Environment

Asian Pollution Boosts Pacific Storm Power

Pollution from China’s coal-burning power plants is pumping up winter storms over the northwest Pacific Ocean and changing North America’s weather, a new study finds.

Northwest Pacific winter storms are now 10 percent stronger than they were 30 years ago, before Asian countries began their industrial boom, according to research published today (April 14) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

North America will be hardest hit by the intensifying storms, which move from west to east, said lead study author Yuan Wang, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Pollution from Asia is also changing weather patterns over North America, Wang added.

Wang said this winter’s unusually cold weather east of the Rocky Mountains could have been influenced by pollution-driven cyclones and high-pressure systems in the northern Pacific.

These Pacific weather patterns caused swoops in the jet stream that drove cold air south across the central and eastern United States — the so-called polar vortex. The same weather patterns are linked with record-high temperatures in Alaska this winter.

“This cold winter in the U.S. probably had something to do with stronger cyclones over the Pacific,” Wang said.

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Environment

English Smog Worsened by Cloud of Sahara Dust

Parts of England were blanketed with record high levels of choking smog, which was worsened by a plume of dust that blew into the country from the Sahara Desert.

Many motorists awoke to find their vehicles coated with the red dust.

Smog reached the top of the official 10-point scale of air pollution in Norfolk, the East Midlands and Yorkshire.

Greater London suffered with smog that reached level 7.

People with heart or respiratory conditions were urged to avoid exertion and remain indoors and to see their doctors if symptoms worsened.

The environment department said the smog was caused by pollution from Britain and industrialized areas of neighboring Europe that stayed in place because of light winds, along with the Sahara dust.

Southeast England had the highest concentrations of smog brought on by light winds, pollution and Sahara dust.

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Environment

Pollution problems in Paris lead authorities to ban about half the cars Monday

Half the diesel and petrol cars in greater Paris will be banned from the road tomorrow in an attempt to reduce the health-threatening cloud of polluted air which has settled on northern France.

From 5am only odd-numbered cars will be allowed to drive in the Ile-de-France, unless they have electric or hybrid motors. Taxis, buses, emergency vehicles and cars carrying three people or more are exempted. All trucks are banned.

On Tuesday the ban will then apply to odd-numbered cars unless the weather changes. Foreign vehicles must obey the rules.

Since last Wednesday, a run of warm, windless days and cold clear nights has clamped a lid of warm air over northern France. Minuscule particles of pollution from car exhausts, industry and agriculture have accumulated under that lid to dangerous levels.

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Environment

Chinese Smog Altering North American Weather

The amount of air pollution from China’s booming manufacturing industry is so great that it is affecting weather patterns across the Pacific in North America, according to a new study published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The report documents that cities like Los Angeles receive at least an extra day of smog each year from the nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide that China’s exporting factories generate.

The pollution is also a public health threat and causes other changes in weather, the report cautions.

“The models clearly show that pollution originating from Asia has an impact on the upper atmosphere and it appears to make … storms or cyclones even stronger,” said Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Renyi Zhang.

He said that the airborne pollution affects cloud formation, precipitation and other factors that are contributing to climate change.

China’s neighbours, Japan and South Korea, have long suffered downwind from where the smog is generated.

This new report shows that the unexpected side effect of the demand for China’s cheap manufactured goods is adversely affecting weather and health half a world away.

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Environment

World’s 10 Worst Polluted Places Named

Researchers said the 10 sites were chosen based on the severity of their health risk and prioritized by their value as examples of different kinds of pollution threats around world.

Here are the 10 sites listed in the report, in alphabetical order:

Agbogbloshie, Ghana: This dumpsite in the Ghanaian capital Accra is the second largest e-waste processing area in West Africa. When sheathed cables from electronics like microwaves and computers are burned to recover the copper material inside, metals can particulate in the smoke and get left behind in the soil. An estimated 40,000 people are affected by the pollution threat.

Chernobyl, Ukraine: The world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 released 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Skin lesions, respiratory ailments, infertility and birth defects affected people in contaminated areas in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine for years and the accident has been linked to more than 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer. Pollution from Chernobyl is estimated to have affected some 10 million people.

Citarum River, Indonesia: More than 500,000 people are directly affected, and up to 5 million people are indirectly impacted, by chemical pollution in the Citarum River Basin in West Java. Lead, aluminum, manganese and iron concentrations in the river are several times higher than world averages because of pollution from industrial and domestic sources.

Dzershinsk, Russia: A major site of chemical manufacturing in Russia, Dzershinsk has high levels of pollutants like dioxins and phenol in the groundwater. Residents suffer from diseases and cancers of the eyes, lungs and kidneys and life expectancy in the city is just 47 for women and just 42 for men.

Hazaribagh, Bangladesh: Tanneries using old, outdated and inefficient processing methods to make leather dump 22,000 cubic liters of toxic waste each day into the city’s main river, impacting more than 160,000 people. This waste includes the cancer-causing chemical hexavalent chromium.

Kabwe, Zambia: Decades of unregulated lead mining in this African city have caused serious health problems for residents of Kabwe, where more than 300,000 people are thought to be affected by pollution. In 2006, children’s blood lead levels in Kabwe were found to exceed the recommended levels by five to 10 times.

Kalimantan, Indonesia: On the island of Borneo, Kalimantan and the surrounding areas have become contaminated with mercury because of small-scale gold mining, impacting some 225,000 people. Miners in the region use mercury in the gold extraction process, resulting in mercury emissions during the amalgamation and smelting processes.

Matanza Riachuelo, Argentina: More than 15,000 industries are thought to be releasing a variety of pollutants into the Matanza River, which passes through Buenos Aires and empties into the Rio de la Plata. Contaminants include zinc, lead, copper, nickel and total chromium (a term that includes two forms of chromium), making the drinking water near the Matanza-Riachuelo river basin seriously unsafe, threating more than 20,000 people who live in the area.

Niger River Delta, Nigeria: An unknown number of people are impacted by the voracious petroleum industry in this densely populated part of Africa, where there were nearly 7,000 incidents involving oil spills between 1976 and 2001. The report said that about 2 million barrels of oil were being extracted from the delta every day as of last year.

Norilsk, Russia: Norilsk is an industrial city in Siberian Russia, where each year, nearly 500 tons each of copper and nickel oxides and 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide are released into the air. Life expectancy for factory workers in Norilsk is 10 years below the Russian average.

Environment

The oceans are dying – Update and Roundup of Ocean Events

Two rare oarfish washing up have caused many to stop and take note, as these deep sea dwellers are seldom seem. Even just one washing up could be a once in a lifetime event. Scientists and researchers are both concerned by the recent deaths and puzzled as to the cause of the rare appearances of these seldom seen creatures.

The recent discovery of the 18-foot giant oarfish found off Santa Catalina Island on Oct. 13 was among the largest oarfish reported in nearly 20 years.

Following on the heels of that discovery was another 14-foot fish which was beached in Oceanside last Friday. The oarfish was dissected and examined by scientists yesterday.

Results from the research could take years to complete, scientists said.

Between the discovery of of both oarfish another very rare sea creature also washed up on the shores of Venice Beach in California on Oct. 13. The rare 15-foot-long female Stejneger’s beaked whale normally prefers frigid subarctic waters and has rarely been seen in the wild.

Combined together with the other recent mass marine die-offs and the recent release of the The State of the Ocean Report 2013 from an international panel of marine scientists, it’s clear that the oceans are indeed dying and a mass extinction is underway.

The report carries ominous news: “Oxygen levels are dropping and ocean waters are acidifying at the fastest rate in at least 300 million years when the greatest marine extinction in earth’s history took place.”

The discovery of these rare ocean dwellers is not the only news that has scientists concerned. Other species of marine life have been rapidly disappearing, among them million of sardines off the coast of British Columbia. Commercial fisherman were shocked recently when they could not find one sardine on their recent fishing trips, indicating that a $32 million dollar fishery has collapsed. The fisherman have given up looking for sardines this year.

“They’ve given up looking, pulled the plug,” confirmed Lorne Clayton, executive director of the Canadian Pacific Sardine Association,“It certainly was disappointing. It’s cost them time, fuel, and crew to go out and look, with no compensation.”

In another recent report from the Canadian Press, starfish have also been dying off by the thousands, turning into mush in the ocean. The Vancouver Aquarium is ‘alarmed’ at the mass die-off of starfish that is happening on the ocean floor. “They’re gone. It’s amazing,” said Donna Gibbs, a research diver and taxonomist on the aquarium’s Howe Sound Research and Conservation group.

“Whatever hit them, it was like wildfire and just wiped them out.”

Not only are the starfish dying on the West Coast but reports have been coming in of the same things happening on the East Coast. In July, researchers at the University of Rhode Island reported that sea stars were dying in a similar way from New Jersey to Maine, and the university was working with colleagues at Brown and Roger Williams universities to figure out the cause.

The starfish die-off is also happening to other species including Chitons, Abalone, Mussels, Sun Stars and Salmon from the West Coast of California to Vancouver (see video of the mass die-off event)

Add to that recent dolphin and whale strandings, coral reef destruction and other mortality reports of marine life – and the prognosis is grim. Recent reports of yellow salmon have also been coming in. Researchers are mystified as to the cause of healthy salmon turning a ghastly yellow.

A recent review by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean is a warning: According to the IPSO, the evidence is clearer than ever that the effect of climate change is being felt most acutely by the world’s seas. Vast expanses of the ocean absorb heat and CO2 and the results are having disastrous effects on marine life.

The oceans are increasingly acidifying; warmer water holds less oxygen; and combined with overfishing and pollution from heavy metals, organochlorines and plastics, the outlook is darker than ever. Not to mention the effects that the fallout from the Fukushima Nuclear disaster present:

In a recent article by the Los Angeles Times, an estimated 60 billion becquerels of cesium-137 and strontium-90 are being discharged daily into the Pacific from the ditch at the north end of the reactors [outside of the harbor], said Michio Aoyama, senior researcher at the geochemical research department of the Meteorological Research Institute at the Japan Meteorological Agency. It has been determined that the amount of radiation coming from Fukushima is 6,500 times the normal limit. In addition to the radiation, debris from Fukushima has also littered the ocean far and wide.

Sailor Ivan Macfadyen, a frequent sailor on the ocean, was shocked and horrified on a recent voyage from Osaka Japan to San Francisco. Macfayden reports that,”After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead.”

“We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumor on its head. It was pretty sickening.”

“I’ve done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I’m used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3,000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.”

In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes.

“Part of it was the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Japan a couple of years ago. The wave came in over the land, picked up an unbelievable load of stuff and carried it out to sea. And it’s still out there, everywhere you look.”

There is also growing speculation that large amounts of methane gas being emitted from the ocean may be the cause of or contributing to the death of the marine life.

Methane gas, also known in some circles as “the ticking time bomb”, is theorized to have caused mass extinctions in the past. Methane gas has been way above normal levels within the last few weeks, concerning scientists and researchers.

According to Sam Carana at the Arctic News Blog, this is a situation we need to be very concerned about: Carana says, “This is a very dangerous situation, since high levels of methane have been recorded over the Arctic Ocean for more than a month now. Furthermore, large amounts of methane have vented in the Laptev Sea area in previous years.”

A large release of methane could have catastrophic effects to life on earth.

Although climate change was hotly debated for many years, recent polls show that people are starting to understand the serious effects of climate change, including the potential death of our oceans.

Michael E. Mann, Climate Scientist, Professor at Penn State University and author of “Dire Predictions” & “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”, had this to say recently:

“Never did I imagine, when my co-authors and I published the ‘hockey stick’ curve a decade and a half ago, that I would find myself at the centre of the larger debate over human-caused climate change,” said Mann. “But regardless of how I ended up a prominent figure in the debate, I consider myself privileged to be in a position to inform the societal discourse over the greatest threat humans have ever faced, the threat of dangerous and potentially irreversible climate change.”

Paul Beckwith, part-time professor and a PhD student with the laboratory for paleoclimatology and climatology at the University of Ottawa, recently stated that he believes we have now entered into a state of abrupt climate change and that, “We have lost our stable climate,” which means that the climate can drastically change in a relatively short period of time, sometimes even within years. Read more about the “Tipping Point” here: The tipping point and its effects – the climate change warming point of no return.

Beckwith states that,”We have lost our stable climate. Likely permanently. Rates of change are greatly exceeding anything in the paleorecords. By at least 10x, and more likely >30x. We are heading to a much warmer world. The transition will be brutal for civilization.”

Putting all these reports and events together, it does seem that our worst nightmare facing civilization is now playing out in real time. It does seem that we have indeed hit the “Tipping Point” and that our oceans are urgently crying out to us in death, destruction and despair.

The question is now, is there anything we can do about it?

Environment

Pollution

China’s 10th-largest city shuts down because of extreme air pollution – Harbin, China, the nation’s 10th most populous city with a population of 11 million, has virtually shut down today because of extreme levels of air pollution reaching up to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter. The safe level recommended by the World Heath Organisation is just 25 micrograms per cubic meter. The dense pollution was created by stagnant air on a day when the city’s heating systems kicked in for the first time this fall. With visibility less than 50 yards, the airport was forced to close, as well as most schools and some roads.

Environment

Tiny Plastic Bits Polluting Great Lakes

Tiny bits of plastic are polluting the world’s waterways, including North America’s Great Lakes.

Scientists are skimming the waters of the North American Great Lakes this summer to see how pervasive a pollutant known as “microplastic” has become.

The waterway’s ecosystems have already suffered other manmade ravages, such as invasive mussels brought in by shipping, industrial pollution and agricultural runoff that has triggered blooms of toxic algae.

But now scientists are finding increasing amounts of tiny plastic particles in the water and lake beds that are, in part, what is left when plastic bottles and other items break down over time.

But many of the particles are abrasive “microbeads” used in personal care products like body washes and toothpaste.

Manufacturers such as Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson have announced plans to phase out the production of the pollutants, which are too small to be filtered out by municipal wastewater systems.

It’s not yet clear how long the microplastic pollution has been in the lakes or if fish are eating it.

Initial studies indicate Lake Erie is the most affected, since it receives outflow from lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron to the north.

But Lorena Rios Mendoza, a chemist with the University of Wisconsin, says that “Lake Ontario is as contaminated (with the particles) as Lake Erie, if not more so.”

New studies hope to find out if the particles are soaking up toxins in the water, possibly contaminating fish that eat them.

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Wildlife

Orca Spotted with Plastic Bag in Mouth

Researchers snapped a picture of a baby killer whale in the Pacific Northwest holding a plastic bag in its mouth, just the latest example of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Last month, scientists from the Centre for Whale Research monitoring orcas in the Salish Sea say they spotted a calf playing with what at first looked like a small scrap of blubber. When the baby whale dropped the item from its mouth, they realized it was actually a plastic bag.

Rogue plastic trash can be a problem when it gets into the mouths of the ocean’s animals like whales, turtles and seals, but it can even harm creatures deep beneath the surface. One group of researchers recently published a database of trash on the seafloor from California to Canada and offshore of Hawaii. They found that most garbage in their catalogue was plastic, and of those items, more than half were plastic bags, some choking corals nearly 7,000 feet (2,115 meters) below.

Baby orca

Environment

Pollution Shortens Life-Expectancy – China

Chinese living in heavily polluted northern areas of the country have their lives cut by an average of 5.5 years by airborne toxins compared to those living in the relatively cleaner south of the country.

A report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that the widespread use of coal in the north is the main cause of the shorter life spans.

Using official data from Chinese sources, an American, an Israeli and two Chinese scholars found that decades of burning coal have led to more deaths from cardio-respiratory diseases for people living north of the Huai River, which is considered the dividing line between northern and southern China.

The use of coal in central heating systems in colder northern climes is the main reason for the high emissions.

Coal has also been used to feed the explosive growth of heavy industry there.

In the aftermath of China’s Maoist revolution, the government began giving free coal for boilers so people could keep warm during the north’s cold winters. That policy is still in place.

Environment

Man-made Particles Lower Hurricane Frequency

Higher levels of air pollution reduced the frequency of North Atlantic hurricanes and other tropical storms for most of the 20th century, a study said Sunday.

Adding to evidence for mankind’s impact on the weather system, the probe found a link between these powerful storms and aerosols, the scientific term for specks of matter suspended in a gas.

Aerosols can occur in natural form — as dusty volcanic plumes, clouds or fog — but are also man-made, such as sooty particles from burning coal or oil.

The study focused on particles from North America and Europe that were generated mainly from burning fossil fuels.

Researchers from the UK Met Office created weather simulations covering the period 1860 to 2050.

They found that tropical storms were much less frequent during periods when emissions of man-made aerosols increased over the North Atlantic.

Aerosols reflect solar rays and change the brightness of clouds, which affects how much of the Sun’s heat is projected onto the surface of the sea.

Ocean warmth provides the raw energy for tropical storms, which in extreme conditions can brew into destructive hurricanes.

Conversely, the study found that measures since the 1980s to tackle pollution and improve air quality reduced levels of aerosols — have in turn ramped up hurricane activity.

The clean-up of industrial aerosols in the last 20 years, while being beneficial for human health and linked to a recovery of African Sahel rains since the 1980s droughts, may have contributed to increases in Atlantic hurricane activity.

The research team postulates that in the future, it will be Earth-warming greenhouse gases, much longer-lasting than aerosols, that will exert the most influence on tropical storm frequency.

Environment

Trashing the Seafloor

In their 25 years of exploring the deep seafloor, researchers with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California have discovered trash and debris littering the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Most of the garbage was recyclables such as plastic bottles, soda and food cans. But plastic bags, shoes and even shipping containers make their way to the deep ocean depths, 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) below the surface.

More than half of the plastic items were bags. A deep-sea coral living nearly 7,000 feet (2,115 meters) off the Oregon Coast had a black plastic bag wrapped around its base, which will eventually kill the organism.

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The second biggest source of ocean trash was metal — soda and food cans. Other common types of debris included rope from fishing equipment, glass bottles, cardboard, wood and clothing.

Because most of the ocean pollution came from single-use plastic bottles and cans, it is hoped the research will inspire more people to reduce, reuse and recycle.

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Environment

Sandstorm in Beijing.

Beijing and other parts of northern China were stung by hazardous air pollution levels Thursday as strong winds blew a sandstorm through the region.

Air in the capital turned a yellowish hue as sand from China’s arid northwest blew in, turning the sky into a noxious soup of smog and dust.

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Beijing’s municipal government issued a yellow-haze warning late Wednesday while state media urged citizens to stay indoors or to take precautions such as donning face masks before venturing outside.

Environment

Chinese media urges action on air pollution

Chinese media said on Monday the government had to take urgent action to tackle air pollution, which has blanketed parts of the country at dangerous levels in recent days, and one newspaper called for a re-think of a “fixation” on economic growth.

China’s media are under tight Communist Party control and usually steer clear of controversy, but news organisations are more free to report on pollution, partly because it can’t be hidden from the public.

Air quality in Beijing was far above hazardous levels over the weekend, reaching 755 on an index that measures particulate matter in the air with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers. A level of 300 is considered dangerous while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

Beijing Smog

Environment

The Arctic Ocean is increasingly becoming the world’s garbage dump, with twice as much plastic trash and other litter covering its seabed compared to 10 years ago.

The amount of human refuse seen at the Arctic deep-sea observatory was found to be even greater than in a deep-sea canyon near the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.

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