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Friday, December 24, 2010

EPA Sets Timetable For Refineries, Power Plants to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

EPA Sets Timetable For Refineries, Power Plants to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ocean Acidification Changes Nitrogen Cycling In World Seas

This image shows water samples in the Sargasso Sea being collected for studies of ocean acidification. Credit: Cheryl Chow Washington DC (SPX) Dec 22, 2010 Increasing acidity in the sea's waters may fundamentally change how nitrogen is cycled in them, say marine scientists who published their findings in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients in the oceans. All organisms, from tiny microbes to blue whales, use nitrogen to make proteins and other important compounds.
Some microbes can also use different chemical forms of nitrogen as a source of energy.
One of these groups, the ammonia oxidizers, plays a pivotal role in determining which forms of nitrogen are present in the ocean. In turn, they affect the lives of many other marine organisms.
"Ocean acidification will have widespread effects on marine ecosystems, but most of those effects are still unknown," says David Garrison, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Biological Oceanography Program, which funded the research along with NSF's Chemical Oceanography Program.
"This report that ocean acidification decreases nitrification (the amount of nitrogen) is extremely important," says Garrison, "because of the crucial role of the nitrogen cycle in biogeochemical processes-processes that take place throughout the oceans."
Very little is known about how ocean acidification may affect critical microbial groups like the ammonia oxidizers, "key players in the ocean's nitrogen cycle," says Michael Beman of the University of Hawaii and lead author of the PNAS paper.
In six experiments spread across two oceans, Beman and colleagues looked at the response of ammonia oxidation rates to ocean acidification.
In every case where the researchers experimentally increased the amount of acidity in ocean waters, ammonia oxidation rates decreased.
These declines were remarkably similar in different regions of the ocean indicating that nitrification rates may decrease globally as the oceans acidify in coming decades, says David Hutchins of the University of Southern California, a co-author of the paper.
Oceanic nitrification is a major natural component of production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. From the seas, nitrous oxide then enters the atmosphere, says Beman. "All else being equal, decreases in nitrification rates therefore have the potential to reduce nitrous oxide emissions to the atmosphere."
Oceanic emissions of nitrous oxide are second only to soils as a global source of nitrous oxide.
With a pH decrease of 0.1 in ocean waters (making the waters more acidic), the scientists estimate a decrease in nitrous oxide emissions comparable to all current nitrous oxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial activity.
An important caveat, they say, is that nitrous oxide emissions from oceanic nitrification may be altered by other forms of global environmental change such as increased deposition of nitrogen to the ocean, or loss of oxygen in some key areas.
"That could offset any decrease due to ocean acidification, and needs to be studied in more detail," says Hutchins.
Another major implication of the findings is equally complex, the researchers say, but just as important.
As human-derived carbon dioxide permeates the sea, ammonia-oxidizing organisms will be at a significant disadvantage in competing for ammonia.
Over time, that would shift the available form of dissolved nitrogen in the surface oceans away from forms like nitrate that are produced by nitrification, and toward regenerated ammonium.
With a decrease in average ocean pH from 8.1 to 8.0 (greater acidity), the scientists estimate that up to 25 percent of the ocean's primary production could shift from nitrate- to ammonium-supported.
The consequences of such a shift are not easily predicted, says Hutchins, but would likely favor certain drifting, microscopic plant species over others, with cascading effects throughout marine food webs.
"What makes ocean acidification such a challenging scientific and societal issue is that we're engaged in a global, unreplicated experiment," says Beman, "one that's difficult to study--and has many unknown consequences."
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Waterways Contribute To Growth Of Potent Greenhouse Gas

"Nitrous oxide is the leading human-caused threat to the atmospheric ozone layer, which protects the earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation," said Hamilton, who works with MSU's Long-Term Ecological Research program. "And on a per molecule basis, its global warming potential is 300-fold greater than carbon dioxide." East Lansing MI (SPX) Dec 22, 2010 Nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, has increased by more than 20 percent over the last century, and nitrogen in waterways is fueling part of that growth, according to a Michigan State University study. Based on this new study, the role of rivers and streams as a source of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere now appears to be twice as high as estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to Stephen Hamilton, a professor at MSU's Kellogg Biological Station. The study appears in the current issue of the Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences.
The increased production of nitrous oxide in streams can be traced to the growth of nitrogen fertilizers and the cultivation of crops that return nitrogen to the soil naturally, both of which have the unintended consequence of increasing nitrogen in streams. Some of the nitrogen entering streams is converted to nitrous oxide.
While many studies have focused on how agricultural soils contribute to the production of this greenhouse gas, little attention has been given to nitrous oxide originating from streams and rivers, according to the study.
Nitrous oxide exists at low levels in the atmosphere, yet is thought to be responsible for 6 percent of climate warming and also contributes to stratospheric ozone destruction. It packs a much bigger punch - on a molecular level - than carbon dioxide, Hamilton said.
"Nitrous oxide is the leading human-caused threat to the atmospheric ozone layer, which protects the earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation," said Hamilton, who works with MSU's Long-Term Ecological Research program. "And on a per molecule basis, its global warming potential is 300-fold greater than carbon dioxide."
Hamilton was part of a team of researchers led by Jake Beaulieu of the Environmental Protection Agency and formerly with the University of Notre Dame. The team conducted experiments on 72 U.S. rivers and streams and ran their findings through a global river network model. They studied the production of nitrous oxide from the process of denitrification, in which bacteria convert nitrates to nitrogen gases.
"Even with more than 99 percent of denitrified nitrogen in streams and rivers being converted to the inert gas, dinitrogen, river networks still contribute to at least 10 percent of global anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions," Hamilton said.
Reducing use of agricultural fertilizer and other sources of nitrogen are examples of how to decrease humanity's contribution to the growth of nitrous oxide produced in waterways, the study concluded.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Predicting the World’s Next Water Pollution Disaster

Biting winters driven by global warming: scientists

Biting winters driven by global warming: scientists

December 21, 2010 by Marlowe Hood Sports fishermen try their luck despite freezing temperaturesEnlarge
Sports fishermen try their luck despite freezing temperatures at Slovakia's dam Liptovska Mara on December 5. Counter-intuitive but true, say scientists: a string of freezing European winters scattered over the last decade has been driven in large part by global warming.
Counter-intuitive but true, say scientists: a string of freezing European winters scattered over the last decade has been driven in large part by global warming.
The culprit, according to a new study, is the Arctic's receding , which at current rates of decline could to disappear entirely during summer months by century's end.
The mechanism uncovered triples the chances that future winters in Europe and north Asia will be similarly inclement, the study reports.
Bitingly wreaked havoc across Europe in the winter months of 2005-2006, dumping snow in southern Spain and plunging eastern Europe and Russia into an unusually -- and deadly -- deep freeze.
Another sustained cold streak in 2009-2010, gave Britain its coldest winter in 14 years, and wreaked transportation havoc across the continent. This year seems poised to deliver a repeat performance.
At first glance, this flurry of frostiness would seem to be at odds with standard climate change scenarios in which Earth's temperature steadily rises, possibly by as much as five or six degrees Celsius (9.0 to 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.
Climate sceptics who question the gravity of global warming or that humans are to blame point to the deep chills as confirmation of their doubts.
Such assertions, counter scientists, mistakenly conflate the long-term patterns of climate with the short-term vagaries of weather, and ignore regional variation in climate change impacts.
New research, however, goes further, showing that global warming has actually contributed to Europe's winter blues.
Rising temperatures in the Arctic -- increasing at two to three times the global average -- have peeled back the region's cover by 20 percent over the last three decades.
This has allowed more of the Sun's radiative force to be absorbed by dark-blue sea rather than bounced back into space by reflective ice and snow, accelerating the warming process.
More critically for weather patterns, it has also created a massive source of heat during the winter months.
"Say the ocean is at zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit)," said Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
"That is a lot warmer than the overlying air in the polar area in winter, so you get a major heat flow heating up the atmosphere from below which you don't have when it is covered by ice. That's a massive change," he told AFP in an interview.
The result, according to a modelling study published earlier this month the Journal of Geophysical Research, is a strong high-pressure system over the newly-exposed sea which brings cold polar air, swirling counter-clockwise, into Europe.
Swans swim in Saint James' Park's lake

Swans swim in Saint James' Park's lake in central London on December 18. Counter-intuitive but true, say scientists: a string of freezing European winters scattered over the last decade has been driven in large part by global warming.
"Recent severe winters like last year's or the one of 2005-2006 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it," explained Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study and a physicist at the Potsdam Institute. "These anomalies could triple the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and north Asia," he said.
The researchers created a computer model simulating the impact on of a gradual reduction of ice cover in the Barents-Kara Sea, north of Scandinavia.
Other possible explanations for uncommonly cold winters -- reduced Sun activity or changes in the Gulf Stream -- "tend to exaggerate their effect," Petoukhov said.
He also points out that during the freezing 2005-2006 , when temperatures averaged 10 C below normal in Siberia, there were no unusual variations in the north Atlantic oscillation, another putative cause.
Colder European winters do not indicate a slowing of trends, only an uneven distribution, researchers say.
"As I look out my window is see about 30 centimetres of snow and the thermostat reads -14.0 C," said Rahmstorf, speaking by phone from Potsdam.
"At the same time, in Greenland we have above zero temperatures -- in December."
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ESA Unveils Latest Map Of World's Land Cover

ESA Unveils Latest Map Of World's Land Cove

ESA's 2009 global land cover map was generated using 12 months worth of data, collected from 1 January-31 December 2009, from Envisat's Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) instrument. GlobCover 2009 proves the sharpest possible global land cover map can be created within a year. The map's legend uses the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Land Cover Classification System. Credits: ESA 2010 and Universite catholique de Louvain. For a larger version of this image please go here.

Paris, France (ESA) Dec 22, 2010 ESA's 2009 global land cover map has been released and is now available to the public online from the 'GlobCover' website. GlobCover 2009 proves the sharpest possible global land cover map can be created within a year.
The map was produced using 12 months of data from Envisat's Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer at a resolution of 300 m.
ESA and Belgium's Universite catholique de Louvain created the map using software developed by Medias France and Germany's Brockmann Consult on data collected from 1 January to 31 December 2009.
GlobCover 2009 was generated within a year of acquiring the final satellite data.
The map's legend uses the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Land Cover Classification System.
Some 8000 people have downloaded the previous version, GlobCover 2005.
These maps are useful for studying the effects of climate change, conserving biodiversity and managing natural resources.
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2010 Proved Tough Year for Environment

2010 Proved Tough Year for Environment

The world in 2010 was hot. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2010 was on track to be the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880.  Many of the year's notable events were harbingers of global climate change including extreme weather, massive forest fires, widespread flooding, glacier melt and coral bleaching.
A warming planet was also among the top environmental stories of 2010 for Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute. The independent environmental analyst says the combined impact of extreme weather, drought and forest fires in Russia caused a 40-percent drop in the country's grain harvests. "This was a huge disaster, a country that was one of the world's leading wheat exporters last year is this year going to be a net importer of grain, has banned (wheat) exports." <!--IMAGE-->
1/5 of Pakistan Flooded
Brown also saw some ominous signs on the climate horizon. He says the floods in Pakistan last July were preceded by the hottest temperature ever recorded in Asia, with the mercury climbing to a withering 53 degrees Celsius along the Indus Basin in Southern Pakistan.

"What that meant among other things is that the glaciers in the Himalayas, from which the Indus River tributaries flow, and the Indus River is the lifeline of Pakistan, even before the rains came, the flow of those tributaries was starting to swell from the accelerating ice melting."
China Surpasses the U.S. as Largest Energy Consumer

This was also the year in which China, which had surpassed the United States as the largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2009, surged past the U.S. as the world's largest energy consumer. China also set new energy efficiency targets for local governments, imposed rigorous energy standards on companies and moved ahead with construction of the world's largest high-speed rail network, involving new subways lines and rapid transit systems in dozens of Chinese cities.

U.S. Fails to Pass Climate Law, But Global Climate Negotiations Make a Comeback

World Resources Institute President Jonathan Lash says that, while the United States Congress failed to pass a climate law in 2010, numerous states acted alone or in groups to promote a clean energy agenda. They were joined by large sections of the private sector.

"Leading companies strongly support action and are continuing to invest in new products, new services that they believe necessary in a carbon constrained world and are continuing to make voluntary reductions in their own emissions," says Lash.

He was encouraged by the outcome of the United Nations environment summit held in Cancun, Mexico in late November and early December.  Representatives from 192 countries continued work on a global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change when that accord expires in 2012. Nations in Cancun formalized commitments to reduce emissions and protect forests. They pledged by 2020 to set aside $100 billion to help poor nations adapt to climate change and a means to transfer green technology. "It was certainly a start a real start on global collective action, and global collective actions is very rare and difficult to achieve."  <!--IMAGE-->
Kenneth Green, a resident scholar and policy analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, advocates policies and institutions that can build economies to help nations - especially the poorer ones - become resilient in the face of climate change.  He doesn't see that happening within a United Nations framework with set emission reduction targets and time tables.

"Those hard targets are simply not materializing," he notes. "I think that there is a good reason for that which is the whole United Nations process is based on the assumption that that the developed countries are just going to suddenly flood money into the developing world, while giving up the technologies that it supposedly going to depend upon for economic growth in coming centuries."
Oil Spill Cripples America's Most Productive Fishery

Another story that captured headlines in 2010 was the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 men, and before it was capped in mid-July, the leaking well released nearly five million barrels of oil into the nation's most productive fishery. Unlike a tanker spill or a broken pipeline, this was an on-going crisis.   As the year drew to a close, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft reported that 9,000 workers were still engaged in clean-up operations with a special emphasis on restoring marshlands and beaches.

"Some of our more persistent oil is in that sand column on both recreational beaches and also on national park shorelines," he said. "In some cases it is either removed manually or we are using heavy equipment."

Extinctions & Protections

Among other environmental milestones in 2010, the blue fin tuna, a heavily-fished species on the brink of extinction, failed to gain international protection. On the other hand, Norway made a $1 billion donation to preserve forests in Indonesia, and in the waning days of 2010, the Chinese Year of the Tiger, global leaders met in St. Petersburg, Russia, agreed on a tiger recovery plan and promised money to fund it.
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China Increasing Weather Modification Activity

China Increasing Weather Modification Activity

According to the Xinhua news agency, Zheng Guoguang, the director of the  China
Meteorological Administration (CMA), said that the  weather-manipulation program
will be used to aid the country's  agricultural and rural development, provide
additional airborne water  resources, improve the ecology, and help prevent
environmental  calamities from occurring.

Fears Of Water Shortages In Africa And The Middle East May Lead To Unrest And Wars

Fears Of Water Shortages In Africa And The Middle East May Lead To Unrest And Wars

Water Shortages Could Trigger Mideast Unrest -- Voice of America

Water is a scarce resource in the desert regions of the Middle East. Though disputes over water have come close to triggering wars between nations of the region in the past, diplomats intervened to keep tensions to a minimum. Now a new study suggests that, over the next 20 years, water shortages could trigger unrest within national borders instead of between the nations of the Middle East.

In the past, Middle East scholars have often pointed to shared river basins and disputes over underground water rights as causes for potential conflict between nations. That may not be surprising, because 10 of the 15 most water-poor countries in the world are in the region. However, according to a new study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, limited supplies of underground water within national borders of the Middle East pose a more immediate challenge.

Read more ....
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- Solar Energy Zones Identified in Six Western States A detailed study just released names 24 "solar energy zones" that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said are "best suited for large-scale solar development." By / Environment News Service

A detailed study just released names 24 "solar energy zones" that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said are "best suited for large-scale solar development." READ MORE
By / Environment News Service
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It's Snowing in the Summer in Australia -- A Sign of Global Climate Change By Lauren Kelley | AlterNet

Sunday, December 19, 2010

US southwest could see 60-year drought: study

US southwest could see 60-year drought: study
An unprecedented combination of heat plus decades of drought could be in store for the Southwest sometime this century, suggests new research from a University of Arizona-led team.
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2010's world gone wild: Quakes, floods, blizzards

2010's world gone wild: Quakes, floods, blizzards

December 19, 2010 By SETH BORENSTEIN and JULIE REED BELL , Associated Press 2010's world gone wild: Quakes, floods, blizzards (AP)Enlarge
In this July 29, 2010 file photo, Moscow's St. Bazil's Cathedral, background, is seen through a smog covering Moscow during a heat wave. The mausoleum of Vladimir Lenin is at right. The excessive amount of extreme weather that dominated 2010 is a classic sign of man-made global warming that climate scientists have long warned about. They calculate that the killer Russian heat wave, setting a national record of 111F (nearly 44 C), would happen once every 100,000 years without global warming. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze, File)
(AP) -- This was the year the Earth struck back. Earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts killed at least a quarter million people in 2010 - the deadliest year in more than a generation. More people were killed worldwide by natural disasters this year than have been killed in terrorism attacks in the past 40 years combined.

UN warns of 'megadisasters' linked to climate change
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Loop Current Update

Dire Development Issues Converge in Drylands

Dire Development Issues Converge in Drylands
Kanya D'Almeida, Inter Press Service: "Few are aware that close to one billion people in over 100 different countries are suffering from or severely threatened by intense desertification. Yet awareness is crucial, for it is human behaviour that has led to the proliferation of hyper- arid, uncultivable drylands over the past few decades."
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