We begin with the southern polar regions with the Atlantic Monthly:
Antarctica Tourism Could Be Making Penguins Sick
- Human visits to the South Pole may threaten the adorable creatures with deadly diseases
Antarctica remained largely untouched until roughly 200 years ago, and now, more than 10,000 people travel there every year. But tourists bring more than cameras. Scientists are warning that pathogens brought by visitors could threaten the continent’s most iconic inhabitant: the penguin.
Isolation has left local wildlife populations particularly vulnerable to diseases commonplace elsewhere in the world. “The effects of both a growing tourism industry and research presence will not be without consequences,” Wray Grimaldi of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, said to New Scientist. “Penguins are highly susceptible to infectious diseases.”
Her team of Antarctic researchers found multiple infectious agents—bacteria such Salmonella and E. coli, viruses such as West Nile and the Avian pox virus—in captive penguins dating back to 1947. Outbreaks from those diseases have killed thousands of penguins over the years, the team reported in a paper published this month in the journal Polar Biology.
Then head to the northern polar region with the New York Times:
Snow Is Down and Heat Is Up in the Arctic, Report Says
The Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the globe, and with greater repercussions, scientists are reporting.
The new findings appear in the Arctic Report Card, first published in 2006 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and updated annually. The report card catalogs the wide-ranging changes caused by the rising temperatures, in large part driven by emissions of greenhouse gases.
Snow cover, measured since 1967, was below average and set a record low in April in the Eurasian region of the Arctic. Sea surface temperatures are rising, particularly in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of Alaska, where the waters are warming at a rate of almost one degree Fahrenheit per decade.
The extent of Arctic sea ice, which retreats in summer, did not hit a record low in 2014. But it was the sixth lowest since satellite measurements began in 1979, and the scientists noted that the eight smallest extents have occurred in the last eight years.
And again with Common Dreams:
Chevron Halts Arctic Drilling Plans ‘Indefinitely’
- Decision ‘further proof that technical challenges of drilling in icy waters, where a spill is all but inevitable.’—Farrah Khan, Greenpeace Canada
In a move cheered by environmental groups, Chevron has put its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic “on hold indefinitely,” the energy company said Wednesday.
It had planned on drilling by 2020 in the Beaufort Sea, but in a letter to Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB), Chevron cited “the level of economic uncertainty in the industry” for its decision, Reuters reports.
CBC News reports that Chevron has already spent over $100 million on exploration in the Beaufort Sea.
NEB policy is that companies engaged in drilling must be able to drill a “same season relief well” in the case of an out-of-control well—an ability, according to the Financial Times, Chevron said was “not feasible.” Chevron was in the process of creating an alternate to such a relief well and have it meet approval of the regulatory body.
Oil news further south with Reuters:
Oil shock to tilt Mexico energy opening in private sector’s favor
Mexico, the world’s 10th biggest crude producer, last week announced bidding terms for the first set of production-sharing contracts, unveiling 14 shallow-water exploration blocks that will pay winning firms a share of each project’s output.
The overhaul aims to reverse a decline in crude output of 30 percent since 2004, but the slumping prices have cut potential returns, putting the onus on Mexico to make it more attractive for firms to invest – at the government’s expense.
By law, what companies must pay the government include a range of taxes and a basic royalty which will vary depending on the price of oil.
The most important consideration in determining who wins the contracts will be what share of operating profits bidders offer the government above a minimum level.
“What will the government do? Well, if it planned on a certain percentage for a given (project), it’s just going to have to reduce the percentage,” said German Pacheco, a congressman from the opposition National Action Party who helped craft the energy reform.
From the Guardian, an oceanic crisis:
Major coral bleaching in Pacific may become worst die-off in 20 years, say experts
- Warm sea temperatures are causing massive coral reef die-off across the Northern Pacific in what could be the start of an historic bleaching event around the world
Scientists warn extreme sea temperatures could cause a “historic” coral reef die-off around the world over the coming months, following a massive coral bleaching already underway in the North Pacific. Experts said the coral die-off could be the worst in nearly two decades.
Reports of severe bleaching have been accumulating in the inbox of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch programme since July.
A huge swathe of the Pacific has already been affected, including the Northern Marianas Islands, Guam, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Kiribati and Florida. Some areas have recorded serious bleaching for the first time.
“On a global scale it’s a major bleaching event. What it may be is the beginning of a historic event,” said Coral Reef Watch coordinator Dr Mark Eakin.
A delightful discovery, via BBC News:
Birds ‘heard tornadoes coming’ and fled one day ahead
US scientists say tracking data shows that five golden-winged warblers “evacuated” their nesting site one day before the April 2014 tornado outbreak.
Geolocators showed the birds left the Appalachians and flew 700km (400 miles) south to the Gulf of Mexico.
The next day, devastating storms swept across the south and central US.
Writing in the journal Current Biology, ecologists suggest these birds – and others – may sense such extreme events with their keen low-frequency hearing.
Other sounds, ominous in themselves, via Environment News Service:
EU Traffic Noise Causes 10,000 Premature Deaths a Year
More than 125 million Europeans could be exposed to levels of road traffic noise above legal guidelines, causing up to 10,000 premature deaths each year, finds a new assessment published today by the European Environment Agency (EEA).
“Noise in Europe 2014,” the EEA’s first noise assessment report, analyzes exposure to noise levels and the environmental and public health problems that result.
The effects of noise are particularly widespread. For the one in four Europeans exposed to noise levels above the EU’s threshold for assessment and action, 55 decibels, there are both direct and indirect health effects, the report states.
Traffic noise annoys almost 20 million and disturbs the sleep of an estimated eight million residents of the 28 European Union Member States.
Another Obama administration disappointment, from Salon:
EPA goes soft on toxic coal ash
- New regulations for the dangerous coal byproduct fail to treat it as hazardous waste
The Environmental Protection Agency announced the nation’s very first regulations for coal ash disposal Friday afternoon. But, in a major disappointment to those hoping the agency would come down hard on the substance, it opted to regulate it as solid, instead of hazardous, waste.
Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants — one that’s less well-known than carbon dioxide emissions, but is also far more prevalent than many likely realize. It’s the second-largest form of waste generated in the U.S., the 140 tons of it that are produced annually stored at over 2,000 disposal sites across the country.
Some of those dump sites have been known to leak contaminants, which include arsenic, mercury and dangerous heavy metals, posing a health risk to the people living nearby. And sometimes things go really wrong. You may remember, for example, the disaster earlier this year in North Carolina, when Duke Energy spilled over 82,000 tons of the stuff into the Dan River.
On to Japan and Fukushimapocalypse Now!, via the Japan Times:
Taiwan says 3/11 ban on Japanese food exports to remain in place
Taiwan will continue to ban food imports from five prefectures tainted by the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster despite Tokyo’s efforts to apply stricter export inspections.
An official at the Health and Welfare Ministry said Friday the import ban will remain in place and that Taiwanese authorities have no plans to lift it any time soon.
“Both sides have been discussing the issue since the ban was put in place,” he said. “We proceed at our own pace and will conduct an overall assessment before making any decision.”
The Japan Times again, with damages sought:
Hundreds of Fukushima evacuees sue Tepco for ¥6 billion
More than 340 people forced to evacuate by the atomic meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011 filed a lawsuit Friday against Tokyo Electric Power Co. demanding around ¥6 billion in compensation.
In the case, filed with the Tokyo District Court, the 344 plaintiffs from Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, are seeking ¥10 million in damages for mental suffering and monthly payments of ¥200,000 for three years from the utility once the evacuation order for the Odaka area is lifted, their lawyers said.
The evacuees had sought to settle the case through an alternative dispute resolution system but decided to take it to court after Tepco, which runs the plant, rejected the terms of settlement, the lawyers said.
And from ABC News, the latest on that underground radioactive-waste-enclosing organic cat litter explosion in New Mexico:
Report: Radiation Leak at Nuclear Dump Was Small
A final report by independent researchers shows the radiation leak from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico was small and localized.
The report released Thursday by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center also says no negative health effects are expected among workers or the public.
The center is associated with New Mexico State University.
Its technicians have been collecting samples since February, when a container of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured after being placed in a storage room at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.