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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Declining algae threatens ocean food chain: study

Composite image showing the global distributio...Image via Wikipedia Paris (AFP) July 28, 2010 A century-long decline in tiny algae called phytoplankton could disrupt the global ocean food chain, including the human consumption of fish, according to a study released Wednesday. The microscopic organisms -- which prop up the pyramid of marine animal life from shrimps to killer whales -- have been disappearing globally at a rate of one percent per year, researchers reported.
Since 1950, phytoplankon mass has dropped by about 40 percent, most likely due to the accelerating impact of global warming, they reported.
"Phytoplankton is the fuel on which marine ecosystems run," said lead author Daniel Boyce, a professor at Dalhousie University in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
"A decline affects everything up the food chain, including humans."
The pace of the decline -- heavist in polar and tropical regions -- matched the rate at which surface ocean temperatures have increased as a result of climate change, the study said.
Like all plants, phytoplankton need sunlight and nutrients to grow.
But warmer oceans become more stratified, creating a "dead zone" at the surface in which fewer nutrients are delivered from deeper layers.
The findings are worrying, the researchers said.
"Phytoplankton are a critical part of our planetary support system -- they produce half the oxygen we breathe, draw down surface carbon dioxide, and ultimately support all fisheries," said co-author Boris Worm.
Boyce and colleagues combined historical and high-tech data to measure the marine algae's progressive ebb.
Satellites provided the most accurate gauge, but usable images from space of Earth's ocean biosphere have only been available since the late 1990s -- too recent to show longterm trends.
To reach back further in time, Boyce and colleagues combed through logs compiled since the late 19th century using a 20-centimetre (eight-inch) white disk lowered into sea water until an observer lost sight of it.
The degree to which light penetrates the ocean's top layer, it turns out, is a good measure of the concentration of the chlorophyll found in all phytoplankton.
The study, published in Nature, "does not portend well for pelagic, or open water, ecosystems in a world that is likely to be warmer," David Siegel, a researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Bryan Franz, an ocean biologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a commentary.
In a separate study, also in Nature, a team of researchers led by Derek Tittensor of Dalhousie found a close tie between sea temperatures and the concentration of biodiversity in the world's oceans.
Across more than 11,000 species ranging from zooplankton to whales, the only environmental factor linked to all species groups was temperature.
"This relationship suggests that ocean warming, such as that due to climate change, may rearrange the distribution of ocean life," Tittensor said in a statement.
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Europe, US to see snowy, cold winters: expert Paris (AFP) June 11, 2010 Europe, North America and east Asia can expect more cold, moist and snowy winters such as the one just passed, a top scientist said Friday. While it may seem counter-intuitive, warmer Arctic climes caused by climate change influence air pressure at the North Pole, shifting wind patterns in such a way as to boost cooling over adjacent swathes of the planet.
"Cold and snowy winters will be the rule rather than the exception," said James Overland of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Continued rapid loss of ice will be an important driver of major change in the world's climate system in the coming years, he said at an Olso meeting of scientists reviewing research from the two-year International Polar Year 2007-2008.
The exceptionally chilly winter of 2009-2010 in temperate zones of the northern hemisphere were connected to unique physical processes in the Arctic, he said.
"The emerging impact of greenhouse gases in an important factor in the changing Arctic," he explained in a statement.
"What was not fully recognized until now is that a combination of an unusual warm period due to natural variability, loss of sea ice reflectivity, ocean heat storage, and changing wind patterns all working together to disrupt the memory and stability of the Arctic climate system," he said.
The region is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification.
Resulting ice loss is significantly greater than earlier climate models predicted.
The polar ice cap shrank to its smallest surface since records have been kept in 2007, and early data suggests it could become even smaller this summer.
"It is unlikely that the Arctic can return to its previous condition," Overland said. "The changes are irreversible."
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The link between BP, geoengineering and GM Jim Thomas

BP won't stop at dangerous deep water drilling: the company is bent on still more dangerous projects, including genetic modification and hacking the planet's atmosphere...


Did senior management at BP such as Koonin know that they were pushing the bounds of environmental safety in deploying these ultra-deep water-drilling technologies? Of course they did. But as Koonin’s MIT presentation makes clear, stretching technological boundaries into risky areas is how BP navigates in an era of peak oil. Koonin’s much lauded role at BP was precisely to apply cutting-edge science to the problem of declining oil reserves and growing climate crisis. Koonin led a team of researchers that would allow for the more economical extraction of hard-to-get oil (e.g. tar sands, deep water drilling).

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Gulf criminals freeze to death N Europeans

The Gulf Stream is orange and yellow in this r...Image via Wikipedia
Gulf Operation Crime of Millennium Transatlantic Effects: Death and dying by cold in Northern Europe
Photo: F. William Engdahl. Center for Research on Globalization
Europeans are freezing to death and millions suffer from temperatures dropped to -33 degrees attributed to Gulf of Mexico criminal activities that halted Gulf and Atlantic Loop currents that used to make northern Europe warm enough for habitation.

On June 11, William Engdahl wrote about what he said could be the greatest ecological catastrophe in history" in his Global Research article, Gulf Oil Spill "Could Go on for Years and Years" ..(

"A cursory look at a map of the Gulf Stream shows that the oil is not just going to cover the beaches in the Gulf, it will spread to the Atlantic coasts up through North Carolina then on to the North Sea and Iceland. And beyond the damage to the beaches, sea life and water supplies, the Gulf stream has a very distinct chemistry, composition (marine organisms), density, temperature. What happens if the oil and the dispersants and all the toxic compounds they create actually change the nature of the Gulf Stream? No one can rule out potential changes including changes in the path of the Gulf Stream, and even small changes could have huge impacts. Europe, including England, is not an icy wasteland due to the warming from the Gulf Stream."
In August, scientists noticed the Gulf Operation had halted the Gulf loop enough to have lowered North Atlantic water temperatures. (Also see: US Gulf Operation hits millions across Atlantic Dupré, D., Examiner, Dec. 2, 2010)

"Yet there is a deafening silence from the very environmental organizations which ought to be at the barricades demanding that BP, the US Government and others act decisively," wrote Engdahl in June.
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's Time For Europe To Step Up Research In The Polar Regions

File image. Brussels, Belgium (SPX) Dec 10, 2010 Polar research must become an integral part of the European Union's research activities if Europe is to benefit from the dramatically changing face of the Polar Regions, the European Polar Board (EPB) said at the launch of its strategic position paper on European polar research: "Relevance, Strategic Context and Setting Future Directions." European research activities in the Polar Regions are significant, amounting to over 300 million euro per year in recognition of the regions' key role as driver of the Earth's climate and the functioning of the oceans. But this research is often fragmented with considerable overlap between the various participating nations within Europe.
To remedy the situation, the position paper calls for mainstreaming polar research into the European Research Area so that it becomes a priority within both the upcoming 8th R and D Framework Programme from the European Commission and polar funding agencies at national level in EU member states.
It also urges increased links with international partners to preserve the Polar Regions so that research can help answer global scientific questions affecting the dynamic Earth system itself. More at link
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Widespread Suffering If Further Climate Change Not Forestalled

Widespread Suffering If Further Climate Change Not Forestalled

His opinion isn't hyperbole, Lonnie Thompson said, but instead is based on a "very clear pattern in the scientific evidence documenting that the Earth is warming, that the warming is due largely to human activity, that warming is causing important changes to many of the Earth's support systems, and that rapid and potentially catastrophic changes in the near future are possible.
by Staff Writers Columbus OH (SPX) Dec 10, 2010 One of the world's foremost experts on climate change is warning that if humans don't moderate their use of fossil fuels, there is a real possibility that we will face the environmental, societal and economic consequences of climate change faster than we can adapt to them. Lonnie Thompson, distinguished university professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University, posed that possibility in a just-released special climate-change edition of the journal The Behavior Analyst.
He also discussed how the rapid and accelerating retreat of the world's glaciers and ice sheets dramatically illustrates the nature of the changing climate.
It is the first time in a published paper that he has recommended specific action to forestall the growing effects of climate change. During the last three decades, Thompson has led 57 expeditions to some of the world's most remote high altitude regions to retrieve cores from glaciers and ice caps that preserve a record of ancient climate.
More at link.
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NASA Satellite Sees An Early Meteorological Winter In US Midwest

NASA Satellite Sees An Early Meteorological Winter In US Midwest

The MODIS instrument on NASA's Terra satellite captured this image of snow on December 7, 2010 at 17:05 UTC (12:05 EST). Snow appears on the ground in eastern Minnesota and Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, much of Indiana, northern Kentucky and western Ohio. The white area over Lake Michigan and southeast into northern Indiana and Ohio are clouds. Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
by Rob Gutro Greenbelt MD (SPX) Dec 10, 2010 NASA's Terra satellite captures daily visible and infrared images around the Earth and took a daytime image of a blanket of snow in the Upper Midwest this week. Even though astronomical winter is less than two weeks away, the central and eastern U.S. are already experiencing meteorological winter. Meteorological winter is basically an identification of the winter season based on "sensible weather patterns" for record keeping purposes.
That means "meteorological winter" happens whenever snow and ice occur, even before astronomical winter arrives on December 21, 2010. Astronomical winter is based on the position of the Earth in its orbit around the sun.
The residents of the upper Midwest are already feeling the effects of winter this week, with high temperatures in the 20s and 30s, and wind chills in the single numbers (Fahrenheit) or colder.
The satellite image of snow on the ground in the upper Midwest is proof of an early meteorological winter.
It was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument on December 7, 2010 at 17:05 UTC (12:05 EST). MODIS is an instrument that flies aboard NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites.
On Saturday, December 4, a low pressure area moved through the Tennessee Valley and generated snowfall from eastern Iowa and Minnesota east through Wisconsin, northern Illinois, Indiana and through the Ohio Valley.
The MODIS image shows snow on the ground in eastern Minnesota and Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, much of Indiana, northern Kentucky and western Ohio.
The snow extends farther east, but that area was out of path of the Terra satellite as it captured this image. What it does show, though, is that winter conditions have arrived before astronomical winter did. Residents in these areas of the U.S. hope it leaves early, too.
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Water, Atoms and Life IAEA Helps Countries Assess and Manage Water Resources
9 December 2010
The IAEA is helping countries from Africa, the Middle East and Asia to use nuclear-based techniques to assess and manage their water resources. (Photo: IAEA)
Water is an essential resource that underpins life on earth, a vital resource for all known forms of life. From the largest mammals to the smallest organism, living creatures cannot develop or survive without water.
Through its Technical Cooperation Programme, the IAEA provides states with information and skills in the peaceful application of nuclear technologies to better understand and manage their water resources and their environment.
Technical Cooperation projects around the world support crop improvement using biotechnology, mutation breeding techniques, innovative soil-water-cropping management technologies, irrigation optimization and isotope hydrology.
In Libya, for example, nuclear techniques helped identify proper "fertigation" management resulting in tremendous savings in water and fertilizer use. Fertigation, the process of applying fertilizers through a drip-irrigation system, can efficiently control the flow of water and nutrients to the roots of plants. For Libya, this process helped increase potato yield by 150% and halved water and nitrogen use.
In Algeria, the fast rate of soil and water salinization drastically reduces the amount of arable land and contributes to desertification. Using nuclear techniques, an IAEA-assisted project is helping develop appropriate irrigation, drainage, soil and crop management practices so that preventive and corrective measures can be taken.
In Bangladesh, soil and water salinity along coastal areas where rice is planted is a continuing challenge. Through an IAEA technical cooperation project, a new integrated technology that estimates soil and water content was tested. This allows for timely introduction of brackish water to maximize intake by plants. The project also introduced the use of isotopic techniques to assess the tolerance of different crops to different ranges of soil and water salinity during the fallow period.
Also in Bangladesh, safe drinking water is also identified through nuclear techniques in a country where the main water source - groundwater of the deltaic basin - is often contaminated with arsenic, resulting in major public health crises.
In China, scientists from 12 countries recently gathered to evaluate a range of conventional and isotopic techniques that can measure quantities of water lost to soil evaporation and plant transpiration, a process known as evapotranspiration (ET). This helps farmers find better and more efficient ways to use water by increasing transpiration and reducing evaporation. With support from the IAEA and the Chinese government, the scientists conducted field tests in a maize field using both state-of-the-art laser technology, and low-level methods to measure ET under different irrigation management systems.
Project Range
IAEA projects support the development of comprehensive national and transboundary water resource plans for domestic, livestock, fishery, irrigation and other water uses, and help states to develop regulations, procedures, standards, minimum requirements and guidelines for sustainable water management. Regional monitoring networks and databases on isotopes and the chemical constituents of surface water and ground water can also help to improve water resource management.
Additionally, radiation processing technology in combination with other techniques offers improved environmental safety through effective treatment of wastewater, and supports the reuse of treated wastewater for urban irrigation and industrial purposes.
IAEA Technical Cooperation projects support pesticide residue monitoring in soil, water and farm produce through training opportunities, the promotion of good agricultural practices, and the provision of appropriate laboratory equipment. Projects also help states to predict pesticide mobility in soils and leaching to the surface and into groundwater.
Water Fingerprints
The IAEA´s activity in water resource management is based on sophisticated, state-of-the-art science. IAEA scientists use technologies based on naturally-occurring, stable and radioactive isotopes to build "fingerprints" of water.
For example, the IAEA is currently helping Member States to strengthen their capacity for comprehensive national water-resources assessments through its IWAVE project. As a result, Member States are expected to be able to increase water availability and use, as well as manage many of the challenges related to environmental sustainability, human security and climate change.
Isotope techniques are particularly useful for mapping the origin and flow of groundwater. In conjunction with other international organisations, the IAEA is using isotope hydrology to answer some of the critical questions relating to the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS), which stretches beneath four north African countries. Scientists have many unanswered questions about the aquifer, like how long it will last and how human actions impact it. Answering them would help strengthen policymaking and cooperation between the nations that share this resource.
A better understanding of the interactions between the earth´s water cycle and climate is important for adapting to climate change and variability. Since 1961, the IAEA, in cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), has made available isotope data in global precipitation. The data is used to improve the study of atmospheric circulation and the impact of climate change through climate models. This project is called Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation (GNIP).
As the world faces rising challenges from pollution, climate change and water resources scarcity, the IAEA is playing a key role in the global effort to address these issues, helping the international community safeguard our environment and future.

UN chief urges forest deal to show climate progress Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Dec 8, 2010 UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged an accord on fighting deforestation to help win over a public growing "cynical" as crunch climate change talks entered their final stretch in Mexico. "The world needs successful examples of climate solutions that produce tangible results," Ban told political and business leaders, saying an agreement on how to fight deforestation -- a top cause of carbon emissions -- was close.
"This is the area where we can have agreement here in Cancun," Ban said, refering to a pact on reducing emissions from deforestation -- known to negotiators as REDD. Such a deal would outline financial incentives for developing countries to save their tropical forests.
"We need to provide hope to a global public growing cynical about small progress in meetings on climate change," said Ban, who has pressed for progress at the conference due to end Friday.
Oil-rich Norway has led pledges from developed nations for REDD which represent some 4.5 billion dollars.
Some negotiators say only public money should go to the plan. But others say it is more realistic to set up a market approach that would allow nations to swap assistance for credits in emission reduction goals
"I'm ready to invest in it and I think private enterprise, particularly on reconstruction, should play a major role," billionaire philanthropist George Soros told the meeting on the sidelines of the conference.
Over the past 15 years, deforestation has accounted for between 12 and 25 percent annually in the global emissions blamed for global warming due to the loss of vegetation that balances off the carbon gas produced by industry.
But negotiators still need to make progress on disputes on deforestation including on methods of financing and verification.
"Under the current draft proposal in Cancun, countries could maintain a healthy forest in one region, while at the same time clearing a forest somewhere else. This needs to be fixed in the final deal," the WWF environmental group said in a statement Wednesday.
Negotiators have also expressed hopes of reaching deals on setting up a global climate fund and verification of countries' climate pledges.
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Measuring Air-Sea Exchange Of Carbon Dioxide In The Open Ocean

Despite finding high variability between individual measurements, the researchers' analyses suggest that formation of bubbles in breaking waves - whitecaps - may increase gas transfer at high wind speeds. "Our results support the hypothesis that bubbles in whitecaps play a significant role in the global exchange of carbon dioxide and other climatically important gases between the oceans and the atmosphere," said Prytherch. London, UK (SPX) Dec 09, 2010 A team led by scientists at the National Oceanography Centre have measured the air-sea exchange of carbon dioxide in the open ocean at higher wind speed then anyone else has ever managed. Their findings are important for understanding how interactions between the oceans and the atmosphere influence climate "Evaluating the factors influencing the transfer of gases such as carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the ocean is needed for a full understanding of Earth's climate system," explained researcher John Prytherch of the National Oceanography Centre.
The transfer of carbon dioxide across the sea surface depends on many factors and has been difficult to study over extended periods at sea. Understandably, therefore, there has been a lot of uncertainty about actual oceanic carbon dioxide fluxes, especially at high wind speeds.
To address this issue, Prytherch and his collaborators measured carbon dioxide fluxes in the North Atlantic during the High Wind Air-Sea Exchanges (HiWASE) experiment (September 2006-December 2009).
Using an autonomous system called 'Autoflux' installed on the Norwegian weather ship Polarfront, they made nearly 4,000 flux measurements, each one lasting 20 minutes. They also recorded wind speed and other variables such as seawater salinity.
"Our results include measurements made at higher mean wind speeds than previously published for the open ocean," said Prytherch: "Filling this knowledge gap is important because high wind speeds such as those experienced by the North Atlantic are expected to have a large effect on the global air-sea flux of carbon dioxide."
Despite finding high variability between individual measurements, the researchers' analyses suggest that formation of bubbles in breaking waves - whitecaps - may increase gas transfer at high wind speeds.
"Our results support the hypothesis that bubbles in whitecaps play a significant role in the global exchange of carbon dioxide and other climatically important gases between the oceans and the atmosphere," said Prytherch.
The researchers are John Prytherch, Margaret Yelland, Robin Pascal, Bengamin Moat and Meric Srokosz of the National Oceanography Centre, and Ingunn Skjelvan of the Bjerknes Center for Climate Research (Bergen, Norway).
The research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council and Oceans 2025. HiWASE was part of the UK Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere Study (UK SOLAS) programme.
Prytherch, J., Yelland, M. J., Pascal, R. W., Moat, B. I., Skjelvan, I. and Srokosz, M. A. The open ocean gas transfer velocity derived from long-term measurements of CO2flux. Geophysical Research Letters 37, L23607(2010). doi:10.1029/2010GL045597
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Put deserts on climate agenda, UN official says Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Dec 7, 2010 As negotiators near a deal on preserving forests as a way to fight climate change, a top advocate for deserts says that the planet's driest lands should also play a role. Luc Gnacadja, head of the UN Convention on Action against Desertification is urging representatives of 194 nations to help the some two billion people who live in the driest areas of the planet, as they try to reach a deal on climate change after the landmark Kyoto Protocol's requirements end in 2012.
"Those who cut the deal failed to put forests fully into the Kyoto Protocol so we lost a decade and a half. Now we are thinking of a deal for after 2012," Gnacadja said in an interview with AFP.
"We hope that the world will not make the same mistake now by not including the potential of the soil in arid lands," he said.
An estimated four percent of annual emissions of harmful gases come from arid lands. But when such lands are restored, they can store carbon -- although at a lower level than forests, which are high on the agenda at the two-week conference in Cancun.
Deserts are largely unrecoverable. But Gnacadja hoped that climate talks would commit to regenerate lands at risk of desertification, helping countries adapt to climate change that is blamed for increasing extreme rains and droughts.
"When you stock and sequestrate carbon to the soil, not only do you reduce emissions -- at the same time, you increase the soil fertility and productivity, the capacity of the soil to hold water," Gnacadja said.
The United Nations this year inaugurated a decade for deserts and the fight against desertification, which affects 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of land fit for agriculture each year, the size as Greece or Benin, Gnacadja's home country.
More than 40 percent of land across the planet is dry, and home to one out of every three of the world's inhabitants, or some 2.1 billion people.
Ninety percent of that land is in developing countries with high levels of poverty, and some one billion of its people face threats to their food sources due to advancing desertification.
As the planet warms, deserts expand, threatening access to water as well as longer droughts and also floods.
If areas are recovered for agriculture, that will help secure food for some of the nine billion people expected to inhabit the planet in 2050, experts say.
"A tropical forest system retains much more carbon than a semi-arid system, and in between there are grasslands which retain it inside the ground -- a slow process with large potential," said Carlos Nobre, the director of the Brazilian Institute for Spatial Investigations.
On drylands, sub-humid systems store between 40 and 50 tons of carbon per hectare underground, compared with between 120 and 150 for a tropical forest, he said. Semi-arid lands store only 10 to 15 tons per hectare.
Many participants expect the Cancun talks ending Friday to reach an agreement on how wealthy nations will help developing ones -- particularly Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo -- to preserve their forests.
But a stumbling block remains on what role the market would play.

Glaciers melting fastest in South America, Alaska: UN Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Dec 7, 2010 Glaciers are melting fastest in southern South America and Alaska and communities urgently need to adapt to the meltdown, according to a UN report released Tuesday. Many low-lying glaciers may disappear over the coming decades, with the northwest United States, southwest Canada and the Arctic also affected, according to the report compiled by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and scientists, presented at UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.
Most glaciers -- which are formed by accumulations of snow and ice -- started shrinking around 150 years ago, but the rate of ice loss has increased significantly since the 1980s, the report said.
"Averaged over their entire areas, within the period 1960 to 2003 glaciers in Patagonia and Alaska have thinned by approximately 35 meters and 25 meters, respectively," it said.
Warmer temperatures due to climate change were a major factor in melting the glaciers. Another cause could be the deposit of soot, reducing the reflection of heat back into space, according to the report.
The changed glaciers alter rain patterns and reduce water in rivers as well as food supply to nearby communities.
"Adaptation is crucial and urgently needed to assist people who will be affected," said John Crump, UNEP polar issues coordinator, at a news conference.
Though glaciers are shrinking overall worldwide, high levels of rain have actually increased the size of others, including in western Norway and New Zealand's South Island, the report said.
And as glaciers melt, lakes can form and eventually burst, leading to flooding.
Such floods have increased in the past 40 years, from China to Chile, the report said.
Peru has siphoned off the water from lakes formed by melted glaciers while similar projects, which can be costly and technically challenging, have been tried by Nepal and Bhutan.
Norway on Tuesday pledged more than 12 million dollars to help one major region where glaciers are melting -- the Himalayas.
Madhav Karki, from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, pointed to aerial pictures of glaciers that he said were shrinking some five to 15 meters per year in the eastern Himalayas.
The five-year investment aims to help communities, mainly in India, Pakistan and China, to adapt to changes in the glaciers they depend on and investigate why they are happening, said Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim.
"South Asia for me is probably the most vulnerable continent on the globe when it comes to climate change," he said. "Norway is at the opposite end of the spectrum."
More than 40 percent of the world's floods takes place in Asia, and have affected nearly a billion people between 1999 and 2008, according to the UN.
Pakistan this year was ravaged by floods that covered the size of England, killing more than 1,700 people and affecting more than 21 million more.
Bangladeshi Environment Minister Hasan Mahmud expressed concern Tuesday over glacial melting affecting his delta country, which is ravaged annually by floods from the Himalayas.
"If for any reason this is exacerbated, this will have a devastating impact, beyond our imagination," Mahmud said.
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Kyoto Protocol Comes Full Circle 13 Years After Passage By Coral Davenport Subscription required.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010 | 10:00 p.m.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An Alert on Ocean Acidity By JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF

“Protection of Reefs Now!” reads a banner in Spanish unfurled by Greenpeace divers in the Gulf of Mexico. The group is helping to gather information on baseline conditions of coral there.Greenpeace, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images “Protection of Reefs Now!” reads a banner in Spanish unfurled by Greenpeace divers in the Gulf of Mexico. The group is helping to gather information on the condition of coral there.
Green: Science
Carbon dioxide emissions from man-made sources are causing the acidity level of the world’s oceans to rise at what is probably the fastest rate in 65 million years, threatening global fisheries that serve as an essential food source for billions of people, according to a new United Nations report.
Roughly 25 percent of the carbon dioxide generated by the combustion of fossil fuels enters the oceans, and as the gas dissolves in seawater it changes into carbonic acid. One result has been a rapid alteration in ocean chemistry that is already affecting marine organisms.
The acidity of the oceans has grown 30 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. At current emission rates, ocean acidity could be 150 percent higher by the end of the century, the report states.

Marine life and coral reefs have already shown vulnerability to rising levels of acidity, and the changes expected in coming decades are severe enough that they could have a serious impact on the ability of people around the world to harvest needed protein from the seas, according to Carol Turley, senior scientist at Britain’s National Oceanography Center and the lead author of the report.
“We need to start thinking about the risk to food security,” Dr. Turley said in a statement.
The report also warns that the rise in ocean acidity poses a severe threat to coral reefs, which are already under stress from pollution and the warming of oceans — a concern shared by a growing number of marine scientists.
Acidification could conceivably wipe out most of the world’s already ailing coral reefs within a generation or two, said John Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, in an essay posted this week on the Web site Yale Environment 360.
“The potential consequences of such acidification are nothing less than catastrophic,” Dr. Veron wrote.
As acidification continues, coral and marine organisms like shellfish will begin to suffer from osteoporosis — an inability to fix calcium into shells and other structures.
“No doubt different species of coral, coralline algae, plankton and mollusks will show different tolerances, and their capacity to calcify will decline at different rates,” Dr. Veron wrote. “But as acidification progresses, they will all suffer from some form of coralline osteoporosis.”
“The result will be that corals will no longer be able to build reefs or maintain them against the forces of erosion,” the article continues. “What were once thriving coral gardens that supported the greatest biodiversity of the marine realm will become red-black bacterial slime, and they will stay that way.”

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A warning at climate talks: Glacier melt speeds up By CHARLES J. HANLEY

The lives and livelihoods of people in South Asia are at "high risk" as global warming melts glaciers in the Himalayas, sending floods crashing down from overloaded mountain lakes and depriving farmers of steady water sources, U.N. and other international experts reported Friday.
Worldwide, "since the beginning of the 1980s, the rate of ice loss has increased substantially in many regions, concurrent with an increase in global mean air temperatures," the U.N. Environment Program said.
Glaciers in southern South America and Alaska's coastal mountains have been losing mass faster and for longer than glaciers elsewhere in the world, it said.
The new U.N. assessment of recent glacier research was issued at annual climate talks, where delegates were expected, once again this year, to fail to reach agreement on long-term mandatory action to rein in emissions of global warming gases.
"These alarming findings on melting glaciers underline the importance of combating climate change globally," said Norway's environment minister, Erik Solheim, whose government supports the glacier research. "It sends a strong message to us as politicians and climate negotiators in Cancun."
In their second and final week, a spirit of compromise seemed to have settled over the talks, but negotiators were expected, at best, to agree only on secondary tools for coping with global warming, laying the groundwork, for example, for a "green fund" of $100 billion a year by 2020.
Financed by richer nations, the fund would support poorer nations in converting to cleaner energy sources and in adapting to a shifting climate that may damage people's health, agriculture and economies in general.
The Himalayan nations of Nepal and Bhutan will need such support, as they try to cope with melting glaciers by siphoning off water from swelling glacial lakes. The work is costly and difficult in remote, high-altitude locations, UNEP said.
The experts said the incidence of "glacial lake outburst floods" has grown over the past 40 years, accounting for some of the 5,000 Asian deaths each year from flash floods. More broadly, the swift depletion of glacial waters may leave tens of thousands of farmers without irrigation water.
"The risk to lives and livelihoods in the fragile Hindu Kush Himalayan region is high and getting higher," said Madhav Karki of the Nepal-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development.
The periodic climate talks earlier this year were marked by open sniping between the U.S. and China, but that friction was not in evidence on Monday.
"There were heated discussions at Copenhagen. Here the atmosphere is relatively mild," China's climate chief, Xie Zhenhua, told reporters.
He was referring to the intense talks in the Danish capital last December that failed to produce a hoped-for binding pact requiring substantial cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other industrial, agricultural and transport gases blamed for global warming.
Cancun's spirit of compromise may be most needed in the coming days' debates over limited gestures proposed in the area of emissions reductions, as environment ministers and other negotiators from the 193 nations of the U.N. climate treaty work to wrap up their talks by Friday.
The U.S. has long refused to join the rest of the industrialized world in the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 add-on to the climate treaty that mandates modest emissions reductions by richer nations, and whose commitments expire in 2012. The U.S. complained Kyoto would hurt its economy and should have mandated actions as well by such emerging economies as China and India.
For their part, those poorer but growing nations have rejected calls that they submit to Kyoto-style legally binding commitments -- not to reduce emissions, but to cut back on emissions growth. Their first obligation, these governments say, is to develop their economies, not hobble them.
"We still have 150 million people under the poverty line," Xie told reporters Monday.
In a nonbinding Copenhagen Accord last December, an agreement not accepted by all treaty parties, the U.S. and other industrial nations announced targets for reducing emissions by 2020, and China and some other developing nations set goals, also voluntary, for cutting back on the growth of their emissions.
Many parties now want to have those voluntary targets "anchored" more formally in a document emerging from the Cancun talks. At the same time, developing countries are pressing for the industrial nations to commit in Cancun to a second Kyoto period, further mandatory cutbacks beyond 2012 -- a demand resisted by Japan, Russia and others who won't submit to more legally binding emissions cuts until the U.S., China and some others take on binding targets under treaty.
In one development on emissions, a policy-setting British government body unveiled a plan here Tuesday to slash greenhouse gases by almost half over the next 20 years, largely abandoning fossil fuels for power and vehicles.

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