Best of our wild blogs: 4 May 12

Raffles Museum Toddycats at Festival of Biodiversity (26 & 27 May 2012) from Toddycats! with more about the Festival of Biodiversity

Great Grasshoppers of Singapore!
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

New articles on Nature in Singapore website
from Raffles Museum News

Sharing about our shores with SAJC
from wild shores of singapore

woody woodpecker @ yishun ave 1
from sgbeachbum

Common Moorhen and Black-backed Swamphen foraging
from Bird Ecology Study Group

A Rare Skipper In the West
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

The growth of Monday Morgue
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Read more!

Don't release animals into the wild on Vesak Day

Channel NewsAsia 3 May 12;

SINGAPORE: Do not release animals into the wild this Vesak Day -- that's a reminder from the National Parks Board (NParks).

This year's Vesak Day falls on Saturday.

NParks said it is working with volunteers to carry out "Operation No Release" in the nature reserves and reservoirs this weekend.

They will keep a lookout for any case of animal release and will educate and advise members of the public on the harm of releasing animals into the wild.

NParks director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah said: "We would like to appeal to the public not to release animals into the wild as it means sending them to their deaths.

"As some of these animals are usually kept as pets, they are not likely to survive as they are not used to the surroundings and are not able to cope in the wild. If these animals carry viruses, they will also affect other native wildlife."

Meanwhile, Buddhist Fellowship president Angie Chew Monksfield said: "We should be compassionate and considerate to animals both in captivity as well as in the wild as releasing certain animals could threaten those in the wild.

"It would be more beneficial to reduce our meat intake all year round than simply releasing animals during Vesak as this could also encourage vendors to increase the supply of animals for this very purpose."

To complement efforts of the operation, NParks is partnering volunteers and students from CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace to conduct an outreach ambassador session at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on 19 May, from 9am to noon.

The session aims to educate and advise the public against releasing animals into Singapore's reserves and nature areas.

- CNA/wk

Effort to stop Vesak Day animal release
Volunteers, with NParks support, to trawl nature areas to advise against it
Siau Ming En Straits Times 4 May 12;

VOLUNTEERS will be trawling nature reserves and reservoirs this weekend to advise people against releasing captive animals into the wild.

The National Parks Board (NParks) said it will be working with volunteers in an effort to prevent the practice, which is often fatal for the creatures and can harm local wildlife.

Members of local nature group Nature Trekker Singapore, separately, will also be out and about doing the same.

Animals such as birds, fish and red-eared terrapins are usually released at reservoirs and parks as a symbolic gesture of compassion on Vesak Day, which is tomorrow.

Said Mr Wong Tuan Wah, director of conservation at NParks: 'We would like to appeal to the public not to release animals into the wild, as it means sending them to their deaths.'

Those that have been kept as pets will be unable to cope in the wild. If they carry viruses, they will also affect other native wildlife, said Mr Wong.

Venerable Kwang Sheng, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said it is also telling its temples not to do it.

'We don't encourage the practice, as the animals are sometimes released into unsuitable grounds and they may not even survive,' he said.

NParks figures show a decline in the number of people caught trying to release animals in parks and reserves. There were 44 cases in 2004, five in 2010 and none last year.

Mr Lee Song Shun, 32, a worker at Que Feng Birds and Pets Trading Enterprises in Serangoon North, said: 'People know they can't release animals into reservoirs and parks now.'

But for those who would still like to carry out the practice, some Buddhist centres have pointed them to kelongs.

'There is a right place and right type of species to be released,' said Venerable Tenzin Gyurme, spiritual programme coordinator at the Amitabha Buddhist Centre.

He said the centre advises its devotees to go to a kelong, where caught fish are released back into the sea as a symbolic gesture.

Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre does the same.

Its abbot Venerable Shangpa Rinpoche said: 'Releasing fish from the kelongs into the sea does not affect the ecosystem since it is returning them to their natural habitats.'

Ms Angie Chew Monksfield, president of the Buddhist Fellowship, suggested going vegetarian as an alternative.

'It would be more beneficial to reduce our meat intake all year round, than simply releasing animals during Vesak Day.'

Public advised not to release animals on Vesak Day
Straits Times 3 May 12;

NParks has advised the public not to release animals into the wild. In an instance, quails, including many which had died, were found released at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve before Vesak Day. -- PHOTO: NPARKS

This Vesak Day, the public is reminded not to release animals into the wild.

The National Parks Board (NParks) is working with volunteers to carry out 'Operation No Release' in the nature reserves and reservoirs this weekend to raise awareness on the rationale behind not releasing animals.

They will be keeping a lookout for any cases of animal release and will educate and members of the public on the harm of releasing animals into the wild.

'We would like to appeal to the public not to release animals into the wild as it means sending them to their deaths', said Mr Wong Tuan Wah, Director of Conservation, NParks.

'As some of these animals are usually kept as pets, they are not likely to survive as they are not used to the surroundings and are not able to cope in the wild. If these animals carry viruses, they will also affect other native wildlife.'

To complement efforts of Operation No Release, NParks is partnering with volunteers and primary four students from CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace to conduct an Outreach Ambassador session.

This session aims to educate and advise the public against releasing animals into our reserves and nature areas.

Volunteers and students will be setting up a station at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on May 19 from 9am to 12pm.

Vesak Day reminder: Do not release animals into the wild
NParks Media Release 3 May 12;

Singapore, 3 May 2012 – The National Parks Board (NParks) would like to remind members of the public not to release animals into the wild this Vesak Day.

“We would like to appeal to the public not to release animals into the wild as it means sending them to their deaths”, says Mr Wong Tuan Wah, Director of Conservation, NParks. “As some of these animals are usually kept as pets, they are not likely to survive as they are not used to the surroundings and are not able to cope in the wild. If these animals carry viruses, they will also affect other native wildlife.”

Operation No Release

To raise public awareness on the rationale of not releasing animals into the wild, NParks is working with volunteers to carry out "Operation No Release‟ in the nature reserves and reservoirs this weekend. They will be keeping a lookout for any case of animal release and will also educate and advise members of the public on the harm of releasing animals into the wild.

“We should be compassionate and considerate to animals both in captivity as well as in the wild as releasing certain animals could threaten those in the wild. It would be more beneficial to reduce our meat intake all year round than simply releasing animals during Vesak as this could also encourage vendors to increase the supply of animals for this very purpose”, says Angie Chew Monksfield, President, Buddhist Fellowship.

Outreach Ambassadors

To complement efforts of the "Operation No Release‟, NParks is partnering with volunteers and Primary Four students from CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace to conduct an Outreach Ambassador session. This session aims to educate and advise public against releasing animals into our reserves and nature areas. Volunteers and students will be setting up a station at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on 19 May from 9am to 12noon. They will engage the public from the station and around the nature reserve.

Read more!

Scientists trying to rear cockles free of Hepatitis A

The shellfish will be cultivated alongside fish vaccinated against virus
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 4 May 12;

A NEW project could put cockles that are free of the hepatitis virus on the plate.

Scientists are exploring ways to make the popular shellfish - used in dishes like char kway teow - free from the Hepatitis A virus, which attacks the liver and causes nausea, vomiting and fatigue.

The key to this? Fish.

Researchers at the Tropical Marine Science Institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS) believe that cockles should be cultivated alongside fish such as seabass. Their theory is that fish injected with a vaccine against the hepatitis virus will create antibodies which they secrete into the water.

The cockles may then absorb the antibodies, giving them protection against the virus.

Professor Lam Toong Jin, an NUS emeritus professor in the biological science department who is leading the project, noted that many people love cockles.

'The trouble is, we love to eat them half-cooked so they are more juicy,' he said. This increases the risk of catching the virus.

His team's eventual goal is to build a land-based pilot farm to rear these virus-free cockles. This would avoid potentially polluted natural waters.

The research, which started late last year, will take three years to complete. This is because the researchers have to find out the correct vaccine dosage to use, the right ratio of fish to cockles, how long the fish will keep producing antibodies to determine when booster vaccine shots should be given, and whether they will keep the cockles virus-free.

If the project is successful, it could be expanded to other shellfish such as oysters which may also carry the virus, said Prof Lam.

Hepatitis A is painful to the sufferer but rarely fatal, and most people recover within six months. In Singapore, fewer than one in 100,000 people suffered from it in 2010, but there were spikes in the number of cases in 1992 and 2002.

The majority of the infections here are caused by people eating raw or partially cooked cockles with the virus.

Prof Lam said the rate of infection here could be lower than before due to younger generations staying away from the shellfish for health reasons.

He said the cockles cannot be injected with the vaccine directly because they do not produce antibodies themselves.

Even if the cockles are not protected by the antibodies from the fish, they would be more healthy if they were reared in the controlled environment of a farm, he said.

He added that the team would approach aquaculture companies and investors if the research is successful.

The $1 million research project is financed by the Singapore Millenia Foundation, which is funded by the Temasek Trust, the philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings.

Why cockles tend to carry virus
Straits Times 4 May 12;

COCKLES belong to a family of shellfish called bivalves, so-called because they have two shells hinged together. Other bivalves include oysters and mussels.

They are popular among Singaporeans, but they can also carry the Hepatitis A virus, which attacks the liver but is rarely fatal.

Bivalves have a higher risk of being infected with the Hepatitis A virus because they feed on particles absorbed from water. This includes faecal matter which may carry the virus.

After the shellfish absorb the particles, any virus is concentrated in their tissues, which makes them especially effective carriers of the disease.

Cockles are more vulnerable to the virus because they are traditionally harvested from the wild, where there may be more faecal matter. Farmers usually do not rear cockles because they are considered too low-value, unlike other shellfish such as oysters.

Singapore imports most of its cockles from Malaysia, with a small portion coming from other countries such as France and Japan.

In the past three years, the Republic has imported about 3,000 tonnes of the shellfish each year, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

These are usually eaten raw or half-cooked in dishes such as laksa and char kway teow.

Methods of removing the virus from the shellfish include placing them in clean waters. Their digestive system will eventually purge the virus.

Cooking the shellfish thoroughly also kills the virus.

Read more!

Last tiger sanctuary in South East Asia at risk

Proposed dam in Thai national park may destroy their habitat
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 4 May 12;

BANGKOK: Thailand's pledge to double the number of endangered wild tigers in the country's jungles by 2022 will be in jeopardy if a new dam at a national park is built, environmental organisations have warned.

The dam on the Mae Wong river, at the national park of the same name in Nakhon Sawan province, north-west of Bangkok, forms part of the government's flood management plan. The project reportedly will help irrigate up to 480 sq km of farmland.

However, to do that, it will destroy around 1,760ha of low- lying forest - the best habitat for wildlife, including the tiger. The accompanying access roads could also open up the forest further to illegal activity.

Thailand was among 12 Asian countries that committed themselves at the Global Tiger Summit in Russia in 2010 to doubling the world's tiger population to 7,000 by 2022.

The 900 sq km national park has been protected for more than 24 years.

'Successive governments have invested in total more than 300 million baht (S$12 million) to make the park as secure as it is today,' Dr Anak Pattanavibool, the director of the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Thailand programme, wrote last week in the Bangkok Post.

The park is part of Thailand's Western Forest Complex, the largest system of protected areas in mainland South-east Asia. In all, it covers 17 protected areas, totalling 18,000 sq km and overlapping the border with Myanmar.

It is seen as the only habitat in South-east Asia capable of supporting a large number of tigers on a sustainable basis if it is adequately protected.

'The entire Western Forest Complex is Thailand's very last stronghold for many globally endangered and vulnerable species,' Dr Anak wrote in the Post.

'The international community... has hailed the long and firmly held policy of Thailand to protect the Western Forest Complex and its associated natural heritage as an example for others to follow.'

Some environmental agencies are urging that the Mae Wong National Park be recognised also as one of the country's natural heritage sites, the Post reported.

Thailand's Cabinet approved the 13 billion baht dam project on April 10. So far, no assessment of the environmental impact has been carried out.

The project has now become a test of Thailand's flood management plan - and also the clout of the Department of National Parks, which has the authority to turn down the project.

Building a dam and reservoir in a national park is illegal in the first place, Dr Anak said in an interview. Constructing the dam and reservoir would destroy Thailand's reputation for wildlife protection, he said.

Conservationists have an ally in the Stop Global Warming Association (SGWA) - an independent non-government organisation headed by lawyer Srisuwan Janya, who shot to fame some two years ago after winning a landmark judgment against polluting industries in the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate. Both WCS and SGWA do not believe the dam will help in flood control.

SGWA has started a campaign against the dam on cost grounds, saying the estimate given last year was only 9.6 billion baht. It is trying to gather 13,280 co-complainants to file a legal challenge to the project.

'The approved budget for the construction is too high,' Mr Srisuwan said last month. 'The budget for the construction will come from massive foreign loans, and our offspring will have to repay the loans. They will also suffer the loss of forest land.'

Villages once situated in the area that will be flooded by the reservoir were relocated in the interest of wildlife conservation, Dr Anak said.

The ecosystem recovered and wildlife, including prey species and tigers, returned to the area, he said.

The dam was first mooted 20 years ago, but the project did not gain traction for a long time. In 2002, the National Environment Board turned it down.

Thailand's Royal Irrigation Department is expected to complete a health and environmental impact assessment study for the project in July.

Read more!

Indonesia May Have Lost 5 million Hectares of Forest Cover Since Moratorium

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 3 May 12;

Indonesia may have lost a staggering five million hectares of forest since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a two year moratorium on deforestation last year, Greenpeace Indonesia said on Thursday.

The moratorium, part of the president's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) program, failed to include five million hectares of forest in maps of protected areas, said Kiki Taufik, a geographical information specialist with Greenpeace Indonesia, during a press conference in Jakarta.

“These areas haven’t been protected by the moratorium because their statuses are unclear," Kiki said. "The regions overlap with existing concessions."

Kalimantan was hit hardest in the last year, where 1.9 million hectares of forest disappeared. Papua lost some 1.7 million hectares of lost forest.

“In Kalimantan, most of the destroyed forest was in regions where coal concessions were already granted," Kiki said. "In Papua, the forest was cut down under pre-existing logging concessions."

The deforestation moratorium promised to protect nearly half of Indonesia's existing tree cover — an area totaling 64 million hectares — when it was passed last year. But one year later, only 13 million additional hectares have been placed under protection, Kiki said.

While the moratorium has placed some 64 million hectares of forest under the government's protection, 46.7 million hectares of these protected forests were already part of conservation areas when the moratorium was announced, he said.

"So the moratorium only successfully added 13 million hectares of protected forests," Kiki said.

The two-year moratorium came into effect last May as Norway pledged $1 billion in aid to Indonesia as part of a larger UN-backed plan to reduce emissions produced by deforestation. According to estimates, one million hectares of burning forest can produce as much as 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Indonesia lost five times that amount in the last year alone.


Green groups say Indonesia deforestation ban 'weak'
AFP Yahoo News 4 May 12;

A coalition of green groups in Indonesia on Thursday criticised a moratorium on deforestation as "weak", saying the year-long ban still excludes large tracts of the country's carbon-rich forests.

Greenpeace, which is leading the coalition, said government maps that mark protected areas exclude 3.5 million hectares (8.6 million acres) of peatland -- biodiverse swamp-like forests that hold rich carbon reserves.

Greenpeace said the government must review all existing logging permits on the country's natural forests and peatland, and improve governance based on an accurate set of maps.

"The government cannot hope to improve forest governance and ensure the effectiveness of the moratorium without taking these crucial steps," Greenpeace Southeast Asia political campaigner Yuyun Indradi said in a statement.

An earlier review of the maps by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the moratorium leaves almost 50 percent of Indonesia's 100 million hectares of natural forest and peatland unprotected.

"The current moratorium is weak and does very little in effect to protect the forests," said Deddy Ratih, a forest campaign manager for Friends of the Earth Indonesia.

The two-year moratorium came into effect last year as the centrepiece of a deal with Norway, which pledged $1 billion to Indonesia under a UN-backed scheme to reduce emissions from deforestation.

That deal was part of a larger commitment made by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2009 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from levels that year by 26 percent by 2020, or 41 percent with international support.

The coalition charged that the moratorium -- which was originally supposed to include all natural forests -- had been watered down to protect just older primary forests and peatland because of pressure from big business.

Indonesia is often cited as the world's third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, due mainly to rampant deforestation by the palm oil, mining and paper industries.

Read more!

Indonesia: Lack of Land Hinders Kalimantan Orangutan Release Plan

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 3 May 12;

Balikpapan. Rehabilitation centers caring for more than 1,000 orangutans in Kalimantan are unable to comply with a presidential decree to release the animals back into the wild due to a shortage of suitable land, officials say.

The goal of the decree, passed in 2007, was to prevent the endangered orangutans from going extinct.

“The government’s policy to release orangutans from rehabilitation centers to the wilderness could not be carried out,” Jamartin Sihite, chief executive of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, said on Tuesday. “There isn’t enough available land that’s suitable and free from disruption.”

The foundation wants to release 50 orangutans this year in Central and East Kalimantan, and in order to do so, it had to obtain land concession rights from the Forestry Ministry. It paid Rp 13 billion ($1.4 million) for the rights to 86,450 hectares of land for the next 60 years, Jamartin said.

He said that some of the available land is not suitable for the orangutans, which can only live in areas less than 900 meters above sea level. There can only be one orangutan per 10 square kilometers, and they must have adequate access to food supplies.

“We’ve made a proposal in Central Kalimantan but it hasn’t been approved by the local administration,” Jamartin said. “We’ve obtained [approval] in East Kalimantan but it [the land] was insufficient.”

In Central Kalimantan, he said, the orangutans will be released into the Betikap conservation forest. In East Kalimantan, they will be released into the forests of Kehje Sewen, currently managed by Restorasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia.

He added that the foundation must also consider the lifestyle practices of local communities, which have slaughtered orangutans in the past.

Oil palm plantations, coal mining companies and industrial forest plantations in the region are also a threat as they destroy much of the orangutans’ forest habitat.

Jamartin said separate land plots must be provided to protect wild orangutans because they cannot live in the same space as rehabilitated orangutans, who are unable to protect themselves when they are released into the wild. Experts say there are 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild. Eighty percent of them are in Indonesia and the rest are in Malaysia.

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Coral bleaching, flooding impacts on Great Barrier Reef despite mild summer

Peter Michael The Courier-Mail 4 May 12;

THE Great Barrier Reef has suffered some coral bleaching and minor flooding stress despite a mild summer, latest findings show.

Low to moderate coral bleaching was found in the central region of the Great Barrier Reef north of Gladstone.

Some bleaching occurred in the northern and southern regions. The floodwater impact was low.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) on Friday released the findings of 190 reef health surveys on 43 reefs off the Queensland coast.

"Climate change continues to be the greatest threat to coral reefs worldwide,'' GBRMPA climate change director Paul Marshall said.

He said this year had been a mild summer.

But a range of global warming projections suggested an increase in the intensity of extreme weather events.

"The events of last summer showed us that coral, seagrass and wildlife such as turtle and dugong are vulnerable," Mr Marshall said.

Scientists found small, isolated areas of bleaching in some areas but no reefs were seriously affected.

Crown-of-thorns starfish and patchy reef damage from ship anchors also pose a threat to reef health.

There was some isolated flood plumes from local intense rainfall.

But the overall impact was relatively minor compared to the extensive flooding of last year's summer of disaster.

Read more!

How Biodiversity Keeps Earth Alive

Species loss lessens the total amount of biomass on a given parcel, suggesting that the degree of diversity directly impacts the amount of life the planet can support
David Biello Scientific American 3 May 12;

In 1994 biologists seeded patches of grassland in Cedar Creek, Minn. Some plots got as many as 16 species of grasses and other plants—and some as few as one. In the first few years plots with eight or more species fared about as well as those with fewer species, suggesting that a complex mix of species—what is known as biodiversity—didn't affect the amount of a plot's leaf, blade, stem and root (or biomass, as scientists call it). But when measured over a longer span—more than a decade—those plots with the most species produced the greatest abundance of plant life.

"Different species differ in how, when and where they acquire water, nutrients and carbon, and maintain them in the ecosystem. Thus, when many species grow together, they have a wider set of traits that allow them to gain the resources needed," explains ecologist Peter Reich of the University of Minnesota, who led this research to be published in Science on May 4. This result suggests "no level of diversity loss can occur without adverse effects on ecosystem functioning." That is the reverse of what numerous studies had previously found, largely because those studies only looked at short-term outcomes.

The planet as a whole is on the cusp of what some researchers have termed the sixth mass extinction event in the planet's history: the wiping out of plants, animals and all other forms of life due to human activity. The global impact of such biodiversity loss is detailed in a meta-analysis led by biologist David Hooper of Western Washington University. His team examined 192 studies that looked at species richness and its effect on ecosystems. "The primary drivers of biodiversity loss are, in rough order of impact to date: habitat loss, overharvesting, invasive species, pollution and climate change," Hooper explains. Perhaps unsurprisingly, "biodiversity loss in the 21st century could rank among the major drivers of ecosystem change," Hooper and his colleagues wrote in Nature on May 3. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

Losing just 21 percent of the species in a given ecosystem can reduce the total amount of biomass in that ecosystem by as much as 10 percent—and that's likely to be a conservative estimate. And when more than 40 percent of an ecosystem's species disappear—whether plant, animal, insect, fungi or microbe—the effects can be as significant as those caused by a major drought. Nor does this analysis take into account how species extinction can both be driven by and act in concert with other changes—whether warmer average temperatures or nitrogen pollution. In the real world environmental and biological changes "are likely to be happening at the same time," Hooper admits. "This is a critical need for future research."

The major driver of human impacts on the rest of life on this planet—whether through clearing forests or dumping excess fertilizer on fields—is our need for food. Maintaining high biomass from farming ecosystems, which often emphasize monocultures (single species) while also preserving biodiversity—some species now appear only on farmland—has become a "key issue for sustainability," Hooper notes, "if we're going to grow food for nine billion people on the planet in the next 40 to 50 years."

Read more!

How Much Will Earth's Seas Rise? Answers Lacking, Scientists Warn

Wynne Parry, LiveScience 3 May 12;

With a significant portion of the world's population living within close proximity to the oceans, often in large cities, rising sea levels bring the potential for devastating consequences.

But scientists are still unable to make predictions precise enough for people to plan how to handle the loss of land and threat to coastal communities expected over this century, two researchers point out in a commentary this week in the May 4 issue of the journal Science.

"We know sea level is going to rise, but how much, and how fast, and where, we really still don't know," co-author Josh Willis, a climate scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told LiveScience.

The complex seas

It turns out the ocean isn't like water in a bathtub; it doesn't rise uniformly as more water pours in. As global warming raises sea levels, some places are expected to see higher-than-average increases, and a few places may even see decreases.

Currently, projections suggest that over the course of this century, sea levels will rise between 8 inches and 6.6 feet (20 centimeters and 2 meters) around the planet. Scientists know this increase will be driven by the expansion of water as it warms (warmer water takes up more space) and the melting of ice, most importantly, ice stored in the massive ice sheets that cover Greenland and Antarctica. [Stunning Photos of Antarctic Ice]

But the effects of warming water and melting ice on sea-level rise are expected to vary depending on location. What's more, some of the dynamics involved aren't well represented in models used to make projections for the future, write Willis and his co-author, John Church of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in their essay.

The melting of the Antarctic and Greeland ice sheets presents the largest uncertainty for the future, but air, land and water also play roles in changes to sea level, they write. For instance, sea level (which is measured relative to land) in the vicinity of the ice melt actually decreases, because the ground underneath the melting ice rebounds as the heavy ice disappears.

Planet-scale effects also influence regional changes. Mass that starts out locked up as ice in the high latitudes spreads around the planet once it has melted and flowed into the ocean. This re-arrangement of mass can tweak the tilt of the Earth's axis. In turn, a slight change in the tilt of axis also redistributes the oceans because the forces of the Earth's rotation help shape the surface of the ocean, Willis said. [50 Amazing Facts About Earth]

Likewise, thermal expansion doesn't play out uniformly across the oceans. For example, during an El Niño event, which is associated with warmer waters in the equatorial Pacific, the arrival of warmer waters off the California coast lifts sea levels. During La Niña, when waters are cooler, sea levels tend to subside, Willis said.

Climate change is expected to change ocean currents and the winds that help drive ocean currents. These changes will affect the distribution of heat within the oceans, and, as a result, affect changes in sea level.

Future sea-level rise

Scientists use two types of models to make projections about the future of sea levels, but the two don't agree, Willis and Church point out. Earth system models are simulations that include the atmosphere, ocean and ice, but while these models include decent representations of the ocean and the atmosphere, the behavior of ice sheets is not as well represented, he said.

These models make predictions on the lower end of the spectrum for 2100 sea levels. Meanwhile, the other class of models, called semi-empirical models, base projections on the relationship between warming and the rate of global sea-level rise. These semi-empirical models rely heavily on historical observation, and tend to give higher estimates of future sea-level rise.

The simplest projection, based on the observed rate of sea-level increase, is a continued 0.1 inches (3 millimeters) rise in sea level per year. But it's clear that much greater rates are possible.

"We know from geologic records that ice sheets are capable of causing very rapid sea-level rise three to four times what we see today," Willis said.

If scientists can't accurately project sea-level increase for the coming decades, the least we can do is measure what is happening today, Willis and Church say. Scientists' ability to do this, however, is threatened by delays in the launch of a new satellite, Jason-3, Willis said. The current satellite responsible for measuring ocean height, Jason-2, is reaching the end of its planned operation life.

Read more!

Long-Lasting La Niña Finally Ends Yahoo News 3 May 12;

The La Niña climate pattern that has been in place over much of the last two years finally dissipated last month as expected, and neutral conditions are now in place over the tropical Pacific, government climate scientists said today (May 3).

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had predicted in March that La Niña would peter out by the end of April.

When a La Niña pattern is in place, water temperatures in the tropical Pacific are cooler than normal, which has far-reaching consequences for climate and weather patterns around the globe.

The most recent La Niña cycle first emerged in June 2010 and had a substantial impact on the extreme winter weather of 2010-2011, as well as last spring's terrible tornado season. La Niña conditions may have helped bring about some of the massive snows that blanketed much of the northern United States last winter, but its waning may actually have been the culprit in ramping up the tornado season.

The La Niña pattern had faded out by May 2011, but re-emerged at the end of summer and gathered strength as this past winter approached.

NOAA reported today that ENSO-neutral conditions were now in place (ENSO refers to the whole La Niña-El Niño climate cycle). These conditions are expected to last through the Northern Hemisphere summer, and scientists don't expect the La Niña pattern to re-emerge later this year, according to a NOAA advisory.

Higher sea surface temperatures have emerged in parts of the tropical Pacific, but whether these warmer waters will lead to the development of a full-blown El Niño remains uncertain, the advisory noted, and the official NOAA forecast calls for equal chances of neutral conditions or an El Niño event after the summer.

Read more!