Climate models on the mark, Australian-led research finds – ‘We’re still setting records even during the cold phase because we’re still warming’0 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, July 28, 2014
By Peter Hannam, Environment Editor
21 July 2014
(Sydney Morning Herald) – A common refrain by climate sceptics that surface temperatures have not warmed over the past 17 years, implying climate models predicting otherwise are unreliable, has been refuted by new research led by James Risbey, a senior CSIRO researcher.
Setting aside the fact the equal hottest years on record - 2005 and 2010 - fall well within the past 17 years, Dr Risbey and fellow researchers examined claims - including by some members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - that models overestimated global warming.
In a study published in Nature Climate Change on Monday, the team found that models actually generate good estimates of recent and past trends provided they also took into account natural variability, particularly the key El Niño-La Niña phases in the Pacific.
“You’re always going to get periods when the warming slows down or speeds up relative to the mean rate because we have these strong natural cycles,” Dr Risbey said.
In roughly 30-year cycles, the Pacific alternates between periods of more frequent El Niños - when the ocean gives back heat to the atmosphere - to La Niñas, when it acts as a massive heat sink, setting in train relatively cool periods for surface temperatures.
By selecting climate models in phase with natural variability, the research found that model trends have been consistent with observed trends, even during the recent “slowdown” period for warming, Dr Risbey said.
“The climate is simply variable on short time scales but that variability is superimposed on an unmistakable long-term warming trend,” he said.
While sceptics have lately relied on a naturally cool phase of the global cycle to fan doubts about climate change, the fact temperature records continue to fall even during a La-Niña dominated period is notable, Dr Risbey said.
The temperature forcing from the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere “is beginning to overwhelm the natural variability on even shorter decadal time scales”, he said.
“We will always set more heat records during an El Niño [phase] … than we will during the opposite but we’re still setting records even during the cold phase because we’re still warming,” Dr Risbey said. [more]
California halts injection of fracking waste, warning it may be contaminating aquifers – State’s drought has forced farmers to rely on groundwater, even as aquifers have been intentionally polluted due to exemptions for oil industry0 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, July 28, 2014
By Abrahm Lustgarten
18 July 2014
(ProPublica) – California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review more than 100 others in the state's drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there.
The state's Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources on July 7 issued cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal "poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources." The orders were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, and the state has confirmed with ProPublica that its investigation is expanding to look at additional wells.
The action comes as California's agriculture industry copes with a drought crisis that has emptied reservoirs and cost the state $2.2 billion this year alone. The lack of water has forced farmers across the state to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, according to a study released this week by the University of California Davis.
The problem is that at least 100 of the state's aquifers were presumed to be useless for drinking and farming because the water was either of poor quality, or too deep underground to easily access. Years ago, the state exempted them from environmental protection and allowed the oil and gas industry to intentionally pollute them. But not all aquifers are exempted, and the system amounts to a patchwork of protected and unprotected water resources deep underground. Now, according to the cease and desist orders issued by the state, it appears that at least seven injection wells are likely pumping waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law, and not other aquifers sacrificed by the state long ago.
"The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued are not exempt," said Ed Wilson, a spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation in an email.
A 2012 ProPublica investigation of more than 700,000 injection wells across the country found that wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, outcomes that were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law. That investigation also disclosed a little-known program overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that exempted more than 1,000 other drinking water aquifers from any sort of pollution protection at all, many of them in California.
Those are the aquifers at issue today. The exempted aquifers, according to documents the state filed with the U.S. EPA in 1981 and obtained by ProPublica, were poorly defined and ambiguously outlined. They were often identified by hand-drawn lines on a map, making it difficult to know today exactly which bodies of water were supposed to be protected, and by which aspects of the governing laws. Those exemptions and documents were signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who also was governor in 1981.
State officials emphasized to ProPublica that they will now order water testing and monitoring at the injection well sites in question. To date, they said, they have not yet found any of the more regulated aquifers to have been contaminated.
"We do not have any direct evidence any drinking water has been affected," wrote Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor, in a statement to ProPublica.
Bohlen said his office was acting "out of an abundance of caution," and a spokesperson said that the state became aware of the problems through a review of facilities it was conducting according to California's fracking law passed late last year, which required the state to study fracking impacts and adopt regulations to address its risks, presumably including underground disposal.
California officials have long been under fire for their injection well practices, a waste disposal program that the state runs according to federal law and under a sort of license — called "primacy" — given to it by the EPA.
For one, experts say that aquifers the states and the EPA once thought would never be needed may soon become important sources of water as the climate changes and technology reduces the cost of pumping it from deep underground and treating it for consumption. Indeed, towns in Wyoming and Texas — two states also suffering long-term droughts — are pumping, treating, then delivering drinking water to taps from aquifers which would be considered unusable under California state regulations governing the oil and gas industry.
In June 2011, the EPA conducted a review of other aspects of California's injection well program and found enforcement, testing and oversight problems so significant that the agency demanded California improve its regulations and warned that the state's authority could be revoked. [more]
U.S. coastal flooding on the rise, U.S. government study finds – ‘The effects of rising sea levels are only going to become more noticeable and much more severe in the coming decades’0 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, July 28, 2014
By Ryan McNeill; editing by John Blanton
28 July 2014
(Reuters) – Flooding is increasing in frequency along much of the U.S. coast, and the rate of increase is accelerating along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts, a team of federal government scientists found in a study released Monday.
The study examined how often 45 tide gauges along the country’s shore exceeded National Weather Service flood thresholds across several decades. The researchers found that the frequency of flooding increased at 41 locations. Moreover, they found that the rate of increase was accelerating at 28 of those locations. The highest rates of increase were concentrated along the mid-Atlantic coast.
“We stress that in many areas, the frequency of nuisance flooding is already on an accelerating trajectory, and many other locations will soon follow” if trends in rising sea levels continue, the scientists wrote.
The thresholds are usually associated with minor flooding, also called nuisance flooding, which can overwhelm drainage systems, cause road closures and damage infrastructure not built to withstand frequent flooding or exposure to salt water. Such flooding is one of the more recognizable effects of rising seas, as opposed to less frequent but more damaging extreme storms, such as hurricanes, the scientists said.
In the 1950s, nuisance flooding occurred once every one to five years, the study found. By 2012, the frequency had increased to about once every three months at most NOAA gauges.
These storms “are no longer really extreme,” said William Sweet, a NOAA oceanographer and lead author of the study. “It takes a lesser storm to inundate similar (elevations).”
The study is the latest to examine whether minor flooding is increasing as seas rise. Reuters published the results of its own independent analysis earlier this month that found that the number of days a year that tidal waters reached or exceeded flood thresholds more than tripled in many places.
Another study, by Old Dominion University researchers Tal Ezer and Larry Atkinson, found that the U.S. East Coast is “a hotspot of accelerated flooding.” They also found that flooding outside of storm events has increased in frequency and duration. The results of their study are expected to be published later this year. [more]
28 July 2014 (NOAA) – Eight of the top 10 U.S. cities that have seen an increase in so-called “nuisance flooding”--which causes such public inconveniences as frequent road closures, overwhelmed storm drains and compromised infrastructure--are on the East Coast, according to a new NOAA technical report.
This nuisance flooding, caused by rising sea levels, has increased on all three U.S. coasts, between 300 and 925 percent since the 1960s.
The report, Sea Level Rise and Nuisance Flood Frequency Changes around the United States, also finds Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland, lead the list with an increase in number of flood days of more than 920 percent since 1960. Port Isabel, Texas, along the Gulf coast, showed an increase of 547 percent, and nuisance flood days in San Francisco, California increased 364 percent.
"Achieving resilience requires understanding environmental threats and vulnerabilities to combat issues like sea level rise," says Holly Bamford, Ph.D., NOAA assistant administrator of the National Ocean Service. "The nuisance flood study provides the kind of actionable environmental intelligence that can guide coastal resilience efforts."
“As relative sea level increases, it no longer takes a strong storm or a hurricane to cause flooding,” said William Sweet, Ph.D., oceanographer at NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) and the report’s lead author. “Flooding now occurs with high tides in many locations due to climate-related sea level rise, land subsidence, and the loss of natural barriers. The effects of rising sea levels along most of the continental U.S. coastline are only going to become more noticeable and much more severe in the coming decades, probably more so than any other climate-change related factor.”
The study was conducted by scientists at CO-OPS, who looked at data from 45 NOAA water level gauges with long data records around the country and compared that to reports of number of days of nuisance floods.
The extent of nuisance flooding depends on multiple factors, including topography and land cover. The study defines nuisance flooding as a daily rise in water level above the minor flooding threshold set locally by NOAA’s National Weather Service, and focused on coastal areas at or below these levels that are especially susceptible to flooding.
The report concludes that any acceleration in sea level rise that is predicted to occur this century will further intensify nuisance flooding impacts over time, and will further reduce the time between flood events.
The report provides critical NOAA environmental data that can help coastal communities assess flooding risk, develop ways to mitigate and adapt to the effects of sea level rise, and improve coastal resiliency in the face of climate- and weather-induced changes.
NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Twitter, Facebook and our other social media channels.
Walmart planned for endangered forest lands in South Florida – ‘You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how.’4 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, July 21, 2014
By Jenny Staletovich
13 July 2014
(Miami Herald) – One of the world’s rarest forests, a section of Miami-Dade County’s last intact tracts of endangered pine rockland, is getting a new resident: a Walmart.
About 88 acres of rockland, a globally imperiled habitat containing a menagerie of plants, animals and insects found no place else, was sold this month by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer. To secure permission for the 158,000-square-foot box store, plus an LA Fitness center, Chik-fil-A and Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments, the university and the developer, Ram, agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.
Ram also plans to develop 35 adjacent acres still owned by the university.
But with less than 2 percent of the vast savanna that once covered South Florida’s spiny ridge remaining, the deal has left environmentalists and biologists scratching their heads.
“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” said attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, who wrote to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent Friday demanding an investigation.
The university said in a statement that it is committed to protecting the forests — only about 2,900 acres of rockland are left outside Everglades National Park — and helped execute plans for the preserve, but would not respond to questions.
Ram, which has built dozens of strip shopping centers and dense residential projects across Florida and the Southeast, chose the land at Coral Reef Drive and Southwest 127th Avenue because it provided a “unique chance to create … a place where people can easily walk from the neighborhood to shops and elsewhere,” CEO Casey Cummings said in a written response to questions.
The site also provided easy access to highways and jobs, and met a growing demand for “high-quality rental housing, shopping, fitness and dining options,” he said.
Cummings pointed out that the company could have built even more housing — 1,200 apartments — and added 70,000 square feet of retail space to the 300,000 it has planned. [more]
By Jameson Parker
16 July 2014
(AddictingInfo.org) – A pristine patch of Florida forest, the home to dozens of animals species that biologists say are found no where else on the planet, will be bulldozed to make room for a Wal-Mart shopping center.
The 88 acres of rockland was sold by the University of Miami to a developer working for Wal-Mart who plans to build the retail store as well as a Chick-fil-A and Chili’s restaurant. As a concession the firm says it will set aside around 40 acres next to the store that can remain for the animals.
Florida was once a vast savanna, dotted with deep, ancient forests. Today, less than 2 percent of that habitat remains. Consequently, the plants, animals and insects that used to thrive there have been decimated. Environmentalists say that this latest commercial development might be the killing blow for many of them. […]
Many of the flora and fauna now almost extinct once dominated most of Florida, but the grind of urban sprawl has seen nearly every untouched forest in the state destroyed. In a way, this 88 acres was the final stand – the last, desperate stab at survival for animals which have literally no where else on Earth to go.
One species the country doesn’t need more of is Wal-Mart. The corporation has over 4,000 stores in the United States and nearly 200 in Florida alone. It’s likely – should the deal go through – that developers will move quickly to build as soon as possible. Construction teams are in a race against time. Every month more wildlife is uncovered in the land they propose to destroy, and it is getting harder to claim it was worth it or that they didn’t know. […]
So this is the crossroads we find ourselves in. Are we a country that wants discounted clothing and cheap chicken sandwiches so badly that we are willing to lose some of nature’s most beautiful creatures to get it? And if so, what does that say about us as a society? [more]
A year into Detroit’s bankruptcy, many residents still feel abandoned – ‘It’s more than a tough pill to swallow. It’s tantamount to eating an elephant in one bite.’2 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, July 21, 2014
By Alana Semuels
16 July 2014
DETROIT (Los Angeles Times) – In the year since this city filed for bankruptcy, becoming the largest municipality ever to do so, leaders have adopted a more optimistic tone about the future, pledging to fix streetlights and attract new residents and jobs..
But Eric Byrd isn't buying it.
"No change round here yet," said the 30-year-old, looking around his neighborhood on the west side of the city. Nearly every house on the block is abandoned, hollowed out by fire or vandals. Yards have been reclaimed by tall grass and wildflowers, and the roads are potholed and empty.
By all accounts, Detroit's bankruptcy has been handled quickly and evenhandedly under the guidance of Judge Steven Rhodes. Already, the city has come up with a plan of adjustment and given retirees and employees the chance to vote on it; their ballots were due July 11.
It also has enlisted $816 million from private funds and the state to help limit cuts to city pensions and protect the Detroit Institute of Arts from a fire sale. The city even recently launched an initiative to recruit natives back to the city, inviting them to an event to experience the new Detroit.
Not everyone is impressed, though, especially current and past city employees, who have seen big changes to their health insurance and probably will see reductions in their pensions. Their anger was evident Tuesday, when Rhodes held a hearing to give some the opportunity to voice their objections to the bankruptcy.
"It's more than a tough pill to swallow. It's tantamount to eating an elephant in one bite. And I can't do that," said Beverly Holman, a city retiree, in her testimony.
Their complaints are fueled by fear and distrust: that the process through which retirees had to accept or reject the bankruptcy plan was rigged; that the city is shutting off water to residents unfairly; that retirees will be forced on the dole if the bankruptcy plan goes forward; that City Council members are getting a 5% raise while many retirees are struggling to pay the bills.
Perhaps the biggest objection was to this: The city says the pension funds overpaid into some retirees' accounts and wants that money back. One man testified Tuesday that the city wanted $89,000 from him. Like all retirees in this situation, he has the option of paying it back in a lump sum or having his pension reduced.
In a room open to the public to watch the proceedings, a crowd of 50 or so retirees had gathered, many of them saying they feared they would lose their homes if the bankruptcy plan went forward. They applauded and whooped during the testimony of Holman and others. Applauding is about all they can do at this point because the votes are already in and the city has hinted that the retirees have approved the plan.
"My life is at stake because I can't afford the insurance," said Gisele Caver, another retiree, through tears after telling Rhodes that the cuts to her health plan have made it impossible to pay for the medicine she needs. [more]
24 June 2014 (Global Oceans Commission) – The main drivers leading to overfishing on the high seas are vessel overcapacity and mismanagement. However, measures to improve management alone will not succeed without solving the problem of overcapacity caused by subsidies, particularly fuel subsidies.
Overcapacity is often described as “too many boats trying to catch too few fish”. Indeed, the size of the world’s fleet is currently two-and-a-half times what is necessary to sustainably catch global fish stocks. But it is not only the number of vessels that is of concern, it is also the type of vessel. Many argue that having fewer vessels, when they have larger engines and use more-destructive industrial fishing gear, is of equal weight to the number of vessels fishing as a driver of overcapacity.
Many high seas fisheries destroy value from a societal perspective as the industry requires significant amounts of subsidies to achieve operating profits. This raises significant equity concerns since, in most cases, only those States that can afford subsidies have the opportunity to fish the high seas.
Economic models show that the introduction of cost-reducing subsidies in a fishery system encourages the increase of fishing effort. Vessel overcapacity can be tied to government subsidies because the reduction of operating costs enables the activity to continue when it might not otherwise be economically viable.
“Capacity-enhancing” subsidies include tax exemption programmes; foreign access agreements; boat construction renewal and modernising programmes; fishing port construction and renovation programmes; fishery development projects and supporting services; and fuel subsidies. As an example specific to the high seas, subsidies for the high seas bottom trawl fleets of the 12 top high seas bottom trawling nations amount to US$152 million per year, which represents 25% of the total landed value of the fleet. Typically, the profit achieved by this vessel group is not more than 10% of landed value, meaning that this industry effectively operates at a deficit.
‘Lost’ tribe returns to the rainforest despite the threat of violence and disease – Some show flu-like syptoms, prompting fears of epidemic0 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, July 21, 2014
By Jonathan Brown
20 July 2014
(The Independent) – When they emerged from the forest on the outskirts of an Ashaninka indigenous community on the upper reaches of Brazil's Envira river, it was the first time in recent history that members of an uncontacted tribe of Amazonian Indians had chosen to leave their home and visit a settled population. But 80 tribe members have now returned to the forest on the Peru-Brazil border, despite the threat of violence and disease.
Before they went back, some who were showing flu-like symptoms were immunised by government doctors. That some of the tribe were already ill could explain why they took the unprecedented step of entering a settled village last month.
It has also emerged, however, that they were fleeing heavily armed drug traffickers who had attacked them upstream in Peru – showing that outside incursions are being made deep into the heart of their traditional protected territories.
Previously, it had been thought that they had been disturbed by the presence of heavily armed loggers, a growing industry in Peru. The mahogany and teak harvested by the gangs is believed to be destined to be made into garden furniture in Europe or the US. Under international law, the Indians have the right to their own traditional territories.
The disclosure by Funai, Brazil's Indian protection agency, that at least seven members of the group were suffering from a virus normally found among outside populations has caused deep alarm among campaigners for the rights of indigenous peoples. It is not known whether other members of the tribe were sick and had refused to receive medication, prompting fears that they could spread disease on their return to their centuries-old way of life.
The spread of minor ailments such as measles or even the common cold has in the past led to deadly epidemics devastating populations of tribes which have built up no immunity.
José Carlos Meirelles, of Funai, said the tribe had gone back to their villages where the infection could spread to other members of their community. He said the Brazilian government now planned to re-establish a permanent base of officials in the highly remote region to offer better protection in the future.
Linguists brought in to help mediate the contact – the first with an unknown tribe for more than 30 years – said the Indians reported "suffering acts of violence" on the Peruvian side of the border. Cocaine smugglers are known to be active in the region as well as loggers, flouting the land rights of the Amazonian communities. It is the first time in recent memory that an uncontacted tribe has voluntarily left isolation. [more]
By Janaki Lenin
15 July 2014
(mongabay.com) – In 1983, Sri Lanka became embroiled in a 26-year-long civil war in which a rebel militant organization fought to establish an independent state called Tamil Eelam. The war took an enormous human toll; unknown numbers disappeared and millions more were displaced. Economic development stagnated in the rebel-held north and east of the country, while foreign investment shied away from the country.
During the latter half of the war, between 1990 and 2005, Sri Lanka suffered one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world as government soldiers burned vast tracts to flush rebels out of their forest strongholds.As a result, the country lost about 35 percent of its old growth forest and almost 18 percent of its total forest cover.
The conflict ended in 2009, and while deforestation has slowed somewhat, Sri Lanka is still losing forest cover at a fast clip. Global Forest Watch figures show 49,652 hectares were lost between 2009 and 2012.
Sri Lanka, a small island nation located off the southern tip of India, has the highest biodiversity in all of Asia, and is regarded as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Together with India’s Western Ghats, the region once had nearly 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles) of important wildlife habitat, of which less than seven percent remains intact today. Because of its isolation and tropical climate, Sri Lanka is home to many unique species and subspecies found nowhere else, such as the purple-faced langur (Trachypithecus vetulus) and the Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus), both of which are listed as Endangered by the IUCN. [more]
By DON THOMPSON
15 July 2014
SACRAMENTO, California (AP) – In one of the most drastic responses yet to California's drought, state regulators on Tuesday will consider fines up to $500 a day for people who waste water on landscaping, fountains, washing vehicles and other outdoor uses.
The rules would prohibit the watering of landscaping to the point that runoff spills onto sidewalks or streets. Hosing down sidewalks, driveways and other hard surfaces would be banned along with washing vehicles without a shut-off nozzle.
Violations would be infractions punishable by the fines, although most cities are likely to have a sliding scale that starts with a warning and increases for repeat violations.
The State Water Resources Control Board said it received about 100 written comments after it proposed the emergency regulations last week.
"So far, people have been pretty supportive," board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said. "I think people recognize that we're taking a moderate approach and we're sending a message as much as anything."
The board estimates that the proposed restrictions could save enough water statewide to supply more than 3.5 million people for a year. That's enough to meet the needs of nearly nine of every 10 Los Angeles residents.
The California Department of Water Resources estimates that cities and suburbs use about a fifth of the state's water, about half going outdoors. Agriculture is by far the greatest water user, accounting for 75 percent of the state's consumption.
San Francisco officials worry about the prohibition on washing streets and sidewalks. Public Works Department spokeswoman Rachel Gordon said that could interfere with the frequent cleaning of alleys to wash away human waste where there are high concentrations of homeless people.
"We feel very strongly that this is a health and safety issue for people in San Francisco," she said.
Nor does it do much for tourism if visitors see or smell the waste. During the past 12 months, she said the city responded to about 8,000 calls to steam clean streets of human waste. [more]