Best of our wild blogs: 15 May 13

Sat 08 Jun 2013: 7.00pm @ Yishun Public Library - Tony O'Dempsey on the "Environmental & Cultural History of Yishun" from Habitatnews

Tanah Merah's artificial shores are alive!
from wild shores of singapore

Breeding of Masked Lapwing in Singapore
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Random Gallery - Colonel
from Butterflies of Singapore

Paper giant APRIL to restore peat forest in Sumatra, but green groups say it continues to deforest from news by Rhett Butler

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Joining the Arctic queue

The overseeing body known as the Arctic Council holds a special meeting today. Singapore will know if it gets to become a permanent observer. Our writer finds out why an island almost on the Equator wants to join this Arctic club. The other story explains why cooperation has been the body's hallmark.
M. Nirmala Straits Times 15 May 13;

SINGAPORE'S application for permanent observer status on the Arctic Council has raised eyebrows.

"Sometimes even a small event gives you a mental whiplash," wrote The Economist, referring to Singapore's 2011 application.

Whether Singapore is in or out will be announced today at the Arctic Council's ministerial meeting in Sweden.

The council was set up in 1996 to govern the ice-cap region and the eight permanent member countries that ring the North Pole: the United States, Canada, Russia, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark.

Then there are six countries with permanent observer status, which allows them to attend and contribute to council discussions. They are Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. In the queue along with Singapore to join the latter group are China, India, Japan, South Korea, Italy and the European Union.

Even if Singapore does not get permanent observer status, it and the other applicants could be given ad hoc observer status. Here, it needs to seek approval to attend each council meeting.

Away from the glare of publicity, Singapore's Arctic policy has been steadily taking shape.

For the past few years, Singapore has been deepening its understanding of the Arctic and marketing its expertise in shipping, coastal management and maritime governance - all very relevant to the council's work.

It appointed veteran diplomat Kemal Siddique as its Special Envoy for Arctic Affairs.

Adopting a boots-on-the- ground strategy, he visited all eight permanent council member countries, as well as several Arctic indigenous communities, such as the Saami and the Inuit.

Singapore has clearly taken note of a comment by the Swedish Arctic Ambassador Gustaf Lind at one council meeting: "The Arctic is hot."

The Arctic now holds 30 per cent of the world's undiscovered gas and 13 per cent of oil. Home to one-fifth of the world's fisheries, it includes the Barents and Norwegian seas - areas rich in seafood.

New shipping route

WHY does Singapore want to join the Arctic Council?

As a permanent observer, Singapore will get to attend working group sessions, giving it an insight into the significant changes in the region that will have an impact on the country. For instance, Singapore is concerned about fast melting polar ice, which can erode the island-state's position as one of the world's busiest ports.

Scientists expect the Arctic Ocean to be relatively ice-free between 2020 and 2050. As the ice recedes, a new route via the North Pole region is appearing, cutting the time taken by ships in Europe to reach the East by half.

Last year, 46 ships sailed through this new route which has the potential to divert shipping that all this while has gone via the Suez Canal and Singapore.

But Singapore is not too flustered; while there could be a dip in its shipping business, it needs to adapt and find new opportunities. It did just that in 2008, when Keppel Singmarine pulled off a brilliant strategy by building Asia's first two ice breakers for a Russian company, Lukoil.

Named Toboy and Varandey, the vessels - designed to operate in freezing temperatures as low as minus 45 deg C - can cut through ice blocks over 1.7m thick or about the length of a bathtub.

Keppel is now working on the world's first Arctic ice-worthy and green jack-up floating oil rig and other drilling rigs.

Singapore is also developing the next generation of vessels, including Arctic life boats.

The Republic also has broad expertise in running major port facilities and can help develop new Northern port infrastructure.

Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide is confident that the new route will not badly affect Singapore's shipping business.

For now, the Arctic route, he said, can be used only to ship goods, such as iron ore, that do not need urgent delivery. It is also passable to ships only during summer with the help of ice breakers.

"If you run a company based on stability, you may want to take a warm route in order to avoid any hiccups," he said.

Coastal management

THERE is another problem caused by the melting Arctic ice.

As a low-lying island, Singapore is vulnerable as rising sea levels can wipe out its existence.

To prepare for the rise in sea levels, Singapore has raised the minimum level required for coastal reclamation areas. Previously, building owners had to make sure that the height of the reclaimed level had to be 1.25m above the highest recorded tide levels.

This level has been now set higher, at an additional 1m.

Singapore's experience in coastal management will increase in value as experts say that half of the world's population, or 3.4 billion people, live in coastal areas. This figure is expected to balloon to six billion by 2025.

Maritime stakeholder

SINGAPORE also brings to the Arctic table its expertise in cleaning oil spills, important to the ecologically vulnerable Arctic region.

The island nation also has experience in getting international shipping groups to use the ocean routes in a responsible way.

For example, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is investing up to $100 million to provide incentives to owners of Singapore-flagged vessels that can create energy efficient and environment-friendly ship designs.

Oceanic research - on topics such as doing oil explorations in the harsh Arctic climate - is being done at the Centre for Offshore Research and Engineering at the National University of Singapore and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

Birds and the bees

THE protection of flora and fauna is a big item on the Arctic Council's agenda.

The feather in Singapore's cap that could convince the council members to admit Singapore is the way the island has rolled out its welcome mat each year to Arctic birds, such as the Pacific Golden Plover and Sanderling.

Leaving their freezing Arctic homes in the winter months for the warmer climate in the South, these birds stop over at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and the Seletar dam areas. They rest and refuel on seafood before resuming their epic journey.

At one Arctic meeting, Mr Sam Tan, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and an avid bird watcher, raised the excitement levels of his audience as he regaled them with accounts of how Singapore respects and gives refuge to birds.

If Singapore gets a toehold in the council today, there will be good reason to pop the bubbly.

Hands across the melting ice
The overseeing body known as the Arctic Council holds a special meeting today. Singapore will know if it gets to become a permanent observer. Our writer finds out why an island almost on the Equator wants to join this Arctic club. The other story explains why cooperation has been the body's hallmark.

James F. Collins, Ross A. Virginia And Kenneth S. Yalowitz Straits Times 15 May 13;

WITH global warming rapidly melting Arctic sea ice and glaciers making valuable stores of energy and minerals more accessible, voices of doom are warning of inevitable competition and potential conflict - a new "Great Game" among the five Arctic coastal nations.

In fact, Arctic states from North America, Europe and Russia, working with indigenous peoples and a number of non-Arctic states, already have taken steps to ensure just the opposite: that the Arctic remains a zone of cooperation, peace, and stable, sustainable development.

The Arctic Council - the intergovernmental organisation for the eight Arctic states comprising Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States - has created a forum for cooperation and momentum towards a responsible approach to the region's issues.

Today, a ministerial meeting of the council in Sweden will face urgent issues dealing with the environment, shipping and governance.

In anticipation of this meeting, more than 40 leading Arctic scholars, government officials, industry leaders and representatives for indigenous peoples met in Washington in February under the auspices of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dartmouth College, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of the Arctic to examine issues facing the region - energy, health, shipping, security and governance - and to make recommendations for action to the Arctic Council.

Arctic energy and mineral riches eventually will be developed, but harsh weather conditions will persist and fluctuating world prices will make the timing of development uncertain.

The shale gas revolution is already delaying some Arctic energy projects. Arctic shipping, although increasing as seasonal sea ice declines, will remain largely regional, dedicated to the transport of Arctic energy and mineral resources and the supply of local populations and industry. Difficult sea ice conditions and the consequent unpredictability of shipping schedules will severely limit interest in developing trans-Arctic Ocean container shipping.

The Arctic states have addressed potentially divisive issues in an orderly manner, and the prospects for resolving issues in the region by force are at present slight. The most accessible Arctic oil and gas resources are located within state borders or the universally agreed-upon 200-nautical-mile (nm) Exclusive Economic Zone of the coastal states and thus not subject to dispute.

The Arctic coastal states are pursuing claims for territorial shelf extension beyond 200nm for exclusive access to additional oil and gas reserves, but they have agreed their differences will be settled under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and through diplomatic channels.

The Arctic Council is in a unique position to strengthen this trend. The United States can help greatly by ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention, giving more policy level attention to US interests in the Arctic and using the US chairmanship of the council, beginning in 2015, to build on the work the council has done.

A binding search-and-rescue accord was reached in 2011 by the Arctic Council. The upcoming ministerial meeting is an opportunity to strengthen the security and well-being of the region.

This can be accomplished by encouraging cooperation of the region's militaries and coast guards in emergency/disaster response, providing better situational awareness for Arctic Ocean shipping safety and prevention of illegal activities, and the establishment of a forum to share maritime information.

The ministerial meeting should also urge the International Maritime Organisation to adopt a mandatory polar code for ships operating in polar waters, and regulations for safe operations of cruise ships; establish an Arctic economic forum to promote public/private partnerships and help resolve issues such as environmental pollution; establish a clearing house for public and private data on oil spill preparedness, prevention and remediation; and provide more capacity for indigenous peoples and their organisations to research and develop a health care system consonant with their culture.

One key governance issue facing the ministerial council is the requests from several non-Arctic states and the European Union to become permanent Arctic Council observers. Bringing them in would open up council proceedings and underscore that many Arctic issues, such as environmental pollutants, are global ones.

At the same time, there would be little benefit to Arctic governance from making the council a formal international organisation; nor is there a perceived need for a comprehensive Arctic treaty.

Dangerous conflict in the region over valuable resources remains a remote possibility, but the council must take constructive steps to ensure that the Arctic continues to develop as a venue for cooperation among Russia and the Arctic states of Europe and North America.


James F. Collins is director of the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former US Ambassador to Russia. Ross A. Virginia is professor and director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College. Kenneth S. Yalowitz is senior fellow at the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth and former US Ambassador to Belarus and Georgia.

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Ice melt, sea level rise, to be less severe than feared: study

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 15 May 13;

A melt of ice on Greenland and Antarctica is likely to be less severe than expected this century, limiting sea level rise to a maximum of 69 cm (27 inches), an international study said on Tuesday.

Even so, such a rise could dramatically change coastal environments in the lifetimes of people born today with ever more severe storm surges and erosion, according to the ice2sea project by 24, mostly European, scientific institutions.

Some scientific studies have projected sea level rise of up to 2 meters by 2100, a figure that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called a worst case that would swamp large tracts of land from Bangladesh to Florida.

Ice2sea, a four-year project to narrow down uncertainties of how melting ice will pour water into the oceans, found that sea levels would rise by between 16.5 and 69 cm under a scenario of moderate global warming this century.

"This is good news" for those who have feared sharper rises, David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey who led the ice2sea project, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"But 69 cm is a very real impact ... it changes the frequency of floods significantly," he said. And seas would keep rising for centuries beyond 2100, in a threat to coastal cities and low-lying islands such as the Maldives or Tuvalu.

Ice2sea said a thaw of Antarctica, Greenland and glaciers from the Alps to the Andes would contribute between 3.5 and 36.8 cm to sea level rise this century. The fact that water expands as it warms would add another 13 to 32 cm, Vaughan said.

Some other scientists disputed ice2sea's projections.

"I think the numbers are too low," Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, an ice expert and professor at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, told Reuters. She said ice2sea wrongly assumed a slowdown in the rate of ice discharge from Greenland.


Sea levels rose by 17 cm last century and the rate has accelerated to more than 3 mm a year. A third of the current rise is from Antarctica and Greenland - equivalent to emptying 138 million Olympic-sized pools into the sea every year.

One factor likely to offset sea level rise, ice2sea said, is that warmer temperatures will result in more snow, especially over Antarctica, locking in the moisture on land. It also played down worries of a runaway melt of Greenland, and of the breakup of major Antarctic ice shelves.

Governments want to know future sea levels to plan sea barriers and regulations for everything from vacation homes to nuclear power plants by the coast. And every extra centimeter means big costs.

A Dutch commission planning to bolster sea defenses, for instance, has advised spending more than 100 billion euros ($130 billion) by 2100 to strengthen dykes and other barriers for a worst case scenario of a 1.2 meter North Sea rise by 2100.

The ice2sea study also said that a survey of experts' opinions showed there was a less than one-in-20 risk that melting ice sheets would contribute more than 84 cm to sea level rise this century. Taken with thermal expansion, that would mean a sea level gain of just over a meter, Vaughan said.

Almost 200 governments have agreed to work out a U.N. deal, by the end of 2015, to combat global warming that would help limit temperature rises and rising seas.

A leaked report by a U.N. panel of climate scientists, due for release in September and drawing on ice2sea data, estimates sea level rise at between 29 and 82 cm by the late 21st century, above the estimates in its last report in 2007 of between 18 and 59 cm.

Many studies since 2007 have had higher upper numbers, including by the World Bank, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a report for the Arctic Council. NOAA put the upper limit at 2 meters.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

'Best estimate' for impact of melting ice on sea level rise
Matt McGrath BBC News 14 May 13;

Researchers have published their most advanced calculation for the likely impact of melting ice on global sea levels.

The EU funded team say the ice sheets and glaciers could add 36.8 centimetres to the oceans by 2100.

Adding in other factors, sea levels could rise by up to 69 centimetres, higher than previous predictions.

The researchers say there is a very small chance that the seas around Britain could rise by a metre.

The last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was highly detailed about many aspects of Earth's changing climate in the coming decades,
Advanced models

While they estimated that sea levels could rise by 18-59 centimetres by 2100, they were very unsure about the role played by the melting of ice sheets and mountain glaciers.

To fill the void, the EU funded experts from 24 institutions in Europe and beyond to try and come up with more accurate figures on the melting of ice sheets and glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland and how this might swell the oceans.

Called Ice2sea, the group of scientists have made what they term the "best estimate" yet of the impact of melting based on a mid-range level of carbon emissions that would increase global temperatures by 3.5C by the end of this century.

"For that one scenario we have an ice sheet and glaciers contribution to sea level rise of between 3.5 and 36.8 cm by 2100," said Prof David Vaughan from the British Antarctic Survey who is the co-ordinator of the Ice2sea programme.

While the range is wide, the scientists say it is a relatively robust calculation and based on several advances in their modelling since the last IPCC report.

"In order to be able to model the ice sheet properly you need to be able to resolve things down to hundreds of metres," says Prof Tony Payne from the University of Bristol.

"That's quite a task when an ice sheet is a thousand kilometres or more in size, that's a very demanding computational task. What we found is that the Pine Island glacier, the poster child of sea level rise in the Antarctic, that will continue through to the end of the century and very little else happens."

Despite the improvements, there are still many factors that are difficult to include in models. To get around this, the leading researchers were asked to estimate the worst-case scenarios.

They concluded there was a one in 20 chance that the melting ice would drive up sea levels by more than 84 centimetres, essentially saying there's a 95% chance it wouldn't go above this figure.

While ice melt is a major contributor to the height of the seas, there are other important factors especially thermal expansion caused by the warming of the waters.

This is estimated to be raising sea levels by 3 millimetres every year. Taken together with the ice melt estimate, the scientists say the overall, maximum impact on the seas by 2100 will be a rise of 69 centimetres - just ten centimetres higher than the IPCC projection in 2007, termed AR4.

"What we are talking about is a reduction in uncertainty - we find we haven't changed the number enormously compared to AR4, we've added maybe another 10 centimetres but the level of certainty we have around that, is actually higher than it was in the AR4," said Prof Vaughan.

The researchers also included projections for sea level rise in Europe that includes the effects of thermal expansion, ice melt and storm surges. In these scenarios, the British Isles could face an increase of slightly over a metre by 2100. Enough to overwhelm the Thames Barrier and see London flooded once every ten years.

But the scientists stress that there's a 95% chance that these numbers will not be reached.

"The previous IPCC identified this gap in our knowledge, we've addressed that gap and what we've found is not scary," said Prof Payne.

"We're always talking about tens of centimetres, maybe a metre tops, none of the experiments are suggesting 2,3,4 metres and that's different to the literature that existed before Ice2sea."

However the scientists stressed that sea level rise in line with their projections could still make some islands in the Pacific uninhabitable. And if global emissions of carbon dioxide are not curtailed then the actual level of the sea by 2100 could be significantly higher than the Ice2Sea estimates.

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Australia: Seagrass on the decline

University of Queensland 15 May 13;

Seagrass along Moreton Bay will drastically decline as sea levels rise, a University of Queensland study has found.

The study, published in international journal Global Change Biology this week, reveals that unless water quality improves or human populations retreat from coastlines, seagrass will continue to decline, dropping by as much as 17 per cent by 2100.

Lead author Dr Megan Saunders from UQ's Global Change Institute said the findings showed a significant proportion of valuable seagrass habitats would be lost without action to offset the affects of climate change.

“Seagrass meadows not only help to slow climate change by sucking up a large portion of the world's plant-stored carbon, but they also benefit livelihoods, food security, fisheries, biodiversity, shoreline protection and other ecosystem services,” Dr Saunders said.

The study investigated what would happen if roads, houses and other developments along inundated coastlines retreated landwards with rising seas and found this scenario reduced the decline of seagrass to just five per cent over the same period.

It concluded the decline could be further offset by a 30 per cent improvement in water clarity, as seagrass needs relatively high levels of sunlight to survive.

Typical measures to improve water clarity – an important indicator of a water body's overall health, include better sewerage treatment, planting out and protecting riverbanks, and reducing run-off of harsh chemicals such as fertilisers.

The study was the work of an interdisciplinary group of scientists at the Global Change Institute, who are investigating effects of sea level rise in coastal areas.

Along with salt marshes and mangroves, seagrass meadows are a blue carbon ecosystem, a valuable system that is responsible for sucking up more than half of the world's plant-stored carbon.

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Rainforest plays critical role in hydropower generation

Matt McGrath BBC News 14 May 13;

Deforestation in the Amazon region could significantly reduce the amount of electricity produced from hydropower, says a new study.

Scientists say the rainforest is critical in generating the streams and rivers that ultimately turn turbines.

If trees continue to be felled, the energy produced by one of the world's biggest dams could be cut by a third.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Many countries in tropical regions are turning to hydropower as an untapped source of energy. In Brazil around 45 new hydro plants are in the planning stage.

Rainforests, by their very name, are prime locations for the dams that are usually required to create the force of water needed to generate electric power.

Until now the presumption has been that cutting down the trees near a dam actually increased the amount of water flowing into the dams.
Trees of life

But in this new study the researchers took a broader look at the climate projections for the Amazon basin and not just at the rivers on which the dams were built.

They found that rainforests are more critical than previously thought as they produce the rain that fills the streams that ultimately drives the rivers and the turbines.

"Rainforests generate their own rainfall, " Dr Claudia Stickler, from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute International Programme (IPAM-IP), told BBC News.

"They pull water out of the soil on a daily basis, they stay green and dark. The main reason is they are always pumping moisture into the atmosphere which ultimately ends up being rainfall and that's what keeps these streams going too," she said.

The scientists found that thanks to current levels of deforestation in the region, rainfall is 6-7 percent lower than it would be with full forest cover. Predictions for 2050 suggest a 40% loss of forest, meaning significantly less rain and 35-40 less electric power.

They researchers looked closely at Brazil's highly controversial Belo Monte dam, said to be the world's third largest hydropower project. If deforestation continues the scientists say, the project will deliver 30% less power than currently estimated. That's equivalent to the energy used by 4 million Brazilians.

"We now have very strong evidence that Brazil's ability to generate electricity depends on forest conservation," said co-author Dr Daniel Nepstad, executive director of IPAM-IP.

"These results aren't just important for Brazil - rainforest cover could affect energy production in wet tropical areas throughout the Amazon, and in Africa and South East Asia as well."

The researchers say their work shows that rainforests are not just important for biodiversity, for the storage of carbon but for the very tangible issue of energy production.

The authors praise the steps that Brazil has taken in recent years to curb deforestation, but they are concerned that the clearing of trees could now be on the rise once again.

"In the last year, Brazil has made tremendous progress towards ending deforestation, bringing clearing rates down to 24% of the historical average. But these numbers are starting to creep up again, and everyone should be concerned," said Dr Nepstad.

"Ending deforestation should be viewed as an issue of national energy security."

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