What does a metre sea level rise actually mean? This is how we visualised some of the data confusion

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Posted by David McCandless, Monday 22 February 2010 14.33 GMT, guardian.co.uk

Another day, another set of bewildering climate figures. Today, key climate scientists withdrew their predictions. of a metre sea-level rise by 2100. Other scientists meanwhile claimed the 1m figure was way too conservative anyway. They predict anything up to 2m sea level rises over the next century.

It's difficult to keep track of all this shifting research. And, in the midst of this reporting, there is one consistent but bewildering assumption made of us: that we understand what a one metre sea level rise means in reality.

A "1 metre sea level rise" is in the same domain as "1 ton of carbon" or "£1 billion". That is, it's meaningless without context or some link to our everyday lives.

So, in this diagram, I've tried to sum up all the current research on sea level rises. What will happen, when it will happen, and where the sea water is coming from. You can see the data and sources in this spreadsheet.

In an effort to make the information easier to relate to, I've also thrown in which key cities around the world will be most affected by the rises.

I hope it helps.

If you've come across any other data or sources, please let me know.

I've taken the lowest, most conservative figures I could find. Predictions vary widely. This is because there are a slew of different climate change prediction scenarios. Each one foresees a particular range of sea level rises, depending on ice-melts, temperature rises and many other factors. It's not an exact science.

The key sources are Sea Level Rise Explorer , studies from the Potsdam Institute (PDF) and reports from the IPCC Report (2001 - the most conservative one). …

Information is Beautiful: When Sea Levels Attack via reader Sadee 

creativegreenius.wordpress.com

By Dan Whitcomb (Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Eric Walsh)
LOS ANGELES
Fri Feb 26, 2010 4:33pm EST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Drought-stricken farmers and cities across California were granted a measure of relief on Friday when federal and state officials said they expected to supply significantly more water this year than last.

The announcements came as welcome news in the nation's No. 1 farm state, where dramatic cutbacks in water deliveries by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Water Resources Department had idled thousands of farm workers and 300,000 acres of cropland.

Shortages have also forced cities and counties to ration water, raise rates and impose strict mandatory conservation measures that turned lawns brown and left cars unwashed.

But a series of strong winter storms that could mark the end of a three-year drought has left several feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada mountain range that serves as California's principal source of surface water.

In light of that deluge, this year the Bureau of Reclamation will supply most California users with 100 percent of the water they are contracted to receive, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said.

Irrigation districts south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which represent farmers on the west side of the state's Central Valley, would get 30 percent of their allotment, or three times more than last year.

The Central Valley is one of the country's most important agricultural regions, and the state produces more than half of the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States.

Separately, California officials said they were increasing the amount of water they expected to deliver from the State Water Project this year from 5 to 15 percent of normal.

If average precipitation continues for the rest of the winter, a California Department of Water Resources spokesman said, the state's finally allocation for the year could rise to 35-45 percent of requested amounts. …

Meanwhile state water officials said that California's long struggle to supply its people with water was not over.

"After three years of drought conditions and a number of mandated pumping restrictions, even a wet year won't get us out of the woods," Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said. "We need increased conservation, a more reliable water delivery system and a comprehensive solution for California's water crisis." …

Desperate California to get more water at last

20 February 2010: the Mertz Glacier tongue breaks off creating another massive iceberg. Australian Antarctic Division

A vast iceberg that broke off eastern Antarctic earlier this month could disrupt marine life in the region, scientists have warned.

They say the iceberg, which is 78km long and up to 39km wide, could have consequences for the area's colonies of emperor penguins.

The emblematic birds may be forced to travel further afield to find food.

The iceberg calved from the Mertz Glacier Tongue after it was hit by another huge iceberg, called B9B.

"It is a very active area for algae growth, especially in springtime," explained Dr Neal Young from the Australia-based Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre.

"There are emperor penguin colonies about 200-300km away to the west. They come to this area to feed, and seals in the area also come to get access to the open water," he told BBC News.

He suggested that a change in the availability of open water could affect the rate of food production, which would have an impact on the amount of wildlife it could sustain.

"If the area gets choked up (with ice), then they would have to go elsewhere and look for food." …

Before the formation of the iceberg, the Mertz Peninsula provided the right conditions for a polynia - an expanse of open water surrounded by sea-ice - to exist.

"Winds blow off the coast and clear anything in that region, including sea ice, exposing open water," Dr Young explained.

He added that as well as providing a feeding site for the region's wildlife, the polynia also was a key production site of "bottom water"; very cold, dense water that sinks to the ocean floor.

"Sea ice is relatively fresh compared to sea water, so the more sea ice you have (in the surrounding area), the more salt that is left in the remaining open water."

The rise in the concentration of salt increases the water's density, causing it to sink to the bottom of the ocean.

"This area around the Antarctic coastline, of which the Mertz Peninsula is one part, produces about one quarter of the Antarctic's bottom water, but the Mertz polynia is a major contributor," Dr Young said.

He added that the new iceberg had shortened the length of the Mertz Glacier Tongue, which could result in pack ice entering the area and disrupting the polynia.

"That means that the bottom water production rate… will decrease. …

Huge iceberg 'threatens sea-life'

Brother Jim Coucher, a former missionary in Papua New Guinea. Photo: John Woudstra

By BARNEY ZWARTZ
February 27, 2010

Environmental vandalism by loggers in Papua New Guinea is destroying the nation and its people while Australia makes futile promises to try to influence logging policy, according to a former missionary and a landowner.

Brother Jim Coucher worked in and near Vanimo on the north-west coast of PNG for 43 years until five years ago. Just returned from his first visit since, he was utterly horrified at the changes, he said yesterday, the speed of destruction caused by logging and corruption, and the plight of the local people.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised at December's Copenhagen conference on climate change that he would try to persuade his neighbours to reduce logging.

''I don't think anyone has an idea of the extent of logging, and I don't think anything can be done,'' Brother Coucher said. He does not want his religious order identified for fear of reprisals against members still working in Papua New Guinea.

A PNG landowner now living in Australia said yesterday that loggers came on to his land without consultation or compensation, and stockpiled logs there. The landowner, a sub-clan chief, said loggers destroyed a creek that had provided fish for his villagers.

They bulldozed breadfruit trees, sago and coconut palms, and built a wharf in the harbour that meant villagers could not fish. They hired almost no villagers, he said. Instead, they brought in unskilled Asian workers.

''Malnutrition is rampant. It is horrible to see young mothers who are skin and bone. There is no sanitation, no running water - it is a time bomb,'' the landowner said. ''They are logging Vanimo to its death.''

Brother Coucher said the villagers were worse off than 20 years ago, because the logging companies and the government don't put anything back.

Soldiers and police guard the logging camps under corrupt arrangements, prostitution and AIDS had become rife, and people could not support their families, he said. Logging practices by Malaysian companies in PNG have long been of international concern, but Brother Coucher said matters were much worse in Vanimo and Sandaun Province because it was so remote. …

Rampant logging 'destroying PNG'

Mekong River. Water level is low during the dry season.  FarAndFurther.comBy Staff Writers
Hanoi (AFP) Feb 26, 2010

Water levels in the northern Mekong River are at record-low levels, posing a threat to water supply, navigation and irrigation along a stretch of water that is home to millions, a regional official said.

Northern Thailand, northern Laos and southern China have all been affected, Jeremy Bird, chief executive officer of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) secretariat, told AFP.

"The flows are much lower than we've got records on in the last 20 years," said Bird, whose inter-governmental body deals with all Mekong River-related activities including fisheries, agriculture and flood management.

"Now what we're seeing is these flows are reducing even more," Bird said from Laos on Thursday.

More than 60 million people in the lower Mekong basin depend on the river system for food, transport and economic activity, the MRC says, adding that it is home to the world's most valuable inland fishery.

Bird said 21 cargo boats have reportedly been stranded because of the shallow river water in southern China.

A regional drought has caused the water to drop, the MRC said.

"Severe drought will have an impact on agriculture, food security, access to clean water and river transport and will affect the economic development of people already facing serious poverty," it said in a statement. …

Bird said it is difficult to say whether global warming is responsible but the wet season in Vientiane last year was one of the worst on record, and was followed by much lower than average rain late in 2009 and early this year.

As a result, there has been very low water flow in the Mekong's tributaries.

"The rainfall in China is also extremely low," Bird said.

Thai non-governmental groups believe the unusually low levels are caused by Chinese dams, according to reports in the Bangkok Post.

There are eight existing or planned dams on the mainstream Mekong in China, the MRC has said. …

For the north, the problem is only set to get worse.

"The flows will probably continue to reduce for another month," Bird said. …

Record low Mekong River poses threat to millions

Coastal Ocean Hypoxia Events, 1969-2009. N. N. Rabalais, R. J. Díaz, et al., 2010

Global pattern in the development of coastal hypoxia. Each red dot represents a documented case related to human activities. Number of hypoxic sites is cumulative through time. Black lines represent continental shelf areas threatened with hypoxia from expansion of OMZ and upwelling. Modified from Díaz and Rosenberg (2008) and Levin et al. (2009a).

Over the past five to ten years, changes in the ocean’s dissolved oxygen content have become a focal point of oceanic research. The oxygen content in the open ocean appears to have decreased in most (but not all) areas (Gilbert et al., 2009). At the same time, low oxygen areas, also known as “dead zones”, have spread in the coastal oceans during the last five decades. These changes in oxygen are an increasingly important topic due to large impacts on the ecosystems, living resources, and biogeochemical cycles. Hypoxic (low dissolved oxygen) and anoxic (no oxygen) aquatic environments have occurred through geologic time. In fact, the biological and physical processes that formed large deposits of oil in geologic formations are the same as those occurring in oil rich areas where hypoxia and anoxia exist presently, such as the Santa Barbara Basin, California, USA, a silled basin interacting with an oxygen minimum zone (Berelson, 1991), and the continental shelf of the northern Gulf of Mexico adjacent to the outflow of the Mississippi River (Rabalais et al., 2007b). Low oxygen waters in the world oceans are normal, or naturally formed, in areas such as oxygen minimum zones (OMZs), deep basins, upwelling areas of eastern boundary currents, and fjords (Helly and Levin, 2004). But in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, the activities of humans have resulted in many more areas of hypoxia than occurred historically and aggravated conditions in areas that were already low in oxygen (Fig. 1) (Díaz and Rosenberg, 1995, 2008; Vaquer-Sunyer and Duarte, 2008; Gooday et al., 2009b).

In contrast to what occurs in the OMZs and upwelling zones, much of the hypoxia and anoxia in shallow coastal marine areas has developed within the last 50 yr and is closely associated with anthropogenic activities.Díaz and Rosenberg (1995) noted that no other environmental variable of such ecological importance to estuarine and coastal marine ecosystems has changed so drastically, in such a short period of time. They noted consistent trends of increasing severity in duration, intensity, or extent in areas where hypoxia has a long history, which were coincidental with an increase in human activities. In 1995 there were 195 literature documented areas of human-caused coastal hypoxia. In their  most recent compilation, Díaz and Rosenberg (2008) documented just over 400 such areas in the world’s coastal ocean covering more than 245 000 km2 of sea bottom (Fig. 1). The worldwide distribution of coastal hypoxia is related to major population centers or is closely associated with developed watersheds that export large quantities of nutrients, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus. Up to 1970, there were scattered reports of hypoxia in North America and northern Europe. By the 1990s, coastal hypoxia was prevalent in North America, northern Europe, and Japan. By the 2000s, there were increased reports of hypoxia in South America, southern Europe, and Australia (Fig. 1). Considering the close association of human population and hypoxia, it is unlikely that Asia and the Indo-Pacific have no hypoxia.

N. N. Rabalais, R. J. Díaz, et al., Dynamics and distribution of natural and human-caused hypoxia [pdf], Biogeosciences, 7, 585–619, 2010

Nomads paid to collect goats and yaks killed by extreme drought followed by harsh winter to stop disease and soil contamination

A 76-year-old herdsman removes carcasses of goats who died from cold weather, in Arkhangai province 23 January this year. Photograph: HO / Reuters

By Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent
www.guardian.co.uk, Thursday 25 February 2010 14.06 GMT

The United Nations has launched a $4m dollar carcass-clearing appeal for Mongolia as millions of camels, goats, yaks and horses perish across the steppe from a climate double whammy of summer drought and winter snow.

The international body will pay nomads to collect and bury dead livestock to ease the risks of disease, soil contamination and a worsening humanitarian disaster in a nation where one-third of the 2.7m population depends on animal husbandry.

The government has declared an emergency and appealed for foreign aid to alleviate the impact of the zud — the Mongolian term for a multiple natural disaster caused by the parching of pastures in the summer followed by bitter cold and thick snow that blankets the land in winter.

At least 11 people, including nine children, have starved or frozen to death, and tens of thousands more are threatened by malnourishment and destitution because of the loss of livestock.

As of this week, 1.5m goats, 921,000 sheep, 169,000 cows and yaks, 89,000 horses and 1,500 camels had died. The authorities say another 3m animals are likely to starve before the thaw in June, which would reduce the national livestock head-count by more than 10%.

"You can imagine how serious the situation is," Batbold Dorjgurhem, director of international cooperation at the ministry of nature, environment and tourism told the Guardian. "Nineteen out of Mongolia's 21 provinces have been hit by heavy winter snow. Apart from the loss of livestock, we expect ecological damage. The government needs a budget to clear the carcasses."

The UN Development Programme, which usually helps in disaster relief operations such as tsunamis, earthquakes and others by paying locals to clear rubble, has adapted its strategy to deal with the dead animals. As an initial step, it has allocated $300,000 and will raise more fund to pay herders $4 a day to clean and bury carcasses. Eventually, it hopes to reach 60,000 of the worst affected families.

"While immediate needs of food, shelter, heating and health care must be met, this approach would prevent the spread of diseases and also help herders to feed their families during the zud," said Akbar Usmani, UNDP resident representative in Mongolia. "Livestock is the cornerstone of existence for so many Mongolians and many people have lost all their direct income and food source."…

During previous zuds, nomads sought refuge in Mongolia's capital Ulan Bator, which has struggled to cope with the influx. The fringes of the capital are ringed by shanty towns of yurts with poor sanitation, inadequate water supplies and poor heating.

Mongolia is used to extreme weather. The capital, which regularly experiences temperatures of -40C , is one of the coldest capitals on earth. But a changing climate and over-grazing of the grasslands have made the traditional herding lifestyle harder than ever.

Zuds normally occur every five to 10 years, but there have been four in the past decade and more are expected. According to the government, Mongolia has warmed by 2.14C over the last 70 years, but annual temperatures during winter have fallen since 1990. …

UN launches Mongolia $4m appeal to clear up livestock killed by big freeze via reader Gail

Blue Whale. Whales store carbon by the tonne. Science Photo Library

By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News, Portland

A century of whaling may have released more than 100 million tonnes - or a large forest's worth - of carbon into the atmosphere, scientists say.

Whales store carbon within their huge bodies and when they are killed, much of this carbon can be released.

US scientists revealed their estimate of carbon released by whaling at the Ocean Sciences meeting in Portland, US.

Dr Andrew Pershing from the University of Maine described whales as the "forests of the ocean".

Dr Pershing and his colleagues from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute calculated the annual carbon-storing capacity of whales as they grew.

"Whales, like any animal or plant on the planet, are made out of a lot of carbon," he said.

"And when you kill and remove a whale from the ocean, that's removing carbon from this storage system and possibly sending it into the atmosphere."

He pointed out that, particularly in the early days of whaling, the animals were a source of lamp oil, which was burned, releasing the carbon directly into the air.

"And this marine system is unique because when whales die [naturally], their bodies sink, so they take that carbon down to the bottom of the ocean.

"If they die where it's deep enough, it will be [stored] out of the atmosphere perhaps for hundreds of years."

In their initial calculations, the team worked out that 100 years of whaling had released an amount of carbon equivalent to burning 130,000 sq km of temperate forests, or to driving 128,000 Humvees continuously for 100 years. … 

Professor Daniel Costa, a marine animal researcher from the University of California, Santa Cruz, told BBC News: "So many more groups are looking at the importance of these large animals in the carbon cycle.

"And it's one of those things that, when you look at it, you think: ' This is so obvious, why didn't we think of this before?'." …

Whaling worsens carbon release, scientists warn

Tusks from the second-largest contraband ivory recovery in history are laid out on the ground in Singapore after they were seized in 2002. Photo by Benezeth Mutayoba. mongabay.com

February 26, 2010 - 10:30AM

Thailand has seized two tonnes of elephant tusks from Africa hidden in pallets labelled as mobile phone parts in the country's largest ivory seizure.

Thai customs officials valued Wednesday night's haul at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport at 120 million baht ($4 million).

It is a further sign that Thailand is emerging as a hub for the illicit trade.

Poaching of elephants in central and eastern Africa has intensified in recent years, with much of the illegal ivory exported to Asia.

Seree Thaijongrak, the director of investigation and suppression bureau for the Customs Department, said that, acting on a tip, officials seized two pallets found to contain 239 tusks of African elephants.

The consignment, which originated in South Africa, was labelled as mobile phone parts in a consignment destined for Laos - apparently to confuse customs officials, as Laos has an agreement with neighbouring Thailand not to check cargo in transit.

A Thai national, however, attempted to pick up the cargo and was detained, Seree said. Customs officials suspect the tusks would have been crafted into trinkets and jewelry in Thailand.

"This is the biggest seizure we have ever had," Seree said.

"This is a real accomplishment for Thailand. Normally, this would have gone right through but we got the tip-off."

Seree said smuggling of ivory from Africa was on the rise in Thailand as in much of South-East Asia.

Ivory shipped to Thailand typically goes to carvers who fashion it into Buddhist statues, bangles and jewelry for sale to tourists or sale in other countries.

Thailand is also a transit point for ivory forwarded to other markets such as China. …

Thai customs seizes two tonnes of elephant tusks

Sydney, Australia at night

 
February 23, 2010

Sweaty. Sticky. Uneasy. These are all words that could easily be applied to the temperatures endured by Sydneysiders overnight, before a morning change injected some cool relief.

The city stayed above 26 degrees for most of the night, even increasing to 29 degrees just before 9am, Sam Terry Meteorologist with The Weather Company, a Fairfax Media company, said.

This allowed Sydney to have its warmest minimum in 13 years; the sixth warmest on record (150 years).

If the air-conditioning had failed at Sydney Airport, travellers would have experienced similar conditions to the city.

The airport dropped to only 25 degrees, making it the warmest morning in 69 years. …

Sydney sweats through hottest night in 13 years

A pool of crude oil and toxic drilling waste burns at an abandoned Texaco-Chevron oil production facility in Cofan territory. Shushufindi, Ecuador. ©Amazon Watch

For over three decades, Chevron chose profit over people in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The cold and calculated decision to save $3 per barrel and yet poison entire communities is compounded daily as Chevron continues its PR campaign to suppress the truth and barrage the media with lies about its actions and responsibility. This blog is part of an ever-growing campaign to counter Chevron's misinformation tactics and speak frankly about their attempts to hide their role in the world's worst oil-related disaster.

The Campaign for Justice in Ecuador

A dead zone off the Pacific Northwest. http://greenarmyunite.com/?page_id=196

A review of all available ocean data records concludes that the low-oxygen events which have plagued the Pacific Northwest coast since 2002 are unprecedented in the five decades prior to that, and may well be linked to the stronger, persistent winds that are expected to occur with global warming.

In a new study to be published Friday in the journal Science, researchers from Oregon State University outline a “potential for rapid reorganization” in basic marine ecosystems and the climatic forces that drive them, and suggest that these low-oxygen, or “hypoxic” events are now more likely to be the rule rather than the exception.

“In this part of the marine environment, we may have crossed a tipping point,” said Jane Lubchenco, the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at OSU, and the lead scientist for PISCO, the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans.

“Levels of oxygen in the summertime have suddenly become much lower than levels in the previous 50 years,” Lubchenco said. “And 2006 broke all records, with parts of the shallow shelf actually becoming anoxic, meaning that they lacked oxygen altogether. We’ve never seen that before.”

The rapid and disturbing shift of ocean conditions in what has traditionally been one of the world’s more productive marine areas – what’s called the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem - has garnered much attention in recent years, also raising questions about whether it has happened before, and what is causing it.

“People keep asking us, ‘Is this situation really all that different or not’’” Lubchenco said. “Now we have the answer to that question, and it’s an unequivocal ‘yes.’ The low oxygen levels we’ve measured in the last six years are abnormally low for our system. We haven’t seen conditions like this in many, many decades, and now with varying intensity we’ve seen them in each of the last six summers.”

In these events, water oxygen levels have repeatedly reached hypoxic levels, below which most marine animals suffocate or are severely stressed if they cannot escape the area. If oxygen levels drop to zero, most animals die. The massive 2006 event covered at least 3,000 square kilometers, lasted for four months, and occupied up to 80 percent of the water column in shallow shelf areas, the report said. Fish either died or fled these areas, thousands of crabs died, and marine seafloor life that could not move faced almost total mortality. Recovery has been slow.

It’s less certain why this is happening, but the events are completely consistent with global climate change, the OSU researchers say.

“There have always been unusual weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts, and changes in wind patterns,” said Jack Barth, an OSU professor of physical oceanography and a lead scientist with PISCO. “So it’s difficult to prove that any one event is caused by global warming. Having said that, we expect global warming to generally cause stronger and more persistent winds. These winds contribute to the hypoxic events by increasing plankton production and holding low-oxygen water on the continental shelf for longer periods.”

“At this point, I’d be surprised if this trend towards hypoxic events didn’t continue,” Barth said. …

Pacific Northwest 'dead zone' hypoxic events unprecedented

Ostriches of Oudtshoorn, South Africa. www.vuvuzela.com

By Denene Erasmus, 25 Feb 2010

More than 2 000 ostriches have died in the Klein Karoo, as temperatures soared to more than 50°C in February.

This follows the announcement that ostrich farmers in the drought-stricken southern Cape would not be benefiting from the R26,9 million in drought relief made available by the National Treasury for embattled livestock farmers in the Eden district.

Ostriches are classified by law as game, not as livestock and CEO of the SA Ostrich Chamber of Commerce Anton Kruger said they’ve been trying to have this classification amended for three years. He was confident that the process would be successful in the near future.

Kruger added that while the 2,000 ostriches represented less than 1% of the total number slaughtered in South Africa annually, the loss could be devastating for individual farmers. The dead birds included about 150 breeding ostriches, worth R5,000 each. The remainder were birds aged up to 10 months, which were vulnerable to heat exposure. Ostriches of this age cost about R2,300 a bird, said Kruger, adding that the dead birds were fit only to be minced for dog food.

“This couldn’t have happened at a worst time,” he pointed out. “Three weeks ago, processors in South Africa announced that there would be a 15% reduction in the ostrich meat price paid to farmers because of the strong rand.”

Head veterinarian and manager of research and development at the Klein Karoo International Farms Dr Adriaan Olivier explained that the ostriches had died because the temperature of the air was warmer than their body temperatures of 38°C, so they were unable to cool themselves down. “Every year, a number of ostriches die from heat exposure, but this year it was exceptionally high. I believe we’ve had more consecutive very warm days this February than in the past, which could be part of the reason for the higher mortality rate,” he said, adding that there would’ve been more deaths had farmers not implemented preventative measures. He suggested erecting shade netting or using water sprinklers to cool down the birds.

Fortunately, southern Cape farmers haven’t reported higher-than-normal ostrich fatalities during the heatwave, said Francois de Wet of Mostrich in Mossel Bay.

South Africa - Heatwave kills more than 2,000 ostriches via reader Gail

Ice-shelf Retreat in the Southern Antarctic Peninsula, 1947-2009. U.S. Geological Survey

This image shows ice-front retreat in part of the southern Antarctic Peninsula from 1947 to 2009. USGS scientists are studying coastal and glacier change along the entire Antarctic coastline. The southern portion of the Antarctic Peninsula is one area studied as part of this project, and is summarized in the USGS report, Coastal-Change and Glaciological Map of the Palmer Land Area, Antarctica: 1947—2009 (map I—2600—C).

 Blue-green algal bloom in Chao Lake in Anhui province. June 2008. © Greenpeace / Raphael Roger Henri Fournier

By Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) Feb 23, 2010

Authorities in eastern China have said they will release 20 million algae-eating fish into one of the nation's most scenic lakes that has been ravaged by pollution.

Taihu Lake, which straddles Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, has been severely polluted by sewage as well as industrial and agricultural waste, triggering a blue-green algae plague.

Authorities started using fish to try to clean up the lake in February last year when they released 10 million mostly green and silver carp into the water, after the algae tainted the drinking supply of millions of residents.

Over the next few days, around 20 million more algae-eating fish will be released into the water, the Taihu Lake Fisheries Management Committee said in a statement Monday.

The campaign, funded by the government and public donations, cost a total of 8.6 million yuan (1.3 million dollars), according to the statement.

A silver carp can consume 50 kilogrammes (110 pounds) of algae and other plankton in its lifetime while gaining only one kilogramme in weight, authorities have said.

Millions of algae-eating fish have been used in the past to clean up Taihu and other lakes, with previous efforts hailed as a boon for the local fishing industry despite concerns over consumption of fish that have feasted on toxins.

Algae blooms, which are common on freshwater lakes in China, are chiefly caused by the presence of untreated sewage containing high concentrations of nitrogen, a main ingredient in detergents and fertilisers.

China's environment has suffered severely amid the nation's breakneck economic growth over the past three decades.

China to release 20 million pollution-fighting fish in lake

This is a grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos), photographed in Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada, on August 9, 2008. (Credit: Linda Gormezano)

ScienceDaily (Feb. 23, 2010) — Biologists affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and City College of the City University of New York have found that grizzly bears are roaming into what was traditionally thought of as polar bear habitat -- and into the Canadian province of Manitoba, where they are officially listed as extirpated. The preliminary data was recently published in Canadian Field Naturalist and shows that sightings of Ursus arctos horribilis in Canada's Wapusk National Park are recent and appear to be increasing in frequency.

"Grizzly bears are a new guy on the scene, competition and a potential predator for the polar bears that live in this area," says Robert F. Rockwell, a research associate at the Museum and a professor of Biology at CUNY. "The first time we saw a grizzly we were flying over the middle of Wapusk, counting fox dens, when all of the sudden Linda Gormezano, a graduate student working with Rockwell and a co-author of the paper, shouted 'Over there, over there -- a grizzly bear.' And it wasn't a dirty polar bear or a moose -- we saw the hump."

That sighting in August 2008 spurred Rockwell and Gormezano to look through records to get a better picture of the bear population in the park. There was no evidence of grizzly bears before 1996, not even in the trapping data from centuries of Hudson Bay Company operation. But between 1996 and 2008 the team found nine confirmed sightings of grizzly bears, and in the summer of 2009 there were three additional observations.

"The opportunistic sightings seem to be increasing," says Gormezano. "This is worrying for the polar bears because grizzly bears would likely hibernate in polar bear maternity denning habitat. They would come out of hibernation at the same time and can kill polar cubs." …

Grizzly bears move into polar bear habitat in Manitoba, Canada

The Great Pacific Garbage patch was originally discovered in 1997 by Captain Charles Moore. Photo: EPA

Researchers have found a high concentration of plastic debris is floating in the Atlantic Ocean north of the Caribbean, months after concerns were raised over a vast patch of rubbish floating in the Pacific Ocean.

The study's principal investigator said that the findings were based on more than 64,000 tiny bits of plastic collected over more than 22 years by Sea Education Association undergraduates.

Researchers believe surface currents carry the debris to the area between 22 and 38 degrees north latitude and that waves also deliver trash to a spot between Hawaii and California known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Kara Lavendar Law, one of the researchers, said it was difficult to compare the two, but team members in both places collected more than 1,000 pieces during a single tow of a net.

The study was conducted by researchers from SEA, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Hawaii.

The Great Pacific Garbage patch was originally discovered in 1997 by Captain Charles Moore.

Roughly the size of Texas, the patch is characterised by exceptionally high concentrations of suspended plastic, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.

Despite its size and density, the patch is not visible from satellite photography because it consists of very small pieces, almost invisible to the naked eye and most of its contents are suspended beneath the surface of the ocean.

New floating garbage patch found in Atlantic Ocean

Even megafauna can be quickly forgotten: the baiji and shifting baselines

The extinct baiji, once known as 'The Goddess of the Yangtze'. Photo by: Wang Ding.

By Jeremy Hance
www.mongabay.com
February 23, 2010

In 2006 a survey in China to locate the endangered Yangtze River dolphin, known as the baiji, found no evidence of its survival. Despondent, researchers declared that the baiji was likely extinct. Four years later and the large charismatic marine mammal is not only 'likely extinct', but in danger of being forgotten, according to a surprising new study "Rapidly Shifting Baselines in Yangtze Fishing Communities and Local Memory of Extinct Species" in Conservation Biology.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Samuel Turvey, was a member of the original expedition in 2006. He returned to the Yangtze in 2008 to interview locals about their knowledge of the baiji and other vanishing megafauna in the river, including the Chinese paddlefish, one of the world's largest freshwater fish. In these interviews Turvey and his team found clear evidence of 'shifting baselines': where humans lose track of even large changes to their environment, such as the loss of a top predator like the baiji.

"'Shifting baseline syndrome' is a social phenomenon whereby communities can forget about changes to the state of the environment during the recent past, if older community members don't talk to younger people about different species or ecological conditions that used to occur in their local region," Turvey explains. "These shifts in community perception typically mean that the true level of human impact on the environment is underestimated, or even not appreciated at all, since the original environmental ‘baseline’ has been forgotten."

In other words, a community today may see an ecosystem as 'pristine' or 'complete', which their grandparents would view as hopelessly degraded. In turn what the current generation sees as a degraded environment, the next generation will see as 'natural'. The shifting baseline theory is relatively new—first appearing in 1995—and so it has not been widely examined in the field.

Turvey and his team felt that the Yangtze River, one of the world's most degraded freshwater habitats, would provide a more-than-suitable place to test the theory in the field. But even they were surprised by the extent to which once-important species were forgotten.

"Our data from the Yangtze shows that, in certain cultural environments at least, local communities will immediately start to forget about the existence of even large, charismatic species as soon as these species stop being encountered on a fairly regular basis," explains Turvey. …

Extinct animals are quickly forgotten: the baiji and shifting baselines

Glacier Retreat and Sea Level Rise are Possible Consequences

Parts of the Wilkins Ice Shelf now look like shattered panes of glass. British Antarctic Survey

Ice shelves are retreating in the southern section of the Antarctic Peninsula due to climate change. This could result in glacier retreat and sea-level rise if warming continues, threatening coastal communities and low-lying islands worldwide.

Research by the U.S. Geological Survey is the first to document that every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating overall from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990. The USGS previously documented that the majority of ice fronts on the entire Peninsula have also retreated during the late 20th century and into the early 21st century.

The ice shelves are attached to the continent and already floating, holding in place the Antarctic ice sheet that covers about 98 percent of the Antarctic continent. As the ice shelves break off, it is easier for outlet glaciers and ice streams from the ice sheet to flow into the sea. The transition of that ice from land to the ocean is what raises sea level.

“This research is part of a larger ongoing USGS project that is for the first time studying the entire Antarctic coastline in detail, and this is important because the Antarctic ice sheet contains 91 percent of Earth’s glacier ice,” said USGS scientist Jane Ferrigno. “The loss of ice shelves is evidence of the effects of global warming. We need to be alert and continually understand and observe how our climate system is changing.”

The Peninsula is one of Antarctica’s most rapidly changing areas because it is farthest away from the South Pole, and its ice shelf loss may be a forecast of changes in other parts of Antarctica and the world if warming continues.

Retreat along the southern part of the Peninsula is of particular interest because that area has the Peninsula’s coolest temperatures, demonstrating that global warming is affecting the entire length of the Peninsula.

The Antarctic Peninsula’s southern section as described in this study contains five major ice shelves:  Wilkins, George VI, Bach, Stange and the southern portion of Larsen Ice Shelf. The ice lost since 1998 from the Wilkins Ice Shelf alone totals more than 4,000 square kilometers, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

The USGS is working collaboratively on this project with the British Antarctic Survey, with the assistance of the Scott Polar Research Institute and Germany’s Bundesamt fűr Kartographie und Geodäsie. The research is also part of the USGS Glacier Studies Project, which is monitoring and describing glacier extent and change over the whole planet using satellite imagery.

The report, Coastal-Change and Glaciological Map of the Palmer Land Area, Antarctica: 1947—2009 and its accompanying map is available online.

The other completed reports in the Coastal Change and Glaciological Maps of Antarctica series can be viewed online.

Released: 2/22/2010 11:04:51 AM
Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192    

Jane Ferrigno
Phone: 703-648-6360

Jessica Robertson
Phone: 703-648-6624

Ice Shelves Disappearing on Antarctic Peninsula

The Belo Monte Dam: The Costs. The Guardian, International Rivers, Amazon Watch

By Timon Singh | 02/05/10 - 16:16

Everyone knows that finding a renewable source of energy is crucial to wean the world off fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions, but what are we willing to sacrifice for clean energy?

In Brazil, the government has given the green light for the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam that will be able to generate enough energy for over 23 million homes. However, its creation will see the flooding of huge portions of the Amazon basin, displacing indigenous tribes and putting 500 sq km of rainforest underwater. The creation of the Belo Monte Dam is expected to begin in 2015 and is rumoured to cost around $17 billion. Set to be situated on the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon in the northern state of Para it has been abandoned several times, noticeably in the early 90s due to its controversial nature and widespread global protests.

Environmental groups have often said that the construction of the Belo Monte Dam will cause devastation in a large area of the rain-forest and threaten the survival of indigenous groups, but the government has denied this saying that the project has now been modified to ensure that the livelihoods of indigenous people won't be affected.

Brazil's environment minister Carlos Minc has stated that those who win the bidding process to building contract and operate Belo Monte will have to pay around $800 million to protect the environment and meet 40 other conditions.

"There is not going to be an environmental disaster," he told Brazilian television. He also addressed accusations that local Indians would be forced from their lands saying, "Not a single Indian will be displaced. They will be indirectly affected, but they will not have to leave indigenous lands."

Unsurprisingly, local tribes are not convinced. Megaron Tuxucumarrae, a leader of the Kayapo Indians said, "We want to make sure that Belo Monte does not destroy the ecosystems and the biodiversity that we have taken care of for millennia."

Of course it's not only the 40,000 local Indians would be affected by the flood; while the government may not displace them, by re-diverting the river they will definitely affect fish stocks in the region not to mention the rest of the animal species that live in the area.

In a pure example of whether the needs of the many out weight the needs of the few, the Brazilian government is faced with going ahead with the project and proving 11,000 GW of clean electricity to the population, but destroying a large portion of the country's ecology whilst receiving fierce condemnation from environmental groups. …

Belo Monte Dam: Sacrificing the rain-forest for clean energy

Lost paradise worlds beneath the Earth’s oceans including those around the Britain are being “systemically destroyed” by climate change and over fishing before they can even be properly explored, claim scientists.

Deepwater coral destroyed by bottom trawling. NOAA / Oceana

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent in San Diego
Published: 1:56PM GMT 18 Feb 2010

The amazingly colourful undersea oases of life, some more than a mile down, have only just been discovered and are thought to harbour countless unknown species of fish and plant-life.

But these cold water coral reefs – often growing on deep sea mountains – are falling victim to the double whammy of ocean acidification and deep sea trawling.

Those around the British Isles and Ireland have already been extensively damaged by scraping of sea nets and over-fishing of breeding grounds.

Now carbon dioxide absorption into the sea is increasing acidification and threatening to wear away the calcium which is the very building block of the reefs.

Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, marine biologists at the University of Plymouth, said the “weird and wonderful new discoveries” could disappear forever – before we even learn of their existence.

“These pristine environments have only just been discovered and they are already being systematically destroyed, ” said Dr Hall-Spencer who will outlining his fears at the American Association for the Advancement of Science 2009 meeting in San Diego.

"They are really wonderful. The colours are astounding with oranges and reds, purples, blues and yellows. They are home to hundreds of species we have never seen before.

"But they are all being destroyed. Dragging a trawler net across them is a bit like dragging a net across the Serengeti and catching and destroying everything in its wake.

"Ocean acidification is also undermining the building block of the corals. The northern waters have seen a 30 per cent increase in acidification since industrialisation.

"We have just discovered these hidden paradises and now they are being lost." …

Coral reefs being destroyed by climate change

 A humpback whale in the melting sea ice also feeds on krill  Photo: ALEX BENWELL

Rising temperatures in the oceans around Antarctica could lead to the continent's penguins being replaced by jellyfish, scientists have warned.

The results of the largest ever survey of Antarctic marine life reveal melting sea ice is decimating krill populations, which form an integral part of penguins' diets.

The six-inch-long invertebrates, also eaten by other higher Southern Ocean predators such as whales and seals, are being replaced by smaller crustaceans known as copepods.

These miniscule copepods, measuring just half a millimetre long, are too small for penguins but ideal for jellyfish and other similarly tentacled predators.

Huw Griffiths, a marine biologist, said the shifting food web, coupled with shrinking ice sheet breeding grounds, could seriously affect the world's favourite Antarctic animal.

Mr Griffiths, of British Antarctic Survey (BAS), said: ''Marine animals spent millions of years adapting to the freezing, stable conditions of the Antarctic waters and they are highly sensitive to change.

''The polar oceans are rich in biodiversity. But if species are unable to move or adapt to new conditions they could ultimately die out.

''Copepods are 120 times smaller than krill, which is inevitably going to affect all the things that feed in that area.

''Penguins, sea birds, whales are all used to catching large items of prey. But creatures with tentacles - like jellyfish are going to have more food value out of smaller prey.

''This kind of predator will do better in this warmer environment.

''We already have huge numbers of amazing looking jellyfish. They are not quite invading but numbers will go up to the point where they become the dominant group.

''And if the waters continue to warm there will not only be a shift between species that are already there, but new species will be able to come into the area.'' …

Penguins in Antarctica to be replaced by jellyfish due to global warming

A survey of the world's reefs and submerged mountains has revealed widespread damage from deep-sea trawling

Squat lobsters on a cold-water coral reef off the coast of Ireland. Deep-sea trawling poses a particular threat in temperate regions. Photograph: University of Plymouth

By Ian Sample, San Diego
www.guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 February 2010 22.00 GMT

Deep-sea trawling is devastating corals and pristine marine habitats that have gone untouched since the last ice age, a leading marine biologist has warned.

A survey of the world's reefs and seamounts – giant submerged mountains that rise more than a kilometre above the seabed – has revealed widespread damage to the ecosystems, many of which are home to species unknown to science, said Jason Hall-Spencer at Plymouth University in the UK.

Hall-Spencer, a researcher involved with the Census of Marine Life, a worldwide project to catalogue life in the oceans, called for the establishment of an international network of marine reserves where deep-sea trawling was banned.

Deep-sea trawlers use giant, heavy-duty nets that are dragged over the seafloor at depths of more than a kilometre. The nets are fitted with rubber rollers called "rock hoppers", which destroy the corals that provide habitats for fish and other marine organisms.

The technique was developed for use in shallow waters with smooth sea floors, but as fish stocks dwindled and technology improved, fishing fleets began using the nets in much deeper waters.

Hall-Spencer said marine biologists have surveyed fewer than 1% of an estimated 50,000 seamounts in the world's oceans.

"Our research visits have revealed pristine coral reefs and many species that are brand new to science," Hall-Spencer said. "Over the past five years, these surveys have also worryingly revealed that all over the world, deep-sea habitats are suffering severe impacts from bottom trawling.

"It doesn't matter what ocean you go to, these habitats are being trashed by international fishing fleets. What is urgently needed is a network of protected areas where any type of fishing gear that involves dragging equipment across the sea bed is banned." …

Deep-sea trawling is destroying coral reefs and pristine marine habitats

Soil degradation due to excessive tillage, Alxa League, Inner Mongolia. Asian Development Bank

By Luc Gnacadja, UNCCD Executive Secretary
Special for the Herald

Climate change, food security, migration, poverty and peace. Nowadays, it seems that not a day goes by without a news report on one or all of these issues. These issues are also a big part of the current international political agenda. The question that almost always follows each report is how we can tackle each problem. That question, in my view, is part of the problem. Why?

Like the human web, these problems are tied together. This means that dealing with each problem at a time makes us only partially effective and globally ineffective. …

So, land use has an impact on climate change, but on the other hand, climate change has a negative effect on land. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported, with a very high degree of certainty, that climate change would lead to longer and more intense droughts in drought-prone areas. It also predicted that droughts would emerge in new areas, especially in the warmer tropical areas.

These expectations are already evident. Critical sources of water such as Lake Chad in Africa are drying up and the water levels of major rivers such as the Euphrates, the Tigris and the Nile have fallen below what local populations are used to, compared to similar periods in the recent past. Intense and longer droughts are also already evident in parts of Southern Africa, as well as in North America, Australia and southern Europe where forest fires have caused great devastation.

The experts tell us that drought-related effects can be minimized through sustainable land management. Investments to improve water management and assure it is available in the long-term combined with efforts to improve soil quality have immediate and spill-over rewards. In the short term, the impact of extreme weather conditions can be reduced and land fertility enhanced.

The idea is compelling from an economic point of view considering the high costs of recoveries from drought. For example, the droughts of 1990 and 1999 cost Spain 4.5 billion and 3.2 billion US dollars respectively. China’s drought of 1984 cost the country close to 14 billion US dollars, the highest expense on record from drought to date. In essence, early intervention through sustainable land management can mitigate the effects of drought, and, in turn, its related effects.

There are two other significant spill-over benefits that the international community can reap from sustainable land management.

Although the data is still patchy, some studies show that a significant part of the rural-to-urban- as well as international migrations are linked to desertification/land degradation and drought. As an example, between 400,000 and 700,000 people migrate from Mexico’s drylands to the cities and to the United States every year.

This means that if the root of the problem, land degradation, is attended to before local communities get desperate, the push factors of migration could be reduced to a minimum. This can become a long-term solution if sustainable land management is designed so that producers are able to obtain decent incomes for their labor. In turn, this would enable households, communities and governments to achieve food security.

At present, a major push for action on climate change is driven by notions such as the loss of the polar bear and other forms of biological diversity, as well as its effects on future generations, not least the possibility of conflict. However, the human face of climate change today is reflected in the livelihoods of the people in the drylands.

For many developing countries up to 60 per cent of their populations depend on land for their livelihood. Therefore, sustainable land and water management, as well as land rehabilitation are not simply efforts at adaptation. They also constitute one of the most relevant nationally appropriate mitigation approaches to climate change. As such, for many developing countries, sustainable land management is an avenue to both generate sustainable economic growth and alleviate poverty. …

Land degradation, the root of the problem of a common thread

Ocean acidification will endanger the algae that hold together this reef in the Maldives. Photograph: Michele Westmorland / Getty Images

By Robin McKie, science editor
The Observer, Sunday 21 February 2010

Huge vents covering the sea-floor – among the strangest and most spectacular sights in nature – pour carbon dioxide and other gases into the deep waters of the oceans.

Last week, as researchers reported that they had now discovered more than 50,000 underwater volcanic springs, they also revealed a new use for them – as laboratories for measuring the impact of ocean acidification on marine life.

The seas are slowly being made more acidic by the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from factories and cars being pumped into the atmosphere and then dissolved in the sea. The likely impact of this acidification worries scientists, because they have found that predicting the exact course of future damage is a tricky process.

That is where the undersea vents come in, says Dr Jason Hall-Spencer of the University of Plymouth. "Seawater around these vents becomes much more acidic than normal sea­water because of the carbon dioxide that is being bubbled into it," he told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego, California, last week. "Indeed, it reaches a level that we believe will be matched by the acidity of oceans in three or four decades. That is why they are so important."

As part of his research, Hall-Spencer has scuba-dived into waters around vents and used submersibles to study those in deeper waters. In both cases the impact was dramatic, he told the conference.

"The sea floor is often very colourful. There are corals, pink algae and sea urchins. But I have found that these are wiped out when the water becomes more acidic and are replaced by sea grasses and foreign, invasive algae.

"There is a complete ecological flip. The seabed loses all its richness and variety. And that is what is likely to happen in the next few decades across the world's oceans." …

Acidified landscape around ocean vents foretells grim future for coral reefs via reader Gail

Report for the UN into the activities of the world's 3,000 biggest companies estimates one-third of profits would be lost if firms were forced to pay for use, loss and damage of environment  

Cost of environmental damage by business sector. Trucost

[UPDATE: Fixed broken link to Stern review – thanks to the good folks at LearnStuff.] 

By Juliette Jowit
www.guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 February 2010 18.19 GMT

The cost of pollution and other damage to the natural environment caused by the world's biggest companies would wipe out more than one-third of their profits if they were held financially accountable, a major unpublished study for the United Nations has found.

The report comes amid growing concern that no one is made to pay for most of the use, loss and damage of the environment, which is reaching crisis proportions in the form of pollution and the rapid loss of freshwater, fisheries and fertile soils.

Later this year, another huge UN study - dubbed the "Stern for nature" after the influential report on the economics of climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern - will attempt to put a price on such global environmental damage, and suggest ways to prevent it. The report, led by economist Pavan Sukhdev, is likely to argue for abolition of billions of dollars of subsidies to harmful industries like agriculture, energy and transport, tougher regulations and more taxes on companies that cause the damage.

Ahead of changes which would have a profound effect - not just on companies' profits but also their customers and pension funds and other investors - the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment initiative and the United Nations Environment Programme jointly ordered a report into the activities of the 3,000 biggest public companies in the world, which includes household names from the UK's FTSE 100 and other major stockmarkets.

The study, conducted by London-based consultancy Trucost and due to be published this summer, found the estimated combined damage was worth US$2.2 trillion (£1.4tn) in 2008 - a figure bigger than the national economies of all but seven countries in the world that year.

The figure equates to 6-7% of the companies' combined turnover, or an average of one-third of their profits, though some businesses would be much harder hit than others.

"What we're talking about is a completely new paradigm," said Richard Mattison, Trucost's chief operating officer and leader of the report team. "Externalities of this scale and nature pose a major risk to the global economy and markets are not fully aware of these risks, nor do they know how to deal with them."

The biggest single impact on the $2.2tn estimate, accounting for more than half of the total, was emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change. Other major "costs" were local air pollution such as particulates, and the damage caused by the over-use and pollution of freshwater. …

World's top firms cause $2.2tn of environmental damage, report estimates

 

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