Category Archives: Features

Global warming could spur toxic algae, bacteria in marine environment

Red Tide

By Karin Zeitvogel, AFP

Global warming could spur the growth of toxic algae and bacteria in the world’s seas and lakes, with an impact that could be felt in 10 years, US scientists said Saturday.

Studies have shown that shifts brought about by climate change make ocean and freshwater environments more susceptible to toxic algae blooms and allow harmful microbes and bacteria to proliferate, according to researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In one study, NOAA scientists modeled future ocean and weather patterns to predict the effect on blooms of Alexandrium catenella, or the toxic “red tide,” which can accumulate in shellfish and cause severe symptoms, including paralysis, in humans who eat the contaminated seafood.

“Our projections indicate that by the end of the 21st century, blooms may begin up to two months earlier in the year and persist for one month later compared to the present-day time period of July to October,” said Stephanie Moore, one of the scientists who worked on the study.

But the impact could be felt well before the end of this century, as early as 2040, she said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Changes in the harmful algal bloom season appear to be imminent. We expect a significant increase in Puget Sound (off the coast of Washington state where the study was conducted) and similar at-risk environments within 30 years, possibly by the next decade,” said Moore.

In another study, NOAA scientists found that desert dust, which contains iron, deposited into the ocean from the atmosphere could lead to increases of harmful bacteria in the seawater.

Researchers from the University of Georgia found that adding desert dust to seawater significantly stimulated the growth of Vibrios, a group of ocean bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis and infectious diseases in humans.

“Within 24 hours of mixing weathered desert dust from Morocco with seawater samples, we saw a huge growth in Vibrios, including one strain that could cause eye, ear and open wound infections, and another strain that could cause cholera,” said Erin Lipp, who worked on the study.

The amount of iron-containing dust deposited in the sea has increased over the last 30 years and is expected to continue to rise, based on precipitation trends in western Africa that are causing desertification.

Rising precipitation in some parts of the world and lack of rain in other parts has been blamed on climate change by some experts.

Global warming has also been blamed for rising ocean temperatures, and “a warming ocean, which we know is happening, increases the likelihood of disease that affects both wildlife and humans,” NOAA administrator Janet Lubchenco told AFP.

Unhealthy oceans impact not only human and animal health but also affect countries’ economies, said Lubchenco, noting that US coastal states are home to eight in 10 Americans and generated 83 percent of US GDP in 2007.

Red Tide
The Florida “red tide” occurs almost annually along portions of the state’s Gulf Coast, causing beach and shellfish closures and negatively impacting Florida’s tourism industry. Just one harmful algal bloom event can impose millions of dollars in losses upon local coastal communities. Image courtesy of P. Schmidt, Charlotte / NOAA

Original Article

Red Tide in New York Harbor, in Coastal Care

Algae Blankets China Beaches, in Coastal Care

Wave of Toxic Green Beaches, France, Coastal Care

Cargo Ship Leaking Oil in Norway’s Only Marine Reserve

oil-spill-norway

By the AFP

Norwegian authorities struggled Friday to contain an oil spill after an Icelandic cargo ship holding hundreds of tonnes of fuel ran aground inside Norway’s only marine natural reserve.

The Godafoss, which “probably” contains a total of 800 tonnes of fuel, is leaking from the middle of both sides and some of the oil had reached the shore, the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) said in a statement.

Experts were rushed to the scene to determine how extensive the leak was, and two floating barriers were set up around the ship to limit the damage.

Several NCA anti-pollution ships and tugboats also sailed to the accident site.

The Godafoss became stuck on a rock late Thursday as it carried 439 containers from the southeastern Norwegian town of Fredrikstad to the southern Swedish town of Helsingborg.

The weather conditions were considered relatively favourable to a clean-up, with a calm sea and moderate winds expected to help drive the oil slick away from the fragile shoreline.

However some of the oil had reached the shore of one island by late morning, NCA said.

The Swedish coastguard sent an anti-pollution ship and a surveillance plane to help their colleagues in Norway.

“There is a risk that this oil will reach the Swedish coast,” they said in a statement.

The Ytre Hvaler park is Norway’s only marine natural reserve, and is not far from the Swedish Kosterhavet marine national park.

According to Norway’s environment ministry, the park created in June 2009 stretches across 354 square kilometres (137 square miles) and is home to a wide variety of sea birds, marine life and fragile coral reefs.

Original Article

Annual Shark Migration: Thousands Seen Off Florida Shore


Video, ABC News

By Mollie Reynolds ABC News

Pilot Steve Irwin has quite a fish tale, and he wasn’t even fishing. Irwin is a pilot with “Island Marine Services” based in Fort Pierce.

The pilot was flying about 100 yards off of Palm Beach, at 80 mph, when he spotted thousands of sharks.

He pulled out his iPhone 4 and began taking pictures. He recorded the spectacular sight and wanted to share it.

Original Article and Video

NPR Article and Video
In this video, a shark biologist explains this is the time of year when sharks migrate to warmer waters and they tend to hug the coast when doing so. Even if you were in the water, he said, the sharks would likely leave you alone.

Fewer big fish in the sea, say scientists

Shark fishing in Japan, the genocide of a species’

shark
A man carries a shark through the street of Mogadishu, Somalia. On February 11, 2011, the international jury of the 54th World Press Photo Contest named the winners in nine categories. First Prize Daily Life Omar Seimal / Reuters

Panel: BP faulted cement work years before blowout

Oil Spill
Photo Source: Edmund D. Fountain / Times

By Dina Cappiello, Associated Press

Oil company BP had identified problems with work by its cement company long before the massive Gulf oil well blowout, which investigations have blamed on cement failing at the bottom of the hole, a presidential panel investigating the oil spill said Thursday.

But BP apparently didn’t do much, if anything, about it.

A 2007 audit by BP of Halliburton Co.’s work said the cement contractor lacked the experience to evaluate data and issued incomplete testing reports that were difficult to understand, according to a report released Thursday from the commission’s chief counsel.

BP also had concerns about Jesse Gagliano, a Halliburton engineer working on the Macondo well that blew out last April, who has since told federal investigators that he had warned BP that its well design could have compromised the cement job. On the day of the disaster, BP employees were discussing how to handle his performance, which internally they said wasn’t “cutting it.”

Halliburton has acknowledged it did not test the stability of the final cement mix used, but it blames BP’s well design for the disaster.
The company, according to the report released Thursday, has refused to cooperate with the presidential panel since the panel exposed in October that its own independent tests showed the cement mixture would fail. Cement serves as a critical barrier in oil wells, preventing oil and gas from entering the well unexpectedly.

The report issued Thursday likely represents the final word from the oil spill commission, which was appointed by President Barack Obama to investigate the disaster in May.

While it provides a new level of detail, the document does nothing to change what the panel said in January was the cause of the accident: a series of time and money-saving decisions by BP, Halliburton and rig owner Transocean Ltd. that created an unacceptable amount of risk.

BP and Halliburton did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Original Article

Rare leatherback turtle spotted on Sumatra’s Beach, Indonesia

leatherback turtle beach
Photo Source: Ocean Portal /Jason Bradley/Nature’s Best Photography

By the Associated Press

Conservationists say they got a rare glimpse of a 6-foot (2-meter) -long leatherback, the world’s most endangered sea turtle, together with dozens of eggs in western Indonesia.

Khairul Amra, a member of a local conservation group, said Thursday that the giant turtle was spotted on a beach on Sumatra island over the weekend just before it plunged into the water.

Soon after 65 eggs thought to belong to the leatherback were found in a nest, the third such discovery on the same beach this year.

Leatherbacks, which can grow up to 9 feet (3 meters) long, have roamed the oceans for 100 million years, but the globe-trotting sea turtles today number only around 30,000.

Their biggest threats are commercial fishing and egg hunters.

Original Article

Acid Oceans Demand Greater Reef Care

Coral Reef
Tropical coral reefs are under pressure from a suite of global and local stressors. Safeguarding coral reefs in the 21st century will require urgent solutions to the global carbon problem as well as strong management of local disturbances. Photo Source: Jeff Maynard

Excerpt from the Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies

The more humanity acidifies and warms the world’s oceans with carbon emissions, the harder we will have to work to save our coral reefs.

That’s the blunt message from a major new study by an international scientific team, which finds that ocean acidification and global warming will combine with local impacts like overfishing and nutrient runoff to weaken the world’s coral reefs right when they are struggling to survive.

Modelling by a team led by Dr Ken Anthony of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute has found that reefs already overfished and affected by land runoff are likely to be more vulnerable to increasing CO2 in the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Their study is the first to integrate global scale processes, such as warming and acidification, with the local factors overfishing and runoff, to predict the combined impact on coral reefs.

“As CO2 levels climb to 450-500 parts per million, as they are now expected to do by 2050, how well we manage local impacts on reefs like fishing and runoff will become absolutely critical as to whether they survive as coral reefs, or are overtaken by algae that compete with corals for space on reefs,” Dr Anthony says.

Warmer conditions cause periodic mass coral deaths by bleaching, while acidifying sea water, due to CO2 dissolving out of the atmosphere, weakens the corals by interfering with their ability to form their skeletons, making them more vulnerable to impact by storms. If the corals are also affected by heavy nutrient runoff from the land, which fertilizes the algae, and overfishing of parrot fishes and others that keep the reefs clear of weed, then corals can struggle to re-establish after a setback, he explains. “In those situations, the reef can become completely overgrown by algae.”

The team’s modelling, which they say is on the conservative side, has far-reaching implications for the preservation even of well-managed reefs such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and extremely serious implications for reefs in developing countries, where most reefs are located and where reefs face high levels of stress from human activities.

“Put simply, our model indicates that the more CO2 we humans liberate, the harder it will become for coral reefs, as we know them, to survive. This means they will need all the help they can get in the way of good management to prevent their being overgrown by sea weeds,” he adds.

“Coral reefs in developing nations, where most of the world’s reefs occur and overfishing and nutrification remain key concerns, are particularly vulnerable, highlighting the need to continue to build capacity amongst reef managers and governments in areas like SE Asia,” the team warns in their report, which was recently published in the journal Global Change Biology.

“A failure to rapidly stabilize and reduce the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere is likely to lead to significant loss of key (coral) framework builders such as Acropora, irrespective of the effectiveness of local management,” the scientists conclude.

“However local reef management efforts to maintain high grazing fish populations and prevent runoff of silt, fertilisers and sewage from the land will play a critical role in maintaining coral resilience while CO2 concentrations are stabilized,” they add.
The study, which is the first to quantify the relative importance of carbon emissions and local disturbances in compromising reef health, can be used to optimise future management practises of coral reefs. It makes clear that both policy changes on emissions and local management measures are required to secure a future for coral reefs.

Original Article

Broader Psychological Impact of 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

fisherman-oil-spill
Commercial fisherman Harry Cheramie is skeptical that the worst had passed.Caption and Photo Source: Patrick Semansky AP

Excerpt from the University of Maryland

The explosion and fire on a BP-licensed oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 had huge environmental and economic effects, with millions of gallons of oil leaking into the water for more than five months. It also had significant psychological impact on people living in coastal communities, even in those areas that did not have direct oil exposure, according to researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who worked in collaboration with the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Study results will be published in the February 17 online edition of Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institutes of Health.

“We found that people living in communities with and without direct oil exposure had similar levels of psychological distress. People in both groups showed clinically significant levels of depression and anxiety. Also, where compared to people whose income was unaffected by the disaster, people with spill-related income loss in both groups had higher rates of depression, were less resilient and were more likely to cope using ‘behavioral disengagement,’ which involves just ‘giving up’ trying to deal the problem,” explains Lynn Grattan, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The Maryland investigators, who traveled to the region soon after the spill, worked with Gulf Coast community leaders to get “real-time” assessments of the acute impacts of the spill. Their goal was to measure the acute psychological distress, coping resilience and perceived risk (concerns about the environmental impact and potential health consequences) of people living along the Gulf Coast. By doing this, they could help identify the potential mental health needs of the Northwest Gulf Coast communities. They examined the psychological impact in two fishing communities: Baldwin County, Alabama, and Franklin County, Florida. Baldwin County had direct oil exposure; Franklin County did not. The researchers defined indirect impact as a place where oil did not physically reach the coastline, but where anticipation of the oil spread significantly affected the community’s recreation, tourism and fishing industries.

“The findings of these University of Maryland researchers may have important implications for planning public health response in similar situations, suggesting that a broader approach may needed,” adds E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The people in Florida, where oil had not reached shore, showed similar elevated levels of anxiety and depression as those living in Alabama who had direct oil exposure. Both groups had similar high levels of worry about the impact of the spill on the environment, health and seafood safety.

However, the levels of psychological distress were higher in both communities among people who had suffered income loss because of the spill. They had significantly more tension, anger, fatigue and overall mood disturbance than those whose income was not adversely affected. These people also had lower scores on resilience and may have fewer psychological resources to bounce back from adversity.

“From a public health standpoint, we need to understand that when there is a significant environmental crisis, we need to extend public health outreach and education, psychological monitoring and mental health services beyond the immediately affected areas, paying particular attention to people at risk for income loss. There are things that can be done to help people manage their stress and anxiety, and cope in these situations, so these interventions need to be available immediately in the communities where the impacted individuals live,” adds Dr. Grattan, who is also a neuropsychologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The study on psychological impact built on a research program by University of Florida investigators who were already in the area to study the acute environmental and health impact of the spill. Through contacts with local community and religious leaders, trade associations, the University of Florida extension office and other agencies, the Maryland researchers recruited 71 residents in Florida and 23 from Alabama for the psychological assessment.

The team evaluated the participants through interviews and standardized assessments of psychological distress, resilience and coping. The team also looked at whether the participants had cognitive symptoms of neurotoxicity as a result of exposure to oil and chemical dispersants. These included assessments of attention, memory, and dexterity and speed (through a pegboard puzzle task). The researchers also asked the participants about what they were doing to cope with the situation, which could range from prayer and meditation to increased use of alcohol and other drugs.

Original Article

Rising Seas Will Affect Major U.S. Coastal Cities by 2100

map-slr
This map shows where increases in sea level could affect the southern and Gulf coasts of the US. The colors indicate areas along the coast that are elevations of 1 meter or less (russet) or 6 meters or less (yellow) and have connectivity to the sea. Caption and Photo Source: Jeremy Weiss, University of Arizona

Excerpts;

Rising sea levels could threaten an average of 9 percent of the land within 180 U.S. coastal cities by 2100, according to new research led by University of Arizona scientists.

The Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts could be particularly hard hit. Miami, New Orleans, Tampa, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va. could lose more than 10 percent of their land area by 2100.

The research is the first analysis of vulnerability to sea-level rise that includes every U.S. coastal city in the lower 48 with a population of 50,000 or more.

The latest scientific projections indicate that by 2100, the sea level will rise about 1 meter – or even more. One meter is about 3 feet.

At the current rate of global warming, sea level is projected to continue rising after 2100 by as much as 1 meter per century…

Read Full Article, University Of Arizona

If Greenhouse Gas Emissions Stopped Now, Earth Would Still Likely Get Warmer

co2
Photo Source: Karl Dolenc

Excerpt from The university Of Washington

While governments debate about potential policies that might curb the emission of greenhouse gases, new University of Washington research shows that the world is already committed to a warmer climate because of emissions that have occurred up to now.

There would continue to be warming even if the most stringent policy proposals were adopted, because there still would be some emission of heat, trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. But the new research shows that even if all emissions were stopped now, temperatures would remain higher than pre-Industrial Revolution levels because the greenhouse gases already emitted are likely to persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

In fact, it is possible temperatures would continue to escalate even if all cars, heating and cooling systems and other sources of greenhouse gases were suddenly eliminated, said Kyle Armour, a UW doctoral student in physics. That’s because tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols, which tend to counteract the effect of greenhouse warming by reflecting sunlight back into space, would last only a matter of weeks once emissions stopped, while the greenhouse gases would continue on.

“The aerosols would wash out quickly and then we would see an abrupt rise in temperatures over several decades,” he said.
Armour is the lead author of a paper documenting the research, published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. His co-author is Gerard Roe, a UW associate professor of Earth and space sciences.

The global temperature is already about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was before the Industrial Revolution, which began around the start of the 19th century. The scientists’ calculations took into account the observed warming, as well as the known levels of greenhouse gases and aerosols already emitted to see what might happen if all emissions associated with industrialization suddenly stopped.

In the best-case scenario, the global temperature would actually decline, but it would remain about a half-degree F higher than pre-Industrial Revolution levels and probably would not drop to those levels again, Armour said.

There also is a possibility temperatures would rise to 3.5 degrees F higher than before the Industrial Revolution, a threshold at which climate scientists say significant climate-related damage begins to occur.

Of course it is not realistic to expect all emissions to cease suddenly, and Armour notes that the overall effect of aerosols, particles of sea salt or soot from burning fossil fuels, for example, is perhaps the largest uncertainty in climate research.
But uncertainties do not lessen the importance of the findings, he said. The scientists are confident, from the results of equations they used, that some warming would have to occur even if all emissions stopped now. But there are more uncertainties, and thus a lower confidence level, associated with larger temperature increases.

Climate models used in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments take into consideration a much narrower range of the possible aerosol effects, or “forcings,” than are supported by actual climate observations, Armour said. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning panel, sponsored by the United Nations, makes periodic assessments of climate change and is in the process of compiling its next report.

As emissions of greenhouse gases continue, the “climate commitment” to a warmer planet only goes up, Armour said. He believes it is helpful for policy makers to understand that level of commitment. It also will be helpful for them to understand that, while some warming is assured, uncertainties in current climate observations, such as the full effect of aerosols, mean the warming could be greater than models suggest.

“This is not an argument to say we should keep emitting aerosols,” he said. “It is an argument that we should be smart in how we stop emitting. And it’s a call to action because we know the warming we are committed to from what we have emitted already and the longer we keep emitting the worse it gets.”

Original Article

Thawing Permafrost and Accelerated CO2 Emission