Antarctic glacier mission seeks global climate clues

January 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Global Warming

  • Iceberg collision could affect global ocean circulation
  • Scientists on mission to Antarctica to study aftermath
  • Team studies impact of rising acidity on animals with shells

By David Fogarty, Climate Change Correspondent, Asia

SINGAPORE, Jan 31 (Reuters) – The breaking off of a Luxembourg-sized iceberg in Antarctica could affect ocean circulation patterns and be a harbinger of changes to come from global warming, scientists on a mission to the frozen continent say.

Last February, a 2,500 sq km (965 sq m) iceberg broke off from a giant floating tongue of ice from the Mertz Glacier after being rammed by an even larger iceberg.

The ice tongue, sticking out into the Southern Ocean, had acted like a dam, preventing sea ice from moving into a permanently open section of water to the west.

But now with the ice tongue gone due the collision, scientists fear it could trigger changes to the behaviour of a major part of global ocean circulation patterns that shift heat around the globe via myriad currents at the surface and along the bottom.

The area around the glacier tongue, since halved in length by the collision, and to the west are one of the few places around Antarctica where dense, salty water is formed and sinks to the depths of the ocean, said mission leader Steve Rintoul on Monday.

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New findings could help scientists monitor how corals adapt to global warming

January 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Global Warming

Young staghorn coral that fluoresce redder are less likely to settle and develop into coral polyps than their greener peers, University of Texas at Austin biologists have discovered.

The finding may help scientists monitor how corals adapt to global warming because the less likely coral larvae are to settle, the more likely they will disperse from their reef of origin.

“By simply looking at the color of a larval population, we may soon be able to say which larvae are going to be long-range dispersers and which will be short-range dispersers,” says Mikhail “Misha” Matz, assistant professor of biology. “Under global warming, we expect a lot of evolution of this particular life history trait.”

Matz says researchers expect to see long-range dispersers starting to win, because the corals need to shift to cooler latitudes.

The research was published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

For the study, Matz and his colleagues crossed different color morphs of the small staghorn coral, Acropora millepora, and exposed the offspring larvae to a settlement cue ground-up calcareous red algae. The scientists observed that larvae inheriting redder fluorescent color from their parents were less likely to settle and metamorphose into reef-building polyps than greener larvae.

Coral response to the settlement cue is under strong genetic control, but it’s not clear yet how that is linked with fluorescence.

Matz says the correlation between settlement and fluorescence could be completely random, that the genes that determine color and the genes that determine settlement are only next to each other in the chromosome and have no functional connection. In that case, they would simply be inherited together.

Alternatively, fluorescence could somehow be related genetically to the capacity of larvae to sense the proximity of a coral reef, and thus have a more direct correlation.

Matz and his colleagues will be investigating these two possibilities in further research. But in either case, Matz says the color of coral larvae fluorescence could serve as a viable marker as to whether they are settlers or swimmers.

The big question still remains as to why corals fluoresce in such spectacular colors.

“Bright, multicolored fluorescence of reef-building corals is one of the most spectacular and least understood visual phenomena in the ocean,” says Matz, “and we still have no idea what purpose it serves. But our discovery is a really good lead towards determining the function of fluorescence.”

Additional contact:
Lee Clippard, public affairs

Published on: 2011-01-30

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Activism can bring about revolutionary change

January 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

You say you want a revolution, the Beatles sang. Well, you know, we all want to change the world.

Even if its not a revolutionary change you are seeking, here are some tips on preserving a cherished service or advocating for a new policy at city hall.

As I wrote in the last issue, you can achieve small changes by calling 311, your municipal councillor, or by making a deputation at city hall.

But if you are seeking larger policy changes or want to protect services from being slashed, youll need a stronger game plan.

Do your research

Councillor Gord Perks is no stranger to activism, dating back to 1987 when he was involved with Pollution Probe, Greenpeace Canada and Toronto Environmental Alliance all before he entered politics.

You will have opponents so your information has to be as good or better, he said.

So know your facts: why does it make economic, social and political sense for policymakers to agree with you?

Build momentum

You should build popular support across the city for whatever change you want, Perks told me. Identify who your allies are and recruit them.

Find out who your opponents are and the people you can convince in the (undecided) middle.

Stick with it

Working for a better world has to be fun if its going to take you months or years, Perks advises.

So perhaps try out some street theatre to get your point across with a goofy protest.

Remember, you arent going to be successful by making a five-minute deputation at a committee, so plan on advocating repeatedly in as many ways as possible.

You can make a difference

This is not a time to be quiet and assume the government will do what you want, Councillor Joe Mihevc said.

This is a time for active democracy and taking action, he added. Every issue has community people who stood up and said, I want to make a difference in student nutrition, hunger, urban renewal, public health, public transit.

Media attention

As a news reporter for eight years, Ive interviewed my share of groups looking to shine a light on their causes. Media attention should be one of the tools you use to effect change, but it has to be done right.

I remember two stories I reported on about saving school pools that stand out as examples of what worked.

In 2002, Torontonians were facing the possible closure of 85 school pools as provincial funding was going to be pulled. Swim advocates got creative and invited 100 kids and students from across the city to a protest/swim party in a Beach school pool. And they invited the media.

I covered the event, where I spoke to Michelle Agnew and Mikaela Kraus-Glover, a pair of 8-year-olds, who told me why their pool should stay open.

Id feel bad. You need to learn how to swim because people might drown, Agnew said.

Kraus-Glover added: My school pool is where I learned how to swim, so its important to me.

A few days later the province said it had a change of heart.

Of course it wasnt that simple. And the school board has since raised the issue of pool closures almost yearly.

In 2008, faced with the possible closure of the Malvern CI pool, student Hannah Gladstone helped organize a mock funeral for her school pool.

We decided to do a eulogy and funeral because we are feeling our pool is dying, Gladstone said.

My advice: if you want to start a media campaign then know your facts, plan an event, have a website, use Twitter to let people know whats happening, start a Facebook campaign, send out press releases, get a crowd of supporters behind you and have an articulate spokesperson.

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Greenland Ice Sheet Experiences Record Melt

January 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Global Warming

New research shows the ice sheet is melting

The Greenland ice sheet, a vast body of ice covering 80% of the country, experienced a record melt in 2010.

The remote island of Greenland is at the coal face of global warming. The Greenland ice sheet makes up around one-twentieth of the worlds ice. In 2010 much of Greenland experienced unusually warm weather, extending the annual melting season by 50 days.

Research published by the City College of New York’s Cryospheric Processes Laboratory shows that since 1979 the area subject to melting in Greenland has been increasing at a rate of 17,000 kilometers square each year. This means that an area the size of France melted in 2010 which would not have melted three decades ago.

Greenland's icesheets experience record melt - M. Tedesco/WWFThe Greenland ice sheets annual melt started exceptionally early in 2010 and extended exceptionally late, lasting from the end of April to mid-September. The studys co-author Marco Tedesco, director of the Cryospheric Processes Laboratory, explained that this was caused by above-normal near-surface air temperatures.

The teams research was based on satellite data and ground observations, as well as data collected by automated weather stations installed by the Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht in 2003.

If the entire 2,850,000 km3 of the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, global sea levels would rise by a catastrophic 7.2 meters. The 2010 melt beats the previous record set in 2007. Eight of the largest melts on record happened between 1998 and 2010.

2010 was the warmest year on record for Nuuk, Greenlands capital city. It is projected that local warming in Greenland will exceed 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) before the end of this century. Continued warming such as this would see the Greenland ice sheet cross a threshold where long-term melting is inevitable.

Canyon over the ice sheet formed by meltwater - M. Tedesco/WWFThese new findings come as the United States grapples with its funding of international climate change initiatives. A recently released budget plan prepared by the Republican Party includes a provision to eliminate all taxpayer subsidies to the United Nationals Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to New York Times environment reporter Andrew C. Revkin, dont look for the vital 21st-century energy quest, let alone a reality-based approach to global warming, to begin within the borders of the United States.

The ice in the Greenland ice sheet is up to 130,000 years old, making it an important record of past climatic conditions. Scientists have been able to drill 4 kilometers deep ice cores, providing an accurate snap shot of global climate changes, ocean volumes and volcanic eruptions.

By area Greenland is the worlds largest island. Its population totals less than 57,000, making it the least densely populated country or dependency in the world.

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Coral spreading northward in Japan as ocean temperatures rise

January 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Global Warming

Corals that inhabit warm ocean areas are spreading northward in Japan’s coastal waters, apparently due to global warming, researchers have announced.

According to a research team from the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Ibaraki Prefecture and the Kushimoto Marine Park Center in Wakayama Prefecture, the northern limits of the habitats of several species of coral lying mostly near the Nansei Islands south of Kyushu have been moving northward at a “unprecedented speed” of up to 14 kilometers per year.

The unusual phenomenon is thought to have been caused by rising sea temperatures associated with global warming. As corals serve as the home for various marine plants and animals, researchers fear a possible change in the regional ecosystem.

In the sea around Japan, average water temperatures in winter have risen by 1.1 to 1.6 degrees Celsius over the past century. Out of nine species of corals that the research team analyzed, four that live in tropical waters have so far spread northward. One of the four species was observed inhabiting the area near Kagoshima Prefecture’s Tanegashima island in 1988, but was found to have spread 280 kilometers northward to Nagasaki Prefecture’s Goto Islands 20 years later.

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Dead zones in ocean threaten fish

January 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With the New Year comes new challenges to fish in our world’s oceans and one of the major concerns is the expansion of hypoxic zones. That’s the scientific name but more recreational anglers are becoming aware of them as “dead zones.”

They are areas in the oceans with low or non-existent oxygen levels which, according to a recently released research study by scientists and fish management experts, are increasing in size while decreasing the habitats of billfish and tuna. In scientific circles this phenomena is called “habitat compression.”

Ellen Peel, president of The Billfish Foundation (TBF) said scientists outfitted 79 sailfish and blue marlin in two strategic areas of the Atlantic with pop-off archival satellite tags which monitored their horizontal and vertical movement patterns.

“Billfish favor abundant habitats of oxygen-rich waters closer to the surface while avoiding waters low in oxygen,” Peel said. The study, composed of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and TBF, found a massive expanding low oxygen zone in the Atlantic Ocean is encroaching upon the fish forcing them into shallower waters where they are more likely to be caught. The research waters included areas off south Florida and the Caribbean (western North Atlantic); and off the coast of West Africa (the eastern tropical Atlantic).

Hypoxic zones occur naturally in areas of the world’s tropical and equatorial seas because of ongoing weather patterns, oceanographic and biological processes. In the current cycle of climate change and accelerated global warming, hypoxic areas are expanding and shoaling closer to the sea surface, and may continue to expand as sea temperatures rise.

“The zone off West Africa,” said Dr. Eric D. Prince, NOAA Fisheries Service research biologist, “encompasses virtually all the equatorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean, is roughly the size of the continental United States and is growing. With the current cycle of climate change and accelerated global warming we expect the size of this zone to increase, further reducing the available habitat for these fishes.”

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Oil platform could put critically endangered whales at risk

January 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

Oil platform could put critically endangered whales at risk

Sakhalin Energy Investment Company already has two platforms in the area and have previously said that their drilling technology meant that they would not need a third. An official Sakhalin Energy document also acknowledges that having two rather than three platforms “significantly reduces the potential for environmental impact”.

The company plans to conduct a seismic survey which involves shooting loud pulses of noise into the ocean floor later this year to determine where to begin platform construction.

Three seismic surveys conducted around the whale feeding habitat last summer caused severe pressure on the animals as the noise from the surveys can be devastating for species that rely on sound to navigate, communicate and find their food.

Grey whales occur on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. However IUCN classes the critically endangered Western population as separate from the Eastern population, as genetic studies indicate that the two populations probably do not mix.

Only around 130 whales of the critically endangered Western population exist today.

The construction and operation of an additional off-shore platform could have a number of negative effects on the whales, including disrupting feeding behaviours and increasing the chance of fatal ship strikes.

Aleksey Knizhnikov, Oil Gas Environmental Policy Officer for WWF-Russia says on the WWF website: “Just around 30 female western Grey whales of breeding age remain the population is already on the brink of disappearing forever. The loss of even a few breeding females could mean the end for the population.”

During the feeding season the whales must eat enough to maintain themselves for the migration to their breeding grounds. Their primary feeding area, near the proposed platform, is also one of the only places where mother whales can teach their calves to feed on the sea bed.

“We are astonished by the announcement from Sakhalin Energy that it intends to build a third platform,” said Wendy Elliott, Species Programme Manager, WWF-International.

Doug Norlen, Policy Director at Pacific Environment reiterates:”We still do not know how badly the whales were affected by major seismic activity last summer and will not know until the whales return to their feeding grounds again this year and scientists can determine if any are malnourished. It is totally inappropriate for Sakhalin Energy to plan another seismic survey in 2011 before we have the opportunity to examine the health of the animals.”

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Clean Water Act suit to proceed against Seward coal facility

January 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Dumping

A Clean Water Act lawsuit alleging violations by the Seward Coal Loading Facility was allowed to go forward Jan. 10 by federal district Judge Timothy Burgess.

The coal facility, jointly operated by Alaska Railroad Corp. and Usibelli coal mine subsidiary Aurora Energy Services, has been a sore spot for Seward residents who say the coal dust from operations creates both a nuisance and a public health hazard.

Alaska Railroad Corp. and Aurora Energy Services were denied their bid for dismissal by Burgess.

The lawsuit, filed last January by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the Sierra Club, Alaska Center for the Environment and Alaska Community Action on Toxins, alleges that a conveyor system delivering coal to export vessels allows coal to fall directly into Resurrection Bay along the length of the conveyor system to the loading facility, as well as from the belt after it loops back underneath itself.

Trustees for Alaska said coal dust from the stockpiles, railcar dumping facility, stacker/reclaimer, ship loader and the conveyor systems fall into Resurrection Bay. There are also concerns over Aurora Energy plowing snow that is allegedly contaminated with coal dust, as well as storm water that flows directly into Resurrection Bay.

The coal dust also blows off the facility’s two massive coal stockpiles into the bay, covering nearby fishing charter boats, other vessels and nearby neighborhoods with dust and debris.

“We are pleased that the Court will allow the case to move forward and address the pollution problems at the coal facility in Seward,” said Trustees for Alaska attorney Brian Litmans in a statement. “The facility is unable to contain the coal dust and keep coal from going into Resurrection Bay, which violates the law and is an ongoing nuisance and health issue.”

The statement from the consortium of plaintiffs also stated Seward was covered with coal dust both on Dec. 10 and Dec. 22.

Last July, the railroad and Aurora reached a joint compliance order with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to pay a $220,000 fine, with most of that money going toward the cost of dust mitigation measures.

Three supplemental environmental projects ordered by DEC were completed on schedule in 2010 and include the installation of additional dust suppression equipment including spray bards, high-pressure spray nozzles and a sealed chute and fogging system on the stacker/reclaimer.

According to Alaska Railroad Corp. vice president for corporate affairs Wendy Lindskoog, another $540,000 in capital expenditures are planned for 2011 regarding dust suppression projects.

Lindskoog said it is company policy to not comment on ongoing litigation.

The Seward coal loading facility, which is located on land owned by the Alaska Railroad, was originally built in 1984 as an economic development project to sell coal to world markets.

Suneel Alaska Corp., the purchaser of the coal for the Korean domestic market, negotiated with the state for construction of the coal dock and a loan from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities built the dock and Suneel installed the conveyor and loading systems.

Railroad officials said their participation was limited to leasing waterfront property for the facility and transporting the coal from Healy to Seward under a contract with Suneel.

Suneel and its successor, Hyundai Merchant Marine, continued to purchase coal and operate the facility through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, with AIDEA becoming a co-owner of the facility in 1995.

Hyundai remained the lessee on the property and operated the facility until January 2007, when the railroad entered into an operating agreement with Aurora Energy Services.

Since then, railroad officials said, the Alaska Railroad and Aurora Energy Services have spent more than $1 million on safety, operational and environmental improvements, including significant environmental upgrades to deal with coal dust.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at

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Lipinski Helps Lead Bipartisan Effort to Protect the Great Lakes

January 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Dumping

The following information was released by the office of Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski:

In a bipartisan effort to protect Lake Michigan, Congressman Dan Lipinski and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk were joined today by Sen. Dick Durbin and Congressman Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth) to announce they will introduce legislation that will increase fines for dumping sewage into the Great Lakes. Congressman Lipinski has worked with Sen. Kirk on similar legislation over the last two Congresses.

“After working on this legislation over the past two Congresses, I believe we’ve assembled a strong, bipartisan core of support that will enable us to see it signed into law,” Lipinski said at a press conference at the Shedd Aquarium. “The Great Lakes are our region’s most precious natural resource, providing drinking water for 30 million people, unmatched recreational opportunities, and a livelihood for many. Yet each year brings news of more beach closings and swimming bans. We can’t allow the dumping of billions of gallons of raw sewage into the same waters that we use for drinking, swimming, boating and fishing. We need to deter polluters while investing in projects that improve water quality, and this bill accomplishes that.”

The Great Lakes Water Protection Act would more than double fines for sewage dumping to $100,000 a day per violation and make it harder for offenders to avoid fines. Money collected from fines would flow to a Great Lakes Clean-Up Fund created by the legislation to generate financial resources for the Great Lakes states to improve wastewater treatment options, habitat protection, and wastewater treatment systems.

“By joining forces on this important piece of legislation, we believe we can keep our Great Lakes-the crown jewel of the Midwest – clean and safe,” Sen. Kirk said. “Not only does Lake Michigan provide millions of us with our drinking water, it is a vital economic engine to the entire region.”

“Our duty to future generations of Illinoisans is to protect the environment in which we live,” Rep. Dold said. “There is much we can do right here at home by protecting Lake Michigan and its ecosystem. I’m proud to join with Congressman Lipinski and Senators Kirk and Durbin to work in a bipartisan manner to ensure our Great Lakes remain the crown jewel of the Midwest.”

Great Lakes beaches had over 3,000 days worth of closings and advisories last year, and Illinois beaches had warnings or closings 10 percent of the time. Chicago has taken many steps to limit sewer overflow, including such projects as the Deep Tunnel. Other cities dump directly into the Great Lakes. Detroit traditionally has been one of the worst offenders, dumping an estimated 13 billion gallons of sewage into the Great Lakes annually, figures show.

“On Monday, I invited Rep. Dold to cross the aisle and sit with me during the State of the Union next week, and he readily agreed,” Congressman Lipinski said. “That same spirit of unity and bipartisanship is what brought us all together to work on this bill. The American people want to see partisan bickering replaced with productive debate and problem-solving. Democrats and Republicans will always have their differences, but we must find ways to work together for the good of the country. This bill shows that bipartisan cooperation on substantive issues is very much possible.”

(January 21, 2011)


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Devices to monitor lake water quality

January 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Dumping

BANGALORE: In its efforts to check the deteriorating quality of water in the lakes across the city due to indiscriminate dumping of waste and discharge of sewerage into the catchment areas, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) is exploring the possibility of installing programmed devices to monitor the water quality in the lakes round the clock.

At present, the KSPCB is testing the accuracy of the devices offered by a private agency in Ulsoor lake, Sankey Tank and Bellandur Lake. According to the sources the cost of each device is expected to vary from `515 lakh according to the parameters that the device is expected to monitor. At present, the devices installed are monitoring the temperature, pH value, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids and turbidity. According to the readings obtained from these devices the water quality is acceptable in Ulsoor Lake and Sankey Tank and bad in Bellandur lake.

The KSPCB Member Secretary M S Gouder said, “We are also thinking of testing these devices for more parameters like E.coli [bacteria] and heavy metals. After the accuracy of these devices are proved, we will consider them in the lakes and coordinate with the other governmental agencies to maintain them in good condition as these devices will help us understand if anything is going wrong.”

According to Gouder these devices will be useful in monitoring the water quality automatically round the clock in the newly rejuvenated lakes as most of them are situated in the outskirts or the newlyadded areas of the city. They are also expected to help the concerned authorities to prevent the flow of sewerage or dumping of waste into the lakes by alerting them when the quality of water starts deteriorating.

Programmed sensors are inserted into the lakes and each sensor monitors a particular parameter and transmits the data to the centralised server every fifteen minutes. The data is later processed and updated on the website and transmitted to the concerned officials periodically.

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