Best of our wild blogs: 24 May 11

First Kids’ Musang Watch – A success!
from The Diet of the Common Palm Civet in Singapore

Living reefs at Sentosa, Serapong!
from wild shores of singapore

daylight hunting octopus @ t.bemban besar 22May2011
from sgbeachbum and red squid stranded @ t.bemban besar

Yellow-vented Bulbul nesting in a potted plant
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Admiralty Park
from Crystal and Bryan in Singapore

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Animal release: Science, compassion and religion

Use environmental impact studies to guide believers on the best species to release
Letter from Chong Kwek Yan Today Online 21 May 11;

IN MANY parts of Asia, the practice of animal liberation has kicked up much debate in terms of animal welfare and the impact on the environment.

Some have attempted to address these concerns. Religious adherents have switched from exotic freshwater pets such as red-eared sliders and birds, to sea creatures such as fish and crabs on the rationale that these are native our region's seas.

A second, more questionable, recommendation has been to avoid buying patterns that can be anticipated by sellers. The latest move has been to purchase only marine fish reared in fish farms and not those directly caught at sea ("Buddhists celebrate Vesak Day", May 18).

While I admire such efforts to modernise our traditions, I would propose that we go two steps further. First, construct an economic model to show how this latest practice better circumvents the usual market scenarios of animal capture and liberation. Second, do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of possible short-term ecosystem shocks and long-term genetic erosion to the wild populations from such large quantities of a few species being released.

The EIA can advise on husbandry practices, and recommend appropriate mixes of species and release volumes and timings for the best outcome.

Buddhists can then confidently help to reach out to and educate those who still slip past our watchful nature wardens and conduct the worst practices of releasing exotics directly into our reserves.

This is an opportunity to show how scientific method can complement religious devotion for a positive outcome.

But perhaps at the end of the day, we may find that the most enlightened way to practise compassion would still be the long and hard way: Live simply, reduce consumption, and be kind and gentle to all life around us.

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Singapore: Awards for higher energy efficiency

Today Online 24 May 11;

SINGAPORE - Six companies and one energy manager have earned themselves the inaugural Energy Efficiency National Partnership (EENP) Awards through measures like retrofitting the cooling and heating systems of their buildings to use energy more efficiently, and improving how they monitor energy use.

This is the first time the industrial sector is being recognised for its efforts in implementing energy efficiency improvement programmes.

The awards, organised by the National Environment Agency (NEA), Energy Market Authority and the Economic Development Board, are part of the EENP programme, which was launched last year.

Two other companies will also receive honourable mention for their best practices in implementing such projects at the awards ceremony, which will take place tonight at the National Energy Efficiency Conference 2011.

Said Mr Andrew Tan, chief executive officer of NEA: "Energy efficiency helps boost profits, lower costs and reduce greenhouse gases ... Through the Energy Efficiency National Partnership (EENP) and the EENP Awards, we are providing companies with a key platform to exchange their expertise and best practices, while recognising those who have achieved high standards in energy efficiency."

Among those receiving awards are Glaxo Wellcome Manufacturing, which will receive an award for excellence in energy management. "We installed a sophisticated monitoring and targeting system which allows us to see our energy usage across the site in great detail," said Mr Christopher Dobson, vice-president and site director of GlaxoSmithKline.

"Since the start of the programme, we have implemented almost 300 projects large and small, and saved in excess of S$12.5 million up to the end of last year," he said.

The company's engineering manager, Mr Yeo Yee Pang, also received the Outstanding Energy Manager of the Year award, for his 11-year track record in promoting energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Manpower will be presented with the "Best Public Sector Agency in Energy Management" commendation. Both its premises in Havelock Road and Bendemeer Road have attained the Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark Platinum rating.

The Havelock building also incorporates energy-efficient features such as photovoltaic sensors for perimeter lighting and energy regenerative units for lifts.

Conference to decode energy efficiency in Singapore
JOYCE HOOI finds out what's in store at the National Energy Efficiency Conference
Business Times 24 May 11;

AT the National Energy Efficiency Conference 2011, a line-up of speakers - all expert in their respective fields - will talk about a particular area of energy efficiency, ranging from broad policy to the specifics of technical issues.

Lee Eng Lock, technical director at Trane Airconditioning Pte Ltd, and Rohit Razdan, associate principal at McKinsey & Company, will both be among the speakers making presentations of their own during the conference, which opens today.

Mr Lee will be talking about the good industrial practices of energy-efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) plants in buildings around the world, which, despite existing in different climatic conditions, have been able to achieve high energy efficiency design.

While he examines these practices in other countries during his presentation today, he has also given thought to how policies in Singapore have affected the landscape for HVAC plants here.

Singled out for praise was the Grant for Energy Efficient Technologies (GREET) scheme, which was introduced by the National Environmental Agency (NEA) in November 2008 to encourage the uptake of energy efficient technologies or equipment by providing a grant to offset part of the investment cost.

'The current GREET incentive scheme for industry buildings is very attractive to existing building owners going for retrofitting of the HVAC system. To qualify, the building need to be retrofitted with a high energy efficiency HVAC system,' said Mr Lee.

GREET co-funds up to 50 per cent of the investment cost of energy-efficient equipment or technologies, capped at $2 million per project, for projects which have a payback period of more than three years and up to seven years.

Mr Razdan, for his part, will be presenting on how a confluence of drivers such as cost, regulation and image is making energy management and efficiency increasingly important for companies.

'Historically, industry has focused on cost, quality and lean operations. However, the next wave of operational excellence is likely to focus on driving energy efficiency,' said Mr Razdan.

During the presentation, he will draw from McKinsey's experience in dealing with energy efficiency issues across various industries.

According to him, the good news for companies is that significant energy efficiency gains are possible with limited capital investments - up to a 75 per cent reduction in energy consumption is possible through investments with a payback period that is shorter than three years.

In reaching the promised land of lower energy usage and higher cost savings, however, a foundation of best practices need to be in place first.

'Adopting a transformational approach to driving energy efficiency improvement is critical - this requires creating transparency around energy consumption, systematically detecting energy waste, developing optimisation levers for energy productivity, incorporating energy key performance indicators in management systems and building capabilities for continuously improving energy productivity,' said Mr Razdan.

For Mr Lee, a concrete manifestation of best practices can be found at United World College South East Asia.

'The recently completed United World College South East Asia building located in Tampines will be putting up the actual operating condition of its facilities, especially air-conditioning plant, in real time on the Internet to showcase the high energy efficiency of the building. It is also a Green Mark Platinum-rated building,' said Mr Lee.

Singapore, by all counts, had made considerable progress in the march towards increasing energy efficiency - the country's energy intensity improved by 19.4 per cent from 2005 to 2008, up from 15 per cent from 1990 to 2005. This was attributed to better technology being used in power generation and more productive energy usage.

Even then, there is plenty of room for improvement - or upside potential, as it were. The industrial segment, for example, accounts for about 60 per cent of energy consumption in Singapore, Mr Razdan pointed out.

'Driving energy efficiency in this segment is critical for Singapore to achieve its overall sustainability blueprint targets,' he said.

Besides targeting the most effective segments in reducing energy efficiency, transparency during implementation is also highly prized for Mr Lee, especially where showing the actual operating condition of an air-conditioning plant - which could consume up to 60 per cent of total energy used - is concerned, he said.

In looking beyond its borders, there are several key concepts that could possibly be emulated in improving energy efficiency.

'Our experience from other countries shows that to have the most impact, energy efficiency-enabling measures need to go to the specifics and should be designed to target the key barriers as closely as possible,' said Mr Razdan.

Australia, for example, has building-specific incentive programmes that are formulated to drive an increase in the retrofitting of commercial buildings, he said.

In the United Kingdom, the issue of transparency has been picked by Mr Lee as a prime concept for improving energy efficiency.

'We can learn from the UK by displaying all the government building operating conditions to the public for scrutiny,' he said.

Currently, the future for energy efficiency in Singapore is a bright one, packed as it is with the necessary tools and policies for creating an environment that is conducive to such efforts.

'In the last few years, Singapore has made significant progress on energy efficiency through a series of incentives and initiatives, for example, the Energy Efficiency Improvement Assistance Scheme, Design for Efficiency, GREET scheme, Singapore Certified Energy Manager training grant and green vehicle rebates,' said Mr Razdan.

'Impressive results have been achieved especially in the commercial and residential segments. Furthermore, Singapore has set itself ambitious energy efficiency improvement targets as part of the Singapore Sustainability Blueprint, for example, to reduce energy intensity by 35 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 and reduce energy consumption in new and mature housing estates by 20 per cent and 30 per cent respectively by 2030.'

Singapore energy efficiency gets boost
Wayne Chan Channel NewsAsia 24 May 11;

SINGAPORE: More funds and a new award for energy efficiency kicked off the first National Energy Efficiency Conference (NEEC) held in Singapore.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan announced that S$22.8 million will go, for the next two years, to the Grant for Energy Efficient Technologies (GREET) scheme, which helps companies defray the cost of purchasing such technologies.

Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has implemented almost 300 energy efficiency projects at its Jurong facility since 2002, achieving some S$12.5 million in energy savings as of end-2010.

It is one of six companies receiving the inaugural Energy Efficiency National Partnership (EENP) Awards, and it said it has its onsite energy monitoring system to thank.

Glaxo Wellcome Manufacturing engineering manager Yeo Yee Pang said: "Using this tool, this system to collect energy use on site, we can understand where are all the high energy use (and in) which area.

"... We can also identify the energy waste and from there, we can trigger a lot of projects and initiatives and from there, we are able to save the energy".

The EENP programme is a key recommendation of the Singapore Sustainable Development Blueprint, launched on April 29, 2010 to promote a culture of sustained energy efficiency improvements in industries.

There are three categories of the award: Excellence in Energy Management, Best Practices and Outstanding Energy Managers of the Year.

GSK is one of two companies to receive the EENP Award for Excellence in Energy Management.

And for Singapore to do just that, Dr Balakrishnan said it was important to have an eco-system where businesses and government agencies ensure energy efficiency objectives are achieved.

"Basically what you need is a system in which you can scan the horizon for new technologies, that we ensure that Singapore remains a testbed for the early adoption for new technologies that can improve energy efficiency," Dr Balakrishnan said.

With 96 partners so far, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it hopes more will join the EENP network in promoting a sustainable Singapore.

The awards and conference are organised by the NEA, the Energy Market Authority and the Economic Development Board.

The GREET scheme was launched in 2008 with S$22 million to spur companies to invest in energy efficient equipment and technology.

The original S$22 million from 2008 is likely to be fully used by this year, one year ahead of schedule.

The projects approved and being processed are expected to result in a lifetime energy savings of more than S$160 million and an annual carbon dioxide abatement of more than 40 kilitonnes.

The grant cap has also been increased from S$2 million to S$4 million per project, and companies must now be EENP partners who have implemented energy management systems to qualify.

Another EENP Award for Excellence in Energy Management winner, Pfizer Asia Pacific, has linked employee performances to energy efficiency improvements.

For the public sector, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will receive the "Best Public Sector Agency in Energy Management" Commendation, which recognises outstanding public sector agencies for exemplary performance and commitment to energy management.

NEA CEO Andrew Tan said companies that already have an energy management system would be better placed to meet the requirements of the upcoming Energy Conservation Act (ECA) in 2013.


Singapore on track to be more energy efficient
Kimberly Spykerman Straits Times 25 May 11;

SINGAPORE'S push to reduce its carbon footprint is on track, having improved its energy efficiency over the last few years, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

Speaking at the opening of the National Energy Efficiency Conference, his first event since becoming the new Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, he said Singapore had already managed to lower energy intensity by 8 per cent between 2005 and 2009.

In 2009, an inter-ministerial committee on sustainable development had set a goal of reducing the nation's energy intensity output by 35 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. This means a 35 per cent cut in energy consumption per dollar of gross domestic product.

Said Dr Balakrishnan: 'Improving energy efficiency will minimise energy wastage, cut costs for companies and consumers, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and contribute to overall economic competitiveness.'

To recognise the efforts of those who reduced energy wastage at their workplaces, eight organisations, including the Manpower Ministry, were presented with the inaugural Energy Efficiency National Partnership (EENP) award last night.

The EENP is organised by the National Environment Agency, the Energy Market Authority, and the Economic Development Board. It was launched in April last year to help companies share best practices on energy efficiency and help them put these practices in place. Since its launch, 96 companies have signed up as EENP partners.

It was announced yesterday that $22.8 million would go, for the next two years, to the Grant for Energy Efficient Technologies scheme, which helps firms defray the costs of such investments. The grant cap has been doubled, from $2 million to $4 million per project.

Dr Balakrishnan also highlighted that the industrial sector had the potential to be more energy efficient, as it is responsible for almost 60 per cent of the nation's energy consumption.

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Can keeping native mammals as pets help conserve wild populations?

ECOS Magazine: Towards a Sustainable Future By Jo Isaacs
Science Alert 24 May 11;

An estimated 60 per cent of Australian households own a pet, with dogs and cats the companions of choice. A recent study suggests replacing some introduced pets with native mammals could help preserve dwindling populations in the wild.

Currently, it is illegal to keep most native Australian mammals as pets. But a report, published by the Rural Industries and Development Corporation, advises that keeping native mammals as pets could benefit their wild counterparts in several ways. The research advocates a ‘conservation through sustainable use’ strategy – putting a monetary value on natives as pets to contribute to their protection in the wild. The report also says that replacing some non-native pets, such as cats, with natives could also have conservation benefits.

The eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus), now extinct on the mainland, and Mitchells hopping mouse (Notomys mitchellii), presumed extinct in New South Wales, were investigated for their suitability as pets for the purposes of the study. Both of these species are impacted by cats and foxes in the wild.

The report also identified several other potential pet species, including sugar gliders and native rodent species other than Mitchell’s hopping mouse. Sugar gliders are already popular pets in the United States.

‘Australia is facing a number of mammal extinctions,’ explains the lead author of the report, Dr Rosie Cooney. ‘An expanded native pet industry could help though a “conservation levy” on purchases of native species, which is used to support conservation of native species and habitats.’

Dr Euan Ritchie, a mammal ecologist from Deakin University, agrees in principle.

‘Keeping natives rather than cats would pose less risk to native species,’ he says. ‘However, for some species not easily bred in captivity, making them worth lots of money could promote poaching of wildlife from natural areas,’ Dr Ritchie warns.

Dr Diana Fisher of the University of Queensland has worked extensively with dasyurid marsupials (most of Australia’s carnivorous marsupials are classified as dasyurid), including antechinuses and phascogales, and is doubtful many native species would make good pets.

‘The major problem with dasyurids is their short life span and slow reproductive rate,’ she explains. ‘They are not like dogs and cats. Even the biggest species, quolls and Tasmanian devils, live only three to four years.’

The report also considers the welfare aspects of keeping native species as pets, including the potential for poor housing conditions, and vulnerability to stress caused by a confined and unnatural environment. However the authors propose a range of regulatory and educational measures that could be taken to address any animal welfare threats that may arise, including keeper licences and the development of codes of practice for keeping a variety of native mammals. These measures would ensure that animals are kept only ‘in the hands of committed, well-educated private keepers who have the appropriate skills and experience to look after native species,’ Dr Cooney explains. For the two focal species, the study suggests that knowledge of appropriate food, space and behavioural enrichment measures should be known to potential keepers.

The study also suggests that keeping native mammals as pets could make the Australian public feel more passionate about the animals’ survival in the wild. Dr Cooney uses amphibian and reptile pet owners as examples.

‘Keeping of native amphibians and reptiles has generated a lot of understanding of reproduction and husbandry requirements,’ she says. ‘Many keepers are also enthusiastic about conservation, participating in biological surveys of wild populations.’

However, Mr Daryl Dickson, a wildlife carer who has rehabilitated injured gliders, is skeptical.

‘In my experience, while pet owners love their animals, this does not always translate into interest in their ecology or habitat in the wild,’ he says. ‘All pets, even natives, have the potential to become dangerous pests if they escape into areas where they do not normally occur.’

Dr Cooney cites the establishment of a safeguard population of captive animals, which could be used for reintroductions into the wild in the future, as another potential positive benefit.

‘One of the primary potential benefits of carefully managed expansion of native mammals as pets is increasing captive populations,’ she explains. ‘There are already examples where individuals of threatened animals kept in private hands have been reintroduced into the wild.’

However, Dr Ritchie warns tight regulations would be required.

‘Captive populations may benefit reintroductions, but could also serve as reservoirs for disease which could impact wild populations,’ he says.

Other problems could include genetic and behavioural differences in captive-bred animals, which are unsuitable for life in the wild.

Keeping native mammals as pets will require significant changes to current laws in most states and territories. Since this will likely prove a slow process, the native pet debate seems set to continue indefinitely.

Read more!

T. Rex Leech, Titanic-Eating Bacterium, Batfish That Hops and Glow-in-the-Dark Fungi: Scientists List Top 10 New Species

ScienceDaily 23 May 11;

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of taxonomists from around the world -- scientists responsible for species exploration and classification -- announced their picks for the top 10 new species described in 2010. The May 23 announcement coincided with the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who was responsible for the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications.

On this year's top 10 new species list are a leech with enormous teeth, an iron-oxide consuming bacterium discovered on a rusticle from the RMS Titanic, a batfish flat as a pancake that appears to hop in the water, and fungi that emit bright yellowish-green light from their gel-coated stems. The top 10 new species also include a jumping cockroach, a six-foot long fruit-eating lizard, and a duiker first encountered at a bushmeat market in Africa. Rounding out this year's top 10 are a cricket that pollinates a rare orchid, a mushroom that fruits underwater, and an orb-weaving spider named for Darwin that builds webs large enough to span rivers and lakes.

Photos and other information about the top 10 new species, including the explorers who made the discoveries, are online at Also at the site is a Google world map that pinpoints the location for each of the top 10 new species. This year's top 10 come from around the world, including Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar, the North Atlantic Ocean, Oregon, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa and West Africa.

The winners are …

Among this year's top 10 picks is a leech, less than 2 inches in length but with a single jaw and gigantic teeth, earning it the name Tyrannobdella rex, which means "tyrant leech king." Found in Peru, this leech was discovered attached to the nasal mucous membrane of a human. According to the scientists who reported the discovery, there are 600 to 700 species of described leeches, yet there could be as many as 10,000 more throughout the world.

Also making the list is the iron-oxide consuming bacterium that was discovered on a rusticle from the RMS Titanic and named Halomonas titanicae by a team of scientists from Dalhousie University in Canada and the University of Sevilla in Spain. The passenger steamship Titanic struck a massive iceberg in 1912 on its maiden voyage and sank deep in the Atlantic Ocean, where it has been deteriorating. Studies show that the bacterium sticks to steel surfaces, creating knob-like mounds of corrosion products. Researchers believe this bacterium could be useful in the disposal of old ships and oil rigs that lie deep in the ocean.

A top 10 choice in the fish category is a pancake batfish that lives in waters either partially or fully encompassed by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Named Halieutichthys intermedius, this bottom-dwelling species seems to hop on its thick, arm-like fins as it moves awkwardly in the water, resembling a walking bat. John Sparks, curator of ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History, one of the scientists who reported the discovery, said: "If we are still finding new species of fishes in the Gulf, imagine how much diversity, especially microdiversity, is out there that we do not know about."

Lighting up the top 10 is a luminescent fungus collected in São Paulo, Brazil, found on sticks in an Atlantic forest habitat. The teeny mushrooms, less than 8 millimeters in diameter with caps smaller than 2 centimeters across, have gel-coated stems that glow constantly, emitting a bright, yellowish-green light. San Francisco State University biology professor Dennis Desjardin and his colleagues who made the discovery, named the new species Mycena luxaeterna (eternal light) after a movement in Mozart's "Requiem." Desjardin, who has discovered more than 200 new fungi species, noted that of the estimated 1.5 million species of fungi on Earth, only 71 species are known to be bioluminescent.

The Silvermine Nature Reserve, part of Table Mountain National Park in South Africa, is home to another character on this year's top 10 list -- a new species of cockroach that exhibits unusual morphology with legs that are highly modified for jumping. Named Saltoblattella montistabularis -- Saltoblattella is the Latin translation of "jumping small cockroach" -- this critter has jumping ability that is on par with grasshoppers. Prior to its discovery, jumping cockroaches were only known from the Late Jurassic. In addition to the leg modifications, it has hemispherical shaped eyes, rather than kidney shaped eyes, which protrude from the sides of the head, and its antennae have an additional fixation point to help stabilize it during jumping.

At 6 feet 6 inches in length, a frugivorous (fruit-eating) monitor lizard found in the Northern Sierra Madre Forest on Luzon Island in the Philippines is the longest species to make this year's top 10. Weighing only 22 pounds, this species is brightly colored with stripes of gold flecks. Its scaly body and legs are a blue-black mottled with pale yellow-green dots and its tail is marked in alternating segments of black and green. Named Varanus bitatawa, this lizard spends most of its time in trees and has become a flagship species for conservation in the Philippines.

A new duiker (antelope) from West Africa was first encountered at a bushmeat market, a surprising find, according to the scientists who reported the new species in Zootaxa. "The discovery of a new species from a well-studied group of animals in the context of bushmeat exploitation is a sobering reminder of the mammalian species that remain to be described, even within those that are being exploited on a daily basis for food or ritual activities," wrote Marc Colyn from the University of Rennes, France, and his co-authors. The species is named Philantomba walteri or "Walter's Duiker" for the late Walter N. Verheyen, in honor of his work on African mammals. Verheyen reportedly collected the first specimen at Badou, Togo, in 1968.

Glomeremus orchidophilus -- a raspy cricket -- made the top 10 list for its distinction of being the only pollinator of the rare and endangered orchid Angraecum cadetii on Réunion in the Mascarene Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The scientists who made the discovery wrote that this species, which belongs to a subfamily of crickets that make a raspy sound, represents the first supported case of regular pollination by an insect from the order Orthoptera in extant flowering plants.

Scientists found a species of gilled mushroom in the northwestern United States submerged in the clear, cold, flowing waters of the upper Rogue River in Oregon. What makes Psathyrella aquatica distinct, and a member of this year's top 10, is that it was observed over 11 weeks, fruiting underwater.

Rounding out the top 10 picks is an orb-weaving spider from Madagascar that was named for Charles Darwin -- Caerostris darwini. The webs of Darwin's Bark Spider have been found spanning rivers, streams and lakes, and in one instance, a web stretched 82 feet across a Madagascar river with at least 30 insects trapped in it. But length of the web isn't the only distinction of this species. The silk spun by these spiders is more than two times stronger than any other known spider silk and reportedly 10 times stronger than a similarly sized piece of Kevlar.

It's about diversity

"At the same time that astronomers search for Earth-like planets in visible space, taxonomists are busily exploring the life forms of the most Earth-like planet of all, our own," said Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist who directs the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.

"We can only realistically aspire to sustainable biodiversity if we first learn what species exist to begin with. Our best guess is that all species discovered since 1758 represent less than 20 percent of the kinds of plants and animals inhabiting planet Earth. A reasonable estimate is that 10 million species remain to be described, named, and classified before the diversity and complexity of the biosphere is understood," he said.

To help draw attention in a fun-filled way to biodiversity, the field of taxonomy, and the importance of natural history museums and botanical gardens, an international committee of taxon experts make the selection of the top 10 new species from the thousands described in the previous calendar year, explained Wheeler.

"Charting the species of the world and their unique attributes are essential parts of understanding the history of life," he said. "It is in our own self-interest as we face the challenges of living on a rapidly changing planet that we understand the origin and 3.8 billion year history of evolution."

Wheeler has advocated a new generation of cyber-tools and Web accessible resources that will vastly accelerate the rate at which humans are able to discover and describe species.

"Most people do not realize just how incomplete our knowledge of Earth's species is or the steady rate at which taxonomists are exploring that diversity. We are surrounded by such an exuberance of species diversity that we too often take it for granted," he said.

Commemorating May 23 birth of Linnaeus

The annual top 10 new species announcement commemorates the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, who initiated the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications. The 300th anniversary of his birth on May 23 was celebrated worldwide in 2007.

Since Linnaeus initiated the modern systems for naming plants and animals in the 18th century, an estimated 2 million species have been named, described and classified. Scientists estimate there are between 10 million and 100 million species on Earth, though most set the number closer to 12 million.

The list of the top 10 new species is issued annually by ASU's International Institute for Species Exploration as part of its public awareness campaign to shine attention on biodiversity and the field of taxonomy. Previous top 10 lists are online at

Taxon experts pick top 10

An international committee of experts, chaired by Mary Liz Jameson, an associate professor at Wichita State University, selected the top 10 new species for this year's list. Nominations were invited through the website and also generated by institute staff and committee members.

"Committee members had complete freedom in making their choices and developing their own criteria, from unique attributes or surprising facts about the species to peculiar names," Wheeler noted.

"Each of these amazing species discoveries tells a story about our planet; they are pieces of the puzzle that help us to understand how all of the components of life on Earth work together," said Jameson. "That beautiful, luminescent mushroom -- its all-day glow attracts small insects that help to disperse the mushroom's spores. The rust-eating bacterium -- it recycles even the most titanic of human creations so that the constituents can be used by other creatures.

"I think that the top 10 species helps to bring attention to the pieces of the puzzle that are still waiting to be discovered -- whether it's in your own backyard, a health clinic in Peru, in the deep ocean, or a market in West Africa. Biodiversity science is all about exploration and discovery -- cool stuff," she said.

Other members on this year's committee included Philippe Bouchet, French National Museum of Natural History; Meg Daly, Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University; Daphne G. Fautin, Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, University of Kansas; Peter Kämpfer, Institut für Angewandte Mikrobiologie, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen; Niels Peder Kristensen, Natural History Museum of Denmark, Zoologisk Museum, University of Copenhagen; James Macklin, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada; Ellinor Michel, Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, London; John Noyes, Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London; Alan Paton, International Plant Names Index and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK; Andrew Polaszek, Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London; Gideon F. Smith, Biosystematics Research and Biodiversity Collections, South African National Biodiversity Institute; Antonio Valdecasas, Museo Nacional Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain; and Zhi-Qiang Zhang, New Zealand Arthropod Collection, Landcare Research.

Nominations for the 2012 list -- for species described in 2011 -- may be made online at

Annual SOS

In addition to the top 10 new species, the International Institute for Species Exploration annually issues an SOS -- State of Observed Species -- a report on human knowledge of Earth's species. This year's report will be issued in the fall. It will discuss the number and categories of new species described in 2009, the most recent year for which complete data are available. The SOS report trumpets the latest discoveries of previously unknown plants, animals, microbes, algae, fungi and fossil species.

Leaping roach, 'T-rex' leech among new species
Yahoo News 23 May 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A jumping cockroach, a glow-in-the-dark fungus, a rust-eating bacterium and a leech named "T-rex" were among the top 10 new species discovered in the world last year, US scientists said Monday.

The creatures were uncovered in Brazil, Madagascar, South Africa, Peru, the Philippines, West Africa, the US state of Oregon, the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic Ocean.

The top 10 list is compiled by global experts and released annually by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.

The leech named after a ferocious meat-eating dinosaur was removed from a man's nose in Peru. While it measures less than five centimeters (two inches) long, its powerful jaw and massive teeth earned it the name Tyrannobdella rex, which means "tyrant leech king."

Scientists in Canada and Spain identified the iron-oxide munching bacterium from a section of the Titanic which in 1912 sank deep into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg.

"Researchers believe this bacterium could be useful in the disposal of old ships and oil rigs that lie deep in the ocean," the IISE said in a statement.

Minuscule mushrooms in the forests of Sao Paulo, Brazil were found to "glow constantly, emitting a bright, yellowish-green light," it said, becoming one of the around 70 species of fungi in the world known to be bioluminescent.

A cockroach that mimics a grasshopper in its jumping ability was detected in South Africa. The saltoblattella montistabularis has legs are specially made for jumping, a stabilizing antenna and round eyes at the sides of its head.

A raspy cricket, glomeremus orchidophilus, found in the Mascarene Archipelago in the Indian Ocean was discovered to be the only creature that pollinates a rare orchid, Angraecum cadetii.

Scientists in the northwestern state of Oregon found an unusual mushroom thriving under the chilly waters of the Rogue River.

And a spider that can weave its web -- with silk twice as strong as any spider known to man -- across the entire width of a river was discovered in Madagascar.

"The webs of Darwin's Bark Spider have been found spanning rivers, streams and lakes, and in one instance, a web stretched 82 feet (25 meters) across a Madagascar river with at least 30 insects trapped in it," the IISE said.

Other top selections were new type of antelope, a pancake batfish -- a fish that resembles a walking bat when it moves awkwardly through the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico -- and a six-foot-long (1.8 meter) fruit-eating lizard in the Philippines.

"Our best guess is that all species discovered since 1758 represent less than 20 percent of the kinds of plants and animals inhabiting planet Earth," said Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist who directs the IISE.

"A reasonable estimate is that 10 million species remain to be described, named, and classified before the diversity and complexity of the biosphere is understood," he said.

Pictures and more details on the species are at

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Indonesia's natural forests can serve as biodiversity barn

Antara 23 May 11;

Bogor, West Java (ANTARA News) - Indonesia`s natural forests serve as a biodiversity barn that can be used as a source of food and medicine for more than 230 million people in the country.

"The natural forests in Indonesia can provide the local communities with additional products such as fire-wood, fruit, nuts and herbs, and opportunities for agricultural activities," Bird Conservation Officer Dwi Mulyawati said on Monday.

She said the forests in Indonesia contained various kinds of medicine, derived from biodiversity with an estimated value of US14.6 billion.

Dwi said that besides serving as biodiversity barn, the forests also absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), the main `greenhouse gas` responsible for global warming, thereby reducing the concentration of this gas in the atmosphere.

Forests are referred to as `carbon sinks` for this function of CO2 absorption and storage.

According to her, sustainable forestry could provide additional climate change and local environmental benefits in the longer term. Once harvested, the wood from the trees may be used either as a source of renewable energy, thereby reducing the use of fossil fuels, or for construction materials or furniture-making, thereby reducing deforestation elsewhere.

She said forests also provide habitats for a wide array of plant and animal species including birds.

"Forests and birds have inseparable reciprocal relationships," Dewi said, adding that of 10,000 kinds of bird in the world, around 1,594 species were found in Indonesian forests.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia to audit 8,000 mining permits after new laws

Reuters 23 May 11;

May 23 (Reuters) - Indonesia will audit over 8,000 existing mining permits to make sure they are in line with mining and environmental laws, the country's finance minister said on Monday, days after the country passed new regulations on environmental protection.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last week signed a two-year moratorium on permits for logging and another decree allowing underground mining in protected forests if conditions such as an environmental assessment had been met. [ID:nL4E7GK0I2]

The rules were softer than expected by environmentalists and it was not clear if the audit of permits would lead to any cancellations. Indonesia had already stopped issing new mining permits ahead of mining regulations stemming from a 2008 law.

"There are many overlapping permits, and permits where it needs to be confirmed whether they are in line with mining practices in term of protecting the environment," said Finance Minister Agus Martowardodjo.

Higher commodity prices are attracting increased investment interest in mining metals such as nickel in Indonesia, despite red tape, poor infrastructure and corruption.

But the severe bottleneck in mining licence issuance threatens further development of Indonesia's resources, executives have said. [ID:nSGE69D0C6]

Global miners with projects in Indonesia include Newmont Mining Corp , Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold and BHP Billiton . Indonesia is the world's top exporter of thermal coal and tin. (Reporting by Rieka Rahadiana and Adriana Nina Kusuma; Writing by Telly Nathalia; Editing by Neil Chatterjee)

Geothermal Mining Allowed in Forests
Fidelis E Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 22 May 11;

Keen to develop clean energy, Indonesia is now permitting underground mining in protected forests to help harness the power of the earth, a senior official said on Friday.

A new presidential regulation would allow greater geothermal development because 80 percent of geothermal reserves were found beneath protected forests or national parks.

“The regulation is much awaited as it will pave the way for us to develop our geothermal potential,” Cabinet Secretary Dipo Alam said on Friday.

Currently, the country is the third-largest producer of geothermal power, but the five existing plants contribute only 1.5 percent of the nation’s power generation capacity.

The state goal is 25 percent renewable power by 2025 along with 23 percent natural gas, 30 percent oil, and 22 percent coal. Geothermal, hydropower and bio-energy are the flagship sources in the new policy.

A presidential regulation signed on Thursday stated that underground mining could be conducted in protected forests areas so long as it did not change the general use and purpose of the area.

Experts have argued that in underground mining there is no immediate alteration to the above-ground landscape because operators usually only build tunnels to reach the geothermal energy sites. The long-term effects are still in question.

The regulation stipulates that underground mining activities must first get a permit in principle from the minister of forestry and follow up with a permit for the use of protected forest areas.

An Environmental Impact Analysis (Amdal), issued by the Ministry of Environment should also be attached to the application for the permit.

Miners Say Protected Forests Fair Game
Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 23 May 11;

The mining industry pointed out on Sunday that a much ballyhooed presidential decree allowing geothermal exploration in protected forests also allowed underground mining, including delving for minerals and coal.

Irwandy Arif, chairman of the Indonesian Mining Professionals Association, said that the decree signed by the president on Thursday referred to underground exploration, which could extend to resource mining.

“We’ve been waiting for this presidential regulation, especially for mining lead in Dairi, North Sumatra,” he said.

He added the country’s open-pit mines were increasingly exhausted, so there was little choice but for miners to go deeper.

“The regulation gives legal certainty and will attract miners to invest more in silver, lead and gold mining,” said Irwandy, who helped draft the presidential decree over the past three years.

Under the decree, signed on Thursday by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, resource exploitation in protected forests is allowed as long as it is underground, it did not change the general use and purpose of the area, and the operators include infrastructure that supports production activities in the protected areas.

To qualify for a permit, applicants must provide as compensation land that is twice the area of the concession they are seeking to exploit. They are also obliged to replant and rehabilitate affected river catchment areas of the same size as their concession.

The permits are valid for 20 years and may be extended.

Irwandy said that while 90 percent of mining in Indonesia was of the open-pit variety, there were already several underground mines in operation, such as gold mines run by state-owned miner Antam in Pongkor, West Java, and Cibaliung, Banten.

“There’s also an underground coal mine run by Tambang Batubara Bukit Asam in Sawahlunto, West Sumatra, while Freeport is also carrying out underground mining,” he said.

“Newmont has said it too will conduct underground mining.”

Hadi Daryanto, the Forestry Ministry’s secretary general, said underground mining resulted in less environmental degradation than open-pit mining, adding that while there would be some damage but it would be strictly controlled.

He said permission for underground mining would only be given in the case of protected forests, and not for conservation forests, national parks or nature reserves.

However, Abadi Purnomo, chairman of the Indonesian Geothermal Association (API), said 30 percent of the country’s geothermal reserves were found in nature reserves, while another 30 percent was in protected forests.

“For protected forests, there are already several regulations stating that exploration is allowed as long as it’s not open-pit mining, but not for nature reserves, national parks and conservation areas,” he said.

He added that geothermal exploration should not be considered mining because “it’s actually just extracting heat from groundwater, which is different from digging for mineral resources such as gold.”

“It’s also environmentally safe because we need trees to maintain the heat sources [to preserve the groundwater], and we only use up 0.001 percent of the total forest area just to install the pipes and infrastructure,” Abadi said.

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No coral bleaching at Gulf of Mannar this summer

The New Indian Express 23 May 11;

THOOTHUKUDI: The intermittent rain this summer has not only brought relief to the people from the scorching heat, but has also prevented bleaching of corals in the Gulf of Mannar (GoM) this year. The Reef Research Team (RRT) of Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute (SDMRI) in Thoothukudi has found that no coral bleaching was noticed in the entire GoM.

Speaking to Express, Dr JK Patterson Edward, director of the institute, said that this was the first time since 2005 that corals of GoM had not experienced bleaching in summer till the end of May.

It may be noted that SDMRI has developed baseline on coral status in GoM during 2003-05 and is regularly conducting reef monitoring since 2005. According to Patterson Edward, coral reef areas in GoM are predominantly shallow, found at 0.5-4.5 m depths and where Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) of around 29ºC prevail throughout the year. “During summer (April - June), the temperature varies between 31C and 33.50C and due to elevated SSTs, coral bleaching has been observed during summer in GoM since 2005,” he said, sharing the results of his 7-year study.

Speaking further, he said that the average percentage of bleached corals between 2005 and 2009 ranged from 8.93 to 15.6 pc. “In GoM when the water temperature started to increase in March and once it reached 31C in mid-April, coral bleaching has occurred,” he said, adding, “coral recovery is usually recorded during June-July depending on rainfall and winds.” According to data provided by SDMRI, the average percentage of bleached corals during 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 was 14.6, 15.6, 12.9, 10.5, 8.93 and 9.01 respectively.

Interestingly, the percentage of bleached corals this year is nil so far.“Because of intermittent rainfall and favourable change in climatic conditions, no coral bleaching occurred this summer even though the temperature level reached around 32ºC on a few occasions,” he explained. He said that in 2010, due to prolonged period (4 months - April to July) of elevated temperature (32.2 to 33.2ºC) there was mortality of about 8 pc live corals but due to favourable climatic conditions, 3 to 5 pc corals have recovered so far since December 2010, which is a very positive sign.

“This favourable environmental condition has also helped in successful coral spawning in March 2011, which is expected to have substantial positive impact on the live coral cover in the coming days,” Patterson added. The coral reefs that enrich Gulf of Mannar play a major role in marine biodiversity by providing shelter, breeding and feeding place for various marine species. Apart from this, coral reefs also protect coasts and people from erosion and natural calamities land have direct impact on biodiversity and livelihood of dependent fisherfolk.

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Russia battles fires in Siberia, Far East

Yahoo News 23 May 11;

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia is battling wildfires spreading across Siberia and the Far East, with officials scrambling to prevent a disastrous repeat of last year's deadly blazes, the emergencies ministry said on Monday.

More than 400 wildfires covering over 110,000 hectares of forests and peat bogs have been registered in the country in the last 24 hours, the emergencies ministry said.

Overall, since the start of the year the ministry has recorded more than 8,500 wildfires covering over 290,000 hectares, nearly twice as much territory compared to the same period last year.

Russia endured the worst heatwave in its recorded history last year. A record drought wiped out the harvest and wildfires spread out of control, killing dozens, burning down thousands of houses and threatening military and nuclear installations.

The 2010 fires left Moscow shrouded in smoke for several weeks, forcing people to leave the capital in droves and causing mortality rates in the city to double.

Environmental campaigners Greenpeace warned earlier this month that Russia could again choke in catastrophic wildfires this summer because of the authorities' slow response to the growing threat.

Alexei Yaroshenko, head of Greenpeace Russia's forest programme, said the forest fires had started earlier this year and were more dangerous.

Last month, President Dmitry Medvedev warned Russian officials they would be sent to personally douse the blazes if they failed to prevent fires this year.

The European part of Russia, including Moscow, remains largely unaffected so far.

Forest Fires Rage In Russia's Far East, Siberia
Vladimir Soldatkin PlanetArk 23 May 11;

Fires are spreading fast across vast Siberian forests in a reminder of last year's worst drought on record which killed dozens of people and forced Russia to suspend grain exports.

The Emergency Ministry said on Sunday on its web site that around 100,000 hectares of forestry was caught up in fires, mainly in the Far East as well as in the oil-rich Siberian province of Khanty-Mansiysk and nearby areas.

The European part of Russia, the country's agricultural hinterland, remained largely unaffected but the authorities say the situation may worsen as dry weather persists.

During a record heatwave last summer, Russian authorities struggled to contain peat and forest fires that destroyed a quarter of the country's crops, killed dozens of people and engulfed Moscow in a cloud of hazardous acrid smoke.

Hundreds are thought to have died from the scorching heat last year, but Russia's top forecaster has said he did not expect the extreme drought to be repeated this year.

Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered officials to prevent a repeat of last year's devastating wildfires as environmentalists warned of another disaster.

Estimates for the European Union's wheat harvest are shrinking by the day, with analysts cutting crop forecasts again last week as plants wilted in a months-long drought that looks set to continue for a while.

Russia's official forecast for this year's crop is 85-90 million tonnes compared to some 61 million tonnes in 2010, 97 million in 2009 and 108 million in 2008.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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Climate Change Blamed for Record Mississippi Floods

Environment News Service 20 May 11;

WASHINGTON, DC, May 20, 2011 (ENS) - Human-induced climate change is contributing to the recent heavy rain and ongoing record flooding along the Mississippi River, and we can expect more extreme weather events in the future, according to scientists and adaptation experts on a teleconference held by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Climate change is about more than warming. What we're really seeing is global weirding," said climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, associate professor at Texas Tech University. "It is altering the character and conditions of the places we know and love. For many places around the world, what we are likely to see could be feast or famine - more frequency of weather at the extremes, from intense storms to prolonged droughts."

"We can't attribute any one event to climate change," she said, "but we do know that every event that happens is already superimposed on very different background conditions than we had 50 years ago."

Economic losses from natural disasters have soared from a global average of $25 billion annually during the 1980s to $130 billion a year during the decade ending in 2010, said Nikhil da Victoria Lobo, senior client manager in the Global Partnerships team at Swiss Re, an international reinsurance firm.

He told reporters that there's little doubt that "climate volatility was a major contributor," although he says it is impossible to estimate what percentage of losses were due to climate change.

Swiss Re is working with local governments around the world to help them bear less of the burden for costs associated with extreme weather. "We live in a world where rising budget deficits are being coupled with extreme weather events that further aggravate these financial burdens," he said. "However, insurance can put a price tag on climate risk, and help local governments more efficiently prepare for and finance what may happen."

Local governments must now determine what municipal infrastructure is vulnerable to future extreme weather and what capital investments will best protect residents and property.

Aaron Durnbaugh, Chicago's deputy commissioner for natural resources and water quality told reporters, "Chicago's sewers were installed over the past 150 years and it takes decades to replace this aging infrastructure under the best of conditions. Given our financial challenges, we just need to be sure that if we're replacing a sewer or adding green infrastructure, it's ready to handle the kind of rain events we're likely to see."

The pattern of rains and drought is set up by the La Niña - cold tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures - which influences the jet stream and the movement of storms across the United States.

These conditions shift precipitation, helping to drive extreme drought in Texas and Oklahoma while also contributing to extremely wet conditions in southern Missouri and the Ohio River Valley.

Additionally, a combination of natural factors and Arctic sea ice melt brought a relatively cold winter to much of the central United States, causing more precipitation to fall as snow, rather than rain, on the upper Midwest. Now that it is spring, that snow is melting and feeding into the Mississippi at the same time heavy rainfalls have occurred.

All these factors helped make April 2011 the 10th wettest on record in the United States, according to the National Climatic Data Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which maintains records going back to 1894. Several states where rainfall drains into the Mississippi also experienced their wettest April on record.

In addition, human-induced climate changes continue to warm the Gulf of Mexico, the scientists observe.

Higher temperatures increase the amount of water that evaporates from the gulf's surface as well as the temperature of air that moves over the gulf, increasing the amount of water vapor it can hold.

At the same time, shifts in natural ocean currents are also contributing to higher temperatures in and over the gulf.

Natural atmospheric circulation patterns then carry water vapor over the gulf to North America. According to the NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, the Gulf of Mexico was nearly two degrees Fahrenheit hotter than average in late April when parts of the Midwest experienced intense downpours.

An upsurge in the number of heavy rainstorms has been triggered by an increase in moisture in the atmosphere, which, in turn, is tied to global warming, the Union of Concerned Scientists points out. Five states: Kentucky, Indiana, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, broke precipitation records in the three-month period between February and April this year.

Today, the Mississippi River crest is slowly working south. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to monitor the crest southward down the Mississippi River and continues flood fighting measures throughout the Mississippi River and tributaries, with increased focus on conditions in southern Louisiana.

New Orleans is expected to remain at near the current level for the next two weeks. The river is forecast to fall below flood stage on May 27.

In Louisiana, there are 16 of 125 gates currently open along the Morganza Floodway. The Corps says the release of water from the Morganza Spillway is moving slower than anticipated through the Atchafalaya River Basin.

Three hundred and thirty-three of 350 gates are open on the Bonnet Carre Spillway that empties the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain and is anticipated to remain open for two to four weeks.

As the floodwaters spread across the land, approximately 3,900 residents may require sheltering and 22 shelters are on standby with the capacity to house over 8,200 occupants. The majority of residents are expected to stay with friends and family.

Thirty-four parishes across Louisiana have declared a Parish State of Emergency.

Planning and preparations are underway for evacuations downstream from the Morganza Spillway. Mandatory evacuations are in place for Krotz Springs and Melville communities outside of the ring levee in St. Landry Parish. Voluntary evacuations are in place for the remainder of the low lying areas in St. Landry Parish.

Mandatory evacuations will be issued for St. Martin Parish beginning on Saturday, emergency officials warn.

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No link between tornadoes and climate change: US

Kerry Sheridan Yahoo News 24 May 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States is experiencing the deadliest year for tornadoes in nearly six decades, but top US weather experts said Monday there is no link between the violent twisters and climate change.

Instead, the reasons for the spiking death tolls are more likely due to the rise in the population density, the number of mobile homes and the chance paths taken by a series of tornadoes that have happened to target populated areas.

"This year is an extraordinary outlier," said Harold Brooks, research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma.

"This is the deadliest year for tornadoes in the US since 1953," he said.

A massive tornado tore though the Missouri town of Joplin over the weekend, killing at least 116 people, less than a month a spate of the storms struck across seven states and killed 361 people in April.

According to Russell Schneider, director of NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, that puts 2012 on par with 1953, a "horrible tornado year," when 116 people were killed in a June 8 tornado in Flint, Michigan.

The same year, 114 people were killed in a Waco, Texas twister and 90 were killed by a tornado that tore through Worcester, Massachusetts. Modern tornado records began in 1950.

"I think we have to ask ourselves the tough questions now," said Schneider.

"Why is this happening? The complexity of our society, the density of our populations in traditional tornado-prone regions of the world, community and family preparedness? Our science and technology -- are we fully exploiting that to protect Americans?"

While plenty of questions are being posed, none seem to point at climate change as a driver, and the La Nina phenomenon's effect is minimal, said Brooks.

When scientists examine the most complete records available and adjust for changes in how tornadoes were reported over time, "we see no correlation between global or US national temperature and tornado occurrence," Brooks said.

Nor are the storms themselves getting larger than they used to be, even though it may seem so after learning of massive twisters like the one in Missouri that tore apart a four-mile (10 kilometer) long, three-quarter-mile deep stretch of land.

"Tornado deaths require two things. You have to have the tornado and you have to have people in the right or the wrong place," Brooks said.

"The biggest single demographic change that probably affects things is that the fraction of mobile homes in the United States has increased over the years," he said.

More than seven percent of all 311 million Americans (about 20 million) live in mobile homes, US Census data show. And more than half of all mobile homes are in the US South which is among the regions most prone to tornado strikes.

Anything that can be tossed into the air, like cars and mobile homes, can prove deadly in a tornado and people are urged to take shelter underground if possible. Many mobile home parks, however, have no such shelters.

Twisters are formed when atmospheric conditions come together in a certain way. At low levels, the atmosphere is warm and moist, coupled with cold dry air above.

Winds must be increasing in speed from the Earth's surface up to elevations of about 20,000 feet, with directional changes, known as wind shear, so that the southerly wind blows near the surface and gains speed at higher altitude.

"In April, essentially we were stuck in a pattern where that was the way things were for a couple of weeks, and that pattern didn't move so we had repeated episodes that were favorable for producing significant tornadoes," Brooks explained.

The weather phenomenon known as La Nina, which produces cooler than normal temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, may have had a "relatively small impact" on producing that pattern, but that is not the full picture, he said.

"It's an area of research to try to identify why the pattern was so favorable and why it was favorable for so long."

The overall tornado record does not show a steadily increasing trend toward bigger, deadlier storms, he said.

For instance, "2009 was a really low year for tornadoes. Some recent years have been big, some recent years have been small," he said.

Since modern records on tornadoes began in 1950, the deadliest outbreak was on April 3, 1974. The "Super Outbreak" claimed 310 lives when 148 tornadoes over a 24-hour period swept across 13 states.

Prior to that, the single deadliest tornado in US history was in 1925, described in early accounts as killing 695 people when it tore through Missouri, southern Illinois and southwestern Indiana.

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La Nina outlook is easing says UN weather agency

Yahoo News 23 May 11;

GENEVA (AFP) – La Nina, the disruptive weather pattern behind floods and droughts, is easing and there are no signs suggesting a resurgence in the coming months, the UN weather agency said on Monday.

"The La Nina episode, which caused disastrously wet conditions in certain regions and drought in others, is coming to an end," the World Meterological Organization said in a statement.

The weather pattern, blamed for extremely heavy downpours in Australia, Southeast Asia and South America over late 2010 and early 2011, is unlikely to redevelop in the middle of the year, it added.

"Looking ahead beyond mid-year 2011, there are currently no clear indications for enhanced risk of El Nino or La Nina in the second half of the year," it said.

"Near-neutral conditions are currently considered the most likely scenario for the second half of 2011," it added.

La Nina is characterized by unusually cool ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

It leads to increased rainfall across the western equatorial Pacific, northern South America and southern Africa over December to February.

At the same time, drier than normal conditions are observed along coastal Ecuador, northwestern Peru and equatorial eastern Africa during the same period.

It also leads to sharply lower conditions throughout the world, including cooler than normal temperatures in Japan, southern Alaska and Brazil.

El Nino, meanwhile is the opposite condition of La Nina. It is characterised by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific.

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