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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Oceans and the law of the sea - -Report of the UN Secretary General

Oceans and the law of the sea - -Report of the UN Secretary General

This report (A/65/69/Add.2), dated August 31, 2010, was prepared at the request of the General Assembly and is a comprehensive report on developments and issues relating to ocean affairs and the law of the sea, including the implementation of the resolution.

Amazon drought 'severe' in 2010, raising warming fears

Amazon drought 'severe' in 2010, raising warming fears

Last year's drought in the Amazon raises concerns about the region's capacity to continue absorbing carbon dioxide, scientists say.
Researchers report in the journal Science that the 2010 drought was more widespead than in 2005 - the last big one - with more trees probably lost.
The 2005 drought had been termed a "one in a century" event.
In drought years, the Amazon region changes from being a net absorber of carbon dioxide into a net emitter.
The scientists, from the UK and Brazil, suggest this is further evidence of the Amazon's vulnerability to rising global temperatures.
They also suggest the days of the Amazon forest curbing the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions may be coming to an end.
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Friday, February 4, 2011

China's drought may have serious global impact

China's drought may have serious global impact
Wide swathes of northern China are suffering through their worst drought in 60 years -- a dry spell that could have a serious economic impact worldwide if it continues much longer, experts say.

What the Heck Happened? The Politics of GM Alfalfa Explained

What the Heck Happened? The Politics of GM Alfalfa Explained

How did the USDA's plan for peaceful coexistence among alfalfa growers end up with the agency approving GM alfalfa with no restrictions?

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Secret Life Of Bees Now A Little Less Secret

Osmia bicornis.

Zurich, Switzerland (SPX) Feb 04, 2011 Many plants produce toxic chemicals to protect themselves against plant-eating animals, and many flowering plants have evolved flower structures that prevent pollinators such as bees from taking too much pollen. Now ecologists have produced experimental evidence that flowering plants might also use chemical defences to protect their pollen from some bees.
In an elegant experiment, Claudio Sedivy and colleagues from ETH Zurich in Switzerland collected pollen from four plant species - buttercup, viper's bugloss, wild mustard and tansy - using an ingenious method. Instead of themselves collecting pollen from plants, the researchers let bees do the leg work, harvesting pollen from the nests of specialist bees which only feed on one type of plant.
They then fed the pollen from each of the four plants to different broods of the larvae of two closely-related generalist species of mason bee (Osmia bicornis and Osmia cornuta) to see how well the larvae developed.
They found that despite the fact that the two generalist mason bees have a wide diet of different pollens, they showed striking differences in their ability to develop on pollen from the same plant species.
According to Claudio Sedivy: "While the larvae of Osmia cornuta were able to develop on viper's bugloss pollen, more than 90% died within days on buttercup pollen. Amazingly, the situation was exactly the opposite with the larvae of Osmia bicornis. And both bee species performed well on wild mustard pollen, while neither managed to develop on tansy pollen."
"As far as we know, this is the first clear experimental evidence that bees need physiological adaptations to cope with the unfavourable chemical properties of certain pollen," he says.
Plants would have good reason to protect their pollen against bees. Bees need enormous amounts of pollen to feed their young, pollen that could otherwise be used by the plants for pollination.
The pollen of up to several hundred flowers is needed to rear one single larva, and bees are very efficient gatherers of pollen, often taking 70-90% of a flower's pollen in one visit. Because they store this pollen in special hairbrushes or in their gut, this means the pollen is not used to pollinate the flower.
Sedivy explains: "Bees and plants have conflicting interests when it comes to pollen. While most plants offer nectar to visiting insects as a bait for insects to transport the pollen from flower to flower, bees are very efficient pollen collectors. Therefore, plants have evolved a great variety of morphological adaptations to impede bees from depleting all their pollen. This study provides strong evidence that pollen chemistry might be at least as important as flower morphology to constrain pollen loss to bees."
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Ocean Fertilization: Summary For Policymakers

The summary notes that there are still major knowledge gaps. For example, it is unclear whether findings from small-scale experiments apply fully to larger scales. And a major concern is the possibility of large-scale fertilization having unintended consequences for ecosystems. The summary points out the extreme difficulty of assessing long-term effectiveness or unintended side effects.

Stockholm, Sweden (SPX) Feb 04, 2011 Failure to tackle rising greenhouse gas emissions effectively has led to intensifying debate on geoengineering - deliberate large-scale schemes to slow the rate at which Earth is heating up. The public debate often mixes opinion with fact so scientists have now released the first summary for policymakers on ocean fertilization, one of the earliest geoengineering proposals. The authors report that the chances of success of using ocean fertilization to deal with climate change is low.
Ocean fertilization involves adding iron or other nutrients to the surface of the ocean to trigger growth of microscopic marine plants. These plants use dissolved carbon dioxide to grow, which led to the idea that deliberate fertilization of the ocean on a large scale would remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Lead author of the report Professor Doug Wallace from the Leibniz-Institut fur Meereswissenschaften (IFM-GEOMAR) says: "The published findings suggest that even very large-scale fertilization would remove only modest amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over 100 years".
For two decades, marine scientists have been carrying out a series of small-scale fertilization experiments to understand how ocean ecosystems respond to environmental change.
However the experiments were not designed to address issues relating to geoengineering. Proposals to scale up this approach to slow climate warming or be included within emissions trading schemes to generate carbon credits have stimulated intense debate and criticism amongst scientists and the public.
The new summary, involving independent scientists from seven countries, explains the complexity of the underlying science and brings the detailed findings together in an accessible form for policymakers.
The summary notes that there are still major knowledge gaps. For example, it is unclear whether findings from small-scale experiments apply fully to larger scales. And a major concern is the possibility of large-scale fertilization having unintended consequences for ecosystems. The summary points out the extreme difficulty of assessing long-term effectiveness or unintended side effects.
"It's vastly more complex than assessing carbon storage in a forest" says Wallace "the carbon, and many of the potential impacts, are largely invisible and likely to be spread over vast distances".
Publication of the summary coincides with a symposium in California (La Jolla) on the ecosystem impacts of proposed geoengineering schemes and organized by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. The one-day symposium, streamed live online, will bring together the world's leading experts in this area of research.
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Scientists urge new research policies in wake of Gulf disaster

Scientists urge new research policies in wake of Gulf disaster

February 3, 2011
Scientists are having a difficult time gauging the recovery of marine species from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico because they lack sufficient data about historical population size and the distribution, growth rates and reproduction rates of many species.

In a forum paper published this week in the journal Science, they call for a new research agenda that prioritizes systematic acquisition of baseline data for .
"It is impossible to diagnose whether a species is recovering or floundering if you don't have good data on their status and trends," said Selina Heppell, an Oregon State University fisheries biologist and one of the authors of the article. "Too much of the funding in this country goes toward putting fires out instead of gaining basic biological information, which is what resource managers need to identify and diagnose changes at the population level.
"This is not just about the ," Heppell added. "It is a problem for protected species everywhere."
Heppell, lead author Karen Bjorndal from the University of Florida, and eight other authors point to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, where scientists encountered difficulty evaluating the effects on wildlife because of limited data on abundance and demography – the rates of survival, growth and reproduction that are primary indicators of population change.
"Sadly," they wrote, "the situation in the (Gulf of Mexico) is similar more than 20 years later."
Heppell, who is a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, said doing an ecological and biological assessment of all marine species would be difficult and expensive. Therefore, she says, the emphasis should be on those species that are the most endangered, or those that have an economic impact, such as those creatures that interact with important fisheries.
"We spend millions of dollars assessing fish stocks," she said. "If we want to monitor endangered species in the same way, we need to focus resources on the aspects of biology that provide the best information about population recovery. That involves research on demography, not just efforts to count individuals."
In their Science article, the authors describe the assessment of sea turtle populations as a microcosm of the larger issue. Sea turtle populations are monitored almost exclusively by counting nests on beaches, but when those populations increase or decrease, scientists often don't know why because nesting females are such a tiny fraction of the total population. In Florida, the number of loggerhead turtles, for example, increased from 1989-98, then plummeted.

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Several factors could have contributed, but a lack of knowledge about age distribution, reproduction rates, mortality rates and other data have made it difficult to determine what triggered the changes – and impossible to create management strategies to deal with them, noted Heppell, who has worked with the National Marine Fisheries Service on turtle conservation issues since 1995.
In contrast, Australian researchers have logged 30 years of demographic data on loggerhead turtles and when a steep decline in their population on the Great Barrier Reef took place in the 1980s and 1990s, they were able to attribute it to predation by foxes on nests and incidental capture in trawl fisheries.
"Both hazards have now been mitigated by government agencies," the authors wrote," resulting in an apparently recovering stock."
The authors list seven elements that should be considered in crafting new research priorities for protected marine species, including sea birds and mammals, as well as turtles:
  • Integrate demography with abundance trends for the species at all life stages and determine environmental effects on those parameters;
  • Emphasize analyses of cumulative effects instead of focusing on individual threats such as pollution, bycatch or habitat loss;
  • Elucidate links among and within populations since oceans have greater movement, genetic exchange and dispersal than terrestrial systems;
  • Revise permitting processes to allow more rapid and flexible response to environmental concerns;
  • Encourage data sharing and increase access to data as a prerequisite for funding;
  • Improve assessment tools for evaluating anthropogenic impacts on populations;
  • Prioritize investments to focus on long-term population management needs.
"We know that hundreds, possibly thousands, of endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles were killed or injured by the Gulf spill," Heppell said. "That species had been recovering rapidly – a great conservation success story. What we don't know, and can't determine with available data, is how detrimental the spill effects will be on that recovery. "We can use money from the resulting fines to develop a new strategy for monitoring and assessment that can identify the specific causes of population decline and make management more efficient," she added.
Shifting the priorities of federal agencies to focus on research that emphasizes how and why populations change over time is a key, the authors say.
Conclude the authors: "In the wake of the BP oil spill, the need for this policy shift is as clear as it is compelling. If the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history is not enough to effect this policy shift, what would it take?"
Provided by Oregon State University (news : web)

Two severe Amazon droughts in 5 years alarms scientists

Two severe Amazon droughts in 5 years alarms scientists

February 3, 2011
New research shows that the 2010 Amazon drought may have been even more devastating to the region's rainforests than the unusual 2005 drought, which was previously billed as a one-in-100 year event.
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Temps Anywhere in US, Canda and Mexico

Just move your cursor around the map and see what the current temperatures, visibility and weather conditions are in cities all over the country! Updates itself every few minutes.


Ice Cores Yield Rich History of Climate Change

Section of ice core coming out of drill. Credit: Mark Twickler, University of New Hampshire

Washington DC (SPX) Feb 03, 2011 On Friday, Jan. 28 in Antarctica, a research team investigating the last 100,000 years of Earth's climate history reached an important milestone completing the main ice core to a depth of 3,331 meters (10,928 feet) at West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide (WAIS). The project will be completed over the next two years with some additional coring and borehole logging to obtain additional information and samples of the ice for the study of the climate record contained in the core.
As part of the project, begun six years ago, the team, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has been drilling deep into the ice at the WAIS Divide site and recovering and analyzing ice cores for clues about how changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have influenced the Earth's climate over time.
Friday's milestone was reached at a depth of 3,331 meters--about two miles deep--creating the deepest ice core ever drilled by the U.S. and the second deepest ice core ever drilled by any group, second only to the ice core drilled at Russia's Vostok Station as part of a joint French/U.S./Russian collaboration in the 1990s.
"By improving our understanding of how natural changes in greenhouse gas influenced climate in the past, the science community will be able to do a better job of predicting future climate changes caused by the emissions of greenhouse gases by human activity," said Kendrick Taylor, chief scientist for the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project.
The drilling site is about 966 kilometers (600 miles) from the South Pole, at an ice divide (which is analogous to a watershed divide) in West Antarctica, where the ice is flowing out to the sea in opposing directions.
"This location was selected because it is the best place on the planet to determine how greenhouse gases have changed during the last 100,000 years" said Taylor. Since it began, the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project has continuously collected ice from the surface down to a depth of 3,331 meters.
The ice at this depth fell as snow about 100,000 years ago. The high annual snowfall at the site enables individual annual layers of snowfall to be identified and counted (much like counting tree rings) back to about 40,000 years.
Below that, the layers become too compressed to allow annual layers to be resolved. Scientists hope for at least decadal resolution to this point, sufficient for the science goals to be achieved.
The ice cores are 13-centimeter (5-inch) diameter cylinders of ice collected from deep in the ice sheet. Over time, the ice has formed when snow was compacted at the surface by subsequent snowfall. The compacted snow contains dust, chemicals and atmospheric gases, which are trapped in the ice.
The dust and other impurities in the ice are indicators of past climate, and the gas contained in air bubbles is a sample of the ancient atmosphere. The deeper the ice, the further back in time measurements can be made.
In addition to measuring what the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases were in the past, the research team can also determine what the surface air temperature was in the past by studying changes in the isotopic composition of the water that makes up the ice.
The past atmospheric concentrations of the gases krypton and xenon are used to determine what the average temperature of the ocean was in the past.
The 13-centimeter diameter 3,331-meter-long ice core is cut into 1 meter (3 feet)-long pieces of ice and sent by ship and refrigerated truck to the NSF National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver. The ice is cut into smaller samples and sent to 27 investigators around the U.S., who make the measurements.
"Previous ice cores have shown that the current level of greenhouse gases is greater now than at any time during the last 650,000 years, and that concentrations today are increasing at the fastest rate," said Taylor. "This increase is caused by human activity and is forcing the climate into a configuration that no human has ever experienced."
The WAIS Divide Ice Core Project is specifically investigating the small timing offsets between past changes in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and changes in temperature. By understanding these timing offsets, the research team can determine the role that changes in ocean circulation had in the release of carbon dioxide from the ocean and how an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere warms the planet.
The drilling ceased 100 meters (328 feet) above the contact between the ice and the underlying rock, to avoid contaminating a possible water layer at the ice-rock contact. The basal water system may consist of water-saturated, ground-up rock, and has not been exposed to the earth's surface for millions of years. It may harbor a unique and pristine biological environment that the U.S. Antarctic Program does not wish to contaminate.
The core taken by the WAIS Ice Core Drilling Project is crucial for fine-tuning the researchers' understanding of how the oceans, atmosphere and climate interact during climate changes. A Danish-led team recovered an ice core from Greenland this past summer with similar time resolution to the WAIS Divide record.
The two cores provide an opportunity to compare the response of the northern and southern hemispheres to climate changes. The Greenland ice core cannot be used to study changes in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide because there is too much dust in the Greenland ice, which decomposes and releases non-atmospheric carbon dioxide into the ice.
NSF's Office of Polar Programs funds this research, primarily through its Antarctic Glaciology Program.
"We still have two more field seasons of work to complete the project, and reaching this goal should allow us to complete the project on schedule," said Julie Palais, program director.
"In addition, we are hoping to get as long a record as possible from this site, and getting all of the ice we planned on this year will allow the science community to do the work that they are funded to do. Drilling the ice core is just the first step in the process, albeit a very important one."
Some additional funding is provided by NSF's Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program. Logistical and drilling support is from NSF's Divisions of Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics and Antarctic Science.
The lead institution is the Desert Research Institute, Nevada System of Higher Education. Science coordination is provided by the University of New Hampshire.
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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

China's drought could have serious global impact

Beijing (AFP) Feb 2, 2011 Wide swathes of northern China are suffering through their worst drought in 60 years -- a dry spell that could have a serious economic impact worldwide if it continues much longer, experts say. Some areas have gone 120 days without any significant rainfall, leaving more than five million hectares (12.4 million acres) of crops damaged -- an area half the size of South Korea -- China's drought control agency said Sunday.
There are fears that the problem could send global prices soaring at a time when food costs are already causing governments headaches. According to the UN last month world prices broke their peak levels of 2008 to hit a record high.
"If the dry spell continues into March or April, wheat production could be seriously affected, with losses of more than 10 million tonnes," Ma Wenfeng, an analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultants, told AFP.
"China would be forced to boost its imports."
More than 2.5 million people lack drinking water, particularly in the eastern and central provinces of Shandong and Henan, which each have around 95 million inhabitants.
Weather authorities are not forecasting much rain over the next two months for the regions around Beijing, in the Yellow River basin and along the Huai, the waterway that divides the rice-plenty south and the wheat-growing north.
Shandong's Rizhao city, which means "sunshine", has suffered from its longest drought in 300 years, stretching back to September 11, according to local media.
Beijing meanwhile has not seen any rain or snow for 100 days -- its worst run since 1951. The water shortage is also expected to worsen as warmer weather kicks in after two months of particularly cold temperatures.
In some areas, the earth is all cracked up and if rain does not fall in the next few weeks, the wheat that farmers sowed in autumn might not even germinate when the weather warms up.
Around the world, wheat exporters such as the United States, Russia or France are closely monitoring the weather forecast not only for China but also for India, which is experiencing an even worse drought, according to Ma.
China and India are both the world's largest producers and consumers of wheat.
"If production goes down in both countries at the same time, the impact on prices will be considerable," he warned.
Chen Lei, minister for water resources, said Sunday that two-thirds of Chinese cities are short of water. The nation's per capita water resources only amount to 28 percent of the global average.
For the moment, the economic impact of the drought has been mitigated by China's "big stocks of wheat and rice", Ma said.
These are the result of a rise in prices both in China and abroad over the past few years, which has encouraged farmers to grow grain.
But with soaring food prices already weighing on people's minds, the psychological impact of the drought -- and its potential effect on prices -- is quite big, said Ren Xianfang, a Beijing-based analyst with IHS Global Insight.
China's consumer price index rose 5.1 percent year-on-year in November -- the fastest rate in more than two years. Cereal prices increased 14.7 percent year-on-year.
The government has said it will hand out 2.2 billion yuan ($334 million) in immediate drought relief aid.
It will also invest four trillion yuan over the next decade to improve water stocks and distribution, amid warnings of worse to come.
"With the urbanisation planned for the next five years, the shortage will become even more acute," warned Ren.
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Finally, Washington Frowns on Mountaintop Removal Mining

Finally, Washington Frowns on Mountaintop Removal Mining

When the EPA revoked a permit for decapitating West Virginia's mountains, some politicians decided the sky was falling.

by Jim Hightower

First-Ever Global Map Of Surface Permeability Informs Water Supply

A better understanding of large scale permeability of rock and sediment is critical for water resource management--groundwater represents approximately 99 per cent of the fresh, unfrozen water on earth. Groundwater also feeds surface water bodies and moistens the root zone of terrestrial plants.

Vancouver, Canada (SPX) Jan 27, 2011 University of British Columbia researchers have produced the first map of the world outlining the ease of fluid flow through the planet's porous surface rocks and sediments. The maps and data, published in Geophysical Research Letters, could help improve water resource management and climate modelling, and eventually lead to new insights into a range of geological processes.
"This is the first global-scale picture of near-surface permeability, and is based on rock type data at greater depths than previous mapping," says Tom Gleeson, a postdoctoral researcher with the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences.
Using recent world-wide lithology (rock type) results from researchers at the University of Hamburg and Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Gleeson was able to map permeability across the globe to depths of approximately 100 metres. Typical permeability maps have only dealt with the top one to two metres of soil, and only across smaller areas.
"Climate models generally do not include groundwater or the sediments and rocks below shallow soils," says Gleeson. "Using our permeability data and maps we can now evaluate sustainable groundwater resources as well as the impact of groundwater on past, current and future climate at the global scale."
A better understanding of large scale permeability of rock and sediment is critical for water resource management--groundwater represents approximately 99 per cent of the fresh, unfrozen water on earth. Groundwater also feeds surface water bodies and moistens the root zone of terrestrial plants.
"This is really an example of mapping research from a new, modern era of cartography," says Gleeson. "We've mapped the world, peering well below the surface, without ever leaving our offices."
The study's maps include a global map at a resolution of 13,000 kilometres squared, and a much more detailed North American map at a resolution of 75 kilometres squared.
The research also improves on previous permeability databases by compiling regional-scale hydrogeological models from a variety of settings instead of relying on permeability data from small areas.
The paper's authors include UBC Professors Leslie Smith and Mark Jellinek, as well as researchers from the US Geological Survey in Denver, Colorado, the University of Hamburg, and Utrecht University.
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Fishy Consequences Of Transplanting Trout, Salmon, Whitefishes

Dylan J. Fraser, a Concordia University biology professor, led a new study that found relocating fish is not always a good option. In this photo, Professor Fraser holds an Atlantic salmon. Credit: Dylan J. Fraser

Montreal, Canada (SPX) Jan 31, 2011 Not all trout are created equal. Those swimming up the streams of British Columbia might resemble their cousins from Quebec, yet their genetic makeup is regionally affected and has an impact on how they reproduce, grow and react to environmental stressors. Such regional variance makes transplanting fish species - to bolster dwindling populations - tricky business. These are some of the findings of a compelling review published in Heredity, a journal from the Nature Publishing Group, which examined the adaptability of trout, salmon, charr, whitefishes and graylings across North America and Europe.
The investigation, which compared 93 wild and aquaculture fish populations, was led by Concordia University in collaboration with Simon Fraser University, the Universite Laval and the University of British Columbia in Canada and Aarhus University in Denmark.
"We can't treat a species as something that is homogeneous throughout its range. Fish of the same kind are distinct, whether they grow in lakes, ponds or streams," says first author Dylan J. Fraser, a Concordia University biology professor.
"A salmon from Quebec isn't the same as a salmon from the Atlantic provinces or an individual of the same species from Europe," he continues. "There's considerable variation within species. That genetic diversity can allow a specific type of fish to thrive in one region - to better adapt to stressors such as climate change or habitat changes - while fish stocks of the same species introduced from another region can dwindle."
Economic implications
Since trout, salmon, charr, whitefishes and graylings are important for commercial fishing, recreational fishing and aquaculture industries, Fraser says this review has economic implications for business or conservation programs looking to transplant species into new habitats for a variety of purposes.
"Salmon from Quebec, for instance, should not be reintroduced into British Columbia streams," says Fraser. "For fish to successfully adapt to a new environment, they should be selected by geographic proximity."
Natural selection is what drives local adaptation of fish stocks. "Natural selection may have favored faster growth in certain populations," he says. "If these same populations can also deal with higher temperatures, they may be better suited for new aquaculture initiatives in the face of climate change. This is another benefit of considering local adaptation."
The research team examined other factors that caused fish stocks to thrive or abate: environmental factors, temperature, geology, water chemistry, migration distance, pathogens, parasites, prey and predators.
The result? "Climate change will have a profound effect on species," says Fraser. "And understanding why local populations outperform foreign populations in their home environment may help to predict which populations within species are most likely to persist in the future.'"

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More Africa droughts as global temps rise

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Santa Barbara, Calif. (UPI) Jan 28, 2011 The increased frequency of drought conditions in Eastern Africa for the last 20 years is likely to continue while global temperatures rise, researchers say. Frequent or prolonged drought poses increased risk to millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, who currently face potential food shortages, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the U.S. Geological Survey say.
They say warming of the Indian Ocean causing decreased rainfall in eastern Africa is linked to global warming, a UCSB release reported Friday.
"Global temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, and we anticipate that average precipitation totals in Kenya and Ethiopia will continue decreasing or remain below the historical average," Chris Funk, a USGS scientist, says. "The decreased rainfall in Eastern Africa is most pronounced in the March to June season, when substantial rainfall usually occurs."
The research is part of an effort to identify areas of potential drought and famine, to target food aid and help inform agricultural development, environmental conservation and water resources planning.
"Forecasting precipitation variability from year to year is difficult, and research on the links between global change and precipitation in specific regions is ongoing so that more accurate projections of future precipitation can be developed," Park Williams, a postdoctoral fellow in the UCSB Department of Geography, says.

Monday, January 31, 2011

After food protests, water riots are next

After food protests, water riots are next

Governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Yemen have faced protests in recent weeks, part fuelled by rising food costs. Unfortunately, this is a trend that looks set to continue and probably escalate over the next two decades.

White House official cites ‘education problem’ on climate

White House official cites ‘education problem’ on climate

White House official cites ‘education problem’ on climate

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Warming North Atlantic Water Tied To Heating Arctic

Photo of the German research vessel Maria S. Merian moving through sea ice in Fram Strait northwest of Svalbard. The research team discovered the water there was the warmest in at least 2,000 years, which has implications for a warming and melting Arctic. Credit: Credit: Nicolas van Nieuwenhove (IFM-GEOMAR, Kiel)

Boulder CO (SPX) Jan 31, 2011 The temperatures of North Atlantic Ocean water flowing north into the Arctic Ocean adjacent to Greenland - the warmest water in at least 2,000 years - are likely related to the amplification of global warming in the Arctic, says a new international study involving the University of Colorado Boulder. Led by Robert Spielhagen of the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany, the study showed that water from the Fram Strait that runs between Greenland and Svalbard - an archipelago constituting the northernmost part of Norway - has warmed roughly 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century.
The Fram Strait water temperatures today are about 2.5 degrees F warmer than during the Medieval Warm Period, which heated the North Atlantic from roughly 900 to 1300 and affected the climate in Northern Europe and northern North America.
The team believes that the rapid warming of the Arctic and recent decrease in Arctic sea ice extent are tied to the enhanced heat transfer from the North Atlantic Ocean, said Spielhagen.
According to CU-Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center, the total loss of Arctic sea ice extent from 1979 to 2009 was an area larger than the state of Alaska, and some scientists there believe the Arctic will become ice-free during the summers within the next several decades.
"Such a warming of the Atlantic water in the Fram Strait is significantly different from all climate variations in the last 2,000 years," said Spielhagen, also of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in Keil, Germany.
According to study co-author Thomas Marchitto, a fellow at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, the new observations are crucial for putting the current warming trend of the North Atlantic in the proper context.
"We know that the Arctic is the most sensitive region on the Earth when it comes to warming, but there has been some question about how unusual the current Arctic warming is compared to the natural variability of the last thousand years," said Marchitto, also an associate professor in CU-Boulder's geological sciences department.
"We found that modern Fram Strait water temperatures are well outside the natural bounds."
A paper on the study will be published in the Jan. 28 issue of Science. The study was supported by the German Research Foundation; the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany; and the Norwegian Research Council.
Other study co-authors included Kirstin Werner and Evguenia Kandiano of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, Steffen Sorensen, Katarzyna Zamelczyk, Katrine Husum and Morten Hald from the University of Tromso in Norway and Gereon Budeus of the Alfred Wegener Institute of Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany.
Since continuous meteorological and oceanographic data for the Fram Strait reach back only 150 years, the team drilled ocean sediment cores dating back 2,000 years to determine past water temperatures. The researchers used microscopic, shelled protozoan organisms called foraminifera - which prefer specific water temperatures at depths of roughly 150 to 650 feet - as tiny thermometers.
In addition, the team used a second, independent method that involved analyzing the chemical composition of the foraminifera shells to reconstruct past water temperatures in the Fram Strait, said Marchitto.
The Fram Strait branch of the North Atlantic Current is the major carrier of oceanic heat to the Arctic Ocean. In the eastern part of the strait, relatively warm and salty water enters the Arctic. Fed by the Gulf Stream Current, the North Atlantic Current provides ice-free conditions adjacent to Svalbard even in winter, said Marchitto.
"Cold seawater is critical for the formation of sea ice, which helps to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight back to space," said Marchitto. "Sea ice also allows Arctic air temperatures to be very cold by forming an insulating blanket over the ocean. Warmer waters could lead to major sea ice loss and drastic changes for the Arctic."
The rate of Arctic sea ice decline appears to be accelerating due to positive feedbacks between the ice, the Arctic Ocean and the atmosphere, Marchitto said.
As Arctic temperatures rise, summer ice cover declines, more solar heat is absorbed by the ocean and additional ice melts. Warmer water may delay freezing in the fall, leading to thinner ice cover in winter and spring, making the sea ice more vulnerable to melting during the next summer.
Air temperatures in Greenland have risen roughly 7 degrees F in the past several decades, thought to be due primarily to an increase in Earth's greenhouse gases, according to CU-Boulder scientists.
"We must assume that the accelerated decrease of the Arctic sea ice cover and the warming of the ocean and atmosphere of the Arctic measured in recent decades are in part related to an increased heat transfer from the Atlantic," said Spielhagen.
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