Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coral die-offs warn of climate distress

Extreme Heat Bleaches Coral, and Threat is Seen
NYT: This year's extreme heat is putting the world's coral reefs under such severe stress that scientists fear widespread die-offs, endangering not only the richest ecosystems in the ocean but also fisheries that feed millions of people.

From Thailand to Texas, corals are reacting to the heat stress by bleaching, or shedding their color and going into survival mode. Many have already died, and more are expected to do so in the coming months... Corals in the Caribbean may undergo drastic bleaching in the next few weeks...

Scientists say the trouble with the reefs is linked to climate change. For years they have warned that corals, highly sensitive to excess heat, would serve as an early indicator of the ecological distress on the planet caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases. 'I am significantly depressed by the whole situation,' said Clive Wilkinson, director of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, an organization in Australia that is tracking this year's disaster...

Coral reefs occupy a tiny fraction of the ocean, but they harbor perhaps a quarter of all marine species, including a profusion of fish. Often called the rain forests of the sea, they are the foundation not only of important fishing industries but also of tourist economies worth billions...

Summer is only just beginning in the Southern Hemisphere, but water temperatures off Australia are also above normal, and some scientists are worried about the single most impressive reef on Earth. The best hope now, Dr. Wilkinson said, is or mild tropical storms that would help to cool Australian waters. 'If we get a poor monsoon season,' he said, 'I think we're in for a serious bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.'
Source of images here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Arctic sea ice 'is not going to recover'

Arctic Ice in Death Spiral
IPS News: The carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have melted the Arctic sea ice to its lowest volume since before the rise of human civilization, dangerously upsetting the energy balance of the entire planet, climate scientists are reporting.

'The Arctic sea ice has reached its four lowest summer extents (area covered) in the last four years,' said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the US city of Boulder, Colorado. The volume -- extent and thickness -- of ice left in the Arctic likely reached the lowest ever level this month... 'I stand by my previous statements that the Arctic summer sea ice cover is in a death spiral. It's not going to recover.' he said...

'The exceptional cold and snowy winter of 2009-2010 in Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America is connected to unique physical processes in the Arctic,' [said] James Overland of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory... 'Paradoxically, a warmer Arctic means future cold and snowy winters will be the rule rather than the exception' in these regions...

One local impact is a rapid warming of the coastal regions of the Arctic, where average temperatures are now three to five degrees C warmer than they were 30 years ago... 'I hate to say it but I think we are committed to a four- to six- degree warmer Arctic,' Serreze said...

If the Arctic becomes six degrees warmer, than half of the world's permafrost will likely thaw, probably to a depth of a few metres, releasing most of the carbon and methane accumulated there over thousands of years... Methane is a global warming gas approximately 25 time more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). That would be catastrophic for human civilization, experts agree... A Canadian study in 2009 documented that the southernmost permafrost limit had retreated 130 kilometres over the past 50 years.
Image sources here and here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

North magnetic pole leaving Canada

North Magnetic Pole Moving Due to Core Flux
National Geographic: Earth's north magnetic pole is racing toward Russia at 55 to 60 kilometres (34 to 37 miles) a year due to magnetic changes in the planet's core... The core is too deep for scientists to directly detect its magnetic field. But researchers can infer the field's movements by tracking how Earth's magnetic field has been changing at the surface and in space...

There's a region of rapidly changing magnetism on the core's surface, possibly being created by a mysterious 'plume' of magnetism arising from deeper in the core. And it's this region that could be pulling the magnetic pole away from its long-time location in northern Canada...

Magnetic north, which is the place where compass needles actually point, is near but not exactly in the same place as the geographic North Pole. Right now, magnetic north is close to Canada's Ellesmere Island...

The magnetic north pole had moved little from the time scientists first located it in 1831. Then in 1904, the pole began shifting northeastward at a steady pace of about 9 miles (15 kilometers) a year. In 1989 it sped up again, and in 2007 scientists confirmed that the pole is now galloping toward Siberia.
Image source here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sabotage by 'The most dangerous player'

September 2009: Could Israel strike Iran over nuclear concerns?
Reuters: Israel has been developing 'cyber-war' capabilities that could disrupt Iranian industrial and military control systems... An advantage of sabotage over an air strike may be deniabilitly.

War in Context: Now it seems such an attack may have occurred in recent months.

Globe & Mail: A computer virus that attacks a widely used industrial system appears aimed mostly at Iran and its power suggests a state may have been involved in creating it.

CS Monitor: Cyber security experts say they have identified the world's first known cyber super weapon designed specifically to destroy a real-world target -- a factory, a refinery, or just maybe a nuclear power plant. Stuxnet's arrival heralds something blindingly new... Internet link is not required... 'Stuxnet is a 100-percent-directed cyber attack aimed at destroying an industrial process in the physical world.' says [Ralph] Langner, [a German cyber-security researcher]. It might be too late for Stuxnet's target, Langer says. He suggests it has already been hit -- and destroyed or heavily damaged.

War in Context: Ralph Langer envisages that the highly sophisticated attack would have required a preparation team that included 'intel, covert ops, exploit writers, process engineers, control system engineers, product specialists, military liaison.'...

6. In the strategic landscape of cyberwarfare the most dangerous player may turn out to be a small but highly developed fortress-state that feels threatened by much of the rest of the world; that neither trusts nor is trusted by any of its allies; that sees its own stability enhanced by regional instability; that has seen its own economic fortunes rise while the global economy suffers; and that views with contempt the notion of an international community.
Image source here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Equinox and Full Moon: Happy Autumn!

Since June 2009, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling the Moon, compiling data for the first topographic map of the Moon's surface. More images here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The aurora borealis online

Northern lights viewable every night on new Canadian Space Agency website
The Canadian Press: Canada's northern lights are going online. Starting last night, Live feeds of the aurora borealis are available on AuroraMax, a website set up by the Canadian Space Agency... The light show begins after dusk local time or at about 11:30 EDT. But if skywatchers can't stay up, they can watch it the next day on video.

The launch of the online observatory coincides with aurora season in Northern Canada, which generally begins in late August or early September and ends in May. Auroras occur as charged particles from the sun collide with gases in Earth's upper atmosphere. The online observatory is a collaborative initiative involving the space agency, the University of Calgary, the city of Yellowknife and Astronomy North. Watch the aurora at AuroraMax.
Image source here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Microbes move gold with groundwater flow

Bacteria make gold nuggets
Discovery News: Gold nuggets are often the creations of bacterial biofims, say Australian researchers who have demonstrated the process and even identified the bacteria at work.

Layers of bacteria can actually dissolve gold into nanoparticles, which move through rocks and soils, and then deposit it in other places, sometimes creating purer 'secondary' gold deposits in cracks and crevices of rocks. The process overturns the long-held belief by some scientists that gold ore is created only by 'primary' physical geological processes...

The University of Adelaide's Frank Reith and his colleagues discovered that 90 percent of the bacteria were of just two species, Delftia acidovorans and Cupriavidus metallidurans. The bacteria share genes that make them resistant to the toxic effects of heavy metals... The discovery appears in the September issue of the journal Geology.

'We tagged the DNA and saw the beautiful active biofilm (dissolving the gold), said [Joel] Brugger. 'That was very interesting because gold in soluble form is very toxic.' That dissolved gold can then be redeposited in other places in a much purer form... 'At the moment we don't really understand how gold moves around in the environment,' said Brugger. 'I think that here we can see for the first time how it happens.' Microbes move it around with the groundwater flow.
Image source here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Food security, global hunger, local strategy

Food Security Risk Index 2010
With global wheat prices expected to spike following an export ban in Russia due to fires destroying millions of hectares of crops, a new study measuring global food security has identified the food supplies of Afghanistan and nine African states as the countries which are most at risk and vulnerable to rising costs.

The Food Security Risk Index 2010, released by risk analysis and rating firm Maplecroft, evaluates the risks to the basic food staples for 163 countries. It uses 12 criteria developed in collaboration with the World Food Programme, to calculate the ranking including: the nutritional and health status of populations, cereal production and imports, GDP per capita, natural disasters, conflict, and the effectiveness of government.

BBC News: A separate report from Action Aid estimates that hunger costs developing countries $450bn a year. The report says that 90% of these costs stem from lost productivity as a result of malnutrition, while the other 10% is due to higher health system costs... Higher wheat prices are also believed to have increased demand for other relatively cheaper foodstuffs, particularly other grains. And higher grain prices are pushing up the price of meat and dairy products as the cost of feeding livestock increases.

Vancouver Sun: Metro Vancouver has developed an ambitious regional food strategy that includes creating a centre for excellence in food technology, a label to identify locally grown foods in retail stores and a school for sustainable agriculture. The draft report notes that BC produces less than half the food that its citizens consume and that external forces such as changing climate and rising fuel prices will challenge our ability to feed ourselves in the future...

Regional Food System Strategy proposed that municipalities create property-tax exempt agricultural enterprise zones to encourage processing and distribution businesses to locate near farmland... To promote urban agriculture, the report suggests Metro purchase farmland in or out of the Agricultural Land Reserve to lease to new farmers and for use as farm schools... to keep viable farmland from being gobbled up by developers and non-farm uses... Metro could [also] convert more space in other regional parks to agricultural uses.
Image source here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The most important heath factors are social

In sickness and in wealth
Unmasking the social determinants of health

Ryan Meili, Briarpatch: In one of the first lectures of medical school, students are asked what factors will have the greatest impact on a person's health. Lifestyle choices are a common response. Others will talk about access to health services, while others guess genetics or culture. After the student weigh in, they are shown the Canadian Institute for Heath Information's list of health determinants, in order of impact.

The Determinants of Health
  1. Income status
  2. Education
  3. Social support networks
  4. Employment and working conditions
  5. Early childhood development
  6. Physical environment
  7. Personal health practices and coping skills
  8. Biological and genetic factors
  9. Health services
  10. Gender
  11. Culture
  12. Mass media technology (i.e., television viewing and physical inactivity)
Invariably this list is met with surprise. As aspiring doctors the students think they are in the business of making people healthy. But they discover that the services offered by the health professionals barely crack the top 10 factors that influence people's health. The lesson to be drawn from the list of determinants, and the one that is stressed to students, is that the most important factors that determine people's health are social, and the most effective solutions are political.
Image source here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reversal of Earth's magnetic poles underway?

Geomagnetic field flip-flops in a flash
Scientists unearth more evidence of superfast changes in Earth's magnetic polarity

ScienceNews: Just north of a truck stop along Interstate 80 in Battle Mountain's Nev., lies evidence that the Earth's magnetic field once went haywire. Magnetic minerals in 15-million-year-old rocks appear to preserve a moment when the magnetic north pole was rapidly on its way to becoming the south pole, and vice versa. Such 'geomagnetic field reversals' occur every couple hundred thousand years, normally taking about 4,000 years to make the change.

The Nevada rocks suggest that this particular switch happened at a remarkably fast clip. Anyone carrying a compass would have seen its measurements skew by about a degree a week -- a flash in geologic time. A paper describing the discovery is slated to appear in Geophysical Research Letters...

Researchers aren't sure why the geomagnetic field reverses itself. Many think it must have something to do with what creates the field in the first place -- convective motions of liquid iron in the planet's spinning outer core... The last stable reversal occurred 780,000 year ago. Some geologists argue the Earth is overdue for a reversal and might even be entering one now, as the geomagnetic field has been getting weaker over the past 150 years or more.

But apocalyptic SyFy channel movies to the contrary, nobody should worry about waking up one morning to geomagnetic havoc, says [lead authors Scott] Bogue. 'To geologists a polarity reversal is a nearly instantaneous thing that changes a global feature of the Earth -- it's really a spectacular phenomenon... But if you were alive when it was happening, it probably wouldn't be that big a deal.'
Image source here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

'Canada has produced a better society'

from "Balancing Act: The state, the markets, the future," by David Crane, in the Literary Review of Canada:

In some important respects... Canada has produced a better society than either of those centres of free market capitalism, the United States and Great Britain. We have a better rate of social mobility -- the ability of people to move out of poverty... We have a fairer society in that income inequality is not as great. And we have longer life expectancy, which is probably the best marker of a country's overall performance. In addition, Canadian schoolchildren perform better than their American counterparts.

Americans have a higher per capita gross domestic product, but that tells us nothing about how its wealth is distributed. To be sure, the Scandinavian countries, and especially Sweden, do better than we do. We do pay more taxes than Americans, but we also get value. Knowing that all Canadians have access to public health care and other social measures is better than building a society of gated communities. More importantly, a strong social framework will make it easier to deal with the huge changes we face in the years ahead. It represents a form of social solidarity that underlines community at a time when the US and Great Britain in particular have embraced an excessive individualism. We are not immune to that same pressure and conservatives would move us much further in that direction.

Canada has evolved with a different capitalism from the United States for a number of reasons. One may be that the origins of our political institutions are different. Parliamentary government evolved from the Crown, whose mandate was to act on behalf of the people. The American congressional system was founded on the fear of government, so, through intricate checks and balances, it was more difficult for government to act. Canada has been engaged in a nation-building exercise from its inception -- a nation of vast distances and a thinly spread population... This has meant a different role for government, one where government was much more engaged in economic development...

The notion of sharing was an important part of Canadian development, given our small population. That has helped Canada remain a united country despite its vast space and distances and the temptation of the United States, and despite linguistic differences and the more recent mix of cultures. All of this has shaped our own form of capitalism, and our own ideas on the role of the state. Although the differences should not be exaggerated, there is a Canadian approach that, I would argue, has served us well.
Image source here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Omar to US: 'You achieved nothing but defeat'

US losing war in Afghanistan: Taliban leader
AFP: Taliban leader Mullah Omar said the NATO-led coalition is losing the war in Afghanistan, calling on Afghans to redouble their struggle and pressing the United States to withdraw... He claimed that 'those military experts who have framed strategies of the invasion of Afghanistan or are now engaged in hammering out new strategies, admit themselves that all their strategies are nothing but a complete failure.'

And he said 'other foreign forces which have some here for occupation of our country... are now under pressures from their people due to the growing and heavy military expenditures, casualties and the fruitlessness of the war. Each of them is hastily seeking ways to exit from Afghanistan.'

Addressing Americans, he said 'you tested all your might... to maintain your occupation over the Afghan Islamic and independent country but you achieved nothing except a dashing defeat. But your rulers, instead of admitting their wrong policies, and seeking a rational exit, want to try the hackneyed and failed process once more as an effort to compensate for their defeats and distract your attention and that of the public of the world from their debacles.'

'What we want to convey to you through this message is that (you) withdraw your soldiers from our country unconditionally and as soon as possible. This is in your interest and in the interest of your people and the best option for regional stability.'

'You should know that your rulers have continuously told you lies since the beginning of the aggression in Afghanistan until this very day. They have wasted hundreds of billion(s) of dollars of your tax money in the shape of financial expenditures and your manpower in Afghanistan and have still been wasting them. You shall be witness to another economic melt-down.'

Source of images here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Canada third in world giving

The World Giving Index is the first report of its kind looking at charitable behaviour across the world. Using data from Gallup's Worldview World Poll, CAF looked at three different types of charitable behaviour -- giving money, giving time and helping a stranger -- and used the results to produce the index... The study found that being happy is more of an influence on giving money to charity than being wealthy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Boycotts against Israel succeeding

Anti-Israel economic boycotts are gaining speed
The sums are not large, but their international significance is huge. Boycotts by governments gives a boost to boycotts by non-government bodies around the world.

Nehemia Shrasler, Haaretz: The entire week was marked by boycotts. It began with a few dozen theater people boycotting the new culture center in Ariel, and continued with a group of authors and artists publishing a statement of support on behalf of these theater people. Then a group of 150 lecturers from various universities announced they would not teach at Ariel College or take part in any cultural events in the territories...

That was all at the local level. There's another boycott, an international one, that's gaining momentum -- an economic boycott. Last week the Chilean parliament decided to adopt a boycott of Israeli products made in the settlements... In September 2009, Norway's finance minister announced that a major government pension fund was selling its shares in Elbit Systems because of that company's role in building the separation fence. In March, a major Swedish investment fund said it would eschew Elbit Systems shares on the same grounds. Last month the Norwegian pension fund announced that it was selling its holding in Africa Israel and in its subsidiary Danya Cebus because of their involvement in constructing settlements in the occupied territories...

Human-rights organizations in Europe are essentially running campaigns to boycott Israeli products... Worker organizations, with millions of members, send circulars to their people calling on them to forego Israeli products. I talked with farmers who say there are retail chains in Europe no longer prepared to buy Israeli products. The same is true for a chain in Washington. The world is changing before our eyes...

Organizers... note that boycott is an especially effective weapon against Israel because Israel is a small country, dependent on exports and imports. They also point to the success of the economic boycott against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The anti-Israel tide rose right after Operation Cast Lead, as the world watched Israel pound Gaza with bombs on live television. No public-relations machine in the world could explain the deaths of hundreds of children, the destruction of neighborhoods and the grinding poverty afflicting a people under curfew for years... Then came the flotilla, complete with prominent peace activists, which ended in nine deaths...

Since the establishment of the state, and before, we demanded special terms of the world. We played on their feelings of guilt, for standing idle while six millions Jews were murdered. David Ben-Gurion called us a light unto the nations and we stood tall and said, we, little David, would stand strong and righteous against the great evil Goliath... The world.... enabled us to develop the atom bomb in order to prevent a second Holocaust. But then came the occupation, which turned us into the evil Goliah, the cruel oppressor, a darkness on the nations. And now we are paying the price.
Image source here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Consider this fair warning

Global Warming's Silver Lining? Northern Countries Will Thrive and Grow, Researcher Predicts
Move over Sunbelt. The New North is coming through, a UCLA geographer predicts in a new book.

Science Daily: As worldwide population increases by 40 percent over the next 40 years, sparsely populated Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and the northern United States will become formidable economic powers and migration magnet, Laurence C. Smith writes in The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future...

While wreaking havoc on the environment, global warming will liberate a treasure trove of oil, gas, water and other natural resources previously locked in the frozen north, enriching residents and attracting newcomers... And these resources will pour from northern rim countries -- or NORCs, as Smith calls them -- precisely at a time when natural resources else where are becoming critically depleted, making them all the more valuable...
  • New shipping lanes will open during the summer in the Arctic, allowing Europe to realize its 500-year-old dream of direct trade between the Atlantic and the Far East, and resulting in new access to and economic development in the north.
  • Oil resources in Canada will be second only to those in Saudi Arabia, and the country's population will swell by more than 30 percent, a growth rate rivaling India's and six times faster than China's.
  • NORCs will be among the few places on Earth where crop production will likely increase due to climate change.
  • NORCs collectively will constitute the fourth largest economy in the world, behind the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the European Union and the United States.
  • NORCs will become the envy of the world for their reserves of fresh water, which may be sold and transported to other regions....
'In many ways, the stresses that will be very apparent in other parts of the world by 2050 -- like coastal inundation, water scarcity, heat waves and violent cities -- will be easing or unapparent in northern places,' Smith said. 'The cities that are rising in these NORC countries are amazingly globalized, livable and peaceful... Many northern places that are now marginal or not really thought much about will emerge as very nice place to be.'...

Although they will be facing severe threats to their traditional culture, northern indigenous communities can be expected to share in the wealth... 'Northern aboriginal people don't like being portrayed as hapless victims of climate change,' Smith said. 'They want the power and resource revenues to save themselves, and at least in North America, it looks like they'll have it... Humanity will increasingly look north in response to the four global pressures of rising population, resource demand, globalization and climate change.'
Image: Arctic summer shipping lines; source here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

In solidarity...

... with all who are out of work this Labour Day.
An injury to one is an injury to all.

Image source here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Quote for the day

Fear does not actually speed up our rate of perception or mental processing. Instead, it allows us to remember what we do experience in greater detail. Since our perception of time is based on the number of things we remember, fearful experiences thus seem to unfold more slowly... The test subjects who fell from the SCAD tower certainly believed, as they accelerated toward freefall, that they knew what the experience was like at that very moment. They thought that time seemed to be moving slowly. Yet Eagleman's findings suggest that that sensation could only have been superimposed after the fact. The implication is that we don't really have a direct experience of what we're feeling 'right now,' but only a memory -- an unreliable memory -- of what we thought it felt like some second or milliseconds ago. The vivid present tense we all think we inhabit might itself be a retroactive illusion.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


An animated short film made by students at the Vancouver Film School.
Below is a screen shot. For the film on Vimeo, go here.

Out of 80,000 edible plants we choose only 30 to supply 90% of the calories in our diet; 14 animal species make up 90% of our livestock.

Friday, September 3, 2010

UFOs 'On the Record'

UFOs 'On the Record': Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Talk About What They Know (PHOTOS)
Huffington Post: The subject of UFOs -- of intense interest to the general public -- is no longer something that reputable journalists will feel they need to avoid or dismiss... Popular culture has distorted the facts about this compelling mystery, and a new book sets the record straight. UFOs, Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record by journalist Leslie Kean pulls back the curtain on the incredible occurrences of unexplained behaviour by unknown objects over many decades.

UFOs includes a foreword by John Podesta and riveting, first-person accounts written by military and aviation witnesses and official investigators from around the world. Contributors include a former governor of Arizona, the former head of the FAA's Accidents and Investigations Division, military generals from five countries, a retired senior research scientist from NASA, Air Force and commercial pilots, and government officials from agencies investigating UFOs in their respective countries.

'I was astonished by the care and precision of Leslie Kean's research in this terrific book. Her analysis is carefully reasoned and to the point... Her expose raises important questions: why does the US government create public distrust by neglecting this important topic? Why do its agencies avoid investigating cases of interference with flight operations and instead issue absurd cover-up stories? This book is ultimately an appeal to all scholars for an 'extraordinary investigation of an extraordinary phenomenon.' -- Rudy Schild, Ph.D., Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

For fifteen PHOTOS with explanatory captions, go here.
Image source here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Peak oil: 'mass upheaval within 15 to 30 years'

German military report: Peak oil could lead to collapse of democracy
Raw Story: Peak oil has happened or will happen some time around this year, and its consequences could threaten the continued survival of democratic governments, says a secret German military report that was leaked online.

According to Der Spiegel, the report from a think-tank inside the German military warns that shrinking global oil supplies will threaten the world's economic foundations and possibly lead to mass-scale upheaval within the next 15 to 30 years.

International trade would suffer as the cost of transporting goods across oceans would soar, resulting in 'shortages in the supply of vital goods,' the report states. The result would be the collapse of the industrial supply chain. 'In the medium term the global economic system and every market-oriented national economy would collapse.'...

Public anger at the existing system would create 'room for ideological and extremist alternatives to existing forms of government.' Populations would fragment along political lines and 'in extreme cases' this could 'lead to open conflict.'...

With the report, Germany joins the growing ranks of Western governments apparently alarmed by the prospect of peak oil... The UK government is reportedly canvassing scientists and industrialists for their advice on how to built a contingency plan for peak oil. And earlier this year, a report from the US Joint Forces Command stated that 'by 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear.'

Der Spiegel: The study is a product of the Future Analysis department of the Bundeswehr Transformation Center... It warns of shifts in the global balance of power, of the formation of new relationships based on interdependency, of a decline in the importance of the western industrial nations, of the 'total collapse of the markets' and of serious political and economic crises... Central points:
  • Oil will determine power
  • Increasing importance of oil exporters
  • Politics in place of the market
  • Market failures
  • Relapse into planned economy
  • Global chain reaction
  • Crisis of political legitimacy
Image source here.