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Saturday, December 4, 2010

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hits 40

Forty years ago today, Republican president Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. At the time the nation had no law mandating clean water, clean air or the safety of chemicals. Lead was still in all gasoline, and acid rain was poisoning the waterways downwind of the nation's coal-burning power plants.
Forty years later, we have the EPA to thank for reductions in air and water pollution, unleaded gasoline—as well as cars more efficient at burning it—and even new efforts to evaluate hundreds of thousands of chemicals for safety. In fact, before the EPA, "nearly every meal in America contained elements of pesticides linked to nerve damage, cancer and sometimes death," the agency's current administrator Lisa Jackson noted in the Wall Street Journal. After all, among the EPA's first major acts was to ban the pesticide DDT, made infamous by Rachel Carson's environmental screed Silent Spring.
As for accusations that the EPA has sacrificed the economy to environmental priorities, Jackson counters by pointing to the innovation the agency has spurred—from the catalytic converter to alternatives for the refrigerants that created the "Ozone Hole." At the same time, regulations like the Clean Air Act have prevented hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.
Now the EPA stands poised to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. The only question is: will it take another 40 years for Americans to appreciate that?
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Friday, December 3, 2010

'No fish left behind' approach leaves Earth with nowhere left to fish: UBC researchers

The Earth has run out of room to expand fisheries, according to a new study led by University of British Columbia researchers that charts the systematic expansion of industrialised fisheries.
In collaboration with the National Geographic Society and published today in the online journal PLoS ONE, the study is the first to measure the spatial expansion of global fisheries. It reveals that fisheries expanded at a rate of one million sq. kilometres per year from the 1950s to the end of the 1970s. The rate of expansion more than tripled in the 1980s and early 1990s - to roughly the size of Brazil's Amazon rain forest every year.
Between 1950 and 2005, the spatial expansion of fisheries started from the coastal waters off the North Atlantic and Northwest Pacific, reached into the high seas and southward into the Southern Hemisphere at a rate of almost one degree latitude per year. It was accompanied by a nearly five-fold increase in catch, from 19 million tonnes in 1950, to a peak of 90 million tonnes in the late 1980s, and dropping to 87 million tonnes in 2005, according to the study.
'The decline of spatial expansion since the mid-1990s is not a reflection of successful conservation efforts but rather an indication that we've simply run out of room to expand fisheries,' says Wilf Swartz, a PhD student at UBC Fisheries Centre and lead author of the study.
Meanwhile, less than 0.1 per cent of the world's oceans are designated as marine reserves that are closed to fishing.
'If people in Japan, Europe, and North America find themselves wondering how the markets are still filled with seafood, it's in part because spatial expansion and trade makes up for overfishing and 'fishing down the food chain' in local waters,' says Swartz.
'While many people still view fisheries as a romantic, localised activity pursued by rugged individuals, the reality is that for decades now, numerous fisheries are corporate operations that take a mostly no-fish-left-behind approach to our oceans until there's nowhere left to go,' says Daniel Pauly, co-author and principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project at UBC Fisheries Centre.
The researchers used a newly created measurement for the ecological footprint of fisheries that allows them to determine the combined impact of all marine fisheries and their rate of expansion. Known as SeafoodPrint, it quantifies the amount of 'primary production' - the microscopic organisms and plants at the bottom of the marine food chain - required to produce any given amount of fish.
'This method allows us to truly gauge the impact of catching all types of fish, from large predators such as bluefin tuna to small fish such as sardines and anchovies,' says Pauly. 'Because not all fish are created equal and neither is their impact on the sustainability of our ocean.'
'The era of great expansion has come to an end, and maintaining the current supply of wild fish sustainably is not possible,' says co-author and National Geographic Ocean Fellow Enric Sala. 'The sooner we come to grips with it - similar to how society has recognised the effects of climate change - the sooner we can stop the downward spiral by creating stricter fisheries regulations and more marine reserves.'
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Climate: a million deaths a year by 2030: study

December 3, 2010 by Richard Ingham Smoke emitted from chimneys at a coal mineEnlarge
This photo taken on November 2010 shows smoke emitted from chimneys at a coal mine in Huo Lin Guo Le, China's north Inner Mongolia region. By 2030, climate change will indirectly cause nearly one million deaths a year and inflict 157 billion dollars in damage in terms of today's economy, according to estimates presented at UN talks on Friday.
By 2030, climate change will indirectly cause nearly one million deaths a year and inflict 157 billion dollars in damage in terms of today's economy, according to estimates presented at UN talks on Friday.
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Snow from space: Satellite images of snow-bound UK

December 3, 2010 Snow from space: University of Leicester releases satellite images of snow-bound UKEnlarge
This is an image of snow-bound UK from space by MERIS on Nov. 29. Credit: MERIS 29 November 2010. Credit: MERIS data @ ESA, and University of Leicester
Earth observation scientists at the University of Leicester have recorded stunning images of the UK's winter landscape by orbiting satellites.
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The Uncertainties of Global Warming By: Gerald Traufetter | Der Spiegel

Animated world ocean map (GIF), exhibiting var...Image via Wikipedia
Climate change is expected to cause sea levels to rise -- at least in some parts of the world. Elsewhere, the level of the ocean will actually fall. Scientists are trying to get a better picture of the complex phenomenon, which also depends on a host of natural factors.
When presented as a globe, the Earth looks as round and smooth as a billiard ball. To anyone standing on a beach, the ocean looks as flat as a pancake.

But perception is deceptive. "In reality, the water in the oceans wobbles all over the place," says oceanographer Detlef Stammer. He isn't talking about waves, but large-scale bulges and bumps in the sea level.More at:
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Catastrophic Blizzards, Heat Waves and Floods: Global Warming or Just Crazy Weather?

Should we be talking about extreme weather events as evidence of global warming? The experts weigh in.READ MORE
Stan Cox / AlterNet

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Climate : UN report highlights ocean acidification Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Dec 2, 2010 Carbon emissions from fossil fuels may bear a greater risk for the marine environment than thought, with wide-ranging impacts on reproduction, biodiversity richness and fisheries, a report at the UN climate talks here on Friday said. Each year, billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas, are absorbed by the sea and are very gradually turning the water more acidic, according to the study launched by the UN Environment Program (UNEP).
In the coming decades, the consequences are likely to be felt throughout the marine food chain, it said.
Rising acidity levels have an impact on calcium-based lifeforms, ranging from tiny organisms called ptetropods that are the primary food source, to crabs, fish, lobsters and coral, it said.
The report was compiled by scientists from Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the National Oceanography Centre in Britain, and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, part of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
"We are seeing an overall negative impact from ocean acidification directly on organisms and on some key ecosystems that help provide food for billions," said Carol Turley, a senior scientist at Britain's Ocean Acidification Research Programme, who headed the report.
"We need to start thinking about the risk to food security."
Turley cautioned there many unknowns about ocean acidification.
For instance, some research indicated that adult lobsters might actually increase shell-building in response to rising acidity levels, but it may be the juveniles who are less able to build healthy skeletons, she said.
Similarly, the smelling systems of some species of young fish could be impaired, but adults may be unaffected.
There could be some winners as well as losers, she said.
"It is clearly not enough to look at a (single) species. Scientists will need to study all parts of the life cycle to see whether certain forms are more or less vulnerable," Turley said.
UNEP chief Achim Steiner described ocean acidification as "yet another red flag being raised" about greenhouse gases.
"It is a new and emerging piece in the scientific jigsaw puzzle, but one that is triggering rising concern."
The report calls for cuts in man-made CO2 emissions to reduce acidification and support for further work to quantify the risk and identify species that could be most in peril.
The "greenhouse" effect from CO2 is already a known problem for the sea. By trapping solar radiation, the gas warms the atmosphere and thus the Earth's surface.
Warming has already been linked to changes in fish migration, and some biologists fear that cases of coral die-out in recent years are clearly linked to higher temperatures.
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Global mean sea level (MSL) isn't a physical constant so much as a concept. For one thing, cold, salty waters occupy less volume than warmer, fresher seas, so MSL tends to be higher near the equator and lower toward the poles. However, trends in temperature and salinity, so-called steric processes, aren't unfolding equally across the globe, because some areas are warming and/or freshening more than others.
Since 1950, the steric contribution to sea level has added as much as 10 cm (4 in) to parts of the northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, while lowering parts of the northern and tropical Pacific by 5 cm (1.5 in) or more. For the globe as a whole, steric changes made up about half of the rise in sea level from 1993 to 2003, with the rest coming from the melting of ice sheets and mountain glaciers. Data since 2003 hint that the global steric rise may have plateaued, at least temporarily (see below).
MSL reconstruction (Llovel et al.)
Although Earth’s mean sea level rose by about 7–10 cm (3–4 in) from 1950 to 2003, some parts of the globe actually saw a drop in MSL, as shown in this reconstruction based on tidal gauge data and an ocean model. (Image courtesy William Llovel and the journal Climate of the Past (2009), Llovel et al., Figure 2(b).)
Wind-driven circulations also help elevate the sea in some areas. Persistent trade winds push water from east to west across the tropical Pacific, which spans a third of the globe. That accumulation of water, which warms during its long equatorial trek west, helps make the MSL in the Philippines as much as 60 cm (2 ft) higher than on the south coast of Panama.
Off the east coast of North America, there's a more complex twist to ocean circulation that makes the Atlantic shore especially vulnerable to climate change. Just as a jet stream in the atmosphere separates zones of higher and lower air pressure, the fast-moving Gulf Stream separates areas of differing MSL as it runs up the Atlantic coast. The average MSL to the east of the Gulf Stream is considerably higher than it is between the current and the shoreline. For example, sea level typically runs about 60 cm (2 ft) higher in Bermuda than in New York. "I don't think most people appreciate this fact," says Michael Schlesinger, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) who has studied sea-level rise since the 1980s.
If the Gulf Stream were to weaken, the difference in sea level on its east and west sides would slacken, thus bringing higher sea levels to the U.S. and Canadian coasts. This could happen through changes in the powerful conveyor belt known as the meridional overturning circulation (MOC), which includes the Gulf Stream. The MOC pulls warm surface water from the South to North Atlantic, where it descends in the far north to form cold, deep water, then completes the loop by flowing southward at depth.
Climate change is expected to slow the MOC by roughly 20-40% by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). While this wouldn't be a catastrophic, cinematic collapse, à la The Day after Tomorrow, even a milder slowdown would lead to a weaker Gulf Stream, with major implications for sea level from North Carolina northward.
These implications hadn't been studied in depth until Jianjun Yin examined them, collaborating with previous advisers Schlesinger and Ronald Stouffer (NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory). Yin took a closer look at the modeling carried out in support of the IPCC's 2007 climate assessment, especially the runs performed by GFDL's CM2.1 ocean-atmosphere climate model.
Yin found that the Atlantic's weakening MOC in the GFDL model not only allowed more water to flow toward the U.S. East Coast, but also reduced the formation of cold bottom water, thus warming and expanding the North Atlantic. Together, these dynamic and steric effects could raise New York's sea level by more than 20 cm (8 in) by 2100 under the IPCC's business-as-usual scenario (A2). This finding was robust across other IPCC models as well, according to Yin, who is now a climate modeler at Florida State University. His study was among those appearing in the July issue of Nature Geoscience.
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Rough seas Regional variations add a wild card to future sea-level rise

The Gulf Stream is orange and yellow in this r...Image via Wikipedia

1 September 2009  •  Along with usually persistent rains, there was a different kind of watery surprise this summer for people on the U.S. Atlantic coast. From June into early July, tides ran as high as 60 centimeters (2 feet) above predicted values from the barrier islands of the Southeast to the rocky shores of Maine. Call it an anomalous anomaly: unexpected high tides have been known to strike localized areas on occasion, but this was the first time in modern records that the entire eastern seaboard was battered by so much seawater for so long without explanation.
NOAA issued a technical report on the event in late August, calling out two noteworthy aspects to the large-scale pattern: persistent, long-fetch northeast winds, which helped pile water toward shore, and a weaker-than-usual Florida Current, which feeds into the Gulf Stream.
Even after it faded, the event served as an uncanny foreshadowing of how global change might affect the shores of the northeast United States and eastern Canada. Two recent studies point to the risk that sea levels along this highly populated stretch might rise 1 meter (3 ft) or more beyond the global average. If the ice atop Greenland continues to melt at accelerating rates, then the Northeast could experience higher sea levels still, not just from the meltwater itself, but also from a web of changes in salinity, temperature, and ocean dynamics, all triggered by the freshwater influx.
As the world considers how to adapt to 21st-century climate change, researchers are acknowledging that a single value of projected sea level doesn't fit all. Satellite data (see sidebar) show that the sea is already rising more quickly in some regions than in others. Two big question marks—the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets—could exacerbate regional differences greatly. Throw in geologic features, such as the subsidence of river deltas and the slow rebound of once-glaciated land masses, and the true complexity of the ever-rising sea becomes clear.
In a set of papers in the July issue of Nature Geoscience devoted to sea-level rise, Glenn Milne (University of Ottawa) and coauthors encapsulate the problem: "Indeed, one of the few statements that can be made with certainty is that future sea-level change will not be the same everywhere."
More a:
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BP Oil Spill Stalls Gulf Loop Current

BP Oil Spill Stalls
Gulf Loop Current - BP Oil Spill Stalls Gulf Loop Current

Global Consequences if Current Fails to Reorganize
YOWUSA.COM, 01-August-10
Updated 02-August-2010

Marshall Masters 

Oceanographic satellite data now shows that the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico has stalled as a consequence of the BP oil spill disaster. This according to Dr. Gianluigi Zangari, an Italian theoretical physicist, and major complex and chaotic systems analyst at the Frascati National Laboratories in Italy. He further notes that the effects of this stall have also begun to spread to the Gulf Stream. This is because the Loop Current is a crucial element of the Gulf Stream itself and why it is commonly referred to as the “main engine” of the Stream.

The concern now, is whether or not natural processes can re-establish the stalled Loop Current. If not, we could begin to see global crop failures as early as 2011.

An Open System in Trouble

The Loop Current is a clockwise flow that extends northward into the Gulf of Mexico and joins the Yucatan Current and the Florida Current to the Gulf Stream.
The Loop Current Although at first glance the Loop Current appears confined within the Gulf, scientists define it as an “element of an extremely complex, open system”: as all other “elements” of the so-called “Earth System”, are not separable from the others.
These various “elements” of the Earth System (i.e., atmosphere, landmasses and so forth) are so strongly correlated to one another that at some point, they become indivisible.
Why is this important to all life on the planet? The Gulf Stream is a strong interlinked component of the Earth's global network of ocean conveyor currents, which drive the planet's weather systems.
Dr. Gianluigi ZangariFor this reason, Zangari's concern is that should the Loop Current fail to restart, dire global consequences may ensue as a result of extreme weather changes and many other critical phenomena. The repercussions of which could trigger widespread droughts, floods, crop failures and subsequent global food shortages.
While pundits are certain to trivialize the ramifications of this event, “the real worry” says Zangari, “is that that there is no historical precedent for the sudden replacement of a natural system, with a dysfunctional man-made system. That is, except for the atomic bomb blasts and contamination as a result of nuclear waste and nuclear plant accidents, such as the April 1986, Chernobyl disaster."
 April 1986, Chernobyl disasterIn what is now widely regarded by many as “Oil's Chernobyl,” Americans, and particularly Gulf Coast residents are disheartened by a steady stream of bureaucratically bungled responses, which are now proving to be just as a deadly as the initial event itself.
Perhaps even more so, as this toxic brew of incompetence, greed, corruption, oil, Corexit dispersant and other chemicals has unleashed a man-made disaster in the Gulf, with frightful possibilities for the future.More at link:

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Travel disruptions as Europe shivers in fresh snowfalls

Cars and lorries are driven along the snow covered M25 motorway in Kent, southern England on December 1, 2010. Britain's transport links with the rest of the world were disrupted by the early winter snowfall as key airports closed Wednesday and international Eurostar train services were cut. London Gatwick Airport, Europe's eighth busiest passenger air hub, was closed until at least 6:00 am (0600 GMT) Thursday as staff worked on clearing the two runways. Photo courtesy AFP.Bad weather forces Eurostar to scrap half Thursday's trainsParis (AFP) Dec 1, 2010 - About half of Eurostar train services between Paris and London, and London and Brussels, will be cancelled on Thursday because of bad weather, a spokeswoman told AFP. Seven return trains between London and Paris will be cancelled, and five between London and Brussels, the spokeswoman said Wednesday. Cancellations will affect trains scheduled early in the morning and late in the evening, the company said. "Travellers who wish to complete their journeys are invited to arrive at their departure station as normal where they will be allocated a seat on the next available service," the company said in a statement. Eurostar said precautionary speed restrictions resulted in delays of around 90 minutes to its service on Wednesday, causing the cancellation of six trains between London and the two cities. Wintery conditions have caused widespread transport disruption in Europe, with Britain heavily hit.

13 dead as temperatures plunge in central EuropeWarsaw (AFP) Dec 1, 2010 - Eight people have died of exposure in Poland, three in the Czech Republic and two in Lithuania after temperatures fell across Central Europe in recent days, officials said Wednesday. "Eight people, aged 33 to 72, have died of exposure over the last 24 hours, most of them under the influence of alcohol," Poland's national police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski told AFP. Overall in November, 15 people died from exposure in Poland, Sokolowski said. Alcohol also played a role in the freezing deaths of three men aged 55 to 61 in the neighbouring Czech Republic over the last 24 hours, the Czech CTK news agency reported Wednesday. Two homeless people, a man and a woman, also died of exposure in Lithuania over the weekend, local hospital services confirmed. Heavy snow Wednesday wreaked havoc across the Czech Republic causing accidents on the D1 highway linking the capital Prague with the eastern regional city of Brno, the CTK reported.

Heavy snowfall forces Swiss airports to shutGeneva (AFP) Dec 1, 2010 - Heavy snowfall spreading westwards across Switzerland wrought havoc for air travellers on Wednesday, forcing some airports to shut. Geneva international airport would remain close until 6:00 am Thursday, after 30 to 40 cms of snow fell over two days. "According to weather forecasts, it should stop snowing at 1 or 2am, that would give us enough time to clear the snow off the runway," airport spokesman Bertrand Staempfli told AFP. "In terms of quantity of snow, it has been a long time that we haven't been confronted with such a situation." Geneva airport had been shut since Tuesday night. About 100 stranded passengers spent the night at the airport while 200 others were sheltered by the civil protection unit, as all hotels in the city were fully booked. Buses in the city had to be halted amid continuing snowfall, although trams were running regularly. Meanwhile, as snowfall intensified across Switzerland, Basel airport also shut its runway in the afternoon, between 3 pm to at least 5.30 pm, in order to clear off the 10 cm of snow that has accumulated in just over two hours.
by Staff Writers London (AFP) Dec 1, 2010 Heavy snowfalls forced some of Europe's busiest airports to close and wreaked havoc on roads and railways Wednesday as an unseasonable cold snap swept the continent, claiming at least 15 lives. Temperatures dropped to as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in some parts of Germany, while driving rain in Italy triggered the collapse of two Roman walls in Pompeii and flooding in Venice.
Thirteen people died of exposure in central Europe, including eight in Poland. Most were under the influence of alcohol, according to police.
Two people died in England in accidents blamed on the weather, one in a motorcycle crash and the other after falling into a freezing lake.
Albania meanwhile proclaimed a state of natural disaster in the north due to heavy floods, and more than 200 people were evacuated from the region near Shkodra as hundreds of houses filled with water.
Transport chaos hit the whole of the continent as the snow spread, and Britain -- shivering in the earliest widespread snowfalls of winter since 1993 -- was one of the countries worst affected.
London Gatwick Airport, Europe's eighth busiest passenger air hub, said it would remain shut until at least 1000 GMT Thursday as staff worked to clear the runways.
Edinburgh Airport, Scotland's busiest, was also shut and delays were reported at airports in Glasgow and Aberdeen in Scotland, Newcastle in northeast England and Jersey in the Channel Islands.
British forecasters said Wednesday had been the coldest December 1 on record, with no hope of a let-up in the coming days.
Eurostar, which operates high-speed passenger trains linking London with Paris and Brussels, said it would cancel half of its services Thursday, following delays of up to 90 minutes and some cancellations on Wednesday.
Heavy snowfall also forced the closure of Geneva International Airport where 100 stranded passengers had to spend the night in the terminal. Two hundred others were sheltered by the civil protection unit as hotels were fully booked.
Switzerland's Basel airport shut its runway in order to clear off 10 cm (four inches) of snow that accumulated in just over two hours. The country's biggest airport Zurich was still operating, although 70 flights had been cancelled due to bad weather conditions in other airports.
At Germany's Frankfurt airport, Europe's third busiest, 153 flights were cancelled, all due to flights not arriving from elsewhere.
And 250 flights were cancelled at Munich airport, nearly a quarter of the daily total, mostly due to snow preventing takeoffs.
In the Paris area, French aviation authorities asked airlines to cancel 25 percent of their flights at Roissy airport and 10 percent at Orly because of expected snowfalls. But there were no flight cancellations Wednesday.
Snow and freezing temperatures however forced authorities to cancel 116 flights from Lyon airport.
In Britain about one-third of all rail services either suffered delays or cancellations at midday Wednesday, and more than 1,500 schools were closed.
There were widespread problems on the roads across Europe, including in France where 17,200 trucks had to abandon their journeys nationwide.
Part of the motorway orbiting London was shut and there were severe delays on north-south routes, while serious accidents were reported on the main road between Prague and the eastern Czech city of Brno.
In Italy snowfalls disrupted traffic in city centres and on motorways in the northern Lombardy and Piedmont regions, and in Spain school transport services were disrupted by heavy snow in northern and central regions.
Bild newspaper said it was the coldest December 1 in several hundred years, with temperatures as low as minus 18C in some places.
Eight people have died of exposure in Poland, three in the Czech Republic and two in Lithuania, officials said Wednesday.
In Italy two ancient Roman walls fell down in the archaeological site of Pompeii due to persistent heavy rains that wore away the ancient mortar between the stones.
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Record-High Greenhouse Gas Concentrations

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, for instance, has risen by about 40 % since pre-industrial times. Within the last few years, the average annual increase has been 0.5 %. Geneva, Switzerland (SPX) Dec 02, 2010 The increase in carbon dioxide concentrations is also seen in the measurements made by the Finnish Meteorological Institute at the Pallas station, where the annual increase has been 2.0 ppm. The increase continued last year, too. These measurements also reflect the impact of seasonal variation: forests act as effective carbon sinks during the growing season, whereas in the autumn and winter the soil is a source of carbon.
The Finnish Meteorological Institute has participated in the GAW programme since 1994. The GAW measurement station maintained by the Institute is located on the peak of Sammaltunturi mountain in the Yllas-Pallastunturi National Park. At present, corresponding measurements are also made at a station set up in Tiksi, in Siberia.
The GAW programme of the WMO has measurement stations in about 50 countries all over the world. These stations monitor long-term changes that take place in the chemical and physical properties of the atmosphere.
Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW), established by the World Meteorological Organization, is a global programme for monitoring the atmosphere. The programme plays a central role in monitoring greenhouse gases that affect climate change.
The latest observations from GAW stations indicate that the concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases have reached new records despite the economic slowdown and the international action taken to reduce them.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, for instance, has risen by about 40 % since pre-industrial times. Within the last few years, the average annual increase has been 0.5 %.
The amount of methane has also been rising again since 2007. The increase stems from tropical and Arctic regions where temperatures have been warmer than normally.
In fact, the increasing methane emissions from Arctic regions have been listed as a major concern because the melting of northern permafrost areas may release great volumes of methane into the atmosphere.
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Many Coastal Wetlands Likely to Disappear this Century

Coastal wetlands provide critical services such as absorbing energy from coastal storms, preserving shorelines, protecting human populations and infrastructure, supporting commercial seafood harvests, absorbing pollutants and serving as critical habitat for migratory bird populations. These resources and services will be threatened as sea-level rise inundates wetlands. Reston, VA (SPX) Dec 02, 2010 Many coastal wetlands worldwide - including several on the U.S. Atlantic coast - may be more sensitive than previously thought to climate change and sea-level rise projections for the 21st century. U.S. Geological Survey scientists made this conclusion from an international research modeling effort published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. Scientists identified conditions under which coastal wetlands could survive rising sea level.
Using a rapid sea-level rise scenario, most coastal wetlands worldwide will disappear near the end of the 21st century. In contrast, under the slow sea-level rise projection, wetlands with low sediment availability and low tidal ranges are vulnerable and may drown. However, in the slow sea-level rise projection, wetlands with higher sediment availability would be more likely to survive.
Several coastal marshes along the east coast of the United States, for example, have limited sediment supplies and are likely to disappear this century. Vulnerable east coast marshes include the Plum Island Estuary (the largest estuary in New England) and coastal wetlands in North Carolina's Albemarle-Pamlico Sound (the second-largest estuary in the United States).
"Accurate information about the adaptability of coastal wetlands to accelerations in sea-level rise, such as that reported in this study, helps narrow the uncertainties associated with their disappearance," said USGS scientist Glenn Guntenspergen, an author of this report.
"This research is essential for allowing decision makers to best manage local tradeoffs between economic and conservation concerns."
"Previous assessments of coastal wetland responses to sea-level rise have been constrained because they did not consider the ability of wetlands to naturally modify their physical environment for adaptation," said USGS scientist Matt Kirwan, an author of this report.
"Failure to incorporate the interactions of inundation, vegetation and sedimentation in wetlands limits the usefulness of past assessments."
USGS scientists specifically identified the sediment levels and tidal ranges (difference between high and low tide) necessary for marshes to survive sea-level rise.
As water floods a wetland and flows through its vegetation, sediment is carried from upstream and deposited on the wetland's surface, allowing it to gain elevation. High tidal ranges allow for better sediment delivery, and the higher sediment concentrations in the water allow wetlands to build more elevation.
Coastal wetlands provide critical services such as absorbing energy from coastal storms, preserving shorelines, protecting human populations and infrastructure, supporting commercial seafood harvests, absorbing pollutants and serving as critical habitat for migratory bird populations. These resources and services will be threatened as sea-level rise inundates wetlands.
The rapid sea-level rise scenario used as the basis for this study is accredited to Stefan Rahmstorf at Potsdam University, one of the contributing authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. The slow sea-level rise projection is from the A1B scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report.
The study, "Limits on the Adaptability of Coastal Marshes to Rising Sea-Level," can be found online. Any journalists who are not registered with AGU and cannot view this article can contact USGS to have a copy emailed to them.
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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rainforest conservation needs a new direction to address climate change

 Conservation and international aid groups may be on the wrong course to address the havoc wreaked by climate change on tropical rainforests, according to a commentary appearing in the journal Nature on 2 December 2010.

Climate science chief sees 'huge gaps' in research

 (AP) -- From the methane-laden tundra of the far north to the depths of the oceans, world governments need to spend more on cutting-edge research to "get a handle" on how much and how quickly the world will warm in decades to come, says the head of the U.N. climate science network.

Climate change to worsen food security, UN talks told Cancun (AFP) Dec 1, 2010 Surging prices for staple foods in 2008 and 2010 may be just a foretaste of the future as the impacts of climate change and population growth combine, a report issued at the UN talks in Cancun said Wednesday. Between 2010 and 2050, the price of corn, also called maize, could rise by 42-131 percent, that of rice by 11-78 percent, and that of wheat by 17-67 percent, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said.
These prices are dependent on a range of 15 scenarios whose factors are the state of the global economy, population growth and changes in rainfall and global temperatures, the think-tank said.
"Climate change will cause lower rice yields all over the world in 2050, compared to a future without climate change," IFPRI warned.
"One of the climate change scenarios results in substantial declines in maize exports in developed countries, but small increases in yields in developing nations. Wheat yields will fall in all regions, with the largest losses in developing countries."
The report said that investing in agriculture in poor countries now was a key to easing the problem. Farmers that have more income have a better chance of coping with droughts, floods and other climate shocks.
"Many have made the case that we have to address climate change to fight poverty. We are saying you must address poverty as a key part of climate change adaptation, and you must do it now," said Gerald Nelson, who co-authored the report.
"Once the most serious effects of climate change kick in, it will already be too late to respond effectively," he said.
Beyond 2050, predicting the temperature rise is more difficult but even so the challenge to food security is "likely to increase," the report said.
"All scenarios now show average temperature increases by 2050 to be on the order of one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). After that, they diverge dramatically, ranging from 2C to 4C (3.6-7.2F) by 2100. Yields of many more crops will be severely threatened."
The report adds to a series of warnings by researchers and watchdogs about the impact of climate change on food supplies as the world's population continues to grow fast.
The current global population of around 6.9 billion will rise to between 7.959 billion and 10.461 billion by 2050, with a mid-estimate of 9.15 billion, according to UN calculations.
The increase will be determined mainly by economic factors. Rising prosperity in poorer countries prompts many families to have few children.
The talks in Cancun are taking place under the flag of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), gathering 193 countries plus the institution of the European Union (EU).
Negotiators, meeting until December 10, are seeking to find agreement on how to curb heat-trapping carbon emissions and devise ways of channelling hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to climate-vulnerable countries.
On Monday, as the talks opened, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schuetter declared in Geneva that as many as 600 million more people could be put at risk of hunger by 2020 because of climate change.
On November 5, Tang Huajun, deputy dean of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, warned production of rice, wheat and corn could fall by five to 10 percent by 2030, and by 37 percent in the second half of the century.
"Agriculture has been the worst hit by climate change and some negative effects have become more obvious due to rising temperatures and water shortages over the past 10 years," Tang told the official China Daily.
IFPRI, a Washington-based think-tank on food problems, is financed by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), gathering 64 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organizations.
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Biofuels Have Consequences On Water Quality And Quantity In Mississippi

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy Biomass Program implemented the Biofuels Initiative. The initiative calls for the replacement of 30 percent of gasoline levels by ethanol by 2030 and the reduction of ethanol costs to prices competitive with gasoline by 2012. In the Mississippi Delta, implementation of this initiative resulted in a 47-percent decrease in the number of acres dedicated to producing cotton, which resulted in a corresponding 288-percent increase in corn acreage in the region from 2006 to 2007.
by Staff Writers Washington DC (SPX) Dec 01, 2010 Growing corn for biofuels production is having unintended effects on water quality and quantity in northwestern Mississippi. More water is required to produce corn than to produce cotton in the Mississippi Delta requiring increased withdrawals of groundwater from the Mississippi River Valley alluvial (MRVA) aquifer for irrigation. This is contributing to already declining water levels in the aquifer.
In addition, increased use of nitrogen fertilizer for corn in comparison to cotton could contribute to low dissolved oxygen conditions in the Gulf of Mexico.
These are some of the key findings from a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to assess water quality and quantity in the Mississippi Delta, in relationship to biofuels production.
"Because corn uses 80 percent more water for irrigation than cotton, exchanging corn for cotton will decrease water-levels," according to Heather Welch, USGS Hydrologist and author of this USGS Report. Declining water levels in the MRVA aquifer are particularly significant in the Mississippi Delta, where the infiltration of rainfall to replenish the aquifer is low.
"This is a low flat area. When it does rain, much of the precipitation is lost through evapotranspiration and to streamflow, so the rainwater never reaches the aquifer," explains Welch.
In 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy Biomass Program implemented the Biofuels Initiative. The initiative calls for the replacement of 30 percent of gasoline levels by ethanol by 2030 and the reduction of ethanol costs to prices competitive with gasoline by 2012.
In the Mississippi Delta, implementation of this initiative resulted in a 47-percent decrease in the number of acres dedicated to producing cotton, which resulted in a corresponding 288-percent increase in corn acreage in the region from 2006 to 2007.
Using the USGS SPARROW model (SPAtially Referenced Regression on Watershed), scientists found that the conversion of cotton to corn acreage (comparing 2007 to 2002) is estimated to have increased the nitrogen load for the Yazoo River by 7 percent.
The Yazoo River Basin has been identified as a contributor of nitrogen to the Gulf of Mexico. Levels of nitrogen in the Gulf of Mexico have resulted in low dissolved oxygen conditions which can impact fish and bottom dwelling organisms.
Locally, water level declines and decreasing water quality contributes to the Delta's poor ecosystem health. "We are seeing a loss of habitat complexity, and lowered water levels have decreased baseflow to streams," says Jeannie Barlow, USGS Hydrologist and co-author of the study. "Some streams have remained dry for months in the summer and fall during periods of low rainfall," says Barlow.
According to data provided by the Yazoo Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District (YMD), the total amount of water stored in the aquifer has declined since 1980, and current withdrawals from the aquifer are greater than the amount of water entering the aquifer.
These USGS findings provide essential scientific information about the effects of corn-based ethanol on water resources that Delta producers can use when making their planting decisions.
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Two New Earth Observation Missions Chosen For Further Study

Earth Explorers: satellites to understand our changing Earth. Credits: ESA Paris, France (ESA) Nov 30, 2010 As part of the procedure to realise ESA's series of Earth Explorers, two new mission proposals have been selected for further development. The missions, called FLEX and CarbonSat, now vying to be the eighth Earth Explorer, both address key climate and environmental change issues. The selection follows ESA's Call for Earth Explorer Proposals that was released in October last year and ended in the Agency receiving 31 high-quality mission concepts. Subsequently, the proposals were carefully evaluated by leading Earth scientists in four peer review panels.
This evaluation process, which included a comprehensive programmatic and technical assessment, resulted in ESA's Earth Science Advisory Committee selecting the two most scientifically relevant and programmatically feasible concepts - recommending that the Fluorescence Explorer (FLEX) and CarbonSat be presented to ESA's Programme Board for Earth Observation.
At the Earth Observation Programme Board Member States meeting, held on 24 November, it was decided to go ahead with the recommendation for FLEX and CarbonSat to move forward to 'Phase-A/B1'. This phase includes feasibility study and further consolidation of the various components that make up a satellite mission.
As with all Earth Explorer missions, FLEX and CarbonSat respond to issues raised by the scientific community to further our understanding of how Earth works as a system and how human activity is affecting natural Earth processes. In this case, both FLEX and CarbonSat aim to provide key information on different aspects of the carbon cycle.
The CarbonSat mission would quantify and monitor the distribution of two of the most important greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, also released through human activity: carbon dioxide and methane. Data from the mission would lead to a better understanding of the sources and sinks of these two gases and how they are linked to climate change.
The FLEX mission aims to provide global maps of vegetation fluorescence, which can be converted into an indicator of photosynthetic activity. These data would improve our understanding of how much carbon is stored in plants and their role in the carbon and water cycles.
The mission would work in combination with the Ocean and Land Colour Instrument and the Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer on Sentinel-3 to improve models of future atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.
The next step in the development of these two mission concepts is to begin the definition studies in the second quarter of 2011.
There are three Earth Explorers in orbit: GOCE, SMOS and CryoSat; a further three being constructed: Swarm, ADM-Aeolus and EarthCARE; and three undergoing feasibility studies competing for selection as Earth Explorer-7: BIOMASS, PREMIER and CoReH2O.
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