ConsRep 1113 B

We assume that everything’s becoming more efficient, and in an immediate sense that’s true; our lives are better in many ways. But that improvement has been gained through a massively inefficient use of natural resources. Paul Hawken

Announcements 

Cancellation Notice

The Thursday, December 19, 2013 Monthly Meeting off The South Florida Audubon Society is cancelled so that members and friends can enjoy the holiday season.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year 2014!

See you at the 1st Monthly Meeting of 2014

Joint Meeting With South Florida Audubon Society

and Broward Sierra Club

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fern Forest Nature Center at 7:30 p.m.

Speaker: Brian Monk, DVM

Topic: The Second Florida Breeding Bird Atlas: Birding With A Purpose

Abstract: Join us for a talk given by Brian Monk, DVM, the Broward County coordinator for the second Florida Breeding Bird Atlas project. Learn about the project,

what it will do for our environment, and how YOU can participate! The atlas will help to map out the locations of the birds that breed in the state,

allowing environmental scientists, protection and conservation groups, and the Florida FWS to help protect our native birds.

It is a completely voluntary project, and it depends on volunteers to take part and help survey local bird populations. It is birding with a purpose.

Third Annual Swamp Heritage Festival

at Big Cypress National Preserve

Saturday December 7, 2013

Join us on Saturday December 7, 2013 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center as we celebrate the history and culture of South Florida during the 3rd annual Swamp Heritage Festival. The welcome center is located at 33000 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, FL 34141, three miles east of State Road 29 on U. S. 41, the Tamiami Trail.

This FREE family-friendly event shines a spotlight upon the history of this rugged, yet beautiful environment through a variety of storytellers, musicians, local experts, authors, artists and residents who will share their love of the swamp through programs, activities, thought-provoking presentations, food and music.

“Today, so many people in South Florida focus on the beach. All too often we forget that it was the resources of the swamp that really attracted people to the area, and still draws many to explore and recreate in the depths of this wild place,” stated Jill Wilson, a park ranger at Big Cypress National Preserve responsible for coordinating the festival.

The festival will highlight the inhabitants of early south Florida, whose rugged strength and pioneering spirit contributed to the shaping of today’s unique and diverse culture. Everyone can discover what daily life was like in such a remote and, at times, inhospitable place. These unique chapters in American history add to the rich and colorful tableau that comprises our shared past and present.

“The festival provides a great opportunity for contemporary cultures with deep connections to the swamp to come together and share memories of the past and hopes for the future of the Big Cypress.” said Bob DeGross, spokesperson, Big Cypress National Preserve.

Check out our website for more details on the variety of activities and presentations for the day: http://www.nps.gov/bicy/swampheritagefestival.htm

This year the Swamp Heritage Festival kicks-off the 40th anniversary of the Big Cypress National Preserve. On October 11, 1974 Congress established Big Cypress as America’s first National Preserve. The Preserve was created through a grassroots effort by many to ensure that the Big Cypress Swamp would be protected and enjoyed for generations.

The 3rd annual Swamp Heritage Festival is sponsored by the South Florida National Parks Trust, the nonprofit partner of Everglades, Biscayne and Dry Tortugas National Parks and Big Cypress National Preserve. 

SPECIAL BULLETIN

NOVEMBER 20, 2013

Greetings!

In the Summer of 2014, once again, Captain Charles Moore, Algalita Marine Research Institute and the Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita will set sail for the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre,  a.k.a. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

The 2014 Pacific Gyre Voyage will commemorate three milestones in Algalita’s history…the 15th anniversary of our first expedition; the 20th year our incorporation, AND the unveiling of a beautiful new face for the Alguita.

After undergoing major refit this year, the “Mighty A” and its Captain and crew will live for thirty days, yes, one month, in plastic polluted waters.  They will add to the vital information we have collected and shared over the years in our efforts to understand the impact of plastic pollution in the marine environment and educate the public regarding its perils.  We will also collect data on the creatures that are living in new habitats resulting from the persistence and quantity of plastic and other debris that have created new mid-ocean plastic “reefs”.

Stay tuned for more exciting news about the Voyage and our 20th Anniversary incorporation.

Sustainably yours,

Captain Moore, |Founder|Marieta Francis, |Executive Director|Algalita Foundation                                                           

 Of Interest to All

Europe to open up free access to environmental satellite data

The European Commission has announced it will provide free, full and open access to a wealth of important environmental data gathered by Copernicus, Europe’s Earth observation system.

The new open data dissemination regime, which will come into effect next month, will support the vital task of monitoring the environment and will also help Europe’s enterprises , creating new jobs and business opportunities.

Sectors positively stimulated by Copernicus are likely to be services for environmental data production and dissemination, as well as space manufacturing. Indirectly, a variety of other economic segments will see the advantages of accurate earth observation, such as transport, oil and gas, insurance and agriculture.

Studies show that Copernicus — which includes six dedicated satellite missions, the so-called Sentinels, to be launched between 2014 and 2021 — could generate a financial benefit of some € 30 billion and create around 50.000 jobs by 2030.

Moreover, the new open data dissemination regime will help citizens, businesses, researchers and policy makers to integrate an environmental dimension into all their activities and decision making procedures.

European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, said: “This open data strategy is essential in unleashing the full potential of the Copernicus program and developing the Earth observation markets.

“Its services will deliver information to a chain of information re-processors and end-users on a sustained basis.

“The ‘Copernicus economy’ will grow by attracting investment in the innovative applications market which is striving to meet increasing user demands for new services.

“Copernicus services are already essential to monitor the areas hit by natural catastrophes. A few days ago, Copernicus offered to the civil protection images of the most damage areas hit by the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, contributing to organize rescues”.

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik said: “Copernicus is an essential part of the shared environmental information infrastructure that will significantly contribute to better implementation of environmental policies, one priority of the 7th Environmental Action Program.

“Environmental policy making depends on up-to date, accurate and comparable data on the current and future state of the Earth. Free, full and open access to Copernicus earth observation data represents a key contribution to good environmental governance in Europe.”

Read more

ClickGreen Staff, ClickGreen| Published November 13, 2013

Victory! Getting the Lead Out

Audubon heralded a major conservation victory that will have repercussions throughout the country when California Governor Jerry Brown signed historic legislation last month that will require hunters to use non-lead ammunition. The bill, championed by Audubon California, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Humane Society of the United States, will eliminate what nationally-renowned scientists say is the number one source of unregulated lead left in our environment.

The danger of lead from ammunition has been known to conservationists at least since 1894, when Audubon founder George Bird Grinnell noted that waterfowl could be poisoned by lead shot left behind by hunters. That prediction proved true, but it wasn’t until 1991 that the federal government banned the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting.

Audubon California was initially drawn into the fight over lead ammunition in the mid-2000s as research emerged showing that lead poisoning was the greatest threat to the recovery of the endangered California Condor. In 2007, Audubon was successful in banning the use of lead ammunition in the condor’s range. Nevertheless, lead from ammunition continued to poison the great birds—and additional research showed that the risk of poisoning extended to more than 130 species of birds and other wildlife.

The issue took on an even greater urgency as research emerged showing the risk of lead ammunition to human health. A joint study by the Centers for Disease Control and the North Dakota Department of Public Health found that people who consumed meat hunted with lead ammunition had significantly higher levels of lead in their blood.

Although polling conducted by Audubon California and its partners earlier in the year showed that voters favored requiring nonlead ammunition for hunting by a 2:1 margin, the bill nonetheless faced heated opposition from gun advocates. Assembly Bill 711 calls for a gradual phase-out of lead ammunition through 2019.

Audubon hopes this victory can become a model for other state efforts across the country.

How Big Corn Is Killing the Earth

Production of corn-based ethanol, touted as a ‘cleaner and greener’ energy source, is destroying prairie lands and cutting into our food supply.

When George W. Bush put out the challenge in his 2007 State of the Union address to vastly increase production of alternative forms of energy over the next decade—by more than five times—the United States corn industry was licking its lips.

Experts said at the time that ethanol, a fuel derived mostly from corn, would be the only alternative fuel America could produce domestically at a scale that could meet Bush’s mandate. And produce they did, more than doubling U.S. production of ethanol from 6.5 billion gallons in 2007 to nearly 14 billion gallons in 2011. But rather than helping the environment by encouraging “cleaner, greener” ethanol, the production of the alternative fuel may be damaging the earth even more than before.

This week a 4,000-word report by the Associated Press, provocatively titled “The secret, dirty cost of Obama’s green power push,” lays out in detail a process that has “wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies.” And with farmers replanting wheat, cotton, barley, and oat fields with corn to meet Bush’s requirement that oil companies add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline every year, the policy is forcing growers to make a difficult choice: food or fuel.

Today, the Obama administration announced that it wants to reduce the amount of ethanol used in American gasoline, “acknowledging the biofuel law championed by both parties in 2008 is now working as well as expected,” according to AP. It’s a change oil companies have been fighting for.

As of 2012, about 35 percent of the U.S. corn supply was being used to make ethanol rather than food. This comes as no surprise to environmental activists such as Bill McKibben, whose group, 350.org, is fighting climate change through opposition to fossil fuels. But corn-based ethanol, he says, is not the answer to our climate crisis.

“Ethanol was always a way to help the corn industry, not the environment,” McKibben said. “The energy balances have always been terrible.”

The AP report outlines an ethanol production process that incentivized farmers to begin farming previously protected wetlands and prairie lands, “releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.” Scientists’ predictions from early in the ethanol boom, as McKibben echoed, have proved true: The process itself, from the tractors tending the corn fields to transporting the fuel to market, may use more energy than the ethanol puts out. President Obama’s enforcement and expansion of Bush’s ethanol mandate, experts say, stifle other, perhaps better, sources of alternative energy.

“You’re locking in corn ethanol,” Daniel Kammen, an energy specialist and codirector of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment at U.C. Berkeley, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007. “This is how not to make policy.”

Sugar, for instance, can produce ethanol. In fact, more than half the world’s ethanol is produced with sugar by-products, a process that is cheaper and less damaging to the environment than corn ethanol. During the historic drought of 2012 here in the United States, farmers saw firsthand how harmful a lack of diversification in alternative fuel production could be. As we reported then, livestock and poultry producers petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to waive the ethanol requirement for gasoline because of the dramatic increase in feed prices. The EPA declined to waive the requirement, and the U.S. imported millions of gallons of sugar-based ethanol from Brazil to meet the gasoline requirement—again choosing fuel over food.

In parts of the world where subsistence farming is a way of life, turning food-producing land to biofuel production can have even more dramatic consequences. That was the case in the District of Kisarawe, Tanzania, an area where more than 80 percent of residences are involved with agriculture. According to a 2012 report from the Oakland Institute, the British company Sun Biofuels leased 8,211 hectares to grow the plant jatropha as an energy crop. When the company went bankrupt two years later, residents were left in the lurch.

“Locals have lost their farmland and their supply of fresh water as well as access to essential natural resources,” the report reads, “while the durable employment and creation of infrastructure that were expected with this investment did not materialize.”

In the Midwest, it may be a plant that has grown on the Plains for thousands of years that produces a more energy- and cost-efficient ethanol than corn. Working with researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture, farmers in Nebraska and the Dakotas found that switchgrass, which is often found growing wild on the edges of cultivated fields, produces 540 percent more energy than it takes to grow the native perennial.

Then why do we continue to turn our food (i.e., corn) into fuel with such severe environmental side effects?

Because of the ethanol and corn lobbies, of course—and the senators and department secretaries that listen to them. Given the AP’s damning report, however (of which the ethanol lobby and corn farmers have demanded a retraction), maybe officials will begin to look for methods of fuel production that help the earth rather than harm it.

Steve Holt|November 15, 2013

FLORIDA GEOLOGICAL SURVEY BEGINS SINKHOLE VULNERABILITY STUDY FOLLOWING STAKEHOLDER MEETING

~Florida Geological Survey hosts meeting to layout three year study~

TALLAHASSEE -The Florida Geological Survey started its work on the Sinkhole Vulnerability Mapping Project after they hosted a meeting for stakeholders on Nov. 6, in Live Oak. Following the meeting, field work commenced with documenting multiple sinkholes on private landowner’s property in the pilot study area of Suwannee, Columbia and Hamilton counties. The data will be part of Geologic Information System data that will be compiled and processed in the study.

Supported by a $1.08 million federal grant, the Florida Geological Survey will combine the data layers they explore with other known sinkhole locations and use mathematical, spatial and statistical associations to predict the vulnerability of different areas. The study will use a data-driven modeling method called “Weights of Evidence” to determine this relative vulnerability and remove any bias in existing data.

The project is a three year study that will produce two maps: one in the pilot area and the other statewide. The pilot study is slated to end in May 2014, at which point the statewide assessment will begin.

“It is important to understand the geological character of the ground below us and this project will provide a map of the relative vulnerability to sinkhole formation in Florida as an important hazard mitigation planning tool.” said Dr. Jon Arthur, Director of Florida Geological Survey.  “There is a national interest in our innovative approach to this project, and we are excited to begin the work of developing input data layers for the model.”

Dr. Arthur spoke to the National Academy of Sciences Board on Earth Sciences and Resources’ Committee on Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in Washington, DC on Nov. 14. He presented information on Florida sinkholes and this project to the committee as they consider national perspectives on science and policies related to sinkholes.

The purpose of this project is to provide the Florida Department of Emergency Management with a map to assist in creating more efficient hazard mitigation strategies. Working in conjunction with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the Federal Emergency Management Agency – funded study could reduce loss of life and property as the result of a sinkhole.

The stakeholders meeting provided public officials in Suwannee, Columbia and Hamilton counties with information regarding sinkholes and explained the overview of the project being conducted. The contract year date for the pilot study is slated for the end of May 2014. The next meeting to inform the public officials on the status of the project will occur in March 2014.

More information on the vulnerability study can be found here. For more information regarding sinkholes please visit the Florida Geological Survey Website.

Top Water Lobbyist, Ernie Barnett, Resigns from SFWMD

The South Florida Water Management District’s top lobbyist announced his retirement at the agency’s governing board meeting Thursday.
Ernie Barnett, the SFWMD’s assistant executive director and head of its mammoth Everglades and water resources initiatives, has been with the district since 2005. He was instrumental in Tallahassee this year helping legislators understand Gov. Rick Scott’s Everglades Restoration Strategies and its implications for settling challenges by the federal government.
Barnett also led previous efforts for the state’s passage of the Lake Okeechobee Protection Act, according to the SFWMD. Beyond Tallahassee, he has aided state Everglades efforts in D.C. by lobbying for adoption of the federal water bill — Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) 2000 —  that authorized the first major Everglades blueprint, called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).
Recently, after the resignation of Executive Director Melissa Meeker, Barnett stepped in as interim director and helped transition the agency to its new full-time Executive Director Blake Guillory.
Barnett is expected to enter the private sector and alluded to the fact he would still have a presence in Tallahassee next year.
He will stay with the district until Jan. 1.

Sunshine State News | Posted: November 15, 2013 

Third Annual Swamp Heritage Festival at Big Cypress National Preserve

Saturday December 7, 2013

Join us on Saturday December 7, 2013 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center as we celebrate the history and culture of South Florida during the 3rd annual Swamp Heritage Festival. The welcome center is located at 33000 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, FL 34141, three miles east of State Road 29 on U. S. 41, the Tamiami Trail.

This FREE family-friendly event shines a spotlight upon the history of this rugged, yet beautiful environment through a variety of storytellers, musicians, local experts, authors, artists and residents who will share their love of the swamp through programs, activities, thought-provoking presentations, food and music.

“Today, so many people in South Florida focus on the beach. All too often we forget that it was the resources of the swamp that really attracted people to the area, and still draws many to explore and recreate in the depths of this wild place,” stated Jill Wilson, a park ranger at Big Cypress National Preserve responsible for coordinating the festival.

The festival will highlight the inhabitants of early south Florida, whose rugged strength and pioneering spirit contributed to the shaping of today’s unique and diverse culture. Everyone can discover what daily life was like in such a remote and, at times, inhospitable place. These unique chapters in American history add to the rich and colorful tableau that comprises our shared past and present.

“The festival provides a great opportunity for contemporary cultures with deep connections to the swamp to come together and share memories of the past and hopes for the future of the Big Cypress.” said Bob DeGross, spokesperson, Big Cypress National Preserve.

Check out our website for more details on the variety of activities and presentations for the day: http://www.nps.gov/bicy/swampheritagefestival.htm

This year the Swamp Heritage Festival kicks-off the 40th anniversary of the Big Cypress National Preserve. On October 11, 1974 Congress established Big Cypress as America’s first National Preserve. The Preserve was created through a grassroots effort by many to ensure that the Big Cypress Swamp would be protected and enjoyed for generations.

The 3rd annual Swamp Heritage Festival is sponsored by the South Florida National Parks Trust, the nonprofit partner of Everglades, Biscayne and Dry Tortugas National Parks and Big Cypress National Preserve.

Volcano under Antarctic ice may erupt, accelerate melting

A newly discovered volcano rumbling beneath nearly a mile of ice in Antarctica will almost certainly erupt at some point in the future, according to a new study. Such an event could accelerate the flow of ice into the sea and push up the already rising global sea levels.

When the volcano will blow is unknown, “but it is quite likely” to happen, Amanda Lough, a graduate student in seismology at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., told NBC News.

“At some point, it is going to erupt,” she said. “Is it going to erupt in any of our lifetimes? That is not something that we can pinpoint.”

And when it does erupt, she added, “there would be an increase in melting around the area. … You would add water to the system beneath the ice sheet … and that could cause that ice stream to speed up.”

In other words, global warming likely isn’t the only factor causing sea levels to rise, and the discovery of a sub-glacial volcano adds another layer of complexity for scientists trying to model how polar ice sheets move as the world gets warmer. But what overall impact this might have on global sea levels is unknown — and up for debate.

“The implication of large amounts of under-ice water accelerating ice flow, ice discharge and, thus, raising sea levels is ‘permissible,’ but remains highly speculative,” Robert Bindschadler, an expert on glacial ice dynamics and emeritus NASA scientist now living in Quilcene, Wash., told NBC News in an email. “The actual processes involved are still very much topics of research.”

Bindschadler was not involved in the new research, which Lough and colleagues discuss in a paper published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Surprise discovery
Hints of the unnamed volcano’s existence first appeared in seismic data collected by an array of instruments strung across the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Lough’s job was to analyze the data for earthquakes. “I found this grouping of events that kept being located at the same location over and over again,” she said. “And when you see something like that, you want to go see what is causing it.”

She typed the quakes’ location into Google Earth to look for any features that could explain the shaking. She saw a group of nearby mountains, but ruled them out as the source since they were not an exact match. But as more and more earthquakes popped up in the seismic data, her team revisited the mountains.

“We realized they are actually a chain of volcanoes that date younger as they go south and the earthquakes were south of the volcanoes,” Lough said. A subsequent examination of the bedrock topography made with airborne radar revealed a slight rise above the source of the weak, low-frequency quakes.

Intrigued, Lough shipped her seismic data off to a volcano seismologist who said the signature was consistent with a type of earthquake caused by magma coursing through the Earth’s crust. Though these quakes could also be caused by the movement of glacial ice, they occurred between 15 and 25 miles beneath the surface of the ice, much too deep to be related to the pile of ice not quite one mile thick.

The final clue came from a distinct layer of ash dated to about 8,000 years ago in the vicinity of the earthquake cluster. At first, Lough said, she and her colleagues thought it was from an earlier eruption of the suspected volcano, though they later concluded it was more likely from Mount Waesche, a known existing nearby volcano that, in geological terms, erupted recently.

“All of the lines of evidence just fell together nicely,” Lough said. The clusters of earthquakes “are indicative of magma movement in the crust and that this area is still quite active.”

Eruption consequences uncertain
The earthquakes, Lough noted, are “not necessarily a precursor” to an imminent eruption. “Any volcano that is still not extinct, that still has an active magma chamber, is going to be showing seismicity whenever you have the magma moving around in the crust.”

Given the nearly mile-thick pile of ice covering the volcano, any eruption anytime soon would unlikely vent to the surface, according to Lough. Rather, the heat from the eruption would melt the surrounding ice, which would lubricate the flow of the overlying ice sheet.

“All of these processes could lead to accelerating ice mass loss in West Antarctica,” John Behrendt, a geophysicist at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, wrote in an accompanying article in Nature Geoscience.

Whether that will happen, Bindschadler noted, is debatable.

“In my opinion, it boils down to whether the excess water would flow under the ice as a sheet or within a more confined channel,” he said, adding that sub-glacial water flow typically evolves from sheets to channels. “I think, in this volcanic case, the water would start local and form a channel to get to the ocean. This would produce a minimal change to the ice sheet dynamics.”

Bindschadler cautioned, however, that this is just his “reading of the tea leaves.”

So little is known about the bottom of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that models of ice motion over it are unable to reliably predict what to expect from a sub-glacial eruption, noted Slawek Tulaczyk, a glaciologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

However, the new paper, he added in an email to NBC News sent from Antarctica, “serves as an important reminder that, in addition to climate changes, one-off events such as volcanic eruptions or sub-glacial lake floods may influence the rate at which Antarctica looses ice to the ocean.”

John Roach| NBC News 

2012 death toll for bats reaches 600,000 due to wind turbines

According to a new study from the University of Colorado Denver, more than 600,000 bats were killed by wind energy turbines in 2012. This has serious environmental repercussions as bats help pollinate crops and help control harmful insect pests.

“The development and expansion of wind energy facilities is a key threat to bat populations in North America,” said study author Mark Hayes, PhD, research associate in integrated biology at CU Denver. “Dead bats are being found underneath wind turbines across North America. The estimate of bat fatalities is probably conservative.”

The study, which analyzed data on the number of dead bats found at wind turbine sites, will be published this week in the journal BioScience.

Hayes said areas near the Appalachian Mountains like Buffalo, Tennessee and Mountaineer, West Virginia had the highest bat fatality rates. Little information is available on bat deaths at wind turbine facilities in the Rocky Mountain West or the Sierra Nevadas.

The bats are killed when they fly into the towering turbines which spin at up to 179 mph with blades that can stretch 130 feet. Earlier estimates of bat deaths ranged from 33,000 to 880,000.

Hayes said his estimates are likely conservative for two reasons. First, when a range of fatality estimates were reported at a wind facility, he chose the minimum estimate. Secondly, the number of deaths was estimated for just migratory periods, not the entire year, likely leaving out many other fatalities.

There are 45 known bat species in the contiguous U.S. many of which have important economic impacts. Not only do they control flying insects like mosquitoes, they also pollinate commercial crops, flowers and various cacti.

Those suffering the most fatalities are the hoary bat, eastern bat and the silver-haired bat.

Hayes said there ways to mitigate the killings. One is to have the turbines activated to spin at higher wind speeds when bats don’t tend to fly.

“A lot of bats are killed because the turbines move at low wind speeds, which is when most bats fly around,” said Hayes, who has studied bats for 15 years. “In a recent study in Pennsylvania, researchers adjusted the operating speeds from 10 mph to 18 or 20 mph and decreased fatalities by 40 to 90 percent.”

Editor, ENN| November 18, 2013

Continue reading at the University of Colorado Denver.

Birds and Butterflies

Largest lake in British Isles has lost three quarters of winter water birds

November 2013: Northern Ireland’s Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Britain and Ireland, has lost more than three quarters of its overwintering water birds say researchers at Queen’s University Belfast. The study, by Quercus, Northern Ireland’s Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, found the number of diving ducks migrating to the lake for the winter months has dropped from 100,000 to less than 21,000 in the space of a decade.

The research, published in the journal Freshwater Biology, found the ecosystem of the lake has dramatically changed since 2000/01 leading to a huge decline in the numbers of insects and snails living at the bottom of the lake. This combined with the effects of global climate change dramatically affected the numbers of migratory and overwintering water birds, a feature for which the lake is designated a Special Protection Area.

Dr. Irena Tománková, from Quercus at the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s and who led the study, said: “Our research found there was a 66 per cent decline in the numbers of insects and snails in the lake and that this was associated with a decline of algae. As the water birds, which migrate from Northern and Eastern Europe to spend the winter months on the lake, depend on these invertebrates, we partly attribute their decline to the lack of food as well as the effects of climate change.”

Ian Enlander, from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), said: “It is critically important for conservationists and policy makers to understand the reasons behind the dramatic changes that have been recorded at Lough Neagh. This work has been an outstanding contribution to improving our knowledge for this site. It underlines the need for international conservation measures to apply across the entire range of these migratory species.”

Audubon Florida Receives Important Coastal Bird Restoration Grant

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the State of Florida announced that Audubon Florida will be receiving a grant under NFWF’s new Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) to help restore coastal bird populations in the Florida Panhandle.

This funding will complement our existing coastal bird management in the region, allowing us to:

  • post, monitor, manage and steward more beach-nesting bird sites;
  • monitor passage and wintering birds to inform new protections;
  • undertake a major restoration of the Panhandle’s largest seabird rookery island;
  • install road mortality abatement measures at key nesting sites adjacent to busy surface roads;
  • implement a monitoring and management program for rooftop nesting terns;
  • team up with Florida Park Service researchers on a banding study of beach-nesting bird use and best management practices at District 1 parks;
  • support SUNY research modeling Snowy Plover survival at Gulf Islands National Seashore as well as assessing roadkill mortality at the seashore; and
  • provide critical education and outreach to boaters, law enforcement, beach professionals and others enlisting their help in protecting birds and their habitat.

Florida projects supported with this first round of GEBF funding are focused primarily on the Panhandle whose beaches were oiled during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. We are hopeful that success in these Panhandle projects will demonstrate what Audubon Florida has asserted in our vision for Gulf-wide restoration: This level of support for coastal bird management is effective, warranted, and should be funded perpetually, Gulf-wide from restoration dollars.

Audubon of Florida News Blog – Thu, 11/14/2013 -

Click here to read the official announcement from NFWF.

Federal Plans Inadequate, Inconsistent on Sage Grouse Protections

Federal land-use plans for protecting the critically imperiled greater sage grouse are not strong enough to protect the species and wildly inconsistent according to reviews of the plans by WildEarth Guardians. Across the Interior West, federal agencies are rushing to amend land-use plans to increase protections for the greater sage grouse, trying to avoid Endangered Species Act listing. The plans released so far—spanning Montana, Wyoming, Utah, California, and Nevada—designate large acreages of “priority habitat” for sage grouse, but not one follows the recommendation of Bureau of Land Management experts to withdraw these areas from future oil and gas development and hard-rock mining.

Guardians is working to ensure the plans improve.

Read more

Study estimates 400,000 seabirds are killed by gillnets

A recent study from the Biological Conservation journal brings shocking news: every year across the globe, an estimated 400,000 seabirds are killed by gillnets. Gillnets, a common term for any net used to entangle and catch fish, are used all over the world, and at any depth. These nets, whether used in subsistence or commercial fishing, trap anything that swims through them. When unintended marine wildlife, or “bycatch,” is caught in these nets, the results can be significant.

“Fishermen do not try to catch seabirds or other unwanted species, but they usually set their nets in productive marine areas with abundant fish resources, which are also home of other marine fauna,” co-author Ramunas Zydelis told mongabay.com in an interview. “In such places seabird habitats overlap with fishing grounds and subsequently some diving birds accidentally entangle in fishing nets and drawn as they cannot return to the water surface.”

The study synthesized previously collected data from around the world. Overall, it identified 148 different seabird species at risk for becoming gillnet victims, of which 81 have been officially reported as bycatch.

“Bird bycatch in gillnets is net type-specific and species-specific. Not all the nets are equally dangerous. Nets set in deep waters are less likely to catch birds than nets in shallow places or drifting at the surface,” Zydelis says. “Whether a bird species is likely to be caught in fishing nets also depends highly on species foraging behavior and diving habits.”

The birds most likely to be affected by gillnets are those that hunt underwater, such as penguins, loons and cormorants. In particular, the study found that auk species have the highest chances of becoming entangled.

“The highest numbers of seabirds get caught in gillnets set in cold sub-arctic and temperate seas of the northern hemisphere, where very large numbers of diving birds live and rich marine resources attract intensive fisheries.” Zydelis told mongabay.com. “High bycatch occurs in the Russian offshore waters of the northwestern Pacific; possibly a lot of birds get caught around Iceland; the Baltic Sea is another area with high bycatch.”

“But sometimes even low numbers of birds dying in fishing nets could be considered as a significant bycatch when affected bird population are small,” Zydelis added. “Examples could be bycatch of Humboldt penguins in Peru and Chile and bycatch of Magellanic penguins off the southeastern coast of Brazil.”

Jordanna Dulaney, MONGABAY.COM| November 19, 2013

Read more

Invasive species

Invasion of the Giant Grass !

Fueling the needs of biofuel factories could mean growing fields of 30-foot-tall grass, but no one’s positive it will stay where it’s told.

Arundo donax towers over the tallest man’s head. It’s thick, bamboo-like, and three-stories tall. It can withstand cold, and it can withstand drought. Give it water, and a little nitrogen, and it grows. Fast.

Killing it can be difficult. In California, where it was introduced in the 1800s, Arundo has gotten so out of control that in some places it seems to be the only plant growing on the riverbanks. It doesn’t have seeds, but it doesn’t need them: it has other methods of multiplying. A fierce rainstorm can tear up its shallow roots and spread them far downstream. There, they start growing all over again.

Mow it down, spray it with pesticides-it’s all futile. If any of the monstrous reeds are left upstream, they’ll grow back. Arundo doesn’t need to be near water to thrive, though. It grows pretty much anywhere. It grows in Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Virginia-down the West Coast and across the broad swath of the southwest and southeast, up into the mid-Atlantic. Often it remains in small stands, growing tall, but staying in one place. But sometimes, it takes over and becomes an invasive species-an expensive problem for humans and a mortal threat for plants and animals.
Energy companies, however, are set to make Arundo one of the stars of the biofuels industry. They think they can control it.

They’re willing to take the risk. But not everyone is so sure it’s worth it. If the companies fail-if Arundo does get out-it could have irreparable consequences.
In Mills River, North Carolina, up in the mountains and not far from Asheville, a small plot of Arundo has been growing since 2008, alongside switchgrass and another unusually tall plant called giant miscanthus. This patchwork of grasses was planted as part of a study on crops that could feed a next-generation biofuel plant.

The qualities that make Arundo frightening to people who’ve dealt with it as an invasive-its size, sturdiness, and quick growth-make it attractive to the biofuel industry. Although it’s not the only biofuel crop North Carolina is looking to grow (or the only one that’s considered invasive elsewhere in the country), it does have the potential to yield the most biomass per acre-a key metric to making next-generation biofuels financially feasible.

“It’s the difference between having this industry work or not work,” says Matt Harrod, a director at Chemtex International. An Italian-owned polyester fiber, plastics, and design technology company, Chemtex has dipped into the biofuels market, and worked with liquefied natural gas, as well. Last year, in Crescentino, Italy, the company started up the world’s first commercial-scale plant to make ethanol from plants like Arundo instead of corn or sugar cane. The company’s also part of a joint venture that invested $200 million in developing a process to make this sort of cellulosic matter a cost-effective source for biofuel. Now, Chemtex wants to bring that same process to America, and has spent almost a million dollars lobbying the federal government over the past two years…..

No matter what precautions the industry takes, it’s impossible, in the short term, to eliminate the risk of invasiveness for a crop like Arundo . Controlling wild things, even plants, is an unpredictable business. If this were a horror movie-Invasion of the 30-Foot-Tall Monster Grass!!-where Arundo moved in and took over, only to be killed off, cut to the ground, and sprayed with heavy-duty pesticides, it would end with a shot of a single sprout of the plant, making its way out of the soil. In the sequel, the plant will have learned to grow seeds

Sarah Laskow| October 15, 2013

Endangered Species

It’s a Mystery Why Hundreds of Sea Turtles Are Dying – or Maybe Not

Dozens of sea turtles, some with signs of concussions, have been washing up on the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, EL Salvador and elsewhere in Central America. Researchers in Costa Rica suspect that the culprit is seasonal red tides, which secrete a potent neurotoxin. But conservationists suspect the turtles may have gotten caught in trammels, large commercial fishing nets.

The turtles, some from endangered species and some still alive, are washing up in the hundreds on beaches in Central America. From late September to the middle of October, 114 sea turtles — black turtles (Chelonia agassizii), Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) and some that were a cross between the two — have been found on the beaches of El Salvador. 280 have been found so far this year in Costa Rica, 115 in Guatemala and an undisclosed number in Nicaragua. In late 2012, 200 were found dead on Panama’s beaches.

Nestor Herrera, the head of wildlife and ecosystems at the Salvadoran environment ministry, thinks that saxitoxin, which is produced by red tide and affects the nervous system, is a likely reason. Saxitoxin, he says, caused the death of about 500 sea turtles in El Salvador in 2006; dogs who ate dead turtles “stopped breathing and died almost instantly.”

As Angel Ibarra, coordinator of Ecological Unity of El Salvador, points out, a red tide occurs every year, yet such high number of turtle deaths have not been recorded.

Could Commercial Fishing Be Causing Turtle Deaths?

That’s one reason that conservation activists have been increasingly concerned that human activity could be a cause of the turtle deaths. Several dead turtles found near the Murciélago archipelago, in Costa Rica’s northwestern province of Guanacaste, were “attached to longline hooks, nylon strings and rope ,” Didiher Chacón, the director of the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network (Widecast), tells the Tico Times. As he comments,

“It is not difficult to conclude that they were caught by longline fishing devices. Last week, we had reports of Mahi Mahi in the area, and behind them usually comes the longline fishing fleet.”

Hundreds of dead turtles were also found in Gulf Dulce, in the southern Pacific area of Costa Rica, in January of this year. Veterinarians who examined the dead turtles found that they had inflammation and that their respiratory systems were damaged, “leading them to determine the turtles had drowned after being snared in nylon fishing lines, which use several hooks and live bait.”

Guatemala’s National Council of Protected Areas also says that some turtles are being caught by industrial-size fishing boats. In a practice called trawling, these ships drag huge nets along the bottom of the sea floor that catch anything in their path. Equally hazardous for turtles is drill net fishing, in which long nets are pulled behind ships and near the water’s surface.

One biologist, Fabio Buitrago of Nicaragua’s Fundenic, a conservation organization, says that fishermen who use explosives have told him that these have been known to kill turtles.

Widecast and other conservationists say that the frightening number of sea turtle deaths is more than enough reason to push for sustainable fishing practices and to reduce bycatch in commercial fishing. Every year, bycatch fishing procedures end up netting some 30,000 sea turtles including endangered green sea turtles, says Widecast.

If human activity is even contributing to the deaths of sea turtles, it is imperative to minimize this as much as possible. The mortality rate for juvenile sea turtles is already extremely high. As Antonio Benavides, a turtle conservationist in El Salvador, underscores, only one out of the thousands of turtles that hatch from a nest ever returns to the beach it was born at to lay eggs.

On the other side of the world, almost 1,000 turtles were confiscated in a Thai airport last week; a Pakistani man has been arrested. All the turtles found – 470 black pond turtles, 423 radiata turtles and 52 Hamilton turtles — are endangered. Clearly we humans have a huge liking for turtles. Since we do, should we not be making every effort to preserve them and their habitats?

Read more

Manatees dying by the hundreds.

The last report I received painted a grim picture, 772 manatees have died this year – a record number of deaths and a gigantic toll for an animal whose total population is estimated around 5,000 animals.

They are victims of a perfect and deadly storm – habitat loss, pollution, boat collisions and to make matters worse many manatees have died from the two unusual algal blooms, one on each coast!

Toxic red tide bloom on the Gulf coast and the “brown tide” in the Indian River Lagoon on the east coast has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Florida manatees.

These unusual algal blooms, coupled with the increasing number of human-caused threats that manatees continue to face, have resulted in an unprecedented and highly disturbing death toll.

With winter fast approaching, manatees could face a number of other grave dangers. Because residential development has greatly reduced the natural warm water springs used by manatees to keep them alive in the winter months, nearly sixty percent of the population now depends on warm-water outfalls at electric power plants. Meaning a cold snap in Florida could wipe out even more of these gentle giants.

We can’t control the toxic tides that have caused much of the harm in 2013, but we can work to reduce other sources of harm:

  • Defenders of Wildlife helped establish slow speed zones in areas frequented by the animals. Boat strikes have historically been the major human cause of manatee deaths, and we continue to work to educate boaters on how to watch out for manatees;
  • We are working with state officials to protect the sources of warm spring water that manatees depend on to survive winter cold;
  • We are advocating for expanding protected areas that conserve  sea grass beds and other habitats that are critical to the manatees’ survival;
  • And we defend the Endangered Species Act from those who seek to weaken protection for manatees and other listed species.

The manatee is Florida’s state marine mammal. A sighting or encounter with these curious and gentle creatures is an unforgettable experience. It’s up to all of us to make sure we continue to make room for manatees in our world.

Sincerely,

Jamie Rappaport Clark
President
Defenders of Wildlife

 Previously unknown humpback dolphin species identified, researchers say

Divided into two groups — one in the Atlantic Ocean and one found in other parts of the world — the population of humpback dolphins is actually composed of four distinct species, the researchers said. In addition to the newly discovered species, they said, one of the current groups should be divided into two. The species occupy the eastern Atlantic Ocean off West Africa, the central and western Indian Ocean, the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans, and the waters off the coast of northern Australia.

The new information will help governments and conservation groups create policies tailored to each species, said Howard Rosenbaum, director of the society’s Ocean Giants program.

Knowing the distinct species is “essential to an appropriate framework for conservation,” said Martin Mendez, assistant director of the society’s Latin America and the Caribbean program. “You have to absolutely know what you are trying to preserve here.”

Humpback dolphins are considered “threatened” in some waters and “vulnerable” in other parts of the world.

Some species may be threatened by fishing in coastal waters, while others are more vulnerable to invasion of their habitats, Rosenbaum and Mendez said.

The researchers conducted genetic testing on tissue from 235 dolphins and examined the craniums of 180 more.

Hundreds of sea turtles found dead along Central American coast

November 2013: Hundreds of sea turtles, many dead and some with signs of concussion, have been washed up on the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and elsewhere in Central America.

Researchers in Costa Rica believe the culprit to be seasonal red tides, which secrete a potent neurotoxin, although conservationists suspect the turtles may have got caught in commercial fishing nets, or trammels.

From late September to mid-October 114 sea turtles – black turtles (Chelonia agassizii), Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) and crosses between the two – have been found on the beaches of El Salvador. Another 280 have been found so far in Costa Rica, 115 in Guatemala and an undisclosed number in Nicaragua. In late 2012, 200 were found dead on Panama’s beaches.

Nestor Herrera, the head of wildlife and ecosystems at the Salvadoran environment ministry, said that saxitoxin, which is produced by red tide and affects the nervous system, was a likely reason, although red tides occur every year and such numerous incidents have not previously been recorded.

However the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network (Widecast) and other conservation organizations believe fishing practices including trawling, longline and drill net fishing and the use of explosives are to blame and are calling for more sustainable fishing practices. Widecast’s director Didiher Chacón said that several dead turtles found near the Murciélago archipelago in Costa Rica’s northwestern province of Guanacaste were “attached to longline hooks, nylon string and rope”.

Environment: EPA to boost reviews for pesticide impacts to endangered species

Conservation advocates say new guidelines are a good first step

Endangered species may get more protection from pesticides under new guidelines that require federal agencies to better assess the risks posed by toxic chemicals.

The policies will ensure that mitigation measures recommended by the federal wildlife agencies are put in place to protect endangered species in agricultural areas, as well as in areas downstream that are affected by pesticide runoff.

According to environmentalists, the EPA has routinely ignored the Endangered Species Act for more than two decades by failing to consult with wildlife agencies on pesticide impacts. In 2011 Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to study this issue and report on ways of addressing the EPA’s failures to fully protect listed species.

The report issued by the National Academy of Sciences in  April 2013 identified some of the shortcomings in the consultation process.

“The actions announced today represent an important step forward in protecting our nation’s most endangered plants and animals from toxic pesticides, but this is just the first step,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA needs to do much more to ensure this new plan results in meaningful, on-the-ground conservation actions to protect our most endangered species and their habitats.”

Now, the EPA will reform the process to better protect endangered species. Most importantly the agency will now consult on all sub-lethal, indirect and cumulative impacts on endangered species and their critical habitats from pesticides. It will only be allowed to bypass full consultation for endangered species when the anticipated risk of lethal pesticide exposure is less than one in a million.

The agency will also now consider the effects of pesticides on listed species and their critical habitat in areas downstream of agricultural areas where the chemicals are used.

“With over a billion pounds of pesticides applied each year in this country — the highest pesticide usage rate in the world — the dangers to America’s endangered wildlife are still enormous,” said Hartl. “It’s time for the EPA to start using the best available science and put in place common-sense conservation measures.”

The Endangered Species Act consultation process is designed to identify which pesticides are the most harmful to protected species and determine reasonable conservation measures to protect species, such as using less-toxic chemicals, creating no-spray buffer zones next to creeks and rivers, and adopting integrated pest-management solutions to reduce overall pesticide use.

The EPA’s Office of Pesticides Policy has systemically failed to consult on the impacts of pesticides on endangered species, though the consultation process is routine in nearly every arm of the federal government. As a result of this failure, there are more than 1,000 pesticides that have not undergone any meaningful review of their potential impacts on endangered species.

“It will take a lot of hard work and additional resources from all of the federal agencies involved to address this backlog, but at least now agencies are moving forward together,” said Hartl. “This critically important work is worth those additional efforts. As far back as the era of DDT, endangered species have been our canary in the coal mine; making sure endangered species are protected from pesticides is the best way to make sure all of us are protected.”

Bob Berwyn |November 18, 2013 

Everglades & Water Quality Issues

Restoration site will store and treat stormwater runoff before it enters the big lake

The South Florida Water Management District today approved an investment to advance a restoration project in Highlands County that will store water and reduce nutrients and storm water runoff before it enters Lake Okeechobee.

Strategically located in a 19,000-acre watershed northwest of the lake, near U.S.27 and State Road 70, the project comprises three shallow above-ground impoundments. Together totaling approximately 1,200 acres, the impoundments will hold stormwater that would otherwise flow directly into canals leading to Lake Okeechobee.
The $2 million investment approved today – along with funding by project partners that include the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Istokpoga Marsh Watershed Improvement District, Highlands County and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – advances the project to the next step, which is final design and construction of the first impoundment.
“This is a continuation of efforts by the Department and the South Florida Water Management District to restore Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades with the support of Governor Scott,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Additional water storage and cleaner water are critical to the restoration of Lake Okeechobee.”
At 308 acres filled 3.5 feet deep, the first impoundment will hold approximately 900 acre-feet of water. This is equivalent to about 450 Olympic-size swimming pools or about 100 American football fields, without end zones, covered with 9 feet of water.
Scientific study and computer modeling have shown the project, combined with the use of best management practices on local farms, could reduce 70 percent of the phosphorus and 60 percent of the local stormwater runoff flowing into the Harney Pond Canal, which flows into Lake Okeechobee and ultimately the Everglades.
By storing and treating water bound for the lake, the project helps meet key objectives of the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. The program is designed to improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water into Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie watersheds by building on and consolidating numerous restoration efforts into a broader approach focused on restoring the entire Northern Everglades system.

Posted by Don Browne 

DEP Issues Everglades Permit For Stormwater Storage and Flow

On Nov. 6, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit to the South Florida Water Management District to construct the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin, a structure designed to store 15 billion gallons of water so that it can be treated and moved south to the Everglades. It is one of three storage components of Governor Rick Scott’s Everglades Water Quality Restoration Plan.

When construction is complete, stormwater – which at peak flow times is released to the ocean – will be safely held in a deep reservoir and later cleaned and redirected to the Everglades. It will allow water managers the flexibility to store stormwater that under certain peak flow scenarios may have been diverted to the ocean or water conservation areas — and direct flows for treatment prior to entering the Everglades.

“The Department and the South Florida Water Management District continue to move forward with Everglades restoration projects with the support of Governor Scott,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “This project will allow for additional water storage and cleaner water moving south, which will ensure the proper nourishment of the River of Grass.”

The L-8 flow equalization basin will use a 53-foot-deep reservoir capable of storing approximately 45,000 acre-feet of water, or the equivalent of 22,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. The seven interconnected underground cells will be utilized to effectively manage basin stormwater. During storm events and other peak flow events, the reservoir will act as a storage feature. During dry periods, the reservoir will deliver flows for optimized treatment prior to those flows entering the Everglades.

The below-ground reservoir was a former rock mine site located in central Palm Beach County. The location’s unique geology allows for deep, below-ground storage, reduces water loss through seepage and minimizes levee safety concerns. Construction of embankment protection features is currently underway. The permit authorizes construction of a permanent discharge pump station and inflow feature. Construction of the pump station and inflow spillway is scheduled for November 2013 through April 2015.

“Moving forward with construction of the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin reflects yet another milestone in improving the quality of water flowing south into the Everglades,” said South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Blake Guillory. “The District is committed to delivering this project on schedule in order to realize as soon as possible the important environmental benefits it will provide.”

The project is a result of Governor Scott’s direction to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District to develop a plan to address water quality concerns associated with existing flows to the Everglades Protection Area. The plan was presented to United States Environmental Protection Agency in late 2011. After coordination with EPA, the final plan was finalized by the Department in September of 2012.

The Governor’s landmark water quality plan includes:

  • 6,500 acres of additional stormwater treatment areas, which are man-made managed wetlands that naturally remove phosphorus from water prior to the water being discharged into the Everglades.
  • 110,000 acre-feet of water storage capabilities in flow equalization basins, or reservoirs that work with the proposed and existing stormwater treatment areas to regulate flows and optimize treatment efficiency.
  • Other components of the plan include engineering projects in existing treatment areas and the modification of conveyance features necessary to move the water through the South Florida Water Management District’s massive flood control and water delivery features.

depdbilbow | November 18, 2013

New Ice Monitoring Technique Offers Insight into Great Lakes

With winter weather fast approaching, we start to look at how the big chill will affects our economy. And for the Great Lakes, frozen ice is bound to affect shipping lanes and local fishing industries. Connected to the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Great Lakes Waterway, each year, millions of tons of cargo are moved onto the lakes, supplying the US and Canada with important commodities.

In addition to economic impacts, the lakes have a significant effect on the regional environment and ecological systems so the importance of analyzing and observing these frozen waters is crucial for the region.

Fortunately, two scientists from NASA and NOAA have developed a new space-based technique for monitoring the ice cover of the Great Lakes.

“In the dark, it’s difficult to read a map that’s right in front of you,” said Son Nghiem of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, one of the developers of the new technique. “Yet we now have a way to use satellite radars almost 500 miles [800 kilometers] out in space to see through clouds and darkness and map ice across the Great Lakes.”

The new method, co-developed by Nghiem and his colleague George Leshkevich of NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Ann Arbor, Michigan, gives a more accurate analysis of ice characteristics, such as whether the ice is dense or full of bubbles, whether it has melted and refrozen, and whether there is snow on top of the lake ice.

The method uses a special dictionary that translates binary digital data from satellite radar instruments on the Canadian Space Agency’s RADARSAT-1/2, the European Space Agency’s European Remote Sensing Satellite 2 (ERS-2), and Envisat to identify and map different types of ice over the Great Lakes. The researchers compiled the dictionary by pairing each observed ice type to a library of unique radar signatures that were measured on the lakes using a JPL-developed advanced radar aboard a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking ship.

Leshkevich said, “These maps will provide important information for environmental management, ice forecasting and modeling, off-shore wind farm development, operational icebreaking activities in support of winter navigation, and science research.”

This ice classification will also provide insight as to how the Great Lakes are responding to, and leading, climate change in the upper Midwest.

Results of the study were published recently in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Allison Winter, ENN|Published November 14, 2013

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Farmers to reform practices for springs

Seems like only six or seven years ago James Harris saw things more clearly.

The fact that the Weeki Wachee River has clouded that rapidly makes it even more apparent to him that more needs to be done to restore it.

“In the summer you can’t see the water 4 feet out there,” the self-described lover of water said. “It’s depressing.”

Hernando County’s swift development during the last 30 years has been accompanied by more nitrate pollution from lawn fertilizer, animal and human waste, and septic tanks leaching into the river and spring.

Nitrate concentrations have increased 13-fold during the past three decades, according to a 2009 Florida Department of Environmental Protection report, and at the expense of the water’s clarity and quality.

A bill passed by the Florida Legislature in December 2012 mandated septic evaluations for 19 counties and three cities in the state with “first magnitude” springs – including Hernando County and Weeki Wachee – but it included an opt-out option that effectively removed whatever teeth the law had.

A month after Gov. Rick Scott signed it, Hernando County commissioners unanimously decided – as did leaders of all the other effected counties and cities – not to enforce septic evaluations, saying unaffected taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for inspections and repairs of other people’s septic tanks.

A better approach would be to pass local ordinances containing specific measures, they said, and a resounding vote last week established those measures to be: required training and certification of fertilizer applicators and regulation of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorus, two nutrients needed for plant life to grow.

That includes Lyngbya wollei algae, which a 2006 survey of 29 Florida springs showed grew thickest in Weeki Wachee Spring and upper segments of the spring’s namesake river.

Consistently elevated nitrate concentrations causing excessive algae growth, particularly during summer months, is what put Weeki Wachee on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of “impaired” surface waters.

The water quality failed federal standards and in 2009 was labeled a “medium” priority project for Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The federal Clean Water Act, in combination with a 2009 state study, helped establish a “total maximum daily load for each pollutant.

Primarily that pollutant is nitrogen, according to the report, which at even slightly increased levels combines with naturally occurring and abundant phosphorus to create the algae overgrowth slowly destroying the spring.

The new county ordinance passed Tuesday focuses on both these pollutants, and while it only targets one facet of the problem, it’s an economical first step to reduce nitrate pollution, said DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller.

“It is far easier and much less expensive to minimize the amount of nutrients that get into our waters than it is to treat storm water and other … sources of pollution to remove nutrients,” she wrote in an email.

The county isn’t alone in the clean-up effort. In September, Gov. Rick Scott announced 10 water quality and spring improvement projects, leveraged from multimillion-dollar investments from the Florida Families First Budget, DEP funding and local partners for a total of nearly $37 million.

One of these projects was for the Rainbow, Kings Bay, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka and Weeki Wachee springs group, referred to collectively as “The Springs Coast.”

The estimated $875,000 water quality improvement and water quantity project will receive $375,000 in state funding and is a cost-share initiative with local fruit, field, livestock, poultry and equine farms.

The project is intended to improve management practices in the region and reduce the amount of groundwater used and nutrients added to the springs systems.

“This wide range of agricultural activities presents the opportunity for a variety of technologies that can be used to reduce groundwater use, such as weather stations, soil moisture sensors, automatic timers and pumps, tailwater recovery ponds and irrigation retrofits using more efficient low-volume systems,” Miller said.

Lyngbya, the cyanobacteria growing most thickly in Weeki Wachee Spring, also might pose health hazards beyond the spring’s ecosystem.

Lyngbya naturally produces saxitoxin, a prominent neurotoxin in rare illnesses such as paralytic shellfish poisoning.

According to a 2004 report by the state’s Florida Coastal Management Program, paralytic shellfish poisoning occurs globally in humans who consume tainted shellfish, which retain saxitoxins in their muscle while filter-feeding. The poison can remain in their bodies for as long as two years.

Toxic shellfish consumed from non-regulated areas are potentially lethal, the report states.

“Throughout many areas of the world, however, particularly in the United States, the prevention of (paralytic shellfish poisoning) is well managed by state and federal agencies,” the report states.

A 30-year review of the Florida Department of Health’s database of reported illnesses shows that was the case until 2004, when a case was reported in Seminole County north of the Indian River.

That remained the only reported case until the numbers tripled last year: one case in Indian River, another in St. Lucie County near the Indian River Lagoon – near where the first paralytic shellfish poisoning case was reported – and the other in Hillsborough County.

“The sudden appearance of saxitoxins at potentially lethal concentrations in an area previously unknown to have such toxins, signals a new and unprecedented public health and natural resource problem for Florida,” the state DEP report shows.

MATT REINIG | Hernando Today| November 16, 2013

mreinig@hernandotoday.com

Great Lakes levels rise, but slump hasn’t ended

Federal scientists say Great Lakes water levels are up sharply this year because of heavy rain and snow. But it’s too early to declare an end to the slump that has affected most of the system since the late 1990s.

The drop-off has been most pronounced in Lakes Huron and Michigan, which have the same level because they’re connected. Keith Kompoltowicz of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer says in a briefing Wednesday those lakes are nearly a foot higher than last November.

That’s a big improvement from early this year, when they hit their lowest point since record-keeping began in 1918.

Still, experts forecast that Michigan and Huron will remain well below their long-term average into next spring, while Lakes Superior and Erie will be slightly below average.

John Flesher |Associated Press

Wildlife and Habitat

Feral Cats vs. Urban Coyotes: What it Means for City Parks

Stray cats and urban coyotes often thrive in cities because of the availability of food and lack of enemies. But when faced against each other, a feral cat is no match for a coyote and according to a new study, outdoor cats do their best to steer clear of these urban wolves.

Because cats have been found to dodge these coyotes, research suggests that in turn, the cats cause less damage to wildlife in urban green spaces, such as city parks and nature preserves.

“Free-roaming cats are basically partitioning their use of the urban landscape. They’re not using the natural areas in cities very much because of the coyote presence there,” said the study’s lead author, Stan Gehrt, associate professor of environment and natural resources at The Ohio State University.

“It reduces the cats’ vulnerability to coyotes, but at the same time, it means the coyotes are essentially protecting these natural areas from cat predation,” he said.

The study, which was published recently in the online journal PLOS ONE, is the first to show how coyotes and free-roaming cats share space and interact with each other in urban areas.

Gehrt and his colleagues monitored the health, home ranges, habitat selections and other characteristics of 39 feral and stray cats near six parks and nature preserves in greater Chicago. The Chicago area has some of the densest populations of coyotes ever recorded.

The scientists found that most of the cats shunned the urban coyotes’ “core activity areas” — fragments of natural habitat within the city, as represented by the study’s parks and nature preserves.

Instead, the cats restricted their own core activities to developed parts of the city, such as near homes and shops. Core activity areas are the areas within an animal’s home range where the animal spends most of its time and concentrates most of its activities, including hunting.

“Coyotes essentially exclude cats from natural habitat fragments in cities either directly through predation or indirectly through the threat of predation,” said Gehrt. “The cats avoid these areas.”

Coyotes are known to prey on free-roaming cats, whether feral, strays or pets, while free-roaming cats, on the whole, have been shown to kill great numbers of birds, small rodents and reptiles.

The study also concludes that the feral cats live longer and are healthier than previously thought.

In all, the findings paint both animals in a more positive light, Gehrt said.

Read more

Editor, ENN|Published November 13, 2013

Scientists Develop New Technique to Predict Wildfires

Last year, over 9 million acres were burned in the US alone due to wildfires. While wildfires can be caused by natural events, they often burn out of control and may get to a point where they become uncontrollable, even when managed by firefighters. Despite their sparks of uncertainty and paths of destruction, researchers have found a way to predict wildfire growth through the lifetime of their blazes.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, and the University of Maryland, have developed a technique that combines cutting-edge simulations of the interaction of weather and fire with newly available satellite observations of active wildfires. This is the first time computer modeling offers the promise of continually-updated daylong predictions.

Updated with new observations every 12 hours, the computer model forecasts critical details such as the extent of a blaze and changes in its behavior.

“With this technique, we believe it’s possible to continually issue good forecasts throughout a fire’s lifetime, even if it burns for weeks or months,” said NCAR scientist Janice Coen, the lead paper author and model developer.

“This model, which combines interactive weather prediction and wildfire behavior, could greatly improve forecasting–particularly for large, intense wildfire events where the current prediction tools are weakest.”

Over the last decade, Coen has developed a tool, known as the Coupled Atmosphere-Wildland Fire Environment (CAWFE) computer model, that connects how weather drives fires and, in turn, how fires create their own weather.

Using CAWFE, she successfully simulated the details of how large fires grow.

However simulations need the most updated data because there are so many factors that can change the size and path of a wildfire. This is where satellite instruments come into play.

Coen’s co-author, Wilfrid Schroeder of the University of Maryland, produced higher-resolution fire detection data from a new satellite instrument, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), jointly operated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The new tool provides coverage of the entire globe at intervals of 12 hours or less, with pixels about 1,200 feet across. The higher resolution enabled the two researchers to outline the active fire perimeter in much greater detail.

The researchers said that forecasts using the new technique could be particularly useful in anticipating sudden blowups and shifts in the direction of the flames.

In addition, they could enable decision makers to look at several newly ignited fires and determine which pose the greatest threat.

The breakthrough is described in a paper published this week in the online edition of the American Geophysical Union journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Allison Winter, ENN|Published November 15, 2013

Isle Royale wolves: National Park Service nowhere near a decision

The National Park Service is seeking public comments on whether to intervene and try to save the wolves on Isle Royale
Isle Royale National Park used to be flush with caribou and lynx. Both are gone now.

That’s what happens on islands, said Paul Brown, Isle Royale’s chief of natural resources.

Species come and go, he said. It’s the natural way of things.

He and other National Park Service officials say that’s an important point to remember as they decide what to do about Isle Royale’s most iconic and threatened animal – the wolf.

“There is a turn-over with things that live on islands, and that’s normal,” Brown said Thursday at a public meeting on the wolf issue. “The moose and wolf are newcomers to the island.”

Thursday’s meeting in Chelsea was one of four being held in Michigan and Minnesota this month to gather input on whether the park service should intervene and try to save the Isle Royale wolves.

There are only eight adult wolves left on Isle Royale, far below the population’s peak of 50 wolves in 1980 and well below the average of 21. Two or three pups were born last spring, but it’s too soon to know if they will survive.

Wolves are always a controversial and high-profile species, but the wolves of Isle Royale are nearly mythical in significance because of a long-running study on the island called the Wolf-Moose Project.

The project, which is run by biologists from Michigan Technological University, is in its 55th year, making it the longest running study of predator-prey relationships in the world.

The current team of researchers, Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich, have blamed a variety of factors for the wolves’ decline, from generations of inbreeding to a devastating epidemic of canine parvovirus brought to the island by a tourist’s dog in 1981.

They predict the wolves will die out completely unless the National Park Service intervenes to save them.

Doing so, however, would violate longstanding park policy that requires a hands-off approach to wildlife management, which is why the National Park Service is not rushing into a decision, said Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green.

The three options under consideration are:

• Do nothing. Let nature take its course.

• Let the wolves die out on the island and then try to rebuild the population from scratch by bringing in new wolves.

• Attempt a so-called genetic rescue. That is, rebuild and strengthen the wolf population by bringing new wolves to the island to mate with the animals currently there.

Peterson and Vucetich are calling for a genetic rescue. They say any other option would allow the island’s moose population to get too big and therefore threaten the native vegetation.

That fact carried a lot of weight with wolf advocate Penny Oliverio, a South Lyon resident who attended Thursday’s meeting.

“I think genetic rescue is the only option that makes sense,” she said. “This is a chance for us to do something to help them. We’ve already decimated them in other places. I think we should give them one at least one place where they can live safely.”

Jackson resident Robert Welsh, who has visited Isle Royale several times over the past 30 years, said he’s undecided on what he’d like the park service to do.

“Should we save them or not? That’s where I’m at,” Welsh said. “But I’m glad to see they are taking a scientific approach to this.”

Green wouldn’t say when she expects the park service to make a decision about how to proceed with the wolves.

“I‘m committed to having a decision before nature takes one of the choices away,” she said. “If one choice is genetic rescue, we have to act before the wolves are gone.”

Louise Knott Ahern| Port Huron Times Herald

White-lipped peccary trails lead to archaeological discovery in Brazil

November 2013: Ancient cave drawings of animals made by hunter-gatherer societies thousands of years ago were a surprise find in Brazil for a team of scientists on the trail of white-lipped peccaries, herd-forming pig-like animals that travel long distances. The team  from the Wildlife Conservation Society and a local partner NGO, Instituto Quinta do Sol were gathering environmental data in forests that link Brazil’s Pantanal and Cerrado biomes.

The peccaries are vulnerable to human activities, such as deforestation and hunting, and are disappearing from large swaths of their former range from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. While following signals from radio-collared white-lipped peccaries and the foraging trails of peccary herds, the team encountered a series of prominent sandstone formations with caves containing drawings of animals and geometric figures.

Keuroghlian contacted Aguiar, a regional specialist in cave drawings, determined that the drawings were made between 4,000–10,000 years ago by hunter-gatherer societies that either occupied the caves, or used them specifically for their artistic activities. The style of some drawings, Aguiar noted, was consistent with what archeologists call the Planalto (central Brazilian plateau) tradition, while others, surprisingly, were more similar to Nordeste (northeastern Brazil) or Agreste (forest to arid-land transition in NE Brazil) style drawings. The drawings depict an assemblage of animals including armadillos, deer, large cats, birds, and reptiles, as well as human-like figures and geometric symbols. Oddly, the subject of the WCS surveys in the area—peccaries—are absent from the illustrations. Aguiar hopes to conduct cave floor excavations and geological dating at the sites in order to fully interpret the drawings.
“These discoveries of cave drawings emphasize the importance of protecting the Cerrado and Pantanal ecosystems, both for their cultural and natural heritage” said Dr. Julie Kunen, Director of WCS’s Latin America and Caribbean Program and an expert on Mayan archeology. “We hope to partner with local landowners to protect these cave sites, as well as the forests that surround them, so that the cultural heritage and wildlife depicted in the drawings are preserved for future generations.”
The drawings are the subject of a recently published study by archeologists Rodrigo Luis Simas de Aguiar and Keny Marques Lima in the journal Revista Clio Arqueológica (see link below). The diversity of the renderings, according to the authors, adds significantly to our knowledge of rock art from the Cerrado plateau region that borders the Pantanal.

Guyana’s plans for a dam put vast parts of rainforest at risk

November 2013: Plans to build a massive hydro-electric dam on the land of two unique tribes in Guyana would lead to the destruction of a unique people and vast tracts of rainforest says anthropologist Dr. Audrey Butt Colson.

His report, published by Survival International, reveals that Guyana’s government aims to push ahead with one or more dams on the Upper Mazaruni River, designating it an area for mining and a series of hydro-power projects.

This would flood out the entire Akawaio indigenous people and an Arekuna community and forever destroy an area famed for its magnificent scenery, bio-diversity and scientific interest. It is a project shrouded in secrecy. The dam would turn the Akawaio and Arekuna into refugees and the government has failed to obtain the indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent, as required by international law.

Jean La Rose of the Amerindian Peoples Association said: “We understand that the country needs to develop in a world that is changing, but this must not come at the expense of our lives as a people. Land is the life source that sustains us and will have to sustain our generations to come. Our distinct culture, history and identity as the first peoples of this nation who are dependent on our environment for survival must be respected. The principles of free, prior and informed consent must be implemented at all levels by the state on any projects and programs that will have economic and cultural impacts on us as indigenous peoples.”

This is not the first time there have been plans in the area for a dam. It was initially shelved in the 1970s after funders, including the World Bank, withdrew after a campaign by the Akawaio and Survival International.The Upper Mazaruni communities declared in a statement: “Our grandparents didn’t accept the hydro-project in the past, the grandchildren share the position of our grandparents and say no to the ‘Kurupung Project’ [formerly known as the Upper Mazaruni dam].”

Global Warming and Climate Change 

Here’s Why There’s Been a Pause in Global Warming, and It’s About to End

In their efforts to deny man made climate change, skeptics have frequently pointed to a pause in rising global temperatures to try to dissuade from the seriousness of the global warming threat. Now, scientists think they know exactly what caused that pause and it’s good news: we did!

A new study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shines a light on the intriguing fact that since 1998, global temperature rises seem to have paused. Researchers from the Institute for Environmental Studies in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, used a new statistical analysis on temperature rise and the atmosphere’s greenhouse gas concentrations between 1880-2010 as part of a wider study into human influence over climate temperatures.

What they found was that when humans have intervened to lower global emissions, there appears to have been a pause in global warming.

For instance, the pause in rising global temperatures in the late 1990s appears to have been at least partly as a result of the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, where 46 world powers agreed to a reduction in the emission of ozone-depleting chemicals known as CFCs, as well as a cut in methane emissions. While CFCs are known to have thinned the ozone layer, they also are many times more powerful than CO2 as insulating gasses and linger in the atmosphere for much longer.

This is one of several examples the scientists have identified where global temperature increase stalled as a result of human efforts to reduce emissions.

Other examples the study points to include the reduction of CO2 output during both world wars and during the Great Depression. The study found that from 1929 to 1932, yearly emissions of carbon dioxide were reduced by around 26%, and it was 1937 before the emissions returned to pre-1929 levels. The post-war boom, the scientists say, appears one of the key contributing factors toward the rapid global temperature rise prior to the late 1990s slow-down.

The paper also notes that local level practices can have a small effect too, such as relatively recent changes to rice farming in Asia that have cut methane production.

Why does this matter? Well, it’s the fact that human intervention has helped to slow man-made global warming that is key here and why this is important in the continued war against climate change denial. As the study’s author’s write:

“Paradoxically, the recent decrease in warming, presented by global warming skeptics as proof that humankind cannot affect the climate system, is shown to have a direct human origin.”

It should be noted that independent researchers commenting on the study feel it’s unlikely this is the whole story. Nevertheless, they say these findings are significant:

“The impact of this change is small but not negligible: without the reduction in CFC emissions, temperatures today could have been almost 0.1C warmer than they actually are,” the BBC quotes Professor Myles Allen from Oxford University as saying.

Other theories have been offered as to what might also have contributed to the global temperature pause, including that a cooling in equatorial Pacific waters has helped retard temperatures — but that’s only a temporary pause and soon the Pacific waters will once again begin warming.

There’s one other big takeaway from this study, and it’s a little hard to swallow: global temperatures will start to rise again, and probably soon.

Alex Sen Gupta, of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia, writes in a commentary on the study that the Montreal Protocol’s positive impact on global warming is, unfortunately, not going to last. “In the end, the continuing rise in other greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, will keep temperatures marching upwards.”

As recently as September, the United Nations has reiterated that it is “95% certain” that climate change is predominantly caused by humans. At the same time, the UN highlighted that global temperature pauses appear short-lived and, regardless of the cause, should not deter us from taking action now.

What all this adds up to, then, is a clear message. It is possible for human action to slow global temperature rises but that it appears it will take a coordinated global effort far exceeding the scope of the Montreal Protocol to do so, action that, as yet, no world power has been able to initiate.

 Steve Williams|November 12, 2013

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Carbon emissions set to hit new record high in 2013

The amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere in 2013 is expected to hit a new high of 36 billion tons, according to a Carbon Budget released today by the Global Carbon Project (GCP). This is a 2.1 percent rise from 2012 based on data from the same group.

“We have exhausted about 70 per cent of the cumulative emissions that keep global climate change likely below two degrees,” said Global Carbon Project (GCP) member, Pierre Friedlingstein, with the University of Exeter. “In terms of CO2 emissions, we are following the highest climate change scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in September.”

Nations worldwide have pledged to keep temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, a threshold that scientists say is necessary to have a reasonable chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. But experts say countries are moving too sluggishly on cutting their emissions in order to ensure this goal is met.

The only silver lining in the GCP’s initial 2013 data is that the rate of rising emissions appears to be slowing slightly. Over the last ten years, emissions have risen on average 2.7 percent every year. However, in 2012 emissions rose 2.2 percent, while this year emissions look to rise 2.1 percent. This could indicate a trend of slowing carbon emissions growth, which, if the trend continues, would lead to an eventual decline.

The GCP’s data echoes similar findings in a recent report by the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. This report found that annual carbon emissions growth actually slowed down to 1.1 percent in 2012. Scientists have warned that to keep the 2 degree target, global emissions must peak no later than 2015 and then fall precipitously thereafter.

“Governments meeting in Warsaw this week need to agree on how to reverse this trend. Emissions must fall substantially and rapidly if we are to limit global climate change to below two degrees,” said the leader of the report, Corinne Le Quéré of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia.

Jeremey Hance, MONGABAY.COM,|November 20, 2013

By 2047, Coldest Years May Be Warmer Than Hottest in Past, Scientists Say

Rising global temperatures would put more stress on the tropics, including on coral reefs like this one in the Red Sea near Egypt.

If greenhouse emissions continue their steady escalation, temperatures across most of the earth will rise to levels with no recorded precedent by the middle of this century, researchers said Wednesday.

Articles in this series focus on the central arguments in the climate debate and examine the evidence for global warming and its consequences.

According to research, temperatures beyond historical bounds will increase stress on rain forests like those in Brazil.

Scientists from the University of Hawaii at Manoa calculated that by 2047, plus or minus five years, the average temperatures in each year will be hotter across most parts of the planet than they had been at those locations in any year between 1860 and 2005.

To put it another way, for a given geographic area, “the coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past,” said Camilo Mora, the lead scientist on a paper published in the journal Nature.

Unprecedented climates will arrive even sooner in the tropics, Dr. Mora’s group predicts, putting increasing stress on human societies there, on the coral reefs that supply millions of people with fish, and on the world’s greatest forests.

“Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced,” Dr. Mora said in an interview. “What we’re saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm.”

The research comes with caveats. It is based on climate models, huge computer programs that attempt to reproduce the physics of the climate system and forecast the future response to greenhouse gases. Though they are the best tools available, these models contain acknowledged problems, and no one is sure how accurate they will prove to be at peering many decades ahead.

The models show that unprecedented temperatures could be delayed by 20 to 25 years if there is a vigorous global effort to bring emissions under control. While that may not sound like many years, the scientists said the emissions cuts would buy critical time for nature and for human society to adapt, as well as for development of technologies that might help further reduce emissions.

Other scientists not involved in the research said that slowing emissions would have a bigger effect in the long run, lowering the risk that the climate would reach a point that triggers catastrophic changes. They praised the paper as a fresh way of presenting information that is known to specialists in the field, but not by the larger public.

“If current trends in carbon dioxide emissions continue, we will be pushing most of the ecosystems of the world into climatic conditions that they have not experienced for many millions of years,” said Ken Caldeira, a climate researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif.

The Mora paper is a rarity: a class project that turned into a high-profile article in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals.

Dr. Mora is not a climate scientist; rather he is a specialist in using large sets of data to illuminate environmental issues. He assigned a class of graduate students to analyze forecasts produced by 39 of the world’s foremost climate models. The models, whose results are publicly available, are operated by 21 research centers in 12 countries, and financed largely by governments.

Thousands of scientific papers have been published about the model results, but the students identified one area of analysis that was missing. The results are usually reported as average temperature changes across the planet. But that gives little sense of how the temperature changes in specific places might compare with historical norms. “We wanted to give people a really relatable way to understand climate,” said Abby G. Frazier, a doctoral candidate in geography.

So Dr. Mora and his students divided the earth into a grid, with each cell representing 386 square miles. Averaging the results from the 39 climate models, they calculated a date they called “climate departure” for each location — the date after which all future years were predicted to be warmer than any year in the historical record for that spot on the globe.

The results suggest that if emissions of greenhouse gases remain high, then after 2047, more than half the earth’s surface will experience annual climates hotter than anything that occurred between 1860 and 2005, the years for which historical temperature data and reconstructions are available. If assiduous efforts were made to bring emissions down, that date could be pushed back to 2069, the analysis found.

With the technique the Mora group used, it is possible to specify climate departure dates for individual cities. Under high emissions, climate departure for New York City will come in 2047, the paper found, plus or minus the five-year margin of error. But lower emissions would push that to 2072.

For Beijing, climate departure would come in 2046 under high emissions, or 2078 under lower emissions. The dates for Moscow are 2063 and 2092; for Washington, 2047 and 2071.

Perhaps the most striking findings are in the tropics. Climate variability there is much smaller than in high latitudes, and the extra heat being trapped by greenhouse gases will push the temperature beyond historical bounds much sooner, the research found. Under high emissions, the paper found a climate departure date of 2031 for Mexico City, 2029 for Jakarta and for Lagos, Nigeria, and 2033 for Bogotá, Colombia.

Many people perceive climate change to be most serious at the poles, and the largest absolute changes in temperature are already occurring in the Arctic and parts of Antarctica. But the Mora paper dovetails with previous research suggesting that the biggest risks to nature and to human society, at least in the near term, may actually be in the tropics.

People living in the tropics are generally poor, with less money to adapt to climate change than people in the mid-latitude rich countries that are burning the most carbon-based fuels and contributing most of the emissions. Plants and animals in the tropics also are accustomed to a narrow temperature range. Organisms that do not have the genetic capacity to adapt to rapid climatic changes will be forced to move, or will be driven to extinction, climate scientists say.

“I am certain there will be massive biological and social consequences,” Dr. Mora said. “The specifics, I cannot tell you.”

JUSTIN GILLIS|October 9, 2013 

Developing nations bear the brunt of extreme weather

Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan were the countries that suffered the most due to extreme weather events in 2012, according to the Global Climate Risk Index released yesterday at the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland.

The 2012 events that hit these countries were Hurricane Sandy in Haiti, Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines, and severe monsoon flooding in Pakistan.

Most of the top 50 most vulnerable positions are taken by developing nations, with almost all South Asian countries listed there.

The index was prepared by a research and advocacy organization based in Germany called Germanwatch, which works in the areas of sustainable development and environment.

Pakistan, ranked third, has been among the three most-affected countries worldwide for three consecutive years.

“We have lost almost US$15 billion to floods and droughts in the last three years and we need billions more to adapt to the changing climate,” said Muhammad Irfan Tariq, the director-general of Pakistan’s climate change division during the launch of the index.

“Can anybody imagine how a country will possibly rebuild itself from such huge catastrophes as Typhoon Haiyan or the 2010 Pakistan flood?” he asked.

The report states that, although single extreme events cannot be attributed solely to climate change, it is an important factor in increasing the odds of the occurrence and intensity of these events.

The report “reconfirms that developing countries are hit the hardest by extreme weather events”, said Söenke Kreft, team leader of international climate policy at Germanwatch.

The Germanwatch index also ranked the countries worst affected by extreme weather events between 1993 and 2012.

Honduras topped the list, followed by Myanmar, Haiti, Nicaragua and Bangladesh.

According to the report, in the last 20 years, more than 530,000 people died as a direct result of almost 15,000 extreme weather events and losses of more than US$2.5 trillion occurred worldwide.

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Bhrikuti Rai, SciDevNet|Published November 13, 2013 

Filipino delegate: no denying climate change now

Monday, the Filipino delegate to the ongoing climate summit, Naderev ‘Yeb’ Saño, dared climate change deniers to take a hard look at what’s happening not just in the Philippines, but the whole world. Over the weekend, the Philippines was hit by what may have been the largest typhoon to ever make landfall: Typhoon Haiyan. Reports are still coming in days later; death tolls were initially estimated to be over 10,000 with whole cities simply swept away, but more recent reports are placing the death toll lower but still substantial.

“To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare them to get off their ivory towers and away from the comfort of their armchairs,” Saño said. “I dare them to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods, to the Arctic where communities grapple with the fast dwindling polar ice caps, to the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, and the Nile where lives and livelihoods are drowned, to the hills of Central America that confronts similar monstrous hurricanes, to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water becomes scarce.”

He added, “(climate change deniers) may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.”

Saño, currently attending Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw, Poland, has gone on a fast at the summit “until a meaningful outcome is in sight.” He told delegates Monday that, “We can stop this madness right here in Warsaw.”

At this time, no one knows for certain how much of a role climate change played in Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation. However, scientists are largely convinced that climate change will increase the intensity of tropical storms like typhoons and hurricanes. Warmer sea surface waters likely translates into more precipitation and higher wind speeds. In addition, rising sea levels are certainly increasing the height and extent of storm surges, which can lead to more causalities and damage.

“Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms,” Saño said. “As the Earth warms up, so do the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the Philippines will increase the intensity of typhoons and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm.”

Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM|Published November 13, 2013

Read more from ENN affiliate MongaBay. Read related story from ENN: Tiny islands with big climate change problems.  

Missing sea ice data found in crusty Canadian algae

For the first time, scientists have been able to piece together how much sea ice covered the Arctic each winter before satellites began tracking sea ice in 1979, filling a gap in data about how the Arctic climate has changed in the past few hundred years.

In a paper published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Canadian-led research team showed the sea ice cover in the Arctic has declined dramatically over the past 150 years, not just over the past 30.

The study was able to extend the record of sea ice coverage in the Arctic more than 600 years into the past with the help of an unusual, long-lived rock-like organism called coralline algae.

Arctic sea ice has been tracked using satellites since 1979. Here is a depiction, based on satellite data, of Arctic sea ice on Sept. 12, 2013, the day before the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center estimated sea ice extent hit its annual minimum, with a line showing the 30-year average minimum extent in yellow. (NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr)

By reading the algae’s growth layers like tree rings and comparing them to satellite data, the team led by Jochen Halfar, a professor of chemical and physical sciences at the University of Toronto Mississauga, was able to figure out how long ice covered the sea where the algae lived during each year of its 646-year life span.

That kind of data, unavailable up until now, can be used to update climate models “to predict what is going to happen in the next 100 years or so,” said Halfar in an interview Monday from Germany, where he is doing some research with a scientist at the University of Goettingen.

Good records of sea ice cover only exist since 1979, when sea ice started being tracked by satellite imagery. According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, satellite data show that sea ice cover in the Arctic has been shrinking 63,400 square kilometres per year or 7.1 per cent per decade. The decline is linked to an increase in vegetation growth and warmer temperatures in the Arctic, which has been warming far more quickly than the global average.

In order to estimate what sea ice cover was like before 1979, Halfar said, researchers had been relying on historical reports by fishermen, which are limited; and on data from sea sediment cores, which can only provide information on much longer time scales, such as how sea ice cover changed from century to century over 10,000 years.

Now, by studying a 646-year-old coralline algae specimen off Kingitok Island in Labrador, researchers have been able to get unprecedented detail about variations in sea ice over the past few centuries.

Have you seen coralline algae?

Unlike the slimy, green, floating algae that most of us are familiar with, coralline algae is a pinkish organism with a hard skeleton, like coral, that forms hard crusts on rocks on the sea bottom in coastal areas.

While most of us have never heard of it, coralline algae is common all over the world, and anyone who has ever snorkeled in a tropical coral reef has probably seen it, Halfar said.

“They’re not as sexy as coral,” he acknowledged, since they don’t grow as tall. Instead, they form dark red, purplish crusts at the base of the corals, cementing the reef together.

“The coral reef would be much more fragile and susceptible to breakage from storms, for example, if it wasn’t for the coralline algae,” Halfar added.

While studying coralline algae in Mexico years ago, Halfar broke some open, saw the growth layers, and wondered if those contained annual, historical data about climate the way tree rings do.

It turns out they do, and that long-lived Arctic and sub-Arctic specimens, such as ones chiseled and jackhammered out from the sea floor off the Labrador coast and in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, provide particularly useful climate data.

Emily Chung, CBC News |Nov 19, 2013

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Midwest Reels From Freak November Tornadoes That Flattened Homes

Jordan Morris picked through the rubble of his parents’ house in Washington, Ill., yesterday and was headed back on Tuesday to help his sister sift through the wreckage of her house after a freak series of tornadoes and thunderstorms tore through the region, destroying his family’s homes.

The 26-year-old, who lives a couple hours away in Chicago, can hardly believe his family survived unscathed in the weekend weather event that has killed at least eight people and destroyed entire neighborhoods. The National Weather Service estimates about a half-dozen tornadoes touched down on Sunday, pummeling a broad swath of the Midwest.

“My parents’ house was completely demolished,” Morris told TakePart, describing the two-story, five-bedroom house that his parents had lived in for about eight years.

His parents’ cars were found about 300 yards away from where they’d been parked. The couple survived by huddling in the basement as the tornado ripped their home and nearly all their belongings to shreds.

On Monday, Morris helped his parents find his mom’s passport, a file cabinet full of tax papers, and some boxes of Christmas and Halloween decorations. Other belongings, such as couches and other furniture, were either torn to pieces or too rain-damaged to salvage.

Communications are still tough in the area, and many roads are impassable in Washington, a rural community of about 16,000. One of the more amazing stories to emerge from the rubble has been this four-legged survivor‘s tale.

Beyond the shock of the devastation, what’s eerie about the storm is the timing.

While weather is never perfectly predictable, many survivors are talking about how surprising it was to run for the cellars in November.

“Tornado season ends in August; this never really happens,” Morris said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Shaya Tayefe Mohajer|November 19, 2013

Genetically Modified Organisms

GreenSpace: Pa., N.J. new fronts in food-label fight

Voters in Washington state defeated a measure that would have required labels on food containing genetically engineered ingredients.

A similar effort failed in California last year, so now attention turns to roughly two dozen other states – including Pennsylvania and New Jersey – where bills are pending.

“Food labeling is a new political movement that will not go away,” said the chair of Washington’s campaign, Democratic State Sen. Maralyn Chase. She said that although the measure failed, the campaign was a success because it focused attention on the issue.

Labeling proponents say consumers have a right to know what’s in their food.

Opponents say labels suggest that genetically engineered foods are unsafe or inferior, and would lead to higher costs.

Ultimately, the labeling battle comes down to a debate over the technology itself, which involves inserting a specific gene into the DNA of a plant to introduce a new trait, such as herbicide resistance.

According to the industry, 70 percent to 80 percent of the food Americans eat has genetically engineered ingredients – also referred to as GMOs, for genetically modified organisms. Most corn, soybeans, and sugar beets grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered.

Supporters of GMO crops say the technology could ease world hunger and make crops less susceptible to droughts or other effects of climate change. They say genetically engineered crops require fewer pesticides and less work, meaning less fuel consumed by tractors.

Opponents say that the technology has not been independently verified to be safe for humans or for the environment. They also say it gives corporate entities too much control over our food.

In Washington, the anti-labeling side raised $21.4 million, making it the most expensive opposition to a ballot measure in state history.

Top contributors were the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association and major biotech firms – Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences, and Bayer CropScience.

The pro-labeling side raised $6.3 million, much of it coming from Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One, a California-based organic soap maker. The Center for Food Safety, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit also contributed.

Cathy Enright, executive director of the industry’s Council for Biotechnology Information, said the vote showed “that talking with consumers about how our food is grown doesn’t require a warning label.” But it also showed the industry “hasn’t done the best job” talking about GMOs. “We have a lot of ground to make up.”

Rebecca Spector, West Coast director of the Center for Food Safety, said money swung Tuesday’s vote. She said it was hard to counter the “confusing and misleading” industry ads “when you’re outspent by 3-to-1.”

Bills to require labeling have been introduced in New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly, with bipartisan support. Sen. Bob Singer (R., Ocean), said he would seek to align both bills.

A Pennsylvania bill was introduced in the Senate in March, and in the House weeks ago – with nine Republican and 20 Democratic cosponsors.

Sam Bernhardt, Pennsylvania organizer for the pro-labeling Food and Water Watch, said “there’s a lot of energy in Pennsylvania on this issue.”

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Florida, Get Ready for GM Mosquitos With a Suicide Gene

To fight dengue fever, Florida officials are considering releasing genetically modified male mosquitos who carry a lethal gene which kills their own offspring. 22 people on Florida’s Treasure Coast contracted dengue fever this past summer; also known as break bone fever, it causes debilitating joint pain and severe flu-like symptoms.

The blood-feeding Aedes aegypti mosquito carries the dengue virus. So far, Florida authorities have tried to fight the spread of the mosquitos with aerial spraying, fumigation, parasitic nematodes, dragonflies and a 2-pound drone to spot its breeding grounds. As Gene Lemire, director of Martin County Mosquito Control, notes in Al-Jazeera, “it’s very difficult to spray everywhere where this mosquito hides and breeds.” Plus, the mosquito thrives in metropolitan areas as well as wetlands.

Wall Street-Backed Company Creates GM Mosquitos, Releases Them Quietly

Only the female Aedes aegypti mosquito can pass the dengue virus to humans via its bite. Oxitec Ltd., an Abingdon, U.K.-based bioengineering company with backing from Wall Street created the GM mosquitos. It can still trace GM mosquitos even after they’re released in the wild as the altered gene they carry has a fluorescent marker that is readily visible, even to the naked eye. Without male insects to breed with, the female ones die off, as do their offspring who carry the lethal gene, according to Derric Nimmo, director of Oxitec Public Health Research.

In 2009, Oxitec released 3.3 million in the Cayman Islands. The company claims  that the mortality rate at test sites was more than 80 percent.

Oxitec performed those tests without informing or consulting with the public and without any independent oversight. Environmental activists have consistently raised concerns about the company’s operations and, certainly, about the release of genetically engineered organisms without any clear sense of their long-term effect on ecosystems.

Despite the uproar, Oxitec is now building a “mosquito plant” in the Brazilian state of Bahia, where it plans to release 4 billion GM mosquitos as a part of a project in collaboration with the government. While acknowledging people’s wariness about working with a for-profit company like Oxitec, biologist Margareth Capurro of Sao Paulo University claims that she will be able to “evaluate the product independently.” In the first trials in two test districts, Capurro says that the mosquito population fell by 90 percent.

Oxitec is also planning to release its GM mosquitos in Malaysia.

Florida Residents Object to Release of Oxitec’s Mosquitos Until Further Study

Florida officials like Michael Doyle, the director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD), are considering using Oxitec’s GM mosquitos, in the hope of preventing the Aedes aegypti mosquito from spreading to the 44 inhabited islands of the 1,200 in the Florida Straits. Doyla contends that residents are not doing enough to fight the spread of the mosquito by taking care that rain water does not collect on their property or using mosquito repellent.

Not surprisingly, residents are not welcoming the prospects of millions of genetically engineered insects, even if they might halt the spread of a disease like dengue fever, being released around them. The Key West City Commission actually passed a resolution last year to halt their release until further study can be done.

Nonetheless, the FKMCD is still hoping to release some GM mosquitos at a test site, pending Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The FKMCD has changed the test site, to Key Haven and Stock Island, two areas outside Key West with large populations of Aedes aegypti mosquitos. Mila de Mier, a Key West real estate agent who has campaigned against the release of the mosquitos, points out Stock Island is a less affluent and “large immigrant community, with trailer homes and not a lot of English speakers”; she argues that it will be less likely to put up a protest if the FKMCD wins approval to release Oxitec’s mosquitos.

Anthony James, a distinguished professor at the University of California, Irvine, who has studied the international regulatory process of GM mosquitoes and advises the FDA, actually says that the science behind the GM mosquitos is “really good.” But he also points out that “what works in Brazil won’t be the same in Florida” especially given levels of “community engagement is very specific to each region.” Showing full awareness of public sentiment about genetically engineered organisms, James notes that “nobody wants to take primary responsibility for regulating this.”

Dengue fever and other diseases carried by mosquitos like West Nile virus are serious public health concerns. The last thing we want to do in fighting these is to create yet unimagined problems for our health and for the ecosystems in which insects created in a lab have been introduced.

 Kristina Chew |November 16, 2013

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GMO sweet corn rare in U.S. supermarkets

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A first-of-its-kind investigation to look for genetically modified sweet corn in the United States has yielded surprising results: Monsanto’s (NYSE: MON) first direct-to-consumer product, a genetically engineered sweet corn, appears to be a flop in the U.S. market.

In 2011, Monsanto began selling seeds for Seminis® Performance Series™ sweet corn, a “stacked trait” product genetically engineered to contain an insecticide and withstand herbicides. Friends of the Earth set out to investigate how far the corn had penetrated the market by 2013.

“We wanted to know if the sweet corn we were feeding our families this summer was the same corn on the cob we’ve always eaten, or if it was Monsanto’s new GMO corn that has never been in the food supply before. Since GMOs aren’t required to be labeled, the only way to find out was to test it,” said Lisa Archer, Food and Technology Program director at Friends of the Earth.

Over a four month period, Friends of the Earth tested 71 samples of fresh, frozen and canned sweet corn from eight areas in a nationwide sample, using a highly sensitive strip-testing method designed to detect the presence of proteins expressed in genetically modified corn plant tissue. Positive samples were confirmed at an accredited independent lab. The analysis found:

Only two corn samples out of 71 (2.4 percent) tested positive as genetically engineered. Both were confirmed to be Monsanto Seminis® Performance Series™ sweet corn.

Monsanto’s GMO sweet corn was purchased at City Market in Breckenridge, Colorado, and Stop & Shop in Everett, Massachusetts. The corn from Everett was grown in Ontario, Canada, while the Breckenridge corn was of unknown origin.

No GMO sweet corn was found in samples purchased in Washington State, California, Illinois, Vermont, Washington, D.C. or Oregon, or in other stores in Colorado or Massachusetts. Samples purchased at Wal-Mart  stores in Seattle and Denver tested negative, despite the store’s stated intention to sell GMO sweet corn.

“Monsanto’s genetically engineered sweet corn appears to be a big flop in the United States. Food companies here are starting to reject genetically engineered foods, and rightly so. They know their customers, particularly parents, are leery of unlabeled, poorly studied GMOs,” Archer said.

General Mills, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have said they will not sell or use genetically engineered sweet corn. Last week, McDonald’s and Gerber said they don’t plan to use a new GMO apple, currently pending approval, that is genetically engineered to resist browning. A new GMO salmon engineered with the genes of an ocean pout to grow faster has been rejected by numerous major supermarket chains in the U.S., including Target, Trader Joe’s and Aldi, representing nearly 5,000 stores nationwide.

Amid increasing rejection of GMOs in the U.S., there are signs that Monsanto may be focusing its new genetically engineered sweet corn on the Canadian market.

A recent sweet corn study by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, conducted using similar methods as the U.S. study, found that 15 of 43 sweet corn samples (35 percent) tested positive as genetically engineered. The GMO corn was found at the major Canadian grocery chain Loblaw as well as some smaller grocery stores, farmers markets, and roadside stands.

“Our testing clearly shows that genetically engineered sweet corn is present across Canada, from all types of vendors,” said Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. “We were alarmed to find a significant amount of GM sweet corn in Canada, and are shocked that Canada could actually be a source of genetically engineered sweet corn to U.S. consumers.”

Lisa Archer noted that Friends of the Earth spent about $2,000 on the U.S. corn-testing project. “Obviously most shoppers can’t send their food to a lab to figure out what they’re eating,” she said. “We have a right to know if the corn we’re feeding our kids has been genetically engineered to contain an insecticide. We need mandatory GMO labels now.”

Unlike most industrialized countries of the world, the United States and Canada do not require labels on genetically engineered foods.

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OSPIRG pushes for labeling GMOs on local food

Without a legal obligation to inform consumers that their food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs), University of Oregon’s OSPIRG works to raise awareness. (Dominic Allen/Emerald Media)

Corn and soy are two of the most common genetically modified foods in the market. They are found in salad dressings, sodas and other foods people eat on a daily basis, yet there are no current government requirements to label them. In fact, large corporations are spending millions to insure that labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods is not required. OSPIRG, a student organization on campus, is fighting to stop this proposal.

Lead by Charlotte Baker, OSPIRG’s GMO labeling campaign was established last fall to inform the public that they may not actually know what they’re eating. “We deserve the right to know what’s in our food,” said Hannah Picknell, OSPIRG’s UO chapter chair.  “It’s not about whether GMOs are good or bad, but we want to help people get the right to know what they’re eating.”

Developed after Washington’s GMO labeling I-522 measure was shut down, the campaign is backed by several interns working to reach a goal of 1,000 public comments. According to Evan Preston, the policy associate, the $8 million raised to support the labeling of GMOs in Washington was blown out of the park by big manufactures such as Monsanto, Pepsi and Nestle, who spent over 22 million dollars on ads to stop the measure. “In California they spent nearly double that amount to stop GMO labeling,” Preston said regarding a similar campaign.

According to Preston, there is little to no testing on GMOs, so it is difficult to get long term information about how they will affect people.

“What businesses will say is that they don’t need to do independent scientific research on these GMOs,” Preston said. “Because the businesses control the patents, there is currently no safety testing requirement on GMOs in America.”

Due to the restrictions regarding testing of GMOs, it is difficult to argue their effect on people. “When you buy fish it will say farmed or wild, but we don’t know if our food is genetically modified,” Baker said. “You can eat what you want, but our goal is to give people the knowledge so they make an informed decision.”

Hosting a kick-off event on Nov. 21 in the EMU, Baker and Picknell plan on educating the public on places to go to get GMO-free food, what stores label GMOs and common GMO foods. There will be giveaway buttons, candy and a GMO buyer’s guide booklet. “When a lot of people think GMO they think produce,” Baker said, “but corn is in everything, even your soda, so you could be drinking GMO foods.” OSPIRG is even planning on having a photo petition booth where people can take pictures with a giant man in a corn suit.

Aiding the campaign with research, Preston hopes that OSPIRG’s GMO event provides a good example to other universities to show what people can do to control what they put in their bodies.  “A really good campaign involves an issue people care about and is profound in that it has real impact on their lives,” Preston said. “That’s the end goal.”

Carolyn Cruze | Nov. 13 

Offshore & Ocean

 People Are Still Shark Finning Legally in Costa Rica Despite the Ban

Sharks are paying with their lives for this loophole

When you create a law to regulate something, there’s always the danger that people will drive a truck through the loopholes, adhering to the letter of the law but not its spirit. When we wrote about Costa Rica banning shark finning last year, we couldn’t have known what would happen…

INTERPOL reports:

An INTERPOL Purple Notice has been circulated for a modus operandi of the technique where only a band of skin to keep the fin attached to the spine is retained and the remainder of the body discarded at sea. This method is aimed at circumventing legislation banning finning which states that the fins of the shark must be ‘naturally attached’ to the body.

Why do fishermen do this? Because shark fins are a lot more valuable than the rest of the shark, so it’s more profitable to fill your boat with just the fins. But now that there’s a ban on just fins, they are circumventing the prohibition by keeping the fins attached to the shark’s spine, something that is totally against the spirit of the law.

INTERPOL’s goal is to alert other governments about this method:

Head of NCB San José Gustavo Chinchilla said: “This is an opportunity to encourage other member countries to share types of modi operandi, in order to alert enforcement authorities to environmental crimes. I strongly believe that international cooperation and use of INTERPOL´s tools, such as Purple Notices, allow us to provide a more coordinated and effective response to addressing fisheries issues.”

The Purple Notice – to seek or provide information on modi operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals – was requested by Costa Rica following its first National Environmental Security Seminar (NESS) held in San José in August of this year.

Hopefully it is made clear to fishermen that this is not ‘ok’ and not legal and rules against shark finning are enforced. Poor sharks already have a hard time enough as it is… 

This post was originally published in TreeHugger|Michael Richard Graham

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Olympia Oyster Restoration Successful

Human overconsumption and rampant environmental pollution has been the leading cause of many species to become extinct. However, public awareness of these unsustainable issues has come a long way in supporting restoration efforts.

One such success story concerns the Olympia oyster, which was once commonly found in the San Francisco Bay area. In 1893, millions of oysters were found covering 8,000 acres of the bay floor. By 1911, the native oyster beds were all-but destroyed due to overfishing and overconsumption.

Luckily, the California Coastal Conservancy is leading a five-year, $2 million effort that is attempting to bring oyster and eelgrass populations back into the Bay area. The restoration initiative, officially called the San Francisco Bay Living Shorelines project, has settled more than two million native oysters on man-made reefs in San Francisco Bay over the past year. Notably, the researchers from UC Davis and San Francisco State University are also seeing a second generation of oysters settling on the first. This growth is indicative of a healthy population, and suggests that the reef may become self-sustaining in a few generations’ time.

The reefs are made of mesh bags filled with discarded oyster shells, and acts as a natural barrier against wave action and shoreline erosion. This latter role is incredibly important for helping create a sustainable habitat for aquatic life in the Bay area. These oyster beds act like a reef, providing a protective habitat for fish, crabs, and other aquatic creatures. The increase in fish population can also attract more birds to the area due to the increased food supply. Indeed, researchers have already seen a rise in juvenile Dungeness crab, bay shrimp, and rock crab populations.

Interestingly, the oysters, despite being a long-sought delicacy among San Franciscans, will not be available for human consumption or fishing. The main reason, of course, is that the conservationists don’t want another major decline from over consumption. However, a secondary reason stems from the oyster’s filter feeding habits. Oysters can filter up to 30 gallons of water a day, and are able to remove pollutants from the water. Due to the extreme number of pollutants in the Bay area, the oysters – at least for this generation – are simply too dangerous to be edible.

Although this decline happened more than a century ago, their story remains poignant and relevant even today. Overfishing of already-declining fish populations is causing the slow and steady destruction of our oceans. While conservation efforts such as these are a great way to combat the deterioration of aquatic ecosystems, we need to act proactively to prevent the decline from happening in the first place.

Jerico Espinas|November 18, 2013

Ocean acidification set to spiral out of control

The continued release of greenhouse gases into the air is set to bring about huge changes to land ecosystems as they are forced to adapt to rising temperatures.

But the marine world — which is just as integral to human existence yet receives little attention during climate negotiations — will endure a similarly tumultuous time as emissions rise, scientists say.

“Changing oceans will cause massive destruction of coral reefs, which, with their rich biodiversity, are the jungles of the sea,” says Luis Valdes, the head of ocean science at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC-UNESCO), and co-author of a forthcoming report into ocean acidification.

This is expected to hit marine species used for food and have knock-on effects on coastal communities, especially in developing countries.

Business-as-usual carbon dioxide emissions will lead to the acidity levels of oceans rising by 170 per cent by 2100 compared with pre-industrial levels, according to a report to be launched next week at COP 19 (Conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change).

The report will be published jointly by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, the IOC-UNESCO and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research.

As carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise, some of this extra carbon is absorbed by the oceans and converted into acidic compounds.

While some organisms such as seagrasses and phytoplankton will likely thrive in increasingly acidic waters, most will not be so lucky.

Coral reefs and shellfish — both important sources of food — will be hit hard, with higher acidification levels predicted to halt all new further growth of reefs by the end of the century.

It will be poor coastal communities, especially those in small island states whose existence revolves around coral reefs and fishing, which will bear the brunt of this change, says Valdes.

“Poor communities are more dependent on the sea and have fewer options to mitigate effects if their current lifestyles become unsustainable,” he adds.

Creating marine reserves to provide a safe environment away from human pressures to ease species’ transition to this altered world may be a way to minimize the damage, but ultimately the only way to prevent major problems is to halt the carbon emissions, says Valdes.

But their effect on marine habitats is often absent from climate negotiations and Valdes calls for policymakers to pay more attention to the issue over the next week in Warsaw.

Jan Piotrowski, |SciDevNet, |Published November 15, 2013

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Emissions of CO2 driving rapid oceans ‘acid trip’

The world’s oceans are becoming acidic at an “unprecedented rate” and may be souring more rapidly than at any time in the past 300 million years.

In their strongest statement yet on this issue, scientists say acidification could increase by 170% by 2100.

They say that some 30% of ocean species are unlikely to survive in these conditions.

The researchers conclude that human emissions of CO2 are clearly to blame.

The study will be presented at global climate talks in Poland next week.

In 2012, over 500 of the world’s leading experts on ocean acidification gathered in California. Led by the International Biosphere-Geosphere Program, a review of the state of the science has now been published.

You don’t find a mollusk at the ph. level expected for 2100, this is really quite a stunning fact”

This Summary for Policymakers states with “very high confidence” that increasing acidification is caused by human activities which are adding 24 million tons of CO2 to oceans every day.

Pickled waters

The addition of so much carbon has altered the chemistry of the waters.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, the waters have become 26% more acidic.

“This is the state of the art,” said Prof Jean-Pierre Gattuso, from CNRS, the French national research agency.

“My colleagues have not found in the geological record, rates of change that are faster than the ones we see today.”

What worries the scientists is the potential impact on many ocean species including corals.

Studies carried out at deep sea vents where the waters are naturally acidic thanks to CO2, indicate that around 30% of the ocean’s biodiversity may be lost by the end of this century.

These vents may be a “window on the future” according to the researchers.

“You don’t find a mollusk at the pH level expected for 2100, this is really quite a stunning fact,” said Prof Gattuso.

“It’s an imperfect window, only the ocean’s acidity is increasing at these sites, they don’t reflect the warming we will see this century.

“If you combine the two, it could be even more dramatic than what we see at CO2 vents.”

The effect of acidity is currently being felt most profoundly felt in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. These chilly waters hold more CO2 and increasing levels of the gas are turning them acidic more rapidly than the rest of the world.

The more acidic they become, the more damaging they are to the shells and skeletons of marine organisms.

The researchers say that by 2020, ten percent of the Arctic will be inhospitable to species that build their shells from calcium carbonate. By 2100 the entire Arctic will be a hostile environment.

Pteropods are already feeling the corrosive impact of acidic waters in the Antarctic

These effects are already visible says Prof Gattuso.

“In the Southern Ocean, we already see corrosion of pteropods which are like sea snails, in the ocean we see corrosion of the shell.

“They are a key component in the food chain, they are eaten by fish, birds and whales, so if one element is going then there is a cascading impact on the whole food chain.”

The authors warn that the economic impact of the losses from aquaculture could be huge – the global cost of the decline in mollusks could be $130bn by 2100 if emissions of CO2 continue on their current pathway.

Adding alkaline substances such as crushed limestone to the waters has been mooted as a potential way of mitigating the worst impacts of acidification. But Prof Gattuso says it would only have a limited effect.

“Maybe in bays which have a restricted exchange with open oceans it may work, it may give some local relief.

“But the latest research is showing that it is not really practical at a global scale. It is very expensive and very energy intensive.”

Marine protection zones would also give some short term benefit, but the scientists say that in the long term only significant cuts in emissions will slow the progress of acidification.

ACIDIFYING OCEANS

  • The oceans are thought to have absorbed up to half of the extra CO2 put into the atmosphere in the industrial age
  • This has lowered their pH by 0.1
  • pH is the measure of acidity and alkalinity
  • It usually ranges from pH 0 (very acidic) to pH 14 (very alkaline); 7 is neutral
  • Seawater is mildly alkaline with a “natural” pH of about 8.2

Matt McGrath Environment correspondent, BBC News

EPA to Address Oceans’ Toxic Trash

  The scourge of plastic litter in our oceans is finally getting attention from federal regulators. After a groundbreaking petition by the Center for Biological Diversity last year, the EPA has just announced it will take new steps to cut plastic pollution, improve monitoring, and conduct a scientific review of the human-health effects of eating plastic- and pollution-filled fish.
Billions of pounds of plastic are found in giant, swirling ocean convergences around the world, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, twice the size of Texas. In the Los Angeles area alone, 20 tons of plastic fragments — like from grocery bags, straws and soda bottles — are carried into the Pacific Ocean each day.
“Every year bits of discarded plastic kill thousands of seabirds, sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals,” said Emily Jeffers, a Center oceans attorney. “Some choke on plastic, and others are poisoned by it. Still more find themselves swimming through vast patches of toxic litter. It’s an international tragedy that needs to be addressed.”
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FWC’s closure concern to draw response

The state’s wildlife conservation agency was among the many voices that came out against an Everglades National Park proposal released over the winter to close off a third of Florida Bay to internal-combustion motor use.

Now, Principal Park Planner Fred Herling says the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be among the agencies the Park Service will respond to directly as it works toward finalizing the much-debated Everglades National Park General Management Plan.

In formal comments put forward in late April, the FWC closely aligned itself with Upper Keys fishing guides and business organizations that vocally opposed the proposed creation of 131,000 acres of pole/troll-only zones during a series of public meetings over the spring.

“It is a commonly held misconception that the public continues to have access to areas for fishing after pole and troll zones are implemented because in theory, one can still pole and troll in order to fish,” the FWC stated in the comment document signed by Scott Sanders, director of its office of conservation planning services. “In reality, fishers do not continue to have reasonable access when pole and troll zones are implemented without full consideration of the many factors that contribute to accessibility, such as the size of the zone relative to the distance fishers would need to pole/troll.”

The Park Service’s proposed network of pole/troll zones would be intended to protect flats and seagrass beds from boat groundings and propeller scars. The pole/troll areas were identified because they are 2 feet deep or less. Ninety-six percent of the areas in the proposed zones are within a mile of deeper water or a channel, according to the Park Service.

But the FWC argued that the establishment of what it considers to be difficult-to-access pole/troll zones would concentrate fishermen in smaller areas. Those areas, in turn, would see increased stress on fish populations and seagrass, as well as more conflicts among Florida Bay users. Among other suggestions, the FWC recommended that the Park Service establish transit corridors to facilitate access into the pole/troll zones.

Herling said Monday that Everglades officials pay close attention to comments made by partner agencies, including the FWC, which governs waters that border the park.

“It’s definitely one of the most important comments we get,” he said.

The Park Service will respond formally to the FWC, he added, and that letter will also be included as an addendum to the final management plan, which is scheduled for release early next year.

Some of the suggestions made by the FWC and stakeholder groups are likely to be implemented, said Herling, who explained that park staff had learned new things about channel access to the bay’s shallows during ride-alongs with anglers this spring.

“The outcome will be that there will be additional access opportunities that still fit in the plan’s goals,” he said. He added that the Park Service also intends to research whether trolling motors are more or less harmful to the flats than internal combustion motors running at idle speeds.

Guide organizations hope the park will convert proposed pole/troll zones to pole/troll/idle speed zones.

ROBERT SILK Free Press Staff|rsilk@keysnews.com

Auburn Researcher Says Tar Balls are “Magnets for Bacteria”

Doctor Cova Arias is a professor of aquatic microbiology at Auburn University and an expert on the often-deadly and sometimes flesh-eating bacteria vibrio vulnificus. Arias’ research at Auburn and through the school’s lab at Dauphin Island has focused on vibrio’s impact on the oyster industry which was brought to a standstill three years ago by the BP oil spill.

In 2010, when the spill washed ashore huge quantities of oil, out of curiosity, Arias set out to discover if vibrio were present in tar balls. She was highly surprised by what she found as she studied tar on the Alabama and Mississippi coasts.

“What was clear to us was that the tar balls contain a lot of vibrio vulnificus,” said Arias.

Arias can show an observer vibrio in the lab as it appears as a ring on the top of the solution in a test tube. Vibrio is not something, though, that a person can see in the water, sand, or tar balls.

But, Arias’ research shows it there, especially in the tar balls, in big numbers.

According to Dr. Arias’ studies, there were ten times more vibrio vulnificus bacteria in tar balls than in the surrounding sand, and 100 times more than in the surrounding water.

“In general, (the tar balls) are like a magnet for bacteria,” said Arias.

Arias’ theory is that vibrio feeds on the microbes that are breaking down the tar.

She and researchers looked at tar balls that washed in to the same areas they had previously studied so they could therefore make valid comparisons to before the oil spill.

“What we also found was in water, the numbers were about ten times higher than the numbers that have reported before from that area,” said Arias

So the water alone had ten times as much vibrio as before the oil spill… and the tar balls themselves had 100-times more vibrio than the water.

Vibrio is contracted thru some sort of cut or abrasion on the skin, usually by the young or old, or someone with a compromised immune system. Doctors who fight infectious diseases, though, say the high levels of vibrio in and around tar balls should be taken seriously by everyone due to the random, but deadly, nature of bacteria.

“It can be very little exposure,” said Dr. John Vande Waa, an infectious disease specialist at the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile. “Just the wrong place at the wrong time.”
BP disputes any tar ball – vibrio connection. BP sent this statement to News Five:
“The Arias study does not support a conclusion that tar balls may represent a new or important route of human exposure for Vibrio infection, or that the detection of Vibrio in tar balls would impact the overall public health risk, since there are other far more common sources of Vibrio, such as seawater and oysters.”

Posted: Nov 05, 2013 |Peter Albrecht

EPA to Address Oceans’ Toxic Trash

The scourge of plastic litter in our oceans is finally getting attention from federal regulators. After a groundbreaking petition by the Center for Biological Diversity last year, the EPA has just announced it will take new steps to cut plastic pollution, improve monitoring, and conduct a scientific review of the human-health effects of eating plastic- and pollution-filled fish.
Billions of pounds of plastic are found in giant, swirling ocean convergences around the world, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, twice the size of Texas. In the Los Angeles area alone, 20 tons of plastic fragments — like from grocery bags, straws and soda bottles — are carried into the Pacific Ocean each day.
“Every year bits of discarded plastic kill thousands of seabirds, sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals,” said Emily Jeffers, a Center oceans attorney. “Some choke on plastic, and others are poisoned by it. Still more find themselves swimming through vast patches of toxic litter. It’s an international tragedy that needs to be addressed.”
Read more in the
Summit County Citizens Voice.

The Story of Atlantic Bluefin

The story of Atlantic bluefin tuna is a cautionary tale of explosive growth in demand, management neglect, overlooked science, falling populations, and an uncertain but promising future. Involving an international cast of characters stretching across the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea—from early fishermen in ancient Greece to the scientists and advocates who are fighting today to ensure a long-term future—it is an illustration of what happens when big money and sustainability go head-to-head.

At the center of the story is an apex predator that grows to the size of a small car, outswims almost every other fish in the ocean, and brings bids of tens of thousands of dollars apiece at fish markets around the world. It is an amazing species, commanding the awe of nature lovers, the dollars of sushi connoisseurs, and the respect of fishermen. It also generates political and diplomatic controversy among some of the world’s richest and most powerful countries.

In the Atlantic Ocean, bluefin tuna are born into one of two populations—the western population that breeds in the Gulf of Mexico, or the eastern population that is born in the Mediterranean Sea.

While the western and eastern stocks each have a unique story and history, both have been harmed by intense fishing pressure, declining numbers, and large gaps in scientific understanding—and both will be greatly affected by upcoming management decisions.

In October 2012, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT, the intergovernmental organization charged with managing Atlantic bluefin tuna, finalized new stock assessments that showed an increase in both the eastern and western populations. But recognizing the high degree of uncertainty in the models, ICCAT’s scientific committee recommended that quotas remain the same to allow bluefin populations to continue to grow from historically low levels. At the 2012 ICCAT annual meeting the next month, member governments maintained the quotas for both areas in line with the scientific advice. While this was good news, the story is far from over. Bluefin managers now must carefully nurture this fragile path to recovery and not let political pressure to raise quotas undermine improvements before they take hold.

In November 2013, ICCAT member governments will again negotiate a quota for Atlantic bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic— and there is pressure to increase it beyond the clear scientific recommendation. But the path forward is clear. The scientific advice must be followed if this population is to experience real recovery. And governments must look to the future before considering increasing quotas. They should ensure that the scientific models used to determine the status of the population—and for setting appropriate fishing levels—are sound and that illegal fishing is accounted for and addressed. -

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Herring Alliance members sue to protect river herring and shad

New York Herring Alliance member the Gateway Striper Club has sued federal fisheries officials over the termination of a plan to protect river herring and shad in the ocean. More than 37,000 Americans, including many of you, had called for comprehensive federal management for these depleted species. But the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and fisheries officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declined to act. “We joined this lawsuit in an effort to support the conservation of forage fish that are critical to the health of a striped bass fishery that we are very passionate about,” said the club’s Louis DeRicco. The group is represented by HA member Earthjustice.

 

Energy

Stanton Solar Array Performing Above Expectations

Careful monitoring, location and design could be reason that the Stanton Solar Farm is doing such a great job producing energy.

ORLANDO — On Monday under the beating sun, about 30 POWER-GEN and Renewable Energy World attendees toured the 5.9-MW Stanton Solar Array in east Orange County. Jennifer Szaro, Renewables Manager with the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), was on hand to answer questions and offer specifics about the project.

Szaro said the project, which has been producing energy for two years now, is performing at 105 percent of expectations, something that OUC is quite pleased about.  She said its higher-than-expected performance could be due to a number of factors including the project design, better than average weather for solar and careful monitoring.  “I think having someone local [to address performance issues] greatly reduces downtime,” she said.

In its two short years of existence, the farm has survived two hurricanes, withstanding winds up to 70 miles per hour. When the anemometer (left) detects winds of more than 40 miles per hours for more than 10 seconds the panels move into a “stow” position, meaning that they lie totally flat so they don’t blow away.  Under normal circumstances, the panels track the sun all day long.

The Stanton Solar Farm is comprised of 25,172 Yingli solar panels, SMA 500-kW inverters and a monitoring system from Draker.  For OUC’s next project, Szaro anticipates using 1000-kW inverters, which were not available on the U.S. market when Stanton Solar was built.

Speaking of additional solar projects in Florida, OUC has just completed a 400-kW community solar project that has 40 subscribers. With community solar, a central solar array, sometimes called a “solar garden” is built and members of the community own shares in it so that they can receive all the benefits of having solar without actually putting anything on their roofs. Szaro said that the project was fully subscribed after 6 days and that she now has a waiting list of other customers who want a share in a solar farm.  OUC expects to start work on a 500-kW community array soon and will release its request for bids at the end of November.

Duke Energy owns the project and sells power to OUC under a 20-year PPA. Duke officially began self-operation of the project last month, which means that Duke itself, instead of a third-party contractor, officially performs all monitoring and O&M. Mike Butler, Solar Manager at Duke Energy Renewables, said the utility’s ability to monitor and maintain the system is excellent and surpasses those of other third-party O&M providers.  He expects to see more utilities bringing O&M in house for solar projects as the solar industry evolves. For example, “corporate EHS support is a tremendous value to us but O&M providers aren’t always that receptive to that level of oversight,” he explained.

Duke currently has several solar projects in development.

Jennifer Runyon, Chief Editor, Renewable Energy World

Energy Department Announces $19 Million to Drive Down Solar Soft Costs, Increase Hardware Efficiency

In support of the Obama Administration’s effort to advance our clean energy economy and support American innovation, the Energy Department today announced $19 million to reduce both hardware and non-hardware costs of solar and to drive greater solar energy deployment in the United States. This funding builds on the Energy Department’s broader SunShot Initiative investments that are driving down the cost of solar and making solar affordable for more American families and companies. Since the beginning of 2010, the price of a solar electric system has dropped by more than 70%.

Through the ninth round of the highly successful SunShot Incubator program, the Department is making $10 million available to support and accelerate cutting-edge advancements in solar energy hardware, reductions in soft costs, such as permitting and installation, and the development of pilot manufacturing processes.

The SunShot Incubator 9 funding opportunity announcement builds on the Department’s record of successful partnerships with small business, national laboratories, and academia by providing early-stage assistance to help small business cross technological barriers to commercialization and spurring private sector investment. Tetrasun, a photovoltaic (PV) cell startup and recipient of 2010 Incubator funding for its transformational low-cost solar cell technology, was acquired in April by First Solar and received a 2013 R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine for its innovations.  In addition, numerous other solar energy businesses, including Mosaic, Genability, and Clean Energy Experts, have leveraged Energy Department investments to move their early-stage energy innovations to the marketplace—generating private sector investments, creating jobs, and growing the U.S. solar industry.

The Department is also announcing $9 million for the Next Generation Photovoltaics III program that will push the limits of PV efficiency, while reducing costs, improving reliability, and creating more secure and sustainable supply chains.

The funding will advance foundational research projects, driving technological innovations and planting the seeds for breakthroughs that could lead to mature technologies. Since 2011, eight SunShot Initiative partners have set more than 15 world records for solar cell efficiency.

Applications are now being accepted for both SunShot Incubator 9 and Next Generation Photovoltaic Technologies III funding opportunities. For more information, application requirements, and deadlines, please visit the Funding Opportunity Exchange website.

Launched in 2011, the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade. Through SunShot, the Department supports efforts by private companies, universities, and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour.

Earthjustice Asks Court To Strike Down Rule That Lets Coal Companies Dump in Streams

Legal action challenges DOI to reinstate “Stream Buffer Zone” safeguard

Today, a broad coalition of citizen and environmental groups asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reverse a Department of Interior rule that removed a key protection for streams against mountaintop removal and other large-scale surface coal mining—a 100-foot buffer zone around valuable streams in which harmful mining activities are not allowed.

The Bush administration removed this protection through a midnight rulemaking in 2008, and the Obama administration agreed the Bush administration’s action was unlawful. But the Interior Department has since failed to undo the Bush administration’s rulemaking by the deadline it agreed to. Earthjustice is asking the Court to do what the Obama administration has not: strike down the illegal Bush rule and reinstate buffers to protect vital streams from surface mining. Based on EPA estimates, mountaintop removal mining has destroyed or harmed 2,400 miles of Appalachian streams to date.

Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez stated: “We are coming up on the five year anniversary of the removal of this key protection, and Appalachian communities and families continue to suffer from the extreme pollution and destruction of mountaintop removal mining. The disastrous 2008 Bush rule needs to be scrapped without further delay. Basic protections for waterways and families cannot continue to wait while the Obama administration drags its feet.”

Earthjustice, along with Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, are representing the Sierra Club, the Waterkeeper Alliance, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment.

Read the court briefing.

Analysis Finds Offshore Fracking Industry Pumping Toxic Wastewater Into Coastal Waters

Citing the use of hazardous hydraulic fracturing chemicals and the release of oil industry wastewater off California’s coast, the Center for Biological Diversity yesterday called on the Coastal Commission to halt fracking for oil and gas in state waters and press for tighter regulation of fracking in federal waters.

In a letter delivered as commissioners meet this week in Newport Beach, CA, the center says hundreds of recently revealed frack jobs in state waters violate the Coastal Act. Some oil platforms are discharging wastewater directly into the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a government document.

“The Coastal Commission has the right and the responsibility to step in when oil companies use dangerous chemicals to frack California’s ocean waters,” said Emily Jeffers, a center attorney. “Our beaches, our wildlife and our entire coastal ecosystem are at risk until the state reins in this dangerous practice.”

After noting seven risky chemicals used by oil companies fracking in California waters, the letter describes the duties of the Coastal Commission to protect wildlife, marine fisheries and the environment. “Because the risk of many of the harms from fracking cannot be eliminated, a complete prohibition on fracking is the best way to protect human health and the environment,” the letter says.

At minimum, the Coastal Commission must take action under the Coastal Act to regulate the practice, including requiring oil and gas operators fracking in state waters to obtain a coastal development permit.

The letter also contains the center’s analysis of chemicals used in 12 recent frack jobs in state waters near Long Beach,CA. Drawing on data disclosed by oil companies, the center found that at least one-third of chemicals used in these fracking operations are suspected ecological hazards. More than one-third of these chemicals are suspected of affecting the human developmental and nervous systems.

X-Cide, one of the toxic chemicals used during fracking is listed as hazardous to fish and marine wildlife—including Blue whales, sea otters and Leatherback turtles. Photo credit: AP Photo/ The Santa Barbara News-Press, Mike Eliason

The chemical X-Cide, used in all 12 offshore frack jobs examined by the center, is classified as a hazardous substance by the federal agency that manages cleanup at Superfund sites. X-Cide is also listed as hazardous to fish and wildlife.

Oil companies have used fracking at least 200 times in waters off Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, as well as in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel. Fracking involves blasting massive amounts of water and industrial chemicals into the earth at pressures high enough to crack geologic formations and release oil and gas.

Approximately half the oil platforms in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel discharge all or a portion of their wastewater directly to the ocean, according to a Coastal Commission document. This produced wastewater contains all of the chemicals injected originally into the fracked wells, with the addition of toxins gathered from the subsurface environment.

The center’s letter says that water pollution from fracking and oil operations in California’s waters poses risks to a wide range of threatened and endangered species, including Blue whales, sea otters and Leatherback turtles.

Center for Biological Diversity | November 15, 2013

The Fukushima disaster isn’t over yet, and it might get much worse

A disaster of “apocalyptic” proportions could be just days away at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was swamped by a tsunami in 2011, and you’ll never believe the incredible confluence of tragic negligence that got us here.

From the poor planning that caused the plant to become damaged during the 2011 tsunami, to a power outage caused by rats,3 to another outage caused by workers rat-proofing, the work of plant operator TEPCO has been widely described as sloppy and irresponsible by outside observers, and workers helping to clean up the damaged plant.

One of the riskiest steps in decommissioning the Fukushima power plant – removing spent, radioactive control rods which, if mishandled, could start a dangerous chain reaction – has reportedly begun, even though it was discovered last week that another incidence of negligence by TEPCO has made this impossible job even more difficult.

Clearly, TEPCO cannot be trusted to handle a process this dangerous without proper oversight. That’s why a group of scientists and engineers are coming together to demand the United Nations General Secretary compel the Japanese government to allow international assistance with this project.

Nuclear experts agree that this removal process is an engineering project of epic proportions. Each rod – there are 1,331 – weighs over 600 pounds and must be removed from a rack by a crane, one by one.

In normal circumstances, this process would take more than three months and be handled by a robot arm, programmed with each rod’s exact location. But these rods have been disturbed by the earthquake in 2011, and it was just discovered that the rods are also misshapen from TEPCO mishandling as far back as 1982.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the rods are currently housed in a pool of water perched 100 feet above the ground, in a building severely damaged by the earthquake and subsequent hydrogen explosion at the plant. And all it would take for that pool to come crashing to the ground is another powerful earthquake.

The possible consequences of a botched removal job, or a failure of the containment pool are truly frightening. Journalist and activist Harvey Wasserman described this way:The potential radiation releases in this situation can only be described as apocalyptic. The cesium alone would match the fallout of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs. If the job is botched, radiation releases could force the evacuation of all humans from the site, and could cause electronic equipment to fail. Humankind would be forced to stand helplessly by as billions of curies of deadly radiation pour into the air and the ocean.

The United Nations must compel Japan to bring together an international group of scientists and engineers for this job, instead of rushing the job without experts and international oversight.

Floating Offshore Wind Turbines Could Drive Japan’s Renewable Energy Future

Less than three years after the disaster at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, a hotly-anticipated floating offshore wind turbine began operating 20 kilometers from the damaged site on Monday.

A number of news organizations reported that Yuhei Sato, governor of Fukushima, said that the floating turbine could become a symbol of the region’s desire to become a green energy center.

“Fukushima is making a stride toward the future step by step,” Bloomberg quoted Sato saying at a ceremony marking the project’s initiation. “Floating offshore wind is a symbol of such a future.”

The experimental project is funded by the government and led by Marubeni Corp. It requires approval from local fishermen before becoming a commercial operation. The 2-megawatt turbine from Hitachi Ltd. was nicknamed “Fukushima Mirai,” the Bloomberg report said, adding a floating substation has also been set up and bears the name “Fukushima Kizuna.” Mirai means future, while kizuna translates as ties.

Two more turbines by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., with 7 MW of capacity each, are expected to also be installed. Bloomberg noted the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has said the floating offshore capacity may be expanded to 1,000 MW.

“For Japan, which is surrounded by deep oceans, floating wind turbines hold the promise of opening up large areas to produce clean energy,” the Bloomberg story added. “The technology involves attaching turbines to structures that float in areas too deep for traditional towers fixed to the seafloor.”

The Associated Press reported that Kazuyoshi Akaba, a vice minister of economy, trade and industry, said it is the government’s mission to ensure the project is successful.

“Many people were victimized and hurt by the accident at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, so it is very meaningful to have a new source of energy — renewable energy — based here,” Akaba said.

With continuing problems facing the heavily-damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima, there’s little doubt that some of the people gathering in Frankfurt next week for EWEA’s Offshore 2013 conference will be discussing Japan’s new offshore wind solution to the nation’s energy conundrum.

Chris Rose |November 18, 2013

This blog was originally published on EWEA

China’s Solution for Combatting Air Pollution? Convert Coal to Synthetic Natural Gas

The air pollution in China has become the stuff of legend, or rather of nightmare. The number of lung cancer cases in the capital of Beijing has increased by more than 50 percent in the past decade. Just last week, an eight-year-old girl in the province of Jiangsu was diagnosed with lung cancer. In September, the government announced its Air Pollution Control Action Plan, its latest initiative to address air pollution so bad that the smog over northeast China for the past two weeks has been visible from space.

China’s plan only offers a short-term solution for the thick air pollution wreaking havoc on its citizens’ health, to say nothing of the country’s environment. The government proposes to cut down on its dependence on coal (which currently provides three-quarters of its energy needs) by, first of all, prohibiting the construction of new coal-fired plants around Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou; a number of coal-fire plants are being shut down.

But China’s replacement for coal will cause numerous environmental hazards. The government plans to building 18 synthetic natural gas plants to achieve its goal of a 65 percent reduction in coal’s part in meeting its national energy needs. But using natural gas as an alternative to coal poses many concerns.

China is proposing to convert its supplies of coal into synthetic natural gas (SNG). While SNG can help to cut down on particulate air pollution — reducing particulate matter by 25 percent in the North China Plain is another of the government’s goals — a study (pdf) published in Nature Climate Change has shown that the entire process of mining coal and converting it into natural gas can yield 36 percent to 82 percent more total greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal directly.

Proposed SNG Plants Could Create Water Insecurity

SNG plants have been approved for construction in northern and western China, far from the country’s major metropolitan cities. For instance, Beijing is to be powered by a natural gas plant built in Inner Mongolia. Bluer skies may be in store for China’s capital, but remoter regions could see murkier ones.

SNG plants pose another serious threat to China’s climate and to the livelihood of its many inhabitants. Converting coal to SNG necessitates “uniquely high volumes of water: six to 10 liters for every cubic meter of SNG.” That is, SNG’s water consumption is an average 18 times higher than that of coal.

Kristina Chew, Care2|Published November 14, 2013

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China Ascending to Solar PV Pinnacle

New Hampshire, USA — China has been the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturer for several years now, but it’s also emerging as a massive end-market.

Global solar PV demand reached 9 GW in 3Q13, up 6 percent from the prior quarter and nearly 20 percent from a year ago, according to Solarbuzz. China’s share of that 3Q demand exceeded 25 percent, compared to 10 percent just two years ago. Meanwhile, Chinese production throughout the crystalline silicon supply chain was anywhere from 8-11 GW.

That domestic demand ramp-up is boosting China’s suppliers, especially given the decline in European demand, points out Solarbuzz senior analyst Michael Barker. “With the importance and risk attached to European shipments having been significantly lowered during 2013, the ability to pick-and-choose more profitable supply arrangements while increasing shipment levels will come as welcome news to a PV industry as it recovers from its highly unprofitable phase of 2012,” he writes.

And China’s not looking back. The National Energy Administration reportedly has increased its 2014 targets for solar PV capacity to 12 GW instead of 10 GW. Of that, up to 8 GW would be from decentralized solar PV. The State Council has said solar capacity should stay at the 10-GW/year pace through 2015, reaching 35 GW cumulatively installed by the end of 2015.

IN THE NEWS

Singapore Adding Solar Power to Grid Goals: Singapore’s Energy Market Authority is launching a review of its regulatory framework “to better account for the benefits and externalities” of renewable energy sources, most especially solar. Speaking at Singapore International Energy Week, S. Iswaran, a minister for trade and industry, indicated the first step is nearly doubling its cap on intermittent generation sources to 600 MWp, while building up solar forecasting competencies. The EMA’s consultation paper is now online, and soliciting feedback through the end of January. (Another tidbit from Iswaran’s speech: Singapore wants to build up an electricity futures market to offer long-term pricing and hedge against price volatility, hopeful to launch sometime in the first half of 2014.)

Japan’s First Floating Offshore Wind Turbine Now Online: A 2-MW hybrid spar floating offshore wind pilot project near Fukushima has begun generating power. The group plans two more turbines with 7-MW capacity each, ultimately hoping for up to 143 turbines and a gigawatt of generation capacity.

Shunfeng Set To Acquire Suntech: Shunfeng Photovoltaic (SF-PV), a company that is partially owned by Cheng Kin Ming, who also owns a chunk of struggling LDK Solar, reportedly is the winning bidder for former Chinese solar leader Suntech, despite a last-minute bid from Wuxi Guolian. Suntech also has filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy in the Cayman Islands, seeking to avoid a forced Chapter 7 proceeding pursued in the U.S. by investors who have vowed to “never rest” until they get to the bottom of who’s owed what.

Japan Mulling New Tariffs for Offshore Wind: Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is forming a six-member committee to explore setting a new procurement price for offshore wind, which for now is the same as onshore wind (¥23.1 over 20 years). Specifically they’ll look at fixed-bottom type offshore projects first thanks to the emergence of demonstration projects and data. A first meeting is happening later this month, with a report due by the end of the year.

Solar DG Debate Surfaces Down Under: The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) has unveiled a list of “strategic priorities” in which solar PV is highlighted as a pressing issue for both electricity producers and consumers, citing “stakeholder concern” that “network costs” for customers using rooftop solar PV are being subsidizing by everyone else, and that “the full costs and benefits of distributed generation (such as solar PV) are not reflected in the prices consumers pay for electricity.” AEMC says it will respond to a request by the Standing Council on Energy and Resources (SCER) to assess and change distribution pricing agreements, to weight network charges “on the drivers of network costs as far as possible.” Solar industry advocates point out the AEMC’s own admission that air conditioning is a far bigger subsidy burden than solar PV, with five times the network costs than anything else — but of course air conditioners don’t offer an offset to generation, thus challenging the utility business model.

Japan’s Largest Solar PV Plant Online: The 70-MW Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan, came online November 1, billed as the country’s largest utility-scale solar power plant. The plant was built and supplied by Kyocera in collaboration with six other companies, financed by Mizuho Corporate Bank. A visitor’s center offers elevated views of the 290,000 panel operation, against the backdrop of the ocean and Sakurajima volcano.

Taiwan Eyes Offshore Wind Pilots: Two companies have gained an initial nod from the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) to develop a pair of 3-MW offshore wind power projects by 2015, off the coasts of Miaoli and Changhua counties and County. Taiwan is targeting four to six offshore wind energy pilot projects online by 2015, gradually building up to 300 MW by 2020 and 3 GW by 2030, more twice the size of onshore wind estimates.

Honda: No More CIGS: Honda Soltec is shutting its doors in the spring of 2014 and will no longer make thin-film solar PV (CIGS) modules. Despite fighting the good fight with a less-energy-consumption manufacturing process, the business “does not have good prospects to attain its original business plan,” parent company Honda stated. New orders will be accepted until mid-February of next year, and parent company affiliate Honda Kaihatsu will manage after-sales service to existing customers. The business, established in December 2006 with total investment of around ¥700 million, employed 91 workers.

Renewable Energy World Editors |November 13, 2013

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Challenging the gas industry’s thirst for fresh water!

 Water is our most precious resource. Right now, the gas industry is being allowed to pump millions of liters of fresh water out of Canada’s lakes, rivers and streams to be used in the fracking process – adding toxic chemicals and injecting it underground to force the gas out.

Just yesterday, the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club BC – represented by Ecojustice – launched an important lawsuit aimed at protecting BC’s fresh water from this rampant industrial use.

In British Columbia, companies engaged in fracking are able to access excessive amounts of water with very little oversight, and are charged extremely low rates by the province’s Oil & Gas Commission, which is supposed to regulate the industry. We’re taking the Oil & Gas Commission to court after discovering that it’s been handing out unlawful permits for water use in fracking and other oil and gas operations – permits that violate the province’s Water Act. For more details on the lawsuit, click here to read the story in today’s Globe and Mail.

While BC is investing major resources into overblown plans to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia through the Pacific Coast, British Columbians need to be aware of the real implications. Exporting as much LNG as the industry plans would mean ramping up fracking – and that means more water use, more toxic contamination, and a lot more climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

TVA’s Coal Retirement Announcement Signals Big Steps Forward for Clean Energy in the Tennessee Valley

Knoxville, Tenn. (November 14, 2013) The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) welcomes today’s announcement, made during the TVA Board of Directors’ meeting in Oxford, Miss., that TVA will retire 3308 megawatts of dirty coal-fired power at 3 facilities located throughout the Tennessee Valley – Paradise Units 1 and 2, Widows Creek Unit 8 and Colbert Units 1-5.

We applaud TVA’s difficult but correct decision to retire these plants from their generation mix. It’s the right decision economically, environmentally and for the health and well being of the Valley,” stated Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of SACE. “While retirements will have local impacts, we understand the broader implications are more significant. These actions set TVA on a more sustainable and economically viable course.”

Smith continues, “In addition, we applaud the CEO’s directive to reduce coal to approximately 20% of TVA’s generation mix. We believe this is the correct direction for the near term and that it creates the opportunity for cleaner resources to be developed and supported in the Valley. Ultimately, these decisions help bring TVA into the 21st century with a generation portfolio that is necessary to survive in the future.”

The coal plant retirements announced today will mean that 15,641,066 tons of carbon pollution will no longer be emitted annually once the plants are fully offline. Each facility has a significant coal ash waste problem as well, and TVA will need to properly remediate these impoundments to ensure groundwater contamination is resolved and prevented.

“TVA is acknowledging that it’s easier to meet electricity requirements through energy efficiency rather than by propping up old coal plants with expensive retrofits to satisfy increasingly stringent environmental regulations,” stated Jimmy Green, SACE’s Energy Policy Manager. “The cheapest and cleanest energy is the energy you don’t use.”

Some of today’s announced retirements are following through on commitments already agreed to by TVA in its 2011 Consent Decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  • Although TVA was previously committed to clean up, idle, or retire all 5 of the Colbert plant units in northern Alabama by 2015 and 2016 per the Consent Decree, it announced in July an accelerated timeline for idling the facility. Today’s full commitment to retire the facility is extremely welcome news.

The other announced retirements are bold steps beyond prior commitments and a clear sign that TVA sees coal as an energy source of the past and that continuing to upgrade these plants would represent bad investments for the utility.

  • Although six units at TVA’s Widows Creek plant in northern Alabama were already slated to retire under the Consent Decree, Unit 8 which was recently upgraded with modern air pollution controls, could have continued operations. Today’s announcement will ensure the retirement of all units but Unit 7 at Widows Creek and is a win for clean air and clean water in Alabama.
  • TVA previously had not announced plans to retire its Paradise plant in western Kentucky and had recently upgraded certain air pollution technologies on Units 1 and 2. With today’s announced retirement of Units 1 and 2, TVA is acknowledging that burning coal is no longer a smart business option.

“We anticipate additional coal retirements in the near future,” said Smith. “We trust that additional conversations on the future of TVA’s generation assets will be part of ongoing discussions in TVA’s upcoming Integrated Resource Planning process as well as the newly-formed the Regional Energy Resource Council (RERC), which I am proud to serve upon.”

Dr. Smith was recently named as a member of TVA’s RERC, which serves as an official advisory body to TVA’s Directors concerning TVA’s generation resources and future resource planning. SACE is also an active participant in TVA’s 2015 Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) process, and participated in the previous two IRPs produced by TVA.

Jennifer Rennicks|November 14, 2013

WildEarth Guardians Protects Chaco Canyon from Coal Mining

A plan to expand New Mexico’s largest coal mine was thwarted last month by WildEarth Guardians, winning a reprieve for the climate and nearby Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Earlier in the year, the Bureau of Land Management approved a Peabody request to expand the El Segundo coal mine, which is located only 30 miles south of Chaco Culture. Guardians appealed the Bureau’s decision, challenging the agency’s failure to disclose the impacts of burning coal mined from El Segundo. Acknowledging its shortcomings, the BLM voluntarily withdrew its decision in response to the appeal, a victory for clean energy in New Mexico.

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When Life Gives You Beetle-Killed Forests, Make Biofuel

Scientists will team with a Colorado company to make fuel from climate-impacted trees.

There hasn’t been much upside to the rash of infestations of pine and spruce bark beetles in the forests of the Rocky Mountains. Since 1996, these pesky insects have chewed through 42 million acres of woods in the West, an area the size of Wisconsin. That destroys habitat, and makes the forests susceptible to wildfire.

Now, a group of researchers from Colorado says it can process beetle-killed trees into biofuel that can be mixed with gasoline for use in combustion engines like those in most cars and trucks—and the U.S. Department of Agriculture just awarded them a $10 million grant to do so. 

“A changing climate threatens to expand the threat from bark beetle on our forest lands,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “As we take steps to fight the bark beetle, this innovative research will help take the biomass that results from bark beetle infestation and create clean, renewable energy that holds potential for job creation and promises a cleaner future for America.”

The dead trees will be processed into a biofuel called reformate, using a technique developed by Cool Planet Energy Systems, a company in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Its system uses a procedure known as pyrolysis, which involves heating the wood in oxygen-free conditions to break it into hydrocarbons and volatile chemicals. After a series of refining processes, the finished reformate product can be added directly to gasoline, up to a volume of 30 percent, and burned in regular cars, said project leader Keith Faustian of Colorado State University. Specialized motors can also run solely on the product, he added. The technique also produces a charcoal-like by-product called biochar, which can be combusted to heat homes or, even better, added to soils to make it more fertile.

Timber companies would be happy to cut down the beetle-ravaged trees for profit. But much of the wood is too damaged by infestation to be of any use. And there is no real paper industry in the Rockies, Paustian added. So the biofuel plan makes a product out of what would otherwise be waste.

Easier said than done: Figuring out where exactly all these beetle-killed trees are, how much wood there is, and how much can feasibly be cut down will be a challenge, said Paustian.

The researchers will also try to figure out how to harvest the trees in the most eco-friendly manner. Though getting rid of a major fire hazard would be beneficial, “Any time you’ve got machinery in the woods, certainly you don’t want to be working in areas that are too steep or where the soils are too fragile,” Paustian said. “Part of the project will be looking at places where environmental impacts from erosion and the like aren’t a problem.”

Mountain pine beetles and bark beetles are native to the West, but infestation has been on the rise in the past few decades. The many freezing nights of a long Rocky Mountain winter kills the insects’ eggs, but rising temperatures from climate change is widely believed to be helping more bugs survive into spring.

The beetles have natural predators such a woodpeckers and insects like clerid beetles that feed on adults and larvae under the bark. But these often fail to prevent outbreaks, and once an infestation has begun, there’s currently nothing that can be done to stop it, Paustian said.

Cool Planet’s system processes the biofuel in small, mobile refineries, about the size of a shipping container and carried on flatbed trucks or semi-trailers. This enables production in remote areas where beetle-killed wood is plentiful, which will save costs and emissions associated with transportation.

Paustian was clear to not to oversell the project’s promise, and didn’t want to make it seem like it’s a good thing that hundreds of millions of trees have died. “I’d express it differently,” he said.“We’re making the best out of a bad situation.”

Douglas Main|November 11, 2013

Enbridge oil pipeline project in Indiana delayed

GRIFFITH, IND. — Enbridge Energy says the company’s project to replace 60 miles of oil pipeline across northern Indiana won’t be completed until at least February due to delays in obtaining needed permits.

Work on the pipeline that will run through Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties had been expected to be completed by the end of the year. But project manager Tom Hodge tells The Times of Munster the $1.5 billion project won’t be finished until at least February because of delays in obtaining all the needed permits.

An estimated 650 workers have been drilling tunnels beneath roadways, marshland, stores and a Merrillville golf course and burying new sections of steel pipeline to replace a 45-year-old pipeline between the Indiana-Michigan state line and Enbridge’s oil terminal in Griffith, Ind.

Land Conservation

Wildlife Refuges Drive the Outdoor Recreation Economy

A new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, Banking On Nature: The Economic Benefits to Local Communities of National Wildlife Refuge Visitation (PDF), shows that for every $1 appropriated by Congress to run the refuge system, nearly $5 is generated in local economies. The overall economic benefit of national wildlife refuges is estimated at $2.4 billion per year.

Despite their economic and environmental importance, national wildlife refuges have experienced severe funding cuts. The need for adequate funding to manage 561 refuges and 38 wetland management districts was emphasized in a press release from the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE). The Izaak Walton League is part of this coalition supporting national wildlife refuges.

In response to the new report, IWLA Executive Director Scott Kovarovics said, “Refuges nationwide provide some of the best hunting and fishing for American sportsmen and women. The Banking on Nature report shows once again that taxpayers and local communities receive tremendous economic benefits when we conserve natural resources and promote sustainable outdoor recreation.”  

Court Upholds Ban on Surface Patents for Mining Claims in Wilderness

In a victory for Wilderness, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to deny a patent to the surface estate on a mining claim in the Trinity Alps Wilderness in California. For years, BLM policies misinterpreted mining provisions in the Wilderness Act and issued patents to both the surface and subsurface of valid mining claims. The agency should have issued patents only to the subsurface, and kept the surface in public ownership. The Appeals Court decision confirms the opinion of former Interior Solicitor John Leshy, who corrected this misinterpretation in 1998. Click here to read the ruling, McMASTER v. UNITED STATES.

Last Inholding Eliminated from Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness

CARBONDALE, CO … In a long-anticipated finale to a 10-year saga, the Wilderness Land Trust has just completed the transfer of the last 640-acre private inholding to the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness, located in Northern California between US 101 and Interstate 5 in the Mendocino National Forest.  The path to protection has been nothing short of astounding, including burned buildings, marijuana farmers and federal funding uncertainties.
The property is the last inholding in the 2006 addition to the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness Area.  The owner had built a two story three bedroom hunting “cabin” and barn on the property, as well as corral and pond improvements.  It took years of negotiations for the Trust to acquire the inholding, which feeds the watershed of the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Eel River, supports habitat for endangered steelhead trout, and contains a section of one of California’s finest long white-water runs.  Prior to acquiring this final parcel, the Trust bought and donated to the United States two other inholdings in the Yolla Bolly owned by the same family.   This was the crown jewel and the inclusion of all three of these parcels means that 15 miles of road within the wilderness has also been retired.
Just before the Trust was planning to transfer the inholding to the Forest Service for inclusion into the Yolla Bolly Middle Eel wilderness, the 2012 North Pass Fire hit the property and burned all of the structures to the ground.
As Reid Haughey, President of WLT explains, “This acquisition was plagued by fires all-around.  Not only did the property devalue 15% overnight from the North Pass Fire, but the stress that firefighting put on the Forest Service budget the following year meant that we almost lost the funds Congress had set aside for the acquisition.”
“Only through the strong support of dedicated Forest Service staff were we able to complete this sale and pay back our loyal lender” said Aimee Rutledge, California Program Manager.  “From a wilderness perspective, the Yolla Bolly was a very good thing.  From a financial perspective – well, we can say we lived to save more Wilderness another day!”
In addition to the challenges posed by the fire, the Wilderness Land Trust had to deal with illegal marijuana farming.  “We had to arrange for a local monitor to regularly visit the land, because there had been a lot of illicit pot farming activity in the area and this property included flat secluded sites with water, a perfect environment for cultivation”
explained Reid Haughey, WLT President.
“We are proud to return this property back to its wilderness values, to protect the surrounding Wilderness as a refuge and to provide wildlife a place to thrive during a changing climate,” said Aimee Rutledge, California Program Manager.  Containing a wide range of elevation from 2,700 to 8,000 feet, the Yolla-Bolly provides critical habitat for species adapting to climate change.
The US Forest Service, Mendocino National Forest manages the section of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness containing the Leech Lake Property.  “The Mendocino National Forest is proud to work with the Wilderness Land Trust to bring this property into the National Forest System and the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations,” said Sherry Tune, Forest Supervisor of the Mendocino National Forest.
The Wilderness Land Trust is applying its tenacity to other land parcels around California, including land in northern California in the Castle Crags Wilderness, on the central coast in the Ventana Wilderness, in the Sierras in the John Muir Wilderness and in Southern California in the San Jacinto Wilderness—stay tuned for our next acquisition!
Background
Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness
The part of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness surrounding the Leech Lake Mountain property was added in 2006.  Between the North and South Yolla Bolly Mountains, this Wilderness now contains 181,510 acres of rugged headwater country of the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Eel River which provides habitat for steelhead trout and important habitat for species adapting to climate change.  Chamise and manzanita in the lower elevations give way to dense arrays of pine and fir cloaking numerous ridges.  The Middle Eel river crashes wildly through the Wilderness in a deep canyon for approximately six miles, and, combined with sections of the 48 miles of river outside the Wilderness, forms what is arguably California’s finest long white-water run. Vast grasslands open many of the steep hillsides. Summer wildflowers dramatically color large mountain meadows. Bear and deer populate the area in relative abundance.  Most of the Wilderness stands on national forestland, but a section on the western side (7,100 acres) is situated on Bureau of Land Management land. See attached map and photo.
The Wilderness Land Trust
The Wilderness Land Trust is a small, highly specialized nonprofit organization established to buy and protect wilderness land. Since it was founded in 1992, the non-profit organization has preserved more than 373 parcels comprising of more than 38,000 acres of wilderness inholdings in 88 designated and proposed wilderness areas. The Wilderness Land Trust, a 501 (c)(3) organization, has offices in California, Colorado and Washington State.  For more information visit our website http://www.wildernesslandtrust.org.
The Wilderness Land Trust is a 1% for the Planet Non-Profit Partner.  Visit http://www.onepercentfortheplanet.org for more information.
The US Forest Service-Mendocino National Forest
Straddling the eastern spur of the Coastal Mountain Range in northwestern California, the 913,000 acre Mendocino National Forest is the only National Forest in California not crossed by a paved road or highway. Four Wilderness Areas cover approximately one third of the Forest, providing visitors with a multitude of opportunities to get out and enjoy the solitude of this spectacular and diverse region of California.   More information regarding opportunities to enjoy the Mendocino National Forest may be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/mendocino.
Contact: Aimee Rutledge, California Program Manager
415.606.5895,
aimee@wildernesslandtrust.org
www.wildernesslandtrust.org

Wilderness Land Trust|Nov. 01, 2013

“Zombie” Grand Canyon Uranium Mine Halted

Even with Halloween over, the Center for Biological Diversity  and allies have been fighting a certain “zombie” uranium mine — an “undead” inactive mine that Big Energy wants to reopen (to the detriment of the world of the living). The Center and other conservation groups, along with the Havasu Tribe, have filed repeated lawsuits over many years to challenge the reopening of the Canyon uranium mine, just six miles south of Grand Canyon National Park, which could damage the canyon’s water, wildlife and cultural resources.
Last week we did stop the mine’s reopening, at least for now — no small feat during the current uranium boom. The Canyon mine falls within the million-acre “mineral withdrawal” zone we and our allies won from the Obama administration in January 2012 to protect Grand Canyon’s watershed from new uranium-mining impacts, but was grandfathered in under an exemption to the ban.
“It’s been clear for years that the public doesn’t want uranium mining around the Grand Canyon,” said the Center’s Robin Silver. “Now that this mine has been put on hold, the Forest Service has yet another opportunity to do the right thing: protect people, wildlife and this incredible landscape from industrial-scale mining and all the pollution and destruction that come with it.”
Read more in
The Christian Science Monitor and our press release.

A Victory for Utah’s Red Rock Country

Court strikes down BLM plan allowing thousands of miles of ORV routes

Signaling the end of an era in which off-road vehicles like ATVs and jeeps were allowed to run roughshod over public lands, a federal judge in Utah has struck down a Bureau of Land Management ORV plan for 2.1-million acres of central Utah.

Earthjustice attorneys and a coalition of conservation groups spent five years challenging the plan and were rewarded with a decision that unequivocally rejected BLM’s failure to protect wildlife habitat, streams and archaeological sites from ORV damage.

Sandwiched between Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks, BLM’s Richfield Field Office is home to some of the most remote and rugged parts of Utah’s Red Rock country, including the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states) and iconic Factory Butte.

Thanks to this court victory, these uniquely scenic landscapes, with their towering mesas and remote canyons, will have another shot at the protection they deserve. The court ordered the BLM to revisit the thousands of miles of ORV trails it designated; and ensure that motorized use was only allowed where harm to the environment can be minimized. The agency must also look for and protect archaeological and cultural sites on routes open to ORVs.

The BLM sacrificed these special places in a 2008 management plan that designated more than 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails—enough miles to drive from Atlanta to Anchorage—for ORV use, despite evidence that motorized recreation was harming the fragile ecology of the high desert and ruining the experience of visitors seeking solitude.

The court also criticized the BLM for acquiescing to local county politicians who opposed the designation of an Area of Critical Environmental Concern that would have provided special protections for the isolated Henry Mountains. This was a strong signal to the BLM that it must follow the law—and not bow to political pressure—when it manages the public’s land. Finally, the court found fault with the BLM’s refusal to consider protection for several unique desert streams as “wild and scenic” rivers.

This important ruling marks a new day for Utah’s Red Rock country and lays the ground work for a better future for all of the nearly 400,000 square miles that BLM nationwide manages. BLM cannot simply treat ORV use as the dominant use of our public lands and ignore the damage that results from unfettered motorized recreation.

This decision also raises serious questions about the legality of five other BLM management plans in Utah that suffer from similar legal flaws. The Richfield Resource Management Plan is just one of six land use plans—covering more than 11 million acres of eastern and southern Utah—that the Interior Department finalized in October 2008, as the Bush administration attempted to leave its stamp on public land management. These plans govern the iconic public lands surrounding Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Dinosaur National Monument. Earthjustice and its conservation partners have challenged all six plans in court. The Richfield plan is the first of the six to be litigated.

With this ruling coming less than a month after our significant victory that put an end to proposed oil and gas development adjacent to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, we are guardedly optimistic about the future of the Utah’s Red Rock country. Although many threats persist, recognition of the importance of and need to protect these special lands seems to be on the rise. Thank you for your support of this important work!

The conservation groups challenging the BLM’s 2008 land use plans in Utah include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Rocky Mountain Wild.

The groups were represented by attorneys Heidi McIntosh, Robin Cooley and Alison Flint of Earthjustice, Steve Bloch and David Garbett of SUWA and by Robert Wiygul of Waltzer and Wiygul. 

Air Quality

Dangerously Dirty Skies Targeted

WildEarth Guardians last month called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to rein in dangerously high levels of particulate matter air pollution in 22 areas in seven western states, including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. Coal mining and coal-fired power plants, dirt roads, and other industrial development are fueling particulate matter pollution, jeopardizing public health and the western landscape. Among the places suffering from particulate pollution are Albuquerque, NM, Boise, ID, and the Powder River Basin of Wyoming—the nation’s largest coal producing region. Guardians called on the Environmental Protection Agency to declare these areas in violation of federal health standards, which would spur mandatory—and long overdue—pollution clean ups.

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Recycling

DEP REMINDS FLORIDIANS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF RECYCLING ON AMERICA RECYCLES DAY

~Department urges commercial sector to increase recycling~

TALLAHASSEE – In recognition of America Recycles Day, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reminds Florida businesses and residents to recycle daily in order to help the state achieve its 75 percent recycling goal by 2020.

Last year on America Recycles Day, the Department announced the expansion of its Recycling Recognition Program. Since then, the Department has recognized eight commercial entities for their outstanding recycling efforts. Recipients include International Speedway Corporation/NASCAR, Tervis, Rooms To Go, Children’s World Uniform Supply and Global Organic Specialty Source. Most recently, the Department recognized Florida State University, which was the first university to join the program.

The Department encourages private businesses, governmental entities and universities who have a recycling rate of 40 percent or more to submit their recycling data to our Division of Waste Management for review and recognition.

“America Recycles Day is the perfect time to educate Floridians on how to increase recycling, which, in turn, better protects Florida’s natural resources,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “The Department continues to focus on encouraging expanded recycling in the commercial sector in order to reach Florida’s 75 percent recycling goal.”

In July, the Department released the 2012 municipal solid waste annual report, which reported Florida’s statewide recycling rate is 48 percent. In 2008, the Florida Legislature established a statewide recycling goal of 75 percent to be achieved by 2020.

The Department has an easy tool for companies to track recycling efforts — the Florida DEP Business Recycling Tracking Tool. Through the website, which includes free registration, companies can track different types of recycling efforts and produce reports on how those efforts are helping to shrink their carbon footprint. The tracking will help the Department to recognize companies that are doing more to go green.

Commercial municipal solid waste accounts for approximately 55 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream in Florida. In order for Florida to reach its 75 percent goal, the Department is urging all sectors, especially the commercial sector, to actively increase its recycling efforts. According to the 2012 data, less than half of commercial waste is being recycled. It is crucial that businesses, schools and other commercial recyclers increase their recycling efforts. Recycling provides a direct cost savings to most businesses because the more that is recycled means less waste and lower waste management operating costs. Reuse of materials can also represent a cost savings.

Anheuser-Busch Sponsors ‘America Recycles Day’, November 19th

It’s America Recycles Day, that annual holiday sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, the American Chemistry Council, Waste Management and other companies that have made fortunes manufacturing, filling and picking up disposable containers. It’s their way of thanking us for helping keep all that plastic out of the gutters and the landfills, so that it can be downcycled into benches. But really we need a week to celebrate all the better ways to deal with the problem of waste, with recycling coming after our favorite Rs:

  • Reduce: Just use less.
  • Return: Producers should take back what they sell.
  • Reuse: Almost boring, but we throw too much stuff out too soon.
  • Repair: Fix and mend things rather than replacing them.
  • Refill: In Ontario Canada, 88% of beer bottles are returned to the beer store, washed and refilled; just south of the border in the USA, the number drops to under 5%.
  • Rot: Compost what is left over, turning it into valuable nutrients.
  • Refuse: Simply refuse to accept this crap from the manufacturers any more.

Watch the video made by Margaret Badore that explains it all!

Miscellaneous

“Big Cat” Fossils Discovered in Asia

Recently discovered fossils suggest that an early “big cat” roamed around Asia between 4 and 5 million years ago.

The feline group referred to as “big cats” include lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, snow leopards and clouded leopards.

The fossils were discovered on the Tibetan plateau and are similar to the snow leopard found in today’s Himalayan region.

The study team discovered the fossils in the Tibetan plateau in 2010 when they uncovered a skull and another bone from a big cat. During successive expeditions they excavated five more specimens.

The age of the fossils was estimated from studying the magnetic minerals of the surrounding rock. Counting the number of switches in the orientation of the magnetic particles in nearby rocks can approximate the age of a fossil.

The team estimated the age of the fossils, which bear a resemblance to modern snow leopards, to be between 4 and 5 million years.

Combined analysis of known data places the origin of all cats at about 16 million years ago, which is about 5 million years earlier than was previously thought. 

Modern strains put Lake Victoria in critical condition

Pollution and overfishing in Lake Victoria have become so severe that scientists believe they threaten the health and livelihoods of millions of East Africans. And researchers in the three countries bordering the world’s largest tropical lake — Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda — largely blame governments and national agencies for failing to control the effluent and other waste that pours into the water every day.

John Omolo, 35, who has worked for two decades as a fisherman in the lakeside Kenyan city of Kisumu, says he now fishes only twice a week instead of every day, as he did when fish were still abundant just three years ago.

“The impact of the fall in fish stocks is felt on the dinner table, with tilapia selling at twice the price that it fetched three years ago,” says the father of four. The price rise hits consumers in the Lake Victoria basin — home to 30 million people, a figure demographers expect to double in 15 years — but is not enough to compensate Omolo for his smaller catches.

Mike Obadha, fisheries officer in Kenya’s Kisumu county, says that more than half of the 60,000 Kenyan fishermen who make a living from the lake fear being left jobless because of a fall in the stocks of all fish species, but particularly tilapia and Nile perch.

Fisheries managers estimate that more than 120,000 fishermen in the three countries bordering the lake make their living from its waters.

Wrecked breeding grounds

A survey published last year by the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO), a management body within the intergovernmental East African Community, showed that many fish breeding grounds have been destroyed by pollution and illegal fishing methods. Such techniques include the use of gillnets (vertical panels of netting), beach seines (nets deployed from the shore) and plastic monofilament fishing lines that can snare all kinds of wildlife.

The study found that the catch of Nile perch — which has become the dominant species since its introduction in the 1950s — dropped from 750,000 tons in 2005 to 337,000 tons in 2008. Similarly, the tilapia catch dropped from 27,100 tons to 24,800 tons over the same period.

Some fishermen exacerbate the problems by using poison.

Obadha tells SciDev.Net that fishermen operating from Nyamware beach in Kisumu County, for instance, were notorious for pouring endosulfan, an insecticide that is gradually being phased out around the world, into the water at night, to catch small fish such as dagga for local sale. He says poison is also used in Mwanza, Tanzania to incapacitate fish, causing them to float on the water where they are easy pickings for fishermen.

George Achia, SciDevNet,|Published November 14, 2013 

Plan Ahead for Spring: 8 Efficient Watering Tips

This might seem like a weird time to be talking about irrigation, but in many parts of the country, it’s still dry, and there’s never a bad time to talk about getting ready for the next gardening season. Watering your garden the smart way will save you a lot of water (and money on the water bill), help out the environment, and ensure that your garden is as gorgeous and healthy as it can be. Since some of that planning involves not just how and when you irrigate but what you plant, this little primer should help you make smart choices this winter and spring.

Many gardeners overwater, which leads to massive waste across the country every year as well as problems like runoff and plant disease. Watering isn’t just a matter of indiscriminately spraying with a hose, but rather one of thinking about how much water plants need, and when.

1. Watch the clock

The best time to water is early in the morning. Why? Because you’ll lose the least amount of water to evaporation, which can set in as early as 10am in especially warm climates. If you absolutely must water later because your plants are gasping for it, make sure to water slowly and deeply around their roots to keep as much water going where it needs to as possible. You can also water in the late afternoon and early evening to prevent evaporative loss, but be aware that going to bed with damp roots, as it were, can lead to mold and mildew problems.

2. Run deep

Instead of doing a superficial spray every few days, do a deep watering, and do it less frequently. While it might seem counterintuitive because you’re using more water at each watering, you’re using less in the short term by not watering as much. Even better, you’re encouraging the development of strong, healthy plants by forcing them to put out longer and more aggressive root networks to find water. Furthermore, you can cut down on your weed problem, because many weeds rely on an easily-accessed layer of surface water, something they don’t find if you’re doing deep infrequent irrigation.

3. Ditch that lawn

Lawns eat up tremendous amounts of water. If you haven’t already, consider lawn alternatives, such as spreading walkable groundcovers, that won’t require as much water, or as much maintenance. If you want that lush green look, you can have it — but it doesn’t have to be sod. Lawn-free landscaping will also free up all that time you would have spent mowing, dethatching, fertilizing, and otherwise caring for labor-intensive grass.

4. Mulch it

Mulch is great stuff. It protects the roots of plants from the elements, and more than that, it helps plants retain water. Make sure to keep mulch layered well around your plants (mulch in fall is especially important because it protects tender roots from freezing!) so that when you water, the cool area around the roots will trap the water so the plant has time to absorb it. Mulch also keeps weeds down, and can keep a garden looking more tidy.

5. Like with like

Different plants have different water needs. Group your plantings so you can use your resources most efficiently. Try using low water landscaping in areas like sunny hills, where more water would be needed to sustain most plants. Think low-water landscaping is dull? Check out these amazing 50 water-wise plants from Sunset. If you have plants with high water demands, plant them in a cool area of low ground to help them retain water. Avoid mixing plants, as some may not appreciate the greater or lesser amounts of water needed to support their cousins.

6. No more sprinklers

Sprinklers are very inefficient, with high water loss due to evaporation and a tendency to overwater some areas while under-watering others. Talk to your landscaper about installing a real irrigation system with programmable timers so you can direct water where you want it, when you want it. Drip irrigation can offer a highly efficient option, but low-profile spray irrigation is another choice too. For container plants, like those in urban gardens, you might want to consider self-watering options.

7. Soil conditioning

Healthy soil retains water better (and nourishes plants). Work compost, mosses, and other soil conditioning components into the ground when you’re planting new landscaping features, overhauling beds, and working in the garden. If you don’t make your own compost, hit up a garden supply store or the municipal waste facility: many cities sell compost now!

8. Stop runoff in its tracks

You shouldn’t be experiencing runoff if you water smart, but sometimes it’s inevitable on a sloped lot. You need a terrace or retaining wall to stop the water, and you can integrate it into the garden as a design feature, rather than an obvious water reclamation measure. For example, consider using a retaining wall to create a sweeping bed of plants that need higher amounts of water; every time you water higher up on the slope, the water will trickle down to support their needs.

Katie Marks writes for Networx.com. This article originally appeared here

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Guyana’s plans for a dam put vast parts of rainforest at risk

November 2013: Plans to build a massive hydro-electric dam on the land of two unique tribes in Guyana would lead to the destruction of a unique people and vast tracts of rainforest says anthropologist Dr Audrey Butt Colson.

His report, published by Survival International, reveals that Guyana’s government aims to push ahead with one or more dams on the Upper Mazaruni River, designating it an area for mining and a series of hydro-power projects.

This would flood out the entire Akawaio indigenous people and an Arekuna community and forever destroy an area famed for its magnificent scenery, bio-diversity and scientific interest. It is a project shrouded in secrecy. The dam would turn the Akawaio and Arekuna into refugees and the government has failed to obtain the indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent, as required by international law.

Jean La Rose of the Amerindian Peoples Association said: “We understand that the country needs to develop in a world that is changing, but this must not come at the expense of our lives as a people. Land is the life source that sustains us and will have to sustain our generations to come. Our distinct culture, history and identity as the first peoples of this nation who are dependent on our environment for survival must be respected. The principles of free, prior and informed consent must be implemented at all levels by the state on any projects and programmes that will have economic and cultural impacts on us as indigenous peoples.”

This is not the first time there have been plans in the area for a dam. It was initially shelved in the 1970s after funders, including the World Bank, withdrew after a campaign by the Akawaio and Survival International.The Upper Mazaruni communities declared in a statement: “Our grandparents didn’t accept the hydro-project in the past, the grandchildren share the position of our grandparents and say no to the ‘Kurupung Project’ [formerly known as the Upper Mazaruni dam].”

www.survivalinternational.org

10 Weird Facts About Hibernating Animals

Everyone knows bears and hedgehogs hibernate, but did you know that snakes, snails, frogs, turtles, bats, bees and a menagerie of other animals also find that hunkering down through the winter is a lot easier than migrating thousands of miles to some place warmer. Here are a few other facts about hibernation that may inspire you to grab a cozy comforter and at least huddle near your fireplace with a cup of hot coco. Too bad for you though, unlike the bear and the hedgie, you will have to get up tomorrow morning and face the day, no matter how cold!

1. Some hibernating animals will wake up for short spurts during the winter months to eat and relieve themselves. Other animals sleep through the entire winter without doing either.

2. European hedgehogs are deep winter sleepers and usually go through the entire winter without waking. By all outward appearances you would think a hibernating hedgie was dead — their feet, ears, and skin are all cold to the touch and their breathing is almost undetectable. Normally, a hedgehog’s heart races at a frantic 190 beats per minute, but during hibernation it slows to about 20 beats per minute. When outdoor winter temperatures fluctuate, a hedgehog’s heart will just beat a little faster to generate more internal heat or slow down to save energy. Outwardly, the hedgehog will feel cold, but inside it’s heart is toasty warm.

3. In preparation for winter’s deep sleep, a black bear can gain up to 30 pounds a week. I’m sure many humans are glad they don’t do that!

4. Animals in hibernation do have internal controls that prevent their core body temperature from falling dangerously low. The animal will awake if their internal alarm goes off warning that their temperature is too close to freezing. That must be a rude awakening, indeed.

5. Snails are built for self-contained hibernating. They burrow underground and withdraw into their shell. But before falling into a deep winter sleep, they seal their door with a chalky, slimy excretion that hardens and locks in essential moisture. A small air hole allows oxygen to enter, but still keeps predators out. In this hibernation mode, they use almost no energy and require no food to live. Some snails use this same technique to survive extended drought periods.

6. Different bee species have different mechanisms for surviving through harsh winters.  Honeybees will stop flying when temperatures dip below 50 degrees F. They instead huddle together in the center of the hive making what is known as a winter cluster. The queen bee is at the center, while all of the sister bees rotate through the cluster so that no bee gets too cold for too long. The cluster center will be about 80 degrees and the outer edges will be between 46 and 48 degrees. The colder the weather the tighter the cluster.  During this time, the bees also consume the honey stored in the hive which helps them produce essential body heat. On warmer days, bees will sometimes venture out to eliminate bodily waste, but they do not venture far (if temperatures dip quickly they may be fatally prevented from returning to the warmth of the hive).

7. Garter snakes like to hibernate together. In Canada, where winters get exceptionally cold, it is not uncommon to find hundreds and even thousands of garter snakes cozying up together for warmth. Although, I imagine feeling cozy is not easy when you are a cold-blooded animal. When spring arrives and the snow melts, all the snakes leave the hibernating den together, each seeking their own rock to finally bask in the sun’s returned warmth and glory.

8. Big brown bats can make it through the winter without eating, but they do need to wake up to drink. Their heart rate drops from the normal 1000 beats per minute to 25 beats per minute and they will take only one breath about every two hours.

9. There is only one known bird species that hibernates – the Common Poorwill. This little brown speckled bird finds a sheltered area and hunkers down for up to five months. It can stay solidly asleep for up to 100 days, but once it awakens it needs about seven hours to regain its normal body temperature.

10. The four bear species that hibernate (Brown, Asiatic, Polar and American Black bear) do not hibernate as deeply as other animals, such as the hedgehog, as their temperature only drops a little and they can fully wake up very quickly. Furthermore, mother bears actually work hard during hibernation as this is when she gives birth to her cubs and raises them for the first few months of their lives.

Cherise Udell|November 14, 2013

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 Scientists Killed the World’s Oldest Creature – and Then it Got Older

It looked just like any other mollusk when scientists from Bangor University, Wales in the UK, pulled it out of the water during a 2006 expedition to Iceland.

It turned out that this rather unassuming creature, since dubbed Ming the Mollusk, was in fact the oldest living animal on record –and to discover that, the scientists had to kill it.

After dredging for Arctica islandica bivalve mollusks, more commonly known as ocean quahogs, the scientists put the still alive mollusks in a freezer in order to preserve what they thought was a routine sample of deep-sea marine life.

It wasn’t until they came to analyze the creature, opening its shell and unfortunately killing it, that they began to suspect the mollusk was more than 400 years old. That discovery made headlines around the world and even saw Ming, named after the presiding Chinese dynasty when its life began, enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest mollusk known to-date. It is also officially the longest living animal on record (depending on how we define “animal”).

It turns out that record will have to be amended though, because Ming was probably closer to 507 years old when it died.

The mistake in calculating Ming’s age occurred as a result of how a mollusk’s age is measured. Scientists can calculate the age of various shellfish based on the striations in their shells, roughly like counting the rings on a tree trunk.

Specifically, the quahog grows a new layer to its shell on a roughly yearly basis providing the water is warm and it has plenty of food. Opening the shell and counting from the hinge can therefore give scientists a rough estimate of the quahog’s age.

So, the university scientists counted the rings on Ming’s shell, starting at the hinge. However because they were unaware of how old Ming was, they failed to account for the fact that the rings might have been compressed. Now that they have used more refined techniques to examine the shell, they have been able to get a truer picture of Ming’s age.

“We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit hasty publishing our findings back then. But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now,” ocean scientist Paul Butler is quoted as telling ScienceNordic.

The scientists now believe that Ming was born in 1499 — just a few years after Columbus is believed to have discovered America and having lived through a number of wars and world crises. Fortunately it can also still claim the name Ming due to the fact that the dynasty covered a 300 year period.

Until relatively recently it was thought that bivalves, a group of mollusks to which the quahog belong, lived no more than 100 years. Then gradually deep sea samples revealed quahogs exceeding the century mark. The oldest official record until Ming was found was still only a trifling 220-year-old though.

Given that thousands of quahogs are caught commercially each and every year, it’s entirely possible that Ming may not in fact be the oldest quahog out there and that some of our oldest living animals have been killed without the fact ever being known. A caveat should be made that Ming’s record also depends on how we define the animal kingdom as there are certain primitive organisms out there that beat Ming’s record by literally thousands of years.

Ming’s Long Life May Hold a Number of Secrets

Now, if a centuries old mollusk isn’t enough to wow you — well, we’re very different people — there are other things that are very interesting about Ming, and chiefly what Ming can tell us about climate change.

The ring patterns on Ming’s shell give specific insight into historical marine temperatures, something that scientists have relatively few ways of tracking when compared to the variety of methods for tracking land temperatures.

As such, analyzing mollusk shells for their specific composition and how they have changed through the years can yield information into how closely marine temperatures have mirrored land temperatures and crucially whether land temperature spikes are a result of warming waters. They may also enable us to track water composition and acidification rates. That becomes especially useful when scientists have such a long lived specimen like Ming who was alive for a considerable amount of years and so can give a good body of data for scientists to work with.

If that wasn’t enough, Ming might also shed light on why is it that mollusks can live for centuries. Theories suggest that the low oxygen environment and resulting low metabolic rate that mollusks live with can partly answer that question, but scientists are keen to explore the genetic inheritance that allows such a long life.

In the meantime, this story perhaps serves to illustrate how even the most seemingly unremarkable creature can be important. It also demonstrates yet again how often our methods of probing for information about the world around us can come at a tragic cost.

Steve Williams|November 15, 2013

Read more

 Atmosphere locked in time

Amber has long been appreciated for its ability to preserve a moment in time as it encapsulated plant matter, bugs and other organisms. As a tool for ecosystem reconstruction, scientists have learnt a great deal. But recently researchers led by Ralf Tappert of the University of Innsbruck, have begun using amber and other fossil plant resins to reconstruct the composition of Earth’s atmosphere from the last 220 million years.  The results suggest that atmospheric oxygen was considerably lower in the Earth’s geological past than previously assumed.

Often atmospheric conditions are difficult to determine due to the lack of useable sample material. But what Tappert and his team have discerned is that “Compared to other organic matter, amber has the advantage that it remains chemically and isotopically almost unchanged over long periods of geological time.”

Tappert, a mineralogist along with colleagues from other universities throughout the world have used amber to produce a comprehensive study of the chemical composition of the Earth’s atmosphere since the Triassic period. The interdisciplinary team, consisting of mineralogists, paleontologists and geochemists, use the preserving properties of plant resins, caused by polymerization, for their study. “During photosynthesis plants bind atmospheric carbon, whose isotopic composition is preserved in resins over millions of years, and from this, we can infer atmospheric oxygen concentrations,” explains Ralf Tappert. The information about oxygen concentration comes from the isotopic composition of carbon or rather from the ratio between the stable carbon isotopes 12C and 13C.

The research team analyzed a total of 538 amber samples from from well-known amber deposits worldwide, with the oldest samples being approximately 220 million years old and recovered from the Dolomites in Italy. The team also compared fossil amber with modern resins to test the validity of the data. The results of this comprehensive study suggest that atmospheric oxygen during most of the past 220 million years was considerably lower than today’s 21 percent. “We suggest numbers between 10 and 15 percent,” says Tappert. These oxygen concentrations are not only lower than today but also considerably lower than the majority of previous investigations propose for the same time period. For the Cretaceous period (65 – 145 million years ago), for example, up to 30 percent atmospheric oxygen has been suggested previously.

The researchers also relate this low atmospheric oxygen to climatic developments in the Earth’s history. “We found that particularly low oxygen levels coincided with intervals of elevated global temperatures and high carbon dioxide concentrations,” explains Tappert.

Read more at the University of Innsbruck.

 Tiny algae signal big changes for warming Arctic lakes

 The mighty polar bear has long been the poster child for the effects of global warming in the Arctic, but the microscopic diatom tells an equally powerful story.

Diatoms are a type of algae that form the base of the food chain in watery habitats the world over. Disturbances among lake diatoms have exposed the impacts of rapid warming in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of eastern Canada, researchers reported Oct. 9 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

While other parts of the Arctic began to thaw in the 19th century, the Hudson Bay Lowlands remained stable until about 15 years ago. Since then, the region’s average temperatures have shot up three degrees Celsius.

To gauge the effects of this warming on lowland ecosystems, ecologist John Smol and his team at Queen’s University in Ontario extracted sediment cores from four lakes. Like the rings of a tree trunk, a sediment core is a repository of lake history—a physical record of the dead creatures and other debris that descend to the lake bottom each year. The 30-centimeter-deep cores, encapsulating 200 years of lake history, were littered with intact glass-like diatom shells.

Diatoms preserved in lake sediments are sensitive environmental indicators. As the lowlands warmed up, the researchers found, different diatom varieties began to thrive, including more species that float throughout the water column, rather than sticking to the lake bottom. Distinct temperature layers within the lakes arise as winter ice thins, triggering changes among the diatoms, the scientists believe.

Like an ice bath holding a bottle of champagne, the frozen bay chilled the lowlands for thousands of years, explained ecologist Warwick Vincent of Université Laval in Quebec, who was not part of the study. Once the ice bath began to melt, though, the period of winter ice cover shortened with each passing year. The bay and its lowlands started to lose their cool, further shrinking the ice season in a chain reaction of warming.

On the eastern side of Hudson Bay, Vincent has studied pollen in soil cores to track changes in tree species and has witnessed similar patterns. “You see it’s very, very constant through the millennia, until you get to the 1990s. Then everything changes,” he said.

Milder lake waters have allowed new diatom species to prosper, yielding more energy for the whole food chain. “With climate change, there are winners and losers,” said Smol in an interview with mongabay.com.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, MONGABAY.COM.
WildEarth Guardians Co-Hosts Endangered Species Act’s 40th Birthday With DC Soiree

Last week hundreds gathered at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. to celebrate the birthday of the world’s premiere law protecting imperiled species. The Endangered Species Act at 40: A Wild Success featured renowned author, conservationist and Guardian Terry Tempest Williams. Guardians and our conservation allies presented awards to members of Congress who are advocates for our country’s most endangered plants and animals and to former Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton for her work to preserve species internationally.

The ESA passed nearly unanimously with broad and vocal bipartisan support. President Nixon signed the Act into law in 1973. The ESA is wildly successful—more than 99% of the more than 2,000 listed species receiving protections have survived and are rebounding from the brink of extinction. Happy Birthday ESA!

Read more

 Cats Bring Potential Breakthrough in HIV Research

Researchers from the University of Florida and University of California, San Francisco are reporting a surprise finding that may lead to the development of an effective vaccination against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). And the finding involves cats.

More specifically, it involves the discovery of an immune response in humans infected with HIV to a specific protein associated with the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

If successful, the development of this particular vaccine product will mark the first time that T-cells have been used in a vaccine to prevent disease. It’s a novel approach to a serious and difficult to solve problem.

T-cells are a part of the immune system, the natural response of the body to rid itself of disease. In this case, a peptide (a small protein) which is part of the makeup of the FIV virus has been found to activate a response by T-cells, allowing them to recognize, attack, and destroy cells infected with HIV.

Researchers had previously been looking at T-cell based immune responses to HIV peptides. But they reached a stumbling block when they found that while some peptides can stimulate an immune response, others can actually potentiate infection, and still others simply seem to have no effect at all. Another stumbling block is the fact that, for those peptides that do induce an immune response, that response can be lost when/if the virus mutates, making the development of a vaccine using these peptides problematic.

How Cat-friendly is Your Veterinary Hospital?

However, researchers found recently that the inclusion of certain FIV peptides in a vaccine for HIV can be effective in inducing the necessary immune response and, apparently, mutation is not likely to be an issue with these peptides.

Researchers stress that this finding, though significant in terms of advancement in the fight against HIV, does not mean that FIV is contagious to people. So, don’t panic that you’re going to get AIDS from your cat, even if your cat is infected with FIV.

This HIV research is an exciting and important new discovery. However, this is far from being the first time that cats have been instrumental in finding answers to human health issues. Cats have been used as models for studying a number of different diseases. Cats have been used as a model for HIV infection for quite some time, because of the similarities between FIV infection and HIV infection. The two viruses are different from one another but are distantly related and can cause similar symptoms in cats and humans, respectively.

Some of the other human diseases which have been or are being studied with cats as models for disease include cardiomyopathies and other forms of heart disease, diabetes (particularly type 2 or non-insulin dependent diabetes), hematological disorders such as Chediak-Higashi Syndrome (CHS), hearing loss, otitis media (infection of the middle ear), dental disease, neurological disorders such as spina bifida, stroke, spinal cord injuries, and a number of other disease of the nervous system, eye disorders, parasitic diseases such as roundworm infection and Helicobacter pylori infection, toxicities (primarily methylmercury poisoning), infectious diseases like toxoplasmosis, and certain forms of cancer. (Source: The Cat in Biomedical Research)

 Dr. Lorie Huston, DVM | petMD.com

FCC News Brief

Florida’s best environmental reporting, editorials, and op-eds.

November 19th, 2013

Craig Pittman reports in the Tampa Bay Times: Bottlenose dolphins, a key indicator species for ocean health, are dying off in record numbers around Florida and along the eastern seaboard. The Indian River Lagoon has lost more than 10% of its dolphin population just this year due to an unknown cause. Scientist worry that an outbreak of morbillivirus, first spotted in dolphins off the coast of New York, could further endanger Florida’s dolphin population after it was detected in a dead dolphin near Jacksonville earlier this month. Greg Bossart, chief veterinary officer at the Georgia Aquarium, says “We’ve used the ocean as our toilet, and now it’s starting to catch up with us.” Read Dolphins dying in droves and scientists can’t stop it.

Orlando Sentinel reporter Kevin Spear interviews FCC Charter Member Sonny Vergara: Vergara comments on the weakening of environmental regulations and regulatory agencies under the Scott Administration, and on what he would do if made governor for a day. Read Former manager of 2 water districts urges more protections.

David Fleshler reports in the Sun Sentinel: The petition drive to place the Florida Water and Land Legacy Amendment on the 2014 ballot has gathered more than 700,000 signatures, thanks to dedicated volunteers like Sierra Club member Darryl Rutz. Read Petitioners want environmental funding on ballot.
Sunshine State News reports: South Florida Water Management District assistant executive director Ernie Barnett announced he will resign effective January 1st. Read the
full story here.  Background: In July the District’s governing board chose Blake Guillory, over Barnett, to replace Melissa Meeker as executive director of Florida’s largest water management district. At the time Barnett was reported to have “agreed to stay.” In an October meeting with the Palm Beach Post editorial board Guillory reportedly complained about an “institutional resistance to change” at the District which has lost more than 20% of its funding and staff since 2011.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection should revise the list of proposed “surplus” conservation lands to be sold. The board writes “The governor surely will see that selling land that should be protected from development would be a bad deal for taxpayers and the environment.” Read DEP should revamp surplus lands list.
Eric Ernst writes in the Herald-Tribune: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s effort to identify and sell “surplus” conservation lands has been a nearly complete failure. Of the original 169 properties identified for possible sale 92 have been removed because of public concern or the “discovery” that these conservation lands do have conservation value. Further, the sale of many properties remaining on the list, including large tracts of land in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern, still face opposition from environmental groups and local residents. Experts contend the state will only be able to raise a small fraction of the $50 million allocated by the legislature for new land conservation purchases from the sale of “surplus” lands. Read
Florida Forever gambit unravels.

Bruce Ritchie reports in the Florida Current: In a press conference on Monday, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Adam Putnam said “water is emerging as a top issue in the coming legislative session.” Read the full story here.

Tom Swihart writes on the blog Watery Foundation: Floridians should be concerned about the acidification of oceans. ReadSee no evil.

 Upcoming Environmental Events & Meetings
Tuesday, November 19, 9:00 a.m. The Southwest Florida Water Management District will hold its monthly governing board meeting in Tampa. See the agenda here.

Wednesday, December 11, 5:00 p.m. – Join environmental organizations and concerned citizens in Orlando to help stop the sale of “surplus” conservation lands. Find more information here.

 Save the Dates: The Society for Range Management will hold its 67th Annual International Meeting in Orlando from February 8-13, 2014. Find more information on speakers and registration here.

Save the Date: April 26, 2014 The annual Marion County Springs Festival will be held at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala. Look for additional information on this fantastic event soon.

 Do you know of an upcoming environmental event or meeting you would like to include in the FCC News Brief? Send us a quick email and we will include it for you. And make sure you support the Florida Water and Land Legacy Campaign by bringing petitions to all events and meetings you attend.

We hope you enjoy this service and find it valuable. Our goal is to provide you with the latest environmental news from around the state. Our hope is that you will use this information to more effectively and frequently contact your elected representatives, and add your voice to the growing chorus of Floridians concerned about the condition of our environment and the recent direction of environmental policies. Please encourage your friends, family, and co-workers to join the FCC and subscribe to the Daily News Brief (both free).

If you wish to stop receiving these daily emails just reply with the subject “unsubscribe” and you will be promptly removed.

Please send all suggestions, comments, and criticism to Ryan Smart at rsmart@floridaconservationcoalition.org.

About the FCC: The Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC) is composed of over 40 conservation organizations and a thousand individuals devoted to protecting and conserving Florida’s land, fish and wildlife and water resources. 

For more information on the FCC visit floridaconservationcoalition.org.

Founder and Chairman, Bob Graham; Vice-Chairmen, Nathaniel Pryor Reed & Lee Constantine

Environmental Links

SFASInternational Wildlife NewsAudubon AdvocateAudubon RestoreEco-VoiceSouth Florida Wildlife Care CenterSawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife HospitalThe Turtle HospitalThe Marathon Wild Bird CenterClimate change infoAudubon’s Coastal StrandBioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutionsCollins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration NewsEcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper AllianceEverglades Foundation – press releasesEverglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press GreenFront Pages from Florida NewspapersHerald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental NewsKeysNews.comNaples Daily News  – Environmental NewsNational Public Radio Eco-NewsRiverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra ClubSierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  JournalSouth Florida Water Management DistrictUnion of Concerned Scientists – newsYahoo News Search: EvergladesNASA Climate Information American Littorial Society logSun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee NewsEverglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper

 

About gcamp38

I have been a professional woodworker for over 50 years, and my efforts have been centered around custom woodwork. I have been in the construction trades since 1954, both residential and commercial, and there's not a lot you can do to a building that I haven't done. Through the years, I've processed a lot of information, and some of it has stuck. I'd like to pass on some of the info that I have learned, developed myself, stolen from other woodworkers, or otherwise gleaned, to my fellow woodworkers that haven't had the learning experiences that I have been fortunate enough to have had.
This entry was posted in Air Quality, Announcements, Birds and Butterflies, Endangered Species, Energy, Environmental Links, Everglades, Florida Panthers, Genetically Modified Organisms, Global Warming and Climate Change, In Memoriam, Invasive species, Land Conservation, Miscellaneous, Of special interest, Offshore & Ocean, Recycling, Transportation, Water Quality Issues, Wildlife and Habitat. Bookmark the permalink.

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