Destruction in the Northeast United States following Hurricane Sandy, October 2012. This, all of this, is just going to be a part of life from here on out, the entire nation now understands. The Onion

NEW YORK, 31 October 2012 (The Onion) – Following Hurricane Sandy’s destructive tear through the Northeast this week, the nation’s 300 million citizens looked upon the trail of devastation and fully realized, for the first time, that this is just going to be something that happens from now on.

Gradually comprehending that this sort of thing is now just a fact of life, citizens all across America stared blankly at images of destroyed homes, major cities paralyzed by flooding, and ravaged communities covered in debris, and finally acknowledged that this, apparently, is now a regular part of the human experience.

“Oh, I see—this is just going to be how it is from here on out,” said New York City resident Brian Marcello, coming to terms with the fact that an immense storm that cripples mass transit systems and knocks out power for millions in the nation’s largest metropolitan area can no longer be regarded as an isolated, freak incident, and will henceforth be just a normal thing that happens. “Hugely destructive weather events are going to keep happening, and they are going to get worse and worse, and living through them is something that will be a part of all our lives from now on, whether we like it or not.”

“I get it now,” Marcello added.

Faced with the prospect of long months before any of the widespread damage is truly repaired, the millions who reside along the Eastern Seaboard told reporters today they fully understood, for the first time, that natural disasters killing scores of Americans and costing billions of dollars are going to be routine events, not just in the immediate foreseeable future, but permanently.

Sources added that by early Wednesday morning, it abruptly occurred to millions more citizens that the news stories they’ve been seeing that feature displaced families, photos of debris, shut-down businesses, and government relief efforts have already started to feel “extremely familiar,” because these are things that happen now.

“I was just watching a CNN news story about how much damage Sandy has caused in comparison to Katrina, Ike, or last year’s storm that ravaged the Northeast, and it dawned on me: ‘Ah, okay, being a human being on Planet Earth, pretty much no matter where you are, now involves the threat of one day having your home, city, or country decimated in a matter of hours by a severe weather event,’” Detroit resident Stacy Hillman said. “Looking at images of cities—actual American fucking cities—flooded with water is no longer an incredibly weird, unprecedented thing to see. It has happened before, it happened this week, and it will continue to happen again and again in the future, and to an even greater extent.”

“So, then, I guess that what it means to be a member of human civilization has changed forever, pretty much,” Hillman added. “And that this is the new world we live in.” […]

Nation Suddenly Realizes This Just Going To Be A Thing That Happens From Now On via Ketsugami

Darling River at Wilcannia. Winding across 640 kilometers of southeastern Australia’s landscape, the Murray-Darling river system often struggles to sustain its environment and much of the country’s agriculture. Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Sydney, 26 October 2012 (AFP) – The government Friday pledged Aus$1.77 billion (US$1.83 billion) to pump more than 450 billion litres of water into the ailing Murray-Darling River and help rejuvenate a crucial system supplying Australia's food bowl.

The river and its basin stretches thousands of kilometres from Queensland state to South Australia and crosses various climates, affecting the livelihood of millions of people, but it has been over-exploited for years.

It has also been seriously depleted by years of drought while suffering from increased salt concentrations due in part to low rainfall.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard called the cash injection a landmark step in the plan to return the river and its basin to health.

"The plan is a historic event for water reform in Australia and provides greater certainty for future water availability ensuring all those dependent on a sustainable river system can face the future with greater confidence," she said.

Gillard added that the additional water would benefit major wetlands across the basin and lakes in South Australia "and help ensure the system never again goes into a period of drought lacking the resilience it needs to survive".

By investing the cash in farm infrastructure and water-saving projects, the government hopes a combination of increased flows and better management will meet ecological goals without hurting basin towns.

Most of the money will be earmarked for making farms more water-efficient instead of buying back water from irrigators.

Up to Aus$200 million will be used to remove river constraints, such as low-lying bridges and undersized dam outlets, to help free the additional 450 billion litres for the environment.

Caroline Sullivan, an ecological and environmental economist at the Marine Ecology Research Centre at Southern Cross University in New South Wales, said it was welcome news.

She said the Murray-Darling was the only river system in Australia that "exhibited crisis-level exposure to the combined effects of pollution, water regulation, flood plain fragmentation, and other threats". […]

Australia pumps $1.83 bln into food bowl river

The flooded entrance to the tunnel leading to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive in Lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy, 30 October 2012. For nearly a decade, scientists told city and state officials that New York faces certain peril: rising sea levels, more frequent flooding, and extreme weather patterns. Damon Winter / The New York Times

By DAVID W. CHEN and MIREYA NAVARRO
30 October 2012

The warnings came, again and again.

For nearly a decade, scientists have told city and state officials that New York faces certain peril: rising sea levels, more frequent flooding, and extreme weather patterns. The alarm bells grew louder after Tropical Storm Irene last year, when the city shut down its subway system and water rushed into the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan.

On Tuesday, as New Yorkers woke up to submerged neighborhoods and water-soaked electrical equipment, officials took their first tentative steps toward considering major infrastructure changes that could protect the city’s fragile shores and eight million residents from repeated disastrous damage.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the state should consider a levee system or storm surge barriers and face up to the inadequacy of the existing protections.

“The construction of this city did not anticipate these kinds of situations. We are only a few feet above sea level,” Mr. Cuomo said during a radio interview. “As soon as you breach the sides of Manhattan, you now have a whole infrastructure under the city that fills — the subway system, the foundations for buildings,” and the World Trade Center site.

The Cuomo administration plans talks with city and federal officials about how to proceed. The task could be daunting, given fiscal realities: storm surge barriers, the huge sea gates that some scientists say would be the best protection against floods, could cost as much as $10 billion.

But many experts say, given what happened with the latest storm, that inertia could be more expensive.

After rising roughly an inch per decade in the last century, coastal waters in New York are expected to climb as fast as six inches per decade, or two feet by midcentury, according to a city-appointed scientific panel. That much more water means the city’s flood risk zones could expand in size.

"Look, the city is extremely vulnerable to damaging storm surges just for its geography, and climate change is increasing that risk," said Ben Strauss, director of the sea level rise program at the research group Climate Central in Princeton, N.J. “Three of the top 10 highest floods at the Battery since 1900 happened in the last two and a half years. If that’s not a wake-up call to take this seriously, I don’t know what is."

With an almost eerie foreshadowing, the dangers laid out by scientists as they tried to press public officials for change in recent years describes what happened this week: Subway tunnels filled with water, just as they warned. Tens of thousands of people in Manhattan lost power. The city shut down.

What scientists, who have devoted years of research to the subject, now fear most is that, as soon as the cleanup from this storm is over, the public will move on. […]

For Years, Warnings That It Could Happen Here

Poached Elephant Carcass in Tanzania 1984. This is a sad reminder of the ivory trade's devastation on the elephant population in Africa. The poachers cut out the tusks and left this carcass to rot. Jeff Shea

By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Editing by James Macharia and Alistair Lyon
31 October 2012

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – Tanzanian police have seized more than 200 elephant tusks hidden in a coffin and in fertilizer bags, pointing to rising poaching in the east African country, officials said on Wednesday.

"This is the biggest seizure of elephant tusks in Dar es Salaam in recent history. The tusks were really big, which means that they were carefully picked for certain customers," regional police commander, Suleiman Kova, told Reuters.

In recent years, poaching has become a curse in Tanzania and other sub-Saharan African countries which attract tourists to view the rich wildlife in their game reserves.

Well-armed criminals kill elephants and rhinos for their tusks, which are used for ornaments and in some folk medicines.

Police said the 214 tusks were worth 2.1 billion shillings ($1.32 million) and that at least three suspects had been arrested, including two Kenyans. The smugglers had planned to transport the ivory to Kenya, they said.

Most of the elephant tusks smuggled from the east African nation end up in Asian countries, according to police.

A Tanzanian member of parliament, Peter Msigwa, said poaching was out of control in the country, with an average of 30 elephants being slaughtered for their ivory every day.

This month Hong Kong seized HK$26.7 million ($3.5 million) worth of elephant tusks and ornaments smuggled from Tanzania and Kenya, its biggest seizure of illegal ivory.

In August 2011, Tanzanian authorities seized more than 1,000 elephant tusks hidden in sacks of dried fish at Zanzibar port which were destined for Malaysia.

Tanzania police seize more than 200 elephant tusks

This image of Hurricane Sandy was acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite at 2:42 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (06:42 Universal Time) on 28 October 2012. NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon

Contact: Shaye Wolf,  (415) 385-5746, swolf@biologicaldiversity.org
30 October 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (Center for Biological Diversity) – As America copes with the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, scientists with the Center for Biological Diversity are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to use the Clean Air Act to take emergency action against climate change. Global warming creates a “superstorm triple whammy” that helps turn nasty weather into a nightmare of killer winds and devastating storm surges.

“The terrifying truth is that America faces a future full of Frankenstorms,” said Shaye Wolf, Ph.D., the Center’s climate science director. “Climate change raises sea levels and supersizes storms. The threat of killer winds and crushing storm surges will grow by the year unless we get serious about tackling greenhouse gas pollution.”

Here’s how scientists say climate change feeds the superstorm triple whammy:

1. Global warming loads storms with more energy and more rainfall. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that Katrina-magnitude Atlantic hurricanes have been twice as likely in warm years compared with cold years. In warm years hotter ocean temperatures add energy to storms and warmer air holds more moisture, causing storms to dump more rainfall. Global ocean temperatures hit their second-highest level on record in September, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

2. Storm surge rides on higher sea levels, so more coastline floods during storms. In the northeastern United States, sea levels are rising three to four times faster than the global average, putting major U.S. cities at increased risk of flooding and storm surges, according to a June 2012 study in Nature Climate Change. The West Coast is not immune: Most of California could experience three or more feet of sea-level rise this century, heightening the risk of coastal flooding.

3. Melting sea ice and accelerating Arctic warming are causing changes in the jet stream that are bringing more extreme weather to the United States. Climate change in the Arctic is destabilizing the jet stream, causing bursts of colder air to drop down farther into the United States. In Sandy’s case, a collision with a cold front acted to turn the hurricane into a superstorm. Recent research, including studies by Georgia Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, has linked Arctic warming to increased risk of a variety of extreme weather events.

Deep and rapid greenhouse gas cuts are needed to reduce extreme weather risk. The Clean Air Act is America’s leading tool for curbing greenhouse gas pollution, and more than three dozen U.S. cities have joined the Center’s Clean Air Cities campaign urging the EPA to use the Clean Air Act to help reduce carbon in our atmosphere to no more than 350 parts per million, the level scientists say is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Climate Change Feeds Superstorm Triple Whammy

Water Storage at O. H. Ivie Reservoir in Texas, 1991-2012. Texas Water Development Board with data from USGS, IBWC, and USACE

Reservoir stage data are collected every day from USGS, IBWC, and USACE websites. These data are preliminary and subject to revision. Reservoir storage (in acre-feet) is derived from these stage data (elevation in feet above mean sea level), by using the latest rating curve datasets available to TWDB.

TWDB Reservoir Stage Summary

Activists protest climate silence in New York City before Hurricane Sandy makes landfall, 28 October 2012. 350.org

By Jeremy Hance
30 October 2012

(mongabay.com) – On Sunday, as Hurricane Sandy roared towards the coast of the Eastern U.S., activists took to the streets in New York City to highlight the issue of climate change. Activists organized by 350.org unfurled a huge parachute in Times Square with the words, "End Climate Silence," a message meant to call attention to the fact that there has been almost zero mention of climate change during the presidential campaign, including not a single reference to the issue in the four presidential debates.

"Meteorologists have called [Hurricane Sandy] 'the biggest storm ever to hit the U.S. mainland,' which is a reminder of how odd our weather has been in this hottest year in American history," 350.org founder Bill McKibben said in a statement. 350.org contends that a "serious discussion" on climate change is missing both from the presidential campaigns and the media.

To date, this has been the hottest year in the U.S. going back to when record keeping started in the 1880s. In addition, July was the hottest month ever in the U.S., even beating records set during the Dust Bowl.

This record heat is a having an impact. Recent studies have found that climate change is likely increasing the chances of especially intense hurricanes, although the jury is still out on whether or not climate change will increase the chances of more hurricanes in general.

Rising sea levels are also increasing the chances of catastrophic storm surges, like those seen during Hurricane Sandy in New York City. According to preliminary reports, lower Manhattan suffered a storm surge of 14 feet. In addition, warmer oceanic waters increase evaporation, meaning storms like Hurricane Sandy pick up more precipitation leading to greater rainfall. Finally warmer weather is also increasing the chances of hurricanes at the very beginning and end of the normal hurricane season.

The waters of the Atlantic Ocean were particularly warm ahead of Hurricane Sandy, around 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, allowing the storm to pick up extra water vapor ahead of landfall. […]

The U.S. has long dragged its feet on climate action, especially compared to other wealthier nations. Although comprehensive climate and energy legislation was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009, it could not find the needed votes in the U.S. Senate and died quietly in 2010. Since then President Barack Obama has only infrequently mentioned climate change, while many Republicans continue to deny that climate change is occurring or is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. […]

Hours before Hurricane Sandy hit, activists protested climate inaction in Times Square

U.S. drought-year corn yields, 2007-2012. The devastating U.S. drought of 2012 and ensuing crop disease are upending traditional grain movement patterns, with dozens of trains and barges shipping North Dakota or Mississippi corn into the Corn Belt rather than out to the coasts. USDA / Reuters

By Julie Ingwersen, with additional reporting by Karl Plume and K.T. Arasu in Chicago; Editing by Dale Hudson
29 October 2012

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The devastating U.S. drought and ensuing crop disease are upending traditional grain movement patterns, with dozens of trains and barges shipping North Dakota or Mississippi corn into the Corn Belt rather than out to the coasts.

Processors and ethanol producers in No. 2 corn state Illinois, where the average corn yield was the lowest in nearly 25 years, are "importing" millions of bushels of the grain - an unprecedented volume - from North Dakota, which produced a record crop this year, trade sources said. Northern corn is even reaching key livestock states such as Texas and Oklahoma.

Some southern states, which were also spared the worst of the most extensive drought in half a century this year, are shipping barges of corn up the Mississippi River to the interior, reversing the normal trade flow, traders say.

While atypical shipments are not unheard of in the agricultural market, traders say the scale of this year's upheaval is unprecedented. It is being fueled both by the dramatic difference between drought-hit Midwest crops and bumper harvests in fringe states, as well as the prevalence of a naturally occurring toxin, aflatoxin, that can harm livestock.

The unusual grain flow could foreshadow a scramble for quality corn supplies in the months to come as end-users work through the smallest U.S. harvest in six years. By next September, corn stocks are projected to drop to just 5.5 percent of annual demand, the bare minimum of operational requirements.

The market dislocations could benefit logistics firms and big merchants such as Cargill, which reported a four-fold rise in earnings this month and said "atypical trade flows" would spur more demand for its trading expertise.

Railway companies, which are already reaping windfall profits from upheaval in the oil market, are also moving quickly to take advantage of the scramble in grain trading.

BNSF Railway last month posted rates on its website for shuttle services from Minnesota and the Dakotas to Illinois, which traders said was a first for the route. BNSF said it changes rates based on consumer demand and market conditions but declined to comment further.

Canadian Pacific Railroad has responded to "increased demand for corn from the Northern Plains to be moved to eastern parts of the country", a spokesman said, declining further comment.

Signs of a supply squeeze were already evident in global trading patterns, with U.S. livestock producers booking corn from Brazil in the wake of soaring feed costs.

But they have become more evident in the cash market for U.S. grains since the Midwest harvest began in September, illuminating the uneven impact of the drought.

The average 2012 corn yield in Illinois is projected at 98 bushels per acre, a 24-year low. By contrast, producers at the edges of the Corn Belt grew record or near-record crops with excellent quality. Production in North Dakota surged 80 percent; Mississippi's yield jumped to a record high.

"Test weights are fantastic. We have never seen corn like this in our lives," said David Fiebiger, manager of the Finley Farmers Elevator in North Dakota, a shuttle-loading facility that has dispatched one train of corn to the Midwest. […]

In aftermath of drought, U.S. corn movement turns upside down

Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. © Gary Braasch / worldviewofglobalwarming.org

By Jeremy Hance
29 October 2012

(mongabay.com) – Twelve miles off shore from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge floats a seemingly tiny man-made device—at least from an airplane—but it's actually a 160-foot high Shell Dutch Royal oil drilling rig. While the hugely controversial plan to drill for oil in the Arctic ocean was postponed this year due to a variety of mishaps and delays, the Shell rig is expected to be in the area until the end of month drilling top holes in the ocean floor to prep oil drilling next year.

Photographer Gary Braasch writes of his photos, "the public probably does not realize how close this new off-shore well site is to a place they consider protected."

Environmentalists and indigenous groups have repeatedly blasted plans to drill offshore in the Arctic, saying Shell was not prepared to deal with an oil spill in these extreme conditions, which include massive storms and floating ice. Some have also criticized plans to drill for more fossil fuels in the Arctic where the region's seasonal sea ice has just hit another record low due to climate change.

Picture of the day: Shell drilling rig within view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Cover of the FAO report, 'Fisheries and the right to food: Implementing the right to food in national fisheries legislation', October 2012.By Alister Doyle; Editing by Andrew Osborn
30 October 2012

OSLO (Reuters) – "Ocean grabbing" or aggressive industrial fishing by foreign fleets is a threat to food security in developing nations where governments should do more to promote local, small-scale fisheries, a study by a U.N. expert said on Tuesday.

The report said emerging nations should tighten rules for access to their waters by an industrial fleet that is rapidly growing and includes vessels from China, Russia, the European Union, the United States and Japan.

"Ocean-grabbing is taking place," Olivier de Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food and the report's author, told Reuters. "It's like land-grabbing, just less discussed and less visible."

The 47-page report on "Fisheries and the Right to Food" [pdf], which said 15 percent of all animal protein consumed worldwide is from fish, will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly.

De Schutter said ocean grabbing involved "shady access agreements that harm small-scale fishers, unreported catch, incursions into protected waters, and the diversion of resources away from local populations."

The report cited the example of islands in the western and central Pacific that get only about 6 percent of the value of a $3 billion tuna fishery off their coasts. Foreign fishing fleets get the rest.

Equally, Guinea-Bissau nets less than 2 percent of the value of the fish caught off its coast under a deal with the EU. De Schutter said some countries where industrial fleets were based were already taking steps to tighten laws.

"What's getting worse is that the capacity of industrial fishing fleets is increasing," he said. Governments give an estimated $30-34 billion in subsidies to fishing each year.

That money is often spent on boat-building or fuel that skews competition.

"We need to do more to reduce the capacity of the industrial fishing fleets and to manage the fish stocks in a much more sustainable way," said de Schutter. Food security is also at risk from threats such as climate change and pollution, he said.

De Schutter said aquaculture was disproportionately concentrated in Asia which is responsible for 88 percent of all production. "Extremely little has been done in Africa and Latin America in particular. There is a huge potential there," he said.

Fisheries received less attention than farming, he suggested, partly because the sector employed only about 200 million people globally. By contrast, the world has 1.5 billion small-scale farmers, he said.

The report said that local fishing was more efficient and less wasteful than industrial fishing, urging measures to promote small-scale fishing such as the creation of "artisanal fishing zones".

"Small-scale fishers actually catch more fish per gallon of fuel than industrial fleets, and discard fewer fish," it said. It praised some measures which have already been taken to promote local fishing - such as in Cambodia's biggest lake or off the Maldives.

Estimates of the scale of illegal catches range from 10-28 million metric tons, while some 7.3 million metric tons, or almost 10 percent of global wild fish catches were discarded as unwanted by-catches every year, the report said.

It said industrial fishing was by far the most wasteful.

Total global fish production was about 143 million metric tons - 90 million from wild fish catches and 53 million from fish farming, the report said.

De Schutter said fish farming would have to expand to feed a rising world population, now just above 7 billion. Population growth would raise demand by a forecast 27 million metric tons over the next two decades, he said.

U.N. urges foreign fishing fleets to halt "ocean grabbing"

Rainforest on the Masoala Peninsula, Madagascar, in October 2012. Masoala suffered from widespread rosewood logging in 2009 and 2010. mongabay.com

25 October 2012 (mongabay.com) – Timber traders in Madagascar are smuggling illegally logged rosewood despite an official export ban, alleges a new report published by a Malagasy researcher.

The report, authored by Hery Randriamalala and based on press clippings, cargo manifests, and eye-witness accounts, indicates that traders are covertly reducing rosewood stockpiles accumulated during a frenzy of illegal logging in the aftermath of the 2009 coup that displaced Malagasy President Marc Ravalomanana. Rosewood logs are ferried by small boats to "mother ships" anchored just out of site from beaches in northeastern Madagascar. Another approach involves falsifying cargo manifests, according to the report, which details an April incident where containers full of rosewood were labeled as containing ilmenite mined by a Chinese mining company.

The report names names, including two prominent rosewood traders, Jean-Pierre Laisoa and Arland Ramialison, which it says own the "mother ships" that carry rosewood to China, the primary market for Madagascar rosewood. It also alleges a connection between rosewood smuggling and a key advisor to Andry Rajoelina, the President of Madagascar’s High Transition Authority, which seized power after the 2009 coup. It notes the advisor, Mamy Ravatomanga, is the head of SODIAT, the shipping firm involved in the ilmenite incident.

"By stating 'ilmenite' on the manifests, the containers avoid scrutiny by customs officials in Toamasina," states the report. "This system is referred to as the ‘yellow channel’ because it appears to be dedicated to supplying Chinese operators. This fast lane was operational by November 2011, with orders coming directly from the head of customs. … The successful operation of [the] ‘yellow channel’ requires many accomplices at many levels in the Administration."

Randriamalala's report adds that a China-based company earlier this year proposed to buy all of Madagascar's rosewood stocks. That proposal was allegedly discussed during an April 2012 meeting in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, that was attended by several prominent officials, including Rajoelina.

The report concludes by speculating that "rosewood will fund the next electoral campaign for one of the presidential candidates".

During a recent visit to Madagascar, Mongabay.com was unable to independently assess the validity of the report's claims. However Randriamalala has previously published papers on Madagascar's rosewood trade, including a comprehensive overview in the journal Madagascar Conservation & Development.

Logging of rosewood and ebony has hit Madagascar's endangered rainforests hard. In 2009 and 2010 loggers invaded several of Madagascar's most biodiverse rainforest parks, extracting timber, hunting wildlife, and threatening conservation workers and local communities. Logging has since been linked to a rise in a commercial bushmeat trade for lemurs.

CITATION: Hery Randriamalala, “Madagascar Rosewood: Ongoing, covert exporting: one of the Malagasy president’s close advisors is involved”, October 2012.

Smuggling of illegally logged rosewood in Madagascar continues, alleges report

Most polluted cities in the United States in 2012, from the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2012 report.

Thanks to the Clean Air Act, we’ve made great progress in cleaning up air pollution from across the U.S. The State of the Air 2012 shows that the air quality in many places has improved, but that over 127 million people—41 percent of the nation—still suffer pollution levels that are too often dangerous to breathe. Unhealthy air remains a threat to the lives and health of millions of people in the United States, despite great progress. Air pollution lingers as a widespread and dangerous reality even as some seek to weaken the Clean Air Act, the public health law that has driven the cuts in pollution since 1970.

  • More than 4 in 10 people (41%) in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Over 127.2 million Americans live in the 235 counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution in the form of either ozone or short-term or year-round levels of particles.
  • Over 5.7 million people (1.9%) in the United States live in six counties with unhealthful levels of all three: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution.
  • The strongest improvement came in reducing ozone smog levels across the nation. More than half of the country’s most-smog-polluted cities experienced their best year yet. Twenty two of the 25 cities with the most ozone pollution improved their air quality over the past year’s report. More than half of the country’s most smog-polluted cities experienced their best year yet. Still, nearly four in ten people in the U.S. (37.8%) live in areas with unhealthful levels of ozone pollution.
  • All but two cities with the most year-round particle pollution (sometimes called soot) improved over the previous report. Seventeen of those cities reported their best-ever particle pollution levels.
  • Success in reducing short-term particle pollution levels varied among metro areas. Thirteen of the most polluted cities saw improvement compared to last year’s report, while twelve had worse problems with these spikes in particle levels.

The State of the Air 2012 report looks at levels of ozone and particle pollution found in official monitoring sites across the United States in 2008, 2009, and 2010. The report uses the most current quality-assured nationwide data available for these analyses.

For particle pollution, the report examines fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in two different ways: averaged year-round (annual average) and over short-term levels (24-hour). For both ozone and short-term particle pollution, the analysis uses a weighted average number of days that allows recognition of places with higher levels of pollution. For the year-round particle pollution rankings, the report uses averages calculated and reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For comparison, the State of the Air 2011 report covered data from 2007, 2008, and 2009.

State of the Air 2012 key findings

Lion with a poacher's snare around its neck. Egil Droge / Zambian Carnivore Program via Panthera and Mongabay

By Jeremy Hance
25 October 2012

(mongabay.com) – Bushmeat hunting has become a grave concern for species in West and Central Africa, but a new report notes that lesser-known illegal hunting in Africa's iconic savannas is also decimating some animals. Surprisingly, illegal hunting across eastern and southern Africa is hitting big predators particularly hard, such as cheetah, lion, leopard, and wild dog. Although rarely targets of hunters, these predators are running out of food due to overhunting and, in addition, often becoming victims of snares set out for other species.

"Snaring is the most common illegal hunting method and is particularly undesirable from a conservation perspective as it is highly effective, difficult to control, unselective in terms of the genders or species of animals captured, wasteful, and has severe animal welfare implications," reads the report [pdf] which was co-authored by Panthera, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The report finds that demand for bushmeat is growing in both eastern and southern Africa as populations boom – human populations in Africa are growing faster than anywhere else in the world – and protected areas suffer from ongoing human encroachment. In addition, bushmeat is becoming seen as a "luxury" good in urban centers, pushing some in rural communities to see illegal hunting as a new livelihood where there are few.

The bushmeat boom, which has not been largely studied across eastern and southern Africa, has put the continents big predators on notice, according to the report.

"Most cheetahs and African wild dogs occur outside protected areas, coexisting with people and their livestock, and are very vulnerable to snaring and the loss of their wild prey," says Netty Purchase with both ZSL and WCS.

Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, while African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) are considered Endangered. Africa's most well-known top predator, the lion (Panthera leo), is listed as Vulnerable with data showing it has plunged by 30 percent since 1990. Leopards (Panthera pardus) are probably doing the best of the four, and are listed as Near Threatened. All of these predators face other threats beyond illegal hunting—including habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and in some cases trophy hunting—but an overall decline in prey and injuries or death caused by snare cannot be overstated. For example, in Mozambique's Niassa Reserve over half of lion mortalities are caused by snares.

The report notes that some areas have undergone "empty savanna syndrome," similar to the more well-known "empty forest syndrome." The ecosystem is there, but large wild mammals are simply gone due to unregulated over-hunting. In some countries, hunters have begun turning to smaller animals, as larger-bodied mammals have vanished. […]

Illegal hunting threatens iconic animals across Africa's great savannas, especially predators

John Bolton was one of 10 writers who were published in The Wall Street Journal op-eds without disclosing their roles as advisers to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Fox News

By ERIC HANANOKI
19 September 2012

(Media Matters) – The Wall Street Journal has published op-eds from 10 writers without disclosing their roles as advisers to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. The op-eds attack President Obama and his administration or discuss Romney on a range of topics like the economy, health care, education and foreign policy.

According to a Media Matters review, the Journal published a total of 23 pieces from the following Romney advisers without disclosing their campaign ties: John Bolton; Max Boot; Lee A. Casey; Paula Dobriansky; Mary Ann Glendon; Glenn Hubbard; Michael Mukasey; Paul E. Peterson; David B. Rivkin Jr.; and Martin West. In several instances, the Journal failed to disclose an op-ed writer's connection despite its own news section reporting that the writer is advising Romney.

With respect to one writer, the Journal disclosed his ties to the campaign in an initial op-ed but failed to do so in subsequent op-eds. With regard to another, the paper failed to disclose the campaign ties in an initial op-ed but did do so in later pieces. The eight remaining writers have not had their Romney connections disclosed in any of their op-eds following the publication of those ties, according to Media Matters' review.

Media Matters previously documented that the Journal regularly fails to disclose columnist Karl Rove's ties to the super PAC American Crossroads and its related organization Crossroads GPS, which are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat President Obama and other Democratic candidates. The paper's lack of disclosure on Rove has drawn criticism from some of America's top editorial page editors as well as Trevor Potter, who served as general counsel to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaigns.

Fox News, which, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp., has had similar problems. There have been numerous instances in which the network has hosted Romney advisers John Bolton, Elaine Chao, Jay Sekulow, and Walid Phares without disclosing their ties.

Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot and spokespersons for the paper and for News Corp. did not respond to requests for comment.

This post will be updated as we discover new examples of the Journal failing to disclose Romney advisers writing in its pages. 

Role with Romney campaign: Foreign policy adviser. [MittRomney.com, 3/27/12; The New York Times, 6/27/12]; Campaign surrogate. [MittRomney.com, 8/11/12; 8/23/12; Palm Beach Post, 9/9/12]

The WSJ reported in a July 22 article, headlined, "Romney's Top Foreign-Policy Advisers: Moderates, Neocons": "The neoconservative wing is represented but doesn't dominate the group. While former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton offers advice, he isn't one of the most prominent figures."

WSJ non-disclosure: Two op-eds.

In an April 29 op-ed about President Obama's policy with regard to Syria, the Journal disclosed that Bolton "advises Mitt Romney's presidential campaign." That note was not included in two later Bolton op-eds despite discussion of Obama in those pieces:

  • A July 17 op-ed questioned President Obama's support of the Law of the Sea Treaty. Bolton also attacked the U.S. for a "lack of effective" oversight of the United Nations.
  • A September 10 op-ed criticized President Obama over foreign policy and allegedly weakening the U.S. Navy.

In those two op-eds, the WSJ identified Bolton as: "Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Simon & Schuster, 2007)." […]

Ten Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Writers Who Weren't Disclosed As Romney Advisers

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Planted oil palm, oil palm leases, timber leases, and protected areas in Kalimantan. Carlson, et al., 2012

By Jeremy Hance
8 October 2012

(mongabay.com) – From 1990 to 2010 almost all palm oil expansion in Kalimantan came at the expense of forest cover, according to the most detailed look yet at the oil palm industry in the Indonesian state, published in Nature: Climate Change. Palm oil plantations now cover 31,640 square kilometers of the state, having expanded nearly 300 percent since 2000. The forest loss led to the emission of 0.41 gigatons of carbon, more than Indonesia's total industrial emissions produced in a year. Furthermore the scientists warn that if all current leases were converted by 2020, over a third of Kalimantan's lowland forests outside of protected areas would become plantations and nearly quadruple emissions.

"Carbon emissions solely from oil palm industries may therefore constrain opportunities to meet Indonesia's pledged 26% reduction below projected 2020 greenhouse gas emissions levels," the researchers write. Currently, over 75 percent of Indonesia's emissions are connected to land use change. To help slow its runaway emissions, Indonesia has kick-started a moratorium on forest clearing with a billion dollars in funding from Norway, however the moratorium has been widely critiqued for not being strong enough to slow rampant deforestation.

Delving into unprecedented detail, the researchers calculated that 47 percent of oil palm plantation development from 1990 to 2010 in Kalimantan was at the expense of intact forests, 22 percent at secondary or logged forests, and 21 percent at agroforests, a mix of agricultural land and forests. Only 10 percent of expansion occurred in non-forested areas.
 
"A major breakthrough occurred when we were able to discern not only forests and non-forested lands, but also logged forests, as well as mosaics of rice fields, rubber stands, fruit gardens and mature secondary forests used by smallholder farmers for their livelihoods," explains Kimberly Carlson, a Yale doctoral student and lead author of the study. "With this information, we were able to develop robust carbon bookkeeping accounts to quantify carbon emissions from oil palm development."

From 1990-2000 deforestation for plantations resulted in 0.09 gigatons of carbon, but expanding plantations increased that by over 300 percent during the last decade to 0.32 gigatons.

Carlson and her team used satellite imagery and new vegetation classification technology created by Gregory Asner from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, who appears as a co-author in order to compile just how much forest was lost and carbon emitted.

After crunching the number for 1990-2010, the team then moved onto the future of the palm oil industry and forests in Kalimantan. Gathering oil palm land leases, the scientists found that only 20 percent of current leases had been developed. Unplanted leases still covered 93,844 square kilometers, an area larger than Hungary.

"Leases are awarded without independent assessments of land use and carbon, and are not available for public review," the authors write. "Carbon emissions from undeveloped leases have therefore remained concealed and excluded from national emission projections."

The development of all of these hidden leases, many of which remain unknown to locals as well, would result in 1.52 gigatons of carbon released into the atmosphere. Furthermore oil palm plantations would then cover 34 percent of land in Kalimantan outside protected areas, which currently cover about 10 percent.

"These plantation leases are an unprecedented 'grand-scale experiment' replacing forests with exotic palm monocultures," says co-author Lisa M. Curran, a professor of ecological anthropology at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "We may see tipping points in forest conversion where critical biophysical functions are disrupted, leaving the region increasingly vulnerable to droughts, fires and floods."

The study finds that protecting peatlands and forests could greatly decrease projected emissions. Protecting peatlands would reduce estimated emissions over the next decade by 37-45 percent, while protecting forests actually decreased emissions from 71-111 percent. Since aging oil palm plantations store some carbon, a gain in carbon is possible if natural forests are protected. Furthermore, the study found that REDD+ programs could be economically competitive with oil palm. […]

90 percent of oil palm plantations came at expense of forest in Kalimantan

Electronic eavesdropping authorizations ('pen register' and 'trap and trace') by the U.S. Justice Department, 2004-2011. aclu.org

By Naomi Gilens, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project
27 September 2012

Justice Department documents released today by the ACLU reveal that federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring Americans’ electronic communications, and doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability.

The documents, handed over by the government only after months of litigation, are the attorney general’s 2010 and 2011 reports on the use of “pen register” and “trap and trace” surveillance powers. The reports show a dramatic increase in the use of these surveillance tools, which are used to gather information about telephone, email, and other Internet communications. The revelations underscore the importance of regulating and overseeing the government’s surveillance power. (Our original Freedom of Information Act request and our legal complaint are online.)

Pen register and trap and trace devices are powerfully invasive surveillance tools that were, twenty years ago, physical devices that attached to telephone lines in order to covertly record the incoming and outgoing numbers dialed. Today, no special equipment is required to record this information, as interception capabilities are built into phone companies’ call-routing hardware.

Pen register and trap and trace devices now generally refer to the surveillance of information about—rather than the contents of—communications. Pen registers capture outgoing data, while trap and trace devices capture incoming data. This still includes the phone numbers of incoming and outgoing telephone calls and the time, date, and length of those calls. But the government now also uses this authority to intercept the “to” and “from” addresses of email messages, records about instant message conversations, non-content data associated with social networking identities, and at least some information about the websites that you visit (it isn't entirely clear where the government draws the line between the content of a communication and information about a communication when it comes to the addresses of websites). […]

During the past two years, there has also been an increase in the number of pen register and trap and trace orders targeting email and network communications data. While this type of Internet surveillance tool remains relatively rare, its use is increasing exponentially. The number of authorizations the Justice Department received to use these devices on individuals’ email and network data increased 361% between 2009 and 2011.

The sharp increase in the use of pen register and trap and trace orders is the latest example of the skyrocketing spying on Americans’ electronic communications. Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that cellphone carriers received 1.3 million demands for subscriber information in 2011 alone. And an ACLU public records project revealed that police departments around the country large and small engage in cell phone location tracking. […]

New Justice Department Documents Show Huge Increase in Warrantless Electronic Surveillance

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The Wolverine Glacier, near Alaska's south-central coastline, in a photograph from Sept. 2003. A new study determined the total volume of ice tied up in the glaciers worldwide. LiveScience.com

By Becky Oskin, OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer
23 October 2012

(LiveScience.com) – The relatively small glaciers that drape the planet's mountains will play an important role in future sea level rise, according to a new study that estimated glaciers' collective size.
 
Researchers calculated the ice thickness for 171,000 glaciers worldwide, excluding the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which hold the bulk of Earth's frozen water. Through a combination of direct satellite observations and modeling, they determined the total volume of ice tied up in the glaciers is nearly 41,000 cubic miles (170,000 cubic kilometers), plus or minus 5,000 cubic miles (21,000 cubic km).

If all the glaciers were to melt, global sea levels would rise almost 17 inches (43 centimeters), the scientists found.

The study, published in the 11 October 2012 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research, is an improvement on previous estimates of the global ice volume because it uses a physical approach, said lead study author Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

The glacier count comes from the recently released Randolph Glacier Inventory and global topography from NASA satellite data.

"To date, the volume of glaciers was only estimated using very simple empirical equations with high uncertainties," Huss told OurAmazingPlanet in an email interview. "Our new method not only provides an estimate of the ice volume, but allows calculating local ice thickness on a fine grid for each of the 200,000 glaciers worldwide," he said. [Image Gallery: Glaciers Before and After]

Compared with the potential sea level rise from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the volume of land-based glaciers is relatively small, Huss said. For example, completely melting the Greenland ice sheet would add 23 feet (7 meters) to the average global sea level, according to a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But mountain glaciers are still a concern because they "react very fast to higher temperatures and a considerable retreat is very likely in the next decades," Huss said. […]

World's Glaciers Have New Size Estimate

Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou talks during the UNCTAD XIII opening ceremony in Doha 21 April 2012. Mohammed Dabbous / REUTERS

NIAMEY, 23 October 2012 (Reuters) – Niger said on Monday it will launch a $110 million project to counter the impact of rapid expansion of deserts and increasingly unpredictable rains in one of the world's poorest countries.

"The programme aims to test strategies that will help us integrate climate risk and adapt climate change into our national planning," Abdou Souley, spokesman for Niger's planning and community development ministry, said.

The five-year programme aims to improve community use of water resources and alter herding and wood harvesting patterns to protect vegetation in the West African state. Souley said the program would be funded through loans and donations.

Niger earlier this month announced a separate $620 million plan to boost agriculture this season, including through the development of enhanced irrigation techniques.

The vast country is already three-quarters desert, but increasingly arid weather has seen desert sands advancing south at a rate of about 10 km (six miles) per year.

More than 18 million people, including at least six million people in Niger, are suffering from food shortages this year due to last season's failed harvest.

Impoverished Niger creates fund to fight desert spread

The crustacean Grammarus locusta. Wikipedia

24 October 2012 (PhysOrg) – It is tragic whenever any species is lost. Now it appears that the impact of species loss is far-reaching, much more than previously thought. The symbiotic relationships that develop in the environment as a result of high biodiversity make ecosystems more resilient to change. The loss of a species can knock that ecosystem out of balance, weakening its resilience thereby making it more susceptible to events such as climate change. These findings were revealed in a new study from biologists at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and published in the journal Ecology Letters.

The impact of climate change is likely to be much worse if species are lost; this is the finding from a group of researchers. Their recently published study suggests that high biodiversity acts as an insurance policy for nature and society alike as it increases the likelihood that at least some species will be sufficiently resilient to sustain important functions such as water purification and crop pollination in a changing environment.

“It's the same principle as an investment portfolio - you'd be mad to put all your eggs in one basket,” says researcher Johan Eklöf.

The researchers' experiments with eelgrass meadows in shallow inlets on the west coast of Sweden reveal that climate change can exacerbate the negative effects of losing sensitive species, and that the insurance effect of biodiversity may be weaker than what we typically assume. Eelgrass meadows in shallow inlets are important nursery habitats for cod and since the early 1980s the prevalence of eelgrass has fallen dramatically along the Bohuslän coast.

This is thought to be due, in part, to eutrophication - the response of an ecosystem to the addition of artificial or natural substances. When eutrophication occurs it favours mats of filamentous “nuisance” algae which shade and suffocate the eelgrass. The loss of cod in the area, in part has also resulted in a huge increase in numbers of smaller predatory fish. These predatory fish, in turn, reduce numbers of Grammarus locusta, herbivorous crustaceans which are effective grazers that normally control the filamentous algae.

This type of cascade effect has become increasingly common not only in the world's seas and oceans, but also on land and many types of predator have been wiped out by hunting or fishing. What worries the researchers is that theory and observations would indicate that these effects could magnify the effects of global warming, which favours heat-tolerant but grazing-sensitive plants such as filamentous algae.

At the Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences' Kristineberg Marine Research Station on Gullmarsfjorden, researchers from the University of Gothenburg's Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences have developed miniature ecosystems in outdoor aquariums and have been investigating how future ocean warming and ocean acidification could affect the balance between eelgrass and filamentous algae.

The effects were unexpectedly clear and unambiguous: it was the diversity of algal herbivores that determined the extent to which the ecosystem was affected by warming and acidification.

“High diversity meant that neither warming nor acidification had any real effect as the algae were eaten before they managed to grow and shade the eelgrass,' says researcher and biologist Johan Eklöf, who headed up the study. 'But when we simultaneously simulated the effects of fishing and removed the effective but vulnerable herbivore Grammarus locusta, the algae took over the ecosystem - especially in the warmer conditions.” […]

Wiping out species decreases resilience to climate change

Aerial view of the Dead Sea's receding shoreline. About one-third of the Dead Sea’s natural surface area has disappeared and sinkholes are increasingly common as the restorative waters shrink amid drought, diversion of water for agriculture, largely from the Jordan River, and industry pumping. Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images

By Gwen Ackerman
23 October 2012

The Dead Sea is shrinking at a record rate, prompting calls for Israel and Jordan to stop fertilizer makers from siphoning so much of the water whose restorative powers have attracted visitors since biblical times.

The salty inland lake bordering the nations dropped a record 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) over the last 12 months because of industry use and evaporation, the Hydrological Service of Israel said. That’s the steepest Dead Sea decline since data-keeping started in the 1950s. Half the drop was caused by Israel Chemicals Ltd. (ICL) and Jordan’s Arab Potash Co. (APOT), said Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of the Friends of Earth Middle East.

“This is unacceptable and speaks to the urgency of the need to force industry to change their extraction process,” Bromberg said in an interview from Tel Aviv.

The makers of potash, a raw material for fertilizer, are competing for water with a centuries-old tourism industry on the Dead Sea, Israel’s most crowded leisure destination last year with 857,000 visitors. That’s more packed than Tel Aviv and Eilat’s beach resorts, the Tourism Ministry said.

It isn’t only pumping causing the degradation of the Dead Sea, a biblical refuge for King David. Agriculture diverts water for crops from the Jordan River that feeds into the Dead Sea, adding to a decline that’s created potentially life-threatening sinkholes by the shore.

On the north shore of the Dead Sea, 75 kilometers (47 miles) long 50 years ago and 55 kilometers now according to the environmental group, spas offer the medicinal benefits of mud baths and mineral springs. Those wanting to bob in waters about 10 times as salty as the ocean must either ride in a cart for several minutes or take a hike that’s a little longer.

Dead Sea Works, owned by Israel Chemicals, denied any increased pumping, saying it has used 150 million to 170 million cubic meters a year from the sea for two decades.

“The main reason for the declining sea level is the increased usage of the water that used to flow to the Dead Sea in the past, especially from the Jordan River, by all countries in the region,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

It’s already paying to use Dead Sea water through royalties that it said have doubled since the beginning of the year, Dead Sea Works said. Israel Chemicals agreed in December that royalty payments on potash production above certain levels would double to 10 percent.

“Charging the Dead Sea Works per water usage by cubic meter will not affect the pumping volume since the amount of pumping is a function of the evaporation ponds’ surface area and changing climate conditions alone,” it said.

“We’re keen on doing all possible to preserve the Dead Sea, which is shrinking annually,” Issa Shboul, spokesperson of Jordan’s Ministry of Environment, said yesterday by phone.

“We regularly request the potash companies and other companies that benefit from the Dead Sea water for their business to adopt the latest technological advances to reduce the negative impact on the Dead Sea level,” Shboul said. […]

About one-third of the Dead Sea’s surface area has disappeared and sinkholes are increasingly common as the waters shrink amid drought, agricultural diversion, largely from the Jordan River, and pumping to extract minerals for fertilizers. […]

Dead Sea’s Record Loss Grows With Potash Makers Demand

A dead sperm whale floating in the Gulf of Mexico, seen from the deck of NOAA ship Pisces on 15 June 2010. This was the first confirmed sighting of a dead whale since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April that year. NOAA via guardian.co.uk

By Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, www.guardian.co.uk
24 October 2012

The images from the summer of 2010 were undoubtedly gruesome: the carcass of a young sperm whale, decayed and partially eaten by sharks, sighted at sea south of the Deepwater Horizon oil well.

It was the first confirmed sighting of a dead whale since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April that year – a time of huge public interest in the fate of whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and other threatened animals – and yet US government officials suppressed the first reports of the discovery and blocked all images until now.

The photographs, along with a cache of emails obtained by the campaign group Greenpeace under freedom of information provisions and made available to the Guardian, offer a rare glimpse into how many whales came into close contact with the gushing BP well during the oil spill.

They also show Obama administration officials tightly controlling information about whales and other wildlife caught up in the disaster.

The plight of wildlife caught up in the oil spill – especially endangered species such as sea turtles and sperm whales – has enormous financial implications for BP.

The oil company asked a judge in New Orleans this week to finalise its $7.8bn (£4.8bn) settlement for economic damages arising from the spill. But BP still faces claims from the federal government for environmental damages, and accounting for wildlife killed as a direct result of the spill – from dolphins to turtles to whales – will be critical to the final bill.

"In the settlement with BP, an endangered species or any animal killed by the spill matters," said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace.

That looming legal struggle was apparently already on the minds of officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) when crew aboard the research vessel, Pisces, spotted a dead sperm whale on the morning of 15 June 2010.

The discovery was the first confirmed sighting of a dead whale since the blow-out on the Deepwater Horizon that April.

The carcass, which was decomposed and had been fed on by sharks, was spotted about 77 miles south of the Deepwater Horizon oil site.

Meanwhile, NOAA observers on another vessel at the well site that same day spotted five whales, including a juvenile, covered in oil. "Observers noticed that the young whale was covered in oil sheen," the detection report notes. "It is very possible that these adults were covered in the same oil as the juvenile whale was covered in as the water quality was very poor with iridescent sheens all over the surface."

The detection report goes on to describe a large plume of smoke rising from the water, from the controlled burns used to stop the oil from reaching the shoreline. "Small brown globs of what appear to be oil and possibly oil dispersant infiltrate the water."

There is no further indication in the email about what happened to the group of whales – or indeed any of the whales that may have been exposed to BP oil.

"Unless animals are tagged, they are nearly impossible to relocate as they move great distances quickly and stay submerged for prolonged periods of time," a NOAA spokesman, Scott Smullen, said in an email.

In any event, the government would not disclose how many – if any – whales might have died or been directly affected by the BP oil spill because of legal reasons, he said. "Due to ongoing litigation issues, we are not able to discuss this aspect of our investigation," Smullen wrote in an email on Wednesday.

In contrast, the discovery of the decomposed carcass set off a flurry of emails – with repeated instructions from NOAA officials to crew aboard the Pisces not to release information or photographs. […]

The gag order rankled with some aboard the Pisces, as an 16 June 2010 email from the ship's commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Adams suggests. […]

US downplayed effect of Deepwater oil spill on whales, emails reveal

Airplanes on Airfield, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Researchers say that global warming has caused the glacial ice on the runway to turn to mush just four years after it was built for about £30 million. ALAMY

By Jonathan Pearlman
24 October 2012

Sydney (The Telegraph) – Researchers said global warming has caused the glacial ice on the runway to turn to mush just four years after it was built for about £30 million. It was due to receive about 20 flights each summer but only six have been able to land in the past two years.

The runway was supposed to service Australia's three stations on the continent, Casey, Davis, and Mawson. The stations can also be supplied via an American runway or by ships, which take about a fortnight to arrive from Tasmania. The flights take less than five hours.

The Australian Antarctic Division said global warming was causing the ice to melt faster than had been expected. Six flights are due to land on the runway in the coming months but none will be permitted in January.

"There (are) signs there's a long-term warming trend, global warming," Tony Fleming, the division's director, told ABC Radio.

"That will make it more difficult to operate this runway in the future Once it gets to above minus five degrees in the ice, then there are safety parameters which mean we can't [land] aircraft on that." Scientists say temperatures have risen about two degrees in the past 50 years in the Antarctic peninsula - almost triple that of the global temperature rise. […]

Australia's Antarctic airstrip melts

 

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