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Friday, February 29, 2008

WAIS: Western Antarctic Glaciers Melting At 20 Times Former Rate, Rock Analysis Shows

ScienceDaily (Feb. 29, 2008) — Boulders the size footballs could help scientists predict the West Antarctic Ice Sheet's (WAIS) contribution to sea-level rise according to new research.

Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Durham University and Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) collected boulders deposited by three glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment -- a region currently the focus of intense international scientific attention because it is changing faster than anywhere else on the WAIS and it has the potential to raise sea-level by around 1.5 metres.

Analysis of the boulders has enabled the scientists to start constructing a long-term picture of glacier behaviour in the region. An urgent task is to put recent ice sheet changes into a historical context, and determine if these are part of a natural retreat since the end of the last glacial period (about 20 thousands years ago), or if they are a result of recent human-induced climate change.

Lead author Dr Joanne Johnson of BAS says, "Until now we didn't know much about the long-term history of this part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet because the region is incredibly remote and inaccessible. Our geological findings add a new piece to the jigsaw and will be used for improving computer models -- the most important tools we have for predicting future change."

Initial results show that Pine Island Glacier has 'thinned' by around 4 centimetres per year over the past 5,000 years, while Smith and Pope Glaciers thinned by just over 2 cm per year during the past 14,500 years. These rates are more than 20 times slower than recent changes: satellite, airborne and ground based observations made since the 1990s show that Pine Island Glacier has thinned by around 1.6 metres per year in recent years.

The scientists reached their conclusions by investigating how long the boulders have been exposed to cosmic radiation rather than being shielded by ice or sediment.

Co-author Dr Mike Bentley from the University of Durham said, "When rocks are left high and dry by thinning glaciers they are exposed to high energy cosmic rays which bombard the rock. This creates atoms of particular elements that we can extract and measure in the laboratory - the longer they have been exposed the greater the build-up of these elements. The discovery that we can place a fix on when rocks were left behind by the ice has revolutionised our understanding of how the Antarctic ice sheet has behaved in the past. "

Collapse of West Antarctic Ice Sheet?

The Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE) lies on the side of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). It is an area that has always caused glaciologists concern, because here the bedrock beneath the ice is a long way below sea-level and the ice is only kept in place because it is thick enough to rest on the bed. Thinning of the ice around the coast could lead to glacier acceleration and further thinning of the ice sheet. Essentially, the ice sheet may be unstable, and the recent pattern of thinning could be a precursor to wholesale loss of the ASE ice sheet (implying a sea-level rise of around 1.5 m).

Complete collapse of the WAIS would result in a rise of about 5 m in global sea level. Most scientists working in the area think that complete collapse within the next few hundred years is unlikely, but even loss of one sector of the ice sheet would imply that projections of sea-level rise are at present too low.


The ASE is a notoriously difficult place in which to undertake fieldwork, it is cold, windy and is more than 1400 km from any research station.

Using a helicopter from the German research vessel Polarstern during an expedition led by Karsten Gohl (AWI) BAS scientist Joanne Johnson and colleagues visited remote rock outcrops protruding from Pine Island, Pope and Smith glaciers on the vast West Antarctic Ice Sheet. They collected samples from boulders that have lain ice-free for thousands of years.

Pine Island Glacier is of great interest to scientists worldwide as it has been thinning at a rate of more than 1 m/year and its flow rate has accelerated over the past 15 years. The location at which the glacier starts to float on the sea also retreated at a rate of more than 1 km/year during part of this period.

Cosmogenic isotopes (e.g., beryllium-10 and aluminium-26) are created in rocks when they are bombarded by cosmic rays that penetrate the atmosphere from outer space. The accumulation of these isotopes within a rock surface can be used to establish its 'surface exposure age,' i.e., how long it has been exposed to cosmic radiation rather than being shielded by ice or sediment.

Journal reference: First exposure ages from the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica: The Late Quaternary context for recent thinning of Pine Island, Smith and Pope Glaciers by Joanne S. Johnson, Michael J. Bentley and Karsten Gohl is published in the March issue of the journal Geology.

Adapted from materials provided by British Antarctic Survey.

Link to article in ScienceDaily:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Climatologist Ignatius Rigor Says Arctic Sea Ice Likely to Continue Shrinking Below Record Low Last Year

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Feb 12, 2008 (AP)

Arctic sea ice next summer may shrink below the record low last year, according to a University of Washington climatologist. Ignatius Rigor spoke Monday at the Alaska Forum on the Environment and said global warming combined with natural cyclical changes likely will continue to push ice into the North Atlantic Ocean.

The last remnants of thick, old sea ice are dispersing and the unusual weather cycles that contributed to sea ice loss last year are continuing, he said.

"The buoys are streaming out," Rigor said, referring to the markers used to monitor the flushing of ice into the North Atlantic.

A similar pattern preceded sea ice loss last summer was not expected to continue so strongly.

Scientists are watching Arctic sea ice closely, trying to sort out the effects of global warming and natural cyclical changes.

Formal projections of sea ice loss will be made for another month or so but all indications are that ice loss will equal or exceed last year's "unless the winds turn around," Rigor said.

New ice now covering the polar seas is not like older, thicker sea ice that once covered the region in winter, Rigor said. In 1989, 80 percent of the ice in the Arctic was at least 10 years old, he said. Today, only about 3 percent of the ice is that old.

New ice melts more quickly, and then open water absorbs more sunlight, warming the seas and making the fall freeze-up come even later, he said.

"Have we passed the tipping point?" he said. "It's hard to see how the system may come back."

The prospect of a mostly ice-free Arctic could mean a boom in shipping through the Bering Strait, several speakers said, but is bad news for polar bears and other animals.

Polar bears prefer ice over the shallow continental shelf north of Alaska because it supports a rich food chain, said Steve Amstrup, a leading polar bear biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. With melting last summer, some Alaska bears were on ice as much as 600 miles north of Barrow, far from their preferred habitat, Amstrup said.

Amstrup was lead federal biologist in studies released last year depicting the Alaska bear as likely to disappear by 2050 because of global warming. A decision by the Department of the Interior on whether to list the polar bear as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act was due in January but has been postponed.

The state of Alaska, among others, opposes the listing, arguing the forecasts of declining sea ice are too speculative.

Scientists Monday said that the forecasts were, if anything, too cautious. None foresaw the shrinkage of 2007.

"Five of the 10 studies we used projected more sea ice at mid-century than we had this summer," Amstrup said.

The shrinkage is related to higher temperatures, scientists said, but also to shifts in a weather pattern known as the Arctic oscillation. When the Arctic oscillation is in a "high" cycle, as it has been recently, more ice is pushed past Greenland into the North Atlantic, Rigor said.

Climate models have linked a higher Arctic oscillation to increases in greenhouse gases, but that relationship is the subject of much study, Rigor said.

"All these changes are very consistent with a climate system trying to cool itself off from greenhouse gases," Rigor said.

Information from: Anchorage Daily News,

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I Threw My Fears to the Wind by Angharad Penrhyn Jones

The Guardian, Saturday February 23, 2008

There was a time when I thought I wouldn't have children. I worried about the terrible things the world would do to them. I also worried about what they would do to the world.

Then a fellow environmentalist assured me it was fine to have one or two children if you lived carefully. "It's all about limiting your emissions," he said. He had just come across a man who was single-handedly burning 100 tonnes of carbon a year - that's roughly 10 times the national average - through a pathological love of flying.

This put things in perspective. I hated flying. So, like most people, I threw my fears to the wind. I was going to have a low-carbon, politically engaged child, and I wasn't going to think too far into the future. My husband, George Monbiot, an environmental campaigner, caved in.

Our daughter, Hanna, is now almost two. So far, she is pretty impressed with the world. Her favourite expression is "Oh wow!", and she often throws her hands up triumphantly, especially if she has had the good fortune to spot a fire engine. More than anything, she loves to look out of her bedroom window at the A489. There are the timber lorries to admire, the tractors, the boy racers' overpowered hatchbacks. Military aircraft, ripping through the skies on their training e xercises, are a delight. Hanna adores anything that burns fossil fuels. When do we tell her the nasty truth about climate change?

Growing up in North Wales in the 80s, I was part of a privileged generation. I did have a few ecological concerns: I worried about acid rain, the logging of tropical rainforests and the hole in the ozone layer, which, like everything, was the size of Wales (though luckily for us was situated elsewhere).

Yet there was a fundamental difference between our environmental consciousness then and now. Then, we believed the planet was essentially stable. The seasons were fixed and the sea was contained. Buying food was a happy, uncomplicated affair, and every summer we welcomed the heat of the sun - the hotter, the better - working diligently on our tans. We flew on holiday without a moment's thought, and carbon was something you came across only when you burnt your toast. The economy was kind to a middle-class family. We had faith in the idea of progress.

What we thought of as progress turned out to be the opposite. Twenty years later, there is a strong and disturbing sense that things are going to get a lot worse. While we are still confronted with a series of single environmental issues, we also have a cumulative, systemic problem on our hands.

Parents have always worried about their children, and our imagination struggles to identify with the suffering of our ancestors. My grandfather, a doctor and author, wrote about diseases in Wales in the 18th century. He published a photograph of the gravestone of a family whose seven members all died of smallpox. George's great-great-grandmother lost nine of her children to a single outbreak of scarlet fever. Then there were the wartime parents, who make us all seem like wimps, and the parents (including my own) who feared the world would be obliterated at the touch of a button.

But though every generation has had its own fears of annihilation, for about 150 years there was an expectation that life for future generations was going to get better. It is much harder to be optimistic now. How, knowing that the biosphere is in a state of collapse, can we be cheerful about the prospect of our children growing up?

When Hanna was nine months old, she learned to crawl. Unfortunately, she could only go backwards. The expression on her face broke my heart as she moved farther and farther away from the toy she was trying to reach. It was like a metaphor for our fight to stabilise global temperatures. However hard we try to reach our targets, they only seem to get further away. We are faced not just with climate change, but potentially with runaway climate change.

In the pages of the Guardian, we learn about peak oil and the disastrous carbon emissions caused by biofuels and other alternatives to oil. We find out about the thawing of the Arctic and the 500bn tonnes of carbon that could one day escape from the ground. We read about the global food and water deficit that is predicted for this century, the anticipated displacement of hundreds of millions of people and the vicious wars that are likely to follow. (Arguably, this is not just a future problem: the conflict in Darfur has been described by some people as the first climate-change war.)

And in the meantime, here we are, holding our babies in our arms, wanting them to be safe and happy.

If we live to be old, when George and I die we could be leaving Hanna behind in a society in which people kill each other over basic resources, and in which the rules of civilisation start to break down. This idea is not something we can easily confront. I still haven't read Cormac McCarthy's The Road - an account of life after a complete collapse of the biosphere. George, grey in the face, urged me to do so. Before giving birth, I would have gritted my teeth and followed his advice. Now, as a mother, I fear that it would be like looking down from the tightrope, and that I would fall. Maybe, in some respects, we have to be climate-change deniers.

A part of us needs to believe that our political representatives are in control. They'll do the maths, invent the technologies, sign the papers, and hey presto! We'll be saved! In our fantasies, they are like airline pilots: rigorously vetted for signs of mental, physical or moral weakness; clever, capable people with soothing voices and a talent for staying calm in a crisis. They will also, crucially, do anything to keep us alive. Ladies and gentlemen, they say, we're now cruising at 30,000ft. Our palms are sweating but we put all our trust in them. We sit back and watch a film.

I can no longer do this. In 2003, I went to Milan to film the negotiations over the Kyoto treaty. Through a stroke of luck, my researcher secured an interview with Harlan Watson, the US government's climate negotiator. His role was not to sign the treaty, but to sabotage it. It was a tense interview.

At the end, I asked him what steps he was taking to curb his own carbon emissions. He hesitated. "Well," he said, "when I leave the room, I try to switch the lights off, which my wife doesn't always appreciate." He laughed a little nervously. "And I don't use my car a lot," he added, "because I'm always travelling."

"By plane?" I asked, and he said, "Er, yes, by plane," at which point he got up very quickly and shook my hand.

I was not a mother then, but if I had been, maybe I would have asked him if he had children and grandchildren, and whether he worried about what the US government was doing to them by undermining the treaty. It might have been harder for me to keep my cool.

This was a low point: in some respects, these people are bringing up my child.

So what psychological tools can we use as parents when we feel so frightened and so helpless? A disproportionate number of my friends are climate-change journalists and campaigners, and most of them have children. I phoned one couple to talk about an issue that, for some reason, we had never previously discussed.

"Even among people you're close to," said Annie Levy, "there's a code of not talking about how you cope with climate change as parents." She told me about the dream she'd had a few nights ago, involving her two young children being washed out by the tide. But in her waking life she generally remains optimistic, because "when your beliefs and your actions are in line with each other, you get a sense of clarity and purpose, and so you don't necessarily feel pessimistic."

Her husband, George Marshall, is founder of the climate-change charity Coin and the blog, and author of Carbon Detox. This family is more exposed than most to concerns about the future, and their six-year-old is already starting to ask questions.

"Elsa asks what's going to happen to the planet," said Levy, "and I tell her we're working really hard to keep the heat down and make sure these things don't happen. I say, 'this is why we walk to school, this is why we don't fly, this is what your daddy works on every day.'"

Marshall told me about an Ipsos/Mori study carried out in 2004. The research revealed that people with children under 16 are less likely to express fear about climate change than people without children.

"One way of explaining this," he said, "is to say that parents are put in a difficult ethical situation. Here we are, through our own actions, creating a worse world for our children. When people have a dissonance between what they believe and what they do, they either change what they believe, or change what they do. And the tendency for most people is to reconfigure what they think about climate change, and to think 'maybe it's not that bad'.

I then spoke to Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet and father of a toddler and baby. Despite the harrowing scenarios he portrays in his book, he is sanguine. "When you've got loved ones facing an unknown future," he said, "it's always going to be difficult. In a sense we're returning to the uncertainties of our evolutionary past. But many of the situations I've written about are avoidable. I genuinely think we can do something about climate change."

As parents, we cannot indulge in pessimism. While we want our children to know about the world, we must not deprive them of hope.

When my brother was five, my mother saw him crying in bed. When she asked him what was wrong, he said "I think I've got Aids." Why on earth did he think that, asked my mother. "Because I haven't been using a condom," he said. He'd probably heard the government advice on television.

I have a visceral urge to protect Hanna's innocence. I don't want her to be brought up on tofu and fear. Otherwise we might as well throw ourselves on the compost heap right now.

But for now, life is good. There is plenty of food on the table and water running from the tap, and the climate here in Wales is benign. For millions of people across the world, this is not the case. Children in the developing world are already dying of the diseases, the famine, the wars, that we fear will come to us. Our future is their present.

As I write, Hanna is putting a few belongings in her miniature pram. She packs a cuddly toy, her wellington boots, a cardigan and a book. "Bye, Mam!" she says as she walks towards the door. She's been doing this a lot recently, so maybe she's thinking about leaving home. I hope we can delay her by around 16 years. This is a magical time, and we must enjoy every moment of it.

Original article:,,2258678,00.html

WAIS and Pine Island Glacier: Antarctic glaciers surge to ocean by Martin Redfern

BBC News, Science Section, Sunday, 24 February 2008, 00:24 GMT

UK scientists working in Antarctica have found some of the clearest evidence yet of instabilities in the ice of part of West Antarctica.

If the trend continues, they say, it could lead to a significant rise in global sea level.

The new evidence comes from a group of glaciers covering an area the size of Texas, in a remote and seldom visited part of West Antarctica.

The "rivers of ice" have surged sharply in speed towards the ocean.

David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey, explained: "It has been called the weak underbelly of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the reason for that is that this is the area where the bed beneath the ice sheet dips down steepest towards the interior.

"If there is a feedback mechanism to make the ice sheet unstable, it will be most unstable in this region."

There is good reason to be concerned.

Satellite measurements have shown that three huge glaciers here have been speeding up for more than a decade.

The biggest of the glaciers, the Pine Island Glacier, is causing the most concern.

Inhospitable conditions

Julian Scott has just returned from there. He told the BBC: "This is a very important glacier; it's putting more ice into the sea than any other glacier in Antarctica.

"It's a couple of kilometres thick, its 30 km wide and it's moving at 3.5 km per year, so it's putting a lot of ice into the ocean."

It is a very remote and inhospitable region. It was visited briefly in 1961 by American scientists but no one had returned until this season when Julian Scott and Rob Bingham and colleagues from the British Antarctic survey spent 97 days camping on the flat, white ice.

At times, the temperature got down to minus 30C and strong winds made work impossible.

At one point, the scientists were confined to their tent continuously for eight days.

"The wind really makes the way you feel incredibly colder, so just motivating yourself to go out in the wind is a really big deal," Rob Bingham told BBC News.

When the weather improved, the researchers spent most of their time driving skidoos across the flat, featureless ice.

"We drove skidoos over it for something like 2,500km each and we didn't see a single piece of topography."

Long drag

Rob Bingham was towing a radar on a 100m-long line and detecting reflections from within the ice using a receiver another 100m behind that.

The signals are revealing ancient flow lines in the ice. The hope is to reconstruct how it moved in the past.

Julian Scott was performing seismic studies, using pressurised hot water to drill holes 20m or so into the ice and place explosive charges in them. He used arrays of geophones strung out across the ice to detect reflections, looking, among other things, for signs of soft sediments beneath the ice that might be lubricating its flow.

He also placed recorders linked to the global positioning system (GPS) satellites on the ice to track the glacier's motion, recording its position every 10 seconds.

Throughout the 1990s, according to satellite measurements, the glacier was accelerating by around 1% a year. Julian Scott's sensational finding this season is that it now seems to have accelerated by 7% in a single season, sending more and more ice into the ocean.

"The measurements from last season seem to show an incredible acceleration, a rate of up to 7%. That is far greater than the accelerations they were getting excited about in the 1990s."

The reason does not seem to be warming in the surrounding air.

One possible culprit could be a deep ocean current that is channelled onto the continental shelf close to the mouth of the glacier. There is not much sea ice to protect it from the warm water, which seems to be undercutting the ice and lubricating its flow.

Ongoing monitoring

Julian Scott, however, thinks there may be other forces at work as well.

Much higher up the course of the glacier there is evidence of a volcano that erupted through the ice about 2,000 years ago and the whole region could be volcanically active, releasing geothermal heat to melt the base of the ice and help its slide towards the sea.

David Vaughan believes that the risk of a major collapse of this section of the West Antarctic ice sheet should be taken seriously.

"There has been the expectation that this could be a vulnerable area," he said.

"Now we have the data to show that this is the area that is changing. So the two things coinciding are actually quite worrying."

The big question now is whether what has been recorded is an exceptional surge or whether it heralds a major collapse of the ice. Julian Scott hopes to find out.

"It is extraordinary and we've left a GPS there over winter to see if it is going to continue this trend."

If the glacier does continue to surge and discharge most of it ice into the sea, say the researchers, the Pine Island Glacier alone could raise global sea level by 25cm.

That might take decades or a century, but neighbouring glaciers are accelerating too and if the entire region were to lose its ice, the sea would rise by 1.5m worldwide.

Original article at:

Global meltdown: scientists isolate areas most at risk of climate change by Ian Sample

Ice boulders left behind after a flood caused by the overflowing of a lake in Greenland

Ice boulders left behind after a flood caused by the overflowing of a lake in Greenland. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty images

The Guardian, Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Scientists have long agreed that climate change could have a profound impact on the planet; from melting ice sheets and withering rainforests, to flash floods and droughts.

Now a team of climate experts has ranked the most fragile and vulnerable regions on the planet, and warned they are in danger of sudden and catastrophic collapse before the end of the century.

In a comprehensive study published today, the scientists identify the nine areas that are in gravest danger of passing critical thresholds or "tipping points", beyond which they will not recover.

Although the scientists cannot be sure precisely when each region will reach the point of no return, their assessment warns it may already be too late to save Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet, which they regard as the most immediately in peril. By some estimates, there will not be any sea ice in the summer months within 25 years.

The next most vulnerable area is the Amazon rainforest, where reduced rainfall threatens to claim large areas of trees that will not re-establish themselves. The scientists also expressed concerns over the Boreal forests in the north, and have predicted that El Niño, the climate system which has a profound impact on weather from Africa to North America, will become more intense. The scientists are so concerned they have called for an early warning system to monitor each of these fragile ecosystems.

The international team, whose study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, represents some of the world's most prestigious organisations, including the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, the University of East Anglia and Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute. The scientists polled 52 environmental experts and combined their responses with discussions among 36 leading climate researchers at a workshop at the British embassy in Berlin. Each was asked to rank regions at greatest risk of climate change in the next century.

"There's a perception that global warming is something that will happen smoothly into the future, but some of these ecosystems go into an abrupt decline when warming reaches a certain threshold," said Tim Lenton, an environmental scientist at the University of East Anglia and lead author of the study.

"If we know when the different tipping points are, we can use them to inform targets to limit global warming. It gives us something to aim for," he added.

Last year, the UN's expert panel of climate scientists warned average temperatures could increase by as much as 6.4C by the end of the century, with a rise of 4C most likely. Such a rise would bring food and water shortages to vulnerable parts of the world, displace millions of people and wipe out hundreds of species.

In the latest study, the scientists calculate Arctic sea ice will go into irreversible decline once temperatures rise between 0.5C to 2C above those at the beginning of the century, a threshold that may already have been crossed. There is already a 50% chance that the Greenland ice sheet will soon begin melting unstoppably, although it could take hundreds of years to melt completely. The meltwater would raise global sea levels by seven metres.

A temperature rise of 3C could see more intense El Niños, with profound effects on the weather from Africa to North America.

Warming of 3C to 5C could reduce rainfall in the Amazon by 30%, lengthening the dry season. The Boreal forests could also pass their tipping point, with large swaths dying off over the next 50 years. In Africa, more rainfall may regreen the Sahel region, but the west African monsoon could collapse, leading to twice as many unusually dry years by the end of the century. The Indian summer monsoon is predicted to become erratic and in the worst case scenario, begin to flip chaotically, unleashing flash floods one year and droughts the next.

Measurements of the western Antarctic ice sheet show the balance of snowfall and melting has shifted and it is now shrinking. According to the study, a local warming of more than 5C could trigger uncontrollable melting, adding five metres to sea levels within 300 years. Under the same warming, Atlantic currents that power the Gulf Stream could be severely disrupted.

"If you can get some warning that you're nearing one of these thresholds, you can get to work on adapting to it. You could work harder on reducing emissions, or you might use it as impetus to try other options," said Lenton.

Explainer: What could happen next

If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, the global average temperature will reach 2C above pre-industrial levels by 2050, according to the government's 2006 Stern report on climate change.

One of the first impacts will be droughts and floods, as rainfall increases at high latitudes and drops in the tropics. Some glaciers will disappear, though crop yields in some countries could rise, scientists believe.

Last year, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, concluded that human activity was "very likely" to be behind most of the warming seen in recent decades. It predicted a rise of between 2.4C and 6.4C by 2100.

The most likely rise, of 4C by the end of the century, would cause droughts across Africa, and a fall in harvests of 15% to 35%. Globally, crop yields would fall 10%.

Sea levels would rise by up to 59cm, with Bangladesh and Vietnam among the worst hit, along with coastal cities such as New York, London, Tokyo, Kolkata and Karachi. In Britain alone, there would be 1.8 million people at risk of flooding. The western Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets would begin to melt irreversibly and Europe would lose 80% of its Alpine glaciers. Across the Arctic, half of the tundra is at risk.

A 4C rise is predicted to drive 20% to 50% of land species to extinction and put 80m more Africans at risk of malaria as mosquitoes thrive.

Original article:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Largest U.S. Beekeeper Hit by Colony Collapse Disorder

With Almond Pollination Under Way, New Signs of Trouble Emerge

2.19.2008 10:13 a.m.
Editor's Note: Maryam Henein is working with George Langworthy on The Vanishing of the Bees, a documentary film about colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the state of honey bees in America. She is a guest contributor to The Beekeeper, writing about the pollination of the almond crop in California, where honey bees are put to their first test of the season on a commercial crop.

Specific names have been removed because a prevailing sentiment among beekeepers has it that admitting to colony collapse disorder problems reflects badly on them (it should not). We believe the news is important enough to print using anonymous sources, and readers can be assured that the main facts have been double checked with primary authoritative sources.

Checking Hives in California Almond Country

We’re in the Lost Hills of Bakersfield California on our way to eat breakfast at Denny’s I met the beekeeper who knows where our hives – Agnes, Betty, Cindy and Doris – were amid the orchards. Two weeks ago we named four hives with a magnum Sharpie so we could track them throughout the seasons as they are shipped from one bloom to the next.

We scarfed down our breakfast and then set out for the orchards to find Agnes. Oh my God. California has more than 580,000 acres planted in almonds. Row after row after row of evenly spaced almond trees. Mind blowing. Monoculture at its finest.

I rolled down the windows and cranked up the XM satellite radio to Extreme Chill. I listened to BassNectar as I rode down this dirt path with bees whizzing by me. Every few yards there were bee boxes on the ground and a sign that read, “Bee Drop.”

Eventually, the beekeeper I was with started making his rounds, checking that the lids were on properly and that there were no problems. He also marked them with spray paint for transport. There are so many different beekeepers here that you need to carefully track each hive. Bee theft is also common around almond bloom season. One beekeeper had 80 of his hives stolen this year.

Finally we found Agnes sitting in the sun. We opened the lid to take the frames out. She was healthy. And we even spotted Agnes the Queen. Wow. She was beautiful. Golden, Big and Royal. “She looked fertile,” George said.

We then found Betty and Cindy. But we didn’t get a chance to look for Doris. In the early afternoon we set out to meet Frieda, a 76-year-old bee broker who works with her two sons. A bee broker is a go-between, linking the almond grower with the beekeeper. She is the one who coordinates the shipping and placement of hives.

"Miles Upon Miles of Empty Hives"

We next wanted to visit a beeyard of one of the biggest beekeepers in the orchards. They had shipped nearly 100 semi loads of bees to this beeyard (each truck has about 400 hives on it) from the midwest back in October. He placed them on this ranch away from any food source. He told us that he wanted to keep them away from any land used for agriculture, where they spray pesticides. There was no food for the bees, nothing to forage, but he gave them pollen substitutes and corn syrup. The bees were healthy then, but now the view was haunting. It looked like a cemetery. Miles upon miles of empty hives. White empty boxes in lieu of tombstones.

It was like we were visiting a funeral. It was sickening and surreal. There were only a few dead bees to be found. It was a mass exodus, a bee holocaust.

“You know in the Christmas Carol, when the ghost shows him the future? This is our future,” one beekeeper said as we parked in front of towers of dead outs. It was a moment to remember. It was a moment in beekeeping history. Our bees are dying. I can’t even fathom what I saw today. Words don’t do it justice.

We ended the day by going to eat with the beekeepers. Of course we went to Denny's. During dinner, we were reminded that there is a stigma about CCD. No one wants to talk because people will think that it’s their fault. It’s not, you know.

“Beekeepers are not activists, they’re just going to quietly slip away,” said another.

I don’t want to believe him. I want to believe that they will put on their bee suits, grab a hive tool and go protest in the streets. We want our bees back.

Original link:

Friday, February 15, 2008

Antarctic Warming Creating Predator 'Smorgasbord'

by Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News, 15 February 2008

Global warming is setting the stage for an invasion of predators on the sea floor around Antarctica, the likes of which have not been there for more than 40 million years.

Back in the late Eocene epoch, predatory animals such as sharks and crabs were driven away from Antarctic depths when the continent and its surrounding waters turned into an icebox, said researchers on Friday at a symposium at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

The result was a virtually predator-free zone on the seafloor and a paradise for worms, sea lilies, clams, brittle stars and other bottom-dwelling animals.

All that is about to end, however. Global warming is now raising water temperatures to the point where, very soon, those long-exiled predators could return and wreak havoc on the ocean floor, say biologists.

"It's going to be a smorgasbord," said researcher Cheryl Wilga of the University of Rhode Island. She studies the metabolic limitations of sharks that have kept them from Antarctic waters for millions of years, but may not do so much longer.

"The species in the Antarctic (seafloor) have no defense for shell-crushing predators," said extreme species researcher Brad Seibel, also of the University of Rhode Island. "I don't think that anyone was really aware of this issue."

Along the Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost, warmest part of the continent, global warming is raising air temperatures quickly. Water temperatures have been warming as well, at a rate of about 0.04 degrees Celsius per year, Wilga says. That comes to about one degree per 25 years.

Compared to the relative stability seen for tens of millions of years, that's incredibly fast. Already, crabs are showing up, and some sharks are poised to pounce once the thermal dinner bell rings.

Antarctic King Crab?

The first exiled predator to return to Antarctica is the king crab. The leggy crustaceans have been found way down on the deep slopes off the Antarctic continental shelf -- where the water is slightly warmer than elsewhere.

There they are fighting the cold, explained marine scientist Richard Aronson of Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the University of South Alabama.

The frigid water makes it hard for the crabs to efficiently flush magnesium out of their bodies, said Aronson. Too much magnesium acts like a narcotic on a crab.

"When it's too cold, the magnesium makes them pass out and die," Aronson said. That's probably why the crabs have been absent for eons. Now, however, in those slightly warmer depths off the continental shelf, it's just warm enough for the crabs to survive there.

As the upper waters continue to warm, nothing will stop the king crabs from moving up onto the continental shelf and feasting. That will "hammer" the old seafloor communities, Aronson said.

"We expect the populations (of seafloor invertebrates) to take a dive," said Aronson.

Jaws II

Sharks are next in the supper line. Spiny dogfish, in particular, are already abundant off the coast of South America, poised for invasion as soon as the water gets a tad warmer, says Wilga.

The cold poses a different set of challenges for sharks, she explained. For one thing, sharks need to keep swimming to stay afloat, which requires a lot of energy. Very cold water slows them down to the point where it's hard to keep swim muscles moving.

Shark bodies are also infused with a chemical called triethylamine oxide (TMAO), which counters the toxic effects of urea that builds up in shark tissues. The colder or deeper the waters, the more TMAO sharks need to offset the urea, Wilga explained. Sharks appear to reach a TMAO limit before they can reach Antarctic waters.

But if there's any shark that can eke out a living first in the warming waters, Wilga is putting her money on the diminutive and virtually global spiny dogfish.

While this is more bad news for the Antarctic sea lilies and brittle stars, there will be a sliver of a silver lining to the sharks' return, said Wilga: "Sharks also eat crabs."

A Moving Feast

Some other marginally good news is that the seafloor invasion may have little effect on the better known animals of Antarctica -- penguins, fish and whales. These live on what is essentially a separate, krill-based, shallow-water food web, explains Antarctic marine biologist Robert Pitman of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif.

The top predator in the shallow water ecological realm is the orca, or killer whale, Pitman said. There are, in fact, more killer whales in Antarctica than anywhere on Earth. And if anything, dogfish will be welcome aperitifs for them, he explained.

Global warming might fill orcas' bellies in other ways as well, Pitman told Discovery News. Penguins, seals and Minke whales need lots of ice to hide from the fierce and intelligent marine mammal. The less ice, the easier the hunt.

"The best protection seals and penguins have from killer whales is on the ice," Pitman said. "Even offshore, the Minke whales migrate to pack ice for protection from killer whales."

So as the waters warm and the ice melts, Antarctica's existing predators may enjoy some feast days of their own.

Thwarting the Invasion

The predator invasion of Antarctica may be unavoidable, say the researchers, but it could be moderated if something is done immediately to reduce emissions of global warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

"As global warming proceeds, the deeper water (around Antarctica) will only get warmer," said Aronson. The momentum of global warming is, indeed, huge and can not be stopped, he said, but it can be slowed.

"If we're going to do something about the planet we have to do it now." Aronson said. "The window is closing."


Monday, February 4, 2008

Viewpoint: Sir Mark Moody-Stuart -- "Society needs to produce more with less energy"

Monday, 4 February 2008, 01:31 GMT

If the world is to end the threat from climate change, we need to produce more with less energy, says Mark Moody Stuart. In this week's Green Room, he outlines his vision that will help society fulfil this goal.

High Street shoppers (Image: PA)
Consumer opinion and choice is important, but it will not do the trick on its own
To address the climate challenge we need to reduce the carbon content of our energy by at least half.

But at the same time we must learn to generate a unit of GDP for about half the energy which we use at present.

Energy efficiency and carbon content of energy are equally important, but they require different approaches to achieve them.

I am a great believer in both the power of consumer choice and the market. As we come to understand the consequences, we do tend to make greener choices.

But most of us will only make those choices if they deliver the convenience and utility to which we are used or aspire; and if they do not cost more (or we can afford the luxury of choice).

Consumer opinion and choice is important, but it will not do the trick on its own. Its importance is in encouraging companies to supply the market in more climate friendly ways, and most importantly in encouraging governments (for whom consumers vote) to take the steps needed.

'Bitter experience'

So what of the market? It is an unsurpassed mechanism for allocating resources to deliver better things. Through competition, technologies are optimised or discarded, opening the field for creativity and choice. I believe in the power and value of markets.

But like most things, they have a failing. Without regulation to channel their power, markets will not deliver things which are of no immediate benefit to the individual making his or her choice, even though they may be beneficial to society.

Chimney (Image: PA)
Increased spending power must not lead to more fossil fuel power
Without regulation, markets would not have delivered unleaded gasoline, catalytic converters on the exhausts of cars or seatbelts and airbags, nor clean air to London after the killer smogs of the 1950s.

In New Delhi, regulation forced three-wheeled vehicles, taxis and buses to switch to clean gas fuel. The initial complaints were great, but everyone, including the taxi drivers, blessed the result.

These regulations were not cost free, but everyone benefited. Regulation was needed to channel the power of the market, but regulatory frameworks have to be simple and practical.

The gut opposition of business people to regulation comes from bitter experience of regulations which don't just frame the market but bind it hand and foot and tell us how things must be done.

This kills markets and takes the fun and variety out of life.

Carbon price

So what are the frameworks we need?

For carbon content, we need a mechanism which forces energy supplies in the right direction. This means putting a price on carbon for major producers (and large-scale users) of energy through a carbon cap and trade system, such as we already have in Europe.

Unfortunately, this system has been initially subject to government and business special pleading and gaming. Or it means a carbon tax.

Both are complex and should only be applied to major producers or users. Trading encourages carbon-avoiding investment where it has the most impact. It also allows the transfer, through market mechanisms, of financial resources to China and India.

I do not think we will get a more global agreement without such transfer. Taxation has the great merit that it provides a clear floor price of carbon.

So for me the preferred option is a combination - a tax, but with the ability to reduce it through trading, getting the best combination of a floor price and efficiency of investment.

Most people think that a price of something around 40 dollars a tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) to producers would do the trick.

Market decides

Before you panic about the cost to you and industrial transport, that is only about 5p a litre on fuel - within the noise of oil price variations.

On the other hand, for efficiency we need regulatory frameworks - very tough efficiency standards on buildings, on lighting and on personal transport.

That means banning the manufacture or import of old fashioned light bulbs.

Technically, this actually just means putting a standard on the efficiency of lights so that markets decide whether the best answer is compact fluorescent lights or the newer LEDs - old incandescents would never meet such a hurdle.

Four-wheel-drive vehicle (Getty Images)
Only cars that make the grade can stay, says Sir Mark

It means very tough standards on buildings. This is already having an effect in London where to achieve highly valuable planning permission, developments are already achieving energy efficiency which we thought we would not achieve for a decade or more.

And for personal transportation? That means banning "gas guzzlers" and steadily increasing the total efficiency of any vehicle sold.

You can buy the roomiest, vroomiest car, as long as it meets the efficiency standard.

My wife and I have driven a hybrid since 2001 and it is a beautiful and comfortable piece of engineering, silent and will do 100mph (we tried it, but not in England!).

That may not be the best technology - the market will find out. But we must constrain the market in an efficiency framework.

To achieve the same through taxation would mean fuel taxes at levels which would play havoc with industry, countryside dwellers and the poor who need transport.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart is non-executive chairman of Anglo American, and is a member of the UN Global Compact and chairman of the Global Compact Foundation

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

BBC NEWS, Science/Nature section: Climate set for 'sudden shifts'

by Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News,
Monday, 4 February 2008, 22:54 GMT

Many of Earth's climate systems will undergo a series of sudden shifts this century as a result
of human-induced climate change, a study suggests.

A number of these shifts could occur this century, say the report's authors.

They argue that society should not be lulled into a false sense of security by the idea that climate change will be a gradual process.

The work by an international team appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

"Our findings suggest that a variety of tipping elements could reach their critical point within this century under human-induced climate change," he said.

"The greatest threats are tipping of the Arctic sea-ice and the Greenland ice sheet, and at least five other elements could surprise us by exhibiting a nearby tipping point."

The bulk of climate scientists now believe that human induced global warming has begun to affect some aspects of our climate.

Risk assessment

But that change is the start of a series of more dramatic changes if global warming continues, according to a group of more than 50 scientists.

In a formal survey the researchers said that a number of systems that influence the Earth's weather patterns could begin to collapse suddenly if there's even a slight increase in global temperatures.

At greatest risk is arctic sea ice, the Greenland ice sheet and the west Antarctic ice sheet.

The researchers have listed and ranked nine ecological systems that they say could be lost this century as a result of global warming. The nine tipping elements and the time it will take them to undergo a major transition are:

  • Melting of Arctic sea-ice (about 10 years)
  • Decay of the Greenland ice sheet (about 300 years)
  • Collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet (about 300 years)
  • Collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation (about 100 years)
  • Increase in the El Nino Southern Oscillation (about 100 years)
  • Collapse of the Indian summer monsoon (about 1 year)
  • Greening of the Sahara/Sahel and disruption of the West African monsoon (about 10 years)
  • Dieback of the Amazon rainforest (about 50 years)
  • Dieback of the Boreal Forest (about 50 years)

The paper also demonstrates how, in principle, early warning systems could be established using real-time monitoring and modelling to detect the proximity of certain tipping points.

BBC NEWS, Science/Nature section: Spring comes 'earlier than ever'

By Sarah Mukherjee
Environment correspondent, BBC News, Monday, 4 February 2008, 18:56 GMT

It's a truly, breathtakingly lovely day.

The early winter sun hangs low and pale gold behind the hazlewood trees, which are themselves frost-etched into a sky of pale, cloudless blue.

We are at the Nuttery, a patch of woodland managed by the National Trust, near Daventry in Northamptonshire, and researchers from the Woodland Trust are showing me the signs that, despite the toe-numbing weather, spring is coming earlier.

"There are catkins out all around, and, although we're in the Midlands, the daffodils are almost in bloom," says Kate Lewthwaite, one of the Trust's researchers.

"Wildlife is repsponding to our warmer springs, which are happening because of climate change. It's happening incredibly quickly, and some of them don't have the resources to adapt."

Natural dependency

Across the country, 50,000 researchers, part of the Trust's "Nature's Calendar" project, have reported sightings of natural events that should be happening far later in the year. Kate says there have been 100 sightings of frogspawn, and even four of tadpoles.

Red admiral butterflies are on the wing, along with bumblebees and wasps. And birds are beginning to nest. All of which, Ms Lewthwaite says, is "startling".

Frogspawn, BBC
If frogspawn gets frozen, it will die
The problem is, researchers say, that if some species start to emerge from winter dormancy earlier than others, the complex web of natural dependency will start to break down.

Birds will be raising chicks before there are enough insects to feed them, and flowers will be in bloom before the right sort of bug is around to help with pollination.

As spring springs around us in parts of the Nuttery, leaves crack with frost beneath our feet. And this is another problem - all this early-emerging nature is very vulnerable to cold snaps.

"Frogs only spawn once a year - and if frogspawn gets frozen, it dies" says Steve Marsh, also from the Trust.

Researchers admit there's not a lot that can be done - no amount of government money can change how species react to the weather.

But they are asking for as many volunteers as possible for their Nature's calendar project, so scientists can analyse with greater accuracy just how quickly how British wildlife is changing.

Future water shortages: US drought 'man-made' says study

19:00, 31 January 2008, news service, Jim Giles

The water shortages gripping the western US are the result of global warming, not natural variations in climate, according to a bleak study by hydrologists. The results suggest that water disputes will plague the region in the future and damage economic growth unless action is taken now, warn researchers.

About 60% of the changes seen in river flow in the western US are due to warming caused by humans, their study suggests.

Key indicators have hinted at looming water problems for many years. More rain and less snow has been falling in mountain ranges such as the Rockies, for example. River levels, which depend on melting snow from the mountains during the spring and summer, have fallen as a result.

Spring temperatures also increased by around 0.35 °C per decade during the second half of the last century, further cutting snow levels.

Fluctuating levels

These trends spell trouble for managing water supplies. For example, Lake Mead, a 640 square kilometre reservoir that straddles the Arizona-Nevada border, fell to its lowest level for 40 years in 2007. It is just one of many reservoirs topped up by the Colorado River, which supplies water for around 30 million people.

Water levels fluctuate naturally and Lake Mead and other reservoirs have experienced drought before. But Tim Barnett of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, US, and his colleagues now say that recent changes cannot be explained by random changes in rainfall, or any other aspects of the weather.

They used two climate models to predict how warming caused by rising greenhouse gas levels would affect local hydrology. The results suggest that around 60% of the changes seen in river flow are due to man-made warming. Natural variability accounts for the remaining 40%, but cannot account for all the changes on its own.

Dashed hopes

Hopes that the drought is temporary have been dashed by the analysis, prompting leading researchers to intensify their calls for policy change.

Peter Gleick, a water policy expert at the Pacific Institute, an independent think tank based on Oakland, California, says that water use in his state could be reduced by a fifth by 2030, even if the population and economy continue to grow.

Many sectors need to change to achieve that goal. Agriculture would have to shift towards drip irrigation, in which small amounts of water are focused on individual plants, rather than whole areas being sprayed. Home owners would also have to adopt toilets and washing machines that use less water, he says.

Gleick is cautiously optimistic about the chances about the willingness of politicians to make the necessary changes. New standards for water-saving toilets were adopted in 2007, for example. "We can do the things we want for less water," he says. "But we need more federal and state legislation."

Journal reference: Science (DOI: 10.1126/science/1152538)

West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS): "Peering beneath glacier might explain speedier slide" by Anil Ananthaswamy

It must be one of the most dangerous places on Earth to be doing science. Last month, researchers landed on the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica to prepare to make measurements on the ice in the area. The work is crucial. Without it, evidence suggesting that global warming is having a far greater effect on the region than anyone thought will go unrecognised by official climate models.

This remote and heavily crevassed mass of ice is one of many glaciers at the fringes of the massive West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS). In 2004, satellite measurements showed that it had started thinning, and that the flow of ice had speeded up by 25 per cent over the past 30 years. This raised fears that the acceleration - along with that of nearby glaciers - is a sign of a wider problem in the region.

The glaciers flow towards the Amundsen Sea, where ice shelves are thought to slow their progress. If this ice-shelf "plug" breaks up, around a third of the ice stored in the WAIS could be released, leading to a global rise in sea level of more than a metre.

Like many glaciologists, Robert Bindschadler of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is concerned that the ice-shelf plug is indeed disintegrating - and that this is happening faster than we thought. He says his latest study of satellite measurements, which has yet to be published, shows that the Pine Island glacier has speeded up again over the past two years, from 3 to 3.6 kilometres per year.

One theory is that a layer of warm water a few hundred metres below the sea surface is flowing into trenches beneath the ice shelves and melting them, but no one can be sure. "We have yet to observe what is really going on right where the action is taking place," Bindschadler says. Because of this uncertainty, models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ignore the possible melting of ice shelves and the speed-up of glaciers, so they are unable to predict any global sea level rise due to warming in Antarctica.

Last month, Bindschadler and colleagues deployed the first weather station and GPS units in the region, to keep an eye on the glacier's progress. Over the next two years, they want to drill through 500 metres of ice on the shelf to measure the water temperature and currents underneath. "If we're right, then it will be a great leap forward," says Bindschadler. "But it will be tough to make these observations."

From issue 2641 of New Scientist magazine, 04 February 2008, page 12

Sunday, February 3, 2008

60 Minutes: James Hansen on White House censoring of global warming scientific reports

This "60 Minutes" report and interview with Dr. James Hansen was aired in 2006; however, it is still very important to keep in mind that not much has changed or improved since the segment was shown. Recently, certain nameless bloggers on the "Dot Earth" blog of the New York Times have gone so far as to write that Dr. Hansen is a fraud and that global warming is a hoax. Please have a look at this video and see if you can believe them.