Thursday, May 31, 2012

Peter Brown, Hero to One Young Humpback Whale

Photo courtesy: wjklos/CC BY 2.0

Although the intricate messages conveyed within a whale's call are mostly lost on human ears, there's a pretty good chance that at least one young humpback's songs will be dedicated to a man named Peter Brown.

The Queensland native and his wife were out enjoying a pleasant day of sailing off the coast of Brisbane, Australia when they spotted a young humpback whale that had become entangled in a shark net, so they alerted the authorities. As the minutes passed, however, it became clear that the animal was on the verge of death as it struggled to keep its blowhole above water.

So, in classic heroic style, the brave 67-year-old took matters into his own hands -- single-handedly freeing the whale with nothing more than a bit of true grit and a kitchen knife. Shades of Crocodile Dundee! The men down under seem to take matters into their own hands without hesitation.

"This whale was really wheezing and wasn't able to keep his breathing hole above the water. Something had to be done immediately - we couldn't wait for the cavalry to turn up," Brown tells the Brisbane Times.

At first, Brown rowed out to the 40-foot long whale on a dingy and attempted to cut the net from there. When that proved insufficient to free the animal, the intrepid whale-rescuer then strapped on some goggles and fins, diving into the water off North Stradbroke Island with knife in hand (or I prefer to think, he jumped in Tarzan style with the knife clenched between his teeth) in order to finish the job.

"It was quite an eery feeling touching the flesh of a huge, great big 40-foot whale ... but I felt totally unthreatened by the whale," Brown told reporters. "Eventually it seemed to swim away from all the ropes and the buoys that were tangled with it. And very slowly, and in a very groggy fashion, it swam away."

"And then another little motor boat came up ... and followed [the whale] out to make sure it was OK. Then he came back to us holding his thumbs up and that was the message saying 'mission accomplished'.

"We were quite delighted and we headed on our way."

Shark control program manager Jeff Krause, from the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol, said the whale had breached and became entangled on a shark drum line.

While authorities say they can't condone Brown's act of mammalian solidarity, they had to admit that it was "a great result for the whale."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Words to Live By

Whatever you do, always give 100% - unless you are donating blood.

In case of fire, exit the building before tweeting about it.

Never argue with idiots. They drag you down to their level; then, beat you with experience.

Did You Know That...

Actor and comedian Steve Martin is also known for his banjo-playing abilities. He learned to play the banjo during the 1960's before starting his career as a stand-up comedian.

Those who want to fry their foods using something healthier than butter or oil might want to try ghee. This substance, popular in countries in the Far East and Southern Asia, is butter minus the milk solids and water which have been removed.

The garden tiger moth can be found in gardens across North America. Its colour sheme is much more vibrant than most moths with bright oranges and reds.

Dancing the jig is often associated today with Irish dancing. This lively form of folk dancing actually originated in England sometime during the 1500s.

In 1985, singer Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats put together a huge musical event called Live Aid to raise money for famine relief in Africa. Musical acts played for 17 hours in stadiums in London and Philadelphia. The concerts were also covered by television and radio.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Coral Trout Found With Skin Cancer Lesions Similar to That of Humans

The skin cancer lesions (black spots) found on the coral trout living on the Great Barrier Reef were surficial, and appeared nearly identical to that in humans. Photo courtesy: Michael Sweet, Newcastle University

The first case of skin cancer in a wild marine fish population looks eerily similar to the melanoma that plagues humans, researchers report.

Coral trout living on Australia's Great Barrier Reef are directly beneath the Antarctic ozone hole, the world's largest, which is the result of the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere that normally protects humans from harmful UV rays.

"Further work needs to be carried out to establish the exact cause of the cancer, but having eliminated other likely factors such as microbial pathogens and marine pollution, UV radiation appears to be the likely cause," study researcher Michael Sweet, of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, said in a statement

Sweet and his colleagues examined 136 common coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus), and found 20 individuals, or 15 percent, showed dark skin lesions. The lesions ranged in size from small (covering just 5 percent of the skin) to large, covering the fish's full body, they report online in the journal PLoS ONE.

"The individuals we looked at had extensive — but only surface — melanomas," Sweet said. "This means the cancer had not spread any deeper than the skin, so apart from the surface lesions, the fish were basically healthy."

The skin cancer found on coral trout ranged in coverage from about 5 percent of the fish's body to nearly 100 percent, the researchers reported. Photo courtesy: Michael Sweet, Newcastle University

The lesions looked nearly identical to skin cancer found in humans, he said.

Once the melanoma spreads, Sweet added, fish would likely show signs of sickness, becoming less active and maybe feeding less. As such, the sick fish would be less likely to get caught. "This suggests the actual percentage affected by the cancer is likely to be higher than observed in this study," Sweet said in the statement.

While the diseased fish were caught around Heron Island and One Tree Island, the researchers do not know how many coral trout living elsewhere on the reef have skin cancer.

Until now, researchers had reported melanoma caused by UV exposure in fish only in lab conditions; these fish have been used as a model for studying human skin cancer.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Noise From Ships Drowns Out Songs of Right Whales

Photo courtesy: New England Aquarium

Ever-increasing noise in the ocean has been recognized as a major threat to whales, who sing at low frequencies to communicate with each other over long distances. Now researchers say underwater noise, mainly from ship sounds, drastically cut the ability of North Atlantic right whales to talk to each other in the past five decades.

Researchers monitored noise levels around the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in Massachusetts Bay from 2007 to 2010. As part of the study, they measured sound levels associated with ships and recorded calls made by different species of endangered baleen whales, including the upcalls — which begin low and rise in pitch — used by the critically endangered right whales to stay in touch with each other.

The researchers then compared noise levels from commercial ships today with noise conditions from nearly a half-century ago. Based on this data, they reported in the journal Current Biology that right whales have lost, on average, 63 to 67 percent of their access to underwater airwaves in the sanctuary and its surrounding waters, according to a statement from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

"A good analogy would be a visually impaired person, who relies on hearing to move safely within their community, which is located near a noisy airport," said Leila Hatch, a NOAA marine ecologist at the sanctuary, who led the study. "Large whales, such as right whales, rely on their ability to hear far more than their ability to see. Chronic noise is likely reducing their opportunities to gather and share vital information that helps them find food and mates, navigate, avoid predators and take care of their young."

The noise from a just one ship could make it nearly impossible for a right whale to be heard by other whales, said Christopher Clark, of Cornell University, who also was involved in the study.

"What we've shown here is that in today's ocean off Boston, compared to 40 or 50 years ago, the cumulative noise from all the shipping traffic is making it difficult for all the right whales in the area to hear each other most of the time, not just once in a while," Clark said in a statement from NOAA. "Basically, the whales off Boston now find themselves living in a world full of our acoustic smog."

More noise means the whales' communication range for feeding or mating, could shrink and stress levels on individual animals may rise. Previous studies have shown that right whales might increase the amplitude in their calls as background noise increases. But changing calling habits can come at a price. Researchers say louder calls require more energy and could garble the whale's message.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Antarctic Moss Uses Penguin Poop for Food

This moss that carpets areas of Antarctica near water sources has been found to feed off the nutrients found in penguin poop, according to a 2012 study. Photo courtesy: Prof. Sharon Robinson, University of Wollongong, Australia

Verdant green carpets of moss that emerge during the brief Antarctic summer have an unusual food source, a new study reports: The mosses eat nitrogen from fossilized penguin poop.

Plant biologist Sharon Robinson, who has studied the mosses for 16 years, sought to find their nutrient source; Antarctic soil generally lacks nourishment for plants. "Most of the soil is very, very poorly developed; it's mostly just gravel," said Robinson, a professor at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia.

For Robinson, establishing how the moss colonies grow is important because they serve as an indicator of the effects of climate change.

"In East Antarctica, where it is getting drier, our results show moss growth rates have declined over the past 30 years," she told OurAmazingPlanet.

Chemical analyses were done on the moss to see what isotopes of nitrogen they were eating. Isotopes of different elements contain differing numbers of neutrons in their nuclei. For nitrogen, there are two stable isotopes to look for: nitrogen-14 and heavier nitrogen-15.

Because animals' bodies prefer to excrete the lighter form, heavier nitrogen-15 accumulates with each step on the food chain. In the Antarctic Ocean, krill would have the lowest nitrogen-15 levels, and a top predator, like a penguin, would have the highest.

But the analyses, detailed in the September issue of the journal Biodiversity, revealed the mosses had abnormally high concentration of nitrogen-15 isotopes — high enough that the plants seemed to be eating penguins.

"These plants have root signatures that are very, very enriched, indicating the equivalent of the moss eating four orders of things: krill and fish and a penguin and then moss," Robinson said. "They're not actually eating the penguins, but that tells us that they're using guano from seabirds," she said.

The researchers confirmed the nitrogen came from penguin poop because the moss beds grow on abandoned Adéliepenguin (Adele penguin) colonies. The sites, on the Windmill Islands, are 3,000 to 8,000 years old, and increase in age with distance from the ocean. The colonies are now too high in elevation for nesting (the Earth's crust in Antarctica has been rising since the end of the last ice age).

The moss can be seen growing along this lake in Antarctica. Photo courtesy: Prof. Sharon Robinson, University of Wollongong, Australia

The mosses only flourish during the summer, in or along lakes and streams formed from meltwater. The plants grow just half a millimeter to two millimeters a year, depending on the species. The best communities are in lakes, where there is a continuous water source, Robinson said.

"They form these big turfs of bright, almost fluorescent green. It is really soft and velvety to touch, and warms with the sun. It's quite a lot warmer than the air," she said.

Nitrogen from the penguin droppings dissolves in the meltwater, and is then absorbed by the moss. When winter returns, the plants go dormant, producing special chemical compounds that allow them to dry out without damage.

When the moss is stressed, it turns red, then brown, then black, before it dries out and dies, and Robinson said she's seen more stressed plants recently. The ozone hole has strengthened surface winds around Antarctica, and faster winds evaporate more water, leaving less for the moss to live on.

"We've been finding that the communities are becoming drier. We're also getting a shift of species toward ones that are better able to tolerate desiccation," she said. Robinson and her colleagues reported the environmental effects on the moss colonies in January 2012 in the journal Global Change Biology.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

World's Hottest Rain Falls in Needles, California

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Don't let this gorgeous photo of the City Sign and all the breathtaking wildflowers deceive you. Needles, CA is not for the faint of the heart or the heat intolerant. Needles is located in the Mojave Desert where temperatures on valley floors can soar above 120° F (49° C) and above 130° F (54° C) at the lowest elevations.

I was foolhardy enough to drive through the Mojave Desert during summer - once. I never tried it again. It was blistering and no matter what precautions we took inside the car - shaded windows, a/c, plenty of ice and water, etc. - the trip was a nightmare.

Summer temperatures are known to reside around the 120°F (49 °C) in late July and early August in Needles also which explains the following world record or two.

Photo courtesy: Howlander/CC BY 2.0

With much of the U.S. continuing to suffer under the worst drought conditions in half-a-century, any rainy weather system at all might seem a refreshing sight -- but evidently, sometimes a T-storm can feel a lot like a tea-storm.

According to Weather Underground, the city of Needles, California, recently experienced what is believed to be the hottest rainfall on record. On Monday, not long after hitting a daytime high of 118°F (the hottest it's ever been there, by the way), a thunderstorm rolled through, dropping precipitation over the Mojave Desert town that reached a scorching 115° F.

"Monday's rain at 115° F in Needles sets a new world record for the hottest rain in world history," writes weather expert Dr. Jeff Masters.

But that wasn't the only record set that day. The rain fell with conditions at just 11 percent humidity, "the lowest humidity rain has ever occurred at anywhere on Earth in recorded history."

Due to the low humidity, however, only a scattering of the super-hot droplets reached the ground before evaporating, sparing unsuspecting residents from the full brunt of an oddly shower-like rain shower.

Dr. Master explains the science behind the scalding rain:
It is exceedingly rare to get rain when the temperature rises above 100° F, since those kind of temperatures usually require a high pressure system with sinking air that discourages rainfall. Monday's rain in Needles was due to a flow of moisture coming from the south caused by the Southwest U.S. monsoon, a seasonal influx of moisture caused by the difference in temperature between the hot desert and the cooler ocean areas surrounding Mexico to the south.
Prior to Needles' record-setting rain, the hottest on record occurred in Saudi Arabia, reaching temperatures of 109°F. And, what might seem a mere arbitration, may in fact be a growing trend; to date, the top three hottest rainfalls on record have occurred within the last two years.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Extinctions on The Rise in Brazil

Among other forest mammals, giant anteaters were found to be virtually extinct. Photo courtesy: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Large vertebrates are rapidly going extinct in the small forest fragments remaining after mass deforestation in Brazil.

Led by England’s University of East Anglia (UEA), an international team of scientists assessed the long-term effects of hunting and forest fragmentation on tropical biodiversity in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil.

About 90 percent of the area has been deforested for agriculture, grazing, and development with most remnants smaller than a football pitch. On average, these patches contained only four of the 18 mammal species being surveyed.

“We uncovered a staggering process of local extinctions of mid-sized and large mammals,” said study co-author Gustavo Canale from the State University of Mato Grosso (UNEMAT) in a press release.

The study revealed that white-lipped peccaries were completely extinct, and other mammals like jaguars, woolly spider monkeys, and giant anteaters were nearly extinct.

“You might expect forest fragments with a relatively intact canopy structure to still support high levels of biodiversity,” said study senior author Carlos Peres from UEA in the release. “Our study demonstrates that this is rarely the case, unless these fragments are strictly protected from hunting pressure.”

The researchers found that fragments in protected areas had the most number of species in the region.

“We therefore recommend the implementation of new strictly protected areas, such as national parks and biological reserves, including forest fragments containing populations of endangered, rare, and endemic species, particularly those facing imminent extinctions,” Canale said.

However, many existing protected areas are under threat from degradation and being downsized or degazetted.

“Human populations are exploding and very few areas remain untouched by the expanding cornucopia of human impacts,” Peres said. “It is therefore essential to enforce protection in areas that are nominally protected ‘on paper.’ The future of tropical forest wildlife depends on it.”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fukushima Has Caused Mutant Butterflies

Smoke billows from TEPCO's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011. Genetic mutations have been found in three generations of butterflies from near Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, raising fears radiation could affect other species. ALL photos courtesy: YahooNews!

Genetic mutations have been found in three generations of butterflies from near Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, scientists said Tuesday, raising fears radiation could affect other species.

Around 12 percent of pale grass blue butterflies that were exposed to nuclear fallout as larvae immediately after the tsunami-sparked disaster had abnormalities, including smaller wings and damaged eyes, researchers said.

The insects were mated in a laboratory well outside the fallout zone and 18 percent of their offspring displayed similar problems, said Joji Otaki, associate professor at Ryukyu University in Okinawa, southwestern Japan.

That figure rose to 34 percent in the third generation of butterflies, he said, even though one parent from each coupling was from an unaffected population.

The researchers also collected another 240 butterflies in Fukushima in September last year, six months after the disaster. Abnormalities were recorded in 52 percent of their offspring, which was "a dominantly high ratio", Otaki told AFP.

Otaki said the high ratio could result from both external and internal exposure to radiation, from the atmosphere and in contaminated foodstuffs.

The results of the study were published in Scientific Reports, an online research journal from the publishers of Nature.

Otaki later carried out a comparison test in Okinawa exposing unaffected butterflies to low levels of radiation, with the results showing similar rates of abnormality, he said.

"We have reached the firm conclusion that radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi plant damaged the genes of the butterflies," Otaki said.

Graphic on Japan's pale grass blue butterflies, showing signs of genetic mutation after last year's Fukushima nuclear accident, according to researchers.

The quake-sparked tsunami of March 2011 knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing three reactors to go into meltdown in the world's worst atomic disaster for 25 years.

The findings will raise fears over the long-term effects of the leaks on people who were exposed in the days and weeks after the accident, as radiation spread over a large area and forced thousands to evacuate.

There are claims that the effects of nuclear exposure have been observed on successive generations of descendants of people living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the US dropped atomic bombs in the final days of World War II.

But Otaki warned it was too soon to jump to conclusions, saying his team's results on the Fukushima butterflies could not be directly applied to other species, including humans.

He added he and his colleagues would conduct follow-up studies including similar tests on other animals.

Kunikazu Noguchi, associate professor in radiological protection at Nihon University School of Dentistry, also said more data was needed to determine the impact of the Fukushima accident on animals in general.

"This is just one study," Noguchi said. "We need more studies to verify the entire picture of the impact on animals."

Photo illustration shows a deserted street in the contaminated exclusion zone around Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in November 2011. Genetic mutations have been found in three generations of butterflies from near the Fukushima nuclear plant, raising fears radiation could affect other species.

Researchers and medical doctors have so far denied that the accident at Fukushima would cause an elevated incidence of cancer or leukaemia, diseases that are often associated with radiation exposure.

But they also noted that long-term medical examination is needed especially due to concerns over thyroid cancer among young people -- a particular problem for people following the Chernobyl catastrophe.

"There are a number of unknown factors surrounding the genetic impact of radiation," said Makoto Yamada, a medical doctor who examines Fukushima residents. "We still cannot 100 percent deny that the impact may come out in the future."

Associate professor Noguchi said: "The case of Fukushima plant workers is a different story. Some of them have already topped exposure limits. It is necessary to strictly monitor them to see if there is any impact."

No one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the Fukushima disaster, but many who fled the area and those who remain, including workers decommissioning the crippled plant, worry about the long-term effects.

Scientists have warned it could be decades before it is safe for some people to return to their homes.

"Even if there is no impact now, we have to live with fear," said Sachiko Sato, a mother of two, who temporarily fled from Fukushima. "And concerns will be handed down to my children and grandchildren."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Asian Dust May Interfere With North America's Climate

A dust storm can be seen over Turkmenistan, Central Asia, in this photograph from the International Space Station in 2009. Photo courtesy: Nasa/Earth Images

Three miles above the United States, the atmosphere is filled with dust that has blown thousands of miles from Asia and elsewhere.

The discovery, which used data from a new satellite that provided a three-dimensional view of the air from above, suggests that the transport of tiny dust particles around the world may be having an unexpectedly large impact on storms, temperatures and other weather patterns.

Future climate models may need to factor in dust transport to more accurately predict what's to come and what we can do about it.

"Half the particles in North American air come from somewhere else," said Lorraine Remer, an aerosol scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "That was news to me. I had no expectations of that."

"It's telling us in a lot of ways how small the world is and how interconnected the airspace is," she added. "So much of what we see in our skies comes from someplace else. And if we're working towards solutions, there has to be global engagement to do so."

Along with ozone, carbon dioxide and other gasses, aerosols hang in the air. These particles come from coal-burning and other manmade sources of pollution as well as from natural events, including forest fires and volcanic eruptions.

Close to the surface, aerosols pose threats to human health, raising the risk of heart attacks, respiratory problems, and other issues. Higher up in the atmosphere, particles absorb heat and reflect sunlight. Because particles provide surfaces for the formation of ice crystals, aerosols can also affect cloud formation and precipitation. Another concern is that aerosols will settle on the high mountains of the western United States, causing snow to melt more quickly.

Plenty of researchers have attempted to use modeling studies to estimate the concentration of aerosol particles in the atmosphere, but results have varied widely. To get the first accurate measurement of what kinds of particles are up there and how they're moving, Remer and colleagues used data from two satellites.

One satellite showed pictures of cloud and aerosol patterns over Earth from above. The other, a new satellite called Calypso, offered a three-dimensional view of how high up the aerosols were, kind of like a CT scan of the atmosphere from the surface to space. The researchers combined data over a several years to get a seasonal picture of where the particles were and how they moved.

Together, the images showed that the concentration of particles that moved from Asia to North America equaled the total concentration of particles produced by North America, the researchers report today in the journal Science.

The good news, at least for our health, was that the aerosols that blow in from Asia stayed high up in the atmosphere -- between about four kilometers (2.5 miles) and six kilometers (3.7 miles) above the surface.

Satellite images also showed that the majority of high-flying aerosols were made up of desert dust, which can affect climate patterns in a number of ways. And while experts continue to debate the effects of climate change and development on the conversion of fertile lands to deserts in many parts of the world, most of the dust in the atmosphere probably comes from the natural lifting of desert sands, said Daniel Jacob, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

"In terms of the effect of aerosols on climate, we tend to be fixated on human activity," Jacob said. "But we have this big dust haze layer that's several miles over our heads. This study nicely reminded us of that."

The next step is to figure out exactly how all that dust is contributing to shifts in global climate patterns. It could go either way. Dust scatters solar radiation back into space, potentially creating a cooling effect. But with their yellow-brown color, dust particles also absorb radiation, potentially contributing to atmospheric warming.

"Right now, we don't even know what the feedback is for dust on climate impacts, but we know it's potentially big," Jacob said. "Satellite observations like this are really going to be helpful to better represent dust in our climate models."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Common Soap Ingredient May Impair Muscle Function

Photo courtesy: Emily Roesly

Researchers are raising the alarm over triclosan — an antibacterial chemical commonly found in soaps, deodorants, mouthwashes, toothpastes and even toys and trash bags — after a study found that the compound might impair muscle function.

The researchers at the University of California, Davis and the University of Colorado studied heart muscle cells and skeletal muscle fibers exposed to triclosan in test tubes. They applied electrical stimulation, which would normally make the muscles contract, but the triclosan seemed to impair two proteins involved in contractions, causing the skeletal and cardiac fibers to fail at the cellular level.

The team also tested two groups of live animal subjects. They exposed sedated mice to the chemical and observed up to a 25 percent reduction in heart function levels within 20 minutes. And to mimic the effect of triclosan in marine environments, the researchers exposed fathead minnows to the chemical in the water for seven days. The exposed fish showed significantly diminished swimming ability compared to controls, the researchers reported in a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We have shown that triclosan potently impairs muscle functions by interfering with signaling between two proteins that are of fundamental importance to life," UC Davis researcher Isaac Pessah said in a statement from the university. "Regulatory agencies should definitely be reconsidering whether it should be allowed in consumer products."

The researchers noted that more testing is needed to fully understand the chemical's effect on humans, but they say their findings suggest triclosan could have negative consequences for animal and human health at current levels of exposure. Federal environmental data has shown that the chemical turns up in waterways, algae, fish and dolphins, as well as in human urine, blood and breast milk.

Beyond potential health hazards, the effectiveness of using soaps that contain triclosan has been disputed. Outside of hospitals, triclosan may not be needed to get rid of potentially harmful bacteria and some researchers have warned that widespread use of the chemical may lead to the evolution of bacteria that are resistant to it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Sea Chair Project

One of the chairs made from plastic reclaimed from the oceans. All photos courtesy: Sea Chair Project

At a recent visit to Eyebeam, one of the TreeHugger staff came across the Sea Chair Project by Studio Swine and Kieren Jones. According to them, “the United Nations estimates the world’s oceans to contain some 100 million tons of plastic”. Furthermore, due to commercial fishing and depleting fish stocks, the fishing industry is in crisis.

To kill two birds with one stone, the designers created a device to collect plastic waste floating in the ocean and turn it into stools. The project combines craft, industry and design and offers the fishing industry a new occupation: making chairs onboard.

I love this idea on so many levels. First, and foremost, it is removing some of the plastic in our oceans thereby reducing harm to the marine animals that live there. There will always be plastic there to harm them; but, at least it will be somewhat less now.

Second, it helps us to support our fellow beings financially by giving them a new source of income. There is no way, I would not buy one of these stools; and, I would use it, too. When they are available in my area, I'm sold.

The first Sea Chair was launched at this year’s Milan Design Week and produced with plastic collected from Porthowan Beach in the UK with the help of the custom-made Sea Press. All the machinery and collection tools are refurbished agricultural machinery sourced from salvage yards, re-envisaged and adapted for the purpose of harvesting plastic. I just love this company!

This is then shaped with simple moulds that enable production at sea; and, in the end each chair is tagged with its geographical coordinates and production number. The designers have a vision for the future:
With the depletion of oil within the earth’s crust, oil rigs will one day become dormant. We envisage a time when they could be adapted to harvest rich reserves of plastic as a source of fuel and re-usable materials.
The project won the RCA Sustain Award. It might seem like a crazy idea at the moment but there are more people who believe that one day we will dig out plastics from landfill and fish it out of the sea if crude oil becomes scarce. And then we should really put an effort into making beautiful and comfortable chairs and other objects out of the collected waste.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

100% Organic Energy Drink

Photo courtesy: b a r t/CC BY 2.0

Many moons ago, I wrote a blog about the harm energy drinks can do to a body. Not only have the energy drinks of today caused damage to some of its consumers - some of this damage irreparable - but, they have caused some deaths as well. It would seem that there is a company out there who has developed a 100% organic, nothing added, natural energy drink. Energy drink enthusiasts read on:

Once they went and took the cocaine out of Coke, people have been relying on narcotic-free beverages for a boost ever since. Caffeine has been king, only to be usurped by a whole new breed of energy drinks containing a slew of stimulants fierce enough to make cocaine-y Coke seem like a relaxant.

But truth be told, whether it's an afternoon slump or pre-party fatigue, there often comes a time when a little pick-me-up couldn't hurt. The quick fix of an energy drink can come in handy, but at what price? Artificial sweeteners, colorants, flavorings and preservatives, most often. Which is why energy-drink drinkers who would prefer to steer clear of artificial ingredients can now amp themselves without worry with Scheckter’s OrganicEnergy, billed as the "world’s first 100% all natural, all organic, FairTrade certified, vegetarian-approved, organic energy drink."

Photo courtesy: © Scheckter’s

Scheckter’s owes its kapow properties to extracts from organic raw green coffee beans and organic Guarana which are said to provide a boost in physical and mental performance, while ginseng, gingko biloba, and green tea work their magic as well. Add some organic raw fair-trade cane sugar, pomegranate, elderberry, and lemon juice and you should be good to go. And go and go and cocaine required.

Available at Whole Foods, Target, and other regional stores. Spin by their website,, to check it out for yourself and make up your own mind.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Just Because

Toad Suck, AK sign post. Photo courtesy: Wiki Commons

I have been accused of having a very twisted sense of humour; and, this blog just may remove any doubts that may still be out there. I am publishing the following blog because I find it absolutely hysterical. You can't make this up.

A new poll across seven English-speaking countries has chosen Toad Suck, Arkansas, as having the "most unfortunate" town name in the United States.

Toad Suck, an unincorporated community in Perry County, took top dishonors, edging out Climax, Georgia, and Boring, Oregon.

The poll was conducted by the genealogy site, and polled respondents in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

"Some people are disconcerted to learn that their forebears came from somewhere called Toad Suck, Roachtown or Monkey's Eyebrow," said Josh Taylor, genealogist and spokesperson for the site, in a press release.

Toad Suck reportedly takes its name from a once popular drinking location for boaters on the Arkansas River. The site explains in more detail, "While they waited, they refreshed themselves at the local tavern there, to the dismay of the folks living nearby, who said: 'They suck on the bottle 'til they swell up like toads.' Hence, the name Toad Suck."

Keeping the flavour and the heritage of this area intact is of vital importance to the local residents. To this end, Conway, AK hosts the annual "Toad Suck Daze" Festival.

An interesting side note is that Climax's (#2 on the list) unique name isn't its only claim to fame. It's also home to the annual "Swine Time" festival.

The Top 10:

1. Toad Suck, AK
2. Climax, GA (Climax, MN uses the motto "Bring a friend to Climax")
3. Boring, OR
4. Hooker, OK
5. Assawoman, MD
6. Belchertown, MA
7. Roachtown, IL.
8. Loveladies, NJ
9. Squabbletown, CA
10. Monkey's Eyebrow, KY

"I maybe expected Squabbletown to rank higher," Taylor said.

Canada has many fine unusual city names as well. In no particular order: Spread Eagle, New Foundland; Bastard, ON; Nameless Cove, New Foundland; Come by Chance, New Foundland; Dildo, New Foundland; Climax, SK; Garden of Eden, NS or Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, AB to name a few.

Friday, May 18, 2012

7 Things You Probably Don't Know About Moths

The Royal Walnut Moth can grow to a wingspan of three to more than six inches wide. Photo courtesy: David Moskowitz

The word "moth" may conjure up images of drab brown insects sticking to your screen door on a summer night. But there's much more to these mostly-nocturnal fliers than meets the eye. I remember laying in the cool grass on a hot summer day watching the little white moths flit from flower to flower. I used to think what lazy grace they had - they never seemed to really fly - and, how confidentally they went about their work.

Not only are moths extraordinarily diverse in color, shape and size, said David Moskowitz, a New Jersey entomologist and organizer of the first annual National Moth Week (July 23-29), they also offer a huge array of ecological benefits, from pollinating plants to feeding birds, bats and even people around the globe.

Here, OurAmazingPlanet has rounded up seven fascinating facts about these misunderstood insects:

1. There are more than 11,000 species of moths in the U.S. alone.

Moths outnumber butterflies, their nearest relative, by more than 10 to 1, said Matthew Shepherd, communications director and senior conservation associate at the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization focused on insect conservation in Portland, Ore. There are upward of 11,000 moth species in the United States alone — that's more than all the bird and mammal species in North America combined.

A moth the size of a pencil tip. Photo courtesy: David Moskowitz

Moths can range in size from smaller than a pencil tip to bigger than a songbird. The Atlas Moth, of Southeast Asia, considered the largest in the world, has a wingspan of nearly a foot (30 centimeters) — more than that of a Baltimore oriole. The Royal Walnut Moth, one of the biggest North American species, has a wingspan of about 4.5 inches (11 cm).

2. Moths make great mimics.

Some moths are notorious for their ability to impersonate other animals. To avoid being eaten, some moths have evolved to look like less palatable insects, such as wasps, tarantulas and the praying mantis. Some moths even mimic bird droppings.

3. Moths are important pollinators.

While some moths, particularly caterpillars such as the corn earworm, are major agricultural pests, many others are important pollinators. "Their hairy bodies make moths great pollinators — they pick up pollen from any flower they land on," Moskowitz said.

Moth-pollinated flowers tend to be fragrant and white, such as the yucca plant. Plants with these features allow nocturnal moths to easily find flowers after dark.

Some moths pollinate by day. Hummingbird moths hover in front of flowers and unfurl their long tongues to sip nectar; they feed on a variety of flowers, including bee balm, honeysuckle and verbena.

4. Many adult moths don't eat.

While some moths suck nectar, others don't eat at all. The adult Luna moth, for instance, doesn't even have a mouth. After it emerges from its cocoon, it lives for about a week. Its sole mission in life? To mate and lay eggs.

The luna moth grows to a wingspan of four and a half inches. Photo courtesy: David Moskowitz

5. A male moth can smell a female more than 7 miles away.

Though they lack noses, moths are expert sniffers. They detect odor molecules using their antennae instead of through nostrils. Male giant silkworm moths have elaborate, feather-shaped antennae with hairlike scent receptors that allow them to detect a single molecule of a female moth's sex hormone from 7 miles (11 kilometers) away.

6. They are important food for many animals.

Because of their abundance, moths are major players at the bottom of the food chain. "They're a huge source of food for bats," Shepherd told OurAmazingPlanet.

In fact, some moths have evolved defenses against their winged predators. Tiger moths produce ultrasonic clicking sounds that effectively jam bat sonar, inhibiting the bat's ability to find them.

"Caterpillars are one of the most important things that moths offer in the ecosystem," Shepherd said. "They are food for everything else."

An estimated 95 percent of nesting birds rear their young on insects, and caterpillars make up a significant part of that, Shepherd said.

7. Moths: The next superfood?

In some parts of the world, moths are a major food source for people too. More than 90 percent of people in some African countries eat moth and butterfly caterpillars, according to a 2004 survey by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Caterpillars are packed with protein and healthy fats, and research shows that 100 grams of these insects provides more than 100 percent of the daily requirement of some vital minerals, such as potassium, calcium, zinc and iron.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Heatwaves and Droughts Brought on by Climate Change

August 2011 ended a summer that brought record-breaking and near record-breaking warmth to the U.S. and the globe. Photo courtesy: NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

As relentless heat wave has followed relentless heat wave across the United States this summer, conversations have increasingly turned to the role of global warming in extreme weather events. A new study solidifies the link.

Before 1980, excessively hot summers were practically non-existent. More recently, found a new study, summers that averaged 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than normal have become common – covering about 10 percent of land area around the globe each year – up from an average of just a few tenths of a percent in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. In some recent years, super-hot summers have struck as much as 20 percent of the Northern Hemisphere.

Statistically, the pattern is too extreme to be considered a result of chance, found a new study, which pointed a finger directly at global warming as the underlying cause of the recent spike in extra-hot summers.

With projected warming over the next 50 years, the study predicted that summers averaging 5.5 Fahrenheit above normal will happen regularly. In a decade, nearly 17 percent of the globe will likely be experiencing scorching summers each year.

“The problem is that there’s always this caveat when people say, ‘Well, you can’t blame any individual event on global warming,’” said James Hansen, a climate scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

“But what we show is that you can blame this strong change in the bell curve (of temperature distributions) on global warming. And that change has really made a remarkable impact on the chance of the likelihood of extreme weather events.”

High-profile summer heat waves have fueled headlines around the globe in recent years. The historically hot summer of 2010 from Moscow to the Middle East was followed by a record-setting summer in Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico in 2011. The summer of 2012 has already strained air-conditioners across the Midwest and eastern United States as well as parts of Canada.

Scientists often come up with meteorological reasons, including high-pressure systems and La Niña events, to explain individual heat waves. In an effort to see if there might be any larger trends, Hansen and colleagues analyzed seasonal temperature averages around the globe dating back to 1950.

When the researchers compared the period between 1951 and 1980 with the period since 1980, they found that average temperatures shifted toward the warmer in the latter period.

Even more striking, the team reports today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, anomalously hot summers – defined by average temperatures that were three standard deviations or 3.3 F hotter than normal – became far more common in recent decades. Hot summers directly raise the risk of damaging wildfires and devastating droughts.

Overall, the study found, temperatures are becoming more variable with more extremes at both ends, making cooler-than-average summers likely to happen in the coming years, as well. Global warming also increases levels of water vapor in the air, raising the likelihood of extreme snowfall, rainfall, and flooding in some places.

Those kinds of patterns can be confusing to a public that tends to take global warming more seriously when they are living through unusually warm weather.

“We increasingly think that one of the biggest determinants of whether people think climate change is real or not, or whether they think it’s severe or moderate, is their relatively recent experiences with local weather,” said Barry Rabe, a political scientist who studies environmental and energy policy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

For the past five or six years, Rabe and colleagues have been conducting nationwide polls to gauge the public’s attitudes toward climate change. Their results suggest that concern peaks during heat waves and wanes during cooler-than-normal seasons.

Policy changes also tend to happen not when scientists announce a rise in global average temperatures, but when an area faces some kind of imminent threat that is related to climate change. An infestation of mountain pine beetles as a result of warmer winters in British Columbia, for example, had a direct impact on the creation of a major carbon tax there.

The new study, then, may come at an opportune time – as long as the weather remains wiltingly hot.

“Generally, in public policy and environmental policy, the thinking is that things have to be pretty significant and severe in a vivid way for people to become concerned and governments to react,” Rabe said.

“Normally, we have seen major policy changes follow some kind of disaster, he added. “One of the big challenges with climate change is figuring out what is the crisis, what is the burden of proof, and what is the demonstrable evidence.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Papua, New Guinea Gives Approval For First Undersea Copper and Gold Mine

Photo courtesy: Flickr

Once you have finished reading this blog, you will understand why I am not so proud to be Canadian anymore.

Papua New Guinea's government has just granted a Canadian mining company a 20-year licence to harvest its deep sea territories for copper and gold. Once it commences, it will be the first commercial deep sea mining operation ever carried out. The controversial project has been in the works for years now, but proponents count this as among the last major hurdles that need to be cleared.

The Guardian explains that the "Canadian firm Nautilus Minerals has been granted a 20-year licence by the PNG government to commence the Solwara 1 project," which will "mine an area 1.6km beneath the Bismarck Sea, 50km off the coast of the PNG island of New Britain. The ore extracted contains high-grade copper and gold."

Obviously, other mining companies are paying close attention. Put your ear into a seashell in Papua New Guinea; that's the sound Rio Tinto licking its chops. And activist groups are outraged:
The Deep Sea Mining (DSM) campaign, a coalition of groups opposing the PNG drilling, estimates that 1 million sq km of sea floor in the Asia-Pacific region is under exploration licence. Nautilus alone has around 524,000 sq km under licence, or pending licence, in PNG, Tonga, New Zealand and Fiji.

"PNG is the guinea pig for deep-sea mining," says Helen Rosenbaum, the campaign's co-ordinator. "The mining companies are waiting in the wings ready to pile in. It's a new frontier, which is a worrying development ... Nautilus has found a place so far away from people that they can get away with any impacts. They've picked an underfunded government without the regulation of developed countries that will have no way of monitoring this properly."
So it's a story we've heard so, so many times before—an impoverished nation offered the promise of revenues, economic development and new jobs in exchange for access to its natural resources.

And this time, the resource extraction will take place in totally unprecedented terrain, and may eventually impact up to 620,000 square miles of deep sea ecosystem in ways we can't yet comprehend. But given we humanfolk's track record with such matters thus far, we should probably already have an inkling or two about how this one ends.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

SuperVolcano Found Near Pompeii

A super volcano could kill millions of people. Photo courtesy: ABC News

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, Italy, in 79 A.D. killed thousands of Pompeii residents and remains one of the most famous volcanic explosions in history. But scientists say a hidden "super volcano" in the same area has the potential to kill millions in a catastrophe much greater than that of Pompeii.

"These areas can give rise to the only eruptions that can have global catastrophic effects comparable to major meteorite impacts," Giuseppe De Natale, head of a project to drill deep under the earth to monitor the molten caldera, told Reuters.

A caldera, or cauldron, is formed by collapsed land after a volcanic eruption. It can be just as dangerous as volcanic domes, sending magma and ash shooting into the air. A caldera is located in Campi Flegrei. The regional park is a major tourist attraction; and, the surrounding area is home to more than 3 million residents. The boiling mud and sulphurous steam holes of the area west of Naples are known as the Campi Flegrei or Phlegraean Fields, from the Greek word for burning.

But the zone of intense seismic activity, which the ancients thought was the entrance to hell, also could pose a danger of global proportions with millions of people literally living on top of a potential future volcanic eruption.

"That is why the Campi Flegrei absolutely must be studied and monitored," De Natale said. "I wouldn't say like others, but much more than the others exactly because of the danger given that millions of people live in the volcano."

"These areas can give rise to the only eruptions that can have global catastrophic effects comparable to major meteorite impacts," said Giuseppe De Natale, head of a project to drill deep under the earth to monitor the molten "caldera."

The intensity of a meteorite impact is such that one is thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago when debris thrown into the atmosphere from the huge explosion plunged the earth into darkness.

Scientists funded by the International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme have been given clearance to drill 2.2 miles underground into the center of the caldera, home to a giant chamber of molten rock. Once they've reached the chamber, they plan to install a monitoring system that would give advanced warning of any potentially dangerous eruptions.

However, the project has run into major opposition from some local scientists who say the drilling itself could cause a dangerous eruption or earthquake.

Benedetto De Vivo, a geochemist at Naples University, has said the drilling could cause an explosion.

"[S]ome of these areas, in particular the Campi Flegrei, are densely populated and therefore even small eruptions, which are the most probable, fortunately, can pose risks for the population," said De Natale, from the Vesuvius observatory at Italy's National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology.

The initial stages of drilling have already turned up some scientific evidence, including samples of volcanic rock from a major eruption that occurred some 15,000 years ago.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Points to Ponder...

A pessimist is just someone who realizes that for every silver lining - a cloud is attached.

A halo only has to fall a few inches before it becomes a noose.

Did You Know That...

There are lots of plants and animals living on the earth; but, there are still many to be found. Scientists tend to look for new species on coral reefs and sea floors which are rich sources of life.

The first dishwasher was invented by an American woman named Josephine Cochrane. It was not because she hated doing dishes; but, because her servants kept breaking her good china. She patented her machine in 1886.

Although Canada is 40 times the size of Britain, almost twice as many people live in Britain, which has a population of just over 60 million (including England, Scotland, and Wales). Canada is home to only 34 million people.

One country that has become renowned for its use of renewable energy is Spain. There, solar power and wind energy are well-utilized sources of power.

Igloos, made by the Inuit for centuries, are created from blocks of snow. These arctic dwellings are surprisingly warm because snow has insulating qualities which traps body heat inside the structure.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

US GeoEngineers to Spray Sun-Reflecting Chemicals From a Balloon

The field experiment in solar geoengineering aims to ultimately create a technology to replicate the observed effects of volcanoes that spew sulphates into the stratosphere. Photo courtesy: Gallo Images/Getty Images

We just never learn. Two geoengineers are going aloft to spray chemicals over a small portion of New Mexico in an attempt to lower the temperature - first, locally, then worldwide. I only hope these chemicals do no harm. But judging from past experiences, I don't hold out much hope.

Two Harvard engineers are to spray sun-reflecting chemical particles into the atmosphere to artificially cool the planet, using a balloon flying 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The field experiment in solar geoengineering aims to ultimately create a technology to replicate the observed effects of volcanoes that spew sulphates into the stratosphere, using sulphate aerosols to bounce sunlight back to space and decrease the temperature of the Earth.

David Keith, one of the investigators, has argued that solar geoengineering could be an inexpensive method to slow down global warming, but other scientists warn that it could have unpredictable, disastrous consequences for the Earth's weather systems and food supplies. Environmental groups fear that the push to make geoengineering a "plan B" for climate change will undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Keith, who manages a multimillion dollar geoengineering research fund provided by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, previously commissioned a study by a US aerospace company that made the case for the feasibility of large-scale deployment of solar geoengineering technologies.

His US experiment, conducted with American James Anderson, will take place within a year and involve the release of tens of hundreds of kilograms of particles to measure the impacts on ozone chemistry, and to test ways to make sulphate aerosols the appropriate size. Since it is impossible to simulate the complexity of the stratosphere in a laboratory, Keith says the experiment will provide an opportunity to improve models of how the ozone layer could be altered by much larger-scale sulphate spraying.

"The objective is not to alter the climate, but simply to probe the processes at a micro scale," said Keith. "The direct risk is very small."

While the experiment may not harm the climate, environmental groups say that the global environmental risks of solar geoengineering have been amply identified through modelling and the study of the impacts of sulphuric dust emitted by volcanoes.

"Impacts include the potential for further damage to the ozone layer, and disruption of rainfall, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions – potentially threatening the food supplies of billions of people," said Pat Mooney, executive director of the Canadian-based technology watchdog ETC Group. "It will do nothing to decrease levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or halt ocean acidification. And solar geoengineering is likely to increase the risk of climate-related international conflict – given that the modelling to date shows it poses greater risks to the global south."

A scientific study published last month concluded that solar radiation management could decrease rainfall by 15% in areas of North America and northern Eurasia and by more than 20% in central South America.

Last autumn, a British field test of a balloon-and-hosepipe device that would have pumped water into the sky generated controversy. The government-funded project – Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (Spice) – was cancelled after a row over patents and a public outcry by global NGOs, some of whom argued the project was a "Trojan horse" that would open the door to full-scale deployment of the technology.

Keith said he opposed Spice from the outset because it would not have improved knowledge of the risks or effectiveness of solar geoengineering, unlike his own experiment.

"I salute the British government for getting out and trying something," he said. "But I wish they'd had a better process, because those opposed to any such experiments will see it as a victory and try to stop other experiments as well."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

World's Largest Butterfly in Danger of Extinction

Queen Alexandra's birdwing butterflies are already on the endangered species list, and rapidly losing their rainforest habitat. Photo courtesy: Mark Stratton

How large does a butterfly have to be before anybody notices it is disappearing? In the case of Papua New Guinea's (PNG) Queen Alexandra's birdwing, the answer is enormous.

The world's largest butterfly boasts a 1ft (30cm) wingspan – imagine the width of a school ruler - yet few outsiders in its rainforest home in Oro province in northern PNG have ever seen it. It's a scenario unlikely to improve as oil palm plantation and logging remorselessly devours this endangered butterfly's habitat.

Edwardian naturalist Albert Meek first recorded it in 1906 on a collecting expedition to PNG. The fast-flying butterfly frequents high rainforest canopy so Meek resorted to blasting them down by shotgun. The Natural History Museum taxonomically allocated his buckshot-peppered specimens into the birdwing genus (a tropical grouping possessing super-elongated forewings) and named it after Edward VII's wife.

Because of substantial sexual dimorphism it took some time to correlate males and females as the same species. The females are velvety-black with cream patches and bright yellow abdomens. They are almost one-third larger than the males, which are iridescently patterned gold, turquoise, green, and black.

It is not clearly understood why the butterfly grows so large but its lack of predators due to its unpalatable nature is certainly a factor.

Queen Alexandra's eggs are laid on the poisonous leaves of a tropical pine-vine called aristolochia, found in Oro province's rainforests. Emerging caterpillars feeding on aristolochia ingest its toxins throughout all stages of growth until they pupate into chrysalises. Red hairs on the emerged adult butterfly's thorax warn predators that it remains highly toxic.

Their biggest threat, however, remains progressive habitat clearance. Queen Alexandra's have lost much of their range across Oro province's coastal plain and are now condensed into a small stronghold on a remote plateau called Managalas.

"Its habitat is being destroyed by oilpalm expansion and coffee and cocoa growing," explained Eddie Malaisa, wildlife officer for Oro provincial government. "I'm very worried about this butterfly's future because on the lower plains I know of only seven isolated blocks where it's found but these are small patches of rainforest between 100-200 hectares surrounded by oil palm".

Ironically, weakening regulation set up to protect them may be the butterfly's best hope for survival.

Queen Alexandra's are currently classified as an appendix 1 species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which prohibits their trade as specimens for overseas collectors. With no legal trade, an illegal black market keep the specimens in demand. In Winged Obsession: Chasing the Illegal Trade (2011), journalist Jessica Speart tells of a jailed butterfly trader who was offering pairs of Queen Alexandra's illegally smuggled out of PNG for more than $8,500 USD (£5,400).

She estimated the global butterfly smuggling trade to be worth around $200m USD(£127m) each year.

Malaisa believes downgrading Queen Alexandra's Cites status (to appendix 2) to allow a controlled limited trade would incentivize poor subsistence farmers to protect the butterfly's habitat by allowing them to sell an agreed quota of specimens.

"What is worse? Legally trading a few butterflies or removing Queen Alexandra's habitat forever," asks Malaisa.

• Mark Stratton's Quest for the World's Largest Butterfly airs on BBC Radio 4, August 7th at 11.02 am GMT + 1 hour.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Police in India go Green

Welcome to Thiruvananthapuram, India. Photo courtesy: Bernard Oh/CC BY-ND 2.0

Fines for not recycling, and other punitive measures designed to encourage less wasteful behavior, have lead some people in the States to complain about the "green police" — a popular (if mostly inaccurate) meme that even became an Audi ad for the superbowl.

It is always amazing to me that those who live in such a properous society manage to complain the loudest about having to take even the tiniest measure to safeguard that prosperity; or, to share with others less fortunate. Coincidentally, it was an intentionally-poor man who taught the world about passive resistance; sustainability; and responsible management of resources. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (or Mahatma Gandhi as he is more commonly known) said: "Be the change you want to see in the world." And, once again, change seems to be originating in India.

In Thiruvananthapuram, India, people aren't just talking about the "green police", they're talking about the compost police.

But rather than simply enforcing the recycling habits of others, IBN Live reports that every city police station is itself being asked to compost in an effort to cut waste:
All the 20 police stations in the city limits will soon set up waste composting units following an order of the city police chief two months ago. And the Medical College police station has already set up a waste composting unit which became operational a month ago, setting an example for other police stations.
As is often the case, these moves have been born out of necessity as waste management has become a serious issue in the city. But it's nice to see that a crisis can indeed be turned into an opportunity, and — much like the NYPD's high profile purchase of hybrid patrol cars — it's a useful reminder that law enforcement can do more than simply mandate change in others.

Leading by example has a lot to be said for it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Greenland Ice Sheet Melts at Unprecedented Rate

The Greenland ice sheet on July 8, left, and four days later on the right. An estimated 97% of the ice sheet surface had thawed by July 12. Photo courtesy: Nasa

The Greenland ice sheet melted at a faster rate this month than at any other time in recorded history, with virtually the entire ice sheet showing signs of thaw.

The rapid melting over just four days was captured by three satellites. It has stunned and alarmed scientists, and deepened fears about the pace and future consequences of climate change.

In a statement posted on Nasa's website on Tuesday, scientists admitted the satellite data was so striking they thought at first there had to be a mistake.

"This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?" Son Nghiem of Nasa's jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena said in the release.

He consulted with several colleagues, who confirmed his findings. Dorothy Hall, who studies the surface temperature of Greenland at Nasa's space flight centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, confirmed that the area experienced unusually high temperatures in mid-July, and that there was widespread melting over the surface of the ice sheet.

Climatologists Thomas Mote, at the University of Georgia, and Marco Tedesco, of the City University of New York, also confirmed the melt recorded by the satellites.

However, scientists were still coming to grips with the shocking images on Tuesday. "I think it's fair to say that this is unprecedented," Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center, told the Guardian.

The set of images released by Nasa on Tuesday show a rapid thaw between July 8-12, 2012. Within that four-day period, measurements from three satellites showed a swift expansion of the area of melting ice, from about 40% of the ice sheet surface to 97%.

Zwally, who has made almost yearly trips to the Greenland ice sheet for more than three decades, said he had never seen such a rapid melt.

About half of Greenland's surface ice sheet melts during a typical summer, but Zwally said he and other scientists had been recording an acceleration of that melting process over the last few decades. This year his team had to rebuild their camp, at Swiss Station, when the snow and ice supports melted.

He said he was most surprised to see indications in the images of melting even around the area of Summit Station, which is about two miles above sea level.

It was the second unusual event in Greenland in a matter of days, after an iceberg the size of Manhattan broke off from the Petermann Glacier. But the rapid melt was viewed as more serious.

"If you look at the 8 July image that might be the maximum extent of warming you would see in the summer," Zwally noted. "There have been periods when melting might have occurred at higher elevations briefly – maybe for a day or so – but to have it cover the whole of Greenland like this is unknown, certainly in the time of satellite records."

Lora Koenig, another Goddard glaciologist, told Nasa similar rapid melting occurs about every 150 years. But she warned there were wide-ranging potential implications from this year's thaw.

"If we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome." she told Nasa.

The most immediate consequences are sea level rise and a further warming of the Arctic. In the centre of Greenland, the ice remains up to 3,000 metres deep. On the edges, however, the ice is much, much thinner and has been melting into the sea.

The melting ice sheet is a significant factor in sea level rise. Scientists attribute about one-fifth of the annual sea level rise, which is about 3mm every year, to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

In this instance of this month's extreme melting, Mote said there was evidence of a heat dome over Greenland: or an unusually strong ridge of warm air.

The dome is believed to have moved over Greenland on 8 July, lingering until 16 July.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Earth is Suffering a Shortage in Food Production

Corn is the world's most used agricultural crop. Photo courtesy: Michael Dorausch/CC BY-SA 2.0

In the early spring of 2012, U.S. farmers were on their way to planting some 96 million acres in corn, the most in 75 years. A warm early spring got the crop off to a great start. Analysts were predicting the largest corn harvest on record.

The United States is the leading producer and exporter of corn, the world's feedgrain. At home, corn accounts for four-fifths of the U.S. grain harvest. Internationally, the U.S. corn crop exceeds China's rice and wheat harvests combined. Among the big three grains – corn, wheat, and rice – corn is now the leader, with production well above that of wheat and nearly double that of rice.

The corn plant is as sensitive as it is productive. Thirsty and fast-growing, it is vulnerable to both extreme heat and drought. At elevated temperatures, the corn plant, which is normally so productive, goes into thermal shock.

As spring turned into summer, the thermometer began to rise across the Corn Belt. In St. Louis, Missouri, in the southern Corn Belt, the temperature in late June and early July climbed to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher 10 days in a row. For the past several weeks, the Corn Belt has been blanketed with dehydrating heat.

Weekly drought maps published by the University of Nebraska show the drought-stricken area spreading across more and more of the country until, by mid-July, it engulfed virtually the entire Corn Belt. Soil moisture readings in the Corn Belt are now among the lowest ever recorded.

While temperature, rainfall, and drought serve as indirect indicators of crop growing conditions, each week the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases a report on the actual state of the corn crop. This year the early reports were promising. On May 21st, 77 percent of the U.S. corn crop was rated as good to excellent. The following week the share of the crop in this category dropped to 72 percent. Over the next eight weeks, it dropped to 26 percent, one of the lowest ratings on record. The other 74 percent is rated very poor to fair. And the crop is still deteriorating.

Over a span of weeks, we have seen how the more extreme weather events that come with climate change can affect food security. Since the beginning of June, corn prices have increased by nearly one half, reaching an all-time high on July 19th.

Although the world was hoping for a good U.S. harvest to replenish dangerously low grain stocks, this is no longer in the cards. World carryover stocks of grain will fall further at the end of this crop year, making the food situation even more precarious. Food prices, already elevated, will follow the price of corn upward, quite possibly to record highs.

Not only is the current food situation deteriorating, but so is the global food system itself. We saw early signs of the unraveling in 2008 following an abrupt doubling of world grain prices. As world food prices climbed, exporting countries began restricting grain exports to keep their domestic food prices down. In response, governments of importing countries panicked. Some of them turned to buying or leasing land in other countries on which to produce food for themselves.

Welcome to the new geopolitics of food scarcity. As food supplies tighten, we are moving into a new food era, one in which it is every country for itself.

The world is in serious trouble on the food front. But there is little evidence that political leaders have yet grasped the magnitude of what is happening. The progress in reducing hunger in recent decades has been reversed. Unless we move quickly to adopt new population, energy, and water policies, the goal of eradicating hunger will remain just that.

Time is running out. The world may be much closer to an unmanageable food shortage – replete with soaring food prices, spreading food unrest, and ultimately political instability – than most people realize.

This piece originally appeared in The Guardian on Tuesday, July 24, 2012; and, was written by Lester R. Brown.

Lester R. Brown is President of Earth Policy Institute and author of Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity (release date: October 1, 2012).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gorillas Learn How to Destroy Poachers' Traps

Young gorillas disabling a poacher's trap. Photo courtesy: © Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Don't you just love it when the victim becomes the victor? Rwandan gorillas are turning the tables on poachers; and, I couldn't be more delighted.

For Rwanda's population of Mountain gorillas, poaching remains one of the biggest threats to their long-term survival. But after decades of being a prime target for unlawful hunters, these critically endangered gorillas have apparently learned to outsmart them -- and even the youngsters are getting in on the act.

This week, conservationists from Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund observed, for the first time ever, a pair of juvenile gorillas doing something remarkably clever: destroying sharp, wooden snares set out by poachers to trap them. Just days earlier, a gorilla had been killed in a similar snare nearby, which may have familiarized the youngsters with the workings of those cruel devices.

"We knew that gorillas do this but all of the reported cases in the past were carried out by adult gorillas, mostly silverbacks. Today, two juveniles and one blackback from Kuryama’s group worked together to deactivate two snares and how they did it demonstrated an impressive cognitive skill," said Veronica Vecellio, a program director from the Fund.

Leaving the scene of the crime. Photo courtesy: © Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Here's an account of the event, from the Fund's blog:
John Ndayambaje, our field data coordinator, reported that he saw one snare very close to the group; since the gorillas were moving in that direction, he decided to deactivate it. Silverback Vuba pig-grunted at him (a vocalization of warning) and at the same time juveniles Dukore and Rwema together with blackback Tetero ran toward the snare and together pulled the branch used to hold the rope. They saw another snare nearby and as quickly as before they destroyed the second branch and pulled the rope out of the ground.

John and his team were able to dismantle several other snares in the area, but they're quick to point out that poaching of gorillas is far from quelled. However, with a greater push towards conservation and some much needed international awareness, Rwanda's mountain gorilla numbers have grown by 17 percent in the last 15 years, proving that such in the field efforts really pay off -- though it's not just humans helping to keep the jungle a safer place for the species, says the Fund:

"Today we can proudly confirm that gorillas are doing their part too!"

Monday, May 7, 2012

Whale Sharks Discover Way to Remove Fish From Nets

Here is yet another poke in the eye with a sharp stick for all those who deny the intelligence of large aquatic mammals. This whale shark wanted those fish and he figured out a way to get them. Watch him as he devours his just reward.

Conservation International posted this great video on its Youtube channel. It shows a beautiful whale shark sucking on a fishing net and eating the small fish that spill out.

CI writes:
In Indonesia's Cendrawasih Bay, whale sharks often congregate around bagan (lift net) fishing platforms to eat the small silverside baitfish that the fishers are targeting. Sometimes the sharks swim right into the nets and become entangled. They have also learned how to "suck" the fish out of holes in the nets.

The whale shark is currently categorized as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List. They can be found in all tropical and warm-temperate seas.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rat Poison Used by Marijuana Growers Endangering Rare Carnivore

The fischer - a rare carnivore. Photo courtesy: U.S. Forest Service/Public Domain

According to a recent study by veterinary scientists at the University of California, Davis, rat poison used by marijuana growers California (and probably elsewhere) is killing the fisher, a rather rare forest carnivore. The researchers have found rodenticide in fisher carcasses all around the state, including in and near national parks.
"Our findings were very surprising since non-target poisoning from these chemicals is typically seen in wildlife in urban or agricultural settings," said lead author Mourad Gabriel, a UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory researcher and president of the Integral Ecology Research Center.

"In California, fishers inhabit mature forests within the national forest, national parks, private industrial and tribal community lands nowhere near urban or agricultural areas," explained Gabriel.
Photo courtesy: Flickr

Fishers are likely to be exposed to the rat poison when they eat animals that have ingested it. Fishers also may consume rodenticides directly, drawn by the bacon, cheese and peanut butter flavors that manufacturers add to the poisons to attract animals.

The anticoagulant rodenticides harm the fishers by compromising their blood clotting and recovery abilities and decreasing their resilience to environmental stressors.

A member of the weasel family, the fisher, Martes pennanti, has been declared a candidate species for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act in California, Oregon and Washington.

Other carnivorous species, including martens, spotted owls, and Sierra Nevada red foxes, also may be at risk from the poison.

Is this yet another argument in favor of legalizing marijuana? Maybe. Personally, I am in favour of legalizing marijuana for many reasons; but, this type of thing is not the least of them. If people were allowed to grow their own marijuana legally, this type of devastation to the environment would not happen. And; let's not forget, that these poisons will find their way into the groundwater system given time.

But the facts remain that, at this point in time, growing marijuana is illegal unless you are a certified medicinal grower. So, in an effort to remain undetected, growers are cultivating their illegal crop in and near national parks. The hope is that the dense foliage of a natural park will cover what they are doing.

This causes lots of poison to be indiscriminately spread around those areas; harming wildlife, poisoning the water system, leaching into the soil, changing the ecosystem; and, causing untold (and perhaps irreversible) damage. We must also be aware of the potential harm this practise could cause to humans and companion animals that make use of the national parks.