Aerial view of the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, Wunderphoto submitted by AZMountaineer21.

By Dr. Jeff Masters 
31 December 2012

The 2012 U.S. fire season was the 3rd worst in U.S. history, with 9.2 million acres burned – an area larger than the state of Maryland. Since the National Interagency Fire Center began keeping records in 1960, only two years have seen more area burned – 2006, when 9.9 million acres burned, and 2007, when 9.3 million acres burned. Although the 2012 fire season was close to a record for most acreage burned, the total number of fires – 55,505 – was the lowest on record, going back to 1960, said scientists at a December 2012 press briefing at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. The average U.S. fire size in 2012 was the highest on record. A September 18, 2012 report, The Age of Western Wildfires, published by the non-profit research group Climate Central, found that the number of large and very large fires on Forest Service land is increasingly dramatically. Compared to the average year in the 1970s, during the past decade there were seven times as many fires larger than 10,000 acres each year, and nearly five times as many fires larger than 25,000 acres. On average, wildfires burn twice as much land area each year as they did 40 years ago, and the burn season is two and a half months longer than 40 years ago. The increase in large fires is correlated with rising temperatures and earlier snow melt due to climate change, but fire suppression policies which leave more timber to burn may also be a factor.

The Top 5 U.S. Wildfires of 2012
Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, New Mexico: Largest fire in New Mexico history

The Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire started as two fires that merged, both caused by lightning. The Whitewater fire was first detected on May 16th, and the smaller Baldy fire was detected a few days earlier on May 9th. These fires then merged on May 24th and together burned a total of 297,845 acres until it was 100% contained on July 23th. Mid-July rain showers helped fire crew contain this fire. This fire was difficult to contain due to rugged terrain with gusty winds, and relative humidity less than 3%. The fire consumed timber, mixed conifer, poderosa pine, pinon/juniper, and grasses. The suppression costs of the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire surpassed $23 million, according to the GACC. This is the largest fire in New Mexico history, which surpassed the previous record of 150,000 acres consumed by the Las Conchas Fire in 2011. […]

The Exceptional U.S. Wildfire Season of 2012

Aerial view of coastal flooding in Mantoloking, New Jersey, after Hurricane Sandy, taken from a New Jersey Air National Guard Helicopter. NJNG / Scott Anema

By Andrew Freedman, Michael Lemonick, and Dan Yawitz
27 December 2012

(Climate Central) – From unprecedented heat waves that shattered "Dust Bowl" era records from the 1930s, to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated coastal New Jersey and New York, 2012 was the year Mother Nature had it out for the U.S. No country on Earth rivaled the U.S. in 2012 in terms of extreme weather and climate events, as one rare episode after another rocked the country.

Many served to highlight the growing role that global warming may be playing in tipping the odds in favor of high-impact weather events.

The statistics are staggering: The first half of the year was so warm that by early August, the U.S. had already exceeded the number of record-high temperatures set or tied during all of 2011. July 2012 was the hottest month on record in the U.S., as a desiccating drought enveloped the majority of the lower 48 states, stretching its misery from California to Delaware.

The drought has been the most extensive this country has seen since the 1930s. Ranchers were forced to sell off their herds as their fields turned to dust and the price of feed rose steeply; the Mississippi River neared a record-low level, threatening to curtail commerce; and drought-fueled wildfires consumed tens of thousands of acres across the West and threatened a large population center in Colorado Springs.

More than any other event this year, though, Hurricane Sandy brought the subject of climate change to the forefront, with politicians of all stripes expressing new-found interest in taking action after seeing the impacts of the storm.

By the end of 2012 a scientific, and more importantly, a public consensus had emerged that global warming was making its presence felt. This landmark shift in the conversation revolved around the now hard-to-refute recognition that a warming planet means certain types of extreme events are more likely to occur and are more damaging when they do. It also kick-started a discussion about what action is needed to make the country more resilient to extreme weather and climate events, and how to reduce long-term global warming. […]

2012's Top 10 Weather & Climate Events

No. 1: Sandy Alters Climate Conversation
No. 2: Tenacious Drought Punishes U.S.
No. 3: Hottest Year on Record in Lower 48
No. 4: Steamy Arctic Events Alarm Scientists
No. 5: Hot and Dry Conditions Fuel Wildfires
No. 6: Hottest March on Record for U.S.
No. 7: July Is Hottest U.S. Month on Record
No. 8: Hurricane Isaac Creeps Ashore
No. 9: Derecho Blows Into Lexicon
No. 10: 333 Straight Months & Counting […]

Sandy Tops List of 2012 Extreme Weather & Climate Events

2012 tops warmest years since 1895 in Delaware. Delaware Online / data from NCDC

State, nation also note low rainfall totals for 2012
By Jeff Montgomery and Molly Murray
29 December 2012

(The News Journal) – When the New Year rings in at midnight Monday, scientists will book 2012 as the hottest and one of the driest on record for the nation and the Northeast – including Delaware and New Jersey.

Some researchers warn it’s a sign of things to come as the globe warms and climate slowly changes in response to ongoing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Delaware’s average annual temperature appears likely to clock in at about 58.7 degrees, the highest in 118 years of official record keeping. A similar record is expected for average temperatures across the lower 48 states, after the average for the first 11 months of the year ended a full degree above the last record.

Average rainfall nationwide is on track to be the 12th lowest since record keeping began in 1895, while Delaware’s precipitation approached the New Year with the third lowest 12-month total – with a record state drought averted by the arrival of Superstorm Sandy in late October.

Millions in America’s heartland suffered through epic drought in 2012. And late June’s “super derecho” – a thunderstorm with straight-line winds – snapped electrical transmission towers and shredded power poles in and around Washington, D.C., and surrounding states, leaving millions without power, some for days.

The ongoing chain of extreme weather has managers of America’s power grid for the first time acknowledging that climate change needs to be incorporated into long-range models for delivering electricity.

“I cannot think of any year in my career with more challenges” caused by weather, said Terry Boston, president of the regional PJM power grid. […]

Delaware closes out hottest year on record

Emergency officials work near Stevens Pass ski resort in Skykomish, Washington, on 19 February 2012, after an avalanche killed three skiers. Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times

By Hector Becerra
28 December 2012

(Los Angeles Times) – A Lake Tahoe-area resort ski patrol member for nearly 30 years, Bill Foster would have understood the dangers of avalanches better than most. But even knowing the exact date and time of a planned avalanche didn't save the 53-year-old's life.

Moments after another member of the ski team set off an avalanche with explosives late Monday morning as part of an effort to reduce the risk of an unpredictable avalanche, Foster was buried in Alpine Meadows. He had taken cover in an area that history had suggested would be safe from the rolling snow.

Instead, the tsunami-like wave of snow crested higher and wider than expected, overwhelming Foster. He was uncovered within minutes, and ski patrol members performed CPR on him, but they weren't able to save him. His death came on the same day that the body of a 49-year-old snowboarder, Steven Mark Anderson of Truckee, was found by a sheriff's search dog at the Donner Ski Ranch in Nevada County after an avalanche.

California has a far less fearsome reputation for avalanches than states like Colorado, Montana, Utah, Idaho and Alaska. But the two deaths — the first of the U.S.' winter season — were a stark reminder that danger lurks.

In the last 60 years, avalanche deaths have risen dramatically, largely, some experts say, because of the growing popularity of backcountry skiing and hiking, snowboarding and other activities in places that are prone to avalanches. Last winter 34 fatalities were recorded in the U.S., and the top eight years for avalanche deaths have all been recorded since 1995, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Most of the deaths since 1950 have involved people from ages 16 to 45, presumably the fittest and most likely to partake in physical activities like skiing and backcountry hiking. California recorded two avalanche fatalities last year, compared with seven for Colorado, six for Alaska, six for Montana, five for Utah and four each for Washington and Wyoming.

In the 2009-10 season, when the U.S. tallied 36 avalanche deaths, none happened in California, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. But four people died in California in the 2007-08 season, when 36 people in the U.S. perished in avalanches. […]

Avalanche deaths rise dramatically in U.S. over long term

Ancient Moki, or Anasazi people, steps carved into huge steep rocks faces rise from deep under Lake Powell in Fiftymile Creek Canyon and up through the light-colored 100-foot thick 'bathtub ring' of bleached sandstone, the result of a years-long drought that has dramatically dropped the level of the reservoir near Page, Arizona. Getty Images, 2007NEW YORK, 24 December 2012 (UPI) – A projected drop in the Colorado River's flow could disrupt longtime water-sharing agreements between farms and cities in the U.S. Southwest, researchers say.

Climate modelers at Columbia University report a predicted 10 percent drop in the river's flow in the next few decades may signal water shortages for some 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River Basin for water.

"It may not sound like a phenomenally large amount except the water and the river is already over-allocated," Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said.

The study's findings suggest the American Southwest is becoming more arid as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns shift from human-caused climate change, and follows a major study of the Colorado River Basin by the U.S. Department of Interior that projected longer and more severe droughts by 2060 and a 9 percent decline in the Colorado's flows.

"The projections are spot on," said Bradley Udall, a University of Colorado, Boulder, expert on hydrology and policy of the American West. "Everyone wondered what the next generation of models would say. Now we have a study that suggests we better take seriously the drying projections ahead." […]

Smaller Colorado River flows predicted

By David Funkhouser
22 November 2012

The American Southwest has seen naturally induced dry spells throughout the past, but now human-induced global warming could push the region into a permanent drought in the coming decades, according to Lamont-Doherty scientist Richard Seager and others who have been studying the area’s climate.

Seager, who focuses on climate variability and climate change, began his work studying droughts by looking into the past using sea surface temperature records gathered by ships plying the oceans in the 19th century. He and colleagues used computer models to recreate a climate history that showed periodic droughts. Focusing on North America, they also used tree rings to look back as far as the Middle Ages, when the Southwest experienced a drought lasting hundreds of years.

Aerial view of Lake Powell in Arizona. The prominent white rings surrounding the edges of the cliffs are due to steadily receding water levels.“You begin to see that there’s a natural cycle of droughts, large and small,” says Seager, the Palisades Geophysical Institute/Lamont research professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “But when you add in the human effects from rising greenhouse gases, we could be pushing subtropical regions like the American Southwest into a permanent state of aridity. There are signs it’s already underway.”

In a 2007 paper, Seager and colleagues used computer models to show the Southwest is on the verge of a transition to a more arid climate. And in the December 2010 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Seager and Gabriel Vecchi of NOAA pinned the drying to a drop in winter precipitation and showed how this is caused by changes in atmospheric circulation and water vapor transports induced by warming temperatures.

The warming also shortens the snow season, reduces the snow mass that serves as natural storage for water, and forces an earlier spring melt, disrupting the supply system that waters much of the Southwest—the region from the western Great Plains to the Pacific, and the Oregon border to southern Mexico.

That is ominous news for a region that has seen explosive growth in population, land use, and water demands in recent decades. A reduction in the flow of important water resources such as the Colorado River will have serious consequences.

“I’m curious how the Southwest is going to handle this,” Seager says. […]

Lamont-Doherty Researcher: Southwest Headed for Permanent Drought

TREE LAB: An outdoor experiment in New Mexico, where 63 pinyon and juniper trees are being monitored intensely. Mark Holm for The New York Times

24 December 2012
LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico (The New York Times) — Everywhere, trees are dying.

The boreal forests of Canada and Russia are being devoured by beetles. Drought-tolerant pines are disappearing in Greece. In North Africa, Atlas cedars are shriveling. Wet and dry tropical forests in Asia are collapsing. Australian eucalyptus forests are burning. The Amazon basin has just been hit by two severe droughts. And it’s predicted that trees in the American Southwest may be gone by the end of this century.

But as this astonishing transformation of landscapes continues, scientists have a confession to make: They do not fully understand how trees die. Certainly warmer temperatures, lack of water and insects play a role. But in each region hit by heat, drought or bugs, some trees remain standing.

Why do some trees die while others survive? What happens deep inside a tree under stress? How slowly or quickly do different species die?

Nate McDowell, a staff scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, aims to find answers. Like a doctor trying to learn why his patient is sinking into a coma, Dr. McDowell, a plant physiologist, has set up a kind of intensive care unit for trees to find out precisely how they die, though unlike his physician counterparts, Dr. McDowell is nudging his patients toward an early death.

By speeding up aspects of climate change — more heat, less water — he hopes to document every spike in their coffin. And then do an autopsy.

The experiment is badly needed, said Craig Allen, a leading expert on forest ecology for the United States Geological Survey who is not involved in the research.

“Without better understanding the mechanisms of tree death, it is not possible to reliably predict when and where the next massive die-offs will occur on this planet,” he said.

There are two competing theories explaining tree death, Dr. McDowell said. They die of thirst. Or they starve to death. But exactly how these processes occur, and how they relate, remains to be shown with scientific rigor. […]

As Forests Disappear, Examining the Mechanisms of Their Death

The India Gate monument in New Delhi, enveloped by a blanket of smog. An explosion of car use has made fast-growing Asian cities the epicentre of global air pollution and become, along with obesity, the world's fastest growing cause of death according to a major study of global diseases. Manish Swarup / APBy John Vidal
17 December 2012

( – An explosion of car use has made fast-growing Asian cities the epicentre of global air pollution and become, along with obesity, the world's fastest growing cause of death according to a major study of global diseases.

In 2010, more than 2.1m people in Asia died prematurely from air pollution, mostly from the minute particles of diesel soot and gasses emitted from cars and lorries. Other causes of air pollution include construction and industry. Of these deaths, says the study published in The Lancet, 1.2 million were in east Asia and China, and 712,000 in south Asia, including India.

Worldwide, a record 3.2m people a year died from air pollution in 2010, compared with 800,000 in 2000. It now ranks for the first time in the world's top 10 list of killer diseases, says the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study.

The unexpected figure has shocked scientists and public health groups. David Pettit, director of the southern California air programme with the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), said: "That's a terribly high number – and much more people than previously thought. Earlier studies were limited to data that was available at the time on coarse particles in urban areas only."

Anumita Roychowdhury, head of air pollution at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based environmental group, said: "There is hard evidence now to act urgently to reduce the public health risks to all, particularly children, elderly and the poor. No-one can escape toxic air."

The full effects of air pollution on health in Asian cities may not be seen for years, she said. "Toxic effects like cancer surface after a long latency period. Therefore, exposure to air pollution will have to be reduced today to reduce the burden of disease," she said.

According to the report, by a consortium of universities working in conjunction with the UN, 65% of all air pollution deaths are now in Asia, which lost 52m years of healthy life from fine particle air pollution in 2010. Air pollution also contributes to higher rates of cognitive decline, strokes, and heart attacks. […]

Pollution from car emissions killing millions in China and India

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Modeled distribution of radioactive contamination in the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima, to 10 years after disaster, by GEOMAR | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Ozeanforschung Kiel.

Distribution of the radioactive contamination in the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima

Fukushima - Wo bleibt das radioaktive Wasser?

[Original] 09.07.2012/Kiel. Die Reaktorkatastrophe im japanischen Fukushima gerät bereits wieder in Vergessenheit. Große Mengen der dabei freigesetzten radioaktiven Substanzen breiten sich aber nach wie vor im Pazifik aus. Wissenschaftler des GEOMAR | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Ozeanforschung Kiel haben die langfristige Ausbreitung mit Hilfe einer Modellstudie untersucht. Danach sorgt die starke Vermischung durch ozeanische Wirbel für eine rasche Verdünnung des radioaktiven Wassers. Wenn die ersten Ausläufer in etwa drei Jahren die nordamerikanische Küste erreichen, sollte die Radioaktivität daher bereits unter den Werten liegen, die noch heute infolge der Tschernobyl-Katastrophe in der Ostsee zu finden sind.

Durch die Reaktorkatastrophe von Fukushima im März letzten Jahres wurden große Mengen radioaktiven Materials freigesetzt. Ein überwiegender Teil davon gelangte über die Atmosphäre, teilweise aber auch durch direkte Einleitung in den Pazifischen Ozean, darunter auch langlebige Isotope wie das im Meerwasser gut lösliche Cäsium-137. Mit Hilfe detaillierter Computersimulationen haben Forscher des GEOMAR | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Ozeanforschung Kiel die langfristige Ausbreitung untersucht. „In unseren Modellen haben wir großen Wert auf eine möglichst realistische Darstellung auch feiner Details der Strömungen gelegt“, erklärte der Leiter des Forscherteams, Prof. Claus Böning, „denn die Stoffausbreitung wird nicht nur durch die Hauptströmung, den Kuroshio, sondern maßgeblich auch durch intensive und stark veränderliche Wirbel geprägt.“

„Nach unseren Modellrechnungen dürfte durch diese starken Verwirbelungen das radioaktive Wasser schon jetzt über nahezu den halben Nordpazifik verteilt worden sein“, erklärte Diplom-Ozeanograph Erik Behrens, Erst-Autor der in der internationalen Fachzeitschrift „Environmental Research Letters“ veröffentlichten Studie. „Zudem haben Winterstürme das Wasser bis in Tiefen von rund 500 Metern vermischt.“ Die damit einhergehende Verdünnung sorgt in der Modellrechnung für eine rasche Abnahme der Caesium-Konzentrationen.

Der Effekt der ozeanweiten Vermischung wird besonders deutlich, wenn man den im Modell simulierten zeitlichen Verlauf der Strahlungswerte im Pazifik mit den Verhältnissen in der Ostsee vergleicht. „Die im März und April 2011 in den Pazifik geflossene Menge an Radioaktivität war mindestens dreimal so groß wie die, die 1986 infolge der Tschernobyl-Katastrophe in die Ostsee eingetragen wurde“, erläutert Böning. „Trotzdem sind die von uns simulierten Strahlungswerte im Pazifik bereits jetzt niedriger als die Werte, die man noch heute, 26 Jahre nach Tschernobyl, in der Ostsee findet.“

Nach der Modellsimulation sollten erste Ausläufer des verstrahlten Wassers etwa im Herbst 2013 die Hawaii-Inseln streifen und zwei bis drei Jahre später die nordamerikanische Küste erreichen. Anders als an der Meeresoberfläche schwimmende Trümmerteile, die auch durch den Wind vertrieben werden, wird das radioaktive Wasser allein durch die Strömungen unterhalb der Meeresoberfläche transportiert. Die weitere damit einhergehende Verdünnung wird sich nun aber deutlich verlangsamen, da die ozeanischen Wirbel im Ostpazifik viel schwächer als in der Kuroshio-Region sind. Daher werden noch über Jahre hinweg die Strahlungswerte im Nordpazifik deutlich über denen vor der Katastrophe liegen.

Sehr interessiert wären Claus Böning uns sein Team an direkten Vergleichmessungen. „Dann könnten wir unmittelbar sehen, ob wir auch bei den absoluten Größen der Konzentrationen richtig liegen“, meint Prof. Böning. Solche Daten sind für die Kieler Wissenschaftler aber derzeit nicht verfügbar.

Behrens, E., F.U. Schwarzkopf, J.F. Lübbecke and C.W. Böning, 2012: Model simulations on the long-term dispersal of 137Cs released into the Pacific Ocean off Fukushima. Environmental Research Letters, 7,

[Machine translation] Kiel, 9 July 2012 (GEOMAR) – The nuclear disaster in the Japanese Fukushima device back into oblivion. Large quantities of radioactive substances released it spread but still in the Pacific. Scientists of GEOMAR | Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel have investigated the long-term spread with the help of a model study. Then, the strong mixing by oceanic Eddy ensures a rapid dilution of radioactive water. If the first runners reach the North American coast in about three years, the radioactivity should therefore already are below the values which today are found as a result of the Chernobyl disaster in the Baltic Sea.

Large quantities of radioactive material were released through the reactor catastrophe of Fukushima in March last year. A majority of concluded about the atmosphere, but also by direct discharge into the Pacific Ocean, including long-lasting isotopes such as the highly soluble in sea water cesium-137. With the help of detailed computer simulations of GEOMAR researchers | Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel the long-term spread investigated. "In our models, we have placed great importance on a realistic representation of also fine details of the currents", said the head of the research team, Prof. Claus Böning, "because the substance spread is characterised not only by the mainstream, the Kuroshio, but significantly also through intensive and highly volatile vortex."

"According to our calculations the radioactive water should be been distributed through these strong turbulence already half North Pacific--almost the", explained diploma oceanographer Erik Behrens, first author in the international scientific journal "environmental research letters" published study. "In addition winter storms have mixed the water to depths of 500 meters." The resulting dilution ensures a rapid decrease of the cesium concentrations in the mathematical modeling.

The effect of the wide ocean mixing is particularly evident if one compares the timing of the radiation levels in the Pacific Ocean as simulated in the model with the conditions in the Baltic Sea. "In March and April 2011 in the Pacific Ocean flowed amount of radioactivity was at least three times as large as that which was registered in 1986 due to the Chernobyl disaster in the Baltic Sea," explains backer. "Nevertheless, the radiation levels simulated by us in the Pacific are already lower than the values today, 26 years after Chernobyl, in the Baltic Sea."

After the model simulation, first foothills of contaminated water should strip the Hawaiian Islands and two or three years later reached the North American coast in the autumn of 2013. Unlike floating to the surface debris, which are distributed by the wind, radioactive water is transported solely by the currents below the surface of the sea. The other concomitant dilution will slow down now but clearly since the oceanic Eddy in the Eastern Pacific are much weaker than in the Kuroshio region. Therefore, the radiation levels in the North Pacific well above those before the disaster are still over the years.

Very interested in Claus Böning would us his team to make direct comparison measurements. "Then we could see immediately whether we really are also the absolute sizes of the concentrations," says Prof. Böning. Such data for the Kiel researchers but are currently not available.

Original work:
Behrens, E., F.U. Schwarzkopf, J.F f. Lübbecke and C.W.. Böning, 2012: model simulations on the long-term dispersal of 137CS released into the Pacific Ocean off Fukushima.Environmental research letters, 7,

Fukushima - Wo bleibt das radioaktive Wasser?

Prof. Ugo Bardi, Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Università di Firenze. www.unifi.itBy Ugo Bardi
13 December 2012

In 2003, I attended my first conference on peak oil, in Paris. Everything was new for me: the subject, the people, the ideas. It was there that I could meet for the first time those larger than life figures of ASPO, the association for the study of peak oil. I met Colin Campbell, Jean Laherrere, Kenneth Deffeyes, Ali Morteza Samsam Bakthiari, and many others. It was one of those experiences that mark one for life.

In Paris, I learned a lot about oil depletion, but also about another matter that was emerging:  the conflict of depletion studies with climate change studies. That ASPO conference saw the beginning of a contrast that was to flare up much more intensely in the following years. On one side of the debate there were the "climate concerned" people. They were clearly appalled at seeing that their efforts at stopping global warming were threatened by this new idea: that there won't be enough fossil fuels to cause the damage that they feared. On the other side, the "depletion concerned" people clearly scoffed at the idea of climate change: peak oil, they said, would make all the worries in that respect obsolete.

My impression, at that time, was that the position of the climate concerned was untenable. Not that I became a climate change denier; not at all: the physical mechanisms of climate change have been always clear to me and I never questioned the fact that adding CO2 to the atmosphere was going to warm it. But the novelty of the concept of peak oil, the discovery of a new field of study, the implications of a decline of energy availability, all that led me to see depletion as the main challenge ahead.

That belief of mine would last a few years, but no more. The more I studied oil depletion, the more I found myself studying climate: the two subjects are so strictly related to each other that you can't study one and ignore the other. I found that climate science is not just about modern global warming. It is the true scientific revolution of the 21st century. It is nothing less than a radical change of paradigm about everything that takes place on our planet; comparable to the Copernican revolution of centuries ago. […]

Climate change: Confessions of a Peak Oiler

Average Level of Fine Particulate Matter in Asia Air Pollution, 1993-2010. Improvements in air quality improvements in Asian cities that were visible in the last decade have stalled and the levels of fine particulate matter (PM10), the most important air pollutant in terms of health impact, are back to pre-2000 levels and still climbing in many of the cities in Asia. Clean Air Asia, 2012

By Cornie Huizenga
Hong Kong, December 5, 2012.

Improvements in air quality improvements in Asian cities that were visible in the last decade have stalled and the levels of fine particulate matter (PM10), the most important air pollutant in terms of health impact, are back to pre-2000 levels and still climbing in many of the cities in Asia. Information released by Clean Air Asia, a leading regional network on air quality management in Asia at the Better Air Quality 2012 conference shows that 70% of cities in developing Asia for which air quality data is available are not meeting the most lenient World Health Organization (WHO) PM10 interim target of 70μg/m3.

The World Health organization in the most recent (2008) Global Burden of Disease study estimated that ambient (outdoor) air pollution caused 1.3 million premature deaths worldwide per year; 8 00,000 of which are in Asia. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its Environmental Outlook 2050 report, published earlier this year, warns that urban air pollution could become the biggest environmental cause of premature death by 2050 with the number of premature deaths doubling if no actions to improve air quality are implemented. The majority of the additional deaths are expected to be in China and India, making urban air quality very much an Asian problem.

The WHO has set guideline values for PM10 to guide countries in setting air quality management standards and recommends that countries should aim for a maximum PM10 concentration of 20μg/m3 to protect public health. Clean Air Asia data indicates that only 16 cities in Asia meet this level, 10 cities of which are in, what is considered, developed Asian and 6 in developing Asia. WHO acknowledges that especially developing countries will have problems meeting the most strict guideline value and has issued three interim targets of 30μg/m3, 50μg/m3 and 70μg/m3. Over 180 cities in developing Asia do not meet even the most lenient interim target of 70μg/m3; a large number of these cities have PM10 concentration of well above 100μg/m3.

“The results of a growing number of Asian health effects studies tell us that these high air pollution levels have important implications for public health,” said Bob O’Keefe, Vice President of the Health Effects Institute (HEI) and Chair of the Board of Clean Air Asia. “When HEI conducted the broadest analysis to date of Asian health evidence – of some 86 cities across Asia – we found a consistent and significant increase in the risk of premature death for every increase in pollution. Fortunately, Clean Air Asia is demonstrating that there are solutions ready to go to address the problem.”

“PM10 levels improved from 1995 to 2000, then increased noticeably from 2001 to 2003. After being stable for a number of years it appears that we see a noticeable, continuing increase since 2008/2009”, says May Ajero, the Air Quality Program Manager in Clean Air Asia, who is leading the team responsible for collecting and analyzing the data on urban air quality management. “We should be especially concerned about what this means for human health” says Ajero, “considering the rapid urbanization in developing Asia and the further expected 1.1 billion increase in urban population in Asia over the next 20 years”.

So far air quality monitoring and management in Asia has largely focused on PM10, yet based on the research over the last years it is clear that the focus will have to shift increasingly to reducing PM2.5.

In general, the smaller the size of particulate matter the more harmful it is for human health. Initial research shows that PM10 in Asia has a much higher fraction (around 75%) of PM2.5 than in the developed world (around 50%). Asian countries have started to acknowledge the importance of PM2.5 and most countries including China and India have put standards in place for PM2.5 with supportive regulatory monitoring. Not enough information is available so far to determine trends for PM2.5 as Clean Air Asia has been able to do for PM10, individual research studies show however a close linkage between PM2.5 and PM10 and there is reason to believe that with PM10 levels going up that PM2.5 levels are also increasing.

Efforts to reduce Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), which is an important contributor to acid rain, have resulted in a significant reduction; from 2005-2009 average SO2 levels were below the WHO guideline value of 20μg/m3. In 2010, however, average SO2 levels were again above the WHO guideline value. It is too early to decide whether this is a one time exception or whether this is the beginning of a worrisome trend. SSO2 is a precursor to secondary PM10 and the decrease in SO2 levels over the last 20 years has had a positive impact on PM10 levels helping to reduce these in the first half of the last decade and slowing their increase since then.

“We are very concerned about the increase in PM10 levels over the last three years and that seven out of ten cities in Asia have unacceptably high levels of PM10 pollution”, says Sophie Punte, the Executive Director of Clean Air Asia. “The economic rebound in Asia following the global economic crisis of 2008 has accelerated sales of both passenger and freight vehicles as well as power generation and this is putting pressure on urban air quality in the region. We welcome the promulgation of PM2.5 standards in a number of Asian countries, including China, and the tightening of air quality standards that has been agreed on, in for example India, and the plans of Hong Kong SAR to do so. What is important now is that these standards are implemented without delay.”

Clean Air Asia announced its intention at BAQ 2012 to prepare together with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and key international and regional environmental and health experts a Roadmap for Better Air Quality in Asian Cities. The Roadmap will cover five key areas: (a) Setting and strengthening national ambient air quality standards; (b)Air quality monitoring and emission inventories; (c) Health impacts and their social and economic cost; (d) Clean air plans, policies and measures (assessing cost-effectiveness and co-benefits); and (e) Communicating air quality information through Clean Air reports and other ways. The Roadmap expected to be endorsed in 2016 by governmental air quality stakeholders in the bienal governmental meeting on urban air quality organized by Clean Air Asia and UNEP.

Please contact Cornie Huizenga: +8613901949332 / +852 593 464 27 or Ritchie Anne Roño: +852 593 464 24 (

Better Air Quality Hong Kong 2012 [pdf]

Teuga Patolo stands in king-tide waters that surround her neighbour's house on Kiribati. A three-year study by Australia's CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology suggests the Pacific's small island states can expect rising sea levels, more heavy rainfall events, more very hot days and more cyclones. Rodney Dekker / Oxfam

TARAWA, 22 December 2012 (Pina/Rnzi) – The Commonwealth Secretary-General has appealed to governments of developed countries to travel to Kiribati to witness the country's vulnerability to climate change impacts.

Kamalesh Sharma most recently visited Kiribati last month when he says he saw the devastation caused by the rising tide on an archipelago that largely stands less than two metres above sea level.

He says with the rise in sea level each year, Kiribati will soon be swamped, and that parts of the chain are already facing the sea encroachment with salinated water eroding land.

Sharma says the fact that the Kiribati President Anote Tong is promoting skills upgrading of his people to prepare them for migration due to climate change is tragic.

He says other governments need to do more to minimise the causes of climate change and mitigate its effects on small island states.

Kiribati's' desperate plea for action

American League vs. National League baseball scoreboard. Mike Pick / flickr.comBy Philip Bump
21 December 2012

As our friends at like to remind us, climate change really comes down to math. Put x amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, see y degrees of warming. Our goal — meaning, our goal as an evolved, aware species that would rather not be plagued by droughts and megastorms and constant flooding and armed conflict — is to reduce how much carbon dioxide we’re putting into the atmosphere each year instead of continually increasing the amount.

We’re not good at this. And time is running very low: We either need massive, quick action or it’s too late.

Given that this particular year is nearing its end, we decided to figure out how the math for 2012 stacked up. Did we, on balance, change our ways so that our net greenhouse gas emissions declined, or did we yet again increase how much we’re polluting? Are we running in the positive or the negative or what?

Well: Scorecard! Getcher scorecard!

The minus column
Things that reduced climate change

Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline — for now.
President Obama’s move in January to postpone the contentious pipeline wasn’t the final word, and it may end up having been more important politically than environmentally. But the rejection has prompted tar-sands companies to reconsider producing tar-sands oil at all, which is good news for the climate, given how much more greenhouse gas such fuel produces. Obama could still OK the pipeline, but it doesn’t make much sense for him to.

Effect on climate pollution: -2
Methodology for this: I picked a number between -10 (leads to reduction in pollution; good) and 10 (increases it; bad). Want to fight about it? […]

The plus column
Things that increased climate change

The United Nations did nothing.
Fifty thousand people met in Rio; who-knows-how-many traveled to Qatar. And that all resulted in a vague promise to maybe do something in 2013. The U.N.’s ability to mandate change is certainly limited, but that it didn’t mandate any at an enormously critical time is not just incompetent, it’s immoral.

Oh, also? The big U.N. climate report due in 2013 was leaked early. But more importantly, it won’t address permafrost melt, one of the biggest negative feedbacks in the warming cycle. Meaning that if the U.N. ever actually does take action, it will be taking action on overly optimistic information.

Effect on climate pollution: 8

The presidential campaign was all about how great coal is.
As the U.S. decided who it wanted to lead the country for the next four years, the options with which it was presented failed to suggest that they’d lead on the critical issue of climate. Both Romney and Obama French-kissed the coal industry for an extended period of time, which was as ugly as that image makes it sound.

The media didn’t hold the candidates to account on the topic either, with one debate moderator even dismissing the issue as unimportant.

Effect on climate pollution: 2 […]

Your 2012 climate change scorecard

The drought revealed this WWII minesweeper, seen here on 28 November 2012 on the Mississippi River near St. Louis, Missouri. Colby Buchanan, US Coast Guard, via AP

By Jim Salter
23 December 2012

ST. LOUIS (AP) – From sunken steamboats to a millennium-old map engraved in rock, the drought-drained rivers of the nation's midsection are offering a rare and fleeting glimpse into years gone by.

Lack of rain has left many rivers at low levels unseen for decades, creating problems for river commerce and recreation and raising concerns about water supplies and hydropower if the drought persists into next year, as many fear.

But for the curious, the receding water is offering an occasional treasure trove of history.

An old steamboat is now visible on the Missouri River near St. Charles, Mo., and other old boats nestled on river bottoms are showing up elsewhere. A World War II minesweeper, once moored along the Mississippi River as a museum at St. Louis before it was torn away by floodwaters two decades ago, has become visible — rusted but intact.

Perhaps most interesting, a rock containing what is believed to be an ancient map has emerged in the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri.

The rock contains etchings believed to be up to 1,200 years old. It was not in the river a millennium ago, but the changing course of the waterway now normally puts it under water — exposed only in periods of extreme drought. Experts are wary of giving a specific location out of fear that looters will take a chunk of the rock or scribble graffiti on it.

"It appears to be a map of prehistoric Indian villages," said Steve Dasovich, an anthropology professor at Lindenwood University in St. Charles. "What's really fascinating is that it shows village sites we don't yet know about."

Old boats are turning up in several locations, including sunken steamboats dating to the 19th century.

That's not surprising considering the volume of steamboat traffic that once traversed the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Dasovich said it wasn't uncommon in the 1800s to have hundreds of steamboats pass by St. Louis each day, given the fact that St. Louis was once among the world's busiest inland ports. The boats, sometimes lined up two miles deep and four boats wide in both directions, carried not only people from town to town but goods and supplies up and down the rivers.

Sinkings were common among the wooden vessels, which often were poorly constructed.

"The average lifespan of a steamboat on the Missouri River was five years," Dasovich said. "They were made quickly. If you could make one run from St. Louis to Fort Benton, Mont., and back, you've paid for your boat and probably made a profit. After that, it's almost like they didn't care what happened."

What often happened, at least on the Missouri River, was the boat would strike an underwater tree that had been uprooted and become lodged in the river bottom, tearing a hole that would sink the ship. Dasovich estimated that the remains of 500 to 700 steamboats sit at the bottom of the Missouri River, scattered from its mouth in Montana to its convergence with the Mississippi near St. Louis.

The number of sunken steamboats on the Mississippi River is likely about the same, Dasovich said. Steamboat traffic was far heavier on the Mississippi, but traffic there was and is less susceptible to river debris.

Last year, an officer who patrols an East Texas lake discovered a piece of the space shuttle Columbia, which broke apart and burned on re-entry in 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard. And the remains of a wooden steamer built 125 years ago recently were uncovered in a Michigan waterway because of low levels in the Great Lakes. […]

River relics in central US surface as drought drops water levels

In this 30 April 2001 file photo provided by Brendan P. Kelly, a ringed seal looks out of a snow cave on the ice off of Barrow, Alaska. Ringed seals, the main prey of polar bears, and bearded seals in the Arctic Ocean will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced, Friday, 21 December 2012. Brendan P. Kelly / Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, 21 December 2012 (AP) – Two types of ice seals joined polar bears Friday on the list of species threatened by the loss of sea ice, which scientists say reached record low levels this year due to climate warming.

Ringed seals, the main prey of polar bears, and bearded seals in the Arctic Ocean will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced.

A species is threatened if it’s likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout a significant portion of its range.

The listing of the seals came after federal scientists did an extensive review of scientific and commercial data. It has no effect on subsistence hunting by Alaska Natives.

“They concluded that a significant decrease in sea ice is probable later this century, and that these changes will likely cause these seal populations to decline,” said Jon Kurland, protected resources director for NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska region.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell late Friday called the science behind the decision speculative and said the state will consider legal action. The state unsuccessfully challenged the polar bear listing.

The ringed seal population is in the millions and the bearded seal population is in the hundreds of thousands, Parnell said in a prepared statement. Neither is in decline nor will it be by mid-century, he said.

“The ESA was not enacted to protect healthy animal populations,” Parnell said. “Despite this fact, the NMFS continues the federal government’s misguided policy to list healthy species based mostly on speculated impacts from future climate change, adding additional regulatory burdens and costs upon the State of Alaska and its communities.”

Ringed seals are the only seals that thrive in completely ice-covered Arctic waters. They use stout claws to dig and maintain breathing holes.

When snow covers those holes, females excavate and make snow caves, where they give birth to pups that cannot survive in ice-cold water and are susceptible to freezing until they grow a blubber layer.

A species is threatened if it’s likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout a significant portion of its range.

The listing of the seals came after federal scientists did an extensive review of scientific and commercial data. It has no effect on subsistence hunting by Alaska Natives.

“They concluded that a significant decrease in sea ice is probable later this century, and that these changes will likely cause these seal populations to decline,” said Jon Kurland, protected resources director for NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska region.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell late Friday called the science behind the decision speculative and said the state will consider legal action. The state unsuccessfully challenged the polar bear listing.

The ringed seal population is in the millions and the bearded seal population is in the hundreds of thousands, Parnell said in a prepared statement. Neither is in decline nor will it be by mid-century, he said.

“The ESA was not enacted to protect healthy animal populations,” Parnell said. “Despite this fact, the NMFS continues the federal government’s misguided policy to list healthy species based mostly on speculated impacts from future climate change, adding additional regulatory burdens and costs upon the State of Alaska and its communities.”

Ringed seals are the only seals that thrive in completely ice-covered Arctic waters. They use stout claws to dig and maintain breathing holes.

When snow covers those holes, females excavate and make snow caves, where they give birth to pups that cannot survive in ice-cold water and are susceptible to freezing until they grow a blubber layer. […]

Feds list 2 ice seals as threatened, including ringed seals, which are prey of polar bears

Two Mumbais: Condos and shantytowns.

By Emma Whitford
20 December 2012

Despite the hysteria, it’s safe to say that tomorrow's Mayan Doomsday will end up as nothing but the latest apocalyptic hype. But even after December 21, Earth will hardly be in the clear. While we may have dodged one gigantic, irreversible blow to humanity (for now, at least), various cities across the globe will continue to face actual existential threats to their survival. Perhaps sooner than we’d like to think.

Increasingly, we humans are living an urban existence. The 2012 "Future Proofing Cities" report produced by Britain’s Department for Economic Development reminds us that more than half of the world’s population already lives in cities. By 2050, that figure will be 75 percent.

Below, environmental scientists, food security experts, sociologists, and authors — people who have invested a lot of time and energy into thinking about the future — offer their ominous visions of what could await some of the world's great metropolises in the years, decades, and centuries down the line. Here are some predictions to chew on while we empty out our doomsday shelters.

Prediction: By 2100, the summertime temperatures in New Delhi and Karachi could be physically unbearable.

Expert: Fen Montaigne, senior editor at Yale University’s online environmental magazine Yale Environment 360

How It'll Happen: “If temperatures rise more than five degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, which is possible, these cities are going to experience the kind of temperatures that test the limits of human heat tolerance."

Prediction: By 2016, Gaza City could be without fresh drinking water.

Expert: Fred Pearce, London-based journalist and author of When the Rivers Run Dry (Beacon Press)

How It'll Happen: “Gaza’s one source of water, the rocks beneath it, is increasingly salty. As the city pumps out the water to survive, the water table falls ever lower and more and more seawater pours into the rocks. UN scientists say that the city could be uninhabitable by 2016.” […]

Prediction: By 2100, large parts of the Miami and New Orleans metropolitan areas could be under water.

Expert: Montaigne

How It'll Happen: “If we get a three-to-six-foot sea level rise this century, which is very possible, Miami is in very deep trouble. A large part of the Miami area will be under water and New Orleans will flood during larger storms.” And when it comes to levees and flood protection, “Miami is far more exposed than New Orleans.” […]

For Some Cities, Doomsday Is Real

A homeless man in New York City using a unique shelter heated by exhaust from buildings, 20 December 2012. ParaSITE

20 December 2012 (Reuters) – Across the United States, the number of hungry and homeless people is growing, and budget fights at the federal level are threatening the aid many need to survive, the U.S. Conference of Mayors said on Thursday.

Amidst the holiday season of family feasts and corporate dinners, the mayors released a report that found requests for emergency food assistance rose in 21 out of the 25 cities it surveyed in 2012 and remained at the same level in three. More than half the cities said homelessness increased.

"This report is a stark reminder of the long-lasting impact the recession has had on many of our citizens," Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, said in a statement. "Families, who once lived in middle class homes, now find themselves without a roof over their heads, needing multiple social services for the first time in their lives."

The 25 cities are of varying size and wealth in all regions of the country. They included Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Nashville, Tennessee.

Among those seeking emergency food, 51 percent were in families and 37 percent were employed. Nearly 1 in 6 -- 17 percent -- were elderly and 8.5 percent were homeless, according to the survey.

Nearly all of the cities reported a rise in the number of people seeking emergency food for the first time.

"In Philadelphia, I see people who are hungry and in need of shelter on a daily basis and explaining to them that Congress is cutting funding for the help they need is not acceptable," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in a statement. […]

Hunger and homelessness rise in U.S. cities

Cover of 'Hunger and Homelessness Survey: A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities'. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, December 2012Contact: Elena Temple, 202-861-6719,
Lina Garcia, 202-861-6708,
Karen Hinton, 703-798-3109,
20 December 2012

Washington, D.C. – A survey report [pdf] issued just days before the threatened sequestration of federal funding forecasts the need for more, not less, spending in the year ahead to support of growing numbers of hungry and homeless families and individuals in America’s cities. The pending fiscal cliff and sequestration cuts to local social programs could stress already stretched programs designed to serve people in need as automatic cuts are expected if Congress and President fail to reach a budget deal prior to December 31.

The annual assessment of hunger and homelessness conducted by The U.S. Conference of Mayors found continuing growth in the demand for emergency food and housing in 25 cities whose mayors are members of the Conference’s Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. Not surprisingly, unemployment and poverty lead the list of causes of hunger citied by officials in the survey cities; lack of affordable housing, poverty, and unemployment are seen as the main causes of homelessness.

The report was released in a telephone press conference by members of the Conference of Mayors leadership group, who were joined by the Director for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “We expected that challenges related to the slow national economic recovery would be reflected in the data on hunger and homelessness coming in from the survey cities this year – and they were,” said Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, who chairs the mayors’ Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. "Dealing with growing needs in the face of dwindling resources is nothing new for mayors, but we are especially concerned about what could happen to our emergency food and shelter programs next year, and in the years beyond, if Washington cannot find a responsible way around – not over – the fiscal cliff,” she said. All but four of the cities in this year’s survey reported that requests for emergency food assistance increased over the past year, and three of these four said requests remained at the same level as the previous year.

Emergency kitchens and food pantries in nearly all of the cities had to reduce the quantity of food a client could receive during a food pantry visit or in a meal at an emergency kitchen. In fact, lack of resources meant people had to be turned away in need in nearly 90 percent of the cities.

On the homeless front, 60 percent of the cities said they saw an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness; across the cities, the increase averaged seven percent. Over 70 percent of the cities reported an increase in homelessness among families; 35 percent reported an increase among individuals. Because no beds were available for them, homeless families with children were turned away by emergency shelters in 64 percent of the survey cities; and shelters in 60 percent of the cities had to turn away unaccompanied individuals.

The Conference of Mayors President, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, cited the mayors’ repeated appeals to Congress for a balanced approach to fiscal responsibility that will create options for people increasingly reliant on emergency help. “In Philadelphia, I see people who are hungry and in need of shelter on a daily basis,” he said, “and explaining to them that Congress is cutting funding for the help they need is not acceptable. What they need are jobs so they can support their families, and Congress can help to create those jobs if it passes a fair and balanced budget with investments in infrastructure, innovation, and real people."

Louisville, KY Mayor Greg Fischer, who chairs the USCM Committee on Metro Economies and participated in the press conference call said, "This report is an a stark reminder of the long-lasting impact the recession has had on many of our citizens. Families, who once lived in middle class homes, now find themselves without a roof over their heads, needing multiple social services for the first time in their lives. In Louisville, our compassionate community responds on several fronts including a network of one-stop service-providing sites called Neighborhood Places. Other initiatives address specific needs such as the Family Scholar House program, which provides shelter and support for homeless, single parents working to complete a college education. Each year, we have a concerted outreach to families and individuals in need – our Give A Day week of service which galvanized 90,000 volunteers and acts of caring this past April.”

Survey city officials are pessimistic about the future: Three out of four expect requests for emergency food assistance to increase over the next year, and nearly half expect that resources to provide emergency assistance will decrease – some (22 percent) say substantially. The combination of increasing demand and decreasing resources was cited most frequently as the biggest challenge they will face in addressing hunger in the coming year.

Officials in 60 percent of the cities expect the number of homeless families to increase over the next year; those in 56 percent of the cities expect the number of homeless unaccompanied individuals to increase; and those in more than 58 percent expect that the resources needed to provide emergency shelter will decrease.

“For the past 30 years this report has called national attention to the challenges of hunger and homelessness in this country and has helped to direct resources where they are needed,” the Conference’s CEO and Executive Director, Tom Cochran, explained. “Looking back over the past year, these issues have been made worse by the slow recovery from our economic recession. Looking ahead, we see the challenges continuing, so the Conference of Mayors will continue to document the need for emergency services in cities across America, as a service to the nation’s mayors and to the families and individuals in their communities who need our help.”

A copy of the report, which also contains descriptions of dozens of programs that the survey cities have undertaken to combat hunger and homelessness, can be downloaded from The Conference of Mayor’s web site at [pdf]. An audio file of the press conference call will be available on this site on Friday, December 21.

The 25 participating cities whose mayors are members of The U.S. Conference of Mayors Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness are:

Asheville, NC
Boston, MA
Charleston, SC
Charlotte, NC
Chicago, IL
Cleveland, OH
Dallas, TX
Denver, CO
Des Moines, IA
Gastonia, NC
Los Angeles, CA
Louisville, KY
Minneapolis, MN
Nashville, TN
Norfolk, VA
Philadelphia, PA
Phoenix, AZ
Portland, OR
Providence, RI
San Antonio, TX
St. Paul, MN
Salt Lake City, UT
San Francisco, CA
Trenton, NJ
Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more.

There are 1,295 such cities in the country today, and each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor. Like us on Facebook at, or follow us on Twitter at

Slow economic recovery keeps pressure on u.s. cities’ emergency food and shelter services [pdf]

Plastic and other debris pollute a beach on Midway Island, 20 August 2012. Daisy Gilardini / Danita Delimont Photography / Newscom

By Karin Schulze
23 December 2012

(SPIEGEL) – A new exhibition in Hamburg seeks to alert people to the dangers of the plastic in our daily lives, painting a stark picture of how it accumulates in the world's oceans. It reveals how plastic particles can enter into the food chain and return to us through our dinner plates.

The unsightly mess is a must see for anyone who wants to have a bad conscience for the right reason during the orgy of consumerism that is Christmas. A meter-high (3.2 feet) mountain of plastic scrap collected from the sea is piled up in the middle of the exhibition space. A red plastic boat surfs on top of the heap. Underneath, car tires, chairs, bleached flip-flops and rubber ducks with holes are clumped together -- the kinds of things that an increasing number of people are throwing away at an ever-quicker pace. It's a cemetery of mass consumption.

The heap of floating debris comes from the beaches of the Hawaiian island of Kahoolawe, Germany's Baltic Sea island of Fehmarn and the North Sea island of Sylt. The trash mountain is on display as part of an exhibition called Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project at Hamburg's Museum for Arts and Crafts (MKG) and it vividly illustrates one of the worst perils of plastic production. Every 10 to 15 seconds, an amount equal to that accumulated in the garbage heap at the museum finds its way out to the sea -- usually because it has been thrown away irresponsibly. And with 64-million tons of trash reaching the oceans each year, it is slowly turning into one big batch of plastic soup.

Already today there isn't a single cubic meter of sea water that is free of plastic particles. Entire gyres have taken shape in our oceans in which a plethora of plastic debris is constantly being washed around in a pattern, trapped by the currents. The biggest water-based plastic trash heap, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is estimated to be about the size of Central Europe. There, whirlpools 30 meters deep (nearly 100 feet) churn with massive multitudes of plastic sludge originating from the Pacific Rim countries. […]

The exhibition first originated at the Zurich Design Museum (ZHDK) in Switzerland. Inspired by an article about the Pacific Trash Vortex in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, curators there sought to raise awareness of the topic and transform it into a learning experience. And it certainly makes sense for a museum focused on form to consider products not only through the lens of good design, but also the way in which they are disposed of or how they affect the environment. After a stop in Hamburg, it will continue on to museums in Finland, Denmark, and France. […]

Plastic Chokes Oceans and Trashes Beaches

2012 record weather: A dock extends into a dry cove at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Indiana, as oppressive heat and drought conditions stifle the middle of the U.S. Michael Conroy / AP Photo

By Seth Borenstein
20 December 2012

WASHINGTON (MSN News) – As 2012 began, winter in the U.S. went AWOL. Spring and summer arrived early with wildfires, blistering heat, and drought. And fall hit the eastern third of the country with the ferocity of Superstorm Sandy.

This past year's weather was deadly, costly and record-breaking everywhere — but especially in the United States.

If that sounds familiar, it should. The previous year also was one for the record books.

"We've had two years now of some angry events," said Deke Arndt, U.S. National Climatic Data Center monitoring chief. "I'm hoping that 2013 is really boring."

In 2012 many of the warnings scientists have made about global warming went from dry studies in scientific journals to real-life video played before our eyes: Record melting of the ice in the Arctic Ocean. U.S. cities baking at 95 degrees or hotter. Widespread drought. Flooding. Storm surge inundating swaths of New York City.

All of that was predicted years ago by climate scientists and all of that happened in 2012.

"What was predicted was there would be more of these things," said Michel Jarraud, secretary general for the World Meteorological Organization.

Globally, five countries this year set heat records, but none set cold records. 2012 is on track to be the warmest year on record in the United States. Worldwide, the average through November suggests it will be the eighth warmest since global record-keeping began in 1880.

July was the hottest month in record-keeping U.S. history, averaging 77.6 degrees. Over the year, more than 69,000 local heat records were set — including 356 locations in 34 states that hit their highest-ever temperature mark.

America's heartland lurched from one extreme to the other without stopping at "normal." Historic flooding in 2011 gave way to devastating drought in 2012.

"The normal has changed, I guess," said U.S. National Weather Service acting director Laura Furgione. "The normal is extreme."

While much of the U.S. struggled with drought that conjured memories of the Dust Bowl, parts of Africa, Russia, Pakistan, Colombia, Australia and China dealt with the other extreme: deadly and expensive flooding.

But the most troubling climate development this year was the melting at the top of the world, Jarraud said. Summer sea ice in the Arctic shrank to 18 percent below the previous record low. The normally ice-packed Arctic passages were open to shipping much of the summer, more than ever before, and a giant Russian tanker carrying liquefied natural gas made a delivery that way to prove how valuable this route has become, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Also in Greenland, 97 percent of the surface ice sheet had some melting. Changes in the Arctic alter the rest of the world's weather and "melting of the ice means an amplifying of the warming," Jarraud said.

There were other weather extremes no one predicted: A European winter cold snap that killed more than 800 people. A bizarre summer windstorm called a derecho in the U.S. mid-Atlantic that left millions without power. Antarctic sea ice that inched to a record high. More than a foot of post-Thanksgiving rain in the western U.S. Super Typhoon Bopha, which killed hundreds of people in the Philippines and was the southernmost storm of its kind.

The United States has had "some quiet years while the rest of the world was quite wild," but that's not the case this year, Arndt said. Insurance giant Munich Re in a report this fall concluded: "Nowhere in the world is the rising number of annual natural catastrophes more evident than in North America."

In 2011, the United States set a record with 14 billion-dollar weather disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a preliminary count of 11 such disasters this year. And NOAA's official climate extreme index, which tallies disasters and rare events like super-hot days, is on pace to set its own record.

Arndt points to the geographic heart of America, the Mississippi River, as emblematic.

On May 6, 2011, the Mississippi River at New Madrid, Mo., crested at its highest point on record. Less than 16 months later on Aug. 30, 2012, the same spot on the river was more than 53 feet lower, hitting an all-time low water mark.

The U.S. went through the same lurching extremes on tornadoes. Those storms killed 553 people last year, Furgione said. This year began with many tornadoes, then in April they just stopped. April to November, normal tornado season, saw the fewest F1 or stronger tornadoes in the U.S. ever.

"Every year is bringing different types of extreme weather and climate events," NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco said. "All storms today are happening in a climate-altered world."

Not everything is connected to man-made global warming, climate scientists say. Some, like tornadoes, have no scientifically discernible connection. Others, like the East Coast superstorm, will be studied to see if climate change is a cause, although scientists say rising sea levels clearly worsened flooding. They are more convinced that the heat waves of last summer are connected to global warming.

These are "clearly not freak events," but "systemic changes," said climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute in Germany. "With all the extremes that, really, every year in the last 10 years have struck different parts of the globe, more and more people absolutely realize that climate change is here and already hitting us."

In 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen, sometimes called the godfather of global warming science, ran computer models that predicted the decade of the 2010s would see many more 95-degree or hotter days and much fewer subfreezing days. This year made Hansen's predictions seemed like underestimates. For example, he predicted that in the 2010s Memphis would have on average 26 days of more than 95 degrees. This year there were 47.

Scientists — both those studying global warming and those studying hurricanes — have warned for more than a decade about a hurricane with big storm surge hitting New York City and flooding the subways. That happened with Sandy. Though it was never a major hurricane, it stretched across nearly 1,000 miles in the U.S., bringing storm surges, power outages to millions and even snow. Sandy killed more than 125 people in the United States and at least 70 in the Caribbean.

For decades, scientists have predicted extensive droughts from global warming. This year, the drought of 2012 was so extensive that nearly 2,300 counties — in almost every state — were declared agriculture disasters. At one point this summer more than 65 percent of the Lower 48 was suffering from drought.

And with lack of water, came fire, something also mentioned as more likely in scientific reports about global warming. Fire season in the United States came earlier than normal and lasted longer, officials said. Nearly 9.2 million acres — an area bigger than the state of Maryland — have been burned by wildfire, the third most since accurate recordkeeping began in 1960.

"Take any one of these events in isolation, it might be possible to yell 'fluke!' Take them collectively, it provides confirmation of precisely what climate scientists predicted would happen decades ago if we proceeded with business-as-usual fossil fuel burning, as we have," Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said in an email. "And this year especially is a cautionary tale. What we view today as unprecedented extreme weather will become the new normal in a matter of decades if we proceed with business-as-usual."

2012 another record-setter, fits climate forecasts


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