Best of our wild blogs: 9 May 12

NEA replies to spraying of chemicals on Chek Jawa
from wild shores of singapore

Pulau Sekudu: a jewel of our Northern shores
from wild shores of singapore and Singapore Nature

A Sad Day for the Monkeys
from Crystal and Bryan in Singapore

Indian Pond-heron Spotted in Singapore
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Random Gallery - The Yellow Palm Dart
from Butterflies of Singapore

Vinegaroons and Spore Dispersal of Fungi
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Job: Full-time Teaching Assistant (FTTA) for Life Sciences (Environmental Biology), deadline: 23 May 2012 from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Dry weather warning at haze talks

Asean ministers agree to remain vigilant and step up control efforts
Straits Times 9 May 12;

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Environment ministers from Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, meeting here over transboundary haze pollution, have warned about drier weather later this year.

They said Asean's own weathermen had forecast that the prevailing neutral conditions - involving neither the El Nino nor La Nina climate patterns - are expected to last until at least October, according to a statement issued yesterday at the end of the 13th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

The ministers agreed to remain vigilant and step up their efforts to minimise any possible occurrence of transboundary haze from land and forest fires during extended periods of dry weather in the coming months.

They noted that from February to April, the MSC Mekong countries were affected by smoke haze from open burning activities in the Mekong sub-region. In northern Thailand, for example, eight provinces including Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were shrouded in haze, the worst to hit the country in five years.

The authorities are most concerned about PM10 emissions, which are ultra-fine particles of soot and ash about one-seventh the diameter of a strand of human hair.

PM10 concentrations in affected regions exceeded national standards and reached unhealthy levels.

In the southern Asean region, however, the hot spots were generally subdued due to wet weather conditions during the same period.

At the meeting, the ministers also noted the significant progress in developing national Fire Danger Rating Systems (FDRS) in Malaysia and Indonesia. These provide early warnings of potential fires, which enables preparedness and preventive actions during dry weather periods.

Given their usefulness, the ministers agreed to recommend the development of an Asean-wide FDRS to the Asean leaders.

'I hope we are on the verge or the threshold to launch an Asean-wide FDRS, based on real-time data from all the countries, integrated, analysed and presented in a way that will be accessible to everyone,' Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told journalists on the sidelines of the meeting.

'This is something which has been done for some time now. Malaysia has been taking the lead. It requires all the countries to install the automated weather system as well as to supply the necessary on-the-ground data, things like where your peatlands are, where your forests cover.

'But the important thing is, it allows you to make a predictive model to access which areas are at risk,' he said.

The MSC countries also shared their experiences in preventing and mitigating land and forest fires. For example, Malaysia implemented a fire prevention and peatland management programme which significantly reduced the number of hot spots in the project area by more than 70 per cent last year, compared to 2010.

Environment Ministers To Seek Leaders' Consideration On Development Of Proposed Asean-Wide FDRS

Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah Bernama 8 May 12;

SINGAPORE, May 8 (Bernama) -- Environment Ministers of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Meeting (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution have expressed appreciation on the significant progress in developing national Fire Danger Rating Systems (FDRS) in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The FDRS provides early warning on potential fire occurrences, which enables preparedness and preventive actions during dry weather periods.

Considering the usefulness of the FDRS, the Ministers agreed to recommend the development of the proposed ASEAN-wide FDRS to be considered by the ASEAN Leaders," they said in a statement released by Singapore's Ministry of Environment and Water Resources here Tuesday.

Environment Ministers and their representatives from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand met at the 13th Meeting of the Sub-Regional MSC on Transboundary Haze Pollution in Brunei today.

They noted that the ASEAN-wide FDRS map was being regularly updated by Malaysia while the Malaysian and ASEAN-wide FDRS maps were also displayed on Google Earth.

Both Malaysia and Indonesia have further refined their systems by integrating weather data and ground conditions such as fire prone peat areas, installation of more automatic weather stations to improve further the resolution of FDRS, and to improve on the short term and medium term forecasts.

Other MSC countries have expressed their interest to consider establishing their national FDRS with the assistance of Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Ministers noted that from February to April 2012, MSC Mekong countries were affected by smoke haze from open burning activities in the Mekong Sub-Region while PM10 concentrations exceeded national standards and reached unhealthy levels.

As for the southern Asean region, the hotspots were generally subdued due to wet weather conditions during the same period.

The Ministers noted the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre's (ASMC's) weather outlook for the region in the coming months, in particular the prevailing neutral conditions (neither El Nino nor La Nina) expected to last at least until October 2012.

However, drier weather may be expected during the coming traditional dry season between June and mid-October 2012.

The Ministers noted that MSC countries are closely monitoring the regional hotspots and weather outlook.

They said the update of fire and haze situation and recognised various initiatives undertaken by the MSC countries to prevent and mitigate land and forest fires.

In particular, Brunei is currently undertaking the expansion and improvement of its existing air quality monitoring network, and has put in place a hotline for public query and receipt of complaints of open burning.

Malaysia shared its experience and achievements in implementing fire prevention and peat land management programme, which has significantly reduced the number of hotspots in the project area by more than 70 per cent in 2011 as compared with 2010.

Thailand has promoted the concept of Zero-Burning Village and implemented the Guidelines on Agricultural Residual Burning. Indonesia shared its experience in mapping burnt areas utilizing satellite imagery.

The Ministers noted that the process of ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution by Indonesia was underway.

They acknowledged the successful completion of the Indonesia-Singapore collaboration in Jambi Province and the Indonesia-Malaysia collaboration in Riau Province.

They further noted that Malaysia and Singapore have offered to continue their collaboration with Indonesia, while Indonesia welcomed the interest expressed by Malaysia and Singapore and informed that this is being considered by the Coordinating Ministry for People Welfare.

The Ministers also noted Brunei's interest to explore possible areas of collaboration with Indonesia, similar to that of Malaysia-Indonesia and Singapore-Indonesia.

Indonesia would consider the proposal and both sides would discuss the details further.


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Indonesia: six new hotspots in Riau detected

Antara 8 May 12;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Pekanbaru station of Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has detected through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite six new hotspots in Riau province, according to an analyst.

"The new hotspots came up on Monday (May 7)," BMKG analyst Marzuki said, adding that hotspots were also detected in other provinces of Sumatra island.

He stated that at least eight hotspots were detected in North Sumatra, five each in Aceh and West Sumatra, four in South Sumatra, two each in Bengkulu and Jambi, and one in Lampung province.

"Lack of rainfall in most areas of Sumatra mainland, including Riau province, led to the coming up of the hotspots," Marzuki said.

"The lack of rainfall in Sumatra has been caused by several natural factors, one of them being season transition, which is expected to continue for two more weeks," he added.

The BKMG hopes that people throughout Sumatra, especially in Riau province, avoid torching the land.

NOAA satellites had detected 23 hotspots in Sumatra on Friday, according to BMKG.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: Orangutan number declining in Sumatra island

Antara 7 May 12;

Banda Aceh (ANTARA News) - The number of Orangutans living in the wild in Sumatra island has gone down from 1,000 in early 2000 to less than 200 in 2012, according to an activist.

"The number of orangutans in Sumatra island is decreasing due to damage in their habitat," said Halim, a Preserved Ecosystem Foundation activist, here on Monday.

He explained that a recent study showed the biggest population of orangutans to be in the Rawa Tripa peatland, Nagan district, Aceh province. However, he added that their numbers in the area were decreasing due to land conversion for oil palm plantation.

Halim called on the Ministry of Forestry to conduct reforestation in the impacted area and revoke the land conversion permit.

"After the revoke of permit, this location must be made a preservation area for orangutans," he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia government denies report on increased deforestation rate

Antara 8 May 12;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government has declared that a report regarding the country`s loss of almost 5 million hectares of forest and peatlands since the implementation of a moratorium on deforestation is a misleading falsehood.

"The report cannot be understood because it`s so different from the report of the UN (FAO) and the forestry ministry`s record that the deforestation rate over the past few years has drastically decreased to around 500,000 hectares annually," stated Agus Purnomo, a presidential special aide on climate change, here on Monday.

Purnomo`s statement come in response to the information on deforestation issued by the Indonesian Forest and Global Climate Salvation Coalition to commemorate one year of implementation of the presidential instruction on forest and peatland deforestation issued in May 20, 2011.

According to Greenpeace, a revision of the forest moratorium implementation from November 2011 to May 2012 revealed that Indonesia has lost some 4.9 million hectares of its forests and peatlands. This figure amounted to 5.64 million hectares from June to November 2011.

"By May 2012, Indonesia could lose 4.9 million hectares of its forests and peatlands. With each revision of the forest moratorium, the acreage of forests and peatlands continues to decrease," said Yuyun Indradi, political campaigner of Greenpeace, recently.

Agus Purnomo, however, cited the forestry ministry`s report that Indonesia`s deforestation rate has decreased over the last 10 years. During the 1990-1996 period, the deforestation rate was 1.87 million ha/year, which increased to 3.51 million ha/year in 1997-2000.

Forest fires, decentralization and weak law enforcement led to a deforestation rate of 1.08 million ha/year in 2001-2003, 1.17 million ha/year in 2004/2006, 0.83 million ha/year in 2007-2009, and 0.45 million ha/year in 2009-2011.

"We invite Greenpeace to explain its methodology used to determine the forest degradation in order to clarify the issue. Determining whether the figure is just imaginary or an accurate figure might lead to the correction of Indonesia`s deforestation rate," Purnomo noted, adding that the dramatization of this issue could reinforce a lie.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Jobs depend on small reef fish

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Science Alert 7 May 12;

Jobs, livelihoods and ecotourism industries can benefit from having a diverse supply of weed-eating fish on the world’s coral reefs, marine researchers say.

Despite their small size, relative to the sharks, whales, and turtles that often get more attention, herbivorous fish play a vital role in maintaining the health of coral reefs, which support the livelihoods of 500 million people worldwide, say researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

“Herbivorous fishes protect coral reefs by limiting the growth of algae, or seaweed,” says Loïc Thibaut, lead researcher of a new study that has been published in the journal Ecology.

“Seaweeds grow rapidly and compete with corals for space. If left unchecked, they can smother the corals and take over the reefs. This shift, once it happens, is extremely difficult to reverse.”

The study shows that having high biodiversity of herbivorous fishes provides strong “insurance” for coral reefs. A diverse set of herbivores ensures that seaweeds are kept under control, because when some species take a hit and decline, others increase to fill the gap. This makes seaweed control more stable over time, something researchers call the “portfolio effect”.

“It’s like having a diverse stock portfolio – you wouldn’t put all your money into one particular stock, because if that company goes down, so will your life savings,” says Professor Sean Connolly, a Chief Investigator at the Centre. “A very similar principle works in ecosystems.”

An example of the disastrous effects of having only one herbivore as ‘gatekeeper’ is the extensive coral loss in the Caribbean in the 1980s.

“In the 80s, overfishing left a species of sea urchin as the only animal controlling seaweed growth on Caribbean reefs. When a disease broke out, the sea urchin population collapsed - and there was nothing to keep the weeds in check. This was followed by an explosion of seaweeds, which smothered the coral and hit tourism pretty hard,” says Prof. Connolly.

The study, which applied cutting-edge analyses designed by the JCU researchers to and data from the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s 15-years of surveys across the Great Barrier Reef, found that protection was provided by having a diversity of fish that perform a similar function – chomping down seaweed – because different fishes respond differently to different pressures.

“There are three main groups of herbivorous fishes: territorial grazers that bite at the algae and are site-attached and actively defend a small patch of reef, roving grazers that feed in the same way but move around the reefs, and scrapers who range widely and feed by biting the algae back to the limestone surface of the reef, making clear patches where corals can establish. All are critically important,” says study co-author Dr Hugh Sweatman, a Senior Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

“These groups all play a similar role in keeping weeds in check, but each type responds differently to environmental fluctuations.”

“In this research, we measured how strong the ‘portfolio effect’ was in different reef locations. We found that high biodiversity makes seaweed control twice as stable as it would be if we relied on one super-abundant species, like the sea urchin in the Caribbean,” says Prof. Connolly.

“Biodiversity reduces the risk that environmental fluctuations will push overall herbivory below the threshold that might trigger a regime shift towards seaweed-dominated reefs.”

The finding highlights the importance of maintaining biodiversity in the coral ecosystem, the researchers say.

“The more diversity you have, the lower the risk that all the fish that play a particular role on the reef – like controlling seaweeds – will crash at the same time. This is greatly beneficial for the health of any type of ecosystem. And it is also beneficial to the people whose jobs and livelihoods depend on that system,” says Mr Thibaut.

The paper "Diversity and stability of herbivorous fishes on coral reefs” by Loïc M. Thibaut, Sean R. Connolly and Hugh P.A. Sweatman is published in the latest issue of Ecology.

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Red tide threatens fisheries off east China

Xinhua 8 May 12;

QINGDAO, May 8 (Xinhua) -- A red tide measuring more than 100 square kilometers drifting toward east China's coastline is threatening local fish and aquaculture industries, as it can suffocate marine life, local authorities said.

The red tide, first detected on May 3 covering 780 square km, shrank to 106.3 square km on Monday, according to the North China Sea Branch of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA).

But the shrinkage doesn't mean the red tide is fading away as it can submerge when water temperature drops, said Li Qinliang, professor with the North China Sea Environment Monitoring Center of the SOA.

The red tide, identified as Noctiluca scientillan algae, grows by photosynthesis and reserves energy under the water when sunshine is poor, Li said.

Experts said the red tide might be caused by seawater pollution and over fishing.

"Red tide can break out when creatures living on Noctiluca scientillans are overfished," said Qu Xuanzhang, researcher of the North China Sea Environment Monitoring Center of the SOA.

The red tide will continue moving northwestward to the coastline of Shandong province, according to the SOA.

Although nontoxic, Noctiluca scientillan algae may stick to the gills of fish and cause them to die.

If red tide breaks out in coastal waters, it will hurt fish and aquaculture industries as the algae takes a lot of oxygen at night and causes fish to suffocate, Li said.

The SOA has already alerted local fishermen to prepare to fight the red tide.

And if that doesn't work, fish farmers may need to move their fish to unaffected waters, Li said.

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Researchers: Ocean garbage gyre impacting sea life

Associated Press Yahoo News 9 May 12;

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Researchers say a zone of floating plastic debris between Hawaii and California is changing at least one marine critter's habitat.

A marine insect that tends to lay its eggs on floating wood and seashells can now be found laying eggs on top of bits of plastic.

The observation was made by a team of California researchers who traveled to the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" in 2009. They published their latest finding in the journal Biology Letters.

Though plastic debris is giving the insects places to lay eggs, scientists are concerned about the manmade material establishing a role in their habitat.

The garbage patch is formed by ocean and wind currents. Most of the plastic pieces are the size of confetti and are difficult to see with the naked eye.

Pacific plastic soup grew 100-fold

AFP Yahoo News 9 May 12;

The vast swirl of plastic waste floating in the North Pacific has grown 100-fold over the last 40 years, according to a research paper published Wednesday.

And scientists warned the killer soup of microplastic -- particles smaller than five millimetres (0.2 of an inch) -- threatened to alter the open ocean's natural environment.

In the period 1972 to 1987, no microplastic was found in the majority of samples taken for testing, said the paper in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Today, scientists estimate the swirling mass of waste known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is roughly the size of Texas.

"The abundance of small human-produced plastic particles in the NPSG has increased by 100 times over the last four decades," said a statement on the findings of researchers from the University of California.

The United Nations Environment Programme says around 13,000 pieces of plastic litter are found in every square kilometre of sea, but the problem is worst in the North Pacific.

The plastic particles are being vacuumed up by marine life and birds, and the mix is heavy with toxic chemicals.

The study said the NPSG is providing a new habitat for ocean insects called "sea-skaters" which prey on plankton and fish eggs and are in turn fed on by seabirds, turtles and fish.

The insect, which spends its entire life at sea, needs a hard surface on which to lay its eggs -- previously limited to relatively rare items like floating wood, pumice and sea shells.

If microplastic density continued to grow, insect numbers would increase as well, the scientists warned, "potentially at the expense of prey such as zooplankton or fish eggs".

Plastic Trash Altering Ocean Habitats
ScienceDaily 8 May 12; A 100-fold upsurge in human-produced plastic garbage in the ocean is altering habitats in the marine environment, according to a new study led by a graduate student researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

In 2009 an ambitious group of graduate students led the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) to the North Pacific Ocean Subtropical Gyre aboard the Scripps research vessel New Horizon. During the voyage the researchers, who concentrated their studies a thousand miles west of California, documented an alarming amount of human-generated trash, mostly broken down bits of plastic the size of a fingernail floating across thousands of miles of open ocean.

At the time the researchers didn't have a clear idea of how such trash might be impacting the ocean environment, but a new study published in the May 9 online issue of the journal Biology Letters reveals that plastic debris in the area popularly known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has increased by 100 times over in the past 40 years, leading to changes in the natural habitat of animals such as the marine insect Halobates sericeus. These "sea skaters" or "water striders" -- relatives of pond water skaters -- inhabit water surfaces and lay their eggs on flotsam (floating objects). Naturally existing surfaces for their eggs include, for example: seashells, seabird feathers, tar lumps and pumice. In the new study researchers found that sea skaters have exploited the influx of plastic garbage as new surfaces for their eggs. This has led to a rise in the insect's egg densities in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

Such an increase, documented for the first time in a marine invertebrate (animal without a backbone) in the open ocean, may have consequences for animals across the marine food web, such as crabs that prey on sea skaters and their eggs.

"This paper shows a dramatic increase in plastic over a relatively short time period and the effect it's having on a common North Pacific Gyre invertebrate," said Scripps graduate student Miriam Goldstein, lead author of the study and chief scientist of SEAPLEX, a UC Ship Funds-supported voyage. "We're seeing changes in this marine insect that can be directly attributed to the plastic."

The new study follows a report published last year by Scripps researchers in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series showing that nine percent of the fish collected during SEAPLEX contained plastic waste in their stomachs. That study estimated that fish in the intermediate ocean depths of the North Pacific Ocean ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons per year.

The Goldstein et al. study compared changes in small plastic abundance between 1972-1987 and 1999-2010 by using historical samples from the Scripps Pelagic Invertebrate Collection and data from SEAPLEX, a NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer cruise in 2010, information from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation as well as various published papers.

In April, researchers with the Instituto Oceanográfico in Brazil published a report that eggs of Halobates micans, another species of sea skater, were found on many plastic bits in the South Atlantic off Brazil.

"Plastic only became widespread in late '40s and early '50s, but now everyone uses it and over a 40-year range we've seen a dramatic increase in ocean plastic," said Goldstein. "Historically we have not been very good at stopping plastic from getting into the ocean so hopefully in the future we can do better."

Coauthors of the study include Marci Rosenberg, a student at UCLA, and Scripps Research Biologist Emeritus Lanna Cheng.

Funding for SEAPLEX was provided by the University of California Ship Funds, an innovative program that allows a new generation of scientists to gain valuable scientific training at sea, Project Kaisei/Ocean Voyages Institute, the Association for Women in Science-San Diego and the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program. The NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program (2010 Always Exploring expedition) and National Marine Fisheries Service provided support for the 2010 samples. Other study support was provided by Jim and Kris McMillan, Jeffrey and Marcy Krinsk, Lyn and Norman Lear, Ellis Wyer and an anonymous donor. Other support was provided by the California Current Ecosystem (CCE) program, part of NSF's Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program.

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70% of Hawaii’s Beaches Eroding

LiveScience 8 May 12;

Millions of years from now, the mighty islands of Hawaii will be mere vestiges of the grand splendor seen today, scientists say. And in the shorter term, beach erosion is hammering the islands. Over the past century, 70 percent of beaches on the islands of Kaua'i, O'ahu, and Maui have experienced long-term erosion, according to a report released today by the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Hawaii.

Scientists studied more than 150 miles of island coastline, and essentially every beach. While a small percentage of beaches had built up or stayed roughly the same, the average rate of coastal change was 0.4 feet of erosion per year from the early 1900s to 2000s.

The most extreme case of erosion was nearly 6 feet per year near Kualoa Point, East O'ahu.

"The inevitable fate of the Hawaiian Islands millions of years into the future is seen to the northwest in the spires of French Frigate Shoals and the remnants of other once mighty islands, ancestors of today's Hawaii, but now sunken beneath the sea through the forces of waves, rivers, and the slow subsidence of the seafloor," explained USGS Director Marcia McNutt.

"These data have allowed State and County agencies in Hawai'i to account for shoreline change as early as possible in the planning and development process so that coastal communities and public infrastructure can be sited safely away from erosion hazards areas," said William J. Aila Jr., Chairperson, Department of Land and Natural Resources, State of Hawai'i. "This will vastly improve upon public safety and will ensure that Hawaii's beautiful beaches will be protected from inappropriate shoreline development."

Of the three islands, Maui beaches experienced the highest rates and greatest extent of beach erosion with 85% of beaches eroding. Erosion is the dominant trend of coastal change on all three islands with 71% of beaches eroding on Kaua'i and 60% of beaches eroding on O'ahu.

The researchers found that, although Hawai'i beaches are dominated by erosion as a whole, coastal change is highly variable along the shore – with 'cells' of erosion and accretion typically separated by 100s of feet on continuous beaches or by rocky headlands that divide the coast into many small embayments. Most Hawaii beaches are composed of a mix of sediment derived from adjacent reefs and from the volcanic rock of the islands. Sediment availability and transport are important factors in shoreline change, and human interference in natural processes appears to have impacted the measured rates of change. For example, more than 13 miles of beaches in the study were completely lost to erosion – nearly all previously in front of seawalls.

"Over a century of building along the Hawaiian shoreline, without this sort of detailed knowledge about shoreline change, has led to some development that is located too close to the ocean," said Dr. Charles Fletcher, UH Geology and Geophysics Professor and lead author. "A better understanding of historical shoreline change and human responses to erosion may improve our ability to avoid erosion hazards in the future."

The researchers used historical data sources such as maps and aerial photographs to measure shoreline change at more than 12,000 locations. Shoreline changes are measured in specialized Geographic Information System software.

This analysis of past and present trends of shoreline movement is designed to allow for future repeatable analyses of shoreline movement, coastal erosion, and land loss. "The results of this research provide critical coastal change information that can be used to inform a wide variety of coastal management decisions," said Dr. Rob Thieler, sponsor of the study with the USGS.

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Gaia creator rows back on climate

Roger Harrabin BBC News 8 May 12;

The scientific maverick James Lovelock says climate catastrophe is not so certain as he previously suggested.

Dr Lovelock, one of the world's leading environmental thinkers once warned climate change would reduce mankind to a few breeding pairs in the Arctic.

On BBC Radio 4's The Life Scientific he gave credit to scientists who question the inevitability of conclusions from climate change computer models.

But he maintained it was probably too late to stop climate change.

He warned: "We are moving in a direction which won't do humanity any good at all if we just go on doing it."

His double-edged message was that the planet would "heal itself" from an overdose of greenhouse gases - but probably over millions or tens of millions of years.

The interview had the hallmarks of a brilliant, individual thinker who admits that he enjoys being provocative, and recaps several points that he made in an interview recently with MSNBC.

It will be applauded by sceptics who argue that the certainties of climate science have been exaggerated.

But it will infuriate mainstream climate scientists who have been striving to quantify those uncertainties.
Fit and healthy

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports specify ranges of uncertainty in their projections, and climate scientists point out that it is Dr Lovelock himself who helped to generate undue public concern over the inevitability of an imminent climate catastrophe with his 2006 book The Revenge of Gaia.

Writing in the Independent in January 2006, Dr Lovelock said: "Our planet has kept itself healthy and fit for life, just like an animal does, for most of the more than three billion years of its existence.

It was ill luck that we started polluting at a time when the sun is too hot for comfort… We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics."

The BBC Today Programme convened a scientific panel in 2006 to review the book. The general conclusion was the Dr Lovelock had made an extreme case, although Prof Chris Rapley from UCL defended his stance.

"The fact that you've been taking higher-end, pessimistic predictions of the IPCC is something that shouldn't be dismissed, even if there's only a 5% or even a 1% probability that they might be real," Prof Rapley said.

"Would you get on an aeroplane if the pilot told you there was a 5% or a 1% probability that you wouldn't reach your destination?"

Today Dr Lovelock implied that he had over-stated the certainty of catastrophe at the time.

"There's a lot of climate change deniers who are not just paid servants of the oil industry as they're demonised as being - they're sensible scientists," he said.

"There's no great certainty about what the future is going to be so legislation based on green pressure to say 'in 2050 the temperature will be so much' is not really very good science at all."

This latter comment will annoy policymakers who have been trying to obtain international agreement on emissions cuts on the basis of computer models which are inherently uncertain but which almost all point towards the risk of dangerous climate change.

'Extreme positions'

One IPCC scientist, who said he didn't want to be drawn into a personal argument with Dr Lovelock, said: "Jim exaggerated the certainties of climate change before, which wasn't helpful then. His recent comments aren't helpful now.

"They will be seized on by people who argue that science is too uncertain to inform policy - and that's absolutely not the case. He's blown too hot, now he's blowing too cold."

Prof Hans von Storch of the Meteorological Institute at the University of Hamburg told BBC News: "Lovelock certainly exaggerated in 2006. It seems that the extreme position on both sides are losing ground, and that is good."

But Dr Lovelocks's underlying message is potentially just as alarmist as before. When asked if the planet could heal itself from its current CO2 burden he said: "I think it will; it just doesn't have the same time constant as we do.

"It thinks in terms of million of years or even hundreds of millions of years. It doesn't respond like us. There as a natural event 55 million years ago when an accident caused the release of about the same amount of CO2 in the air that we have put in a short while.

"And the temperatures really zoomed. There were crocodiles in the Arctic. God knows what the rest of the Earth was like. But in a hundred million years it sank back to normal."

Dr Lovelock is the creator of the Gaia hypothesis, which posits that the Earth is a self-regulating mechanism which until now has kept conditions ideal for life. This idea underpins the newly minted "Earth system science" and has taken on mystical overtones for some environmentalists.

In today's interview on The Life Scientific on Radio 4, he was asked if it was too late to stop climate change. He replied: "I think it probably is but I don't have evidence that would convince you."

Over several years, the 92-year-old Dr Lovelock has raised the question of whether it is worthwhile attempting to cut greenhouse gas emissions. He told BBC Today Programme in 2010 the idea of trying to save the planet "is a lot of nonsense".

"We can't do it," he said at the time. "If it's going to be saved it will save itself...The sensible thing to do is to enjoy life while you can."

He has been at odds with the UK environment movement over his passion for nuclear power and avowed hatred for wind turbines in his beloved Devon. In today's interview he pointed out that no-one had died from the Fukushima disaster but that a large earthquake would topple wind turbines on to people's homes.

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