Environment Forum

from Photographers' Blog:

An arctic adventure

Wind patterns are left in the ice pack that covers the Arctic Ocean north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 19, 2011.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The Arctic Ocean in March is basically an ocean of ice. Almost the entire thing is covered from October to June in an icepack that only partially disappears in the summer and is still very solid in March.

Why would anyone in their right mind volunteer to spend a month to a month in a half in temperatures that usually don’t exceed -10 degrees Fahrenheit or -23 degrees Celsius? In the case of the roughly two dozen souls who work either for the British, Canadian and United States Navy or the Arctic Physics Laboratory Ice Station, it is because there is work to be done.

A man carries an ice auger to a remote warming station near the 2011 Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 18, 2011.    REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

And the first piece of work is to physically build the camp. To do this, firstly a piece of “multi-year” ice must be found, that means that it is thick enough (theoretically) that it won’t split in half and will support the weight of a camp while having enough room for an airplane runway and helicopter landing pad. Next, these folks need to load an antique airplane with enough plywood and nails to build a half a dozen un-insulated boxes to live in, this usually takes about 3 days as the workers must fly back to their base at Prudhoe Bay each evening to avoid the -30 to -50 degree temperatures until they build enough shelters to house them all.

Over the course of roughly a week the camp actually morphs into something of an oasis of civility surrounded by an ocean of ice that is continuously floating around on the Arctic Ocean as it is driven by the prevailing wind of the day. The huts are heated by jet fuel and become quite cozy while a large tent is erected for cooking and eating. All this to support a command center that communicates with two nuclear submarines below the ice. The camp is a support base for the U.S. Navy and exists to understand how best submarines, sonar systems, and underwater communications can work in such a harsh environment.

Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station (APLIS) employee Keith Magness (L) watches as U.S. Navy postgraduate researcher Lt. Brandon Schmidt works to prepare a hole in the Arctic ice that will allow sonar instrumentation to be used for research at the 2011 APLIS camp north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 18, 2011.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

We were approached by Navy and research center to come up and do a story about this camp and the work they do with U.S. Navy submarines. When I was asked if this was something I would be interested in, I of course said yes. Who wouldn’t like to go to the Arctic, sleep in a plywood hutch, and go underneath the ice in a nuclear submarine? Thus began the mad rush to prepare for a trip into some of the most extreme conditions I have ever worked in. It was a rush to organize all of the base layers, fleece layers, wool socks, jackets, insulated pants, and other assorted necessaries before sitting down to pack the equipment I would need. Camera-wise I wanted to be prepared for anything; from wide angle images of the ice-pack to photographing a polar bear from a comfortable distance (in the off-chance that I actually saw one, they are rare to see this time of year.) I sat down and assembled the kit into my backpack, including three cameras, five lenses and assorted batteries, memory cards and chargers.

Appropriately enough, it’s National Tsunami Awareness Week

The U.S. government has announced this as National Tsunami Awareness Week, starting just days after a disastrous tsunami powered over Japan’s northeast coast. Not that anyone necessarily needed reminding.

This week’s advisory, which urges U.S. residents to be prepared for a damaging series of waves, was scheduled before the March 11 Japanese catastrophe, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is the second annual observance of Tsunami Awareness Week. It’s too soon to tell if there might be a pattern emerging: last year’s observance came not long after a giant wave hit the Chilean port of Talcahuano following an 8.8 magnitude quake along Chile’s coast.

Here’s how the Japanese tsunami spread its force across the Pacific:

While the United States may not seem like a prime tsunami target, the Hawaiian Islands and Alaska have long been susceptible. NOAA notes the United States has more coastline than any country on Earth and is in proximity to several major fault lines. Any coastline is potentially in a tsunami’s path.

Suspected smuggler of rare Sumatran tigers arrested in Indonesia

wwfid-518Indonesian wildlife officials have arrested a suspected smuggler of critically endangered Sumatran tigers after a two-day stakeout, World Wildlife Fund reports. There are believed to be fewer than 400 of these rare big cats in the wild.

The arrest was made by Indonesia’s Natural Resource Conservation Agency in Riau and West Sumatra provinces, with support from World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia’s Tiger Protection Units. The authorities also seized the skin of a Sumatran tiger they believed was poisoned.

After hearing of the poisoned tiger, the authorities staked out a poacher, which they believe led to a high-level wildlife smuggler, WWF said in a statement.

Is Earth due for a mass extinction?

extinction2_h1It has all the signs of a sick good-news/bad-news tale. The bad news is that Earth may be ripe for a mass extinction, where 75 percent or more of the life on the planet vanishes forever.

The good news is it’s unlikely to happen for at least three more centuries.

Scientists writing in the journal Nature warn that we could be on the brink of a mass extinction, the kind of species loss that has happened just five times in the last 540 million years.

“The Harry Potter theory of climate”

USA/Climate doesn’t change by magic.

Just ask Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. On a conference call with other scientists and reporters, Serreze and others linked climate change to the last two harsh winters over much of the United States and Europe. And they squarely blamed human-caused greenhouse gas emissions for the rise in world temperatures that got the process going.

“Climate doesn’t change all by itself,” Serreze said. “It’s not like the Harry Potter theory of climate, where he flicks his magic wand and the climate suddenly changes. Climate only changes for a reason.”

He crossed off other possible drivers for climate change one by one.

“Could it be that the Sun is shining more brightly than it was? No, that doesn’t work. We’ve been monitoring energy coming from the Sun and apart from the 11-year sunspot cycle, there’s not much happening.

“Climategate” e-mails rear their ugly heads — again

CLIMATE-WARMING/How many investigations of climate scientists’ stolen e-mails does the world really need?

The answer, in Washington at least, appears to be five. And counting.

These are not investigations into who might have stolen the e-mails — that’s still publicly unknown. They’re investigating whether the scientists themselves manipulated data to bolster the case for human-caused climate change or tried to keep dissenting researchers from publishing their findings.

Four investigations said the scientists did nothing improper. Now a fifth one, requested by vocal climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe, has said basically the same thing. Inhofe says at least one issue mentioned in the latest report “deserves further investigation.”

Job security for allergists?

JAPAN/Please don’t blame Dr. Jay Portnoy, an allergy specialist in Kansas City, Missouri. He doesn’t go around planting ragweed. But he does treat people who suffer from asthma and hay fever, and he figures he will be busier now that the ragweed pollen that exacerbates these conditions is around longer each season than it used to be.

“These are really common diseases and they’re very expensive and they definitely affect quality of life and it’s just going to get worse for pollen sufferers,” Portnoy said of the report he helped write on climate change’s impact on the ragweed pollen season. “Of course for allergists like me, it’s job security.”

Really, though, it’s not his fault: “I’m not ‘Ragweed Appleseed,’ I don’t go around planting ragweed. I’m just the messenger. The reality is I’m going to have more patients.”

Green apps that can save you money

Media members try out the new "iPad" during the launch of Apple's new tablet computing device in San Francisco, California, January 27, 2010. REUTERS/Kimberly White

As the market for applications running on mobile devices like Apple’s iPad and iPhone grows, so do ways to save you money and cut your carbon emissions.

Among them is Avego, a ride-sharing app for the iPhone that lets you offer vacant seats in your car to others and search for free seats if you’re car-less, all in real time. You receive updates on how far away your ride is, so you don’t have to wait around. And it even calculates how much gas-money each passenger should pay. Users create a publicly viewable Avego profile and their reputation can be rated by other members. Paul Smith of Triple Pundit calls the service “brilliant” and an example of “what can be done to reduce traffic, right now, at no additional cost and disruption to our current transportation infrastructure”.

3rdWhaleMobile’s FindGreen app gives GPS-equipped Android smartphones, BlackBerry, and iPhone owners a guide to local retailers and services listed in GenGreen’s Green Business Directory. TechCrunch’s Matylda Czarnecka thought the iPhone version was one of the “top ten apps to make you more green“. But some users in Google’s Android Marketplace complain of few or no listings in their area.

California hopes carbon market sparks innovation

OBAMA/California’s lonely attempt to take on climate change by setting up a cap-and-trade market for carbon is all about jobs for many in the Golden State — as shown in a Reuters Special Report issued today.

Carbon prices may jump high enough to send companies scrambling for new technology, whether it’s carbon-free energy, efficiency widgets, or something yet to be cleaned up. Longtime clean tech advocate Dan Reicher, who has left Google’s clean energy efforts to run a new Stanford center for energy policy and finance, sees a high price of carbon as great for investors and venture capitalists who back them.

But it’s tough getting the big, big dollars, he argues, and more is needed.

Arizona baseball fans get power, shade from desert sun

Arizona Public Service is giving fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks and green energy advocates something to cheer about.

APS plans to build a structure at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field in Phoenix, the sunniest major city in America, which will do double duty by providing fans waiting in line with much needed shade and generate 75 kilowatts of solar power.

The power will go back into the grid as well as into a test battery storage system onsite which will provide power to electric vehicle charging stations.

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