Arquivo mensal: dezembro 2014

“What is ecological engineering?” (Inhabiting the Anthropocene)

“What is ecological engineering?”
by Ingo Schlupp

CITATION:
Mitsch, W.J. 2012. Ecological Engineering, Vol. 45, pp. 5-12.
ON-LINE AVAILABILITY:
doi:10.1016/j.ecoleng.2012.04.013

ABSTRACT:
Ecological engineering, defined as the design of sustainable ecosystems that integrate human society with its natural environment for the benefit of both, has developed over the last 30 years, and rapidly over the last 10 years. Its goals include the restoration of ecosystems that have been substantially disturbed by human activities and the development of new sustainable ecosystems that have both human and ecological values. It is especially needed as conventional energy sources diminish and amplification of nature’s ecosystem services is needed even more. There are now several universities developing academic pro- grams or departments called ecological engineering, ecological restoration, or similar terms, the number of manuscripts submitted to the journal Ecological Engineering continue to increase at an rapid rate, and the U.S. National Science Foundation now has a specific research focus area called ecological engineer- ing. There are many private firms now developing and even prospering that are now specializing in the restoration of streams, rivers, lakes, forests, grasslands, and wetlands, the rehabilitation of minelands and urban brownfields, and the creation of treatment wetlands and phytoremediation sites. It appears that the perfect synchronization of academy, publishing, research resources, and practice is beginning to develop. Yet the field still does not have a formal accreditation in engineering and receives guarded acceptance in the university system and workplace alike.
William Mitsch is one of the founders of the field of Ecological Engineering, which specializes on managing and restoring ecosystems. There seems to be an obvious connection between the Anthropocene idea and this relatively new field. The Mitsch paper is a good place to start to understand the effort to be more deliberate and thoughtful about ways we intervene in natural systems—something that has run amok in the Anthropocene.

But it is important to me to put Ecological Engineering into a biological context. One of the key concepts that come to the mind of a biologist when we think of the Anthropocence is how almost any organism manipulates its environment. (Zev Trachtenberg has posted on the related idea of “niche construction.”) This is sometimes an apparent byproduct of physiological functions like plants releasing oxygen into the air (thereby making the planet hospitable to most animals) or a very clear, active manipulation like the beaver dam that creates a pond. The pond directly serves the beavers, but many organisms benefit from the existence of the novel pond. Others drown, of course. This kind of large scale and far reaching effect is classified as ecosystem engineering and has become a key concept in ecology. We now recognize that ecosystem engineering has many consequences, including a large increase in species richness. (In the Further Reading section I list a recent meta-analysis by Romero et al. in the highly respected journal Biological Reviews which just made this point.)

So, animals manipulate their environment all the time, how about humans? How are our efforts different? Often we simply mimic nature: we put artificial reefs in place of natural ones. These fake reefs have some of the same functions as natural reefs built by corals, mainly providing hard substrate for other animals to grow upon. Because corals provide more that just a substrate and are living, breathing part of the reef, other functions cannot be mimicked.

Humans have taken ecosystem engineering to a new dimension, partly creating the very Anthropocene we are discussing here. Like almost every other species on the planet our own species has altered the environment from Day 1, but when did we cross the threshold and became the masters of ecosystem engineering? Was it the invention of agriculture? Or any other milestone in the evolution of humanity?

Whenever it was, for our own species ecosystem engineering is obviously now very active and has resulted in planet-wide alterations. This leads me back to Ecological Engineering: it is an applied science, pioneered by Mitsch, who has promoted it since the early 1990’s. What is intriguing about this field is that it is by definition transdisciplinary, but it suffers from a problem that all of transdisciplinary approaches have, namely limited acceptance in the “pure” fields.

It is necessary for us to realize that Ecosystem Engineering, when done by humans has a moral and political dimension to it, but an engineering approach has additional aspects to think about: Engineering might be a misleading term, as it implies that we have control over all the moving parts. The science of Ecology is far from having a complete understanding of the dynamics that govern ecosystems; can we manage something we don’t understand all that well? At the same time we may have already altered all “natural” systems to a point where we are unable to research them as if they were naturals. Maybe this is the biological version of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

FURTHER READING:
Mitsch, W.J., 1993. Ecological engineering—a cooperative role with the planetary life–support systems. Environmental Science and Technology, 27, 438–445. DOI: 10.1021/es00040a600. One of Mitsch’s early papers that helped launch the field.

Romero, G.Q. et al. 2014. Ecosystem engineering effects on species diversity across ecosystems: a meta-analysis. Biological Reviews, DOI: 10.1111/brv.12138. This paper argues that ecosystem engineering increases the number of species, but the effects depend e.g. on latitude (they are stronger in the tropics) and other factors.

Study: California drought is the most severe in at least 1,200 years (Washington Post)

 December 4 at 3:40 PM

The current drought in California is the worst the state has seen in at least 1,200 years, according to a recent study published by the American Geophysical Union.

Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the University of Minnesota reconstructed California’s temperature and precipitation history back to 800 A.D. using tree ring data. Hidden in this millennium of data they found as many as 66 dry periods of at least three to nine years. In the entire 1,200 year period they studied, there were only three droughts that were similar in nature to the current drought.

Though none have been as severe as what California has seen in the three years since 2012. Not even the historic droughts of the late 1970s, nor the late 1980s. The study also found that 2014 was the worst single drought year in the past 1,200 years, and that approximately 44 percent of California’s 3-year droughts have gone on to last another year, or longer.

Interestingly, California’s current lack of rainfall is not unprecedented in the 1,200-year record. The study concludes that the current drought was a result of both below-average precipitation and record-breaking high temperatures, and that the latter could have intensified the drought by about 36 percent.

This week has been particularly rainy one for California, which is being blasted by a series of storms that are channeling moisture into the state. San Francisco has seen over 3.5 inches of rain since Monday, compared to 2013, when they only received 0.35 inches in the whole month. They’re average rainfall for the entire month of December is 4.03, so the city is well on it’s way to at least making par. Los Angeles has racked up over 1.5 inches of rain so far this month, where the December average is 2.05.

However, much, much more rainfall is needed to put a dent in the drought.

Fifty five percent of California remains in an “exceptional drought” as of Thursday — the most severe classification on the scale used by the U.S. Drought Monitor, and 100 percent of the state remains in at least a moderate drought. Many of the state’s critical reservoirs remain well below their historical average.

While this week’s rain and snow will be a step in the right direction, California still has a long way to go to reach total drought abatement. As of October, the National Climatic Data Center was estimating that most of California’s central valley as well as Northern California would need anywhere from 18 to 21 inches of precipitation over the next six months to end the drought.

This week’s rains will be beneficial, but they won’t be nearly enough.

Geoengineering Gone Wild: Newsweek Touts Turning Humans Into Hobbits To Save Climate (Climate Progress)

POSTED ON DECEMBER 5, 2014 AT 9:37 AM

Matamata, New Zealand - "Hobbiton," site created for filming Hollywood blockbusters The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

A Newsweek cover story touts genetically engineering humans to be smaller, with better night vision (like, say, hobbits) to save the Earth. Matamata, New Zealand, or “Hobbiton,” site created for filming Hollywood blockbusters The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Newsweek has an entire cover story devoted to raising the question, “Can Geoengineering Save the Earth?” After reading it, though, you may not realize the answer is a resounding “no.” In part that’s because Newsweek manages to avoid quoting even one of the countless general critics of geoengineering in its 2700-word (!) piece.

20141205cover600-x-800Geoengineering is not a well-defined term, but at its broadest, it is the large-scale manipulation of the Earth and its biosphere to counteract the effects of human-caused global warming. Global warming itself is geo-engineering — originally unintentional, but now, after decades of scientific warnings, not so much.

I have likened geoengineering to a dangerous, never tested, course of chemotherapy prescribed to treat a condition curable through diet and exercise — or, in this case, greenhouse gas emissions reduction. If your actual doctor were to prescribe such a treatment, you would get another doctor.

The media likes geoengineering stories because they are clickbait involving all sorts of eye-popping science fiction (non)solutions to climate change that don’t actually require anything of their readers (or humanity) except infinite credulousness. And so Newsweek informs us that adorable ants might solve the problem or maybe phytoplankton can if given Popeye-like superstrength with a diet of iron or, as we’ll see, maybe we humans can, if we allow ourselves to be turned into hobbit-like creatures. The only thing they left out was time-travel.

The author does talk to an unusually sober expert supporter of geoengineering, climatologist Ken Caldeira. Caldeira knows that of all the proposed geoengineering strategies, only one makes even the tiniest bit of sense — and he knows even that one doesn’t make much sense. That would be the idea of spewing vast amounts of tiny particulates (sulfate aerosols) into the atmosphere to block sunlight, mimicking the global temperature drops that follow volcanic eruptions. But they note the caveat: “that said, Caldeira doesn’t believe any method of geoengineering is really a good solution to fighting climate change — we can’t test them on a large scale, and implementing them blindly could be dangerous.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. As Caldeira told me in 2009, “If we keep emitting greenhouse gases with the intent of offsetting the global warming with ever increasing loadings of particles in the stratosphere, we will be heading to a planet with extremely high greenhouse gases and a thick stratospheric haze that we would need to maintain more-or-less indefinitely. This seems to be a dystopic world out of a science fiction story.”

And the scientific literature has repeatedly explained that the aerosol-cooling strategy — or indeed any large-scale effort to manipulate sunlight — is very dangerous. Just last month, the UK Guardian reported that the aerosol strategy “risks ‘terrifying’ consequences including droughts and conflicts,” according to recent studies.

“Billions of people would suffer worse floods and droughts if technology was used to block warming sunlight, the research found.”

And remember, this dystopic world where billions suffer is the best geoengineering strategy out there. And it still does nothing to stop the catastrophic acidification of the ocean.

There simply is no rational or moral substitute for aggressive greenhouse gas cuts. But Newsweek quickly dispenses with that supposedly “seismic shift in what has become a global value system” so it can move on to its absurdist “reimagining of what it means to be human”:

In a paper released in 2012, S. Matthew Liao, a philosopher and ethicist at New York University, and some colleagues proposed a series of human-engineering projects that could make our very existence less damaging to the Earth. Among the proposals were a patch you can put on your skin that would make you averse to the flavor of meat (cattle farms are a notorious producer of the greenhouse gas methane), genetic engineering in utero to make humans grow shorter (smaller people means fewer resources used), technological reengineering of our eyeballs to make us better at seeing at night (better night vision means lower energy consumption)….

Yes, let’s turn humans into hobbits (who are “about 3 feet tall” and “their night vision is excellent“). Anyone can see that could easily be done for billions of people in the timeframe needed to matter. Who could imagine any political or practical objection?

Now you may be thinking that Newsweek can’t possibly be serious devoting ink to such nonsense. But if not, how did the last two paragraphs of the article make it to print:

Geoengineering, Liao argues, doesn’t address the root cause. Remaking the planet simply attempts to counteract the damage that’s been done, but it does nothing to stop the burden humans put on the planet. “Human engineering is more of an upstream solution,” says Liao. “You get right to the source. If we’re smaller on average, then we can have a smaller footprint on the planet. You’re looking at the source of the problem.”

It might be uncomfortable for humans to imagine intentionally getting smaller over generations or changing their physiology to become averse to meat, but why should seeding the sky with aerosols be any more acceptable? In the end, these are all actions we would enact only in worst-case scenarios. And when we’re facing the possible devastation of all mankind, perhaps a little humanity-wide night vision won’t seem so dramatic.

Memo to Newsweek: We are already facing the devastation of all mankind. And science has already provided the means of our “rescue,” the means of reducing “the burden humans put on the planet” — the myriad carbon-free energy technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps LED lighting would make a slightly more practical strategy than reengineering our eyeballs, though perhaps not one dramatic enough to inspire one of your cover stories.

As Caldeira himself has said elsewhere of geoengineering, “I think that 99% of our effort to avoid climate change should be put on emissions reduction, and 1% of our effort should be looking into these options.” So perhaps Newsweek will consider 99 articles on the real solutions before returning to the magical thinking of Middle Earth.

Brasil chega a Lima na contramão dos esforços globais contra mudanças do clima (Observatório do Clima)

Cop20lima
02/12/2014 – 12h35

por Bruno Toledo, do Observatório do Clima

banner OCnaCOP20 Expectativas01.121 Brasil chega a Lima na contramão dos esforços globais contra mudanças do clima

Com emissões em alta, mesmo com baixo crescimento econômico, Brasil começa a COP20 numa posição mais frágil que em outras conferências do clima.

A capital do Peru será a capital global dos esforços contra as mudança do clima pelas próximas duas semanas. Começou nesta segunda a 20ª Conferência das Partes (COP 20) da Convenção-Quadro das Nações Unidas sobre Mudança do Clima, em espaço montado no quartel general do Exército peruano em Lima. Pelos próximos 14 dias, negociadores de mais de 190 países se reunirão com a dura missão de desatar os nós que impedem o enfrentamento global efetivo das mudanças climáticas.

O principal objetivo da COP 20, sem dúvidas, será avançar na estrutura do futuro acordo climático internacional que sucederá o Protocolo de Quioto a partir de 2021, mas que precisa ter seu texto finalizado e aprovado pelos governos até a próxima Conferência do Clima, que acontece daqui a 12 meses em Paris.

O cenário em Lima é favorável para esse avanço. Os dois maiores emissores de gases de efeito estufa do planeta, a China e os Estados Unidos, apresentaram compromissos importantes rumo a uma redução substancial de suas emissões nas próximas décadas. Mesmo que esses anúncios não sejam tão ambiciosos como o necessário, eles são sinais importantes da disposição desses países para enfrentar o desafio climático.

Outro motivo para otimismo é o avanço na capitalização do Fundo Climático Verde (GFC, sigla em inglês), que conseguiu angariar US$ 9,7 bilhões, graças às doações recentes de países como Espanha, Estados Unidos e Reino Unido. O valor praticamente bate a meta prevista pela UNFCCC para o final de 2014, e esses recursos serão importantes para financiar ações urgentes em adaptação e mitigação das mudanças do clima em países em desenvolvimento.

Por fim, o ímpeto dado pela Cúpula do Clima, realizada em setembro passado em Nova York, criou um movimento importante para a sociedade civil internacional pressionar os governos por ações climáticas mais ambiciosas e efetivas. Mesmo que os resultados concretos da Cúpula tenham sido mais simbólicos que práticos, o encontro de chefes de governo em Nova York ajudou a colocar o tema climático novamente na agenda mainstream da política internacional e incentivou a mobilização de milhões de pessoas pelo mundo.

Se o contexto global é favorável para avanços práticos, o contexto brasileiro não poderia ser tão contrastante. Como o Observatório do Clima apontou, a partir dos dados do Sistema de Estimativa de Emissões de Gases do Efeito Estufa (SEEG), as emissões brasileiras aumentaram 7,8% em 2013, mesmo com o baixo crescimento apresentado pelo país no ano passado (2,6%).

Entre 2012 e 2013, a Amazônia sofreu com o aumento da taxa de desmatamento em 29%, que interrompeu uma sequência de quase uma década de reduções significativas. No ano passado, as emissões associadas ao desmatamento subiram 16%, de acordo com o Sistema de Estimativas de Emissões de Gases do Efeito Estufa (SEEG) do Observatório do Clima. Mesmo com o anúncio recente dos dados do PRODES, que apontam para uma redução de 18% na taxa entre 2013 e 2014, informações do DETER e do Imazon já apontam para uma retomada acelerada do desmatamento nos últimos meses, o que pode colocar em risco a pequena recuperação apontada pelo PRODES.

COP20 0001 Brasil chega a Lima na contramão dos esforços globais contra mudanças do clima

Além disso, quase 70% dos investimentos federais em energia nos próximos anos estão direcionados para fontes fósseis em energia, que vão inevitavelmente sujar nossa matriz energética. Exemplo recente do retrocesso disso foi o leilão de energia realizado na semana passada, que ressuscitou o carvão mineral, incluindo na base da matriz energética.

Esse contexto doméstico fragiliza a posição brasileira nas negociações climáticas, com reflexos imediatos no processo diplomático atual. Por exemplo, o governo brasileiro cogita encaminhar suas contribuições nacionalmente definidas, base para a conclusão dos futuros compromissos do Brasil no novo acordo climático, apenas no final do primeiro semestre de 2015, meses depois do deadline original recomendado por decisão da COP 19, realizada em Varsóvia no ano passado. Ou seja, o Brasil está abrindo mão da sua condição de liderança política em clima, esperando para ver o que outros países farão para depois definir o que podemos fazer.

Enquanto o Brasil retrocede, as mudanças do clima já fazem parte da realidade dos brasileiros, impondo custos altíssimos para o país, devido ao clima extremo – particularmente nos últimos meses, com a estiagem que aflige o Sudeste e a seca que atinge todo o semiárido do Nordeste há alguns anos.

O Observatório do Clima espera que o Brasil assuma uma posição condizente com aquilo que já apresentou em conferências passadas, alinhada com aquilo que se espera do país nesse momento importantíssimo das negociações climáticas. Somos um dos maiores emissores do planeta e temos condição para avançar efetivamente em esforços mais substanciais de redução de nossas emissões – por exemplo, reduzindo o desmatamento amazônico para zero, ampliando os investimentos para agricultura de baixo carbono e revertendo a queda da participação de fontes renováveis em nossa matriz energética, através de investimentos maciços em renováveis modernas. Se colocarmos o avanço em nossos esforços climáticos como estratégico para o Brasil, isso será positivo para a competitividade de nossa indústria e para a geração de novos empregos em setores importantes como energia solar, hoje estratégicos para países como China e Estados Unidos.

* Publicado originalmente no site Observatório do Clima.

(Observatório do Clima)

January-October 2014 temperatures highest on record (Science Daily)

Date: November 29, 2014

Source: World Meteorological Organization

Summary: The global average temperature over land and ocean surfaces for January to October 2014 was the highest on record, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It said October was the hottest since records began in 1880.

The global average temperature over land and ocean surfaces for January to October 2014 was the highest on record, according to NOAA. October was the hottest since records began in 1880. Credit: NOAA

The global average temperature over land and ocean surfaces for January to October 2014 was the highest on record, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It said October was the hottest since records began in 1880.

NOAA said the combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January-October period was 0.68°C (1.22°F) above the 20th century average of 14.1°C (57.4°F). For October, it was 0.74°C (1.33°F) above the 20th century average of 14.0°C (57.1°F).

The high October temperature was driven by warmth across the globe over both the land and ocean surfaces and was fairly evenly distributed between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The Southern Hemisphere had its hottest October on record and the Northern Hemisphere its third warmest.

October marked the third consecutive month and fifth of the past six with a record high global temperature for its respective month (July was fourth highest).

The Tokyo Climate Center, which is a WMO Regional Climate Centre, also reported that October was the hottest on record. The record was also confirmed by data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

WMO uses a combination of datasets to compile its annual Statement on the Status of the Global Climate. Additional information is drawn from the ERA-Interim reanalysis-based data set maintained by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

Further information: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2014/10

Jovem que não produz lixo há 2 anos prova que levar uma vida sustentável é mais fácil do que você imagina (Portal do Meio Ambiente)

PUBLICADO  29 NOVEMBRO 2014

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por Redação Hypeness

Graduanda em Estudos Ambientais, a nova-iorquina Lauren Singer sempre se incomodava quando seus colegas traziam embalagens de alimentos para a sala de aula e as jogavam no lixo, ao fim do dia. Foi então que viu a quantidade de embalagens que ela mesma utilizava em sua casa. Percebendo-se uma grande hipócrita, por falar sobre sustentabilidade e meio ambiente e não aplicar esses conceitos em sua dia a dia, a garota de 23 anos decidiu mudar, adotando um estilo de vida a lixo zero.

Para eliminar o uso de plástico e papelão em sua vida, Lauren percebeu que precisaria mudar por completo. Contudo, por mais drástica que a mudança de vida possa parecer ter sido, ela afirma que não foi tão difícil e que vale a pena. A garota começou aos poucos, usando sacolas retornáveis e recipientes próprios, optando por comprar alimentos a granel, de produtores locais, e criando seus próprios produtos de higiene e limpeza em casa. Até mesmo as roupas de Lauren mudaram e agora ela faz compras somente em lojas de segunda mão. A estudante se sente feliz por poder afirmar que está há dois anos sem produzir nada de lixo.

No dia a dia, ela se acostumou a negar recibos de papel, canudos, sacolas plásticas e folhetos. Além disso, Lauren descobriu as vantagens dos alimentos produzidos localmente, além de adotar um estilo de vida muito mais simples. Segundo ela, os resultados dessa intensa mudança de hábitos foram: 1) economia de dinheiro, já que toda e qualquer compra é pensada; 2) uma alimentação melhor e 3) ela se sente mais feliz por agir de acordo com os conceitos sustentáveis em que acredita.

Em seu blog, Trash is for Tossers (“Lixo é para Babacas”, em tradução livre), Lauren dá dicas e compartilha receitas de produtos que vão de sabão para lavar roupa a pasta de dente. Vale a pena conhecer!

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03Fotos © Margaret Badore

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05Fotos © Margaret Badore

Brasil sediará em 2015 a primeira edição dos Jogos Mundiais Indígenas (Portal do Meio Ambiente)

PUBLICADO  01 DEZEMBRO 2014

9773
Provas de corrida com tronco e arco e flecha, nos Jogos Índigenas, em Cuiabá, no Mato Grosso. Foto: Marcos Vergueiro/ GEMT (11/11/2013)

Depois do sucesso da Copa do Mundo, o Brasil se consolida como sede de grandes eventos esportivos. O próximo desafio será a realização dos I Jogos Mundiais Indígenas (JMI), que acontecerão em setembro de 2015 em Palmas (TO), com a presença de mais de dois mil atletas de 30 países. De acordo com o prefeito de Palmas, Carlos Amastha, a decisão de realizar os I Jogos Mundiais Indígenas em Palmas aconteceu em reunião do Comitê Intertribal realizada na Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU), que referendou a escolha.

“A realização dos Jogos Mundiais Indígenas no Brasil é mais uma oportunidade de mostrar ao mundo a diversidade do Brasil, além de valorizar a riqueza cultural dos povos indígenas e promover outros segmentos do Turismo como o Ecoturismo e o Turismo de Aventura”, avalia o presidente da Embratur, Vicente Neto.

A Embratur começará a promoção dos Jogos Mundiais Indígenas na WTM, que acontece nesta semana em Londres e reúne cerca de 50 mil visitantes. Além disso, o Instituto incorporará o evento nas demais feiras e ações que realizará até o início dos JMI, em setembro de 2015. “O apoio da Embratur é fundamental para o sucesso dos Jogos. Todo o estado de Tocantins tem um enorme potencial turístico que precisamos promover, além dos já conhecidos Jalapão e o artesanato com capim dourado. Temos cidades históricas e inúmeros locais para o turismo de aventura”, destacou Amastha.

Com o conceito Somos Todos Indígenas, a capital do Tocantins está se preparando para receber atletas de dezenas de etnias de todo o mundo. Foi criada a Secretaria Extraordinária dos Jogos Mundiais Indígenas, responsável por toda a organização do evento. O titular do cargo, Hector Franco, afirma que a conclusão dos projetos e o desenvolvimento das construções das estruturas para receber os Jogos ocorrerão dentro do período estabelecido.

Além dos indígenas das Américas, também estarão presentes os povos da Austrália, Japão, Noruega, Rússia, China e Filipinas. Do Brasil, cerca de 22 etnias devem participar da competição. Apenas no Tocantins existem sete etnias com uma população aproximada de 10 mil pessoas. Tiro com arco e flecha, arremesso de lança, cabo de força, corrida de velocidade rústica (100m), canoagem rústica tradicional, corrida de tora, lutas corporais, futebol de campo, xikunahati (futebol de cabeça), natação e atletismo estão entre as modalidades que serão disputadas em Palmas.

Jogos indígenas

Os Jogos dos Povos Indígenas surgiu no Brasil em 1996 em Goiânia, realizado pelo Comitê Intertribal Memória e Ciência Indígena, com apoio do Governo Federal. Desde então, houve 13 edições nacionais.

Concluído primeiro recenseamento de nuvens do Brasil (Fapesp)

01 de dezembro de 2014

Por Karina Toledo

Agência FAPESP – Para conseguir prever com precisão eventos extremos, como tempestades, ou simular cenários de impactos das mudanças climáticas, é preciso avançar no conhecimento dos processos físicos que ocorrem no interior das nuvens e descobrir a variação de fatores como o tamanho das gotas de chuva, a proporção das camadas de água e de gelo e o funcionamento das descargas elétricas.

Com esse objetivo, uma série de campanhas para coleta de dados foi realizada entre 2010 e 2014 em seis cidades brasileiras – Alcântara (MA), Fortaleza (CE), Belém (PA), São José dos Campos (SP), Santa Maria (RS) e Manaus (AM) – no âmbito de um Projeto Temático FAPESP coordenado por Luiz Augusto Toledo Machado, do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe). Essas campanhas contaram com a participação de pesquisadores da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) e de diversas faculdades de Meteorologia no Brasil, que sediaram os experimentos.

Os principais resultados da iniciativa, conhecida como “Projeto Chuva”, foram descritos em um artigo de capa do Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, revista de grande impacto na área de meteorologia.

Segundo Machado, as regiões escolhidas para a pesquisa de campo representam os diferentes regimes de precipitação existentes no Brasil. “É importante fazer essa caracterização regional para que os modelos matemáticos possam fazer previsões em alta resolução, ou seja, em escala de poucos quilômetros”, disse o pesquisador.

Um conjunto comum de instrumentos – que inclui radares de nuvens de dupla polarização – foi usado nos diferentes sítios de forma que as medidas pudessem ser comparadas e parametrizadas para modelagem.

O radar de dupla polarização, em conjunto com outros instrumentos, envia ondas horizontais e verticais que, por reflexão, indicam o formato dos cristais de gelo e das gotas de chuva, ajudando a elucidar a composição das nuvens e os mecanismos de formação e intensificação das descargas elétricas durante as tempestades. Também foram coletados dados como temperatura, umidade e composição de aerossóis.

Além disso, experimentos adicionais distintos foram realizados em cada uma das seis cidades. No caso de Alcântara, onde a coleta de dados ocorreu em março de 2010, o experimento teve como foco o desenvolvimento de algoritmos de estimativa de precipitação para o satélite internacional Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) – lançado em fevereiro de 2014 pela Nasa (a agência espacial americana) e pela Agência Japonesa de Exploração Aeroespacial (Jaxa).

“Naquela região, o grande desafio é conseguir estimar a precipitação das chamadas nuvens quentes, que não têm cristais de gelo em seu interior. Elas são comuns na região do semiárido nordestino”, explicou Machado.

Por não abrigarem gelo, a chuva dessas nuvens passa despercebida pelos sensores de micro-ondas que equipam os satélites usados normalmente para medir a precipitação, resultando em dados imprecisos.

As medições de nuvens quentes feitas por radar em Alcântara, comparadas com as medições feitas por satélite, indicaram que os valores de volume de água estavam subestimados em mais de 50%.

Em Fortaleza, onde a coleta foi feita em abril de 2011, foi testado em parceria com a Defesa Civil um sistema de previsão de tempestades em tempo real e de acesso aberto chamado Sistema de Observação de Tempo Severo (SOS Chuva).

“Usamos os dados que estavam sendo coletados pelos radares e os colocamos em tempo real dentro de um sistema de informações geográficas. Dessa forma, é possível fazer previsões para as próximas duas horas. E saber onde chove forte no momento, onde tem relâmpago e como a situação vai se modificar em 20 ou 30 minutos. Também acrescentamos um mapa de alagamento, que permite prever as regiões que podem ficar alagadas caso a água suba um metro, por exemplo”, contou Machado.

A experiência foi tão bem-sucedida, contou o pesquisador, que a equipe decidiu repeti-la nas campanhas realizadas posteriormente. “O SOS Chuva contribui para diminuir a vulnerabilidade da população a eventos extremos do clima, pois oferece informações não apenas para os agentes da Defesa Civil como também para os cidadãos”, disse.

Em junho de 2011 foi realizada a campanha de coleta de dados em Belém, onde os pesquisadores usaram uma rede de instrumentos de GPS para estimar a quantidade de água na atmosfera. Os resultados devem ser publicados em breve. Também foram lançados balões meteorológicos capazes de voar durante 10 horas e coletar dados da atmosfera. “O objetivo era entender o fluxo de vapor d’água que vem do Oceano Atlântico que forma a chuva na Amazônia”, contou Machado.

Entre novembro de 2011 e março de 2012, foi realizada a campanha de São José dos Campos, cujo foco era estudar os relâmpagos e a eletricidade atmosférica. Para isso, foi utilizado um conjunto de redes de detecção de descargas elétricas em parceria com a Agência de Pesquisas Oceânicas e Atmosféricas (NOAA), dos Estados Unidos, e a Agência Europeia de Satélites Meteorológicos (Eumetsat).

“Foram coletados dados para desenvolver os algoritmos dos sensores de descarga elétrica dos satélites geoestacionários de terceira geração, que ainda serão lançados pela NOAA e pela Eumetsat nesta década. Outro objetivo era entender como a nuvem vai se modificando antes que ocorra a primeira descarga elétrica, de forma a prever a ocorrência de raios”, contou Machado.

Em Santa Maria, entre novembro e dezembro de 2012, foram testados, em parceria com pesquisadores argentinos, modelos matemáticos de previsão de eventos extremos. Segundo Machado, a região que abrange o sul do Brasil e o norte da Argentina que ocorrem as tempestades mais severas do mundo.

“Os resultados mostraram que os modelos ainda não são precisos o suficiente para prever com eficácia a ocorrência desses eventos extremos. Em 2017, faremos um novo experimento semelhante, chamado Relâmpago, no norte da Argentina”, contou Machado.

GOAmazon

As duas operações intensivas de coleta de dados realizadas em Manaus – a primeira entre fevereiro e março de 2014 e a segunda entre setembro e outubro do mesmo ano – ainda não haviam ocorrido quando o artigo foi submetido à publicação.

A campanha foi feita no âmbito do projeto Green Ocean Amazon e contou com dois aviões voando em diferentes alturas para acompanhar a pluma de poluição emitida pela região metropolitana de Manaus. O objetivo era avaliar a interação entre os poluentes e os compostos emitidos pela floresta, bem como seu impacto nas propriedades de nuvens (leia mais em http://agencia.fapesp.br/avioes_sobrevoam_a_amazonia_por_quase_200_horas_para_medir_impacto_da_poluicao/20150/). Os dados ainda estão em fase de análise.

Ao comentar as principais diferenças encontradas nas diversas regiões brasileiras, Machado destaca que as regiões Sul e Sudeste são as que apresentam gotas de chuva de tamanhos maiores e uma camada mista, na qual há água no estado líquido e sólido, mais desenvolvida. Essa é, segundo o pesquisador, a principal razão da maior incidência de descargas elétricas nesses locais.

Já as nuvens da Amazônia apresentam a camada de gelo no topo – acima de 20 quilômetros de altura – mais bem desenvolvida que a de outras regiões. As regiões litorâneas, como Alcântara e Fortaleza, apresentam em maior quantidade as chamadas nuvens quentes, nas quais quase não há descargas elétricas.

“Foi o primeiro recenseamento de nuvens feito no Brasil. Essas informações servirão de base para testar e desenvolver modelos capazes de descrever em detalhes a formação de nuvens, com alta resolução espacial e temporal”, concluiu o pesquisador.

Education is key to climate adaptation (Science Daily)

Date: November 27, 2014

Source: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Summary: According to new research, education makes people less vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods, landslides, and storms that are expected to intensify with climate change.


Given that some climate change is already unavoidable–as just confirmed by the new IPCC report–investing in empowerment through universal education should be an essential element in climate change adaptation efforts, which so far focus mostly in engineering projects, according to a new study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) published in the journal Science.

The article draws upon extensive analysis of natural disaster data for 167 countries over the past four decades as well as a number of studies carried out in individual countries and regions, published last year in a special issue of the journal Ecology and Society.

The research shows that in many cases–particularly where the exact consequences of climate change are still unclear–educational expansion could be a better investment in protecting people from the impacts than conventional investments such as building sea walls, dams, irrigation systems, and other infrastructure.

“Education is key in reducing disaster fatalities and enhancing adaptive capacity,” says Wolfgang Lutz, Director of IIASA’s World Population Program and Founding Director of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, a collaboration of IIASA, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the Vienna University of Economics, who wrote the article together with IIASA researchers Raya Muttarak and Erich Striessnig, who have dual affiliations with the Vienna Institute of Demography and the Vienna University of Economics and Business, respectively.

“Our research shows that education is more important than GDP in reducing mortality from natural disasters. We also demonstrated that under rapid development and educational expansion across the globe, disaster fatalities will be reduced substantially,” says Muttarak.

Climate models project that extreme weather events such as hurricanes are likely to increase with climate change. And with rising sea levels, floods will become a greater danger in low-lying coastal areas. So researchers from IIASA’s World Population Program launched a major research project to explore the connections between fatality rates in such disasters, education levels, and other potential factors that could contribute to resilience such as wealth and health.

Previous research had shown that education plays a major role in development, including poverty alleviation and economic growth. In regard to climate change adaption, “Education directly improves knowledge, the ability to understand and process information, and risk perception. It also indirectly enhances socioeconomic status and social capital. These are qualities and skills useful for surviving and coping with disasters,” says Muttarak.

The new study shows that education is the key factor in enhancing adaptive capacity to already unavoidable climate change. This insight is also reflected in the new generation of IPCC-related scenarios, the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) which were developed by IIASA researchers in collaboration with other leading global change research institutes to jointly capture different future socioeconomic challenges for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Using these SSPs, the new study illustrates how alternative future trajectories in education lead to greatly differing numbers of expected deaths due to climate change. Therefore, says Striessnig, “Investment in human capital not only empowers people to achieve desirable socioeconomic outcomes, but it also has a protective function against diverse impacts climate change may have over the coming decades.”

With 100 billion dollars currently pledged per year for climate funding through the Green Climate Fund, the researchers say it is vital to examine where the money would have the greatest impact.

Striessnig says, “We need to think about how to best allocate the funds raised for the adaptation to future climate change. Currently many of these funds are destined to support less flexible engineering projects or agricultural strategies. Such efforts are also vitally important, but in light of the major uncertainties about climate change impacts, it makes sense to invest some of the funds in mechanisms that will empower people to flexibly adapt to whatever changes might occur.”


Journal Reference:

  1. Lutz W, Muttarak R, Striessnig E. Universal education is key to enhanced climate adaptationScience, 28 November 2014 %u2022 Vol. 346 no. 6213 DOI: 10.1126/science.1257975

Fundo contra o aquecimento atinge US$ 9,7 bi (Folha de S.Paulo)

Este valor quase bateu a meta de US$ 10 bilhões sugerida pela convenção do clima da ONU

Um fator que também contribuiu para o clima de otimismo com que começa a COP 20 foram as últimas contribuições ao Fundo Verde do Clima, principal mecanismo de financiamento previsto para o acordo a ser firmado.

Veja o texto na íntegra em: http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/cienciasaude/198000-fundo-contra-o-aquecimento-atinge-us-97-bi.shtml

(Rafael Garcia/ Folha de S.Paulo)

*   *   *

Reunião do clima começa otimista e aflita

China e EUA injetam ânimo na negociação de acordo contra aquecimento, mas promessas ainda são insuficientes

A 20ª conferência do clima da ONU, COP 20, começa hoje em Lima, no Peru, num ambiente que mescla otimismo e aflição. Apesar de um recente acordo entre China e EUA ter dado ao planeta a perspectiva de avançar na redução de emissões de gases do efeito estufa, promessas ainda estão aquém daquilo que a ciência diz ser necessário para evitar um aquecimento “perigoso” do planeta.

Veja o texto na íntegra em: http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/cienciasaude/197998-reuniao-do-clima-comeca-otimista-e-aflita.shtm

(Rafael Garcia/ Folha de S.Paulo)

Outra matéria sobre o assunto em:

O Globo

Em Lima, as bases de um acordo climático em jogo a partir desta segunda
http://oglobo.globo.com/sociedade/sustentabilidade/em-lima-as-bases-de-um-acordo-climatico-em-jogo-partir-desta-segunda-14703871#ixzz3Kecr4CSb

Optimism Faces Grave Realities at Climate Talks (New York Times)

WASHINGTON — After more than two decades of trying but failing to forge a global pact to halt climate change, United Nations negotiators gathering in South America this week are expressing a new optimism that they may finally achieve the elusive deal.

Even with a deal to stop the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists warn, the world will become increasingly unpleasant. Without a deal, they say, the world could eventually become uninhabitable for humans.

For the next two weeks, thousands of diplomats from around the globe will gather in Lima, Peru, for a United Nations summit meeting to draft an agreement intended to stop the global rise of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

The meeting comes just weeks after a landmark announcement by President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China committing the world’s two largest carbon polluters to cuts in their emissions. United Nations negotiators say they believe that advancement could end a longstanding impasse in the climate talks, spurring other countries to sign similar commitments.

Photo

A child walking near her home with a coal-fired power plant in the background in Beijing, China. CreditKevin Frayer/Getty Images 

But while scientists and climate-policy experts welcome the new momentum ahead of the Lima talks, they warn that it now may be impossible to prevent the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere from rising by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. According to a large body of scientific research, that is the tipping point at which the world will be locked into a near-term future of drought, food and water shortages, melting ice sheets, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels and widespread flooding — events that could harm the world’s population and economy.

Recent reports show that there may be no way to prevent the planet’s temperature from rising, given the current level of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere and the projected rate of emissions expected to continue before any new deal is carried out.

That fact is driving the urgency of the Lima talks, which are expected to produce a draft document, to be made final over the next year and signed by world leaders in Paris in December 2015.

While a breach of the 3.6 degree threshold appears inevitable, scientists say that United Nations negotiators should not give up on their efforts to cut emissions. At stake now, they say, is the difference between a newly unpleasant world and an uninhabitable one.

“I was encouraged by the U.S.-China agreement,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University and a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a global body of scientists that produces regular reports on the state of climate science. But he expressed doubts that the threshold rise in global temperature could be prevented.

“What’s already baked in are substantial changes to ecosystems, large-scale transformations,” Mr. Oppenheimer said. He cited losses of coral reef systems and ice sheets, and lowering crop yields.

Still, absent a deal, “Things could get a lot worse,” Mr. Oppenheimer added. Beyond the 3.6 degree threshold, he said, the aggregate cost “to the global economy — rich countries as well as poor countries — rises rapidly.”

Felipe Calderón, the chairman of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and former president of Mexico. CreditRichard Drew/Associated Press 

The objective now, negotiators say, is to stave off atmospheric temperature increases of 4 to 10 degrees by the end of the century; at that point, they say, the planet could become increasingly uninhabitable.

Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are already reporting that 2014 appears likely to be the warmest year on record.

Since 1992, the United Nations has convened an annual climate change summit meeting aimed at forging a deal to curb greenhouse gases, which are produced chiefly by burning coal for electricity and gasoline for transportation. But previous agreements, such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, included no requirements that developing nations, such as India and China, cut their emissions. And until now, the United States has never headed into those summit meetings with a domestic climate change policy in place.

This spring, a report by 13 federal agencies concluded that climate change would harm the American economy by increasing food prices, insurance rates and financial volatility. In China, the central government has sought to quell citizen protests related to coal pollution.

In June, Mr. Obama announced a new Environmental Protection Agency rule forcing major emissions cuts from coal-fired power plants. State Department negotiators took the decision to China, hoping to broker a deal for a similar offer of domestic action. That led to November’s joint announcement in Beijing: The United States will cut its emissions up to 28 percent by 2025, while China will decrease its emissions by or before 2030.

“Our sense is that this will resonate in the broader climate community, give momentum to the negotiations and spur countries to come forward with their own targets,” said Todd Stern, Mr. Obama’s lead climate change negotiator. “The two historic antagonists, the biggest players, announcing they’ll work together.”

Other negotiators agree. “The prospects are so much better than they’ve ever been,” said Felipe Calderón, the former president of Mexico and chairman of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, a research organization.

The aim of negotiators in Lima is, for the first time, to produce an agreement in which every nation commits to a domestic plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, along the model of the United States-China agreement. Negotiators expect that by next March, governments will make announcements similar to those made by the United States and China.

The idea is for each country to cut emissions at a level that it can realistically achieve, but in keeping with domestic political and economic constraints. World leaders would sign a deal in Paris next year committing all those nations to their cuts, including a provision that the nations regularly reconvene to further reduce their emissions.

The problem is that climate experts say it almost certainly will not happen fast enough. A November report by the United Nations Environment Program concluded that in order to avoid the 3.6 degree increase, global emissions must peak within the next 10 years, going down to half of current levels by midcentury.

But the deal being drafted in Lima will not even be enacted until 2020. And the structure of the emerging deal — allowing each country to commit to what it can realistically achieve, given each nation’s domestic politics — means that the initial cuts by countries will not be as stringent as what scientists say is required.

China’s plan calls for its emissions to peak in 2030. Government officials in India, the world’s third-largest carbon polluter, have said they do not expect to see their emissions decline until at least 2040.

While Mr. Obama has committed to United Nations emissions cuts through 2025, there is no way to know if his successor will continue on that path.

That reality is already setting in among low-lying island nations, like the Marshall Islands, where rising seas are soaking coastal soil, killing crops and contaminating fresh water supplies.

“The groundwater that supports our food crops is becoming inundated with salt,” said Tony A. deBrum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands. “The green is becoming brown.”

Many island nations are looking into buying farmland in other countries to grow food and, eventually, to relocate their populations.

In Lima, those countries are expected to demand that a final deal include aid to help them adapt to the climate impacts that have already arrived.

Plantas se comunicam e ‘brigam’ usando ‘internet de fungos’ (BBC)

Nic Fleming

Filamentos de fungos chamados micélios formam uma rede conhecida como micorriza

Uma via superrápida para tráfego de dados, que coloca em contato uma grande população de indivíduos diversos e dispersos. Essa via facilita a comunicação e colaboração entre os indivíduos, mas também abre caminho para que crimes sejam cometidos.

Parece uma descrição da internet, mas estamos falando de fungos. Os fungos – sejam eles cogumelos ou não – são formados de um emaranhado de pequenos filamentos conhecidos como micélio. O solo está cheio desta rede de micélios, que ajuda a “conectar” diferentes plantas no mesmo solo.

Muitos cientistas estudam a forma como as plantas usam essa rede de micélios para trocar nutrientes e até mesmo para “se comunicar”. Em alguns casos, as plantas formam até mesmo uma união para “sabotar” outras espécies invasoras de plantas, liberando toxinas na rede.

Cerca de 90% das plantas terrestres têm uma relação simbiótica com fungos, que é batizada de micorriza. Com a simbiose, as plantas recebem carboidratos, fósforo e nitrogênio dos fungos, que também as ajudam a extrair água do solo. Esse processo é importante no desenvolvimento das plantas.

‘Internet natural’

Filme de ficção ‘Avatar’ tinha uma ideia parecida com a ‘internet natural’ que existe na Terra

Para o especialista em fungos Paul Stamets, essa rede é uma “internet natural” do planeta Terra. Sua tese é que ela coloca em contato plantas que estão muito distantes de si e não apenas as que estão próximas. Ele traça um paralelo com o filme Avatar, de 2009, em que vários organismos em uma lua conseguem se comunicar e dividir recursos graças a uma espécie de ligação eletroquímica entre as raízes das árvores.

Só em 1997 é que foi possível comprovar concretamente algumas dessas comunicaçõeos via “internet natural”. Suzanne Simard, da Universidade de British Columbia, no Canadá, mostrou que havia uma transferência de carbono por micélio entre o abeto de Douglas (uma árvore conífera) e uma bétula. Desde então, também ficou provado que algumas plantas trocam fósforo e nitrogênio da mesma forma.

Simard acredita que árvores de grande porte usam o micélio para alimentar outras em nascimento. Sem essa ajuda, a cientista argumenta, muitas das novas árvores não conseguiriam sobreviver.

Simard conta que as plantas parecem trabalhar no sentido contrário ao observado por Charles Darwin, de competição por recursos entre espécies. Em muitos casos, espécies diferentes de plantas estão usando a rede para trocar nutrientes e se ajudarem na sobrevivência.

Os cientistas estão convencidos de que as trocas de nutrientes realmente acontece pelo fungo no solo, mas eles ainda não entendem exatamente como isso ocorre.

‘Conluio’

Uma pesquisa recente foi além. Em 2010, Ren Sem Zeng, da faculdade de agronomia da Universidade de Guangzhou, na China, conseguiu observar que algumas plantas “se comunicam entre si” para formar uma espécie de sabotagem a espécies invasoras.

A experiência foi feita com tomates plantados em vários vasos e ligados entre si por micorriza. Um dos tomates foi borrifado com o fungo Alternaria solani, que provoca doenças na planta.

Depois de 65 horas, os cientistas borrifaram outro vaso e descobriram que a resistência deste tomate era muito superior.

“Acreditamos que os tomates conseguem ‘espiar’ o que está acontecendo em outros lugares e aumentar sua resposta à doença contra uma potencial patogenia”, escreveu Zeng no artigo científico.

Ou seja, as plantas não só usam a “internet natural” para compartilhar nutrientes, mas também para formar um “conluio” contra doenças.

Esse tipo de comportamento não foi observado apenas em tomates. Em 2013, o pesquisador David Johnson, da Universidade de Aberdeen, na Escócia, também detectou isso em favas, que se protegem contra insetos mínusculos conhecidos com afídios.

Lado negro

Experiência mostrou que tomates se ‘comunicam’ pela micorriza sobre doenças

Mas assim como a internet humana, a internet natural também possui seu lado negro. A nossa internet reduz a privacidade e facilita crimes e a disseminação de vírus.

O mesmo acontece com as plantas na micorriza, segundo os cientistas. Algumas plantas não possuem clorofila e não conseguem produzir sua própria energia por fotossíntese.

Algumas plantas, como a orquídea Cephalanthera austiniae, “roubam” o carbono que necessitam de árvores das proximidades, usando a rede de micélio. Outras orquídeas que são capazes de fotossíntese roubam carbono, mesmo sem necessitar.

Esse tipo de comportamento faz com que algumas árvores soltem toxinas na rede para combater plantas que roubam recursos. Isso é comum em acácias. No entanto, cientistas duvidam da eficácia desta técnica, já que muitas toxinas acabam sendo absorvidas pelo solo ou por micróbios antes de atingir o alvo desejado.

Para vários cientistas, a internet dos fungos é um exemplo de uma grande lição do mundo natural: organismos aparentemente isolados podem estar, na verdade, conectados de alguma forma, e até depender uns do outros.

Leia a versão original em inglês desta reportagem no site BBC Earth.

Record Drought Reveals Stunning Changes Along Colorado River (National Geographic)

A boat traces the curves of Reflection Canyon, part of Glen Canyon.

A boat wends its way around the curves of Reflection Canyon, part of Lake Powell in Glen Canyon. The “bathtub rings” on the walls show past water levels.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL MELFORD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Jonathan Waterman

for National Geographic

PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 23, 2014

LAKE POWELL, Utah—In early September, at the abandoned Piute Farms marina on a remote edge of southern Utah’s Navajo reservation, we watched a ten-foot (three-meter) waterfall plunging off what used to be the end of the San Juan River.

Until 1990, this point marked the smooth confluence of the river with Lake Powell, one of the largest reservoirs in the U.S. But the lake has shrunk so much due to the recent drought that this waterfall has emerged, with sandy water as thick as a milkshake.

My partner DeEdda McLean and I had come to this area west of Mexican Hat, Utah, to kayak acrossLake Powell, a reservoir formed by the confluence of the San Juan and the Colorado Rivers and the holding power of Glen Canyon Dam, which lies just over the border in Arizona. Yet in place of a majestic reservoir, we saw only the thin ribbon of a reemergent river channel, which had been inundated for most of the past three decades by the lake. We called this new channel the San Powell, combining the name of the river and the lake.

Map of the Lake Mead and Lake Powell regions.

VIRGINIA W. MASON, NG STAFF SOURCE: BUREAU OF RECLAMATION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

We had also come to see firsthand how drought is changing the landscapes of the desert Southwest. Here, judging by the lack of conservation reform, water has seemed to be largely taken for granted. But our recent float suggests that profound changes may be in store for the region. (See “The American Nile.”)

Sweating in the desert heat, we loaded our 15-foot (5-meter) kayaks with two weeks’ worth of food and ten gallons of water—enough to last us two days. Drinking from the silty river or fecal-contaminated areas of Lake Powell frequented by houseboats was not an option (Glen Canyon Recreation Area, which includes the reservoir, is visited by more than two million people a year). The contours of our journey—where we camped, our hiking destinations, and how far we paddled each day—would be defined by the need to find potable springs.

Like bicyclists shunning the interstate, many kayakers have avoided Lake Powell ever since the builders of Glen Canyon Dam finished flooding 186 miles (300 kilometers) of the Colorado River Valley in 1980. The reservoir was named after John Wesley Powell, the National Geographic Society co-founder who first paddled most of the Colorado River and who later, in public office, tried to limit population growth in the arid Southwest. The dams and the enormous reservoirs that were later built in the desert would have horrified him.

Motorboaters call Powell’s lake the “Jewel of the Colorado” because of its unnatural emerald hue—Glen Canyon Dam now captures the silt that used to make the Colorado, after its confluence with the San Juan, the most colorful river in the West. Paddlers call it “Lake Foul” for the noise and stench of outboard engines.

Photo of Lake Powell in 2011.

In 2011, Lake Powell contained plenty of water.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JON WATERMAN

“Extreme” Drought

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 11 of the past 14 years have been drought years in the Southwest, with the drought ranging from “severe” to “extreme” to “exceptional,” depending on the year and the area.

At “full pool,” Lake Powell spans 254 square miles (660 square kilometers)—a quarter the size of Rhode Island. The lightning bolt-shaped canyon shore stretches 1,960 miles (3,150 kilometers), 667 miles (1,073 kilometers) longer than the West Coast of the continental United States.

The reservoir serves multiple purposes. It stores water from the Upper Basin states of Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado so that the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada, and Arizona can receive their allotted half of the Colorado River; it creates electricity through hydro-generators at Glen Canyon Dam; and it helps prevent flooding below Hoover Dam (240 miles or 390 kilometers downstream), the site of North America’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead.

11 of the past 14 years have been drought years in the Southwest.

The irony, as most students of this river’s history now know, is that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation created these enormous reservoirs during the wettest period of the past millennium. According to modern tree-ring data (unavailable during the dam-building epoch), the previous millennium experienced droughts much more severe than those in the first 14 years of the 21st century. Many climate scientists think the Southwest is again due for a megadrought. The Bureau of Reclamation’s analysis of over a hundred climate projections suggests the Colorado River Basin will be much drier by the end of this century than it was in the past one, with the median projection showing 45 percent less runoff into the river.

Last winter was snowy in the Rockies, and runoff was at 96 percent of the historical average. Because of the previous years of drought, however, Lake Powell had risen to only half full by fall.

But Lake Mead was in even worse shape. This year it plunged to 39 percent of capacity, a low that has not been matched since Hoover Dam began backing up the Colorado River in 1935. In August, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that Lake Powell would release an additional 10 percent of its waters, or 2.5 trillion gallons, to Lake Mead. That release will lower the water in Lake Powell by about three feet (one meter).

Photo of Lake Powell in 2014.

By 2014, Lake Powell was full of plant life and silt.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JON WATERMAN

Rise of Ancient Ruins?

Fifty miles (80 kilometers) up from the Colorado River confluence, on what is commonly known as the San Juan River Arm of Lake Powell, we kept poking our paddles-cum-measuring sticks toward the shallow river bottom, shouting: “Good-bye, reservoir! Hello, San Powell River!” In a four-mile-per-hour, opaque current, always hunting for the deepest river braids, we breezed past fields of still-viscous, former lake-bottom silt deposits. Stepping out of the boat here would have been an invitation to disappear in quicksand.

We paddled downstream, looking for the edge of the reservoir. We passed caterwauling great blue herons, a yipping coyote, and squawking conspiracies of ravens. By late afternoon, dehydrated by the desert sun, we stopped at one of the few quicksand-free tent sites above the newly emerged river: a sandy yet dry creek bed draining the sacred Navajo Mountain.

We slept in the perfume of blooming nightshades; wild burros brayed throughout the night. Here, more than a dozen miles below our put-in at a marina that once served the reservoir, the swirling “San Powell” River continued to sigh 15 feet (5 meters) below our tent.

In October 2011, when the reservoir was at 70 percent of its capacity, I had stood on a rocky shore above where our tent now stood and photographed Lake Powell’s Zahn Bay here in the San Juan River Valley. It’s dry now, and the lake bottom is a cracked series of chocolate-colored hummocks, surrounded by the invasive Russian thistle and tamarisk, native willows and sunflowers, and pockmarked by burro hooves.

For five days, we wouldn’t see a human footprint or hear the ubiquitous whine of Lake Powell boat traffic.

Half full, the amazing vessel that is Lake Powell has lost 4.4 trillion gallons of water in the recent drought.

By day three, desperate to refill our water bottles, we found a newly created marsh where the river thinned before dropping into the deeper reservoir. Unlike anything I’d experienced elsewhere on the sterile Lake Powell, abundant small fish and aquatic life supported American pelicans, mallards, coots, mergansers, green herons, hawks, and kingfishers. The silty river is also sheltering endangered razorback suckers and pikeminnows that are preyed upon by non-native fish in the clearer waters of the lake.

Within a decade or two at the most, if the drought persists, we can expect to see hundreds of inundated ancient Anasazi ruins rising above the drying reservoir. Archaeologists will be delighted, just as kayakers like us delight at the reemergence of a river. But more than 36 million people in and around the Colorado River Basin depend on this vanishing water.

As we finally reached a body of water wide enough to be properly called the reservoir, many miles below where we had expected to find it, we continued paddling in a chocolate pudding of ground-up river debris. Some 94 feet (29 meters) above our craned heads, on the red sandstone walls of the reservoir, we saw the “bathtub rings”—the stains left by river minerals in wetter times.

That night we did a quick calculation: Half full, the amazing vessel that is Lake Powell has lost 4.4 trillion gallons of water in the recent drought; the deeper vessel of Lake Mead at 39 percent capacity has lost 5.6 trillion gallons of water.

Aerial view looking down on Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon dam.

This aerial view of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam was taken in 2009.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER MCBRIDE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Big Impact

As central California (beyond the reach of Colorado River water) has already been hamstrung by an even more exceptional drought, many farms and dairy operations have shut down, rationing has begun, homeowners are being fined for watering their lawns, and the state has begun relying on finite groundwater supplies. And as extensive farm networks are served by the Colorado River, it is likely that nationwide produce prices will soon begin to rise.

What’s next? As Lakes Powell and Mead continue to plummet, officials are now predicting rationing by 2017 for the junior Colorado River water-rights holders of Nevada and Arizona.

In the decades that follow, invasive flora and fauna will colonize dried-out reservoir bottoms. River running and reservoir boating may end. Those will seem like minor issues compared with the survival of cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, all of which depend on the Colorado River. There is talk of diverting more water to the Colorado Basin users from places such as the Missouri River. A massive desalination plant is being built on the California coast. But such solutions won’t come cheap.

Officials are now predicting rationing by 2017 for the junior Colorado River water-rights holders of Nevada and Arizona.

We can hope for agricultural reform, such as irrigation changes, more aggressive crop rotation and fallowing, reverting to less water-intensive produce, or dismantling of the water-intensive southwestern dairy industry. And the exponential population growth of the region—as Powell warned at the end of the 19th century—will have to be addressed. (See “Arizona Irrigators Share Water With Desert River.”)

By mid-September, we reached the speedboat-accessible region of Lake Powell. Motorboaters often stopped to ask if we needed help. Many of these boaters offered us iced beer or bottled water imported from distant regions of the country.

Each day, for 14 days, except during two violent but brief rainstorms, the temperature climbed into the 90s. Often dizzy, and even exhausted from the heat, we parceled out our water, cup by cup, consuming over four gallons daily. And every other day, we walked or paddled miles out of our way so that we could enact a time-honored practice of desert cultures like the Anasazi’s, which vanished in the 13th-century megadrought.

Every other day, we uncapped our empty bottles while honoring this ritual of aridity: Bowing under shaded cliffs at moss-covered seeps, we pressed our lips onto cold sandstone walls and drank those precious drops until our bellies were full.

Jonathan Waterman is a writer and photographer based in Colorado. In 2010 National Geographic published his book Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River. He is also the co-author, with Pete McBride, of The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict.See his previous work “The American Nile.”

Get involved with the effort to restore the Colorado River throughChange the Course, a partnership of National Geographic and other organizations.

O Brasil secou (Super Interessante)

A falta d’água se alastrou pelo país, sintoma das mudanças climáticas e do desmatamento na Amazônia, cada vez mais debilitada. Nos aproximamos de um futuro desértico — e a culpa é toda nossa

por Camila Almeida

Novembro 2014

Em 2014, não choveu. Pelo menos não quanto deveria. Os índices de chuvas apresentam déficit, os reservatórios minguaram a percentuais críticos, a nascente do Rio São Francisco secou pela primeira vez na história. Esses eventos extremos estavam previstos pelos estudiosos das mudanças climáticas, causadas quase exclusivamente pela atividade humana, especialmente pela queima de combustíveis fósseis. Mas outro fator está agravando esse quadro: o desmatamento. A Amazônia é a responsável por manter úmido todo o continente, e sua depredação influencia diretamente no clima.

A floresta funciona como uma fábrica de chuvas. Por cima das nossas cabeças, há imensos rios seguindo seu curso, levando nuvens carregadas por onde passam. São os rios voadores, que começaram a ser estudados em 2006, numa parceria entre o aviador francês Gérard Moss e o engenheiro agrônomo Antonio Donato Nobre, do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE). Sobrevoando a Amazônia, eles descobriram todo o seu potencial de bombeamento de água e traçaram o curso que os rios voadores seguem pelo País. Esta capacidade da floresta de exportar umidade é um dos cinco segredos da floresta, poeticamente explicados no relatório O Futuro Climático da Amazônia, publicado recentemente por Nobre.

Nossa água vem da Amazônia
Entenda o processo de transpiração da floresta e a formação das nuvens sobre ela. Ao lado, conheça o percurso dos rios voadores e como eles levam chuvas por todo o continente.

O fluxo dos rios voadores é mais intenso no verão, estação em que chove na maior parte do País. Isso acontece graças à inclinação da Terra nesta época do ano, que favorece a entrada dos ventos marítimos na América do Sul. Mas há mais uma vantagem geográfica que garante esse circuito: a Cordilheira dos Andes, localizada a oeste da floresta. O imenso paredão faz com que os ventos não passem direto e deixem o resto do Brasil sem umidade. De acordo
com o físico Philip Fearnside, do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), é no
começo do ano que os rios voadores reabastecem as fontes de água e reservatórios brasileiros. Ao se chocarem contra a Serra da Mantiqueira e da Canastra, no Sudeste, enchem a nascente de vários rios importantes, como o São Francisco. “Esta região é a caixa d’água do Brasil”, avalia Fearnside. “Se não chover na época em que tem que chover, os reservatórios
não serão recarregados ao longo do ano”, completa. Esse tem sido o drama em 2014.

Desmatamento que vai, volta 

Poder contar com a maior floresta tropical do mundo, inclusive em relação aos recursos hídricos, é um privilégio. Pouquíssimo valorizado. Nos últimos 40 anos, derrubamos 42 bilhões de árvores. Além disso, devido às queimadas, existe mais de 1 milhão de km² de floresta morta, degradada. O que não se imaginava é que uma revanche em forma de seca chegaria tão rápido. “Hoje, estamos vivendo a reciprocidade da inconsequência”, atesta Nobre. Há mais de 20 anos, estudos alertavam para esse perigo. Em 1991, o climatologista Carlos Nobre, irmão de Antonio e também do INPE, comandou uma simulação para avaliar os impactos no clima da mudança do uso da terra. Constataram que, se a floresta fosse substituída por plantações ou pastagens, a temperatura média da superfície aumentaria cerca de 2,5 ºC, a evapotranspiração das plantas diminuiria 30% e as chuvas cairiam 20%. Também se previa uma ampliação das estações secas na área amazônica. Hoje, com quase metade da floresta original danificada, tais efeitos parecem ter vindo à tona.
“O desmatamento zero é para ontem. Chegamos a níveis climáticos críticos. Precisamos começar a replantar o que já perdemos”, aponta Antonio Nobre. Apesar da urgência, as perspectivas não são animadoras. Só na região amazônica, há mais de 40 projetos do Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento do Governo Federal só no quesito geração de energia. São usinas, barragens e outras medidas que causam inundações e corte de árvores e que afetam diretamente populações indígenas. Os projetos de estradas também são preocupantes. A recuperação da Rodovia Manaus-Porto Velho (BR-319), abandonada desde a década de 1980 por falta de manuntenção, também consta no PAC. De acordo com Philip Fearnside, o projeto é um risco para a Amazônia. “Uma estrada valoriza demais a terra, e especulação gera desmatamento e favorece a grilagem”, explica. O mesmo acontece com a Rodovia Santarém-Cuiabá (BR-163), com mais de 1.700 km de extensão.

“A estrada vai ser recuperada para facilitar o transporte da soja produzida no Mato Grosso”, aponta Fearnside, sobre uma das áreas amazônicas que mais sofrem com o agronegócio. “A terra valoriza tanto que pecuaristas estão vendendo suas terras para produtores de soja do Sul. Por sua vez, isso tem aumentado muito o desmatamento no Pará, com a liberação de terrenos para a criação de gado desses pecuaristas”, critica o especialista. Ele também destaca o fortalecimento da bancada ruralista no Congresso, após as eleições deste ano.

Desmatamento e degradação:

Clima em crise

Neste verão, os rios voadores não avançaram sobre o Sudeste; tampouco as frentes frias. A ilha de calor instalada sobre a região, característica de uma urbanização extrema, cria bloqueios que afastam as chuvas. Por isso, a água esborrou na borda dessa bolha quente, gerando chuvas acima da média no Sul e países vizinhos. Hoje, há registros de seca em todos os Estados brasileiros. Em alguns deles, a seca é “excepcional”, ainda mais grave do que a “extrema”. O quadro já era grave no ano passado, quando o Nordeste viveu a pior seca dos últimos 50 anos, inserindo o Brasil no mapa de eventos climáticos extremos, da Organização Mundial de Meteorologia.

De acordo com o físico especialista em ciências atmosféricas Alexandre Araújo Costa, da Universidade Estadual do Ceará, o agravamento de secas e das cheias está relacionado ao aumento da temperatura na atmosfera. Aquecida, ela se expande, fazendo com que seja necessário reunir mais vapor d’água para formar nuvens. “Esse processo demanda mais tempo, portanto tende a prolongar os períodos de estiagem. Por outro lado, as nuvens se formam a partir de uma quantidade maior de vapor d’água, fazendo com que os eventos de precipitações se tornem mais intensos. Um planeta mais quente é um planeta de extremos”, explica.

Para a filósofa e ecologista Déborah Danowski, que lançou recentemente o livro Há mundo por vir? Ensaio sobre os medos e os fins, com seu marido e antropólogo Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, entramos num caminho sem volta. “A crise climática não pode mais ser evitada. Se cortássemos agora as emissões de CO₂, a Terra ainda iria se aquecer aproximadamente 1 ºC. Isso porque já jogamos no ar uma quantidade tão grande, que muito dele ainda nem foi absorvido”, aponta. O que não quer dizer que não haja muito o que fazer. Para ela, o primeiro passo é repensar os modelos econômicos de crescimento e consumo. “O que nos cabe é tentar mitigar as causas que levam ao aprofundamento das mudanças climáticas e, ao mesmo tempo, nos adaptar à vida em um mundo mais difícil ecologicamente.”

Estamos todos ilhados
Seja pelo excesso de calor ou pelas enchentes. Mais filosoficamente: não temos saída para o clima. Os eventos extremos parecem estar se tornando uma realidade no Brasil.

Cidade submarina projetada no Japão pode abrigar 5 mil moradores (Portal do Meio Ambiente)

PUBLICADO  21 NOVEMBRO 2014

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Projeto arquitetônico de cidade submarina: alternativa para 2030 (Foto: AFP)

Uma empresa de construção japonesa diz que, no futuro, os seres humanos podem viver em grandes complexos habitacionais submarinos.

Pelo projeto, cerca de 5 mil pessoas poderiam viver e trabalhar em modernas vesões da cidade perdida da Atlântida.

As construções teriam hotéis, espaços residenciais e conjuntos comerciais, informou o site Busines Insider.

A grande globo que flutua na superfície do mar, mas pode ser submerso em mau tempo, seria o centro de uma estrutura espiral gigantesca que mergulha a profundidades de até 4 mil metros.

A espiral formaria um caminho 15 quilômetros de um edifício até o fundo do oceano, o que poderia servir como uma fábrica para aproveitar recursos como metais e terras raras.

Os visionários da construtora Shimizu dizem que seria possível usar micro-organismos para converter dióxido de carbono capturado na superfície em metano.

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Projeto arquitetônico de cidade submarina: alternativa para 2030 (Foto: AFP)

Energia. O conceito foi desenvolvido em conjunto com várias organizações, incluindo a Universidade de Tóquio e a agência japonesa de ciência e tecnologia.

A grande diferença de temperaturas da água entre o topo e o fundo do mar poderia ser usada para gerar energia.

A construtora Shimizu diz que a cidade submarina custaria cerca de três trilhões de ienes (ou US$ 25 bilhões), e toda a tecnologia poderia estar disponível em 2030.

A empresa já projetou uma metrópole flutuante e um anel de energia solar ao redor da lua.

Fonte: Estadão.

Projeto proíbe criação de animais em confinamento (Portal do Meio Ambiente)

PUBLICADO  28 NOVEMBRO 2014. EM ANIMAIS

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A Comissão de Meio Ambiente da Assembleia Legislativa do Estado de São Paulo (ALESP) aprovou o projeto de lei 714/12, de autoria do deputado Feliciano Filho (PEN), que proíbe a criação de animais em sistema de confinamento.

Confinamento é o sistema de criação em que lotes de animais são colocados em piquetes ou locais com área restrita, impossibilitando-os de expressar seu comportamento natural e o pleno atendimento de suas necessidades físicas e mentais. Esse sistema de criação visa acelerar a engorda, aumentando a produtividade e diminuindo os custos do negócio.

“Esse sistema vem se intensificando em nome do ganho de produtividade. Mas ele é perverso com os animais, provocando lesões e estresse. Muitos passam a vida sem ver o sol ou a natureza. Apenas nascem, sofrem e morrem”, explica Feliciano.

Relatório da Humane Society International aponta que “o confinamento intensivo desses sistemas de produção prejudica severamente o bem-estar dos animais, pois são incapazes de se exercitar, de esticar completamente seus membros, ou de se envolver em muitos comportamentos naturais importantes. Como resultado da restrição severa desses sistemas de alojamento monótonos, os animais podem experimentar significativa e prolongadas agressões físicas e psicológicas. Além disso, extensiva evidência científica mostra que os animais confinados intensamente são frustrados, angustiados e sofredores.”

Segundo o texto, “produtividade não é sinônimo de bem-estar, igualar um ao outro não tem respaldo científico. A produtividade é muitas vezes medida em nível de grupo, o que não reflete com exatidão o bem-estar individual.”

No Brasil, as práticas mais comuns de confinamento são as gaiolas em bateria, celas de gestação e gaiolas para bezerros, utilizados, respectivamente, para galinhas poedeiras, porcas prenhes e bezerros criados para vitela.

A União Europeia, através de processos graduais, eliminou tais práticas até 2013. Nos Estados Unidos, os estados do Colorado, Arizona, Flórida, Oregon e Califórnia também têm coibido o confinamento.

Gaiolas em Bateria – As gaiolas em bateria são pequenas enclausuras de arame, que portam de 5 a 10 aves. Cada animal se restringe a um espaço médio de 430 a 550 centímetros quadrados, algo similar a uma folha de papel carta. Dessa forma, ficam impedidas de realizar seus comportamentos naturais, tornando-se inativas, em um chão estéril de gaiola. Tais restrições severas causam, além de estresse, a má condição do pé e distúrbios metabólicos como osteoporose e danos hepáticos.

Celas de Gestação – As porcas reprodutoras passam os quatro meses de prenhez nas chamadas celas de gestação, jaulas individuais com piso de concreto que medem, em geral, 0,6 x 2,1 metros. Pouco maior que o próprio animal, é tão severamente restritiva que a impede até mesmo de se virar. Os riscos desse tipo de confinamento são infecção do trato urinário, ossos enfraquecidos, claudicação e alterações comportamentais.

Gaiolas para bezerros – O confinamento intensivo de bezerros é realizado para a produção de vitela (corte de animal jovem). O animal de raça de leite é criado até 16 a 18 semanas de idade, período em que chegam a pesar cerca de 200 quilos, e destinados à indústria de carne. Somente uma pequena porcentagem é criada até a maturidade e utilizada para reprodução. Os vitelos são mantidos em gaiolas individuais com cerca de 70 centímetros de largura, amarrados na parte da frente da gaiola com uma coleira curta. Ficam com os movimentos restritos e impedidos de se deitar da maneira mais confortável às suas necessidades. A falta de exercícios regulares leva ao comprometimento do desenvolvimento ósseo e muscular, assim como à doenças nas articulações.

Cães e gatos – Em muitos canis e gatis, oficiais e clandestinos, as matrizes são mantidas confinadas em gaiolas, por toda a vida, sem receber luz do Sol e podadas da possibilidade de se mover de acordo com as necessidades anatômicas, fisiológicas, biológicas e etológicas. Muitas desenvolvem transtornos comportamentais irreversíveis.

Penalidades – O projeto de lei determina que o descumprimento das disposições será punido com pagamento de multa de 2.000 UFESP – Unidade Fiscal do Estado de São Paulo por animal (R$ 40.280,00), valor que dobrará em caso de reincidência. Poderá ainda ser realizada a apreensão do animal ou do lote, a suspensão temporária do alvará de funcionamento, assim como sua suspensão definitiva de acordo com a progressão do caso.

O projeto autoriza o Estado a reverter os valores recolhidos para custeio das ações, publicações e conscientização da população sobre guarda responsável e direitos dos animais, para instituições, abrigos ou santuários de animais, ou para programas estaduais de controle populacional ou que visem à proteção e bem-estar dos animais.

Fonte: Proteção Animal.

Leaked: The Oil Lobby’s Conspiracy to Kill Off California’s Climate Law (Bloomberg Business Week)

November 25, 2014


Looking south over Los Angeles and the 101 Freeway, with the morning haze and smog on Jan. 28

Photograph by David Bro/Zuma Press

Looking south over Los Angeles and the 101 Freeway, with the morning haze and smog on Jan. 28

You remember Fillmore. He’s the resident hippie of Radiator Springs in the Pixar blockbuster Cars. Much to the chagrin of his neighbor, Sarge the Army Jeep, Fillmore greets each new day with Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock rendition of A Star Spangled Banner—“respect the classics, man”—and is quick with a conspiracy theory about why biofuels never stood a chance at America’s gas pumps. Perfectly voiced by the late, great George Carlin, Fillmore has a slight paranoiac edge, as if his intake of marijuana may exceed what’s medically indicated.

Well, as they say, it’s not paranoia if they really are out to delay, rewrite, or kill off a meaningful effort to reduce the build-up of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere. A Powerpoint (MSFT) deck now being circulated by climate activists—a copy of which was sent to Bloomberg Businessweek—suggests that there is a conspiracy. Or, if you prefer, a highly coordinated, multistate coalition that does not want California to succeed at moving off fossil fuels because that might set a nasty precedent for everyone else.

Created by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), one of the most powerful oil and gas lobbies in the U.S., the slides and talking points comes from a Nov. 11 presentation to the Washington Research Council. The Powerpoint deck details a plan to throttle AB 32 (also known as the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) and steps to thwart low carbon fuel standards (known as LCFS) in California, Oregon, and Washington State. Northwest Public Radio appears to have been the first to confirm the authenticity of the deck, which Bloomberg Businessweek did as well, with WSPA spokesman Tupper Hull.

Specifically, the deck from a presentation by WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd lays out the construction of what environmentalists contend is an elaborate “astroturf campaign.” Groups with names such as Oregon Climate Change Campaign, Washington Consumers for Sound Fuel Policy, and AB 32 Implementation Group are made to look and sound like grassroots citizen-activists while promoting oil industry priorities and actually working against the implementation of AB 32.

The deck also reveals how WSPA seized on a line from a California Air Resources Board memo that the cap-and-trade program for gas and diesel that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, may affect gas prices in order to launch an ad campaign warning of a “hidden” gas tax that devious Sacramento pols are sneaking through.

“The environmental community is used to sky-is-falling analysis from fossil fuel interests in response to clean energy initiatives, so that part isn’t surprising,” says Tim O’Connor, a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, to whom I sent the deck for comment. “But it’s eye-opening to see the lengths [the WSPA] has gone to push back rather than move forward. I don’t think anybody knew how cross-jurisdictional, cross-border, and extensive their investment is in creating a false consumer backlash against [climate legislation].”

In California, O’Connor points out, “we have 70 percent voter approval on clean energy alternatives, so it’s offensive and atrocious they’re using these supposed everyday citizens—who are really paid advertisers—to change the public discourse.”

Reheis-Boyd’s Powerpoint deck, entitled “WSPA Priority Issues,” starts by announcing that these are the “the best of times.” Crude oil production in the U.S. is higher than it has been since 1997, with imports subsequently reduced to a 20-year low, according to the American Petroleum Institute. The next six slides describe why these are also “the worst of times” and include images of demonstrators protesting the Keystone XL oil pipeline, demanding government action on climate change, and pictures of professor-cum-activist Bill McKibben and billionaire Tom Steyer, with the latter quoted as saying he wants to “destroy these people”—i.e., people like the members of WSPA.

Then there’s a slide with all the different groups that WSPA has funded to make it seem as if there’s a broad group in three states opposing a series of initiatives to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuels. The most clever of these is the “Stop the Hidden Gas Tax!” campaign. Who, after all, wants that?

“Let me be clear,” says Hull, the WSPA spokesman. “We did not oppose AB 32 when it passed. We believe it’s good to have the reduction of greenhouse gases as a goal. We support that goal.” In the years since, he says, “hundreds of pages of regulations have been added to what had been a page-and-a-half document, and we do object to many of the additions.” What’s more, Hull says, “we have a legitimate concern over what will happen when the cap-and-trade program goes into effect for gas and diesel.”

Obama Builds Environmental Legacy With 1970 Law (New York Times)

WASHINGTON — President Obama could leave office with the most aggressive, far-reaching environmental legacy of any occupant of the White House. Yet it is very possible that not a single major environmental law will have passed during his two terms in Washington.

Instead, Mr. Obama has turned to the vast reach of the Clean Air Act of 1970, which some legal experts call the most powerful environmental law in the world. Faced with a Congress that has shut down his attempts to push through an environmental agenda, Mr. Obama is using the authority of the act passed at the birth of the environmental movement to issue a series of landmark regulations on air pollution, from soot to smog, to mercury and planet-warming carbon dioxide.

The Supreme Court could still overturn much of Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy, although the justices so far have upheld the regulations in three significant cases. More challenges are expected, the most recent of which was taken up by the court on Tuesday. The act, however, was designed by lawmakers in a Democratic Congress to give the Environmental Protection Agency, which was created at the same time, great flexibility in its interpretation of the law.

Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, credits the Clean Air Act of 1970 for giving the president the authority to make new, far-reaching environmental policy.CreditManuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press 

“It’s the granddaddy of public health and environmental legislation,” said Paul Billings, a vice president of the American Lung Association. “It empowers the E.P.A. and states to be bold and creative.”

Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. administrator, credits the act for the authority that Mr. Obama claims in setting environmental policy. “The administration is relying very heavily on this tool that Congress provided us 44 years ago,” she said.

Jody Freeman, director of Harvard University’s environmental law program, and a former counselor to the president, said Mr. Obama was using the Clean Air Act “to push forward in a way that no president ever has.”

Taken together, the Clean Air Act regulations issued during the Obama administration have led to the creation of America’s first national policy for combating global warming and a fundamental reshaping of major sectors of the economy, specifically auto manufacturing and electric utilities. The regulations could ultimately shut down existing coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new coal plants and end demand for the nation’s most polluting fuel.

Republicans and the coal industry have attacked the new rules as a “war on coal.”

Mr. Obama’s most recent regulation, proposed on Wednesday, would reduce ozone, a smog-causing pollutant that is created by emissions from factories and coal plants and is linked to asthma, heart disease and premature death. That regulation is the latest of six new rules intended to rein in emissions of hazardous pollutants from factory and power-plant smokestacks, including soot, mercury, sulfur and nitrogen oxide.

The most consequential regulations are those that cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the gas dispersed from automobile tailpipes and coal plants and which contributes to global warming.

More rules are on the way: By the end of the year, the E.P.A. is expected to announce plans for regulating the emission of methane at natural gas production facilities.

Republicans and industry leaders have fought back against the rules, attacking them as “job-killing” regulations. “The Clean Air Act is a direct threat,” said Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association.

Among the fiercest critics is Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who is expected to take over as majority leader in the next Congressional term and whose home state is a major producer of coal. Mr. McConnell has vowed to put forth legislation to block or delay the administration’s regulations.

Although the E.P.A. regulations are today the target of Republican ire, in 1970 the Clean Air Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, clearing the Senate with a vote of 73 to 0. President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, signed the bill into law. “The idea was to give E.P.A. broad authority, making sure that it had tools to exercise this authority,” said Robert Nordhaus, an environmental lawyer who, as a staff lawyer in the House legislative counsel’s office, helped draft the law. Today Mr. Nordhaus is a senior partner at the environmental law firm Van Ness Feldman.

Another Republican president, the first George Bush, enacted a 1990 update to the Clean Air Act, which strengthened the E.P.A.’s authority to issue regulations. Mr. McConnell was among the 89 senators who voted for passage of the 1990 law. “I had to choose between cleaner air and the status quo,” Mr. McConnell said at the time. “I chose cleaner air.”

The 1990 iteration of the Clean Air Act also included requirements that the E.P.A. issue, and periodically update, regulations on pollutants such as ozone and mercury. Some of Mr. Obama’s new regulations are a result of that requirement.

Mr. Obama, however, is the first president to use the law to fight global warming. After trying and failing to push a new climate-change law through Congress aimed at curbing greenhouse gas pollution, the president went back to the Clean Air Act.

The E.P.A. issued a Clean Air Act regulation in Mr. Obama’s first term. The agency required automakers to comply with tough new vehicle fuel-economy standards of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The regulations compelled the auto industry to research and develop hybrid and electric vehicles. Those requirements alone are expected to lead to a major reduction of carbon pollution in the coming decades.

Next year, the E.P.A. is to finalize two regulations aimed at limiting pollution from new and existing coal-fired power plants. Once they are enacted, the regulations could eventually transform the way electricity is produced, transmitted and consumed in the United States, leading to more power generation from alternative sources like wind, solar and nuclear.

But the regulations could also cause costly disruptions in power reliability and transmission, forcing companies to look for breakthroughs in technology to meet the requirements.

Officials at the Edison Electric Institute, which lobbies for privately owned electric utilities, said the regulations were forcing the industry to drastically reshape the way it does business. “He’ll have dozens of these rules under his watch,” Quin Shea, vice president of the institute, said of the president. “Taken together, they will have a far-reaching effect of transforming the electric power sector for the next 20 years.”

Correction: December 2, 2014
An article on Thursday about President Obama’s new environmental regulations misstated how ozone gets into the air. Ozone is a smog-causing pollutant created by emissions from factories and coal plants; it is not itself emitted into the air. The error also occurred in an article and headline on Wednesday about the announcement of the regulations.

Terry Eagleton reviews Trouble in Paradise and Absolute Recoil by Slavoj Žižek (Guardian)

Like Socrates on steroids: Žižek is both breathtakingly perceptive and outrageously irresponsible. Is he just out to scandalise?

zizek

 A curious mixture of illusion and reality … Slavoj Žižek. Photograph: David Levene

It is said that Jean-Paul Sartre turned white-faced with excitement when a colleague arrived hotfoot from Germany with the news that one could make philosophy out of the ashtray. In these two new books, Slavoj Žižek philosophises in much the same spirit about sex, swearing, decaffeinated coffee, vampires, Henry KissingerThe Sound of Music, the Muslim Brotherhood, the South Korean suicide rate and a good deal more. If there seems no end to his intellectual promiscuity, it is because he suffers from a rare affliction known as being interested in everything. In Britain, philosophers tend to divide between academics who write for each other and meaning-of-life merchants who beam their reflections at the general public. Part of Žižek’s secret is that he is both at once: a formidably erudite scholar well-versed in Kant and Heidegger who also has a consuming passion for the everyday. He is equally at home with Hegel and Hitchcock, the Fall from Eden and the fall of Mubarak. If he knows about Wagnerand Schoenberg, he is also an avid consumer of vampire movies and detective fiction. A lot of his readers have learned to understand Freud or Nietzsche by viewing them through the lens of Jaws or Mary Poppins.

Academic philosophers can be obscure, whereas popularisers aim to be clear. With his urge to dismantle oppositions, Žižek has it both ways here. If some of his ideas can be hard to digest, his style is a model of lucidity. Absolute Recoil is full of intractable stuff, but Trouble in Paradise reports on the political situation in Egypt, China, Korea, Ukraine and the world in general in a crisp, well-crafted prose that any newspaper should be proud to publish. Not that, given Žižek’s provocatively political opinions, many of them would. He sees the world as divided between liberal capitalism and fundamentalism – in other words, between those who believe too little and those who believe too much. Instead of taking sides, however, he stresses the secret complicity between the two camps. Fundamentalism is the ugly creed of those who feel washed up and humiliated by a west that has too often ridden roughshod over their interests. One lesson of the Egyptian revolt, Žižek argues in Trouble in Paradise, is that if moderate liberal forces continue to ignore the radical left, “they will generate an unsurmountable fundamentalist wave”. Toppling tyrants, which all good liberals applaud, is simply a prelude to the hard work of radical social transformation, without which fundamentalism will return. In a world everywhere under the heel of capital, only radical politics can retrieve what is worth saving in the liberal legacy. It is no wonder that Žižek is as unpopular with Channel 4 as he is on Wall Street.

In any case, market freedom and religious fundamentalism are far from mutually exclusive. “Spiritual” values have been enlisted by Asian nations for capitalist ends. The easy opposition between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalist repression must be rethought. The rise of Islamo-fascism, Žižek points out, went hand in hand with the disappearance of the secular left in Muslim countries, a disappearance the west itself did much to promote. Who now recalls that, 40 years ago, Afghanistan was a strong secular state with a powerful Communist party which took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Every emergence of fascism, Walter Benjamin wrote, bears witness to a failed revolution. In the Muslim world, the west has played a major role in stamping on such movements, creating a political vacuum into which fundamentalism was then able to move. It cannot now feign innocence of its predatory past in the face of the Islamist backlash it has helped to unleash. Those who are reluctant to criticise liberal democracy, Žižek suggests, should also keep quiet about fundamentalism.

Stentorian, faintly manic and almost impossible to shut up, Žižek is a man who gets out of bed talking about psychoanalysis and steps back into it holding forth on Zionism. As a frenetic intellectual activist, he always seems to be in six places on the planet at once, like Socrates on steroids. His day may begin with a visit to Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy and end with writing supportive letters to one of the imprisoned Pussy Riot performers. In between, he passes his time antagonising a sizeable chunk of the world’s population. If he is a scourge of neo-capitalism, he is also a sworn foe of liberal pluralism and political correctness. He tells the story of how at an impeccably enlightened US seminar he attended, the chairperson began by asking each participant to state their name along with their sexual preference. Žižek throttled back the urge to announce that he enjoyed bedding young boys and drinking their blood. He also points out how much less forthcoming the participants would have been if asked to state their salaries.

All this may be because he comes from Slovenia. Small nations tend to have a perverse relation to more powerful ones, as anyone acquainted with the Irish can attest. There is a dash of the Dubliner Oscar Wilde in Žižek, a man who couldn’t hear a pious English sentiment without feeling an irresistible itch to reverse its terms, rip it inside out or stand it on its head. Žižek, who has the grim appearance of a hired assassin in a Jacobean tragedy, lacks Wilde’s stylishness and elegance. He also lacks his distinctive brand of humour. Žižek is funny but not witty. He tells some excellent jokes and has a well-honed sense of the absurd, but one couldn’t extract a book of epigrams from his writing, as one can from Wilde’s. Both men, however, are natural-born debunkers and deconstructors, allergic to high moral tones and good clean fun. That Žižek should be a skilled exponent of Jewish black humour, the Woody Allen of Ljubljana, comes as no surprise. Even so, his urge to deface and deflate is a long way from cynicism. Remarkably, he combines the tragic vision of Freud with a Marxist faith in the future.

Like the rest of his work, these two latest volumes are postmodern in form but anti-postmodern in content. Žižek has the eclecticism of the postmodern, along with its mixing of high and low genres. His books are broken-backed affairs which leap erratically from topic to topic. Absolute Recoil, which lurches from ideas of hysteria, art and absolute knowledge to God, death and the Fall, is grandly subtitled “Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism”, but this is a barefaced deception. There are only a handful of references to dialectical materialism in its 400 pages. Žižek’s books and chapters are rarely about what they say they are about, since he can’t help saying 50 things at once. He is postmodern, too, in his suspicion of originality. A good deal of what he says has been said before, not by others but by himself. He is one of the great self-plagiarisers of our time, constantly thieving stuff from his own publications. Whole chunks of Absolute Recoil reappear in Trouble in Paradise, and whole chunks of Trouble in Paradise appear twice over. He has now told the same jokes, recycled the same insights and recounted the same anecdotes dozens of times over.

Another postmodern aspect of his work is its merging of illusion and reality. For Žižek’s mentor Jacques Lacan, nobody is more self-deceived than the cynic who claims to have seen through it all, ignorant of the Freudian claim that illusion (or fantasy) is built into reality itself. The same applies to Žižek’s own writing. Are his books genuine arguments or public performances? How sincere is he intending to be? If he can be breathtakingly perceptive, he can also be outrageously irresponsible. Can he really be serious when he claims in Trouble in Paradise that “the worst of Stalinism (is better) than the best of the liberal-capitalist welfare state”, or is he just out to scandalise the suburbs? Does he really think that the sexual misconduct Assange is accused of is “minor”? Or take the fact that he has repeatedly argued for the radical potential of Christianity, and does so again in Absolute Recoil, despite the fact that he is a self-proclaimed atheist. It isn’t quite a question, however, of being a Christian in appearance but an unbeliever in reality. Instead, one might claim that he believes and disbelieves in Christianity at the same time. Or what if he thinks he is an atheist but actually isn’t? What if the God he doesn’t believe in knows he is a believer?

Žižek himself is a curious mixture of illusion and reality. In Trouble in Paradise, he speaks of Hamlet as a clown, and he himself is both intellectual and jester. Shakespeare’s jesters are conscious of their own unreality, and Žižek seems to be, too. As a man for whom the adjective “colourful” could have been specially invented, he is a cult figure who sends up his own cult status, a man in deadly earnest who is also an accomplished self-parodist. There is something fictional, larger-than-life, about his constant globe-trotting and flamboyant antics, as though he has strayed out of a David Lodge novel. His gargantuan appetite for ideas is admirable but also faintly alarming. One would not be altogether surprised to hear that he was put together by a committee and consumer-tested on various student focus groups.

When it comes to content, however, nothing could be further from postmodern pluralism than Žižek’s uncompromising revolutionary politics. It is a strange sign of the times that perhaps the most popular intellectual in the world is a dedicated communist. The lesson of Trouble in Paradise, subtitled From the End of History to the End of Capitalism, is plain: “a new Dark Age is looming, with ethnic and religious passions exploding, and Enlightenment values receding”. Žižek’s style is notable for its hardboiled refusal to be emotionally intense, another postmodern feature; but even he can scarcely contain his disgust at the vision of thieving bankers being subsidised by their ruined victims. As Bertolt Brecht inquired: what’s robbing a bank compared to founding one?

Trouble in Paradise, with its unerring ear for political cant, is a book that everyone, not least the Masters of the Universe, would profit from reading. Absolute Recoil, with its intricate reflections on materialism and dialectics, is likely to have fewer takers. There is less on cant and more on Kant. Even so, it contains some fascinating stuff on Kabbala, slave narratives, espionage, atonal music and God as the supreme criminal. No doubt we shall have a chance to read some of this again in his next few books.

Aquecimento global pode minar luta contra a pobreza, alerta Banco Mundial (Carta Capital)

7/11/2014 – 11h38

por Redação da Deutsche Welle

agricola Aquecimento global pode minar luta contra a pobreza, alerta Banco Mundial

Em novo relatório sobre mudanças climáticas, instituição prevê grave impacto na agricultura. No Brasil, a produção de soja pode ser reduzida em 70% até 2050

As mudanças climáticas podem levar a retrocessos nos esforços para derrotar a pobreza extrema em todo o mundo, advertiu o Banco Mundial neste domingo 23, ao divulgar um relatório sobre os impactos do aquecimento global.

No documento, intitulado Reduzam o calor: enfrentando a nova normalidade climática (em tradução livre), o banco afirma que elevações bruscas de temperatura devem reduzir profundamente a produtividade nas lavouras e o abastecimento de água em muitas áreas.

O relatório, que foca em impactos regionais específicos do aquecimento global, prevê efeitos no Brasil. Um aumento de até 2 °C na temperatura média em relação aos tempos pré-industriais levaria a uma redução da produção agrícola do país – de até 70% para a soja e 50% para o trigo em 2050, diz o documento.

O Banco Mundial estima que, em 2050, a temperatura média seja 1,5 °C mais alta do que a registrada na era pré-industrial, com base no impacto das emissões de gases de efeito estufa do passado e atualmente.

“Sem uma ação forte e rápida, o aquecimento poderia exceder 1,5 °C ou 2 °C, e o impacto decorrente poderia piorar significativamente a pobreza intra e intergeracional em várias regiões do mundo”, diz o relatório.

Quanto ao nível do mar, o documento afirma que este continuará subindo por séculos, visto que as grandes capas de gelo da Groenlândia e da Antártica vêm derretendo lentamente. Se as temperaturas se mantiverem nos níveis atuais, os mares subirão 2,3 metros nos próximos 2 mil anos, aponta o estudo.

Entre outros efeitos citados, cidades andinas estariam ameaçadas pelo derretimento de geleiras, e comunidades do Caribe e da costa ocidental da Índia poderiam ver diminuir seus suprimentos de peixes. Na Macedônia, o cultivo de milho, trigo e uva seria reduzido em 50 %.

Ações urgentes

Sem ações coordenadas, o perigo é que o aumento da temperatura média global chegue a 4 °C até o fim do século, um cenário descrito pelo Banco Mundial como “um mundo assustador de aumento de riscos e instabilidade global”.

“Acabar com a pobreza, aumentar a prosperidade global e reduzir a desigualdade no mundo, o que já é difícil, vai ser muito mais difícil com um aquecimento de 2 °C, disse o presidente do Banco Mundial, Jim Yong Kim. “Mas com [um aumento de] 4 °C, há sérias dúvidas de que essas metas possam ser alcançadas.”

Os piores efeitos do aquecimento global poderiam ser evitados através da redução das emissões de gases de efeito estufa, reitera o relatório.

Representantes de quase 200 países se reunirão em breve para a próxima Conferência Mundial do Clima. Realizado no Peru entre os dias 1º e 12 de dezembro, o evento tem como objetivo a definição das bases de um acordo global de limitações de emissões de gases do efeito estufa. Espera-se que o acordo seja firmado em Paris em 2015.

NM/afp/rtr

* Publicado originalmente pela Deutsche Welle e retirado do site Carta Capital.

(Carta Capital)

SBPC envia carta a deputados contra o ensino do criacionismo em escolas (Ascom SBPC)

A entidade quer que permaneça no ensino o princípio da laicidade e liberdade de crença garantidos pela Constituição federal 

A Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência (SBPC) enviou aos deputados federais uma carta solicitando que o Projeto de Lei 8099/2014, de deputado Marco Feliciano (PSC/SP), que propõe a inserção de conteúdos sobre criacionismo na grade curricular das Redes Pública e Privada de Ensino, e seu apensado ao PL 309/2011, de autoria do mesmo deputado, que “altera o Art. 33 da Lei nº 9.394, de 20 de dezembro de 1996, para dispor sobre a obrigatoriedade do ensino religioso nas redes públicas de ensino do país”, sejam rejeitados e arquivados. Segundo a SBPC, isso é necessário para se manter o princípio da laicidade e liberdade de crença garantidos pela Constituição federal, bem como o não comprometimento do ensino das Ciências aos alunos.

Veja a carta na íntegra em:

http://jcnoticias.jornaldaciencia.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Ofício122PLcriacionismo.pdf

(Ascom SBPC)

*   *   *

Em defesa da Ciência

O leitor Clécio Fernando Klitzke.  envia carta à SBPC onde comenta as ameaças e os retrocessos sobre o que é a Ciência, e o que são dogmas como o criacionismo e o “design inteligente”

Li a matéria no sítio de internet da SBPC a respeito da posição da ABRAPEC e SBEnBIO sobre o projeto de lei que tenta obrigar o ensino de criacionismo nas escolas brasileiras.

Não bastasse o desserviço de alguns políticos evangélicos a respeito do que é ciência e conhecimento científico, nos deparamos também com movimentos organizados no próprio meio acadêmico, visando a deturpação do que seja ciência e teoria científica.

Recentemente tivemos no país um evento neo criacionista onde foi fundada a sociedade brasileira do design inteligente. Mais triste é constatar que páginas que divulgam ciência também divulgam eventos criacionistas.

Por exemplo:

http://www.visaociencia.com.br/1-congresso-brasileiro-de-design-inteligente-promove-debate-historico/

Não bastasse isso, a própria universidade pública abre espaço para essas ideias medievais, como exemplo:

http://www.ufal.edu.br/noticias/2014/11/teoria-do-design-inteligente-e-tema-de-debate-sobre-a-origem-da-vida

Esses profissionais esqueceram o que é ciência e objeto de pesquisa científica e se deixaram levar pela fé religiosa e seus dogmas. Agora apresentam o criacionismo travestido de teoria científica, com novo nome e roupagem, a tal da teoria do design inteligente, quem nem teoria é.

Não bastassem os políticos, temos professores e pesquisadores que também sonham com o ensino de criacionismo nas escolas e universidades.

Seria muito útil se a SBPC também divulgasse um manifesto em defesa da ciência e do conhecimento científico, se opondo a essas tentativas de incluir criacionismo como conhecimento científico.

Em 2012 a Sociedade Brasileira de Genética publicou um manifesto em seu sítio de internet.

http://sbg.org.br/2012/08/manifesto-da-sbg-sobre-ciencia-e-criacionismo/

Seria interessante reforçar para a sociedade que criacionismo é crença, não é ciência e que cientistas que se deixam levar por suas crenças prestam um desserviço ao conhecimento. O mais apavorante é que temos até mesmo membro da Academia Brasileira de Ciências defendendo o criacionismo como conhecimento científico e liderando esse movimento no Brasil.

Clécio Fernando Klitzke é Bacharel em Ciências Biológicas, Mestre em Ecologia, Doutor em Ciências (Química Orgânica).

West Antarctic melt rate has tripled in last decade (Science Daily)

Date: December 2, 2014

Source: University of California – Irvine

Summary: A comprehensive, 21-year analysis of the fastest-melting region of Antarctica has found that the melt rate of glaciers there has tripled during the last decade.

UCI and NASA glaciologists, including Isabella Velicogna and Tyler Sutterley, have discovered that the melt rate of glaciers in West Antarctica has tripled, with the loss of a Mt. Everest’s worth of water weight every two years. Credit: Michael Studinger / NASA

A comprehensive, 21-year analysis of the fastest-melting region of Antarctica has found that the melt rate of glaciers there has tripled during the last decade.

The glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica are hemorrhaging ice faster than any other part of Antarctica and are the most significant Antarctic contributors to sea level rise. This study is the first to evaluate and reconcile observations from four different measurement techniques to produce an authoritative estimate of the amount and the rate of loss over the last two decades.

“The mass loss of these glaciers is increasing at an amazing rate,” said scientist Isabella Velicogna, jointly of the UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Velicogna is a coauthor of a paper on the results, which has been accepted for Dec. 5 publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Lead author Tyler Sutterley, a UCI doctoral candidate, and his team did the analysis to verify that the melting in this part of Antarctica is shifting into high gear. “Previous studies had suggested that this region is starting to change very dramatically since the 1990s, and we wanted to see how all the different techniques compared,” Sutterley said. “The remarkable agreement among the techniques gave us confidence that we are getting this right.”

The researchers reconciled measurements of the mass balance of glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea Embayment. Mass balance is a measure of how much ice the glaciers gain and lose over time from accumulating or melting snow, discharges of ice as icebergs, and other causes. Measurements from all four techniques were available from 2003 to 2009. Combined, the four data sets span the years 1992 to 2013.

The glaciers in the embayment lost mass throughout the entire period. The researchers calculated two separate quantities: the total amount of loss, and the changes in the rate of loss.

The total amount of loss averaged 83 gigatons per year (91.5 billion U.S. tons). By comparison, Mt. Everest weighs about 161 gigatons, meaning the Antarctic glaciers lost a Mt.-Everest’s-worth amount of water weight every two years over the last 21 years.

The rate of loss accelerated an average of 6.1 gigatons (6.7 billion U.S. tons) per year since 1992.

From 2003 to 2009, when all four observational techniques overlapped, the melt rate increased an average of 16.3 gigatons per year — almost three times the rate of increase for the full 21-year period. The total amount of loss was close to the average at 84 gigatons.

The four sets of observations include NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, laser altimetry from NASA’s Operation IceBridge airborne campaign and earlier ICESat satellite, radar altimetry from the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite, and mass budget analyses using radars and the University of Utrecht’s Regional Atmospheric Climate Model.

The scientists noted that glacier and ice sheet behavior worldwide is by far the greatest uncertainty in predicting future sea level. “We have an excellent observing network now. It’s critical that we maintain this network to continue monitoring the changes,” Velicogna said, “because the changes are proceeding very fast.”


Journal Reference:

  1. Tyler C. Sutterley, Isabella Velicogna, Eric Rignot, Jeremie Mouginot, Thomas Flament, Michiel R. van den Broeke, Jan M. van Wessem, Carleen H. Reijmer. Mass loss of the Amundsen Sea Embayment of West Antarctica from four independent techniquesGeophysical Research Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/2014GL061940