Thousands in peril in Brazil flooding

Thousands in peril in Brazil flooding – CNN.

January 13, 2011|By the CNN Wire Staff

Thousands of families living on mountain slopes or on riverbanks face extreme risk of being washed away in the heavy rains and flooding that have killed nearly 500 people in Rio de Janeiro state, authorities said Thursday.

Officials feared that many more were dead, buried in landslides or washed away by gushing waters. Mud rushed down hillsides and into towns and cities as murky brown rivers cut through lush landscape.

President Dilma Rousseff flew over the affected areas Thursday and landed in a slushy, trash-littered soccer field in the city of Friburgo, the official Agencia Brasil news agency said.


She trudged through mud in her rain boots to talk to residents in a neighborhood where four of seven firefighters attempting to rescue people were buried under mud. Three others were pulled out alive.

“We are going to take firm action” to help the devastated areas, Rousseff said.

Brazilian authorities have been criticized for a lack of disaster planning and allowing people to build homes in areas known to become treacherous in the rainy season.

The roofs of houses and treetops peeked out from the water. People used inflatable rafts or inner tubes to navigate submerged roads. One family sat perched on the roof of their house, their predicament broadcast on television.

With more rains forecast, Brazilian authorities have ordered evacuations for at least 5,000 families living in especially perilous areas in Rio de Janeiro state, Agencia Brasil said.

Another 3,000 families from a mountainous region were homeless and sheltered in schools and gymnasiums, the news agency said.

“The most important thing right now is to assist the homeless population and reach the most critical points,” said Rodrigo Neves, the state secretary of Social Welfare and Human Rights.

State health officials pleaded for people to donate blood that will be sent to the Serrana region where only 36 units of blood remained for treatment of flood victims.

The death toll for the state of Rio climbed Thursday to 495, with 214 in Nova Friburgo, 222 in Teresopolis and 40 in Petropolis, according to Civil Defense numbers. Another 19 deaths occurred in Sumidouro, according to Agencia Brasil.

In Teresopolis, schools and police stations served as morgues where people waited to identify their family and friends. Mayor Jorge Mario Sedlacek declared his city a natural disaster area.

In neighboring Sao Paulo, at least 24 people died as heavy rain continued to batter parts of the state, authorities said.

Aline Silva told Agencia Brasil that she and her three children narrowly escaped a landslide in Rio de Janeiro’s Feu district. She said they heard a thud and then ran out with a few vital documents and the clothes on their back.

They lost everything else.

Rescue operations by ground and air continued Thursday, but collapsed roads and bridges made it difficult for rescuers to reach some areas.

Sao Jose dos Campos, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the heavily populated city of Sao Paulo, has been hardest hit by the flooding in that state, a Sao Paulo fire official said. Freiburg was without electricity, water and gas and most businesses remained shuttered Thursday.

Brazil landslides' death toll climbs as rescue teams dig for survivors

Brazil landslides’ death toll climbs as rescue teams dig for survivors | World news |

Hundreds dead and about 1,000 missing after mud devastates mountain towns

  •, Thursday 13 January 2011 11.29 GMT
  • Article history
  • Several mountain towns near Rio de Janeiro were devastated as water and mud swept through the region Link to this video Brazil‘s president, Dilma Rousseff, is due to visit a string of mountain towns devastated by floods and landslides, as the death toll from the disaster reached at least 361.

    Heavy rains on Tuesday night triggered some of the deadliest landslides in Brazilian history, sending mud sweeping through three towns and burying entire families as they slept.

    In Teresópolis, a small town about 60 miles from Rio de Janeiro, 146 deaths have been confirmed, but local authorities expect that figure to rise.

    In the neighbouring town of Nova Friburgo, at least 155 bodies have been recovered.

    Map - Brazil mudslides near Rio de Janeiro Brazilian towns affected by mudslides A Brazilian TV network claimed this morning that more than 419 people had died in Rio state and that as many as 1,000 people could still be missing.

    “This family no longer exists,” read the headline of a Rio tabloid, alongside the photo of a prominent fashion designer and former Newsweek employee who was buried alongside eight relatives.

    “It’s a terrible scene,” said a local judge, Jose Ricardo Ferreira de Aguiar, as he pulled back a black tarpaulin and stepped into Teresópolis’s improvised mortuary – the garage of the town’s police station.

    On the concrete floor before him lay 100 bodies, among them newborn babies, toddlers, elderly women and teenagers. Caked in brown mud and draped with pieces of soggy cardboard, the bodies were piled in a confusion of arms and legs.

    Relatives were led into the morgue in groups of four to identify bodies splayed out under pieces of cardboard, sheets and muddy duvets. Those that had already been identified had tatty paper ID tags tied on to their toes.

    “There’s no chance of even making this human,” Aguiar said. “We’ve just never seen anything like it here.”

    Mario Sergio Macario, 22, a student who has been given the job of guarding the morgue’s entrance, said several colleagues from his tourism course were missing.

    “The station is chaos. It’s a public calamity. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

    About 1,000 people were left homeless as the waters smashed through Teresópolis, destroying homes, powerlines and roads. The mayor, Jorge Mario Sedlacek, decreed a state of emergency, calling the calamity “the worst to hit the town”. About 800 search-and-rescue workers from the state’s civil defence department and firefighters dug for survivors.

    Marquinho Maia, a press officer who was helping out at the morgue, said last night: “We pulled at least 16 bodies out this morning. Kids, old people. All dead. It’s horrible. The city has never had so many fatalities.

    “I’ve lost several friends. One of my friends still hasn’t found his mum or his wife. Some areas have been completely destroyed.”

    Speaking after a helicopter flight over Teresópolis, Rio’s environment secretary, Carlos Minc, described the mudslides as the worst catastrophe in the region’s history.

    “I believe the death toll is much higher than has been so far announced,” he said. “Many people died in their sleep. The mountainsides are coming down. The areas are very unstable.”

    Fernanda Carvalho, a 27-year-old maid from the region, told the G1 news website that the disaster had drawn no distinction between rich and poor. “The rich man’s house, the poor man’s house. Everything was destroyed,” she said.

    Helicopter images showed at least two stranded people desperately waving white shirts in a bid to be rescued. Nearby, a thick brown scar had been ripped through a residential area on the town’s outskirts, uprooting trees and demolishing everything in its path.

    Two other tourist destinations in the same region, Petrópolis and Nova Friburgo, were badly affected, with 25 deaths reported there.

    In Nova Friburgo, where at least 97 died after a month’s worth of rain fell in 24 hours, four firemen were reported to have been buried alive as they attempted to reach victims.

    “There are so many disappeared and so many that will probably never be found,” said Angela Marina de Carvalho Silva, who believes she may have lost 15 relatives to the flood, including five nieces and nephews.

    “There was nothing we could do. It was hell,” she said in a telephone interview.

    Carvalho Silva took refuge in a neighbour’s house on high ground with her husband and daughter, and watched the torrential rain carry away cars, tree branches and animals and tear apart the homes of friends and family.

    “It’s over. There’s nothing. The water came down and swept everything away,” said her husband, Sidney Silva.

Over 90 missing in Australia as floods inundate Brisbane

Over 90 missing in Australia as floods inundate Brisbane | Reuters.

Main Image
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A car moves through a flooded street in the Brisbane suburb of West End January 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mick Tsikas

BRISBANE, Australia | Tue Jan 11, 2011 6:45pm EST

BRISBANE, Australia (Reuters) – Thousands of residents of Australia’s third-largest city evacuated homes on Wednesday as massive floods threatened to inundate the financial district, sparked panic buying of food and left authorities despairing for more than 90 people missing.

The biggest floods in decades have so far killed 14 people since starting their devastating march across the northern mining state of Queensland last month, crippling the coking coal industry, destroying infrastructure, putting a brake on the economy and sending the local currency to four-week lows.

With a flood surge expected to peak in the Queensland capital of Brisbane, a city of two million, on Thursday, search and rescue crews took advantage of rare sunshine on Wednesday to look for those still missing from tsunami-like flash floods that tore through townships west of the city this week.

“I think we’re all going to be shocked by what they find in these towns that were hit by that tsunami yesterday,” Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh told local television on Wednesday.

The worsening floods are forcing economists to raise estimates of the economic impact, with one central bank board member quoted on Wednesday as saying the disaster could cost as much as 1 percent of economic growth — equal to almost $13 billion, double the previous highest estimate.

The Australian dollar sank to a fresh four-week low of $0.9803 on the comments from Warren McKibbin, an academic and a member of the central bank’s policy making board.

In Brisbane, thousands of homes and businesses were inundated as swirling flood waters rose in and around the riverside city, triggering residents to flee with few possessions to higher ground and evacuation centers.

City Mayor Campbell Newman said the number of homes expected to be hit by flooding had risen to 19,700, affecting up to 45,000 people, with the military now running relief flights with helicopters and C-130 transports.

Dams built to protect communities are at bursting point.

Power company Energex has shut power to some low-lying areas of Brisbane, including parts of the financial district, for fear that live power lines could electrify floodwaters. Up to 100,000 homes in Brisbane and nearby Ipswich were without electricity.


Bligh said the Brisbane River, which winds through the city center, should peak at the high tide on Thursday around mid-afternoon, with thousands of properties to be inundated before that time, but she appealed for calm.

“Right across this region, this river is creating chaos, terrifying people and causing damage already,” she said.

Unmoored boats and pontoons with speedboats still attached could be seen adrift on the Brisbane River, which was swirling with flotsam as the sun broke through on Wednesday for what was expected, allowing rescue helicopters into the air.

Showers, though, were forecast to return next week.

Some scenes in the city were surreal with early-morning joggers trying to carry on as normal, despite parts of the their routes being submerged.

Amy Cotterill, a waitress at a central Brisbane cafe, said she was unsure about the fate of the city, with flood levels of around 4.5 meters expected on Wednesday and worse to come.

“They make it sound like it’s going to be bad, cutting power and so on,” she said, adding that so far her home in the Hawthorn area of the city was on dry ground.

Hundreds of people were evacuated overnight from homes at Ipswich, west of Brisbane, with a third of the town expected to go under water as the Bremer River peaks.

Further south, in neighboring New South Wales state, entire communities were evacuated around Grafton and Maclean, as the Clarence River swelled, catching emergency teams by surprise.

In southeast Victoria state, heavy rain caused flash flooding around the town of Horsham, prompting fears a nearby lake could break its banks, while in Western Australia authorities fought bushfires in a summer of extremes.

Thin lines of sandbags surrounded some businesses in downtown Brisbane, with some motorists braving flooded streets.

“There is nothing we can do about it,” said Ricardo Rindu, who runs a Latin Restaurant on Melbourne Street. “I tried ringing the council for sandbags but there was no answer.”

Floodwaters entered the lobby of Brisbane’s Cutting Edge TV production house. A day earlier workers had tried desperately to sandbag the glass-front building full of high-tech equipment.

Some residents wheeled shopping carts and carried bags laden with food as supermarkets ran out of staples such as milk and bread. Food prices are surging around the country as the floods ruin crops in Queensland and sever distribution networks.

Police were starting to close off more streets in the center of Brisbane as some streets were flooded with knee-high water.


Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrived in the city to inspect the devastation and said she was deeply concerned about the impact of the flood on jobs and livelihoods.

“I have been shocked. I think we’ve all been shocked by the images of that wall of water just wreaking such devastation. The dimensions of it are truly mind-boggling,” Gillard said.

“We will have to work through the long-term economic impacts for Queensland, and of course the huge infrastructure re-building task to come as floodwaters subside.”

(Additional reporting by Rob Taylor in CANBERRA and Balazs Koranyi and Amy Pyett in SYDNEY)

(Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Mark Bendeich)

Will Climate Change Cause Crop Shortfalls by 2020?

Will Climate Change Cause Crop Shortfalls by 2020?: Scientific American.

Earth may be 2.4 degrees Celsius warmer by 2020, potentially triggering global scrambles for food supplies, according to a new analysis.

Work from the Universal Ecological Fund, the U.S. branch of Argentina-based nonprofit Fundación Ecológica Universal (FEU), sketches a somber portrait for world hunger by the end of the decade.

Rising temperatures will slash yields for rice, wheat and corn throughout the developing world, exacerbating food price volatility and increasing the number of undernourished people, the report warns.

It projects that food demand will substantially dwarf available supply.

The group drew upon existing climate and food production data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the World Meteorological Organization and other U.N. agencies to draw its conclusions.

Chief among its findings, UEF said, is that if the planet continues on a business-as-usual path, temperatures may rise at least 2.4 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — or 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit — by 2020. Crossing a 2-degree-Celsius climate threshold is commonly considered dangerous.

The level of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, which was 284 parts per million in the preindustrial era, tallies more than 385 ppm today. By 2020, it could reach 490 ppm, cautions the report. Carbon concentrations that high are associated with a global temperature rise of 2.4 degrees Celsius, according to IPCC estimates.

Potential timing gap
Still, it’s not certain how quickly the planet would heat up if the planet had that concentration, said climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel, with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“If you look at Earth as an oven, by hitting 490 you turn the dial, but it could take a while for the oven to reach the temperature,” she said.

Climate scientist Osvaldo Canziani served as the scientific adviser on the study, going over it “line by line,” said Liliana Hisas, the executive director of the Universal Ecological Fund and author of the report. Canziani was unavailable for comment.

While not every part of the planet is expected to experience adverse effects of climate-linked impacts on agriculture, the report’s numbers suggest that by 2020 there will be a 14 percent deficit between wheat production and demand, global rice production will stand at an 11 percent deficit, and there will be a 9 percent deficit in corn production. Soybeans, however, are expected to have a 5 percent surplus.

To meet the needs of a world that is expected to have an additional 890 million people by 2020, the global community would need to increase food production by about 13 percent, the report states.

Josef Schmidhuber, a senior policy analyst at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, questioned some of the underlying assumptions for regional production figures and said that this UEF study also fails to consider other external factors that could affect these results.

“The only rationale for this to hold would be for climate change to have such a strong impact on the non-agricultural economy that people would lose purchasing power and thus would be so poor they couldn’t afford the food they need to meet the requirements,” Schmidhuber said. “Food security is much more than a production problem — it reflects above all a lack of access to food and a lack of income,” he said.

Schmidhuber contends that looking at food security purely in the context of the impacts of food production will lead to overstatements of hunger estimates.

Click here to read the study.

Eco-ruin 'felled early society'

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Eco-ruin ‘felled early society’.

One of Western Europe’s earliest known urban societies may have sown the seeds of its own downfall, a study suggests.

Mystery surrounded the fall of the Bronze Age Argaric people in south-east Spain – Europe’s driest area.

Data suggests the early civilisation exhausted precious natural resources, helping bring about its own ruin.

The study provides early evidence for cultural collapse caused – at least in part – by humans meddling with the environment, say researchers.

Archaeologists are convinced that something happened in the ecological structure of the area just prior to the collapse of the Argaric culture
Jose Carrion, University of Murcia

It could also provide lessons for modern populations living in water-stressed regions.

The findings were based on pollen preserved in a peat deposit located in the mountains of eastern Andalucia, Spain.

The researchers drilled a sediment core from the Canada del Gitano basin high up in Andalucia’s Sierra de Baza region.

Canada del Gitano. Image: Jose Carrion.

Sediment cores were drilled from peat deposits

By studying the abundances of different pollen types – along with other indicators – preserved in sedimentary deposits, researchers can reconstruct what kind of vegetation covered the area in ancient times.

They can compile a pollen sequence, which shows how vegetation changed over thousands of years. This can give them clues to how human settlement and climate affected ecosystems.

Copper axe. Image: Jose Carrion.

Copper objects like this axe were common until the Argaric era

The Argaric culture emerged in south-eastern Spain 4,300 years ago. This civilisation, which inhabited small fortified towns, was one of the first in Western Europe to adopt bronze working.

But about 3,600 years ago, the culture mysteriously vanished from the archaeological record.

“Archaeologists are convinced that something happened in the ecological structure of the area just prior to the collapse of the Argaric culture,” said Jose Carrion, from the University of Murcia, Spain.

“But we previously lacked a high-resolution record to support this.”

Environmental change

Before the appearance of the Argaric civilisation, the slopes of Sierra de Baza were covered with a diverse forest dominated by deciduous oaks and other broad-leaved trees.

High mountain site in the Sierra de Baza. Image: Jose Carrion.

The area’s tree cover was rapidly removed

But about 4,200 years ago – just after this civilisation emerges – significant amounts of charcoal appear in the pollen sequence. According to the study’s authors, this is a sign Bronze Age people were setting fires to clear the forests for mining activities and grazing.

Not long afterwards, about 3,900 years ago, the diverse forest ecosystem disappears, to be replaced by monotonous and fire-prone Mediterranean scrub.

What astonished the researchers was the speed of this change. This ecological transformation is very abrupt, appearing to have taken place in little more than a decade.

About 300 years after this ecological transformation, the Argaric civilisation disappeared.

Climatic effect

Map (BBC)

Professor Carrion said the term “ecocide” was too strong to apply in this case. Climate must also have played a part, he explained.

There is evidence conditions were becoming progressively arid from about 5,500 years ago onwards. This is indicated by a broad reduction in forest cover, the appearance of plants adapted to dry conditions and a drop in lake levels.

But Jose Carrion added: “The climatic influence began millennia prior to the appearance of the Argaric culture.

“It’s not critical to the change in the landscape we see about 3,900-3,800 years ago. What appears to be critical is the evidence of burning, which in our opinion is man-made.”

Pine trees in the Sierra de Baza. Image: Jose Carrion.

Some isolated patches of pine forest still remain today

The degradation of soils and vegetation could have caused the collapse of agriculture and pastoralism, the foundation of the Argaric economy.

This would have led to massive depopulation of the area.

The findings were outlined at the recent Climate and Humans conference in Murcia, Spain, and appear in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

Roman rise and fall 'recorded in trees'

BBC News – Roman rise and fall ‘recorded in trees’.

An extensive study of tree growth rings says there could be a link between the rise and fall of past civilisations and sudden shifts in Europe’s climate.

A team of researchers based their findings on data from 9,000 wooden artifacts from the past 2,500 years.

They found that periods of warm, wet summers coincided with prosperity, while political turmoil occurred during times of climate instability.

The findings have been published online by the journal Science.

“Looking back on 2,500 years, there are examples where climate change impacted human history,” co-author Ulf Buntgen, a paleoclimatologist at the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape, told the Science website.

Ring record

The team capitalised on a system used to date material unearthed during excavations.

Start Quote

Distinct drying in the 3rd Century paralleled a period of serious crisis in the western Roman empire”

End Quote Ulf Buntgen

“Archaeologists have developed oak ring width chronologies from Central Europe that cover nearly the entire Holocene and have used them for the purpose of dating artefacts, historical buildings, antique artwork and furniture,” they wrote.

“Chronologies of living and relict oaks may reflect distinct patterns of summer precipitation and drought.”

The team looked at how weather over the past couple of centuries affected living trees’ growth rings.

During good growing seasons, when water and nutrients are in plentiful supply, trees form broad rings, with their boundaries relatively far apart.

But in unfavourable conditions, such as drought, the rings grow in much tighter formation.

The researchers then used this data to reconstruct annual weather patterns from the growth rings preserved in the artefacts.

Once they had developed a chronology stretching back over the past 2,500 years, they identified a link with prosperity levels in past societies, such as the Roman Empire.

“Wet and warm summers occurred during periods of Roman and medieval prosperity. Increased climate variability from 250-600 AD coincided with the demise of the western Roman empire and the turmoil of the migration period,” the team reported.

“Distinct drying in the 3rd Century paralleled a period of serious crisis in the western Roman empire marked by barbarian invasion, political turmoil and economic dislocation in several provinces of Gaul.”

Dr Buntgen explained: “We were aware of these super-big data sets, and we brought them together and analyzed them in a new way to get the climate signal.

“If you have enough wood, the dating is secure. You just need a lot of material and a lot of rings.”

Plot thickens? Dead birds found in Sweden, Kentucky

Plot thickens? Dead birds found in Sweden, Kentucky – U.S. news – Environment –

It isn’t easy being a bird.

First, New Year’s Eve fireworks were blamed in central Arkansas for making thousands of blackbirds confused, crashing into homes, cars and each other. Then 300 miles to the south in Louisiana, power lines likely killed about 450 birds, littering a highway near Baton Rouge.

On Wednesday, Kentucky wildlife officials said several hundred grackles, red wing blackbirds, robins and starlings were found dead last week in the western part of the state.

It’s almost certainly a coincidence the events happened within days of each other, Louisiana’s state wildlife veterinarian Jim LaCour said Tuesday. “I haven’t found anything to link the two at this point.”

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To add to the mystery, 50-100 jackdaws, a bird species in the crow family, fell dead in central Sweden late Tuesday night, English-language Swedish news website The Local reported Wednesday.

“We do not know what the cause is,” Skovde police commander Tomas Ahlgren said. The birds fell in the city of Falkoping, which is southeast of Skovde.

Mass bird deaths aren’t uncommon. The U.S. Geological Service’s website listed about 90 mass deaths of birds and other wildlife from June through Dec. 12.

There were five deaths of at least 1,000 birds, with the largest near Houston, Minnesota, where parasite infestations killed about 4,000 water birds between Sept. 6 and Nov. 26.

Mystery remains
In Louisiana, the birds died sometime late Sunday or early Monday in the rural Pointe Coupee Parish community of Labarre, about 30 miles northwest of Baton Rouge.

The birds — a mixed flock of red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, grackles and starlings — may have hit a power line or vehicles in the dark, LaCour said. Two dozen of them had head, neck, beak or back injuries.

Video: Second deluge of dead birds falls in Southeast (on this page)

About 50 dead birds were near a power line 30 or 40 feet from Louisiana Highway 1. About a quarter-mile away, a second group of 400 or more stretched from the power line and across the highway, he said.

Dan Cristol, a biology professor and co-founder of the Institute for Integrative Bird Behavior Studies at the College of William & Mary, said the Louisiana birds may have been ill or startled from their roost, then hit the power line.

“They don’t hit a power line for no reason,” he said.

In Beebe, New Year’s revelers spent the holiday weekend cleaning up dead red-winged blackbirds.

Some speculated that bad weather was to blame. Others said one confused bird could have led the group in a fatal plunge. A few spooked schoolkids guessed the birds committed mass suicide.

Video: Ark. birds died in mid-air, says official (on this page)

Officials acknowledged, though, they may never know exactly what caused the large number of deaths.

Cristol was skeptical of the fireworks theory, unless “somebody blew something into the roost, literally blowing the birds into the sky.”

Wildlife officials in both Arkansas and Louisiana sent carcasses to researchers at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. and the University of Georgia.

LaCour said he didn’t expect results for at least two or three weeks.

E. coli?
In 1999, several thousand grackles fell from the sky and staggered about before dying in north Louisiana. It took five months to get the diagnosis: an E. coli infection of the air sacs in their skulls.

“I hope things go faster than that,” said Paul Slota, branch chief for the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin. He said necropsies of the Arkansas birds began Tuesday afternoon.

“If it isn’t strictly trauma, it may take more time to get results back,” he said. “When nothing shows up, you run the tests longer and let it incubate longer.”

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is also trying to determine what caused the deaths of up to 100,000 fish over a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near a dam in Ozark, 125 miles west of Beebe. The fish were discovered on Dec. 30.

Video: Massive fish kill deepens dead bird mystery (on this page)

The commission expects results on the fish tests in probably a month. Disease may be the culprit, since almost all the fish were one species — bottom-feeding drum, the commission said.

Keith Stephens, a commission spokesman, said the events do not appear to be related. Both that section of the river and the air at the site of the bird deaths were tested for toxins, Stephens said.

As for the dead birds in Sweden, a county veterinarian would not speculate on the cause of their death, The Local reported. He was traveling to the site Wednesday to investigate.

“We will work quietly and methodically,” he said.

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Marraccini says someone called police about the discovery in Kentucky, and they alerted state officials.

Marraccini says tests performed on the birds ruled out diseases or poisons. He said the deaths could have been caused by weather or another natural event.

Advancing Alaskan Glacier Holds Clues to Global Sea Level Rise

Advancing Alaskan Glacier Holds Clues to Global Sea Level Rise: Scientific American.

ICY BAY, Alaska—The icebergs looked impenetrable. Roman Motyka needed a route through.

“If you see an opening anywhere, let me know,” said the University of Alaska Fairbanks glaciologist, at the wheel of a small skiff puttering through the ice-choked bay off the Gulf of Alaska.

Beyond the iceberg maze loomed the nose of a glacier that, contrary to a warming climate, is advancing into the sea. Motyka and his team were here – in one of the most ice-covered regions on the planet – to find out why.

“Just a hair to the left,” said Tim Bartholomaus, doctoral student at UAF, poised at the bow with fishing spear in hand to fend off encroaching ice.

The boat thunked against a truck-sized ice cube and redirected through a small opening between bergs. Ice scraped the aluminum hull like frozen fingernails on chalkboard.

The source of the ice – the Yahtse Glacier – is one of five glaciers that empty into Icy Bay beneath the towering Saint Elias Mountains. The Yahtse’s rogue advance is one stage in what glaciologists call the “tidewater glacier cycle” – a drama of growth and retreat that unfolds over centuries.

This process of glacial equilibrium can be sparked by changes in climate but then assume a life of its own. It can lead to runaway glacier retreats seen elsewhere in Alaska and Greenland – big contributors to a rising sea.

But as the Yahtse advances, it is also thinning, underscoring the mystery behind exactly how these glaciers change over time. Recent research has fingered the ocean as a trigger for tidewater glacier retreats. Now Bartholomaus and his team are investigating what happens when this advancing glacier meets the ocean in a region where about 54 glaciers empty into the sea.

By anchoring underwater instruments in front of Yahtse Glacier, they hope to see how it melts beneath the surface. Seismometers measure ice quakes; airborne laser surveys show thinning; global-positioning systems and time-lapse photography reveal movement. Never before have so many tools been used on one glacier for a single project. By blending scientific disciplines, the team will paint a picture of the Yahtse’s dynamic forces.

With so many instruments on the Yahtse, researchers have a unique opportunity to monitor changes along the length of the glacier and discover how, for example, local changes in ocean temperature and currents relate to movement further up the glacier.

Understanding the ocean’s influence could help reveal how glaciers around the world are feeding the rising seas.

Motyka, the man at the skiff’s helm, first linked glacier melting and ocean dynamics on Alaska’s LeConte Glacier in 2003. He found that underwater melting was responsible for over half of the ice lost at the terminus – more than the thunderous calving of ice from the glacier’s face. Motyka more recently studied the same effect on Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier.

Earlier this summer the Jakobshavn shed a 2.7-square-mile chunk of ice – about twice the size of New York’s Central Park – after a mild winter that saw no ice form in the surrounding bay.
“What we learned [in Alaska] with tidewater glaciers to some degree we can apply to Greenland and vice versa,” said Motyka.

Increasingly, it appears rising ocean temperatures are driving tidewater glacier retreats in Greenland and Antarctica. “I would call that the smoking gun,” Motyka said. “This could indeed be the oceanic process by which [Jakobshavn] became unstable.”

The Gulf of Alaska warmed one degree Celsius between the late 1970s and the mid-2000s, but so far no one has studied its impact. A more recent cooling trend was interrupted by last year’s El Nino.

“It’s a big jump to say that represents everything in the Gulf of Alaska,” Motyka said. “But if it did, that degree warming would be affecting the [tidewater] glaciers regionally.”

The team now hopes to discover how submarine melting is influencing Yahtse Glacier.
“The water end of the glacier can be very influential on how glaciers move, whether they speed up or slow down or advance or retreat,” explained Bartholomaus.
The tidewater glacier cycle describes this state of flux. Yahtse Glacier is now in the advancing stage of the cycle. Typically, this will continue slowly until the glacier finds equilibrium with several factors: its own mass, the shape of the fjord, and lastly, the climate. Once in equilibrium, the glacier will enter a “stable-extended” stage when it becomes more sensitive to climatic changes. If the climate continues to warm, it could trigger a retreat stage, knocking the glacier back from its protective shoal of sediment pushed forward during advance. This allows warmer ocean water to rush in and melt the entire submarine face of the glacier, greatly increasing calving icebergs and potentially resulting in a runaway retreat. This unfolding drama can last for centuries.

Such a retreat created Icy Bay itself. Just 100 years ago, the bay didn’t even exist. All five of its glaciers were merged together into one giant glacier that stretched all the way to the Gulf of Alaska; the little skiff would be buried under hundreds of feet of ice.

When the climate warmed in the late 1800s, it triggered the retreat phase of the tidewater glacier cycle as warm ocean water melted the ice. Since then, the ice has retreated over 25 miles – one of the largest historic retreats in Alaska.

“Once these things start retreating, you just can’t fix it,” explained Chris Larsen, UAF glaciologist and the project’s lead scientist, from his office in Fairbanks. A retreat often creates its own feedback loop, obliterating the climate signal. Even if the climate cooled, a retreat, once started, might not stop anytime soon.

Like the Yahtse, the other Icy Bay glaciers are still in flux, undergoing different phases of the tidewater glacier cycle. The Guyot Glacier is retreating rapidly, losing about 150 vertical feet of surface ice from its terminus every year. Across the bay, the Tyndall Glacier is comparatively stable. With such diverse dynamics in close proximity, it is clear that factors other than climate are at play.

As for the advancing Yahtse, Bartholomaus thinks it is still seeking equilibrium after the ruinous retreat over the last century. The glacier is basically top-heavy, with too much weight up high where heavy snows keep pushing it down and out into the bay. Eventually, it will find balance. At that point, climate will again project more of an influence.

While Yahtse Glacier may be ignoring climate signals for now, Larsen and his colleagues aren’t about to discount the impact of recent warming trends entirely. “Having said all that,” said Larsen, “the current climate could slow down the advance of Yahtse or it could stop it a lot sooner than it would if we didn’t have this warming trend going on right now.”

Out on the bay the next day, the icebergs parted. In a bigger boat, the team motored closer than ever to Yahtse Glacier’s 250-foot-tall terminus face. Falling icebergs thundered into the bay with explosive force. High on the glacier, seismometers recorded the rumble of another ice quake. Seals lounging on icebergs barely seemed to notice.

After six months of preparation, Bartholomaus was ready to set loose the instruments that will record temperature and current changes in the fjord for a full year. Flashing sensors adorned a 200-foot rope with orange buoys on top and a rusty, cast iron woodstove from Icy Bay Lodge as a budget anchor.

Bartholomaus and two others heaved the stove off the side of the boat. It splashed and then plummeted into the dark depths, pulling the blue nylon rope and expensive equipment down with it. Soon the only sign of the mooring was a small, yellow buoy, looking alien in the icy-blue fjord.

His work finally done, Bartholomaus let out a victorious yelp that echoed across the bay. Now he just has to wait while the sensors do the work, and hope he can find the little buoy next year in this ever-changing, ice-age environment.

“I’ll save the champagne for the recovery,” he said.

Australia floods: Peak water levels loom for Brisbane

BBC News – Australia floods: Peak water levels loom for Brisbane.

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Nick Bryant: “What we’re seeing is a community coming out in force to salvage what they can”

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The Australian city of Brisbane is preparing for the worst of its devastating floods, with water levels set to peak over the next few hours.

The peak is now expected to reach 5.2m (17ft) at 0400 local time on Thursday (1800GMT Wednesday), down from the 5.4m of the devastating 1974 floods.

But Queensland’s Premier Anna Bligh warned many would wake to scenes they had never seen in their lives.

The death toll in Queensland is 12 so far, with dozens reported missing.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard called the disaster’s scale “mind-boggling”.

Ms Bligh said: “We are now in the grip of a very serious natural disaster.

At the scene

The owners of shops and cafes in one of the lower-lying communities in Brisbane have been putting sandbags out throughout the day, but the waters have risen above them and are wrecking their properties.

The only way to get around these communities at the moment, as the police are doing, is in metal boats – tinnies, as they’re called locally. We’ve seen a lot of them across Queensland recently.

There are still dozens of people missing, not in Brisbane but further inland. Toowoomba saw such extraordinary scenes on Monday afternoon, when flash flooding ripped through – cars were overturned, just swept through – all the more remarkable because Toowomba doesn’t have a river. That’s why state premier Anna Bligh called it a freak of nature.

Dozens of people are still feared missing – whole families in some instances. The search operation is still ongoing.

“We are now seeing thousands of homes inundated with water up to the roof. Many, many more are expected to see significant water damage.”

She said 20,000 to 30,000 people would be affected in Brisbane.

Although the flood peak could be below the 1974 level, Ms Bligh said: “This is still a major event, the city is much bigger, much more populated and has many parts under flood that didn’t even exist in 1974.

“We are still looking at an event which will cripple parts of our city.”

She added: “Brisbane will go to sleep tonight and wake up to scenes that many of them have never seen anything like in their lives.”

Many supermarkets have been stripped of supplies, while a number of rubbish collections and bus services have halted.

During the day on Wednesday, the central business district escaped serious flooding, with the slightly lower level of water than forecast.

However, boats and pontoons still floated down the roaring Brisbane river, along with massive amounts of debris.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said he had “a sense of horror and awe about the power of the river”.


“At the moment we are seeing pontoons and people’s boats… sadly in the coming hours we might be seeing bits of people’s houses… and that breaks my heart.”

The central district is still in danger – the flood’s peak early on Thursday will coincide with a high sea tide.

The city’s South Brisbane and West End districts have already been badly hit, the Brisbane Courier Mail reported. In all, more than 50 suburbs and 2,100 roads could be left under water.

More than 100,000 properties have had their power cut as a precaution against flooding of electricity substations.

Much of central Brisbane is a ghost townPlease turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

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A boat swept down the swollen Brisbane river sinks after hitting a bridge

Leisa Bourne of Red Cross Queensland told the BBC the city’s residents had been orderly in preparing their evacuation plans during the day on Wednesday but she expected an influx of people to evacuation centres when the flood hit its peak.

‘Completely unrecognisable’

West of Brisbane in the city of Ipswich, the Bremer river peaked at around 20m on Wednesday.


About 1,000 homes were inundated and 7,500 more affected, the Queensland Times reported. More than 1,000 people are in evacuation centres there.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said he expected flood levels to drop within the next 36 hours, allowing the clean-up to begin afterwards.

“If I find anybody looting in our city, they will be used as flood markers,” he warned.

One man found dead in his car in Ipswich has not yet been included in the death toll of 12.


Ms Bligh said: “There are some parts of Brisbane and Ipswich which are already completely unrecognisable.”

Water levels are expected to stay high in Brisbane until Saturday.

However Ms Bligh vowed the state would get back on its feet swiftly.

“We believe we can recover very quickly. That is our intention,” she said.

Ms Gillard urged Australians to look out for their neighbours.

“If there’s someone in your street you’re worried about, maybe an older Australian that you haven’t seen for a while, maybe give them a knock on the door and make sure they’re okay.”

The worst affected area was the town of Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, where residents described an “instant inland tsunami” of 8m ripping through the streets on Monday.

One good piece of news on Wednesday was that the number of missing in the Lockyer Valley had been revised down from 51 to 43, but there were grave fears for nine.

97 percent of scientists say man-made climate change is real

Report: 97 percent of scientists say man-made climate change is real – Science Fair: Science and Space News –

Forget the four out of five dentists who recommend Trident…. Try the 97 out of 100 scientists that believe in man-made climate change.

This data comes from a new survey out this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study found that 97 percent of scientific experts agree that climate change is “very likely” caused mainly by human activity.

The report is based on questions posed to 1,372 scientists. Nearly all the experts agreed that it is “very likely that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for most of the unequivocal warming of the Earth’s average global temperature in the second half of the twentieth century.”

Click here for an interactive graphic that shows how global warming occurs.

As for the 3 percent of scientists who remain unconvinced, the study found their average expertise is far below that of their colleagues, as measured by publication and citation rates.

In the study, the authors wrote: “This extensive analysis of the mainstream versus skeptical/contrarian researchers suggests a strong role for considering expert credibility in the relative weight of and attention to these groups of researchers in future discussions in media, policy, and public forums regarding anthropogenic climate change.”

The study authors were William R.L. Anderegg, James W. Prall, Jacob Harold and Stephen H. Schneider.

The report comes as the Earth continues to sizzle in 2010. So far, through May, 2010 is the warmest year ever recorded, according to the National Climatic Data Center.