Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shouldn't the show jumping horses get to stand on the medal podium along with the riders?


In honour of the Olympics

A blast from Maribo's past:

BEIJING (Unassociated Press) - The climate’s second doping sample contained elevated levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, scientists at an Olympic doping lab confirmed on Friday.

Pierre Martin, who chairs the Olympic testing facility, said they discovered the carbon dioxide in the climate’s B sample had to have come from an outside source. The doping tests were ordered after the climate produced one of the warmest years in recorded history.

The result comes after years of speculation by scientists, environmentalists and the media that the climate was participating in an elaborate, clandestine doping program. The test appears to confirm that ingestion of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the climate is the primary cause of global warming.

Lawyers for the oil and coal industry continue to claim that warming is due to natural variability, and questioned the motives of the scientists at the testing lab.

“The climate has never knowingly ingested any illegal substances to enhance performance,” said spokesman Michael Henson. “This is the same old witch hunt, led by a group of maverick scientists jealous of the size of American cars and homes.”

The head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Richard Pound, dismissed the claims of the global warming ‘skeptics’.

“Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, the Ozone Layer, the strategy never changes. Deny, deny, deny,” argued Pound. “This time, the evidence is incontrovertible.”

The testing lab reports that carbon dioxide appears to have been the main element in an elaborate greenhouse gas program. Scientists confirm unnatural levels of methane, human growth hormone, nitrous oxide and a several other lesser greenhouse gases.

“The extent of the doping program is unprecedented,” added WADA head Pound. “The atmosphere has even been using a mysterious substance that our scientists have labeled ‘black carbon’”.

Pound added that his agency will move to strike the climate’s many recent temperature marks from the record books.

The climate’s A sample, taken in the 1990s, found that the planet appeared to be warming. Carbon dioxide – commonly referred to by the code “CO2” – was thought to be the primary culprit. While carbon dioxide does exist naturally in the atmosphere, it can also be introduced through activities like the burning of fossil fuels like oil.

The natural level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is thought to be around 280 parts per million (ppm). The B sample, collected after the warmest year in recorded history, showed a level of close 380 ppm, far in excess of the WADA limit.

Most damning for the climate is a new carbon isotope ratio test used by French testing lab. The test confirmed that the additional CO2 in the atmosphere was not naturally generated, and must be derived from an outside source like oil or coal burning.

Computer models developed by scientists at NASA also show that the additional CO2 is the only way to explain the climate’s performance over the past thirty year.

“You simply cannot generate this pattern of warming from natural causes alone,” commented NASA scientist James Hansen.

In anticipation of a positive test results, the climate has engaged in a broad media campaign. In a book to be released this June, the climate floats a number of theories for the elevated CO2 level, including a rash of recent forest fires, medication being taken to rectify the ozone hole, dehydration from the Indian monsoon and a bratwurst festival in Milwaukee on the day of the test.

The climate has few supporters left in the Earth community. In a brief statement, the Greenland Ice Sheet, the small island nation of Tuvalu, the Great Barrier Reef and thirteen other prominent geographical features called for action:

“The latest positive test signals that it is time to end the fruitless debate about the science. We must move on to solutions to the doping problem.”

The positive test could lead to strict regulations on carbon emissions. The atmosphere has one earlier doping offense, a positive test for CFCs that caused the ozone hole over Antarctica. Under World Anti-Doping Agency rules, a second infraction brings a lifetime ban on industrial emissions.

Although it is unclear whether a restriction on emissions can be enforced, many in the Earth community argue it is necessary to level the playing field.

“We all knew something wasn’t right with the climate,” said the Arctic sea ice. “I’ve lost 40% of my summer cover in the past 30 years. You’re telling me that is natural?”


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Accidents in the Arctic

This summer has seen a record number of boats - cruise ships, commercial vessels, military ships, and boats full of scientists - in the Arctic. Aware that the downward trend in ice cover is prompting an increase in boat traffic, the Canadian military decided to rehearse for any possible accidents:

Beginning tomorrow , the army, navy and air force will begin Operation Nanook 08, the latest in a series of manoeuvres designed to boost Canada's Arctic sovereignty and increase the military's ability to respond to emergencies.

Operation Nanook will simulate an outbreak of disease on a cruise ship, a hostage-taking on a cruise ship, a fuel spill and a fire on a Russian cargo ship.

Are the exercises necessary? More than you might think. Apparently the opening of the Northwest Passage is already drawing yachtees tired of the Caribbean:

A total of 26 commercial cruises are planned in the Canadian Arctic this season, a historic high and an increase of four trips over last summer. As well, at least eight private vessels are thought to be sailing in and around the Northwest Passage.

Franklin would be jealous.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Over 400 dead zones around the world (Science)

The latest issue of Science features a new review of the world's marine dead zones. Scientists have now reported over 400 regions of the coastal ocean like the Gulf of Mexico dead zone where nutrient pollution fuels the depletion of oxygen from the bottom waters, threatening ecosystem function and marine species. Most of these "hypoxic" - less than 2 mL of oxygen per litre of water - and anoxic zones arose in the last few decades due to nitrogen fertilizer use and associated intensive agricultural activities, and to industrial pollution.

The map below shows the dead zone along with a measure of the human footprint on land. The dead zones have also been plotted on Google Maps.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Coral grief

"It's a moment for straight talking, in terse, uncompromising language, to as many people as possible."

The conclusion of the Guardian's Tim Radford, after attending the International Coral Reef Society meeting last month.



Recent storms north of Alaska and Siberia have accelerated the ice melt in the Arctic. The summer melt in the Arctic had been lagging behind last year (right). The shift in pressure systems, coupled with thinness of the existing ice, means this year could still give 2007 and William Connolley and run for their money.

Leaving the science aside, this means there will be no shortage of news stories about the legal battle over which countries, if any, have rights to which parts of the Arctic sea floor. To the lay observer, the competing claims to Arctic sea floor will appear either ridiculous or intractable. Or both.

For example, the most significant dispute is over the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1800 km spine of the Earth's crust that running under the Arctic from Russia to Canada. For the past several years, the Russians have been arguing that the ridge is an extension of Russia's continental shelf.

Why? The Law of the Sea, signed back in 1982 and ratified in 1994, states that a country has exclusive economic rights to everything within 200 nautical miles of the coastline. There's one exception: if the country's continental shelf - defined as "the natural prolongation of the land territory to the continental margin's outer edge" - extends beyond 200 nautical mile limit. If Russia "proves" that the Lomonosov Ridge is geologically related to the country's traditionally recognized continental shelf, it can claim exclusive rights to a huge swath of the Arctic sea bed, including the North Pole.

International agreements aside, it strains credulity that the results of the ongoing scientific exploration of the Arctic sea floor, including the ridge in question, will actually settle the argument. Would the rest of the world really allow Russia, or Canada for that matter, claim ownership of a huge swatch of the Arctic Ocean because a 1800-km long undersea geological formation that was under permanent ice and totally inaccessible when the Law of the Sea was developed just happens to connect to the Russian continental shelf?

Surely the provision of territorial rights to undersea ridges extending 1000s of kilometres under the frozen Arctic Ocean was not the intention of the Law of the Sea, and especially the precursor agreement, when it was passed. And surely, Russia did not originally settle and lay claim to the northern regions with the understanding that it would provide access to an unknown deep sea floor ridge hundreds of metres below a frozen sea no one had explored.

The dispute over the Arctic is a prime example of how even our laws need to adapt to a changing planet. It is a shame the world didn’t have the foresight to place the Arctic Ocean under international protection, like Antarctica. It is hard to imagine that happening now.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

More on the fierce urgency of now for coral reefs

Jim Hendee has set up the blog Educating the Masses to help organize efforts to "educate the public on the plight of coral reef ecosystems."


The future of marine fisheries

Among the many terrific talks at the International Coral Reef Symposium meeting last month was a plenary by the Daniel Pauly, head of the Sea Around Us Project of the UBC Fisheries Centre on the state of the world’s coral reef fisheries.

Aside from being one of the world’s top fisheries biologists, Pauley is among the best science communicators out there. He originated the term “shifting baselines”, a illustration of the way (fisheries) scientists often underestimate the "baseline" size of wild populations, and now also the name of a nice blog run by Jennifer Jacquet, one of Pauley’s students here in the land of salmon, and others.

The final message of his talk is worth repeating, and will be surprising to many: Small scale fisheries might be the only realistic future for marine fisheries.

Why? The work to reconstruct trends in fisheries catch done by the Sea Around Us Project suggests that the future for large-scale industrial fishing is bleak. Industrial catch is decreasing for two reasons. First, the obvious one. Fisheries are being depleted. Second, higher oil prices makes running large boats too expensive. Combine the two, and it is costing more and more money to catch fewer, and fewer, and smaller, and less desirable species of fish.

The despair brings hope for a return to more sustainable fishing practices. Small scale, more local fisheries - the type of fishing done in the tropical developing nations, where doing coral reef field work often means helping some local fishermen troll for a tuna or pile fresh squid into an icebox - are not only more environmentally efficient, they are becoming more economically efficient. In the future, these fisheries may be able to provide more jobs, and more sustainable jobs, than the current large-scale industrial fisheries.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

The future of carbon offsets

The carbon offset game is fraught with problems. A myriad of companies now promise to offset your personal emissions through activities like protecting forests, planting trees and investing in renewable energies. Even for the most responsible and earnest of companies, the emissions reductions are difficult to quantify or verify. And many of the offset schemes fail to prevent “downstream” emissions that counteract the offsetting activity. For example, if a well-intentioned company protects the right area of the right forest from logging to “prevent” the designated amount of carbon dioxide from being released to the atmosphere, but there is no equivalent change in pulp and paper use, a forest has to be logged elsewhere to meet demand.

Here's a possible solution: Rather than pay to have a company attempt to physically offset the emissions, Carbon Retirement lets you purchase and “retire” carbon credits from the European emissions trading network. By removing those carbon credits from the market, your purchase permanently lowers the total emissions cap in the trading system. This guarantees that companies subject to the trading system will reduce emissions by the designated amount (presuming emissions are properly measured and reported within the trading system). As more trading schemes emerge – Canada, the United States and Australia are all considered trading schemes – the "retirement" method could to revolutionize, and legitimize, the consumer offset game.

[Note: I have no connection to the company. I like the concept. If other similar companies may exist, you are welcome to add links in the comments.]