Best of our wild blogs: 2 Sep 15

FREE Guided Herp Walks @ Lower Peirce!
Herpetological Society of Singapore

Changi with otter sighting
wild shores of singapore

Malaysian Pied Fantail feeding a juvenile Rusty-breasted Cuckoo
Singapore Bird Group

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Slight haze expected on Wednesday: NEA

The air quality is expected to be in the Moderate range on Wednesday (Sep 3), says the National Environment Agency.
Channel NewsAsia 1 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Slight haze may be expected on Wednesday (Sep 2), with the air quality forecast to be in the Moderate range, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

In an advisory, NEA said the number of hotspots in Sumatra increased to 380 on Tuesday, up from 222 on Monday.

In Singapore, the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was 91 at 8pm and the 24-hour reading was 63-70, which is in the Moderate range.

“Widespread moderate to dense” smoke haze was observed in southern and central Sumatra on Tuesday, NEA added. There may be “occasional slight haze” in Singapore on Wednesday if the winds shift to blow from the south, the agency said.

- CNA/xq

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Malaysia: Johor folk hope cloud seeding will end water rationing

The Star 2 Sep 15;

NUSAJAYA: While the people in other states are hoping for rain facing the haze to get rid of the haze, those in Johor are hoping cloud-seeding operations will bring an end to water rationing.

Cloud-seeding operations in the airspace over Sungai Layang dam are expected to be conducted within two weeks of the water rationing period being lifted on Sept 15.

Johor Works, Regional and Rural Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said that although it rained the last few days, the water level in the dam was still low.

“With the help and cooperation of the Singapore Consulate-General office in Johor Baru, we need not wait for an official reply and need only notify the date and method of the operation to be executed,” he told reporters yesterday.

Earlier, he attended the Green Technology and Climate Change Council meeting chaired by Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin.

Hasni said the matter was being handled by the Johor Meteorological Department and no longer at the federal level.

The water level at the Sungai Layang dam has dropped to 18.99m below the normal 26.6m and the rationing would only be lifted if it climbs above 23.5m, he said.

“Due to climate change, we only receive 50% of rainfall at present,” he said, adding that Johor received an annual average rainfall of 2,500mm.

In the long term, he said the state government would receive raw water supply of at least 30 million litres daily for public consumption once the Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid) in Pengerang starts operation.

There were also plans to pump raw water from Sungai Johor, said Hasni. — Bernama

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Malaysia: It’ll be hazy for some time

LOSHANA K. SHAGAR The Star 2 sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysians will have to bear with the hazy situation for at least another two to three weeks before the inter-monsoon period kicks in.

The Meteorological Department said the high number of hotspots in Sumatra, along with the current wind pattern, had brought in the haze.

“During the current southwest monsoon, the wind direction is from Indonesia towards Malaysia. With the forest fires in Indonesia, we end up experiencing the haze.

“On Monday evening, we observed that there were still over 200 hotspots in Sumatra and this number must decrease over the next few weeks for haze not to reach unsafe levels,” said National Weather Centre senior meteorologist Dr Hisham Mohd Anip.

As at yesterday evening, the Air Pollutant Index for most areas in the country was within the moderate levels of 51 to 100, which is still considered safe for generally healthy people.

However, Dr Hisham advised those prone to breathing problems or other health issues to take extra precautions.

“For the time being, try to reduce outdoor activity or anything that requires spending a long time inhaling the air outside because the air quality is not healthy right now,” he said.

Although the haze is expected to last for the next few weeks, the department predicts a brief respite tomorrow and Friday with a minor shift anticipated in the wind pattern.

“At this time, we are expecting the winds to shift so it blows from Malaysia to Indonesia instead.

“After the two days, the return of the haze will depend on the situation in Indonesia. If it has not improved, then expect the haze to return,” said Dr Hisham.

He further observed that while there would be rain in some places, these would be isolated and would not help improve the situation.

“Very little rain is forecast for the next few weeks until the inter-monsoon, which is expected to begin in the second or third week of September.

“Only after that, we may experience more rainfall and improved weather conditions,” he said.

In Putrajaya, Bernama quoted Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar as saying the haze is also expected to occur in western and northern Sarawak.

Not much improvement in Penang either
The Star 2 Sep 15;

GEORGE TOWN: Penang is still shrouded by haze with Air Pollutant Index (API) readings at three monitoring stations here recording a moderate level.

As at 4pm yesterday, the Department of Environment’s monitoring stations in Seberang Jaya 2, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Prai recorded API levels were at 79, 72 and 68 respectively.

Visibility in Bayan Lepas was 4km as at 5pm.

According to the Meteorological Department’s website, there was a forecast of isolated rain and thunderstorms until next week.

An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy), and 301 and above (hazardous).

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Malaysia: Large haul of “Tiger” and other wildlife parts

TRAFFIC 2 Sep 15;

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 2015—Authorities in Malaysia have busted a syndicate that claimed to be selling tiger and other wildlife parts and arrested three Indian nationals.

Last week, authorities seized five skins, 471 claws, 25 canines, 309 fragments of skin and 17 paws, all claimed by the syndicate to be tiger parts.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ (Perhilitan) Wildlife Crime Unit also found dozens of unidentified wildlife skin, 22 parts of various other animals as well as 120 and 242 bangles said to contain elephant hair. All items will be subjected to DNA forensics testing.

Two men and a woman from India have been remanded for four days and are being investigated under Section 68 and 87 of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 which relate to possession and claims to contain totally protected species.

Following a tip off, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ (Perhilitan) Wildlife Crime Unit investigated the suspects and organized a bust. The traders and suppliers of the gang were arrested on 26th August in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The investigation and raid was part of Perhilitan’s Ops Geng Rajja.

Perhilitan Law Enforcement Director Abdul Kadir Hashim told a press conference initial investigations also revealed that it was not the trio’s first visit to Malaysia.

Abdul Kadir told press a similar case was reported in June 2013 and authorities were looking into possible links between the syndicates involved in both cases. Authorities also believe that the wildlife parts were sourced from India, making this an international operation.

He also said that the Department would consider alternative charges under the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, if forensic results point to non-native species.

“This case is a true reflection of how law enforcement and investigations can crack down on trafficking,’’ said Kanitha Krishnasamy, TRAFFIC Programme Manager in Southeast Asia.

“TRAFFIC particularly welcomes the Department’s achievement in helping shut down this syndicate’s operations. Very often items for sale purporting to be Tiger parts are not genuine, but regardless of their authenticity, those purchasing such items help to fuel the demand for endangered species.”

Abdul Kadir said: “The fact that groups like this keep substantial stocks and operate in the open means that people are buying tiger parts despite knowing that it is against the law. We urge the public to stop creating the demand that drives poaching and illegal trade.”

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Indonesia: Haze disrupts flights at Batam airport

Antara 1 Sep 15;

Batam, Riau Islands (ANTARA News) - The haze from forest and bush fires disrupted numerous flights from several cities in Sumatra Island such as Palembang, Pekanbaru, Padang, and Medan to Batam Island, Tuesday morning, the Hang Nadim International Airport authority revealed.

Among the commercial flights delayed as a result of the reduced visibility were Citilinks QG-930 and Lion Airs JT-957, JT-3238, and JT-827, Head of the Hang Nadim International Airports Public Affairs Division, Suwarso, stated here Tuesday.

"A Wings Air flight bound for Tanjungkarang in Lampung Province is also delayed," he noted, adding that the thick smog, which had caused low visibility, had also disrupted two flights from Jambi Province to Batam Island in Riau Islands Province on Monday.

The flights were Lion Airs JT-139 and Nam Airs IN 9886, he remarked.

The reduced visibility, which has delayed flights at several prime airports in Sumatra Island, including Batam, Singapores closest neighbor, is due to the impact of forest and bush fires in provinces such as South Sumatra and Jambi.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has even pledged to deploy an MI-171 helicopter for conducting a water bombing mission in Jambi on Tuesday due to an increase in the number of forest and bush fires in the province.(*)

Haze disrupts flights at Balikpapan airport 1 Sep 15;

Garuda Indonesia's flights in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, have been delayed the past two days as a result of haze.

"We have been waiting for our flight to Palangkaraya for more than two hours," said passenger Amir Syarifuddin at the Sepinggan International Airport in Balikpapan on Tuesday morning as quoted by

According to Garuda Indonesia public relations officer in Balikpapan Ecky Lazuardi, for the past two days flights were disrupted as a result of the haze. On Monday, the authorities of Sepinggan Airport had also delayed the carrier's departure on the Balikpapan-Palangkaraya-Pontianak route of up to four hours.

"The delay also occurred in the morning, just like today," said Ecky.

Garuda uses an ATR aircraft, which can accommodate 70 passengers, to serve the Balikpapan-Palangkaraya-Pontianak route, which, according to Ecky, has limited visibility when the air is clouded by haze.

"Of course we have to prioritize the safety of our passengers," said Ecky. (nov/kes)(++++)

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Indonesia Facing 'Haze Emergency,' Environmental Group Warns

Jakarta Globe 1 Sep 15;

Jakarta. Indonesia faces an emergency situation over the volume and severity of haze generated by forest fires, a leading environmental watchdog says.

The annual forest fires, typically started during the dry season to clear rainforests for farmland, have worsened over the past 17 years, according to Abetnego Tarigan, executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi). So pervasive is the problem, particularly on the island of Sumatra, that Abetnego categorized the forest destruction as “systematic.”

At least 66 districts in five provinces – Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra in Sumatra; and West and Central Kalimantan on Indonesian Borneo – have regularly been hit by severe fires in the past five years, Walhi records show. A total of 20,253 fire hot spots were detected in those areas last year, up from 18,789 in 2011.

“The government needs to take firm legal action against the companies in whose concessions the fires occur,” Abetnego said in Jakarta on Tuesday.

He urged the government to review the permits of concession holders in these areas and also to take measures to rehabilitate areas damaged by fires, mostly in or near concessions earmarked for oil palm plantations.

Musri Nauli, the head of Walhi’s Jambi chapter, said the haze generated by the forest fires posed environment, social and public health threats.

“The forest fires in Jambi cause the loss of a great deal of biodiversity. Many medicinal plants will be lost, and children’s health will deteriorate due to the haze,” he said.

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Indonesia: Red tape hampering efforts to deal with forest fires

The Jakarta Post 31 Aug 15;

The government knows how to solve the problem of forest fires but has yet to implement the solution, a senior Environment and Forestry Ministry official has said.

Nur Masripatin, the director general for climate change with the ministry said that the government would continue conducting feasibility studies before taking action.

“More than 90 percent of forest fires in Indonesia are caused by humans. The government already knows this and the solutions, but we have yet to implement them. I’ve studied your recommendations. Some can be carried out, but we need to see the feasibility and consequences of doing so,” Nur said in a high-level policy dialogue, called Finding and Mainstreaming Long Term Solutions to Fire and Haze in Indonesia, held by the ministry and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

CIFOR recommends the government allocate a higher proportion of the national budget for fire prevention. Currently the budget for forest fires reserves 90 percent for fire fighting and preparedness and 10 percent for prevention. The institution suggests the government also allocate more toward peat land restoration.

CIFOR found in research conducted in 2014 and 2015 that 70 percent of forest fires in Indonesia are caused by the draining of peat lands for agriculture use.

“Allocate a large part of the national budget to restore peat lands to hydrological equilibrium. The government may use rehabilitation funds or the commodities export tax to pay for peat land restoration on a large scale,” David Gaveau, a landscape scientist of CIFOR said.

Nur said that she agreed with the proposal, but added that, at least in the next two years, the government should still allocate more for fire fighting effort. “For example in Jambi, we still need Air Tractors,” she said.

CIFOR also recommended the establishment of an emergency task force to address the immediate risks that over time would evolve into a designated official multi-level coordinating committee to follow up on fire prevention.

Nur said that the government opted not to establish a new task force because it already had all the institutions it needed.

However, she acknowledged that bureaucratic red tape slows down the implementation of programs.

“For example, according to the regulation, the BNPB [National Disaster Mitigation Agency] can only take actions after approval from the central government,” she said.

In its recommendation, CIFOR also wanted the government to mandate companies not to buy commodities produced on land cleared with the slash-and-burn method.

The director for Strategic Stakeholder Engagement of Sinarmas Agribusiness and Food Agus, Purnomo, however, said that such a ban would not be enough since small-scale palm oil producers could still sell to markets in China and India.

“When we don’t buy from them, they still sell it to China and India. The government needs to control this. Besides, a lot of them may not pay tax,” Agus said.

A fire expert from Bogor Agriculture University, Bambang Hero Saharjo, meanwhile, emphasized the need for the government to ensure companies have proper fire detection equipment and systems.

“From the results of a ministry audit in Riau in 2014, none of the 17 big companies audited there were equipped with proper facilities for fire prevention. Even the regional agencies do not know the qualifications for the proper facilities,” Bambang said. (rbk)

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Indonesia's Widodo Orders Flooding of Villages Behind New Dam

Chris Brummitt Bloomberg 1 Sep 15;

Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered that a dam which has been delayed for decades be switched on, forcing the remaining villagers to evacuate as the valley fills with water over the next seven months.

Initial filling of the Jatigede Dam in West Java started Monday with Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono sounding a siren. Still in the way of the irrigation and hydroelectric-power project: about a fifth of the 40,000 villagers living in the valley who have yet to receive compensation.

“Where are we going to go?” said Casma Casmita, a rice farmer who was born in the village of Cipaku, near the dam. He says he received 29 million rupiah ($2,060) in compensation, but has nowhere to move to. “Where is my son going to go to school? We are not moving, we are being driven out.”

Around him, villagers dismantled their homes while their children attended school. They have been told the water will reach them in 52 days, sooner if it rains.

Villagers have been given plenty of time to move out and they are being compensated, said Hadimuljono. “We have been planning this for months. Up until last night we were combing villages looking for holdouts.”

It’s the second time within days that Jokowi, as the president is known, has pushed ahead with a power project over the objections of landowners and villagers. On Friday, the president attended a ceremony to start construction of a $4 billion coal-fired power project in Batang, Central Java, even as some farmers hold out against selling their land.

The determination to force through infrastructure encapsulates Indonesia’s struggle to forge a modern economy in its scattered archipelago of more than 17,000 islands. The country can generate only about 53 gigawatts of power, less than Australia, which has about one-tenth of the population.

To change that, Jokowi has to overturn centuries of culture based on an agrarian society. Land, and especially rice fields, are central to the social hierarchy and the loss of precious farms, fear of unemployment and pollution, and allegations of corruption have hardened resistance to change.

“It looks either desperate or exasperated,” said Paul Rowland, an independent Jakarta-based political consultant. “He is staking personal prestige on these things. If it works, he is golden. If it doesn’t, he risks losing public confidence on a key issue.”

In Cipaku, one of the first villages that will be flooded for the Jatigede Dam, at least 1,000 people remain even though the director of dams at the public works ministry said earlier Monday it had been emptied. Villagers were piling up tiles and wooden beams and washing cupboards as they took apart their homes.

“There is a place to put rubbish, why is there no place to put me and my family?” said Casmita, the farmer.

Planning for the Jatigede Dam on the Cimanuk River stretches back to at least the 1960s. A World Bank report from 1979 said the Indonesian government had decided not to proceed because of the cost of construction and relocation of residents.

Construction of the dam finally began in 2007 and was largely completed last year by Sinohydro Corp. under an engineering, procurement and construction contract. The Beijing-based company, the world’s largest dam builder, says it has 40 overseas dams under construction. The dam was funded by a concessionary loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.

An attempt to flood people out of their homes to make the dam operational would violate World Bank guidelines on resettlement.

“Trying to resettle and compensate affected people during dam construction has led to project failures and human rights disasters around the world,” said Peter Bosshard, interim executive director of International Rivers, an advocacy group. “The Indonesian government has raised hopes of people’s power, and should not sacrifice the livelihoods of poor farmers in its projects.”

While the dam is ready, it can’t start while people are still living in the valley, Sinohydro President Liang Jun said in an interview Monday.

The relocation program “is the responsibility of the client, in this case the Indonesian government,” he said on the dam overlooking the valley before the government started flooding it. “The country needs this dam. The local people are waiting for water.”

The Jatigede Dam’s $150 million turbines are expected to start operating in 2019, according to Sinohydro’s website. The dam would flood almost 50 square kilometers (19 square miles). It will be Indonesia’s second-largest dam, according to the website of the public works ministry.

At the Batang power project Jokowi inaugurated on Friday, full-scale work at the site in central Java will begin when the remaining 10 percent of land is acquired, said Masao Kitakaze, a Tokyo-based spokesman for Japan’s Electric Power Development Co., one of the project’s developers.

On June 30, the Central Java government issued a notice assigning state electricity company PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara the right to use a 2012 land law to acquire the remaining 12.5 hectares of land for the Batang project. The land law, which was formulated to speed up bottlenecked public infrastructure projects, allows for compulsory purchase of land within set timeframes.

“The problem is that if they use the land acquisition law, it could take up to two years and he doesn’t have two years to wait,” said Rowland, the political consultant.

At the Jatigede Dam, Jokowi had ordered the project to begin flooding the valley on July 1 but delayed the start because compensation had not been arranged for several thousand villagers. He set a new deadline for Aug. 31. The process has been complicated because a previous government made payments to thousands of villagers in the 1980s. When there was no progress on construction then, the villagers returned or never left.

While about 20 percent of the 40,000 villagers living in the valley have yet to receive compensation, these are in the high villages so they have some time to be paid, according to Imam Santoso, the director of dams at the public works ministry.

“You need to remember we have already acquired the land,” West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan said Monday, referring to payments made to villages in 1982 and 1986. “The government has been so good to give them extra.”

Jokowi issued a decree in January ordering the public works ministry to pay compensation to people living in 28 villages affected by the project. The money was to provide new homes and livelihoods. The decree said the dam was needed to provide irrigation and power.

“This dam is going to be a disaster,” said Dewi Amelia, a member of an activist group. “Thousands are still waiting for money, the environmental impact isn’t clear and it will end the culture of hard work and togetherness of those living here.”

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Intense, widespread algal blooms reported in Chesapeake Bay

Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Science Daily 1 Sep 15;

An exceptionally dense bloom of Alexandrium monilatum was observed in lower Chesapeake Bay along the north shore of the York River between Sarah's Creek and the Perrin River on 8/17/2015.
Credit: W. Vogelbein/VIMS.

Water sampling and aerial photography by researchers at William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science show that the algal blooms currently coloring lower Chesapeake Bay are among the most intense and widespread of recent years.

VIMS professor Kimberly Reece reports that water samples collected near the mouth of the York River on August 17 contained up to 200,000 algal cells per milliliter, the densest concentration she has seen in nearly 10 years of field sampling. A sample with a concentration of even 1,000 algal cells per milliliter is visible to the naked eye and considered dense enough to be called a bloom.

The current blooms are dominated by a single-celled protozoan called Alexandrium monilatum, an algal species known to release toxins harmful to other marine life, particularly larval shellfish and finfish. Since mid-August, VIMS has received sporadic and localized reports of small numbers of dead fish, oysters, and crabs from the lower York River and adjacent Bay waters associated with nearby blooms, although a direct cause/effect relationship has not been established for any of these events.

Aerial photography and water sampling by VIMS professor Wolfgang Vogelbein between August 17th and 27th confirmed the blooms' intensity in the lower York River, and revealed that they extended much farther up the York River and out into Chesapeake Bay than previously reported. The flyovers were facilitated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

"This is new and important information," says Vogelbein, "as we have never appreciated that Alexandrium extends so far into the mainstem of the Bay or so far up the York River." Bloom patches in the mainstem reach from the York River to the mouth of the Rappahannock River, across the Bay to within 3-4 miles of Cape Charles, and as far south as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The bloom patches are most dense on the western side of the Bay, with other areas experiencing less activity. "The main body of the bloom is several miles off shore," says Vogelbein, "and thus wasn't appreciated prior to the recent flyovers."

Alexandrium monilatum is one of several species of harmful algae that are of emerging concern in Chesapeake Bay. It was first conclusively detected in Bay waters in 2007, when Reece and colleagues used microscopy and DNA sequences to identify it as the dominant species of a bloom that persisted for several weeks in the York River. There are generic reports of Alexandrium in the Bay from the mid-1940s, and specific reports of A. monilatum in the mid-1960s, but none in the intervening decades.

The recent sampling and aerial photography show that the epicenter of the A. monilatum bloom is near the mouth of the York River. Smaller, less dense patches are visible within Mobjack Bay and its tributaries, the Back and Poquoson rivers, and near the mouth of the James and Elizabeth rivers.

Reports of algal blooms in the lower York River started around July 22nd. As in recent years, the initial summer blooms began with concentrations of the alga Cochlodinium polykrikoides, before shifting after 2-3 weeks into blooms dominated by A. monilatum. As of the last week of August, the A. monilatum bloom in the York River persists but has grown markedly less dense.

New tools to better understand blooms and toxins

Monitoring the scope and impacts of an algal bloom is notoriously difficult, particularly in areas like Chesapeake Bay where tides, winds, currents, and a convoluted shoreline combine to create blooms that are both patchy and ephemeral.

A further complication is that the blooms typically contain a changing mix of algal species, some of which may or may not--depending on environmental conditions--produce the toxins that transform an innocuous algal aggregation into a harmful algal bloom or HAB.

"We see high variation among our samples," says Reece, "even between those that were collected from sites a few hundred yards apart or taken from the same site a few hours apart."

To better characterize local blooms and their potential impacts, Reece and Vogelbein have recently joined with colleagues at VIMS and other institutions to bring new tools and techniques to their efforts.

One of these collaborations involves the use of Dataflow, a high-tech instrument used to monitor water quality over large areas. Deployed from a small boat operating at speeds up to 25 knots, Dataflow passes surface water collected through a keel-mounted pipe past an array of water-quality sensors that record dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature, turbidity, chlorophyll, and pH--all parameters that relate to algal abundance.

In mid-August, VIMS professor Iris Anderson teamed with colleagues Jen Stanhope, Hunter Walker, and Gail Scott to run Dataflow through several bloom patches in the lower York River. This was supplemented by a simultaneous Dataflow run in the lower James River by colleagues at Old Dominion University and the Hampton Roads Sanitation District. Both teams are now comparing their sensor data with water samples taken enroute to further explore potential links between water quality and bloom characteristics.

The Dataflow runs got a serendipitous boost from an ongoing study of algal productivity by VIMS professor Mark Brush and post-doctoral researcher Sam Lake. Their monthly sampling of photosynthesis and respiration in the York River happened to take place on the same day and will help put the Dataflow measurements in a seasonal context.

On yet another front, VIMS professor Jian Shen will feed data from the Dataflow runs into his three-dimensional computer model of water flow in Chesapeake Bay. The model holds promise for predicting bloom dynamics, potentially giving shellfish growers and other concerned parties advance warning of any impacts.

The Dataflow cruises in the York and James rivers were also accompanied by over-flights from a NASA Langley airplane that was equipped with electromagnetic sensors and cameras, and by the collection of data from NASA satellites. Researchers are now "ground-truthing" the aerial and satellite imagery by comparing it with direct measurements of algae and water quality from samples collected at the same time and in the imaged locations.

Reece sees great promise in collaborating with scientists at NASA and NOAA to advance model development and the use of remote sensing for predicting algal bloom patterns in Chesapeake Bay.

Lab work and bioassays

Once water samples from a bloom are returned to VIMS, researchers in a number of labs begin the laborious process of identifying the species present and characterizing any toxins.

Members of the Reece lab--Bill Jones, Gail Scott, and Alanna MacIntyre--use both microscopic analyses and DNA tests to identify potentially harmful algal species. Development of these molecular DNA assays is a primary focus of Reece's research at VIMS. The lab group plans to extract and analyze DNA from about 300 of the 500 water samples collected so far this summer.

VIMS professor Juliette Smith--working with adjunct professor Tom Harris--has focused her efforts on characterizing the complex array of toxins that algae can generate. "A single cell can produce multiple toxins," says Smith. "In addition, the same toxin can be produced by multiple species. For instance, saxitoxins, which cause paralytic shellfish poisoning, can be produced by both dinoflagellates and cyanobacteria."

Smith and other researchers at VIMS are also testing to what degree bloom-derived toxins might be moving up the food web to impact marine life and potentially human health. Graduate student Sarah Pease is using funds from Virginia Sea Grant to monitor the health of caged oysters in waters near the Goodwin Islands, and is also working with Smith to conduct toxin analyses on oyster tissues.

Pease and Patrice Mason--members of Vogelbein's lab--are conducting toxicity "bioassays" with algae from both laboratory cultures and field samples. These tests involve bathing small numbers of oysters and finfish--both larvae and adults--in waters with increasing concentrations of algal cells and, more recently, isolated and purified toxins. They are a standard method for gauging the effects of HABs on living organisms. This year's bioassays are still in progress.

Story Source: The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The original item was written by David Malmquist. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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This year's El Nino weather pattern could be strongest on record: experts

Tom Miles Reuters Yahoo News 2 Sep 15;

GENEVA (Reuters) - The current El Nino weather phenomenon is expected peak between October and January and could turn into one of the strongest on record, experts from the World Meteorological Organization said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Climate models and experts suggest surface waters in the east-central Pacific Ocean are likely to be more than 2 degrees hotter than average, potentially making this El Nino one of the strongest ever.

Typically, the warm air above the eastern Pacific is causing increased precipitation over the west coast of South America and dry conditions over the Australia/Indonesia archipelago and the Southeast Asia region, said Maxx Dilley, director of the WMO's Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch.

El Nino can also bring higher rainfall and sometimes flooding to the Horn of Africa, but causes drier conditions in southern Africa, Dilley said.

Climate scientists are better prepared than ever with prediction models and data on El Nino patterns, but the impact of this El Nino in the northern hemisphere is hard to forecast because there is also an Arctic warming effect at work on the Atlantic jetstream current.

"The truth is we don't know what will happen. Will the two patterns reinforce each other? Will they cancel each other? Are they going to act in sequence? Are they going to be regional? We really don't know," said David Carlson, the director of the World Climate Research Program.

This El Nino could also be followed abruptly by a cooling La Nina, which, along with the advance of global warming, was adding to the uncertainty, Carlson said.

"I think we all think that there's some climate warming signals starting to show up in the El Nino record," he said.

But he added that it is still unclear how global warming is affected the frequency or magnitude of El Nino events.

Since 1950, strong El Nino events occurred in 1972-3, 1982-3 and 1997-8.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Current El Nino climate event 'among the strongest'
Matt McGrath BBC News 2 Sep 15;

The current El Nino weather phenomenon could be one of the strongest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The event occurs when the waters of the Pacific become exceptionally warm and distort weather patterns around the world.

Researchers say parts of the Pacific are likely to be 2C warmer than usual.

The WMO says that this year's event is strengthening and will peak by the end of this year.

The strongest El Nino on record was in 1997-98, but there were events that were significantly above the norm in 1972-73 and again ten years later in 1982-83.

Scientists say that the event now underway is sending sea temperatures in parts of the Pacific to levels not seen since the late 1990s.
In a statement the WMO said that this El Nino was gathering strength.

"Models and expert opinion suggest that surface water temperatures in the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean are likely to exceed 2C above average, potentially placing this El Nino event among the four strongest events since 1950," it said.

The WMO says that patterns of cloudiness and rainfall near the international dateline developed during the second quarter of this year and have been well maintained.

These patterns are considered essential in triggering El Nino's global climate impacts which are more likely to be felt over the next six to eight months.

"Compared to the last major El Nino event in 1997-1998, there is much more information available," said Maxx Dilley from WMO.
"We have better models and are much more prepared."

"It is a test case for the early warning systems and climate information systems of WMO members and we are hoping that will be of assistance to some of the affected countries," said Mr Dilley

The phenomenon can alter established weather patterns in different parts of the world, bringing severe drought to parts of Asia while at the same time bringing heavy flooding to some parts of North America.

It can increase flooding in the Horn of Africa while making Southern Africa drier.

The events are likely to lead to a decrease in storm events in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico and an increase in storminess in the eastern Pacific.

This El Nino has also impacted the South Asian monsoon.

"We are seeing that the Indian monsoon right now is almost 12% below normal. There is only a month left of the summer monsoon season making it difficult to recover," said WMO's El Nino expert Rupa Kumar Kolli.

"That was the kind of early warning information we can extract from the El Nino signal and it helps policy makers to prepare," he said.
Currently, the Pacific is seeing a surge of hurricane activity, with three category four strength tropical storms swirling around the Hawaiian islands.

Researchers say that these hurricanes can disrupt the predominant easterly trade winds that are found along the equator. This disruption allows more heat to build up in the eastern part of the Pacific, adding more fuel to stormy conditions.

But researchers cautioned that the scale of impacts, especially in the northern hemisphere, is very hard to read because there is also an Arctic warming effect seen in the Atlantic jet stream.

"The truth is we don't know what will happen. Will the two patterns reinforce each other? Will they cancel each other? Are they going to act in sequence? Are they going to be regional? We really don't know," David Carlson, the director of the World Climate Research Programme, told news agencies.

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