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Saturday, January 15, 2011

How can we feed 9 billion?

How can we feed 9 billion?

The world’s population is set to soar in the coming decades – but food supplies are already under pressure. Meanwhile, Britain and Europe have turned their backs on a great agricultural revolution, Clive Aslet writes .

Global food chain stretched to the limit Soaring prices spark fears of social unrest in developing world

Global food chain stretched to the limit

Soaring prices spark fears of social unrest in developing world

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dramatic ocean circulation changes revealed

Dramatic ocean circulation changes revealed

January 14, 2011 Dramatic ocean circulation changes revealedEnlarge
These are shells of a type of foraminifers used in this study. Credit: Cardiff University
The unusually cold weather this winter has been caused by a change in the winds. Instead of the typical westerly winds warmed by Atlantic surface ocean currents, cold northerly Arctic winds are influencing much of Europe.
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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Russia To Launch Ocean Satellite In March



File image.

Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jan 14, 2011 Russia will launch an oceanography satellite in March to keep track of a vast amount of data that will help improve weather, climate and ocean forecasts, a Russian scientist said on Wednesday. "It will be a kind of an orbital 'radio receiver' listening to Earth," said Viktor Savorsky, acting laboratory head at the Institute of Radio and Electronic Technology affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences, which developed the satellite equipment.
It will provide data, among other things, about oceanic temperature and salinity, as well as moisture levels and temperature on land, which are essential to meteorologists, climatologists and oceanographers, he added.
The satellite will use a frequency of 21 centimeters, which ensures the complete "transparency" of the earth's atmosphere, enabling the probe to receive data around the clock regardless of weather conditions.
Information from the mission will improve knowledge of changes on the global and regional level and ensure more accurate weather, ocean and climate forecasts.
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Earth's hot past could be prologue to future climate

Earth's hot past could be prologue to future climate

January 13, 2011 Earth's hot past could be prologue to future climateEnlarge
A pair of chinstrap penguins in Antarctica. New research suggests that, if carbon dioxide emissions continue on their current trajectory, Earth may return to a climate of tens of millions of years ago when the Antarctic ice sheet did not exist. ©UCAR, Photo by Andrew Watt.
(PhysOrg.com) -- The magnitude of climate change during Earth's deep past suggests that future temperatures may eventually rise far more than projected if society continues its pace of emitting greenhouse gases, a new analysis concludes. The study, by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Jeffrey Kiehl, will appear as a "Perspectives" piece in this week's issue of the journal Science.
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NASA satellites capture a stronger La Nina

NASA satellites capture a stronger La Nina

January 13, 2011 NASA satellites capture a stronger La NinaEnlarge
The La Niña is evident by the large pool cooler than normal (blue and purple) water stretching from the eastern to the central Pacific Ocean, reflecting lower than normal sea surface heights. "This La Niña has strengthened for the past seven months, and is one of the most intense events of the past half century," said Climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA JPL. Credit: NASA JPL/Bill Patzert
New NASA satellite data indicate the current La Niña event in the eastern Pacific has remained strong during November and December 2010.
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Recent Law Review Articles -- on Environmental Law, Energy, Land Use Law and related legal topics.

Recent Law Review Articles -- December 2010 

on Environmental Law, Energy, Land Use Law and related legal topics.

Corals provide evidence of changes to oceanic currents through Global Warming

Corals provide evidence of changes to oceanic currents through Global Warming

This report dated January 4, 2011 reveals that there have been drastic changes to oceanic currents in the western North Atlantic since the 1970s. The influence of the cold water Labrador Current, which is in periodic interchange with the warm Gulf Stream, has been decreasing continually since the 1970s. Occurring at the same time as Global Warming this phenomenon is unique in the past 2000 years. These results are reported by researchers from the University of Basel and Eawag in the current edition of the scientific journal «PNAS».
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Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling from PEN by Jack McNeill, Associate Library Director

http://paceeenvironmentalnotes.blogspot.com/2011/01/deep-water-gulf-oil-disaster-and-future.html

 This report by the National Commission on the BP/Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, dated 1/11/2011, concludes:
• The explosive loss of the Macondo well could have been prevented.
• The immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of identifiable mistakes made by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean that reveal such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry.
• Deepwater energy exploration and production, particularly at the frontiers of
experience, involve risks for which neither industry nor government has been
adequately prepared, but for which they can and must be prepared in the future.
• To assure human safety and environmental protection, regulatory oversight of leasing, energy exploration, and production require reforms even beyond those significant reforms already initiated since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Fundamental reform will be needed in both the structure of those in charge of regulatory oversight and their internal decisionmaking process to ensure their political autonomy, technical expertise, and their full consideration of environmental protection concerns.
• Because regulatory oversight alone will not be sufficient to ensure adequate safety, the oil and gas industry will need to take its own, unilateral steps to increase dramatically safety throughout the industry, including self-policing mechanisms that supplement governmental enforcement.
• The technology, laws and regulations, and practices for containing, responding to, and cleaning up spills lag behind the real risks associated with deepwater drilling into large, high-pressure reservoirs of oil and gas located far offshore and thousands of feet below the ocean's surface. Government must close the existing gap and industry must support rather than resist that effort.
• Scientific understanding of environmental conditions in sensitive environments in deep Gulf waters, along the region's coastal habitats, and in areas proposed for more drilling, such as the Arctic, is inadequate. The same is true of the human and natural impacts of oil spills.

Related articles

11th National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment: Our Changing Oceans

11th National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment: Our Changing Oceans

NCSE utilizes a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach to convene involved scientists and decision-makers from various sectors of society. Conferences include renowned speakers, topical symposia to explore issues more in depth, and breakout sessions to develop a set of recommendations on how to advance science and connect it to policy and decision-making.

Our Changing Oceans is divided into eight themes, each with several breakout sessions and symposia.

January 19-21, 2011 in Washington, DC.
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
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NASA Research Finds 2010 Tied for Warmest Year on Record from PEN by Jack McNeill, Associate Library Director

Global surface temperatures in 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest on record, according to an analysis released Wednesday by researchers at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

In 2010, global temperatures continued to rise. A new analysis from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies shows that 2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record, and was part of the warmest decade on record. (Image credit: NASA/Earth Observatory/Robert Simmon)

The two years differed by less than 0.018 degrees Fahrenheit. The difference is smaller than the uncertainty in comparing the temperatures of recent years, putting them into a statistical tie. In the new analysis, the next warmest years are 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2009, which are statistically tied for third warmest year. The GISS records begin in 1880.

The analysis found 2010 approximately 1.34°F warmer than the average global surface temperature from 1951 to 1980. To measure climate change, scientists look at long-term trends. The temperature trend, including data from 2010, shows the climate has warmed by approximately 0.36°F per decade since the late 1970s.
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EPA Vetoes Permit For Largest Mountaintop Removal Mine In West Virginia, Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 By The Huffington Post News Editors | Huffington Post

Texas loses another round in fight over EPA regulation of greenhouse gases

Texas loses another round in fight over EPA regulation of greenhouse gases

Texas: Court Allows E.P.A. to Issue Greenhouse Permits

Texas: Court Allows E.P.A. to Issue Greenhouse Permits

EPA crackdown on greenhouse gases starts in Florida power plants

EPA crackdown on greenhouse gases starts in Florida power plants

Tuna Fight Muddies Waters Over Spill


Tuna Fight Muddies Waters Over Spill

The bluefin tuna is the subject of a scientific fight that shows how hard it will be to gauge the environmental fallout of the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

California Can't Have it All: There's Not Enough Water to Support Farmers, Cities and the Environment

California Can't Have it All: There's Not Enough Water to Support Farmers, Cities and the Environment

Nothing can be done in California that will keep its farms and big cities thriving at today's levels and also keep the fish and the Delta alive. So what do we do?
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Military Versus Climate Security: US and China Worlds Apart

Military Versus Climate Security: US and China Worlds Apart
Elizabeth McGowan, Solve Climate: "While China is already boasting 'All aboard!' on a network of sleek passenger trains that zip 200 mph and beyond between major urban centers, the United States is still fussing about where to install a single high-speed rail line for a proposed California project. That's just a snapshot of how this country continues to lag behind its Asian competitor on the clean technology front. Can America ever catch up? Yes, says Washington research fellow Miriam Pemberton. But it means taking a $100 billion-dollar bite out of the defense budget annually."
Read the Article

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Dirty GMO Politics Exposed by Wikileaks Cables

Dirty GMO Politics Exposed by Wikileaks Cables

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Study Estimates Land Available For Biofuel Crops by Liz Ahlberg



Civil and environmental engineering professor Ximing Cai, left, and graduate student Xiao Zhang performed a global analysis of marginal land that could produce biofuel crops. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Champaign IL (SPX) Jan 11, 2011 Using detailed land analysis, Illinois researchers have found that biofuel crops cultivated on available land could produce up to half of the world's current fuel consumption - without affecting food crops or pastureland. Published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the study led by civil and environmental engineering professor Ximing Cai identified land around the globe available to produce grass crops for biofuels, with minimal impact on agriculture or the environment.
Many studies on biofuel crop viability focus on biomass yield, or how productive a crop can be regionally. There has been relatively little research on land availability, one of the key constraints of biofuel development. Of special concern is whether the world could even produce enough biofuel to meet demand without compromising food production.
"The questions we're trying to address are, what kind of land could be used for biofuel crops? If we have land, where is it, and what is the current land cover?" Cai said.
Cai's team assessed land availability from a physical perspective - focusing on soil properties, soil quality, land slope, and regional climate. The researchers collected data on soil, topography, climate and current land use from some of the best data sources available, including remote sensing maps.
The critical concept of the Illinois study was that only marginal land would be considered for biofuel crops. Marginal land refers to land with low inherent productivity, that has been abandoned or degraded, or is of low quality for agricultural uses.
In focusing on marginal land, the researchers rule out current crop land, pasture land, and forests. They also assume that any biofuel crops would be watered by rainfall and not irrigation, so no water would have to be diverted from agricultural land.
Using fuzzy logic modeling, a technique to address uncertainty and ambiguity in analysis, the researchers considered multiple scenarios for land availability.
First, they considered only idle land and vegetation land with marginal productivity; for the second scenario, they added degraded or low-quality cropland. For the second scenario, they estimated 702 million hectares of land available for second-generation biofuel crops, such as switchgrass or miscanthus.
The researchers then expanded their sights to marginal grassland. A class of biofuel crops called low-impact high-diversity (LIHD) perennial grasses could produce bioenergy while maintaining grassland.
While they have a lower ethanol yield than grasses such as miscanthus or switchgrass, LIHD grasses have minimal environmental impact and are similar to grassland's natural land cover.
Adding LIHD crops grown on marginal grassland to the marginal cropland estimate from earlier scenarios nearly doubled the estimated land area to 1,107 million hectares globally, even after subtracting possible pasture land - an area that would produce 26 to 56 percent of the world's current liquid fuel consumption.
Next, the team plans to study the possible effect of climate change on land use and availability.
"Based on the historical data, we now have an estimation for current land use, but climate may change in the near future as a result of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which will have effect on the land availability," said graduate student Xiao Zhang, a co-author of the paper. Former postdoctoral fellow Dingbao Wang, now at the University of Central Florida, also co-wrote the paper.
"We hope this will provide a physical basis for future research," Cai said. "For example, agricultural economists could use the dataset to do some research with the impact of institutions, community acceptance and so on, or some impact on the market. We want to provide a start so others can use our research data."
The Energy Biosciences Institute at U. of I. and the National Science Foundation supported the study.
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The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New spacecraft could help break the climate debate gridlock


http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-spacecraft-climate-debate-gridlock.html

January 11, 2011 By Irene Klotz New spacecraft could help break the climate debate gridlockEnlarge
Glory is a low Earth orbit scientific research satellite designed to collect data on the properties of aerosols, including black carbon, in the Earth's atmosphere and climate system, and to collect data on solar irradiance for the long-term effects on the Earth climate record. Credit: NASA.gov
A new robotic probe is headed to the launch pad, aiming for a spot aboard what is called the A-train -- a fleet of Earth-orbiting spacecraft keeping tabs on the planet's changing climate.
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North America's environmental outlook: 9 topics to watch for 2011 and beyond

North America's environmental outlook: 9 topics to watch for 2011 and beyond

January 11, 2011
What is the future for North America's environment? Much of the answer is up to us.

Security establishment not well-equipped to deal with environmental issues: team


January 11, 2011 By Wendy Leopold
In a three-month investigation, a team of Northwestern University student reporters has found that the nation’s security establishment is not adequately prepared for many of the environmental changes that are coming faster than predicted and that threaten to reshape demands made on the military and intelligence community. This is despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Defense has called climate change a potential “accelerant of instability.”
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News in Brief: Oil Spill Panel: BP Disaster Could Have Been Prevented With More Oversight, and More ...

News in Brief: Oil Spill Panel: BP Disaster Could Have Been Prevented With More Oversight, and More ...
The presidential commission investigating the BP oil spill recommended more government regulation of offshore drilling projects in its report today; Biden says US willing to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014; massive inland floods hit Australia; US could see lasting wage decrease.
Read the Article
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Scientists Find 'Drastic' Shifts in Atlantic Currents Are Affecting Weather


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A disruption or shifts in the oscillation is an explanation for moist or harsh winters in Europe, or severe summer droughts such as in Russia, in recent years. READ MORE
By / AFP
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Aflockalypse': Here's Why We Should Really Be Concerned About the Huge Bird and Fish Die-off

Aflockalypse': Here's Why We Should Really Be Concerned About the Huge Bird and Fish Die-off
The massive death toll of dead birds and sea life should draw attention to the countless other species on the brink of extinction. READ MORE
Tara Lohan / AlterNet

Freshwater Methane Release Changes Greenhouse Gas Equation


Ames, IA (SPX) Jan 10, 2011 An international team of scientists has released data indicating that greenhouse gas uptake by continents is less than previously thought because of methane emissions from freshwater areas. John Downing, an Iowa State University professor in the ecology, evolution and organismal biology department, is part of an international team that concluded that methane release from inland waters is higher than previous estimates.
The study, published in the journal Science, indicates that methane gas release from freshwater areas changes the net absorption of greenhouse gases by natural continental environments, such as forests, by at least 25 percent. Past analyses of carbon and greenhouse gas exchanges on continents failed to account for the methane gas that is naturally released from lakes and running water.
Downing, a laboratory limnologist at Iowa State, has also conducted research measuring the amount of carbon sequestered in lake and pond sediment. This new study gives scientists a better understanding of the balance between carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas releases from fresh water bodies.
"Methane is a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide in the global change scenario," Downing said. "The bottom line is that we have uncovered an important accounting error in the global carbon budget. Acre for acre, lakes, ponds, rivers and streams are many times more active in carbon processing than seas or land surfaces, so they need to be included in global carbon budgets."
Methane emissions from lakes and running water occur naturally, but have been difficult to assess. David Bastviken, principal author and professor in the department of water and environmental studies, at Linkoping University in Sweden, said small methane emissions from the surfaces of water bodies occur continuously.
"Greater emissions occur suddenly and with irregular timing, when methane bubbles from the sediment reach the atmosphere, and such fluxes have been difficult to measure," Bastviken said.
The greenhouse effect is caused by human emission of gasses that act like a blanket and trap heat inside the Earth's atmosphere, according to the International Panel on Climate Change.
Some ecosystems, such as forests can absorb and store greenhouse gasses. The balance between emissions and uptake determine how climate will change. The role of freshwater environments has been unclear in previous budgets, Downing said.
The researchers studied methane fluxes from 474 freshwater areas and calculated emission based on new estimates of the global area covered by inland waters.
The international team also included: Lars Tranvik, Uppsala University; Patrick Crill, Stockholm University; and Alex Enrich-Prast, University Federal of Rio de Janeiro.
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Time For Climate Change




The carbon cycle is one of the most important biogeochemical cycles on Earth. In any given year, tens of billions of tons of carbon move between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere. The illustration above shows total amounts of stored carbon in black, and annual carbon fluxes in purple. Credit: NASA/NASA Earth Science Enterprise

Hot Zone
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Jan 11, 2011 The Geological Society of London put out a position statement on climate change, and among its many interesting tidbits said that the Earth's climate could take 100,000 years or longer to recover from this most recent bout of CO2, absent any human mitigation. The Society based this projection on numerical models of the climate system that went into the 2007 IPCC report. The Society's advice, based on this conclusion, is a bit of an understatement: "...Emitting further large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere over time is likely to be unwise, uncomfortable though that fact may be."
In a stellar summary of past climates, the Society builds a very convincing argument that the climate troubles we face today do not appear in isolation in Earth's history. Although the cause of CO2 levels today - namely human-induced emissions - is a uniquely modern day phenomenon, the Earth has experience tumultuous climate swings in the past.
Based on comparisons of CO2 concentrations with past eras, we may be headed for the "55 million year event," in which global temperatures shot up by 9-10.8 degrees F quite suddenly.
The so-called Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum involved the release of 1,500-2,000 billion tons or more of carbon into the ocean and atmosphere, possibly from a breakdown in methane hydrates under the deep sea floor because of volcanic activity, says the Society statement.
The result was higher ocean temperatures that were more acidic and less oxygenated, and as can be imagined, the loss of many species. In this climate event and other similar ones - namely from 120 and 183 million years ago - it took 100,000 years for the climate to rebound. "...A CO2 release of such magnitude may affect the Earth's climate for that length of time," the authors say.
Other possible similarities to draw from the past:
Warming heats the ocean, causing water to expand and sea level to rise. Relatively small increases in global temperatures - just 5-9 degrees F - have caused the seas to rise by 13-39 feet.
Sudden changes, on the order of decades, can happen with the Earth's climate.
Feedbacks can accentuate the climate change already underway. It's a bit different nowadays, but the recent geologic pattern of glacial and interglacial periods over the past 800,000 years may be launched by slight tilts in the Earth's axis, which then caused CO2 releases from the oceans that reinforce the temperature increases already underway. Similarly, today's temperature increases can be magnified by methane releases in permafrost and peat bogs.
The difference between those times and now - for humans at least - is that in some ways we're even more vulnerable to dramatic climate swings. Despite modern technology and predictive ability of advanced science, the impacts of climate change, like sea level rise, are going to hit hard on a human population of 6.7 billion people (and rising).
"With the current and growing global population, much of which is concentrated in coastal cities, such a rise in sea level would have a drastic effect on our complex society, especially if the climate were to change as suddenly as it has at times in the past," the authors write.
A 100,000 year recovery - while short on the geologic timescale - is longer than any of us can imagine enduring.
As a side note, I was happy to see that a British company, Red Redemption Games, is bringing climate change to the gaming world. It's nice to see something other than the glorification of gun battles. Fate of the World "features a dramatic set of scenarios based on the latest science covering the next 200 years." You can be the "leader" who can pick a crisis and try and expertly try and solve it. Way to get people to start acting - at least virtually so.
Tens of thousands of years needed for Earth to recover from mass carbon releases It's easy to come up with ways that carbon is released into the atmosphere - an erupting volcano, a massive wildfire, or in today's world, millions of fossil fuel burning cars and power plants. But how does carbon eventually get put back into the earth?
A paper published in Nature Geoscience scientists at Purdue University and the University of California at Santa Cruz examined the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a 170,000 year period of global warming that took place 56 million years ago. It was caused by a single event that released the equivalent of burning the entire reserve of present day fossil fuels.
Obviously in the 56 million years since then, the carbon has settled out. But how long that took is a question that has puzzled scientists and has obvious relevance to climate change concerns today.
The good news, according to the study in Geoscience, is that the rate of recovery is much more rapid than expected when you take into account the absorptive abilities of the biosphere and Earth's crust. Don't get too excited. They're talking 30,000 to 40,000 years - long past the future generations within our sight.
What made the difference was the regrowth of vegetation and living organisms after the catastrophe, which do a great job of storing carbon, and ocean removal of atmospheric CO2. The oceans would have become supersaturated with carbon compounds, resulting in much of it settling onto the seafloor as carbonate deposits, which have been observed in seafloor records.
What's still not known is what triggered the onset of carbon sequestration. And, of course, tens of thousands of years is a long time to wait for that to happen, no matter how rapid that is on a geologic timescale.
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Low squid haul worries Argentina




File image: Illex argentinus.

Buenos Aires (UPI) Jan 10, 2011 Argentine fisheries' production of squid this year is at risk after crews found the stock already low outside the country's exclusive economic zone. Low yields of the Illex argentinus variety of squid could spell trouble for this branch of the fishing industry, officials said.
Last year, major rows broke out over what authorities and conservationists called indiscriminate fishing of existing stock of marine food resources in Argentine waters and beyond, mostly in zones operated by vessels from the industry.
Critics blamed lack of good governance and transparency in the business of maintaining a balance between renewable fish stock and the crews operating in those areas for maximum profit.
The limited presence of squid at mile 201, outside Argentina's EEZ, is of concern to the local squid jigger fleet, industry sources said. Fishing crews fear that something similar might happen in national waters, the sources said in published reports.
The Fishing Information and Services alerted markets to the development in a news item on its Web site.
Fishing vessels near the eastern limit of the EEZ caught just 2 tons a day of squid -- and that catch was dominated by small squids.
Argentina is considering urgent changes in legislation to relieve the export duty burden on its fisheries exporters.
Guillermo de los Santos, president of the Chamber for Jigger Fishing Shipowners of Argentina, blamed foreign fishing fleets. He said around 17 Chinese and 15 Korean ships with fishing licenses from the Falkland Islands were "catching very little, but more importantly, destroying stocks of the resource."
Argentina has been campaigning for its sovereignty over the British-ruled Falkland Islands and has taken measures at sea to discourage shipping and trade involving the Falklands. Argentina and Falklands went to over the Falklands in 1982, with deaths of more than 1,000 fighters and civilians.
De los Santos said low yield outside Argentine EEZ could lead to the Chinese in particular being allowed to operate within EEZ. Argentina recently signed agreements with China, a major trade partner for this Latin American country, giving the Chinese fleets greater rights to operate within the zone.
However, whether the Chinese vessels operate in Argentina or sail further afield in search of higher yields, including those for Peru's giant squid, the Argentine squid industry could face a bleak future in view of the uncertainty over yields during the coming season, which begins February.
The industry is already in trouble over sharp drop in yield over the past two years, FIS said in a report on its Web site.
Argentine production in 2010 -- a total of 84,409 tons - was higher than the 2009 figure of 71,414 tons. Both volumes contrasted with 255,000 tons harvested in the 2008 season. Traders received some compensation in the rising price of squid.
FIS reports showed that compared with previous years, catches of squid suffered serious fluctuations, leading to sharp price changes.
In contrast to Argentina, Chile reported a 243 percent rise in landings of Dosidicus gigas giant squid. However, Chilean exporters also found themselves battling for export markets as the peso rose against the dollar, making Chilean exports overall less attractive.
Fishing in Peru is also in crisis, with crews reporting sharp fluctuations in yields.