Tag Archives: environment

Does Climate Heighten Violent Behaviors?

Ocean Currents Melt Antarctica’s Ice Shelves

Ice shelves are portions of larger ice sheets that extend over the ocean. Antarctica, a continent largely covered by ice, is home to many of these ice shelves. This ice, due to global warming, has been melting at an extremely rapid pace and is a topic that many scientists have been fervently studying.

In a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, it was found that more than half of melting occurs at just ten small ice shelves. How does this melting occur?
It was found that the everyday interactions with warm ocean currents could cause more than half of the ice to melt along Antarctica’s coastline. This study bridges a gap in science’s understanding of how ice sheets interact with their surroundings and shows that oceans play a larger role than scientists previously thought.

Previous knowledge supported that calving, which is the break off of large chunks of ice, was the main factor behind ice shelf dynamics. Capitalizing on newly available monitoring data, a team of scientists led by Eric Rignot at the University of California, Irvine, has for the first time quantified the ocean’s effect on the continent’s ice shelves. Now recent research has highlighted the role of melting from below, called basal melting.

The results suggest that warm ocean currents are melting Antarctica’s ice shelves significantly at certain locations around the continent. It surprisingly accounts for 55% of the world’s annual melted water. The findings will help scientists to confront larger questions about how the Antarctic ice sheet might change in future and its contribution to global rises in sea-levels

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For the full article, visit Nature.com.

‘The Grey’ Not a Hit with Environmentalists

Renowned actor Liam Neeson recently starred in a movie called The Grey that tells the story of a team of oil drillers in Alaska that survived a plane crash but must now survive the blood thirsty wolves before help finds them.  The film has not been well received among environmentalists as they claim it is a false depiction of wolves.

The beasts that fall into the role of villain for the film are described as “rogue wolves,” a term that does not apply to the real-life animals.  Contrary to what the movie shows, since gray wolves have been reintroduced to Yellowstone Park, the elk herds that had been foraging in the area and diminishing certain plant life have been curbed with the wolves’ hunting patterns, which don’t include human beings.

Not all reviews are concerned with the veracity of the wolves’ depiction though.  In a review by the Rolling Stone, The Grey is complimented on its exciting portrayal of man vs. nature with Neeson playing the heroic survivalist who conquers nature by beating the killer wolves.

Possible Return of Gray Wolf to California

For nearly a century, gray wolves have not been seen in the state of California, but recently OR7, a lone gray wolf, has wandered into the state, alarming ranch owners across the state.  They do not see the return of this predator as a good sign like most environmentalists do.

OR7, and two and a half year old male gray wolf, came from a pack in Wallowa County in Oregon, where researchers began tracking him with a GPS collar.  Right now he is the only one of his kind in California, and thus environmentalists are not worried about his hunting patterns, as he will probably feed on carcasses since he is alone.

Ranchers of the state are not so sure of how well their animals will fare against the gray wolves if this one loner brings in a pack.  One rancher, Jack Hanson, claims that if there were no regulations he and his family would shoot the wolf to ensure he does not reproduce and bring back gray wolves to the state.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hanson and others who feel the way he does, there are regulations.  Gray wolves are deemed an endangered species in the state of California under the Endangered Species Act.  The reason this came to be is because back in 1924 hunters killed the last wolf in the state, an act that came around during a time when people were convinced that wolves were vicious man-eaters that had to be stopped.

Biologists do not know if the wolf will remain in California or wander back to its original home in Oregon, or even if it will continue on to Nevada.  OR7’s travels are typical behavior in male wolves his age who are seeking a new pack or even a mate.  State regulators say they do not have a management plan for the protection of the wolves nor do they intend to actively reintroduce the animals to the state, but they do remain protected under federal law.

Black Bears Blocked at Border

The border fence located along the edges between the United States and Mexico was built as a means to keep illegal immigrants from entering the country, but researchers have found it is also blocking black bears from their migration patterns.

Arizona is the main site for black bears’ population north of the border.  Without more bears being able to cross into this territory, the northern population of the species is in danger.  The fence inhibits the black bears’ travel and thus leaves them unable to continue reproducing in certain areas.

The border blockage isn’t the only thing leaving the black bear population dwindling though in Arizona.  Researchers also say that “the expanding highway systems that slice through rugged terrain” take away much of the land that is the black bears’ natural habitat.

Researchers came to their conclusions after doing a study in which they set up hair snags in scattered areas around Arizona, and the genetic evidence produced from this experiment showed significant differences between the black bears in the state and black bears near the border.

One bear researcher, Dr. Jon P. Beckmann, makes it clear that he wants people to be aware of how human activity affects the natural order of other species.  The study was published in Biological Conservation this month in hopes of bringing the issue to light.

Mysterious Beast Kills Goose In London River

About a month ago Mike Wells, a simple observer taking in nature’s sights at London’s Olympic Park, witnessed the attack of a sixteen-pound Canada goose by a creature experts are not sure of what it is.

Citizens of the area are worried and scared that a huge killer beast may be on the loose in the river, a public place where those who want to enjoy the day like Wells did may be in danger.  One spokesman for British Waterways said, ‘We don’t believe there is a crocodile in the river’ as a means to pacify those worried for public safety.

In 2005 a similar incident occurred that also held eye witnesses, and Wells believes whatever took the poor goose this time around is the same animal that killed the last one so many years ago.  At the time wildlife experts suspected an alligator or giant turtle as the perpetrator, eight-foot burrowed holes in the bank being the evidence.

Experts are still uncertain of what the creature is, but some suspect it could be a pike or a python.  Pikes can grow up to forty pounds according to them but usually prey on smaller fish, and on occasion, ducklings.  An escaped pet python could be the culprit the cold winter waters would make its survival difficult, and thus unlikely.

Aside from the eye witness account of a lost goose, the number of swans has also dwindled in the waterways near Olympic Park.  To catch the beast, a trap will have to be set.

Texas Drought Reveals Bluffton’s Past

This past year, Texas has undergone its driest year yet with 8.5 inches of rain, which is 13 inches less than usual, through the month of September.  This drought has caused the state’s lakes to deplete and in some cases reveal pieces of history long forgotten.

One of the state’s largest lakes, Lake Buchanan, is the site for the lost grave of Johnny C. Parks who died October 15, 1882, two days before his first birthday.  The tombstone is usually covered by 20 to 30 feet of water but the drought has brought the lake down considerably.

Across the state other lakes have also evaporated slowly and revealed other artifacts.  Some have been found to contain ancient tools, fossils, and one houses a small cemetery.  There was even a prehistoric skull found in one lake.  The discoveries have attracted several historians and even more looters looking for something to sell.

Falcon Lake, a body of water straddling the border of Texas and Mexico, was also affected by the drought.  It also revealed something prominent: a century-old church.  From Lake Texoma, a manmade body formed from the damming of Red River, revealed the lost buildings of Woodville, OK, a town that was flooded in 1944.

One couple, Steven Standke and wife Carol, travelled out to see the phenomena for themselves.  According to them, their GPS labeled the path they drove as the middle of a very large lake and not a road.

Old Bluffton, located where Lake Buchanan now resides, has been temporarily exposed in the past with other droughts.  During those times, the foundations of an old two-story hotel have been seen, along with a rusting tank and scales of an old cotton gin.

Lake Whitney has seen countless looters arrested for trying to acquire the artifacts revealed by the depleting water sources.  In this lake, Native American tools and fossils that experts believe to be thousands of years old were found.

Lake Georgetown claims prominence with the discovery of an American Indian skull buried for what seems hundreds or thousands of years.  No word yet on what is to become of the skull.

UK to Launch Green Deal

Recently, the United Kingdom government passed a bill known as the Green Deal to correspond with the Energy Act.  What the legislation hopes to achieve is reduced energy consumption and savings for the people.  Many are skeptical of the practicality of these goals though.

The bill’s approach at appealing to all is moving to offer financial support to “householders, private landlords, and businesses” as a means to look economically alluring.  The points it hopes to improve upon are creating a new obligation for energy companies to help those who need it, facilitate a distribution of smart meters, make information on energy bills easier to understand, and grant the Coal Authority additional powers for the charge of certain services, among other things.

Part of the plan with the new legislation is to offer the installation of better insulation in households (heating bills are part of the energy consumption problem).  These installations can be pricy though, so the bill would have banks offer loans for the project.  The problem with this though is that most won’t find the idea of having to pay off a loan appealing.

According to the Guardian, the main problem with the loans is that they will be offered with interest at market rate, which at this time is currently at 8% interest.  Such a high interest rate will not seem worthwhile in the energy savings over the long run with the thought of having to pay that off over the course of more than twenty years.

The charges though do not lie on the individual, but on the property.  This means that when someone moves from a home that person is no longer responsible for the payments of that energy bill, including the loan and its interest rate.  This presents the other problem the bill faces.  It will appeal to those who do not own a home and move frequently, such as rental properties.  For the stable homeowner who stays in one place for an average of 12 years this plan does not seem like a smart idea.

The act is scheduled to be set in motion by the fall of next year.  According to some, the piece will “require over 50 pieces of secondary legislation.”  That means the government has a lot on their plate to get done before the act is set into play.

Putting Plumbing on Mount Everest

Everyone knows Mt. Everest is the highest altitude mountain in the world.  Being such, it gets many hikers trying to climb it every day.  With so many visitors and no toilets, the waste left behind starts to build up.

Eco Himal, an environmentalist group, is calling for installation of portable public toilets along the mountain trail so that people will not have to resort to going to the bathroom wherever they find suitable on the ground.  They are looking toward making a cleaner and more enjoyable environment for future hikers and visitors to the mountain.

The director of the group, Phinjo Sherpa, only wants the government to start off with two or three toilets installed just to see how the project goes.  Not everyone believes this will work though.  The president of another organization pointed out that with the ice’s constant shifting, the structures put in for portable toilets would not withstand and fail after little time has passed.

Human waste is not the only debris environmentalists are worried about.  Over the past fifty years, climbers have come and gone, leaving garbage of all kinds in their wake, not just feces.  All garbage left on Mount Everest is slowly making it the world’s highest dumpster.  Having toilets installed would only be the group’s first step in cleaning up such a prominent landmark.

Developing Countries Embrace Nuclear Power

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster began three months ago in Japan, and it will still be a long time before the country recovers. The accident has practically halted the progress of the country’s nuclear power. Fourteen new reactors were planned by 2030 but at most four will go forward, predicted Martin Daniel, the senior editor of the Platts newsletter Power in Asia. But how will the events in Japan effect the future of nuclear power worldwide?

Three experts from Platts, the energy newsletter publishing company, suggested on Thursday that the effects will probably be minimal. The Carnegie Endowment reached a similar conclusion. Nuclear power has already stagnated in most developed countries, and the disaster will do nothing to change that. But for all of its risks, nuclear power will continue to expand in developing countries.

For example, China has announced that it will pause its nuclear development. But Daniel said that a list of planned Chinese reactors had included many that “were in places that weren’t really suitable for nuclear reactors’’ and that were proposed by local officials, not the central government. The Fukushima incident presents an opportunity to weed those out.

Even with this pause, China is expected to increase its nuclear power tenfold by 2020. Thailand is taking a three-year delay in building its first reactor. And although the accident has stigmatized nuclear power in India, plans to expand reactors there will probably go through.

“Asia is really very pragmatic about nuclear power,’’ Daniel said. “It needs more power of all kinds; electricity demand is growing very quickly throughout the region.’’

In contrast, Italy, Switzerland and Germany have stepped away from expanding their nuclear power grid. The United States, its nuclear heyday long gone, had already shelved two projects from before the disaster, and now a third project in Texas is being put on the back burner.

“Countries like China and India don’t have a way to take the high moral ground that more advanced economies can take,” and reject new power plants, Daniel said.

Contains information from The New York Times.
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