Best of our wild blogs: 21 Feb 14

Blue-eared Kingfisher casting pellet
from Bird Ecology Study Group

On the trail of a trailblazer!
from Stir-fried Science

Good Mix of Planning and Spontaneity is Needed
from AsiaIsGreen

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To end the haze problem, both penalties and cooperation are needed

Simon Tay and Chua Chin Wei Today Online 21 Feb 14;

The Singapore Government’s move this week to penalise companies that cause haze is timely, given that fires are currently burning in Riau and Kalimantan. But the proposed laws are more than a symbol or knee-jerk reaction.

The draft Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill, if passed, will allow criminal charges as well as civilian claims for damages to be brought before a court in Singapore — even if the fires occur elsewhere. The Republic has usually punished actions overseas only for severe crimes, such as corrupt acts or illegal sex with minors.

Applying Singapore law to the haze can be an important pillar in the effort to address the region’s recurring environmental problem.

Last year, the haze reached record highs in Singapore and parts of Malaysia. There was frustration that monitoring and enforcement against fires remain difficult in Indonesian provinces.

When regional ministers for the environment met, differences also emerged about releasing maps that could identify the culprits. Several retorted that a number of the implicated companies are headquartered in Singapore or Malaysia.

The Bill shows that the Singapore Government is willing to take action where it can.


Responsibility is placed on any entity not to cause or contribute to haze pollution in Singapore, whether directly or through companies that it manages. An individual company officer can also be held personally responsible.

Since proving what happens abroad is difficult, presumptions are introduced to allow reliance on satellite imagery, meteorological information and maps. Presumptions allow the court to assume that a fact is correct until proven otherwise.

A company can defend itself by proving the fires were caused by natural disaster or by parties not under its direction. Showing that concession maps are wrong can also rebut the presumption. This will incentivise companies to be more transparent about their land holdings and practices.

Consultations are being held on the Bill before its finalisation and details may be debated. Some may fairly ask, for example, whether the fines proposed are sufficient. While the upper limit of S$450,000 may seem significant to some, palm oil and other commodity companies implicated in the haze are often billion-dollar enterprises.

One thing should be clear, however: No matter how tough the law, this alone is no silver bullet.


Cooperation — and not only penalties — remains the key. Even as the Singapore Government takes this step forward, it must continue to work more closely with Indonesian officials and key corporations. The ongoing fires show that challenges remain, but some signs are positive.

At a recent conference in Indonesia for the palm oil industry, all three Indonesian ministers for Agriculture, Forestry and the Environment called for compliance with no-burn policies. National efforts are being made to conserve forests and biodiversity, and reduce climate-change gases and the haze, which impacts their own citizens living closest to the fires.

Based on our recent visits to Indonesia, we have reason to hope that some in the country will welcome the proposed Singaporean laws as complementary measures.

We also observe that a number of companies are moving towards sustainability. Unilever, one of the largest purchasers of palm oil, for example, has declared its commitment to buy only from sustainable sources.

There are also banks that finance trade and investment in the palm oil sector which evaluate loans based on sustainability and reputational risk.

Such good examples, however, remain a minority. Palm oil and other plantations continue to expand in scale across Indonesia as an important driver for trade revenue and rural employment.

This is why a constructive dialogue is needed to level the playing field for those who have moved towards sustainability. Showcasing the positive examples, in tandem with the proposed penalties under the Bill, can help move more of the players in the industry and supply chain.

Otherwise, as expansions continue, future haze episodes may be even worse than the severe one experienced in June last year. It is significant to have laws and penalties proposed by Singapore to punish those who cause haze. But the very best outcome will be to prevent future incidents of severe haze.

For prevention to have even a chance, a mix of both coercion and cooperation is needed.


Simon Tay is Chairman and Chua Chin Wei a Deputy Director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. The SIIA is convening the first Singapore dialogue on Sustainable World Resources in May to bring together policy makers, business leaders and non-government experts.

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NEA to introduce S$10m fund to mitigate construction noise

Chitra Kumar Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: A new S$10 million fund will be launched on April 1 this year to encourage construction firms to buy quieter machines and noise control equipment.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) gave details of the fund on Thursday morning at the Quieter Construction Seminar, saying that it aims to reduce noise pollution from construction sites, which would hopefully lead to a quieter living environment.

The NEA said the number of complaints on construction noise has been on the rise -- averaging over 16,000 a year due to more projects.

The Quieter Construction Fund (QCF) will offset up to 50 per cent of the cost of purchasing or leasing of noise reducing machines and is subject to individual equipment caps. The maximum grant that will be disbursed to each project site is capped at S$100,000 or five per cent of the project contract value, whichever is lower.

The targeted recipients are construction companies operating at construction sites located close to residential or noise sensitive premises.

The supported categories of equipment are quieter construction machines, noise control equipment and other innovative solutions.

An example of quieter construction machines is jack-in piling machines, which generates about 20 dB(A) less noise than bore piling machines.

Noise control equipment includes perimeter noise barriers, which can reduce noise by 5 dB(A) to 10 dB(A). When used as part of a good noise management system, the equipment will be effective in reducing construction noise.

Firms can start applying from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2016. The funds will be disbursed from 1 April 2014 to the end of 2017.

Dominic Choy, Secretary-General of Singapore Contractors Association Limited, said: "For the construction companies, this fund will help companies to consider, or motivate them to consider adopting quieter equipment and processes.

"The bigger companies, by and large, they are already using much of this technology, but with the aid of the fund, they can do more or perhaps even consider getting better equipment than they have.

"The fund also helps mostly the small companies which usually have fewer cash resources. With this fund, I think it will definitely help them to be able to afford quieter equipment and processes."

The QCF is the latest initiative in NEA's measures to mitigate construction noise and build up the industry's expertise in the implementation of quieter construction.

It will also encourage construction companies to use innovative solutions to mitigate noise.

- CNA/xq/fa

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Malaysia: Water levels in 20 dams falling

New Straits Times 21 Feb 14;

NOT CRITICAL YET: Supply from dams can last two to three months, says DID director

A WATER crisis is looming after the prolonged dry spell caused water levels at dams and rivers to drop, with Selangor and Johor being put on alert.

The Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) yesterday revealed that, following the dry spell, water levels at 20 dams and 21 rivers nationwide had fallen between 0.3m and 1m since last Saturday.

"Although it is unlikely there will be rainfall in the next few months, the water supply from the dams could last up to two to three months.

"We have not reached the critical phase yet," DID Water Resources and Hydrology division director Datuk Hanapi Mohamad Noor told the New Straits Times.

He said the country would plunge into the critical phase when water levels at the dams could last for only one month.

The Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry yesterday said Selangor recorded the worst drop in water supply because of the high demand for treated water, compounded by a drop in water levels at Sungai Selangor and the Klang Gate dam and closure of two treatment plants in Batu 11, Cheras and Bukit Tampoi, Kuala Langat, because of high levels of ammonia.

"As of yesterday, the active storage capacity at Sungai Selangor and the Klang Gates dam were recorded at 52.02 per cent and 55.79 per cent, respectively," it said, adding that the authorities were monitoring the situation.

It said the water from the dams had to be released to ensure an optimum water level in the rivers, especially Sungai Selangor, which supplies 60 per cent of water for Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

The dry spell, it said, had resulted in a higher content of ammonia for water treatment at Sungai Langat.

"The ministry has informed the National Water Services Commission (Span) to consider a water rationing exercise in affected areas if Syabas puts in a request.

"In Johor, Syarikat Air Johor Holdings (SAJH) has been given approval by Span to conduct a water-rationing exercise in Kluang district," it said, adding that the exercise began on Tuesday after the water level at Sungai Sembrong Kiri dropped, affecting the supply from the Sembrong Timur water treatment plant.

"On Wednesday, the Sembrong Timur water treatment plant saw a drop in supply from 31 million litres per day to 19 million litres per day.

"The water-rationing exercise affects 51,036 households in Kluang."

The ministry said although water levels in many dams had dropped, the country's water situation was under control and all water operators were told to obtain approval from Span, as stipulated by the law, if they sought to carry out water-rationing exercises.

"They were also told to include their contingency plans, which include management strategies, water rationing schedules, communication plans and other mitigation measures, such as deployment of water tankers and static water tanks."

In Seremban, Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said supply was restored to 80 per cent of the affected 1,437 consumer households here yesterday, with the remaining 20 per cent in Sendayan to receive water supply today.

"We reactivated the old pipes from the Kuala Sawah water treatment plant to supply 22.71 million litres per day to areas in Rasah, Mambau and parts of Seremban and Sendayan," he said, adding that the state government had approved RM2.6 million to build pipes connecting the Spring Hill water treatment plant to supply an additional 11 million litres per day of water to areas in Sendayan.

He said the state government would also install pipes to channel water from the Triang dam to the Ngoi-Ngoi water treatment plant to provide an additional 136 million litres of water per day.

"These two contingency plans are expected to be completed in three weeks."

In Johor Baru, state Works and Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohamad said SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd , the state's water supplier, was ready to conduct cloud seeding operation.

"SAJ is ready to do cloud seeding. They will carry it out only if the condition worsens, as the cost of a cloud-seeding operation could come up to RM300,000," Hasni said yesterday.

However, he said, the water situation in the state was manageable and there was no need for cloud seeding for the time being.

Cloud seeding to proceed when weather is suitable
New Straits Times 21 Feb 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Cloud seeding will be carried out to ease the water supply shortage following the severe dry spell when there is suitable weather, said Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry secretary-general Datuk Loo Took Gee.

"Of course, it is an option. But we need to wait until there are favourable clouds to perform the cloud seeding."

She said the exercise required specific types of clouds and ideal wind conditions for it to be carried out successfully.

"We need rainfall in the correct locations. In the past few days, rain has not been falling at water catchment areas."

She said the ministry would also instruct the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) to issue notices to water concessionaires and consumers to embark on water conservation exercise.

She said a meeting would be held with the water concessionaires today to identify critical areas in the peninsula.

"The Klang Valley area is at a critical stage but we are identifying other areas in the peninsula and will issue notices after the meeting," she told the New Straits Times yesterday.

She said consumers should use water judiciously in light of the impending water crisis.

The Meteorological Department yesterday confirmed it had received a request from the Selangor Water Management Board (Luas) to carry out cloud seeding over the Klang Gate Dam in Ampang.

Its deputy director-general, Dr Mohd Rosaidi Che Abas, said the exercise would be carried out as soon as weather conditions were suitable.

"We have studied the request from Luas and agreed to go ahead with cloud seeding in the specified area. This will be done as soon as possible, and the cost will be borne by Luas."

Rosaidi said the weather forecast indicated the dry spell would continue until mid-March, with only moderate rainfall in certain areas. "However, the monsoon transition period will begin in mid-March, with steady rainfall expected to resume then."

Luas director Mohd Khairi Selamat said water reserves at three of the seven dams in Selangor had fallen below 80 per cent as of yesterday due to the dry spell.

"The water reserve level at the Klang Gate Dam has dropped to 56.12 per cent, Sungai Selangor Dam to 52.65 per cent and Langat Dam stands at 78.02 per cent," he said, adding that the decrease in the water level at the dams was unusual as it usually occurred between May and September during the southwest monsoon season.

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Haze from fires disrupts air travel in North Sumatra

The Jakarta Post 21 Feb 14;

A number of small airports in several North Sumatra regencies have been closed or seen their operations disrupted due to haze caused by land and forest fires over the past few days.

State-run airport management company PT Angkasa Pura II reported that one of the airports affected by the haze was the Ferdinand Lumban Tobing Airport in Pinangsori, Central Tapanuli regency. The airport, located on the western coast of North Sumatra, has been closed since Wednesday.

The company’s spokesman Ali Sofyan said a regular flight route from the Kuala Namu International Airport near Medan to the Pinangsori Airport had been cancelled.

“Based on a report from Pinangsori, the airport is still closed due to poor visibility,” Sofyan said on Thursday.

Sofyan, who is also airport service manager at Kuala Namu Airport, said it remained unclear when the Pinangsori airport would resume operations.

Meanwhile, Medan branch air navigation general manager Susanto said visibility at Silangit Airport in North Tapanuli regency was only 2,000 meters. According to him, the visibility was below the normal level so wide-body planes from Kuala Namu Airport did not want to risk landing at the airport.

“Today, the Silangit Airport remains open despite the haze and so far most flight activities are running smoothly,” he said, adding that only Wings Air flights were not servicing Silangit Airport.

Information and data section head at the Medan Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) Mega Sirait said among the airports affected by haze in North Sumatra were Pinangsori (Central Tapanuli), Aek Godang (South Tapanuli) and Silangit (North Tapanuli). He said the haze was caused by forest fires in various areas of North Sumatra, such as Mandailing Natal, South Tapanuli, Labuhan Batu, Asahan, Dairi and Karo regencies.

In Jambi, a fire has razed peatland measuring 7 hectares, located in the community forest in Kumpe Ilir district, Muarojambi regency. The fire has yet to be extinguished as of now.

The cause of the fire remains unclear.

Muarojambi Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head M. Zakir confirmed the fire.

“I’m still in the field with my staff members. The fire has diminished and we will continue to fight it,” he said.

Forest and peatland fires have also spread in West Tanjungjabung regency. As of now, 19 hectares are covered with forest and peatland fires, the smoke from which has covered the regency.

West Tanjungjabung Forestry Office head H. Erwin said fires had been detected in the three districts of Betara, Bram Itam and Pengabuan.

To prevent the fires from spreading further, Erwin added that his office would deploy teams of forest rangers in the fire-prone areas.

Riau schools closed due to haze
The Jakarta Post 20 Feb 14;

Authorities of three local administrations in Riau have been forced to temporarily close schools due to health concerns related to the thick and choking haze blanketing the regions.

Provincial Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) data for Pekanbaru on Thursday showed that schools in the regencies of Siak and Kampar and Pekanbaru City were closed.

“The temporary closure is only for kindergarten and elementary school students up to grade three because. The length of the closures will depend on the level of contamination,” Kampar Education Agency head Jawaher said as quoted by Antara.

Pekanbaru City and Siak regency administrations began to shut schools two weeks ago. However, in Siak sixth, ninth and 12th grade students were obliged to attend school to prepare for the upcoming national exam.

A Pekanbaru resident, Kartika, said the closure saddened her. She was afraid that her son’s education would be affected.

Data from the Pekanbaru office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency shows that there were 70 hotspots in Riau on Thursday, a sharp falling from 281 on Wednesday. Despite this, however, Pekanbaru and its surrounding areas were still experiencing visibility of only 800 meters. (yln)

Peat fires in Sumatra pose hazy challenge for firefighters
Devianti Faridz Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 14;

SUMATRA: Indonesian firefighting teams are in the midst of battling forest and plantation fires across central Sumatra as part of an effort to prevent hazardous levels of haze from spreading.

As well as dangerous fire fronts, the firefighters are facing numerous logistical issues as they attempt to tackle the blazes both above and below the ground.

Last week, the area in Mandau sub-district was on fire and in just three days, the fire spread and burned 150 hectares of land which amounts to half of all the land area owned by local villagers.

The surface fire is just part of the problem. The peat fires that are raging underground are posing a bigger challenge for the firefighters.

Local villagers have come along to help the Mandau district firefighting team to extinguish the peat fire before it spreads to the residential areas.

Zulkarnaen, team leader of the Mandau Firefighters, said: "Peat fires are difficult to extinguish. We have to drench it in water because the heat spreads underground. That's the biggest challenge we face."

One of the challenges of putting out forest and plantation fires in Mandau is its remote location and lack of access to water sources. Villagers have been trying to douse the fire using their small motorbike machine washer.

Fortunately, the areas that firefighters are trying to extinguish are located near a canal.

However, for areas that are currently smouldering on, there isn't any nearby water source and firefighters admit that fires in remote areas can only be put out by heavy rainfall.

And with the current dry spell across the region, that sort of natural relief is unlikely to come any time soon.

- CNA/fa

Daily peatland fires at Indonesia’s Riau province
Devianti Faridz Channel NewsAsia 21 Feb 14;

RIAU: Indonesia's Riau province is facing dry spells, and according to local authorities, some farmers are using the dry conditions to illegally clear land, which causes plantation fires and the haze to return.

Firefighters at Duri City are facing an uphill task as they combat fires on a daily basis.

The men are part of a larger force of 60 firefighters who have been assigned to the Bengkalis regency, which is the most affected area.

Out of 70 hotspots recorded on Thursday, more than half are found in the Bengkalis regency.

Firefighter Zulkarnaen and his team said they can put out two hotspots, which is roughly a hectare of land, each day.

But he admits they cannot keep up as the fire continues to spread fast.

Zulkarnaen, who is team leader of Mandau Firefighters, said: "We try to do our best with whatever equipment and manpower we have. Obviously it's not enough, because hot spots don't come at us from one direction but from all four corners.”

Peatland fires in a certain area can reappear a few weeks later, forcing firefighters to return to the same spot to put out the underground fire and resulting smoke.

Zulkarnaen said: "Peatland fires are difficult to extinguish. It can't be put out after one douse of water. We have to drench it in water because the heat spreads underground.
That's the biggest challenge we face."

Firefighters are also trying to tap into nearby water sources to prevent the fire from spreading.

Fortunately, the areas affected by such fires are located near a canal, but for the areas that are currently smouldering on the horizon, there isn't any nearby water source.

Suiswantoro, head of the firefighting team at Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency, said: "If we are short on water supply, the alternative would be to make shallow water canals around the periphery or block canals so that it overflows. In one or two days, the water will flow into the peatlands.”

In 2013, Riau was under a haze disaster emergency programme, but since then, there has been no increase in allocation of resources.

Right now, only six firefighting vehicles and 10 portable fire extinguishers are available to cover an area eleven times the size of Singapore.

- CNA/nd

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Earth's green canopy gets an online protector

Marcelo Teixeira PlanetArk 21 Feb 14;

A new online monitoring system will make it possible to quickly check the condition of tropical forests around the globe that were previously under no surveillance, potentially increasing pressure on governments to stop deforestation.

Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI) will provide public access on Thursday to the new tool to evaluate forests worldwide. Global Forest Watch (GFW) was developed by dozens of institutions with the help of Google Inc's Earth Engine.

It promises to improve scrutiny of changes in forest cover in vulnerable areas of Southeast Asia, Africa and the Amazon.

"For the first time, we have united in one place powerful satellite information analyzed in a way that is easy to understand," said Nigel Sizer, director of WRI's Global Forest Initiative.

The system uses high resolution data from half a billion Landsat satellite images to measure tree cover loss or gain. It also carries a tree cover loss alert, pinpointing where new forest clearing occurs.

"With the exception of Brazil, none of the tropical forest countries have been able to report the state of their forests," said Rebecca Moore, engineering manager with Google Earth Outreach and Earth Engine. "Now it will be possible to have near real-time updates of the state of the world's forests, open to anyone to use."

The project was made possible by the Landsat imagery archives opened to the public in 2008 by the U.S. Geological Service, Moore said.

WRI expects the new system to also increase the pressure on commodities suppliers in countries where forests are at risk.

Swiss food giant Nestle said the new tool could contribute to better oversight of suppliers of raw materials such as meat, soy and palm oil.

"It is going to help us dramatically to refine our work on the ground, in places where we think there might be issues with our supply chain," said Duncan Pollard, associate vice president for sustainability at Nestle, a program collaborator.

Global Forest Watch will embed key information in the images. For example, it will be possible to check which palm oil company is operating in a specific area of Indonesia where images have shown recent forest destruction. That could lead to a buyer canceling purchases from a supplier, WRI's Sizer said.

Carlos Souza, from Brazilian forest research center Imazon, a partner in the program, said projects to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation could receive a boost due to increased data transparency.

"Investors could feel more comfortable to take part in projects if they can track forest loss," Souza said.

The governments of Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States are among the largest donors for the initial investment of $25 million to build the tool.

(Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Global Warming 'Hiatus' Is an Illusion, Study Finds

Carlton Wilkinson Yahoo News 20 Feb 14;

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A new study may shed some light on one of the most controversial aspects of the current global warming debate. The problem is frequently framed in headlines as a question, "Has Global Warming Stopped?"

The short answer is and always has been "no," it hasn't stopped. It hasn't even slowed down. Sea levels continue to rise inexorably. Arctic Sea ice and Antarctic glacier cover continue their shrinking trends. Weather patterns continue to change dramatically.

But let's back up.

Global surface temperatures have been rising more or less since the outset of the Industrial Revolution. Presumably this rise in temperatures is linked to the correlating rise in CO2 and other heat-trapping gasses in the troposphere, the layer of atmosphere closest to the earth.

However, for reasons scientists haven't been able to fully explain, those surface atmosphere temperatures have flattened out in recent years, beginning about 2001. Skeptics of global warming science love this: It seems to undercut the findings of the scientific mainstream and throw the whole question of long-term global warming into the trash heap. If CO2 emissions were causing global warming, then surface temperatures should continue to rise. Since they haven't, global warming can't be real.

Skeptics have termed this a "pause" or a "hiatus" in global warming. As recently as Feb. 3, in Forbes, this anomaly in the data was being touted as evidence that climate scientists have "oversold" the risks of climate change. Those denialist arguments ignore the larger trend, as I have pointed out in earlier articles. But even while the anomaly in the data may pose no threat to global warming models generally, it's cause remained a mystery.

Recently, in a study published in the most recent issue of Nature Climate Change, a scientific peer-review journal, a team of scientists led by Australian Matt England found that warmer surface water in the Pacific is being pushed westward by equatorial trade winds that are much stronger than expected. As the warmed surface water hits the western continental shelf it is driven downward into the lower depths. The action of the trade winds effectively cools the observable surface temperature by mixing the heat into the deep water.

"The oceans have this amazing capacity to suck up heat," England said in a phone interview from his home in Australia Wednesday (very early Thursday morning according to his clock). "The ocean absorbs 90% of the heat of the climate system, so if you're looking for global warming that's where you have to look."

While overall global warming predictions are panning out accurately, "I think we've discovered that the models are coming up short in terms of decadal variability," England said.

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Big Antarctic glacier to keep raising seas, even without warming

Alister Doyle Reuters 20 Feb 14;

(Reuters) - A thawing Antarctic glacier that is the biggest contributor to rising sea levels is likely to continue shrinking for decades, even without an extra spur from global warming, a study showed on Thursday.

Scientists said the Pine Island Glacier, which carries more water to the sea than the Rhine River, also thinned 8,000 years ago at rates comparable to the present, in a melt that lasted for decades, perhaps for centuries.

"Our findings reveal that Pine Island Glacier has experienced rapid thinning at least once in the past, and that, once set in motion, rapid ice sheet changes in this region can persist for centuries," they wrote in the U.S. journal Science.

A creeping rise in sea levels is a threat to low-lying coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, and to cities from London to Shanghai. Of the world's biggest glaciers, in Antarctica and Greenland, Pine Island is the largest contributor.

The trigger of the ancient thinning, of about a metre (3 ft) a year, was probably a natural climate shift that warmed the sea and melted the floating end of the glacier, removing a buttress that let ice on land slide more quickly into the sea.

"It seems to be a similar mechanism now ... it could easily continue for decades," Professor Mike Bentley of Durham University in England, a co-leader of the project that included experts in the United States and Germany, told Reuters.

Other studies indicate that a build-up of man-made greenhouse gases, rather than natural shifts, is behind the warmer waters blamed for an accelerating thinning and retreat of the glacier in the past two decades, he said.

Regardless of the cause, the glacier's history suggests that nations may have to factor several centimetres of rising sea level from Pine Island alone into their planning for coastal defences. Experts are studying the history of other glaciers for clues to their future.


"The amount of ice being lost from Pine Island glacier is equivalent to every person on our planet pouring 10 pints of water into the ocean every day," Professor Andrew Shepherd, an expert at the University of Leeds who was not involved in the study, told Reuters. "That's the last thing our flood defences need right now."

The United Nations' panel on climate change says that global warming means that sea levels are likely to rise 26 to 82 cms (10-32 inches) by the late 21st century, after a gain of almost 20 cms over the last 100 years.

Scientists uncovered the Pine Island glacier's past thinning by studying quartz rocks in which the element beryllium changes when exposed to cosmic rays that bombard the planet's surface.

"It's like a stopwatch," James Smith, an author of the study at the British Antarctic Survey, told Reuters.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Larry King)

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