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Nanoparticles: Panacea or Pandora’s Box?

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 21:31
Widespread Application of Nanoparticles in Food Could Lead to Unintended Consequences

By David Suzuki

Nanoparticles can be used to deliver vaccines, treat tumors, clean up oil spills, preserve food, protect skin from sun and kill bacteria. They’re so useful for purifying, thickening, colouring and keeping food fresh that they’re added to more products every year, with the nanofoods market projected to reach US$20.4 billion by 2020. Nanoparticles are the new scientific miracle that will make our lives better! Some people say they’ll usher in the next industrial revolution.

Hold on… Haven’t we heard that refrain before?

Nanotechnology commonly refers to materials, systems and processes that exist or operate at a scale of 100 nanometres or less, according to U.S.–based Friends of the Earth. A nanometer is a billionth of a metre — about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. An FoE report finds use of unlabelled, unregulated nano-ingredients in food has grown substantially since 2008. Because labelling and disclosure are not required for food and beverage products containing them, it’s difficult to determine how widespread their use is. Nanoparticles are also used in everything from cutting boards to baby bottles and toys to toothpaste.

“Major food companies have rapidly introduced nanomaterials into our food with no labels and scant evidence of their safety, within a regulatory vacuum,” says report author Ian Illuminato, FoE health and environment campaigner. “Unfortunately, despite a growing body of science calling their safety into question, our government has made little progress in protecting the public, workers and the environment from the big risks posed by these tiny ingredients.”

Studies show nanoparticles can harm human health and the environment. They can damage lungs and cause symptoms such as rashes and nasal congestion, and we don’t yet know about long-term effects. Their minute size means they’re “more likely than larger particles to enter cells, tissues and organs” and “can be more chemically reactive and more bioactive than larger particles of the same chemicals,” FoE says. A Cornell University study found nanoparticle exposure changed the structure of intestinal-wall lining in chickens.

Like pesticides, they also bioaccumulate. Those that end up in water — from cosmetics, toothpaste, clothing and more — concentrate and become magnified as they move up the food chain. And in one experiment, silver nanoparticles in wastewater runoff killed a third of exposed plants and microbes, according to a CBC online article.

Their use as antibacterial agents also raises concerns about bacterial resistance and the spread of superbugs, which already kill tens of thousands of people every year.

The Wilson Center, an independent research institution in Washington, D.C., recently created a database of “manufacturer-identified” nanoparticle-containing consumer products. It lists 1,628, of which 383 use silver particles. The second most common is titanium, found in 179 products. While acknowledging that “nanotechnologies offer tremendous potential benefits” the Center set up its Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies to “ensure that as these technologies are developed, potential human health and environmental risks are anticipated, properly understood, and effectively managed.”

As is often the case with such discoveries, widespread application could lead to unintended consequences. Scientists argue we should follow the precautionary principle, which states proponents must prove products or materials are safe before they’re put into common use. Before letting loose such technology, we should also ask who benefits, whether it’s necessary and what environmental consequences are possible.

Friends of the Earth has called on the U.S. government to impose a moratorium on “further commercial release of food products, food packaging, food contact materials and agrochemicals that contain manufactured nanomaterials until nanotechnology-specific safety laws are established and the public is involved in decision-making.”

The group says we can protect ourselves by choosing fresh, organic and local foods instead of processed and packaged foods and by holding governments accountable for regulating and labelling products with nanoparticles.

Nanomaterials may well turn out to be a boon to humans, but we don’t know enough about their long-term effects to be adding them so indiscriminately to our food systems and other products. If we’ve learned anything from past experience, it’s that although we can speculate about the benefits of new technologies, reality doesn’t always match speculation, and a lack of knowledge can lead to nasty surprises down the road.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with Contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Categories: Ecological News

Asia-Pacific Clean Air Partnership Launched to Fight Global Air Pollution

Sat, 08/09/2014 - 03:30

U.S. EPA

The Cities Clean Air Partnership, the first major clean air certification and partnership program to encourage air quality protection in cities across the Asia-Pacific region, was launched today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration, Clean Air Asia, and the Bay Area and South Coast Air Districts.

“The EPA, California, and cities from L.A. to Fresno have decades of experience in reducing harmful air pollution,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “But air pollution is still causing more than 3.7 million deaths a year and costing the global economy over $3.5 trillion a year in sickness and premature deaths. This partnership is taking a huge step forward to reduce global air pollution and achieve more livable, healthier cities for all.”

“The Cities Clean Air Partnership will greatly accelerate air quality improvement in Asian cities and Taiwan is proud to help initiate this program with the U.S. EPA,” said Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration Minister Kuo-Yen Wei. “We are looking forward to forming ties with other city partners in Asia under this program and the International Environmental Partnership framework.”

The Cities Clean Air Partnership aims to strengthen air quality management in Asian cities, encourage progress, and contribute to reducing the health impacts of air pollution and climate change in Asia. The program includes: a certification and scoring system that encourages a city to take clean air actions by earning certifications as it achieves milestones and progresses towards better air quality; empowering cities through training, financial incentives and other partnership and collaboration support; and fostering cooperation and peer-to-peer learning among cities through a cities partnering program.

With today’s Cities Clean Air Partnership launch, cities in California and around the U.S. will be able to collaborate with cities in the Asia-Pacific to share experiences and innovations to reduce and control air pollution.   Combating air pollution and growing clean energy economies are major goals of EPA’s collaboration with its partners in the Asia-Pacific. EPA has worked for many years with environmental agencies, non-profits and industry in Asia to improve prevention and control of emissions of particulate matter and other air pollutants.

Initial support to launch the Cities Clean Air Partnership began with a grant to Clean Air Asia from the International Environmental Partnership, a $5 million fund established to advance global environmental collaborations. Clean Air Asia, a non-governmental organization based in the Philippines working on air quality issues in Asia, is developing the partnership, which will drive progress for participating cities, helping them make targeted decisions about the best way to deploy resources to improve air quality.

“We can only significantly reduce the problem of air pollution through meaningful and effective partnerships among cities, which is the driving principle of this partnership,” said Clean Air Asia Executive Director Bjarne Pedersen. “This is a landmark initiative towards air pollution prevention and control in Asia. We are looking forward to both delivering real impacts under this pioneering initiative as well as bringing more partners onboard.”

“We are proud of the South Coast Air District’s long history of partnership and collaboration with Taiwan on air pollution prevention,” said South Coast Air District Deputy Executive Officer Elaine Chang. “We are looking forward to expanding this cooperation and sharing our experiences with other Asia-Pacific partners.”

“Public-private partnerships have proven time and again, that investments in clean air programs can provide large public health dividends,” said Bay Area Air District Executive Officer Jack Broadbent. “With over $300 million committed over the past several years to reduce Port related diesel pollution, investments in cities for greenhouse gas reduction programs, community grants that fund small scale projects which offer real results, we recognize the benefits of these partnerships to successfully tackle our clean air challenges.”

Small particulate matter is considered to be among the worst air pollutants from a health perspective and is linked to cardiovascular illness, asthma attacks, respiratory infections, and even death. In 2008, the annual average small particulate matter levels in outdoor air in more than 200 Asian cities was nearly five times higher than World Health Organization air quality guidelines, according to a Clean Air Asia survey.

This fall, the Cities Clean Air Partnership program will be further expanded at the biennial Better Air Quality conference in Sri Lanka, the largest gathering of air quality officials and experts in the Asia-Pacific.

U.S. EPA and Taiwan EPA collaborate regionally under the auspices of the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S.

 

Learn more about Clean Air Asia at: www.cleanairasia.org

More information on EPA’s work in the Asia-Pacific region: www.epa.gov/epa-efforts-asia-pacific-region

Categories: Ecological News

Global Warming Deniers’ Desperation

Wed, 08/06/2014 - 23:44
Global Warming Deniers get More Desperate by the Day

By David Suzuki

Image: WoodleyWonderWorks/Creative Commons

The Heartland Institute’s recent International Climate Change Conference in Las Vegas illustrates climate change deniers’ desperate confusion. As Bloomberg News noted, “Heartland’s strategy seemed to be to throw many theories at the wall and see what stuck.” A who’s who of fossil fuel industry supporters and anti-science shills variously argued that global warming is a myth; that it’s happening but natural — a result of the sun or “Pacific Decadal Oscillation”; that it’s happening but we shouldn’t worry about it; or that global cooling is the real problem.

The only common thread, Bloomberg reported, was the preponderance of attacks on and jokes about Al Gore: “It rarely took more than a minute or two before one punctuated the swirl of opaque and occasionally conflicting scientific theories.”

Personal attacks are common among deniers. Their lies are continually debunked, leaving them with no rational challenge to overwhelming scientific evidence that the world is warming and that humans are largely responsible. Comments under my columns about global warming include endless repetition of falsehoods like “there’s been no warming for 18 years”, “it’s the sun”, and references to “communist misanthropes”, “libtard warmers”, alarmists and worse…

Far worse. Katharine Hayhoe, director of Texas Tech’s Climate Science Center and an evangelical Christian, had her email inbox flooded with hate mail and threats after conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh denounced her, and right-wing blogger Mark Morano published her email address. “I got an email the other day so obscene I had to file a police report,” Hayhoe said in an interview on the Responding to Climate Change website. “They mentioned my child. It had all kinds of sexual perversions in it — it just makes your skin crawl.”

One email chastised her for taking “a man’s job” and called for her public execution, finishing with, “If you have a child, then women in the future will be even more leery of lying to get ahead, when they see your baby crying next to the basket next to the guillotine.

Many attacks came from fellow Christians unable to accept that humans can affect “God’s creation”. That’s a belief held even by a few well-known scientists and others held up as climate experts, including Roy Spencer, David Legates and Canadian economist Ross McKitrick. They’ve signed the Cornwall Alliance’s Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, which says, “We believe Earth and its ecosystems — created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence — are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception.” This worldview predetermines their approach to the science.

Lest you think nasty, irrational comments are exclusively from fringe elements, remember the gathering place for most deniers, the Heartland Institute, has compared those who accept the evidence for human-caused climate change to terrorists. Similar language was used to describe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a full-page ad in USA Today and Politico from the Environmental Policy Alliance, a front group set up by PR firm Berman and Company, which has attacked environmentalists, labour-rights advocates, health organizations — even Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society — on behalf of funders and clients including Monsanto, Wendy’s and tobacco giant Phillip Morris. The terrorism meme was later picked up by Pennsylvania Republican congressman Mike Kelly.

Fortunately, most people don’t buy irrational attempts to disavow science. A Forum Research poll found 81 percent of Canadians accept the reality of global warming, and 58 percent agree it’s mostly human-caused. An Ipsos MORI poll found that, although the U.S. has a higher number of climate change deniers than 20 countries surveyed, 54 percent of Americans believe in human-caused climate change. (Research also shows climate change denial is most prevalent in English-speaking countries, especially in areas “served” by media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch, who rejects climate science.)

It’s time to shift attention from those who sow doubt and confusion, either out of ignorance or misanthropic greed, to those who want to address a real, serious problem. The BBC has the right idea, instructing its reporters to improve accuracy by giving less air time to people with anti-science views, including climate change deniers.

Solutions exist, but every delay makes them more difficult and costly.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with Contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

 

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Categories: Ecological News

Indigenous Mountain Farmers Unite on Climate Change

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 23:00

Courtesy of Sci Dev Net

Farmers from 25 indigenous mountain communities in ten countries have come together to share traditional knowledge that could help them to mitigate climate change and to lobby governments for greater recognition of their unique knowledge.

The International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples was formed at a workshop in Bhutan last month (26 May-1 June). It includes communities from Bhutan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Taiwan, Tajikistan and Thailand.

Member communities from Bhutan, China and Peru had already agreed to exchange seeds at a meeting held in Peru earlier this year (26 April-2 May). The agreement was extended to the other members at the most recent meeting.

The farmers say the network will enable communities to access new seed varieties that are more resilient to pests and drought; will help increase their crop diversity; and will reduce their dependence on corporate-owned seeds.

“This network is a good initiative to fill the knowledge gap and address similar problems between mountain communities with similar farming systems, altitudes and ecological conditions.”

~ Krystyna Swiderska, IIED

“Learning about experiences and strategies from other farming communities — based on local knowledge systems — through this network reaffirms people’s beliefs and faith in their own systems, values and traditional knowledge,” says Reetu Sogani, an activist who works with the International Institute for Environment and Development’s (IIED’s) Smallholder Innovation for Resilience project, which was involved in the workshop.

The meeting also developed what it calls The Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples. The declaration calls on governments to: support climate change adaptation measures based on traditional knowledge; promote indigenous languages; and bridge local knowledge and science to create effective solutions for conservation, food security and climate adaptation.

“Mountain environments are characterised by harsh natural conditions which are being exacerbated by changes in climate,” says Krystyna Swiderska, principal researcher at the IIED, which co-organised the Bhutan workshop.

Swiderska says that a lot of adaptation funding never reaches communities or goes towards developing high-tech solutions, which can replace local crop diversity and knowledge — thereby undermining a community’s adaptive capacity in the longer term.

The 5th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report also recognises the role and value of local and traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation, noting that such knowledge is often not included in adaptation planning.

The member communities have initiated a seed exchange programme with the International Potato Centre’s (CIP) Potato Park, in Peru, a conservation initiative where indigenous people protect traditional seed varieties and agricultural knowledge.

The programme will focus initially on the exchange of potatoes between mountain communities in Bhutan, China and Peru, with support from scientists at CIP, using in-vitro material (as opposed to seeds) to breed new varieties of potatoes that are both more resilient to local conditions and more productive, says Swiderska.

Manohara Khadka, gender specialist at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, says: “Local policymakers have failed to recognise and conserve mountain people’s traditional knowledge in agriculture and adaptation”.

She adds that the other factors that are leading to the loss of traditional knowledge include loss of indigenous languages, which are not always taught in schools; young people discontinuing farming; and migration to cities.

Khadka says: “This network is a good initiative to fill the knowledge gap and address similar problems between mountain communities with similar farming systems, altitudes and ecological conditions.”

Link to The Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License

Categories: Ecological News

Cry for Argentina: The Devastation of GMO Soya

Sun, 07/13/2014 - 23:05

by Mark Measures

Agricultural advisor Mark Measures visits Argentina regularly. Following his recent visit last fall, he wrote sent  report on the massive impact GM soya production is having there. Reprint courtesy of Courtesy of gmeducation.org

Flying over the North of Argentina you see the organic matter of soils and trees going up in pillars of smoke. No caution, no controls and with the government desperate for taxable exports, farmers are being driven by sheer economic pressure to use GM technology. This is industrialization of food production on a devastating scale. If this is the application of “sound science”, God help us.

Farming to a flawed blueprint

The widespread adoption of genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready Soya and more recently GM Maize during the last 10 – 15 years has fueled an unprecedented agricultural revolution in Argentina. Now 98% of soya in the country is GM and in parts of the Pampa 90% of the crop is soya i.e. no crop rotation.

The reasons why this has happened are quite straightforward, certainly in our part of the Pampa. GM soya allows direct drilling, which minimizes soil moisture loss and consequently increases yields over the non-GM soya.

Be under no illusions, GM soya is easy and it is profitable, in fact it so easy that it does not need a farm manager on site and consequently there are businesses running 100,000 hectares, spread over many sites and farmed to a blueprint. The resulting social upheaval is immense.

Herbicide use is not just a matter of a pre-drilling application of Roundup (Glyphosate) herbicide, as is practiced in the UK. It is also applied to the growing crop, normally once by tractor at the establishment stage and again by air during the later growth stage.

Due to the lack of rotation and repeated use of Roundup the inevitable has happened; there are now 5 weed species that are known to be resistant to Roundup and there are as yet unconfirmed reports of a further 5 resistant species.

The consequence of course is that farmers are increasing the application rates of glyphosate to get the weed kill, these are reported to be up to 20 times standard application rates and other, often more toxic herbicides are having to be used in addition to Glyphosate, including the infamous Agent Orange chemical, 24D.

The chemical treadmill to destruction

Farmers are keeping one step ahead of the game at the moment, but the visible weed incidence in fields observed during the 7 hour bus trip across Buenos Aires province suggests only just. The use of some brushwood killers presumably explains why there are dead trees and shrubs along field boundaries.

There is now multiple herbicide resistance in some weeds and it’s not yet clear whether the seed companies will be able to respond by continually developing new herbicide resistant characteristics in their seed.

What is clear is that the need for higher application rates and use of additional herbicides there is now higher use of herbicides than ever before. Claims that GM soya reduces herbicide use may be true for the first year or so but in the long term it is nonsense.

Adverse environmental impacts are beginning to emerge. There are widespread reports of ground water contamination and effects on wildlife throughout the food chain.

Research from Buenos Aries University by Andres Carrasco, Professor of Embryology, has reported major neurological effects of glyphosate on amphibians at below standard application rates, and further problems associated with the additives which are thought to penetrate the amphibian cells more easily than the main ingredient.

With some notable exceptions, few people connected with Argentinean agriculture voice concerns about possible health effects on humans, but in a country that has only just prohibited aerial crop spraying adjacent to towns perhaps this is not surprising.

Contamination of organic crops, destruction and corporate control

Our estancia is farmed along traditional Argentine lines with a crop rotation including soya, wheat, maize, sunflowers and Lucerne and is grazed by 4,000 Hereford cattle. It is an important wildlife site, now a Vida Silvestre reserve, with a unique 300 hectare area of indigenous pampas grassland and a 250 hectare lagoon.

Genetic contamination of organic and non-GM crops is now happening on two fronts.

Firstly, as we know to our cost, there is contamination of adjacent crops. Soya is self-pollinating but crop contamination does happen and we have to test routinely and at times reject crops from the organic market. The risk is of course much greater with GM maize. All farmed crops, organic and non-organic are also liable to contamination in store and transport.

There are also real risks for us of genetic contamination of our native species in the wildlife reserve. Needless to say we have to bear the costs of all this, not the GM farmers or the seed suppliers.

The second contamination front and one of the most pervasive consequences of the total domination of GM soya is that there is now no development or multiplication of non-GM varieties.

At Las Dos Hermanas we have been saving our own single variety of seed and supplying to a few other organic farmers for 15 years now. The conventional farmers are totally dependent on the two or three seed companies (who of course also supply the herbicides) and the organic and any surviving non-GM farmers are being forced to use outclassed and underdeveloped varieties.

Of ultimate importance is the fact that GM technology has facilitated growing soya in the virgin pastures, scrub land and forest in the north of the country, 277,000 ha were cleared in 2010, often land totally unsuited to cropping but with the potential to grow a few crops before soil structure collapses and the depleted land is returned to grass – by which time the damage is done, not just to biodiversity but through destruction of one of our most important carbon sinks.

A pall of poison and folly

Flying over the North of Argentina you see the organic matter of soils and trees going up in pillars of smoke. The consequences for climate change are dire and inevitable unless there is a major and speedy reversal of this production policy.

It could be argued that the problems experienced with GM Soya are due entirely to misuse of the technology; that with proper rotations, with precise application and use of the herbicides and avoidance of spraying near people and watercourses that all would be well.

But the fact is that the human and environmental safety of this technology is unproven and it is always accompanied by environmentally damaging cropping, corporate control and inadequate regulation.

Argentina is the classic example – no caution, no controls and with the government desperate for taxable exports, farmers are being driven by sheer economic pressure to use the technology to the detriment of all.

Farmers are losing their independence, consumers are losing control of their source of food and we are all losing a globally important biodiversity and carbon sink.

This is industrialization of food production on a devastating scale. If this is the application of “sound science”, God help us.

Mark Measures  has been an agriculture advisor for over 30 years. Since the mid-1980s he has also worked with Las Dos Hermanas, a 4,000 hectare organically farmed estancia in the western Pampas of Argentina,   [short descript w/link & TITLE OF STORY #1]  He is Director of The Organic Research Centre in the UK, a registered charity, formally known as the Progressive Farming Trust Ltd., whose business is to develop and support sustainable land-use, agriculture and food systems, primarily within local economies, which build on organic/agro-ecological principles to ensure the health and well-being of soil, plant, animal, people and our environment.The Organic Research Centre was established in 1980 as a “Centre of Excellence” to address the major issues raised by a resource hungry global economy based on an intensive agricultural system.

Citizens Concerned About GM is a group of people who want a more balanced debate about GM; who want questions asked and answered; and an open, transparent discussion which is not dominated by the interests of multinational corporations.  gmeducation.org is maintained to provide up to date information and discussion about GM in an accessible form. It is not aimed at campaigners but seeks to act as an information and education resource for citizens of all types.

 

 

Categories: Ecological News

OCO-2 Mission to Monitor Earth’s Breathing

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 04:14
NASA Launches New Carbon-Sensing Mission to Monitor Earth’s Breathing

 

A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket launches with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)satellite onboard from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. OCO-2 will measure the global distribution of carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth’s climate.
Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA successfully launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide at 2:56 a.m. PDT (5:56 a.m. EDT) Wednesday.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) raced skyward from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. Approximately 56 minutes after the launch, the observatory separated from the rocket’s second stage into an initial 429-mile (690-kilometer) orbit. The spacecraft then performed a series of activation procedures, established communications with ground controllers and unfurled its twin sets of solar arrays. Initial telemetry shows the spacecraft is in excellent condition.

OCO-2 soon will begin a minimum two-year mission to locate Earth’s sources of and storage places for atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world and a critical component of the planet’s carbon cycle.

“Climate change is the challenge of our generation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.”

OCO-2 will take NASA’s studies of carbon dioxide and the global carbon cycle to new heights. The mission will produce the most detailed picture to date of natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their “sinks” — places on Earth’s surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time.

“This challenging mission is both timely and important,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “OCO-2 will produce exquisitely precise measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations near Earth’s surface, laying the foundation for informed policy decisions on how to adapt to and reduce future climate change.”

Carbon dioxide sinks are at the heart of a longstanding scientific puzzle that has made it difficult for scientists to accurately predict how carbon dioxide levels will change in the future and how those changing concentrations will affect Earth’s climate.

“Scientists currently don’t know exactly where and how Earth’s oceans and plants have absorbed more than half the carbon dioxide that human activities have emitted into our atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era,” said David Crisp, OCO-2 science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “Because of this we cannot predict precisely how these processes will operate in the future as climate changes. For society to better manage carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, we need to be able to measure the natural source and sink processes.”

Precise measurements of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide are needed because background levels vary by less than two percent on regional to continental scales. Typical changes can be as small as one-third of one percent. OCO-2 measurements are designed to measure these small changes clearly.

During the next 10 days, the spacecraft will go through a checkout process and then begin three weeks of maneuvers that will place it in its final 438-mile (705-kilometer), near-polar operational orbit at the head of the international Afternoon Constellation, or “A-Train,” of Earth-observing satellites. The A-Train, the first multi-satellite, formation flying “super observatory” to record the health of Earth’s atmosphere and surface environment, collects an unprecedented quantity of nearly simultaneous climate and weather measurements.

OCO-2 science operations will begin about 45 days after launch. Scientists expect to begin archiving calibrated mission data in about six months and plan to release their first initial estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in early 2015.

The observatory will uniformly sample the atmosphere above Earth’s land and waters, collecting more than 100,000 precise individual measurements of carbon dioxide over Earth’s entire sunlit hemisphere every day. Scientists will use these data in computer models to generate maps of carbon dioxide emission and uptake at Earth’s surface on scales comparable in size to the state of Colorado. These regional-scale maps will provide new tools for locating and identifying carbon dioxide sources and sinks.

OCO-2 also will measure a phenomenon called solar-induced fluorescence, an indicator of plant growth and health. As plants photosynthesize and take up carbon dioxide, they fluoresce and give off a tiny amount of light that is invisible to the naked eye. Because more photosynthesis translates into more fluorescence, fluorescence data from OCO-2 will help shed new light on the uptake of carbon dioxide by plants

OCO-2 is a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, built the spacecraft bus and provides mission operations under JPL’s leadership. The science instrument was built by JPL, based on the instrument design co-developed for the original OCO mission by Hamilton Sundstrand in Pomona, California. NASA’s Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management. Communications during all phases of the mission are provided by NASA’s Near Earth Network, with contingency support from the Space Network. Both are divisions of the Space Communications and Navigation program at NASA Headquarters. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information about OCO-2, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/oco2

OCO-2 is the second of five NASA Earth science missions scheduled to launch into space this year, the most new Earth-observing mission launches in one year in more than a decade. NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

Follow OCO-2 on Twitter at:

https://twitter.com/IamOCO2
Categories: Ecological News

World Oceans Day 2014

Sun, 06/08/2014 - 05:43
“One Planet, One Ocean
Together, we have the power to protect them both”

Around the world, the World Oceans Day movement is growing exponentially. The theme for last year and for 2014, “One Planet, One Ocean – Together, we have the power to protect them both,” has spawned hundreds of events on June 8. From beach cleanups to ocean dives, from a Paddle out for Sharks in South Africa to screening the BBC’s “Coast Australia” at Mosman, New South Wales, people from all walks of life are fueling the momentum.

2014 marks the 6th year since the United Nations General Assembly officially sanctioned World Oceans Day. It coincides with the first day of the twenty-fourth meeting of the Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which celebrates 20 years since the Law came into force.

It’s unfortunate that mainstream media generally focuses on the negatives surrounding our oceans. We hear plenty about plastic pollution, pesticide runoff, dying dolphins and mercury-loaded fish. What we don’t hear or see much about is the good that is burgeoning behind the scenes.

Preserving the Oceans

Probably the area with the most significant and newsworthy activity is the creation of Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs. Since last World Oceans Day, several Marine Protected Areas and Networks have been established and more are in the works, with ongoing negotiations.

Facts and Figures courtesy NOAA
• Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water and represent 99 per cent of the living space on the planet by volume.
• Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.
• Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5 percent of global GDP.
• Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions.
• Oceans absorb about 30 percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.
• Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 2.6 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein.
• Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people.
• Subsidies for fishing are contributing to the rapid depletion of many fish species and are preventing efforts to save and restore global fisheries and related jobs, causing ocean fisheries to generate US$ 50 billion less per year than they could.
• As much as 40 percent of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries and loss of coastal habitats.

NOAA describes an MPA as “…any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.

Most MPA’s are broken into different levels of use. Some areas allow recreational fishing. Others are no take zones. Some allow limited commercial fishing, and again, others don’t. The levels of protection are designed with a holistic view of the overall health of the area.

In June 2013, Australia dedicated a vast Marine Reserves Network covering 3.1 million square kilometres, increasing the number of reserves from 27 to 60. Environment Minister Tony Burke said, “For generations Australians have understood the need to preserve precious areas on land as national parks. Our oceans contain unique marine life which needs protection too.”

Earlier this year, the Government of New Caledonia, which is a French overseas territory, announced the decision to create the world’s largest protected area on land or sea. Covering an area larger than Alaska and three times the size of Germany, the network covers 1.3 million square kilometres (501933 square miles) and will protect its abundant oceans.

About 2,000 kilometers (1200 miles) south of Cape Town, South Africa, deep in the Southern Ocean, The Prince Edward Islands consisting of Prince Edward and Marion Islands form an important global biodiversity hotspot covering 180,000km2 and was declared an MPA early in 2013.

The Antarctic is under scrutiny and negotiations continue with the hope that two areas, the Ross Sea and East Antarctica, nearly three million square kilometers, will be designated MPAs in the very near future. This would also create a penguin sanctuary for the eight species that live in the Antarctic. More than one-third of the MPAs would be a strict no fishing area.

More Good News

Besides the expansion of MPAs, other good things are happening in the ocean world.

The U.S.-based environmental group WildAid, reports that consumption of shark fin soup has dropped more than 50 percent since the group’s campaign in China began in 2006. This decline is partly due to public-awareness campaigns led by former NBA star Yao Ming and also due to the Chinese government declaring it would no longer serve the soup at official functions.

Ocean Conservancy reported an astounding 648,015 volunteers, 150,000 more than 2013, in 92 countries picked up more than 12.3 million pounds of trash in the 2013 International Coastal Cleanup.

On the scientific front, scientists are learning more and more about El Niño. By utilizing bullet-shaped, winged robotic Spray glider drones that collect underwater data, they are tracking the formation of this year’s El Niño. The scientists, from California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, expect “the data to include the most high-resolution repeated ocean transects ever done across the equator during an El Niño.”

Although ocean exploration funding is dwarfed by that provided for space exploration, the energy and excitement generated by grassroots activism and NGO enthusiasm for the ocean can help offset the inequity. We can all do our part to protect and explore the watery world that holds so many mysteries.

Categories: Ecological News

World Environment Day 2014

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 00:50
Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level

Barbados, a small Caribbean island at the cutting edge of the fight against climate change, will be hosting World Environment Day 2014, leading United Nations-wide efforts to draw attention to the plight of the world’s small islands potentially in peril of being lost to sea-level rise.

“On World Environment Day, millions of individuals, community groups and businesses from around the world take part in local projects – from clean up campaigns to art exhibits to tree-planting drives,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day, marked every year on 05 June.

Mr. Ban was referring to activities and events taking place worldwide – ranging from a 45,000-strong clean-up campaign involving UN staff throughout Kosovo and the Baltimore Orioles baseball team raising awareness of the environment in Sarasota, Florida, to a bike ride around the lakeside in Geneva, Switzerland – all aiming to raise awareness of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the convening of a youth conference on “Eco-civilization and Green Development” in Shanghai.

In support of the UN designation of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States, World Environment Day will focus on those countries in the broader context of climate change as its theme. Many of the events under way will also spotlight the upcoming Third International Conference on the Small Island Developing States , set to be held in Apia, Samoa from 1 to 4 September.


“Small island nations share a common understanding that we need to set our planet on a sustainable path,” said the Secretary-General, explaining that reaching that goal demands the engagement of all sectors of society in all countries.

“This year, I urge everyone to think about the plight of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and to take inspiration from their efforts to address climate change, strengthen resilience and work for a sustainable future,” said the UN chief. “Raise your voice, not the sea level.”

Home to 62.3 million people, these island nations play a crucial role in protecting oceans while contributing little to climate change – emitting less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gases.

But they suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change owing to their small size, remote locations, and limited economic resilience. Research shows that by 2100, global warming could lead to a sea-level rise of up to 2 meters, making many of these island States, especially in the Pacific region, uninhabitable.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), warned that the very existence of low-lying nations, such as Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu is threatened by climate change-induced sea level rise.

While climate change adaptation was a top priority for island nations, the lack of financial resources is an obstacle, with, for example, the capital cost of sea-level rise in the Caribbean Community countries alone estimated to reach $187 billion by 2080.

“Investing now to head off such a massive economic impact makes sound business sense,” Steiner said in his message.

UN General Assembly President John Ashe, in his message on the Day, also appealed for a global call to action for people across the world to support SIDS and low-lying coastal States endangered by rising sea levels, and disproportionately impacted by climate change, the loss of biodiversity and forests and overfishing.

“Only by transitioning together to a green economy can we ensure a sustainable prosperous future for all countries threatened by rising sea levels,” Mr. Ashe said.

In her message on the Day, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that while small islands faced many challenges, they are also leaders under that treaty “both morally and practically” in terms of reminding nations of the risks and collective responsibilities to act while driving ambitious national and international action.

She went on to site a host of SIDS-driven initiatives, from improved adaptation of water resources in the Comoros to wind power projects in Cape Verde, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica and methane capture in Papua New Guinea and Cuba, that have leveraged the UN Clean Development Mechanism to build their own clean energy futures. Many of these nations have undertaken National Adaptation Programmes of Action under the Convention.

“Our pathway is clear. Clean energy economies produce profits without pollution, better livelihoods in stable industries, restore health and wider wealth and preserve water and essential resources,” Ms. Said, calling on all raise their voices and their ambition now.

On June 5th, 1972, the General Assembly formed UNEP to, “provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.”

That same day was also designated World Environment Day and has since been celebrated as a worldwide day of environmental awareness.

Over the years it has grown to be a broad, global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated by stakeholders in over 100 countries. It also serves as the ‘people’s day’ for doing something positive for the environment, galvanizing individual actions into a collective power that generates an exponential positive impact on the planet.

Source: UNEP

 

Categories: Ecological News

Runaway Glaciers in West Antarctica

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 03:22

Courtesy of NASA

A new study by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine, finds a rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea.

The study presents multiple lines of evidence, incorporating 40 years of observations that indicate the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica “have passed the point of no return,” according to glaciologist and lead author Eric Rignot, of UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The new study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

These glaciers already contribute significantly to sea level rise, releasing almost as much ice into the ocean annually as the entire Greenland Ice Sheet. They contain enough ice to raise global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters) and are melting faster than most scientists had expected. Rignot said these findings will require an upward revision to current predictions of sea level rise.

The glaciers studied by Rignot’s research team. Red indicates areas where flow speeds have increased over the past 40 years. The darker the color, the greater the increase. The increases in flow speeds extend hundreds of miles inland. Image credit: Eric Rignot

“This sector will be a major contributor to sea level rise in the decades and centuries to come,” Rignot said. “A conservative estimate is it could take several centuries for all of the ice to flow into the sea.”

Three major lines of evidence point to the glaciers’ eventual demise: the changes in their flow speeds, how much of each glacier floats on seawater, and the slope of the terrain they are flowing over and its depth below sea level. In a paper in April, Rignot’s research group discussed the steadily increasing flow speeds of these glaciers over the past 40 years. This new study examines the other two lines of evidence.

The glaciers flow out from land to the ocean, with their leading edges afloat on the seawater. The point on a glacier where it first loses contact with land is called the grounding line. Nearly all glacier melt occurs on the underside of the glacier beyond the grounding line, on the section floating on seawater.

Just as a grounded boat can float again on shallow water if it is made lighter, a glacier can float over an area where it used to be grounded if it becomes lighter, which it does by melting or by the thinning effects of the glacier stretching out. The Antarctic glaciers studied by Rignot’s group have thinned so much they are now floating above places where they used to sit solidly on land, which means their grounding lines are retreating inland.

“The grounding line is buried under a thousand or more meters of ice, so it is incredibly challenging for a human observer on the ice sheet surface to figure out exactly where the transition is,” Rignot said. “This analysis is best done using satellite techniques.”

The team used radar observations captured between 1992 and 2011 by the European Earth Remote Sensing (ERS-1 and -2) satellites to map the grounding lines’ retreat inland. The satellites use a technique called radar interferometry, which enables scientists to measure very precisely — within less than a quarter of an inch — how much Earth’s surface is moving. Glaciers move horizontally as they flow downstream, but their floating portions also rise and fall vertically with changes in the tides. Rignot and his team mapped how far inland these vertical motions extend to locate the grounding lines.

The accelerating flow speeds and retreating grounding lines reinforce each other. As glaciers flow faster, they stretch out and thin, which reduces their weight and lifts them farther off the bedrock. As the grounding line retreats and more of the glacier becomes waterborne, there’s less resistance underneath, so the flow accelerates.

Slowing or stopping these changes requires pinning points — bumps or hills rising from the glacier bed that snag the ice from underneath. To locate these points, researchers produced a more accurate map of bed elevation that combines ice velocity data from ERS-1 and -2 and ice thickness data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission and other airborne campaigns. The results confirm no pinning points are present upstream of the present grounding lines in five of the six glaciers. Only Haynes Glacier has major bedrock obstructions upstream, but it drains a small sector and is retreating as rapidly as the other glaciers.

The bedrock topography is another key to the fate of the ice in this basin. All the glacier beds slope deeper below sea level as they extend farther inland. As the glaciers retreat, they cannot escape the reach of the ocean, and the warm water will keep melting them even more rapidly.

The accelerating flow rates, lack of pinning points and sloping bedrock all point to one conclusion, Rignot said.

“The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable,” he said. “The fact that the retreat is happening simultaneously over a large sector suggests it was triggered by a common cause, such as an increase in the amount of ocean heat beneath the floating sections of the glaciers. At this point, the end of this sector appears to be inevitable.”

Because of the importance of this part of West Antarctica, NASA’s Operation IceBridge will continue to monitor its evolution closely during this year’s Antarctica deployment, which begins in October. IceBridge uses a specialized fleet of research aircraft carrying the most sophisticated suite of science instruments ever assembled to characterize changes in thickness of glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice.

Thwaites Glacier. Image credit: NASA


 
 
For additional images and video related to this new finding, visit:
http://go.nasa.gov/1m6YZSf

For additional information on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and its potential contribution to sea level rise, visit:
http://go.nasa.gov/1oIfSlO

For more information on Operation IceBridge, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/icebridge

The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

Categories: Ecological News