Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Food Labeling Law Takes Effect

Stores are now required to tell you where your (unprocessed) food came from. Read the article in the San Jose Mercury News.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The EPA Decides There's Nothing Wrong with Rocket Fuel in Your Glass of Water

Image courtesy turbojoe at Flickr (Creative Commons)

Continuing its' run of impeccable judgements, the EPA has decided that perchlorate (rocket fuel) contaminated water isn't a problem (according to an Associated Press advance review of a report not yet made public by the EPA.) Slightly more accurately, the agency feels that there's no point in trying to clean up perchlorate contamination, because... well... take their word for it, there's just no point. It certainly has nothing to do with the Pentagon's efforts to discredit EPA efforts that could link their rocket tests with the contamination.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ice cream: cup or cone?

Here's a simple thing you can do for the environment: next time you go to an ice cream shop, make sure to order your tasty treat in a cone. Even if you don't plan to eat the cone, you are still choosing a biodegradable container instead of the throw-away styrofoam or plastic alternative. And eating out of a cone is just more fun!

Image source: Turkey Hill Ice Cream Journal

Monday, September 1, 2008

The North Pole Can Now Be Circumnavigated

The photo above is from today's London Daily Mail, showing the opening of passages in the Arctic sea ice on either side of the north pole.

The accompanying story says: The pictures, produced by Nasa, mark the first time in at least 125,000 years that the two shortcuts linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans have been ice-free at the same time. In 2005, the North-East Passage around Russia opened, while the western one, across the top of Canada, remained closed, and last year the position was reversed.

But the satellite data shows that the North-West passage opened last weekend and the remaining tongue of ice blocking the North-Eastern one dissolved a few days later. Professor Serreze, of the U.S. government-funded National Sea and Ice Data Center [NSIDC], told a Sunday newspaper: 'The passages are open. It is an historic event. 'We are going to see this more and more as the years go by.'

The London Independent explains further: Some scientists predict that [the arctic sea ice] could vanish altogether in summer within five years...But it is the simultaneous opening – for the first time in at least 125,000 years – of the North-west passage around Canada and the North-east passage around Russia that promises to deliver much the greatest shock. Until recently both had been blocked by ice since the beginning of the last Ice Age...

The opening of the passages – eagerly awaited by shipping companies who hope to cut thousands of miles off their routes by sailing round the north of Canada and Russia – is only the greatest of a host of ominous signs this month of a gathering crisis in the Arctic. Early last week the NSIDC warned that, over the next few weeks, the total extent of sea ice in the Arctic may shrink to below the record low reached last year – itself a massive 200,000 square miles less than the previous worst year, 2005...

The Bremen-based Beluga Group says it will send the first ship through the North-east passage – cutting 4,000 nautical miles off the voyage from Germany to Japan – next year. And Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, last week announced that all foreign ships entering the North-west passage should report to his government – a move bound to be resisted by the US, which regards it as an international waterway.

But scientists say that such disputes will soon become irrelevant if the ice continues to melt at present rates, making it possible to sail right across the North Pole. They have long regarded the disappearance of the icecap as inevitable as global warming takes hold, though until recently it was not expected until around 2070.

Many scientists now predict that the Arctic ocean will be ice-free in summer by 2030 – and a landmark study this year by Professor Wieslaw Maslowski at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, concluded that there will be no ice between mid-July and mid-September as early as 2013.

Earlier this month, as the sea ice was already starting to recede at unprecedented rates, the Guardian wrote This startling loss of Arctic sea ice has major meteorological, environmental and ecological implications. The region acts like a giant refrigerator that has a strong effect on the northern hemisphere's meteorology. Without its cooling influence, weather patterns will be badly disrupted, including storms set to sweep over Britain.

At the same time, creatures such as polar bears and seals - which use sea ice for hunting and resting - face major threats. Similarly, coastlines will no longer be insulated by ice from wave damage and will suffer erosion, as is already happening in Alaska.

Other environmental changes are likely to follow. Without sea ice to bolster them, land ice - including glaciers - could topple into the ocean and raise global sea levels, threatening many low-lying areas, including Bangladesh and scores of Pacific islands. In addition, the disappearance of reflective ice over the Arctic means that solar radiation would no longer be bounced back into space, thus heating the planet even further.

In my research, I discovered the answer to something that has been puzzling me throughout the last decade: why has the fall in the northeast US been so warm lately? I found my answer on this ABC Channel 7 Denver site. It's called 'Arctic amplification.' That's when the warming up north is increased in a feedback mechanism and the effects spill southward starting in autumn. Over the last few years, the bigger melt has meant more warm water that releases more heat into the air during fall cooling, making the atmosphere warmer than normal.

Sadly, in a related story, 9 stranded polar bears were seen off Alaska trying to swim 400 miles north to the retreating icecap edge after the ice float they were living on melted. The furthest a polar bear has ever been known to swim and survive is 100 miles. Read more here.

And what has been going on down in Antarctica? Well, their summer season ends in late February. This year at that time, a chunk of the Wilkins ice shelf the size of Manhattan collapsed. Full story here and here and video here.

Further reading and images:
New York Times graphic showing sea ice change from 2003-2007
February 20th, 1969, New York Times article on Arctic ice
The story of one walrus.