tagged w/ Oceans
Index can help planners preserve and restore the seas.
Health can be assessed in many different ways—temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rate are all measures of human health. But how do we know if the oceans are healthy? Scientists recently developed an index to answer that question.
The oceans play a critical role in supporting life on Earth. As noted oceanographer Sylvia Earle has repeatedly said, “No blue, no green.” Not only is the ocean responsible for providing half of the planet’s oxygen and regulating the global climate, but it also provides humans with food, livelihoods, and opportunities for recreation.
In order to take all of these components into account, scientists have created an index composed of ten diverse factors that contribute to the health of the oceans and the benefits they provide to humans. The assessment, published in Nature this week, calculated the index for every coastal country individually, as well as a combined global health index.
Globally, the ocean health index was 60 out of 100, with developed countries generally performing better than developing countries, with a few noticeable exceptions—Poland and Singapore, both developed countries, scored poorly, while the developing countries of Suriname and Seychelles had relatively high scores. West African, Middle Eastern, and Central American countries scored poorly, while parts of Northern Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, and various tropical island countries and uninhabited regions scored highly.
Only five percent of countries scored higher than a 70, whereas 32 percent scored below 50. Index scores were significantly correlated with the Human Development Index, in part because developed countries tend to have stronger economies, better regulations and better infrastructure.
To an extent, the index quantifies what we already knew: human activities such as overfishing, coastal development, and pollution have already taken their toll, altering marine ecosystems and the services they provide now, and for future generations. But it could also be used as a tool to help keep further damage from accumulating.
Ecosystem-based management—an environmental management approach that recognizes the full array of interactions within an ecosystem—has come to the forefront through recent initiatives such as the US National Ocean Policy and the EU Marine Strategy. Rather than looking at a single issue or species, this approach takes a comprehensive look at all factors, including humans. While ecosystem-based management relies heavily on the concept of ocean health, before this work, there were few guidelines for how to measure it.
The ocean health index could be just the tool needed. It focuses on waters within the global and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which includes nearly all continental shelf area and produces the vast majority of food, natural resources, recreation, livelihoods, and other benefits to humans. Countries with identical or similar scores show that there are different paths for achieving any given index score, and provide guidance on areas that can be improved upon. The United States and The United Kingdom had similar scores, but the US scored higher for coastal protection and coastal livelihoods and economies, while the United Kingdom scored higher for food provision and natural products.
More generally, the index provided information about global trends. Food provisioning from wild-caught fisheries and mariculture was far below what it could be if wild fish were caught more sustainably and sustainable mariculture was increased. Coastal habitat loss, which affects multiple goals and reduced the index scores of many of the countries that scored poorly, could be significantly improved through restoration and increased protection.
This index can be a powerful tool to raise public awareness, direct resource management, improve policy, and direct scientific research. By demonstrating how ocean issues fit into a broader context, the index opens the dialogue about how to use or protect the oceans.
http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/08/scientists-create-a-dow-jones-for-ocean-health/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+arstechnica%2Findex+%28Ars+Technica+-+All+content%29&utm_content=My+YahooIndex can help planners preserve and restore the seas.
Health can be assessed in... more
Four people were killed as another tropical storm swept across the Philippines on Wednesday, triggering landslides in the mountainous north and dumping more heavy rain on the flood-battered capital.
Tropical Storm Kai-tak hit the northeast of the main island of Luzon before dawn, dumping up to 35 millimetres (1.4 inches) of rain an hour on a vast farming region, the state weather bureau said.
Areas to the south that were trying to recover from devastating floods last week, including Manila, also endured strong rain, prompting authorities to warn residents in low-lying areas of the capital to be ready to evacuate.
Among the worst-hit areas on Wednesday were four small northern farming towns, where water reached neck-deep in some areas and landslides cut off a major highway, said Melchito Castro, civil defence chief in the region.
"We have been experiencing really heavy rains since last night, and our rescuers have evacuated some residents," Castro told AFP by phone.
Two men suffocated to death inside a tunnel when a landslide hit a gold-rush site near the northern mountain resort of Baguio on Wednesday, while two other people drowned, authorities said.
The new fatalities bring to 99 the number of people who have died across Luzon due to the storms since the beginning of last week, the civil defence office said.
Norma Talosig, the civil defence chief for northeastern Luzon, said authorities there were closely watching the rising waters of the Cagayan river, the country's largest river basin, amid fears it could overflow.
At more than 500 kilometres (310 miles) long, the heavily silted Cagayan river is the longest in the country and cuts across four northeastern agricultural provinces.
Rain was also falling in and around Manila to the southwest, where more than 300,000 people were still in evacuation shelters following last week's floods.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said many low-lying farming areas near Manila remained flooded, and with the fresh rain there was little chance of the waters receding anytime soon.
Council chief Benito Ramos said Kai-tak had not yet caused any major fresh floods in Manila, 80 percent of which was submerged last week amid an intense 48-hour deluge triggered by another tropical storm,
But he said people in its coastal areas and others in dangerous areas should be prepared to leave their homes if the rains worsened.
More at the linkFour people were killed as another tropical storm swept across the Philippines on... more
Stomach bugs are being caused by a new bacteria group that has emerged in northern Europe due to manmade climate change, according to researchers.
A paper written by a group of international experts offers some of the first firm evidence that the warming patterns of the Baltic Sea have coincided with the emergence of Vibrio infections in the north of the continent.
Vibrios is a group of bacteria which usually grow in warm and tropical marine environments.
It can cause various infections in humans, ranging from cholera to gastroenteritis-like symptoms from eating raw or undercooked shellfish or from exposure to seawater.
A team of scientists from institutions in Britain, Finland, Spain and the United States examined sea surface temperature records and satellite data, as well as statistics on Vibrio cases in the Baltic.
And their paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, reveals they found the number and distribution of cases in the Baltic Sea area was strongly linked to peaks in sea surface temperatures.
The Baltic Sea has warmed faster than any other sea over the last century
Each year the temperature rose one degree - while the number of Vibrio cases increased almost 200%.
Craig Baker-Austin, from the UK-based Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, one of the authors of the study, said: "The big apparent increases that we've seen in cases during heat wave years... tend to indicate that climate change is indeed driving infections.
"Certainly the chances of getting a vibrio infection are considered to be relatively low, and more research is focused on areas where these diseases are endemic or at least more common."
Climate studies show that rising greenhouse gas emissions made global average surface temperatures increase by about 0.17 degrees Celsius each decade from 1980 to 2010.
The Vibrio study focused on the Baltic Sea in particular because it warmed at an unprecedented rate of 0.063 to 0.078 degrees Celsius a year from 1982 to 2010, or 6.3 to 7.8 degrees a century.
More at the linkStomach bugs are being caused by a new bacteria group that has emerged in northern... more
Robot "fish" developed by European scientists to improve pollution monitoring moved from the lab to the sea in a test at the northern Spanish port of Gijon on Tuesday.
The developers hope the new technology, which reduces the time it takes to detect a pollutant from weeks to seconds, will sell to port authorities, water companies, aquariums and anyone with an interest in monitoring water quality.
It could also have spin-offs for cleaning up oil spills, underwater security, diver monitoring or search and rescue at sea, they said.
The fish, which are 1.5 meters (5 feet) long and currently cost 20,000 pounds ($31,600) each, are designed to swim like real fish and are fitted with sensors to pick up pollutants leaking from ships or undersea pipelines.
They swim independently, co-ordinate with each other, and transmit their readings back to a shore station up to a kilometer away.
"Chemical sensors fitted to the fish permit real-time, in-situ analysis, rather than the current method of sample collection and dispatch to a shore based laboratory," said Luke Speller, a scientist at British consultancy BMT Group who led the project.
The fish can avoid obstacles, communicate with each other, map where they are and know how to return to base when their eight-hour battery life is running low, their makers say.
After the tests this week, the team will look at modifications needed to move the fish into commercial production, which they expect to reduce the cost of each unit.
The development project was part-funded by the EU and drew on expertise from the University of Essex and the University of Strathclyde in Britain, Ireland's Tyndall National Institute and Thales Safare, a unit of Europe's largest defense electronics group, Thales, which was responsible for the communication technology.
More at the linkRobot "fish" developed by European scientists to improve pollution... more
Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to approve a ban on plastic bags at supermarket checkout lines, handing a hard-fought victory to environmentalists and promising to change the way Angelenos do their grocery shopping.
The City Council voted 13 to 1 to phase out plastic bags over the next 16 months at an estimated 7,500 stores, meaning shoppers will need to bring reusable bags or purchase paper bags for 10 cents each.
The ban came after years of campaigning by clean-water advocates who said it would reduce the amount of trash in landfills, the region's waterways and the ocean. They estimate Californians use 12 billion plastic bags a year and that less than 5% of the state's plastic bags are recycled.
Los Angeles becomes the latest in a string of California cities — including San Jose, San Francisco and Long Beach — to ban plastic bags.Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to approve a ban on plastic bags at... more
Want to see how severely we humans are scouring the oceans for fish? Check out this striking map from the World Wildlife Fund’s 2012 “Living Planet Report.” The red areas are the most intensively fished (and, in many cases, overfished) parts of the ocean — and they’ve expanded dramatically since 1950: Fish gone cause of fishing! (more at link)Want to see how severely we humans are scouring the oceans for fish? Check out this... more
Fifty-five percent of global atmospheric carbon captured by living organisms happens in the ocean.
Between 50-71 percent of this is captured by the ocean’s vegetated "blue carbon" habitats, which cover less than 0.5 percent of the seabed, according to a 2009 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report entitled ‘Blue Carbon – The role of healthy oceans in binding carbon,’ one of the first documents to demystify the term.
These recent discoveries - of the efficiency of ocean vegetation in mitigating greenhouse gases and ocean ecosystems’ ability to store atmospheric carbon dioxide for millennia – has sent scientists running to probe the potential role of 'blue forest's in global efforts to lessen climate change.
An international symposium on the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans, at the Yeosu Expo 2012 being held here from May 12-Aug. 12 under the theme ‘Living Oceans and Coasts', brought together scientists and researchers to discuss the carbon management of blue forests.
"Carbon stored and taken out of the atmosphere by coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass and salt marsh is called blue carbon," explained Nairobi-based Gabriel Grimsditch of the UNEP.
"Blue carbon is important because it allows investment in protection of coastal ecosystems. These ecosystems are important for more than just carbon sequestration and storage - they provide food through fish and protect coastal populations from storms and tsunamis," he added.
Wendy Watson-Wright, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and assistant director-general of UNESCO, told IPS, "In order to make good policy we need good science. Not much about blue carbon is known outside the scientific community but it is of crucial importance that its huge benefits be known to policy makers and particularly local communities who take care of and derive their livelihood from this ecosystem."
In a paper presented at the symposium, ‘Vegetated Coastal Habitats as Intense Carbon Sinks: Understanding and Using Blue Carbon Strategies’, Nuria Marba Bordalba, a scientific researcher at Spain’s Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies, claimed that there is more carbon stored in the soils of vegetated marine habitats than the scientific community had hitherto accounted for.
An important aspect of blue carbon is that most of it is found in the soil beneath the ecosystems, not in the biomass above ground. Carbon can be stored for millennia due to sea level fluctuation, as opposed to terrestrial forests that reach the carbon saturation point earlier.
But there are risks. The flip side to blue carbon is that if these ecosystems are degraded or destroyed, the huge amount of stored carbon – sometimes accumulated over millions of years – is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide due to oxidation of biomass and of the organic soil in which carbon may have been stored.
In fact, some key questions on the table at the symposium were: how vulnerable are coastal carbon sinks to climate change habitat degradation? And, if the habitat is destroyed, how do carbon stocks react?
"The rate of carbon emission is particularly high in the decade immediately after disturbance but continues as long as oxidation occurs," Grimsditch told IPS.
"When a wetland is drained, carbon is released, first slowly, then (at an) accelerated pace," said San Francisco-based Stephen Crooks, co-chair of the International Blue Carbon Science Working Group.
"There is now a growing realisation that we will not be able to conserve the earth’s biological diversity through the protection of critical areas alone," said Gail Chmura, associate professor at the Canadian McGill University’s Department of Geography.
The East Asian Seas region of the world has lost 70 percent of its mangrove cover in the last 70 years. A recent publication, ‘From Ridge to Reef’, by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) warned that if this pattern continues the region will lose all its mangroves by 2030.
This would be a disastrous scenario, since the region’s coast is comprised of six large marine ecosystems and supports the livelihoods of 1.5 billion people.
"On the global scale, mangrove areas are becoming smaller or fragmented and their long-term survival is at great risk. In 1950, mainland China had 50,000 hectares of mangroves. By 2001, it was down to 22,700 hectares – a 50 percent loss," Guanghui Lin, professor of ecology at the Centre for Earth System Science in Beijing’s Tsinghua University, told IPS.
Researchers currently estimate loss of mangroves, seagrass beds and salt marshes at between 0.7 to two percent a year, a decline driven largely by human activities such as conversion, coastal development and over harvesting.
"Ecological restoration is a critical tool for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development," Chmura stressed.
During the last three decades China has established 34 natural mangrove conservation areas, which account for 80 percent of the total existing mangrove areas on the mainland, according to Lin.
"One of the replicable regeneration policies is a mandatory funding from the real estate sector for mangrove regeneration," Lin said.
"The cost of seagrass restoration may be fully recovered by the total carbon dioxide captured in 50 years in societies with a carbon tax in place," Bordalba suggested.
"Seaweed production as a climate change mitigation and adaption measure (also) holds great promise because it will (contribute to) global food, fodder fuel and pharmaceutical requirements," said Ik Kyo Chung from the oceanography department of the Pusan National University of South Korea.
While acknowledging the considerable uncertainty surrounding estimates and a lack of concrete data, the UNEP report suggests that blue forests sequester between 114 and 328 teragrammes of carbon per year.
Luis Valdes, head of Ocean Science at IOC-UNESCO told IPS, "There are two sides to the blue carbon issue, one is the scientific aspect of how much carbon is actually sequestered, technology transfers and so on; the second facet is political – identifying and negotiating with developing countries, collaborating and funding for blue carbon projects."
More at the linkFifty-five percent of global atmospheric carbon captured by living organisms happens... more
Oyster hatcheries along the Washington and Oregon coastlines began experiencing calamitous die-offs beginning in 2006. Scientists suspected they were because of increased carbon dioxide levels in the air that were causing ocean acidification. That theory has now proved out, according to a study just published by the journal Limnology and Oceanography.
Researchers studied oysters at Oregon’s Whiskey Creek Hatchery in 2009 after the hatchery reported that oyster production had declined by as much as 80 percent in recent years. The scientists paid close attention to the seawater that had bathed the oysters. Oceans absorb a significant portion of carbon dioxide in the air and when they do so a chemical process takes place called acidification. Laboratory studies have already shown that elevated carbon dioxide changes the pH and reduces the availability of calcium carbonate in the seawater. And calcium carbonate minerals are the material that sea creatures like oysters and corals use for building shells and skeletons.
The study breaks new ground, according to its authors, because this is the first time these theories on the impact of ocean acidification that were tested in laboratories were verified on an actual commercial shellfish farm with ambient ocean waters. The findings linked the production failures of the farms to the carbon dioxide levels in the seawater in which the larval oysters were spawned and spent the first 24 hours of their lives. That is the time when oysters start to develop their first shells.
“I think that the clear take-home message from this research is that for the oceans, the Pacific Oyster larvae are the ‘canaries in the coal mines’ for ocean acidification. When the CO2 levels in the ocean are too high, they die; when we lower the CO2 levels, they live,” Richard A. Feely, a co-author of the study and senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a statement released by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The center is deeply invested in the findings because in 2009, it filed a lawsuit demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency address ocean acidification in the waters off Washington State under the Clean Water Act. In a settlement, the E.P.A. agreed that states had a duty to look at the impact of ocean acidification. But the implication for sea life is national and global in scale.
“Oyster die-offs are an unmistakable warning that our oceans are in trouble and we’ve got to cut the carbon pollution if we want to have oysters, corals and whales,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the center, which last week petitioned the White House and E.P.A. to develop a national plan to address ocean acidification.Oyster hatcheries along the Washington and Oregon coastlines began experiencing... more
Loss of biodiversity appears to affect ecosystems as much as climate change, pollution and other major forms of environmental stress, according to results of a new study by an international research team.
The study is the first comprehensive effort to directly compare the effects of biological diversity loss to the anticipated effects of a host of other human-caused environmental changes.
The results, published in this week's issue of the journal Nature, highlight the need for stronger local, national and international efforts to protect biodiversity and the benefits it provides, according to the researchers, who are based at nine institutions in the United States, Canada and Sweden.
"This analysis establishes that reduced biodiversity affects ecosystems at levels comparable to those of global warming and air pollution," said Henry Gholz, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research directly and through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.
"Some people have assumed that biodiversity effects are relatively minor compared to other environmental stressors," said biologist David Hooper of Western Washington University, the lead author of the paper.
"Our results show that future loss of species has the potential to reduce plant production just as much as global warming and pollution."
Studies over the last two decades demonstrated that more biologically diverse ecosystems are more productive.
As a result, there has been growing concern that the very high rates of modern extinctions--due to habitat loss, overharvesting and other human-caused environmental changes--could reduce nature's ability to provide goods and services such as food, clean water and a stable climate.
Until now, it's been unclear how biodiversity losses stack up against other human-caused environmental changes that affect ecosystem health and productivity.
"Loss of biological diversity due to species extinctions is going to have major effects on our planet, and we need to prepare ourselves to deal with them," said ecologist Bradley Cardinale of the University of Michigan, one of the paper's co-authors. "These extinctions may well rank as one of the top five drivers of global change."
More at the linkLoss of biodiversity appears to affect ecosystems as much as climate change, pollution... more
While working on a research sailboat gliding over glassy seas in the Pacific Ocean, oceanographer Giora Proskurowski noticed something new: The water was littered with confetti-size pieces of plastic debris, until the moment the wind picked up and most of the particles disappeared.
After taking samples of water at a depth of 16 feet (5 meters), Proskurowski, a researcher at the University of Washington, discovered that wind was pushing the lightweight plastic particles below the surface. That meant that decades of research into how much plastic litters the ocean, conducted by skimming only the surface, may in some cases vastly underestimate the true amount of plastic debris in the oceans, Proskurowski said.
Reporting in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters this month, Proskurowski and co-lead author Tobias Kukulka, University of Delaware, said that data collected from just the surface of the water commonly underestimates the total amount of plastic in the water by an average factor of 2.5. In high winds the volume of plastic could be underestimated by a factor of 27.
"That really puts a lot of error into the compilation of the data set," Proskurowski said. The paper also detailed a new model that researchers and environmental groups can use to collect more accurate data in the future.
Plastic waste in the oceans is a concern because of the impact it might have on the environment. For instance, when fish ingest the plastics, it may degrade their liver functions. In addition, the particles make nice homes for bacteria and algae, which are then transported along with the particles into different regions of the ocean where they may be invasive and cause problems.
Proskurowski gathered data on a 2010 North Atlantic expedition where he and his team collected samples at the surface, plus an additional three or four depths down as far as 100 feet.
"Almost every tow we did contained plastic regardless of the depth," he said.
By combining the data with wind measurements, Proskurowski and his co-authors developed a simplified mathematical model that could potentially be used to match historical weather data, collected by satellite, with previous surface sampling to more accurately estimate the amount of plastic in the oceans.
In addition, armed with the new model, organizations and researchers in the future might monitor wind data and combine it with surface collections in order to better estimate how much plastic waste is in our oceans.
"By factoring in the wind, which is fundamentally important to the physical behavior, you're increasing the rigor of the science and doing something that has a major impact on the data," Proskurowski said.
The team plans to publish a "recipe" that simplifies the model so that a wide range of groups investigating ocean plastics, including those that aren't oceanographers, can easily use the model. Following the recipe, which is available now by request, might encourage some consistency among the studies, he said.
"On this topic, what science needs to be geared toward is building confidence that scientists have solid numbers and that policy makers aren't making judgments based on CNN reports," he said. Descriptions of the so-called great Pacific garbage patch in widespread news reports may have led many people to imagine a giant, dense island of garbage while in fact the patch is made up of widely dispersed, millimeter-size pieces of debris, he said.
More at the linkWhile working on a research sailboat gliding over glassy seas in the Pacific Ocean,... more
A virus or seismic oil exploration are being examined as possible causes
The government of Peru is investigating the deaths of more than 500 pelicans along a 70km (40-mile) stretch of the country's northern coast.
Officials say most appeared to have died on shore over the past few days.
Scientists have also found the carcasses of 54 boobies, several sea lions and a turtle.
They were found in the same region where some 800 dolphins washed ashore earlier this year. The cause of their death is still being investigated.
The Peruvian government said it was "deeply worried".
A preliminary report said that there was no evidence to show the pelicans had died at sea, but rather on the beach where they were found.
But it said further tests would be needed to establish the cause of death.
The Peruvian Maritime Institute (Imarpe) said so far 538 dead pelicans and 54 boobies had been found in various stages of decomposition, although most appeared to have died recently.
In addition, five badly decomposed sea lions and a turtle carcass had been found on shore, Imarpe said.
Local media reports suggest more than 1,200 dead pelicans have been found in the Piura and Lambayeque regions.
Between January and April of this year, some 800 dead dolphins washed ashore in Lambayeque, according to government figures.
Peru's Deputy Minister for Natural Resource Development, Gabriel Quijandria Acosta, said a virus might have killed the dolphins.
A viral epidemic outbreak was linked to similar deaths of marine wildlife in Peru in the past, as well as in Mexico and the United States.
Analysis on the dolphins so far suggested they had contracted a morbillivirus, which belongs to the same group as the measles virus in humans, Stefan Austermuehle of a local NGO, Mundo Azul, told the BBC.
"We know that in other cases in the United States up to 50% of populations were killed by the virus," he said.
"What we also know...is that in previous cases animals that have higher loads of pollutants in their body will fall easier victims to these kind of diseases because their immune system is weakened."
Imarpe scientists said results of tests carried out on the dead dolphins would be released in the coming days.
More at the linkA virus or seismic oil exploration are being examined as possible causes
Climate scientists have been saying for years that one of the many downsides of a warming planet is that both droughts and torrential rains are both likely to get worse. That’s what climate models predict, and that’s what observers have noted, most recently in the IPCC’s report on extreme weather, released last month. It makes physical sense, too. A warmer atmosphere can absorb more water vapor, and what goes up must come down — and thanks to prevailing winds, it won’t come down in the same place.
The idea of changes to the so-called hydrologic cycle, in short, hangs together pretty well. According to a new paper just published in Science, however, the picture is flawed in one important and disturbing way. Based on measurements gathered around the world from 1950-2000, a team of researchers from Australia and the U.S. has concluded that the hydrologic cycle is indeed changing. Wet areas are getting wetter and dry areas are getting drier. But it’s happening about twice as fast as anyone thought, and that could mean big trouble for places like Australia, which has already been experiencing crushing drought in recent years.
More than 3,000 robotic profiling floats provide crucial information on upper layers of the world's ocean currents. Credit: Alicia Navidad/CSIRO.
The reason for this disconnect between expectation and reality is that the easiest place to collect rainfall data is on land, where scientists and rain gauges are located. About 71 percent of the world is covered in ocean, however. “Most of the action, however, takes place over the sea,” lead author Paul Durack, a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said in a telephone interview. In order to get a more comprehensive look at how water is exchanged between the surface and the atmosphere, that’s where Durack and his colleagues went to look.
Nobody has rainfall data from the ocean, so Durack and his collaborators looked instead at salinity — that is, saltiness — in ocean waters. The reasoning is straightforward enough. When water evaporates from the surface of the ocean, it leaves the salt behind. That makes increased saltiness a good proxy for drought. When fresh water rains back down on the ocean, it dilutes the seawater, so decreased saltiness is the equivalent of a land-based flood.
Fortunately, as the scientists make clear, research ships have been taking salinity measurements for decades in most of the planet’s ocean basins, so it’s possible to see where and how fast salinity has been changing. And it turns out that the saltiness has been increasing, especially in the waters surrounding Australia, southern Africa and western South America — all places where drought has increased as well.
The climate models weren’t really wrong, Durack hastened to add. “They’re accurately capturing the spatial patterns in hydrologic changes, and they’ve got the basic physics right. They’re just providing very conservative estimates of how big the changes are, and now we’re starting to understand that.”
More at the linkClimate scientists have been saying for years that one of the many downsides of a... more
A team of artists and scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has assembled a short video that shows the ocean currents all over the world. Using satellite readings, sea measurements, even ship notes, the team, led by Greg Shirah, have assembled a model that shows the ebb and flow of the world’s oceans over two years. You can see the mighty Gulf Stream warming the American coastlines. Polar icecaps surge and melt. A cold La Niña chills the Tropical Pacific, and then warms to a balmy El Niño. A parade of swirls surrounds southern Africa like a necklace.
The video is a moment of quiet beauty. It shows the wonder of a living world.
A team of artists and scientists at... more
Severe droughts in Texas and the Great Plains. Hurricane Irene sweeping the Eastern Seaboard. Tornadoes in the Midwest, and floods in Mississippi. Record-breaking temperatures across the U.S. With such widespread madness, it's no surprise that the majority of Americans say they have personally experienced an extreme weather event or natural disaster in the past year.
According to NOAA scientists at the National Climatic Data Center (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/), record and near-record breaking temperatures dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation and contributed to the warmest March on record for the contiguous United States, a record that dates back to 1895. This animation shows the locations of each of the 7,755 daytime and 7,517 nighttime records (or tied records) in sequence over the 31 days in March. That's according to a new nationally representative survey that also found a majority of Americans say U.S. weather is getting worse. Furthermore, a large majority of Americans think global warming made several high-profile weather events even worse.
The results, which are part of a long-term project at Yale, suggest global warming is becoming less of a "down the road" and "out of sight" issue and more of a "here and now" problem in the minds of Americans.
The researchers found early on in this project, a decade ago, that for many Americans climate change was a problem distant in time and space, "a problem about polar bears and Bangladesh, but not in my state, not in my community, not for the people and places I care about," said study researcher Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, referring to the public.
"What's interesting about these results is that it suggests Americans are beginning to internalize climate change, to bring it into the here and now," Leiserowitz told LiveScience. "The past two years have been filled with a seemingly endless succession of extreme weather events." [10 Surprising Results of Global Warming]
More at the linkSevere droughts in Texas and the Great Plains. Hurricane Irene sweeping the Eastern... more
One century ago this weekend, the great “unsinkable” ship ignored warnings of ice bergs in the vicinity, maintained a high speed, hit an iceberg because it couldn’t change course fast enough, and sank. Most passengers died, in large part because there weren’t enough lifeboats.
The New Yorker and the Washington Post have devoted major columns to why ”Why we can’t let go of the Titanic” and why ”fascination with it seems to be” unsinkable .
Director James Cameron offered his own answer this week, in Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron on National Geographic Channel, which I’ve transcribed here. Cameron, who has also released a 3-D version of his epic block-buster movie on the doomed ship, made the connection between what happened on the Titanic and our climate predicament:
Part of the Titanic parable is of arrogance, of hubris, of the sense that we’re too big to fail. Well, where have we heard that one before?
There was this big machine, this human system, that was pushing forward with so much momentum that it couldn’t turn, it couldn’t stop in time to avert a disaster. And that’s what we have right now.
Within that human system on board that ship, if you want to make it a microcosm of the world, you have different classes, you’ve got first class, second class, third class. In our world right now you’ve got developed nations, undeveloped nations.
You’ve got the starving millions who are going to be the ones most affected by the next iceberg that we hit, which is going to be climate change. We can see that iceberg ahead of us right now, but we can’t turn.
We can’t turn because of the momentum of the system, the political momentum, the business momentum. There too many people making money out of the system, the way the system works right now and those people frankly have their hands on the levers of power and aren’t ready to let ‘em go.
Until they do we will not be able to turn to miss that iceberg and we’re going to hit it, and when we hit it, the rich are still going to be able to get their access to food, to arable land, to water and so on. It’s going to be poor, it’s going to be the steerage that are going to be impacted. It’s the same with Titanic.
I think that’s why this story will always fascinate people. Because it’s a perfect little encapsulation of the world, and all social spectra, but until our lives are really put at risk, the moment of truth, we don’t know what we would do. And that’s my final word.
If we don’t act soon, the latest science suggests that few will escape the dire consequences, but certainly the poorest will suffer the most and the very rich will be able to insulate themselves, at least for a while (see “The Other 99% of Us Can’t Buy Our Way Out of the Impending Global Ponzi Scheme Collapse“).
For the record, as the WashPost points out, “First-class men, though collectively glorified for letting steerage women and children go first in the lifeboats, actually survived at a higher rate than the third-class children.”
Stephen Cox, a literature professor at UC San Diego, and author of The Titanic Story: Hard Choices, Dangerous Decisions, tells the WashPost, “I don’t think a myth can develop unless you have a choice that could be very unfortunate or tragic.” In the case of the Titanic, lots of tragic choices were made, including the decision to steam ahead at high speed in the face of iceberg warnings serious enough to cause other ships, like the Californian, to stop completely that night.
The tragedy today is not merely that we are ignoring multiple, highly credible warnings of disaster if we stay on our current course. The tragedy is that the cost of action is so low, one tenth of a penny on the dollar, not counting co-benefits (see “Introduction to climate economics“) — while the cost of inaction is nearly incalculable, hundreds of trillions of dollars.
The International Energy Agency warned last November that on our current path, “rising fossil energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change” – warming of an almost unthinkable 6°C [11°F] — whereas “Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”
Cameron is hardly the first person to compare our current predicament with the Titanic. In fact, three years ago Newsweek’s Evan Thomas used the metaphor, unintentionally offering one explanation for why the “status quo” establishment media’s coverage of global warming is so fatefully inadquate.
More at the linkOne century ago this weekend, the great “unsinkable” ship ignored warnings... more
The energy minister is to visit Iceland in May to discuss connecting the UK to its abundant geothermal energy.
Iceland could soon be pumping low-carbon electricity into the UK under government-backed plans for thousands of miles of high-voltage cables across the ocean floor.
The volcanoes of Iceland could soon be pumping low-carbon electricity into the UK under government-backed plans for thousands of miles of high-voltage cables across the ocean floor.
The energy minister, Charles Hendry, is to visit Iceland in May to discuss connecting the UK to its abundant geothermal energy. "We are in active discussions with the Icelandic government and they are very keen," Hendry told the Guardian. To reach Iceland, which sits over a mid-ocean split in the earth's crust, the cable would have to be 1,000 to 1,500km long and by far the longest in the world.
Hendry has already met the head of Iceland's national grid about the plan. The web of sea-floor cables – called interconnectors – planned for the next decade would link the UK to a Europe-wide supergrid, which is backed by the prime minister. The supergrid would combine the wind and wave power of northern Europe with solar projects such as Desertec in southern Europe and north Africa to deliver reliable, clean energy to meet climate change targets and reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports.
There are two existing international interconnectors, to France and the Netherlands, but nine more are either in construction, formal planning or undergoing feasibility studies. The next to open, in autumn 2012, will be a link between the Republic of Ireland and Wales, allowing green energy from the windswept Atlantic coast of Ireland to be delivered to British homes.
The UK has been energy independent for virtually its entire history. But with the North Sea's oil and gas failing and coal banned as too polluting, Hendry is frank about the future: "We will be dependent on imported energy." The cables "are an absolutely critical part of energy security and for low carbon energy", he said.
The government's legally binding targets to reduce carbon emissions is another key driver for the new interconnectors, which if all built could supply a third of the nation's average electricity demand. Renewable energy, such as the offshore wind power at the heart of the government's renewable plans, is zero carbon once built but is also intermittent, meaning back-up gas plants or energy storage are needed. A 900km interconnector to Norway, due to open by 2019, would enable excess wind energy to pump water into storage lakes above the fjords. Then, when the electricity is needed, floodgates are opened and the water flows back down through turbines. Both the pump storage and the high-voltage direct-current interconnectors lose very little energy.
Another ambitious interconnector would link England to Alderney, where very strong tides could produce 4GW of electricity, and then on to France and the new 1.6GW nuclear power plant being built at Flamanville. Commercial agreements for this were signed in February.
More at the linkThe energy minister is to visit Iceland in May to discuss connecting the UK to its... more
The swirling flows of tens of thousands of ocean currents were captured in this scientific visualization created by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
"There is also a 20-minute long tour, which shows these global surface currents in more detail," says Horace Mitchell, the lead of the visualization studio. "We also released a three-minute version on our NASA Visualization Explorer iPad app."
Both the 20-minute and 3-minute versions are available in high definition here: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?3827
The visualization covers the period June 2005 to December 2007 and is based on a synthesis of a numerical model with observational data, created by a NASA project called Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, or ECCO for short. ECCO is a joint project between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. ECCO uses advanced mathematical tools to combine observations with the MIT numerical ocean model to obtain realistic descriptions of how ocean circulation evolves over time.
These model-data syntheses are among the largest computations of their kind ever undertaken. They are made possible by high-end computing resources provided by NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
ECCO model-data syntheses are being used to quantify the ocean's role in the global carbon cycle, to understand the recent evolution of the polar oceans, to monitor time-evolving heat, water, and chemical exchanges within and between different components of the Earth system, and for many other science applications.
April 10, 2012 08:42 AM (Three minute video posted below)The swirling flows of tens of thousands of ocean currents were captured in this... more
Video Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
One of the most striking changes that has taken place in the Arctic since the start of satellite monitoring in 1979 is the rapid decline of the perennial sea ice cover. This ice is the sea ice that survives the summer melt season, and is typically the thickest part of the sea ice cover, sometimes spanning several years. Sea ice extent has declined as the globe has warmed, but the ice cover has thinned as well. Thinner sea ice melts more easily, and as multiyear sea ice is lost, Arctic sea ice has declined more rapidly.
This NASA visualization shows the perennial Arctic sea ice cover from 1980 to 2012. The grey disk at the North Pole indicates the region where no satellite data is collected. A graph overlay shows the area's size measured in million square kilometers for each year. The '1980', '2008,' and '2012' data points are highlighted on the graph.Video Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
When a retired fisherman called to report that about 1,500 dolphins had washed up dead on Peru’s northern coast, veterinarian Carlos Yaipén’s first reaction was, “That’s impossible.” But when Yaipén traveled up the coast last week, he counted 615 dead dolphins along a 135-kilometer stretch of coastline. Now, the death toll could be as high as 2,800, based on volunteers’ counts. Peru's massive dolphin die-off is among the largest ever reported worldwide. The strandings, which began in January, are a marine mystery that may never be unraveled. The causes could be acoustic impact from testing for oil or perhaps an unknown disease. In addition, stress or toxic contaminants can make marine mammals more vulnerable to pathogens such as viruses, said Peter Ross, a research scientist at Canada’s Institute of Ocean
More at the linkWhen a retired fisherman called to report that about 1,500 dolphins had washed up dead... more
California nuclear plant shut indefinitely amid hunt to find cause of problems
By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:55 PM EDT, Fri April 6, 2012
The power plant has been shut down since this winter...
The San Onofre nuclear plant has been shut down since radioactive gas escaped
Officials have said there's no harm to the public health, but can't identify the cause
The head of the NRC says the plant won't restart until a cause and plan is put forward
(CNN) -- A large Southern California nuclear plant is out of commission indefinitely, and will remain so until there is an understanding of what caused problems at two of its generators and an effective plan to address the issues, the nation's top nuclear regulator said Friday.
Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, refused to give a timetable as to when the San Onofre nuclear plant could resume operation. He said only that his agency had "set some firm conditions" as to when that could happen.
"We won't make a decision (to approve the facility's restart) unless we're satisfied that public health and safety will be protected," Jaczko told reporters. "They have to demonstrate to us that they understand the causes, and ... that they have a plan to address them."
The power plant has been shut down since this winter, when a small amount of radioactive gas escaped from a steam generator during a water leak. At the time, federal regulators said there was no threat to public health, though they could not identify how much gas leaked or exactly why it had happened.
The water leak occurred in thousands of tubes that carry heated water from the reactor core through the plant's steam generators.
Leaks occur periodically in older units, but plant owner Southern California Edison replaced the four steam generators at San Onofre in 2010 and 2011 as part of a $680 million project. They are in units 2 and 3 of the nuclear facility; unit 1 went out of service in 1992.
Each of the 65-foot-tall, 640-ton generators -- built by Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries -- are packed with thousands of narrow tubes that carry hot, pressurized water from the reactors. The heat produces steam in a separate loop that drives the plant's turbines and generators.
"Tubes are vibrating and rubbing against adjacent tubes and against support structures inside the steam generators," the agency noted.
Eight of the more than 9,700 tubes in one of the unit 3 generators failed a pressure test, while six tubes in unit 2's reactor needed to be plugged, the NRC has found. Another 186 tubes in unit 2, which was shut down for refueling at the time of the leak, were plugged "as a precautionary measure."
In addition to driving the turbines to create electricity, the steam generators are "one of the barriers between the radioactive material in the reactor core and ultimately the external environment," Jaczko noted.
Located near San Clemente, the San Onofre nuclear plant's twin reactors are "Southern California's largest and most reliable sources of electricity," according to Southern California Edison's website. When operational, the facility -- which is owned by that utility, San Diego Gas and Electric, and the city of Riverside -- supplies power for 1.4 million households at any given time.
CNN's Greg Botelho contributed to this report.
California nuclear plant shut indefinitely amid hunt to find cause... more