2/10/2016

West Coast bird die-off “is biggest ever recorded”


Alaska Dispatch News, Jan 29, 2016 (emphasis added): Scientists think Gulf of Alaska seabird die-off is biggest ever recorded… The mass of dead seabirds that have washed up on Alaska beaches in past months is unprecedented in size, scope and duration, a federal biologist said… The staggering die-off… is a signal that something is awry in the Gulf of Alaska, said Heather Renner, supervisory wildlife biologist at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge… It coincides with widespread deaths of other marine animals, from whales in the Gulf of Alaska to sea lions in California… Common murres and whales… are not the only Gulf of Alaska marine animals to fall victim to ailments… Kachemak Bay saw an eight-fold increase in sea otter deaths… Sea stars in Kachemak Bay in 2015 were found stricken with a wasting disease similar.
Heather Renner, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge: “We are in the midst of perhaps the largest murre die-off ever recorded”… [In Homer] the beaches are “littered” with murre carcasses… A breeding colony in the Barren Islands that is usually teeming in late summer with adult murres tending their young was deserted this year… “nobody was home… In more than three decades of monitoring murres in the Barrens, we’ve never had complete reproduction failure before“… Similar failures occurred at some other nesting colonies.
USGS (pdf), Jan 2016: During March through September 2015, at least 25 seabird mortality events were reported across Alaska… The primary avian species reported included common and thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwakes, horned and tufted puffins, glaucous-winged gulls, and sooty and short-tailed shearwaters… Some of these avian mortalities were concurrent with whale, pinniped, sea otter, and fish mortalities
Alaska Public Radio, Jan 28, 2016: [T]his event will likely be the largest and most widespread on record. And seeing the starving birds dying far inland apparently searching for food is “nearly unheard of,” said USFWS’s Heather Renner.
KHNS, Jan 15, 2016: “We’re seeing the effects of this throughout the food web,” [Rob Kaler U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist] says… The murres’ stomachs are completely empty, Kaler says… Not only is the bird die-off unsettling, the implications are scary, [bird expert Pam Randles] says. “Our salmon eat that stuff and who knows what else is dying off, or starving, or having trouble?” Norm Hughes has been commercial salmon fishing in Alaska for more than 30 years. He says last season saw skinnier fish – up to 20 percent smaller… “there’s less fish”…
CNN, Jan 22, 2016: “We have never found close to 8,000 birds on a 1-mile long beach before,” [seabird biologist David Irons] said… “It is an order of magnitude larger than any records that I am aware of… Seabird biologists say seabirds are indicators of the health of the ecosystem. Now they’re dying and that is telling us something… this is bigger than I’ve ever seen.”
APRN, Jan 28, 2016: Scientists say murre die-off comparable to Exxon Valdez spill… Heather Renner with USFWS says it is already one of the largest die-offs in history and, unlike when the tanker went aground, not many people have gone out to remote beaches to survey for dead seabirds… “there’s dead murres on the ground everywhere, and it’s hard not to notice them.”
The Economist, Jan 30, 2016: [Probably hundreds] of thousands of these birds have drifted in dead… last summer they failed to raise chicks. And they have been dying in large numbers along the Pacific coast, from California to Alaska… “Whole systems are out of whack,” says Heather Renner… Old-timers in Homer have never experienced anything like this. And they are perplexed by a host of other freakish phenomena
KTOO, Jan 28, 2016: “[T]here’s dead murres on the ground everywhere, and it’s hard not to notice them.”… The reason for the dead birds is still a mystery… “I think it suggests something more related to the food web structure,” said Renner.
Homer Tribune, Jan 2016: Irons found an estimated 7,800 dead murres on a one-mile stretch of beach… he had never seen anything like that. Similar reports came in from other areas… “The really frustrating question of why they are starving to death”… said Heather Renner… [M]urres abandoned their breeding attempts mid-season at many colonies in the Gulf of Alaska, something very uncommon.
LiveScience, Feb 3, 2016: Massive Bird Die-Off Puzzles Alaska Scientists — Dead common murres have washed ashore in Alaska in alarming numbers … leaving scientists concerned and confused… [The birds] have nothing in their stomachs… [S]imilar events affected seabird populations in Washington, Oregon and California.
CBC News, Jan 28, 2016: Bruce Wright, a senior scientist Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association… estimates up to 200,000 Alaskan murres could die. With a population he puts at more than two million, Wright said the species should recover, as long as the food base comes back.
New York Times, Jan 18, 2016: Animals Die in Large Numbers, and Researchers Scratch Their Heads… The latest victims are common murres… this die-off has surprised experts, because it has been going on for around a year and it covers such a vast area… “I still don’t think we’ve seen the worst,” said [John F. Piatt, USGS seabird expert], who… speculated that if the worst happened, the deaths could reach into the many hundreds of thousands.

Watch CNN’s broadcast here

Source: ENE News
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2/05/2016

Burning 9-story-high landfill covers Mumbai with toxic fumes

Social media has been flooded with apocalyptic pictures of the Indian city of Mumbai after a massive toxic fire broke out at a nine-story-high local dumping ground. For the second week, fumes have covered buildings and forced motorists to drive in thick smog.

The fire started at Deonar dumping ground in Mumbai on January 27. Since then, local residents have been complaining of eye irritation, breathlessness and coughing.

"My elder child, who is in class 3, has been feeling nauseous every morning for the past four days, owing to the heavy smog. He has a bad cough and has missed school," Mumbai resident Gunjal Chattree told the Hindustan Times.

Vikram Vishwanath, who lives close to Deonar, has stopped sending his son to school.

"My six-year-old has been having a lot of trouble breathing since the fire broke out at the dumping ground. We took him to an ENT specialist and he is on medication," he said.



Dr Satish Kaushik, a practicing consultant family physician, said in the last few days he has seen "close to a 50% increase in the number cases related to respiratory problems."

"People are complaining of cough, cold headaches and chest burn," he said.

On the sixth day after the fire started, local residents staged a protest as the air quality worsened in the affected neighborhoods.



More than 500 citizens wearing pollution masks and black clothes demanded answers from the government. They asked why the blaze had started and why the authorities were not able to handle the situation.

The inferno is so big that it was clearly recorded by NASA - which has released pictures of the blaze. {Top Photo}


The Deonar dumping ground "receives more than 3,700 metric tons (8.1 million pounds) of trash per day, about one-third of the city's waste. With piles of trash that rise up to 30 meters (100 feet) tall—the equivalent of a nine-story building—the landfill has literally become a mountain of trash," according to NASA.


RT


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1/28/2016

Radioactive Water From Fukushima Is Leaking Into the Pacific

"Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind," Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, told Truthout shortly after a 9.0 earthquake in Japan caused a tsunami that destroyed the cooling system of Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan.
While this statement might sound overdramatic, Gundersen may be right.
Several nuclear reactor meltdowns in the plant, which at the time forced the mandatory evacuations of thousands of people living within a 15-mile radius of the damaged power plant, persist, and experts like Gundersen continue to warn that this problem is not going to go away.

"The fuels are now a molten blob at the bottom of the reactor."

The March 11, 2011, 9.0 earthquake that destroyed the cooling systems at TEPCO led to hydrogen explosions and reactor meltdowns, and has left exposed highly radioactive materials that Gunderson says are the root of the problem. For now, there is no solution in sight.
"Fukushima has three nuclear reactors exposed and four fuel cores exposed," Gundersen said. "You probably have the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactor cores because of the fuel cores, and they are all in desperate need of being cooled, and there is no means to cool them effectively."
This persistent problem reared its head yet again in December 2015, when TEPCO was forced to deal with a massive amount of highly radioactive water generated by having to cool the reactors and exposed fuel cores Gundersen mentioned.
TEPCO must now transfer between 200 and 300 tons of groundwater into highly contaminated reactor buildings, having been unable to devise an effective plan for keeping the groundwater from continuing to flow under the plant.
To see more stories like this, visit "Planet or Profit?"
"The problem is how to keep it cool," Gundersen explained. "They are pouring in water and the question is what are they going to do with the waste that comes out of that system, because it is going to contain plutonium and uranium. Where do you put the water?"
The company has repeatedly come under fire for periodically dumping large amounts of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.
Even though the plant has not been online since it was largely destroyed in 2011, fission products such as uranium continue to generate heat, and therefore require cooling.
"The fuels are now a molten blob at the bottom of the reactor," Gundersen said.
Shortly after the plant was damaged, TEPCO announced that they had experienced a "melt through," which means a melted reactor core had melted through some layers beneath it.

"Most of the time TEPCO seems to be firefighting, discovering leaks here and unexpectedly high levels of radiation there."

That left several highly radioactive blobs that now have water on top of them, hence causing the water to become extremely radioactive. This process of cooling the cores has now generated hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tons of highly radioactive water that then must be dealt with somehow.
Dr. M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Lab, says the problem is the lack of a real long-term plan for addressing the issue.
"Most of the time TEPCO seems to be firefighting, discovering leaks here and unexpectedly high levels of radiation there," Ramana told Truthout. "In part, this is because TEPCO's plans do not account for the many possibilities of failure and putting in place backup safety systems."
Dr. Helen Caldicott, an author and anti-nuclear advocate who has established several foundations that oppose the use of nuclear power and weapons and depleted uranium munitions, told Truthout that the situation in Fukushima is "very serious indeed."
"There is no way to prevent the radioactive water [from] reaching the western shores of the North American continent and then circulating around the rest of the Pacific Ocean," Caldicott said. "At the moment, it seems like this is going to occur for the rest of time."
Massive Releases of Radiation
A declassified report from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission written immediately after the disaster began states that massive amounts of radiation from the plant were released into the atmosphere early on.
The report states: "25% of the total fuel in unit 2 released to the atmosphere ... 50% of the total spent fuel from unit 3 was released to the atmosphere, and ... 100% of the total spent fuel was released to the atmosphere from unit 4."
Meanwhile, in December 2015, Japan's NHK news agency reported alarmingly high spikes in radiation levels underneath the Fukushima plant.

"There are no safe levels of radiation for biological systems."

TEPCO detected levels of radioactive cesium (a material which has a half-life of 30 years) in water samples that were 4,000 times higher than data taken the same month one year earlier. The samples also contained levels of a beta-ray-emitting radioactive substance that were 4,100 times higher than they were from the same period a year earlier.
As Caldicott warned, radiation from Fukushima along the US West Coast is expected to continue to worsen.
According to a 2013 study by the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center in Norway, the first radioactive oceanic plume released by Fukushima is likely to hit the US's West Coast in force in 2017, with levels expected to peak in 2018. According to the report, the majority of the radioactive material from the disaster is expected to stay concentrated along the West Coast through at least 2026.
Even though that plume hasn't yet hit, the spread of radiation has already been substantial. Professor Michio Aoyama of Japan's Fukushima University Institute of Environmental Radioactivity believes the amount of radiation that has now reached North America is probably nearly as much as was spread over Japan during the initial disaster.
A recent Woods Hole study shows a 50 percent increase in radiation levels 1,600 miles west of San Francisco, but states that the levels are still far below what the US government considers dangerous.
However, Caldicott takes issue with what the United States considers a "safe" level of radiation exposure.
"There are no safe levels of radiation for biological systems," she said. "That terminology is used by the nuclear industry to cover their inevitable radioactive releases."
Solution?
Ramana believes it could still take decades before the plant's radiation leaks are even contained.
"I think this is going to take a couple of decades," he said. "We are still in the early years; it hasn't even been five years since the disaster started. It has been 30 years since Chernobyl and remediation of that site is still [a] work in progress."

"March 2011 was just the beginning of the disaster, which is still unfolding."

Disconcertingly, Ramana does not believe there is a "true solution" to the crisis. When asked how TEPCO and the Japanese government are likely to handle the crisis, he said, "What we will get is TEPCO and other Japanese authorities muddling through this completely unprecedented situation."
Ramana pointed out many reasons why he believes people should pay attention to what is happening in Fukushima, and started by correcting the belief that the disaster "occurred" and is now over.
"March 2011 was just the beginning of the disaster, which is still unfolding," he said. "As something that is unfolding, one should be concerned about how the situation is being managed."
He added that since this is an ongoing crisis, people need to remember how challenging it is to deal with a nuclear accident, and that this should cause people to be skeptical of "safe" nuclear power more broadly.
"TEPCO's actions should serve as evidence that organizations that seek to profit from running a nuclear plant are not always the best ones to manage accidents or cleanup," Ramana said. "Likewise, its actions prior to the accident, wherein it made decisions that maximize its short-term profits while not making decisions that would have promoted safer operations (or shutting down the reactor), are emblematic of a number of other utilities, all of whom have conflicting priorities. That TEPCO is the organization that experienced such a major accident while others have escaped, at least so far, is at least in part a matter of luck."
Gundersen told Truthout he had seen data that revealed radioactive hot spots further away from Fukushima than the radiation from Chernobyl had reached after that disaster.
"And the amount of radiation in many of them was the amount that caused areas to be declared no man's land for Chernobyl," he said. "You can't clean all this up. We still have radioactive wild boar in Germany, 35 years after Chernobyl."
Radioactive water from the Fukushima disaster continues to be released into the Pacific, and spread around the globe.
Of this, Caldicott warned, "There is a system of biological magnification by orders of magnitude at each step of the food chain: algae, crustaceans, little fish, big fish." That means that the radiation's impact on the planet's ecology expands the further it moves up and across the food chain.
Meanwhile in the United States, the nuclear industry continues apace.

"With Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and now with Fukushima, you can pinpoint the exact day and time they started, but they never end."

Nuclear operator Exelon Corporation was among Barack Obama's biggest campaign donors, and is one of the largest employers in Illinois where Obama was a US senator. Exelon donated more than $269,000 to his political campaigns, and Obama appointed Exelon CEO John Rowe to his Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future.
Yet the Fukushima disaster, which, as Ramana points out, is just beginning, stands as a reminder of the dire consequences of continuing to allow the nuclear industry to grow. This reminder will remain with us indefinitely.
"With Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and now with Fukushima, you can pinpoint the exact day and time they started," Gundersen said, "but they never end."
In Japan, US citizens living there who were located within a 50-mile radius of the Fukushima plant were required to evacuate. Within the United States, more than 120 million people live within a 50-mile evacuation zone of a nuclear plant.
Meanwhile, officials from TEPCO have admitted they are not sure when their company might be able to solve its multitude of problems, and begin to reduce the amount of contaminated water at the plant. When it comes to the nuclear industry, it seems, it is always difficult to determine when a disaster will end - or if it will end at all.

Image Above:  The Ikata Nuclear Power Plant, which was idled after the 2011 disaster in Fukushima, in the Ehime prefecture of Japan, January 23, 2014. (Photo: Ko Sasaki / The New York Times)

Truth Out
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1/21/2016

Mangroves move inland as seas rise

Adapting to the damaging effects of climate change, plants are gradually moving to where temperatures are cooler, rainfall is greater, freshwater is available or other conditions are ideal.
The researcher is studying the effects of sea level rise on Florida mangroves and their ecosystems.
On a local scale, FIU biology student Sean Charles is examining how mangroves in the Florida Everglades are impacting the ecosystem around them as they gradually move inland from saltwater to freshwater communities. For now, this tactic is helping the plants keep up with salt water intrusion caused by sea level rise.
Wetland ecosystems like the Florida Everglades provide a number of services that benefit people, including flood control, water purification, and carbon accumulation that removes harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Charles’ study specifically looks at how vegetation shifts and sea level rise, combined with ongoing restoration efforts, will impact ecosystem functions, soil elevation and the Everglades’ ability to store carbon. His research project is funded by the Everglades Foundation FIU ForEverglades Scholarship.
“The world’s largest wetland restoration effort is taking place right now in the Everglades,” said Charles, a Ph.D. student in John Kominoski’s Ecosystem Ecology Laboratory. “It’s a very interesting, yet scary, time for this amazing ecosystem, and we have the potential to make a difference. This study will improve our understanding of the risks and opportunities likely to confront the Everglades of the future, as well as coastal wetlands throughout the world.”
In addition to improving what is known about interactions among mangroves and their environment, Charles wants to informing Everglades conservation and restoration. He is also engaging K-12 students in Collier and Miami-Dade counties in a coastal plant restoration project. Known as “Marsh-Mangress,” the public school students will grow mangrove seedlings on school grounds until they are established and ready to be planted at local restoration sites.
“By learning through participating in active restoration projects, students will be engaged in the importance of environmental conservation. and will, hopefully, better understand their role in it,” Charles said.

Photo Above:  Biology student Sean Charles enjoys kayaking in the Everglades.
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