Best of our wild blogs: 15 Jun 11


Conservation biology loses a leader: Navjot Sodhi, 1962-2011
from Mongabay.com news

Bringing Life Back To Bukit Brown Cemetery
from Reclaim Land

Strawberries and peachias on Changi
from wild shores of singapore

Common Iora feeding Banded-bay Cuckoo chick
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterfly Portraits: Five Bar Swordtail
from Butterflies of Singapore

The Beauty of Ladybird Mimicry
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Wild Flowers and Common Critters@ Bah Soon Pah
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Hard and soft
from The annotated budak

zhenghua park to bukit timah to mac ritchie June 12 '11Blu
from Fahrenheit minus 459


Read more!

Flooding and natural heritage - there's a link

Letter from Vinita Ramani Mohan Today Online 15 Jun 11;

AS A resident of Bukit Timah, there are two issues that I have been following closely over the past year. The first is the intermittent flash floods and the second is the closure in two weeks of the Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah railway stations and the return of the Malayan railway land to Singapore.

Though the two issues at first glance seem unrelated, they both pertain to our natural environment and how rapidly the landscape of Singapore is changing.

A recent letter to Today provided a refreshingly intelligent perspective that aptly connected to The Nature Society's proposal "The Green Corridor - A Proposal to Keep the Railway Lands as a Continuous Green Corridor".

Mr Liew Kai Khiun's letter ("Green lungs to quell floods", June 8) states that there is a "correlation between the floods and ... rapid urbanisation resulting from the property boom". He also goes on to state that "building and transportation infrastructural projects are instrumental in displacing organically permeable soil", which ultimately means rainwater does not get stored or absorbed naturally.

Singapore has rapidly urbanised and in Bukit Timah, we have seen the disastrous effects of condominium projects coupled with old canals that are insufficiently equipped to handle heavy rains. The area is now infamous for roads that look like Venice's waterways, with none of the associated romance.

The Nature Society's proposal and the Green Corridor - a citizen campaign that has been separately established to advocate for a green Singapore - addresses the same issues that Mr Liew's letter touches upon, namely, the potential dangers in replacing lush, beautiful railway lands with concrete condominium and shopping mall developments.

What the proposal could not have anticipated is the recurrent floods that have become a mainstay of life in Singapore. With this added dimension, the need for a Green Corridor and for recommendations from individuals like Mr Liew seems all the more urgent.

Like many Singaporeans, I still feel what is missing is a spirit of engagement that sees the potentially transformative power of citizen opinion. Citizens like Mr Liew and the nearly 3,000 individuals who have signed up to the Green Corridor campaign ought to be heard and their ideas ought to be considered seriously.


Read more!

Why it's not wise to redevelop Bukit Brown

Straits Times Forum 15 Jun 11;

IN HIS letter on Monday ("Bukit Brown: Progress comes first"), Mr Paul Chan cited instances in the past when the Government redeveloped cemeteries along Orchard Road and Bishan. Those were done during different times in Singapore's history when physical and social growth was of utmost importance.

Today, surely as the country matures and grows, our mindsets should change. The redevelopment of Bukit Brown Cemetery will not only close another window to our heritage, it will also change the whole ecosystem of the area.

I live near Bukit Brown Cemetery. I am no bird lover, but the variety of birds that live here is truly amazing.

The road where I live is on much lower ground than that at Dunearn Road, which is about 700m away. Not once have the houses along my street been flooded during heavy downpour in the 18 years I have lived here. This is because my street leads directly to Bukit Brown Cemetery, where the rain water is readily absorbed by the rich undergrowth. I shudder to think of what will happen if redevelopment really does happen.

The preservation of the heritage and ecosystem of this cemetery is of more importance than redevelopment and "progress". Why create artificial green lungs when there is already one so rich on its own? Not everything can be measured in dollars and cents.

Ho Kwai Yuen (Madam)

Why destroy natural habitat when other land available?
Letter from Ronald Chan Today Online 15 Jun 11;

I REFER to the debate over the conservation of Bukit Brown. Let us not take into account the heritage value of Bukit Brown in this discussion. After all, we have bulldozed other national monuments like the old National Library despite their sentimental value.

There is also no operational value in "Bukit" Brown, which reportedly stands at only 1m above sea level.

Neither is it exactly in the Central Catchment Area, being excluded from it by Lornie Road.

The question is, why destroy this green area at the heart of our island when it is not the only place in Singapore left to develop? It is, after all, a pristine, untouched ground since it has been used as a cemetery.

As former Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan noted, the next two areas to be developed are Simpang and Tengah. These two areas have been trampled by National Servicemen and their value as a nature reserve is no longer high.

A huge plot of land also remains available in Punggol West. It is a sparsely populated private housing area and not an untouched natural habitat either.

So as we can see, there is no shortage of land in Singapore for housing. These three plots of land can easily sustain a substantial number of residents, and using these plots would not really compromise Singapore's natural habitats since they have already been interfered with.

Already we are not far off from the projected 6.5 million population. Do we really need that many more flats? Besides, we can make up the numbers with the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme in selected estates.

Why touch a prime natural habitat when there is no urgent need to do so? I urge the authorities to reconsider their plans to develop Bukit Brown. After all, readers have remarked that we need these green lungs in the heart of our island to prevent the flood waters from rising. It remains to be seen, pending further research by the floods panel, whether this is indeed the case.

Walking the tight rope of progress
Straits Times Forum 17 Jun 11;

THE flurry of letters following the Urban Redevelopment Authority's decision to redevelop Bukit Brown Cemetery reflects the multitude of views regarding our heritage and the conundrum of conservation versus construction in land-scarce Singapore.

While it is true that our old buildings and structures are archives of the nation's history and their wanton destruction is sacrilegious, conservation without due regard to costs and well-considered precedents is equally untenable.

Bukit Brown Cemetery is indeed an oasis of calm amid the sprawling suburbia, serving not only as the final resting place of our ancestors including several luminaries, but also as a nature reserve where people can have a reprieve from the stress of the concrete jungle.

Yet, it is little different from the Fort Canning, Forbidden Hill, St Joseph's Church, Ulu Pandan, Bidadari and other cemeteries that were closed and subsequently redeveloped.

Historians may lament their passing as our memories of them evanesce; but beneficiaries of their replacements have concrete evidence to celebrate.

Should Bukit Brown Cemetery be conserved, much enhancement needs to be done. As it stands, it is overgrown and neglected, infrequently visited, of interest to only a few, and lacking in universal appeal.

Tasteful preservation through a memorial, together with beneficial advancement for the living, seems the balanced way to progress.

Dr Yik Keng Yeong


Read more!

Three energy research centres to open in Singapore

Feng Zengkun Straits Times 15 Jun 11;

THREE new research centres will be set up here to look into energy and power usage, said the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The centres will study solar energy, ways to convert carbon dioxide into electricity and fuel, and how to create consumer and household products that use less power. They will be housed at a complex at the NUS University Town, which will be completed by the end of the year.

Funding will come from the NRF's Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (Create) programme, which pairs up local and foreign institutions.

NRF chairman Tony Tan, 71, said on Monday that the projects are important for Singapore as it lacks natural resources and has a highly industrialised economy. 'Each of these initiatives will tackle the energy problem from a different perspective,' he said.

The first centre is a 'low-energy electronic systems' project by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), under the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart) centre. The scientists intend to find new ways to make household items such as lights and television screens use less electricity.

Traditionally, this was done by making the semiconductors in them smaller and more dense to minimise loss of energy. But the scientists said new techniques may yield more energy savings.

The project brings together experts from MIT, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU). They will be from different fields, such as materials, devices and circuits.

Lead principal investigator Professor Eugene Fitzgerald of MIT said the diversity is more likely to lead to a breakthrough. 'This collaboration could define innovative paths for the industry,' he said.

The second research centre will look at ways to make solar power cheaper and to convert sunlight into liquid fuels. It is a collaboration between NTU, NUS and the University of California, Berkeley.

The researchers noted that solar energy is good for the environment but is not widely used because it is too expensive. The Energy Market Authority here has estimated that the cost of solar power is double the cost of electricity from fossil fuels. Part of this is due to the inefficiency of current solar panels, which the scientists said can convert at most 25 per cent of sunlight received into usable energy.

'We want to double the conversion to at least 50 per cent,' said University of California, Berkeley's Professor Ramamoorthy Ramesh, the project's lead principal investigator. This would make solar panels more worthwhile and solar power cheaper to produce on average. The scientists are also looking at ways to use the same amount of sunlight to split more water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can be used to make methanol, a liquid fuel that can replace fossil fuels.

In the third centre, China's Peking University will work with Singapore universities for the first time to recycle the carbon dioxide in industrial waste gases into energy and fuel.

Lead co-principal investigator Zhang Dongxiao of Peking University said this would give the manufacturing and chemical industries a greener image. 'This can also make products from both our countries more competitive,' added Professor Zhang.

The new centres bring the Create programme to eight overseas collaborating universities and 12 research groups. Previous collaborations under the programme have resulted in projects like the Future Cities Lab, which looks at ways to develop sustainable buildings and keep a city's water supply clean.

NRF has set aside a total of $1 billion for the Create programme.


Read more!

Fish farmers in eastern Singapore want better infrastructure

Lynda Hong Channel NewsAsia 14 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) wants fish farmers to increase their production to 17 tonnes per half-hectare of farm. Currently, farmers produce varying amounts.

While many said it is possible, farmers in eastern Singapore said the fish farming infrastructure must be improved quickly in order to achieve this target.

Fish farmers there feel hampered by the lack of proper infrastructure to load or unload their stocks at Pasir Ris Beach Park.

They have been regularly fined for illegally embarking and disembarking at the park because the authorities deem it as a safety and security issue.

A Maritime Port Authority spokesperson said: "The illegal beaching of motorised boat along the beach at Pasir Ris Beach Park is of concern as firstly, such practices endanger the safety of the person on the boat and the integrity of the boat's hull.

"Secondly, the use of motorised boats close to the beach endangers other beach users. The beaches and water off Pasir Ris Beach Park are used by the public and recreational boats such as canoe, kayaks and sail boats."

To avoid the fines, the farmers say they have to load and unload at Changi Creek, next to Changi Jetty - which is double the distance from Pasir Ris Beach Park. This also means an additional costs of some S$2,000 a month on fuel.

Climbing a ladder up to Changi Jetty is the only way for fish farmers in the eastern waters of Singapore to legally load and unload supplies and fish stocks that can sometimes weigh hundreds of kilograms. And the Manpower Ministry's Workplace Safety and Health has deemed this practice to be dangerous.

Farmers said they have appealed for proper facilities for the past two years. And while the authorities mull over a temporary jetty, many have given up because of other constraints.

Philip Lim, CEO of Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative (SMAC), said: "There are a lot of farmers who have quit. Especially this year, there are a lot of farms that have been sold.

"Without infrastructure, what for? We are just like offshore prisoner(s), we cannot have relatives on board, we cannot have friends, farmer-to-farmer - cannot visit each other. Just last week, there was one farmer that was visiting another farmer and got caught by the Coast Guard."

Their fish farming activities are regulated not just by the Agri-Food and Vetrinary Authority, but also other government agencies, including Maritime Port Authority (MPA) and Police Coast Guard.

Since May 2011, the SMAC has also written to the Singapore Land Authority to request for a site to build a temporary jetty off Lorong Halus.

Farmers tell Channel NewsAsia that producing the amount of fish required also means spending S$120,000 on fish feed, which will add to their overall cost.

-CNA/ac

Fish farmers caught in the net
Lynda Hong Ee Lyn Today Online 15 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE - They currently lack infrastructure such as a safe facility to load and unload their fish, but they are fined if they use an easier, but illegal route on the beach at Pasir Ris.

Fish farmers in the eastern straits of Singapore, who have to produce a minimum amount of fish each year to maintain their licence, are finding it harder to keep their farms going, even as government agencies are studying their proposal for infrastructure to be built to facilitate their trade.

In particular, they lack proper loading and unloading facilities for their fish, as the jetty at Changi Creek designated for their use was found to be dangerous by the Manpower Ministry.

Hence, despite having been told that it is illegal to do so by the Maritime Port Authority (MPA), the farmers continue to embark and disembark at the beach fronting Pasir Ris Beach Park, and also to load their haul - even if they incur fines as often as twice a week doing so.

The MPA said the farmers' motorised boats posed a danger to recreational craft at the Pasir Ris Beach Park beach, such as canoes and kayaks.

It also cited security issues, as Singapore's coast line "is porous and to prevent smuggling and entry of undesirable persons", and "all persons should embark and disembark from designated or approved landing point with security screening systems".

However, using the jetty at Changi Creek designated by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) runs the risk of fatal accidents, as farmers have to manually haul supplies weighing up to 200kg from boat up the two-metre high jetty.

It also adds to the farmers' costs, as the distance to Changi Creek is double that to Pasir Ris Beach Park, and fuel costs, which have been rising, can go up to S$2,000 a month, said the farmers.

Because of such constraints, at least five farmers in the area have quit this year, said Mr Phillip Lim, the CEO of the Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative (SMAC), the umbrella body for 24 farmers. There are about 40 active fish farms in the eastern straits of Singapore.

The SMAC has been appealing to various government agencies including the MPA, the Police Coast Guard and the AVA for proper facilities since 2009.

In May, the SMAC submitted a written proposal to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to build facilities such as a jetty, a fish hatchery, a processing plant and a boat repair yard on vacant state land at Lorong Halus.

Said Mr Lim: "Without infrastructure, how can we continue? We are just like offshore prisoners, we cannot have relatives on board, and we cannot have friends. Farmers cannot visit each other."

At least five farmers have quit this year because of the constraints.

Mr Lim said fines - for parking his boat at the Pasir Ris Beach Park beach - can add up to S$1,000 a month, because "each time we get caught, we will be slapped with a three-department summons."

Additional facilities such as for storage will also help farmers' meet their minimum production of 17 tonnes of fish annually for every half a hectare of farm, said the SMAC.


Read more!

Malaysia: Wildlife Dept sets second trap for tigress and cubs

A. Azim Idris New Straits Times 15 Jun 11;

DUNGUN: They had trapped tigers before but it is the first time the state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) is setting up traps for a tigress and her cubs.

The tigress was believed to have been behind the spate of attacks on livestock around Felda Rantau Abang 2 here and Kampung Jambu Bongkok in Marang.

Terengganu Perhilitan director Yusoff Shariff said capturing a tiger is not easy.

Trying to capture a tigress and her litter of cubs present a more formidable challenge.

"We could not rule out the possibility of the tigress having more than one cub with her."

He said the department had placed a second trap in an area identified as the tigress' path judging from the numerous tiger tracks found there over the past few weeks.

The department had placed a trap a few kilometres away about two weeks ago.

However, its officials decided to add the second trap to improve their chances of catching the tiger.

A monkey was used as the bait in the 4m-long steel box with trap doors at each end.

Yusoff said there was a high chance that the tigress would venture into the trap alone if it decided to take the bait.

"If that happens, the plan is for us to comb the surrounding area to look for the cubs," he told the New Straits Times when contacted yesterday.

He said the chances of catching the tigress and her cubs are higher now with the two traps laid.

"We prefer to use traps as hunting them down with tranquilisers is more risky both for the tigress and our officers."

He explained that if the tranquiliser dosage was too high it could kill the tiger.

An insufficient dose, meanwhile, could make the animal go on a rampage, instead.

"Our aim is to relocate and release them back into the wild after making sure that they are alright."

He said tiger attacks on livestock were extremely rare in the state.

The department suspects that the tigress had been shot and injured by a poacher.

"Unable to hunt in the jungle, the animal has no choice but to venture into farms.

"This is because it is easier to kill livestock compared to its usual prey such as wild boars and monkeys that could easily outrun an injured tiger."

He said once captured, the tigress would first be sent to the Malacca Zoo to ensure it has no health issues before being released back into the wild.

Yusoff said poachers are willing to break the law to hunt tigers as its carcass is worth between RM45,000 to RM60,000.

"Under the Wildlife Conservation Act, poachers could face a maximum fine of RM500,000 and five years' jail upon conviction,"

The tiger population in Malaysia is estimated at 500, mostly living in national parks.


Read more!

Fish farms 'soaring', led by China

Shaun Tandon Yahoo News 14 Jun 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Nearly half of the fish eaten around the world now comes from farms instead of the wild, with more foresight needed in China and other producers to limit the ecological impact, a study said on Tuesday.

With rising demand for fish and limited scope to step up the wild catch, aquaculture -- the raising of seafood in confined conditions -- is bound to maintain strong growth, said the report released in Washington and Bangkok.

The WorldFish Center, a non-governmental group that advocates reducing hunger through sustainable fishing, and environmental organization Conservation International found that 47 percent of food fish came from aquaculture in 2008.

The study said that China alone accounted for 61 percent of the world's aquaculture -- a significant part of it carp, which is highly demanding in resources -- and Asia as a whole for some 90 percent.

Aquaculture has long been controversial, with some environmentalists concerned about the pollution to coastal areas.

But the study argued that aquaculture was not as destructive as raising livestock such as cattle and pigs, which places severe strains on land and water use and is a major source of climate change.

A vegetarian diet would be the healthiest for the environment, but the study said it was a simple fact that more people in the developing world were eating meat as they moved to cities.

"I think the likelihood for the demand for aquaculture products diminishing is very unlikely at this point," said Sebastian Troeng, vice president for marine conservation at Conservation International.

"So what we need to figure out is, if this growth is continuing, how can we make sure that it is met in a way that doesn't put an undue burden on the environment, so that best practices are used and species groups are cultured that don't have excessive impact," he said.

The study looked at the impact of aquaculture in areas including energy use, acidification and climate change.

Along with carp, the species with the greatest environmental impact include eel, salmon, shrimp and prawn as they are carnivorous, meaning that farms need fish feed -- and more energy -- from the outside.

On the other end of the spectrum, the farming of mussels and oysters -- along with seaweed -- has a lesser impact.

The study found wide variations between countries, giving hope that the sharing of best practices could limit impact on the environment.

In one striking comparison, the study said the environmental impact of shrimp and prawn farms in China would decline by 50 to 60 percent if they used the same energy levels as those in Thailand.

Aquaculture production has been growing by 8.4 percent since 1970 and is spreading to new areas such as Africa, the study said, which pointed to increasing demand for fish in Egypt and Nigeria since the bird flu crisis in the mid-2000s.

The report called for further study on how supermarket chains, particularly in emerging Asian nations, can improve environmental performance in the farmed fish they bring to consumers.

The study was released days after the United States -- a comparatively small player in aquaculture -- authorized guidelines that would open up some federal waters to fish farms.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said the United States had a $9 billion trade deficit in seafood and that a boost in aquaculture would both meet local demand and create jobs, including on the struggling Gulf Coast.

The plan was attacked by some environmentalists, who said it would bring waste perilously close to people and may depress market prices.

"The last thing we need is enormous ocean fish farms that can and do spread disease, allow for millions of fish to escape, kill off wild populations, jeopardize the tourism industry and further destroy the livelihood of local fishermen," advocacy group Food & Water Watch said.


Fish farming is answer to increasing global meat demands, says report
Conservation International says aquaculture has lower environmental impact than cattle, pig and poultry farming
Jonathan Watts guardian.co.uk 14 Jun 11;

The world needs to farm more fish and algae to meet the world's growing demand for animal products, according to a report released on Tuesday by international NGO Conservation International.

The worldwide assessment concluded the environmental impact of aquaculture is lower than raising cattle, pigs or poultry so it should be expanded to alleviate the growing global food crisis.

"Aquaculture is most likely to meet the growing demand for animal products with the least demand on ecosystems," said Sebastian Tro├źng of Conservation International. "It would be better still if more people became vegetarian, but that looks unlikely."

The report was co-written with the WorldFish Centre – which advocates sustainable aquaculture – as a response to the precipitous decline in word fish stocks.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that over 84% of the world's fisheries are either depleted, over- or fully exploited, which means that wild fish in oceans are too weak to meet the growing needs of an expanding, increasingly affluent global population.

Fish farming in ponds, lakes, rivers and coastal waters is increasingly used to fill the gap – it is overtake wild-caught fish produce this year – particularly in Asia. The world's most crowded continent accounts for 91% of aquacultural production with the vast majority – about two-thirds – in China. This trend is expected to continue.

"China, India and the rest of Asia with their growing middle classes are where we can expect demand for fish to rise most significantly," said co-author Mike Phillips, a senior scientist at WorldFish. "Current trends indicate that the majority of the increase in global production will come from south and south-east Asia, with a continued drive by major producersuch as China and Vietnam towards export to Europea and north America."

The report says fish farming can have environmental benefits if done sustainably. Fish process energy more efficiently than mammals such as cows and pigs because they are cold-blooded (so less calories are needed for warming themselves) and live in water (so relatively more of the body converts to muscle than bone). The authors say that for each kilogram of protein from beef, a cow needs to be fed the equivalent of 61kg of grain, for pork, a pig needs 38kg, but for fish it is just 13kg of grain.

In addition, says the report, aquaculture emits less phosophorous, nitrogen and greenhouse gases than livestock farms.

However, it warns farming can have a greater negative impact if it focuses on carnivorous fish such as eel and salmon, or on shrimps and prawns, which require more temperature control. There is a lower impact from herbivorous fish, or better still seaweed, mussels, oysters and molluscs.

Fish farms have also been blamed for pollution and genetic contamination of wild stocks.

The report says 73% of salmon, 90% of carp and 99% of seaweed consumed worldwide is produced with aquaculture. The authors predict worldwide production will rise from 52.6m tonnes in 2008 to between 79m and 110m tonnes by 2030. However, environmental constraints could slow growth in China due to shortages of land and water and increased competition for energy and feed.

To improve the industry, they suggest greater monitoring, technological innovation and policy support. Mass production of microalgae – which is thought to be approaching commercial stage – is thought to have enormous potential for efficiency gains because it could replace fish feed and fish oil.


Read more!

In Brazil, Palm Oil Plantations Could Help Preserve Amazon

Rhett Butler Environment 360 14 Jun 11;
In recent years, palm oil development in Malaysia and Indonesia has devastated tropical forests there. With Brazil on the verge of its own palm oil boom, can sustainable cultivation of the crop actually help save the rainforest, rather than hastening its destruction?

The rapid expansion of palm oil plantations across Malaysia and Indonesia has left a wide swath of destruction through some of the planet’s most extensive and important rainforests. Now, with Brazil announcing plans to dramatically scale-up palm oil production in the Amazon, could the same fate befall Earth’s largest tropical forest?

The stakes are enormous, as the Brazilian Amazon contains an estimated 850,000 square miles suitable for palm oil plantations — an area four times the size of France. By comparison, Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for nearly 90 percent of global palm oil production, have less than 50,000 square miles of oil palm under cultivation.

Yet even as Brazilian and international firms gear up for a major expansion of palm oil cultivation in the Amazon, there is a conspicuous lack of hand wringing by environmentalists. The reason: done right, oil palm could emerge as a key component in the effort to save the Amazon rainforest. Responsible production there could even force changes in Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which have been widely criticized for their poor records on protecting tropical forests.

Palm oil could ultimately benefit the Amazon for a number of reasons. Planted on the degraded pasture land that abounds in the Brazilian Amazon, oil palm could generate more jobs and higher incomes for locals than the dominant form of land use in the region: low intensity cattle ranching. Rather than destroying more rainforest for still-more cattle pasture, local farmers could go into the oil palm business and benefit from its higher returns.

“At current prices, it can provide a Brazilian smallholder a ticket to the middle class,” said Tim Killeen, a senior research fellow and Amazon expert at Conservation International. “Anybody can do the math: 200 kilos of meat per hectare versus 4 tons of oil per hectare. Plantations create jobs, but a smallholder model creates a middle class.”

Replacing cattle pasture with palm oil plantations also offers significant environmental benefits, as palm trees — though not nearly as valuable ecologically as rainforest — at least sequester carbon and evapotranspirate moisture, which is important to the hydrological cycle of rainforests.

Oil palm expansion in Brazil also could put pressure on Indonesia and Malaysia to clean up their acts. Brazil’s stricter environmental laws mean that, should the country begin to produce large amounts of sustainably produced palm oil, it would place Southeast Asian producers at a disadvantage if they hope to sell to European and American corporations, which are increasingly concerned about buying palm oil associated with forest destruction.


Oil palm is among the most productive and profitable tropical crops. A 25-acre plantation can yield palm oil worth more than $7,000 a year for a planter, far in excess of ranching or farming. But its profitability has spurred unbridled expansion in Indonesia and Malaysia, where more than half of oil palm expansion since 1990 has occurred at the expense of tropical forests. Asian production also has fouled rivers and released billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Producers there have at times run roughshod over traditional forest users, resulting in social conflict. Accordingly, the industry is increasingly battered by criticism from human rights groups and environmentalists.

So why would palm oil in the Amazon be different?

Little oil palm is now grown in Brazil — only 350 square miles. In the Brazilian Amazon today, cattle ranching is the big driver of deforestation. Cattle pasture occupies more than 70 percent of deforested land in the Amazon, obliterating forest and resulting in a near-complete loss of stored carbon and a loss of wildlife. The loss of vegetation reduces transpiration, affecting local rainfall. Where large areas of rainforest have been converted for cattle pasture, it becomes drier and more susceptible to drought and fires, which sometimes spread into adjacent forest areas.

Cattle themselves cause problems, compacting the soil, damaging local waterways, and worsening erosion. Meanwhile processing their hides pollutes rivers and streams with toxic chemicals. In short, cattle ranching, as traditionally produced in the Amazon, is often a menace to the environment.

Palm oil is a much different agricultural product. First and foremost, the oil palm is a tree, meaning that it absorbs carbon dioxide and releases water vapor as it grows. The result is that oil palm stores six to seven times the amount of carbon as cattle pasture. Daniel Nepstad, a scientist who co-founded the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), said that large-scale expansion of oil palm plantations into pasture “would help mitigate regional climate change, exemplified by the severe droughts of 2010 and 2005, by re-establishing year-round evapotranspiration in an important region of the eastern Amazon.”

Oil palm looks even better from an economic standpoint, generating significantly more employment than ranching, mechanized soy farming, or logging. Agropalma, currently Brazil’s largest palm oil producer, employs one worker per 20 acres of plantation. By comparison, an industrial soy farm typically has one worker per 500 acres, while a cattle ranch often has only one worker for every 1,000 or more acres.

With palm oil prices hovering around $1,000 a metric ton and the Brazilian government planning an aggressive expansion of the crop, a frenzy of activity is taking place. Archer Daniels Midland, mining giant Vale, and the state-run oil company Petrobras Biofuels have announced major Amazon palm oil deals in the past 18 months. Several other major companies are looking to expand production in the region.

But the Brazilian government’s target of having 19,000 square miles (5 million hectares) under palm oil cultivation may be too high — Agropalma thinks it unlikely that Brazil will be able to plant more than ten percent of that by 2020 because of constraints on seed and labor. Seasonal flooding also would limit palm oil plantations in parts of the Amazon.

Oil palm expansion in the Amazon faces other challenges, yet these constraints may make Brazil’s palm oil industry considerably less damaging than its counterpart in Indonesia and Malaysia. Brazil’s current Forest Code requires landowners in the Amazon to keep 80 percent of their land forested, which means that a company cannot only buy a block of pasture in the Amazon, it must also secure — or pay the cost of — a forest reserve several times the size of the palm plantation. (Brazil’s agricultural lobby is now working to pass a law that would substantially reduce the legal reserve requirement.)

This and other challenges — such as Brazil’s arcane land ownership laws — mean that oil palm in the Brazilian Amazon probably won’t take the scorched Earth approach that has come to represent some palm oil growers in Southeast Asia and the Amazon cattle ranchers. The Brazilian government has also enacted policies to promote more sustainable palm oil production, which limit where oil palm can be grown and prohibit individuals or companies seeking to clear primary forest from receiving low-interest government loans. For all these reasons, Agropalma estimates costs of palm oil production in Brazil to be at least twice those of Indonesia.

All of this suggests that palm oil alone will not be a panacea for the Amazon, but it could help generate income and livelihoods in already deforested areas while stabilizing forest cover and serving as a bulkhead against fire. But Roberto Smeraldi, director of the environmental group Amigos da Terra — Brazilian Amazonia, said that optimism for palm oil will only be justified if the state and federal governments enforce the country’s tougher environmental laws. “There are reasons for concern due to the lack of governance that might make palm oil expansion a risk factor once developed in the region,” he says.

The goal of many Brazilian growers would be to out-compete Indonesian and Malaysian growers on issues of sustainability, which could make Brazilian palm oil more attractive to international food and consumer products companies, such as Unilever. Brazilian producers might even exceed the requirements of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), whose seal of sustainability — bestowed upon dozen of firms in Indonesia and Malaysia — has been given to some undeserving companies, according to critics.

“We’re not going to be a competitor in markets that don’t care about sustainability,” says Marcello Brito, commercial director of Agropalma. “We believe Brazil will be a good producer, but not a big producer.”

Even if Brazil’s palm oil production misses the government’s ambitious targets, it could pressure producers in Southeast Asia and Africa, where oil palm development is fast-increasing. Should Brazil produce just half of its 2020 target of 5 million hectares, the amount of palm oil produced would represent 10 to15 percent of global production, potentially having a commensurate impact on the price of palm oil and reducing the incentive to expand in places such as Malaysia and Indonesia. More importantly, it would send a signal to other producers that being the lowest-cost producer isn’t necessarily the only path for agricultural development.

“Amazon oil palm plantations could mitigate climate change at the global level by depressing the price of palm oil, competing with Southeast Asian firms and potentially suppressing expansion into peat forests,” says Nepstad.

And provided expansion occurs on degraded, non-forest lands, oil palm could help buffer the Amazon rainforest from further destruction.

“If we start a new plantation using RSPO guidelines and following Brazilian laws, we can be part of the sustainable solution to the Amazon,” says Brito. “But a business as usual approach could destroy the Amazon.”


Read more!

European forests growing, good news for climate: report

Yahoo News 14 Jun 11;

OSLO (AFP) – Europe's forests have expanded over the past 20 years and are thus absorbing more carbon dioxide, a report published in Oslo Tuesday showed, offering some good news in the battle to limit climate change.

According to the report published during a ministerial conference on the protection of Europe's forests, the continent, including Russian territory, today counts 1.02 billion hectares (2.5 billion acres) of forest, accounting for about a quarter of the world's woods.

"Over the last 20 years, the forest area has expanded in all European regions and has gained 0.8 million hectares each year," reads the report, entitled "State of Europe's Forests 2011".

During the same period, Europe's total stock of forests, which takes into account the density and height of the trees, has grown by 8.6 billion cubic metres (303 billion cubic feet), which is equal to all of the forests in France, Germany and Poland combined, the report said.

And since trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, the expanding European forests removed some 879 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere each year between 2005 and 2010, the report said.

That corresponds to around 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Europe in 2008.

However, the report also points to problems of air pollution that affect the soil in many forest regions, as well as destruction caused by insects, disease and natural disasters like storms and fire.

The ministerial conference, known as Forest Europe, was created in 1990 with the aim to encourage protection and sustainable development and management of forests.

Ministers from its 46 member states are meeting in Oslo this week to try to draw up a legally binding international agreement to further that agenda.

Europe's forests 'vital for climate goal'
Mark Kinver BBC News, 14 Jun 11;

Europe's forests can play a key role in helping mitigate the impact of climate change, a report described as the most comprehensive of its kind concludes.

Europe is home to 25% of the world's forests, which absorb about 10% of the EU's annual emissions, it added.

The study said that improved policies had increased tree cover but that the risks of fire and disease were growing.

The report was published at a summit where ministers considered developing a legally binding deal on forest policy.

"We are benefiting now from the wise and brave decisions made in past," said Kit Prins, former UN timber chief, as he presented the findings to delegates at the Forest Europe conference in Oslo.

"The State of Europe's Forests 2011 report looks at the decisions being taken now, and we hope that people in the future will look back on these decisions positively," he observed.

Mr Prins added: "We believe that the study supplies the best information ever on Europe's forests."

Growing threats

Highlighting some of the findings, he explained that Europe was the most forest resource-rich region in the world, with one billion hectares that covered about 45% of the region's land area.

Roughly 80% of this total was located within the Russian Federation. Overall, the forestry sector across the continent accounted for four million jobs and 1% of GDP.

Although net tree cover was increasing by 800,000 hectares each year, Mr Prins added that there were a number of challenges that needed to be addressed.

Nitrogen deposition as a result of pollution exceeded "critical levels in many areas and is putting forest soils at risk".

He also pointed out that disease and insect infestations were on the increase, with figures suggesting that one in five trees was affected.

Forest fires were of particular concern in Russia and southern Europe, he told delegates. "Despite efforts to address the problem, the overall area affected is not falling."
'Safety net'

In his opening address, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway said forests provided almost a third of the world's population with food, fuel or medicine, as well as acting as a "safety net in natural disasters".

"Capacity building, good governance and increased international co-operation are necessary in order to secure sustainable forest management," he told the conference.

"Forests that are sustainably managed are becoming an important part of the solution for global climate change.

"Growing forests sequester carbon, wood products store carbon throughout their lifetime, and renewable energy is provided with biomass."

The prince concluded by describing Forest Europe, which has its secretariat based in Norway, as an "important initiative" because it showed what could be achieved through international collaboration.

The ministerial conference in the Norwegian capital concludes on Wednesday.


Read more!

Mangroves could protect against earthquakes

Catherine de Lange Reuters AlertNet 14 Jun 11;

Buried mangrove forests act as earthquake-resistant foundations for buildings, a study in the Caribbean has found.

Ancient mangrove forests, such as those buried in the coastal regions of the Caribbean, can protect buildings against earthquakes, according to researchers working on the French island of Guadeloupe.

They suggest that building on top of buried mangroves could be preferable in regions of high seismic activity, especially where earthquake-resistant buildings are unaffordable.

Engineers designing earthquake-resistant buildings often add a soft layer, usually made of rubber bearings, between the ground and a building. During an earthquake, the building then moves as a whole structure, minimising damage.

It now seems that mangroves have a similar effect, said Philippe Gueguen, from Joseph Fourier University, in France, lead author of a study published in the June issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

His team used sensors and mathematical models to analyse ground motion during more than 60 earthquakes of magnitudes 2-6.4 at a test site in Guadeloupe. The team found that although the region has soft, sandy soil, which is highly prone to 'liquefaction' — where soil breaks up and acts as a liquid during an earthquake — the flexibility of the mangrove layer greatly reduces deformation of the soil.

This could explain anecdotal evidence from a major 7.4 magnitude earthquake in Martinique in 2007, when people in buildings built over mangroves experienced only minimal effects, Gueguen said.

The study's discovery that the mangrove layer shakes at a stable frequency could also help structural engineers design safer buildings, said Andrew Brennan, a lecturer in geotechnical engineering at the University of Dundee, United Kingdom.

"As a structural engineer, if you know what frequency your building is going to be shaking at then you could design it so that wasn't a problem," Brennan said.

Gueguen added that the findings might also apply to other sub-tropical regions with mangroves and high seismic activity, such as coastal regions in South America.

Brad Walters, professor of geography and environment at Mount Allison University, Canada, said that mangroves can also protect against hurricanes and tsunamis as they have a complex structure, with strong roots and trunks above and below ground that attenuate the impact of waves and wind gusts.

But planting new mangrove forests would not protect against earthquakes, as the mangroves studied in this latest research are old and buried deep underground, Brennan said.

Walters added that since tsunamis often follow earthquakes in coastal areas, wave protection may be the more important issue.

The protection ancient mangroves would offer during a strong earthquake is also not clear yet, as the study only looked at moderate seismic activity, said Gueguen.

Abstract in Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America
http://www.bssaonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/101/3/1073?stoc


Read more!

Mississippi Floods May Cause Record-Breaking Dead Zone in Gulf

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Yahoo News 14 Jun 11;

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be larger than average this year — possibly rivaling the state of New Hampshire in size — due to this spring's massive Mississippi River floods.

Scientists at Louisiana State University, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and the University of Michigan predict that the low-oxygen dead zone could measure between 8,500 and 9,421 square miles. The largest Gulf dead zone on record was in 2002, encompassing more than 8,400 square miles.

Dead zones happen when excessive nutrients (usually nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer and other farming run-off) cause marine algae blooms. These blooms and their subsequent die-offs deplete the oxygen in the water column, leading to hypoxic, or low-oxygen, zones where life can't thrive.

Every summer, a hypoxic zone forms off the coast of Louisiana and Texas, threatening the commercial and recreational fisheries on the Gulf Coast. This year, the United States Geological Survey estimates, 164,000 metric tons of nitrogen were transported into the Gulf by the swollen Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. In May alone, the nitrogen flow was 35 percent higher than the average rate measured in May in the last 35 years. That adds up to more nutrients in the Gulf and a greater likelihood of a giant dead zone. [Top 5 Mightiest Floods of the Mississippi River]

There is some uncertainty regarding how large this year's dead zone will grow, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a statement. Nonetheless, she said, "the forecast models are in overall agreement that hypoxia will be larger than we have typically seen in recent years."

The spring floods may also lead to a surge in the giant invasive fish called the Asian carp in new areas of the Mississippi and Missouri river basins, scientists are now warning.

Mississippi Floods Could Mean Huge Gulf "Dead Zone"
Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 15 Jun 11;

This year's record Mississippi River floods are forecast to create the biggest Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" since systematic mapping began in 1985, U.S. scientists reported on Tuesday.

Often created by farm chemical run-off carried to the Gulf by the Mississippi, the 2011 low-oxygen "dead zone" could measure 8,500 to 9,421 square miles (22,253 to 26,515 sq km), or an area roughly the size of New Hampshire, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement.

This would be bigger than 2002's record-large hypoxic zone, which stretched over 8,400 square miles (21,750 sq km).

The hypoxic zone threatens commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries. In 2009, the dockside value of commercial Gulf fisheries was $629 million. Recreational fishers contributed more than $1 billion to the Gulf economy taking 22 million fishing trips, the survey said in its statement.

Seen year-round but most pronounced in summer, the "dead zone" threatens resources including humans who depend on fish, shrimp and crabs, which need oxygen to survive. The zone typically is located on the bottom of the continental shelf off Louisiana and Texas.

Excess nutrients from the farm chemicals in the water -- mostly nitrogen and phosphorous -- do the same thing in the Gulf that they do on agricultural fields: they encourage plant growth.

FLOODED RIVERS CARRY MORE NITROGEN

In the Gulf, they cause tiny marine plants called phytoplankton to bloom, decay, die and sink to the bottom, where bacteria eat their remains and use up oxygen in the water as they do so.

Stream-flow rates along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers were nearly twice normal rates in May, significantly increasing the amount of nitrogen carried into the Gulf, about 35 percent higher than average nitrogen loads for May estimated in the last 32 years. More rain was forecast for the Midwest this week.

There's plenty of oxygen on the surface of the Gulf, where fresh water from the Mississippi lingers, according to Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, one of the authors of the forecast.

But this oxygen-rich water cannot penetrate the salt water that stays beneath it, Rabalais said in a telephone interview.

"The effects on living organisms are in the lower water column and at the seabed," she said, adding that low levels of oxygen can be found anywhere from about 15 feet to 120 feet deep.

The Mississippi River Drainage Basin covers more than 1.2 million square miles and includes all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces, stretching from New York state to Montana. Only the watersheds of the Amazon and Congo rivers are bigger.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Forecast predicts biggest Gulf dead zone ever
Cain Burdeau Associated Press Yahoo News 15 Jun 11;

NEW ORLEANS – Scientists predict this year's "dead zone" of low-oxygen water in the northern Gulf of Mexico will be the largest in history — about the size of Lake Erie — because of more runoff from the flooded Mississippi River valley.

Each year when the nutrient-rich freshwater from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers pours into the Gulf, it spawns massive algae blooms. In turn, the algae consume the oxygen in the Gulf, creating the low oxygen conditions. Fish, shrimp and many other species must escape the dead zone or face dying.

Federal and university scientists predict this year's zone will be between 8,500 square miles and about 9,400 square miles. The actual size of the dead zone will be measured over the summer.

The largest recorded dead zone was found in 2002 when 8,400 square miles of the Gulf was found to lacking sufficient oxygen for most marine life.

The forecasts on the size of the hypoxic zone are usually close to the mark, although hurricanes have chopped them up in the past.

Eugene Turner, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University, said the dead zone has continued to get larger since it was first noticed and measured in the 1970s. He said the dead zone is getting worse with time.

The biggest contributor is the amount of fertilizer — and the nitrates and phosphates in them — that wind up in the Mississippi River each spring and get flushed out to the Gulf.

"The nitrogen is fertilizing the waters offshore," Turner said. He said little progress has been made in recent years to reduce the nutrient load into the Gulf.

The federal government and states in the Mississippi valley are attempting to reduce runoff from farms, lawns and cities, but those efforts have not curbed the problem.

This year, for instance, the U.S. Geological Survey said the nitrogen load that reached the Gulf was 35 percent higher than the average amount flushed into the Gulf each May over the past 32 years. The Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers dumped nearly twice as much water than normal in May, officials said.

"As usual, the size of the low oxygen offshore is driven by both the freshwater and nitrogen levels in the Mississippi, so this year we have had floods and we have had more nitrate coming into the system," said Nancy Rabalais, the executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Rabalais is a lead researcher into the dead zone.

She expected the dead zone to extend more to the west toward Texas and farther offshore than in past years.

Scientists said the large dead zone will complicate the Gulf's recovery from last year's massive oil spill. After the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, 2010, an out-of-control well owned by BP PLC. spewed about 206 million gallons of oil — 19 times more than the Exxon Valdez spilled.

"This is an additional stressor," Rabalais said. "It's our chronic stressor."

Heavy Rains Move To U.S. Midwest, More Flooding
Christine Stebbins PlanetArk 15 Jun 11;

Rains return to the U.S. Midwest this week, increasing the risk of more farms flooding along the Missouri River and add to slowdowns in moving grain by rail, a forecaster said on Tuesday.

"At this point most of the planting is done -- you have to be concerned of the increase river flood potential with the levy breaking at Hamburg (Iowa) yesterday," said Mike Palmerino, forecaster with Telvent DTN weather service.

Heavy winter snowmelt feeding the Missouri River's headwaters in the Rocky Mountains, as well as heavy spring rains, have caused historic flooding with tens of thousands of acres of cropland at risk from Montana to Iowa. Soggy rail beds have also caused big delays in rail shipments.

"The flooded Missouri flows into the Mississippi River. It's dicey especially with more rains coming today," Palmerino said.

Up to 1.5 inch (38 mm) of rain is forecast for the Corn Belt over the next two days, starting in the west and moving eastward. That comes on top of heavy rains, up to 4 inches in western Illinois on Monday, Palmerino said.

Another 0.3 to 1.5 inch was forecast for Friday to Saturday beltwide.

The Northern Plains spring wheat and corn country also stays wet with another 0.25 to 1.0 inch expected on Tuesday and up to 2 inches forecast for the weekend.

In contrast, the southern Corn Belt stays hot and dry as highs soar to 98 to 105 Fahrenheit (37 to 40 Celsius).

"I'm hearing more reports they are losing corn in the South," Palmerino said.

The six to 10-day Midwest outlook, Sunday to Thursday, called for normal to above-normal temperatures early in the period, cooling later. The rainfall was expected to be normal to above.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)


Read more!

Climate Change May Worsen Plague

Katharine Gammon, LiveScience Yahoo News 14 Jun 11;

When the climate gets wetter, plagues can get worse, according to a new study that reveals why the plague was much worse in China's north than in the south.

The results also suggest that climate change could mean more virulent plagues in northern China and North America, as parts of the globe get wetter.

A bacterium called Yersinia pestis, which is carried by rodents, is responsible for three types of plague: bubonic (also called Black Death), septicemic and pneumonic plague. Together, these illnesses have been responsible for the deaths of millions of people the world over, including an estimated third of Europe's population during the Middle Ages. While modern antibiotics can effectively treat plague, thousands of cases are still reported each year to the World Health Organization, and the bacterium has been identified as a possible biological warfare agent.

Chinese and Norwegian researchers examined the association between climate and the severity of human plague in China during the most recent outbreaks between 1850 and 1964, when 1.6 million people became ill. They analyzed the plague data along with an index of precipitation over a 500-year period for 120 locations across China. [Read: 7 Devastating Infectious Diseases]

"We have found [a] very clear relationship between the amount of precipitation and the occurrence of human plague: the more precipitation, the more plague in the north of China whereas the less in the south,” study author Nils Stenseth, of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis at the University of Oslo in Norway, told LiveScience. The study results were published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More precipitation is expected in certain parts of the globe with a warming climate, according to the researchers, which might meanmore cases of plague in the future.

They found that in the northern regions of China, which generally has a dry climate, increased rainfall was linked to more cases of plague; the researchers suspect the wetter conditions gave rise to more vegetation, so flea-bearing rodents had more food. More fleas that can carry the Y. pestis pathogen would mean more plague cases.

However, where the climate was more humid in China, heightened precipitation generally decreased plague severity, probably due to the fact that rats, not acclimated to rainy days, died in floods, cutting off the pathogen’s path to human hosts. There are still many unknowns to be filled in on exactly how this works, the authors say.

What about other places in the world? Stenseth said that North America has a similar relationship between rainfall and plague to what was found in northern China, where plague increased with more rainfall. "However, in North America one expects less precipitation," he said, meaning that the future increase in rainfall would likely be less in North America than in northern China.

Zhi-Bin Zhang, another of the study’s authors, raises another concern: while more rainfall in arid continents like Africa could mean an increase in plague, the reverse may also be true; humid continents could also see a rise in disease prevalence if they experience a drought. The researchers think that in humid places, less flooding would make it easier for rodents to move into human spaces.

"Climate-linked immigration of rodents between fields and houses may increase the risk of plague occurrence," Zhang said, because people would have more contact with disease-carrying rodents.

Stenseth says more rodent-borne disease can be expected in a wetter future, but that is not a reason to panic. "I think there is no reason to fear a big epidemic, because antibiotic treatments are much more developed today than in the past," he said, adding that we do need to be vigilant since pests can evolve resistance to such antibiotics. He suggests experts and officials should prepare for different epidemics in the future by learning more about the evolution of drug resistance.


Read more!

Humans Spew More Carbon Dioxide than All of Earth's Volcanoes

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Yahoo News 15 Jun 11;

Explosive volcanic eruptions might be attention grabbing, but a new review of research finds that their environmental impact pales in comparison to human activities. According to the research, humans put out the same amount of carbon dioxide in three to five days that all of the volcanoes on Earth put out in one year.

"Anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions dwarf global volcanic carbon dioxide emissions," study researcher Terrance Gerlach, of the U.S. Geological Survey, said in a statement. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change.

Gerlach crunched the carbon dioxide numbers from earlier studies of volcanic output, finding a range of 0.13 to 0.44 billion metric tons, or gigatons, of CO2 per year. In comparison, the estimated rate of human carbon dioxide emissions for 2010 alone is 35 billion metric tons.

For instance, here are a few carbon-emitting human activities and their carbon-dioxide outputs:

Land-use changes: 3.4 gigatons per year
Light-duty vehicles (mainly cars and pickup trucks): 3.0 gigatons per year
Cement production: 1.4 gigatons per year

Present-day human carbon emissions could even exceed the CO2 output of several supervolcano eruptions, including the giant eruption that will eventually occur at Yellowstone National Park, Gerlach wrote in the American Geophysical Union's newsweekly Eos. These mega-eruptions are very rare, with the last one occurring 74,000 years ago in Indonesia.

In fact, to scale up volcanic emissions to an equivalent of what we release would require the release of more than 200 cubic miles (850 cubic kilometers) of magma per year, the researchers calculate. For comparison, Lake Ontario holds about 393 cubic miles (1,640 cubic km) of water.


Read more!

World Off Course On Climate; Renewables Vital

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 14 Jun 11;

The world is off course in fighting climate change and governments need to boost green energies to build new momentum, the head of the U.N. panel of climate scientists said on Monday.

Rajendra Pachauri said governments would face ever higher costs to slow global warming after new data showed greenhouse gas emissions rose to new highs in 2010.

"We're not on the right track," he told the June 13-15 Reuters Energy and Climate Summit in a telephone interview, adding "we are far away from" a path of least cost in slowing global warming.

The International Energy Agency said last month world emissions of carbon dioxide rose by 5.9 percent to a record high in 2010 as many economies rebounded from recession. Global warming could bring more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising seas.

Pachauri, an Indian citizen, said the outlook was not all gloom if governments designed policies to promote cleaner energies such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower.

Stronger policies to promote a shift from fossil fuels "could bring about fairly rapid movement in the right direction ... One expects that there could be some kind of snowballing effect," he said.

"Renewables are already viable in a number of applications," he said. At some level of promotion such as government regulation, subsidies or feed-in tariffs of minimum prices, a shift from fossil fuels could become self-sustaining.

"It's essentially a question of policies by which the world starts moving in the right direction," he said. "We have the means, we have the technologies."

80 PERCENT

A report by Pachauri's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last month said renewables could provide up to almost 80 percent of all energy by 2050 -- with the right policies. At worst, they would account for 15 percent by 2050.

Renewables now make up about 13 percent of the world total, which is dominated by fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

He said renewables often lacked risk-taking investments -- noting that oil companies often spent millions of dollars in exploration wells that turned up no oil nor gas.

"Why is it that we are not doing the same with renewable energies where the benefits ... are so overwhelming?" he said.

Pachauri has remained IPCC chairman, weathering controversy in 2010 after an error in the IPCC report exaggerated the rate of melt of the Himalayas. Independent reviews backed the IPCC's main conclusions that global warming is "very likely" man-made.

He said rising emissions complicated efforts to keep to a maximum global average temperature rise of below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) over pre-industrial times, agreed by almost 200 governments in Mexico last year.

"One gets the sense that (the trend) is in the upper half" of scenarios considered by the IPCC in a 2007 report, he said. That "upper half" would mean a temperature rise of between 3.2 and 6.1 degrees Celsius.

He faulted governments for failing to act on the 2 degrees Celsius ceiling. The IPCC said in 2007, for instance, that world emissions would have to peak by 2015 to give a good chance of achieving a 2 degree C target.

"I think they just haven't put the pieces together," he said of related scientific findings by the IPCC. "They have just focused on bits and pieces of it ... people have not looked at the complete picture."

And he said "two degrees still has significant impacts on agriculture. Particularly in the sub-tropics and tropics."

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)


Read more!

Soot, Smog Curbs Quick Way To Combat Warming: U.N. Study

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 15 Jun 11;

Tighter limits on soot and smog provide a quick and easy way to fight global warming while protecting human health and raising crop output, a U.N. study said on Tuesday.

It outlined 16 measures, ranging from plugging leaky gas transport pipelines to improving wood burning stoves, to limit "black carbon" -- soot -- methane and tropospheric ozone, which is a greenhouse gas that is a big component of smog.

"A small number of emission reduction measures ... offer dramatic public health, agricultural, economic and environmental benefits," Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme, said in a statement of the report.

The study, urging actions beyond a normal focus on curbing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities, said the recommended actions could lop 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit) off rising temperatures.

That would help the world reach a goal adopted by 200 nations in Mexico last year of limiting the rise to below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial times. World temperatures have already risen by about 0.8 degree C, and are headed upwards.

Even before accounting for wider benefits, there were often low costs or even savings.

"For many of the measures, especially the methane ... there are cost savings," Johan Kuylenstierna of the Stockholm Environment Institute told a news conference in Bonn on the sidelines of June 6-17 climate talks.

PADDY FIELDS

To reduce methane, it called for better ventilation of coal mines, better use of gas associated with oil and gas production, reduced leaks from pipelines, better recycling of waste and reforms to agriculture such as better management of rice paddy fields.

To limit black carbon, it called for adoption of diesel particle filters at European Union standards, cleaner-burning stoves and a ban on the open-field burning of farm waste.

Michel Jarraud, head of the World Meteorological Organization, said the WMO would step up monitoring of the impact of the air pollutants on the climate.

The report expanded on preliminary findings from February.

It reiterated that less air pollution could avoid 2.4 million premature human deaths a year and the annual loss of 52 million tonnes, or about 2 percent, of world production of maize, rice, soybean and wheat.

The researchers, backed by a $200,000 grant from Sweden, would work out an action plan to try to work out costs and areas where the biggest gains could be made.

They also said benefits would be felt strongly in ice-covered regions of the Arctic or the Himalayas. When soot settles on ice, it darkens the surface and allows it to soak up more heat, adding to a thaw that further stokes global warming.

The report estimated that the measures could slow warming in the Arctic by about 0.7 degree Celsius by 2040, almost two-thirds of the projected warming in the region.

The report said it focused on heat-trapping pollution. Some polluting particles have the opposite impact of reflecting sunlight into space and so contributing to cooling.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Curb soot and smog to keep Earth cool, says UN
Marlowe Hood Yahoo News 14 Jun 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Sharply reducing emissions of soot and smog could play a critical role in preventing Earth from overheating, according to a UN report released on Tuesday.

Curbing these pollutants could also boost global food output and save millions of lives lost to heart and lung disease, said the report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

Even as climate talks remain deadlocked on how to share out the task of cutting CO2, parallel action on "black carbon" particles and ground-level ozone would buy precious time in the quest to limit global temperature rise to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), it said.

Record output in 2010 of carbon from energy use and unprecedented CO2 levels in the atmosphere suggest that efforts to maintain the 2.0 C cap, widely seen as a threshold for dangerous warming, may already be doomed, say scientists.

On current trajectories, temperatures are set to go up 1.3 C (2.3 F) -- on top of the 0.9 C (1.6 F) jump since human-induced warming kicked in -- by 2050, bringing the total compared to preindustrial levels to 2.2 C (4.0 F).

But quickly tackling black carbon and smog-related ozone could slash 0.5 C (0.9 F) off the temperature increase projected for 2030, putting the two-degree target back on track, the new findings suggest.

"There are clear and concrete measures that can be undertaken to help protect the global climate in the short and medium term," said Drew Shindell, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the 50 scientists behind the new assessment.

"The win-win here for limiting climate change and improving air quality is self-evident and the ways to achieve it have become far clearer."

The report was unveiled in Bonn as delegates from more than 190 nations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) struggle to make headway in the deeply stymied negotiations.

Black carbon, found in soot, is a byproduct of incomplete burning of fossil fuels, wood and biomass, such as animal waste. The most common sources are car and truck emissions, primitive cook stoves, forest fires and industry.

Soot suspended in the air accelerates global warming by absorbing sunlight. When it covers snow and ice, white surfaces that normally reflect the Sun's radiative force back into space soak up heat instead, speeding up the melting of mountain glaciers, ice sheets, and the Arctic ice cap.

The tiny particles have also been linked to premature death from heart disease and lung cancer.

Ground-level, or tropospheric, ozone -- a major ingredient of urban smog -- is both a powerful greenhouse gas and a noxious air pollutant. It is formed from other gases including methane, itself a potent driver of global warming.

A threefold increase in concentrations in the northern hemisphere over the last century has made it the third most important greenhouse gas.

Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for centuries once emitted, black carbon and ozone disappear quickly when emissions taper off.

"The science of short-lived climate forcers has evolved to a level of maturity that now requires ... a robust policy response by nations," said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP.

Measures recommended for reducing black carbon include mandatory use of diesel filters on vehicles, phasing out wood-burning stoves in rich countries, use of clean-burning biomass stoves for cooking and heating in developing nations, and a ban on the open burning of agricultural waste.

For ozone, the report calls for policies that curb organic waste, require water treatment facilities to recover gas, reduce methane emissions from coal and oil industries, and promote anaerobic digestion of manure from cattle and pigs, both major sources of methane.

The report estimates that nearly 2.5 million deaths from outdoor pollution, mainly in Africa and Asia, could be avoided every year by 2030 if black carbon levels dropped significantly.

Far less ground-level ozone could also avoid important losses in global maize, rice, soybean and wheat production, it said.


Read more!