Death toll from flooding in Brazil surpasses 800

Death toll from flooding in Brazil surpasses 800 – CNN.

Devastating floods in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state have killed more than 800 people, according to new government figures.

State authorities said late Sunday that 809 people were killed after flooding and massive mudslides flattened houses and wiped out entire neighborhoods in hillside towns.

The city of Nova Friburgo was the hardest hit, with at least 391 victims, Rio de Janeiro state government said.

The flooding, caused by days of torrential rains, has left thousands of people homeless throughout the state, according to the government’s tally.

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Other states in the South American country have also seen heavy rainfall. Earlier this month, authorities in neighboring Sao Paulo state said flooding had killed 24 people.

Let's take better care of our rare earth elements

Let’s take better care of our rare earth elements – tech – 15 February 2011 – New Scientist.

Despite their name, rare earth elements are not especially rare. So how come we are so worried about them running out?

THE periodic table is a thing of beauty, yet we seem to be quite happy to exhaust parts of it before we’ve fully realised its potential. Helium will probably run out within the next 100 years. Gallium and indium are running low. Phosphorus, too, may soon become an “endangered element”.

The latest part of the table to arouse such fears is a block of 17 metals known as the “rare earth elements”. China, which produces most of the world’s supply, is increasingly protective of its deposits, sparking concern over their future availability.

Both the US and European Union have set up initiatives to look at these strategically important metals. The UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry is making them a focus of its activities during the 2011 International Year of Chemistry. It is good to make a fuss – but the issue isn’t one of absolute scarcity, it’s about how we manage resources.

The rare earth elements – or as chemists call them, the lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium – might not be household names, but they are common in every household. They are used in a wider range of consumer goods than any other group of elements due to their unusual electronic, optical and magnetic properties. Rare earth elements are an ever-present part of our lifestyles and in many cases difficult to replace in terms of functionality.

Without lightweight magnets made from alloys of rare earth elements, computer hard-drives and iPod headphones and speakers would be impossible. They colour our liquid crystal displays, darken our sunglasses and provide phosphors for low-energy light bulbs and LEDs. They are a vital ingredient in lightweight alloys for aircraft and in catalysts to process crude oil and clean exhaust emissions. Industry uses them in lasers for high-precision manufacturing; hospitals use them for medical imaging. The list goes on.

Rare earth elements are also expected to play a big part in the future. It turns out they are indispensable for a range of urgently needed green energy technologies such as wind turbine generators, low-energy lighting, fuel cells, rechargeable batteries, magnetic refrigeration and hydrogen storage. If any of these technologies is implemented on the scale required to significantly reduce carbon emissions, demand for certain rare earth elements will almost inevitably exceed current supply – and quite probably known reserves.

Which brings us back to the topic of scarcity. Despite their name, rare earth elements are not especially rare – they are thus called because there were few known concentrated deposits of their ores, or “earths”, when they were first discovered. Cerium, the most common, is similar in abundance to copper and more abundant than lead, tin, cadmium, boron, tantalum, germanium and numerous other commonly used elements. Even so, rare earth elements are in short supply.

Of course, elements can’t be made or destroyed except in nuclear processes, so we can’t “run out” of them. Scarcity is largely a political question due to the fact that at least 95 per cent of the global supply originates in China. Accurate data on how much it has and produces is difficult to obtain, but the country is becoming increasingly protective of its resources. At the turn of the year the Chinese government announced that it was drastically reducing exports of the rare earth elements.

What is the rest of the world to do? Economists will argue that the market will correct itself: as the price goes up then lower grade ores become viable. This already appears to be happening. The world is scrambling to open up new sources and reopen old ones, such as Mountain Pass Rare Earth Mine in California which used to supply the majority of the world’s demand but has been mothballed since 2002. But it takes several years to start or restart a mine and demand for several rare earth elements – notably neodymium, europium, terbium and dysprosium – is forecast to outpace supply in the near term, according to a 2010 report by the British Geological Survey.

The economic argument also ignores the environmental cost of accessing lower grade ores, which may outweigh the benefits delivered by the end uses. In any case, price isn’t always a good indicator of scarcity.

The real problem is the way we obtain, use and discard rare earth elements. In our linear economy, getting hold of them depends on finding sufficiently concentrated sources. We then smash the ores out of the ground, expend huge amounts of energy purifying them, use them and then discard them. The concentration of rare earth elements and other precious metals in our waste streams is often higher than in the ore.

We need a different approach to managing the elements: better mining and extraction, more efficient production, sustainable use and planned recovery. The principles of reduce, replace and recycle must be applied at every stage to ensure we utilise rare earth elements efficiently, substitute more common materials where possible and design products to be dismantled and recycled. It may eventually be necessary to reserve key materials for vital applications rather than for short-lived lifestyle goods.

Many industries already carefully recycle their valuable “waste” materials – photographic silver and catalysts from the fine chemicals industry are good examples. We need to adopt those approaches everywhere.

Ultimately, the scarcity of rare earth elements comes down to our own short-sightedness and the apparent low cost of business as usual – dig it up, use it, discard it. If we value modern society and want to build a better future, business as usual is no longer an option. We must treasure our rare resources.

Mike Pitts is the sustainability manager for Chemistry Innovation based in Runcorn, UK, which promotes innovation and knowledge transfer in the UK’s chemistry-using industries

Storyboard: FEMA Chief Says Social Media Aid Disaster Response | Magazine

Storyboard: FEMA Chief Says Social Media Aid Disaster Response | Magazine.

Yellowstone Has Bulged as Magma Pocket Swells

Yellowstone Has Bulged as Magma Pocket Swells.

Steam rising from Castle Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.

Steam rises from Castle Geyser in Yellowstone National Park (file photo).

Photograph by Mark Thiessen, National Geographic

Brian Handwerk

for National Geographic News

Published January 19, 2011

Yellowstone National Park‘s supervolcano just took a deep “breath,” causing miles of ground to rise dramatically, scientists report.

The simmering volcano has produced major eruptions—each a thousand times more powerful than Mount St. Helens’s 1980 eruption—three times in the past 2.1 million years. Yellowstone’s caldera, which covers a 25- by 37-mile (40- by 60-kilometer) swath of Wyoming, is an ancient crater formed after the last big blast, some 640,000 years ago.

(See “When Yellowstone Explodes” in National Geographic magazine.)

Since then, about 30 smaller eruptions—including one as recent as 70,000 years ago—have filled the caldera with lava and ash, producing the relatively flat landscape we see today.

But beginning in 2004, scientists saw the ground above the caldera rise upward at rates as high as 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) a year. (Related: “Yellowstone Is Rising on Swollen ‘Supervolcano.'”)

The rate slowed between 2007 and 2010 to a centimeter a year or less. Still, since the start of the swelling, ground levels over the volcano have been raised by as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) in places.

“It’s an extraordinary uplift, because it covers such a large area and the rates are so high,” said the University of Utah’s Bob Smith, a longtime expert in Yellowstone’s volcanism.

Video: Yellowstone—World’s First National Park.

Scientists think a swelling magma reservoir four to six miles (seven to ten kilometers) below the surface is driving the uplift. Fortunately, the surge doesn’t seem to herald an imminent catastrophe, Smith said. (Related: “Under Yellowstone, Magma Pocket 20 Percent Larger Than Thought.”)

“At the beginning we were concerned it could be leading up to an eruption,” said Smith, who co-authored a paper on the surge published in the December 3, 2010, edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

“But once we saw [the magma] was at a depth of ten kilometers, we weren’t so concerned. If it had been at depths of two or three kilometers [one or two miles], we’d have been a lot more concerned.”

Studies of the surge, he added, may offer valuable clues about what’s going on in the volcano’s subterranean plumbing, which may eventually help scientists predict when Yellowstone’s next volcanic “burp” will break out.

Yellowstone Takes Regular Breaths

Smith and colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Yellowstone Volcano Observatory have been mapping the caldera’s rise and fall using tools such as global positioning systems (GPS) and interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), which gives ground-deformation measurements.

Ground deformation can suggest that magma is moving toward the surface before an eruption: The flanks of Mount St. Helens, for example, swelled dramatically in the months before its 1980 explosion. (See pictures of Mount St. Helens before and after the blast.)

But there are also many examples, including the Yellowstone supervolcano, where it appears the ground has risen and fallen for thousands of years without an eruption.

According to current theory, Yellowstone’s magma reservoir is fed by a plume of hot rock surging upward from Earth’s mantle. (Related: “New Magma Layer Found Deep in Earth’s Mantle?”)

When the amount of magma flowing into the chamber increases, the reservoir swells like a lung and the surface above expands upward. Models suggest that during the recent uplift, the reservoir was filling with 0.02 cubic miles (0.1 cubic kilometer) of magma a year.

When the rate of increase slows, the theory goes, the magma likely moves off horizontally to solidify and cool, allowing the surface to settle back down.

Based on geologic evidence, Yellowstone has probably seen a continuous cycle of inflation and deflation over the past 15,000 years, and the cycle will likely continue, Smith said.

Surveys show, for example, that the caldera rose some 7 inches (18 centimeters) between 1976 and 1984 before dropping back about 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) over the next decade.

“These calderas tend to go up and down, up and down,” he said. “But every once in a while they burp, creating hydrothermal explosions, earthquakes, or—ultimately—they can produce volcanic eruptions.”

Yellowstone Surge Also Linked to Geysers, Quakes?

Predicting when an eruption might occur is extremely difficult, in part because the fine details of what’s going on under Yellowstone are still undetermined. What’s more, continuous records of Yellowstone’s activity have been made only since the 1970s—a tiny slice of geologic time—making it hard to draw conclusions.

“Clearly some deep source of magma feeds Yellowstone, and since Yellowstone has erupted in the recent geological past, we know that there is magma at shallower depths too,” said Dan Dzurisin, a Yellowstone expert with the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Washington State.

“There has to be magma in the crust, or we wouldn’t have all the hydrothermal activity that we have,” Dzurisin added. “There is so much heat coming out of Yellowstone right now that if it wasn’t being reheated by magma, the whole system would have gone stone cold since the time of the last eruption 70,000 years ago.”

The large hydrothermal system just below Yellowstone’s surface, which produces many of the park’s top tourist attractions, may also play a role in ground swelling, Dzurisin said, though no one is sure to what extent.

“Could it be that some uplift is caused not by new magma coming in but by the hydrothermal system sealing itself up and pressurizing?” he asked. “And then it subsides when it springs a leak and depressurizes? These details are difficult.”

And it’s not a matter of simply watching the ground rise and fall. Different areas may move in different directions and be interconnected in unknown ways, reflecting the as yet unmapped network of volcanic and hydrothermal plumbing.

The roughly 3,000 earthquakes in Yellowstone each year may offer even more clues about the relationship between ground uplift and the magma chamber.

For example, between December 26, 2008, and January 8, 2009, some 900 earthquakes occurred in the area around Yellowstone Lake.

This earthquake “swarm” may have helped to release pressure on the magma reservoir by allowing fluids to escape, and this may have slowed the rate of uplift, the University of Utah’s Smith said. (Related: “Mysterious ‘Swarm’ of Quakes Strikes Oregon Waters.”)

“Big quakes [can have] a relationship to uplift and deformations caused by the intrusion of magma,” he said. “How those intrusions stress the adjacent faults, or how the faults might transmit stress to the magma system, is a really important new area of study.”

Overall, USGS’s Dzurisin added, “the story of Yellowstone deformation has gotten more complex as we’ve had better and better technologies to study it.”

New Zealand earthquake strikes Christchurch, killing at least 65 people

New Zealand earthquake strikes Christchurch, killing at least 65 people | World news | guardian.co.uk.

Local TV shows bodies being pulled out of rubble and people running from collapsing buildings in Christchurch Link to this video

At least 65 people have died and more than 100 are missing after a powerful earthquake struck the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch, collapsing buildings, burying vehicles under debris and sending rescuers scrambling to help people trapped under rubble.

The 6.3-magnitude quake struck the country’s second largest city on a busy weekday afternoon.

The mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker, has declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city centre. “Make no mistake this is going to be a very black day for this shaken city,” he said.

Power and water was cut and hundreds of dazed, screaming and crying residents wandered through the streets as sirens blared throughout Christchurch in the aftermath of the quake, which was centred three miles from the city. The US Geological Survey said the tremor occurred at a depth of 2.5 miles.

Earthquake topples Christchurch Cathedral's spire Earthquake topples Christchurch Cathedral’s spire, one of many collapsed buildings across New Zealand’s second largest city. Photograph: Mark Mitchell/AP

After rushing to the city within hours of the quake, the prime minister of New Zealand, John Key, said the death toll was 65, and may rise. “It is just a scene of utter devastation. We may well be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day.”

The spire of the city’s well-known stone cathedral toppled into a central square, while buildings collapsed in on themselves and streets were strewn with bricks and shattered concrete.

The multi-storey Pyne Gould Guinness Building, housing more than 200 workers, has collapsed with an unknown number of people trapped inside. Television pictures showed rescuers, many of them office workers, dragging severely injured people from the rubble.

Elsewhere, police said debris rained down on two buses, crushing them, while emergency workers were moving to rescue survivors trapped in other partially collapsed buildings across the city.

New Zealand’s TV3 said 24 people were trapped on the 17th floor of the 19-storey Forsyth Barr office building, near the cathedral. The building was intact but a stairwell had collapsed, it said.

Christchurch hospital had to deal with many injured residents.

“We’ve had a lot of people at the emergency department … a significant number, a lot of major injuries,” said David Meates, the chief executive of the Canterbury health board.

“They are largely crushes and cuts types of injuries and chest pain as well,” he said, adding some of the more seriously injured could be evacuated to other cities, where hospitals have been put on alert and prepared to accept casualties.

All army medical staff have been mobilised, while several hundred troops were helping with the rescue, officials said.

A woman trapped in one of the buildings said she was terrified and waiting for rescuers to reach her six hours after the quake.

“I thought the best place was under the desk but the ceiling collapsed on top. I can’t move and I’m just terrified,” office worker Anne Voss told TV3 news.

Emergency shelters had been set up in schools and at a racecourse, as night approached.

Helicopters dumped giant buckets of water to try to douse a fire in one tall office building. A crane helped rescue workers trapped in another office block.

“I was in the square right outside the cathedral – the whole front has fallen down and there were people running from there. There were people inside as well,” said John Gurr, a camera technician who was in the city centre when the quake hit.

The city’s historic cathedral was one of the buildings that took significant damage, while cars were buried under rubble and roads buckled as the tremor opened fissures in the ground.

An injured person is carried by rescue workers after an earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand An injured person is carried by rescue workers after an earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand Photograph: David Wethey/AP

“It is huge. We just don’t know if there are people under this rubble,” a priest standing outside the rubble of the damaged cathedral told Television New Zealand.

Search and rescue teams are working through the night to look for survivors, the civil defence director, John Hamilton, said.

“We have to be prepared to accept that it is going to be a heavy toll,” he said, adding that it was unclear how many people were trapped in buildings.

“There could well be people who are stuck in buildings overnight. I can’t confirm, but I would expect that’s in all probability the case.”

All airports and airspace in the country were shut down and all flights into, out of and around the country were put on hold immediately after the earthquake.

Airways NZ, New Zealand’s national air traffic control organisation, is based in Christchurch.

Local TV showed bodies being pulled out of rubble strewn around the city centre, though it was unclear whether any of them were alive.

It was the second time in five months that the city has been struck by a major earthquake. Last September’s 7.1-magnitude earthquake was 30 miles west of Christchurch. About 100 people were treated at hospital with earthquake-related injuries then.

Christchurch has been hit by hundreds of aftershocks since that earthquake, causing extensive damage and a handful of injuries, but no deaths. New Zealand, which sits between the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates, records on average more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, of which about 20 would normally top magnitude 5.0.

Christchurch is home to about 350,000 people and is a tourist centre and gateway to the South Island.


ALSO:

The New Zealand city of Christchurch felt the full brunt of a 6.3-magnitude earthquake today, just five months after experiencing a 7.1-magnitude quake.

Based on the magnitude, Gary Gibson, a seismologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia, says ground shaking would have been “severe” in the city centre, which was only 10 kilometres from the earthquake’s epicentre.

Details of the damage remain vague, but 65 deaths have been confirmed and there are widespread reports of severe building damage. Two buses were crushed by collapsing buildings, and 75 per cent of the city was left without power.

According to Gibson, the active fault area was approximately 15 square kilometres. “One side of the fault moved about 1 metre relative to the other,” he says.

When weaker is worse

Last year’s 7.1-magnitude earthquake was more than 10 times as strong as today’s but caused no deaths, probably because it occurred at greater depth and further away from Christchurch: its epicentre was 70 kilometres west of the city. And the focus of September’s quake was some 10 kilometres below ground – today’s was half as deep.

“The ground motion [of the previous quake] had significantly attenuated by the time it reached Christchurch,” says Adam Pascale, a seismologist at Environmental Systems & Services in Richmond, Australia.

Seismologists suggest today’s quake occurred along the same fault line as last year’s – some even consider it a large aftershock from last September’s event.

More to come?

The question now is: are more quakes likely? That all depends on whether the underlying rocks have settled into a position where they can absorb the stress from tectonic plate movements again. Gibson suspects this has already happened. “An earthquake of this magnitude does a good job of releasing that stress,” he says. Although it is possible that other fault lines in the region might burst, “it’s unlikely”.

New Zealand sits on the tectonic boundary between the Pacific plate and the Australia-India plate. Christchurch is not on that frontier, but it is near to related secondary faults such as the Alpine fault, which runs along the spine of the South Island.

Planet could be 'unrecognizable' by 2050?

Planet could be ‘unrecognizable’ by 2050, experts say – Yahoo! News.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A growing, more affluent population competing for ever scarcer resources could make for an “unrecognizable” world by 2050, researchers warned at a major US science conference Sunday.

The United Nations has predicted the global population will reach seven billion this year, and climb to nine billion by 2050, “with almost all of the growth occurring in poor countries, particularly Africa and South Asia,” said John Bongaarts of the non-profit Population Council.

To feed all those mouths, “we will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8,000,” said Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

“By 2050 we will not have a planet left that is recognizable” if current trends continue, Clay said.

The swelling population will exacerbate problems, such as resource depletion, said John Casterline, director of the Initiative in Population Research at Ohio State University.

But incomes are also expected to rise over the next 40 years — tripling globally and quintupling in developing nations — and add more strain to global food supplies.

People tend to move up the food chain as their incomes rise, consuming more meat than they might have when they made less money, the experts said.

It takes around seven pounds (3.4 kilograms) of grain to produce a pound of meat, and around three to four pounds of grain to produce a pound of cheese or eggs, experts told AFP.

“More people, more money, more consumption, but the same planet,” Clay told AFP, urging scientists and governments to start making changes now to how food is produced.

Population experts, meanwhile, called for more funding for family planning programs to help control the growth in the number of humans, especially in developing nations.

“For 20 years, there’s been very little investment in family planning, but there’s a return of interest now, partly because of the environmental factors like global warming and food prices,” said Bongaarts.

“We want to minimize population growth, and the only viable way to do that is through more effective family planning,” said Casterline.

Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead

Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead – Yahoo! News.

WASHINGTON – Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a top scientist’s video and slides that she says demonstrate the oil isn’t degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor.

That report is at odds with a recent report by the BP spill compensation czar that said nearly all will be well by 2012.

At a science conference in Washington Saturday, marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia aired early results of her December submarine dives around the BP spill site. She went to places she had visited in the summer and expected the oil and residue from oil-munching microbes would be gone by then. It wasn’t.

“There’s some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn’t seem to be degrading,” Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. Her research and those of her colleagues contrasts with other studies that show a more optimistic outlook about the health of the gulf, saying microbes did great work munching the oil.

“Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the total discharge, the rest of it we don’t know,” Joye said, later adding: “there’s a lot of it out there.”

The head of the agency in charge of the health of the Gulf said Saturday that she thought that “most of the oil is gone.” And a Department of Energy scientist, doing research with a grant from BP from before the spill, said his examination of oil plumes in the water column show that microbes have done a “fairly fast” job of eating the oil. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab scientist Terry Hazen said his research differs from Joye’s because they looked at different places at different times.

Joye’s research was more widespread, but has been slower in being published in scientific literature.

In five different expeditions, the last one in December, Joye and colleagues took 250 cores of the sea floor and travelled across 2,600 square miles. Some of the locations she had been studying before the oil spill on April 20 and said there was a noticeable change. Much of the oil she found on the sea floor — and in the water column — was chemically fingerprinted, proving it comes from the BP spill. Joye is still waiting for results to show other oil samples she tested are from BP’s Macondo well.

She also showed pictures of oil-choked bottom-dwelling creatures. They included dead crabs and brittle stars — starfish like critters that are normally bright orange and tightly wrapped around coral. These brittle stars were pale, loose and dead. She also saw tube worms so full of oil they suffocated.

“This is Macondo oil on the bottom,” Joye said as she showed slides. “This is dead organisms because of oil being deposited on their heads.”

Joye said her research shows that the burning of oil left soot on the sea floor, which still had petroleum products. And even more troublesome was the tremendous amount of methane from the BP well that mixed into the Gulf and was mostly ignored by other researchers.

Joye and three colleagues last week published a study in Nature Geoscience that said the amount of gas injected into the Gulf was the equivalent of between 1.5 and 3 million barrels of oil.

“The gas is an important part of understanding what happened,” said Ian MacDonald of Florida State University.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco told reporters Saturday that “it’s not a contradiction to say that although most of the oil is gone, there still remains oil out there.”

Earlier this month, Kenneth Feinberg, the government’s oil compensation fund czar, said based on research he commissioned he figured the Gulf of Mexico would almost fully recover by 2012 — something Joye and Lubchenco said isn’t right.

“I’ve been to the bottom. I’ve seen what it looks like with my own eyes. It’s not going to be fine by 2012,” Joye told The Associated Press. “You see what the bottom looks like, you have a different opinion.”

NOAA chief Lubchenco said “even though the oil degraded relatively rapidly and is now mostly but not all gone, damage done to a variety of species may not become obvious for years to come.”

Lubchenco Saturday also announced the start of a Gulf restoration planning process to get the Gulf back to the condition it was on Apr. 19, the day before the spill. That program would eventually be paid for BP and other parties deemed responsible for the spill. This would be separate from an already begun restoration program that would improve all aspects of the Gulf, not just the oil spill, but has not been funded by the government yet, she said.

The new program, which is part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment program, is part of the oil spill litigation — or out-of-court settlement — in which the polluters pay for overall damage to the ecosystem and efforts to return it to normal. This is different than paying compensation to people and businesses directly damaged by the spill.

The process will begin with public meetings all over the region.

___

Online:

Joye’s website: http://www.marsci.uga.edu/directory/mjoye.htm

NOAA’s restoration site: http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/

Royal Ontario Museum investigates sudden bee death

BBC News – Royal Ontario Museum investigates sudden bee death.

honey bees The bees were part of a popular biodiversity exhibit

Related Stories

A Toronto museum is investigating the sudden death of thousands of bees in a glass-enclosed beehive exhibit.

Officials at the Royal Ontario Museum said 20,000 bees in a biodiversity exhibit had died within two days last week, though they had appeared healthy.

Scientists have ruled out staff error and starvation, but said poor ventilation, disease or a lack of worker bees could be to blame.

The museum plans to replace the colony in the spring.

“The queen stops laying eggs in early- to mid-October and starts laying again in late February,” University of Guelph researcher Janine McGowan told the Toronto Star newspaper.

“If she didn’t lay enough winter worker bee eggs to make sure the hive and honey is kept warm during the winter, that could have contributed to the die-off.”

Climate Change Extends Allergy Season in North America

Climate Change Extends Allergy Season in North America: Scientific American.

Bad news for—achoo!—those who sniffle, er suffer their way through ragweed—sniff, snort, itch—season: A team of researchers has found that increased warming, particularly in the northern half of North America, has added weeks to the fall pollen season.

It’s enough to make you grab a tissue: Minneapolis has tacked 16 days to the ragweed pollen season since 1995; LaCrosse, Wisc. has added 13 days, Winnipeg and Saskatoon in Canada have added 25 and 27 days, respectively.

The new research, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds the longer pollen seasons correlate with the disproportionate warming happening around the planet and attributed to greenhouse gas emissions.

Upper latitudes are warming faster than mid-latitudes, and the pollen season is lengthening in proportion. Scientists and health officials found no appreciable warming in Texas, Arkansas or Oklahoma.

“It’s not just theoretical,” said Lewis Ziska, the study’s lead author and a plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop system and global change laboratory. “We are seeing a signal based on what in fact the [U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] is predicting.”

The impact goes far beyond mere sniffles and inconvenience. Some 50 million Americans have allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Of those, 35 million suffer nasal allergies, known broadly as hay fever, said Mike Tringale, the association’s vice president.

For 75 percent of those 35 million, ragweed is the primary allergen, he added.

And in many cases, allergies can trigger a bout of asthma, or make it worse.

Dr. Nancy Ott, a physician with Southdale Pediatrics in Edina, Minn., has seen “a lot more desperate calls” over the past four to six years. “These longer seasons can be a problem” particularly for those with asthma, she said. “I try to get patients in early, make sure they have a red ‘X’ on Feb. 28 or whenever the pollen season starts.”

The findings correlate with analysis last year by the National Wildlife Federation that found ragweed growth rates and pollen counts increased with global warming. In one study, accelerating spring’s arrival by 30 days prompted a 54 percent increase in ragweed pollen production.

The danger with a lengthening season—and perhaps a more intense one—is pollen’s potential to overwhelm immune systems that, up till now, have withstood the onslaught, Tringale said.

Much as water in a bathtub is not a problem until it starts to overflow, pollen for many is not an irritant until it crosses a particular threshold, he said.

“With the longer season, with the creeping breadth of the geographic footprint of the season, and with more powerful plants producing more pollen, it’s a triple threat,” he added. “Now you’ve got yourself a much wider population that could potentially be affected that might not have been affected before.’

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Douglas Fischer is editor of DailyClimate.org, a nonprofit news service that covers climate change.

A Warming World Could Add Billions to Shipping Costs

A Warming World Could Add Billions to Shipping Costs – ScienceNOW.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Climate change already stands to wreak huge financial damage by inundating coastal cities and harming human health. Now, researchers have added a surprising victim to the toll: ships. In a session here today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW), a scientist said that climate change will stimulate the growth of barnacles and other ship-clinging creatures, potentially adding billions to the cost of worldwide shipping.

As anyone with a boat knows, many sorts of marine life can attach themselves to a hull below the waterline. On a large ship, the weight of such hitchhikers—everything from algae to barnacles to small colonies of coral—can weigh as much as 10 tons, says marine ecologist Susan Williams of the University of California, Davis, Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay. The costs of these hull-fouling stowaways are substantial: According to one study, the U.S. shipping industry spends more than $36 billion each year in added fuel costs to overcome the drag induced by clinging marine life or for anti-fouling paint that prevents that life from hitching a ride in the first place. And that figure doesn’t include the cost to regularly scrape a hull smooth, which costs approximately $4.50 for every square foot of hull surface.

In the future, those costs could rise substantially, says Williams. In lab tests for which seawater was warmed 3.5°C above today’s average—a scenario that represents water temperatures expected in the year 2100—organisms in a typical community of hull-clinging creatures grew twice as fast as they do under today’s conditions. They not only grow more quickly in the warmer water but also grew to form thicker layers.

As a result, maintenance will likely be required more often in the future, boosting operational costs even further. In fact, recent warming may already have increased the need for routine hull scraping, says Williams. Ten years ago, boat owners in the marina where she lives typically scraped their boats only once every 3 months. Now, she notes, they need to perform such maintenance on a monthly basis.

See our complete coverage of the 2011 AAAS annual meeting in Washington, D.C.