Survey, the group sent an aircraft on a reconnaissance mission to examine the extent of the breakout.

"We flew along the main crack and observed the sheer scale of movement from the breakage," said Jim Elliott, according to the group's Web site.

"Big hefty chunks of ice, the size of small houses, look as though they've been thrown around like rubble -- it's like an explosion," he said.

"Wilkins is the largest ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula yet to be threatened," David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey said, according to the Web site.

"I didn't expect to see things happen this quickly. The ice shelf is hanging by a thread -- we'll know in the next few days or weeks what its fate will be."

But with Antarctica's summer ending, Scambos said the "unusual show is over for this season."

Ice shelves are floating ice sheets attached to the coast. Because they are already floating, their collapse does not have any effect on sea levels, according to the Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey.

Scambos said the ice shelf is not currently on the path of the increasingly popular tourist ships that travel from South America to Antarctica. But some plants and animals may have to adapt to the collapse.

"Wildlife will be impacted, but they are pretty adept at dealing with a topsy-turvy world," he said. "The ecosystem is pretty resilient."

Several ice shelves -- Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A, Larsen B, Wordie, Muller and Jones -- have collapsed in the past three decades, the British Antarctic Survey said.

Larsen B, a 1,254-square-mile ice shelf, comparable in size to the U.S. state of Rhode Island, collapsed in 2002, the group said.

Scientists say the western Antarctic peninsula -- the piece of the continent that stretches toward South America -- has warmed more than any other place on Earth over the past 50 years, rising by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit each decade.

Scambos said the poles will be the leading edge of what's happening in the rest of the world as global warming continues.

"Even though they seem far away, changes in the polar regions could have an impact on both hemispheres, with sea level rise and changes in climate patterns," he said.

News of the Wilkins ice shelf's impending breakup came less than two weeks after the United Nations Environment Program reported that the world's glaciers are melting away and that they show "record" losses.

"Data from close to 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges indicate that between the years 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 the average rate of melting and thinning more than doubled," the UNEP said March 16.

The most severe glacial shrinking occurred in Europe, with Norway's Breidalblikkbrea glacier, UNEP said. That glacier thinned by about 10 feet in 2006, compared with less than a foot the year before, it said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Huge chunk of Antarctic ice sheet collapses

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A chunk of Antarctic ice nine times the size of Manhattan has suddenly collapsed, putting an even larger glacial area at risk.

Satellite images show the runaway disintegration of a 220-square-mile chunk in western Antarctica.

British scientist David Vaughan says it's the result of global warming.

The rest of the Connecticut-sized ice shelf is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice and scientists worry that it too may collapse. Larger, more dramatic ice collapses occurred in 2002 and 1995. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 The

Scientists warn of soot effect on climate

· Coal and wood 'more damaging than thought'
· Black carbon harms environment and health

This article appeared in the Guardian on Monday March 24 2008 on p16 of the UK news section.
Smoke billowing from a plant in Romania

Smoke billowing from a plant in Copsa Mica, Romania. Photograph: Andrew Holbrooke/Corbis

Soot produced by burning coal, diesel, wood and dung causes significantly more damage to the environment than previously thought, according to research published today. So-called "black carbon" could cause up to 60% of the current warming effect of carbon dioxide, according to the US researchers, making it an important target for efforts to slow global warming.

Around 400,000 people are estimated to die each year due to inhaling soot particles, particularly because of indoor cooking on wood and dung stoves in developing countries. These deaths are mainly among women and children. Professor Greg Carmichael, of the University of Iowa, one of the authors of the study, published in Nature Geoscience, said: "Trying to develop strategies that really go after black carbon is really a very good short-term strategy and a win-win strategy for both climate and air pollution perspectives."

Carmichael and Professor V Ramanathan, at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, put together data from satellites, aircraft and surface instruments on the warming effect from black carbon. They conclude that its effect in the atmosphere is around 0.9 watts per square metre, considerably higher than the estimate of between 0.2 and 0.4 watts in last year's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Most particulates in the atmosphere reduce the warming effect from greenhouse gases by bouncing radiation back into space - so-called global dimming. But black carbon has the opposite effect and Ramanathan and Carmichael argue that its contribution to global warming has been underestimated.

"The aerosols in aggregate are either acting to, you could say, cool the atmosphere or mask the effect of CO2," said Carmichael, "[Black carbon] is the only component of this aerosol mix that in and of itself is a heating element."

Previous estimates had not taken into account the fact that it has a larger impact at high altitude in the atmosphere and that it interacts with other particulates in the atmosphere. Scientists do not fully understand these interactions, but observations suggest that they result in more warming. The researchers said that programmes to replace wood-burning stoves with clean technology such as solar energy in developing countries such as India should be pursued to reduce the number of deaths caused by inhaling the smoke.

The authors stressed that these measures were not a magic bullet. "It is important to emphasise that black carbon reduction can only help delay and not prevent unprecedented climate changes due to CO2 emissions," they wrote.

Australian wine industry feels heat from climate change

From: Reuters


By Victoria Thieberger

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian grape growers reckon they are the canary in the coalmine of global warming, as a long drought forces winemakers to rethink the styles of wine they can produce and the regions they can grow in.

The three largest grape-growing regions in Australia, the driest inhabited continent on earth, all depend on irrigation to survive. The high cost of water has made life tough for growers.

Some say they probably won't survive this year's harvest, because of the cost of keeping vines alive. Water prices surged above A$1,000 a megaliter last year from around A$300.

"On the back of three very ordinary years, this year is probably the worst that could have occurred with the drought and the high costs of water," said Michael de Palma, a mid-sized grower in Redcliffe near Mildura in the Murray Valley, one of the country's three big wine regions.

"In this depressed situation, growers have only two choices, stick it out as long as they can or to cut their losses and get out," said de Palma, who is part-way through a weather-influenced early harvest on his 40-hectare vineyard.

Recent rains have bypassed the country's parched inland wine regions, and have fallen half-way through the harvest in eastern Australia, too late to help the berries and instead causing a mildew-like disease.

De Palma, the chairman of Murray Valley Winegrowers, said he would wait to see the results of his harvest before deciding whether to sell up or hold on to his vineyard, which mainly supplies Foster's Group, Australia's largest wine company.

He estimated around 40 percent of grape growers in the Murray Valley who had access to water trading couldn't afford to buy water last year, while most of the others had to borrow to do so, going deeper into debt.

Industry groups estimate up to 1,000 winegrowers out of around 7,000 may be forced to leave the industry this year because their vineyards are no longer financially viable.

"There's a Darwinian economics going on at the moment, and the outcome remains to be seen," said Paul Henry, general manager of market development at Australian Wine and Brandy Corp.

"One might say we're guilty of the charge of being slow to change thus far, but the experience of this harvest will change the outlook for Australian producers."

In some regions, such as the Murray Valley, wine grape yields are down 30-40 percent.

Australia's harvest is forecast to be down on average years, which may cut into exports in the A$6 billion industry.

Wine exports total some A$3 billion. Australia is the number one supplier of imported wine in the United Kingdom with a market share of 23 percent and it is second in the United States.

The smaller 2008 vintage, made worse by a record-breaking heatwave which withered grapes on the vines, is expected to push up prices and spell the end of cheap bulk wine after a three-year glut that produced a rash of no-name brands called "cleanskins."


Scientists say Australia's vast inland winegrowing districts face the greatest degrees of warming.

These are the Riverland on the Murray River in South Australia, the Murray Valley, and the Riverina on the Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales.

And it is the grape-growers in these semi-arid areas that already face the greatest hardship, with calls to rural financial counseling services soaring in recent months.

"We believe there are 800 to 1,000 growers predominantly in Murray Valley and the Riverland in South Australia who are going to have to make a decision this year about whether they stay or go," said Wine Grape Growers chief Mark McKenzie.

A landmark study by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) found these areas would warm by 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2030.

Last year was one of the warmest on record for southern Australia, where all of the nation's winegrowing regions lie, as well as one of the driest.

And that is enough to change harvesting times as berries ripen earlier, which can also affect their quality.

"Climate change is the biggest issue we face. Relatively small changes in temperature and precipitation do have reasonably large impacts in terms of wine style," said Winemakers' Federation Chief Executive Stephen Strachan.

"Wine is a bit of a bellwether in terms of some of the very immediate impacts you see from climate change."

According to the CSIRO, grape quality could fall by 23 percent by 2030 because of the climate changes, and suitable land for viticulture could be cut by 10 percent.

By 2050, some 44 percent of current grape-growing areas would be affected, the study found.

The solution may be for cooler climate areas, such as the bayside Mornington Peninsula south-east of Melbourne and the Yarra Valley to the east, to expand the varieties they grow.

The southern island state of Tasmania is also attracting attention as a region that could dramatically boost its grape cultivation, with its mild weather closer to that of New Zealand than the parched mainland.

Indeed, wine-growers in neighboring New Zealand are upbeat about a future that includes climate change, because higher temperatures are expected to make cold areas of New Zealand more temperate and better suited to grape growing.


Warmer temperatures and less rainfall will also mean changes in the grape varieties the traditional growing areas produce.

"Styles in existing regions will change," said Strachan of the Winemakers' Federation.

"Most regions can produce most grape varieties, but whether they can produce them to quality levels that the market expects is the big question."

While Australia's signature shiraz fares quite well in a hot climate, cabernet, pinot noir and merlot among the reds and chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling among the whites may have a tougher time.

"Merlot is relatively intolerant of water stress, and it doesn't cope well with periods of very high temperatures," said Snow Barlow, a winemaker and the chairman of the agriculture school at Melbourne University, who co-authored the CSIRO study.

Experts say Australian growers need to experiment with tougher varieties from Spain and Sicily. Tempranillo from Spain is one of Australia's fastest-growing varieties, while along the Murray river, the Corsican grape Vermentino is being planted.

"Wine companies build up brands. Whether we can convince the world to take to Australian Sicilian varieties in same way they take to Australian shiraz, that's quite a big commercial question," said Barlow.

Barlow, who owns the boutique Baddaginnie Run vineyard nestled in the foothills of the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria state, said climate change shaped his decisions on what varieties to plant when he started his vineyard 10 years ago.

Even so, merlot has proved problematic and he did not produce a merlot last year because of poor quality. His $20 merlot has won awards in better years.

Over time, different root stocks that are able to provide good fruit with lower water requirements will become more common.

But it can take months or years to import new varieties through Australia's strict quarantine system, and three to four years to establish new rootstock for commercial production.

For grape growers already deep in debt, that is simply too long to wait.

(Editing by Megan Goldin)


Arkansas towns endure floods as White River swells


  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Man points to U.S. flag hanging in water, says it's 10-15 feet off ground
  • NEW: White River has risen 7 feet in last four days, weather service says
  • Sheriff in Des Arc says of flooding, "I'd never seen it come up so fast"
  • 35 counties in Arkansas declared disaster areas

DES ARC, Arkansas (AP) -- Forecasters issued flash-flood warnings for parts of Arkansas' prairie as the state's largest water surge in a quarter-century continued its way downstream.


Adrianna Lopez, 5, carries animal feed Monday, as her cousin, Oscar Lopez, helps clean up after flooding.

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Swollen by last week's storms that devastated large parts of the Midwest, the fast-rising White River had risen about 7 feet in four days and was expected to crest Tuesday at 33.5 feet, the National Weather Service estimated.

Water poured into Bayou Des Arc, an area just north of the town of 1,900, damaging scattered homes and cabins.

"It's the worst," Trey Newby, 17, said as he piloted a small boat with an outboard motor through the brown water in an RV park along Bayou Des Arc. He and a friend pointed to a pole and a U.S. flag hanging partially in the water.

"That's probably 10, 15 feet off the ground right there," Newby said.

Prairie County Sheriff Gary Burnett, a lifelong resident of the area, about 60 miles east of Little Rock, said he had never seen the river flood so quickly.

"It came up just so fast," said Burnett, 37. "I'd never seen it come up so fast."

No flood-related injuries were reported, Burnett said.

Downtown Des Arc is on a rise and was not in immediate danger. Video Watch how boats have became popular modes of transportation »

Just south of town and beyond a levee, Rick Thompson, 38, stood looking at his flooded mobile home. He said he had no flood insurance and had yet to go inside.

"I'm going to come back with my boat and get my pictures and Bibles and things like that out of there and pray on the rest of it," Thompson said.

Last week's torrential rain in the Midwest also caused flooding in parts of Ohio, Indiana and southern Illinois, and in wide areas of Missouri. At least 17 deaths have been linked to the weather and thousands of people evacuated, most of them in Missouri.

David Maxwell, the Arkansas emergency management director, said state and federal emergency workers would visit flood-damaged areas of the state Tuesday. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe has declared 35 counties disaster areas.

Although wide areas of Missouri were especially hard-hit, the city of Cape Girardeau, which had record flooding in 1993, narrowly escaped serious problems this time. The Mississippi River crested there early Monday at 41.04 feet, a foot shy of the level that signals serious flooding, the weather service said.

Flood gates protecting the city's business district were closed Monday and will stay closed until the river drops to below 36 feet. There was some minor flooding Monday in Cape Girardeau's northeast section.

River towns south of the point where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet at Cairo, Illinois, could see flooding in the next few days.

The Mississippi River is expected to crest Thursday at 42 feet at New Madrid, Missouri, an hour south of Cape Girardeau, and at 41 feet Friday in Caruthersville, Missouri, enough to cause moderate flooding in both areas, meteorologists said.

Rain is forecast in the region Wednesday and could produce localized flooding. "There'll be a lot of runoff in creeks and smaller tributaries again, but there's not much of a place to drain into with the rivers running so high," said Mary Lamm, a weather service hydrologist in Paducah, Kentucky.


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