American belief in creationism and evolution, 1982-2012. Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God's guidance; 15 percent say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process. Graphic: Gallup

By ADAM FRANK
21 August 2013

ROCHESTER (The New York Times) – IN 1982, polls showed that 44 percent of Americans believed God had created human beings in their present form. Thirty years later, the fraction of the population who are creationists is 46 percent.

In 1989, when “climate change” had just entered the public lexicon, 63 percent of Americans understood it was a problem. Almost 25 years later, that proportion is actually a bit lower, at 58 percent.

The timeline of these polls defines my career in science. In 1982 I was an undergraduate physics major. In 1989 I was a graduate student. My dream was that, in a quarter-century, I would be a professor of astrophysics, introducing a new generation of students to the powerful yet delicate craft of scientific research.

Much of that dream has come true. Yet instead of sending my students into a world that celebrates the latest science has to offer, I am delivering them into a society ambivalent, even skeptical, about the fruits of science.

This is not a world the scientists I trained with would recognize. Many of them served on the Manhattan Project. Afterward, they helped create the technologies that drove America’s postwar prosperity. In that era of the mid-20th century, politicians were expected to support science financially but otherwise leave it alone. The disaster of Lysenkoism, in which Communist ideology distorted scientific truth and all but destroyed Russian biological science, was still a fresh memory.

The triumph of Western science led most of my professors to believe that progress was inevitable. While the bargain between science and political culture was at times challenged — the nuclear power debate of the 1970s, for example — the battles were fought using scientific evidence. Manufacturing doubt remained firmly off-limits.

Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. Narrowly defined, “creationism” was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as “creation science” and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.

Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination.

The list goes on. North Carolina has banned state planners from using climate data in their projections of future sea levels. So many Oregon parents have refused vaccination that the state is revising its school entry policies. And all of this is happening in a culture that is less engaged with science and technology as intellectual pursuits than at any point I can remember. [more]

Welcome to the Age of Denial

File photo taken on 12 March 2010 shows Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru No.2 in the Tokyo port. Photo: AFP

22 August 2014 (AFP) – A Japanese whaling vessel and its crew were being held in Russia on Friday after the ship entered Russian territorial waters without permission, Tokyo said.

The 712-tonne Shonan Maru No. 2 was ordered into a Russian port on August 15 after sailing through the Sea of Okhotsk off Sakhalin island, an official from Japan's Fisheries Agency said.

The vessel, which does not catch whales itself but monitors the oceans for signs of the creatures [i.e., hunts them], had 19 Japanese crew and one Russian observer on board.

Tokyo has admitted the vessel changed its initial course and entered Russian waters without going through the proper procedures.

"The crew members have been voluntarily questioned," the official said, adding that Tokyo was asking for their early release through diplomatic channels. [more]

Russia holds Japan whaling research vessel


Some absolutely excellent news this morning.

The Shonan Maru No. 2 has been seized by Russia.

The Shonan Maru No. 2 has a history of law-breaking especially for illegal entry into foreign waters without permission.

Just last year the Shonan Maru No. 2 was rebuked for unlawful entry into New Zealand waters and the year prior to that for unlawful entry into Australian waters.

This was the ship that in 2011 deliberately rammed and destroyed the vessel Ady Gil.

The operators of the Shonan Maru No. 2 have behaved as if they have a license to go wherever they wish and do whatever they wish to do. The Captain and the officers even refused to be questioned by New Zealand authorities after the destruction of the Ady Gil and never had to answer for that crime, protected by the Japanese government from investigation and charges.

The Shonan Maru No. 2 has been the security vessel for the illegal activities of the Japanese whaling fleet. The Japanese whaling fleet was found to be guilty of illegal whaling under the guise of “scientific research” by the International Court of Justice earlier this year.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation ships have had numerous confrontations with this pirate whaler in the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctic and within the territorial waters of Australia over the last 8 years.

Apparently the Shonan Maru No. 2 was looking for whales in Russian waters. Hopefully the Russians will detain the ship to prevent it returning to the Southern Ocean in December 2014 but if not they have set a precedent and both New Zealand and Australia can and should arrest the ship if it returns with the rest of the whaling fleet in violation of the verdict of the International Court of Justice to resume their illegal whaling activities in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Russia which was once also a notorious whaling nation, appears to not take to kindly to a Japanese whaling vessel prowling their seas for whales.

Outlaw Japanese Whaler Busted by the Russians

(A) Estimated natural (gray line) and illegal killing (red line) rates (with 95% confidence interval) contrasted with local prices of ivory (black line) to the poachers in the Laikipia/Samburu ecosystem. (B) Mass of annual ivory seizures in Kenya (no data in 2005–2006) and the proportion of seizures destined for China (including Hong Kong). Data is represented by a black or gray '×.' Graphic: Wittemyer, et al., 2014

By Jeremy Hance
19 August 2014

(mongabay.com) – Around 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers for their ivory on the African continent in just three years, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Between 2010 and 2012 an average of 6.8 percent of the elephant population was killed annually, equaling just over 20 percent of the continent's population in that time. Elephant deaths are now exceeding births, which on average are 5 percent annually.

"We are shredding the fabric of elephant society and exterminating populations across the continent," lead author George Wittemyer with the organization Save the Elephants told the BBC, noting that old elephants are often the first killed. Elephants are being killed for their ivory, which is then smuggled abroad to mostly to China, but also to Thailand, the Philippines, Europe, and the U.S.

Unfortunately data on elephant populations across Africa is uneven and in many places scant, making continent-wide estimates like these difficult. In this case, the researchers used some of the best studied populations in Samburu, Kenya to determine how many elephants were dying of natural causes versus poachers in the site. They then used two different methods to extrapolate this data.

In the first they employed good data in 12 sites across Africa to estimate the total poachers' butcher bill over the last few years. In the second, they used computer modeling to estimate poaching levels at 306 sites. Both methods came to similar numbers: 101,784 elephants killed versus 99,997 elephants, respectively over three years. […]

The conservationists told the BBC that if rates don't slow, the African elephant could be extinct within a century. Complicating matters, is recent evidence that there are actually two, not one, species of elephant on the continent. A 2010 study found that forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis)—smaller, sporting straighter tusks, and residing in rainforests—are as distinct from their savannah cousins (Loxodonta africana) as Asian elephants are from woolly mammoths. Yet, forest elephants are rushing faster to extinction than savannah elephants. A study last year estimated that 62 percent of forest elephants had been slaughtered by poachers between 2002 and 2011. [more]

20 percent of Africa's elephants killed in three years


ABSTRACT: Illegal wildlife trade has reached alarming levels globally, extirpating populations of commercially valuable species. As a driver of biodiversity loss, quantifying illegal harvest is essential for conservation and sociopolitical affairs but notoriously difficult. Here we combine field-based carcass monitoring with fine-scale demographic data from an intensively studied wild African elephant population in Samburu, Kenya, to partition mortality into natural and illegal causes. We then expand our analytical framework to model illegal killing rates and population trends of elephants at regional and continental scales using carcass data collected by a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species program. At the intensively monitored site, illegal killing increased markedly after 2008 and was correlated strongly with the local black market ivory price and increased seizures of ivory destined for China. More broadly, results from application to continental data indicated illegal killing levels were unsustainable for the species between 2010 and 2012, peaking to ∼8% in 2011 which extrapolates to ∼40,000 elephants illegally killed and a probable species reduction of ∼3% that year. Preliminary data from 2013 indicate overharvesting continued. In contrast to the rest of Africa, our analysis corroborates that Central African forest elephants experienced decline throughout the last decade. These results provide the most comprehensive assessment of illegal ivory harvest to date and confirm that current ivory consumption is not sustainable. Further, our approach provides a powerful basis to determine cryptic mortality and gain understanding of the demography of at-risk species.

Illegal killing for ivory drives global decline in African elephants

Map of elevation change of Greenland between January 2011 and January 2014 derived from along-track processing of three full CryoSat-2 cycles. The black polygon indicates the mode mask of CryoSat-2. Inside the polygon LRM and outside SARIn data were acquired. NEGIS: Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, JI: Jakobshavn Isbræ, ZI: Zacharias Isstrømen. Graphic: Helm, et al., 2014

By Jonathan Amos
20 August 2014 

(BBC News) – A new assessment from Europe's CryoSat spacecraft shows Greenland to be losing about 375 cu km of ice each year.

Added to the discharges coming from Antarctica, it means Earth's two big ice sheets are now dumping roughly 500 cu km of ice in the oceans annually.

"The contribution of both ice sheets together to sea level rise has doubled since 2009," said Angelika Humbert from Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute.

"To us, that's an incredible number," she told BBC News.

In its report to The Cryosphere journal, the AWI team does not actually calculate a sea-level rise equivalent number, but if this volume is considered to be all ice (a small part will be snow) then the contribution is likely to be on the order of just over a millimetre per year.

This is the latest study to use the precision altimetry data being gathered by the European Space Agency's CryoSat platform. […]

Significant thinning is seen also in the North East Greenland Ice Stream (NEGIS).

"This has three outlet glaciers and one of these, the Zachariae Isstrom, has retreated quite a bit and some volume loss has already been reported. But we see now that this volume loss is really propagating to upper areas, much further into the interior of the ice sheet than has been recorded before," explained Prof Humbert.

In Antarctica, the annual volume loss is about 128 cu km per year (plus or minus 83 cu km per year). […]

Prof Andy Shepherd, who was part of the British group that reported its findings in May, commented, "…the increased ice losses that have been detected are a worrying reminder that the polar ice sheets are still experiencing dramatic changes, and will inevitably raise concerns about future global sea-level rise," the Leeds University researcher said. [more]

Greenland ice loss doubles from late 2000s

Aerial view of the damage from a landslide in the Asaminami ward of Hiroshima, 20 August 2014. Photo: KYODO / REUTERS

Tokyo, 20 August 2014 (Associated Press) – At least six people were confirmed dead and 22 were missing after rain-soaked hills in the outskirts of Hiroshima gave way early on Wednesday in several landslides.

Video footage from the Japanese national broadcaster NHK showed suburban homes in the western Japanese city surrounded by streams of mud and debris, and residents picking their way over piles of rocks and dirt.

Rescue workers suspended by ropes from police helicopters were pulling victims from the rubble as they searched homes stranded amid piles of timber from crushed houses. The fire and disaster authority, citing the local government, said six people were confirmed dead and another 22 were missing as of late morning. It said at least 20 people were injured, one seriously.

Japanese media, citing local police, put the death toll at 32. […]

Damage from land and mudslides has increased over the past few decades due to more frequent heavy rains, despite extensive work on stabilising slopes. In the past decade there have been nearly 1,200 landslides a year, according to the land ministry, up from an average of about 770 a year in the previous decade.

In October 2013 multiple mudslides on Izu-Oshima, an island south of Tokyo, killed 35 people, four of whose bodies were never recovered. Those slides followed a typhoon that dumped a record 824mm (more than 32 inches) of rain in a single day. [more]

Japan landslides: deaths confirmed after homes swept away

The exhibition floor at the Heartland Institute's 9th International Conference on Climate Change, held in Las Vegas in July 2014. Photo: Brendan Montague

By Brendan Montague
22 July 2014

(Vice) – I’ve been researching the climate denial industry for almost three years and the best way to gather information about this incredibly small yet influential clique is to hang out with them.

I attended their 2012 conference of the Heartland Institute, an oil and tobacco funded free market think tank that spends a lot of time and effort trying to call bullshit on what is clearly not bullshit – the science of climate change. My presence was clearly unwelcome – but I guess they forgot to scrub me from their email invitation list, because I got invited again this year, to their 9th International Conference on Climate Change in the deep heat of the Nevada desert amid the chaos of Las Vegas casinos.

The choice of Vegas by Heartland seemed brilliantly provocative. A celebration of high-stakes capitalism in the very gambling dens where $92 billion is lost each year in pursuit of the American dream. The dazzling lights, the grotesquely oversized hotels, the free drinks.

Perhaps nowhere on earth is more profligate and wasteful of increasingly scarce natural resources than this twisted utopia. The Republican Party reportedly blackballed Vegas for its 2016 convention fearing its Christian supporters would be repelled by this den of iniquity – and that its legislators would be lured into its brothels and casinos. Scientists have explicitly stated we are “loading the dice” by raising temperatures so that extreme weather and deadly catastrophes will become more frequent – gambling with our future, basically. Joseph Bast, the president of Heartland, was surely thumbing his nose at his detractors. […]

The Vegas conference was going a good opportunity to enter this strange world again. But did I really want to spend a week in the middle of dustbowl America with three hundred climate cranks who would crowd around trying to tell me how wrong I am about everything if they knew the first thing about me? […]

Then the shadow-side of this comic dishonesty and hypocrisy became almost too much to bear. Dr S Fred Singer, a folk hero around here, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. He in turn presented the Frederick Seitz Award. If one man can take credit for inventing climate denial it is Singer. The old man once claimed, rather brilliantly, that, “My connection to oil during the past decade is as a Wesson Fellow at the Hoover Institution; the Wesson money derives from salad oil.” Exxon had given Singer $10,000 in funding just a few years earlier.

The late Dr Seitz had many achievements in his lifetime. But the one I will remember him for was contributing indirectly to the deaths of millions of Americans. He sat on the medical research committee of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and oversaw $45 million in medical funding which his critics claimed “served the tobacco industry’s purposes.” Much of my close family has been wiped out by smoking related diseases, so this one sticks out for me.

The Heartland conference was now in full swing and my brain began to melt. There was the usual monotony of badly put together Powerpoint slides, rambling speeches and desperate attempts to resurrect climate science controversies buried by actual scientists almost three decades ago. The speakers were being paid around $1,000 to attend, plus flights and large hotel suites.

The hundreds of sceptics around me not once questioned the bizarre, the illogical, the poorly constructed claims that swirled in front of our eyes. This parody of science was a deadly hybrid of 1970s Open University programmes and sub-Cirque du Soleil. […]

They would just be sad sacks if they were not also influential. Among the delegates swarm the sharks just as surely as they do in the Mandalay Bay Hotel aquarium. Myron Ebell of CEI who once conspired with a White House insider to downplay climate in a seminal government report. Senator James Inhofe who, by video call, told the troops to ready themselves to take Congress in November. They also influence lower level officials. [more]

I Crashed a Climate Change Denial Conference in Las Vegas

A diagram showing changes in the food web of a Danish lake degraded by nutrient loading and warming. Note the smaller fish sizes and increased amounts of algae in the degraded and warm lake examples. Graphic: E. Jeppesen

By Lisa Borre
21 July 2014

(National Geographic) – For perspective on how climate change is affecting lakes, those of us here in the U.S. can just look across the pond, where scientists and the agencies involved in meeting the European Union’s Water Framework Directive have amassed an impressive body of research on the topic.

Not only are extreme weather events such as droughts and intense rainstorms becoming more common, climate warming is leading to increased algal growth and more frequent toxic algal blooms. It also affects the entire aquatic food web, including the number, size and distribution of freshwater fish species, according to the latest research.

New evidence from studies in Europe shows that a warming climate, in particular, is already having a profound impact on lakes, according to Dr. Erik Jeppesen at Aarhus University in Denmark. As I have noted in earlier posts, this is an important issue because other studies show that lake temperatures are on the rise throughout the world.

Two leading European freshwater research programs are REFRESH, studies of adaptive strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change on freshwater ecosystems, and MARS, focused on the management of freshwater lakes, rivers and streams under multiple stressors, including climate change.

I learned about the extensive research by Jeppesen and his colleagues while attending the Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting (JASM), a first-ever gathering of four freshwater science societies, in Portland, Oregon, in May this year.  We were there as members of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO). Jeppesen, who like me is also a member of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON), gave a talk about the impacts of climate change on lakes and freshwater fish in Europe. Below is a summary of what they are finding in Europe and what they propose doing about it.

Climate warming is having a “eutrophication-like” effect on lakes

Among the impacts of climate change I’ve already written about, climate warming exacerbates lake eutrophication, a natural aging process whereby a lake becomes more enriched with nutrients and algal growth over time. This process, sometimes called “cultural” eutrophication because it is accelerated by nutrient pollution from humans (think Lake Erie), has become one of the greatest problems facing lakes throughout the world.

As water temperature increases, it has a similar effect on a lake as increasing nutrient loading, although the mechanisms are different, Jeppesen says. The natural mechanisms that control phytoplankton growth weaken in a warmer climate. The lake’s growing season is longer, the nutrients are more readily available, and predation on phytoplankton is lower. This leads to more algal growth.

Climate warming creates ideal conditions for algal blooms

Jeppesen’s research suggests that the more eutrophic a lake is, the more sensitive it is to warming water temperatures, especially in northern temperate lakes. Part of the reason is that eutrophic lakes tend to have large stores of nutrients in the sediments. With climate warming and less winter ice cover in recent decades, deep lakes remain stratified longer, with warmer water near the surface and cooler water at depth. Less mixing and a lack of oxygen in the deeper layers create ideal conditions for algae-loving nutrients, such as phosphorus, to be released from the sediments.

Higher temperatures in shallow lakes also leads to higher release of phosphorus in the summer, when algal blooms prevail due to higher metabolism in the lake bottom. Warmer water at the surface creates ideal conditions for algal blooms, including toxic ones. “Cyanobacteria like it hot,” said Jeppesen (citing Professor H. Pearl in the U.S.), “which is part of the reason why we’re seeing more toxic algae blooms.” [more]

Climate Change Already Having Profound Impacts on Lakes in Europe

Entire Colorado River Basin comparison between GRACE groundwater storage anomalies (black line) in km3 and monthly USGS well observations (blue line is average of gray lines). Because specific yield information is not available for all wells, we normalize each well time series by its standard deviation and then average (in blue). Selected well observations were only available from March 2005 to October 2012; thus, we calculated the average over this time period. Graphic: Castle, et al., 2014

By Tom Philpott
4 August 2014

(Mother Jones) – Science papers don't generate much in the way of headlines, so you'll be forgiven if you haven't heard of one called "Groundwater Depletion During Drought Threatens Future Water Security of the Colorado River Basin," recently published by University of California-Irvine and NASA researchers.

But the "water security of the Colorado River basin" is an important concept, if you are one of the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River for drinking water, a group that includes residents of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, and San Diego. Or if you enjoy eating vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach during the winter. Through the many diversions, dams, canals, and reservoirs the river feeds as it snakes its way from the Rockies toward Mexico, the Colorado also provides the irrigation that makes the desert bloom in California's Imperial Valley and Arizona's Yuma County—source of more than two-thirds of US winter vegetable production.

We've known for a while that the river's ability to meet such demands has become increasingly strained. Climate change means less snowmelt in the Rockies, the river's source, and a 14-year drought in the Southwest has further impeded its flow, while adding to the demand on it. "The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle," the New York Times reported in January. "Reservoirs have shrunk to less than half their capacities, the canyon walls around them ringed with white mineral deposits where water once lapped."

Lake Mead, the vast Nevada reservoir that traps a portion of the Colorado's annual flow for distribution to its various users, has sunk to its lowest level since its creation in the 1930s, under pressure from the past decade and a half of drought. According to an excellent National Geographic piece by Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project, Lake Mead was hovering near capacity when the drought started in 2000, equivalent to about two full years of Colorado River water. Today, it holds just nine months worth of river flow—a steep drop.

But the new paper suggests that the situation is even worse than we previously knew. In addition to rapidly drawing down Lake Mead, the region's thirst for water has extended underground: to the region's aquifers. For a project called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, NASA satellites circle the Earth and carefully measure its mass. "Because changes in water storage result in changes in mass, GRACE provides fairly accurate estimates of water depletion over time," Postel explains.

And here's what GRACE researchers found in the Colorado River Basin region: To make up for the gap between what the Colorado River supplies and what people and agriculture demand, farmers, landowners, and municipalities are dropping wells and tapping underground aquifers at a much faster rate than had been assumed. Between December 2004 and November 2013, the Colorado Basin surrendered almost 53 million acre-feet of underground water—roughly equal to about 1.5 full Lake Meads, siphoned away in just nine years.

"Quite honestly, we are alarmed and concerned about the implications of our findings," study coauthor Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA and a professor of at the University of California-Irvine, wrote in a blog post. [more]

40 Million People Depend on the Colorado River. Now It's Drying Up.


ABSTRACT: Streamflow of the Colorado River Basin is the most over-allocated in the world. Recent assessment indicates that demand for this renewable resource will soon outstrip supply, suggesting that limited groundwater reserves will play an increasingly important role in meeting future water needs. Here we analyze nine years (December 2004 to November 2013) of observations from NASA's GRACE mission and find that during this period of sustained drought, groundwater accounted for 50.1 km3 of the total 64.8 km3 of freshwater loss. The rapid rate of depletion of groundwater storage (−5.6 ± 0.4 km3 yr−1) far exceeded the rate of depletion of Lakes Powell and Mead. Results indicate that groundwater may comprise a far greater fraction of Basin water use than previously recognized, in particular during drought, and that its disappearance may threaten the long-term ability to meet future allocations to the seven Basin states.

Groundwater Depletion During Drought Threatens Future Water Security of the Colorado River Basin

Workers inspect tanks containing radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 24 July 2014. Photo: TEPCO

5 August 2014 (NHK) – The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says the damage to nuclear fuel in one of its reactors may be worse than previously thought.

Tokyo Electric Power Company engineers have been working to size up damage at the plant from the March 2011 accident and start the process of decommission.

Officials with the utility now say most of the nuclear fuel in the No. 3 reactor melted through the reactor core and is now resting at the bottom of the containment vessel.

They had previously said some of the fuel was still inside the reactor. Their latest assessment suggests decommissioning the No. 3 reactor could be more challenging than previously thought.

A government panel investigating the meltdown had said an improper shutdown of an emergency cooling system called "HPCI" had contributed to the accident.

But the utility's latest analysis states the cooling system was already dysfunctional before workers shut it down. It says a meltdown in the No. 3 reactor started at 5.30 AM on March 13th. That's about 5 hours earlier than previously estimated.

It says most of the fuel melted through the reactor core and had dropped into the containment vessel by the following morning.

Meltdown at Fukushima reactor 3 worse than thought

 

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