Environment Forum

Fishing for information, Part II

The last of the data-gathering moorings to be plucked from the Bering Sea proved to be the most troublesome.

This one was several miles north of the Bering Strait in U.S. waters, and it took a few hours to steam up there in the Professor Khromov, the ship the RUSALCA team is using for the joint U.S.-Russian oceanographic expedition.

Once GPS pinpointed the location, the tech team in charge of retrieving the moorings sent the electronic signal that releases the chain of instruments and floats from the anchor on the ocean floor and waited. And waited. All on deck scanned around the ship for an orange ball on the water’s surface. It didn’t appear.

More beeps. Again, nothing.

After about 30 minutes, the mission’s chief scientist, Terry Whitledge, and Rebecca Woodgate, who is responsible for the mooring operations, put Plan B into action.

The high-tech gear, which has been gathering data on water content, temperature and other things 50 meters below the surface since last October, can’t just be left behind. It is key to the expedition’s mission of gauging the impact of global warming in the region.

U.S. chamber wants Scopes trial on climate change

The biggest business lobby in the United States wants to hold a public hearing “to put the science of global warming on trial,” The Los Angeles Times reports.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to drive back major emission limits, wants the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold the hearing on evidence that climate change is man-made.

“Chamber officials say it would be ‘the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century’ — complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect,” the newspaper reported.

Fishing for information

The research vessel Professor Khromov is just a few kms off the easternmost point of Siberia, and U.S. technologist Kevin Taylor is struggling to reel in an orange buoy that had been deep beneath the Bering Strait for nearly a year.

The first time he tries, the ship veers too far away from the prize and must make a slow, wide turn for another pass. The second time, Taylor’s hook is not quite ready and the float bobs again into the Khromov’s wake. This takes practice, even in calm waters.

A main task of the RUSALCA expedition, a joint-U.S.-Russian scientific effort taking place in August and September, is to retrieve data-gathering moorings that were dropped 50 meters to the bottom during stormy weather last October, and to leave new ones.

Tasty find for Russian researchers in Alaska

You have to be creative when you’re a Russian scientist, bad weather is preventing your research ship from picking you up for your expedition and you’ve got time to kill in Nome, Alaska.

Such was the case for a group waiting to begin a joint mission with U.S. researchers in the Bering Sea in late August.

But a side trip into the rolling, lichen-covered hills around Nome, the one-time gold rush town on the Alaskan coast, proved to be more than worth their while for the prize they stumbled upon — mushrooms.

Climate change opens Arctic’s Northeast passage

Two German ships set off on Friday on the first commercial journey from Asia to western Europe via the Arctic through the fabled Northeast Passage – a trip made possible by climate change. Niels Stolberg, president and CEO of Bremen-based Beluga Shipping, said the Northern Sea Route will cut thousands of nautical miles off the ships’ journey from South Korea to the Netherlands, reducing fuel consumption and emissions of greenhouse gas. I had the chance to ask Stolberg a few questions about the Arctic expedition:

Question: What’s the status of the voyage?
Stolberg: MV “Beluga Fraternity” and the MV “Beluga Foresight” have just started to sail from Vladivostok (on Friday) with the destination Novyy Port at the river Ob.

Question: When did they leave Vladivostok and when will they arrive in Europe?
Stolberg: They’ve just left Vladivostok. They are scheduled to arrive in Novyy Port around September 6th. After discharging, they will proceed via Murmansk to Rotterdam. Estimated time of arrival is still to be confirmed and up to further voyage development.

Environmental research in an age of Arctic sovereignty

In an age of angst about security and Arctic sovereignty, it’s no mean feat piecing together an oceanographic expedition involving scientists from the United States, Russia and elsewhere and launching the whole affair from a northern U.S. port.

In the choppy waters of the Bering Sea just off Nome, Alaska, the Russian research ship Professor Khromov is waiting to come in to port, where strict security protocols will be adhered to under the watchful eye of U.S. authorities.

As many as 50 scientists are teaming up for two legs of study in the Bering Strait and northward in August and September, and those without special U.S. Transportation Security Administration clearance cards will be escorted aboard by people designated to do so. No exceptions.

from Global News Journal:

Norwegian memo sparks PR crisis for UN’s Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon isn't having a good year for public relations. Halfway through a five-year term as U.N. secretary-general, he's been hit with a wave of negative assessments by the Financial Times, The Economist, London Times, Foreign Policy and other media organizations. In a March 2009 editorial entitled "Whereabouts Unknown," the Times said Ban was "virtually inaudible" on pressing issues of international security and "ineffectual" on climate change, the one issue that Ban claims he has made the biggest difference on. The Economist gave him a mixed report card, assigning him two out of 10 points for his management skills while praising him on climate change (eight out of 10 points).
    
This week, Norway's Aftenposten newspaper made an unpleasant situation much worse. It published a confidential memo assessing Ban's 2-1/2 years in office from Oslo's deputy U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Juul's report is scathing -- and it comes from a representative of one of the world's body's top financial contributors. She says the former South Korean foreign minister suffers from a "lack of charisma" and has "constant temper tantrums" in his offices on the 38th floor of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan.
    
She describes Ban as a "powerless observer" during the fighting in Sri Lanka earlier this year when thousands of civilians were killed as government forces ended a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, trapping them on a narrow strip of coast in the country's northeast. In Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Congo, she wrote, Ban's "passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears." She says that his recent trip to Myanmar was a failure and that some people in Washington refer to Ban as a "one-term" secretary-general.
    
Juul's letter could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. Ban is planning to visit Norway in the coming weeks, where he intends to meet with government officials and visit the Arctic circle to see for himself the effects of global warming and the melting polar ice. Now U.N. officials fear reporters will be more interested in what he says about Juul's memo than climate change.

So far Ban has not reacted to the letter. However, a Norwegian diplomat told Reuters that Ban's press office had been instructed to hold off on confirming his visit to Norway shortly after the news of Juul's memo began to spread.
    
Ban's PR difficulties didn't start this year. In March 2008, his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar sent a memo to U.N. employees explaining how to say his boss's name. "Many world leaders, some of whom are well acquainted with the Secretary-General, still use his first name mistakenly as his surname and address him wrongly as Mr. Ki-moon or Mr. Moon," Nambiar complained.
 
Then came Ban's own speech to senior U.N. officials in Turin, Italy last year, in which he described how difficult it was to improve the working culture inside the United Nations. The secretary-general seemed to acknowledge that his internal management style had failed. "I tried to lead by example," Ban said. "Nobody followed."
    
Ban's aides vehemently defend him, saying he's being treated unfairly by the press. One senior U.N. official suggested privately that Ban could very well turn out to be "the greatest secretary-general ever." They complain that people continue to compare him to his predecessor Kofi Annan, who was a very different U.N. chief and relied less on "quiet diplomacy" than Ban. Annan became a hero to many people around the world for standing up to the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Annan called the March 2003 invasion illegal. U.N. officials also complain bitterly about the indefatigable blogger Matthew Lee, whose website Inner City Press regularly accuses Ban and other U.N. officials of hypocrisy and failing to keep their promises to reform the United Nations and root out corruption. (Some U.N. officials accuse Lee of not always getting his facts right, but his blog has become unofficial required reading for U.N. staffers around the world.)
    
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, diplomats in New York say, is among those supporting a campaign against a second term for Ban. Juul's memo said Helen Clark, New Zealand's former prime minister and current head of the U.N. Development Program, "could quickly become a competitor for Ban's second term." But diplomats say they expect the United States, Britain and other major powers to reluctantly back a second term for Ban, if only because there appears to be no viable alternative whom Russia and China would support.
    
A recent article in the Times of London said the best U.N. chief in the organization's 64-year history was not Swedish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dag Hammarskjold but the Peruvian diplomat Javier Perez de Cuellar, who held the top U.N. post for 10 years until 1992. Nicknamed "mumbles" because he was so difficult to understand, Perez de Cuellar kept a low profile and, like Ban, preferred backroom diplomacy, not Annan's bully pulpit. Among the Peruvian diplomat's successes were managing the end of the Cold War, leading a long-delayed revival of U.N. peacekeeping and encouraging member states to back a U.S.-led military operation to drive Iraq's invading forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
    
Will Ban's preference for quiet diplomacy make him as good or better than Perez de Cuellar? That remains to be seen.

from Global Investing:

Water investments

A growing number of Investors, including state-owned funds, are looking to invest in water to benefit from efforts to tackle climate change.

According to multi-asset manager Armstrong Investment Managers, less than 0.01 percent of water is easily accessible freshwater and global water use has tripled since 1950 -- increasing faster than the world's population.

"Demographic and climate changes will lead to two thirds of the population inhabiting areas with scarce water," the firm says.

Holy water!

Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps is seen on August 18, 2007. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Are the residents of Fiesch and Fischertal in Switzerland particularly pious, desperate or both? I wonder after learning that villagers there want Pope Benedict’s blessing to stop the melting of Europe’s longest glacier. That, after hundreds of years of praying for it to stop growing. Researchers predict winter temperatures in the Swiss Alps will rise by 1.8 degrees Celsius in winter and 2.7 degrees Celsius in the summer by 2050.

You can track the fate of the Aletsch glacier here, but don’t expect to see a repeat of Spencer Tunick’s 2007 naked photoshoot.

Undoubtedly, Switzerland’s tourism industry has suffered this summer, with 148,000 fewer foreign visitors bunking at chalets and the like in June compared to the same month last year. Of course it’s not clear if the decline was due to melting glaciers or the credit crisis.

March of the beetles bodes ill for American forests

MEDICINE BOW NATIONAL FOREST, Wyoming – From the vantage point of an 80-foot (25 meter) tower rising above the trees, the Wyoming vista seems idyllic: snow-capped peaks in the distance give way to shimmering green spruce.

But this is a forest under siege. Among the green foliage of the healthy spruce are the orange-red needles of the sick and the dead, victims of a beetle infestation closely related to one that has already laid waste to millions of acres (hectares) of pine forest in North America.

“The gravity of the situation is very real,” said Rolf Skar, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace.

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