tagged w/ NOAA
As tropical storm Emily — the fifth named storm this year — finally dissipates in the Carribean, many more may be waiting to take her place.
According to new projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this year’s hurricane season could be even more intense than previously projected. NOAA says there’s an 85 percent chance this year’s activity in the Atlantic will be above average — up from a 65% probability in May.
A major hurricane hasn’t hit the U.S. coast since 2008. But NOAA’s outlook for “high hurricane activity” has communities preparing for a season in which 19 major storms could form — ten of them hurricanes and five “major” hurricanes. A number of forces are driving this year’s potentially-active season, including temperatures in the Atlantic that are the third-warmest on record.
Meanwhile in Washington, NOAA could be undergoing some major changes that could impact the agency’s ability to monitor hurricanes and help coastal communities protect themselves. America’s satellites are in need of some serious upgrades — about $700 million worth. NOAA officials say that without an overhaul of the satellite system, hurricane and severe weather predictions would “spell disaster.”
With major budget cuts on the table, NOAA is facing some difficult choices. The House of Representatives has put aside about $450 million for satellite upgrades, just over half of what they need. But that money comes from NOAA’s oceans and fisheries programs, which would take away another very crucial piece of severe weather preparation, explains Center for American Progress’ Director of Oceans Policy Michael Conathan:
Despite the GOP’s goal of making government more efficient, a proposed House spending bill also explicitly prevents NOAA from streamlining and consolidating its operations to create a comprehensive climate service. Although the climate service would help the military, farmers, home builders and others more efficiently acquire data to assist them in their operations, lawmakers have called it a “policy advocacy,” a grossly inaccurate description— and indeed, a political statement in itself.
Today, there are double the number of hurricanes forming in the Atlantic than there were a century ago. NOAA projects that rising ocean temperatures will decrease the number of weaker hurricanes, but possibly double the number of strong hurricanes over the next 80 years.As tropical storm Emily — the fifth named storm this year — finally... more
NOAA study: Increase in particles high in Earth’s atmosphere has offset some recent climate warming
July 21, 2011
A recent increase in the abundance of particles high in the atmosphere has offset about a third of the current climate warming influence of carbon dioxide (CO2) change during the past decade, according to a new study led by NOAA and published today in the online edition of Science.
In the stratosphere, miles above Earth’s surface, small, airborne particles reflect sunlight back into space, which leads to a cooling influence at the ground. These particles are also called “aerosols," and the new paper explores their recent climate effects -- the reasons behind their increase remain the subject of ongoing research.
“Since the year 2000, stratospheric aerosols have caused a slower rate of climate warming than we would have seen without them,” says John Daniel, a physicist at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo. and an author of the new study.
The new study focused on the most recent decade, when the amount of aerosol in the stratosphere has been in something of a “background” state, lacking sharp upward spikes from very large volcanic eruptions. The authors analyzed measurements from several independent sources – satellites and several types of ground instruments – and found a definitive increase in stratospheric aerosol since 2000.
“Stratospheric aerosol increased surprisingly rapidly in that time, almost doubling during the decade,” Daniel said. “The increase in aerosols since 2000 implies a cooling effect of about 0.1 watts per square meter – enough to offset some of the 0.28 watts per square meter warming effect from the carbon dioxide increase during that same period.”
The reasons for the 10-year increase in stratospheric aerosols are not fully understood and are the subject of ongoing research, says coauthor Ryan Neely, with the University of Colorado and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). Likely suspects are natural sources – smaller volcanic eruptions – and/or human activities, which could have emitted the sulfur-containing gases, such as sulfur dioxide, that react in the atmosphere to form reflective aerosol particles.
Daniel and colleagues with NOAA, CIRES, the University of Colorado, NASA, and the University of Paris used a climate model to explore how changes in the stratosphere’s aerosol content could affect global climate change – both in the last decade, and projected into the future. The team concluded that models miss an important cooling factor if they don’t account for the influence of stratospheric aerosol, or don’t include recent changes in stratospheric aerosol levels.
Moreover, future global temperatures will depend on stratospheric aerosol. The warming from greenhouse gases and aerosols calculated for the coming decade can vary by almost a factor of two — depending on whether aerosols continue to increase at the same rate as over the past decade, or if instead they decrease to very low levels, such as those experienced in 1960.
If stratospheric aerosol levels continue to increase, temperatures will not rise as quickly as they would otherwise, said Ellsworth Dutton, also with NOAA ESRL and a co-author on the paper. Conversely, if stratospheric aerosol levels decrease, temperatures would increase faster. Dutton and his colleagues use the term “persistently variable” to describe how the background levels of aerosol in Earth’s stratosphere can change from one decade to the next, even in the absence of major volcanic activity.
Ultimately, by incorporating the ups and downs of stratospheric aerosols, climate models will be able to give not only better estimates of future climate change, but also better explanations of past climate changes.
“The ‘background’ stratospheric aerosols are more of a player than we thought,” said Daniel. “The last decade has shown us that it doesn’t take an extremely large volcanic eruption for these aerosols to be important to climate.”http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110721_particles.html
NOAA study:... more
Worldwide, 2010 was one of the two warmest years on record, says the 2010 State of the Climate report, released June 27 by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
On the Arctic, the State of the Climate shows how 2010 marked the end of the warmest decade since instrument records began in 1900.
The summer of 2010 in Greenland reveals the speed and breadth of the environmental change occurring in the Arctic, the report says.
In Greenland, warm air from the south was responsible for the longest period and largest area of ice sheet melt since at least 1978, and the highest melt rate since at least 1958, it says/
High summer air temperatures and a longer melt season also occurred in the Canadian Arctic, where loss from small glaciers and ice caps continued to increase.
A combination of low winter snow accumulation and high spring air temperatures also resulted in a record minimum spring snow, says the report, compiled by 400 scientists from 45 countries.
This year’s update on climate information from every continent tracks 41 climate indicators, including the temperature of the lower and upper atmosphere, precipitation, greenhouse gases, humidity, cloud cover, ocean temperature and salinity, sea ice, glaciers, and snow cover.
These indicators show “a continuation of the long-term trends scientists have seen over the last 50 years, consistent with global climate change,” said Thomas R. Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.
The Arctic section of the State of the Climate says:
• Arctic sea ice extent in September 2010 was the third lowest of the past 30 years. After a record minimum summer sea ice cover in 2007, the upper Arctic Ocean remains relatively warm and fresh, instead of salty, “a condition that is affecting marine biology and geochemistry;”
• observations of changes to tundra vegetation indicate “continued increases in greening,” associated with more ice-free, coastal waters and higher tundra land temperatures;
• on Sept. 19, 2010, ice extent shrank to its annual minimum of 4.6 million square kilometres. That’s the third-lowest minimum recorded since 1979, higher only than 2008 and the record minimum in 2007. There has been a substantial loss of old, thick ice in the Arctic Basin compared to the late 1980s, with the pack ice in the central Canada Basin changing from a multi-year to a seasonal ice cover;
• “surface air temperatures through the 2010 summer were higher than normal throughout the Arctic, though less extreme than in 2007;”
• vegetation changed and increased on Baffin Island;
• there was more warming in relatively cold permafrost than in warm permafrost in 2010; and,
• a combination of low winter snow accumulation and above-normal spring temperatures created new record-low spring snow cover duration over the Arctic since satellite observations began in 1966;
You can read a full report and a highlights document online.Worldwide, 2010 was one of the two warmest years on record, says the 2010 State of the... more
Posted by Tara Thean Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm
The effects of this spring's extreme flooding of the Mississippi River have been – pardon the pun – spilling over into every possible corner of the area's residential, commercial, and agricultural life over the last two months. And it looks like the environment hasn't escaped either: researchers from the University of Michigan predict that the largest Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” on record will result from the flooding.
The dead zone is forecast to be between 8,500 and 9,421 square miles – an area roughly the size of New Hampshire, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The zone is a threat to aquatic organisms as well as the humans who depend on them in the gulf's booming seafood industry.
"Stream flows were nearly double normal during May, delivering massive amounts of nutrients to the Gulf, and that's what drives the dead zone," said Donald Scavia, Special Counsel to the U-M President for Sustainability and director of the Graham Sustainability Institute.
Scavia noted that the most likely 2011 scenario is a Gulf dead zone of at least 8,500 square miles. This estimate far surpasses the 6,000-square-mile average of the past five years, as well as the current record, set in 2002, of 8400 miles.
The oxygen-starved Gulf dead zone is largely caused by farmland runoff containing fertilizers and livestock waste from as far away as the Corn Belt. Nitrogen and phosphorus from these sources flow down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf in late spring and summer each year, prompting explosive algal blooms, which later die and sink to the ocean floor. As they decompose, the algae provide bottom-dwelling bacteria with organic matter to feast on. Oxygen is consumed in the process, producing an oxygen-starved region in bottom and near-bottom waters: a dead zone.
This year, nitrogen and phosphorus have been seeping from Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers into the Gulf in alarmingly high amounts. In May 2011, 164,000 metric tons of nitrogen were transported to the northern Gulf, according to the U.S. Geological Survey – a 35% climb from average May nitrogen estimates in the last 32 years. The Gulf has seen a shocking 300% increase in nitrogen content since 1960.
Increased stream-flow rates and agricultural runoff are the main culprits, Scavia said.
"Yes, the floodwaters really matter, but the fact that there's so much more nitrogen in the system now than there was back in the '60s is the real issue," he explained.
Scavia called the growth of the Gulf dead zones an “ecological time bomb.”
"Without determined local, regional and national efforts to control them, we are putting major fisheries at risk,” he said.
Gulf fisheries recorded a high dockside value of $629 million in 2009, and nearly 3 million recreational fishers – who took 22 million fishing trips – contributed a further $1 billion to the Gulf economy. The Gulf of Mexico/Mississippi River Watershed Nutrient Task Force aims to reduce the size of the dead zone to around 1,900 square miles.
Nutrient load models can be complicated by short-term weather patterns moving water masses or mixing up the water column, say researchers at Louisiana State University.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be worried. "While there is some uncertainty regarding the size, position and timing of this year's hypoxic zone in the Gulf, the forecast models are in overall agreement that hypoxia will be larger than we have typically seen in recent years," NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a statement.
Gulf Restoration Network Director of Science and Water Policy Matt Rota is frustrated with the EPA's handling of the expanding dead zone, which he calls “another harsh reminder that our country must work aggressively to clean up the Mississippi River.”
“The EPA must stop dragging its feet in addressing the Dead Zone,” he said, explaining that the Gulf Restoration Network petitioned EPA to address the Dead Zone in 2008. “Almost three years later, the EPA still hasn't responded to this petition, and the Dead Zone continues to plague the Gulf impacting wildlife and coastal communities.”
The actual—as opposed to estimated—size of the 2011 Gulf dead zone will be released after a NOAA-supported monitoring survey led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium between July 25 and August 2.
Read more: http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2011/06/14/scientists-predict-record-gulf-of-mexico-dead-zone-due-to-mississippi-flooding/#ixzz1PQ6t1opFTime...
Posted by Tara Thean Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm
The effects... more
Los Angeles Times...
Environmental groups want ships to slow down to avoid killing and injuring whales
June 6, 2011 | 7:21 pm
A coalition of environmental groups is asking the federal government to require ships traveling though California’s marine sanctuaries to slow down to avoid fatal collisions with whales, a problem that they say has climbed to “unsustainable levels.”
Four groups filed petition Monday asking the Commerce Department to establish a 10-knot speed limit for large commercial vessels traveling through California’s four National Marine Sanctuaries in the Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank.
Some freighters travel through those waters at more than twice that speed.
Nearly 50 whales have been hit by ships traveling off the California coastline in the last decade, according to experts, who believe the number is probably much higher because many of the accidents go unreported.
Shipping groups says a speed limit would greatly slow down cargo reaching port and more than double the time it takes the fastest vessels to travel through the sanctuaries.
The petition from the environmental groups is meant to prod the federal government to take steps to fight the growing problem. Some of the most heavily trafficked shipping lanes leading in and out of the ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Francisco Bay run through the migratory paths and feeding areas of endangered whales.
In the 61-page document, the Environmental Defense Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth and Pacific Environment say a speed limit would help protect endangered blue, humpback and fin whales from being run over by big ships.
"The overlap of these shipping lanes with California’s national marine sanctuaries puts sanctuary wildlife at great risk,” the petition reads. “While we cannot likely change the behavior of whales and other species so as to avoid ship strikes, we can and must regulate vessel practices to minimize this risk.”
Slower speeds would give whales more time to detect approaching ships and would lower the chances that injuries would become fatal if they are hit, the groups argue. A speed limit also would cut back on air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and underwater noise that can harm whales.
In a statement, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a branch of the Commerce Department that oversees National Marine Sanctuaries and endangered marine species, said it is also concerned with ship strikes to whales and would review the petition.
Shipping groups said a speed limit may not make it any safer for whales and has suggesting realigning shipping routes as an alternative.
“It's just premature to assume that slowing vessel speed is the solution to the ship-whale interaction issue,” said T.L. Garrett, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Assn., a trade group representing ocean carriers that dock at West Coast ports.
Where possible, vessels would probably navigate around the sanctuaries to avoid the restrictions, he added.
Four blue whales were struck and killed by vessels in 2007 near the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, prompting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to designate shipping lanes from Point Conception to Point Dume a “Whale Advisory Zone.”
Since then, the agency has conducted aerial surveys of the area and broadcast seasonal advisories to ship captains traveling through the channel suggesting they limit their speed to 10 knots – or roughly 11.5 mph -- to avoid hitting whales when they’re in the Santa Barbara Channel in high concentrations, usually from May to December.
Because the advisories are voluntary, environmental groups say, they have gone largely unheeded. Shipping groups said most vessels have not opted to lower their speeds.
Photo: Pete Thomas For The TimesLos Angeles Times...
Environmental groups want ships to slow down to avoid... more
Don't look now, but federal forecasters are warning a nation that is still digging out from the devastation of terrible Spring weather that another unusually active Atlantic hurricane season is just ahead.
Link: http://news.discovery.com/earth/noaa-hurricane-forecasts-110519.htmlDon't look now, but federal forecasters are warning a nation that is still... more
VIDEO- The Big Fix: A Film that Exposes the Biggest Environmental Coverup Ever
Posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 by GottaLaff
Trailer for the documentary on the oil disaster; the film premiered at Cannes 2011:
One reviewer, Stuart Smith, says:
It’s a brilliant piece of work, exceeding all hype and expectation. The audience at the screening I attended was completely blown away by both the stunning cinematography and the jaw-dropping evidence that the BP spill involved a coverup at the highest levels of the industry, the military and the Obama Administration.
Hugh Kaufman, (senior policy analyst with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response) said to me (sarcastically) in an email:
Thank God NRDC is still in the Gulf and telling us what is REALLY going on down there.
And he also sent this:
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is standing by its declaration that the Gulf of Mexico seafood is safe to eat, but for the first time it’s warning anglers that some fish are sick and may pose health problems if handled or eaten raw.
.VIDEO- The Big Fix: A Film that Exposes the Biggest Environmental Coverup Ever
In Joplin, Missouri: '75% of the town is virtually gone'
Click on photo to watch video
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(CNN) -- A tornado flattened buildings, snapped trees and tossed tractor-trailers like toys as it touched down in Joplin, Missouri, on Sunday night, causing an unknown number of deaths and injuries.
"I would say 75% of the town is virtually gone," said Kathy Dennis of the American Red Cross.
The twister was part of a line of severe weather that swept across the Midwest on Sunday, prompting tornado watches and warnings that stretched from Wisconsin to Texas. High winds and possible tornadoes struck Minneapolis and other parts of Minnesota, leaving at least one person dead and injuring nearly two dozen others, police said.
Authorities in Joplin were contending with multiple reports of people trapped, as well as significant structural damage to St. John's Regional Medical Center, which was hit directly by the tornado, city officials said. CNN affiliate KSHB said there were reports of fires throughout the hospital.
One facade of the building made of glass was completely blown out, and authorities were evacuating the medical center, said Ray Foreman, a meteorologist with KODE in Joplin. Makeshift triage centers were being set up in tents outside, witness Bethany Scutti said.
Residents 70 miles away from Joplin in Dade County, Missouri, were finding X-rays from St. John's in their driveways, said Foreman, indicating the size and power of the twister.
Parts of the city were unrecognizable, according to Steve Polley, a storm chaser from Kansas City, Missouri, who described the damage as "complete devastation."
The tornado, which touched down just before 6 p.m. CDT, cut a path of destruction through the heart of the city, hitting heavily populated areas, Foreman said.
"We've had numerous vehicles picked up and thrown into houses," he said.
At least seven overturned tractor-trailers were seen on one stretch of Interstate 44 west of the city, said Michael Ratliff, who has been chasing storms for eight years. Ratliff said the possible tornado was "rain wrapped," making it impossible to see as it tore what he estimated to be a half-mile to three-quarter-mile path of damage.
Officials did not know how many were injured. Witnesses reported seeing some of the wounded being ferried to hospitals in the backs of pickup trucks as first responders struggled to handle the overwhelming destruction.
Lynn Ostot, the spokeswoman for the city of Joplin, confirmed "some fatalities," but did not have an exact number.
The Joplin mayor has declared a local disaster, and the Missouri National Guard was activated by Gov. Jay Nixon.
"These storms have caused extensive damage across Missouri, and they continue to pose significant risk to lives and property," Nixon said in a statement. "As a state, we are deploying every agency and resource available to keep Missouri families safe, search for the missing, provide emergency medical care, and begin to recover."
Elsewhere, tornadoes were spotted in Forest Lake, north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and near Harmony, more than 120 miles to the south. And in Minneapolis, witnesses reported numerous downed trees and neighborhoods without power.
Minneapolis police spokeswoman Sara Dietrich said the storm left one fatality, with 22 people reported hurt. One hospital, North Memorial Medical Center, said it had treated 18 people for minor injuries.
LeDale Davis, who lives on the north side of Minneapolis, told CNN, "This is the first time we can remember a tornado touched down in this area. They aren't usually in the heart of the city."
Widespread damage from severe weather was reported across Minneapolis on Sunday.
In Anoka County, north of the city, sheriff's dispatcher Linda Hamilton said authorities were receiving reports of roofs blown off, trees down and gas leaks. Hamilton said the worst damage appeared to have been in Fridley, on the northern outskirts of the metro area.
Curby Rogers said warning sirens sounded near her northwest Minneapolis home Sunday afternoon. Shortly afterward, the light rain that had been falling was whipped into sheets by heavy wind, and power went out.
"We could hear doors busting open through the house," Rogers said. "There was a lot of commotion, and then it was silent."
When she and a visiting friend emerged from their house, the streets were blocked by debris and a tree had fallen on her car. Around the corner, the damage was "a million times worse," with some houses split in half.
CNN meteorologist Chad Myers warned that the storms were not over for the Midwest.
"You need to have that NOAA radio on tonight everywhere from Wisconsin to Texas and Oklahoma," he said.
Forecasters said the system that struck Minnesota was separate from another storm that struck eastern Kansas on Saturday, killing one person and damaging or destroying hundreds of homes there.
CNN's Greg Morrison, Divina Mims, Anna Gonzalez, Stephanie Gallman, Joe Sutton, Jessica Jordan, Ross Levitt, Sarah Aarthun, Don Lemon and Sean Morris contributed to this report.
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http://www.cnn.com/video/us/2011/05/22/nr.mo.tornado.polley.bpr.cnn.416x234.jpgIn Joplin, Missouri: '75% of the town is virtually gone'... more
Two stranded pilot whales released off Florida Keys
By Phil Gast and Rich Phillips, CNN
May 7, 2011 11:13 p.m. EDT
Rescue groups and volunteers work to save a group of stranded pilot whales off Cudjoe Key, Florida, on Friday.
Two male pilot whales are released in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida Keys
Five others are being treated 24/7 in a holding pen
They will be taken to Key Largo for further rehabilitation
Fourteen other whales died after stranding themselves
(CNN) -- Volunteers and veterinarians caring round the clock for stranded pilot whales were buoyed Saturday evening by news that two were released off the Florida Keys.
After being transported by boat, the males swam away in the Atlantic Ocean about nine miles off the lower Florida Keys shortly before 6 p.m., said Karrie Carnes, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman.
The pair are 12 feet and 13 feet long and weigh more than 1,000 pounds each. They are considered teenagers.
Five other surviving pilot whales are being cared for in a sea pen established at Cudjoe Key, about 20 miles east of Key West.
"They (the whales) are being literally cradled 24 hours a day," Carnes said.
Fourteen whales died after stranding themselves in shallow waters over a 12-mile stretch of sand flats.
Veterinarians are not sure why the protected whales came to shore, said Carnes, adding that they are usually found in 300-meter deep waters in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. "We may never know why this group stranded."
The pod showed no evident signs of significant emaciation or illness, but may have become disoriented and followed each other to the shore.
"They are very social animals," Carnes said.
The rescue effort, which began Thursday, has included hundreds of federal and state employees, veterinarians and volunteers, said Carnes, who works at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Rescuers plan to transfer the five survivors to a rehabilitation facility in Key Largo once they are healthy enough to undergo the journey, Carnes told CNN.
Tents and wet sheets are protecting the five from the sun and temperatures. Veterinarians are checking their blood and body fluids and are pumping them with antibiotics and enzymes.
Volunteers from the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo have been crucial to the operation.
"For a lot of people, marine animals are very charismatic," Carnes said. "People have a love of the ocean and mysteries of the deep."
Sea World, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also have provided assistance in the lifesaving effort.
Adult pilot whales can measure up to 20 feet long and weigh up to 3 tons. Due to their social nature, they are often involved in mass strandings, according to the American Cetacean Society. The ACS is a nonprofit group based in California that works to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises, according to its website.
A similar incident occurred in the Florida Keys in 2003, when 28 whales were stranded. Most of them died, but after several months of care, five were released back into the ocean.
CNN's Lateef Mungin contributed to this report.CNN...
Two stranded pilot whales released off Florida Keys
By Phil Gast and Rich... more
by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger
In Washington, the environment is under attack. The cost-cutting deal that the House passed yesterday stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of $1.6 billion, which made up 16% of the agency’s budget. Funds for clean energy were cut. Republicans put in a provision that would keep the Department of the Interior from putting aside public lands for conservation and one that killed the nascent climate center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
These choices represent a deeper antipathy toward nature and environmental health than the run-of-the-mill climate denialism that’s become au courant among congressional Republicans. They show that plenty of leaders in Congress do not care about basic protections that ensure clean air and clean water or that keep even small stretches of the planet safe from mining, drilling and other human interventions.
One idea driving these decisions is that, economically, the country can’t afford to protect the environment right now. But as Monica Potts argues at The American Prospect, in a review of two new books that cover the economy and the environment, green policies are good for business. In reviewing Climate Capitalism by L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, Potts notes that “$2.8 billion a year is wasted because employees don’t turn off their computers when they leave work; comprehensive clean-energy and climate legislation could create 1.9 million jobs; improving indoor air quality could save businesses $200 billion annually in energy costs.”
Almost 2 million jobs! The country could use that boost right now. But those jobs depend, of course, on government action. As Potts points out, businesses won’t necessarily adopt these solutions on their own. The other book she reviews, Seth Fletcher’s Bottled Lightning, explains why electric cars weren’t developed sooner.
In short, “oil has stayed so remarkably cheap,” Potts writes. And, as she says, “The market doesn’t capture all of the costs that fossil fuels and other industrial-era processes impose on society.” Environmentally friendly policies might be good for business, but sometimes business doesn’t know it. The private sector won’t learn that lesson, either, if Washington is willing to sacrifice its administrative infrastructure for handling environmental issues.
New energy, new decisions
The country’s going to want its government to have some environmental experts left around for another reason, too. As oil and gas get more expensive, alternative energy sources are going to look more appealing. But while they might have lower carbon emissions, they raise new issues about clean air and water and about their impact on ecosystems. The EPA, for example, is currently studying the water and air impacts of natural gas, which has been widely touted as a fuel source that emits less carbon than coal.
But that may not be accurate, either. In a study obtained this week by The Hill, Robert Howarth, a Cornell University scientist, found that the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions related to natural gas production may actually far outstrip the amount coal produces. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard explains:
While burning natural gas may emit less carbon dioxide, its extraction releases quite a bit of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas. Gas from shale—a fine-grained layer of rock below the earth’s surface—is also responsible for 30 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional natural gas. The study found that up to 7.9 percent of the methane escapes directly from the wells, leaks from pipelines, or is released in venting and flaring. While the leaks may be relatively small, methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that those leaks have a major impact, Howarth tells Mother Jones.
Fighting back against fracking
If Howarth’s study is correct, that means even worse news for communities in the gas fields that have been fighting against new natural gas drilling, only to be told that it’s for the greater good. For instance, in New York this week, Public News Service’s Mike Clifford reports that “Dozens of environmental and health groups are asking [Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers] to put the longer-term issues of air and water quality ahead of any short-term gas profits.”
The Sierra Club’s Roger Downs tells Clifford, “We’ve seen in places like Wyoming, where the oil and gas industry has been booming, children on certain days cannot go out and play; they get nosebleeds from the air quality. It’s serious stuff, and we don’t want that in New York.”
Just over in Pennsylvania, natural gas drilling has been going ahead, and Nina Berman reports for AlterNet on its impact on families:
The Spencers’ house, once valued at $150,000, is now worth $29,000. They have a methane monitor in their basement, a methane water filtration system in a backyard shed. They leave the door open when they take showers because with no bathroom windows they are afraid the house could blow up. Their neighbors were forced to evacuate once already because of high methane levels. In the middle of their yard, a shaft resembling a shrunken flagpole vents gas from their wellhead.
Right now, the EPA is studying the effects that natural gas drilling have on public health. Their findings could, at the very least, strengthen the case for putting restrictions on drilling companies to prevent pollution. But if anti-environmentalists in Washington keep cutting into the bottom line of environmental programs, families like the Spencers will have an even harder time fighting against the conditions they’re facing now.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger
In Washington, the environment is under... more
'Naked' penguins have scientists perplexed
Photo: A worker puts a wetsuit on a featherless penguin to keep her warm, earlier this week, at the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.
April 8th, 2011
03:40 PM ET
A mysterious ailment is causing penguins to lose their feathers, according to researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The condition, called feather-loss disorder, has been seen in penguin chicks in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean the past few years and is featured in a recent edition of the journal "Waterbirds," the release said.
While scientists don't know what could cause a penguin to go "naked," possible culprits include genetics, nutrient imbalances, thyroid disorders or germs.
“We need to conduct further study to determine the cause of the disorder and if this is in fact spreading to other penguin species,” Dee Boersma, who has studied Magellanic penguins, said in the release.
Feather loss in pet birds has long been a common ailment seen by pet stores and private owners, but researchers studying the penguins in the Atlantic said this is something different.
“The recent emergence of feather-loss disorder in wild bird populations suggests that the disorder is something new,” Mariana Varese, acting director of the society’s Latin America and Caribbean program, is quoted as saying in the release. “More study of this malady can help identify the root cause, which in turn will help illuminate possible solutions,” she said.
While the illness does not appear to be fatal, the sick birds, unlike their feathered counterparts, linger in the sun instead of seeking refuge from the midday heat. That behavior has led to several deaths, according to the release.
Disease is not the only recent peril that Atlantic penguins have faced.
A few weeks ago, volunteers from Nightingale Island, a British territory that is part of the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, mobilized to save tens of thousands of Northern Rockhopper penguins threatened by an oil spill.
It has been a surreal year in animal deaths. In January, tens of thousands of birds and fish were found dead in countries around the world.
Recently dolphins, some with oil inside them, have turned up dead in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists don’t know why.
"Even though they have oil on them, it may not be the cause of death," Blair Mase, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine mammal investigations coordinator, told CNN. "We want to look at the gamut of all the possibilities."'Naked' penguins have scientists perplexed
Photo: A worker puts a... more
Honolulu Star Advisor - By Gary T. Kubota
A parcel in Kona would house a facility to treat injured, sick and orphaned animals
A California group that rescues injured marine mammals wants to establish an endangered monk seal rehabilitation center in Kona.
The Marine Mammal Center, based in Sausalito, said it plans to rehabilitate injured, orphaned and sick monk seals.
The center would be on 2.6 acres controlled by the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.
Laurence Sombarlier, interim executive director of the Natural Energy Laboratory, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has testified in favor of the project.
“This is an effort to rehabilitate some of the seals,” Sombarlier said.
The monk seal population has declined in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by about 40 percent in the past decade, according to NOAA.
The center said the monk seals now number about 1,100.
Spokesman James Oswald said the center has raised $550,000 toward developing the $3 million facility in Kona, including a donation of $100,000 from the Atherton Family Foundation in Honolulu.
Oswald said that, since 1975, the center has been involved in some 16,000 marine mammal rescues, including monk seal KP2, whose mother abandoned him from birth.
KP2 was captured and, after exhibiting aggressive behavior involving a woman in waters off Molokai, was taken to a marine mammal facility at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Oswald said the center’s experience with KP2 was a turning point at which they realized they could make a difference in the future of monk seals.
At the same time, he said, the center realizes it needs to limit its contact with the seals to keep them from relying on human contact.
The group plans to develop four pools holding about nine animals in an area designed to limit human contact to caretakers and a veterinarian.
According to a draft environmental assessment, no archaeological sites and no threatened or endangered plant or bird species were found on the land.
Public comments may be sent by email or postmarked on or before April 22 to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority at Nelha@nelha.org or 73-4460 Queen Kaahumanu Highway No. 101, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740-2637.
A copy of the draft environmental assessment is available for review at the state Office of Environmental Quality Control website at http://oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/Shared%20Documents.
http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/20110403_Marine_Mammal_Center_wants_to_aid_monk_seals.htmlHonolulu Star Advisor - By Gary T. Kubota
A parcel in Kona would house a facility... more
Tsunami washes away feathered victims west of Hawaii
By the CNN Wire Staff
March 19, 2011 3:43 a.m. EDT
Birds walks beside debris at a port in Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefecture on March 18, 2011.
Officials say 22% of new albatross population is lost
Four tsunami waves hit the Midway Atoll after the earthquake in Japan
Official: Tsunami a "disaster at many levels, including for wildlife"
A 60-year-old albatross is missing since the tsunami wave hit
(CNN) -- The massive waves that churned across the Pacific after the Japan earthquake last week swept away nests protecting seabird chicks unable to fly, leaving scores dead west of Hawaii.
The death of seabirds at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge are much higher than initially thought after tsunami waves pounded the islands, officials said.
Four successive waves hit the refuge, which is comprised of an outer reef that protects three small islands -- Sand Island, Eastern Island and Spit Island. Lots of birds were affected at the refuge, which is part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
The tallest wave was nearly 5 feet and completely washed out the reef and Spit Island, the smallest in the Atoll.
The waves washed over nests that protected seabird chicks, authorities said.
In the hours after the tsunami waves struck the refuge, officials concentrated on freeing some 300 birds that were either waterlogged or trapped in debris.
After the rescues, biologists turned their attention to surveying the damage, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement.
The survey shows that 22% of this year's albatross hatchlings were lost as a result of the tsunamis and two winter storms that struck the refuge earlier this year.
About 110,000 Layson and black-footed albatross chicks were killed, along with 2,000 adults, officials said.
Biologists initially thought losses were around half those numbers.
"This tsunami was indeed a disaster at many levels, including for wildlife," said Barry Stieglitz, a project leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Stieglitz said that albatross numbers can rebound, but added that biologists "remain concerned about the compounding effect of this tsunami on the existing stresses of invasive species, global climate change, incidental mortality from long-line fishing and other threats to albatross and other wildlife populations."
Among the missing is a so-called "celebrity" albatross called Wisdom. Officials believe Wisdom, age 60, may be the oldest wild bird in the world.
Wisdom recently hatched, and biologists said they haven't seen any sign of her or her chick.
Biologists at the refuge also suspect that thousands of Bonin Petrels were lost, but have been unable to confirm any numbers because the birds nest underground.
The national monument and the wildlife refuge are home to 3 million seabirds from 21 different species, according to officials.
It serves as an important habitat for various species, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the threatened Hawaiian green turtle and a trans-located population of the endangered Laysan duck.
Officials will work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to evaluate the impacts of the tsunami on the Hawaiian monk seal and the Hawaiian green turtle.
The earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11 killed thousands of people in Japan, police said.
CNN's Kimberly Hutcherson contributed to this report.Tsunami washes away feathered victims west of Hawaii
By the CNN Wire Staff
March 19,... more
Deaths of baby dolphins worry scientists
By Vivian Kuo, CNN
February 24, 2011 8:27 p.m. EST
Dead baby dolphins found on Gulf Coast
Twenty-four dolphin calves have been found dead on shores of Alabama, Mississippi
Marine mammal experts say the number is very unusual
Total of 30 dolphins found dead; the cause remains a mystery
(CNN) -- Baby bottlenose dolphins are washing up dead in record numbers on the shores of Alabama and Mississippi, alarming scientists and a federal agency charged with monitoring the health of the Gulf of Mexico.
Moby Solangi, the executive director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Mississippi, said Thursday he's never seen such high death numbers.
"I've worked with marine mammals for 30 years, and this is the first time we've seen such a high number of calves," he said. "It's alarming."
At least 24 baby dolphins have washed up on the shores of the two states since the beginning of the year -- more than ten times the normal rate. Also, six older dolphins died.
In January 2009 and 2010, no calf strandings were reported, compared to four in January 2011, the institute said. During the month of February for those years, only one calf stranding was reported each year.
Blair Mase, lead marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), echoed Solangi's concern.
"It's not common for this time of year to recover such young animals. When you put the numbers together, it's quite high compared to previous years."
The occurrence has prompted NOAA to designate these deaths as an "unusual mortality event" -- defined as a stranding incident that is unexpected or involves a significant loss of any marine mammal population.
While bottlenose dolphins are actually the most-frequently found stranding animal, the season usually begins in March, according to Mase.
"We receive reports of stranding year round. We get an average of 700 total every year in the Southeast," she said.
While scientists have seen baby dolphins wash up in the past, "This is not during the months that they should be," said Solangi. "We keep getting reports of new ones all the time, and February isn't over yet."
There have been 13 unusual mortality events involving dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico since 1991, Mase explained.
Marine mammals are particularly susceptible to harmful algal blooms, infectious diseases, temperature and environmental changes, and human impact, she said.
"Unfortunately we don't have a smoking gun here. We're looking at the possibility of an algal bloom but we don't see any evidence of a bloom going on in the water. Temperatures are a bit cooler, so we're looking into water temperature data and seeing if that has a role, but it's a little bit too early to tell."
The IMMS said it has been able to perform full necropsies on a third of the 24 calves. The majority of the calves were too decomposed for a full examination, but the institute has taken tissue samples for analysis.
The institute does not have conclusive results on the causes of death.
Following the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion last April, which killed 11 workers and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history, there has been heightened concern over the environmental impact.
Due to the government's ongoing litigation with BP, which owned the oil well that erupted into the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA said it must operate under specific protocol in handling the dead dolphins. That might mean a delay in seeing the necropsy results.
"In a world when we wouldn't be dealing with oil-spill protocols, we'd typically get results in about three weeks to a month," Mase said. "We aren't going to see results as quickly as we'd like to. We will be making sure these samples are collected, taken back and analyzed, but it could take several months."
While none of the 30 dolphins were found with any oil on them, Mase said the agency is not ruling anything in or out on the cause of death.
"Frankly, it's just too early to tell at this point. It's obviously on everyone's radar screen. Everyone's concerned about any impact of the BP oil spill, but we have to be very cautious as to identify any particular cause. We won't know until we have these samples analyzed and be able to identify the source."
The most worrisome concern is that dolphin stranding season has yet to officially begin, according to Solangi.
"Whatever it is, I hope it is just an anomaly. It certainly has connotations on reproduction and the population," he said.
"Unfortunately, I think this is not the end of what we will be seeing."http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/02/24/gulf.dolphins/index.html?hpt=C1
Deaths of baby... more
The biggest solar blast in four years erupted late Monday, and it’s sending jets of charged particles right at Earth. The flare will spark bright auroras when it hits the magnetosphere in the next 24 to 48 hours.
A cluster of sunspots called Active Region 1158 unleashed the flare at 8:50 p.m. EST, Feb. 14 [1:50 a.m. UT, Feb. 15]. The flare was classified as a class X2.2, meaning it is the most powerful flare since December 2006. The sunspots have continued to let loose smaller flares and may still be active now.
NOAA forecasters estimate a 45 percent chance of geomagnetic activity on Thursday, Feb. 17, when the bulk of the radiation hits Earth’s magnetic field. It may create a stunning display of aurora borealis, better known as northern lights. So look up! If you take pictures, send us your best shots. If we get enough, we’ll create a reader gallery.The biggest solar blast in four years erupted late Monday, and it’s sending jets... more
Fishermen in Canada and the U.S. may have to give up part of their lucrative chinook salmon catch to help the recovery of endangered resident killer whales.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a news release Wednesday it plans to hold a science workshop with Fisheries and Oceans Canada in the spring to discuss potential catch restrictions.
The federal agency said that "killer whales depend to a substantial degree on large chinook salmon as a high-calorie food source" and that "killer whale productivity is affected by chinook abundance."
As a result of the workshop, both countries will be "better able to determine whether and to what extent additional constraints on salmon fishing may be necessary," it said.
The action comes as NOAA considers a Puget Sound management plan for the native and non-native sport and commercial chinook harvest through 2014.
Chinook is the largest species of Pacific salmon; any move to reduce harvests of the lucrative and tasty fish in favour of killer whales is certain to be controversial.
NOAA says that because of the extensive range of the southern resident killer whales, fisheries from California north to southeast Alaska may be affected.Fishermen in Canada and the U.S. may have to give up part of their lucrative chinook... more
Who is shooting California sea lions? It's usually a mystery
January 2, 2011 | 11:33 am
The weak and woozy California sea lion found on a San Francisco Bay-area beach in December with buckshot embedded in its skull has become an all-too-common sight for wildlife officials.
Wildlife officials have seen a slight rise in the shooting of ocean mammals in recent years, and investigators often struggle to find a culprit. “We always try to do an investigation, but unless there's an eyewitness to the shooting it's hard to make a case for our enforcement folks,” said Joe Cordaro, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who tracks reports of the shootings.
NOAA said there were 43 reported marine mammal shootings in 2009 in the waters off the California coast — nine more than in 2008 and 14 more than five years earlier. Of the reported shootings in 2009, all were sea lions. And officials say many more cases likely go unreported.
Wildlife officials say sea lion and human populations continue to increase, making interaction more common, especially among fishermen who compete for the same food and often view the creatures as a nuisance.
Though NOAA and the California Department of Fish and Game are responsible for investigating these cases, few of them result in prosecution. Recent public outcry over highly publicized cases like that of the wounded sea lion near San Francisco have brought more attention to the shootings.
Veterinarians at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., are treating the wounded critter in the hope an aquarium or zoo will take it. The 7-foot-long male, dubbed Silent Knight by its rescuers, is now blind and cannot return to the wild.
When there is a witness, there usually is a case. A witness came forward after the 2009 shooting of a 650-pound sea lion nicknamed Sgt. Nevis was covered by local press and television. Larry Legans of Sacramento was ordered to pay more than $51,000 in restitution for the cost of treating the critter, who recently underwent plastic surgery at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to close bullet holes in its muzzle. Legas also spent a month in jail and got five years' probation.
Lt. Rob Roberts, a warden with the state Fish and Game Department, noted that reports have increased in kind with the growth of the sea lion population along the Northern California coast. Roberts hopes successful prosecutions and intense media coverage of cases like Legans' will help. “If the general public sees that there's recourse and accountability, that's a deterrent,” he said.
The Marine Mammal Center, where Silent Knight is being treated along with hundreds of ocean animals suffering a variety of ailments, treated nine gunshot victims in 2010. The center treated 18 in 2009, down from a high of 72 sea lions in 1992, when the center started keeping statistics.
While the number of mammals treated for gunfire wounds has trended downward at the center over the decades, in recent years it has begun to creep back the other way, statistics show.
On Monday, more than 400 people came to see Silent Knight during the center's visiting hours, fascinated by the plight of the wounded pinniped, said Jeff Boehm, the center's executive director.The center tries to help wardens in the investigations by determining the kind of weapon that were used and how long an animal has been wounded.
“We've seen over 1,000 patients in 2010, and of that number only nine were shooting victims, a small fraction,” said Boehm, whose center studies and treats animals that have been injured by fishing nets, disease or environmental hazards like pollution.“But it's dramatic, because (these shootings) are entirely unnecessary situations.”
-- By Jason Dearen / Associated Press
Photo: Sea lions, including a large Steller sea lion, center, bask at the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, a group of craggy, remote islands nearly 30 miles west of San Francisco. The Steller sea lion is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Credit / Ben Margot / Associated PressWho is shooting California sea lions? It's usually a mystery
January 2, 2011 |... more