Best of our wild blogs: 12 Jan 11

27 Jan (Thu): Green Drinks focuses on Singapore's biodiversity
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Hunting down the urban civets and their poop!
from The Diet of the Common Palm Civet in Singapore

Javan Myna takes a centipede
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Singapore corals on the EDGE of Existence
from wild shores of singapore

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Dolphins were kept in 'appalling conditions'

Letter from Louis Ng Executive Director, ACRES
Today Online 12 Jan 11;

I refer to the article "Oh where, oh where have the dolphins gone?" and the letters "Marine park walks the talk" and "RWS must comply" (Jan 8).

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) fails to see how Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) is waking the talk considering they paid for 27 wild-caught dolphins. Taking the 27 dolphins might be detrimental to the survival of this species in the Solomon Islands.

While the trade in bottlenose dolphins is allowed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a leading authority on the environment and sustainable development, stated that exports of dolphins from the Solomon Islands should not take place due to the uncertainty of the impact of trade on the species. IUCN also states that "CITES Parties should not issue permits to import dolphins from the Solomon Islands".

RWS also needs to walk the talk with regard to caring for the dolphins.

The "team of professionals and animal experts" failed to provide adequate care to the dolphins in Langkawi and it seems RWS did not even employ a full-time vet to care for the dolphins or have an animal hospital there. Can RWS confirm that only two dolphins have died in Langkawi or the Philippines so far, and if any have escaped?

Having personally seen the enclosures the dolphins in Langkawi were housed in for almost a year, ACRES is appalled by their living conditions. The dolphins were housed in rusty enclosures measuring approximately 10m by 10m and this is clearly insufficient to meet the needs of these wild-caught dolphins. ACRES also cannot understand why anyone would choose such an unsuitable location (with high boat traffic causing noise and environmental pollution) to house dolphins.

ACRES has now learnt that the Langkawi dolphins have been moved to the Philippines. Why weren't all the dolphins sent to the Philippines in the first place?

Scientific studies indicate that handling and transportation are stressful events for dolphins. Each time they are confined and shipped from one place to another, it is as traumatic as if they were being newly captured from the wild. The experience of being removed from water and restrained is apparently so stressful to dolphins that they never find it routine.

The dolphins have endured being removed from their homes in the Solomon Islands. They have endured the transport to the Philippines or Langkawi.

The Langkawi dolphins have watched two family members die and endured living in small rusty enclosures, endured a year of training sessions and the only thing in store for them now is the final transport to Singapore to entertain RWS guests.

Zoos can play an important role in raising awareness but it should not be at the cost of the animals.

ACRES will continue our positive dialogue with RWS but we sincerely hope that they will reconsider their decision and put themselves in the shoes of these dolphins.

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Malaysia seeks a Jurong Island of its own at Pengerang, Johor

Pengerang project hopes to draw up to RM100b investments
Pauline Ng Business Times 12 Jan 11;

CALL it fuel for growth. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced oil and gas projects worth RM20 billion (S$8.4 billion) yesterday, with Malaysia even looking to build its own version of Singapore's Jurong Island.

Mr Najib said that an independent deepwater petroleum terminal in Pengerang, Johor, in which the Dialog Group and Vopak Asia plan to invest RM5 billion, has received the go-ahead. It is expected to kick off in April, with the promoters looking to transform it along the lines of Singapore's Jurong Island petrochemical complex.

Mr Najib said that the five million cubic metre petroleum storage facility would 'catapult Malaysia into the ranks of a regional oil storage hub'.

'I expect significant multiplier effects from the Pengerang project to cascade to the entire economy and under the economic transformation programme (ETP), it is expected to generate RM1.6 billion in gross national income by 2020.'

Dialog executive chairman Ngau Boon Keat expects Pengerang to attract RM50-100 billion in investments in refineries, petrochemical and power generation plants over time.

Based on the letters of intent that the joint venture has received, he is confident that multinational companies are waiting to enter and will do so once the first phase of 1.3 million cubic metres commences, which is expected to be completed in 2013-2014.

Two other phases will follow, with the three occupying 500 acres. It is unclear how much land the Johor state government will allocate for spillover activities, but it has designated the south-eastern side for an oil and gas hub and is currently coming up with a masterplan.

'There is no reason why Pengerang cannot be another Jurong,' Mr Ngau told a press briefing later, adding that the joint venture would look at what Singapore has done 'and learn from their experience'.

Meanwhile, leveraging on tax incentives on marginal oil field developments announced last month, ExxonMobil and its contract partner Petronas Carigali have agreed to invest some RM10 billion 'over a number of years' to rejuvenate mature facilities and undertake enhanced oil recovery activities in the Tapis field.

They will also develop the offshore Telok project under a gas production sharing contract to provide more gas for industrial needs.

Shell will also expand its operations and allocate RM5.1 billion this year to upgrade and to build new facilities including the expansion of the MDS wax plant in Bintulu, a new diesel processing unit in Port Dickson, and in the Gumusut deepwater development in offshore Sabah.

The oil and gas sector has been deemed as one of the 12 national key economic areas seen to have the potential to raise economic output significantly for the country which aspires to reach developed status by 2020. Since last year, it has rolled out a number of projects to spur growth and create jobs.

Other investments announced by Mr Najib yesterday include a RM670 million investment in data centres by private companies MyTelehaus, CSF Group and Teliti Datacentres to cater to the increasing foreign demand for data centres in the Asia-Pacific.

In health care, University Malaya is planning to develop a health metropolis that it intends to position as a premier medical hub and centre of excellence for medicine and bioscience. Some RM1.25 billion will be invested in the project.

And in tourism, the YTL Group has plans for a deluxe resort on Sabah's Gaya Island. It has earmarked RM75 million for the resort which will have 132 spacious hillside and sea-front villas and a spa village built in a mangrove setting.

Dialog’s April target to start RM5bil terminal work
EIA for project to be approved soon
The Star 12 Jan 11;

PUTRAJAYA: Oil and gas services provider Dialog Group Bhd is targetting April to kick-off its RM5bil Pengerang deepwater petroleum terminal project in south-east Johor.

Executive chairman Ngau Boon Keat said the project's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) would be approved by next month or early March.

“Subject to the EIA approval, the big investment decisions will go ahead,” he told a media briefing here following the third update of the Economic Transformation Programme yesterday by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The first of the three-phase project to be completed by 2013 or early 2014 and the entire 500-acre terminal to be completed by 2017.

Ngau said Royal Vopak, the joint-venture partner in the project, would help to operate the terminal as well as draw customers. Dialog has a 51% stake in the partnership with the remainder held by Vopak. The Johor state government which is giving a 60-year lease on the land on which the terminal would be built, would participate via a 10% stake.

“For a single terminal, this will be one of the largest in the world with a storage capacity of five million cubic metres,” Ngau said.

He estimated RM50bil to RM100bil of additional investments once the terminal was completed from others in the oil and gas value chain. “This is a good opportunity to develop the southern-half of Johor,” he said.

The Pengerang deepwater petroleum terminal project was among three significant oil and gas projects announced by Najib, the others being Exxon Mobil Corp's and Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd's over RM10bil investment for the rejuvenation of facilities and Shell Malaysia's RM5.1bil which included investments along the entire oil and gas value chain.

Ngau said there was a need to establish downstream facilities to complement the oil and gas industry.

“There's a huge opportunity in petrol storage terminals which in turn will open up other areas of the industry,” he said.

Malaysia's Dialog to begin Johor terminal construction in April
Platts 12 Jan 11;

SingaporeMalaysia-listed terminal operator Dialog Group said it expects to begin construction of a 5 million cubic meters deepwater petroleum terminal at Pengerang, Johor in April, the company said Wednesday.

It is currently waiting for the outcome of the environmental impact assessment which will most likely be released in February or early March.

The company estimates the first stage of the three-phase project will be be completed by 2013 or early 2014, and the entire project by 2017.

On Tuesday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced 19 investment projects worth MR67 billion ($22 billion) that the country was embarking on -- including Dialog's MR5 billion ($1.63 billion) Pengerang terminal project.

Dialog has a 51% stake in the project while the Johor state government, which has given a 60-year land lease for the development of the terminal, has a 10% interest. Royal Vopak, Dialog's joint-venture partner in this project, has the remaining stake in the terminal.

The planned facilities will have a water depth of up to 26 meters and will be capable of handling ultra large crude carriers (ULCC), VLCCs and other vessels, Platts reported previously. It will also have tankage facilities for the handling, storage, processing and distribution of crude oil, petroleum, petrochemicals and chemical products.

The Pengerang region is located at the southern tip of Johor state, close to the international shipping routes and Singapore's international petroleum hub.

Vopak and Dialog are equal partners at the 2.49 million barrel storage facility in Kertih in Malaysia's Terengganu state. The Kertih facility stores chemicals and LPG.

Dialog also has a stake in the 400,000 mt Langsat Terminal (0ne) in Johor which stores oil products. It has a 55% stake in Centralised Terminals, which in turn owns an 80% stake in Langsat Terminal (One). --Norazlina Juma'at,

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Illegal immigrants at Sungei Buloh nabbed

First time human smugglers have chosen wetland as entry point
Elizabeth Soh Straits Times 12 Jan 11;

THE seven 'visitors' at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve on Monday morning were not there to check out the wildlife.

Instead, two of them - a boatman and his assistant - had arrived by motorboat to deposit their load of five women, all Chinese nationals.

This is the first time human smugglers have chosen the wetland reserve as an entry point to Singapore, instead of traditional hot spots along the Tuas coastline.

But even before the boat had reached Singapore, it was spotted by the Police Coast Guard (PCG). All seven were arrested after a five-hour search of the 87ha reserve, involving 50 officers.

According to the PCG, at around 5.30am that day, an unlit motorboat was spotted moving slowly from Sungei Danga towards Lido beach in Johor. Once it reached Lido, it suddenly picked up speed to cover the 1.8km distance to the wetland reserve.

Within four minutes, the boat had reached the reserve and unloaded the five women. It then made a dash back to Malaysian waters, only to encounter a PCG vessel.

The two in the boat made a U-turn back to Sungei Buloh, abandoned their craft and dashed into the forest.

By then, staff from the Jurong Police Division, Special Operations Command and the Gurkha Contingent had been deployed to track down the seven people, and by 11am, the game was over.

The women, aged between 32 and 54, had previously committed immigration-related offences here.

They are believed to have paid between 17,000 yuan (S$3,330) and 20,000 yuan to a smuggling syndicate in Malaysia. They flew from their hometown in Fujian province to Malaysia.

The boatman, 54, and his assistant, 21, are said to have been paid about RM300 (S$127) for each passenger brought over.

The attempts of syndicates to try new entry points show that they are 'finding it much harder' to do their illicit work, said PCG deputy commander Sam Tee.

'Some have even tried locations like Pulau Ubin or Pulau Tekong, even though they know that the passengers will be caught,' he noted.

Last October saw two human smuggling attempts from Indonesia and Malaysia involving Chinese nationals. They had tried to enter Singapore near Senoko Way and Pulau Ubin, respectively.

The penalty for unlawful entry is a jail term of up to six months, plus a minimum three strokes of the cane and/or a fine up to $6,000. The punishment for conveying prohibited immigrants is a jail term of two to five years, plus a minimum three strokes of the cane.

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Firms ignore interest in green products

Consumers in China, India, Singapore willing to pay more: survey
Lynn Kan Business Times 12 Jan 11;

BUSINESSES in Singapore, China and India are grossly underestimating consumer interest in green products and services, according to a survey.

While over eight in 10 consumers are willing to pay a premium for green products and services, only 43 per cent of businesses think consumers want to pay extra, according to the results of a survey by certification service provider TUV SUD.

It polled over 2,600 consumers and 460 businesses in three product segments - food and beverages, home electronics and clothes and footwear. Chinese and Indian consumers were willing to pay up to 45 per cent and 24 per cent more for green products, respectively. In Singapore, the man on the street would only pay 11 per cent more.

Said Ishan Palit, CEO for TUV SUD Asia Pacific: 'Businesses appear not to be very aware of the intensity of interest among consumers and how this translates into demand for green products. The survey shows it makes economic sense for the green movement to be sustainable.'

The gap between businesses and consumers, adds TUV SUD PSB's chief executive Chong Weng Hoe, might stem from businesses not keeping up to date with consumer sentiment on the environment. 'Businesses may usually track environment-related regulation rather than the change in consumer behaviour, which could have changed dramatically in the last five years.'

Singapore is different in another respect in that businesses rather than consumers are ready for a higher premium for green-certified products, when it is the reverse in China and India.

'There are different environmental concerns in the three countries. Consumers here may be less environmentally conscious because of the more proactive role the government takes in addressing environmental issues,' says Mr Palit. 'Also, Singapore manufacturers probably do a lot of export, so these markets might emphasise on being green more than Singaporeans.'

With the realisation that market mechanisms of demand and supply prompts companies to adopt green certification, more companies might come on board on their own rather than being induced by government or industry regulation.

Mr Chong says: 'Government regulations must still be there as the push factor for businesses to adopt green certification. But the pull factor from the consumer side is getting much stronger.'

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Six species of Haiti's 'lost frogs' are found

Yahoo News 12 Jan 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Conservationists say they have found six rare frog species that are unique to the Caribbean nation of Haiti and have not been seen in about two decades.
These images courtesy of Conservation International shows Top Row L-R: Hispaniolan Ventriloquial Frog, Mozart's Frog and the La Hotte Glanded Frog. Bottom Row L-R:Macaya Breast-spot Frog, Hispaniola Crowned Frog and the Macaya Burrowing Frog.

The discovery, which came despite heavy deforestation and widespread damage from last year's deadly quake, was made during an expedition in October to search for frogs that are rarely seen and could be on the verge of extinction.

Among the unusual frogs researchers found were a whistling frog named after composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a "ventriloquist" frog that can throw its voice to send predators in the wrong direction.

They also found in the mountains of southwest Haiti a burrowing, black-eyed frog with orange hind legs and a speckled frog with dazzling sapphire eyes.

The team, led by Conservation International scientist Robin Moore and Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University, embarked on the search in order to find the elusive La Selle Grass frog (E. glanduliferoides), unseen in over 25 years.

They didn't find that frog, but uncovered tantalizing glimpses of a handful of Haiti's other 48 native species of amphibians.

"We went in looking for one missing species and found a treasure trove of others," said Moore.

"That, to me, represents a welcome dose of resilience and hope for the people and wildlife of Haiti."

See also
On the IUCN website: Mozart and ventriloquial frogs sound a note of hope and warning for Haiti’s recovery

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112 of Indonesia's bird species threatened by shrinking habitats

Antara 11 Jan 11;

Bogor, West Java (ANTARA News) - Out Of a total of 1,594 bird species existing in Indonesia, 112 are on the brink of extinction and included in the Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

"Indonesia is a country hosting a very diverse bird population. Of the world`s 10,000 bird species, 1,594 are to be found in Indonesia, making it the world`s fifth richest country in terms of fowl possession," Ria Saryanthi, conservation program manager of BirdLife Indonesia. said in a press statement here Tuesday.

Of Indonesia`s 112 endangered bird species, 18 were in critical condition, 31 endangered, and 73 others prone, he said.

Most of the threatened bird species in Indonesia live in their habitats. They are being threatened because of hunting, illegal trade and pressures on their habitat due to illegal logging and forest area conversions, she said.

"Human activities which have converted forests into agricultural areas, plantations and infrastructure development for industry, have caused the bird habitats to shrink," she said.

Wood pigeon (Columba sp.), uncal (Macropygia sp.), delimukan (Chalcopaps sp. and Gallicolumba sp. ), pergam (Ducula sp.), and walik (Ptilinopus sp.) are pigeon families which are highly depending on their forest habitat.

"It is no surprise that of the total of 112 threatened bird species, 12 are from the Collumbidae families," he said.

The increase in human population, economic development policies have also affected the wildlife and ecosystem, she said, adding that the press release was issued on the occasion of the commemoration of One Million Tree Day on January 10.

Indonesia's 112 Bird Species Threatened By Shrinking Habitat
Bernama 11 Jan 11;

JAKARTA, Jan 11 (Bernama) -- Indonesia's 112 bird species existing in Indonesia are on the brink of extinction, the Antara news agency reported on Tuesday.

"Indonesia is a country hosting a very diverse bird population. Of the world's 10,000 bird species, 1,594 are to be found in Indonesia, making it the world's fifth richest country in terms of fowl possession," Ria Saryanthi, conservation program manager of BirdLife Indonesia said in a press statement.

She said that of Indonesia's 112 endangered bird species, 18 were in critical condition, 31 endangered, and 73 others prone.

Most of the threatened bird species are being threatened by hunting, illegal trade and pressures on their habitat due to illegal logging and forest area conversions.

"Human activities which have converted forests into agricultural areas, plantations and infrastructure development for industry, have caused the bird habitats to shrink," she said.

Wood pigeon (Columba sp.), uncal (Macropygia sp.), delimukan ( Chalcopaps sp. and Gallicolumba sp.), pergam (Ducula sp.), and walik (Ptilinopus sp.) are pigeon families which are highly depending on their forest habitat.

"It is no surprise that of the total of 112 threatened bird species, 12 are from the Collumbidae families," he said.


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New scheme launched for 'bleached and dying' coral life

Neil Bowdler Science reporter, BBC News 11 Jan 11;

Conservationists led by scientists from the Zoological Society of London have launched a new drive to save some of the world's most endangered corals. The new EDGE Coral Reefs programme lists the most endangered corals and has enlisted scientists around the world to educate local communities on their importance.

The most dire predictions suggest that tropical coral reefs will be all but extinct within the next half a century, with rising sea temperatures posing the greatest threat.

Coral bleaching

Coral reefs are not just beautiful explosions of colour and sea life - they protect coastal communities from storms and the fish and shrimp they sustain feed people the world over.

But the reefs are in immediate danger from a host of sources.

Top of the list is the threat from rising sea temperatures, which results in "coral bleaching". This involves the loss of algae cells called zooxanthellae, which renders the coral unable to photosynthesise.

While the coral can survive temporary spikes in ocean temperature and the resulting bleaching, longer-term temperature rises kill the marine organisms.

Other threats include ocean acidification, as the seas absorb increased levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"Corals are hugely threatened by climate change, by things like rising sea temperature which leads to coral bleaching, ocean acidification, increased storm intensity and frequency and then there's also the local pressures which affect the reef," says Catherine Head, who is co-ordinating the EDGE Coral Reefs project from London.

"Things like overfishing, pollution, sedimentation, coastal development. All those things exacerbate the effects of climate change."

Addressing such local pressures, she says, can buy the reefs some time until governments move to address rising atmospheric and air temperatures.
Local interests

As part of the new project, a list of the most endangered corals has been compiled, including a "top 10" of threatened coral species.

Unlike the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the EDGE list, say its creators, ranks species in both in terms of the threat they face of extinction and in terms of their evolutionary uniqueness.

Such species, they argue, could play a key role in the adaptation of coral populations to climate change.

The project has also enlisted scientists around the globe to research threatened species and to educate local communities on their importance.

According to Rachel Jones, Senior Aquarium Keeper at the Zoological Society of London (London Zoo), the challenge is to convince those who live close to reefs that protecting them is in their interests.

"Tropical reefs are found in places where often population pressures are really really high and where people are poor they rely on the reef for their food.

"So we need to create an environment where it's worth more to the people who live on reefs to keep the reef alive than it is to dynamite fish it or to trawl it for shrimp or whatever."

Related links
Singapore corals on the EDGE of existence on wild shores of singapore

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Australian Floods Could Send Food Prices Soaring

Victoria Thieberge PlanetArk 12 Jan 11;

The worst flooding in the Australian state of Queensland in 50 years could push up the nation's fruit and vegetable prices by as much as 20 to 30 percent, lifting inflation and potentially dampening retail spending.

Economists and the country's top supermarket chains said new, torrential flooding and rains across farmlands in southeastern Queensland in the past day had damaged crops and cut roads, preventing moving goods to market.

Unlike some previous natural disasters, which affected a smaller geographic area and a narrow range of foods, many vegetables are likely to be affected. In 2006, Cyclone Larry caused a spike in banana prices and this alone helped to lift the overall inflation rate.

"I think this will actually dampen discretionary spending during this period," said ANZ Bank head of Australian economics Katie Dean, referring to spending across the entire economy.

"In the case of the bananas (in 2006), we just stopped buying bananas. But this is a very broad range of fruit and veggies that will be affected, the grocery bill will inevitably rise as the substitution ability is less," Dean said.

Australian retailers have already endured a tough few months as cautious consumers spend less and save more.

Retail sales in November rose a moderate 0.3 percent and were up just 1.3 percent from a year earlier, compared with historic growth of about 6 percent per year, while the national savings rate has topped 10 percent.

Queensland accounts for 28 percent of the country's fruit and vegetable production by value, according to Commonwealth Bank economists, and much of the state is under water.

The state's floods have at times affected an area the size of France and Germany combined, and at least 12 people have been killed.

Coles supermarkets, the country's second-largest chain owned by Wesfarmers, said supply shortages would push up the prices of many salad vegetables including tomatoes, capsicum, lettuce, as well as beans, corns and broccoli.

"Up until today, we were pretty confident we would be able to maintain price stability and supply into our stores nationally," spokesman Jim Cooper told Reuters.

"But the new rains in southeast Queensland has meant we are going to see far heavier impacts now in terms of availability and price rises on a lot of lines," he said. He said the wholesale price of broccoli has jumped to A$10 a kilo from A$6.

Analysts at National Australia Bank said fresh produce prices could rise by as much as 30 percent, which would add about 0.75 percentage points to the consumer price index (CPI) in the March quarter.

That could see the overall CPI jump by perhaps 1.6 percent between the December and March quarters, matching the banana-driven spike seen in 2006. That would likely lift the annual pace of consumer inflation well above the top of the Reserve Bank of Australia's long-term target band of 2 to 3 percent.

The latest reading for CPI put inflation at 2.8 percent for the third quarter of 2010.

However, the impact is likely to be a lot less on the central bank's preferred measures of underlying inflation which strip out the most volatile price moves in any one quarter.

The central bank lifted interest rates in November as a pre-emptive strike against inflation and has since signaled it was on hold for some months to come.

Indeed, investors are currently betting the economic drag from the floods makes it less likely the central bank will lift interest rates again anytime soon.

The market is pricing in just 17 basis points of tightening for the next 12 months, down from 35 basis points on Monday.

Still, not everyone sees a dramatic, short-term impact on grocery bills, though the effect could linger.

Woolworths, the country's largest supermarket chain, said many fruit and vegetable crops in Queensland had already been harvested, and the harvest season had moved to more southern states.

"There is very little coming out of Queensland at the moment, so there should not be much impact except for some isolated lines like pawpaw and lychee," a spokeswoman for Woolworths said.

"The issue will be in autumn and winter when Queensland will need to replant," she added.

(Editing by Wayne Cole and Mark Bendeich)

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Australia floods: La Niña to blame

The country is in the in the grip of an unusually strong periodic climate phenomenon that brings heavy rains
Damian Carrington 11 Jan 11;

The devastating flooding in Queensland is the result of Australia being in the grip of an unusually strong "La Niña", a periodic climate phenomenon that brings more rain to the western Pacific, and less to South America along the eastern Pacific.

"The Queensland floods are caused by what is one of the strongest – if not the strongest – La Niña events since our records began in the late 19th century," said Prof Neville Nicholls at Monash University and president of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society. "The La Niña is associated with record warm sea-surface temperatures around Australia and these would have contributed to the heavy rains." Warmer oceans produce damper air and hence more rain. This is driven onshore by the stronger east-to-west trade winds characteristic of La Niña.

These weather patterns led to December being the wettest ever recorded in Queensland and to Australia having its third wettest year. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology predicts that La Niña is likely to persist into the southern hemisphere autumn, raising the possibility of further torrential downpours.

La Niña, "the girl" in Spanish, is named in reference to its counterpart, El Niño – "the Christ Child". Here the climatic conditions are reversed, with warmer, wetter weather over South America which is usually first noticed at Christmas by fishermen off Peru. La Niña occurs at intervals between a few years and a decade and generally lasts for a year or two. What causes the switch is not known, but it is thought to arise from the complex interaction of ocean and atmospheric circulations.

"This is one of the strongest La Niña events in the past half century," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Impacts include heavy rains and flooding, which has damaged crops and flooded mines in Australia and Asia. It also has resulted in flooding in northern South America and drought conditions in Argentina. This powerful little lady is spreading her curses and blessings across the planet. She's the real deal."

A silver lining in the storm clouds brought by La Niña is the relief of the decade-long drought much of Australia has endured. There was a dramatic recovery in water storages across the Murray-Darling Basin in eastern Australia from 26% full at the start of 2010 to 80% at the start of 2011. However, elsewhere in the country, south-western Australia suffered its driest year on record in 2010, continuing decades of drying.

"The extent to which any of this – the floods, warm oceans, or very strong La Niña – is linked to global warming is unknown, because the requisite studies to test this have simply not been done yet," said Nicholls.

But as a general point, said Prof Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office, a warmer world is a wetter world. "As the average global temperature increases one would expect the moisture content of the atmosphere to rise, due to more evaporation from the sea surface. For every 1C sea surface temperature rise, atmospheric moisture over the oceans increases by 6-8%. Also in general, as more energy and moisture is put into the atmosphere [by warming], the likelihood of storms, hurricanes and tornadoes increases."

Scientists See Climate Change Link To Australian Floods
David Fogarty, PlanetArk 13 Jan 11;

Climate change has likely intensified the monsoon rains that have triggered record floods in Australia's Queensland state, scientists said on Wednesday, with several months of heavy rain and storms still to come.

But while scientists say a warmer world is predicted to lead to more intense droughts and floods, it wasn't yet possible to say if climate change would trigger stronger La Nina and El Nino weather patterns that can cause weather chaos across the globe.

"I think people will end up concluding that at least some of the intensity of the monsoon in Queensland can be attributed to climate change," said Matthew England of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

"The waters off Australia are the warmest ever measured and those waters provide moisture to the atmosphere for the Queensland and northern Australia monsoon," he told Reuters.

The Queensland floods have killed 16 people since the downpour started last month, inundating towns, crippling coal mining and are now swamping the state's main city of Brisbane.

The rains have been blamed on one of the strongest La Nina patterns ever recorded. La Nina is a cooling of ocean temperatures in the east and central Pacific, which usually leads to more rain over much of Australia, Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia.

This is because the phenomena leads to stronger easterly winds in the tropics that pile up warm water in the western Pacific and around Australia. Indonesia said on Wednesday it expected prolonged rains until June.


The Pacific has historically switched between La Nina phases and El Ninos, which have the opposite impact by triggering droughts in Australia and Southeast Asia.

"We've always had El Ninos and we've had natural variability but the background which is now operating is different," said David Jones, head of climate monitoring and prediction at the Australia Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne.

"The first thing we can say with La Nina and El Nino is it is now happening in a hotter world," he told Reuters, adding that meant more evaporation from land and oceans, more moisture in the atmosphere and stronger weather patterns.

"So the El Nino droughts would be expected to be exacerbated and also La Nina floods because rainfall would be exacerbated," he said, though adding it would be some years before any climate change impact on both phenomena might become clear.

He said the current La Nina was different because of the warmest ocean temperatures on record around Australia and record humidity in eastern Australia over the past 12 months.

Prominent U.S. climate scientist Kevin Trenberth said the floods and the intense La Nina were a combination of factors.

He pointed to high ocean temperatures in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia early last year as well as the rapid onset of La Nina after the last El Nino ended in May.

"The rapid onset of La Nina meant the Asian monsoon was enhanced and the over 1 degree Celsius anomalies in sea surface temperatures led to the flooding in India and China in July and Pakistan in August," he told Reuters in an email.

He said a portion, about 0.5C, of the ocean temperatures around northern Australia, which are more than 1.5C above pre-1970 levels, could be attributed to global warming.

"The extra water vapor fuels the monsoon and thus alters the winds and the monsoon itself and so this likely increases the rainfall further," said Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

"So it is easy to argue that 1 degree Celsius sea surface temperature anomalies gives 10 to 15 percent increase in rainfall," he added.

Some scientists said it was still too soon to draw a definite climate change link to the floods.

"It's a natural phenomena. We have no strong reason at the moment for saying this La Nina is any stronger than it would be even without humans," said Neville Nicholls of Monash University in Melbourne and president of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society.

But he said global atmospheric warming of about 0.75C over the past half century had to be having some impact.

"It has to be affecting the climate, regionally and globally. It has to be affecting things like La Nina. But can you find a credible argument which says it's made it worse- I can't at the moment."

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

NASA says La Nina fueling Australia floods
Yahoo News 14 Jan 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US space agency said Thursday that a particularly strong La Nina weather pattern of cooler water temperatures is fueling heavy rains and floods in Australia.

"Although exacerbated by precipitation from a tropical cyclone, rainfalls of historic proportion in eastern Queensland, Australia have led to levels of flooding usually only seen once in a century," said David Adamec, oceanographer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"The copious rainfall is a direct result of La Nina's effect on the Pacific trade winds and has made tropical Australia particularly rainy this year."

NASA is monitoring weather patterns via satellite images which show a strong La Nina pattern in November and December 2010.

"The solid record of La Nina strength only goes back about 50 years and this latest event appears to be one of the strongest ones over this time period," said climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

"It is already impacting weather and climate all around the planet."

Australia's third-largest city Brisbane was reeling Thursday with whole suburbs under water and infrastructure smashed as the worst flood in decades hit 30,000 properties.

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2010 Hottest Year On Record For Canada: Report

Leah Schnurr PlanetArk 12 Jan 11;

Canada had its warmest year on record in 2010, according to the country's environmental agency, with the biggest impact seen in the Arctic region.

The national average temperature for the year was 3 degrees Celsius above normal, based on preliminary data, according to a report put on Environment Canada's website on Monday. That made it the warmest year since nationwide records began in 1948.

Most areas of the northern territory of Nunavut and of northern Quebec were at least 4 degrees above normal, while the Arctic tundra region was 4.3 degrees above normal. Along with the Arctic tundra, the Arctic mountains and fiords, the northeastern forest and Atlantic regions also had the warmest year on record.

Scientists link the higher temperatures in the Arctic to the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. Global warming is gradually melting the Arctic ice cap, raising the possibility of increased shipping and mining in the environmentally sensitive region.

"What we're seeing is clearly a trend and the changes in the north seem to be becoming permanent," said John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club Canada.

"We're looking at a month or so less winter in the north."

The previous warmest year was 1998, which was 2.5 degrees above normal, according to the data. Annual temperatures have been above normal since 1997.

"Although any one year's temperature anomaly isn't proof of any long-term trend, having a year this much warmer than any previous year is significant," Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson said in an e-mailed statement.

An area of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan was the only part of Canada with close to normal temperatures last year, the data showed.

Canada's minority Conservative government has come under fire for its environmental policy, which critics say favors the interests of the Alberta oil sands, the largest source of crude outside Saudi Arabia. Environmentalists say the oil sands are a huge source of greenhouse gases and toxic waste.

Newly appointed Environment Minister Peter Kent recently sparked controversy by characterizing the development of the oil sands as "ethical" in media interviews.

(Editing by Peter Galloway)

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