Best of our wild blogs: 27 Jan 11

Study on endangered raptors in Singapore
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Admiralty Park, Sungei Cina field survey (26 Jan 11)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Monkeying in the Mangroves with Mega Marine Survey
from wild shores of singapore

Japanese White-eye eats Carmona retusa fruit
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Yellow-fronted Canary and White-rumped Seedeater spotted
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Colours of Big Sisters shore
from wonderful creation

No Hantu on Pulau Hantu
from The Gal - Nicole

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Singapore's North-South Expressway not exactly the green choice

Today Online 27 Jan 11;

I am sure the planned North-South Expressway (NSE) will ease traffic congestion on the Central Expressway come 2020. However, will the NSE adversely affect the natural eco-system/greenery in the Mandai area? Will the vehicular quota be raised after the NSE is built and how will this negatively impact the environment?

Shouldn't the natural first choice - before deciding to build a new expressway - have been to set up more MRT stations as trains move more people faster with given energy resources?

I hope the Land Transport Authority's masterplan will not impede Singapore's aspiration to be viewed as a green country and an attractive home for environmentally-conscious foreign talent. Letter from Colin Ong Tau Shien

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UN shark conservation plan has failed, says report

(AFP) Google News 27 Jan 11;

PARIS — A headline-making UN scheme to preserve the world's sharks has been a resounding failure, according to a report on Thursday that pins the blame on Indonesia, India, Spain and Taiwan and 16 other major catchers of the fish.

"The fate of the world's sharks is in the hands of the Top 20 shark catchers, most of which have failed to demonstrate what, if anything, they are doing to save these imperiled species," said Glenn Sant of the British conservation group TRAFFIC.

"They need to take action to stop the decline in shark populations and help ensure that the list of species threatened by overfishing does not continue to grow."

The report, compiled jointly by TRAFFIC and the US Pew Environment Group, urges a far-reaching review next week when members of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) meet in Rome.

The January 31-February 4 gathering of the agency's Committee on Fisheries (COFI), will look at a 2001 International Plan of Action for conserving sharks, skates and rays.

The much-ballyhooed plan set down a 10-point plan for ensuring that shark catches are sustainable and bound signatories to set up a national plan and assess its implementation every four years.

Since then, massive overfishing -- especially to serve the East Asian lust for shark-fin soup -- has contributed to a plunge in shark numbers, according to the report.

As many as 73 million are killed each year and nearly a third of shark species are now threatened or near-threatened by extinction.

The report points the finger at the "Top 20" catchers, identified from data reported to the FAO, which account for more than 640,000 tonnes annually, or nearly 80 percent of the world total.

"Only 13 of the Top 20 have developed national plans to protect sharks... and it remains unclear how those plans have been implemented or if they have been effective," it says.

Heading the list is Indonesia, which accounts for 13 percent of global reported shark catches, followed by India (nine percent), Spain (7.3 percent) and Taiwan (5.8 percent).

Other major catchers are Argentina (4.3 percent), Mexico (4.1 percent), Pakistan (3.9 percent), the United States (3.7 percent), Japan (three percent) and Malaysia (2.9 percent).

Conservationists say that sharks, sadly demonised in movies and folk culture, play a vital role in ensuring a balanced marine environment.

The lack of a predator has a big knock-on effect down the food chain, for smaller fish are able to feast on lower organisms such as shellfish that have big commercial value.

Global conservation plan fails to protect sharks-report
Nina Chestney Reuters 27 Jan 11;

LONDON, Jan 27 (Reuters) - A 10-year-old international plan to conserve sharks has largely failed and only 13 of the top 20 shark-catching countries have developed national plans to protect the endangered creatures, a report showed on Thursday.

Shark populations have been falling worldwide mostly due to overfishing to satisfy demand for shark fin soup in east Asia.

In 2001, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) approved an international plan aimed at conserving sharks after it found that a serious monitoring and control programme was lacking for international shark trade.

In its report, wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic and the Pew Environment Group urged an FAO fisheries committee meeting next week to review steps urgently to manage shark fisheries.

"With 30 percent of shark species now threatened or near threatened with extinction, there is little evidence that the plan has contributed significantly to improved conservation and management of these animals," Traffic said in a statement.

Twenty countries account for nearly 80 percent of the total number of sharks caught globally. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed annually mostly for their fins, U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund said last year.

Indonesia alone catches 13 percent of the world's sharks, according to the report, entitled 'The Future of Sharks: a Review of Action and Inaction', which was released on Thursday.

Other big catchers include India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, the United States, Japan and Malaysia.

Only 13 of the top 20 catchers have developed action plans to protect sharks and it is unclear how they have been implemented or if they have been effective, the report said.

"The fate of the world's sharks is in the hands of the Top 20 shark catchers, most of which have failed to demonstrate what, if anything, they are doing to save these imperilled species," said Glenn Sant, Traffic's global marine programme leader.

(Editing by Maria Golovnina)

Top 20 shark-catching nations accused of failings
(AP) Google News 28 Jan 11;

ROME (AP) — Two environmental groups on Thursday accused the 20 countries that catch the most sharks of failing to fulfill promises made to the U.N. to better conserve the animals that are increasingly threatened with extinction.

In 1999, more than 100 governments adopted a plan of action at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to try to stem overfishing of sharks, pledging, among other things, to develop national action plans to ensure that shark catches are sustainable.

The non-governmental groups Traffic and the Pew Environment Group said Thursday that only 13 of the top 20 shark catching countries had developed national plans, and that it was unclear if such plans had done any good where they were adopted.

They issued their report ahead of a meeting next week of government members of the FAO's fisheries committee, which will discuss the state of the world's fisheries in detail.

Some 73 million sharks are killed annually, primarily to meet the high demand in Asia for fins which are used in shark fin soup.

Because sharks are slow growing, late to mature and produce few young, they are unable to replenish their populations as quickly when they are caught. As a result, some 30 percent of all shark species are now threatened or nearly threatened with extinction.

Traffic and Pew analyzed fisheries data and made a list of the top 20 shark catchers which account for nearly 80 percent of the total shark catch reported globally. In order, the top 10 are Indonesia, India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, United States, Japan, and Malaysia. Yet according to the two groups, Indonesia has only made a draft national plan and India is developing one. Other countries have adopted them but, because reporting is voluntary, it's not clear if they've been implemented or have done any good.

The groups urged governments at the FAO meeting next week to have the U.N. agency complete a thorough review to determine what countries have and haven't done to comply with their pledges to manage their fisheries.

"The fate of the world's sharks is in the hands of the top 20 shark catchers, most of whom have failed to demonstrate what, if anything, they are doing to save these imperiled species," said Glenn Sant, Traffic's global marine program leader.

Jill Hepp, manager of shark conservation for Pew, said sharks play a critical role in the ocean environment.

"Where shark populations are healthy, marine life thrives; but where they have been overfished, ecosystems fall out of balance," she said.

The report suggests that national action plans with lofty goals that are never implemented might not be the answer to saving sharks. Rather, countries that take smaller, incremental steps toward conservation might achieve better results.

It noted that Palau had announced in 2009 it would create the world's first shark sanctuary by banning all commercial shark fishing in its territorial waters and that Honduras had announced a moratorium on shark fishing last year.

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Carnivorous Plants Eat Poop From Tiny Bats

Mark Brown, Wired UK 26 Jan 11;

In a bizarre example of a symbiotic relationship, tiny bats in Borneo have been found using a carnivorous plant as a toilet, feeding the pitcher plant with their droppings, while they safely roost in the plant’s traps.

Ulmar Grafe, an associate professor at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam, was researching the pitcher plant — a giant, carnivorous vine with deep, pitfall cups that are used to trap prey — for a study published in Biology Letters. Grafe wanted to find out how the pitcher managed to find the nitrogen needed to survive in the nutrient-poor peat swamps of Borneo in southeast Asia.

His team found Hardwicke’s woolly bat — a tiny, four gram animal no bigger than a car key — consistently sleeping in the carnivorous plant’s traps during the day. Sometimes alone, sometimes with a partner or with a child. Roosting on top of each other, two or three bats could snugly fit in the pitchers.

But the plant wasn’t getting its nutrients by munching on the tiny bats. In fact, the plant has adapted to stop the winged critters from tumbling down into the bottom of the trap and drowning in the digestive fluid. The vine’s pitchers have a tapered shape and an unusually low amount of fluid, to stop the bats accidentally becoming dinner. That also prevents the monkeys from eating the insects that the plant catches.

Instead, the plants get their nutrients from the bat droppings, absorbing the faeces and urine for nitrogen.

It’s only the second time that researchers have documented a case of a mammal using a carnivorous plant as a natural toilet. In 2009, researchers found tree shrews defecating into another type of plant. But the shrews didn’t seem to use the plant in return, exhibiting a nonchalant poop-and-go attitude.

The bats, however, have a mutualistic link with the plant, choosing its cosy, dry cavity and lack of blood-sucking ectoparasites as a perfect place to roost.

Tiny Borneo bats roost in carnivorous pitcher plants
Elaine Lies Reuters 26 Jan 11;

TOKYO, Jan 26 (Reuters Life!) - Tiny bats, no bigger than a car key, have been discovered roosting in carnivorous pitcher plants in Borneo -- with their droppings a vital nutrient for the plants.

"It's totally unexpected," said Ulmar Grafe, an associate professor at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam who led the study.

"There's a lot of animal-plant mutualisms, but this one is where the animal gives a nutrient to a plant. Usually it's the other way around."

The study, published in Biology Letters, began by looking at how the pitcher plant -- a vine growing up to 6-10 metres (20 ft to 33 ft) long with 25 cm (10 inch) pitchers -- managed to gain the nitrogen it needed in the nutrient-poor peat swamps and heath forest oon the island of Borneo.

Grafe's team was surprised to find that the roughly 4 gramme (0.14 oz) Hardwicke's woolly bat (Kerivoula hardwickii) consistently chose the pitchers to sleep in during the day, despite a wealth of other possible roosts in the nearby forest.

Not only single bats but male and female pairs, and mother-juvenile pairs, can fit inside comfortably. At night, they fly out to hunt insects.

"The pitcher is a very nice roost for them," Grafe said. "It's dry in there and there's no buildup of blood-sucking ectoparasites that often accumulate in other cavities."

Theoretically, there is some danger to the bat should it fall into the digestive fluid at the bottom of the pitcher. But the plant has adaptations to prevent this, including an unusually low amount of fluid and a tapering pitcher.

Instead of getting nitrogen by consuming the bats, the plants get it from their faeces.

"There's no reason why the bat couldn't fly outside. But they probably defecate in there because they usually do that when they roost," Grafe said.

The find is an example of why diversity matters, he added, noting that much of the forest in Borneo is under threat.

"There's so much extinction of animals and reduction of populations and removal that this again highlights how important it is to save every individual, every creature out there."

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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Orangutan DNA boosts survival chances: study

Marlowe Hood Yahoo News 26 Jan 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Orangutans are far more genetically diverse than thought, a finding that could help their survival, say scientists delivering their first full DNA analysis of the critically-endangered ape.

The study, published Thursday in the science journal Nature, also reveals that the orangutan -- "the man of the forest" -- has hardly evolved over the last 15 million years, in sharp contrast to Homo sapiens and his closest cousin, the chimpanzee.

Once widely distributed across Southeast Asia, only two populations of the intelligent, tree-dwelling ape remain in the wild, both on islands in Indonesia.

Some 40,000 to 50,000 individuals live in Borneo, while in Sumatra deforestation and hunting has reduced a once robust community to about 7,000 individuals, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

These two groups split genetically about 400,000 years ago, considerably later than once thought, and today constitute separate albeit closely related species, Pongo abelii (Sumatra) and Pongo pygmaeus (Borneo), the study showed.

An international consortium of more than 30 scientists decoded the full genomic sequence of a female Sumatran orangutan, nicknamed Susie.

They then completed summary sequences of 10 more adults, five from each population.

"We found that the average orangutan is more diverse -- genetically speaking -- than the average human," said lead author Devin Locke, an evolutionary geneticist at Washington University in Missouri.

Human and orangutan genomes overlap by about 97 percent, compared to 99 percent for humans and chimps, he said.

But the big surprise was that the far smaller Sumatran population showed more variation in its DNA than its close cousin in Borneo.

While perplexing, scientists said this could help boost the species' chances of survival.

"Their genetic variation is good news because, in the long run, it enables them to maintain a healthy population" and will help shape conservation efforts, said co-author Jeffrey Rogers, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

Ultimately, however, the fate of this great ape -- whose behaviour and languid expressions can be eerily human at times -- will depend on our stewardship of the environment, he said.

"If the forest disappears, then the genetic variation won't matter -- habitat is absolutely essential," he said. "If things continue as they have for the next 30 years, we won't have orangutans in the wild."

The researchers were also struck by the persistent stability of the orangutan genome, which appears to have changed very little since branching off on a separate evolutionary path.

This means the species is genetically closer to the common ancestor from which all the great apes are presumed to have originated, some 14 to 16 million years ago.

One possible clue to the lack of structural changes in the orangutan's DNA is the relative absence, compared to humans, of telltale bits of genetic code known as an "Alu".

These short stretches of DNA make up about 10 percent of the human genome -- numbering about 5,000 -- and can pop up in unpredictable places to create new mutations, some of which persist.

"In the orangutan genome, we found only 250 new Alu copies over a 15-million year time span," Locke said.

Orangutans are the only great apes to dwell primarily in trees. In the wild, they can live 35 to 45 years, and in captivity an additional 10 years. Females give birth, on average, every eight years, the longest interbirth interval among mammals.

Earlier research has shown that the great apes are not only adept at making and using tools, but are capable of cultural learning, long thought to be an exclusively human trait.

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Malaysia: State slams ‘green’ plastics

The Star 26 Jan 11;

BUTTERWORTH: The state government believes the use of biodegradable plastic bags is not a better option to counter the state’s policy of reducing the use of plastic bags to protect the environment.

State Local Government and Traffic Management Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the state disagreed with plastic manufacturers, which claimed biodegradable plastics were more environmental friendly.

“We believe the biodegradable plastic bags may be more harmful to the environment because the particular plastic material would be broken down into smaller microscopic particles. And, when these toxic particles enter our rivers and to the sea, it will cause more harm to the fish and other marine life that consume them,” he said after opening the Green School Awards 2011 competition at Dewan Datuk Haji Ahmad Badawi here yesterday.

Following the state government’s no free plastic bags policy, he said, several plastic manufacturers have introduced oxo-biodegradable plastic bags in the market to replace the non-biodegradable ones.

According to Canada’s EPI Environmental Technologies Inc, which developed the oxo-biodegradable technology, oxo-biodegradable plastic bags, usually underwent chemical degradation by oxidation before being further biodegraded and converted into carbon dioxide, water and biomass by microorganisms.

It said degradable plastics using EPI’s pro-prietary Totally Degradable Plastic Additives (TDPA) technology, could degrade within a few months to two to three years, noting that it could reduce landfill volume and aid in landfill compression.

Chow said it was better to look for other non-plastic alternatives such as baskets, tiffin carriers and cotton bags to reduce dependency on plastic bags.

“We are not saying that plastic bags are completely banned as we still need them to dispose of our garbage. But, we want the people to reduce the use of plastic bags as far as possible,” he said.

Commenting on a Chinese daily report on Tuesday, which claimed the state’s Cleaner Greener Penang campaign had failed to obtain full support from Penangites, Chow said the campaign was on a long-term effort.

“Our environmental awareness campaign is about changing the people’s mindset and behaviour, which cannot be done overnight. Some habitual practices such as using plastic bags may be difficult to change, but people may eventually change their attitudes after a while,” he said.

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Jakarta mulls constructing giant seawall

The Jakarta Post 27 Jan 11;

JAKARTA: Anticipating a worsening rate of land subsidence and rising sea levels, the Jakarta administration is considering a plan to construct a giant seawall surrounding the city’s northern coast.

Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo said Wednesday that a feasibility study on the project had been started in December and would be completed in two or three years.

“In 2025, we are expecting to have a giant seawall protecting the capital from flooding,” Fauzi said. If approved, the wall will be erected in about 10 years.

According to a study by the Jakarta Coastal Defence Strategy (JCDS) consortium, which is partly funded by the Dutch government, land subsidence and rising sea levels caused by global warming are the two main threats to the capital’s coastal areas.

“The northern Java coastal areas are vulnerable to these threats. Within five or 10 years things will get worse,” Fauzi said.

Jakarta is one of many cities in the country located in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters above sea level.

Global sea levels have risen at a rate of about 1-2 millimeters per year on average, and this rate is expected to increase to 5 millimeters per year by 2050. A study by the Bandung Institute of Technology showed that sea levels in the Jakarta bay area were rising at a rate of 5.7 millimeters per year. — JP

Jakarta to Build Sea Wall
Tempointeractive 4 Feb 11;

TEMPO Interactive, Jakarta:Researchers from Jakarta Coastal Defense Strategy (JCDS) Consortium recommended that the Jakarta Government build a giant sea wall to manage floods. The sea wall will extend 60 kilometers from Tangerang, Jakarta up to Bekasi. “The construction is made possible because the technology has been applied in New Orleans, US,” said member of the JDCS Consortium, Heri Andreas, last Tuesday.

The sea wall was recommended to manage two big threats causing frequent flooding in Jakarta, which are ground subsidence by 10- centimeters per year and the rise of the sea level by 5 millimeter per year. The construction of the sea wall along the North coast of Jakarta is judged to be effective in reducing the threats.

Heri admitted sea walls were not the only way to manage the floods. Another method would be to stop ground water usage and refilling it back. But total stoppage would be unlikely because it is one of the main sources of water.

Even though there are plans to a water refilling plant at the Jatiluhur dam area, the Jakarta Government is still not ready to do this. “By reducing ground water intake, the ground will still subside by 10 to 15 centimeters per year. Even if we refill the water, the ground will still subside in 5 years time,” said Heru,” Meanwhile the danger of rising sea levels cannot be solved because it is caused by global warming.

Heri said that the government has tried to solve the problem partially by building embankments in Kamal Muara and other sites. But it is still regarded as insufficient.


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Mixed results shown from dispersants in BP spill

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press Yahoo News 27 Jan 11;

WASHINGTON – Dispersants injected deep in the Gulf of Mexico to counter an oil gusher last spring seemed to keep some oil from fouling the water's surface, but the chemicals lingered underwater, raising concerns about long-term problems, a new study found.

The first extensive research into what happened to 770,000 gallons of dispersants used a mile deep near the busted BP well found a mixed bag of results. The new research appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology and focused on the fate of the controversial chemicals rather than their toxicity.

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts found circumstantial evidence that the chemicals guided some oil into underwater currents, stopping it from bubbling up to the surface, where it would do more damage, said marine chemist Elizabeth Kujawinski.

That would be considered a good thing, keeping marshes and beaches from getting more tarred, Kujawinski said.

But she added, "the dispersant is sticking around," which is worrisome. The chemicals didn't seem to biodegrade the oil and gas as fast as basic chemistry would predict. Her study said the key chemicals in dispersants underwent "negligible or slow rates of biodegradation." Other studies have found that the oil — not the dispersant — broke apart quickly.

How fast chemicals degrade is important because of potential long-term damage from chronic contamination, she said.

And when it comes to the basic question of whether using the dispersants worked, Kujawinski said it is still too early to tell.

Larry McKinney, who directs a Gulf of Mexico research center at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, said the government's use of the chemicals was "successful in avoiding the most serious damage to wetlands marshes. That did work. But there's likely a price to be paid for that success."

A federal study last year found that in the short term, dispersant is no more dangerous to aquatic life than oil. However, the long-term effects to aquatic life remain unknown.

The new study illustrates how little scientists know about using dispersants in deep water, said Florida State University marine scientist Ian MacDonald.

Deep-Sea BP Spill Disperants Didn’t Degrade for Months
Janet Raloff Wired Science 27 Jan 11;

Nearly 3 million liters (some 771,000 gallons) of a chemical dispersant ejected into oil and gas from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill last spring and summer lingered until at least September, a new study shows. The chemicals moved in concert with plumes of oil deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico’s surface.

sciencenewsDavid Valentine of the University of California, Santa Barbara and his colleagues periodically sampled plume water that flowed at depths of 1,000 meters or more between May and September 2010. They shipped these samples to chemist Elizabeth Kujawinski at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and her colleagues for analysis.

With rare exception, they report online January 26 in Environmental Science & Technology, the dispersant did not degrade but instead moved with the plumes until they were lost to dilution in the Gulf’s depths.

“If the dispersant worked, it should have been associated with the liquid oil — that is, moving off laterally into the deepwater plume. Which is where we found it — and the only place,” Kujawinski says. “We did not see it below the plume or even sloughing off the top of it.”

To scout for the dispersant, known as Corexit 9500A, Kujawinski focused on an active ingredient known as DOSS, or dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate. It accounted for 10 percent by weight of the dispersant mixture, which was released at rates ranging from around 13,000 to 80,000 liters per day.

Prior to capping the well, plume concentrations of DOSS hovered in the low parts per million range, after which it diminished to parts per billion concentrations. DOSS levels in the plume matched what would have been expected if the dispersants remained with the oil. That, Kujawinski says, suggests no biodegradation of DOSS — and shows why remnants of dispersant applications could be detected 300 kilometers from the wellhead and even two months after their last application.

“When you read about Corexit, it’s supposed to biodegrade,” observes Carys Mitchelmore of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science in Solomons. But specific rates have not generally been reported, she adds. So the dispersant’s apparent persistence in the new paper is somewhat unexpected.

Then again, Mitchelmore notes, “Corexit is made up of multiple chemicals, so each might have different biodegradation rates.” The aquatic toxicologist says she would like to see are data showing whether Corexit enhanced the ultimate breakdown of BP’s oil.

“The jury’s still out on the role of dispersants in oil degradation,” she says. “Some say they enhance it, others say they inhibit it.”

Like Mitchelmore, Beth McGee of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Md., served on a 2005 National Academy of Sciences assessment of oil-spill dispersants. Clearly, McGee says, undersea use in the Deepwater Horizon spill constitutes “uncharted territory.”

“Dispersants typically degrade fairly rapidly,” McGee says. “So the new data leave me fairly surprised.” And, she adds, the results suggest that novel uses — such as injecting them a mile below the surface where it’s cold and there’s no light — deserve study, if only to answer questions prompted by the BP spill.

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Greenland glaciers spring surprise

Richard Black BBC News 26 Jan 11

Some Greenland glaciers run slower in warm summers than cooler ones, meaning the icecap may be more resistant to warming than previously thought.

A UK-led scientific team reports the finding in the journal Nature, following analysis of five years of satellite data on six glaciers.

The scientists emphasise the icecap is not "safe from climate change", as it is still losing ice to the sea.

Melting of the icecap would add several metres to sea level around the world.

But it suggests that one reason behind the acceleration in glacier flow, which so concerned scientists when it was first documented in 2002, will prove not to be such a serious concern.

"In their last report in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded they weren't able to make an accurate projection of future sea level because there were a couple of processes by which climate change could cause additional melt from the ice sheet," said Andy Shepherd from the University of Leeds.

"We're addressing one of those processes and saying that according to the observations, nothing will change, so that process can probably be ruled out."

In all five years studied (1993 and 1995-8), the speed of the glaciers increased with the onset of summer, as meltwater collected between the bottom of the glacier and the rock beneath, lubricating the flow.

But in the warmest years, the acceleration stalled early in the season; in relatively cool summers, it did not.

Even though the melting accelerated earlier in warmer years, by late summer the glaciers were 60% slower.

The explanation is that hotter summers cause so much meltwater to collect that it runs off in channels below the ice - meaning it does not lubricate the glaciers so efficiently.

Elevated concern

The results reinforce work by other scientific groups, on glaciers in Greenland and in mountains in temperate regions of the world.

And the somewhat counter-intuitive finding may change the view of what lies ahead.

"Those higher-temperature years are more like Greenland would be in 50-100 years," Professor Shepherd told BBC News.

"It's a snapshot of Greenland in the future; so one might expect the ice to be flowing slower than it is today."

However, this mechanism is not the only way that higher temperatures result in faster loss of ice.

Glaciers that end in the ocean can be accelerated by warmer seawater melting the ice tongue from underneath.

And warming can also lead to melting at progressively higher altitudes, increasing the total amount of water flowing down into the sea.

"I would be very careful about doing an extrapolation both in time and space," said Michiel van den Broeke, a polar icecap specialist from the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands and co-editor-in-chief of The Cryosphere journal.

"This ensemble of glaciers is quite small, and [the researchers] only take a limited elevation interval.

"So it's an important study, but it doesn't say what happens to glaciers higher up, and they could start acting like the accelerating glaciers now; so I'd be very cautious."

Satellite observations show an overall loss of ice across Greenland.

But thinning is greater along the coast and in the south, while some central areas have thickened, perhaps due to increased snowfall.

What happens to the crucial icecap when is still unclear; and may still not be resolved by the time of the next major IPCC assessment, in 2013/4.

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