Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Arctic Ocean may be polluted soup by 2070

From: Kate Ravilious, NewScientist

WITHIN 60 years the Arctic Ocean could be a stagnant, polluted soup. Without drastic cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, the Transpolar Drift, one of the Arctic's most powerful currents and a key disperser of pollutants, is likely to disappear because of global warming.

The Transpolar Drift is a cold surface current that travels right across the Arctic Ocean from central Siberia to Greenland, and eventually out into the Atlantic. It was first discovered in 1893 by the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who tried unsuccessfully to use the current to sail to the North Pole. Together with the Beaufort Gyre, the Transpolar Drift keeps Arctic waters well mixed and ensures that pollution never lingers there for long.

To better understand the dispersal of pollution in the Arctic Ocean, Ola Johannessen, director of the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center in Bergen, Norway, and his colleagues studied the spread of radioactive substances such as strontium-90 and caesium-137 from nuclear testing, bomb factories and nuclear power-plant accidents. Measurements taken between 1948 and 1999 were plugged into a high-resolution ocean circulation model and combined with a climate model to predict Arctic Ocean circulation until 2080.

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Vast expanses of Arctic ice melt in summer heat

From Japan Today

TUKTOYAKTUK, Northwest Territories —

The Arctic Ocean has given up tens of thousands more square kilometers of ice on Sunday in a relentless summer of melt, with scientists watching through satellite eyes for a possible record low polar ice cap.

From the barren Arctic shore of this village in Canada’s far northwest, 2,414 kilometers north of Seattle, veteran observer Eddie Gruben has seen the summer ice retreating more each decade as the world has warmed. By this weekend the ice edge lay some 128 kilometers at sea.

“Forty years ago, it was 40 miles (64 kilometers) out,” said Gruben, 89, patriarch of a local contracting business.

Global average temperatures rose 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degree Celsius) in the past century, but Arctic temperatures rose twice as much or even faster, almost certainly in good part because of manmade greenhouse gases, researchers say.

In late July the mercury soared to almost 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) in this settlement of 900 Inuvialuit, the name for western Arctic Eskimos.

“The water was really warm,” Gruben said. “The kids were swimming in the ocean.”

As of Thursday, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported, the polar ice cap extended over 6.75 million square kilometers after having shrunk an average 106,000 square kilometers a day in July—equivalent to one Indiana or three Belgiums daily.

The rate of melt was similar to that of July 2007, the year when the ice cap dwindled to a record low minimum extent of 4.3 million square kilometers in September.

In its latest analysis, the Colorado-based NSIDC said Arctic atmospheric conditions this summer have been similar to those of the summer of 2007, including a high-pressure ridge that produced clear skies and strong melt in the Beaufort Sea, the arm of the Arctic Ocean off northern Alaska and northwestern Canada.

In July, “we saw acceleration in loss of ice,” the U.S. center’s Walt Meier told The Associated Press. In recent days the pace has slowed, making a record-breaking final minimum “less likely but still possible,” he said.

Scientists say the makeup of the frozen polar sea has shifted significantly the past few years, as thick multiyear ice has given way as the Arctic’s dominant form to thin ice that comes and goes with each winter and summer.

The past few years have “signaled a fundamental change in the character of the ice and the Arctic climate,” Meier said.

Ironically, the summer melts since 2007 appear to have allowed disintegrating but still thick multiyear ice to drift this year into the relatively narrow channels of the Northwest Passage, the east-west water route through Canada’s Arctic islands. Usually impassable channels had been relatively ice-free the past two summers.

“We need some warm temperatures with easterly or southeasterly winds to break up and move this ice to the north,” Mark Schrader, skipper of the sailboat Ocean Watch, e-mailed The Associated Press from the west entrance to the passage.

The steel-hulled sailboat, with scientists joining it at stops along the way, is on a 40,232-kilometer, foundation-financed circumnavigation of the Americas, to view and demonstrate the impact of climate change on the continents’ environments.

Environmentalists worry, for example, that the ice-dependent polar bear will struggle to survive as the Arctic cap melts. Schrader reported seeing only one bear, an animal chased from the Arctic shore of Barrow, Alaska, that “swam close to Ocean Watch on its way out to sea.”

(The rest of the article is available at: http://www.japantoday.com/category/world/view/vast-expanses-of-arctic-ice-melt-in-summer-heat)

Flying frogs and the world's oldest mushroom: a decade of Himalayan discovery

From: Felicity Carus, The Guardian UK

A pretty ultramarine blue flower which changes colour in response to temperature, a flying frog and the world's oldest mushroom preserved in amber are among the 350 new species discovered in the Eastern Himalayas over the past 10 years. But experts warn the new discoveries are under pressure from demand for land and climate change.

A report published today by the WWF, The Eastern Himalayas — Where Worlds Collide, lists 242 new types of plants, 16 amphibians, 16 reptiles, 14 fish, two birds and two mammals and 61 new invertebrates. The cache, quality and diversity of species newly discovered between 1998 and 2008 make the mountainous region one of the world's most important biological hotspots.

The WWF is asking the governments of Bhutan, India and Nepal to commit to cooperate on conservation efforts in the geographic region that transcends the borders of the three countries to protect the landscape and the livelihoods of people living in the Eastern Himalayas.

Population growth, deforestation, overgrazing, poaching, the wildlife trade, mining, pollution, and hydropower development have all contributed to the pressures on the fragile ecosystems in the region, the report says. Only 25% of the original habitats in the region remain intact and 163 species that live in the Eastern Himalayas are considered globally threatened.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

More wildfire, more bad air

From: Bettina Boxall, LA Times

Harvard University scientists are predicting some forms of air pollution could increase significantly across the West as more of the region's wildlands burn as a result of rising temperatures.

Smoke from wildfires contains two main kinds of carbon particles: black soot, or elemental carbon, and lighter-colored particles, called organic carbon aerosols, which are a mix of chemicals.

"In large quantities, downwind of fires, organic carbon aerosols are hazardous," said senior research fellow Jennifer Logan, who led a study examining rising wildfire rates and the impact on air quality. "The particles irritate lung tissue and the chemicals they carry are toxic. But even at low concentrations, these aerosols may be dangerous. We don't know. There is no known threshold where damage begins."

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Can national parks be saved from global warming?

From: Margot Roosevelt, LA Times

The federal government must take decisive action to avoid "a potentially catastrophic loss of animal and plant life," in the national parks, according to a new report that details the effect of global warming on the country's most treasured public lands.

The 53-page report from the National Parks Conservation Assn., a Washington-based advocacy group, contains a litany of concerns related to climate change in the parks, from the bleaching of coral reefs in Florida to the disappearance of high-altitude ponds that nurture yellow-legged frogs in California.

The group, which has offices in California and 10 other states, called on the National Park Service to come up with a detailed plan and funding to adapt to temperature-related ecosystem changes.

"Right now, no national plan exists to manage wildlife throughout their habitat, which often is a patchwork of lands managed by multiple federal agencies, states, tribes, municipalities and private landholders," wrote Tom C. Kiernan, president of the group.

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How to Get Cancer: Move to the United States

From: Live Science

he risk of cancer for Hispanics living in Florida is 40 percent higher than for those who live in their native countries, a puzzling new study finds.

The finding holds even after researchers corrected for the increase detection rates in the United States. And access to health care

did not make things better.

"This suggests that changes in their environment and lifestyles make them more prone to develop cancer," said Dr. Paulo S. Pinheiro, a researcher in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Cancers of the colon and rectum among Cubans and Mexicans who moved to the United States was more than double that in Cuba and Mexico. Lung cancer among Mexican and Puerto Rican women living in Florida was also double the rates in their countries of origin.

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Alaskan Glaciers REALLY are Shrinking

"Fifty years of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research on glacier change shows recent dramatic shrinkage of glaciers in three climatic regions of the United States. These long periods of record provide clues to the climate shifts that may be driving glacier change."

Beginning in 1957, the USGS has taken annual measurements of the South Cascade Glacier in Washington state, and followed shortly thereafter monitoring the Gulkana Glacier on the coast of Alaska and Wolverine Glacier in Alaska's interior.

All three glaciers have shrunk and thinned, the report says, with the mass loss rapidly accelerating over the past 15 years. The South Cascade Glacier has lost nearly 25% of its weight, and the two Alaskan glaciers about 15%.

Between 1987 and 2004 all three glaciers consistently lost more snow and ice each summer as compared to years prior, the report says. Combined with less snowfall the loss has led to the net decline of the glaceirs.
The study raises concerns about diminishing freshwater runoff and the future availability for fresh drinking water in areas that depend on the glaciers for water supply as they continue to shrink - some possibly disappearing entirely. The shrinkage also changes water temperatures, effecting the habitat of fish, insects, and other animals downstream, says USGS scientist Shad O'Neel.

Photo shows the South Cascade Glacier in 1928 (top) and now (bottom).

Article continues: http://www.globalwarmingisreal.com/blog/2009/08/07/usgs-report-shows-a-dramatic-decline-in-us-glaciers/