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News & Events On Our Changing Planet

4/11/2014

Gulf Life Still Reeling From Toxic BP Spill


Nearly four years after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe, plants, animals, and fish in the Gulf of Mexico are still reeling from the toxic spill, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Wildlife Federation.
The report, which arrives just ahead of the disaster's anniversary, examined 14 species of wildlife in the Gulf and found ongoing impacts of the disaster that could last for decades.
"Four years later, wildlife in the Gulf are still feeling the impacts of the spill," said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation. "Bottlenose dolphins in oiled areas are still sick and dying and the evidence is stronger than ever that these deaths are connected to the Deepwater Horizon. The science is telling us that this is not over."
According to the findings, in 2013 dolphins were dying at three times normal rates, with many suffering from "unusual lung damage" and immune system problems.
In addition to the ongoing plight of dolphins in Gulf waters, the researchers found that every year for the past three years roughly five hundred dead sea turtles are found near the spill, "a dramatic increase over normal rates." These sea turtles only recently recovered from near extinction—a recovery that has now been drastically threatened by the spill.
"The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has long been the poster child for the possibilities of restoration in the Gulf," said Pamela Plotkin, associate research professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University and director of Texas Sea Grant. "Once close to extinction, it has rebounded dramatically over the past thirty years. But four years ago, the numbers of Kemp’s ridley appear to have flat-lined. We need to monitor this species carefully, as the next few years will be critical."
According to the report, sperm whales in the area are showing higher levels of "DNA-damaging metals" than others in other parts of the world—"metals that were present in oil from BP’s well."
In addition, deep sea coral colonies, which "provide a foundation for a diverse assortment of marine life," within seven miles from the site of the spill, were still "heavily impacted."
Other findings, as stated by the group, include:
  • Oyster reproduction remained low over large areas of the northern Gulf at least through the fall of 2012.
  • A chemical in oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill has been shown to cause irregular heartbeats in bluefin and yellowfin tuna that can lead to heart attacks, or even death.
  • Loons that winter on the Louisiana coast have increasing concentrations of toxic oil compounds in their blood.
"Despite what BP would have you believe, the impacts of the disaster are ongoing," said Sara Gonzalez-Rothi, the National Wildlife Federation’s senior policy specialist for Gulf and coastal restoration. "Last year, nearly five million pounds of oiled material from the disaster were removed from Louisiana’s coast. And that’s just what we’ve seen. An unknown amount of oil remains deep in the Gulf."
The Gulf oil disaster—which is the worst in U.S. history—"will likely unfold for years or even decades," NWF writes. "It is essential that careful monitoring of the Gulf ecosystem continue and that mitigation of damages and restoration of degraded and weakened ecosystems begin as soon as possible."
Despite the ongoing travesty the Environmental Protection Agency announced last month that it removed its ban on BP contracts in the U.S. and new drilling leases, including in the Gulf of Mexico.
Shortly after, the oil giant won bids to start new drilling operations in two dozen separate locations, a total pricetag of $54 million.

Common Dreams



3/25/2014

Drought kills 20 thousand animals in Casanare, Colombia.



To the government, deforestation is in Boyacá reduces the water available, but that would not be the whole truth.

The strong wave of drought in Casanare has caused for four months death by dehydration of about 20,000 animals, mainly capybaras, deer, foxes, fish, turtles, reptiles and cattle.

The impact has been so strong that the Government of that department is considering Friday whether to declare an environmental emergency, especially in the town of Peace Ariporo, the third largest in Casanare. But for this they need legal arguments being collected.

Doing so would mean that the medium-term works as drilling deep wells with pumps would provide water.

But the problem is not lack of enough wells but a forest reserve, as explained to Semana.com Adriana Soto, former deputy environment minister and expert on climate change adaptation.

"There will be more droughts and extreme rainfall. The regions have been better natural hedges (such as forests, jungles, etc.) can better withstand these impacts because they help regulate water and soil, "he said.

Soto specified that if there is a well maintained trees and forest area, rainwater does not accumulate in the wells and increasingly severe droughts are generated.

"We're betting on the wrong thing because ranching and farming activities in a clean field think of trees as productive but this country has to realize that deforestation is against its own productivity," he said.

In the Governorate of Casanare agree with this approach but they will throw the ball to his neighbor, Boyacá. "In Casanare there is little foothills. Deforestation in boyacenses municipalities as Paya, Ishbah or Aquitaine and our Boyacá department must for tourism, roads and water. Four rivers discharging to Casanare born in Laguna de Tota, "said Luis Eduardo Castro, secretary of planning Casanare.

The time of intense temperatures ranging between 40 ° and 45 ° C started since December 2013 and has not stopped. Many outraged voices in social networks have said that the Government and the State have done nothing during these four months and intend to fix the situation in a day.

Castro said that there is always the savannah animal mortality by weather but this situation was exacerbated by the extension of the summer, they did not expect. "It's a natural phenomenon that we are out of hand," he said.

According to him, it is not the first act of the Government to deal with the drought. The attempt is to work in Casanare watershed management hand in hand with this Boyacá and is approved as a national public policy.

Castro argues that the National Environmental Licensing Authority (ANLA) grants permits to large enterprises without studying too whether or not affects the territory and the Government can not interfere in it. "The ANLA issuing the license but it does not follow, do not make a balance of the compensation of the damage and not constantly check if companies do not comply with the conservation of micro" he explained.
                                                    Image: Fish killed by Dehydration

While Boyaca come to Casanare important water resources, it can not avoid the responsibility of this department in environmental impacts. So think Manuel Rodriguez, Prime Minister of the Environment that took the country, who says he "can not forget that Casanare has treated wetlands absolutely irresponsible and that is local." According to Rodriguez, in that department have drained wetlands to give more land to agriculture.

Some voices blame the oil to dry water wells. Planning secretary says he has no technical data on whether or not these companies interfere in this last season of drought. Rodriguez believes that the involvement of water in the oil industry but it is clear that the subject line is not how to regulate it but if not just for or extraction of this mineral.

Adriana Soto, meanwhile, believes that we must look at the specific situation of Casanare very closely to ensure that drought and analyze more science and less politics. His position is clear: the only solution to the long and severe droughts and floods afflicting the country's reforestation and care of forests and jungles.

Otherwise, for more wells to be constructed will be an almost impossible task to deal with the drastic climate change as there will be sufficient water reserves in times of heat or natural hedges to observe the water during the rainy season. Thus, there will die 20,000 wild animals and thousands more.

Semana (Translated) 

3/17/2014

Vanishing ice warning for 'Africa's Alps'

The Rwenzori mountain range on the border between Uganda … Rwenzori Mountains (Uganda) (AFP) - In swirling snow, John Medenge prods a thin ice bridge over a crevasse with an iron-tipped spear, guiding climbers scaling the steep glacial wall using crampons and axes.
"We are the last few who will climb on the ice, it is going so fast," said Medenge, after scaling the treacherous ridge up Mount Stanley, part of the dramatic Rwenzori mountain range straddling the border between Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
At 5,109 metres (16,763 feet), Stanley's jagged peak is the third highest mountain in Africa, topped only by Mount Kenya and Tanzania's iconic Kilimanjaro.
But experts warn the ice is melting at "disturbing" rates, and that within two decades Africa's equatorial peaks will be bare rock, impacting agriculture and tourism.
"Every year the ice grows smaller," 54-year old Medenge added, who has been climbing the range since a teenager.
Ancient Greek geographer Ptolemy in Alexandria wrote of the snow-capped Rwenzoris around the second century AD, dubbing the mysterious peaks the "Mountains of the Moon", and identifying them as a source of the mighty White Nile.
- 'Canary in the mine' -
But after centuries of wonder at the spectacle of snow on the equator, the ice is vanishing, bringing with it multiple challenges.
"The melting glaciers are another warning sign, a 'canary in the mine' of mankind's inability to contain climate change and its negative consequences," said Luc Hardy of Pax Arctica, an organisation that promotes awareness of the impact of climate change, and who led an expedition in January to the mountains.
"The melting of this unique African glacier is a major threat to local communities, with the obvious loss of sustainable water supplies," said Hardy, a French-American explorer and a vice-president of the environmental Green Cross group.
Reduced glacial river flows are already impacting agricultural production and cutting the output of hydroelectric power plants, said Richard Atugonza, from the Mountain Resource Centre at Uganda's Makere University.
"It can be a big problem in the future for the region, with the river ecology already changing," Atugonza said.
Just a handful of kilometres (miles) north of the equator, the mist-covered Rwenzoris -- meaning "rain-maker" in the local Bakonzo language -- stretch for some thousand kilometres squared (386 square miles), and include several short glaciers, though on many peaks remaining ice is now tiny patches.
British-American explorer Henry Morton Stanley was the first Westerner to sight the ice in 1889, but the dramatic sight of glinting snow in hot sunshine is fading fast, with maps showing the ice has shrunk from some seven square kilometres (2.7 square miles) when they were first climbed in 1906, to just a single square kilometre (a third of a square mile) today.
Fifty years ago, the glacier once began a stone's throw from the cliff-top Elena camp, where mountaineers shiver in basic huts before making a pre-dawn attempt to scale Stanley's peaks.
Now the ice lies almost an hour's tough scramble up a steep track on loose rocks along sheer cliffs.
- Impacting agriculture and tourism -
Mountain guides say the local king sends elders to sacrifice chickens and goats at the foot of the mountains to appease the gods that live in the peaks, to stem the vanishing ice.
"Global warming was not caused by people here, but it is harming us," Baluku Stanley said, chairman of one of the main trekking companies, the community-run Rwenzori Mountaineering Services.
"Of course when the ice goes it will affect tourism, even though trekking in the valleys is amazing," he added.
Spectacular valleys with fantastical vegetation akin to a fairy story -- including bizarre twisted trees draped in near luminous green lichen, giant lobelia plants and heather some five metres (15 feet) tall -- offer extraordinary trekking, even once the ice has gone.
Elephant, leopards, monkeys and chimpanzees hide in the thick lower jungle, while at higher altitudes, colourful birds endemic to the range swoop over the vast bogs that line the valleys.
But in higher reaches, new climbing routes have to be found, as the retreating ice make old paths unusable, with dangling rusting ladders once used to climb onto the glaciers now ending dangerously in mid-air.
The peaks offer some of the only proper ice climbing in Africa, attracting mountaineers from across the world to the challenging climb, though numbers reaching the top summits are tiny compared to those scaling peaks in neighbouring Kenya or Tanzania.
"The Rwenzoris are some of the most exciting glacier trekking and climbing I've done, rivalling peaks in Europe and South America," said Paul Drawbridge, a keen British mountaineer on an eight-day expedition to climb Stanley.
"It is such a shame to think that any children I may have will never get to see the ice-capped peaks."

3/15/2014

Global Warming Slows Antarctica's Coldest Currents

The deep, salty currents that carry oxygen and nutrients to the ocean depths have been disappearing over the past few decades


A shift from briny to fresh in Antarctica's ocean waters in recent decades could explain the shutdown of the Southern Ocean's coldest, deepest currents, a new study finds.
The cold currents, called the Antarctic Bottom Water, are chilly, salty rivers that flow from the underwater edge of the Antarctic continent north toward the equator, keeping to the bottom of the seafloor. The currents carry oxygen, carbon and nutrients down to the deepest parts of the ocean. Previous studies have found this deep, dense water is disappearing, though researchers aren't sure if the shrinkage is part of a long-term trend linked to global warming, or a natural cycle.
The new study suggests that Antarctica's changing climate is to blame for the shrinking Antarctica Bottom Water. In the past 60 years, the ocean surface offshore Antarctica became less salty as a result of melting glaciers and more precipitation (both rain and snow), researchers reported Sunday (March 2) in the journal Nature Climate Change. This growing freshwater layer is the key link in a chain that prevents the cold-water currents from forming, the study finds.
"Deep ocean waters only mix directly to the surface in a few small regions of the global ocean, so this has effectively shut one of the main conduits for deep-ocean heat to escape," said Casimir de Lavergne, an oceanographer at McGill University in Montreal.
Holey ice
The linchpins linking freshwater and cold currents are polynyas, or natural holes within sea ice. These persistent regions of open water form when upwellings of warm ocean water keep water temperatures above freezing, or when winds drive sea ice away from the coast.
Polynyas are one of the main sources of Antarctica Bottom Water. Polynyas act like natural refrigerators, letting frigid temperatures and cold winds chill seawater and send it sinking down to the ocean bottom. As the cold water sinks, warmer ocean water comes up to take its place, maintaining the polynya's open water. [Album: Stunning Photos of Antarctic Ice]
But as Antarctica's ocean surface water has freshened, fewer polynyas have appeared, the researchers found. That's because the fresher water is less dense. Even if the water is very cold, it doesn't sink as readily as saltier water, de Lavergne explained. The freshwater acts like a lid, shutting down the ocean circulation that sends cold water to the seafloor, and brings up warm water into the polynyas.
"What we suggest is, the change in salinity of the surface water makes them so light that even very strong cooling is not sufficient to make them dense enough to sink," de Lavergne told Live Science. "Mixing them gets harder and harder."
Trapped heat
In addition to warming and shrinking the Antarctic Bottom Water currents, the reduction in polynyas could be trapping extra heat in the Southern Ocean, de Lavergne said.
"If the warm waters aren't able to release their heat to the atmosphere, then the heat is waiting in the deep ocean instead," he said. "This could have slowed the rate of warming in the Southern Hemisphere."
De Lavergne cautioned that the heat-storage effect is localized and not related to the so-called global warming "hiatus" — the recent slowdown in the rise of global surface temperatures.
"Our study is still a hypothesis," he added. "We say that climate change is preventing convection from happening, but we do not know how frequent it was in the past, so that's a big avenue for future research."

Scientific American

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